Friday, March 14, 2014

Delightfully Lost in Translation: When a Hill is Not a Hill
so far the greatest grade i've done is a little over
this thing says its 27% - have you ridden that?

Sometimes distraction is a great way to learn new things about yourself. Have you ever experienced that? where you're doing one thing while doing another and suddenly you realise that you're doing something you didn't think you could do - or that was hard before but this time, you didn't notice?

 That's what's happened to me these past couple sessions on the road with the bike: by following a structured workout (the new distraction) i found i'd gotten over hills that previously had been daunting, more or less without noticing them. Such that i'm thinking "is this the same route? you mean that was the last killer hill? really? what just happened?" Here's my take on that "what just happened" - and how a perspective shift can be an awesome enabler for better performance - without even trying (seemingly)


Usually when i'm on the bike, i'm going out for two things: time and speed. How long can i stay out; how fast can i go in that time. Push push push.

The parameters of this work out killed speed. No speed. couldn't think about speed.  -instead the objectives were: time, heart rate and cadence. On some work intervals, the focus was on cadence (number of revolutions of the pedals per minute); on some the focus was on heart rate. On the recovery intervals, it was all about heart rate.

This dual focus of either cadence/time or heart rate/time meant that the terrain in front of me was incidental: my priority was to find the gearing that would let me get the heart rate or the cadence for the specific interval.

That experience was really pretty cool. For instance, if i hit the start of a hill when i was about to start a recovery interval after an intense interval, and the target was to get my heart rated down - i had to go up that hill at pretty much of a crawl. I could hear this voice in my head saying "what will those cars passing you be thinking of you going this slowly!" - absolutely nothing. The other voice inside was going ok ok you're just about in the zone, slow down a touch - yes got it ok, keep it, get ready to gear up for the descent how are you going to keep your heart from dropping more going down??

That hill became something else entirely than THE CLIMB - just because of that shift in focus. By knowing the particular road i was on, it was also interesting to be able to anticipate where different parts of the ride were going to present different terrain for the various intervals - there was a wee bit of planning - perhaps even strategizing - about how to make those shifts work as best as possible. That kind of planning was fun too - oh look - i chose a slightly different path for this part to make sure when i hit the work interval i wasn't going down hill. Cool.

It's Not ABOUT the HILL - proactive terrain

A lovely side effect of this altered state of focus - that is, where the terrain is another variable in the mix rather than the Daunting Prospect - is that i learned i can do more shaping around the experience of the hill based on what my priorities are for the skills i'm working to develop: just because there's a hill doesn't mean i have to see it as a hill, as a thing which must be gotten over as quickly as possible, isn't that the point of hills? Well, perhaps not. Today the hills were interesting variables to situate within effects of gearing and heart rate to do a particular kind of practice. For my next outing, they may become climbs again. Or perhaps something else.
Is this altered state, stating the obvious?
Now for folks who have been riding and training on the road awhile this approach is likely eliciting a great big "duh" - yes that's what training is about: you have a plan and you execute the plan within the context of the terrain and the weather. If you're seriously trying to build for an event (like a first sportive...)you do the plan.

the Translation of the Hill from Speed to Performance

But there's something else going on here: once upon a time i ran x-country, and if we were doing repeats we went to the track; if we were doing hill repeats, we went to the hills. We found terrain that mapped to the goals of the training, you see? Today, the terrain/weather was incidental. Now i suppose if the goal is to do hills it's bloody challenging to do that workout without hills, so what am i saying?
Perhaps it's that if presented with a hill - a usual daunting challenge - one need not treat it as A Hill and a Climb but as a gearing or heart rate or cadence problem. The key bit there is that when it is a gearing or a heart rate or a cadence problem for set temporal intervals, that problem becomes, it seems, more interesting, more tractable, more FUN, perhaps more rewarding even?

What makes this translation important to me? It kept me riding today. Rather than go through the psychological torment of "oh god there's that hill, too, actually three of them..." it's it doesn't matter about SPEED - today is not about speed - it's about maintaining other parameters. It's not always about speed. That's just one measure. Wow. that's just one measure.

Right now, in fact, it's apparently more important to get miles on the bike into my body than just about anything else.

Having that template today to focus on exploring cadence and heart rate and time let me get more miles in than anticipated, let me experience delight about hills, learn something new about my relationship to that particular terrain challenge, and weirdly, not feel like scarfing down lunch afterwards - but that's an aside.

Do you get Lost in Translation? 

Have you had moments of translation like this? where you were taken by surprise that you had just done something because it was recontextualised as something else? Maybe a hike became doable because it was primarily a walk with a colleague instead? and suddenly the miles dropped away? Or maybe it was some job of work that got completed because rather than being a statistical anaylsis, it was helping a friend solve a problem??

Will be keen to hear. And in the mean time, here's to Translation. And Hills not always being Hills.

