Archives for April 2011

When It Goes Wrong

When it goes wrong, it goes wrong. A ride on the Ridgeway up near Wantage with Charli. Nice weather, few people around and a good route with good views, even in the hazy sunshine – potentially that’s all fine. My front gear was playing up. I was over-dressed so I ended up hot and struggling not to overheat on the steep bits. My suspension on the rear felt too soft, and to just round it all off nicely I punctured, despite using the generally excellent Panaracer puncture protection tyre liners.

Thorns are quite stunningly sharp and strong. I think I’m right in saying that bee stings are far more refined than anything we can make. Thorns are far more potent than you might imagine too – that one today went through the tyre and the kevlar lining and, of course, the inner tube too. And that’s a thick mountain bike tyre, not a road race tyre. The power of nature and all that … It makes the average bit of barbed wire look pretty feeble.

On the plus side, we did get to see seven hares. Last year, up near there, we met a police patrol; we chatted for a bit and they said they were looking for evidence of hare coursing. My brother says he sees evidence of lamping around where he lives. We are gradually moving away from treating wild animals as sport but it’s a slow process. I suppose we need to always remember the progress that we have made; at least hare coursing is illegal now.

Exceptional English Lanes

An English lane in spring

Can the commonplace be exceptional?

Yet another Bank Holiday; another unseasonally hot day. I’m never very sure about the Brits and days off other than the standard weekends. We can all cope with two days; additional ones seem to mean hordes of people milling about, not quite knowing what to do with themselves. That, or doing a very good impression of people doing what they feel they ought to do and not particularly enjoying it.

It would be interesting to collect statistics about Bank Holidays but the interesting stuff would be hard to get – the hidden stresses of everyday life are just that, hidden.

Today saw a good long-ish spin on the Colnago, on a loop with Swincombe as its most northerly point. It was surprisingly windy but enjoyable enough. On the way out and again on the way back I exchanged greetings with a runner, an I’d say middle-aged chap, running with a back-pack on and looking enviably composed. Wherever he’d started out from, it was a very impressive run he was on. There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in witnessing someone doing something well. As with cycling, there was a rhythm to this chap and there’s a rhythm in so many things when they’re done well.

As I started on the homeward leg I thought that I’d seen nothing exceptional today but then it occurred to me that the classic English lanes I was riding along would themselves be quite exceptional, if they weren’t relatively commonplace.

It is very hard to remember to appreciate the familiar – places, good fortune, people. I don’t know how to make it happen on a practical everyday level, but I know it needs to.


It’s a Bank Holiday, it’s Good Friday. There were several religionists out knocking on doors in a couple of the villages I rode through today, visibly of that persuasion that thinks knocking on doors to talk about their idea of God is a good thing. I couldn’t help but think about how many of the people they were calling on would see that mid-morning intrusion as anything but a good thing. A day without work, a morning to spend lazing, interrupted for no good reason.

Even if you aggregate all the people who actively participate in all the religions in Britain, religionists as a whole are still in a minority, let alone just one sub-division. The arrogance underlying that willingness to disturb people is unlikely to be a positive thing.

Grave stones and the certainyy of death

And talking of certainties …

Holes in the ozone layer are in the news again, and the weather continues to be pleasantly – but totally unseasonably – hot. Talking about certainties, I often find myself wondering about whether it’s worth worrying about climate change, or whether it’s so inevitable it’s just too late to care.

Plenty of cyclists were out – all seemingly in a good mood so there were numerous cheery greetings and acknowledgements. The horse riders I passed were also happy souls today. I always advocate caution with horses. If you’re coming at them from in front then by-and-large that’s OK; you can at least see if it’s skittish and act accordingly. Approaching them from behind, I’ll always call out from a fair way back so I don’t just suddenly arrive by their side and potentially frighten them. Just a friendly ‘morning’ or whatever will do. You’ll find it’s appreciated by pretty well all riders. It’s a crowded island we live on; we all have to share it sensibly. Consideration isn’t so difficult.

