26 August 2009

summer rides

Click here for some more island views as seen from my bike cockpit.

Running is hard on the joints so I turned to cycling for exercise. I have now found cycling is hard on the neck and the thighs! I am hoping that my legs will get used to pedalling for three hours or more and that my muscles will rise to the task.

When you ride long distances you have to eat and drink to maintain your energy. I take a peanut butter and jam sandwich plus two half-litre drinks bottles, one of water and one of juice. Some people advocate much more than this but I think it's a personal thing. I only eat if I am riding for more than forty miles and I only start drinking when I have done at least ten miles. Any more than this and I feel bloated. However, there is a fine line between too much and too little and only practice reveals what feels right.

In my back pockets I carry a mobile phone, sandwich, lip-balm and sometimes a printed page for a new route. Sometimes I take my compact camera on longer rides. For emergencies I have a small seat bag which holds a multi-tool, punct*re repair kit, tyre levers, spare inner tube, spare gear/brake cables and a twenty dollar bill. On the bike I have a mini-pump. Hopefully I can cope with most minor eventualities even fifty miles from home.

The shoulder is good or adequate for cycling in most places. When I plan a route it is a compromise between quiet roads for solitude and scenery, and major roads for better road surfaces and a wider shoulder. I have also discovered that minor roads tend to have much steeper gradients because they don't have to cater for big trucks.

The Island is swept by strong winds which seem to gust and shift direction. Accordingly even my circular rides are often into a stiff headwind the whole way!

The crankset on my Raleigh Quadra is a racing double. 52-42 chain rings and a rear cassette range of 24-13. My lowest gear is a real grind on the 10% hills but so far I haven't got off to push. Top gear is pretty high and only comes into play on a downhill slope with a tailwind.

I am planning an overhaul of the Raleigh. It's over twenty years old and the components are original. The rear wheel spokes have lost tension on the drive side and the wheel and bottom bracket bearings are worn. I have two new Shimano wheels on order from the USA. The new rear will accommodate up to ten speed cassettes so future gear upgrading will be possible. I also have a new seven speed cassette coming, with a 26-13 range plus a new chain.

I reckon these replacements, plus disassembling and regreasing the bottom bracket will inject new life into the bike. The frame is Reynolds 531 steel tubing and the components mostly Shimano 105 so it is worth maintaining. In due course I would like to buy a new carbon-framed bike with all the modern gears and features. The Raleigh Quadra can be partly retired.

My research shows that bikes in Canada are roughly twice the price of comparable models in England. This must be partly because cycling is considerably less popular than in Europe or the States and also has much do with the logistics and distribution costs across this vast country.

Most UK online cycle and parts suppliers will deliver overseas. They also quote prices without VAT which is sensible because Canadian authorities will apply import duty. I think I might treat myself.

12 August 2009

the long cycle ride

Yesterday I completed my first hundred mile ride. To be accurate - 106.5 miles in 7 hours, 31 minutes at an average speed of 14.1 mph. I rode my Raleigh Quadra, a 1980s steel road bike from Raleigh's Special Products Division.

I plotted the ride on http://www.mapmyride.com/ to use mostly country roads in a roughly triangular loop taking in the Eastern quarter of Prince Edward Island. Having started cycling again at age fifty-one last year and in recent weeks ridden thirty, forty and fifty mile loops, I felt ready for the challenge.

I set off under grey skies but with a decent weather forecast. Sustenance would be three peanut butter and jam sandwiches and an energy gel stowed in my pockets. One drinks bottle I filled with a mix of water and pure orange juice, the other with water. In my seat pack I carried a spare tube, puncture repair kit, tyre levers, a multi-tool, zip ties and spare gear/brake cables. There was room in my pockets for a lip balm, cell phone and printed route map. (I am still getting to know the Island roads after two years here.)

P.E.I. is windy and hilly. Country roads carry the fewest trucks but for that very reason have steeper gradients. At times I ground up countless tall slopes like the one above, reaching the top gasping for oxygen and thighs burning. For the first quarter of the ride I had a tailwind which helped keep my average above 16mph. This was the easiest part of the day. After that I changed direction and had a strong crosswind in my face. I began to eat my sandwiches on the move and washed them down with juice and water, rationing it until I found a re-filling point.

Canadian roads are attacked by snow, ice, heavy rain and sun. The resulting potholes and the annual summer round of filling them in makes for distinctly variable road surfaces! I kept a watchful eye on the road ahead, threading my way between old and new surfaces. The sun appeared after fifty miles, still high and burning in August at this latitude. The middle third was a tough three hours into a strong headwind and I seldom exceeded 12mph.

My route was entirely on two-way roads and thankfully the trucks which passed me gave me a generously wide berth. Not long after I left the port on the southern tip of the Island, the ferry from Nova Scotia disgorged and a fleet of a dozen mammoths of the road thundered by me. The first had considerately given a long warning blast on his horn a good twenty seconds before passing.

After seventy-five miles I reached civilisation and unclipped for the one and only time at a Tourist Information office. I refilled my bottles there, letting the taps run until the water flowed deliciously cold. As I turned full circle for the final third of the ride I thanked the crosswind which now blew over my right shoulder. The sun was hot, my legs were spent and I ground out the final thirty miles on willpower. Every shift of position on the bars revealed new pains in my upper arms and neck. This is the hardest physical thing I have ever done.

By the time I reached home I was suffering from slight dehydration. I shivered even as I soaked in a warm bath. I should have taken on more water earlier and I needed more food. Next time (if there is a next time!) I will know what to expect. After a huge meal and a sound night's sleep I feel good this morning, better than I expected. Stiff in the upper arms, thighs and neck but otherwise human!