Related Links
6 minutes to Health on a bike (research overview)
Getting Lean for Power on the bike (research)
Using the bike to burn fat - protocols (research)

my inner belgian hardman

There's a concept in road cycling called "the belgian hard man" - it seems it's a kind of guy fetish in its "true" context where there's some deep respect for stories of riders who go out in all kinds of inclement weather and nasty roads and just BIKE (see gals to left getting sprayed by passing flemmish truck: complete promo vid here).

 Somehow, doing it "getting it done" all that stuff gets big respect points. As bikesnob notes in his wonderful book Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, there's a big celebration of suffering with road biking, and the cult of the Flahute seems to epitomize it. But what if that's all a ruse? and these folks are having FUN!

For example: today, i went out in real british shite wind blowing rain pouring bleck at about high noon with good light. With the miracle of modern technical fabrics - and some clever use of traditional ones (like wool - nothing like it) - i stayed, well, comfortable. And as such, i was delighted with the ride: few people on the roads; fewer on the limited bike path areas, and the delight of saying "yes" to a training ride rather than turning around and saying i'm baggin' it; headng for the trainer. Truly, v. little in the way of suffering here other than bits of the ride designed as a test of current levels.

And then that test fell apart. I'd had it all nicely programmed so i wouldn't have to think about it: could just read a screen and see data recording, and then it seems i'd mis-set a 1 min interval to an hour forty. IT did seem like something was a bit off. So there's my test ride sozzled - For those who have done these, you know part of the point is to build up to a particular intensity for a test phase. So having to stop figure out what's wrong, try to reset etc - it's not optimal.

Now, i could get all annoyed as i'd built a week up towards this effortful thing, but what would that do? And the joy if it all was it seemed in the first half of the test when i wasn't sure what had happened, i'd actually ridden out further than i'd thought would be likely. That's a Good Thing - may mean i'm a wee bit better tuned than i'd anticipated. Anyway more miles under my belt right now - and more get Fit minutes - it's all good.

So, with a real head shift for me, i let go of the test, and focused on seeing how well i could enjoy the ride home - focusing on tempo and the such like - where the wind and rain were excellent resistance for assessing power, pace, heart rate, etc. And heck, really, what fun. I'm outside - outside is good.
One of the things about outside being quite so good relative to inside is that quite often it calls more systems into play than inside - we have to be aware of stuff. On a bike, it's still life and death (you should see the UK stats). Balance, cognitive challenge of awareness, strength, effort.

The main thing: the ride was FUN.

And this got me thinking about the whole belgian hard man thing - maybe it's fun for them too? maybe the suffering thing is either inaccurate or a cover?

I mean, it COULD be miserable - if i'd been wet and cold that would have been crap. really - i don't find that a great celebratory experience - or particularly intelligent. So perhaps what i'm suggesting is that what looks hard to southerners perhaps or west coasters looking at belgian guys riding in the muck - ain't so hard to people raised in that terrain. It might even be fun.

I admit: i could have this whole thing wrong. Maybe the belgian hard man revels in misery, and  my belgian state of mind to love whatever the envirnoment presents is not a belgian hard man of the mind.
But i figure, today, out pretty much alone on the roads, going for a training test so pushing hard, and finding a love in the elements as a help rather than a hinderence - that was sweet. It was unexpected and fun and heck, i did it - and that means i'm actually, measurably, perhaps also spiritually better for it.

Related Links: 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

UK Winter Cycling Comfort and Joy(pt2) Rapha Pro Team Jacket - review - women in men's clothing

Want an all rounder jacket for crap winter weather cycling in at least the southern UK if not the entire Pacific North West and darker winter places of Europe? Have you looked at the Rapha Pro Team jacket? 

rapha pro team jacket: manly yes, but i like it too
Oh, you're a gal so you gave these a miss as another "man garment" and that's just one too many? Understood, but maybe reconsider. Here's why.

Two things have been a revelation about how southern UK wet winter riding, in those 0C-4C mornings have gone from a head-shaking grimace to a smile: one has been the crud roadracer mk2 fenders, discussed in the last post. The other has been this incredibly versatile Pro Team Jacket by Rapha.

When asking folks about cycling attire for UK winters, where one may get caught in the rain from time to time, but perhaps is not going out for a long ride in such deliberately, there are a range of suggestions from wind jacket that's water repellent, to, well, a rain jacket. And i spent quite a few cycles going back and forth with base layers and jersey plus wind breaker or rain jacket. One suggestion that's came up a few more times (including from The Steve), though, is: get a soft shell.

What is a softshell jacket? Nice discussion of jacket types from wind to water proof, from hard shell to soft  here at My take away is that a soft shell has some insulation while offering breathability, some wind stopping and some water resistance but not what you'd call waterproof. As puts it, with these attributes,
bicycle magazine's
what to wear
Soft shells [...] can simply be worn over a base layer of your choice when it’s not too cold. Add a thicker long sleeve mid-layer for really cold days and you begin to see that soft shells are the best solution for cyclists looking for a do-everything winter jacket. Paired with a lightweight, packable waterproof jacket, it’s a good combination.

