A Day To Remember…

But it was nearly over before it began!

Firstly an apology for the length of time taken to update the blog since the RideLondon 100. It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks and I’ve only just had the chance to sit down and write. So, my tardiness hopefully excused – let me tell you all about it. It’s a long blog post today so you may want to get a cuppa and biscuit…

August 4th 2013 has been the day that I have been planning and training for since first registering in the autumn of 2012. If you have followed me on this blog throughout the year you’ll know it’s been an amazing journey for me. In summary I’ve bought my first road bike, lost over a stone in weight, become fitter than at any point in my life, joined a (fabulous) cycling club and been part of an amazing charity team. (Nearly) all with the end goal of getting to RideLondon in the best possible shape I could have been in.

The week before the ride was spent purely as a taper training wise. Very light work just to keep the legs ticking over, which actually is harder to do than you might think. It’s not easy to resist the temptation to go for a blast and put in the normal amount of effort, in favour of keeping the heart rate under control in the lowest zone. Fortunately heart rate training that I learned during last winter on endless turbo trainer sessions has taught me that the science works and therefore I was a good boy. J

I organised everything on the Friday evening, knowing we would be busy on the Saturday. My pack was ready, drinks were in the fridge, the bike was ready, I was ready.

August 3rd – RideLondon FreeCycle

As well as applying for the RideLondon 100, which at the time I had no idea whether I’d be successful or not, I registered myself and the rest of the family on to the RideLondon FreeCycle which was taking place on the Saturday before the main event.

For those unfamiliar, the 2013 FreeCycle event was the inaugural launch of the London weekend festival of cycling. Free to enter (clue in the name!) for over 50,000 cyclists of all ages to take advantage of an eight mile closed loop in Central London with no traffic to worry about – just to be able to ride their bikes!

I had taken the decision not to ride my bike on the Saturday because I thought it would be Sods Law that something would happen to it and throw the Sunday in to doubt. (The later irony isn’t lost on Me. read on) My fifteen year old son had changed his mind about going because well, he’s fifteen and that would have involved leaving the Xbox for a few hours! However, my wife Michele and eight year old daughter Hollie were very excited to take part. I figured that Hollie would never be able to ride eight miles, so thought that my decision to walk round would pay off as I was sure she’d get fed up quickly.

How Wrong Was I – but as it turned out I didn’t mind one little bit!

Hollie rode the entire loop with Michele and was actually getting irritated by having to stop every ½ mile or so to let me wander along and catch up! The route went from Black Friars station, past St Pauls, along the Embankment up to The Tower of London and then back down the Embankment to Westminster, along Whitehall, round Trafalgar Square and along The Mall.

It was actually great to just stroll along and take it all in. Thousands of cyclists about, live bands playing along with other entertainment, and yet… it was bizarrely QUIET! It’s difficult to describe but I guess you just normally tune out to traffic noise but you sure notice when it’s not there!

The FreeCycle was an awesome event in its own right. Michele and Hollie were both absolutely buzzing and I was chuffed for them that they’d been able to experience it.

August 4th – RideLondon-Surrey 100

Saturday evening meant bed at 8:30pm for me. I was sure I wasn’t going to sleep but knowing I had to be up at 3am I had to at least give myself a chance of some sleep before riding the following morning. Amazingly I got a good 6 hours shuteye so woke up at 3 actually feeling pretty good (well… as good as you can be at 3 in the morning having not been out on the lash and just getting in!)

I was feeling pretty good with myself. The car was already loaded with my gear and all I needed to do was dress, have my porridge and put the bike on the car rack. I was on the road by 4. My designated carpark was in Islington which required me to ride about 4 ½ miles to the Olympic Park, where I needed to be by 06:00, just over an hour before my 07:06 start time. I was in Islington just before 5 and it was clearly chucking out time for the area’s clubs. The area was bouncing! There were people everywhere – most looking very worse for wear at the taxi ranks, in the many kebab shops or waiting for the early morning bus home. The satnav made me do two slow loops of the Great Eastern Street area before I eventually managed to spot the carpark – the one that had ummm about twenty cyclists standing outside!

Still calm, still with masses of time on my side I joined the queue to get in to the multi-storey. After a few minutes of the queue going nowhere I was starting to get a bit fidgety and asked a guy leaning on his bike what the hold-up was. “It’s a f*cking nightmare mate…” was his reply. “They’ve got a f*cking lift to carry the cars up – tight as f*ck as well.” The calmness was starting to slip a little bit after the warning from my eloquent colleague so I decided to get myself ready in the car. I’m getting worryingly good at pulling on lycra in the confines of the front seat of a car and applying chamois cream to the ahem lower regions (without messing up the leather upholstery I might add).

Now, some of you may have been in carparks that you have to drive in to a lift to get to your space and are reading this wondering what the fuss is about. I on the other hand had not and I could have done without a dark, time constrained Sunday morning with my prized possession hanging off the back of the car being my first time.

After about twenty minutes of waiting I had negotiated the car around a concrete post and was in the lift on my way to the eighth floor. I reversed ever so gently, out and as the both the parking sensors and my rear view mirror were blocked I thought I was being really careful. Right up until the full left lock of the wheel ended with a sickening cruuuuuunch – immediately followed by a man (another cyclist) standing by his car saying “Oh no… Poor Bastard”. I was out of the car and the initial inspection looked promising. “I think it’s OK” I said to the guy.

