What Is To Be Done?

The cover of Lenin's What Is To Be Done

Indeed, what is to be done?

Times flies … I’m surprised that it’s 10 days since I last wrote a ‘proper’ new entry. Today’s ride, with Charli, was essentially a permutation on yesterday’s route – these are reasonably quiet lanes.

There’s plenty of tree-debris around, both from the recent unusually strong winds and just as you’d expect for autumn. It can make for a tricky ride at times, not least because a pile of leaves or thick coat of beech mast and mush can easily obscure the pot-holes. The pot-holes never go away.

Over some unexceptional autumnal rides and a couple of nights away, the last few days’ thinking has been dominated by revolution. From Russell Brand being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman to the day-to-day conversations you find yourself having with friends and acquaintances, increasingly, discontent is in the air. Media figures and celebrities aside, Josephine and Joe Average aren’t happy.

I don’t know where that unhappiness might lead. I doubt there are many who genuinely want revolution in the sense of widespread unrest and violence, a real breakdown of order and social cohesion – civil war, almost inevitably. On the other hand, the need for something palpably significant to change in how we are governed in the broadest sense of that word, and thus how we feel about our lives, is increasingly strong.

‘What Is To Be Done’, as Lenin said. Spare us all the Marxism-Leninism, but, indeed, what is to be done?

Brand, Paxman and Channel Four’s Mason’s views on their meeting.

Summer Fixed Wheel Revelation (Just For Cyclists)

‘Ride a fixed wheel in winter’ is – I’m told – the old British approach to training and I guess I’m traditional enough to do just that. I don’t ride to train, I ride because I enjoy riding, I enjoy riding a fixed wheel and because they’re such simple bikes, they take the winter battering very well. I tend to do 15-20 milers, and do fewer geared road and off-road miles.

However, this summer I’ve been doing one or two short (10 mile or so) fixed wheel rides a week on top of longer geared road rides and I’ve been surprised at how beneficial it’s proving. The improved fluidity in pedalling is marked; there’s something about how your legs ‘learn’ to keep turning regardless that I find they don’t unlearn when on another bike. The result’s very positive – particularly so when you’re faced with a bit of a slog like I was today – the last 10 of 40 miles were into a stiffening headwind.

It might not work for everyone, but if you’ve a fixed wheel that you can get out on, try it in summer and see.

The Flywheel (Just For Cyclists)

This is just an aside prompted by a couple of turbo-trainer sessions and, today and yesterday, two sub-20 mile rides on a fixed wheel.

Last year I was using a fixie on the trainer, this year it’s a regular geared bike. Comparing the speeds and comparing how I feel, the significance of influence of the flywheel effect that riding a fixed wheel offers is quite apparent. This is nothing scientific, I know, but it seems to me it’s worth at least one-to-two miles an hour, everything else being equal – gear ratio, the quality of the rider and so on.

And, this week, riding a fixie out on the road, the same feeling of the bike positively working with you – if that makes any sense – really struck me as I was coming up a gentle but fairly long incline. It has to be said that riding a fixed wheel does offer quite a different, and very pleasurable, riding experience … just not one that’s ideal on very hilly terrain or windy days!

Wet Leaves, Mud, Low Sun And Darkness (Just For Cyclists)

A while back I wrote some tips for novices, for riding in the wet. These proved popular so herewith a few more Autumn-inspired thoughts in a similar vein:

  • The sun can be very low – and blinding. If you’re riding in to the sun and having trouble seeing, bear in mind that drivers might be coming up behind you and struggling to see too – and that includes spotting that small-profile bike and rider combo in front of them. If it’s really bad, get off and walk on the path.
  • Darkness sneaks up – quickly. On a dull Autumn day, you can need full night lights by mid afternoon. Don’t get caught out with thoughts of “dusk isn’t until 5” or whatever.
  • Leaves look lovely. They are also quite lethal if you come across them in the wrong place – the classic being a leaf-strewn corner. Sliding on leaves isn’t fun. All you can do is think about where you’re riding – if it’s tree-lined be a bit more careful about what might be around the corner.
  • Mud is evil. A coating of mud on a road is as slippery as anything – snow or ice included. There’s plenty of mud around this time of year. Around here at least, there currently seems to be plenty of farm activity that involves mud-bespattered tractors driving down lanes with all the obvious consequences, but it’s by no means solely caused by tractors.
A sheen of wet mud on a road

Mud: slippery for the unwary

If you’re riding an off-road bike off-road, with the right, deep-treaded tyres, then mud and leaves aren’t so much of an issue – though a thick build-up of leaves on hard pack, particularly, can still catch you out.

