Tags: beginner, biking, cycling, diary, road, skills, training, women
So, you know me. I’m the one who likes getting muddy, and toiling up slopes with my bike on my shoulder, and falling off on singletrack. I do a bit of running. I ride on the road when I have to, mainly to try and get a bit fitter for ‘cross.
But something weird is happening to me. I’m turning into a ROADIE. I find myself idly browsing forums, looking for views on Look vs. Time pedals. Someone goes past on a Dual and I think, that’s the one with the mudguard eyes. I wonder whether I need different handlebars. I still can’t do anything useful, like adjust my gears, but I nod sagely as the boyf tells me that clunk-down-two-gears-at-once-and-have-to-go-up-a-gear-again is a common Campy problem. I start to refer to Campagnolo as ‘Campy’.
Of course, there’s a simple reason for this. Avid readers will remember me buying a new road bike. A part of me still feels embarrassedly ‘all the gear, no idea’ when I’m getting ready to go out on it. Everyone’s pointing and laughing at the slow chick on the cool bike, right? But this evaporates as soon as I am riding it, because the FUN takes up all of my brain.
Nevertheless, it strikes me I lack skillz. I mostly go out on my own, and the tricks of group riding are mysterious to me. (Until recently, I thought ‘through and off’ was when you wobble up the inside of a line of stationary traffic, then topple over at the lights because all your library books are in one pannier.) So when @sparkieturner volunteers to run some women-only skills sessions at Seedhill athletics track*, I know this has my name on it.
We have all sorts of laughs. Mark sets out the cones and we wobble in between them. (Well, I wobble; Lucy manages to nip in and out of them without knocking over a single one.) I practise. Mark moves the cones nearer to each other. It’s like the Matrix. I am Neo. Suddenly, I start to believe that the back wheel will follow the front one. I do it perfectly, raise both hands from the bars in jubilation, and don’t fall off. No-hands riding, too, then. There is no spoon.
We do partner work, passing each other bottles while going along, or giving each other a friendly push. We learn that elbows-out riding is just like that bit in Dirty Dancing. We try to learn to trackstand, to impress our kids.
Most funly, we try to go FAST. I’m scared of this on the road. OK, I’ve been doing my TT-for-one, creaking up to Todmorden and back, trying to break 33 minutes for 10 miles. But I don’t dare go for it properly, as buses have a habit of suddenly appearing in front of me. Indecisive sheep loom out of the fog. Potholes materialise like gateways to Hades. Whizzing round a running track turns out to be the answer. The bike wants to go fast, and now I can let it try, safe in its artificial world, where the only thing holding us back is the indignant screaming of my quads and the howling headwind in the back straight. We do through and off in a little group. I’m so excited I keep forgetting to yell CLEAR! and the person behind has to do it for me. We push the pace up and SPRINT for the line, each lap. I’m right down as far as I can get, chin on the bars, pretending I am Cav (the boyf remarks later, ‘You’re just a 12 year old boy.’) I notice that I can wind the sprint up a bit and catch Lucy for the line, even when she starts ahead of me. This feels so utterly PRO I can hardly breathe for glee.
There’s a lot to learn. I’m still scared to get on someone’s wheel (though I’m getting used to the slightly unsettling feeling of staring at the bum in front of me). I have no idea how to position myself coming into the sprint, and I push far too big a gear, ‘cos I can’t think about changing up in the middle of it. I STILL can’t get my left foot into the DAMN pedal. But, astonishingly, I’m not terrible at this. And that makes me too happy for words.
* You’ll remember Mark from the terrific cyclocross skills sessions last winter. There are still a couple of weeks to go on the women-only road skills course: Fridays, 7-9pm, Seedhill Athletics Track, Nelson, BB9 7TY. Just show up with your bike. £5 a session.
Tags: biking, clifcross, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, skills, training
OK. You remember last time? I vowed to go out and ride with other people. My first opportunity was Friday night, at an informal CX skills session in Todmorden park. Riding over there just before 7pm, I was thinking, ‘God, I’m tired. I mean, I’m REALLY tired. What am I doing this for? It’s cold, it’s dark. I’ll have to wash my bike afterwards. Gah.’ And to be honest, if I’d been on my own, I would have turned round and gone home again. But the thought of seeing the #CXChix* kept me going.
