Out with the old and in with the new … maybe.

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I took a decision to sell my mountain bike a few weeks ago. Not because there was anything wrong with it but time marches on for all of us and after some very happy times together it’s time to move on not least because the weight was starting to take its toll. I hadn’t really noticed until I rode someone else’s carbon framed version what a difference it made! And so in spite of being akin to hurtling down the side of a mountain in your favourite armchair I have sold it to a fellow SW Rouleur in an effort to swell the ranks of the MTB section by 25%. It has gone off for a service now and will no doubt return riding sweetly at which point I’ll have seller’s remorse but the deed is done now and I have entered the kingdom of new bikes with only my moderate budget keeping my feet (sort of) on the ground.

So far I’ve made 2 important decisions. Firstly I thought it would be fun to build a bike from parts procured over a period of time. This thought partly arose because whenever you see a bike you like it’s generally specced with a group set one or two levels below what you want or else it’s out of your price range. The sweet spot just doesn’t exist. With sincere apologies to all LBS out there, I also can’t escape noticing the constant sales at the various on-line retailers. Hardly a day goes by without an email from Chain Reaction tempting me online with news of 50% off pieces of carbon that I don’t need. But like a magpie I can’t resist the shininess!

The second decision is that I’m going to build a 650b based bike. This is partly because I’m a marketing man’s dream and have clearly fallen for the hype that 26″ mountain bikes are a thing of the past. This is a man with Di2 for goodness sake so it was inevitable that I’d have my head turned by the latest line up of big hooped beauties. And yet, I just can’t get used to the look of 29″ wheels on a mountain bike no matter what people tell me … they just look wrong. So, much as I’m sure Goldilocks would have done, I’ve settled on the 650b middle ground with their 27.5″ wheels providing me with the best of both worlds. Handling and rolling speed … at least that’s what it says in the glossy brochures so it must be true!

This could be a rather long drawn out affair but it’ll be a learning experience for all of us dear reader and so I’ve set aside a new page to follow this particular chapter in my bike riding story. At this point I would seriously welcome any comments from anyone who has a clue about this sort of thing. I should point out that I have neither the tools, confidence, time or knowledge to piece the bits together myself. Instead I will be giving back to the LBS community by getting them to do it for me which will no doubt push the cost of the project way beyond what I originally hoped to spend but you can’t put a price on experience can you? So please chip in with any words of wisdom particularly along the lines of ‘whatever you do, do NOT … etc etc’ I may not pay them any heed but you will at least have the satisfaction of being able to say ‘I told you so’ at the end.

Lab Experiment

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On Friday I went to have a look at the newly opened environs of The Athlete Lab on Canon Street in The City. It’s probably best to view the website for an accurate description of what exactly goes on there but essentially these are very cycling specific exercise sessions that take place on state of the art static bikes. The bikes are set up to feel like standard road bikes with Shimano group sets and cleats while the front forks and rear wheel (basically a turbo trainer) are mounted on independent supports so that you can get out of the saddle and move the bike around beneath you whilst staring at the screen ahead of you.

The giant screen displays a backdrop of classic bike races in case you were needing inspiration (and it’s bizarre how watching Eddy Merckx attacking some mountain pass or other can have you spinning the wheels a bit harder) but more importantly the screen displays your (and everyone around you) data for the ride which is all based off your Functional Threshold Power output or FTP. In theory that is a number derived from a test that tells your maximum sustainable power output for an hour. All of the sessions at the Athlete Lab are then set up to have you riding at a percentage of your FTP so that in theory, regardless of how fit and strong you become, the session at the end of the season is just as strenuous as the one at the start. 

There’s something very ‘Sky’ about suddenly considering your FTP and ‘riding to the numbers’ and so it’s not surprising to learn that Shane Sutton is one of the founders and shareholders of The Athlete Lab. Bottom line though, it’s an excellent, if not entirely cheap, way of getting in a very good session during the week. I walked out of there showered and refreshed feeling very energised for the afternoon ahead. They offer free taster sessions (which is what I took advantage of) and I would urge you to give them a go – they are all very friendly and knowledgable. If you’re reading this outside of the UK, they also have them in Singapore and Syndey – definitely worth a closer look if you’re bored of the usual spin classes or are just looking for an alternative way to be in better shape for the weekend ride. 

Inspire

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This week I received notice from Ross Blake that whilst his career move into the world of cycling events has meant that he is unfitter than ever and is unable to make good on the promise of riding the Tour of Flanders (collective sighs of relief all round if I’m really honest) he has been busy putting together the official Tour de France Fan Park for this year’s race. Last year saw Ross and Dan put together a very successful park based in Canary Wharf and this year they have gone one better. Well, 5 better actually. Official Fan Parks will be springing up like mushrooms for the duration of Le Tour in Canary Wharf, Trafalgar Square (!), Green Park, Olympic Park and, at the epicentre of the action…. Harrogate (where the photo above was not taken).
So if you find yourself in London (or Yorkshire) and fancy doing a bit of ‘working from the mobile office’ with a cold beer in hand, the sun on your back and Sir Brad/ Froome/ Cav etc on the big screen… you now know where to go.
Full details at http://www.tourdefrancefanpark.co.uk

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Surrey Hills and a reminder that fitness is temporary.

Blog entries have been a little thin on the ground of late … there’s no denying it. Turns out that there’s a pretty good reason for that which is that despite turning the legs over on a daily basis up and down Boris’ CS7 from Balham to the City, it doesn’t make for particularly interesting riding or reading.

But all that changed this weekend when winter finally loosened it’s grip and the UK strained its collective eyes towards the heavens to marvel at the strange and unfamiliar orange orb in the sky. Spring has sprung. I know this because there even though we’re some way off the spring ritual of girls in summer dresses with plasters on the back of their heels as legs are brought out of hibernation there are other tell-tale signs.

1) I opened a bottle of rosé on the weekend
2) I cleaned the BBQ and wracked my brains to remember where I could buy a bottle of BBQ gas
3) Full finger gloves make your hands sweat when you ride and my legwarmers have moved from the top of the kit pile to the bottom.
4) The Cycleways of London are getting crowded again as the need for lights recedes. I’m not sure why spending £30 on some lights is such a barrier to entry for cycling but you can’t deny it …. Lights and grim weather seem to be inextricably linked in the minds of summer cyclists and so as the clocks go forward, you can almost hear the creak of the door hinges as thousands of bikes are wheeled out of the shed at the end of the garden across London.

But am I really any better? I went for a ride on Saturday and was a little alarmed to realise it was my first ride of over 100km since October 6th! Coincidence? Probably not! Short days and long rides just don’t seem to go together in my mind either. With the benefit of a bit of hindsight, it’s probably just as well that goal #1 for 2014 has already fallen by the wayside. The Tour of Flanders … all 270km of it would probably have been biting off more than I could chew given my lack of winter preparation. But better sportsmen than I have missed more important goals than that.

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If this weekend has taught me anything it’s that the best training for long rides is long rides. It doesn’t really matter how you cut it, 11km of commute with just 46 metres of vertical isn’t really going to help you to feel fresh on a long ride even if you do manage it twice a day at a reasonable pace. You don’t train for a marathon by running to the bus stop!

All of which is a rather long winded way of saying that on Sunday morning I left the celebration of Mother’s Day in the hands of my children (if I had a female readership I fear they may have just logged off) and set off to meet up with Will Greig of the SWRs for a ride into the Surrey Hills. The route (courtesy of Will) was a good one and strung together various pieces that I’d done before but in isolation. Leith Hill (mercifully not straight over the top), White Down Lane (the ‘wrong’ way) and then Box Hill in quick succession were enough to find my legs out and it was a pretty uncomfortable and not particularly quick trip up Box Hill to the cafe. Going so long without a long ride, I’d forgotten how much fuel I needed on these sorts of excursions and with the single energy bar and gel I’d brought with me already a distant memory I was now running on fumes. The good news for me at this point was that everything is pretty much downhill from the top of Box Hill but the bad news was Will wasn’t in much of a mood to cruise as we took what he referred to as ‘the fast train to Esher’ where the designated coffee stop awaited.

But what a coffee stop. I wasn’t previously acquainted with Cafe Giro of Giro Cycles in Esher but I’m already a big fan. Clearly set up by cyclists with a passion and artistic flair, it offers some truly excellent coffee, really delicious cake and all manner of other food and juices/ smoothies etc in very relaxed surroundings. Classic Tours of the past played on a screen in the background while the walls were adorned with some excellent cycling photographic prints. They even provide a free lock for your bike and I would definitely recommend a visit by incorporating it into your next ride in the area.

With the sun out, some lemon drizzle and Victoria sponge working their restorative magic and the threat of unhappy spouse if I overran my earlier arrival estimate I was able to round things off without any further issue although I still can’t figure out the one way system in Kingston (I know there’s a quick way through it by bike but I never find it) and the climb back up Copse Hill into Wimbledon is a uniquely unenjoyable slog at the end of a long ride. But all in all an excellent morning on the bike and a great way to kick start the summer’s riding with an eye on the Ride London goal. (No I didn’t get a place in the ballot. Plan B didn’t really come off either. Plan C is in full effect but I won’t tempt fate by writing about it just yet!) Strava map of the ride plus the usual profile etc is here.

Holmbury Hill Hero

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I recently bought a GoPro Hero camera which has been taunting me from the kitchen table where it has been living a very un-extreme existence for the last couple of weeks. On Saturday I finally decided to see just how idiot-proof these things are and set off with the dogs for a ride over at Holmbury Hill on what turned out to be a beautiful morning. The sort of morning that it takes 3 months of back to back rain and ‘mizzle’ to really fully appreciate – and so it was clear blue skies and crisp temperatures of around 1-2 degrees when I pulled into the car park at 8 am just outside Holmbury St. Mary.

It was nearly half past by the time I’d finished faffing about with the various mounts to figure out how to get the camera in position (no, ‘finger tight’ isn’t sufficient to hold it in place – you’ll need a screwdriver) and the dogs were starting to wonder if they were ever going to get going. Patience in the face of a walk has never been their strong suit and they were quite willing to run off with anyone that so much as glanced in their direction. But get going we eventually did and what with the cool temperatures and the low early morning sun plunging the fir tree lined valleys into shade it was very reminiscent of an early morning ski as we set off to try and find a trail known as Barry Knows Best which I’d yet to ride on two previous rides here. I had a vague notion of where it was but it took a considerable amount of criss-crossing and double backing before I eventually stumbled across it. In the meantime I was able to try out the GoPro using a handlebar/ seatpost mount which I read somewhere was a great mount just so long as you don’t actually attach it to a mountain bike because it tends to result in fairly jerky and bumpy footage. What you really want is a helmet or chest mount but mine is still ‘in the post’ and besides, this was just a test ride to work out where the on/off switch was and generally just make rookie errors with the camera.

When all was said and done I had a muddy bike, one flat battery in the camera and two very happy but exhausted dogs in the car. So what did we learn?

1)      Holmbury Hill is an excellent place to go riding when everything else is soaked and caked in chalky/ clay mud. Trails were great to ride considering the winter we’ve endured.

2)      Filming with a GoPro at 60 frames per second gives you pretty smooth footage even if you’ve had to mount the camera on your handlebars. A full suspension set up didn’t hurt either!

3)      Even a luddite like me can (eventually) self-teach themselves how to use the edit software from GoPro (with a little help from the web and a browse of the very helpful “How To Use GoPro Hero 3″ by Jordan Hetrick which I would definitely recommend if you’re thinking of buying one of these toys but don’t know your HD from your FPS).

4)      Short and sweet. Keep clips short and mix up the point of view in your edit. Even I got bored watching an entire trail from the same point of view without a break.

5)      Vizslas are great dogs to run with a bike … but I knew that already!

So here it is … the finished product which is the first time I have ever managed to edit any sort of video footage and the first time I have ever uploaded anything to YouTube. Manage your expectations accordingly!

Mud, sweat and gears. Joining the dots in the Surrey Hills.

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Sunday was, as anyone in the UK will know, a beautiful day of chilly temperatures, low winter sun and bright blue skies. In short, a perfect day to turn the legs over on the North Downs with the mountain bike. And so it was that the MTB section of the SWR found themselves gathering near Brockets Farm at half past 7 in the morning on Sunday. I’m feeling ‘glass half full’ as I write this so I’ll just say that there was an excellent turn out of two-thirds of the MTB section rider base in attendance. A cynic might point out that means we numbered just 2 but it’s quality rather than quantity that counts on these sort of occasions. And make no mistake, there was a bit of an agenda to the day quite beyond the usual MAMIL agenda of getting back home before you’ve laid waste to the few brownie points you’d managed to accumulate with your spouse during the week. That sort of thing is taken as read! No, today was the day that we’d decided would be a good opportunity to try and join up various trails that we’d stumbled across over the winter into one long ride. Something that took in Polesden Lacey, Ranmore, Leith Hill, and then over to Peaslake before getting back over the spine of the North Downs at Ranmore and home again. Quite literally a marathon ride at a smidge over 42km.

So it was a hard core of just Will Greig and myself that set off as the darkness slowly lifted to reveal a stunning morning with temperatures in the low singles. I should have realised that Will was taking this seriously when I noticed he was a) still refusing to cover up his legs and b) wearing SWR bib shorts underneath a poor imitation of baggy Sk8erboi shorts. Sartorial note at this point … if you can see bib shorts underneath your baggies … then you baggies really need to be longer! Just ask your children if you’re still confused.

The first thing that came to our attention was that whilst it was indeed a lovely day, it was probably the first lovely day since October 2013 and it was going to take more than 5 minutes of winter sunshine to dry out the previous three months of accumulated rainfall. It was wet. It was slippery, it was boggy. In the first half a mile we’d already encountered mud so thick you couldn’t ride through it, mud so slippery you couldn’t point in the right direction and puddles so deep that they submerged your feet. Yep, soaking, freezing feet before you could even say ‘warm up’.

But no matter, on we went and it was a cracking ride that even turned up a few new trails including a descent off the back of Ranmore down the face of the North Downs which, at an incline of -24%, is properly steep. Doing it when it’s wet … down a chalk face …. over tree roots … was a proper test of nerve, descending technique, brakes and blind luck. Fortunately all 4 held firm long enough to make it which is more than can be said of the sorry looking Land Rover chassis rotting away at the bottom. The ride to Leith Hill took in Summer Lightning before the long climb back up and around this point I was starting to question my choice of riding companion. Will is disturbingly fit and, rather frustratingly, his off-road riding technique is improving to the point that it’s not so easy to catch him as soon as the ground gets a little uneven. He does still fall off quite a lot though and this means that a smile was never far from my lips despite my aching legs and rasping lungs. The falling is made all the more amusing because for reasons unknown, Will has his clip-on pedals turned up to 11 so that when he does realise that gravity is taking over, he can’t do much about it. Sometimes he’s riding ahead of you and you can take in the whole balletic affair virtually in slow motion – like Bambi on ice as he wobbles, swerves and topples with feet still attached. Other times it happens behind you and you just hear the gnashing of gears and the ‘thud’ as body meets turf. I’d feel sorry for him (and nearly did when I saw the state of his shins at the end…see below) if he wasn’t so much fitter than me … but instead I just let the mirth warm me from the inside – although it wasn’t funny enough to reach my feet which were, by now, unfeeling lumps of ice.

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On the descents I could make back some of the ground and this was partly on account of riding an All Mountain tank that is at its happiest descending quickly with suspension soaking up the hits. It’s less happy when pointing up hill and being asked to climb – or perhaps it’s just me that’s less happy  – but it’s no carbon fibre whippet in the weight department which makes itself felt when you’ve got a few inches of mud stuck to your frame and wheels already. Between Holmbury and the A25 there is a long descent down towards a farm and Will had wisely suggested a degree of caution because of the risk of getting railroaded in some tracks and not being able to turn out of them. As we set off and gathered pace I realised that these were the timid words of a roadie and should obviously be ignored because I, on my All-Mountain tank was more than a match for these particular conditions. What’s the saying? Pride comes before ….

Sure enough all was going well and I was gliding down the hill soaking up the odd bump and generally thinking that Will was a bit of a pussy for being so nervous of this considering what we’d already tackled that day when I saw another rider coming up the hill. There were about 4 different ‘tracks’ running along this particular bridleway and whilst I was pretty sure that we were on different ones, it was probably best to move over a bit to avoid passing too close considering the speed that I’d by now accumulated. Sure enough, trying to extract myself from the shallow path I’d found myself in ended in disaster and I went down rather hard right in front of the poor guy riding up the hill. Fortunately, despite a reminder of the importance of a helmet as my melon met the ground, no harm was done and we all carried on our way none the worse for wear. Will was gracious enough not to say “I told you so” but he had every right to feel just a little bit righteous!

By now, and in spite of leaving out a run through the Yoghurt Pots and Barry Knows Best, we were in danger of breaking rule #1 (Don’t be late home) … which to be fair I break quite often. Will was making short work of the climb to Ranmore (after finally negotiating 100m of 1% incline at the base coated in a slick clay/chalk mire that made riding across it impossible. I walked – Will refused to be beaten) but by now I was fading and my legs were cooked. Will powered on while I remembered I should take a few pictures of the view from half way up the climb for the blog!

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Finally, about 4 and quarter hours after we set off, we arrived back at the cars tired (exhausted in my case), muddy and happy. Ride stats and map are all here but it took in such highlights as Summer Lightning, Leith Hill Tower, Telegraph Row and others. You could definitely extend this ride to take in Yoghurt Pots and Barry Knows Best and we agreed it’s one to come back and do in the summer when it’s lighter earlier (don’t forget Rule #1) and also drier under the wheel. This time around even the downhill bits were hard work in places and firm ground would speed this ride up significantly. I can report though that the bit of neoprene I fixed to the front of my bike works very well indeed. Anyone used to a face full of ‘splatter’ every time they ride should definitely consider one. Google “neoprene mudguard” and you’ll find plenty to choose from. Expect to pay about £15. I’ll spare you the “with/without” mug shots but suffice to say I wouldn’t ride in the wet without one now. Sadly it doesn’t keep the mud off anything else!

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New Year’s Revolution

SWRThe SW Rouleur quarterly club rides have been upgraded to monthly club rides as of January 2014 and this seemed like as good a chance as I was likely to get to stop eating for a few hours and roll the bike out of the shed for the first time in a couple of weeks. That the shed hasn’t just floated off down the hill to Balham taking the bike with it is a surprise in itself such has been the utterly miserable weather that has been the feature of this Christmas/ New Year as wave after wave of storm fronts dump more and more rain and the garden turns into a quagmire.

By some happy coincidence Sunday morning was actually a rare window of winter sunshine, albeit coupled with low single digits for temperatures, and so it was with the optimistic and misguided enthusiasm of the novice that I set off in search of the Putney meeting point. It was an impressive turn out of 13 Rouleurs which made for a smart peloton decked out in club colours and as we set off it was all pretty relaxed. To quote our club captain the emphasis on these rides is very much on the social… “they will be social rides (not training rides) and will aim to be inclusive for all the varying abilities in the club, waiting for mechanicals etc.”

A January, post Christmas blow-out ride then would be expected to be pretty steady …and to start with it was. But eventually testosterone, competitiveness and just a generally misguided sense of ones own fitness meant that the ‘rules’ were forgotten and to be fair, it was our captain leading the charge through the Horton roundabouts as the speedo reached 50 km/h (on the flat!) and I clocked up pb after pb on Strava! By the time I rolled home, some 83 km later I was definitely not feeling spritely! All the usual stats here on strava. Next month the delights of Essex via Hackney … SW Rouleurs – they’re a glamorous bunch!