Monday, 16 January 2017

52 Cycling Voices - No. 1: Maria David

For this year, each week we will hear from different women talking about cycling. They will be women who ride a lot, a little, for leisure, competitively, who just go to the shops or work in cycling. Some may work in cycling but don't ride, some may just like watching cycling, and others might be cycling wives, girlfriends or widows who can't stand cycling! Whatever, 52 Cycling Voices will be about women giving their thoughts on bike riding.

This week the person in the spotlight is yours truly.

Maria David, Aged 47

From London (though grew up in Yorkshire)

Medical Copywriter (and cycling writer/journalist too!)


Maria on Westminster Bridge with the Raleigh Mustang Sport

I've been cycling on an off since the age of seven, when my dad decided that I had to take my stabilisers off (much to my chagrin!). I then got a second-hand Raleigh 14 which I loved, even if I had a few spills on it. Back then I really hoped I could get a Raleigh Grifter like the cool kids in my class, but that never happened so I stuck with the kiddies' Raleigh 14. 

When I was a little older I shared a bike with one of my sisters, though she hardly rode it and I rode it a lot - mainly to go to the shops and run errands. It hadn't been long since I passed my cycling proficiency test, so I always found it exciting to get out on my bike and go somewhere. 

One day we were invited to take part in an 11-mile cycle ride organised by the local church youth group and I had hoped to go on the ride. But my parents didn't allow me to go because I had had knee problems and they thought that the distance would be much too far, so ironically, my sister who hardly cycled went instead! She never said much about the experience so I'm not sure she enjoyed it. 

After that I never did that much cycling until when I was at university. I got a holiday job in a packing factory to save up money to get a cheap mountain bike. The make was Falcon and I remember travelling up to their factory in a nearby town called Brigg, which was like the big city for me, considering I was just living in a small village on the Lincolnshire/South Yorkshire border. 

The bike was my pride and joy and I used it a lot, particularly in my second year at university, when I lived off-campus, and would do the eight-mile ride to get to lectures. I also went on a few trips with it during the holidays - to the Peak District, the Lake District, the Mendips and the Malvern Hills - much to the worry of my mother, and the anger of my dad who both kept thinking I was trying to get myself killed!

There have been long gaps when I hardly cycled since those days, but cycling has been a continuous part of my life since 1999 when I had to become a regular/committed cyclist in order to get through triathlons. 

That was a big step for me because it was only then that I rode a "racing bike" with dropped handlebars for the first time, and also had to deal with cleats where my feet were clipped into the pedals. I am grateful to the motorists who were sympathetic towards me during those dicey moments when I had to lean on their cars to avoid crashing because the bike stopped but I still had my feet clipped into the pedals! 

I ride an old De Ver road bike that was built by Maurice Burton, the former professional racing cyclist who owns the De Ver shop in Streatham, South London. It's not the only bike I have, but it's my favourite because it was my first ever road bike. Lately, I've been riding a nice Boardman women's road bike, kindly provided by Halfords, and Raleigh provided me with a Mustang Sport Gravel bike, which I have also been enjoying testing.

For me, cycling is just part of my daily bread like other constants in my life such as running, writing and crochet. Cycling means freedom to get from A to B without being in the lap of Transport for London, or being held to ransom by Southern Rail and their industrial disputes. 

Technical problems on a bike are infrequent and easy to resolve, and when riding I get to see places from a different angle to when I am zooming by in a car or on a train. Cycling allows me to see the fabric of a country or a region that bit more intricately than if I just went on a bog-standard trip or package holiday. It has certainly allowed me to see some nice places around Europe and beyond. 

Furthermore, being a cyclist I feel like I am part of a community and it's great to see other kindred souls on the road - whether it's when commuting to work by bike, struggling up a 2-hour long arduous climb in the Alps or seeing others who are equally mad as me rattling our bones across the South Downs on a rigid cyclocross bike!  