When I got there, the Chix were already riding round and round the kiddies’ mini road layout (good cornering practice. And hilarious). We charged over to the other side of the park to find somewhere to practise dismounts & remounts. Hopelessly overexcited, I immediately toppled over. (I did turn my pratfall seamlessly into a TJ Hooker-style somersault; all that falling-off practice I did last year finally paid off.) Sweetly, the Chix managed not to laugh. We set out my orange mini-cones and did a little circuit, jumping on and off and leaping over imaginary barriers. We tried (not very expertly) to teach @CorinneKielty to do it. Then we rode up and down steep banks in the pitch black, which was BRILLIANT, and much easier than doing it when you can see (I’m just going to close my eyes in races from now on). We looked unsuccessfully for some steps to run up, and did some cornering between the bowling greens. We laughed and shared tips and supported and learnt from each other. It was almost tear-jerkingly lovely.
The next morning, I was up early for my second #RidingWithPeople experience in as many days! So keen! Ali (@millsphysio) wanted to ride a bit of the CLIF’cross route which Emma (@waterrat77) had been speccing out. It was bright, clear and C-C-C-COLD as we trundled off from the Co-op and immediately turned up an impossible hill. We were still on-road, and I was walking… Hmm. Onto the bridleway, back into the saddle, and Ali reassured me she was just happy to be out, no pressure, no need to ride for hours, etc. I relaxed. A bit. The off-road riding was HARD for MTB-deniers like myself: lots of rocks and cobbly bits, holes and loosely packed rubble. Add in the gradient and my general lack of conviction, and I got off the bike quite a lot in the next couple of hours. Pushing didn’t feel like failure though, as it was almost as hard as riding. And we were having such a jolly time! It didn’t seem to matter. At the Top Of The World™ we grinned at the 360° view, then screeched down a long descent to Gorple reservoir and rode along past the water in delight.
UP and OVER and DOWN and UP and DOWN via Widdop reservoir to Hurstwood, where we were pretty sure we saw @GreatRock’s back (he says this is his best angle). We turned into the icy wind here and, although the track was easily rideable, I creaked almost to a stop. Hoo. TIRED. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t freak out. I’d eaten enough, and I knew I just needed to keep going. I can’t emphasise enough how COMPLETELY out of character this is for me. Normally I just cry. Maybe ‘cross is teaching me something after all… Ali’s happy attitude really helped, too. I knew I wasn’t being judged. We stopped for a ‘We Were Here’ photo, then turned on to the road for the return leg.
Riding straight into the freezing headwind, being buzzed by motorbikes, I realised how tired my legs had got. 8 fairly hilly miles to go, and nothing left at all. Ali was freewheeling uphill to give me a chance to catch up. Her: You OK? Gonna make it? Me: Yes. What’s the alternative? Her: Good attitude… We chose the offroad route back down from Blackshaw Head, mercifully out of the wind. Mirages of hot baths and cups of tea floated before me. I could smell home.
We took nearly three and a half hours to do 21 miles, which tells you something about the terrain**. It’s the longest ride I’ve done since having kids. We were IMMENSELY proud of ourselves.
So, the tentative verdict on #RidingWithPeople is: GOOD. Key for me have been a happy atmosphere, lots of chat and laughter, challenging riding but a complete absence of competitiveness. It IS possible…
**or maybe about my lack of leg strength and terror of going uphill and downhill
Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, dismount, remount, skills, training, women
Well. I’d been off work (and the bike) all week with sinusitis, and in a MASSIVE sulk as Sunday approached and I didn’t seem to be getting any better. But then on Saturday afternoon my fairy godmother appeared in the kitchen in a puff of WD40, dressed head to toe in Planet X kit. She waved a track pump at me and declared ‘You SHALL go to CX training with @sparkieturner and @crossjunkie!’ And miraculously, my head cleared, and I grinned like an idiot.
Sunday dawned beautiful, bright, and dry. I hefted my bike onto the car with the minimum of swearing, changed three times (longs? shorts & legwarmers? 3/4s?), and threw the rest of my cycling wardrobe into the back of the car (just in case). The boys hugged me distractedly, one eye on Charlie & Lola at all times.
