Bike maintenance for LADIES

April 20, 2016 at 9:12 am | Posted in advice, cycling | 1 Comment
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girl bike tyreGood morning, and welcome to Bike Maintenance For Ladies, episode 37 in an occasional series. Observe the picture above*. There’s a lot we can learn from this neat demonstration of how to change a bicycle puncture.

First, note that the bicycle has been removed from the road, away from passing traffic, and leant gently up against a rock or tree stump. Do not lie your bicycle on its side, especially with the chainset downwards; you risk scratching the paintwork and damaging your derailleur. NEVER balance your bicycle upside down to effect repairs, as this will scuff the saddle and ruin your handlebar tape.

Protective sheeting has been put down to protect the floor from dirt and debris – although if you keep your bicycle scrupulously clean, as in the picture, you’ll find less maintenance is required overall.

Always carry spares and tools. If, like this rider, you prefer to ride without mudguards, you may feel a seatpack detracts from the clean lines of your machine. Simply use your spare inner tube as a hair scrunchie until required.

The rider has removed the front wheel carefully and propped it against her knee, saving the spindle from potential damage caused by contact with the tarmac. Observe how she lines up the valve on the replacement tube with the hole in the rim. Tyre levers are not always necessary: a good strong set of gel fingernails makes a perfectly acceptable substitute.

There are, however, some points for improvement in this demonstration. Firstly, the rider does not appear to be wearing socks. This is unhygienic, allowing the bacteria naturally present in sweat to propagate unfettered in your trainers. Secondly, road riders should always wear a helmet.


* Thanks to @JEmptyloo on twitter for sharing the picture.

Why cyclists get five copies of Cav’s autobiography for Christmas

December 27, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Posted in cycling | 4 Comments
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Every December, cyclists helpfully leave their copy of Cycling Monthly open at the ‘On Test: Fifteen Windproofs To Blow You Away’ page, and drop oh-so-subtle hints while wandering round the Ratha Coffee Club, in the hope that some lovely, sparkly new bicycle kit will find its way under the tree.

Vintage Ad #2,274: Family Christmas...Schwinn StyleAnd on Christmas Day, they open three Tour de France DVDs, some bicycle coasters and another copy of Cav’s autobiography. Where did they go wrong? Why are people so insensitive to their needs?

What they forget, of course, is that this conversation happened a few weeks previously.

Significant Other: Right. Christmas. New waterproof? You’re always complaining about that one flapping.

Cyclist: Ah. Nice idea. But not unless it’s, well, you won’t be able to afford it, and I’m pretty sure they’re sold out in my size anyway. Apart from in fluoro. And I don’t want fluoro.

S.O.: All right. Jersey, then? You said you wanted a new longsleeve one.

Cyclist: Ah. Yeah. If it has a full zip. And you can work the zipper with one hand. And three pockets, and a separate zipped pocket, a waterproof one. And the arms are long enough. And it’s not too long at the front. And you’ll need an XS, and they always sell out first. Unless it’s Italian, in which case it’ll be an S.

S.O.: Hmm. How about some kneewarmers? Those ones are full of holes.

Cyclist: Well, if they have those wide grippers, maybe. And they don’t make my legs look like a string of sausages, or cut off circulation in my calves. But they mustn’t slip down, either. And no daft colours. And not Roubaix. I mean, Roubaix kneewarmers? Who thought that up?

S.O.: Base layer?

Cyclist: Oooh. Well, I’d love a shortsleeve merino one. As long as it’s proper merino, not that itchy stuff. And the sleeves need to be long enough to tuck into my armwarmers, but not so long that they poke out under my jersey. And it’s got to be nice and long at the back. But not too long, or it’ll bunch up, and people’ll think I’m wearing pants under my shorts.

S.O.: Look! These t-shirts are great. Funny! And you like that colour.

Cyclist: Yeah! That’s an MTB, though. I don’t ride MTB.

S.O. [patiently]: Okay. Socks?

Cyclist: I dunno. They have to be right. Not too long, not too short, not too thick, not too thin. They need to go with my new shoes. No, not those ones: they’ve got LOGOS on them.

S.O.: Bidons?

Cyclist: Um. They don’t all fit my bottle cages. And those ones, they’re really hard to get open with your teeth. Not those, either: the necks are so narrow, you just get Science in Sport all over the kitchen.

S.O.: Book?