For all the places that I have ridden my bike, I must say that my favourite bike ride is just riding around the various neighbourhoods and touristic parts of London when there's no traffic. London is my favourite city in the world (closely followed by Paris) and I just like to ride and take in the sites of this great city on a sunny day. I did that recently on Christmas day and usually do this whenever I am in London at Christmas. 

It's also nice to do the Ride London FreeCycle event where Central London is completely closed to traffic and again you can ride your bike at a leisurely pace with thousands of folks of all ages, shapes, sizes and cultures. 

Bike riding can be a great leveller and brings out the best in me (at least most of the time!). I can't see myself deciding to stop cycling any time soon!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Wanna do the Rapha Festive 500?

For me, riding the Rapha Festive 500 was quite a challenge. The club cyclists who know me may wonder why it should have been such a big deal to put in these kilometres over the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

Day 1 at Box Hill, Surrey
For those of us who do club cycling and take part in local cycle races, riding 500km (or 310 miles) within one week may not be an unusual feat. Afterall, many people from now onwards will be going to Mallorca, Southern Spain, and the Canary Islands for training camps where they will ride 80-100km each day for their training ride.

But what made accomplishing these miles a challenge was the very fact that I wasn't doing any of the above!

I was not in Club La Santa where it's nice and warm, the sun shines, the days are long, and I don't have to be mindful about how many hours I am outdoors.

Instead I was in a wintry Greater London where the temperature at times plunged to barely above zero degrees Celsius, the fog slashed visibility down to 200m, and the daylight lasted from 8am until just before 4pm. I guess that's why winter training camps are done in the Mediterranean or off the African coast!
The misty road ahead!

So for me, what makes this ride challenging, is the mission of getting in all those kilometres in the UK during the pretty inclement conditions that we regularly experience between Christmas and New Year.

I feel unlucky not to have been in the Southern Hemisphere, but lucky that I was in the South-East of England and not up North (or beyond, in Scandinavia)!

Looking on Strava at the distances covered by others who did the Festive 500 around the globe, it appears that those in the Southern Hemisphere were not content to just do 500km - many people in Australia seemed to have done over 1000km over the Christmas period. They have my utmost respect because even though they will be be blessed with long, warm, sunny days, putting in 1000km is also be a challenge.

So in essence, the Rapha Festive 500 ends up being a challenge for anyone doing it, wherever they are in the world - just in different ways. And that is the common, global link between us kindred souls.

We start out on the 24th December, hoping to succeed in our challenge, but it's not a given that we will reach the finish line. There are lots of folks who end up abandoning their challenge because of a mishap, the weather putting paid to the ride, or even just the appeal of spending more time with friends, family, and mince pies! The locations and the weather may be different, but I find it reassuring to know that there are people in other parts of the world simultaneously having to deal with the same issues as me!

That is why when you do accomplish your 500km (or 1000km in the case of some of those Down Under!) it gives a wonderful feeling of self-satisfaction that things have gone your way, you have got your pass to join the elite club of the Rapha Roundel club, and for this year, at least, you have beaten the battle of the bulge!

I have documented my journey to 500km in the links below, and here are a few tips that I would offer based on my experience:


Plan in advance where you would like to go on each day and note down the distance of each of the rides. Giving the rides a theme, or doing rides to visit friends and family in another town would make the challenge motivational. (I decided to do my rides in around London in the shape of the spokes of a bicycle wheel and a hub - Tour de Londres)

Record ALL of the kilometres that you ride during that eight-day period, including just short trips. (I recorded my short rides to and from the local Park Runs.)  

Have a contingency plan. (My ride into Kent had to be re-routed at the last minute due to ice in the country lanes.)

Get in as many miles as you can early on in the eight-day period. (I got in 90km on Christmas Eve.)

Set out as early as you can each day (as long as its safe to do so), given that from 3.30pm onwards it is beginning to get dark.

Make hay while the sun shines. Get in as many miles as you can on the mild days. (The weather in the UK was mild from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, but steadily became windier, colder and misty as the week progressed.)

Don't take risks by riding in tricky conditions. (On one day early morning frost meant that I had to start my ride slightly later than originally planned, and freezing fog on other days meant I had to finish my rides a little earlier than planned.) 

