I drew a graph recently. It was a simple line that started on the x-axis, went up sharply, peaked, and then sloped downwards at an ever-steepening gradient until it once again intersected with the x-axis.
It illustrates the total sum of my knowledge of cycling plotted against time. I started knowing nothing, and to knowing nothing, I have returned. The peak was about a decade ago. In fact I probably know less now than I did when I started – at least then I’d had the benefit of reading and memorising ‘The Piccolo Bicycle Book’ when I was a child, and believing every word. Now I doubt everything.
At the peak of my knowledge, I wrote articles for magazines like this one, with titles like ‘Take a minute off your ten-mile time’ or ‘Three steps to better climbing’. They were assured and confident sounding, and set out simple training regimes for achieving difficult objectives.
They might, in all honesty, have been better called, ‘Here is some stuff I tried recently in the hope it would make me a bit less rubbish in the area specified. I was careful not to monitor the results too closely for fear of disappointment. But I can’t categorically rule out the possibility it might work. Enjoy!’
I used to understand aerodynamics. I used to understand it well enough to mock people who actually knew much more about it that I did, but whose expertise took the form of knowing they could never be completely sure.
I found the boot on the other foot a few weeks ago at a time trial when I was getting my bike out of the car, and someone I didn’t know came over to tell me I’d got my tribars set up all wrong. ‘Your elbows are much too narrow. They should be exactly shoulder width apart,’ he said. ‘Boardman proved that 20 years ago.’ I admired his assurance.
He really knew stuff, and knew that he knew it. The world’s bike aerodynamicists have never really nailed down anything that definitive. I doubt that even Chris Boardman himself could put it quite that simply any more.
The things I knew used to form an impenetrable, interlocking web. I remember writing once that carbon as a frame material was unlikely to catch on. I knew this to be the case, because of the difficulty and expense involved in bespoke frame building in carbon, and because as another area of expertise, I knew that no decent rider would ever buy an off-the-peg frame in standard dimensions. I was happy in my certainty. Right or wrong was neither here nor there.
These days, if someone suggested that the next generation of frames were going to be made of Belgian waffle batter cured in a large frame-shaped waffle iron, I might query whether that would work best with an English or Italian bottom bracket shell, but that would be about as confident as my queries would ever get.
I no longer give advice on cycling topics. Not serious advice anyway. Last week someone asked me how much faster he’d go if he swapped the deep-rimmed rear wheel on his TT bike for a disc wheel. At the peak of my graph, I’d have said a second a kilometre.
Now, I had to tell him that since I didn’t know how fast he went, what frame he had, what front wheel he used, what shape his calves were, how fast he pedaled, what tyre he was planning to use, and what the weather was going to be like, I was unable to help him.
‘Am I correct in thinking that even if I told you all those things, you still wouldn’t know?’ he said. I had to admit he was right. At least I think so.
How To… get a cyclist’s tan
Summer having arrived late this year, those of us in pale-skinned ethnic groups who care about such things will need to work harder than usual to get the essential cyclist’s tan. The basic elements of this are two-fold. The tan on the arms, legs and face must be a deep, deep nut-brown.
And, critically, the dividing line between the tan of the arms and legs and the pasty white of the rest of the body must be as sharp as possible.
You need to either wear the same jersey and shorts for every ride, or invest in several identical sets, to ensure the sharpness of the dividing lines is not compromised by differing hem-lines. This is why pros are so careful about the fit of their race kit. Line the hems up carefully with the previous day’s tan line.
Sun block is essential. Not all jerseys are fully UV proof, and there is a danger of a slight tanning action through them, which of course reduces the level of essential contrast. So apply liberally on the white bits, using masking tape on the arms and legs to ensure that no sun block intrudes on a tanned area. Be very careful removing masking tape if you got the area sun burned the day before.
“Dear Doc, my wife says I have too many bikes, and that they take up too much room. I have six – winter trainer, summer trainer, ‘best’ road bike, mountain bike, a fixie, a cyclo-cross bike and a track bike. I reckon that each of these has a specific use, even if it’s a bit occasional (I’ve used the cross bike once, and the track bike not actually at all), so they’re all essential. I told her that maybe eight bikes would be too much, but not six. Who’s right?” Anon, via email
Dear Anon, while I counsel you to read the main column on the subject of exactly how much I know about cycling, I’d suggest you’ve already made a Royal balls-up of this by even conceding that there is such a concept as ‘too many bikes’. When the subject was raised, you should have gone for blank incomprehension, and kept repeating ‘Too many bikes? I don’t understand’ until your wife left you alone. And by the way, you’ve apparently got seven bikes. Don’t tell the wife.