But what soft shell?

It seemed from what i could find that many softshell jackets were for weather colder than what the UKsouth tends to get as regular brrr. Or at least for me.

What i've also learned is that riding togs are very personal. While i'm riding with knee warmers and oversox on the shoes, riding partner Steve has his longs on with his winter booties. This is 6-7C.

Personally, i've been finding the clothing recommendations at Bicycling Magazine's What to Wear interactive chart to be really close to working for me, suggesting that the most i'd want taking riding to occasional sub 0C.

Customer Conversation

What's a gal to do?
I phoned Rapha, a british cycling garment company, and i am sad sad not to have noted the person's name in Portland who helped me out, but we had an awesome conversation about riding styles and temperatures.

Portland weather is not unlike the UK's, and this person and i seemed to be on the same wave-length. He recommended the Pro Team Jacket as not too warm, where a variety of base layers could make it warmer as necessary; it could be worn like a jersey or as a jacket over a baselayer and jersey.

I thought this sounds ideal.
You may ask yourself: ideal? how could it be ideal given

My sense was that the Pro Team Jacket Would Work, and for a few reasons. Because the more racey (ie trim and shorter) cut would actually work for a small gal, and based on the predicted weather, the layering approach would be just the ticket. And as for tempo, i think that just means 2 things: the primary activity is not the stop and start commuting can be that may require extra warmth for non-moving moments; this is a jacket that warms up with you: you're moving, it's keeping you warm.  All fine for the intended application: deliberate rides.

Oh! and i also wanted something visible but not garish. The orange seemed to fit the bill.

Does The Pro Team Jacket Work?

Does it work? Oh my goodness! Happiness and joy. I kept waiting for the weather to break - to get cold enough to give it a try - for it to drop below 7. And then it happened: a -1C morning over the holidays. I was off. I wore a light long sleeve base, a marino jersey over that, and then the jacket. With tights, neck gaitor, marino toque and some overshoes and mitts, i was in a very happy place. Cold? what's that?

The jacket kept off the wind incredibly well, while, as i got hot (perhaps i was tempo'ing after all), the back let the heat out to keep body temp just awesome.

The über test: the flood, the car and the fountain.

this is the kind of thing that hit me
yet - Pro Team Jacket keepin me dry - amazingly
The next ride, 4C, provided an even greater demo. It was a sunny day after torrential rains. The road in
one point was crossed with water - pretty deep - four inches or so right across the road. I was moving through the middle, very carefully, and what should come speeding the other way, but a car, going fast.
Maybe they didn't see me; maybe they thought it would be fun to drench someone, see how hight they could get the water to fountain up.

Maybe they were drunk. I dunno. All i do know is that this wave came over me and i wasn't surfing. That was the last time i'd seen water from the inside like that. It was like time slowed down.

I was expecting the ride to be ruined. That i'd be soaked - and my new jacket to be wrecked and would have to turn around like a wet rat and crawl home. Didn't happen. I was laughing (and pedalling ) out loud.

I was still comfy and dry. My legs were feeling damp from the soaking but my body felt dry. I couldn't believe it. Still dry, still warm, still riding. The ride continued. It just became Epic Ride. Today i was a Belgian Hard Man. I was out; others were not. I got a soaking and was able to keep going. Ain't techno grand?

side view: the back's Super-Roubaix rear
and underarm panels are stretchier
than the Polartec windproof/water resistant
chest shoulders and arms.
Rapha calls this
a "softshell membrane"
- it's certainly light and lovely.
Yes those grey stripes are reflective
I still expected the jacket to be covered in black road gunk, but when i got home, the jacket was amazingly fine. I don't know quite how, but wow.

Temperature Ranges

inside the jacket, two types of fleece
on the windproof bits and the stretchy back.
Also you can see the seams are taped inside.
The grey fleck on the arm is reflective;
the cuffs are elasticised and slip well
under mitt or glove cuffs.
I've now worn the Pro Team Jacket from -1C to about 7C usually on about 24 or so mile rides, so not huge long tests,  but it's been great.
It's been easy to fling a windbreaker or gillet over this when getting the first few miles in, just to get that tempo-heat going, then stuff the layer into the capacious back pocket. The obvious extra garment also being a rain jacket/hard shell, but it just hasn't hit the cold for long enough to need - but it would definitely give at least five more degrees.

Often the back pocket has glove liners in it when it's these temps: the gloves can get a bit sweaty inside and not dry out after a mid day cafe stop; having the liners is a cheap way to keep hands warm in slightly damp gloves

When it's 5-7C, i've been wearing it over a base layer and take a vest or windbreaker with me, pending on the wind chill. I've yet to be caught in a real rain pour that was more than a minute or two.

When it's 0-5C i've been wearing a heavier base layer and jersey, then the jacket. that's LOTS. Starting up from a cafe stop, i'm glad to have a vest/gillet or windbreaker to warm up a bit before that "tempo" think kicks in.