Try and avoid riding really hard stages which have lots of steep climbs as this will make it harder to rack up the kilometres. Also, stay on-road rather than off-road for the same reason!

Enjoy the ride. It should be fun, not a hard slog!


Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Rapha Festive 500: Day 3

Rapha Festive 500: Day 4

Rapha Festive 500: Day 5

Rapha Festive 500: Day 6

Rapha Festive 500: Day 7

Rapha Festive 500: Day 8

Postcards from Festive 500 Edge


Postcards from the Festive 500 Edge!

Putney Bridge, London
Richmond Park, London
Regents Park, London
Knole Park, Sevenoaks, Kent

Eton Bridge, Windsor, Berkshire
Orangerie, Hyde Park, London








A few picture memories from my eight days of Festive 500.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

What size bike should I choose?

Following on from my review of various bikes before Christmas, I thought I would post something about bike size and fitting.

When I was buying my first bike I found it a little tricky to know what size to get, or what I should be measuring in order to know what size bike to choose.

Nowadays experienced bike riders and racers know exactly what feels like a correct fit. Furthermore, they would be used to attending bike fittings with any one of a number of providers who use various methods for finding your exact measurements.

But what about those people who just want to know their bike size, but don't necessarily have £100 or more to attend a bike fitting session?

Merlin Cycles, an online cycle shop based in Lancashire produced their "ultimate guide to getting the right sized road bike."

It's got a lot of useful information in there, but this is more like a starter for 10 for those who don't know anything about bike sizing and are looking for their first bike. For those who have already been down this route before, it'll be all very familiar and you are probably on the next step to getting yourself kitted out by Cyclefit, or the services provided by Trek and Specialized.

In any case, here is the guide, which gives some handy tips.


For information, I have included a diagram of a bike with the key bike parts shown.

How to ensure you get the right road bike frame size
An ill-fitting bike can not only negatively affect your comfort during a ride, it can reduce your efficiency and put you at risk of developing an injury.

Buying a bike is a bit like buying a suit, if you have any doubt with regards to sizing, it is wise to physically try sitting on/riding the bike first.

Measuring your stand-over height
If you know your inside leg measurement, this can be a good indicator of how high you need the top tube to be. This can have a major bearing on your overall comfort levels and your performance.

Stand-over height
For the optimum size, there should be a few inches between your crotch and the top tube when you are standing bare foot with your legs straight and feet slightly apart. If you have too much of a gap, the bike is too small, if you have no room to manoeuvre, it’s too big.

Getting your saddle in the right position
An adult cyclist should be able to touch the floor with their tip-toes while sat in the saddle. If you can’t reach the floor, your saddle is too high; if you can put the entire base of your foot on the ground, you’re too low.

1) Sit in the saddle and put the ball of your foot on the pedal. Have a slight bend in the leg and let the leg hang naturally. Your leg should not be perfectly straight.

2) You should find that there are a few inches difference between the saddle height and the size of your frame, and you will have seat post showing. Compact frames are smaller so more seat post will be showing and vice versa with traditional horizontal geometry frames.

3) Make sure the saddle is level and not sloping forwards or backwards. This can be extremely uncomfortable (especially when cycling longer distances).

Getting the right saddle height
4)  Tweak the position of the saddle in the rails, moving it fore and aft until you’ve got it exactly how you want it. Imagine a plumb line running straight down from the centre of the knee cap through the ball of the foot (which is over the pedal axle) in the 3 O’clock position.
If you’re too far forward or back, it will not only be uncomfortable but you’ll also impact on your pedalling efficiency.




How to measure your reach on a road bike
Known as the ‘reach’, the distance between the saddle and handlebars depends on your own measurements and the length of your torso and arms. When determining your road bike sizing, understanding your reach distance is vital.




You can determine reach by sitting in the saddle in a normal riding position and placing your hands on the tops of the handlebars. If you look down the bars, the front axle should be hidden. If the axle is in front of the bars, however, then the reach is too short. If the axle is behind, the reach is too long.

