Performance for 25 Passing Vehicles – John Reid

A naked body lies beside the side of a desolate highway, close to a road sign, next to the carcass of a kangaroo. 25 cars pass…

I met John Reid, the Australian artist, at a conference in Bavaria in 2001. His ‘paper’ turned from an account of his early work into a live performance of The fishman of SE Australia. The transition between the two halves was disturbingly subtle, and left me, how shall I put it, freaked out.

Just a man talking, and a slide projector showing some photographs of the wilderness, with something in it…

The earlier work (Performance for 25 Passing Vehicles) of his came to mind when I was considering the effect getting into a car has on our relationship with the environment, with people, with wildlife.

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Cycling and depression: two years on

In 2011 I wrote about my experiences of depression, how they interacted with changes in the volume and intensity of my cycling, and introduced some academic literature on exercise and mental health. I concluded that although cycling can play a role in moderating negative mood, and possibly even treating depressive illnesses, it can also contribute to depressive symptoms. A recent paper on exercise and mental health provides a detailed overview of the literature in this area (many thanks to Simon Lamb for the tip).

I have had my ups and down over the last few years, but, partly due to a change in my work role, and some growing up from my children, I have maintained a fairly positive outlook. Another thing that has changed is the amount of time I have spent cycling. Throughout 2012 I rode more often and tackled some longer rides, but managed to talk myself out of entering a number of brevets and sportives, and more irritatingly, entered two 200km brevets that I failed to start. Fortunately, I convinced myself that I was capable of completing the long on-road version of the Mills Hills Sportive, which was a breakthrough in my conversion from self-sabotage to gung-ho risk-taker (a brief ride report for Mills Hills Sportive)!

I am currently riding about 120km per week, three times my 2011 average. All of a sudden, having completed three challenging longer rides (including my second 400km, only 10 years after the first), I can see myself completing Super Randonneur series in 2014 and 2015, and even Paris Brest Paris…

The causality here is tangled. Am I riding more, and more confidently, because I am happier, or vice-versa? I think this is the wrong question…

Almost all my riding is solo, but I have had some fun in the hills with some lovely people: thanks Emma and Tiffany, and the riders and organisers of the events I have ridden. My partner in crime @accidentobizaro has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, and when we get the chance, our velodates are always worth waiting for, whether on the track or in the Pennine hills we call home.

Haunting Malcolm Elliott

Kellogg's Tour of Brittain 1988. Winner Malcolm Elliott

Photographs are obvious catalysts for memory. They sometimes deliver more than one expects. Someone I follow on twitter posted some old pictures of the Kellogg’s 1988 Tour of Britain (which spookily include a blurred Jimmy Savile) today. I was there at the final criterium in Westminster,  and my hazy memories are formative in my passion for cycling (this was the first international racing I saw in the flesh). This photo of Malcolm Eliott,  who won that edition, is one I have seen before. However, I never noticed that I was in the crowd in the blurry background until today (unless I am seeing what I want to see)… and indeed Elliott was the first pro I had an on road encounter with (a few years later), in Sheffield, stopped at the lights.

It’s been a good year… for blogging

Prior to joining twitter and starting to post here I became a regular visitor and sometime contributor to the clinic, over on cyclingnews.com and hence my outlook was dangerously skewed towards the effect doping was continuing to have on both professional and amateur road racing. However, over the past year I have written about music, about depression, and most recently about my own cycling efforts and ambitions.

I started this blog for two reasons:

  1. to learn how to use Twitter and WordPress to reach an audience; and
  2. to contribute to online discussion of cycling.

I wonder how I did? Continue reading

“Training” for Brevets

When I started aiming for long distances (200km + at randonneur pace) I used to ride about 150km + per week. Much of that riding was fairly challenging, as I lived in Sheffield, itself built on seven hills, and embedded in the ‘scenic’ Peak National Park. Scenic is a word much beloved by the UK randonneuring cognoscenti: it translates as leg-breakingly hilly. Audax UK, who oversee randonneuring here, even have an audax altitude competition (AAA) giving points for scenic rides based on a formula. I even did interval training (the A57 into Sheffield from the West is great for hill intervals). My partner lived over the Snake Pass in Manchester, so many weeks I would supplement mid-week rides (I only worked 50% for much of this period) with 2 trips over one of the most challenging climbs in the area.

