We’re a month into the UK’s coronavirus lockdown, so how are the BikeRadar team riding out the pandemic?
Well, we’ve called a halt on bike testing and, with strict social distancing measures in place, riding right now is certainly different to how it used to be. There are no cafe rides, for starters.
But that hasn’t stopped the BikeRadar guys and girls getting out on their bikes, in line with the current guidelines. Staying healthy – both physically and mentally – is more important than ever.
Like everyone, we’ve had to adapt to a new way of life, but we’ve still got plenty going on to feed our two-wheeled habit, from getting our daily exercise fix and exploring the local area, to virtual group rides and new bike builds.
In this episode of our Friday Shorts podcast, we’re doing the rounds to find out how each member of the BikeRadar team is handling the coronavirus crisis, and how cycling is helping us through it. You can listen right here, or read on for more.
Remember, we’re publishing two BikeRadar podcasts every week during the UK coronavirus lockdown. Subscribe now via Apple Podcasts or Spotify to make sure you don’t miss an episode – or bookmark our podcast page for the latest instalment.
I am building a bike. You’ve probably heard of the Genesis Croix de Fer, it’s sort of the original British gravel bike from a time before gravel bikes were a thing.
It’s a steel tourer with big clearances and I’ve got the most recent version of the frameset made from Reynolds 853 tubing, in a very fetching shade of blue.
I got very excited when Shimano announced its GRX gravel components last year and this is my chance to get to know them properly.
I’m building the bike with pretty much the cheapest mechanical GRX setup, with 2x gearing. You don’t get GRX at all levels so that effectively means Ultegra-level derailleurs and 105-level shifters and brakes.
I like the meditative side of concentrating on something mechanical for a few hours, although this experience has thrown up a few hurdles. For instance, I completely ruined my only hacksaw blade cutting the steel fork steerer, and I had to finish the cut with a dremel.
The pain of this was salved by finally having a chance to use the old school Chris King external headset I’ve been hoarding for years.
Cutting a steerer is the sort of job I’d usually do in the BikeRadar workshop, but fortunately I do have most of what I need. I would have been a bit stuck if I’d needed proper frame prep stuff because I don’t own facing and chasing tools or anything.
The pandemic has had the curious side-effect of making me ride more often than before, as a way to break up the lack of variety of working from home every day.
I’ve been doing lots of short rides in the morning before work, which is quite a change for me as I am fundamentally not a morning person at all.
It does give me the opportunity to be immensely smug in our morning catch-up calls, however.
Because of the lockdown, I’ve basically binned structured training and am riding for fun and to stay healthy now.
Luckily, here in the UK, we can still ride outside on our own or with people in our household. We’ve had some great weather, so it’s been really nice to just get out for a spin in the sunshine on most days.
The roads are generally pretty quiet now, too, which is a bonus.
I’m missing social riding massively though, so I’ve been organising virtual group rides for the BikeRadar team on Zwift. As with anything, there have been a few teething issues getting everyone setup and online at the same time, but when it all comes together it’s actually pretty good.
As I suspect many others have been doing, I’ve also been going through the list of bike maintenance jobs I’d been previously putting off. Shortening cables, regreasing bearings, waxing chains. One of the nice things about bikes is that you can always find something to tinker with.
Lastly, as well as tuning in to BikeRadar’s excellent YouTube channel, I’ve been rewatching a lot of old races. Eurosport has been showing the 2018 Giro recently and I’ve watched most of the Monument classics from the last few years too.
My partner and I have been fortunate enough to have not been hit too hard by the crisis so far, so I’m thankful for that, but I’m really looking forward to some sunny coffee rides with the rest of the team whenever this eventually blows over.
Hopefully we’ll make it out before winter comes round again.
I’ve been using the lockdown period to get fully acquainted with the Mason Bokeh gravel bike I had built just before Christmas.
I bought the frame in the middle of 2019 but, for one reason or another, only got the build together at the end of the year. If you’re not familiar with the Bokeh, it’s an aluminium frame with a sporty geometry and I’ve hung a Shimano GRX Di2 groupset from it, with Hunt 650b and WTB Resolute tyres.
It’s the ideal bike for me at the moment. We’re in the honeymoon phase so I’m enjoying every ride – particularly given the restrictions we’ve otherwise got on everyday life – and its versatility opens up a wide range of riding right on my doorstep.
