A Winter's Tale

Phil re-energises the indoor / outdoor debate - which is best?

Posted by Philip Cavell

Badger1 2

That's pretty much how I remember it - Guy second in line (behind The Badger)

"We are a complex mess of life’s obligations, motivations, hangovers, avocados, cheesecake, poor-sleep patterning and unspecified broad-spectrum stress"

A Winter’s Tale

On Any Sunday

A 'back in the day' winter-ride thirty years ago for me and Jules, would be 60-80 miles with CC Finsbury Park. It was led by local legends Ray and Sid (the latter would often sport a saddle-bag filled with bricks to enhance the training effect of The Chilterns). Ray was The Ride-Captain but it was Sid Lovatt (pictured below), the quietly spoken hardman of the road, who inspired us all to try and emulate his poise and authority on a bicycle. Me, Jules and Guy Andrews would tend to hang out nearer the back of the bunch with Jay Barbour, Mark Beisegal and Cathal Macilwaine.

Unwritten Rules of The Road

It was an unwritten rule that younger/newer riders rode nearer the back, with the disgraced riders who had turned up without mudguards (almost a capital offence). The older riders – Ray, Sid, Terry, Vince (I am not making those names up) would ride up the front full of old roadman stories about all the good times and great races they had all lived together. Most of the stories punch-lined with Sid heroically dragging victory from the jaws of defeat after 100 miles in the snow. And most of them were almost certainly true. Sid was, and probably still is, a phenomenal rider that epitomised the calm strength and heroic hardness of riders from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

4 uptt 2

Riding together all winter gave us the close-riding skills and trust for 4-Up TT's. From left - Phil, Darren, Mark, Guy

"In the same way that there is a question as to whether a falling tree makes a sound in the forest, if there is nobody around to hear it? Do humans manage to actually make power on a bicycle, if there is no means to measure it?"


Now and again there would be a virtually undetectable nod from one of the captains on the road and the game would indeed be on. Somewhere up ahead there would be a road-sign that carried unspecified local significance, that would bestow honour to anyone that could get to it first. The military order was temporarily suspended, and mayhem let loose, as all of us jammed 6/7sp down-tube shifters forward and stood on the pedals as hard as we could. Twenty five year old Reynolds 531C tubing would waft around for a while before reluctantly transmitting top-skimmed watts down the chainstays to buttery 36-hole Mavic MA2 rims and 21c winter tyres. Mark was the best of us in the early days but Jules was the better sprinter – even so Terry was a local sprinting god in his youth, would cannily wait for us all to blow our biscuits, before coming off our wheels at the last second. If it was an uphill finish, Sid would often clatter up the side of the road in his own furrow, bricks clanking together, rack creaking under the strain and steal the win from Terry. The blowing of cheeks and sucking of teeth all acknowledging what was generally known and being passed down to us – you just can’t hide pure class. At the cake-stop the old-guys would sit aside and de-construct Sid’s win like it was The Milk Race (I think he once won a stage).

Camp-Site Legs

The ride out to the tea-stop (aside from the sprint) was always conducted in precise order - the pace was very minutely controlled to the time of year (little-ring only before xmas), potholes and cars signalled back and instructions called as necessary. The route would be in Ray’s head and appropriate to the month (generally easy to xmas). On the way back us younger (yes it is true) riders would be expected to take a pull on the front – the pace was impossible to get right – too hard and one of the old-guard would yell an insult forward:“It’s bloody winter, not the Tour de bloody France!”
Too slow and one of them would come blustering past like a wounded rhino tsking and tutting with exasperation, to pick up the pace again – “We haven’t got all bloody day”! I loved the order and precision of it all. The rules, the tradition etc. - it was a pure cycling apprenticeship that you had to earn. Jules came from a pure mountain bike racing background and was often wrong-footed by the unwritten rules. Somehow it all appealed to my sense of humour and I loved the characters and banter. It was a fast-moving secret world that transacted its business around the Herts/Chiltern borders, long before most normal people were awake.

Outdoor Cycling. Wait, What?

Me and Jules don’t remember missing a Sunday in the winter specifically because of bad weather. And this was a time when cycling clothing and equipment was very traditional (read rubbish).
All of our bikes were old heavy clunkers, made from ancient lugged-steel and all were their third owner at least – some of them had three previous owners within that little bunch! We generally rode 20/21c tyres because we often didn’t have clearances for 23c tyres and mudguards, and anyway narrow tyres were more aerodynamic and efficient right?
Being a road-racer thirty years ago was to be part of a secret counter-culture – we didn’t use public roads as transport, we used them to train on in the winter and race on in the summer. The secrecy came from the post-war era when ‘massed-start’ racing was actually banned by the government, driving competition underground in the form of time-trials – the race of truth. Even though road racing was subsequently legalised, the coded language and rules survived and had to be learned by us apprentices. “I am riding a 25 on a 10-number, 06:10 on F1B/25”. Translates as riding a 25-mile time-trial as a seeded rider (off on a 10 number) at ten minutes past six in the morning on F1B course in Tempsford.

Sid lovatt2

Sid Lovatt from 1960's - A watt-factory, before we knew watts what

Amphi car

Amphocar from 1960's - inspiration for 2020 Open WI.DE. maybe?

"I didn’t daydream about sitting indoors on a smart trainer (oxymoron) with snot dribbling onto my preferred head-unit, with blood leeching between my teeth, trying to hold 300 watts"

Does a Ride Actually Exist These Days - if There is No Power-Meter to record It?

Thirty years ago the new technology that us younger riders were bringing to the bunch was: Avocet computers, heart-monitors and clipless pedals – often to the consternation and sheer bewilderment of the older riders. Most of us kept a simple training diary that logged: distance ridden, time-taken, who the ride was with and our perception of effort.

