Dr.Hutch: riding in the dark

The doc explains how restructuring the Gregorian calendar failed to prove beneficial to his training programme...

Last year, someone gave me some wildly over-specified bike lights.

You can judge their brightness from the first time I switched them on. I took them into the garden to shine a beam into the night sky, and got a tweet from the International Space Station telling me to cut it out, they were trying to sleep.

I was out training with them at about 10pm last week, just riding round a seven-mile lap based on a local village. I felt a bit guilty about this, because every 20 minutes or so, when I passed down the High Street, the locals thought I was the sunrise and it was time to go to work.

There are plusses to training at night. The roads are quiet, and the air seems cleaner. Best of all, you can’t see your computer or heart-rate monitor, so you can kid yourself that you’re training hard when really you’re just noodling along in the moonlight. It helps that in the silence your breathing sounds really loud.

In the midnight hour
The downside is that serious bike lights are the most dangerous enablers of procrastination I have ever come across. Where once I might find things to do for an hour or two before going out for a ride, now I don’t even have the final backstop of sunset. I can continue finding excuses to delay that lactate-tolerance session even when it’s already dark.

My 10pm ride was not unusual. I’ve discovered that my bike computer automatically starts a new training file at midnight. I was mid-interval when it happened. I was quite cross, because it meant I lost count and had to start again, which made everything even later.
I worry that what will happen is that I’ll end up cast adrift entirely from the normal diurnal cycle. My training will get later and later, until I’m operating on something like a personal 35-hour day that pays no heed at all to piffling issues of day or night.

I had a similar thing once before. I read an article in this very magazine, somewhere around 2001 that stated, with a degree of confidence attainable only by leaders of religious cults and cycling fitness writers, that the seven-day week was actually a very poor unit on which to base your training. Ten days, it said, was much better. I can’t remember exactly what benefits the magazine claimed would result from this, but there’s a good chance they included Losing Weight Now and Turbo-Charging my Climbing.

I rearranged my life immediately around a decimal week. The last person to try anything along these lines was Stalin, who was also a reader of the Cycling Weekly fitness pages. You could tell from the way he implemented his Five-Year Plans.

Ten-day weeks
When Mrs Doc asked me if I was free on Saturday night, I used to have to explain that my Saturday was actually on her Tuesday, that the next one would be on her Friday week, and that the next time our Saturdays would coincide was going to be in about two months.

She told me that Stalin was looking more appealing by the minute, and I told her that I wasn’t free on any of those Saturdays anyway since my weekly day off had now been moved to ‘Hutchday’, one of the new days I’d had to invent to make it all work.

It won’t surprise you that I didn’t really manage to stick at this for all that long. For a start, races still happened on everyone else’s weekends, which made planning very hard.
It was a pity though. Ten-day weeks would have meant that Christmas would have come around much more quickly.

And it would always have fallen on a Hutchday.

How to… Deal with a pothole
There are several strategies for coping with the unexpected appearance of a huge hole in the road. The simplest and most intuitive is to ride straight into it.

This approach does have its downsides, including punctures, broken rims, sprained wrists, severely dented perineums, broken bones, road rash, insurance claims and tedious court cases. But the chances are it’s still the one you’re going to use most of the time, so you should practise until you can do it without thinking.

If you’re with a group, you will probably prefer to yell an incomprehensible warning, and swerve violently across the road. The warning yell can come before or after the swerve — no one else will mind. As a group-ride alternative, you can try just slamming on your brakes. When the resulting pile-up has been disentangled, be sure to say in a puzzled manner, ‘But I gave a clear hand signal.’

You can attempt to bunny hop it. The most common technique is to hop much too soon and very badly, so that you actually land right in the hole. This will then turn into a minor variation on the first technique, except that when it comes to court you’ll probably have to deal with a counter-claim of contributory negligence.

Make sure you report any potholes as soon as they appear. This will mean that the council will be under a strict legal duty to send an emergency team out to paint a little yellow circle round it. They will then wait for a few months to see if it fixes itself.

Acts of cycling stupidity
My 80-year-old father cycles every day, round the same lap, at the same time. For several years he has exchanged a wave with a middle-aged woman in a car who is clearly on her way to work.

A couple of weeks ago, he reports that she flagged him down and said, “Since we’re going the same way every morning, wouldn’t you rather I gave you a lift?”

“Thanks for the kind offer,” he said, “but I’m doing it for the exercise.”

She was, my father says, surprised verging on horrified. “Really? That’s just… weird,” she said.

They went on their respective ways. He was surprised to find that she no longer waves at him. In fact she slinks down in her seat and looks the other way. I told him that seemed a bit unfriendly.

“Hmm” he said. “Of course it’s possible I shouldn’t have offered her a ride on my crossbar in return.”