I’ve been taking in the network of quiet lanes, farm tracks and bridleways just outside the city here in Bristol. As someone who only moved to the south-west of England last year, there’s still a lot that’s new to me and when you’ve only got limited time outside, being able to throw together a ride which takes in a little bit of everything is perfect.
It’s not just about gravel, though. I’ve been using the Bokeh for local road rides and, while a gravel bike with 42mm tyres is never going to set Strava leaderboards alight, what does it matter if you’re riding on your own?
Head of production
I’ve been using my outdoor exercise time to either get out on my bike, walk the dog or go for a run.
My Specialized Diverge gravel bike feels like the perfect social distancing bike – the tracks and gravel roads near my home in Wiltshire are so quiet and you barely see anyone until you get back on to the tarmac.
I’m really missing the pub garden stop on the way back, though – and riding with other people.
I’ve also been joining the Zwift MeetUps with the BikeRadar team, as well as friends and family, and am really grateful to have the option to cycle indoors.
Outside of cycling, I’ve taken my dog on a few runs to make the most of the outdoor time, but spend a lot of the time trying to make sure I don’t fall over him when he decides to suddenly stop and sniff something.
Like everyone else, it seems, I’m getting back into baking too, which makes exercising even more important right now!
Senior technical editor road
For me, life hasn’t changed a huge amount. I’m usually found riding and exploring the byways and back roads of Wiltshire rather than being shackled to our Bristol office – such is the benefit of testing bikes and kit for a living.
Under the UK’s lockdown conditions, however, testing bikes to their full just isn’t an option. We should all be riding safely, not pushing limits while our health and emergency services are under such pressure. Anyone properly testing bikes under these conditions really isn’t…
I’ve also modified my rides. My road loop is now a loop that never goes that far from home but still gives me close to 1,000 metres of elevation in a two-hour ride, to keep me working hard but not straying too far from home.
My other option is gravel, and for this I’ve discovered a local gold mine – behind my house is a golf course that closed down a couple of months back. It’s littered with tracks and trails, and I can get to it from my garden gate, and from the golf course into the local woods where a local CX race is often hosted.
From this I’ve created a three-mile loop which is perfect in the early morning as the dog walkers are yet to arrive for their ritual hanging of bags in the local trees. I’ve been doing 8 to 10 laps of that before it gets busy, using it as my commute to the office… back at home.
With ‘proper’ mountain biking obviously on hold for now, I too have been exploring back lanes, mellow singletrack and forestry roads on my road, gravel and XC bikes. However, the biggest change has come at home.
If you’d asked me six months ago whether I’d be spending a lot of time this spring in Watopia, I’d have looked at you like you needed your head checking out. As it happens, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.
With Wahoo offering Cycling Plus and BikeRadar the Kickr Bike to test, I was the one to get my hands on this high-tech, high-spec indoor smart bike.
Wooed by the thought of digital social rides with my buddy Nick as well as the BikeRadar team, via the bi-weekly social rides Simon has been organising, I’ve been laying down the watts in the virtual world, with some rather sweaty results.
Having ridden 74km with 1,200m of climbing during a Saturday morning ride with Nick, I can attest to the fact that indoor training is certainly effective – never have I been so tired after that many KM, all banged out in double-quick time.
It’s a brave new world we’re heading into, and mine will certainly involve a good few laps of Watopia.
While I’d usually be out riding to test the latest and greatest products as part of my day job, unfortunately, due to the current situation, it’s simply not possible at the moment.
That means, while I’m not out testing, I can take things a little easier and catch up on some of that tiresome admin that I’ve been putting off.
Of course, I’m working with the rest of our very talented team, across BikeRadar and Cycling Plus and MBUK magazines, to put together other tech-related content to fill the slots where we currently don’t have a bike test or group test. We’re confident we’ve got plenty of interesting and entertaining tech features coming your way.
In terms of riding during lockdown, I’m sticking to the government guidelines and getting out most days, normally for about an hour on the bike.
While I know there are no specific time restrictions laid out here in the UK, with two kids at home and both my wife and I working, I’m not sure disappearing out for three or four hours at a time would go down well right now… I really don’t want to be in the ‘lockdown divorce club’.
