After the ravages of the winter storms the weather has settled somewhat. Gone for now are the ferocious winds and torrential rain. In are softer, warmer, patterns of air with spring sunshine and longer days. It couldn’t have been better timed with our trikes arriving just in time to begin to enjoy being outside and to remember why I choose to ride and explore under my own power.
The excitement of receiving a new toy has been replaced with an increasing appreciation of what my new machine can do, how it is altering the way I ride, and perhaps even the way I see cycling. The thoughts I had about what I might gain from riding a trike are slowly being replaced by the realities of riding one and there seems nothing that isn’t positive in that experience so far.
I accepted long before I bought it that I would be slower up hills while I retrain my , circulatory, muscular and neuromuscular system in this new way of pedalling. I knew from my sports science knowledge as well as from past experience that practise would be needed in order to attain the same levels of performance as I can manage on my upright bike.
What is astounding me is that I don’t care at all about how far, how quickly, and where I ride. The fact is that enjoy every revolution of the pedals wherever I go. From the low-slung seat I feel a part of the scenery in a way I can’t on my upright bike. I don’t need to think about balancing, losing it in debris, or many other things that occupy my mind when I ‘m on Irene.
The fact is that, legs aside, I can completely relax, look around and enjoy the experience in a whole new way. If you’re reading this from your favourite relaxed armchair you may be experiencing a similar kind of feeling. It feels as though you are losing yourself in a good book. You become part of everything around you, absorbed by your surroundings. Lumps and bumps in the trails are soaked up by the fat tyres I’ve fitted to the back of both trikes and other vibrations are absorbed by the mesh seat’s elastic lacing. It’s inspired and inspiring after years of rattled teeth and jolted neck/spine.
If you jumped onto one of these for the first time and tried to ride your favourite route I can guarantee you would come back cussing and swearing and generally feeling trikes are awful. I’m avoiding my favourite rides until I have made the necessary adjustments, just as you would avoid big hills if you were starting cycling again after a long break. Perhaps it’s because that is exactly what I did four years ago that I know I will gain strength and fitness for recumbent riding, just as I did when I swung my leg over a bike again after twenty years away.
I’ve been keeping hills to a minimum at the moment. It would be easy to push harder and end up damaging my knees or lower back by being overly keen to progress. The secret is to use lower gears and spin the pedals faster. With your legs horizontal you are pushing away and by using clip in pedals (which are pretty essential on a trike) you can pull towards yourself as well. I’ve been surprised how much easier it seems to pedal in fast circles on this machine than on my upright. On Irene it takes lots of concentration/technique not to bob up and down when spinning. On the trike it just feels right and can give quick acceleration through the gears and much easier hill climbing.
The flip side of this is riding on the flat and downhill. I can assure you that trikes are fast at both and I can easily utilise all the available gears with the slightest downturn of the trail. Better aerodynamics come into play here and you can feel the difference riding into strong winds as I have done on several occasions. The result of all these differences is that I arrive at my destination with tired legs and everything else feeling relaxed. Tired is relative though and I don’t get anywhere near as tired as I used to get in the early days of my return to cycling.
Michele returned from the U.S.A this week, a little sad to leave family behind, but excited at the prospect of riding her new trike. From an observers perspective I have to say that I’ve never seen her look so relaxed or smile as much when riding. A big crash a few years back left her unconscious and as a direct result her confidence in her bike’s security collapsed. The worst of the crash is that she has no idea what happened. It was a dry and warm day on a straight road and the rest is a mystery.
On only her second ride she suggested we might take to the roads around Barnstaple before taking to the local bike trails. This was a surprise as she had previously voiced her concerns about riding on the road. We were treated extremely well and at one particular junction a car driver who had the right of way stopped to wave us out, as did a second at the next roundabout. As we rode along a cycle lane on the busy Braunton road cars and other traffic pulled out really wide as they passed by leaving us feeling more comfortable than we normally might. All in all our first road experience was very positive.
