Category Archives: Hillingdon

I would ride five hundred miles…

…And I would ride five hundred more

Today I hit 1,000 miles cycled for the year. This means I’ve managed to maintain regular rides since January1. Who would have thought it: I’m back on the bike.

Last Christmas I was over 13 stones in weight which pushed me into the ‘overweight’  zone on the BMI calculation. This made me unhappy and was rapidly reducing my potential wardrobe (including my official kit at work). Something had to be done, I thought, and then forgot about it.

Luckily a few days later Strava, an on-line training log I use, sent me one of those automated emails that links to a video of your achievements for the year. I didn’t expect it to be riveting viewing but I was interested to see what my annual mileage for 2014 was. It was zero. I had unintentionally created a Beckettian YouTube piece.

I suppose it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. I’d finished my season early in 2011 (2,634 miles) and 2012 had petered out in April (only 1,338 miles for the year). The new job didn’t sit easily with a regular training and racing schedule. Still, I’d got a few rides in during 2013 (well, 80 miles worth) and I assumed that I’d done the same in 2014. Not so. It looked as if I needed a New Year’s resolution: ride your bike and lose weight. Except I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. Ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike. - Fausto Coppi2

Despite this, on the 3rd January I rode my bike for the first time in over 12 months, admittedly only for 13 miles. The roads were icy and it was raining and blowing a hoolie. After that I felt virtuous, tired and a little apprehensive. Luckily they were the worst conditions I’ve had to endure so far or I don’t think I’d have persevered.

The ‘plan’ was to try and ride two days a week and to reduce what I ate. Since then I’ve dropped 34lbs in weight and put 1,009 miles on the clock. I did miss a couple of weeks with a cold but recently I’ve started to add an occasional third ride a week. Now the weather is better I aim to ride 80-100 miles a week3.

I’ve found that the short rides and extra recovery time have allowed me to build fitness gradually. My stamina has improved but my strength is still not good (though being lighter helps on the hills). I’ve enjoyed seeing the progression in my fitness and my Strava friends have encouraged me from a distance. On-line support isn’t as good as the banter of riding in company though. I’m too slow for most group rides but I did treat myself to a day at the Hillingdon Cycle Circuit riding with old friends. I didn’t hang on for long, but with a lap of less than a mile I had plenty of company (and there’s a club house with tea and cake).

One thing I didn’t want to go back to was the turbo trainer when the weather was bad. Instead I bought a set of rollers. I’ve used them twice and have only fallen off once, which is not too bad. I do recommend them for comedy effect if nothing else.

I’ve recently bitten the bullet and joined the local Eastbourne Rovers Cycling Club. I’m not fast enough for club rides yet but hope to get there in the next few weeks.

I don’t suppose this new enthusiasm will last – the second part of the year has the potential to be a lot more complicated than the first half – but I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of cycling again, which is good. I enjoy the way it pulls you into the moment and puts everything else on hold (something to do with oxygen debt and present tense risks I think). I hope I manage to keep the wheels turning and the miles ticking over.

1 This distance would not have impressed Tommy Godwin who averaged over 200 miles a day in 1939. Nor would it be significant to Steven Abraham and Kurt Searvogel who are trying to break his annual mileage record this year.

2 Coppi is supposed to have said this when a reporter asked him what it takes to be a great champion. My aim is somewhat lower.

3 This compares to 150-200 miles a week when I was racing earlier in the millennium and 300 miles a week when I was a young rider.

Cycling review of 2011

This shouldn’t take long.

I started a new job in May. It has weekend working and a variable schedule which made it difficult to keep to training plans and made weekend racing tricky to programme. So I slowed down then stopped the racing. And then slowed down and then stopped the cycling. I haven’t been on the bike since August.

But it’s not about the job of course. the job was just the excuse pushing at an open door. The racing was getting difficult because I was going slower. Motivation is a problem when there is no incentive. The house move in March meant that I had lost my support network.

Support network sounds grand doesn’t it. What I mean is those people who get after you if you start taking it easy: the Willesden CC, the Minet Ladies CC, the veterans at the Hillingdon Cycle Circuit, the Imperial Winter Series and so on. Living in a new place means you have to be a self-starter until you find the local networks. I did this for a while… and then stopped doing it.

