Re-finding my cycling legs

Mr Z has always been a cyclist.  Way back in the day he would get home from school, get his rad mountain bike out from the garage and hammer it around the neighbourhood with his buddies like a child possessed.

The abomination looked a like this

At university the bike changed, to an even radder BMX, but he always cycled to lectures.  With or without a hangover and bloodshot eyes.

Mr Z wavered when he got his first job, adopting the idiotic, yet common, practice of having a job in a different city to the one he worked in.  Less than a year later he’d had enough of complaining about time spent commuting with colleagues and so taking action, moved city and changed job.

A new city and an EVEN radder mountain bike brought cycle commuting back in, along with 6am get ups to get in some mountain biking before work.  Happy days.

Cue the mystical music
Somewhere along the way things changed, the bike went from being an instrument of joy to one of pure fitness.

It went from a tool to perch a top of, with a smug grin wondering why in the name of holy hell someone would sit in a car for 45 minutes everyday when they could cycle the same distance in 20 minutes.

And it went to a race bike, cleats, lycra and an uncomfortable aerodynamic position.  Cycling became solely about going as quick as possible, going as far as possible and devising training schemes to ‘write my legs off’.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love this type of cycling.

A few words of warning, if I may.  If you aren’t the most flexible person, doing mile upon hard mile will leave you with short weak hamstrings and a horrendous lower back will follow.

This meant a crappy start to the year for cycling followed by about 5 months off the bike to weight train some strength into my seemingly 70 year old back and to stretch some flexibility into my rigid legs.  (And a lingering suspicion that my body wasn’t built for cycling, but perhaps for wrestling.)

Some inspiration
Trips to the gym recently increased, now it is everyday.  This meant using the car at the weekends to squeeze gym trips in, I had convinced myself that cycling the three miles would instantly result in back pain.

Last weekend, the fuel light came on.  Burning money to travel a few miles…to do some exercise.  I had to suplex myself.  

Motivation coursing through my body, I trotted outside in the rain and fixed my old bike up, nothing more than pumping up the tires, realigning the brakes and cleaning the rust off a few bolts.  Then span my way to the gym, a grin slowly spreading across my face.  Even the bugs slamming into my pearly whites couldn’t dampen my mood.

It occurred to me that this was the first time in years that I was using the bike purely for transport.

There was no 20 mile loop squeezed in before work, no blasting out a few hill reps in a lunch hour or trying to hit a ‘tempo’ pace along a five mile straight with my lungs trying to climb out of my head.

I used the bike for it’s primary purpose, efficient transportation that doesn’t involve using a one and a half tonne vehicle to move a single 70kg body.

An hour was then spent fixing pannier racks back onto the bike and giving Mrs Z’s bike a once over.  Shopping is now done from the bikes.

Cycling back from work one night this week, the city was grid locked.  I gently span passed the traffic, seemingly every car was filled with a single occupant, face red with rage and indignity.

“How could this possibly be?  How could the traffic system not be flowing?  How is it that me and my 4 empty seats cannot move, just WHAT is taking up all the room?  I cannot comprehend how me and my fellow motorists in our excessively massive vehicles that are limited to travelling one way down fixed paths could ever be in a situation where we can’t move.” the car owners seemed to be thinking.

This city wide gridlock added not a single minute to my journey home, and perhaps even added a tiny little bit of smugness to my life.

Excuses, excuses

Looking back over the last few months, I had descended into the habit of making excuses.

Whilst the sore back at one point was actually bad enough that I needed to roll out of bed some mornings and couldn’t cycle if I wanted to.  The injury had since become an excuse to take the easier option.  And that’s a dangerously lazy slope to start slithering down.  It’s annoyingly easy to slip into bad habits without noticing it.

Sure, I’ll get back into long distance cycling at some point.  For now, the happiness cycling brings is the main thing.

The financial benefits that inevitably follow biking more are a nice bonus, but they have never been the primary motivation for cycling.

It’s one of self sufficiency and of efficient travel.  There’s no need to look for enough space to park your tonne of metal and then pay for the privilege.  There’s no worrying about finding a petrol station, just eat some food.  No checking the traffic before you set off.  It doubles up as free exercise as well as transportation.

Cars are an incredible bit of engineering, but their use should be restricted to times when they come into their own.  100 mile journeys.  Or carrying really heavy things, like a wardrobe.

