My previous cycling history has been limited to the mountain bikes we used to take on family holidays to France and Spain where we enjoyed riding around the network of cycle paths. However back in the UK when the colder months came along, I was quick to ditch the cycling in favour of the warmth of my car. Always interested in keeping fit – competitive swimming played a large part in my life, however like most I have dipped in and out of fitness, with life’s distractions and work getting in the way.
During March last year a new bloke hoved onto the horizon, and like so many blokes he came with a full package of obsessions, in his case it was swimming and cycling. So with little persuasion he dragged me down to the Meydan or Nad Al Sheeba cycle track to go for a ride. Of course like any self-respecting, obsessive cyclist he had a very nice carbon fibre missile; I was duly saddled on his spare mountain bike!
I remember that first time round the track as if it was yesterday, everyone seemed to be going so fast it was a little bit scary. I had been briefed beforehand on the etiquette of the track and what to look out for and the bloke stayed with me for the first lap of the 8kms track. I could tell my pace was far too slow for him and told him to go forth and pump his little heart out and I would meet him at the end. That day I think he lapped me twice, however, I really enjoyed riding at the track as it was safe and there were no cars to worry about. I thought I would give it another try the following weekend and so the seeds of my own little cycling obsession had been planted!
Due to work hours I could only go riding at the weekend but I did try to get out when I could and occasionally managed twice a week, gradually getting a little faster until I was averaging 24kph on my own. The bloke went off on holiday in September and brought a new road bike back with him, this turns out to be the well documented N+1 syndrome. So I inherited his “old” road bike to try and it felt so much better than the mountain bike, I was immediately hooked.
The bike was a lot lighter and the wheels were much thinner, so it accelerated and steered much better. My riding position was very different, but not in a bad way – what I liked most of all was that I was able to go a lot faster and I was able to keep up with the bloke for longer – although he still used to crank it up after a couple of laps and disappear into the horizon.
The bloke turned out to be a half decent good coach and explained how to use the gears more efficiently, how to ride behind other cyclists and use the draft, what to look for ahead of me to avoid accidents and how to drink and ride at the same time. Although I’m not quite sure which book of coaching “toughen up princess” came out of! There is so much to take in when you first start road cycling. I now totally understand the importance of quality padded shorts, as it took a while until I found some that were comfortable for me.
The next addition to my cycling equipment was a Garmin 510 cycling computer with heart rate monitor. I found this really helpful as I could begin to see how hard I was working and how fast I was going. I also met the blokes other ‘Princess’, his regular riding partner who he had been cycling with for over a year, gradually as my speed and fitness picked up, I was able to tag on the back of them in their draft. It was nice to ride with someone else and I was amazed how much faster you go with more people in your group. Initially I was not as fast as both of them they used to ride with me for a couple of laps before taking off and I would meet them at the end.
It was the middle of October when I had my first accident. We were on our 4th lap not far from the end and we were just coming up to a group of 4 cyclists. I realised as we were about to pass them that they were all girls. For some reason I lost my concentration and ended up hitting the blokes rear wheel. Gravity sucks and hitting the tarmac at 30 kms an hour is not a very clever thing to do.
As I got up off the track and looked down I could see my knee and ankle had taken a battering along with my elbow. It wasn’t until I got home and took my shorts off that I found out I had also scrapped the skin on my thigh as well (although the shorts were fine). Thankfully I had escaped without any broken bones – just broken nails – not good as I had just had my nails done the day before (this will only be significant to ladies). The bloke made sure I was OK – I was more concerned that I had not damaged either of his bikes!
As a swimming teacher I was in the water every day and following my accident I was signed off for a week as I was a quite bruised and sore and I had a nasty case of gravel rash (ruined my tan for months!). It was while I was off that I started looking for a job that gave me more free time. Remarkably I was offered a great new job that apart from early starts, gave me a lot more free time to develop my new obsession. It was around this time that I decided to enter the Dubai 92 race that was due to take place in December. With the free time available because of the new job I started riding three times a week to get ready for the Dubai 92, as it was only six weeks away and really I wanted to be able to finish the ride.
