Let’s be clear from the off. I sort of hate cycling and cyclists. Not in the ‘how dare that cyclist hold me up on the road for 12 seconds when I’m late for work’ way, that’s too obvious. Personally I wish everyone would sod off on bikes and leave the roads emptier for running on when there aren’t pavements or they’re full of idiots on their smartphones chasing down Pokemon because they were never loved enough as a kid.
Why do I dislike it?
- It’s cheating. Want to travel a long way? Run you lazy git.
- It’s also rubbish cheating. Running is often quicker. I spent a happy holiday in Majorca ascending the 2 mile switchback up the nearest mountain every morning, jogging past the Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMIL) attempting to drag their expensive crotch rockets up the hill at a pace that needed time lapse photography to ascertain if they were actually moving. They were basically awful and although certainly faster downhill I still beat most for the up and down loop and didn’t have to endure a numb manhood for the next three hours.
- Reliability. Many of my friends cycle (I’m very understanding of their faults) and there is seldom a ride or race that didn’t involve punctures, chain issues, gear misalignment or brake issues. Of course us runners are forever having issues with shoes exploding, refusing to operate, getting stuck at 120 cadence for no reason or only working backward. That’s why we always carry three pairs of shoes, 18 sets of laces and fifteen innersoles.
- Cycling is overcomplicated and expensive. Want to get a bike? Think how much you spent on your first car, then treble it. That should cover the cost of the shoes that make you sound like a drunk horse as you prance around the coffee shop mid-ride, purchase some lycra that shows the world what religion you are and features a padded arse that resembles a soft poo smeared up your crack. The bike is extra. It won’t even come with pedals. If Ford tried to sell you pedals as optional extras on your Focus you’d sue them. On bikes it’s a sign of a decent machine. Anything that comes fully functioning and with all the included parts to actually work and be a useful device is laughed at. From then you move onto other extras. A holder for your bottle? Sure there’s a plastic one but this carbon fibre version will cut 0.34g of weight. Never mind that you could save more by blowing your nose or removing some ear wax.
- Of course there are some similarities to running. The endless hours spent training, thinking about training, talking about training, comparing notes on training with other boring people having a mid-life crisis and taking a basically pointless hobby far too seriously when at best they’re going rise to the dizzying heights of fairly awful.
So with all this in mind, what is going on?
I used to cycle a lot as a kid. Then I discovered cars and beers and seldom ventured out again apart from the odd ride to lectures at University. What I do remember about bike rides is that my dad would sometimes tag along and absolutely annihilate us cocky teenagers with ease. He used to cycle a lot as a lad. He was even sponsored by a local cycling shop and won many races. Whilst sorting some photos for his funeral last November I came across some race photos and trophies. Wearing a padded leather helmet as a concession to safety, he was pictured mid-race, in glorious sepia at the front of the peloton. These images struck a chord and awakened some dormant cycling gene. Maybe I should try cycling? After all I could run 100 miles so why not enter the Prudential Ride 100 that was opening for ballot applications? It was oversubscribed so I was unlikely to get in anyway.
But I did get in. Like those annoying non-runners who enter the London Marathon ballot and are accepted first time, I had now done the same with cycling. I didn’t even own a suitable bike. I had my original mountain bike from when I was 15 and a BMX for messing about with the kids. One was unsuitable and basically awful, the other explicitly banned from entry. I told you cyclists are snobs.
So now I needed a bike.
In the spirit of keeping it cheap, having a bike I could lob in a bush and run home if it all went to pot I wanted something old and simple. It would also be more akin to the machine my dad would have used. Ideally I’d like exactly the same bike but given he was born in 1933 and racing around 1950 I was wary any period correct bike would be ruinously expensive, unobtainable and probably would make purists cry if I didn’t install a period correct saddle or the wrong valve covers.
I sourced a cheap Raleigh Pursuit from eBay, it was not without issues but might one day resurface as a pub bike. The pedal was fused to the shaft so I was unable to change bearings, and the front derailleur was missing. The chain also didn’t bend. Costing up parts it looked an expensive fix. A lovely ex-runner called Paul offered a Peugeot (bike not a car, that would really be cheating) he was planning to throw out. It was infinitely better. So now I had a bike for free and with £2 of handlebar tape and some bar ends was ready to go. So of course I stuck it in the garage and got back to running. I had ultras to run. The bike ride in July was ages away.
Then it wasn’t. It was the end of June and apart from a quick 8 mile test and a couple of pub trips the bike hadn’t been used and I had 5 weeks left before the event. Probably should train a bit despite legs being wrecked from ultra training.
Five weeks before the event I went out on a Sunday evening for a ride. It went great for the first two miles on the flat, cycling was awesome, I’m obviously a natural. Then the chain got stuck between the big and small front cogs and I had to stop, smearing myself liberally in grease as I fixed it. Cycling is rubbish.
Later I stopped again as my lace came undone and I was worried it would get stuck in the gears. I stopped again as the toe clips seemed to shrink and force my left foot out until only my big toe was making contact. Cycling is definitely rubbish.
