What’s in a name? Well, it describes us, gives us identity, brings people together under one banner. In truth, lots of things go into a name as I know well from trying to agree on such things with my wife for our kids! So what happens when that name is no longer fit for purpose, no longer relevant to the subject or the people it represents? The obvious answer is to change the name, but that in itself brings challenges and sometimes a backlash. Remember when Marathon changed to Snickers?!
Over the past few months, as I’ve continued to shed a few pounds, several people have joked with me that I’ll have to change the name of the account soon. They’re right and we agree. The Fat Blokes On Bikes moniker was a name of its time, dreamt up as a call to action to sponsor us and really drive home how hard it was going to be for myself and Adam to pedal to Paris. It did its job and we raised over £7,500 for charity. Since then we’ve continued to share a love of bicycles and everything that goes with them. From pro racing to podcasts to clothing, art and literature we seem to have immersed ourselves in all aspects of cycling, keenly observing everything that is associated with life on two wheels. With that in mind we have decided to change our name to…..
The official definition of flâneur is as follows
We feel this is the perfect description of our approach to cycling, observing all that is going on but at a gentle pace and without taking life too seriously! Hope you dig the new name and logo, this will become consistent across the blog, Instagram and Twitter this week
IAIN & ADAM
Working from home has had its pros and cons, but one of the biggest advantages has been the time that has become available to exercise. I was used to getting up early on a Tuesday and Thursday to do a Zwift workout before heading to the office, but working from home has meant that I’ve been able to squeeze in some of the shorter 20-30 minute workouts on my lunch breaks. The Lavender Unicorn and Vault workouts on Zwift have quickly become favourites!
My Zwift setup resides in my shed, I don’t have a garage and there is a lack of space indoors so the shed it is for me!
The issue I’ve always had is that the WiFi connection is temperamental at best due to the distance of the shed from the house. Any kind of disruptive weather like wind or rain and the WiFi connection drops out quickly and that can be infuriating, particularly when you’ve signed up for a group ride. I recently had some new patio doors installed at the back of the house and it would seem that the glazing of these has only served to dampen further the WiFi signal so something had to be done!
Now I’m not a technogeek by any means, but I’m fairly confident with tasks involving electronics so (with the help of YouTube) I decided to run a Cat5 cable from my house to the shed so I would have an uninterrupted internet connection for my Zwift set up. I ordered:
Fortunately we already had a pre-drilled hole in the wall at the back of my house where a satellite television cable from the previous owners had run, so I used that for my cable and ran it through to the back of my router. YouTube came in very handy for the connecting of the cable plugs as the order of the individual wires inside the cable are not very intuitive! I ran the cable along the side of the garden to the back of the shed and drilled another hole for the cable to pass through, then I attached the other connector and tested the connection with the testing tool I’d bought. All good!
I connected the cable to my MacBook and ran a speed test to check the connection, I’m sure I got better speeds than I do in the house!
Since then I have enjoyed instant and stable connections for my Zwift sessions and for that I feel (rightly) smug.
As guidelines have changed recently around who you can meet and where, Ben and I decided to meet up for a ride this Sunday just gone. It is the first time that I’ve ridden with anybody since the original lockdown period started back in March (aside from those inadvertent times where you meet someone who is just going the same direction and pace as you!). It was a breezy day so it was good to have someone to share the work with and the kilometres ticked by unnoticed as we chatted our way around the lanes of Surrey and Kent, both of us enjoying the forgotten dynamic of riding with someone other than our own thoughts.
85km and 1,000m of elevation later and I was home with that satisfied feeling that comes with a good ride out (Ben would go on to complete his century before he got home). I was even more satisfied as I managed to keep up with Ben on all of the testing points on our ride. Ben is a cyclist that I have the utmost respect for, he has completed the Etape on a couple of occasions as well as some big old rides including Mount Teide and Cap de Formentor so his level of ability is something that I aspire to get to. Keeping up with him on Sunday was a real boost for my confidence and a vindication of all the time, effort and hard work that I’ve put in over the past few months.
