Friday, 30 August 2013

Flip, Flop & Fly; Don't Care if I Die

When The Blues Brothers recorded Flip, Flop & Fly for the movie of the same name they probably did not have in mind the fact that this would be used as a catchy headline for a blog on cycling some decades later. See the YouTube link if you have not got a clue what I am talking about!

Cycling home from work towards Merton on Cycle Superhighway 7 (don't get me started, that's another blog!) through Tooting, I was struck by the idiocy of two cyclists (not together) both wearing flip flops as their chosen cycling footwear. One was a bearded guy in his thirties on an old school city bike (he had no helmet on) and the other was a young woman (maybe 28ish) on a hybrid - she did have a helmet on, but there may have been a basket on the front of her bike. I lost track of beardyman somewhere in the rush hour peleton, but the woman went straight to the front of the cycle box at a set of traffic lights, which she is perfectly entitled to do......

The traffic light turned green, she tried to take off like a bat out of hell, which was never going to be a good idea as she was always going to be caught within a few metres by others on speedier mounts including me. But that was not the problem. Suddenly from nowhere a flip flop caught in her chain or the spokes of her back wheel and she flew in the air landing on the road in front of the following group.  Her flip flops literally flew from her feet and landed several yards away. Fortunately she appeared to be not seriously injured and she was helped to her feet by several guys, probably hoping to get her telephone number to check if she was OK later. It could have been worse; if she had been followed by a van, bus or truck, she may have found herself underneath. It does not bear thinking about. I continued on my way thinking that surely anyone riding a bike anywhere other than along the promenade at a seaside resort should really be wearing shoes.

So, I suppose what I am saying is don't call a foul-up in your flip flops, don't cause a balls up in your Birkenstocks, or hell in your Havaianas just put some proper shoes on; it's safer for you and everyone else! You don't have to go the whole hog with roadbike cleats but just some flipping shoes! Flip flops are not compatible with cycling!

What do you think?

Friday, 23 August 2013

Five reasons to be proud to wear lycra

There is a division amongst the cycling community about many issues, the most controversial of which is whether to wear a helmet. (Don't get me started on that one! Another blog maybe?) But the second one is about wearing proper cycling clothing AKA lycra. Never has a sport been so ridiculed as is cycling for its correct apparel. Why is this, I wondered?

Now a hipster cycling along Stoke Newington High Street in their skinny jeans, one leg rolled up chain-side, does probably not need to wear lycra even if they had the remotest desire to do so. A quick hop between a bar and a cafe just does not require a change of clothes. Nor the commuter cycling between Brixton and the City on the Cycle Superhighway, or the middle class shopper popping to the shops with a basket on the front of their Pashley.

But I would argue that for the serious cyclist, and I don't just mean roadies, wearing the 'proper' clothing is pretty much essential. And for me a pair of trendy jeans with roll up reflective parts or a suit jacket with reversible reflective lapels just does not do the job!  They may look cool but they must be really uncomfortable, at least for a serious distance (say an 8-10 mile commute or a recreational ride of a similar or longer distance).

So let's work on the basis here that I am talking about padded shorts or bib shorts and a proper cycling jersey (either merino wool or most probably lycra). What is so wrong about these items of clothing that cause so much mirth amongst non-cyclist office workers and so much hatred from white van drivers? (BTW I am the first to admit that I chuckle every time I put on a pair of bib shorts and see myself in the mirror looking like a 1970s wrestler!) Why should I not be allowed to wear the correct clothing for my sport of choice? Why do cycling trendies hate lycra so much? Well I don't know the answer to these questions, but here's why you should wear lycra and be proud!

Once you have done the walk of shame from the loo/ changing room to your desk, collected your possessions and walked out to the bike rack, once you get on your bike this clothing is the most comfortable and practical for the task at hand. No seams to chafe, no lumps or bumps, no flys, no buttons, just smooth lycra! Nothing loose to flap in the wind, nothing to get caught in your chain. What's not to like?

Technical fabrics
Cycling clothing is made to cycle in, just like running clothing is made to run in. They are ergonomically designed, e.g. long at the back, and made of technical fabrics. When you sweat the sweat comes to the surface and dries, keeping you warm. If it rains the fabric dries quickly. If you do get soaked on the way to work they are easier to dry before your commute home. I see too many people cycling in a sopping wet cotton tee shirt and wonder how they ever get that dry. It is so much more hygienic and as long as you are clean and so is your clothing you will not smell.