Mark and Alan are keen to get women into ‘cross, and they’d rustled up a number of bright-eyed girls from Cycle Sport Pendle (CSP) for this session. Then there was @trio25, and me, and @waterrat77 and @millsphysio, who’d (impressively) got hold of CX bikes the week before and immediately entered Cyclists V. Harriers.
A bit of discussion about tyre pressure – and a mass letting-out of air – and we were off to practise remounts. Getting my leg over the saddle at slow speeds still eludes me, so I cheated and went straight to jog ‘n’ hop, which works, even if it’s not elegant. We then combined this with dismounting; everyone made a lot of progress very quickly, much to my dismay (avid readers will remember how many HOURS I spent falling off while practising this).
@crossjunkie got the sticks out and constructed a barrier, then videoed us all trying to coast up to it, dismount smoothly, hoik the bike up and over and leap back on without losing momentum. Here is @millsphysio, a complete newbie, doing it perfectly. I’m not jealous. Not at all.
We practised hoisting bikes onto shoulders without whacking fellow competitors in the face (my secret weapon, according to a video @spandelles took of me at Keighley), and running with them through the dog poo. There followed a discussion about shoulder bruises and the acceptability of sewing Joan Collins-style pads into your jersey. @crossjunkie said this was fine (it’s good enough for Rapha, anyhow) but if any of us put pipe lagging round the top tube he would disown us.
Then we were off for a ‘bimble’ (@sparkieturner’s word; it makes it sound so jolly and effortless, doesn’t it) through the woods. Towneley Park really is lovely, and even when your shoes are full of muddy water it’s a terrific place to ride your bike around. We picked up some pro tips on riding in the mud (weight back; stand up slightly; pull on the bars; pedal smoothly; be confident), judging lines (try going round the outside of churned up bits; standing water probably means there’s a hard bit underneath, so a good place to ride) and keeping your momentum up (when to get off and run; when to shoulder your bike, and when to push). We finished up with a bit of downhilling (the short sharp shock variety). Next time, we’re going to ride @crossjunkie’s CX loop, which has ‘everything’, apparently. Can’t wait.
Many thanks to Mark and Alan for this session, which was friendly, fun, unintimidating and packed with useful stuff. Everyone had made visible progress by the end, and we all left with grins on our faces. Brilliant.
- CSP are running a women-only race as part of their CX event at Waddow Hall on 15 December. It would be brilliant to have as many women as possible entering, to support the event and show the demand for this kind of racing, so please circulate the details far and wide!
- Thanks very much to Alan (@crossjunkie) for the photos and the video.
- And here is @trio25‘s take on the training session.
Tags: beginner, biking, child, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, dismount, oakbank, race, racing, remount, skills, women, yorkshire points
Well. I’ve had a full summer of denial, happily avoiding thinking about how I still can’t ride up or down banks, corner, get any speed up on grass, remount, or get my feet back into the pedals. No matter! The Yorkshire Points round is underway, so on a beautiful Sunday morning we filled the car with bicycles, tools, sandwiches, sun cream and children, and went off In Search Of Cross.
We found it at Oakbank School. The youth race was in full swing as we wandered up to look for the loo. Women from @sparkieturner’s CX training session accosted us delightedly, in between cheering on their boys. Primo was off at 11:30 in the under-10s; I signed up at the same time, fourth on the women/ vets list, briefly entertaining fantasies of riding round with only three rivals.
The under-10s rode round and round the playing field, parents chasing them on bikes yelling GO ON HAVE HIM! Hat tip to the mother who sprinted round the field twice at full tilt in flowered sundress and ballerinas. Primo did a brilliant job, charging up hills and grinding over grass with relentless energy and enthusiasm.
When he’d finished (‘I want a cross bike!’), I went off to recce the course. Ooh. A water crossing? Hmm… LOTS of mud and off-cambers and steep banks, then some zigzags with MORE mud, and more off-cambers, and a sheer descent with a turn at the bottom, and pavement and STEPS (hooray!) and downhill zigzags (help!) and more steep banks and more corners and then a bit of tearing across the grass. I’m exhausted just remembering it all.