Cyclist: That should do it. WP_001462

The housebound cyclist’s festive calorie counter

December 23, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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For those of us who like riding up the occasional hill without having to get off and push, Christmas is a scary prospect. All that rich food! All those weird bottles of sticky stuff that Auntie Lil brought back from Kos! All that sitting about watching It’s A Wonderful Sound Of Bridget’s Friends, Actually, Arthur!

At this time of year, fitness magazines like to lecture us on how many miles we need to ride in order to burn off each Miniature Hero, but what can we do if the family have trapped our bikes ENTIRELY by accident behind a teetering mountain of hastily-wrapped Christmas presents? My handy list maps Christmas treats onto a range of festive household activities, so that you can maximise your caloric expenditure while going about your normal holiday business.

  • RHelp! I'm drowning in Quality Street!epeatedly blowing up spare bed that has a slow puncture you can’t locate: 1 medium glass mulled wine
  • Two-minute cold shower ‘cos the boiler’s conked out and nobody can look at it until at least next Tuesday: 1 pig-in-blanket
  • Filling the bath with twenty-five kettles’-worth of water: one spoonful brandy butter
  • Peeling and chopping vegetables for sixteen people while singing along to Phil Spector: 1 turkey thigh
  • Stumbling around the living room with your uncle who says he knows how to jive: 2 roast potatoes
  • Sweeping up broken ornaments elbowed during above-mentioned ‘jive’ session: 1 prawn vol-au-vent
  • Particularly rousing game of Pictionary: 1 small glass brandy
  • Scrabble argument over whether ‘NOPE’ is a word, involving five people, three dictionaries and somebody tweeting at Victoria Coren: 2 dessertspoonfuls gravy
  • Running upstairs to get your reading glasses, then coming down again because you forgot what you went up for, then going upstairs again to get them, then remembering they are on your head: 1 portion bread sauce
  • Turning house upside down looking for things you can cannibalise 6 AAA batteries from, to avert toddler tantrum: 1 glass dessert wine
  • Going through the Hoover bag looking for Luke Skywalker: 3 Brussels sprouts
  • Lifting an eight-year-old into the wheelie bin, demonstrating how he has to jump up and down to crush the rubbish, then calling fire brigade to fish him out again: 3 roast parsnips
  • Hoovering dog hair off the bed that Fenton won’t go on, no, really, he won’t, he’ll just sleep right here in his basket, honest: 2 Quality Street
  • Maintaining cheery demeanour for three days in the face of parental passive-aggression: 16 mince pies and a bottle of Bailey’s


How to lose 5lb in a week without taking exercise, doing drugs or being hacked

May 27, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Posted in advice, affairs of the heart | Leave a comment
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Weight-loss solutions abound. Crazy cabbage-soup diets apart, most of them involve sensible eating, exercise, and giving up the stuff you like. However, in an exclusive preview of my new bestseller, I share with you the secrets to losing weight without effort, privation or inconvenience.

wine pic1. Fall in love. This is the very best way to lose weight. The stomach-inverting sensations of lust are only a hair’s breadth from nausea, and you’ll be far too busy mulling over underwear choices while anticipating your next tryst to think about prosaic things like food. Furthermore, once in your sweetheart’s arms, you’re limited to eating what you can reach from the bed.

2. Develop a crush. If you can’t fall in love with an actual real live person, an intense, distracting crush is a fine substitute. Mooning around the crushee’s neighbourhood humming On The Street Where You Live burns off excess calories, and all those hours spent youtubing ancient Japanese chat shows mean you’re bound to forget to have lunch. Moreover, when you realise you will never charm him/ her into following you home after a chance encounter in Pret at King’s Cross, the inevitable crash will catapult you into heartbreak, which is the next best weight loss method there is.

3. Fall out of love. Heartbreak is rightly fêted for its appetite-suppressant qualities. Just as your day is suddenly a black-and-white Wim Wenders film, so the contents of the fridge lose their technicolour appeal. Kindly friends try to tempt you from the doldrums with cake and prosecco, but you are immune to these gastronomic charms. Well, maybe not the prosecco. Go on, then. Just a glass.

But what of those of you who are happily ensconced in amiable relationships, with no hint of discord or need for distraction? Are you doomed to middle-age spread? Fear not! There are solutions for you, too.

Dentist4. Get really, REALLY nervous about something. Stage fright, performance anxiety, interview stress, dental appointments, even talking to your in-laws on the phone can all helpfully induce the racing heartbeat, room-pacing, obsessive fidgeting and sweating conducive to weight loss. True panic may result in queasiness, a well-known side-effect of which is being unable to finish your sandwich. Talking of which…

5. … Catch stomach flu. I lost 6lb in three days. No kidding. If you can’t bear this solution yourself, persuade your partner or child to develop it. Clearing up after them will put you off eating, probably forever.

