What could cyclists and mountaineers learn from one another?

Dedicated and driven, thighs and calves that eclipse the sun, upper bodies eclipsed when they turn sideways. Not many hikers or mountaineers would fit that description, but a few cyclists would. There’s some important lessons these two groups could learn from one another, all without having to shave their legs.

What cyclists could teach mountaineers

Heart rate zones

If you talked to almost any hiker or mountaineer about heart rate zones or perceived exertion they’d probably give you a look as blank as Brexit is depressing. And yet talk to almost any club cyclist and suddenly you’re on a rocketship heading to zone 5, via FTP and of course a bit of sweet spot. Heart rates and perceived exertion let you know how hard you are working on a bike: it’s important to knowing whether you can maintain it, whether you’ll blow up, how wasted you’ll feel later. It’s pretty important to know these things in the mountains or on harder routes too, where you need to go fast but must be able to maintain that pace. Using a heart rate monitor might be a bit keen for most people, but keeping your perceived exertion in mind on a scale of 1 to 10 might be a good idea, and if you’re regularly pushing above about a 4 (steady but definitely doing something) on a long day then its going to get very hard at some point.

Bottom line, though, is if you can’t hold steady conversation when you’re out mountaineering then you’re going too fast: you’re no longer efficient and that’ll do you no good on a long day out.

RPE-scale

Some familiarity with perceived exertion is a good way to measure efforts on a long hill day. Many cyclists are used to doing this sort of thing.

Diet

Weighing grams of quinoa, chia seeds, and pomlaa essence into a bowl isn’t for everyone, and the amount of nonsense in some cycling publications about nutrition is staggering (but yet to reach the squashed aadvark, cucumber couli and rabbit anus potions promoted in some triathlon magazines). However, giving at least a bit of attention to diet, especially on the hill, could be useful to many hikers and mountaineers.

I’m not suggesting chugging gels until you void yourself, though some people do like that, but six flapjacks a day is not a balanced diet. I should know, I’ve been there.

And man cannot live on Snickers alone. Just a bit of attention to what you’re eating on big hill days can make a massive difference. Also, cycle-style snacking rather than the torrent-style download of a one-hour lunchbreak is definitely the way to go.

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It’s a vital part of any day – getting in the calories is essential, but pay a bit of attention to what you’re eating too.

Weight

I’m seriously into weight saving on my kit (see here and elsewhere on this blog for example) but even a mediocre cyclist will want to know the weights of everything on their bike. That’s a good starting point for making things lighter and therefore easier to get up a hill. The other thing is spending money… “This bottle cage is 4 g lighter than my current one and only costs £40? Sold!” Some cyclists are an absolute sucker for new stuff, and it’s not an attitude I particularly like (for what it’s worth, relatively few serious racers will spend stupid money on their bike: regular crashes make Dura-Ace a waste of money. Ultegra will be the limit for most people; Dura Ace being for posers or those dedicated and good enough to get free team kit).

But a lot of hikers and mountaineers are at the opposite end of the spectrum, willing to spend hundreds on petrol or beer, or both, but not invest in new kit which will make their life easier and more enjoyable.

If you upgrade all the krabs on your harness from those of ten years ago to modern ones you will save a kilo; if you get a good down sleeping bag you will save a kilo. They are big weight savings, and much better value than the cyclist’s bottle cage.

Bags

Four bags being used on the same overnight trip – size (and weight) matters to both cyclists and hikers.

Training

It’s obvious, and one I covered in a similar post about runners, but training really does make things easier. Not only easier, but it enables you to do more interesting routes more often, and with reduced risk of injury. Surely that’s worth doing?

Cycling

First big bike ride – Stage 1 of the 2014 Tour de France route – this was only possible because of training. Training let’s you do cool stuff, so it’s worth doing! And training itself might be cool stuff!

What mountaineers could teach cyclists

How to navigate

It’s a prerequisite of being in the mountains: you can navigate. You might not be brilliant, but you’re probably keen to improve and you realise its importance. You might well know that the hardest part of nav is getting out of the car park, and once that’s over it can only get easier…

Cyclists, on the other hand, are often terrible at navigating.

They will blindly follow their Garmins off a cliff, cycling into the sea and wondering if they might get a Strava KOM for their troubles. Reading a map on the bike is a pain but having some idea of where you are going is a good idea. It just takes a few more minutes of planning, rather than being the rat to the Garmin’s Pied Piper bleeps.

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Navigation with a map is a pain while on a bike, but having a rough idea of where you’re going is a great idea. Don’t blindly follow the Garmin.

How to dress for bad weather

Cycling clothing is generally pretty good at being aerodynamic, and cycle shorts are remarkably good at what is an extremely difficult job. In fact, cycling clothing is excellent except for one thing: in severe weather, it is rubbish. There are exceptions, but cycling clothing is so far behind mountaineering kit when it comes to foul weather performance it is laughable. However, that is a whole other post. Regardless, cyclists should stack things in their favour and at least wear the most appropriate kit available.

The traditional layering system for outdoors doesn’t really work for cyclists – you can’t take off layers easily and where would you put them? – but the basic concepts of baselayers, insulation, and shell layers don’t seem to have reached a lot of cyclists.

Also, don’t just put on a million layers because you’re cold when you set off: you’ll melt later then freeze when going down a hill or sitting in the bunch.

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Cycling in nice weather is easy. It’s when the weather’s rubbish that it gets harder, and unfortunately that’s when the kit is often least effective.