When it's 7-9C, it's not on: i find it's just too hot and prefer a base layer, jersey, vest or windbreaker; shorts and knee warmers.

The warmth plus breathability are the Pro Team Jacket's functional star features. These functions come from its bevy of well considered materials and composition.

Pro Team Jacket Composition

Some of the things that seem to make the jacket work are the way it does the windproof water resistant slightly stretchy polartec on the front, and the very stretchy more breathable (and water resistant) material on the back.

Classy design touches: there is a slight contrast between the back fabric and the windproof front and arms panels
the collar comes up for good protection, with give or a neck gaitor,
soft material facing for against the neck and zip garage.
(click for bigger image). Hanger is obvious useful touch inside.

top/front of arms, shoulders and front panels windproofed polartec
(click for larger view)
Power Shield Pro softshell material, exclusive to Rapha,
used for the front-facing panels in the chest, arms and shoulders
There are the Rapha trad three big pockes on the back for food, wind or water proof and Other Stuff. There's a wee zip pocket in the front - great for a phone/id. 

Fit - for Women?

For me, my use, so far, this jacket seems pretty durn perfect. And now i make the requisite comment that for the price it should be. My expectation is that like other quality gear - like Patagonia or Assos - it will last. Wherever possible i like the "buy once" approach to things (eg "steel is real") .

That's me taken care of, but how well will this design would work for gals more generally? Usually, i take a women's small; this is a men's small. Men's stuff can often be either a bit big or too long. 

nice having the id/phone pocket in front
Trim lines and room in the sleeves for layers.
just click for larger image/detail

3 big Jersey pockets, in back with reflective stripes

men's small for a gal (5'6", 128) who takes women's small
gives room for baselayer and jersey (and gillet if needed)
underneath no problem
or just as easily with just base layer
The advantage - it seems - with the Pro Team Jacket is that because it is "aero" it is smaller/snugger perhaps than a usual guys piece for a given size. Looking at reviews of the jacket, this has been an observation by the men (eg this latest by For gals, this guy snugness is perhaps a help.  

Would love to know from other women, if you've tried it on, what your experience has been?

Check out Sizes? EASY.   If this sounds like a jacket you'd like to explore, Rapha makes this pretty
easy if you're not on the doorstep of one of their shops.

One of the extremely nice things about Rapha is that it's easy to order a couple sizes and send back what doesn't work. In the US and UK in any case, it's free postage back to the mother ship. Their returns process is also easy (returns policy here) - it assumes only that you have access to a printer to print out the return information, though if stuck you could likely write out all the information by hand.

Their mailing envelops are robust so it's also easy to reuse the bag that the garments came in to send back.
Rapha mail bag reused for size return

Women's Pro Kit? Meanwhile, it would be lovely for Rapha to consider making some of its pro kit for gals. It makes its "classic" pieces in a women specific cut. Some commenters argue that the women's versions aren't really as "women's" as they could be. Would be keen to hear what other garment makers see? 

In the interim, the Pro Team mark currently says "guys" tho some customer support folks say it's not really "men's" it's "unisex."Hmm. I'm not sure if gals wearing men's clothes makes them "unisex"but it's something most of us are used to in sport gear. 

Talking with a Rapha customer service before x-mas, they did say they had a whole lot more women's stuff planned for spring. Will be interesting to see what that means. 

Quick Aside: Customer Service

But speaking of customer service, i've written before about how what can keep someone coming back to a brand is not just a great product, but also the pre and post sale contact. Rapha does this side of the business really well. I have to write a post about that - there are some pretty cool stories and awesome people. Such stories of folks going above and beyond the call of customer duty, consistently, mean that, where financially possible, i will try to connect with a Rapha product: ya get the whole pre post and during support along with a well made product. 
"Today" - based on a very UK winter day
by Mark Fairhurst, Zeitgeist Images

Overall: Pro Team Jacket - it's a keeper.

The happiness about this jacket - what's it's meant for me in terms of the Joy Factor - is that i can go for bike rides through the winter. I can keep riding. moving. Now i'm sure there are other jackets that would likely work, but this is the one i've found, and it surprises and delights me every time i'm out in the wind and the muck and i feel just right and keep turning the cranks. Keeping the tempo. Finding the flow. Joy. 

Have you tried the Pro Team Jacket? what kit keeps your winter joy turning?

Related Posts

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Gear for Winter Riding Joy part 1: Crud Roadracer Mk2 Road Cycling Mud Guards Review

Two things sing to me about cycling right now, en hiver d'Angleterre. Crud Roadracer Mk2 bike
fenders (mud guards) and the Rapha Pro Team Jacket.

Not quite in lieu of fenders
mark fairhurst, zeitgeist images
At least for me, they seem the perfect response to the prevailing conditions of the past couple months in southern UK: roads after the rain that are either covered in places with water or simply totally mucky, and morning temperatures that can be anywhere from 0-4C, with day temps more like 7-10C.

