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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