‘Cross diary 23: It’s raining turbots

February 28, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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So, winter. Proper winter, too, with snow and ice and freezing winds and two and a half hours of daylight* and all that. Around this time of year, a young [cough] cyclist’s thoughts turn to staying inside out of the ruddy weather, FGS, thank you very much, what do you think I am, crazy?

Rainy Day

But sitting around eating cheese footballs and watching Masterchef only appeals for so long. While Christmas is traditionally a time for getting our fitness baseline right down so that we have something to work on in the New Year, by February most of us are surveying our rears in the mirror with growing distaste, unfriending people on Facebook because they’re on holiday in Tenerife, and biting anyone who suggests we might just go out for a little walk, you know, to clear our heads?

The solution, of course, is folded up in the corner of the spare room: the turbo. I’ll confess to a bit of a love-hate relationship with the turbo. I owe it a lot. My first winter of turbo training** revolutionised my cycling. The following summer, instead of trailing up French climbs throwing mental grenades at @spandelles as he disappeared over the horizon, I actually beat him up Mont Ventoux. (‘I’ve created a monster,’ he said ruefully over pizza that evening.) The turbo kept me sane during pregnancy, when I was dutifully trying to keep my HR down so as not to boil the baby, or whatever was supposed to happen if I exceeded 135bpm. When I gave myself an arch strain jumping around the kitchen in my socks to LCD Soundsystem*** and couldn’t run for nearly a year, the turbo saved me from going postal.

Despite all this, turbo-ing can be a depressing prospect. However, with a few tweaks to your routine, you CAN enjoy your turbo session. Based on extensive personal experience, here are my top tips. You’re welcome!


1. Have a playlist with some fast tracks on it, and some REALLY fast tracks. Choose ‘shuffle’, and try and keep up with the music.

2. Do 20/40s, or 30/30s, or 10/10s, or whatever other heinous alternation of sweating and wheezing you can muster.

3. Sing. This is the one time that singing along to your ipod is completely acceptable. (If you can sing along to ‘I Will Always Love You’, mind you, you may not be working hard enough.)

4. Take advantage of those inevitable trips to go to the loo/ answer the door/ get your towel/ check your @mentions by honing your cyclocross skills: dismounts, remounts and getting your feet in and out of the pedals at speed can all be practised on the turbo. (Well, maybe not the remounts. See ‘wonder why your arse hurts’, below.)

5. Fine-tune your raceface. Take a few pictures on your phone, to check yourself out. Make sure that your raceface is sufficiently distinct from your sexface. You don’t want your race pictures showing up on those sites, again.

6. Observe the functioning of your body under stress. Wonder why your elbows/ wrists/ knees sweat so much (delete as applicable). Try to get your HR into zone 5. Try to get your HR back down out of zone 5. Wonder if anyone will miss you if your drop off the turbo stone dead, or if you’ll be discovered three weeks later with the cat eating your face.

7. Think about bike fit. Does your arse hurt because your saddle is too high, or because you’re wearing your shortest shorts? When you’re in TT position, can people see down your top? (You’ll need a mirror, or a friend, for this one.)

8. Have a really brilliant idea for a blogpost/ million selling book/ dastardly world domination plan that you can’t write down. Forget it by the time you get in the shower.

* I may have been watching a bit too much Borgen, here

** by which I mean, riding my bike attached to the turbo; ‘training’ is overstating it a touch

*** When I told the doctor this story, she looked at me and went, ‘Idiot.’

‘Cross diary 13: I discover the secret of training

August 8, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Posted in cycling | 7 Comments
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Guess what? I’ve been doing some ROAD biking. I know! I’m as surprised as anyone. And I’ve been enjoying it! And getting better at it (these two are not unconnected, naturally).

Avid readers will remember me: I’m the one who took up cyclocross as a way of avoiding road riding. Road riding was dull, cold, depressing and dangerous. So whence the volte-face?

Bike Kitchen's Big Move

It’s not the weather, for sure; that’s been as rubbish as ever. No new steed: I’m still riding my ‘cross bike (complete with mudwrestlers, despite @spandelles threatening to put road wheels on it. I’m not keen; I like a bit of off-road optionality). I HAVE got some new kit, which is clinically proven to make you ride up to* 53% faster: I am looking the part in new (bargain) shoes and new (half-price) shorts. I even have a jersey with some pockets in it, for my tracker bars and lipsalve.
28/365 Contents of my bag on work days

But the real reason it’s all going better is I’ve discovered the SECRET of TRAINING. Yes! Really. Get a pencil! It can be summed up as follows:

Try A Bit Harder.