I rode around feeling desperate for a while, then went back to the car for snacks. The woman parked next door was jolly: we rode down to the start together, laughing and comparing CX weaknesses, before she let slip she was Masters Downhill Mountain Bike World Champion (1999). We joked amiably with the other women on the start line, who were comparing tan lines and telling unconvincing tales of CX ineptitude.
They sent us off round the field first, to string us out before the woods. To be honest, the rest is a bit of a blur. The sun beat down. It was HOT. The first two laps were ghastly, but then I got into it, though I ran about a third of each lap, too scared to go uphill/ downhill/ round corners/ through mud/ you name it. Oof. I did two passable remounts, then my technique disintegrated and I spent the rest of the time stopping to climb back on. Bah.
At least I’m cooler about being lapped, now; I barely even wobble. One chap muttered ‘What the fook are you DOING?’ when I foot-dabbed on a corner, but everyone else was lovely. One guy said ‘Go on buddy!’ as he steamed past. A knot of riders zipped through, a woman shouting ‘You’re doing brilliantly! And even if you’re not, you look BEAUTIFUL!’ Someone yelled DIG IN! The boys rang their cowbells. People tried to take photographs round me. I could hear spectators talking about lunch as I staggered past. It would have been Zen-like, if I hadn’t been about to keel over.
Like last time, I didn’t know I’d finished. Above a certain HR, my brain just stops working. @spandelles congratulated me, and told me my dismount was terrific; my boys ate their sandwiches, unconcerned that Mummy had just nearly EXPIRED out there what with all the trying hard and everything.
So. In the best tradition of games of two halves, the round up.
Better than last time:
- Tried A Bit Harder (@spandelles said I looked like I was actually racing this time, rather than just riding around)
- Getting lapped without shouting ‘Hoo!’
- Didn’t fall off ONCE
Still v. poor:
- Need to Try Much Harder
- Combinations of things e.g. going up banks plus cornering
- Riding in mud, or on pretty much any kind of terrain
- Eating enough beforehand
- Getting Back On (oh dear…)
We got a bit of intel on the next couple of fixtures. One is quite MTB-y, with woods and singletrack and stuff. Mmm. Should be fine then. Ha ha ha! The other is ‘basically haring around on the grass. They all go really fast, it’s terrifying.’ Sounds ideal…
See you next week. Hup hup!
[Proper British Cycling race report and preliminary results here. I'm in the pictures, too. Cake to anyone who can spot me.]
Massive THANK YOU to @spandelles who was pit crew, soigneur, childminder, moral support, satnav wrangler and chief-adjudicator-of-arguments-over-cowbells. You are brilliant.
Tags: beginner, biking, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, dismount, remount, skills
Well. One thing about this rotten weather we’ve been having: it’s perfect for ‘cross. After a false start where I somehow managed to put my trainers on and go running instead, and another where I cycled straight past the park and went for a road ride (avid readers will realise just what this means about the scale of The Fear, that I’d go on a road ride as a displacement activity), not to mention being called a big Jessie by several people on Twitter, I FINALLY got myself and my bike out of the house and down to the park.
Of course, as soon as I was tearing across the soggy grass in the rain, breaking my legs up those stiff little climbs and getting sprayed with mud again, I couldn’t understand why I’d stayed away. At the end I swung my leg over the saddle a couple of times and was astonished to find I could still jump off. Maybe it really is like riding a bike.
The next time, I found a flat bit of grass and nervously tried remounting again. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that ‘remounting’ and ‘nervously’ don’t go too well together. But still. I managed to get back on while going along a couple of times, even if I was double dabbing (@crossjunkie is shaking his head, sadly). It’s got to be faster than stopping. The tyre tracks and mud ruts from Wednesday’s TodCross were still there, so I charged round after them, jumping on and off randomly. I didn’t fall off! And I only got my shorts caught on the back of the saddle once! Delighted, I practised cornering, riding round and round the war memorial. I toiled up the big hill at the back a couple of times, spitting expletives and scaring wagtails. At the hairpin turn onto the Infamous Cobbled Climb™, I got off. I could barely run up it, pushing the bike, my cleats skittering on the setts. Beyond belief.
