Thursday, 2 February 2012

Three Stone in Three Months

I really need to airbrush a chin into this photo

Three years ago I decided to get fit by riding a bicycle. It was so successful, that whilst on holiday in Cornwall, I typed about it. I sent it to Cycling Active as that was the magazine I had purchased from the Service Station. They liked it and trimmed it down to a bite-sized weight loss article. This is the full, unedited version.

If you like reading on the loo, make sure you need a really big poo before starting this one ....

This is not a guide on how to lose three stone in three months. It is more of a chronological account of how much fun it was to lose the weight and discover the bike.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Richard Elliott, known at work as “Chewey”. I'm guessing this is partly due to my six feet and three inches. I have a very addictive personality. I drink too much, smoke too much, and generally get addicted to stuff too much. For over a decade my vice has been online gaming. The years of inactivity, junk food, late-night snacks and gallons of beer have turned my once lean form into a shabby, overweight, unattractive mass of blubber. On the 1st of May 2009 I weighed 18 stone. For my height and build this is clinically obese.

I decided to change my lifestyle. Firstly the gaming had to stop. What had once been a pursuit of first-person-shooter skills in games like Quake3 and Counterstrike had transformed into a constant grind through the silken, sticky web of World of Warcraft. That game had snared me for over three years and the only way I was going to stop was to go cold turkey. I selected the Warcraft folder in my hard-drive and permanently deleted it. The game takes almost a day to re-install, which prevented me from succumbing to any moments of weakness .

There was no doubt in my mind that my new pursuit had to be healthy. At 36 years old the abuse I had subjected my body to was beginning to manifest itself in aches and pains. The gym isn't practical where I live (there are none close enough), the Wii-fit is embarrassing (the console is in my living room, overlooking a busy road) and I find running both slightly painful and boring. So the only other sensible option in my mind was to take up cycling. Primarily I knew that I could start biking to work again; the summer was approaching fast and my mindset was for once aligned with good intentions. Really aligned. It is worth noting that I felt totally ready for a change. This wasn't a whim, it felt more like a fundamental reshuffle of my priorities, and fitness was in the ascendency.

So I resurrected the mountain bike from the back of the garage. The frame is too small for me, but the bike was on offer at the time of purchase. I felt that I had a bargain and asked to shop to fit me with road tyres. The salesman boosted the seat for me to compensate for the small frame. That was six years ago and although it has seen some action, the periods of gathering moss have been more typical. The bike has spent more than one winter at the end of the garden subjected to the elements since its purchase.

All things considered, it had fared rather well. The seat-post had rusted in its highest position. The gears worked and the brakes weren't broke but broke when squeezed, as they should. The whole thing creaked like an ancient rusty ocean liner when under way, but with a liberal application of purple teflon lube from “Go Outdoors” the bike was gliding over the tarmac like a large ungainly missile.

For the next two weeks I rode the 6 miles into work, timing my progress. The journey became a race against my personal best, and soon I discovered how adverse wind conditions can cripple even the most willing legs. Arriving at work I would get changed in the shower room, thankful for a relatively well equipped changing area. My pants, socks and ironed shirt would come out of the rucksack and my cycle shoes sit on top of my locker for the rest of the day.

For this first two weeks, I rode the crest of my wave of enthusiasm and dieted. I purchased bottled water and took it to work with me, drinking even more water than the recommended daily amount. My diet consisted of a lot of Greek salads, chicken breast and rice. I cut out snacking and alcohol and got some earlier nights. By the end of the first two weeks in May I had lost almost a stone.

Encouraged by this positive start I started going out on my rest days, cycling twenty or thirty miles. My favourite trip was a country road to Stratford Upon Avon which winds along farms and fields. The route introduced me to some small but challenging hills. I realised that due to my weight and relatively poor fitness levels, hills are very hard. Arriving in Stratford I would park up beside the Royal Shakespeare Company and flop on the grass and watch the inside of my glasses steam up. The 30 mile journey was ridden in the same fashion as my rides to work; at about 80-90% effort levels. The big tyres continued to roll along smoothly, but I was beginning to notice that these longer rides were giving me back-pain. As the weather wasn't exactly sunny, I wore my Helly Hanson jacket and sweat profusely inside it. This helped encourage the detoxification process but introduced me to the world of constant washing. My wife walked into the kitchen that month and found me with my hands inside the washing machine. She nearly fainted.