Since I have been cycling seriously (or trying to) I have realised just how important diet and nutrition are combined with making sure I get enough sleep. I began to realise that what I ate during the day before I went riding had a lot to do with how my ride went. If I didn’t eat enough my ride would be ugly as I would run out of energy and wouldn’t be able to keep up. Likewise one glass of wine too much the night before a ride the next day can turn a usually enjoyable ride into a ride from hell. The same can be said of rest and sleep; so I try to get a solid night’s sleep before a ride. I would love to learn more about bike maintenance and servicing but my mind is just not tuned that way – I’ll leave that to the bloke, he seems very happy when he is fiddling with the oily bits and trying to stop squeaks!
I really enjoyed the Dubai 92 and we were lucky to get into a good group of riders – I had only done a few group rides before the ride but felt confident as the bloke was riding with me and had convinced me I could do it. We finished in just over 2 hrs 53 mins – the longest I had ridden for and at an average speed of 32kph. It was a great feeling to cross the line.
We started attending the CSD breakfast run to Bab al Shams in the New Year and try to make their rides on most Saturdays. It really helps to build your confidence riding in a group up and the break in the middle of the 60kms ride for coffee and pastries is always something to look forward to.
I heard about the Grand Fondo in January and decided that would be my next challenge. After I entered I started to get worried that I would not be ready or experienced enough to do it. Lots of comments on the FB pages of the various cycling groups in Dubai were saying how hard the course was and the speeds expected. The thing I liked about it was that, unlike the Dubai 92, all the roads were to have rolling roads closures on them. The thing I didn’t like was the fact the ladies went in front at the beginning of rolling start.
As there was only 30 ladies taking part in the race with over 300 men it was quite scary and it took all my concentration to stay focussed on what was going on ahead of me as all the guys came past. I soon found myself in a group that I felt comfortable with and enjoyed the rest of the ride. I was wearing my Velo Vixens kit and it was so nice to hear people cheering the Vixens along as we rode past. I even had enough energy left at the end to do a sprint up the hill. However, when I finished I could hardly stand when I got off my bike – but I thoroughly enjoyed it and the atmosphere at the end was fantastic.
February saw my trusty steed sold off to a friend Darren, who is yet another born again cyclist, but my despair was limited, as a new Giant Defy Advanced Pro 2 arrived back from holidays in Australia with the bloke.
The new bike came equipped with a couple more gears (22), disc brakes and is wonderfully light and comfortable, who knew that girls could love carbon fibre and aluminium quite so much!
Although I love our normal training routine of 7 laps of Meydan, Weds nights at the Dubai Autodrome has become a fixture on our calendars. The circuit is open to cyclists for free, from 6 to 9pm, with a great mixture of ages, abilities and bikes. Very social and the amazing thing is you never know who you are going to bump into on the next lap. Usually an hour of dashing round the autodrome is enough to work up a great appetite for a cheese manakish from Zatar with Zeit.
We intend to carry on riding through the summer although we will have to start later in the evening and early in the morning to avoid the worst of the Dubai heat. We have decided to go on a cycling holiday in September to Europe although we haven’t decided where yet I know it will be another experience for me in my, hopefully very long, cycling adventure.
In just a year of cycling, I have gone from averaging 22kph to regularly riding at 33kph in a small group or about 30 on my own. Normal training rides are usually about 52kms with the odd longer one thrown in when we can. What is remarkable is just how much more energy I have, within minutes of a ride, it is like I never had done it, amazing how the body responds to demand.
But what I have found most enjoyable is that I meet lots of like minded friendly people from different walks of life who are interested in keeping fit. It is fantastic to see the amount of ladies now taking up cycling and, with the introduction of more tracks and also more opportunities to take part in races and group rides. There is no doubt that road cycling can seem quite daunting at the start and getting to grips with the right gear and bike can seem like a massive technical hurdle. But help is out there and you really just have to plunge in and ask.
As for me, I think this little obsession is going to have some legs!