Now padded shorts take a while (like 5 minutes!) to get used to. When you first put them on it feels a bit like a nappy. But when you sit on your saddle and ride it just makes sense. All of your vital areas are protected. I personally cannot see how people cannot wear them for cycling any real distance, no matter how good their saddle. And no, padded shorts don't have to mean camel toe!

You can wash your lycra overnight and it will be dry for the morning. Because it is so lightweight, you can easily carry a spare set of clothing if you are going to get wet and won't have the chance to dry out.

Makes you go faster
Wearing lycra makes you go faster. Now I can't prove this but I know it! Not only are you more aerodynamic, but there is something psychological about it! Because you are wearing sporty clothing you cycle faster. After all you would not want the hipster, the shopper or the commuter in a suit to overtake you would you!!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Why three bikes are better than one!

I suppose as a relative newcomer to the world of cycling (I have only been seriously cycling since May 2011) you could put my enthusiasm for riding bikes down to novelty. Whenever you take on a new hobby, it is easy to come a bit obsessed and I suppose I have done that with golf in the past. There was a time when nothing would get in the way of a round of golf, nor from constantly searching ebay and golf shops for the next item of equipment! I still love golf but I am not playing as often as I was, I almost never buy new equipment and I don't like playing in bad weather.

Is this down to my new obsession for cycling? Well possibly but I don't think so. There is time in my life for both interests as well as my need to spend quality time with my wife, family and friends. But there is something different about cycling. I am beyond the stage of wanting to constantly buy new clothing and equipment. I simply don't have any more drawer space for cycle jerseys, bib shorts or waterproofs. I normally delete the daily emails from Wiggle, Evans, Edinburgh Bicycles, Planet X and all the rest as I have neither the time nor money to look at them. I even read my Cycling Active magazine with less eagerness than I used to, because apart from upgrading my lights in the autumn, there is not really anything I need.

But nothing will stop me being excited every time I open my bike shed and seeing my three bikes safely locked up and ready to ride! I use my bikes mainly for commuting these days, although I do have the occasional weekend or weekday pleasure ride if I have the time. I have no plans to take up cycle racing (too old!), no plans to join a cycle club (don't like cliques!) or to do anything but the occasional sportive (Note to self: see if I can get a place on Ride London 2014) but I just love the flexibility I have with three different types of bike. I always joke to my wife about getting a fourth, as I don't own a proper off-road bike, but I am only half joking. There is room in my shed!

But why do I need three bikes? Or to re-ask the question at the top of this blog, why are three bikes better than one? The simple answer to the first question is I don't need three bikes, I have three bikes because I can. But the answer to the second question is more straightforward. Having three different bikes gives me flexibility, even if I use them all for commuting. It is ideal to have a choice of bikes for different uses and conditions and if one bike needs fixing I will aways have an alternative.

Bike 1 is a Specialized Sirrus hybrid. It is the basic model, and it was my first 'born again cyclist' bike. I bought it when I had no idea that this was going to become a passion and obsession. It is black, has mudguards and a bell. It is not exciting. But it is great for wet days when I need more grip on the roads, if I want to ride through the park on my way to work and it is comfortable and sturdy without being too heavy. It is a triple speed so I have a range of gears, so if I do want to go up some hills or get some speed on the downhill I can. It is great for winter riding, but I don't use it in the summer.

Bike 2 is my road bike. It is a Ridley EOS upper-entry level model that cost me about £900 two years ago. It is the bike I used to do my London to Paris ride last year and I use it it for longer rides and to commute to work when I want to go fast or when it is windy and I need to be lower. It has an alloy frame with carbon forks, and I have upgraded the wheels to Mavic OpenPro with 105 hubs. I have no intention of buying a carbon frame bike at the moment, and I love this bike. It is light and nimble, and the frame is great quality, and the full Tiagra gear and brake set does the job.

Bike 3 is a single speed/ fixie although I never use it on fixed gear. I bought it new on ebay and it is a limited edition Chrome-Moly Specialized Langster in a chrome finish. I have taken off the track-style drops and fitted flat bars, which give me a far more comfortable riding position. I changed the saddle initially for a Selle Rolls vintage style mount, but it was too hard so I have instead fitted a Charge Spoon saddle which I also have on my Ridley road bike. It is super-comfortable. I love this bike because it looks great (even with raceblade mudguards which I take off when it's dry), and I do not have to worry about gears or maintenance. A single speed for commuting is ideal and it keeps me fitter, because I have to stay in the same gear for hills! I bought this bike initially as a bit of a fashion thing (at my age!!), but it is now my favourite bike for commuting and popping to the shops. It is a just a great bike. I love overtaking the roadies on it too, as it has great acceleration. It makes me feel young!