Any time not spent attending to issues alternated between “I’m going so fast my tyres might melt” and “this hill will never end I’m going to go so slow I’ll fall off under a bus”. The latter was on hills I wouldn’t even notice when running. Cycling is absolutely rubbish.
There were brief moment in between where everything felt good before a pot hole pushed my spine through the top of my head. Cycling is undeniably rubbish.
I finished 18 miles in 1h20 of cycling, plus 10 minutes of running repairs, so about 13.5mph. Only another 82 to go on the day. Try to focus on the positives – I’ve worked up the courage to actually use the drop bars and can occasionally change gear without stopping pedalling. I’m a master.
Next training ride was a short one whilst England were playing footie on the telly. Roads were quiet so I managed 16 miles in 1h05 with no mechanical issue and was almost mastering changing gear without looking down. Cavendish eat your heart out! Pace of 14.5mph so a bit quicker.
Figuring I needed to actionably do some training I downloaded a schedule from British Cycling website. It was called the “Panic Plan”. So at least I wasn’t the only person to basically try and wing a 100 mile bike ride.
It was 6 weeks long. The plan had long rides at weekend and various sessions mid-week entitled things like “spin-out” and “sweet-spot”.
I had 5 weeks. And I couldn’t really be bothered with finding out what those sessions were. The sessions I needed were “pulling a tiny saddle out your bum”, “not falling off” and crucially “changing gear without falling off”. If it went well I might also need “drinking from your bottle without falling off”.
Figuring that the overall training schedule must be similar to that for a marathon, and the long weekend sessions were key I focussed on them.
Long Ride 1 – Plan for the weekend was a longer ride, combination of fear and oversleeping stopped me joining mates for a full 50 miler but I did manage to meet part way for 36 miles in 2h30m, about 14.5mph again. They were undoubtedly going easy on me but it was reassuring to not be completely left for dust and by sitting behind could watch their gear changes (done effortlessly with indexed shifts from the brake levers) whilst I fumbled around on the frame trying to replicate. Main thing I learnt was not to be afraid to go to the lowest gear early and churn away. Riding with other people for the first time also gave vital experience of being in a pack, even if 3 people is a little different to 20,000. I found it very surprising how little your HR rises. No matter how hard a hill felt or how much my legs screamed I barely raised my heart at all.
I decided to check the event website. No idea what I put for expected duration when I signed up, and cut off period depends when you started. Slower riders started earlier so I hoped I’d put a slow time in. Based on earlier rides if I could maintain the pace I’d be looking at 7hrs.
Mid week I managed 25 miles on Tuesday and 16 on Thursday. Better pace and managing to hold a steady speed better.
Long Ride 2- Saturday was long ride time and I met up with Jen for part of her 70 miler, managing 52 miles in 3h32, so on target for a 7ish 100. Then I went home and ate all the food. Never an issue with running but after cycling I can’t stop eating. Or yawning. Mid-ride. Very odd.
Long Ride 3 – The following week I didn’t manage to ride at all before the weekend so met up with club mate Julian for a 60 miler. It went well, mostly, but rear chain popped off three times including on a hill causing me to fall into a bush. Know how many times I’ve fallen in a bush in 7 years of running? None. I struggled on and about 1 mile from home the occasional clunking from the pedals stopped. As did the pedals. The front derailleur had fallen apart and in the process blocked the pedal. Managed to bodge it to get home on the little ring. Fiddling later I found the locking ring on the rear gears had come off so the whole rear gear set was sliding in and out, making it pot luck what gear you ended up with and explaining the chain falling off. Even with issues managed 63 miles in 4h13, giving a lot of confidence for the 100. I never ran over 50 in training for a 100 mile run so knew I could bluff the rest.
Long Ride 4 – Feels odd to call it long, but training schedule had just 1h30 down, but set off on my own with that in mind. Repaired gears worked well but had picked up a bit of a rattle somewhere. The bike has weird French helical gears at the rear. Make a lovely click, click when free wheeling but the accompanying rattle was a little concerning. Managed 26 miles in 1h37m and average 16mph so getting faster.
Final week – Decided the rattily gears were a bad sign. Got some old wheels off eBay, four for £5. I’m spending big on this bike! Best wheel with period gear fitted a treat but I couldn’t get any of the four tyres on at all. Figure even if I could it’ll be impossible to change at roadside. Brainwave – Swapped for wheel off the Raleigh, works great until slips in little ring as teeth worn away. This Raleigh bike was a real peach eh?
Third wheel was good but gear range very small, can’t swap with the gears off the too big wheel without a fancy tool I don’t have. Fourth wheel is Shimano style gear which I do have the tool for, but small range again. Brainwave again – managed to swap gear set with one off the unused kids bike. So now I have a semi-mountain bike range of Shimano gears on a random wheel that seems to work and a much lower gear for the hills! Downside is I’ve lost the clicky clacky of the period gears. Sad.
So that’s it. Bike is ready to go, great mate David has picked up my pack and even driving me down on Sunday. We’re leaving at by-fuck-that’s-early O’clock. Which is handy as I’m so ill prepared for this I didn’t even realise there was an expo and hadn’t even thought about how to get to the start.
I’m bib no 24044, starting at 6:52am in Orange J. Let’s do this!
Final finishing touch was a top for the event: