Some people are self motivated exercisers. They set themselves a training plan or goal and off they go. I am not one of those people. I more or less hate exercise. Activity I’m ok with – riding about on my bike, enjoying the view, getting over the next hill to see what’s there – that’s all fine. But just sweating for the sake of sweating, or weight loss, or toning, or whatever physical benefit it’s supposed to imbue upon me… nope. I’m also incapable of dieting – the merest hint of hunger and a migraine will start flickering at the edges of my vision.
Usually there’s a natural ebb and flow to my waistline, and summer days of salad eating and long rides offset the winter nights of stew and dumplings. I don’t stand on the scales unless asked to for a suspension set up, but rely on my waistband to tell me whether I should maybe walk around the biscuit aisle next time I’m in the supermarket. However, last year has not been ‘usually’ and without anywhere to be, ever, I’ve had neither the daily bike commute to burn off the biscuits, nor cause to wear anything but dungarees. Dungarees are excellent, comfortable and practical items of clothing except for a) when you need to use a public toilet (oh the horror of dropping a strap on the floor, or worse) and b) when your waistband is all that is standing between you and biscuits.
I do like biscuits. I especially like what are known to me as ‘Empire Biscuits’. Scottish readers are most likely to recognise these – two buttery soft shortbread biscuits, sandwiched together with jam and topped with water icing and a glacé cherry. These are biscuits from my childhood, and as such I recall them being quite large. Despite being vegan, Amanda has figured out how to recreate these childhood biscuits, and what’s more she makes them to scale. Better still, she is the kind of wonderful person that likes to surprise me with them in my hour(s) of need.
Amanda is also the total opposite of me when it comes to food, and exercise. She can bury herself on an indoor trainer just because, then tell you exactly how many calories she has burnt off. She can tell you how many calories she has eaten in a day. She can tell me how many calories I have eaten in a day. I don’t even know how many I’m supposed to be eating. If my tummy is rumbling, I probably need some, is how I work.
Clearly, something has got to give – I don’t think my waistbands have much left in them, and I hate clothes shopping even more than I hate exercise. I reckon if I can make calories burned on a ride equal calories eaten after a ride, I am at least going to stop growing. So it was then that I set out for the trails, equipped with the unfamiliar tool of smart watch with heart rate monitor to enable the tracking of calories. Better still, Amanda baked me a goal: a box of Empire Biscuits. Each contains (she has calculated) 305 calories.
I had sworn Amanda to secrecy about her calorie consumption knowledge, so I had no idea whether that tempting box of treats she made me was going to be earned by one beastly Calderdale climb, or a lap of the entire valley. There were six in the box. I was hopeful that I could earn at least two. I took one with me in case I got hungry out on the trail, telling myself I wouldn’t eat it unless The Watch(er) says I’ve earned it.
I started out with a climb that’s perfect for an eMTB because it’s horrible: very steep, speed sapping setts and packhorse trail, washed out and muddy sections, and very very steep bits with added algae just for fun. I wasn’t at all sure I’d make it up, but just managed to keep my legs spinning enough to keep my balance, chest nearly on the top tube keeping my weight forward and the wheels on the ground. Trail mode was enough to see me up it – enough power for the steepness of the climb, but enough control to pick my way up through it.
That climb being horrible, it’s not very often that I do it, and having done it I’m usually ready to turn around and head back down. But biscuits called, and with the Shimano EP8 motor saving my lungs and heart from making an appearance on my handlebars, I pedalled on. With a less severe climb ahead, I knocked the assist back into Eco mode in the hope of earning those biscuits more quickly.
And then there was no up left to climb, only a choice of bridleways leading off in various directions. I picked a way I didn’t think I’d been before but that I’d seen on the map, that looked to offer up a selection of forks and linking tracks that might make up a loop. They proved to be a selection of muddy farm tracks, soggy grassy lanes and the occasional muddy trench, eventually leading to a…dead end. I checked the map, I peered around the corner, I looked at the ‘Private Road’ sign, and pedalled a little further. Ahead, a newish looking barn conversion looked to be on the route of what seemed to be a bridleway on my map. Another track led muddily off somewhere unknown. Rather than pursue this track any further or potentially find myself in an argument with someone in their front garden, I turned tail and sought out an alternative. Therein lies a joy of e-bikes – a change of plan and return ascent after a trail to nowhere is no big deal.
I decided though that I’d had enough of consulting the map at every turn and wanted to head to more familiar territory. I don’t like the feeling of riding where you’re not wanted, where bridleway signs are neglected or obscured, and ‘No access, no turning, private, keep out, beware of the bull’ signs adorn the gateways and fence posts. Feeling a little despondent that the other side of the hill hadn’t yielded trail gold, I suddenly found my spirits lifted as I crested the hill and heard skylarks.
Surely it was too early for skylarks? Where had they been just a few days before when everything was covered in snow? (Further research now tells me that skylarks are here all year round, just heard a bit less often November to January, but hey, don’t spoil the moment for me) I hunkered down behind a wall to keep the wind out of my ears so I could hear them better. To me, skylarks are the sound of warm days and blue skies, days of bog cotton and warm evenings. A sound of joy and hope at the end of a long winter. I took a moment to listen and let my heart be lifted as they climbed into the sky, their call wheeling on the wind.
Soul revived, I rode on, away from the farms and towards my home valleys, where steep sides drop away before you, making the other side seem quite remote – but with the power of the Grand Canyon:ON to keep me rolling I knew it wouldn’t take me long to reach points that appears far away in the distance.