I'll come back to the jacket. In this piece let me touch on the Mk2 guards, and not just the guards, but a story of awesome customer service delight that just earns customer loyalty.

The Aesthetic of Road Crap?

Some folks will not put mudguards on their wheels even in winter. It's an aesthetic thing apparently and
also some boy rule thing (i wonder if they wash their own kit?)  

ass-thetically pleasing?
I dunno, aesthetic of guards on the bike vs mud stream up the ass and back. The latter is somehow more fetching than innocuous guards that keep said spray off the costly kit - where there's no guarantee the wash will remove those road grease gunk stains? 

If not for you for your riding buddies? When out for a jaunt with your personal Steve  i've learned now from experience, if this person rides in front of you and does not have a guard, and the roads are post rain, the spray arcing up behind that rider's tire will decorate your front attire. Keep well back. Perhaps this is a feature: wheelsuckers will be pushed back or face the consequences?

Enter Crud RoadRacers Mk2

box with bits - all the Mk2 pieces
some assembly required
But, mes amis - for those who are willing, consider mudguards
  1. As signifieds that: you are training in the winter (Merckx used fenders) you are ok with a few extra grams on the bike; this is a gift to your practice; you will fly in the spring
  2. it's actually functionally better for that practice for one's kit to stay as dry and clean as possible, is it not? so we can work as long and hard as possible. Personally,  i prefer my suffering to be in the form of pushing my lactate threshold than from being cold, wet and grimy for no reason, don't you (apparently some others like to be more miserable so take off fenders to increase Suck quotient)
  3. Reduced laundry is reduced laundry - resources spared as well as wear on clothing and gunk in machine.
  4. One's bike will say "thank you" as more of it stays clean - like the underside of the saddle, front mech, (you).
Crud Roadracer Mk2's seem to be designed to be as light and flexible and discrete as possible. They blend. Some folks, while extolling their lightness,  have said they're fiddly to put on. Perhaps a bit the first time. But i will take a few extra minutes of fiddly to put together the blades than having to take on and off and reset brakes to put on heavier fenders with metal stays that usually rattle.

Dean Downing (cyclist on the box from rapha/condor time) - with mk2's

Easy to take on and off 

I've used the Mk2's on two bikes now, and after doing the first bike, moving them to the other bike took less than ten minutes. This is a good thing: when it is nice and dry out and fenders not required - it's super fast to remove them; when it gets rainy or cruddy, it's durn quick to put them back on. I leave the little tabs on the stays for where the stays attach. That speeds up on and off-ness a treat.

Unique Mk2 Attributes: three pieces for custom size/length of guard.

Unlike more standard plastic fenders, the Mk2's come in three pieces, based around the core part of the fender referred to as the blade.

blade bits
nose and tail bits in a bag
On the front, this means that the amount of fender poking out in front of the wheel from the front fork forward, and from the back of the wheel down is up to you. Longer and less spray; shorter more spray/save a few grams.

In use: wrap of rear mk2
covering mech.
It works
On the back, the options are again how much cover beyond main blade: have it as full or partial coverage as you wish. Cover can come down down completely behind the seat tube to wrap around the tire and protect front mech, and the tail can cover as much of the back wheel as you wish, fanning out practically behind the level of the chain stays.

The core blade component attaches in two places: above the brake and on the chain stays. The fender is suspended above the wheel via easy to undo zip ties attached around the brake bolt. 

lug held by o-ring to attach
leave on bike for
fast reattachment
I was surprised to read bikeradar's review that says these ties always have to be cut. Not in my experience: press down the release tab to undo the tie, the tie comes off.   The blade is kept away from the wheel by the adjustable stays that attach to the frame by small plastic tabs wrapped onto the chain stays with o-rings. The entire rig is plastic. 

The nose and tail components of the blades are attached by plastic bolts and washers, and optional double sided tape provided, once you're certain which tail/nose you wish. 

Nice that the bit on the rear fender that comes down by the front mech has a lovely bit of coverage to reduce crud flying up there. If you keep your bike inside your domicile, these features are a plus: they make bike de-cruding before bringing inside an easier process. 

Yes, they blend. And they Work 

The big question of course will be: do they work? Yes. You'll see quite a few reviews on the web in support of these fenders since they were first introduced in 2009. In the rain, or in the muck (my dominant use seems to be the latter).

Customer Delight

Front blade brakes in two
Sometimes things surprise you. Don't you just love a company that delights you? exceeds your expectations? First of course is good product, but it's the follow up support that keeps you coming back, eh?

First Surprise The first time this happened with Crud Products, i'd had a cable tie break after a ride with them on the fixie. I emailed to ask how might i get a replacement and how odd for a nylon tie to break - i got an email asking for my address just to send me one. There it was in the mail. Cool. How very nice. I mean that's time and postage out of someone's day to do that.

