How to Be A Road Biker

I recently received an email from a dedicated mountain biker that reminded me that not everyone who is thinking of cycling end to end is a committed road cyclist but that they might need to learn to become one to complete the tour.

This is not necessarily true.  Many have completed the ride on a mountain bike and it would certainly be more comfortable on the off road sections of my own route.

On the whole though, the ride would be easier on a road bike.  So below is a quick video, suggested by my correspondent, as a good introduction to road cycling (it is sooo true):

Erratic, Spontaneous Training – Why Not to Do It

In June I am supposed to be cycle touring.  Two days ago I was undecided upon my route.  Today, wiped and shattered, I am fairly sure which roads to follow – the short and uncomplicated ones.

My training this year has consisted of 10 mile commuting cycles three days a week and then a 175 mile ride to the Isle of Wight at Easter.  This is not the smooth, double peaking training programme I recommend on my website, but I thought it should definitely have two peaks.  So, I booked in at very short notice to the Surf and Turf 400 audax ride out of Newton Abbot on Saturday.

The Surf and Turf 400 route consisted of a straggling loop along the north coast of Cornwall to Polzeath and back across country to Newton Abbot at roughly 300km and then a bonus loop of 100km.  The weather was wet.  Very wet.  By the time I reached Polzeath I was extremely cold, shivering uncontrollably.   I decided not to linger at the control and carried on.  The 20% climb from the beach helped warm me, as did the frequent climbs thereafter (and before) but on every descent the chill reclaimed me.  By the time I had reached Launceston and plunged down to the old A30 I had endured enough.  I decided I would not be doing the extra 100km loop – 300km was it for me.  The trouble was I still had about 90 km to go.  And it was nearly dark.

Felt like this!

I will not go into details about the misery of the next 4 or so hours.  I will definitely not go into details about my urgent bowel evacuation following downing a certain drink that provides you with modified forelimbs that bears large feathers and are used for flying.   I will be positive and say that the rain stopped and I warmed up a bit.  And by 01:00 yesterday I was safely tucked up in bed feeling sorry for the people still chugging around the bonus loop – the ride was a qualifier for Paris-Brest-Paris and had to be completed by some, despite the allure of a car home at the 300km point.

My training profile now has its two peaks.  I am unlikely to do any more training, other than my usual commuting, before my tour in June.  With that in mind the thought of 1,500 miles or so to complete a tour through every county in England is not appealing and would probably be foolhardy. In my current state of exhaustion the idea of planning a trip onto foreign soil is not pressing the right buttons, so Roscoff – Santander is on the back burner.  That leaves me with Lowestoft to St David’s, via London.

A quick look on Google Maps suggests a trip of about 450 miles.  If I get a train to the start and then cycle home from the end (300 miles or so) that will make a cycling tour of 750 miles.  If I allow Saturday for travel to Lowestoft and get back home on the following Sunday evening, that gives me 8 days cycling for a week’s leave from work.  I should be able to manage just over 90 miles a day. With the lack of training it might prove trickier than my previous LEJOG jaunts but hopefully do-able.

Of course, I should have followed my own advice viz training.  But life isn’t like that.  There is only so much time and for the past few months’ life priorities have been pointing in other directions.  I will have to set off and see what happens.  If physically I am unprepared, my psychological advantage is in knowing that I have cycled 100 miles a day for an 8 days period twice over the previous two years.  And getting the head right is half the battle.

What Happens if I Start Training

Having recently posted about what would happen if you stopped training I thought I should make some comments about starting training.

I have set myself the challenge of riding a one or two week route in June.  When I first conceived this idea June was a long way away.  I had plenty of time to get myself in shape to tackle up to 15 days of cycling a 100 miles or so a day.  But that was months ago and the time has slipped without any sign of proper training.  In fact, by the time Easter is over I will have a mere 2 months.

I have tried to squeeze some extra riding in by tackling a slightly longer and much more hilly route on my thrice weekly commute to work.  In my third week I have reverted to my usual route, my legs protesting too strongly to be ignored.  That may be due, in part, to the only non commute road ride I have made in a long time at the weekend.  It was a ride I have ridden many time and is the shortest route I can ride door to door that goes up onto Dartmoor.  It is 40 miles and has about 1400m of vertical ascent (and, of course, descent).

