The older I get the more confused I become.
When I started cycling, training seemed so simple. All you had to do was get in as many miles in your legs as you could before the season started in the second week of February with the Kettering Friendly Hilly (which used to do a loop through Thrapston and down to Higham Ferrars … later moved to the Grafton Underwood circuit … now gone altogether!) and Bob was your Uncle.
School, and then work, always meant that any training was done out on the road and most often in the dark. I eventually
got myself a set of rollers but training on them simply wasn’t hard enough as rollers in them days didn’t have any
resistance to them and taught me more about the principle findings of Mr Van de Graff’s time spent in the laboratory
than anything remotely to do with getting fit on a bicycle. A set of batteries for your lights would last 3 or 4 hours if you
were lucky and you only knew those in your back light had run out when motorists started beeping their horns at you.
Batteries never used to stay put in the front light long enough to run out. Go over a bump in the road and the lamp would
bounce off its mounting. If it wasn’t the complete lamp it would be its top … swiftly followed by the batteries … and more
often than not by the bulbs too. To be honest, Ever Ready lights sucked! The solution to the problem was the Sturmey
Archer hub dynamo which, when wired up with the correct bulbs, would give you a flicker of light … both front and back
so at least you could (almost) be seen. If you wanted to actually see where you were going though … well that was
another matter altogether. But we got by.
Things improved one winter when my mate ‘Ticker’ Mullins (a miner by
trade at the time) gave me a set of miner’s lights to try. These were
rechargeable (although no where near as technical as today’s offerings
it must be said), but required topping up with distilled water every now
and then. I must admit I wasn’t regimented enough to check the level
frequently enough to make them last more than one winter. So after having tried something ‘new’ (like Ticker’s lights),
I’d inevitably find myself dragging out and dusting off the old tried and tested Sturmey Archer dyno-hub year after year …
after year. Mine saw some use I can tell you.
Throughout most of my cycling ‘career’, the majority of my training was done to and from work (at least 18 miles each
way to begin with … then they moved the office and it went up to 21 … buggers!). Like many other cycling commuters, I
used to leave home in the dark and get home in the dark. A lot of the time I also used to arrive at work in the dark and
leave work in the dark too. Winters seemed to go on forever. Some mornings I never realised just how lethal the roads
had been until it got light and I could see just how icy they were.
One winter we got ‘let loose’ early because of snow. Of course I didn’t think it was too bad so when one of my work
colleagues offered me a lift home I declined the invitation and set to on my bike. It was bad … very bad. The snow was
falling on ice and after a mile or so I found myself having to ‘scoot’ along as it was too dangerous to try to ride. The A10 and A428 were jam-packed solid with cars covered in snow crawling along at a little more than pedestrian pace at the best. After 7 or 8 miles (an hour or so plus) I stopped at a phone box (as we had no luxuries like mobile phones in those days) to ring Jayne (my Mrs) to ask if she could come to get me. Rather than stay put and just wait, I decided to carry on ‘scooting’ up the hill through Dry Drayton to the roundabout at the top where there were queues of traffic coming from all directions. As I filtered on to the roundabout, who should be in the very first car allowing me in but the guy who’d offered me the lift home! He wound his window down and as cool as a cucumber asked “You sure you don’t want a lift Ian?” I declined his kind offer for the second time that day … it was either that or incur the wrath of Mrs Cammish who must, by now, have almost got to the same point I had! (She hadn’t … it took almost 3 hours to get home all in all!).
We did many similarly stupid things in our youth but that was the only way we thought there was to get fit.
Slowly but surely things improved.
Not only has bicycle lighting got better but the winters have (supposedly) got warmer due to global warming (maybe?). I’m not actually sure whether or not that’s the case or if they just don’t feel quite as cold due to the highly technical clothing that’s available these days but … it always seemed colder in the olden days didn’t it? We’ve also seen the introduction of turbo trainers and one of my old team-mates, Pete Wells, must have been one of the first to get one. I turned up at his place in Arlesey one winter’s morning for one of our training (pronounced 'racing') rides and he was already warming up in the garage on his new toy. Pete was never usually one for warm ups but still always gave me a right pasting … so this didn’t look good from my viewpoint. It wasn’t. I got one … ie another pasting … and a turbo in the next post to boot!