Second surprise: There are a number of videos on the Crud site about installing the fenders, and also showing how even with a stick coming up under the fender, the guards are designed to let go, and are made to bend rather than break (shown below).

Given that,  I've recently had two blades actually brake by having a stick (or something) get caught under the fender with the effect of the blade snapping and cracking, once on the front, then a few weeks later, on the back, and on the same durn bit of path, too, where no sticks seem evident.

Rear blade: another break?
Interestingly, both times the blade has broken at the top and behind the zip tie at the brake. The screwed/glued tail/nose bits do not come undone. Once these fenders are built and that sticky tape put in place with the nut and bolt, it stays built.

The first time this break happened, i wrote to Crud Products to say what can i do? and was told this was very unusual and here is the spares page where parts are available below cost. I ordered a replacement blade, and with free shipping, it seemed to arrive in moments. Super. Put it back on with ease, and away i go again. Happy as a dry and clean little clam.

Perhaps i'm just unlucky as what happened in his stick demo video did not happen for me (the chain stays come out, the blade goes free, bends, doesn't crack).

Take a look about 37 secs in 

This second time, with it happening at the rear wheel, i went right to the spares page, ordered a new blade, but also emailed Mr. Crud Tompkins to say, look i've ordered the blade, delighted that i can, but because, alas,  this break thing has happened again.

Here's the Customer Surprise/Delight part: on a sunday (a day of rest??) i received a note that i would be receiving a brand new set of mk2's; spare part cost refunded. On Sunday?

That's someone standing behind the product, saying (as with the above stick under fender video): they're not supposed to break. Bend, yes, come away from stays, yes. Break, no. Wow. Are you impressed? are you saying that's the right thing to do, but who does that? consistently?


But all this discussion of breaks is that Crud has a Spares page. I just like that, don't you? the notion of something being fixable rather than replaceable. It is easy to order spare parts for any component of the fender sold at what according to Mk2 inventor Peter Tompkins is at "less than cost."

My sense is that spares are more often looked at seasonally: after someone has removed the fenders from the bike, wants to put them back on and is looking about for those little bits that of course we know where they are when we so carefully put them away at first, but then can't find them weeks or months later. Thank you Pete Tompkins for the spares page. 
assembled front mk2 

Videos for Fenders: Install, settup, testing

The support and info for this product is pretty amazing. Though it's exactly what most of us seem to want for such do-it-yourself kit.

As other reviewers have noted, the Crud site has a host of videos about how to install these on road bikes with even super tight clearance. There are also a variety of videos on youtube about installs of different bikes. 

A New Functional Aesthetic: Suck it up - get the Guards

Bottom line: for UK winters during or apres rain road cycling, where there is no way to avoid crud, do yourself, your bike, your gear, your buddies (and anyone who supports cleaning up after you) a favour and consider these lovely uk designed, UK MANUFACTURED, highly functional, customisable, unobtrusive, aesthetically pleasing mud guards. You and those with whom you cycle will be so glad you did. 

Fenders? Merckx? ya uh huh. From velominati
Buy Crud / Support b2d: if you're in the UK/EU and you'd like to get a set of Crud's online from amazon and support b2d a bit at the same time, here's an AMAZON UK affiliate link
Otherwise, hope you'll reach out to your local bike shop. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Getting Back on the Road...With a Little Help from A Friend (cycling - not about the bike - part 2)

Have you ever been afraid to take up a skill despite the fact that it interests you, calls to you, you maybe have even done it once upon a time, but changing circumstances have caused you to set it aside?  While in your heart though, you still cherish a small hope that One Day Things Will Change and you will once again be able to take up that activity? As seasons pass, well...perhaps that hope grows a little more remote?

Such has been the case for me with cycling. But things can change. That hope can resurge. We can (re)claim the space believed no longer possible to access. Really.
this van will not kill me; i am not alone; one foot down next foot down move around...
(awesome artwork by Mark Fairhurst,
Sometimes we just need a little help from our more intrepid or skilled friends. This is part II of such a story - in my case, a story of getting back on the bike, and said bike back onto roadways - with some help. This is also, in a way, a story of Steve,  Randoneur.


Biking can be a great way to see (beyond) the local environs. It seems even around urban centers in the UK, it's not too hard to get out into the country. And what country there can be: rolling verdant hills, sheep, cows, picturesque bridges over railways and streams; paths along streams; paths along railways.

Likewise, there are so many communities in such close proximity to each other, it's difficult to move too far without hitting a place to revive from the miles. Pubs, tea shops, cafes are everywhere apparent. Most maintain year-round al fresco seating, too. Indeed, effort must be made to cirumnavigate such watering holes for at least some part of a journey, or one would never get moving for more than a few minutes at a time.

You may have noticed, implicit within this two-wheeled experience is one has both the wherewithal to find these routes, and has likewise the requisite lack of trepidation to attempt such expeditions on not-without-the-possibility-of-death-by-vehicle-roadways in the first place.