My journey time over there and far away was kept shorter than might usually be the case thanks to the pub en route being closed. In normal times, some summer days there’s a beer garden, and in winter a roaring fire. Home made pies, giant Yorkshire puddings, and the finest Sunday roast you could hope for. Sigh. Without it there as a distraction or pit stop, I put the bike in Trail mode and whizzed my way up the following road sections and back into the wild.
Reaching the end of the lane that borders the reservoir, I decided that an hour and 45 minutes of riding might just be enough to offset a biscuit. With a stone stile to sit on and the shelter of the wall behind me, it seemed like a good place to check my progress. Let me tell you, no one could be more surprised than me to discover I’d ridden far enough to offset more than two biscuits! Without further delay, I unwrapped my jammy-shortbready-icing-topped treasure and sank my teeth in. Delicious, totally earned and not a whiff of regret or guilt about it.
Indeed, I didn’t need a calorie counting watch to tell me I was hungry, and the world seemed a better place as the fuel hit my bloodstream. Was the sky a bit bluer? Was that lichen especially beautiful? Yes, yes they were. Time to head over the hill again, another climb leading to the valley that I would follow all the way to home.
Feeling a little more cavalier and mission accomplished – biscuit earned – I skipped the Eco assist and powered up the climb in Trail mode once more. Taking a moment to appreciate my favourite gate latch, I pedalled on towards the thigh trembling descent known as ‘Penny Steps’. It’s a kilometre long sequence of packhorse trail slabs which get very uneven in the middle, just as your thighs and arms are starting to quake a bit, then evens up into a fast finale for those with the staying power to keep standing and absorbing the bumps. Pausing to open the gate at the bottom, I realised that this side of the hill still held a lot more snow and was much colder than the other side. I’d got pretty wet on the previous climb, and then got chilled on the descent. I swapped to a pair of thicker gloves I had in my pack, and determined that it was time for home.
With plenty of life left in the battery, I could treat myself to plenty of assist to take me up a gradual slog of an incline and back down the more interesting and off road way – instead of the drop straight down to the easy flatness of the canal. Getting home with three bars of power still to spare (despite a no handed full Boost session on the final climb home just for fun), I wondered whether I’d done enough, or should have done more?
Having got cleaned up and warmed up, I sat down with my mug of tea and another biscuit (I knew I’d already offset this one too, remember). I checked my watch and app again, wondering what further contribution to the cause of biscuit offset I’d made on the way home. Again I was really surprised: one half descent climb done mostly in Trail mode, and another gentler one in a mix of Trail and Eco – just 7km of riding in 45minutes – had earned me another 294kcal. Almost a whole other biscuit!
I’m going to eat biscuits – I’m that sort of person. There are still four left in the tin…odds of my kids getting one each…fair to middling…two each? None at all. But this challenge has shown me that quite a small amount of riding can go a long way. Even when I’m really tired, or work a long day, with the Grand Canyon:ON a 45 minute spin should be achievable. I’ve a tendency to do almost nothing for days on end, and then go out for three, four, five hours, pedalling around the moors and valleys until I stagger home, spent and hungry. On those days I get home and start eating, and don’t stop until I go to bed. Depleted, I overcompensate, and then likely spend the next day stiff and tired and doing not very much again.
In the interests of curiosity and bad science I later took myself off for a 45min ride without e-assist. I deliberately tried to put in about the same amount of effort – trying to pace myself, while not taking things so slowly that I wouldn’t actually get anywhere in the time available. I find the results quite encouraging – a broadly similar average heart rate, a slightly higher maximum heart rate on the non-ebike, and broadly similar calorie usage. But with the eMTB I climbed further – which also means I can descend further. Whoop!
I can see that the little and often approach to exercise would do me a lot more good – probably mentally too. A quick 45min trip out, away from my screens, and then back to a normal amount of food, and a normal level of hunger. Even with time for a shower added in, it’s not even an hour. And with the e-MTB, there’s not that sense of only just getting warmed up as I get home, or the excuse of ‘oh I’m just too tired today to face it’. It let me see more in my ride, gave me options, and made finding the energy to get out there just that little bit easier to muster. Oh, and the biscuits helped too.
‘Amanda, how many calories are in a giant Yorkshire pudding with roast beef, gravy, mashed potatoes and broccoli?’ It’s probably just as well the pub isn’t open, or I’d be back on that bike heading for it now.
- Fork FOX 34 Rhythm Grip, 120mm
- Wheels Front Iridium 30 | Shimano MT400 Rear Iridium 30 | Shimano MT510
- Tyres Schwalbe Nobby Nic Performance, 29×2.6″
- Brakes Shimano Rear: Deore 2-piston, Shimano EM300 STEPS 203mm rotor, Front: Shimano Deore 4-piston, Shimano Tourney TX 203mm rotor
- Shifter Shimano Deore, 12-speed
- Rear Derailleur Shimano Deore XT, 12-speed
- Cassette Shimano Deore, 12-speed (10-51)
- Crank Shimano STEPS E-MTB crank arms
- Chainring Canyon:ON 34T
- Stem Canyon:ON Stem 35mm clamp diameter, 60mm length
- Bars Canyon:ON HB0056 Aluminium Riser bar, 760mm width, 35mm clamp diameter, 20mm rise
- Grips Canyon Lock-On Grips
- Saddle Canyon SD:ON
- Seatpost Iridium Dropper Post
- Claimed Weight 23.15kg (size Medium)
- Price £3,399 for a small, £3,599 for other sizes
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