I had some concerns about all the barriers and gates on the local trails, none of which have proven to hold water. Getting through gates and suchlike has been no more difficult than it would be on my bike. I’ve hardly ever had to get out of the seat to open them and when I have done it’s no hardship. A word of warning though. If these trikes were a few centimetres wider they wouldn’t be anything like as user-friendly. As they are they won’t fit through a standard doorway without tilting or lifting them. I find it easiest to fold the trike, which takes around one minute, and then pick it up which feels much easier than a standard cycle.
We can fit one folded trike into the Ford KA but are in the process of changing vehicles to a Peugeot Partner which will easily swallow both, allowing us to take them out and about. Folding the trike and placing it in the boot is far easier than using a bike rack on the back of the car or removing the wheels of a bike and placing it inside. Once you have a little practise the folding and unfolding is a piece of cake. Just remove the seat, undo a few quick releases and voila, an easily manageable package is created. In a nutshell it’s a great design.
There are few other quirks that take some getting used to and are of benefit. When riding you are totally reliant on rear view mirrors as you can’t turn around because of the seat. This feels odd to begin with but you soon get use to it. The trike, and in particular the drivetrain, seems to stay cleaner as it doesn’t get spray from the front wheels all over it in the wet which should mean longer component life. Getting back in a car after riding leaves you feeling like you are balanced on top of a giant wobbly roller skate in comparison to the low-slung and incredibly stable trike that you spent the last few hours on. Oddly enough, when I sit down on the trike I feel like reaching for the seatbelt!
All of the above experiences are helping me in my ongoing battle with my mental health. I just haven’t picked up this year in the way I would like. Having the trike means I’ve returned to the sort of riding I did four years ago where the emphasis is solely on fun and where just being out is a pleasure. My energy levels in general are extremely low and I have to juggle everything daily in order to manage to do anything outside of life’s basics.
It would be easy to fall into despair at the seemingly never-ending symptoms that bombard my mind but I try not to whilst recognising the need to listen to what I’m being told. It’s better to go out and ride ten miles than to do nothing, or worse, try to ride a half century (which I normally would at this time of year) and end up shattered for the next week. My longest trike ride at the moment is around twenty-five miles on the relatively flat Tarka Trail and I enjoyed every one of them.
The constant churning of my emotions is an exhausting process and one I would love to see an end to. Sadly that isn’t a realistic expectation for the near future and I just keep managing as best I can using additional medication as and when I need to. Many of my days pass in a blur without me finding any kind of motivation to get anything done. I know this is simply because my overly active mind is draining most of the energy I would normally use elsewhere in order to process difficult sensations and thoughts during both day and night.
My work limit on the laptop at the moment is around twenty minutes after which I feel completely worn out. You may have noticed that I’m less active on Facebook, Twitter, and on this blog? That has been a conscious decision due to the fact that my mind has been so torn that I can’t string anything together or even consider what I might do in the near future. Anything beyond today feels like a challenge, bringing distress and anxiety that’s too big to contemplate. So I’m doing my best to just live each day as it comes and see what happens as time passes. It isn’t a lot of fun but it is a necessary evil to help prevent further deterioration in my health.
Had we not purchased the trikes I’m not sure I would be riding at all at the moment. There’s a quiet relaxation that runs alongside the physical effort of pedalling that makes it perfect for these difficult times. Just holding myself up on my bike leaves me feeling tired at the moment. The trike is the exact opposite to this. I often find myself stopping to look at things and when I do I can just sit there and enjoy whatever it is that’s grabbed my attention. Without discomfort there is no need to get up and on all my rides I’ve grabbed my lunch and sat back on the trike to eat it. This could be a real bonus when we start camping in the next few weeks.
This afternoon Michele and I are going for a ride. The sun has come out and while the winter clothes are close at hand they are on the verge of being packed away for another summer. We intend to ride along the estuary watching the wildlife and fauna as we go. I would imagine we will be out for 2-3 hours. Our evening meal is cooked and ready for our return. It was my goal to do this before resting this morning. The six hundred words I’ve written here in order to complete this blog entry have been a bonus as I felt positively dreadful on waking today. Riding gently will lift me enough to get through the rest of Friday with the added satisfaction of knowing I’ve achieved something. On my return I’ll have those memories playing in my head until bedtime and that’s something to smile about.
See you next time……………..