We had a lot to catch up on, having not seen each other for a while. From home schooling the kids and tattered holiday plans to work and trying to stay away from the temptations of kitchen cupboards or booze, there were plenty of topics covered but there was one that took up a fair chunk of the conversation time – the Etape du Tour.
The organisers of the Etape have committed to running the event this year if at all possible, with the revised date of 6th September (falling in line with the new dates for the Tour). The route is planned to remain the same, a tour of the Nice hinterland with the Colmiane, Turini and Eze providing the climbs to test the riders. Ben had confirmation from LoveVelo that they would move all of our original booking elements to the new dates unless we told them otherwise, our EasyJet flights for the original dates had already been cancelled. We chatted through all of the elements; the possible quarantine/isolation implications on return, the fact that the new weekend would coincide with our kids returning to school and the concern that is still very real over a mass participation event. While the hearts said do it this year after all the hard work we’ve put in, the heads prevailed and we concluded that the sensible option would be to defer our entries to next year. Disappointing, but in the long run I think that is the correct choice.
So to next year, where will it be? What climbs could we face? In some ways the anticipation of finding out the route will lift the excitement all over again!
This is a cycling blog first and foremost but, occasionally, I’ll indulge myself by delving into something completely different so please bear with me! Over the course of the last 12 weeks or so, my personal social media channels have been awash with friends and colleagues finding different ways to entertain themselves during the lockdown. From baking to yoga, from couch to 5k to home brewing I think I must have seen it all. I, however, decided to dabble more in my interest of photography by learning some new photo and video editing skills.
It would be a lie to say that this wasn’t in some way linked to cycling, it most definitely was. I wanted to learn some tips and tricks to make my Instagram photos look better, more professional, rather than using the bog standard filters and edit facilities within the application itself. I signed up for an Adobe Photoshop licence on a monthly basis for £9.99 and this included Lightroom, an application I had heard of but never used before
I was quite happy to pay £9.99 a month as updates and new versions of the software are automatically made available for you to download and you can use both mobile and desktop versions of Lightroom and Photoshop as well as the desktop version of Lightroom Classic (for more advanced users). I watched a bunch of videos on YouTube, mainly from an insanely enthusiastic but brilliant guy called Peter McKinnon. He is ace, check him out. I started by using Lightroom‘s automatic settings and, as you can see below, photos that I’d taken that I thought were pretty good were immediately enhanced! Check the before and after images….
I started to follow my new virtual friend McKinnon’s tutorials to learn some new effects, the floating objects one was a particular favourite
I started to play around with things myself and while some things haven’t quite worked due to a lack of skills (currently) on my part there have been some interesting compositions!
So, seemingly, a trajectory was set for touching up every single photo I’ve ever taken! That was the case until I volunteered to compile a leaving video for a colleague and a whole new rabbit hole popped into view, TAKE THE RED PILL, NEO! I’d used DaVinci Resolve for editing GoPro footage (mainly speeding it up) previously but that was about it so I knew I’d need to up the game a little bit, enter Adobe After Effects and a whole new bunch of videos to watch! After Effects is a bit more expensive at £19.97 per month, but boy is it powerful and fun to use!
With basic skills and following various tutorials I managed to make some pretty cool intros, outros and transitions…..
So, while constructing my colleague’s video and a video for my teacher wife’s school, I started to think about whether I should make my own YouTube channel. I don’t really have a lot to say though and I have a face for radio. The channel I have is mainly used for housing videos that appear here but, using new skills and techniques that I’ve learnt, who knows where this will go?! It’s certainly given me something to focus on during the lockdown, who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
One tip and one big shoutout I will give is for a little application called Handbrake. Sometimes, videos you take are at variable frame rates as that is what tech uses to keep the file size down but this can cause issues in post production. Quite often, dropping a video file into DaVinci Resolve will put the audio out of sync and that is crap. Handbrake allows you to convert all videos to a constant frame rate which will maintain the integrity of the audio/video sync. THIS was my biggest find!
I’ve always had my routine where cycling is concerned, my week usually consists of Zwift SST training twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 6:30am, then a long ride on a Sunday. It suits my life and the other responsibilities that I have to work and my family, although sometimes I would love to just pick up the bike at any point and go! I have found that a dedicated effort to complete SST training, increasing the base watts every few weeks, has produced considerable improvements in the Sunday ride so it has worked well for me but the increase in online activity during the global lockdown led me to look at other events and group rides that were taking place in the online world.
