I found myself sitting in a cafe with my friend Bernard last week. This almost never happens, because I very rarely make cafe stops on a ride. Every moment spent in a cafe is a moment when you could be training.
A long ride with a cafe stop is not a long ride, it’s two short rides with a snack in the middle. After all, which would you rather have, one six-foot girlfriend or two three-foot girlfriends and a Victoria sponge?
The Sign of Three
On this occasion we were waiting for a friend of his to join us for a gentle potter round the floods. It was a popular cyclists’ cafe, and inspired by the TV series Sherlock, I was passing the time by deducing like the master. For instance, a set of bloody knuckles holding a large slice of cake? Simple. A man who was so fearful of his riding companions that he changed his set-up to a smaller chainring in a sudden panic that morning, and ham-fistedly let the Allen key slip, skinning his hand on the teeth of the ring.
Now, having triumphantly discovered that he had the beating of his friends, he was gleefully rewarding himself with saturated fat and sugar.
“Hey, look,” I suddenly cried. “Here’s a grand specimen.” Through the window I’d seen a rider parking his bike. “Let me see. I can tell he thinks he’s a lot better looking on a bike than he is, and that he’s new to cycling. His bike is looked after for him by a friend. But he’s clearly a lot quicker than he looks.”
Bernard rolled his eyes. “If I absolutely begged you, is there any chance you’d shut up at this juncture?” He hadn’t quite settled into the Dr Watson role.
Elementary, my dear
“It’s quite simple, Bernie,” I said. “His jacket is badly stretched. He hasn’t just put on weight, because where the fabric has been stretched at the seams, it’s faded evenly. It’s a jacket that was too small from the moment it was bought. It’s the jacket of a tubby narcissist who thinks he can turn himself from Eric Pickles into Chris Froome by compression alone.
“He’s not his own mechanic — the cables are clearly new and the chain is clean, yet his fingernails are spotless. But no shop would leave a bike like that. The cable crimps are all mismatched and have multiple crimp-marks, so they’ve all been reused. The bracket splines are all mashed up, which is the work of someone smart enough to regrease the threads, but too skinflint to buy the right tool.
“He’s quite a quick rider, because the back tyre is far more worn than the front, which only comes about through the application of considerable power. And he’s new to cycling because he’s got his overshoes on the wrong feet.”
I was feeling well pleased with myself.
“Notice anything else, Sherlock?” said Bernard.
I was suspicious. “Um, no?” I replied, expecting a comeback.
A Study in Scarlet
The rider came into the cafe. Bernard greeted him. “This is Paul,” he said to me. “He’s an old friend. So much so that I lent him my favourite jacket. The one that I’ve probably worn for 50 per cent of all the rides we’ve ever done.”
“Ah,” I said.
“Paul’s bike is also mine. It’s the one you sold me last December. I don’t recall you being quite so bloody eagle-eyed with the dodgy crimps and bodged bracket back then.”
“The back tyre,” I repeated, correcting him, sulkily.
“You sold me a bike with a knackered back tyre. It doesn’t take a genius to work that out.”
“I’ll give you the overshoes. But it’s not really that Paul’s new to cycling. It’s more that he’s almost as big an ass as you.”
Dear Dr Hutch,
For the last year I’ve been doing 30-minute blocks of power-cadence intervals in a 2:1 ratio in an attempt to stimulate my lactate clearance. I was wondering if maybe I’d be better switching to speed-cadence intervals, to stimulate lactate production. I was planning to do these in pyramids of 10-15-10 minutes at 115rpm plus.
If I do that would I be better supporting it with long sub-threshold rides on alternate days, rather than every third day? Or should I stick to every third, but include sweetspot blocks in every hour?
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Do all of the above. Do it often. But please don’t tell me any more about it. I’m not a free coaching service, and I really don’t care.
How to.. ride through a flood
There are two general approaches to riding through a flood: as slow as possible, or as fast as possible. The first is safer, more practical, drier, and generally, at least if we accept you simply have to ride through standing water, more sensible.
The second is, well, kinda fun. Riding through a flood will end one of three ways. You may make it through, with the inside of your mudguards newly washed. Less happily, you may find you underestimated the depth. As the water grows deeper and deeper, it’ll slowly dawn on you that there’s no way out of this. Either you’ll have to stop and get off, thigh-deep in it, or you’ll grind to a halt and just fall over.
The final possibility is that you’ll hit an invisible obstruction, like a pothole or kerb, and crash abruptly into the water as if you’ve been torpedoed. It’s impossible to achieve option three without being filmed by persons unknown and becoming a YouTube sensation.
You’ll notice the very high drag factor created by riding through water. Remember that hydrodynamics is, give or take, the same thing as aerodynamics, and be sure always to use your fastest and most aero kit. If you’ve a posh time trial bike and a pair of 60mm deep rims, this would be just the moment.
Finally, bear in mind that cycling is the worst possible means of transport in a flood. In this arena walking, driving, swimming, rowing, paddling and punting are all far superior.
Competitive cyclists possess many of the skills prized in the workplace... shame they are too busy recovering to utilise them,