What is stack height and how do I measure it?
Stack height is the space between the bottom of the lower headset cup and the top of the upper headset cup. This is the part of the frame that the top of the fork goes into.

The stack height of the bike depends largely upon the kind of bike it is. For example, sportive bikes tend to have a bigger stack height, while race bikes will usually have a shorter stack height for a lower front end.

Bikes with slightly longer reach and a lower stack height are generally more aggressive bikes, riding harder and with more of an elongated, ‘stretched out’ geometry.


Getting the correct road bike tyre sizes
Wider tyres provide more comfort as the volume of air in each tyre is larger.   Tyre manufacturers now make lighter, faster tyres that are wider, to meet the needs of today’s riders and bikes. 

Several wheel manufacturers make wider 23mm or 25mm wide rims; these offer a high level of strength, performance and comfort when matched with wider 23mm/25mm tyres.

Most road bikes will have enough clearance to fit 25mm-wide tyres, which can offer a good amount of comfort for the rider. Newer disc-brake road/gravel/cyclocross bikes often have enough clearance for 35mm/38mm off-road tyres to cope with more challenging surfaces such as mud and gravel.


Related posts




Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Rapha Festive 500: Day 8

Saturday 31st December - My Tour de Londres - Northern loop (North London)

George Michael's London home
It's the last day, hoorah! I only have 40km to do, though being a Saturday, I don't start my bike ride until after taking part in the 5km-Park Run - just like on my first day of the Festive 500.

Rather than going back to Dulwich Park for the run, I stay close to home and do the Park Run in Crystal Palace Park. This venue is not doing the double - organising an event on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day so they have made a bit more of an occasion of today's run, given that it's the last one of 2016.

Prosecco and chocolates are kindly provided as finish-line refreshments. What a great idea, they should do that every week! On any other day I would indulge, but sadly I can't part-take today, given that I'll be cycling immediately afterwards. More importantly, as I have run on an empty stomach a glass of wine would just make me fall over!

Regents Park
So my ride begins just after 10am, bound for north of the river via the well-trodden (or well-ridden even) route through Dulwich, Brixton, Stockwell and Vauxhall then through north London via Regents Park.

Once again, the weather is grim. No sunshine, just cold and fog, though not as thick as yesterday. Like yesterday, I have taken no risks with my clothing and have set out with a spare anorak and a spare long-sleeved jersey as well as wearing four layers.

Worryingly I very quickly need to put on my spare anorak and waterproof trousers over my cycling tights and three quarter trousers. I have only got as far as the exit gate of Crystal Palace Park! Although this part of the ride is uphill, it is still necessary to be so wrapped up as things are just not warming up in these harsh temperatures!

It is not until I am doing another climb later on, at Hampstead Heath, that I work up a semblance of a sweat and remove just one of my anoraks.
The remaining anorak and the waterproof trousers prove useful though, as there's light rain from Primrose Hill, through Chalk Farm and Hampstead.

That's a shame really, as those areas usually look lovely and quaint - particularly the high street in Primrose Hill. But today, it's all a bit drab and people look as though they are just putting on brave faces for the last day of the year.

Chalk Farm bridge
Many folks, myself included can't say that 2016 has been a great vintage. The numerous deaths of high profile celebrities and national treasures has really not helped. We all remember the shock at learning of the death of David Bowie at the start of 2016, and this end of the year is marked by the death of George Michael. So how fitting it is, that my route (inadvertently) takes me past the fallen pop star's former home in Highgate.

I had no idea where the guy lived; I only stumble across The Grove after following the many cars and cyclists also turning into this road off Hampstead Lane. It turns out that this is a short cut into Highgate Village. Once in the village, I see crowds of people outside the house, leaving flowers and even writing inscriptions on his Range Rover that is parked outside.

