Shortly after joining the Falmouth Wheelers in 2009 I read an article in a magazine – it could have been Cycling Weekly or perhaps Cycling Plus – it said it would take five years for a runner to become a cyclist. As a long distance runner I felt the article slightly exaggerated the differences between the two sports, but now, nearly five years on, I’m not so sure.
Over the last five years I have built, bought and borrowed bikes of every description – road bikes in steel, aluminium and carbon – mountain bikes both “old school” and lightweight aluminium and fold up bikes for when, if ever, we get our bus passes! I have got to grips with most aspects of bike mechanics, and with the help and advice ( and sometimes borrowed tools ) of our LBS, I have built wheels and replaced bearings. I think I now know all I need to about how to get the best out of my bikes – the question is, have I got the best out of me?
We know that with training the human body can achieve amazing things – just look at the astonishing athletic feats in track and field and the strength and incredible control of dancers and gymnasts. Combine this ( human ) “machine”, along with its “engine”, with another machine, the bicycle, and we have the making of something really quite special. I’ve called this blog “Legs, Lungs and Lycra”. Legs being the machine, lungs the engine and lycra, the fancy clothing, the treasured bike and all the other parephenalia that we would believe makes us better cyclists.
Early developments of the bicycle saw a world of opportunity open up for many working men the world over, who could now begin to set their sights on more distant horizons. Men who had previously found work only locally could look further afield – and who could do their courting in distant towns and villages ! As many of us found this summer, with a little training and forward planning, it is possible to cycle the length ( and breadth ) of the country on the humble push bike.
Yet, in all the years of research and development in the bicycle and the use of hi tech materials and technology, nothing very much has changed. Compare the average speed of the ( longer ) Tour de France in 1953, the year I was born, with the speed of the drug fuelled peloton of the early 2000’s and you will see that it has only altered by a few miles per hour. And much of the improvement in cycling occurred as a result of a better understanding of nutrition and training techniques – and of course the widespread use of EPO! Surely a nicely made frame and a good set of wheels is all we should really need – at least to begin with. As bike shop owner John O’Keefe, supplier of Sean Kelly’s very first bike, said of a particularly stunning set of Mavic wheels – “ Sure, you could hang these wheels on a gate and it would fly!”
And yet, pretty much all the current cycle magazines are full of articles about weight saving this and that and different performance related devices, which, for a professional cyclist at the top of his game, might mean the difference between winning or losing, but for the rest of us it is about as relevant as the colour of frame we choose. Bike manufacturers openly admit that the obsession with weight is driven by the market and ultra lightweight bikes are made only because we ask for them.
So, how long does it take for our bodies to combine seamlessly with the bicycle to become one?…………………………………..
“The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles…when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones.”
― Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman