Monday, 12 February 2018

Five reasons to ride your bikes even when it all goes a bit wrong

I wish I'd screen grabbed the weather forecast I read, late on Friday night, as we were going to bed and hatching a plan for the weekend - so that I could have juxtaposed the natty new BBC weather graphics with what actually arrived. 'Sunshine and 7 degrees all afternoon', it proclaimed. After what turned up, I want a refund.

Or do I?

We spent Saturday morning at the gym. Just for once, Katie and I managed to get Wattbikes next to one another, both with working headsets, seat post clamps, pedals - even bluetooth! The final piece of the jigsaw, being able to see one another on Zwift, remained elusive, but we did an hour or so up the mountain towards our Le Col challenge hours, interspersed with some adult conversation and trips to the water cooler to combat the intense heat (none of which later). It hurled it down with rain so we went and got Rhoda some new trainers to ride in, and nipped to Cafe Ventoux for a bit of an outing and something to eat. Katie took the opportunity to see what she might spend her £50 Le Col voucher on - assuming we got some more time on the bike before the weekend was out.


Sunday came, and the sun shone as we sat in church. A bit better than the forecast, we thought. Excellent! We drove home, choosing to ignore the car's temperature warning beep, and threw ourselves into the task of getting everyone's touring kit out at the same time for the first time since last May.

The touring bikes came up from the basement - a feat in itself. Katie's had air in the rear hydraulic brake line. Again.

Ruth's winter cycling jacket was missing. The girls had been sharing one for weeks, which was fine until we wanted them to ride together.

EVERYTHING needed oiling.

Ruth's jacket was still not in evidence.

Rhoda's bottle cage had been robbed from her trailerbike when Thomas Ivor put his foot through one during cyclocross training. Thomas Ivor hadn't tightened the bolts back into the frame, and one was missing on the basement stairs.

Ruth's jacket wasn't in the car. It wasn't anywhere in the pile of coats by the front door. It wasn't in the washing basket, or the cupboard. It wasn't in the girls' bedroom, or their chest of drawers. Running out of places to look.

We had a shortage of serviceable rear lights. About four of them have had the switches fail in wet weather recently. It was looking decidedly dull outside.

Ruth's jacket was not in our bedroom, either. It was not under the settee, nor in the bag we took to her last cyclocross race. It was not in the front garden, or the flippin' fridge. The hunt was becoming desperate and tempers were fraying.

In the end, since all the jacket-searching had cost us so much time we were all 'hangry', we jumped in the car, all each one of us (except Ruth's top half) in full lycra, and went to a well known burger joint which euphemistically calls itself a 'restaurant' but is careful to enhance the eating experience by never bringing to your table everything you ordered. As we arrived there, we were treated to a hailstorm. Words were possibly had with the Almighty, who had apparently hogged the promised nice weather, for the part of the day we had spent indoors, worshipping Him.


I think the children thought that was it, and we were going to go home, take off our cycling kit, put a fire in the grate and spend the rest of the day looking for Ruth's jacket, but somehow, (perhaps that £50 Le Col voucher had something to do with it) Katie and I steeled ourselves to the prospect of cutting back our ambitions for the day's riding, but restoring some honour by being able to say we had ridden, after all. Here's what I think we learned, as we set out under grey skies, which proceeded to dump on us from a great height...

1. There will be 'can't be bothered' days on the road, too. They may of themselves have no particular reward at all - but they facilitate the 'other days' - and you have to do them to reach your goal.

When you reach the end of a tour, you will remember the really tough bits. The stinking great hills. The equipment failures. You'll remember the amazing bits - the natural wonders, a tasty meal, road angels you met. What you're unlikely to remember so readily is the miles and miles you spent just plodding on. The days when getting on the road again was a drag. A nagging headwind. Rain that stops as soon as you've put your wet weather gear on. Even in lovely places, there are boring bits.

The fact is, going the distance is very much about being able to keep on going when the motivation is low and excuse factor is high. If you hadn't done a few hours at 10mph feeling uninspired, here and there, you might be hundreds of miles short of your objective. Sticking with a plan to throw your leg over the bike, even when at the time, it would be much easier not to, is good discipline for days where caving in could kill off your big aspirations.


2. If you don't find the kit you need today, you won't have it for next time, and you'll lose another ride. If one plan goes for a Burton, try and respond in a way that prevents recurrence.