It’s All About Rhythm (Just For Cyclists)

A short ride with a friend who’s a keen, happy but a relatively infrequent and new rider.

I’m not a great cyclist – never have been and never will be. I started young but didn’t ride much for many years, and now I’m in my fifties, fat and an ex-smoker to boot. However, riding 4-5,000 miles a year means I am quite experienced when compared to the average and it’s interesting to ride with someone who has far fewer miles in their legs. Nearly every time that happens, the big thing that strikes me is their lack of rhythm.

‘Cadence’ is the term used in cycling circles – your pedalling speed and rhythm.

On the whole, if you can get an even and smooth rhythm to your pedalling you’ll find cycling a lot easier. The question of the speed at which you pedal can be argued about. I’d say it’s generally better to pedal quicker than it is to push hard to achieve the same speed but, that said, when I was a lot younger I tended towards pushing harder. It has to be what best suits you, but whatever you opt for, if you can do it smoothly, at an as even a pace as possible, you’ll find the going easier over time.

Newcomers do often wonder at all the gears on a bike – the point of them is to enable you to vary the gear you’re riding in by quite small amounts as the route you’re on demands, so that the amount you’re pushing and the speed at which you’re legs are going around remains as constant as possible. In short, if the route you’re on is changing, even slightly, you should be changing gear to match it. With each even small rise, each even gentle descent, each turn into a headwind and so on – as it varies so you should be using the gears to keep your legs turning smoothly, pushing as hard as you’re comfortable with.

At least, that’s the theory.

Thinking About Money

An average ride – just a short spin to turn the legs – passing some stunningly expensive country houses, a polo field and the like. I found myself wondering about the question of happiness again – and inequality. The private sector is one thing; the public sector is quite another. I’m struggling with how people – charity heads, local government execs and so on – can end up earning more than the Prime Minister. It defies logic.

That’s not a call for the Prime Minister to be paid more.

There’s a train of thought to be pursued there.

Polo player statue

You are bound to end up thinking about money

The unseasonably dry, bright and warm weather continues. I work for myself and I’ve always said that for me one of the hardest things about being self-employed is good weather. It is such a pull. Fortunately, I can often swap my daytime hours for evening hours, and I’ve never regretted not watching television.

There’s nothing ‘holier than thou’ or judgemental about saying I don’t watch television. I suspect it’s because I’ve never watched it much – as a kid I always wanted to be out – that it’s never had that much appeal for me. I find it very unsatisfying. An hour or so of something interesting or entertaining is fine but beyond that I just get restless. It’s too passive but I guess that’s just me.

That said, I have found it’s true that when it comes to anything factual, on the whole if you know anything about a subject then you’ll find TV coverage of it woefully superficial and often inaccurate. This, of course, throws into question the value of anything you may think you’re learning when it comes to a subject about which you know nothing.

Thirty Six Years: Good Grief!

As we all know, life’s what happens to ruin your plans. A rather nasty time of it with sinus-related pains in the face, head and particularly teeth rather curtailed the mid-week riding last week. Quite often cycling will make me feel better if I’m down with some minor ailment, but a throbbing face just doesn’t mix with riding a bike.

Feeling better, a good road ride on Saturday with Jim, a very long-standing cyclist friend, made up for it. Two middle aged men riding around Berkshire/South Oxfordshire, talking about bikes, work and life, in decent weather and doing a route that turned out well. We both said about how it’s such a shame so many people will never get around to experiencing those same simple pleasures.

How long-standing? Well, it would be fair to say my interest in bikes ramped up from that of the average school kid to something rather more keen directly because of Jim and this was some 36 (gulp) years ago. Quite where those intervening years have gone …

And then I paid the price for unwarranted optimism because the sinus pain returned that evening. So it goes. It’s not as bad as it was.