Today I leave for what is now the fourth of my annual trips to Taiwan for the Taipei Cycle Show. Added attractions this year are the Asian Cycling Forum, a big step on the road to our Velo-city 2016 Conference in Taipei and a very special weekend cycling with the wonderful Formosa Lohas Cycling Association team who are going to take me out for a couple of long days in the centre of the island.
It may be the rainy (drizzly?) season but it will be warm and muggy compared to Belgium.
However before I leave I had some personal errands to do so I decided to do them by bike early this morning and then cycle hard for an hour so my body is nicely jaded and I might just sleep on the plane tonight, a process that never comes easily to me.
This was a sharp but wonderful contrast to what I am expecting in Taipei. As I left the house there was a very sharp frost and the first 70 metre drop to the valley below left me gasping in shock. But the place was bathed in sharp morning light which began to warm everything with a golden glow. An hour later as I rode through the woods I felt this was going to be the perfect day to spend the whole day riding,
I just wanted to set off on a huge adventure on my two wheeled companion and “not come back till tea-time” as we might have said in a children’s book. What a waste to be stuck in a metal tube for hours.
Taipei will be wonderful again, stand by for lots of blogging. But I have unfinished business with these spring mornings in Belgium.
On January 1st a British cyclist called Steve Abraham sets off to attempt one of cycling’s most challenging records.
He aims to ride more than 75,000 miles in a year, breaking a record that has stood since 1939. He needs an average mileage of 205 miles a day, every day. If he misses even one day he then has to get that mileage back in future days.
The record has for many years been regarded as almost unachievable. If nothing else the sheer mental task has scared potential candidates, but there is the need to stay fit and healthy every day for the whole year while putting that stress on the body. It is four times further than the cycling round the world record. There is even a suggestion that the Guinness Book of Records regards the record as too dangerous and discourages other attempts. Since 1939 many have considered it, a few have tried and only one man got there but his record was annulled because of concerns over validity.
Tommy Godwin set the current record in 1939. He rode a heavy steel steed with just four gears and towards the end of his ride he had to carry on at night during the blackout of the early months of the Second World War. He also carried on to be the fastest man to reach 100,000 miles.
So a modern rider with a lightweight bike and modern smooth roads should have huge advantage, even if our roads are more clogged by traffic lights and other bothersome features.
But anyone taking on his record is not just racing the milometer, they are chasing the mythology of a man regarded as one of the hardest men ever to ride a bike, supposedly winning his first race at the age of 14 on a butcher’s bike.
However in the community of long distance cyclists there is just a small sense that “If anyone can, Steve can.”
He is one of the most prolific mile-eaters in the community of long distance riders represented by the form of riding called Audax or randonneuring. He already has a year where 25,000 miles were chalked up in recognised Audax UK events, the record number ever recorded, while holding down a full time job. This means he has regularly completed rides of over 1000km, riding through the night. So when it comes to the long summer days when he will need to build up a lot of distance Steve is one of the most experienced riders around.
My mind just boggles at the prospect. And I say very quietly to my friends and family “Its Ok”. You know whenever I see a great cycling challenge I say “Wow, I’d love to ride that”? No. No, no, no, no. Not this one. Not ever. I have every respect for the incredible distances Steve has already chalked up, they are unimaginable to the average person in the street. But this could just be the maddest, most crazy, daft challenge possible. Or the greatest.
Like most others I will be watching from a distance, quietly crossing my fingers and wishing him the most extraordinary luck, because in terms of health, safety, weather and fair winds he is going to need it, even if he has the personal fortitude to do the record. In these days of social media and on line coverage every mile of success and failure will be laid out for all to see, a huge burden. And yet because of that it can be also one of the greatest achievements in cycling.
Happy New Year Steve Abraham.
My colleagues came up absolutely trumps for the ECF Christmas party this year.
We set off in convoy under the Christmas lights of Brussels for a group bike ride to a mystery destination, known only to a select few.
After about twenty minutes we ended up at the brilliant Mmmmh! in Chaussée de Charleroi where we were ushered in to a large professional kitchen and handed aprons.