If one has a very poor sense of direction or orientation (check: c'est moi) or if one has developed a fear of the narrowness and shoulder-less-ness of many (most?) british roadways (check check, moi aussi) or has both these conditions (well checked again) then being able to take advantage of these beautiful vistas while stimulating one's phyisology becomes an impossible mission. Indeed, this paralytic state with respect to cycling has been me for the past - well - while. Since coming to the UK, my bike has only seen miles on a turbo trainer.

Its use in fact diminished as other tools began to fill the gap it left. Its space by the family hearth grew increasingly under threat "You don't seem to use it anymore; it's taking up space, isn't it..." Indeed, when room became available in a storage shed, it did spend a season dismantled, wrapped in plastic, relegated, retired.

And then, this past summer happened. Due to various circumstances described in my last post Dec 31, 2013 here i was in a safe enough space for a long enough time to explore  being on a bike outside again. But how does this get me back on The Road - and dealing with cars and routes - and cars.

 Enter Steve

Steve is a colleague. Steve is from Wales. That's important when you're in England. I'm a foreigner and Steve is Welsh. IT's not clear whom would get shot first on a dark night. You may be surprised by that, however, some Irish folk at a conference once claimed there was still a law on the books in England that (1) men of a certain age must practice their archery (discussed here) and (2) it's ok to shoot welshmen after dark (see note 3 here). There must be more to it than that, but i'm not so sure... Anyway. Steve.

Will Serious Cyclist Bike with Beginner?  

Steve cycles. A lot. For miles. Many places. He cycles on weekends with a real cycling club. He also mountain bikes. Sometimes in converted mines. In Wales. All last year i heard just fleetingly about Steve's various rides. So in the back of my mind, late summer, i was indeed thinking "Steve rides... But he's a serious rider. But maybe he wouldn't mind. No no, you'd just be holding him back..."
  Never really as swift as i think i am, my partner asks, "Didn't you tell me Steve bikes? Why not ask him to go out on some rides with you? That could be fun..."
  "But he's a serious rider..."

So... i asked him if he would be willing to show me some of the more ridable routes he and his club explored - to see if there was accessible countryside around where we are. And guess what? He was happy to do so.
This is Steve. Making sure i'm
still there. Isn't that nice??
i think that's nice.
And so out we went. I was really concerned that i would hold steve back and all the joy of the ride would be sucked out of it for him, being sherpa to me. Rides too short, too slow. Yuck.

What absolutely amazed me was how these fears turned out - to the best of my knowledge - not to be realised. Steve says his club rides are like trying to hang onto a train, with one particularly strong rider - so he gets his big training rides there. Our runs - so far of about 25 -40 mile routes, broken in half with coffee stops al fresco - are another type of ride that he says he enjoys, to see the country side and get to show it off, introduce it to someone else, while getting winter mileage up.

I will take Steve's word for it: i cerntainly enjoy these outings. Through the past few months we've been trying to get a ride in a week - per sunny day alerts. We identify a day but have back ups if the weather turns to crap. Essential planning in the UK. We've been really lucky this past fall/early winter. IT's onyl during of course the x-mas break that it's poured - and even here there have been sunny days.

A few take aways from this so far brief but consistent experience  where Steve has been a role model.

** There is a rich and enjoyable courtesy to riding together.
Wow look - hand signals for drivers
- Riding with steve has been my first experience of having someone in front of me on a bike use hand signals not just to indicate a turn for the benefit of a car, but to flag what's coming up for the benefit of a following rider. Signing for "slow down" or "crappy stuff ahead" or "car coming" were hand signs brought out on the first ride i'd never seen before. The leader as path breaker. A quick online check suggest that comms is part of group-riding etiquette, but i was staggered by it, by how thoughtful it is, or perhaps Steve's display of it in particular.

The number of sporting/health/fitness activities i can think of where such signaling would be welcome, and doesn't really exist, well, it's hard to express.

and hand signals for me about up ahead
Consider the weight room:  how often do we find plates left on the floor, or left on bars, rather than cleaned up and put away for the next person's use? Or "group" classes that are really just about a bunch of individuals who just happen to be doing the same thing at the same time? And sure i guess on a ride there is a sense of comms motivated strongly by the goal to survive, but i wonder, does one reinforce the other? What i take to be Steve's thoughtfulness and courtesy, does at least two things: lets me feel safer and thus lets me feel more relaxed about the ride. It's nice to feel like another person actually cares if you get hit by a bus.

My sense is that done frequently enough, experienced frequently enough, one might find some "skills transfer" - as one puts it in strength and conditioning. Perhaps one becomes more courteous in other parts of one's life. I dunno. Steve is a very convivial colleague - it's one of the things i enjoy about working with him. He makes it easy because he seems thoughtful as well as engaged. Who knows? perhaps his existing style influences his signaling on the bike or they just reinforce each other. Anyway, this is a completely unlooked for aspect of cycling together that, while in hindsight is obviously necessary, has been a revelation of the very enjoyable kind.