Hmm those jeans are beginning to fit me again....

Towards the end of the first two weeks, I decided to ride to Evesham. This entailed tacking on a further thirty four miles to my thirty mile Stratford trip making it a respectful sixty four mile round-trip. One sunny morning, an hour after dropping the kids off at school, I got on my mountain bike and set off. Using my work rucksack, I stocked up on snacks and cruised along safe in the knowledge that every eventuality was catered for with my puncture repair kit, mobile phone and bike lock.

Stratford was a breeze. My legs felt strong and the bike was bouncing along the roads nicely. I stopped for ten minutes to snack on a banana and drink some water then picked up the exit road on the far side of unexplored Stratford, riding past Anne Hathaways Cottage and some rather nice houses.

It was a mile out of Stratford that I saw my first real hill. This slumbering giant was a straight stretch of road climbing for approximately a kilometre into the blue. I found myself grinning at the prospect and pushed down on the pedals. Many minutes later, sweat literally pouring over my nose, I crested the hill and felt a stirring respect for the challenge of climbing.

I got back into Kenilworth at 3:25pm, five minutes short of the school run. I rode into the school playground at 3:30 just as my daughter came filing out of her class and my son meandered his way out of the other exit. The trip had taken me more than 5 hours and thirty minutes. Even adding on thirty minutes for breaks, I didn't waste my time working out the average speed. That trip had been all about chewing up some miles. However, the disconcerting thing about this trip had been the back pain. I had expected some pain but wasn't prepared for the overwhelming discomfort that the ride caused me. Towards the final stages of the journey my breathing was hitching because of the back pain. I surmised that the small MTB frame size was slowly crippling me. My cyclist friend had also informed me that I would inevitably suffer back pain in the first few months of riding because of the bent-over position. I hoped his theory was truer than mine as there was a light at the end of his tunnel.

After the Evesham bike ride I started stepping up the frequency of my rides. I continued to do the Stratford circuit, but would go before work as well as cycling to work. My average daily miles went from twelve to forty. Arriving at work during the third week of cycling I was called into the Sergeants office by my portly Inspector. “Chewey, we're worried about you, sit down.” He invited; the attentions of busy Sergeants shifting from paperwork to the entertainment which was no doubt about to follow. I sat down....

“Everything alright at home?” He enquired whilst four or five Sergeants looked on. “Very well thanks sir.” I dutifully replied. “Then are you well? Have you got some kind of wasting illness?” he enquired, drily. “Sir, I'll have you know that Chewey has taken to riding his bicycle everywhere, except at work.” interjected my Sergeant, no stranger to sarcastic remarks. I stayed seated whilst compliments dripping in sarcasm rippled around the office, waiting patiently for the focus to shift onto someone else before I scuttled out.

The comments became a daily occurrence as more weight dropped off my frame. Rather embarrassingly, that week I received a phone call from the local Indian Takeaway on my works mobile. They were phoning to make sure I was well as they hadn't seen me for a long time. I Reassured the owner of the curry house that my diet would end soon, bizarrely whilst taking a statement for a burglary.

It was at this time in my blossoming cycling career that my old school friend Neil suggested we ride one hundred miles in a day, for the hell of it. Obviously such a bold plan was going to take preparation, so we slated the ride for the beginning of August. Like myself, Neil rides on an old MTB with road tyres, but he uses cleats whilst I never have. Conversation had often turned to the relative merits of our bikes versus the slender road racing bikes, and we both believed unequivocally that our bikes were near-perfect machines, slightly slower downhill but more fun. Neil cycles twenty miles to work and back two or three times a week. He has been doing this for a year and as a result he is rather thin.

One day after the conversation with Neil my brother Rob, phoned to tell me that he had bought a Trek 2000 racer costing considerably more than a thousand pounds. He also informed me that he wanted to come on our hundred mile bike ride in August.

