Surrey 2: the Freedom of the Road

My Surrey post is painfully incomplete but I got sidetracked; I started writing about the first accident then decided it needed a post of its own so pulled it out and published the Surrey post without giving it nearly as much thought as it deserved.  My boyfriend pointed out that it doesn’t convey the fun, the joy, the “freedom of the road” cycling gives me.  So here’s more about the Surrey phase of my commuting life:

After moving to Surrey I was no longer using public transport, so I no longer needed to use the folding bike.  It was a lovely bike and perfectly suited to taking on trains and riding around London.  Just a couple of weeks ago my boyfriend needed to drop off a hire car so he took it back with my folding bike in the boot and rode home.  To ride from home/school to work though I didn’t require the ability to fold my bike and preferred to have more than three gears so I got out my 12 year old mountain bike which, thanks to a friend of mine, had road tyres on it.

Fabulous though my folding bike is, my mountain bike was better.  What was effort on the folding bike seemed effortless on the mountain bike.  The air was sweeter; the glow of the sun was purer; the hills were less steep; the road was shorter.

It is significantly easier to ride on roads with road tyres than with mountain bike tyres, a contrast which was marked when the snow started falling and I changed back for a couple of weeks (I am proud to say I kept riding through the snow early this year), but no matter what modifications you make, a mountain bike is not going to be as happy on a road as a road bike is.  I worked out my budget; I did some research; I asked friends and colleagues for recommendations; I went to shops and tried out bikes, comparing ride positions and handlebar shapes; I took my time (ignoring the mocking of my workmates at my ageing mountain bike) and, with a little help from my company’s cycle-friendly policies, I bought a lovely little alloy-framed road bike which I named Emma.

The difference was impressive!  I was no longer expending energy on bouncing the suspension (although my wrists were quick to point out that suspension has its pros when it comes to potholes) or on hauling with me the extra weight of an aging mountain bike or on rolling resistance from the wide wheels.  The ride was smoother, faster and even more fun!  The dropped handlebars and protruding hoods tuck my elbows in to a much more comfortable position than the flat bars of my mountain bike; the slim tyres purr over the tarmac, eating mile after mile; the shape of the tapered tubes, the gentle curves, the elegant dimensions, the striking colours all make me smile as I strap on my shoes.

The only downside was the toe straps on the pedals which seemed designed to make engaging my feet with the pedals more difficult.  It was much harder than I’d expected to slot my toes in when pulling away, possibly because the weight of the cages ensured the pedal was always upside down.  I had already decided I would eventually change over to clip in cycle shoes but, in the meantime, a colleague helped me remove the cages.  With a hacksaw.  Really, it seemed to be the easiest way at the time.  After a while I acquired the cycle shoes, pedals and cleats, I exchanged my old pedals for the new ones and attached the cleats to the bottoms of my shoes.

I had done my research here as well: there are road shoes and there are mountain bike shoes.

Road shoes are stiffer and clip more firmly into the pedals, meaning more of the power you put through your legs goes straight to the wheels and less goes into flexing the soles of your shoes and the joint between them and the pedals, but they are difficult to walk in due to the large cleats on the bottoms and it can be tricky to clip in and out from the pedals, which are normally one sided.  They are ideal for races, sportives and other rides where you are unlikely to have to stop frequently.

Mountain shoes are easier to clip in and out of and the pedals are often double sided, the shoes themselves have tread on the bottom, a smaller, recessed cleat and are often less stiff than road shoes which makes them easier to walk in but you are sacrificing a certain amount of power transfer.  They are (obviously) ideal for mountain biking but also often favoured by commuters who frequently need to unclip to put a foot down at junctions and traffic lights.

I had decided on mountain bike shoes and pedals as I felt they were more appropriate to my needs, so it was funny that, when I broached the subject of getting cycling shoes with my boyfriend he quickly interrupted me saying, with all the authority of someone who already owns a pair of cycling shoes, that I should seriously consider buying mountain bike shoes rather than road shoes, and was surprised to discover that I had already reached this conclusion myself.

The commute itself is not difficult.  Five miles (eight kilometres) of roads which include a hundred yards of dual carriage way, one long hill, one short, steep hill and three tailbacks.  Some of the roads are poorly maintained, but a couple are a delight to ride on, particularly one which was completely resurfaced one night a couple of months ago.  I love flying down the long hill, head down, back flat.  I love getting to the top of a hill and changing up through my gears as the ride eases.  I love long stretches when my thighs find their rhythm and my knees rise and fall like pistons in a generator, recharging my batteries for the next climb.  I love pushing down on the pedals away from traffic lights and leaving the cars behind for just a couple of seconds.  I love the feeling I get at the end of a journey, knowing that I’ve done it completely under my own power, that I’m less dependent on my car today than I was yesterday.  I love knowing how long it will take me to get to where I’m going, regardless of how much traffic there is.

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