So. Work to do; but progress, too. I decided to do a CX skills audit:
Dismount: Not too bad
Remount: Almost functional
Riding on different surfaces:
- Grass: Fine
- Mud: OK-ish
- Gravel: Hmm
- Sand: No opportunity to practise, so no doubt hopeless
- Cobbles: Ha ha ha!
Going up steep banks: Not very good
Going down steep banks: Ditto
- To the right: OK
- To the left: Hopeless
Combinations of any of the above: Forget it
Braking with hands on hoods: You may laugh, but I couldn’t do this last year. Extremely proud that I can do it now
Shouldering bike: Very good (Really. I know. I’m as surprised as anyone.)
There’s a race coming up: 6 June, in Huddersfield. Come along, if you’re around, and heckle me. DOUBLE DAB! AMATEUR!
Tags: beginner, biking, cycling, cyclocross, diary, dismount, mount, remount, skills
Remounting. A word to chill the blood of the CX newbie. While dismounting is also scary (especially to those of us with no balance, coordination or bike-handling skills, who have been known to topple over while waiting at traffic lights), it is at least possible to break it down into steps: unclip right foot – stand on LH pedal – swing right leg over saddle – unclip left foot – jump off. Of course, this is just the beginning. My dismount at the moment is more of a semi-controlled tumble, gripping the bike to stay upright. Mostly I remember to unclip my left foot. It’s not exactly smooth.
But remounting… No matter how many YouTube videos you watch, there’s nothing to break down. One minute the gal or guy is running alongside her/ his bike, the next – hup – s/he is on the saddle and pedalling off. What happened there?
So here, for the benefit of other scaredy-cat noobs, is my collection of (mostly other people’s) wisdom on learning to remount. There are different options, depending on your general psychology and your bike handling skills:
Option 1: Softly softly catchee monkey.
I saw this demonstrated online and it looked like the answer.
- Walk alongside bike
- Sling leg over
- Little push with left toes
- Off you go.
Recommended for people who can control the bike at a slow speed. You guessed: not me then.
Option 2: Just do it.
- Push bike along and jog alongside it
- Leap onto saddle while going along.
Oh, hang on. How do I do that, again?
Option 3: Err… there is no option 3.
As I couldn’t do option (1), I had to work on improving my chances of option (2) happening. I was so worried about this that I put my bike on the turbo trainer and practised slinging my leg over the saddle, getting on with a little hop. It did help.
Then I went to the park. I put the RH pedal in a ready-to-pedal-off position, then walked alongside the bike and put my right leg over, connecting with the pedal immediately and pushing off as I was getting my bum onto the saddle. This helped me feel like I knew where the saddle was.
My first attempt to jump on ended up with me straddling the top tube. Too far forward, then. I walked along close to the bike, my arms at full stretch, bumping my hip against the saddle. Head up, shoulders down, try to relax, look forwards*. I ran with the bike (it is easier if you jog**) and thought about going forward and around the saddle, rather than up and over*. I counted one, two steps***, and jumped. It worked! Blimey! Partner happened to be looking at me rather than watching the boys circling the park at that point, and I heard him yell ‘WAHEEEY!’. Haha!
Then, of course, I immediately couldn’t do it again. I tried using positive psychology (stop trying to jump, and jump!).
I also used visualisation (that is, I visualised myself tweeting triumphantly about my success later on).
By the end, I probably got it right about three times out of every four. The other times I changed my mind at the last minute, or I didn’t get my leg up high enough, and tangled myself in the rear brakes. Once I ended up with my stomach on the saddle, Superman-style. But now I know I can do it, it’ll just be practice, won’t it? A lot of practice…
[Maybe the most important thing: it is REALLY tiring (both mentally and physically) practising this. So warm up, and maybe stretch, then get on with it. Don’t try it at the end of a long session of other stuff. Practise lots of times as soon as you have ‘got it’, to try and make it automatic. Stop once you are getting tired; I made a hash of it few times towards the end and started losing confidence. I did it one more time correctly, decided to quit while I was ahead, and went off to practise slaloming around goal posts instead.]
* all these are tips from this forum discussion.
** tip from a chap at training.
*** tip from @Psyclyst
Also see CJ Boom’s tips on remounting on her blog.