I phoned Neil in a quandary. If Robert was coming along on a racer, me and Neil would get our asses handed to us on a plate. This could not happen. He was younger but hadn't been putting any miles in. I didn't want to be beaten by a machine. The conversation took less than a minute before we both decided to buy racers on our respective Cycle to Work schemes. He phoned me later in the day to inform me that his work didn't do a scheme. I was sympathetic, listening with one ear whilst scribbling down makes and models of bikes. My work did a scheme and the process takes approximately a month. This didn't figure into my equation. It was late May and I wanted the bike for at least a couple of months before the big ride in order to get used to it.

I soon learned that there was a lot of “stuff” to consider when buying a bike. I wanted to know what frame size I would need and a myriad of other burning questions. I hopped onto Skype and buzzed Koogar. Koog is the fourth participant of our bi-annual geekends (as my Sergeant calls them when I book the time off work to link up computers and play games). He lives in Yorkshire on the side of a vertical hill. He has mentioned that in the past, before Quake and Counterstrike and World of Warcraft, that he used to cycle. The image of Koog cycling is not hard to conjure. He is six foot five inches tall and stick thin. He looks like a cyclist. But having spent entire geekends in his smoky company on dozens of occasions, I was curious how he would transport the iron-lung which he would need to tow for any bike ride.

Koog sparked up a fag to consider my questions whilst putting the other one out. After about an hour, following the various hyperlinks he spammed at me, I started to whittle away my choice of bikes. The 2009 series of Trek bikes were my focal point, mainly due to their attractive looks. Initially I scoured the net for reviews on the 1.2 which is the entry level racing bike. But as my enthusiasm grew, so did my proposed budget. I went to my local bike shop, which I had discovered from the internet was my “LBS” and took the 1.2 out for a ride. The frame was 60cm and I spun it around the block. This wasn't particularly fruitful as the ride was over before it had begun, but it did make me realise that my MTB was far too small for my height.

I decided to order the Trek 1.7. It is a beautiful looking bike and has a Shimano 105 groupset, carbon front forks and a carbon seatpost. I also ordered pedals with MTB cleats because I actually own a pair of cycling shoes which I had used as trainers for three years (I didn't even realise when I bought them that they could be fitted with cleats). I now know why they weren't the most comfortable pair of trainers in the world. The order went in and I waited.

Three days later the Birmingham bike shop that was able to supply me with a Trek 1.7 phoned me up. The bike was in store and ready for collection. This presented me with a problem as the voucher wouldn't be ready for another two weeks or so. And so I took the train to Birmingham and purchased the bike on my credit card, assured that when the voucher arrived the store would refund my credit card. I had pre-arranged with the shop to fit Continental tyres onto the bike which were made to withstand punctures. Arriving at the shop I was taken to the bike. Trying to look as calm as possible I beheld the splendour of my Trek 1.7c (c = compact front chainring = double chainring with a slightly better ratio for hills than the normal double).

The bike was fitted with the sinister black Continentals and the black/grey Bontrager tyres were squeezed into my rucksack. The shop assistant was kind enough to fit cleats onto my old cycle trainers and we then took the bike outside to see if I could actually pedal it.

My plan was bold. The shop is situated in the centre of Birmingham approximately forty miles from my home. I intended to ride it back home using cleats for the first time, without a map or any other navigational tool. The shop assistant didn't appear impressed, but I guess he rides into the shop every day. After the brief but successful trip around the block, I bade him farewell and pedalled away from the city centre following his sketchy directions. The shiny new bike sliced along the tarmac like a razor. Compared to my MTB the sensation of speed and agility were palpable. The bike responded instantly to even the smallest movement and the frame size allowed me to grip the top of the levers without any discomfort to my back.

Having learnt through experience and observation to be aggressive with my signalling and positioning on the road, the trip home went well. Once again, I returned just in time for the school run and walked the bike into the playground, tapping my cleats gingerly over the floor.

The kids were suitably impressed by the shiny new red and white racer and they fussed over it as we walked the ¾ mile trip home. The noise of the cleats tapping on the pavement alerted one of three dawdling schoolboys as we approached from behind. The boy turned around to see who was approaching and I saw him do a double-take at the racer. He then said to his two friends, “Look out, you're about to get run over, by a ...” He paused to find the right descriptive term. “A really thin bike.”