A few weeks back Corine van der Zijden (former pro and Mike Teunissen’s partner) invited me to a Rapha CC meetup on Zwift that she was organising as she was doing some ambassadorial work for Rapha Amsterdam. Even though I’m not a member of the Rapha club I gladly accepted the invite and welcomed a new angle to the platform, the group ride. I enjoyed the experience (especially as it was a no drop ride!) and found that, actually, I was in a lot better shape than I thought I was and I wasn’t making an arse of myself by turning up! I’ve participated in a few since, where my dodgy shed WiFi connection has allowed me to!
Yesterday, however, I had a very strange thing happen to me and something that I’ve never seen before. As the group ride timer ticked to zero and the group rolled out on the streets of London town, I was left pedalling furiously on a virtual trainer going absolutely nowhere.
As I pressed various buttons and expelled a few choice words and colourful phrases the group moved ever further away and I remained there, spinning on the pavement, shackled by a luminous virtual turbo trainer. I had no choice but to concede defeat and quit the meetup. As soon as I pressed that button though the shackles were removed and I started to roll through town, albeit out of the group so no crazy boomerang effect back to them happened! As London wasn’t in rotation on that day there were very few rides on the map so I could still see the group on the the user list on the right hand side of the screen, I was 5 minutes and 12 seconds behind. I decided to try and make the catch, hopefully before Box Hill, the chase was on! I settled into kind of a combination of SST and TT and started to eat into the time gap
The image above shows the time gap down to 4:04 (forget Z Turner!) and it had already been a pretty big effort to get it down to that, I started to have doubts that I could pull this off. I couldn’t see any of the group chat so I didn’t know if they were even aware I was still in the game, they didn’t seem to let up at all so I concluded that they didn’t. Every time I got another chunk of time back, the gap would go out again as I’d hit a gradient or a slower section and it started to get in my head so I whacked the Chemical Brothers on loud and went for it.
At 1:35 behind I thought my heart was going to explode, I’d been pushing 160bpm for nearly 20 minutes and the graph was more in the red than yellow. It was at this point where I nearly quit.
I could still see them on the user list and the map now showed a little marker where Mike’s pro symbol shows up, I started to get a bit stubborn about it. I will catch them and I will catch them before Box Hill! Head down, I kept going. I was panting like a dog in a dry spell and the sauna like effect of the shed I was in wasn’t helping matters but that gap kept coming down, I realised that I could do this!
After 26 minutes of full on chasing I made the catch, just before the turn onto Box Hill. Rather than feeling spent I felt energised and I was buzzing so I continued on my merry way up the hill.
The Rapha guys were in a no drop grouping ride so they were going at a pace that suited the bunch but I was on cloud 9 after getting back on so I got stuck in to putting in a decent effort on a road I know very well, both virtually and in reality.
As the ride finished I felt pretty damn pleased with myself, it was a solid workout forged from a weird glitch in the Zwift universe, but further info only served to improve my mood further
A rather fine chap from North London, Stephen Lowe, informed me that the group chat was awash with speculation on whether I would manage to chase them down and that he had been very vocal in his support of my plight. Mike, as it turns out, was not and lost a bet in the process! With friends like that eh?!
As the buzz of victory subsided and I started to ache, I had a look at the ride report for the chase section in Training Peaks
In the 26 minutes I had spent chasing the bunch I had averaged 243w and 154bpm, for me they are crazy numbers as my FTP is more like 220w……although, at the end of the ride, Zwift informed me that it is now 240w so my SST sessions are about to get a lot more difficult! But, progress!
As more and more people start to emerge from lockdown restrictions and online numbers start to return to pre-Covid levels, I hope these group rides continue and people continue to participate. They are a welcome change from the singularity of workouts or the over-competitiveness of the events and races. I’ll just be hoping I don’t get stuck on a trainer again…..