I am not sure if all the traffic congestion there is due to the people turning up at the former Wham singer's house or if this is just part of the normal business of people trying to get into and leave Highgate Village - given that the property is situated on the edge of a rather tight one-way system. I can definitely imagine long queues of 4x4s and other high class cars regularly getting stuck outside his house. So it's hardly surprising that dear Georgios would have needed to escape to the edge of heaven, (otherwise known as the South Oxfordshire countryside) given all that chaos!

Ironically, The Grove is the high point of my ride - literally and metaphorically (or given the circumstances, should it be the low point??) Afterwards, the route is basically a long descent south to Camden Town, King's Cross, Blackfriars, and back into south London with no more climbing again until the hill taking me up to Crystal Palace.

Returning home after clocking up 510.5km this week and meeting the challenging should be a cause for a celebration, but I am just tired and want to flake out first before I can appreciate what I've achieved. However, as it's New Year's Eve, there's no time to rest. Instead I get changed, showered and then zoom into Croydon to do my last bit of shopping in time for the New Year's Day. No bicycle for me, for this local trip. I catch the bus!

Looking down Primrose Hill
So that's my Tour de Londres wrapped up. It's been varied and fun, but mainly cold! Also the wheel I wanted to trace around London is incomplete as the changing meteorological circumstances meant that I missed out north-west London. Sorry Wembley and Harrow! So my wheel will be rather wobbly until I put in the missing spoke. Hopefully that will be repaired soon - at a time when I won't be wearing five layers on my top half and three layers on my legs!


Stats:
50.4km ridden; running total - 510.5km; 0kms remaining! Boom!
5km run
1 bagel, 1 hot cross bun, 2 biscuits, 1 Quality Street
Weather: cold, misty, light rain, 4degC

Ride on Strava
Northern loop (North London)


Related Posts
Rapha Festive 500: Day 7

Rapha Festive 500: Day 6

Rapha Festive 500: Day 5

Rapha Festive 500: Day 4

Rapha Festive 500: Day 3

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Tackling the Rapha Festive 500




Monday, 2 January 2017

Rapha Festive 500: Day 7

Friday 30th December - My Tour de Londres - Eastern loop (East London)

This should have been my last day of the Festive 500. It was all set to be the grande finale of my Tour de Londres, doing a half star-shaped route covering north-west, north, and north-east London.

Tower Bridge in mist
However, when I looked out of the window I could barely see the houses across the road. Everywhere was full of thick mist. This was classic pea soup! Sure, it's not uncommon to see this in rural areas or the suburbs - but in urban London?? It's been a long time since such dense fog hung over the metropole.

My initial thought had been to not go out at all, even though I still had more than 90km left. Did I really want to leave it until the last day to do all those kilometres? Also, I had been hoping to do other things on New Years Eve, rather than be out all day on my bike while others were celebrating the end of the year. After some thought I decided to end my Festive 500 with two "easy" 45km days.

As the fog didn't seem quite as dense in East London, I decided to head that way. So at almost midday I left the house wrapped in even more layers than I'd had on for my Berkshire ride, and with every bit of orange and yellow high visibility clothing I could find. I might have looked like an explosion from a paint factory but at least nobody could say they didn't see me!

As well as the issues around being seen when you ride in dense fog, there's also the cold. There was no sun to burn away the mist, so this dankness was set to stay all day, and it also meant that the temperature would not rise. In fact, as time went by I felt colder and colder as the air was quite damp too.

London Olympics velodrome
In my bag were extra clothes - an extra anorak and an extra cycling jacket. It may have seemed like overkill, but in fact having them was a godsend, as I found later, when I felt quite cold standing in the Olympic Park. It's interesting how weather can really influence your experience of a place. In the warm August sunshine of 2012 this part of Stratford looked wonderful with all the livery of the Olympics set in the green pleasant landscape.

Today, set against the backdrop of greyness and mizzle the park looked positively uninspiring and grim. Even the Velodrome building, also known as "the pringle" had lost its charm.
I just wanted to get home as soon as possible. There was no temptation to stop and take photos at Docklands, Canary Wharf, or even the attractive Cutty Sark in Greenwich. The only good thing about Greenwich during the ride was the temporary respite from the cold when going from Isle of Dogs to the Greenwich via the foot tunnel.