To be more specific:

–         Try and ride faster, all the time. On the flat? Change up a few gears, get down low and pretend you are Michael Hutchinson. Uphill? Someone shouted at me from a car as I was grinding up a hill, ‘Pedal faster!’ He was right.

–         Pretend you are Emma Pooley, or Ellen van Dijk. Attack your imaginary bunch relentlessly on climbs. Try to pass someone in real life. Try to stay away.

–         Do something counter-intuitive. When the going gets tough or you start feeling tired or bored, don’t slow down. Try harder. Up the pace. Get out of the saddle. Change up a gear.

–         Don’t pace yourself, or worry about running out of steam. Just go for it as much as possible. I was stunned to see that I could completely bury myself on a short effort, then be ready for another one a minute or two later.
London 2012 Olympics - Women's Road Race | Emma Pooley

The completely unexpected side-effect of this approach is it is RIDICULOUSLY good fun. I ride around grinning like an idiot, puce in the face, sweat dripping off me. I shout SHUT UP LEGS! at myself, and sing going downhill (usually just as someone awesome on a Cervélo is passing me). I beam at other cyclists; they give me almost imperceptible Yorkshire head nods of recognition. I no longer feel like a fraud when pro types wave at me, because I am trying really hard. I can’t walk down the stairs when I get home, but I feel like I could conquer the WORLD.

I just need a bit of lunch first.

* statistics experts will note that the term ‘up to’ includes the number 0**

** this joke (c) Monty Python

‘Cross diary 12: I get ill

June 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Posted in cycling | 4 Comments
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So. I was all set! Then an unscheduled visit to the doctor put paid to my racing plans. I’ll spare you the details, but antibiotics and painkillers are on the menu, and riding is off, for a bit.

Nevertheless! All clouds really DO have a silver lining: I have secured a medical expert* to illuminate our kvetching about minor illnesses. Below, she answers some common questions put to her by anxious athletes. Mahlzeit!

Doctor Smurf

  1. Am I getting a cold?


  1. Can I stop myself getting colds?

Probably not. Washing your hands a lot is supposed to help. You could try a Neti Pot, though this carries a small chance of your brain being eaten by amoebas. Don’t bother with squirty First Defence-type stuff; it’s so horrid, you’re better off with the cold. (See also: indigestion, and Gaviscon.)

  1. I feel terrible. It’s flu, isn’t it. Oh, god.

Imagine a £50 note. Now imagine a sudden breeze blowing the note out of the window. If (and only if) you can’t get up to save it, you have flu.
Open Window Season

  1. Can I still ride my bike with a cold?

Received wisdom states that if your symptoms are above the neck only, you can go out and exercise. In real life: STAY IN YOUR HOME. It won’t kill you to have a couple of days off. If at all possible, stay away from work too. And public transport. WE DON’T WANT YOUR GERMS.

  1. Can I make my cold go away more quickly?

No. However, fun cures are 43% more likely than sensible ones to give you the illusion of getting better. Fun cures for colds include:

  • Sitting on the sofa in your dressing gown, flicking through Vogue and eating Mini Eggs;
  • Hiding under the duvet, reading something by Michael Hutchinson;
  • Spending an entire day on Twitter, trying to get @cyclingweekly to RT you;
  • Drinking hot milk with whisky in it;
  • Watching films, as long as they are the kind your partner doesn’t like;
  • Eating raw garlic, and opening the door to the postman with an enthusiastic ‘HHHHALLO!’

Carry On Screaming    Original 1966 UK Quad Film Poster - Tom Chantrell Artwork
On no account go near any of the following, as they will just make you feel even sorrier for yourself:

  • Work
  • Lemsip
  • Herbal tea
  • Daytime television
  • Healthy people
  1. Is this headache a migraine?

If you have tunnel vision, or a flashing viper is coiled around the side of one eye, take two paracetamol, turn off your phone and go to bed IMMEDIATELY. Other migraine symptoms include feeling like your scalp is a Medium while your skull is a Large; bursting into tears when asked anything complicated, like whether you put a wash in; and an inability to string a, you know, what do you call those things. Sentence! An inability to sent a stringtence together. Yes.