I tried running – but it turns out running is really hard, so I’m not sure I’ll keep doing that. It really hurts the day after too. Bikes are far better. And that’s why I’ve spent a lot of time riding a Specialized Diverge gravel bike.
It’s encouraged me to explore my local area more than I ever have previously. Generally though, I’m still mainly sticking on the road and, as and when a bridleway crops up, I’ll use it to cut out a busy road or just follow my nose to see where it takes me.
When I’m not on the Diverge, I’ve been riding my cross-country bike, which is a Mondraker F-Podium. I got this a little while ago and it’s a bike that I’ve got kitted out with some rather flash bits.
I’m enjoying mixing things up between bikes, but no matter which bike I’m riding, I’m keeping things nice and simple, and always staying well within my limits.
In a bid to keep some semblance of fitness, I’m attempting to rack up as many metres of climbing with every hour that I go out, normally between 500m and 600m. It seems to be a decent way of ensuring that when this lockdown does finally lift, I hopefully won’t be lagging too far behind the rest of the team!
Despite the favourable weather we’ve been having in the UK, I haven’t actually ridden a bike outside since lockdown. Despite this, I can safely say that I’ve put more miles in since 23 March than I had all year up until that point.
Lockdown prompted me to dust off my decade old Verenti Kilmeston, stick it back on my Tacx Neo and sign back into Zwift. Yes, I realise the absurdity of using a bike that, when new, cost less than the smart trainer it’s now attached to. (Although the experience of a nameless colleague who managed to catch his workout towel between chain/carbon frame/trainer and break his bike makes me think I’m onto something.)
I’ll readily admit that while I like Zwift, I don’t love it. I can bear about an hour in the garage at the moment and only then if I’ve got a good podcast – Adam Buxton, Quickly Kevin Will He Score?, BikeRadar! – or a Netflix show – Sunderland ‘Til I Die – to distract me.
Group rides are better and I’ve been joining Simon’s regular Meetups on Zwift, where we chat as we pedal and they’re actually a really good social experience. Tethering means I can keep up with my younger, thinner, faster colleagues!
But why no outdoor riding? One bonus – if I can call it that – of the current situation is that daily exercise has become family time. We’re lucky enough to live within yards of some fantastic country walks, so outdoor exercise is now a time for the whole Spedding family to get out together. The old bike on a posh trainer in the garage helps enable what’s becoming an ever more valuable release for all four of us.
Just before lockdown kicked in, I built a new flat-bar fixed gear gravel bike.
This daft no-nonsense shred wagon has ushered in a new era of laid-back, organically-sourced trail exploring around my local area that has totally refreshed my approach to riding.
As well as being great Instagram fodder, these near-daily solo gravel sojourns are also a welcome relief to look forward to at the end of a day spent hacking away at the endless coalface of bicycle tech content (…remotely from the comfort of my living room with no eyes to cast judgement as, yes, I am going for another slice of banana bread).
In fact, my experiences of lockdown riding have been so enjoyably exploratory and fabulously fashionable that I decided it was worth dedicating 910 whole words to the subject. I hope you enjoy it!
I have been riding my Cannondale Synapse (my long-term test bike for 2020) and am pleased to report it’s providing me with more than just sanity during the lockdown.
This is an endurance bike which I intended to really test over a few low-key endurance events this year. Obviously that hasn’t gone to plan just yet, but perhaps that’s been a blessing in disguise.
For the last year or so I have been struggling to keep niggling knee pain at bay. However, in the last few weeks I am glad to say the pain has almost gone and it feels great!
Due to the current restrictions, I have been riding my bike alone and, to keep my mental state happy, more often than usual. The consistency and low intensity of these rides seems to have helped my knees, too.
I am currently riding for around an hour at the time, for a total of 4 to 5 hours per week, and that’s perfect for keeping my knee moving. I am not in danger of over-cooking it and making the problem worse.
I have also been keeping to a strict twice-daily stretching routine since January, which I am sure is helping to some degree. Given the current restrictions on normal life, it’s easier to give myself time to stick to a routine.
For now I intend to keep riding at my current level, with the intention of rehabilitating my knee and, with any luck, entering some endurance-focused rides when the time comes.