Last week was mental health awareness week in the UK. Though I have never suffered the extremes that someone with severe mental health problems can experience, I am all too aware that every fluctuation from the ‘normal’ trajectory of life, however small, can knock us off centre before we realise what is happening.
As I have grown older, traversed life, got married, had kids etc I have developed a heightened awareness of my own self, the things that can ‘disturb the force’ if you like. I will not apologise for the shameless Star Wars reference as I think the commentary around balance, hope and not giving in to darkness is a very real fight for many people who deal with their own mental health problems on a daily basis. Since my dad passed away, 9 years ago in October, I have faced into things that I have known were there for years but suppressed so as ‘not to cause a scene’. I had anger and guilt issues that, coupled with a tendency to bottle things up, would spin me out on occasions and would usually result in some form of outburst, whether that be in work or (latterly) when the kids are being loud or not doing as they’re told. I would sit quietly, wishing my life away to get ride of those feelings. It’s a scary place when you lose control.
I have, in all these instances since I ‘re-found’ the hobby, found solace and comfort in my bike. It’s no coincidence that I feel happier, healthier, more alert and more motivated on Tuesdays and Thursdays as those are the two working days where I get up early and complete a Zwift workout. The weekend brings the opportunity of a longer ride outdoors and I value this time above all other. It is the chance to clear my headspace of all that has gone before, to work through issues and formulate plans, to make a mental to do list for work, to de-stress and remind myself that I am an incredibly lucky man and most importantly it is the chance to feel free for a couple of hours. Cycling has also given me an incredible focus, embracing the pain the local hills dish out serving as a cathartic release valve to expel all of the frustrations of modern life. It has taken me a few years to get to this point but where once climbs were feared and avoided now the pain and suffering is embraced and welcomed. I’ve read about many similar instances from many different people at different life stages but all using a bike to improve their physical and emotional wellbeing. This needs to be harnessed and encouraged, not demonised and ridiculed.
Yesterday I went into London on my bike to experience the quiet city that Covid-19 has produced. It was a strange yet enthralling ride as I rode down The Mall and round Regents Park, I picked my way through the back streets of Soho and Covent Garden, out to Spitalfields and back south of the river via Tower Bridge. I smiled at all the families out riding together on the roads in Herne Hill and Dulwich, the kids smiling rather than frightened by oversized cars passing them. It was great to see so many people embracing new activities or things they’d forgotten that they love to do. 100km later I was home but, in truth, I could have just kept on going such was the positive mood it had put me in. It made me think, with more clarity than ever, how lucky we have been to be able to go outside and ride our bikes during this period of lockdown.
Stripped back to its most basic form, the bicycle is a simple machine. What is amazing about them is the positive impact they can have on the most complex of things, our minds.
If you are feeling anywhere off centre then please talk to someone, or at least go for a ride. If you’re feeling good do check in with friends and family even if it is just to say hi. Everyone is forging a different path through these different times, with different pitfalls and different highs and lows. Everyone is dealing with life in a different way so keep an eye on your loved ones, you could be just what they need.
This Saturday coming I will turn 43. Not a special milestone birthday by any means and in the current world we are experiencing its likely to be a low key affair that matches the status of being 43. 42 did not turn out to be the meaning of life, the universe and everything as I’m sure many who passed through this particular age bracket found out, so the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has gone down somewhat in my estimation.
However, reflecting on the year gone by, I find that it has been quite a year with a lot of highlights and many reasons to remember it with fondness (especially the 2019 part of it). From a cycling perspective I enjoyed trips to Sweden and the World Championships in Harrogate, I got ridiculously excited watching Mike Teunissen take the yellow jersey in Brussels on stage 1 of Le Tour and I completed Ride London for the second time (this time without falling off/getting knocked off)
It is Harrogate that will stick in my mind for a long time though. I got to meet a lot of excellent people from the cycling corner of Twitter, I got to meet a lot of excellent new friends at the Alpecin cycling ride out, I went and said hello to Mike a couple of times at the Old Swan and I was on the finish line to watch Annemiek van Vleuten raise her arms as world champion after one of (if not) the most dominant rides in cycling history. It was made all the better to see her, some hours later, ride back into the hotel with the rainbow bands on, medal round her neck taking the applause from the spectators and the Dutch team.