What followed was three weeks of serious cycling. After buying a track pump I discovered that my first journey had been on tyres inflated to 60psi. I pumped them up to 120psi and soon discovered that they need pumping every few days. On the amount of miles I was doing a week, the tyres were bleeding approximately 10psi every week. This prompted a quick trip to my LBS to check if I had slow punctures but was reassured that it was perfectly natural. I spent a further £100 on essential accessories.

My best purchases so far are a funky “One Less Car” long sleeved cycle top, a couple of CO2 cylinders and a valve. The CO2 and valve squeezes into my tiny saddle bag and will theoretically pump up a racer tyre without any problem. The saddle bag also contains an inner tube, tyre irons and a very gucci multi-tool.

Neil had created a Cycle to Work scheme at his place of work in order to get his bike ordered. He had also chosen a Trek but was going for the 1.5. However, as he discovered it would be inferior to mine, he ordered a 1.7. Following my lead he also purchased it on the day of its arrival using his credit card. We have both since been reimbursed on our cards and experienced no problems.

Preparations for the hundred mile cycle were well under way. Neil started cycling to work most days, clocking up between 160 and 200 miles cycling a week. I supplemented my paltry twelve miles commute with heftier rides. A thirty mile spin was now a relaxing jaunt. More challenging rides were fifty, sixty and seventy five miles long. Having not put any recovery time since starting cycling on the first of May, my quads alternated between feeling slightly bruised or painfully shredded. However, I was keeping pace with Neils daily commute. Rob on the other hand, living in London, was finding “leisure” rides a pain in the ass. He bought himself a MTB and commuted five miles to work on it, fearing his racer would be stolen.

By mid-July Koog started building himself a bike from scratch and I raced Neil over a five mile stretch. Koogs bike started taking shape quite quickly and it was soon clear that it would exceed ours for features. His shrewd Ebay purchases also meant he was getting the bike at a similar price to our tax free schemes.

Towards the end of June I reached fifteen stone. The veins in my forearms were visible for the first time ... ever. My quads were beginning to look supercharged. My man-boobs were melted away and my love handles had fallen off. I wasn't looking twenty again, but I was certainly looking good for my age. Around this time, one night after a long ride, my son flopped onto the sofa beside me and lay his head against my chest. There was an audible knock of bone on bone. He sat up and prodded my ribs before saying “You were much more comfortable when you were podgy.” I took it as a compliment.

Besides looking healthier, I also felt better. The dieting had stopped towards the end of May as I found out that I could eat anything without worrying about gaining weight. My local curry house were much relieved to receive me back into their customer base. I could also drink anything, so the alcohol intake started to climb again. I started taking vitamins in the morning and protein shakes before rides. My aim was to narrow the gap between Neil and myself, to give him a run for his money on the big day. We had discussed the ride on numerous occasions and had agreed that it wouldn't be one big race. However, having been glued to the Tour De France this year, we were going to have a king of the hill competition and a sprint to the finish. The hill in question would be Edge Hill. Any cyclist in Warwickshire will concur that this is a slope worthy of respect. The sprint finish would be on the same slope Neil had destroyed me on earlier in the month.

I managed to go out for a cycle with a guy from work, Colin. Initially I was reluctant to follow his route as I doubted it could match mine for variety or vista. After forty miles through new countryside I was revitalised. It made me realise how entrenched I had become with my thirty mile spins around Stratford. Colins route also included two steep descents where for the first time on a bike I travelled in excess of forty miles an hour. After a rather rapid run through beautiful countryside I asked him if he usually cycled at such speeds. He conceded that some of the ride had been a bit slower than what he was used to. I invited him on the hundred mile trip in August thinking he would easily be able to keep up with the pace.