So that is why I have three bikes. I am not a show-off nor particularly materialistic. It just makes sense!

Let me know what you think!

Friday, 2 August 2013

The Blogging Cyclist's Ten Top Tips for Cycling to Work

I have been cycling the twenty mile return journey from Sutton, Surrey to Vauxhall, London SW8 for over two years. When I first bought my hybrid bike back in May 2011, it was with the intention of doing the odd few miles here and there at evenings and weekends. But as I got used to the feeling of cycling, something I had not really done properly or consistently for the past 20 years other than the odd off road couple of miles with the kids as they were growing up, I got the cycling bug. No doubt about it cycling is addictive! Now, unless it is icy (yes, I made that mistake this past winter!) or ridiculously wet or windy, or I have a meeting FIrst thing or last thing that is not at my office, I cycle to work every day. 

If you are planning to commute to work on a regular basis like I do, I have put together  what I hope are some handy tips:

1. Cycle wear
Invest in decent cycle wear. You don't have to go the full Lycra look if you don't want to, but you should at least wear clothing that is made for cycling. You should also have a decent waterproofs and plenty of hi vis wear, especially for the winter. When I first started cycling I invested in cheap stuff from Sports Direct and this was fine for a while. But then I went on to buying better quality gear from my local bike shop Pearson's, who have great customer service but can be a little on the pricy side, and now I get most stuff from Wiggle, who have a great range at great prices (and send you a free mini pack of Haribo with every order!) My tip is, if you can afford it, go for mid-range clothing like Altura or Endura. It will last and be comfortable. Personally I cannot imagine why anyone would not wear padded shorts but that's just me!

2. Plan your route
It is nice to have a variety of routes to work just to mix it up a bit. Plan these in advance as there is nothing worse than getting lost on your way to work. Having got lost during my early cycling days trying to find my way across Wandsworth Common I do a trial run when I fancy something new. Transport for London Journey Planner has a route planner especially for cyclists.

3. Safety
Cycling in urban areas can be dangerous. Never forget you are a vulnerable road user. There are some other tips below related to this, but only you can make sure you don't get into any horrible scrapes. No one else will look after you so you have to. Never listen to music on headphones. 

4. Lights
Invest in decent lights. You need to be seen so a £1.99 light from Asda is unlikely to do the job. Be prepared to pay for decent lights. I use Knog Boomer lights that are lightweight and bright. I also like the Lezyne Mini-Drive rechargeable front light I have. You don't need to spend a fortune but do expect to pay around £30 to £50 for a reasonable set.

5. Assume every other road user is an idiot
It's sad but unless you obey this simple tip you will come a cropper. You have to assume that no one has seen you, and slow down if you think you are in danger. You will get to know the vehicles and types of driver you don't trust!

6. Nutrition
You may be cycling to help you lose weight and that's great, but you do not need to starve yourself! My journey to work burns up at least 300 calories, so I figure that's 300 calories more I can eat! I have a bagel and coffee before I leave for work and a bowl of Oatso Simple when I get to work after my shower. If you don't eat enough you will be fatigued on your way home and you will snack on unhealthy things during the day.

7. Bike maintenance
Look after your bike. Clean it regularly. De-grease and oil the chain and gears every few weeks, especially if you ride off road. Check and adjust your brakes regularly, CHeck your type pressure (see below) every few days. Have your bike serviced regularly. It is dangerous riding a bike in poor condition, and you are putting your safety at risk by doing so.

8. Tyres
If you are cycling regularly your tyres will need looking after. Part of this is making sure you have the right tyres for the job. For commuting I recommend puncture proof tyres like Specialized Armadillo or Continental Gatorskin. They are a bit more expensive than normal tyres but will save you the heartache of punctures on the way to work. And while we are on the subject of tyres you ned to inflate them to the right pressure. You can only really do this with a track pump, also known as a floor pump. Portable pumps will rarely do the job.

9. Know your local bike shops
Things will go wrong with your bike from time to time, normally at the most inconvenient time! For that reason it is good to look out for bike shops on your route and also near your work place so that you can pop your bike in for those unplanned repairs.

10. Personal hygiene
I'm lucky. I have a shower at work so I can wash properly when I get to work. I carry clean clothes in my back pack every day and I keep suits and spare clothes at work. If you are unable to shower when you get in you will almost certainly need to improvise. Some people use baby wipes. Make sure you have a wash bag at work with everything you need. Unless you are doing the shortest of journey you will get sweaty. You owe it to your work colleagues to make sure you look after your personal hygiene!

Well that's it for now. I've probably missed out quite a lot,  but I hope my top tips are helpful. Let me know what you think!