Cycling chat

Fri, 13 September, 2013

It has been an eventful summer, starting with the May Bank Holiday Weekend in south Somerset which was enjoyed by a group of 12, and finishing with another successful Pot Luck Supper in Grove, hosted by Steve and Lorna Swanton. Along the way CTC Oxfordshire organised

  • An all-comers century ride, ostensibly as a dry run for the Tri-vets, but more likely just an excuse for a long ride (we like to cater for all tastes)
  • The Tri-vets ride, 9th June
  • And for those for whom 100 miles is not far enough: the Oxford Boundary 200 Mile took place on the last weekend of June (as I said, we cater for all tastes).
  • To mark the end of our cycling year and looking ahead to next year, here’s an important date for your diary: CTC Oxfordshire AGM – Saturday 9 November Hinton Waldrist Village Hall 11am. 

Cycling in and around Wallingford

Given that “promoting more cycling” is one of CTC’s objective, this year has been something of a milestone for CTC Oxfordshire. Using the data provided by head office in the monthly membership list sent to registrars, we were able to identify an area where there appeared to be lots of members, but no structure to support group riding. Of course, many CTC members are happy riding either alone or with their friends, but riding in a group can add an extra dimension to our cycling experience. With this in mind, “Rides from Wallingford” was born. You may have read Robin Tucker’s report in the last issue of The Oxfordfordshire Cyclist. The idea has been taken up enthusiastically by local cyclists and, who knows, perhaps a new member group will emerge.

Why do you ride?

Those readers familiar with off-road riding will be aware of the range of activities which fall in the category of mountain biking: trail riding, trials (very different!) quad descending, downhilling, cross country, North shore, all mountain, freeride, dirt jumping and even quasi acrobatics (aka “urban assault”) as reported in our own Cycle Clips newsletter. If you missed that report and have never seen Danny Macaskill, you might like to watch this:

While few of us could ever match the skills of a Danny Macaskill, riders I have met and spoken to over the year have demonstrated a variety of goals and interests. Answers to the question “why do you ride your bike?” will elicit wide-ranging responses. And indeed, explain the different bikes we choose to buy and ride. Unlike the racing clubs, we are a broad church. Compare the homogeneity of the bikes assembled outside Zappis on a Saturday morning, with the diversity of those gathered in Broad Street on a Sunday morning. Here you will find Galaxy tourers cheek by jowl with town bikes and even the odd carbon sportive bike. But nearly everyone seems to agree that physical well-being is part of what makes them want to keep riding.

The contribution of sports science

Until recently, sports science has been of interest mainly to racing cyclists. But with the popularity of sportives and the phenomenal success of British cyclists, both on road and track, more and more articles have been appearing in magazines such as Cycling Plus and Cycling Weekly with titles such as “Fitter, Healthier, Younger. What cycling can do for you?” When I was a young man in my 20s, interval training was already well established among club runners. What is different today is that recent research has shown that this technique is not only suited to an elite athlete but can also benefit a CTC rider. The findings of a team from the University of Edinburgh was even reported on Radio 4 national news last year. Their study (published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology) inspired by previous similar studies, concluded that 2 “all-out sprints” for as little as 20 seconds each, performed just 3 times a week has a huge, measurable and beneficial effect. BBC news ( summarised the research and Horizon did a programme last January entitled The Truth about Exercise. The Tabata Protocol is also well known in racing circles. It takes just 4 minutes and consists of 20 seconds of all-out exercise followed by 10 seconds rest, repeated 8 times. Although all this is now accepted in sports science, GPs may advise differently. I was recently advised not to exceed 80% of my maximum heart rate. Not because of any medical problem, but simply because my doctor believed that intense physical effort was intrinsically harmful. The lessons from evolutionary biology seem to indicate otherwise. We have adapted over tens of thousands of years to use maximum effort both to catch food and to avoid being predated upon. The Truth (to use that over-worked term from the Horizon programme) is that it is precisely the opposite which is harmful: our sedentary and desk-bound lives. It goes without saying that leaping up from your desk after years of inactivity and sprinting to catch the bus is not a good idea. But even here, you will almost certainly tear a hamstring muscle long before you do any damage to your heart.

How do you like to climb?

On our CTC social rides, although we ride at the pace of the slowest and never leave anyone behind, it is acceptable to climb a hill as fast as you like. What is interesting is that some riders seem to relish climbing as fast as they can (despite the discomfort), while others, equally strong, prefer to climb at an easy pace. Each to his own, of course, but the fact remains that our body (including both aerobic and anaerobic fitness) responds to the demands we make of it. Our body is many times more efficient than any machine we can make – or even imagine. If a capability is not needed, the body will relinquish it (the rapid onset of muscle wastage when bed-ridden is a case in point). It is the corollary of this principle which is of interest to us: as well as being efficient, the body is also adaptive. If you cycle hard (with appropriate rest periods), you will get stronger – up to the limit of your potential. I was interested to hear of the training regime of one of my cycling friends, an ex-800 metre club runner. He would start by running half the distance at a faster speed. When he was comfortable with that, he would retain the higher speed but increase the distance gradually until he was able to run the whole 800 metres at the faster pace. Heaven forbid that CTC cycle tourists should morph into MAMILS, but why not use the knowledge accumulated by sports scientists to improve our fitness?

Keep cycling and keep fit

  • Non-cyclists have been found to have an all-cause mortality 39% higher than those cycle to work, even after taking other factors into consideration.
  • Non-cyclists take up to 18% more time off sick than regular commuting cyclist.
  • Recent estimates suggest that the health benefits from physical activity outweigh the risks by up to 77:1

See No doubt tweaked to support our case…Tim Harford would have a field day.

Richard Morris Secretary CTC Oxfordshire