Less than a week away from the big ride, I went out at six thirty in the morning, spinning variations off my new route. Speeding round a bend in the road I came across a car and a van stationary in the middle of the road. In between the two vehicles, lying in a twisted mess on the floor was a deer. The occupants of the white van, two hefty builders, were out of their van standing over the creature looking bewildered. The two vehicles had come across the deer only moments after it had been struck by an unknown car. Neither of the parked vehicles was damaged in any way and the young woman in the car soon drove off obviously relieved an idiot had taken control. The deers head was lolling as it tried to raise itself up from the road like an animatronic facsimile of itself. None of its legs seemed to move intentionally, they just twitched. Blood was oozing from under its misshapen body. I asked the two builders for a hammer and decided to drag the deer to the verge before we were all converted into roadkill. I Inadvertently covering my gloves in deer blood as I took hold of the head and the body and pulled it across the tarmac onto the grass. One of the builders came back from the van with a normal shaped hammer and asked me if I wanted a bigger one. I realised at this point that my enthusiastic intervention had been ill-advised. I had no idea how to kill a creature any bigger than a moth and no longer relished the prospect of learning. The deer was obviously dying and needed to be put out of its misery. Because of my alert state, I also had two sleepy builders looking to me for guidance. I thought about asking them for a blow-torch and a pair of pliers, bizarrely referencing a distant film in my head.

Instead of opting for the bigger hammer, I walked back to the deer, hammer in hand, and started practising the motion of crushing a section of its skull that looked the thinnest. Whilst doing this I realised that a successful execution would require breaking through the skull and mashing the brains. This would involve a lot of force and would be incredibly messy. I started to feel out of my depth.

And so, instead of brutally caving in the skull of the dying animal, pathetically, I donked it on the head with enough force to give it a headache. Ignoring the irony of my actions, I then turned to the builders and explained with some authority that the legs were now twitching because the nerves were sending messages after death. I washed the blood off my hands and gloves with some of their drinking water and rode off feeling like I had been tested by Nature and found to be lacking.

When I got home and explained to my wife what had happened she informed me that I should have cut its throat with a blade as she had seen it done. I was also advised by another friend to cut through its spinal cord. This sounds more surgical than the throat cutting which wouldn't work for me. Koog suggested I sharpen my seat-post at the base so that I will always be prepared. Answers on a postcard please.

With the big ride days away, I tried to rest my body. Earlier in the week I had been to Tenby with my wife and kids. This was bike-free and so my legs were mending. The Saturday before the Tuesday ride I vowed only to ride to work and back, but ended up taking an hour long detour. My legs felt great so I rested on the Sunday in order to keep them in good condition.

On Monday night Rob came up from London with his bike in the back of the car. Because the weather was undecided we elected to coat the chains in the morning with the most wet lube. We then had a barbeque and proceeded to get drunk. We probably consumed over 3000 calories each that night, which I haven’t seen recommended anywhere, but it’s what we always do when we meet up.

On Tuesday morning, I awoke to the sound of rain on the window. Depressingly the skies were an ugly grey colour in every direction. Our plan for a sunny August ride was washed out. Nevertheless, annual leave and petrol money don't grow on trees so we got our bike kit on and Rob literally drowned the chainsets with wet lube (which I believe flies in the face of the convention of "dabbing" it on, but I still maintain it protected the chain well). My wife made us a large fried breakfast which I ate regardless of feeling full.

Once Neil had arrived and got his gear on we set off for a five mile jaunt to pick up Colin, making Warwick town centre our joint starting point. Neils pace was worryingly quick. After meeting up we set off on the big ride at 1003hours. For the first hour the rain slackened and wasn’t soaking through our clothing. Rob, Neil and myself jostled positions pushing the pace a little, testing one another. Colin on the other hand stayed out of the preliminary hastiness, going slow and steady. With myself and Neil spinning up the speed and Colin maintaining a steady sixteen miles an hour we soon found the need to slow down and wait. Rob tended to shuttle between the front and back of the invisible bungee cord attaching the four of us whilst myself and Neil pushed each other at the front.

The weeks of hard practice had paid off; my legs felt superb and as we approached the first real hill of the day I decided to push it to the top. Not really caring about beating anyone, I hit the easier lower slope at pace, pushing away from Rob and Neil and testing my body against the hill.

My legs held very well as the gradient increased and the bike felt smooth and solid underneath me. Standing off the seat I really started to force it up the steeper section, a ¾ kilometre slog. Looking over my shoulder I was vaguely annoyed to see Neil hadn't taken up the challenge and was cruising steadily up the hill with Rob. Arriving at the top I had time to assess my chances on Edge Hill, about 10 miles away. For the first time since I started riding the racer I had a ray of hope that I would be able to totally ass-whip Neil on a hill climb. We're not competitive … we just don't like being beaten by one-another.

