The quest for sensible interseason exercise options continues apace, though with the summer opening of the outdoor pools and a 90 minute lunchbreak the onset of morbid obesity is fended off for the time being.
Cycling has been up for consideration recently, what with it being possibly even bigger than wintersports round here. Readers may find this surprising, given the precipitous nature of the landscape, but people come from far and wide to spend their valuable holiday time either cycling up our hills while perched on expensive razor blades on wheels, or dressing up as extras from Star Wars and throwing themselves off things.
I wrote off the downhill mountain biking caper straight away since a) it’s only really viable when the lifts are running, thus making it redundant as an interseason option; b) the bikes cost a fortune and weigh a ton; and c) I’ve seen the resultant injuries. I’ve had more than enough of the inside of hospitals this year, thank you very much.
General mountain biking or trail riding type activity was the next option, but I while I know it’s the trendy thing to ride a bike with fat nubbly tyres and spend half your time charging round forest tracks in the mud, I have to confess that I don’t actually like it very much. All that navigating round tree roots, falling over stones and getting plastered with so much filth that you clog up the washing machine and flood the bathroom just gets in the way of the proceedings, if you ask me. And if you try riding the things on the road the nubbly tyres just slow you down and make it harder to ride up the hills, resulting in your having to get off and push the bike around like an old lady while fit chaps in lycra whizz past looking superior.
This brought me to the final option of road biking, currently considered risibly unfashionable. Though personally I attribute this to the fact that people seem to be under the impression that you have to wear skin-tight clothing in order to do it, and the majority of Brits are understandably wary of going out in public looking like a sack full of jelly.
Thanks to the crowds of nutjob Dutchmen busily cycling to and from Alpe d’Huez on a daily basis all summer, there are nearly as many bike hire shops as boulangeries in town, so renting a razor blade for the day was simple. Working out how the gears worked was less so, to the extent that we had to give up and go back to the shop for an explanation. It transpires that there are gears on the bit where the pedals attach and more gears on the back wheel. These back wheel gears are controlled from the right handlebar, where prodding a little black nubbin with your thumb makes pedalling more difficult and nudging the brake lever makes it easier. But just to confuse matters, the left handlebar control for the gears at the pedal end is the other way round, and nudging the brake lever makes things more difficult. Got it? I don’t know, whatever happened to those three-speed Sturmey Archer contraptions which were considered the height of tech sophistication when you were razzing your Raleigh racer round the pavements in the ’70s? All right, they were about as much use as tits on a fish in the first place and usually ended up stuck in second gear after a week’s riding, but at least you didn’t need a degree in engineering to work them out.
Having sussed that out, we were faced with deciding where to go. Alpe d’Huez, the route most favoured by the cycling tourist, was right out, mainly because I am not mentally unstable and neither do I have quads like Arnold Schwarznegger. JC – who does have Arnie’s thighs thanks to years of cycling around Sussex as a youth – was likewise unimpressed with that idea, so we settled for a trip to Venosc. A bit of gentle uphill, we thought, not too taxing for a first outing. And if all goes well maybe I could consider cycling to the telecabin of a morning rather than driving.
The initial straight along the valley out of Bourg d’Oisans was remarkably easy, with the bike whizzing along at high speed for what seemed like no effort at all, a huge improvement on previous MTB outings. But the ‘gentle uphill’ along the Veneon valley to Venosc turned out to be more than I’d bargained for. By the standard of most routes round here it’s practically flat, but for an unfit noob with rather crap legs it was a killer. After a kilometre of it I was in the Granny gear and still panting, wheezing and doing a good impersonation of an overripe tomato. I had to stop for a wheeze at least four times on the way up and still arrived at Venosc in a state of near collapse, only to find that JC and his Terminator thighs had arrived 15 minutes earlier and were refreshed and ready for the ride back. So probably not a viable transport to work option then, given that I need to arrive in a fit state to spend eight hours selling lift tickets to batty Italians.
The reward for all this effort is the downhill ride back, most of which was spent either being horrified at how fast I was going or resisting the temptation to stick my legs out sideways and yell ‘WHEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!’, which would probably have got me some very funny looks from the serious lycra-clad types making their way up and looking remarkably unlike ripe tomatoes as they did it.
But despite the oxygen deprivation, unbecoming puce colour and the frankly exceedingly sore arse, I have to say that road biking could be a goer. Whizzing along the flats is fun, and trying to get up the hills provides both a challenge and a good excuse to drink beer and eat pizza of an evening. Assuming reasonable interseason weather I should be able to get out and do it any time I like, and – possibly its biggest plus point – it means I won’t have to resort to jogging.