This morning, I felt totally shattered as I clawed my way to work.  At first I put it down to the raging headwind I was battling against.  But then I realised that the daffodils on the side of the road were not even wavering in the gentle breeze.  Next I decided it was simply lack of sleep; pains in my shoulder and arms have been making it difficult to sleep for a couple of weeks and I was up until the wee hours trying to winkle 277 nasty bugs and viruses out of my son’s laptop last night.  In desperation I thought it might be the wrong coffee before I set off; not enough caffeine in the bloodstream.

The reality is I am not fit enough.  It is a worry.  In a week’s time I am supposed to be cycling to my parents’ house on the Isle of Wight.  The plan is to test out what would be my first day’s route should I decide to ride the All Counties of England route in June on a 9 day schedule.  It would be the longest day at around 170 miles and I want to know whether it is feasible.  Right now it seems crazy.

So, what happens when you start training?  You feel tired, your legs ache and you want to give up. What do you do about it?  Either give up or plod on.  As long as you don’t overdo things, if you continue to push yourself you will get fitter and things will get easier.  If you want to reach a fitter state you need to push through the hard rides to get there.

Is trying to ride 170 miles on Good Friday on the back of a mere 40 mile ride and some base level commuting  a good training regime?  No.  Does it classify as overdoing it?  Yes.  Will I make the attempt?  Maybe.

UPDATE: Saturday 4th April

What Happens if I Stop Training?

You become less fit.

That was the short answer.  There is a much better long answer here:

Summarised below:

Day 0 

This is your last day of training.  You have decided to take no regular vigorous exercise.

Day 3

No discernible decrease in fitness.  If you have been training hard up to day 0 you can expect your fitness to be higher than day 0.

Day 7 (Week 1)

Fitness begins to drop due to decrease in blood volume and muscles becoming less efficient at using glucose and at coping with lactate build up.

Weeks 2-3

Things are starting to slip.  Your maximal oxygen uptake 
(VO2 max, the prime measure of your aerobic fitness) has dropped by up to 20%, because the muscle mass in you heart has dropped by 20% and the number of capillaries in your muscles has declined, resulting in a reduction in oxygen uptake to the muscles.

One month

You are definitely on the slide.  Your muscle structure is reverting to that of a normal, non-exercising person.  Your muscles are less able to burn fat for energy and are no longer able to sustain high intensity efforts.

2-3 months

Your heart now 25% less muscle and your muscles ability to produce energy from oxygen has dropped by up to 45%.  You now start to produce stress hormones when exercising which makes it mentally difficult and increases recovery time.

6 months

You are now unfit and have probably put on weight.  Even if you still weigh the same you will be fatter, muscles mass having been lost.  But the good news things have mostly stabailised, although your ability to utilise oxygen during exercise is still declining.


Stop training and your fitness begins to decline quite soon after, continuing to fall away the longer you stay off the bike, until after six months of inactivity, you’ll be a long way behind in the fitness stakes.

What Can I do?

Interval sessions consisting of just 8×30-second efforts, two or three times a week – just 12 minutes a week – can be very effective at preserving aerobic fitness.

Training Finished (me off)

On Saturday I set off on my final training ride before the start of my LEJOG at the beginning of June, now only 2 weeks away.

I let Google chose my route between Ivybridge – Barnstaple – Tiverton – Ivybridge.  It was interesting.  I went on many roads I had never cycled before.  And a few rough rocky paths I never want to cycle again.  At one point the route had me pedalling across open moorland, through shallow rocky streams and thick but thankfully largely dry mud.

I went awry between Lydford and Okehampton, believing the route followed the Granite Way.  I took my eye off the ball and only realised in Okehampton that my route didn’t go there.  Rather than retrace my tyre tracks I took an audax route for the Old Roads 300 which I have ridden a couple of times in the past. However, not wanting to add extra miles to the trip I decided not to go all the way to Barnstaple but to nip the corner off the route.  This led to a lot of ad lib routing and an endless succession of 15-20% hills.  At one point I rounded a corner to see a 33% gradient warning sign staring at me with a grin on its face. Fortunately I turned just before it onto a much gentler 20% slope.

The day was hot, with temperatures off the tarmac at about 27 C and there were not enough shops so I managed to get dehydrated a couple of times and by the end I was felling much like I did on the final day of my LEJOG last year.