Three or four minutes later Neil and Rob crested the hill. Another few minutes after that Colin arrived. After a brief break I decided to formally throw down the gauntlet and told Neil that he was going to be crucified on Edge Hill and that it was officially a race between me and him. Neil didn't argue, he was feeling as fit as I was. Considering the difference in weight (I am at least two stone portlier) I didn't deserve to feel as cocky as I did.

The battle of Edge Hill in 1642 was the first pitched battle of the first English Civil War. The fighting actually took place between Edge Hill and Kineton. Edge Hill is the backdrop to a milestone in local history and is visible for a mile or two as you approach from Kineton. The relatively flat Warwickshire countryside hiccups beneath thick woodland and the challenge is born. It has two steep approaches and one shallow. We were going for the 14% incline which I have only done once before. The hill is long enough to require sustained effort and steep enough to punish the smallest errors of judgement.

As the hill started to develop beneath us Rob said “Good Luck” and left us to it. For the first time on the ride, about twenty miles in, Neil and myself started putting some serious effort in. Having watched Bradley Wiggins going up Mont Ventoux this year I was filled with ideas above my station. Neil wasn't making the climb easy, pulling on his bars using his upper body to increase his lower body strength. The pace refused to slacken below 7mph and before I knew it, the point arrived where Neil was beginning to nose in front, as I suspected he would. As the hill became sheltered in trees and the rain started to drip through in big drops, I got out of the saddle and pushed the bike more than ever before.

Neil upset me by keeping pace, wheel for wheel. This continued for about a hundred metres. I was back in the saddle after gaining some precious speed. Having watched endless late-night You-tube footage of the infamous Armstrong, I knew how impressive it is to see someone get out the saddle repeatedly, pushing the pace more and more. Psychologically this approach to hill climbing is very powerful. My version of this aggressive style of climb lacked any pace, but the theory remained in tact. I was hoping to show Neil I had plenty of energy left and make him feel his own reserves drip away onto the tarmac. I got out of the saddle again with relative ease and increased the pace by less than one mile an hour. Hardly Contador I know. However, for the first time on the climb, my wheel started nudging ahead. Neil slackened off the pace a few moments later and quickly dropped behind by twenty metres. I kept checking behind and he didn't disappoint. With the top in sight he turned on the afterburner and picked the pace up to 8mph. I could feel the twenty metres being eaten away. My legs still had enough to keep him away and they responded, albeit like lead ingots. I could feel my power being used up like an arcade-machine power bar, but knew the bar would top back up nicely when the hill was over. We stayed at twenty metres apart until I hit the junction at the top of the hill. Wearily we congratulated one another and waited a rather long time for Rob and Colin to come into sight.

The ride then settled into five mile hikes before our group reformed in the rain, usually at the top of a hill. We decided to head for Hook Norton (because we’ve all tasted the beer) and angled off in that general direction (we didn't plan a detailed route, in fact we didn't plan any route beyond Edge Hill). We meandered steadily along country lanes rarely needing to use any major roads. The drizzle persisted and by the time we approached Hook Norton, it was beginning to pour down. My new shoes were drenched and my beautiful red and white Trek was covered in mud and crap. Under all this the mechanism itself was purring along nicely with a greasy metallic fluidity.

The one-stop shop at Hook Norton was then subjected to thirsty and hungry cyclists attempting to buy the most nutritious fodder to replenish their energy. I bought a pack of Banbury cakes that I didn't actually open, just ended up carrying in my back pocket for fifty miles. I also bought two cans of Red Bull that I put in my sons water bottle. The bottle has a built in straw. I discovered twenty miles later that all the Red Bull had fizzed up the straw and out of the bottle leaving me with an empty bottle. I bought a banana, which as most cyclists will attest, did what it doesn't say on the wrapper and filled me up nicely. I also bought a couple of cold sausage rolls and yoghurt bars which went down very well with the rain. All told, there is definitely room for improvement on my next culinary roadside feast.