Will I ride a bike again? I’ve got a hell of a lot invested in kit. That’s probably not enough of an incentive to tempt me out on a day like today (cold, wet and windy).

The one thing that might persuade me back onto the road again is that I’ve started putting on weight. The new job, with its outdoor work and requirement for nervous energy, has kept the pounds off during the season. Since November I’m working less and the pounds are creeping back on. I hate being fat.

If I do race next year I think I’ll stick to club races. There’s a really good calendar of evening events in East Sussex. I do like riding opens, but down here the weekend events always start early in the morning (in most areas the Saturday races are in the afternoon). Two early starts (3-5am say) in a row are no fun, especially if you’re riding like a slug.

I don’t think I can afford to set targets for next year. They get me down and, in the end, become counter productive.

Some statistics for the year:

Fastest 10 miles TT – 25:52 on 9th May on the G10/87 course (compared to a PB of 23:37)

Fastest 25 miles TT – 1:05:33 on 8th May on the Q25/8 course (compared to a PB of 59:07)

16 races ridden. This compares to 48 in 2010.

2,615 miles in training (so far). This compares to 6,786 miles in 2010. I’ve never exceeded 10,000 miles in a year.

633 miles in January was the most miles in a month this year. The disruption of the house move and then new job kicked in around March.

Minet Ladies Cycling Club charity ride

Cycling at Minet Park

photo by Keith Shorten

When we lived in South Harrow I used to help out with the coaching at the Minet Ladies CC on Friday afternoons. It’s a great club and it’s developed really well over the last few years.

Yesterday they ran their annual charity ride at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit. I decided to go up for a spin despite not having been on the bike for over a month. It was great to meet up with old friends again.

The riding was hard for me. I tried to keep up with groups who were just too fast for my current state of fitness (i.e. zero). For over half the ride my heart rate was up in the top zone (racing effort). In spite of my lack of form I managed 33 miles (35 laps) before exploding, averaging just over 18mph.

In the group

Hanging on to the fast riders for half a lap. L-R: Kirsten Savage, LW, Tony Woodford, Sean Bannister and John Wheatley. Photo by Keith Shorten

One young rider did 100 laps – 94 miles. Riders ranged in age from 5 to 80+. Altogether they did 2400+ laps and raised nearly £2,000 for the local Acorn Youth Club. Chapeau to everyone who took part, organised, supported and/or helped. It was a great event.


>I’m getting fitter. No, really, I am. I know I’m not riding enough, but every time I go out I do the same rides with less effort. I may not get much faster, but less effort is expended. So how come?

Fitness is not only those things you can measure in a lab or gym (strength, stamina, speed etc.). It’s a whole load of things that make you fit for a specific purpose. I am fitter at riding the road and lanes of Sussex. How can that be if I’m not putting in enough miles?

  1. I’m learning to ride a bike again. After a fortnight off? Don’t they say “you never forgot how to ride a bike”? Okay, I’m learning to ride a bike efficiently again. Even a short lay off leaves you rusty. The bike felt alien when I started again. Now I’m occasionally enjoying those moments when the machine feels like part of me.
  2. I’m learning the roads. The first few times I went out I blew up on the hills (didn’t know how long they were) and faded into extended headwind sections (lacked resolve). Now I know the specifics of regularly ridden roads and I’m getting a feel for the grain of the land which gives me a good idea of how a new road will ride. I know when to sit and spin and when to push hard for the summit. The headwind thing is more a state of mind – get into the gear right and take the pain.

EDIT (Saturday): There’s a number 3 my friend Des reminds me – the better weather. When the temperature gets to near 20°C your muscles work better. Hence the glut of PBs in time trials today. Everyone’s fitter!

Which is great. I’m fitter. Except that I need to be fit to race in nine days time. And that’s a different sort of fitness. I have to take my ‘Sussex roads and lanes’ fitness and ramp it up (more raw strength and stamina) – do more miles. I should add in some speed work and do some riding on my time trial bike which has a different feel and (I suspect) uses the muscles slightly differently.

I’m not sure that I’ve trained my enthusiasm enough for that sort of hard work yet.