Nearly a week later I am still feeling energy-less, which is not a good sign.  However, the lack of recovery could be due to hayfever, from which I am suffering badly.  When planning I had forgotten that I suffer a lot for hayfever, being at its worst in June!

Whilst not boosting my confidence that I am fit enough to ride LEJOG without a lot of suffering it has shown me that I can manage 145 miles over hillier terrain than any day I will face in the ride.  It has also proved that my new bike is capable of tackling worse off road paths than I encountered last time around.  The slick 23mm tyres held up without punctures and I am tempted to leave them on to prove the route can be ridden on a true road bike set up.

The ride also highlighted a problem with my sat nav set up.  The battery lasts about 8-10 hours at best so for longer rides I carry an external battery on the bike, attached to the sat nav by usb cable.  This arrangement will give up to 40 hours of continuous use.  However, when I came to fit the cable to the sat nav there was not enough space between the unit and the handlebars on my new bike for the cable to attach.  I have now purchased, at great expense, a special cable with a right-angle head that fits snugly in the gap.  I would have been stuck if I had only found out the day before the ride though.  Always a good idea to have a test ride!

So to summarise:  great to show I can cycle longer and harder than I will need to for any individual day but a little worrying that I am still feeling drained of energy.

Training Interrupted by Plague of Guinea Pigs

Sorry, slight typo in the title.  Training has actually been interrupted by plague and Guinea Pigs.

Plague has infested the house with everyone dropping like flies.  Youngest son fell asleep on the sofa at 5pm on Friday and only woke up 7am next day.  Totally unknown before.  Everyone else is suffering in one way or another except me.  I seem to be keeping it at bay but I can hardly disappear for a whole day on my bike.

Anyway, the weekend has been taken up organising guinea pigs for number 2 son’s birthday at the end of the month.  Saturday was spent obtaining cages, runs, food, hay, sawdust, bowls and various other accoutrements, including guinea pig snuggles (?).   Today was the trip to get the guinea pigs themselves, amidst great excitement.  The excitement has died down now since the guinea pigs have spent the last few hours hiding in the hay at the back of the cage.  I’m sure they’ll stick their noses out some when, most likely when we’ve all gone to bed – the dogs will probably let us know by barking the house down.

So, no training.  But, having missed a lot of sleep in the last week or two with youngest son suffering first from conjunctivitis and then tonsillitis I had a long lie in this morning in place of training.  That will have to do.

I’m planning a 160 mile ride for next weekend but I think that might be the only opportunity left, unless I can squeeze another ride out of somewhere.

Worried About Fitness

When I started contemplating riding LEJOG in June I had the mind set that when I rode it last October I had done so with very little training.

For my JOGLE in 2009 I had completed an extensive training program which totaled 5,000 miles.  Indeed, in my book about preparing for an end to end ride (the text of which is set out here) I advocate a training plan based on how far you want to cycle each day.   The plan has a gradual increase in duration in the saddle and distance covered to bring you to a ride ready fitness peak.

My training in 2013 was quite different.  I rode to work 3 times a week, a total of 66 miles, but other than that only rode 7 other rides.  In order these were 300km, 400km, 200km, 600km, 170km, 810km and 180km.  The first 5 were in preparation for London-Edinburgh-London, a ride I was fated to not complete (I was knocked off my bike by a lorry 10 days before the start and damaged my knee).  The 810km ride is the failed attempt.  The last ride of 180km was a local sportif over Dartmoor to test out the strength of my knee before embarking on LEJOG.  So a completely different training approach brought about by lack of time.

In thinking about LEJOG this June I had in my mind that I had only done a few rides before LEJOG 2013 so I could get away with very little training this time as well.  What I had forgotten was that each of those rides was longer than my shortest day on LEJOG, 4 of them were longer than my longest day and 2 of them were about half the total distance.

This year I had only completed one ride over 100 miles so yesterday I thought I had better try and put in another one.  I managed it but have to report that today I feel battered:  I have a stiff neck, sore shoulders and lower back and feel generally washed out.

I have 4 weekends left before the start.  I do not want to do a long ride the weekend before I set off – I would rather conserve energy than gain an insignificant amount of fitness – so that leaves 3.  One weekend is son 2’s birthday so nothing doing then.  So that leaves 2 potential training opportunities to bring my fitness to a peak.

I think I am going to have to ride myself into fitness on the event.  I’ve heard you can do that.