We were approximately four hours into the ride and the mood was damp but buoyant. We were miles from home without any chance of quitting and even though there were frustrations, we were all glad to stop for food and a rest. We were half-way through the journey and although our time sucked, we felt we had broken the back of the cycling.

My brother, whilst unused to cycling, was doing a sound job of keeping up with Neil and myself on the flats, it was just the hills where his speed would drain away. Neil was frustrated because of having to stop every few miles and Colin wasn't having the best of days because he was aware that he was slowing the group. Later in the day he stated that he simply couldn't get his legs to go faster than sixteen miles an hour on the flats. I remember riding with him the month previously and he was a lot quicker, so I'm guessing he overworked himself prior to the big day.

The rest of the road trip passed by in a steady procession of junctions and hilltop stops. Our return journey took us through Banbury and onto the top of Edge Hill for the run back into Kineton and Leamington. It was at this point that Rob decided to make his mark on the day. Being competitive and familiar with bettering me and Neil at everything physical, he chose the steepest downhill of the day and turned up the wattage. Now at this point in the ride I was with Colin at the back. I saw Rob and Neil start their descent about fifty metres ahead of me. I then waited a few moments for Colin and we freewheeled down the wet road with a hairpin bend halfway down.

I applied the brakes for most of the trip because I like breathing and life in general. Even so, I went fast and felt like an idiot for pushing it regardless of the slippery surface. When I got to the bottom of the hill and the road straightened up ahead of me I could see Neil about half a mile ahead. I was instantly concerned that Rob had ruined the ride by killing himself. Rob wasn't visible on any of the road as it snaked to the horizon and Neil had descended with him. I shouted at Neil but he couldn't hear me. It took me a few minutes before I was close enough for him to hear me. He slowed down and I asked him where Rob was. He pointed ahead. I was relieved but gobsmacked. The idiot had pushed it down Edge Hill as hard as he could in the wet. Until this morning he had never even seen the hill before. The lack of a Rob-shaped-hole in the hedgerow and any cows standing behind the hedgerows is a triumph of bravado over reason.

When we finally caught up with him he showed us his new top speed ... 46.4mph. Two mph faster than my fastest. I'm guessing his normal chainring as opposed to our compacts had helped achieve this top speed, but I grudgingly admit they had also impaired him up the hills. So Rob took the top speed of the day, which left only the final race to the finish.

As we approached the homesteads, Colin started to up his pace minutely. This was a great boost for the group as we could spin up to more enjoyable speeds for longer. But tiredness was setting in. As we reached a junction near to Leamington, Colin struggled to get out of his cleat and fell to the road. He recovered before injuring himself, but the right lever was damaged. The casing was cracked beyond repair and the lever hanging askew. Whilst still functional he replaced it later in the month to the staggering cost of £150. The fall triggered a wave of tiredness from us all and the end of the ride became more desirable than ever.

Aches and pains had been relatively small considering. I had handed out moderate doses of Ibuprofen to those who needed it at the halfway mark, and necked some myself. The final few miles ended up taking us through Leamington and Warwick in the rain, in heavy traffic. After a day of quiet country roads I actually enjoyed the challenge, but feelings were mixed. We wove through to Warwick town centre and the 100 mile ride ended. The group separated, Colin wove his weary way home and the three of us struck out for Kenilworth. There had been talk at the beginning of the day that we would race the final stretch, but I wasn’t going to pursue this due to tiredness.

We arrowed through Warwick, past the Saxon Mill pub and into Leek Wooton, a leafy village a mile from Kenilworth. As the slope into Leek Wooton started hitting the quads, Neil pulled alongside me and said, “Come on then.” Indicating his wish for retribution. I asked him if Rob was near, to which he replied, “Rob said to race ahead. He said his legs haven’t got anything else left for racing.” And so I accepted the return gauntlet and shot off up the hill into Kenilworth. My plan was to break him as soon as possible, gain sufficient distance and hold it for the remaining couple of miles. I stepped up the cadence, feeling the lactic acid burn in my legs.