A downside that stayed with me on the long train journey home was how unfit I was and how disappointed I’d been with myself in the company of some very good cyclists on the Alpecin ride. Yes, there were national hill climb champions and very experienced riders in the group but I was annoyed with myself for letting myself get into the state I had, so I resolved to do something about it.
Fast forward 8 months and I am in a completely different place. I’m stronger, I’m happier and most importantly I am over 2 stone lighter. At the last weigh in I have lost 30lbs (13.7kg) and now weigh 11 stone 3lbs (157lb, 71.4kg). My wallet has taken a battering from all the new kit I have had to buy, at one point I bought some jerseys in the sales before Christmas but I never got to wear them when the weather came good because I’d lost more weight!
I did a comparison in January to the Alpecin weekend some 4 months previous, I’d already lost 20lbs by then…..
…..so, as I was trying on some new kit, I thought it was time for another before and after comparison. For reference, the photo on the left was taken in Sweden last July.
I’m not done quite yet, I want to get down to between 68-70kg, but I have no shame in saying I’m incredibly proud of myself right now. All of the early morning SST workouts, the weekend rides and the will power around food have paid dividends. I’ve not had to use the inhaler and my cycling has become more enjoyable, I can see continuous improvement in my performance on regular segments and I am starting to relish taking on new challenges rather than shying away from them.
Although the Etape looks as though it won’t happen this year I will be ready when it does come calling, I’m determined not to go back to where I was a year ago.
As some of our European friends get their first taste of the outdoors in many weeks I guess it was inevitable that my mind should start to consider what life will be like post lockdown, from the children returning to schools to my own return to an office I haven’t stepped foot in for some seven weeks now. There are going to be safety and social distancing measures that will, undoubtedly, change the way that we move, interact and rejoin the human race but this is a bike blog and one specific thing played over in my mind…….my commute.
My commute pales into insignificance next to some of my colleagues’ efforts, a mere 20 minute bus journey compared to some who spend hours on packed trains or in bumper to bumper traffic. I have always eschewed commuting by bike because of the practical aspects; the creased clothes, carrying stuff backwards and forwards to the office, the never ending washing of kit and that’s not mentioning the fact that my commute, at 7km, starts and stops before it even gets going but manages to include one sizeable hill on the homeward leg. The current situation, however, is making me rethink this attitude towards a bike commuter existence and I have decided to take it on, with gusto!
So, a new bike for the journey? An e-bike to make that hill easier? No, where’s the fun in that? I’ve decided to fix up my old Felt Z75 that currently resides permanently on my turbo trainer, the same that served me so well in Sweden and on the L2P adventure
I love a little project so this will certainly keep my mind active for a while, so far I have considered that the following tasks are essential!
Like I said, that will keep me going for a while in between bouts of working from home, I’ve already started by preparing the wheels for their tubeless debut
However this did cause injury when a tyre lever sprang out and smacked me in between the eyes!
The other thing that I have been looking at for this is commuter clothing. I don’t really want to go full Lycra every day for a 7km journey so I need alternative, but practical clothing. Does anybody have any brand or product suggestions? Thanks in advance!
So I think it’s fair to say that 2020 hasn’t exactly gone according to plan, correct? To date this year I’ve had a holiday to Cyprus cancelled, the Giro has been ‘postponed’ as has the Etape du Tour (unlikely they will go ahead this year in my opinion) and it is looking highly unlikely that Ride London will happen either. That’s pretty much a full house for my cycling events this year.
To brighten the gloom of a long, event-less year I decided to take the plunge and invest some of the money I have saved from these cancelled trips on a power meter. I’d toyed with the idea for a little while and had spent many an hour watching YouTube videos and reading articles on the different types but had resisted due to my lack of knowledge around power based training…..that plus the fact that it seemed a little excessive for someone whose main cycling trip consists of a slow, leisurely roll around the lanes of Kent! The cancellation of the trips made previously unavailable funds available though so which one to pick; Pedals? Crank? Crankset? Left and Right? There was a lot to consider!
