The last few blogs I've written have been about weight, its effects and what can be done; this week we're back to bikes and commuting. "Thank God for that," I hear you cry!
I call myself a mountain biker. I read mountain biking magazines, have two mountain bikes (one full-suss Marin East Peak and my rigid Ridgeback that I use for commuting). However, my mileage so far since the beginning of July is 1430 commuting miles and 57 off-road miles. So, can I really call myself a mountain biker or a commuting cyclist? What would you call me (apart from a fat bastard, obviously)?
I guess when you read this it'll be the beginning of February and we'll be coming to the end (hopefully) of a winter's pedalling. I've successfully negotiated the whole bloody season and kept pedalling through it which, considering the state of me, is no mean achievement. But what kind of cyclist am I? Just because I say I'm a mountain biker, am I? Does it really matter? If you ride a bike maybe you're just a cyclist, and further delineations don't matter.
I have discovered that commuting is just as hard in its own way as mountain biking: a winter of road salt, snow, ice, oily road grime, canal mud and goose shit wrecks components as effectively (if not more so) as the average muddy trail. Pedalling constantly with road traffic for two hours a day is also hard work. The concentration levels are right up there with negotiating my favourite bit of technical singletrack in the Waseley Hills, although not as much fun; I guess if you take the fun factor out it's actually harder.
I am lucky because half of my commute is towpath riding, which gets me past the worst of the traffic, although snow and ice forced me onto the roads for a couple of weeks; I'm very glad to be back on the canal. I see very few folk on there, either pedestrians or cyclists it seems a much underused resource, but I'm not going to shout too loud about it as I like my solitude on there.
My Ridgeback commuting bike has been 'roadified' with front and rear LED lights, 1.5in Schwalbe slicks and a full rear mudguard. Everything else is pure mountain bike: Kona P2 rigid forks, Shimano XT groupset, riser bars, front Crud Catcher and SPD pedals. Everything is from around 1997, so no disc brakes, an 8-speed cassette and positively spindly looking cranks. But the main thing is it all works beautifully and is bloody hard wearing, even though weekend cleaning duties can go on a bit.
The downside to a mountain bike for commuting is obviously speed; they aren't naturally as quick as road bikes, due to the tyres, upright riding position, weight and gearing. I am regularly annihilated by anorexic-looking cyclists on anorexic-looking bikes. But with my vast bulk (currently 18 stone, 12Ib) is a road bike built for me? Or more to the point, will my belly allow me to ride one?
It'll be interesting to see whether, after shedding another three stones (which will take me to 6 stones total weight loss), I'll be ready for a road bike. Or more to the point whether a road bike will be ready for me? I have the feeling I'll always be built for comfort rather than speed!