I’ve had a few turbos over the years but one of the best was the Kurt Kinetic I had when I first joined
Planet Playtex. At the time you could get a Kurt power meter to go with it. Of course I had to have one of
them too. As there aren’t any variables on the turbo (ie no hills, no wind), I soon realised the power gizmo
was a little more than useless … ON THE TURBO at least. At the end of the day, I found if I could
maintain a constant speed of, say 23 mph (that’s good for the Kurt) which was the equivalent, say, of
putting out a constant 400 watts I might as well be watching the speed as the watts … so what was the
point of having the watts? The bottom line as far as I was concerned was not how many watts I’d been
putting out but how fast I’d covered a set distance (more often than not … 10 miles). Any improvements
were easy enough to see without the use of a power-meter.
In his book, Obree recommends training at a constant speed for the majority of a session only lifting
it in the last (short) period. You can do that one of two ways: ride at a constant wattage for the majority
of the ride only raising the wattage towards the end … or do the same using speed. Since the end-result
will be the same, I’m not entirely convinced as to any benefits there may be in having a power meter for
use on the turbo. OK I can see the merits on the road if they’re used correctly but I often wonder if a lot
of people using them know what they’re doing. I’ve been out training with a few and I’m really not sure
I’m pleased to see that I’m not alone in my thinking. I saw THIS some time a go on the TT Forum …
Definitely worth a read I reckon.
Having said all that, these days training can be a lot more structured and it would appear that if you do
the correct planning and stick to it you can’t go wrong. There are MAP tests, % of FTPs, TSSs and L1s,
L2s and L3s to undertake. Armed with a power meter and someone who knows how to use the data you’re
going to get from it, I’m sure they are a very useful tool. Other than that … an expensive toy … in my
opinion anyway. I mean, why do you see so many for sale in the classified ads?
When I was with Planet Playtex I was given an Ergomo power meter to try out (quite spoiled wasn't I?). I
only had it for a few months and gave it back because I couldn't get on with it. I couldn't believe how hard
I had to go to maintain the power with a tailwind or going downhill. I also couldn't believe how much I had
to back off at the start of a race and going uphill (which was never one of my strong points anyway ... so
backing off just wasn't an option as far as I was concerned). To tell the truth, most of the figures just gave
me a headache and it was all just 'information overload' as far as I was concerned. If I REALLY wanted to
'smooth out' a ride I always found riding 'fixed' was a better way ... for me anyway. With a fairly big fixed
gear I was always scared to overcook it at the start of an event or going up drags otherwise the gear would
come back at me with a vengeance. I'm pretty sure I was able to maintain a more constant effort on 'fixed'
as a result of that than I ever was with the Ergomo. But maybe I wan't using it properly? At least I
got power meters out of my system though ... if I hadn't I might have be tempted, or at least lured into
believing they're a quick fix solution to going fast which I don't necessarily think is the case. At the end of
the day (as I found out when I had one) you've still got to put in the hard graft.
One thing’s for sure. I’m pleased I started cycling and achieved what I did when I did because I don’t think
I’ve ever been either clever or wealthy enough to take advantage of everything that is available in today’s
world. It all seems extremely technical and expensive, and whether or not I’d be willing to commit to it
all if I was starting all over again … well I’m not sure I would!
I’m afraid it all leaves me very confused.
Not the world's most reliable lighting system ... in fact it sucked!
100% reliable ... virtually indestructible ...the tried and tested Stumer Archer dyno-hub
The Ergomo ... information overload
The Kurt Kinetic instrument of torture
This isn't really me ... just in case you wondered