It’s not just enthusiasm. It’s doing 100% of training on the open road. Previously I’d do a high proportion of my work on closed roads (Hillingdon). Now every ride needs a bit of courage to get going. I had 25 years off the bike because I got fazed by traffic. Hillingdon protected me from that problem. Now I’m going to have to face up to it.

>2011 – race #1

>And so it begins again.

I’ve had a fortnight of occasional short, gentle rides rather than training. We’ve been packing the house ready for the move and that has taken all of our attention. Despite this I did want to ride today’s event. I’ve got very anxious over the last weeks and cycling has helped take some of the pressure off.

I had a particularly good ride on Friday – an hour at Hillingdon on the Planet X TT bike for the first time in months. It felt like flying. On Tuesday I’d struggled to average 16mph on the road bike. On Friday, despite no effort longer than three miles, I did 19 miles in the hour. Given how unfit I’ve been feeling, it was a big boost. It was good to say ‘ta ra’ to the Tuesday/Friday veterans as well. I’m not going to miss the regular kickings they gave me though.

So Friday and Saturday we broke the back of the packing. The loft is empty and our life is almost all in boxes. This meant that I could legitimately spare the morning for a proper bike race – the West London Combine / Maidenhead and Dist CC 10m TT on the Knowl Hill course (H10/2). We might have had the Tour Down Under, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Strade Bianche, but we all know the season really begins at a village hall just outside Maidenhead in early March.

It was a cool, crisp morning with a slight tailwind to the turn. This made the early rise to Knowl Hill a little less lung bursting than usual, but made the last half a mile a living hell quite hard. I was pleased with my ride. Last year I messed it up by being on medication and snapping a gear cable on the way to the start. Two years ago I did a 26:37. Today I did exactly the same time. I’m not progressing as well as I might!

CORRECTION: I misread my time. It was actually 20 seconds slower – 26:57. I need new specs.

Race stats: Time: 26:57 (22.26mph). First 5 miles: 12:20, last 5 miles: 14:37. Top speed: 29.6mph. Slowest mile (6): 3:09 (19.05mph), fastest mile (4): 2:18 (26:09mph). Average HR: 163bpm, maximum HR: 168bpm. Average cadence: ?rpm. 28th of 84 finishers. Winner: Peter Dixon (Willesden CC) 22:58

As it was an association event I rode in the colours of my second claim club, the Willesden. That should be my last ride for them… It was good to say cheerio to so many of the team mates and friends from other clubs who have made the nearly five years we’ve lived in London so nice. Apologies that I didn’t get to chat to all of you. Thanks all.

In other news – they’ve just run the Kiwi age group track championships. My sister Marie reports…

Final score for NZ National Track Cycling Championships:
Jennifer [my niece – U17]: bronze (scratch race), silver (points race), silver (team pursuit), bronze (team sprint), 4th (individual pursuit) and 6th (sprint)
Me [i.e. Marie – vet]: bronze (500m TT – PB 42:814), silver (2000m individual pursuit – PB 2:49:418)

Well done the Muhls!

>Riding in echelon

>Here’s a superb video of the pros riding in echelon at the Tour of Qatar:

I found it at the Inner Ring blog who located it at

 If you’ve ever been shouted at a Thursday night Hillingdon session for not getting the changes right, it’s well worth a look.

>Imperial Winter Series

>I haven’t ridden the Winter Series at Hillingdon this year. This has given me a decent Winter break for the first time in three years, but I’ve missed the rhythm of having a weekly crit to ride. I didn’t commit this season because I thought we were moving house before Christmas. The latest guesstimate of a move date is mid-March. Next year the circuit will be too far away. I haven’t bought a road licence for this season – I may have ridden my last bunch race.

Anyway, I popped down to Hillingdon last Saturday to catch up with the Series. The new clubhouse at the circuit makes it a much more civilised affair than in previous years. Unusually three race weekends have been lost to the weather this year (though they did add an extra Sunday race to replace one of these). The last races are this Saturday from 1pm – well worth a visit if you’re passing through Hayes.

Former club mate Peter Dixon was riding the 3rd cat event. It was a tough, windy day. A group of three broke away and worked well together to hold off a bunch that found it difficult to maintain a consistent chase. Peter did a bucket load of work but lacked the sprint to be up there at the finish. He was 12th or 13th in the end I think.