Oh yes, it is an episode of Masterchef and in our teams we have an hour to invent and cook three dishes.
What a laugh. Even the self-confessed non-cooks chopped and stirred with vigour, perhaps encouraged by the free flowing wine.
And due respect, we found out that we have some superb cooks on the team, there wasn’t a failed dish on the table.
Given that a group of cyclists can often resemble a plague of locusts, devouring its own body-weight in food in a day this could be the perfect cycling outing.
In the British version of the TV show Masterchef there are two lead presenters who regularly shout lines at each other like “Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!” I can only say “Christmas, cooking and cycling – combined. It doesn’t get any better than that!”
It is one of the greatest failings of cycling as a social activity that jumping this barrier is a nerve-wracking experience even for someone like me who has been riding in clubs all my life. I have had some of the best cycling experiences ever and great friendship from my long term clubs Godric Cycling Club, Durham University CC, Cardiff Ajax and Reading Cycling Club but each time the first ride was a big step.
If I feel like this today then I know why people can own a sports road or mountain bike for their whole lives and never hook up with a club. Both they and the clubs miss out so often.
A quick examination of my symptoms please doctor:
Will I be able to keep up?
Will my bike fall apart?
If they leave me will I have a clue where I am?
I don’t climb too badly for a bigger lad, but my descending is pretty rusty at the moment – that could be embarrassing.
I’ve never really had a bad first ride on any of these counts, but I have a deeply repressed memory of something odd happening on one of my first club rides in Cardiff. Can’t even remember the details but one of my creative repairs revealed itself during a ride and as I did a patch up by the roadside I could see the eye rolling going on in the background. “We’ve got a right one here” they hinted to each other. I could easily have become one of so many one-timers who never returned instead of enjoying many more years of riding and club life because many do have a really unwelcoming first experience.
Rugby was my other sport for years and despite being a complicated, physical sport it handles this sort of thing so much better. It has the advantage of taking place at a fixed location but the most important welcome to new starters used to be “the fourth team”. (Replace with 5th, 6th, 7th team as appropriate). Can’t run, can’t catch, don’t know the rules and have a long distance relationship with anything called fitness? We’ll give you a run out in the 4ths and see how you get on under the avuncular support of an almost retired older player with a gammy leg and a deaf ear. Everyone plays because a proper 4th team has any number of players between 9 and 17, except the required 15. A proper 4th team is like the boxes of reject broken biscuits we used to love as kids. All shapes and sizes and only occasionally you turn up a complete custard crème, but its the mix that counts. And when you return to the clubhouse the 4th team creates its own legends of the bar. In short, a place for everyone.
Back to the matter in hand.
Tomorrow I am going out with the local Belgian cycling club.
This throws up a whole new set of challenges. At least in the UK I know the stock formula for most clubs is a Sunday ride – 60 miles with a coffee stop for most road clubs and maybe shorter distances with elevenses and lunch for the CTC groups.
Here club cycling seems to follows the French model. A racing club is just that, a club focussed on competition with a supporting network of ex-riders and officials. A cycle touring club looks to all intents and purposes exactly the same – club colours, quality road bikes, helmets and a calendar of events but the purpose is to ride together as groups and not to compete. So I reckon they fill the gap that I am looking for – strong-ish riders but not going to rip my legs off, like a club run or a faster CTC group in the UK.
Connection to my most local club has already failed because they are mainly interested in touring events – this weekend they are driving out to events both days. Sounds great, 100km including the legendary Mur de Gammont today but I actually want to learn about this area first and I certainly don’t want to give up 2 hours cycling time to sit in a car. So I’ll save that for another day, tomorrow I’ll try plan B with another club.
- I have found where they start
- My bike is scruffy but unlikely to be a laughing stock
- I can do the distance
- I have a domestic pass out
So it is time to get a grip Mayne ……. But they are Belgian, born to be hard cyclists. But my conversational French is awful. And what if I fall off on the cobbles, and what if they ……..