Jules and Guy were probably the most sensible and disciplined when it came to training matters; Mark was a superb natural athlete (soccer, tennis) and the strongest by far (but also the most likely to over-train or over think matters). I think it is fair to say that myself, Jay and Cathal had a more louche and variable attitude to structured training. We liked the spirit of adventure, long miles in the saddle and essence of cycling as a hidden counter-culture. We all loved the racing season - time-trials, road-racing, cyclo-cross, mountain-bike racing - somehow we managed to balance all the disciplines and sharing the machinery necessary to compete in all of them. It was accepted that we all spent every penny we earned on bikes, entry-fees and transport logistics.

Power On A Pedestal?

But still we had no idea about watts and power and no conception of measuring our actual output. How did we ever cope? In the same way that there is a question as to whether a falling tree makes a sound in the forest, if there is nobody around to hear it? Do humans manage to actually make power on a bicycle, if there is no means to measure it? I genuinely don’t believe that we trained less hard, or made less power or rode more slowly than we do today without cognisance of the magic metric. Just because Sid hadn't heard about watts, never mind measuring them, didn't stop him tapping into an FTP of 400 + when he needed to - for example winning The North Road Hardriders in 1964.

I am convinced we have elevated power to a pedestal that it ill-deserves. Most of the time we are reviewing the golden data after its actual production – what use is that? I wager that we could all get just as fit training with RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort) only, not even using heart-rate? I remember in the mid 1990’s when heart-rate was god, I decided to abandon both training and racing with the wretched bloody things. And literally nothing changed, either for the worse or better – I had good days and I had bad days on the bike – which sounds intuitively right to me. Sometimes I won, more often I lost. We are not binary electric motors who can always and endlessly access 300 watts at will. We are a complex mess of life’s obligations, motivations, hangovers, avocados, cheesecake, poor-sleep patterning and unspecified broad-spectrum stress. Go on measure that SRM! I don’t need to know. I am human, I struggle, sometimes shit works out okay. You can’t build an app around that can you? I should mention that I am the only one at Cyclefit who holds this controversial view. Both Jules and Barna are huge fans of power-meters and indoor cycling and consider me to be an anachronism.

The Ballet of The Bike

Strangely, when I couldn’t ride for seven years because of injury, I didn’t daydream about sitting indoors on a smart trainer (oxymoron) with snot dribbling onto my preferred head-unit, with blood leeching between my teeth, trying to hold 300 watts. No my dreams were all about the ballet of bike riding – the magic of a switch-back forest-trail or chasing a group of friends down the back of the Cormet de Roseland. The majesty of overcoming the undeniable fact that gravity seems to unfairly act more upon my bones than other peoples, and yet somehow I still manage to summit Col de la Cayolle with only one coffee stop. If I thought about power at all, it wasn’t in the abstract, or a reading on a screen - it was the satisfying delivery of bipedal extensors (gluts, quads calves) moving instant force along crank and chainstay onto a fine rubber contact patch - the feeling of power-transfer than the actual metric.

Domane 2020 ride1

2020 Domane. At least two bikes in one beautiful fuselage.

Open Wide 1

The original Swiss Army Bike. Road & mountain bike & everything in-between!

Winter Bikes v2.0 - The Redux

Much as I like the memory and nostalgia of riding a fourth-hand baggy Raleigh 531 on slim tyres on frosty lanes wearing a winter-top that might as well be made out of an old J-Cloth - it is not a vignette that I am in any practical sense ready to re-visit if I am brutally honest. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. I may not be on-board with spinning and turbo-trainers, sorry "Indoor Cycling" - a concept that makes about as much sense as outdoor snooker. But as a returning cyclist, I have been completely seduced by evolving bike-design.

Riding Reboot and Contemporary Bike Design

It is true - I am genuinely in awe of how bikes look and ride since my riding re-boot last year. I stopped riding when power-meters and Di2 were just about to go mainstream and I was in truth lukewarm to both propositions. Power I wasn't remotely interested in and electronic gears were a solution to which problem exactly? But now bike design has evolved into an elevated quest to balance aerodynamics, aesthetics and enhanced function - award-winning bikes need now to do at least two jobs measurably better than a single-function bike only three years ago. Which is a paradox surely? We make these incredible bikes that excite and propel us, yet at the same time protect, cushion and nurture us; and what do we do - ride them indoors!

Exhibit I
The 2020 Trek Domane is more aerodynamic and therefore faster than a 2015 Trek Madone and arguably better on gravel and trails than 2015 Boone (I know which I would pick). Check out the clip from Velopark criterium circuit - I would pick this bike above Trek's own Emonda if I had to pin a number on my back again (I don't). Oh yes and if that is not enough you can stick on a pair of full-dress mudguards, using the concealed eyeletts, 32mm tubless tyres and head into the flooded lanes. An astonishing accomplishment that was genuinely not foreseeable even five years ago.

Exhibit II
The 2020 Open WI.DE - is like those Amphicars from the 1960's - that you could literally drive down a slipway and into a river and it would double up as a boat. I rode to 90 miles to Harwich with JaBig and Jules a few weeks ago on our test WI.DE. All we did was drop out the wheels and slot in our wheels from our test Seven 622 XX - the result was a light, fast, fairly comfortable race-bike. 48 hours after we got back it was quickly re-configured with 650b x 2.4 MTB wheels and out for a bonkers weekend in the mud with one of our clients, Will!

About the author

Philip Cavell, Co-founder

Co-founder, bike fitter and bike designer. Phil rides a Seven titanium disc bike. He likes dogs and fine wine.

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