I was almost suckered into riding next Saturday. Organiser Lucy Collins had persuaded me that it would be a good idea but then I remembered that I’m riding a Prime Coaching track session at Calshot Velodrome that day. In some ways I’m pleased (I would probably have been dropped early on), but I miss the buzz of a Hillingdon race.

>The Pit Pony

>There used to be a regularly shown piece of film of pit ponies being brought to the surface for their once a year holiday. The ponies, released from the perma-dark imprisonment of the mine, went bonkers. Running and jumping around the field – a picture of unconfined joy.


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Today I rode a bike outdoors for the first time in what seems like weeks. I scampered over to Hillingdon and span round for lap after lap. After two and a bit hours I was pretty knackered and cut the session short. I think the daylight tired me out. I wasn’t quite in pit pony heaven, but the parallel wasn’t lost on me.

I’ve actually got into quite a productive groove with the turble, but it’s taking its toll on my body. The relative lack of movement and adjustment keeps too constant a pressure on joints and ‘contact points’. It’s good to get back on a bike that moves with you. It’s good to ride in company again as well.

>To the turbodrome

>The recent cold and snow has pushed me back onto the turbo. Not that it has been much warmer inside our lean-to – a couple of sessions were done at 3°C and it is looking cold out there again today.

Like a lot of cyclists I pretend to hate the turbo trainer, but really I’m just bored by it. This is especially true at this time of year when I’m building back to fitness. There are no really hard interval sessions to carry out (pain is preferable to discomfort in this context).

So I’ve been trying a few techniques to beak sessions up. I’ve found the following useful:

  • Spinning up the revs for 10-15 seconds every 5 minutes or…
  • Going up/down a sprocket every 5 minutes and adjusting cadence accordingly and…
  • Changing handlebar position every 1 or 2 minutes

These were amongst techniques suggested on the Time Trialling Forum – there’s also a thread “What’s the longest turbo session you’ve ever done?” which makes for scary reading – 5+ hours!? I’ve never managed more than 75 minutes.

In a way I’m glad to have had such a concentrated batch of turbo sessions – it’s got me back into the habit. It also gets you fit very quickly. I hope I’ll cope a bit better with riding with the veterans at Hillingdon this week!

Of course, I’m writing this post to delay today’s turbo session.

In Gear Quickvit Trainsharp

In other news,we had the Willesden CC AGM yesterday. I am no longer time trial secretary (my first and last annual report is here). Indeed, I am no longer a first claim member of the club. From next season I will be riding for In Gear Quickvit Trainsharp, a team based in Uckfield, close to where we hope to be living in Sussex. I’ll remain a second claim member of the Willesden and hope to see some of them at races.

The house move is now waiting on the chain to form. Someone down the line needs to find a place to live. After months of making decisions about our future, we are now subject to the vagaries of other people’s decisions. It doesn’t feel so good.


>Last night was the final Westerley CC Hillingdon Circuit ’10’ of the season. I decided to ride it on the track bike (with added clip-on tri bars). This was a) to get some saddle time with the bike before Saturday’s track session and b) just for the hell of it. The bike was set up with a 50×15 (90″) fixed gear which seemed about right.

I’d only ever ridden one race on fixed before – a ’25’ in 1978 – and that was because I’d smashed up my gears the day before. In fact it went well. I kept the gear turning over, though I found it difficult to ‘push on’. I should probably do more work on fixed to improve my cadence.

The Westerley are using transponders this season, so you can see a lap by lap breakdown of my ride here. I was pretty happy with an even-ish pace. I was 18 seconds slower than the last time I rode this circuit, but the average heart rate was down, which suggests I wasn’t trying / able to try as hard.

Race stats: Time: 27:18 (22.68mph). First 5 miles: 13:14, second 5 miles: 13:10. Top speed: 26.0mph. Slowest miles (4 and 5): 2:41 (22.36mph), fastest mile (2): 2:35 (23.23mph). Average HR: 159bpm, maximum HR: 165bpm. 21st of 30 finishers. Ave. cadence: 85+rpm. Winner: Jerone Walters (Sigma Sport) 21:43