Paul Strickland

Paul Strickland

Springtime

It seems that spring is finally upon us. It was a long winter, but now that it seems to be over I feel a renewed sense of enthusiasm. Along with the end of winter my health seems to be getting back to what it was, and I am keen to get my fitness back up to a reasonable level.

On the road again

Yesterday I took my bike outside for the first time in almost eight months. The last time I rode outside was 4 September 2012. I rode to work, broke a personal record on one segment of the route and got good times for the others. By the end of that day I was in hospital, coming out two weeks later and 10 kg lighter.

Since that eventful September I have been slowly recovering, and from the beginning of this year I’ve been to the gym a bit, and also rode for a few hours on my turbo trainer. Although it was better than nothing, my progress was hindered by having to adjust my diet. Firstly I thought I needed a low/no fibre diet, and when that didn’t work I tried to reduce the amount of lactose I consume. Over the past few weeks, it finally seems that I have a diet that works. With that sorted I felt like I had sufficient energy to think about cycling again.

The weather promised to be good for cycling — dry and not much wind — and I was prepared to give it a go. I had an additional motivation to do so: earlier in the week I ordered a rack and set of rear panniers, all aimed at making commuting more practical. So a bike ride was needed as a “shakedown” of the new installation.

How it felt

I was genuinely excited to get out and ride. I was also, however, a bit nervous as well, so I was bouncing around with nervous energy when I got up early on Saturday morning.

The first half hour of the ride felt like riding through a cloud — it was quite foggy and the sun hadn’t warmed up the air enough — but as I climbed the sky got clearer and the sun came out from hiding. That pretty much summed up my experience. It was a joy to be riding on the road again.

Of course, it wasn’t at all easy going. My legs were nowhere near as strong as they used to be, and my heart and lungs probably hadn’t worked that hard in the eight months since the last ride. My average heart rate from the ride told a similar tale: on a similar ride last summer my average heart rate was 148 BPM; yesterday it was 160. However, none of this came as much of a surprise. It just emphasised to me how much fitness I have lost.

I rode for 1 hour and 45 minutes, covering 40 km in that time. By the end of the ride I was glad to stop. I wasn’t completely exhausted, but I felt like it wouldn’t take much more to do that. Towards the end of the ride my legs could barely turn the pedals on some hills. It wasn’t that they felt too weak to do so, rather that there was no energy that they could use.

Panniers

The ride was also a test of my panniers. Previously I have always taken a backpack with me, squeezing in everything I need to take to work for the day. I had always planned to fit a rack and panniers, and now I’ve finally done it.

I chose a Tubus Fly rack and fitted it with a pair of Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic panniers. I was a bit concerned about fitting the rack along with the rear mudguard, mainly due to the geometry of the Kaffenback frame, but it all turned out quite well. I may write a later article with some pictures of the installation.

Riding without a backpack was a strange feeling at first — I’ve been so used to having something there that it was almost like forgetting to put on my helmet. After a while I was used to it though, and quite impressed. The rack remained attached to the bike despite it being shaken around on some poor road surfaces. I was also pleased to note that there was virtually no interference between the panniers and my feet.

The panniers themselves are impressive. The build quality is good and the fittings are easily adjustable with a 3 mm allen key. Once adjusted correctly the bags sit solidly on the rack with no movement. At the same time, to remove the panniers you simply have to lift the carrying strap and the fittings unlock from the rack.

Next step

My aim is to commute by bike at least once by the end of April. That shouldn’t be too much of a strain for me, and hopefully I will quickly get back into the habit.

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