If you’re riding on-road with hard narrow tyres, caution is advised. I have read that tread on road bike tyres is nonsense and that seemed to make sense: the logic goes that road tyre tread is all about dispersing water to prevent aqua-planing and bikes will never go fast enough to aqua-plane. Thus, you’re better off with no tread to maximize the amount of ‘rubber’ that’s in contact with the road, as that’s what will give you grip. Knobbly bits on road tyres won’t help with muds, leaves or anything else – so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be OK.

Your Death Is A Low Priority

If the forecasts are anything to go by, today’s ride was the last on a sunny day for quite a while; and the temperature drop is already very real. Autumn’s here. I don’t understand all the riders you see out and about in shorts on cold days: I was always told to keep your joints warm or you’d risk damage.

Talking on my mobile is that important

Talking on my mobile is that important

Talking of damage; today was a day of drivers on mobile phones. I didn’t have any near misses though I saw one between two cars, with the driver of the car in the wrong yakking on a phone she was holding to her ear.

I don’t give a damn if you kill yourself. I do object if you maim yourself as you’ll be an expensive burden on society. What I have real trouble with is the obvious fact that there’s a fair chance you’ll kill or maim someone else if you crash while you’re talking on your phone.

There are any number of reports on how stupid/dangerous it is to use a mobile while driving, including indications that it’s more dangerous than drink-driving. Still people think they know better.

Given the non-urgency or, often, pure inanity of most communication, today I found myself wondering if they could stop mobiles working when they’re travelling at more than, say, 4 miles an hour. If they could it would solve the problem overnight.

Whatever I wonder though, whatever solutions might be out there, I know and you know that nothing will be done about it. Mobile phones are too popular; politicians – the only people who could initiate action – are too callow to lead and show vision, are only able of pandering to what they perceive as the popular mood.

The upshot is that every road death attributable to a mobile phone is a low priority – lower than a politician getting re-elected. They’ll jump on the ‘lower speed limits’ bandwagon if there’s a fatality on a road in their constituency, whether speed causes the crash or not. They’ll always parrot the ‘don’t drink and drive’ campaigns whenever they’re being given any prominence. Expect them to do anything about a far bigger menace? Not a chance.

The only sane conclusion is that we need to re-organize our society so that we get a better class of politician, so we get leadership with vision.

Thirty Years

Over near Twyford, I was overtaken today by a young cyclist; she was really shifting, in a superb aerodynamic position that I can’t contemplate getting down to. My head is the highest thing when I’m on a bike; on her I suspect it was around about her 10th lumbar. (And despite her speed she was able to offer me a friendly not-at-all-out-of-breath ‘hello’ as she passed.)

Thirty years ago, when I took going fast on a bike vaguely seriously, aerodynamic positions such as she was in just weren’t on the agenda. Things move on.

Seeing her ride by, it was perhaps inevitable that I’d end up thinking about expectations, ageing. Thirty years ago I could at least day-dream about riding fast, even if I knew all the while that I was never going to be a champion bike rider.

Now? Now I don’t even have that day-dream. That’s not quite right. It’s more accurate to say that now I don’t even have the ability to have that day-dream. I don’t know if that’s the result of wisdom or disillusionment. I don’t think I’m defeatist. Is it just a sense of realism? Perhaps it’s stupidity; there’s nothing that says age is guaranteed to bring wisdom.

Just how long is that palm's lifeline?

Just how long is that palm’s lifeline?

And if I can’t day-dream because I’m too old to? I don’t know how important dreams are. What’s salutary to remember is that it’s not unreasonable for me to expect to live until I’m in my 80s – another 30 years or so. If the folly of youth is gone, it had better be replaced by something equally inspiring, something equally sustaining. There’s been a lot of change since my 20s; there’s an awful lot more to come.