I have always felt the secret to exercise is to accessorise – which would explain why my cupboards are full of shorts, tee-shirts, trainers and socks that I would have to live to 150 and exercise all day every day for them to wear out.
Apart maybe from golf, there is no sport that lends itself to accessorising more than cycling. Between helmets, gloves, shirts, shorts, lights, bells, pumps, cleats, shoes and water bottles, you almost need a sponsor just to go for a trundle at the weekend.
A couple of years ago I decided to upgrade from my cruisey “hybrid” bike which I had bought by accident and didn’t use nearly enough..
I say “accident” because I had gone in to buy a bike that was a cross between a racing bike and a bike that had a flat bar instead of drop handlebars. This, I discovered, is called a flat-bar bike.
Instead I ended up with a cross between a city bike and a tourer – much heavier and less aerodynamic, and not at all what I had wanted (but I didn’t know what it was that I did want) although it had an impressive array of gears.
That bike was OK, but riding in the park I was constantly being overtaken by riders who seemed to be making very little effort while travelling very fast indeed. At this point I should mention that I am a nervous rider – I’d put the bike in the car, drive it to Centennial Park in Sydney, then ride in circles for an hour or so.
It’s fun, there’s a great coffee cart in the middle and if you time it right, there aren’t too many rat-runners, kids on training wheels or drivers of 4WD tanks or white vans who seem to take offence at your existence and try to drive you off the road.
I eventually found out about flat bar bikes and decided I wanted one of those. There is a company called Bicycles Online who sell very decent bikes at very decent prices, but you have to be pretty sure of the size you need as there is no showroom to try the bike out (but they will accept returns).
Anyway, I got one of their flat-bar bikes and it was great … but I was still being overtaken by effortless cyclists. So then I sold that and upgraded to their top-of-the-line road bike (with the drop handle bars) and that was also terrific.
So much so, that I decided to treat myself to a proper bike from a proper bike store. And that is a different world. The sales assistant at Woolys Wheels took me straight to the bike that would be best for me (a Specialized Roubaix Sport, if you must know) which fitted my short fat legs and my shorter and slimmer budget, and it has been brilliant.
Then Covid struck and the park was a no-go area. Literally for a few days, then it was swamped with kids, parents, mums, nannies, crazy dogs – I saw one cyclist taken out at full speed by a dog that ran out of the “off leash” area – and elderly men whose mental calculation of the potential speed of bikes was based on the local vicar of their youth on his “sit-up-and-beg” fixie rather than the Cadel Evans wannabes who struggle to stay under the speed limit.
I don’t go that fast but when I read about experienced cyclists who are seriously injured or even killed by careless drivers, I have zero desire to test my skills of evasion on the open road.
And that’s when I discovered indoor trainers and a computer program called Zwift. Not only was it another opportunity to accessorise – heart rate monitor, cadence counter, laptop stand – it allowed me to ride with realistic effort in a number of virtual environments based on real places like Paris, London, New York and (somewhat bizarrely) my son’s home town of Richmond, Virginia.
The newly added map of Japan is an absolute delight while the totally invented world of Watopia will take you from Mexican jungles to snow-covered Alpine peaks, sometimes in the same ride.
Serious riders strive for the points they’ll need to get lighter bikes, because weight matters. If you don’t cheat and punch in your actual weight, when you hit the stiffer slopes or go off bitumen on to gravel the rear bike drags like a three-year-old who doesn’t want to leave the ice cream parlour.
There is a huge Zwift community out there and you get to know people, often in reality on the othr side of the planet, on the group rides.
You can go on solo training rides, guided group rides or full-on races in which I have so far fulfilled my sole ambition which is not to come last. I have upgraded from a wheel-on trainer, where the back wheel of the bike drives a roller, to the chain on version where the bike chain directly drives a flywheel.
OK, I admit I’m addicted, and that’s only partly because the program’s realism stops short of including psychopaths in white vans and old white guys who can’t tell the Tour De France from the Eiffel Tower.
FYI, I am now being overtaken by virtual riders who seem to be making very little effort. But I have realised that if I could lose the 6 or 7kg I really need to shed for other reasons, it will be like riding a weightless, phantom bike. Now, that’s something to aim for.