Blackheath in mist

After that, I put on my two anoraks, which I kept on for the rest of the ride, including when I rode up the steep Maze Hill to get up to Blackheath!

This ride was just done to rack up the necessary kms towards completing the Festive 500, and then get back to the warmth pronto. I had considered going out to Wanstead Flats, Epping Forest, and even Dagenham! But the sun was not shining there so I decided that a trip to those places could wait. Today's grim ride was just about going out to get my card stamped and then returning to the warmth where I could wrap up and watch Midsomer Murders or another Christmas film.


Stats:
52.3km ridden; running total: 460.1km; 39.9km left
Weather: thick fog, 4degC (felt like 0degC)

Ride on Strava
Eastern loop (East London)


Related Posts
Rapha Festive 500: Day 6

Rapha Festive 500: Day 5

Rapha Festive 500: Day 4

Rapha Festive 500: Day 3

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Tackling the Rapha Festive 500




Sunday, 1 January 2017

Rapha Festive 500: Day 6

Thursday 29th December - My Tour de Londres - Western loop (Berkshire)

As I had planned to ride roughly 90km, with a view to completing my challenge on Friday 30th December, I had hoped to leave the house promptly at 9am.

In fact one look out of the window showed that an early start would not be prudent as London was shrouded in mist, and the roads were icy.

Where the previous stage led to me leaving the house just before 10am instead of 9am, on this stage I ended up leaving at 10.30am instead of 10am.  

My ride into Kent had made me feel slightly anxious as the terrain there tends to be quite hilly, which means the ride is slower going and I am racking up the fewer miles for my money. And you can't fly down the descents either due to the inherent risks.

For this ride in to Berkshire, on the other hand, I felt more relaxed. I had planned to ride to Windsor via Hampton Court and Virginia Water on a familiar route which would be mainly flat, and on suburban roads that are less likely to be icy than country lanes. 

Hampton Court Palace
I always associate south-west London with being picturesque and unchallenging - the sort of place where families can go out riding on easy routes, enjoying a pleasant ride, and stopping off for a picnic at one of the well-known attractions at or near the river.

So I was looking forward to today's ride, particularly Virginia Water Lake, one of my favourite spots in London. 


Having said that, the weather was mighty cold, and I was wrapped up in as many layers I could muster, including two layers dhb Aeron rain and wind defence gear. I wasn't taking any chances! 

At least the sun shone most of the day, and when I arrived at Hampton Court the palace looked lovely in the midday sun, and so did the River Thames.

Virginia Water Lake
Onwards and I arrived at Virginia Water, which looked magical in the sunshine. I can see why this place has become a favoured location for filming the Harry Potter movies.

I had wanted to ride to Windsor along the cycle paths surrounding the lake and in Windsor Great Park, but judging the state of the icy surfaces I thought better of it, and took the nearby main road through the Wentworth Estate. 

Although this was not a busy road, it was not great as the motorists that passed me were mainly 4 x 4 Mercedes and BMWs zooming by at ridiculous speeds along the lane like they wanted to prove a point. Furthermore, there were areas where one moment you'd be in sunshine, and the next you'd be in a random dense foggy patch that just sat right over that road and showed no sign of going away. Thankfully I had lights and high visibility gear on.

Finally, I arrived in Windsor where the tourists were out in force. As time was marching on, there was just time to go for a spin along Eton Bridge, and then whizz up to the castle, before returning to Staines via Runnymede and taking the train back to London.

Outside Windsor Castle
This could easily have been a ride to do all the way home, but on a day where visibility was hit and miss and the temperatures were rapidly falling as sunset was approaching it was more prudent to end the ride sooner rather than later. Once the weather is better this route will be at the top of my list to ride all the way back to my house. 


Stats:
89.1km ridden; running total - 407.8km; 92.2km left
2 mini packs of oat cakes, 4 hobnobs
Weather: frosty, sunny, with foggy patches, 4degC

Rides on Strava
Western loop (Berkshire)


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