Traveling for a trip

Mountaineers, unless they are lucky enough to live in the mountains, are used to traveling about to get to where they want to climb. They will travel across countries in their knackered cars and across continents on budget flights to get to where they want to be. Cyclists don’t do this. Many cyclists will do the same routes day in day out from their front door and never think to ride somewhere else. That’s mindless; it can’t be good for you. Putting a bike in a car is a pain, and on the train has its limitations (especially if a big fat man is sat in the bike reservation area), but once in a while it’s a great thing to do, opening up new roads. Do it once a month, and be thankful that you can do your hobby from your front door as and when you like.

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Packing your bike for a trip away is a pain…

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…but a whole lot easier than packing for an expedition. Go somewhere!

There you have it. Be brave, go in that cafe, go in that pub, and talk to the weird Lycra-clad people with their espressos. And you cyclists, talk to those weathered Gore-Texers drinking the ales. We may all just learn something.

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Waterproof Fetishism

Waterproof jackets rarely live up to the hype. Some are sweaty, some leak, some fit badly, some weigh too much. They all cost a lot. So, why is it that so many people wear one when it’s not raining? As probably the most expensive piece of kit in an outdoors wardrobe (the wardrobe is inside, but it is full of outdoor things) it is nice to show off, but waterproofs are designed as a layer to be worn when it’s raining, not in all weathers. Save your waterproof armour for when you need it – a knight wouldn’t wear his chainmail in bed, so why wear your Gore-Tex when it’s not needed? Are you some sort of hiking fetishist, dreaming of membranous fabrics and soaking in your own sweaty juices? I do hope not. If you are a particular type of waterproof fetishist you may refer to your jacket as a ‘hard shell’. If you have got to this stage of the illness then there may be no hope for you. If you are reading this post while shopping in Morrison’s and you are wearing a waterproof jacket costing more than £300 then you are a goner; you may as well be wearing plate armour and reading Filth magazine. Also, stop reading this and finish bagging your groceries.

To avoid becoming a sweat-bag sex-pest with a penchant for medieval battle re-enactment there are a few steps you can take. The simplest one is to take off your waterproof jacket. Bang, and the sweat is gone! For those suffering from waterproof fetishness on a deep and subversive level, this might be a difficult step to take. However, consider that a cheap windproof jacket is way more breathable, more comfortable, lighter than, and probably just as durable as your sweat-box. And windproof jackets cost five times less cash.

The number of days in summer when a waterproof jacket must be worn is low. For all the windy days, squally days, or drizzly days, a windproof or softshell is a much better thing to wear. I know British traditionalism will dictate that you must carry your waterproof as well, but think of the extra layer as a huge cash saving – if you barely wear your waterproof it won’t wear out doing something it wasn’t designed to do! Waterproofs are meant to be worn when it’s chucking it down, and they usually do an excellent job in such circumstances.

When you wear your waterproof jacket too much, this is the eventual result.

When you wear your waterproof jacket too much, this is the eventual result.

There is a particularly insidious symptom of the waterproof fetishist who believes waterproofs to be warm jackets. They are anything but. A jacket’s warmth is roughly defined by its ability to trap still air, and its thickness. A waterproof jacket is very thin, and traps no still air in its structure. It traps a good layer of air between it and the layer underneath it, but this between-layer-air is a fleeting and insecure ally who will disappear readily. Thus, in some conditions a waterproof can feel warm because by being windproof they reduce heat loss by convection (air movement) from your layers. However, a windproof softshell would do just as good a job at blocking the wind. A fleece and a thin softshell or windproof combination may weigh less than a waterproof jacket and will be much warmer and more adaptable (and cheaper).

Winter is a difficult time for a waterproof fetishist: it is cold, it rains a lot, it snows, it is windy, and stopping to changes layers is doubly unpleasant. Thus, sticking on the armour and walking head-down is very tempting. However, if you’re walking up from the Ben’s North Face car park or up a similarly-steep hill for breakfast, you will soon realise that you are drowning in juices. It’s getting to critical levels and soon you’ll need a box of man-size tissues. It’s embarrassing and at some point your mates will wonder what you’re doing with the Kleenex. However, the same rules apply in summer as in winter – if it’s not raining, don’t wear your waterproof. Snow is nowhere near as bad as rain and can easily be dealt with by a decent softshell. I suppose the exception to the rule is when you’re freezing – if it’s super cold then wear every layer you’ve got – that’s common sense. The tricky one is if it’s raining while you are working hard. In these occasions you need to think which will keep you drier (remember wet usually means cold, particularly in the UK): taking the layer off and losing the sweat, or keeping the rain off.

So, if you suffer from waterproof fetishism I recommend the following treatment:

1)      Don’t wear your waterproof when it’s not raining

2)      Buy a softshell or windshell. A thin pertex one like a Montane Litespeed is a winner and can be had for about £50. A stretch-woven softshell is similarly great. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi is a bargain, but all the big manufacturers make good ones. A membrane softshell might be the best thing for winter, but they compromise a bit on breathability. Softshells ideally need a hood if they’re to replace your hard shell (sic)

3)      If you’re anticipating working hard in the rain then consider carrying another baselayer to change into

4)      Preach to the masses. Spread the message

As for the source of your fetish, the Pandora’s box? Ideally, everyone would own two waterproof jackets: one for donkey work like winter, camping, backpacking; another for lightweight jaunts and ‘just-in-case’ protection. If you’re going out and it’s going to rain you stick in the heavy guy, if it’s looking okay just stick in the lightweight. If you can only have one, get the heavy guy and buy a cheap lightweight one when you can.

A good dose of the above pointers and you will never look back. Throw out the Kleenex, the Filth magazines and the Medieval armour and get on with your life.