The Very Civilised Ride

Beyond the courteous comms around route conditions, there are two other parts to pal'd up cycling that are even more delightful. These are adaptive route planning and cafe stops. In my limited experience, they seem to go together, and each add to the cycling experience as "civilised."

I fear to generalise beyond that limited experience. I wonder if people who cycle with groups regularly are saying to themselves,
ya right wait until X then you'll see what it's really like. Until you're suffering you're not riding. What do you think this is? Cyclocross?
(Fade in beautiful but suffering footage of rapha continental rides here - eg scroll to about 1:10 below in particular).

Don't you just love that (the video?). The gruelling beauty. Anyway,

 But, SO far, so delightfully civilised though. For example:

Route Planning

Again perhaps all experienced riders do the following, but Steve's the Male Model of practice here, so i say again, Steve's approach to guiding a ride is lovely in its thoughtfulness.

 First of all, Steve thinks about what kind of ride i might like to do, and might enjoy at this point of my experience. This is one trait that the very excellent CycleMapsUk can't quite ask yet. That's one.

 Also, within a given ride, when it's about to change tempo or type, steve gives me a heads up, usually with options.

We pull over and he says we can now go X or Y.
Where X or Y are described as a variant of "...Go This Way that has these kinds of hills and goes over to Village Name of Something ....(and then as he names places that i don't know my head just hears LA LA LA... kind of a big hill LA LA LA... a bunch of hills LA LA place for coffee LA LA LA LA LA ..  back to home base."

My algorithm right now is, i think, counting up no. of times word hill is repeated, mapped to hand gestures around heights, and whether or not said hill mentions are associated with stories like "ya we tried that once...sore for days...." divided by number of times "place for coffee" mentioned to get sense of Up for It'ness)


Sometimes there are multiple options within a given trip. Coffee sooner; coffee later. Which brings us to.

** There are many possible Ways to Ride, with their own Pleasures.

cafe transfer (where's the angst)
If i believe what Steve tells me, that he's not just being nice, he does enjoy these rambling rides we do where there is some hill-age, some tempo, some cadence, some bimble and lots of communication, checking in and opportunities for the all important el fresco cafe stop.

As Steve puts it, not all rides have to be knock down, drag out efforts where hanging on for dear life. Good to know.

And as such there's a certain pleasure in introducing the sport and the space to a new enthusiast.

Complementary Kettlebell Work with that Carbon, Sir?

I'm also happy to say that Steve in a desire to get a little stronger, a little more efficiently and esp when not able to put on the miles in this inclement UK weather has picked up a kettlebell from me, along with some swing tuition. Good bike flexibility showed great form with the swing. Sample KB Swing Plan for Hill Workouts here

Starting to go Solo

Of late, thanks to Steve's trail breaking (and some technology to support the directional hippocampus building), i've been retracing some of our routes on my own. These micro Departs make me a wee bit nervous still - will i find the path? get lost how many times? have a break down?

And yet so far, so good, so wonderful. Even getting swamped by a car racing through a trough of road water in an act i'm sure was deliberate to see if he could utterly soak me. Yes, but may i say, goodness, technical water repellency is Amazing. That was AMAZING. Ha ha, to you, you noodnick.

And there have been solo espresso pit stops - all good. I'm learning, recovering, repairing, re-skilling.

This effort has taken far longer than it ought for it to commence, but it might still have been far further off without thinking "Maybe Steve would go out for a ride with me..."

I hope you get to be a Steve for someone, the Perfect Pathbreaker, in your Practice of Choice. It's such a gift.
Thank you, Steve

Future episodes: about the Gear; about care of the Gear; more confidence instilled

Another part of cycling practice is the skillz around maintaining the machine and one's self. And that means Gear and Skillz.

Skillz For example, I have already removed and replaced tires a few times. Patched a tube; fixed a valve (didn't know they were fixable) - that too is a real confidence booster - and will come back to anon. Haven't tested how well i can do this with cold fingers in the rain, but i have learned a few surprising things about tubes and tires i'll share anon.

winter subhelmet chapeau.
good for the ride; great for the chill
at the Café
Gear. There is nothing like stuff designed to do a job that does a job. Like keeping one appropirately warm but not too warm when pounding up wee hill then recovering down wee hill. Keeping toes warm on cold days; dry on others. It's amazing. One of my favorite pieces of gear is a wool toque specially designed to go under a helmet. Cozy, efficient, not too hot. And doesn't look too dorky without the helmet. Ok maybe it does.
But heh, i'm riding here,

Thanks in large part to Steve, le Randonneur. Here's to all the Steves who make riding -- with joy possible.

Somewhat Related Posts
- Part 1 of this story - getting back on a bike that is Outside (rather than on a trainer)
- You call that Failure? - other stories of physical practice exploration
- Kettlebell Swings: complementary training


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