Friday, 26 June 2015

In which I write another interminable post about cycling

I'd like to introduce you all to my current instrument of torture. Don't worry. It's not going to be that sort of post. Here it is:

The bit I want you to concentrate upon is the tiny pedal-y thing with 'Shimano' written on it. It's what's known as a 'clipless' pedal. Which seems odd, as the basic idea is that you clip your feet into it, but I'm sure someone far more knowledgeable than me will be along to explain why in a distinctly adenoidal way.

When I got this bike a month ago, it came with the standard plastic flat pedals that we're all used to seeing. A pretty simple concept. You put your feet on them and push down one at a time until you can't. Repeat until you have reached your destination, then stop and have some cake.

But people told me that I needed to go clipless. Physically attaching my feet to the pedals would make things so much more effective. I could pull up with one foot while pushing down with the other. It would make me faster. Hills would flatten. Lengths would shorten. I would become a Cycling God.

First of all I needed to purchase a pair of cycling shoes. These are ridiculous items which fail on almost every level when it comes to assessing the usefulness of footwear. They even have holes pre-drilled in the soles. And they look very, very silly.

You're not meant to point this out, of course.

One of the things I've learned about cycling is that you have to make yourself look silly. But it's an unwritten rule that this shouldn't be brought to anyone's attention. All of a sudden, the scales would fall from everyone's eyes, the artifice would crumble and we'd all be looking at each other, saying: "What were we thinking? Wearing skin-tight manmade fibres, crouching over bikes that weigh the same as a crisp packet, our feet pushing down on tiny metal stumps with disco slippers."

But I digress. So, earlier this week I replaced my pedals and set out to test the whole concept. Beforehand, I sat on the bike, propped up against the open garden gate, and practiced the whole 'clipping-in and clipping-out' thing. Because it's quite handy to be able to put a foot to the floor when you've stopped. I don't know if you've noticed this, but bikes are inherently unstable. The last thing I'd want to do is fall over, isn't it?

I think you can see where this is going.

So I went out. I followed a 25-mile circuit I hadn't done for some time, since I'd been under my doctor's orders to not over-exert myself. It wasn't the length, more the elevation. This route included a road called Rising Lane, named in a completely non-ironic manner by someone several hundred years ago. I was keen to see how I got on.

And it was good, largely. The pedals made a difference. When I came to any junctions it was relatively easy to unclip my left foot and lean over that way. All was good.

I headed back home and was coming through the leafy suburbs of Solihull when I thought I'd pull off the road to stop and have a drink. I'm not one of those flash Harrys who can reach down for their bottle, drink and ride at the same time. Baby steps, and all that.

So I rode onto the pavement and slowed. I unclipped my right foot. I leant left. There was a brief period of time when quite a lot of things happened.

Gravity is a cruel mistress, isn't she? Mind you, paving slabs aren't much more benign.

So I now have a little less skin on my left knee and elbow. And what have we learnt, dear reader?

Cycling. It's a bloody silly pastime.


There is some method behind all of this. As well as being generally beneficial to my well-being (comedy elbow and knee scrage notwithstanding), I'm using my new-found liking for cycling for good. Next month I'm doing the British Heart Foundation's Heart of England Bike Ride with the mighty Team Lard and if you'd like to sponsor us, that'd be peachy.

The link is here. Ta everso.

Monday, 1 June 2015

The story of the shirt - an update

You won't remember this. I wouldn't expect you to do so. But five years ago I made a bit of a promise. And it was all because of a shirt.

I'm not going to expect you to go back and read a five-year old post. But it went like this. For Christmas in 2008 my parents bought me a very nice shirt. What we call a 'going-out' shirt. It was a little on the small side so the plan was for me to take it back to the store and change it. This was derailed somewhat by the sudden death of my father, three days later. The shirt went into the back of the wardrobe and I forgot about it.

In October 2010 I wrote about how I'd stumbled on the shirt again - the last present I ever received from both of my parents - and how I was going to use it as motivation to lose some weight.

Well. That went well, didn't it? Almost as well as the promise I made to walk Hadrian's Wall (current status: I bought some maps). Or the one about completing the Three Peaks Challenge (current status: I completed 0.6 of a Peak). I've even made various pledges about writing more often (this is the first post I've made in six weeks; knock yourself out, folks).

But a stopped clock is right twice a day. A promise made can become reality, given enough time. And so it was with the shirt. My mother reached her 80th birthday the other week. Having finally started the long process of losing some lumber, I wore the shirt.

I can't make any claims towards sartorial elegance. Quite frankly, for me clothing performs the dual functions of stopping me getting arrested and giving me somewhere to keep my keys. But, wearing the shirt for the first time, honouring the promise I'd made nearly five years previously, was a bit of a moment.

There is more to do. The carbs are still lurking, ready to make me put the shirt away in the back of the wardrobe again. I'm not going to make any promises this time. I have a bit of a poor track record where that's concerned.

But for the present time, let's celebrate the little victories. And in the meantime, does anyone want to buy some maps of Cumbria?


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