Sunday, 22 April 2012

Diet Report 11: Easy Rider

This week I managed  to get into work and back twice on my new bicycle. The round trip distance to work and back according to Google is 14.2 miles. Once I had the full electric boost of the battery and that day was pretty good. The other occasion, my maiden voyage in "combat conditions" i.e. when I was actually going to work as opposed to just seeing if I could get there and back without dying, I was still testing out how far I could get on a single charge. The bike boasts a 20 mile approx charge so the answer, it will surprise no one to learn, is there and back and about there again. I learned the pain, that day, of trying to cycle 7 miles on a slightly clunky bike with about three kilos of lithium battery attached to the back of it. Not an experience I am keen to repeat.

The amount of calories you burn cycling 7 miles (even when you have electrical assistance and hence record the cycling as 10-11 mph moderate, when you're clocking an actual speed of more like 14 mph, hard) is quite remarkable. What's also remarkable is how you just naturally end up eating more to make up for it.

It has been a bit of a shock to my poor old metabolism which has lead to an interesting week weight recordings wise. I'm bearing down and getting a sweat on and then expecting my metabolism to replace all the stuff I've just burned and convert some protein to new muscle to help out in future endeavours. For this reason my weight has wobbled significantly. Overall, however, I feel terrific.

I would have got out and about more often this week were it not for buckets of torrential rain forcing me back to the car on three out of five working days. As such I got quite a schooling in the contrast between the two modes of transport. It turns out that the pros of cycling go far beyond the simple increase in exercise.

The main thing I would note is the feeling of liberation the cycle commute delivers. You are open, in the air breathing oxygen (well, most of the time you're not behind some diesel exhaust or other), liberated, clipping along at a fair old rate, completely in control. You never have to stop moving if worst comes to worst dismount and walk the cycle to a less busy location to resume cycling. You are always going forward the only thing you stop for is red lights when you are using the road, and even then in cycle friendly Nottingham they have a little area marked out at the front to be a cyclist in while you're waiting.

In a car there are times when you're just listening to the stereo, waiting for the traffic to move and feeling your life end one second at a time. No wonder most motorists are aggressive idiots (I have had my own moments). I think I must be doing one of the most unpleasant commutes possible on a bicycle, a couple of nasty hills, crossing a canal, railway lines and a river on my way to work. The electric bike gets me through.

I am actually looking forward to the day that petrol is £2.50 a thimbleful and everyone has to get on their bikes. There are a few jobs that I know require an actual motor vehicle but the people who do them should be looking forward to having less people on the roads. In fact electric cars are actually beginning to exist now which are ideal for the more lengthy commute. No doubt the charge and range of their battery packs can only increase in efficiency.

I can actually see a point coming up in which we won't miss the old cars, the big cars, the dirty cars or our old ways of getting about. We won't have just one vehicle we'll have a selection of electric wagons to take us which ever is the most appropriate range.

We'll be healthier too. Welcome to the future.

Anyhow the point is, and this is particularly true at home time, the feeling of being really in control is far accentuated on the bike. You can always get off and walk if you need to and there are a couple of junctions on the way home where I currently need to. Even so you're never just stuck in a long metallic queue watching the motor temperature climb with frustration and seeing people nose their own jalopies out of side roads shoving their way into already crowded lines of traffic.

There are sections of my new route home where there is grass and trees and long stretches of calm water. Much less cooped up.

Also, as the exercise is partly the point but mostly a by-product of needing to get back and forth to my place of employment I can think about it in different terms to a trip to the gym. It's much easier to pace yourself when you know you need to arrive at your destination in a reasonable condition to continue with your day. There will be no shower and lounging session afterwards so you don't tend to push yourself flat out. For this reason you get an unusual (or at least to me) fringe benefit you come off the bike feeling more alert and ready to deal with life.

It becomes plain that human beings were not designed to sit around on their rear end all day every day passively watching stuff or (heh) bashing a keyboard. You are meant to be doing things actively, if you don't you actually feel worse. Not saying that relaxation doesn't have its place but you need to be doing some activity to get the most out of the rest of life.

My stepfather is a builder and I have long marvelled at how he seems quite comfortable with rising at 6am and continuing on until 11pm at night (occasionally later). Previously if I rose at 7.30am I would be ready for bed by 10.45 that evening. The secret is a period of activity during the day. It's something I have done before in life without ever really noting it. When I was doing theatre things they always used to make us do a "warm up" session in the morning which was general keep fit stuff but nothing too taxing. Those days were always quite long as well.

I guess the idea is that you do stuff that makes you move a bit more than usual but not so much that you're sweating buckets and want nothing more afterwards than to curl up in a corner and die. Unfortunately getting the balance right is tricky and exercise gurus since the era of "feel the burn" will tend to label you a weakling if you're not "pushing the limit".

The problem is that pushing the limit associates exercise with the pain of pushing yourself too far and the inconvenience of being pretty useless afterwards. The gentle sustainable activity, on the other hand, introduces you to the benefits of moving about and means you're more likely to notice the lethargy of sitting about for days on end doing nothing. All of this probably indicates why I always have such a cracking time at center parcs, where gentle activity throughout the day is the name of the game.

Anyhow. I have already done the weekly weigh in and it is a little disappointing for fans of constant weight reduction, but it is no disaster. So, you have been warned. Time to get on your bikes now and go to see the Cabin in the Woods, if you have not done so already.

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