We covered less than half the distance we had hoped, in the end, but if we had used 'we can't find everything in a hurry' as an excuse, we'd not have gone out at all - and we'd have left ourselves the same excuse for next time, too. In the end, we figured that if we only rode up our street and back, to have done that before the day was out would be a sign that we were able to get moving more quickly, and fully equipped, next time. Today's ride became a facilitator for the next one! (See point 5, below)

Repurpose a ride that isn't going to hit all the original targets. Roll with the blows and do something purposeful with it - even if that's short of, or different to, what you'd hoped. It might mean next time goes more smoothly.


3. What doesn't kill them makes them stronger - children get used to what they've experienced safely, and will be calmer next time. Use incentives.

What is training for, if not a bit of conditioning?! A small dose of hail in the faces, endured by choice and survived, makes for better endurance next time it comes and can't be avoided. Use mitigations (being able to turn round and put the wind at your backs, and doing that before things get ugly) and rewards (hot chocolate and a warm bath at home afterwards) while you have them. If we encounter a full-on hailstorm again, in the middle of nowhere, the children know what to do, and that it will be ok. They won't die. It will still be a good adventure. We were well impressed with the girls' willingness to endure a burst of rough weather and keep going; Thomas Ivor was able to get used to the 'new' sensory input of cold stuff hitting his face whilst riding a road he knows well, and could process his response at his own pace.

Children today are often shielded more than is helpful to them, from the weather. Properly equipped, with careful management (both important caveats!), they can endure more than they think - and if you are willing to do it close to home, out of season, that unexpected storm on your next tour will be far less of a curved ball. Which brings us to the next point...


4. Train hard, fight easy - test your contingencies and ability to deal with problems when you can choose to, rather than when you have no choice! 

Last year, we were privileged to go to visit Islabikes in Shropshire. In preparation for a staff outing, a weekend's off-road touring through Wales, founder Isla Rowntree presided over (and participated in, and won) a competition in which every participant had to change their rear inner tube against the clock, unaided, using only their own equipment for the trip, fully packed up as it would be on the day.  I won't say who found they'd packed a 26" tube on their 29er, but several of the participants encountered trouble they'd not foreseen, and a few doubtless tweaked their preparations subsequently! As Isla pointed out, they'd be glad of the frustration now, if they had a puncture out on open moorland in a freezing cold deluge the following week.

Solving problems you hope you will never have, with a safety net, might lead to packing new or different things (or knowledge!) that improve your chances on tour, when things go wrong. If the things you fear most on tour, you've already tried and found a response for, you have rather less to fear. In our case this time, it wasn't so much equipment based but a test of 'can we ride on in these conditions', in a situation where we could bail out at any time -  and the answer was "yes - and Rhoda needs the peak of her hat adjusting for her when it happens". If that's the worst of it, we won't be so worried next time the BBC forecast turns out to be so lamentably inaccurate!


There is a general level of satisfaction to be had from having 'done it anyway', and if children bank positive experiences of dealing with situations you'd prefer not to deal with, but might have to, everyone stresses less. Even if unbeknown to them, you dialled things back a bit having satisfied yourself it was ok, everyone gets a feeling that nothing can stop you next time. Some days, when you're digging deep, that's what you need upon which to draw.


5. Evaluation is the mother of preparedness - a.k.a. 'Always look in the toy box'.

We got home, got warm, got the girls some hot chocolate and a bath, and Katie set to, continuing the hunt for the lost jersey, finding a number of other things we didn't know we'd lost, along the way, and filling two bags for the charity shop, largely of toys that the girls didn't need any more. At the bottom of one of the toy boxes, patiently waiting all along to be discovered, was a Size 1 HUP cycling jacket.


We made a list, from which the missing jersey was cheerfully removed, of other things that had come to light during the afternoon. Ruth's trailerbike seat needs to go up. Rhoda's gloves are getting tight and she is probably ready for the larger crankset her sister uses. We have a new 11-34t cassette that needs fitting to Katie's tourer, along with bleeding those pesky brakes again. I ended up recording Ruth's heart rate, not my own (although that was instructive, during the ride!). I've got a loose front lamp bracket. We need to sort out some more rear lights, or fix the ones we have. These are all things we can try to fix before our next full team ride, rather than consigning ourselves to repeating them - and whilst it's been decided that the girls are to have special bags to put their cycling clothes and accoutrements in, we will be sure to check the toy box, next time something's gone astray...

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