It’s annoying that it took an injury, but I’ve refound cycling for it’s simple joys.  It might be winter, but it’s always the right time to get out on your bike.

Mr Z

11 thoughts on “Re-finding my cycling legs

  1. Under The Money Tree

    I've taken a similar journey. Where i was once all about threshold intervals, staying aero and shaving grams off my bike I now almost exclusively ride my fixie to the train station and back daily.

    It's made out of scaffold pipes, is covered in rust but gives me about an hour of shear joy each day. Enjoy the winter riding and remember there is no such thing as bad weather…just the wrong clothing!

  2. Mr Zombie

    Ahhh threshold intervals, the most horrible thing ever devised.

    The fixie sounds perfect, indestructible and near maintenance free.

    I dug my old steel framed touring bike out from the bike shed…it's a heavy beast, but strong as any bike and can be loaded up with an impressive amount of stuff.

    haha, it's so true. When people say it's too cold to ride in winter…there's this amazing thing you can do…wear winter cycling gear…or just more clothes.


  3. john smith

    go everywhere on my e-bike (except long journeys) and do fitness stuff with a cycle club when i can. Transiting by bike everyday i feel like an alien in a foreign land on the roads network, esp now the weather is colder and everyone is christmas shopping. It truly puts it in perspective how much mankind is surgically attached to his car. Local retail park 300 car spaces , how many bike parking spaces ….none FFS!…..have to chain it to the trolley bay at mother care!!…I wish the government/local council would grow some balls and really discourage the motorcar in cities. The pollution alone is horrendous.

  4. Mr Zombie

    How is the e-bike? can they hum along at a decent speed?

    Yeah, it's depressing. Mrs Z and I went shopping at the weekend at a retail park, similar situation but with one set of bike racks…empty! Made me feel a little smug at the same time

    I don't think the councils will for a little while..especially with the price of fuel dropping recently!

  5. London Rob

    Hi Mr. Z,

    I am glad I am not the only one! I have raced mountain bikes in the dim and distant path, but these days I am 50% heavier than I used to be. I did take the decision to buy an exercise bike (its cheaper than gym membership over the long run) and use it occasionally, and a old second hand – I just get embarrassed about just how unfit I am, so I guess I need to find my mojo to get back and get going!

  6. The Rhino

    I've recycled two steelys in the last few months, turned a 501 raleigh into a hipster runabout for my bro-in-law and my fabled 531 falcon into a singlespeed for myself for short town rides. They both look sweet!. Have had to become obsessive over details such as chainlines and the like. I am also now a world expert in the niche field of long-drop brakes! All this said I plan to ride less in 2016 – as excessive mileage has caused a shoulder injury. I've been doing about 5000kms/year almost all of it 50km commutes. I'm planning to maybe half that and double my swimming. I think it should keep me more balanced physically and help slow the degradation of my shoulder/back.

  7. JoeCrystal

    Well, I have noticed that there is an increase in cycle lanes on roads and especially on pavements over time, so arguably, the councils are doing something about them on the roads. 🙂

  8. Mr Zombie

    Hi LR,

    I always get tempted to keep up with anyone and everyone on the road, especially on a road bike. On any kind of incline it's impossible as the touring bike weighs over 30 pounds, it's a beast. It does make for a more relaxing ride 🙂

  9. Mr Zombie

    Is it much work to convert a bike into a singlespeed? I was thinking about picking up an old frame off ebay and rebuilding it that way.

    I think cycling is great, but if it's the only thing you are doing your body gets so imbalanced. Mine sure did. Cycling followed by yoga, squats, deadlifts and swimming would cure that. If only there was the time.

    Hope the shoulder get better.


  10. The Rhino

    Converting to a singlespeed is very simple, you just replace the cassette on the freehub with a bunch of spacers and a single sprocket. You can buy a kit for this for about a tenner – just muck about with the spacer combinations to get as straight a chain line as possible. If you want to remove all but one of your chain rings then you may need to buy some slightly shorter chain ring bolts, these are readily and cheaply available off ebay.

    i've started stretching the old legs using graham obrees session as described in his book. i think that should suffice for the legs.

    the next project is converting an early 90's steel MTB into a pedalec – i think i'm going to use an oxydrive conversion kit, a mates just done one and he's raving about it.

  11. The Rhino

    one other thing with the single speed – it helps if you have horizontal dropouts for tensioning the chain correctly. I had these, if you don't you might have to use an old rear derailleur to do the job?


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