  1. Should I see a doctor about this scratch on my leg?

If you can see bone, or it looks green, or black, yes. Otherwise, wash it and put a plaster on it, and hope for the best. Note: if you are from Yorkshire, go to A&E immediately so they can sew your leg back on.
Leg Scratching Post

* Well, she SAID she was an expert**

** This joke (c) Monty Python

‘Cross diary 6: I get injured

November 13, 2011 at 10:19 am | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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So, remember all that remounting practice? I bashed my shin pretty hard on the pedal a couple of times, and thought that was why my lower leg and ankle hurt while walking afterwards. But I went for a run on the Sunday and ouch. Ow, ow, ow. Ankle pain. Had to walk home. Iced it and strapped it up and, well, it’s getting better slowly I think but, urgh. Very frustrated as I don’t dare to run or jump, so ‘cross practice (never mind racing) is off the agenda for a bit. Bah!

And what of you, poor blog readers, anxious for the next instalment? Well, it’s a well-kept secret, but if you look away for a moment while I nip into this Portaloo, I’ll emerge as… Training Tsarina! Here, this week only, to answer your training and injury queries*. Fire away!

Dear Training Tsarina: I know everyone says cross-train, but do I have to? I’m a cyclist! Running is for nutters! And if I swim, people might think I’m a triathlete! Thanks, @HeadDownIntoTheWind

Dear HDITW: Think again. Not only does monomania make HDTIW a dull boy, cross-training lessens your risk of overuse injuries. It also means that if you pick up an injury that stops you cycling, you may still be able to run or swim instead, so you won’t go nuts. And I know you hate the gym, but if you can find something you can bear to do indoors this is a real bonus, as you can still do it when it snows.

Dear Training Tsarina: Stretching is for wusses, isn’t it? Yours, @BunchedCalves

Dear BC: Many people shun stretching, thinking it is only for hardbody gymnasts and attention-seeking minor celebrities. But stretching helps to avoid weird aches and pains brought on by tight muscles pulling your body about, and also means you decrease your chances of having to walk sideways down the stairs the next morning.

Hey, Training Tsarina! I’ve discovered running! It’s brilliant! I’m doing fifteen miles a day! I feel great! Marathon next week! Love, @KeenAsMustard

Dear KAM: For you, the golden rule of training: Try harder, but just a little bit harder. The guy who ran my Uni circuits class used to bellow at us, ‘If you want to get FITTAH, you will have to work HARDAH!’ This is true. But suddenly doing loads more than you are used to ends in tears and pulled muscles. Add a little extra loop to your run; do a few more lengths of the pool. Don’t go mad.

Dear Training Tsarina: I’ve got my routine down pat now. Treadmill Monday and Wednesday; weight training Friday; long run Sunday. Trouble is, I’m bored stupid. And I don’t seem to be getting any fitter, or losing any more weight. Yours, @CreatureOfHabit

Dear CoH: Surprise your body. If you always do the same stuff, week in, week out, your body gets good at it, and stops adapting, and you stop getting fitter. Do something different: go for a hike. Or a swim. Or try yoga, or Pilates.

Dear Training Tsarina: Pilates? You’re joking, right? @NotGwynethPaltrow

Dear NGP: Be open to ideas. One of the best things I ever did was take up kung fu. I was the only girl in the beginners, and I had somehow overlooked that the main point of martial arts is hitting people. Ouch. But it was brilliant: I got stronger, and faster, and had a laugh. Even just a small change can be fun, like leaving your iPod at home and reading on the cross-trainer instead. Give it a go: it might work.

Dear Training Tsarina: All the training manuals say you should get out first thing in the morning. Trouble is, I can’t function before I’ve had poached eggs on toast and two cups of tea and read the paper. Do I have to? It’s making me miserable. Love, @NotAMorningPerson

Dear NAMP: Here’s the most important principle bar none. Work out what you and your body like, and do it. Don’t feel like you have to go running every day if it makes you grumpy and tired, even if Shirley from no. 42 does it and she seems fine. If you like short bursts of effort, but keeping going for hours on end makes you sad and lonely, don’t feel you have to do Audax riding. Be nice to yourself. Enjoy what you do.

*Of course, you are thinking to yourself, ‘Why should I take training advice from @accidentobizaro? Isn’t she, well, a bit crap?’ This is true. But as @spandelles points out on his blog, Proper Training Advice from Successful Athletes can be enough to make you hang up your SPDs in despair. No doubt you have lots of tips for me, too; I’d love to hear them. There’s a comments box just down there for them. Ta.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to my virtual training buddies, @mmmaiko, @CycleHermit and @stuckinoregon, for fun and thought-provoking conversations on these topics. All errors and idiotic pronouncements are my own.

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