Gaining the crest I turned my aching body to look behind me and actually shouted at Neil in annoyance. He was sitting on my back wheel casually slipstreaming me up the hill. I dropped the pace back a bit hoping for him to overtake, but with such a relatively small distance remaining he was happy to sit in my sizeable shadow. As we approached the Jet garage roundabout, traffic forced me to stop. Neil found a safe gap to take the road ahead and accelerated away. It wasn’t enough for him to pull away from me, so he inadvertently ended up towing me for the final mile.

The finishing stretch of road where the duel would take place was the same long stretching incline I had ridden against Neil and lost some weeks previously. The slope is shallow but taxing and gets steeper towards the top. We decided to approach the hill side by side and then the race turned into a gunfight at the ok corral. We both knew how much energy we had in reserve, but didn’t want to use it too early in case the other had more. We also knew without speaking that the race would start and end with a bursting sprint up the hill; there would be no second stage, or pause for breath. It was simply a case of waiting for one of us to start the sprint.

I got lucky. I dropped down three gears in less than a second and as soon as the clunking sound stopped I was out of the saddle and sprinting. Neil responded instantly but I get the impression he stayed in the same gear. Now a lot is said about cadence versus pounding the harder gears. And I found a new level of cadence in that sprint. If we were fitter then Neil would have taken the slope, but my weak legs were able to spin up the hill with a much faster burst of acceleration due to the easier gear. The explosive start killed Neil. He lagged behind and stayed that way to the top of the hill.

We coasted down the hill to my house and unclipped. My kids were delirious with excitement about how well Uncle Rob had done, being a firm favourite. I informed them that he had taken the fastest downhill speed and they immediately hailed him as the overall winner. Rob pulled up minutes later and was showered with compliments and praise.

And that’s how the ride ended. After another 30 mile ride out through the countryside the next day, I went on holiday to Cornwall with the family and without the bike. Whilst drinking in a pub in beautiful Cadgwith Cove we were joined at our table by a nice couple, Dom and Becky. After a couple of minutes of polite conversation Dom mentioned his “bikes” in conversation. Ten minutes later he was telling me how to apply Vaseline to the seat grips under my saddle, such is the intimate nature of my new addiction.

And so I turn a full circle, from geeky computer gamer to geeky cyclist. I know that a paradigm shift has altered my lifestyle. Also, as a result, my nine year old son is desperate to cycle more (we’re getting him a kids racer for Xmas), and surprisingly, my wife has announced that she will be getting herself a decent racer on the Cycle to Work scheme. She wants to wear short red lycra hot-pants, which is very good news. I’ve decided I will practice my slipstreaming with her when she starts.

Next year we travel to France on the bikes. Theoretically it will be Richenda, Neil, Rob, Koog, and myself. My kids will travel in my in-laws camper van, and my son will be deployed towards the end of rides. My father-in-law retires next year and they have promised to be our support vehicle for France! We are aiming for Mont Ventoux.

Rob plans on losing about 19 pounds in weight. He weighed his bike and found it weighed 19 pounds. His plan is to ride a bike which essentially weighs nothing. Neil texted me whilst I was on holiday to say that he had ridden 200 miles in a week. Koog has finished his bike and is now contemplating fitting an ashtray to the handlebars.

I have come back from Cornwall feeling desperate for a ride (so to speak). I did 86 miles on my first day back. We had no food in the house and I went out with 2 bottles of water and a packet of glucose tablets. I bonked at about 65miles and now I can barely walk. I was curious what happens when one “bonks”, now I know. My ass hurts, my feet feel like they’ve been compressed onto hot coals and my back aches. My quads are ripped and super-achey. The feeling is superb. I am still 15 stone and plan on giving up alcohol and smoking in order to put all my addictions in one basket. Next come charity rides and a Sportive. However, until then I’ve got another stone or two to lose. Fortunately, I know I won’t have to try hard to lose it.


  1. Cycling was how I lost some weight too - I started by commuting, the same as you did, except a little differently. I live about 30 miles from work, and there was no way I could start off from nothing riding 30 miles. So I got a folding bike and put it in my trunk. And the first day, I think I drove 29 miles, parked a mile away from the office and rode in. Instead of trying to beat my time, I gradually increased the distance every couple of weeks until I was riding just over an hour each way. It's been a great way for me to stick to an exercise regimen.

  2. Great read and congrats on the weight loss!

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