25 Mar 2010


There is a definite element of masochism in cycling. Why would anyone repeatedly do something which hurts (a lot!) for no other reason than competing with one's own pride? Why would one suffer the pain of a saddle which fails to support with any degree of comfort? So that one has to repeatedly stand up on the pedals in a desperate bid to end the pain. Why put up with the fire in the thighs on every single hill simply out of pride in climbing more quickly than a geriatric on an upright roadster? What drives one to seek out and climb the steepest and longest hills within easy reach of home? Why add the extra miles when one is already tired and one knows full well one will suffer with stiff and sore legs for the rest of the day? Answers on a postcard, please, to:  The daft old masochist on the Higgins tricycle.

Yesterday was a case in point: I had been busily averaging 27-28 miles every day but then had to be in two places in opposite directions from home. Both appointments must be concluded before 1 o'clock. It would have been very easy just to have taken the car but the opportunity was too good to miss for the trike. First came the very hilly twenty two miles round trip to the north east. I returned home for a quick shower and coffee before setting off for another run to the south west. Total distance for the day of 45 miles. My longest daily mileage to date. Nothing much at all by real cyclist's standards. Or even by my own standards of only a decade (or two) ago. Still, another milestone on my journey to greater fitness. (Yes that was milestone. Not millstone) :-)

The change back to the Vetta SL was a wise one. I probably couldn't have done it on the Brooks B17. I had some discomfort at 35 miles but eventually it passed. I was pounding the miles along the rough cycle lane alongside a busy main road. Driving into the wind, bent low over the bars and cursing the passing traffic. They say if you are saddle sore you should pedal harder. Well it worked for me. Thankfully the last stretch was with the wind behind me. My legs hurt for the rest of the day but I woke this morning without serious discomfort.

I have just ridden a circuitous, ten mile scenic/hilly route to the village shop in the pouring rain and only noticed my legs when I tried to twiddle downhill in the wrong gear. My windproof cycling jacket was soaked but amazingly my jumper was still dry. I left the coated nylon waterproofs in the bag because I hate the clammy feeling of being stuck inside a mobile sauna. It really is no better than being wet through. Except in an emergency if you get stuck out in the wilds somewhere. Where such clothing could easily save your life. I probably looked like a drowned rat but felt comfortable the whole time. Knowing I would soon return home allowed me the luxury of  getting wet without consequence. Yet I remained remarkably dry despite the lack of real waterproofs. My Thinsulate hat and gloves were sopping wet on the outside but I didn't notice any wetness on the inside. These inexpensive items of clothing have proved remarkably comfortable and flexible in use.

The temperature is only 4-5C (40F) and the sky leaden again but I didn't feel the least bit cold. These long, thin, black, skiing underclothes are amazing! The moment I go into the lee of a hedge they instantly make my legs feel warm. Thermal underwear companies have been bragging about this virtue for as long as I can remember but it was never true in my experience of over 30 years of enjoying outdoor activities. I found that, in practice, heavy thermal vests were no better than cotton t-shirts. They always felt cold and wet when they were wet. Then took hours of heavy exercise to warm up again.

The secret seems to be how thin this new polyester underwear really is. It lacks enough material to hold much moisture. So it really does carry sweat away from the body rather than holding onto it.  Yet it seems much too thin to promise much warmth. The complete opposite is true! It feels warm and dry almost all of the time provided I remove my over clothes when I warm up too much. This requires the discipline to stop and peel off a jacket or jumper when the wind still feels just as cold. The short term discomfort is well  worth it in the long run because I stay dry and comfortable.

The cold wind blows through the thin material on my legs but it seems not to matter. This stuff provides much more protection for the bare skin than one would ever imagine. Wearing a  cotton t-shirt over the top of the thin polyester vest would be hypothermic suicide. I  tried it only once and the t-shirt got sopping wet and felt as cold as ice all down my back. I stopped and took off t-shirt, put the jumper back on again and quickly returned to normal comfort levels. Real wool jumpers work superbly well for me over this thin underwear. I choose the thickness of the jumper carefully to suit the day's weather conditions before I leave home.The windproof nylon jacket goes over the top until I feel the need to remove it. Sometimes, if it is windy or cold, it stays on.

My Shimano cycling shoes are proving much more comfortable than my slim, smooth-soled, Nike trainers. (which I bought for cycling when I was doing more walking home than pedalling) The Shimano shoes also make my pedalling feel much more powerful. I'm still not using cleats but the stiffness of the Shimano soles works far better than the smooth, but flexible rubber of the Nike trainers. It helps that I'm using old fashioned rat trap pedals and toes clips and straps. Though I cannot imagine using cycling shoes without toe clips. The soles are far too slippery.

This reminds me of my youth when I first had proper cycling shoes and cleats. The difference in being able to pull up on the pedals while sprinting and climbing was sensational. Back in those days cleats were simple, slotted, rectangular plates nailed onto the smooth, leather soles of racing shoes. I liked a pair of asymmetric Lyotard  platform pedals with Christophe chromed steel toe-clips and leather straps before discovering cleats. Later on, after the TA Professional chainset had broken I used Campag, rat-trap, quill pedals with Campag chainsets.
Image borrowed from: http://www.bikeville.com/pedals.html

Cleats made track balancing decidedly perilous on a bike! At one set of lights the council had foolishly fitted a drain cover with the slots running in line with the road! Right in the gutter where all the cyclists would sit waiting patiently for the lights to change. Or simply to ride past on the green.  One day I dropped straight into the slots with my front, 5oz wood insert, sprint rim on Campag large flange Record Q/R hubs and stainless, double-butted spokes. Then I fell slowly over sideways like a tree with my feet still firmly clamped into the pedals! The rim was bent into an L-shape! I was livid but got no sympathy from the city council. Fortunately the bike insurance paid for a new wheel. 

 I might fit the triangular plastic shoe cleats and a pair of my old clip-in pedals despite their being rather out of fashion these days. I have a couple of pairs of Shimano 550 "Aero" pedals knocking about in the shed which look quite promising as far better quality, modern replacements for the Lyotards of my youth. They need a strip down, clean and re-lube but I took a quick snap to remind myself what they look like.

I tried the Longstaff trike owner's SPD pedals and matching MTB shoes on my recent visit. But will probably resist the temptation to take that route just yet. I suppose one must get used to SPD but the struggle to get the shoes locked in  for the very first time (I should add) was not conducive to my investment in this technology just yet.  At least they were very easy to un-clip when I had to get off his trike. His Shimano MTB cycling shoes were wonderfully comfortable and very easy to walk in. Some of these tiny SPD pedals must make stealing a bike or trike much more difficult for the casual thief. An extra layer of insurance but certainly not one to rely on alone.

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