I settled on going the full hog, a complete crankset changeover as I wouldn’t need to switch between bikes all that often (if at all) and I chose the Stages Power Meter on an Ultegra chainset. This, however, was to present a new challenge that I had not considered! Specialized bikes use the BB30 bottom bracket rather than a 24mm one that Shimano use, hence the brand using FSA cranks, so I also had to buy some adaptors that would convert the bracket to the correct size for the Shimano cranks. That wasn’t as straightforward as it would seem as descriptions weren’t exactly clear but, thanks to a couple of forums, I found the Wheels Manufacturing BB30 to 24mm Crank Spindle Shims.
So, on the back of internet advice, my shopping list increased to:
Now I’ll admit that this task filled me with a little trepidation as I had never removed or replaced a crankset before. I’m slowly building up a knowledge of bike tasks but this struck me as one where I could really balls things up! Undeterred, I began the process of removing the old FSA cranks from my bike and it was there where I nearly gave up almost instantly as the crankset just wouldn’t move through the bracket, even with some pretty heavy handed encouragement with the rubber mallet! I was on the point of conceding defeat when ‘one last whack’ seemed to dislodge the crank and I was finally able to remove the offending article.
Following a good clean and re-grease, the shims and new crankset went on pretty easily. I did have to remove the adaptors a couple of times to ensure that I had the correct spacers on that would allow the crankset to work freely and not hinder the front derailleur or any other mechanism. Also, worth remembering where you had the chain before doing this, it took me a while to remember I’d shifted to the small ring before the install so the derailleur looked completely out of sync! I was surprised at just how easy the installation was, the calibration of the power meter was a straightforward affair with the Stages app and equally easy to sync to my Garmin with a little ride round the block
Now, it is all a question of learning what to do with this new piece of equipment! Training Peaks had a very good blog on the subject so I am going to use that as my inspiration!
I have also created an account with Training Peaks and am currently enjoying the trial period for their Premium service. There looks like a wealth of data to get my head round, it’s certainly a thorough platform!
The new addition looks great on my bike, interested to see where this will lead me next….
As parts of Europe begin to emerge slightly from lockdown, here in the UK we are continuing to follow the guidelines put in place by the Government some weeks back. It doesn’t look like that is going to change, for the next few weeks at least, as the country attempts to turn the tide on Covid-19.
The past weekend was Easter, this year though the bookend bank holidays of Good Friday and Easter Monday were a strange occurrence where usually they are anticipated greatly for the two days off work! Everything is currently merging into one like the period between Christmas and New Year. I’d planned two rides, one for Good Friday and one for Easter Sunday and I was particularly interested to see what the Sunday was like out and about as it is normally the quietest day of the whole year. The weather was also forecast to be glorious so, again, I thought I would make best use of the situation in case more stringent measures were introduced because of people disregarding the social distancing guidelines.
Good Friday was lovely. Still arm warmers weather in the early morning but the legs were out for the first time this year and it felt pretty good. Even in the midst of a global crisis the bike, the weather and the calmness of a reduced traffic countryside made me smile.
What didn’t make me smile was an annoying brake rub that started after going over a bump. I thought it may be the new brake pads wearing in and that it would stop but it didn’t, if anything the couple of minor adjustments I made to the calliper made it worse! It wasn’t enough to stop me and make me turn for home, but it was annoying! I rode 50km including TWICE up my now ‘most hated to loved’ Beddlestead Lane so I was pleased with that. I headed home and fixed that pesky brake rub, the wheel was turning so smooth I couldn’t wait to get back out on Sunday.
Easter Sunday was quiet and then some! It’s normally the quietest day of the year anyway because most of the shops are closed and, unlike Christmas Day, people aren’t moving around all over the place to meet friends and family for dinners or celebrations. The past Sunday was the heady mix of birds singing and the whirr of a rather gorgeous Hunt freehub through the lanes.
I’d planned to do a 60km loop including Ide Hill and a couple of new lanes but I was having such a good time that I just kept going, arriving back at my front door some 80km later. It was a lovely morning, it’s going to be hard to accept when traffic levels return to pre Covid-19 levels.
These two rides have given me another thing to obsess over…….data! But that’s a post for another time.