My level of fitness was high I guess, and I certainly could ride quite quick at times, although that never really translated into fast times for the events I rode, as most were so extreme that maintaining the average speed was a challenge for many. Although I am quite light, I am not that great a climber, and I have always struggled to maintain a high average speed on hilly rides. An organiser once expressed surprise that I was so close to the cut-off time, because I looked absolutely fine and organised on the bike: well at least I looked good!

As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I struggle to find time to train much now. I have recently started to ride more than once a week again, but the maximum distance I tend to do is about 60km (although I sometimes ride to work and back in one day, two lots of 40km). Most of the rides include significant climbs, although I do have one ride to Hollingworth Lake which is relatively flat (and the final climb to the lake is good for intervals).

I own two books on training to ride long distance events. One is from the US, penned by Burke and Pavelka (The complete book of long distance cycling) and the other is Simon Doughty’s The Long Distance Cyclists’ Handbook. The latter is more to my taste, and presents some more realistic training plans; the former is aptly described thus by one of the Google Books reviewers, Ted:

This book made me tired by just reading it. However, it has some good tips on building endurance and how to avoid getting a sore ass from being on a bike so much.

I can safely say I have done little that resembles the structured training described in either book: moreover, I think if I had attempted to do so I would never have completed even a 100km brevet populaire, let alone a 400 at randonneur pace. I have neither the time nor the dedication to build slowly towards the longer distances, and hence suffer enormously during longer rides. However, I have never failed to complete a ride, although I have failed to start on occasion. I am probably risking my health by stressing an under-prepared body, but part of my plan for the next few years is simply to ride more often, and to ride more events.

My main shortcoming during longer distances has in the past been my abysmal average riding speed, although I may be basing this on the hilliness of my event choices. Although I have finished a 200 in around 10 hours, my experience at 400km was increasingly desperate: I did not ride fast enough to sleep, and had not accrued enough experience at long distances to create a plan for my ride. Hence, I was not even sure if I needed to sleep or not. This created extra stress, and one thing I really need to explore more is how to structure my riding in events. I actually managed on no sleep pretty well for the 24 hours it took me to complete 400km, but I am sure that for a 600km ride I need to ride fast enough to do more than power-nap. Hence I need to start working on my pace once I have a few more miles in my legs: this will probably involve intervals and the dreaded turbo-trainer, not something I am looking forward to.

Sunday’s ride is a fairly flat 200km, so I guess I will find out where I am starting from.

In praise of Altigraph

Altigraph, a name that still makes my hairs stand on end.

la Berarde – col de Spandelles – Grand Ballon – col de la Schlucht

altigraph guideHow would you plan a cycling holiday in France? Perhaps you would plan it around gastronomy or viticulture; possibly around pragmatic considerations such as the availability of airports, campsites or gites; maybe you want to visit historical or cultural centres; or the Tour de France climbs. Given that France is such wonderful cycling destination one can easily succumb to the paralysis associated with a proliferation of uncontrolled and interacting variables. Continue reading

Blood, fingers and fixed

My introduction to fixed gear riding came in the late 80s in a London where cycling had become my passion. I lived in a flat in Whitechapel, with two fellow cycle commuters; my then girlfriend had a father who ran a bike shop in Yorkshire. I was fairly naive about many aspects of cycling, but the simplicity and elegance of fixed gear bikes appealed to me. My Condor was ripe for conversion, and on a grey Saturday the drive parts and handbuilt wheels (araya semi-aero rims on maillard and pelissier, double fixed) arrived from the North along with my girlfriend (and a substantial invoice); girlfriend then departed to her flat, to unpack her stuff.

Continue reading