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December 2013

THE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF A BIKE RIDE

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Yesterday turned into a fairly tough one by the standards of a little company in our front yard. Oh, I hear you say, woe is me, get over yourself, you live in a mountain biking paradise and you haven’t had a proper job in so long you can’t remember what it feels like to have a ‘boss’. Fair enough. But still. Sometimes it feels like the wheels might fall off, and other days it would be nice to hand the pile of shit I am burrowing through to somebody marked ‘employee’. Only we don’t have anybody like that.

All of a sudden it was time to pack orders, and there was exactly enough time to throw the bike in the van along with the courier bags and the international mail sack and drive through the hellish traffic to town. OK not that hellish, I had to stop twice. And one of those was an example of the stop you do where you keep rolling very slowly to see if you can get going again without ever having to be completely stationary. You don’t do that sometimes? You ain’t living.

 

So next minute (almost literally) I am at the forest. Change pants, strap on shoes, check pack, do a funny looking wheelie and I am on the trail. Oh, I forgot: also have a random meeting with Lisa, which always provides a 50% lift in general feeling of wellbeing.

 

Five minutes later, and that is the honest truth, all was right with my world. I thought I was tired and had a headache, so the plan was to noodle around the flat trails and maybe head out to Pondy New. But a much more comprehensive ride was on: way up the back of the forest to the top of the hill, and a very satisfying run down a rejuvenated and extended version of the trail called Corners. Coming out of the forest in what may have looked like a controlled drift on the gravel of the gateway, but could equally have totally screwed up the entire ride, I was not thinking anything at all. Gold.

 

 

LOSING BATTLES TO WIN THE WAR

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Turns out using a bicycle on the road IS kind of like a war.

We reported a phenomenon a while back, which is an apparent correlation between the percentage of trips made by bicycle and the number of cyclist deaths per kilometre travelled.

In the countries where this information is available, where more people are riding, less cyclists are dying.

According to New Scientist, this holds true in the UK. A spate of deaths in London recently make grim reading, but apparently overall carnage per kilometre is down because there are far more trips being made by bike now than before.

So what is really needed to make bike riding safer is a lot more people riding bikes.

The downside is that to eventually win the war for a safe place on the roads for bicycles, some people will lose the occasional battle. And it won’t be the person operating a motor vehicle. What is really needed is education regarding the vulnerability of cyclists and pedestrians, institutional recognition of their validity as road users, and serious consequences for vehicle operators who injure or kill people on the road.

 

TAKING ADVANTAGE


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Atmospheric pressure is the critical factor that sets cycling apart from any other sport except maybe sailing. Humans getting along at twice the speed they were evolved for quickly come up against a barrier their puny wattage can’t overcome: wind resistance. To make any object go twice as fast through air, you must quadruple the power supply. That means that trundling along at 20kph is so easy anybody can do it, but 30 is actually pretty hard. Doing 40 is beyond a lot of people, and very few can go 50 on a flat road. That battle with the air is what makes cyclists clump together into lines and bunches, because clocking a decent speed while hiding from the wind behind somebody else is much more achievable.

The wind resistance thing is what keeps me coming back to Taupo for my annual lap of the Lake. I am never in good enough shape to enjoy riding a hilly 160km by myself, at any speed. But I can circumnavigate Taupo at a higher average pace than I can manage by myself riding around the block. That’s because I can bludge off the honest efforts of others. I feel some guilt about this, but not much and not for long.

Spongeing speed does not hinder my host, and if I accidentally roll through for a turn at the front I may even help.

Sometimes I end up in a bunch that is going too fast, and on a given climb my eyes cross, the turkey timer pops out, and I am ejected out the back as I deserve to be.But in the right company the kilometres roll by at a very satisfactory rate, and there are few things better than roaring along at 45kph on a patch of smooth hotmix.

Last year things didn’t work out. I never found the right group, I was either desperately hanging on to fast people, or labouring on the front of a group that was going too slow. I vowed that from that day forward my tilts at Taupo were going to be social affairs, in no hurry, cruise around, and generally smell the roses.

Some friends gathered to follow that plan. We started in a sensible group, with enough people behind us to allow a gentle drift back through the bunches as we enjoyed the scenery and the shrinkwrapped sugary treats.

This worked well for the first 20kms or so, until a group came alongside with interesting internal politics. A bike shop owner I happen to know was hidden near the front, and a posse of people wearing his shop’s kit were forcing the pace. Whatever leverage the boss had was working well, his minions would stay on the gas until a climb, and then they would back it off a little to make sure the padrone was comfy. It did not take long to see that this bunch had my name written all over it. I boarded it like you would jump on a bus, and assumed my friends would too.

They didn’t.

By the time I figured that out I was ready to renounce all vows, this bunch was too valuable to waste because of a pre-race agreement to take it cruisey. The last hill went better than I have any right to expect, and so I got to the finish still on board the not-to-be-disclosed bike shop express.

Now to figure out what to do next year. It might not be so easy to find friends to plan it with.


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These were my friends, and this is what it looks like when Taupo is done at a sensible pace.