I got the bike off the rack and knew within seconds it was pretty far from OK. The front wheel hub was broken and the rim was clearly buckled as it would spin no more than a third of a turn. I truly thought at that moment it was game over. By this point I was starting to flap. I had visions of having to go home and explain to everybody that I’d raised over £1600 but had royally f*cked things up and not been able to ride. In my panic I also couldn’t remember where I’d put the car key and it took what felt like an eternity to finally find it in my back pocket – exactly where it always goes. Car key found I started to clear my head and look at what I could do. I loosened the brakes off and found that I could spin the wheel with only a rub rather than a grind. It would mean the front brake would need to be yanked on to work but I figured “Sod It I’m doing this”. I pulled myself together and carried the bike down eight flights of stairs – Oh Yeah you put the feckin’ car in a lift but you have to walk back down…. Grrrr!!!

I tentatively took a gentle spin on the back of a group of others making their way to the Olympic Park and as I realised that the bike felt ride-able I quickly started to calm down. I’ve been in a few tight spots with my job over the last few years and I’m usually pretty good under pressure. I’ll say one thing – put me in charge of a multi-billion pound e-commerce web site any day. Compared to how I’d felt at half past 5 on that morning that’s a doddle!

After the drama, we arrived as a group at the park in plenty of time. I was actually able to enjoy and take in the buzz of riding past the Stadium and the Velodrome where so many memories were made just a year before. A lot of us had been wondering how slick it would be to get 20,000 people away from the start without it being utter carnage. Nobody need have worried – it was faultless. Each “wave” – mine was wave L “Black” – went away a four minutes apart and comprised of five hundred or so riders. We were away BANG ON 07:06 and it couldn’t have been smoother.

The official start of the 100 miles is actually a pad which traverses all six lanes of the A12 two miles down the road from the Park. This allowed any initial congestion to sort itself out really quickly. It was in this initial few miles that you could already see how special this event was. Picture this…. Hundreds of cyclists riding the wrong way down an otherwise empty motorway! It was bloody brilliant – and again SO quiet! Apart from the cyclists it felt like a scene from 28 Days Later.

The pace that some of the other riders were going at in those initial miles was crazy. I wasn’t exactly hanging about, but my previous experience taught me that there was a long way to go, the real challenge didn’t start until 60 odd miles and Oh Yeah I had a wobbly wheel…!

The route winds its way out through south west London via Richmond Park and Kingston Upon-Thames and in to the Surrey countryside. I felt well on top of my physical well-being and in general the bike was manageable. The main issue I had was on the steeper ascents I simply could not stand up and push-on because this brake pads would just grip the buckled wheel and grind the bike to a halt – the absolute opposite of what I needed!

I could cope with descending but the added wobble and vibration through the bike became uncomfortable in my hands at times due to gripping the handlebars more tightly than I normally would. I also knew that I was physically holding the bike back from the sort of average speed that I knew I was capable of under the conditions.  This meant that I struggled to hang on to groups of riders for any length of time, which was frustrating bearing in mind how much benefit I have learnt that group riding has. Fortunately there was very little wind for most of the time.

Once we got to West Byfleet it felt like I was on familiar soil and I knew that I had made the right call by doing the recce of the Surrey Hills a few weeks prior. Recognising the roads was a real bonus and upon reaching Newlands Climb (the first of the big climbs), I had plenty in the tank and felt prepared. There were lots of others though that you could see that reality had suddenly hit home as they struggled up that first major hill – with Leith still to come!

I won’t go over the details of the Surrey section as that’s covered in full from the recce blogpost but suffice to say I knocked over 2 minutes off my previous times up Leith Hill and Box Hill – and that’s with not being able to get out of the seat. Got to be happy with that. I’ve also got to take a moment to mention (and thank) the large band of Children With Cancer volunteers at the foot of Box Hill who, upon spotting my shirt gave me just the boost I needed to climb up the winding ascent. It was a brilliant feeling – Thanks Guys!

After Box Hill and it was the run back to London – just the forty miles! We wound back through Kingston, Wimbledon and then along the Thames towards Westminster.

Arriving in Central London the crowds, which had been amazing all along the route became huge! Riding past the Houses of Parliament and then in to Whitehall the support was incredible and just couldn’t fail to give the most exhausted of rider such an adrenaline kickstart. I knew that at the Trafalgar Square end of Whitehall would be where the main CwC group would be positioned, along with my own family. I could see the CwC sails from some way off and in hindsight I probably should have cruised past and soaked up the huge roar they gave me. However, by now I was in full on adrenaline race mode and had my hands on the drops and literally flew past with a quick wave! Trafalgar Square was PACKED as I went through and turned on to the Mall for the final dash. To see the Mall lined with people banging on the hoardings driving you on to the finish was an amazing feeling!

I crossed the line in a total of 5h 58:23, with a total moving time for the 100 miles of 5h 36m. I felt physically in really good shape so I know that despite the issues with the bike, I knew that all of the training and work had been worthwhile. I do have a niggling feeling of what might have been time-wise without the damage, but all things considered it was an amazing experience and I feel privileged to have been able to take part in the very first RideLondon.

I also feel immensely proud of the money that I have raised (so far I should be in excess of £1600) for Children with Cancer. I am SO grateful to everybody that has dug deep in and sponsored me – I’m truly humbled. I also can’t thank Yvonne Dugera and her CwC Team enough for the brilliant support and organisation offered to myself and the other 219 CwC riders.

Until Next Year….!

Post Script….

Just to close this post I thought I’d share this with you all… Once home and having had 24 hours to chill out I gave the bike a closer inspection to assess the extent of the damage. You can imagine my shock when I looked at the carbon fork and saw the following…

It turns out that during the “incident” in the carpark, I didn’t just buckle my wheel. I actually crushed the fork on both sides – badly. If I’d known at the time that I’d done this it absolutely would have been game over. As it turned out, I hadn’t noticed it and rode a total of 115 miles on a fork that could have snapped at any time…

I looked back on my data for my top speed and I topped out at just under 41mph – on a bike I was deliberately holding back!

It seems funny now – and will give me something to talk about for some time, but I don’t really want to think what could have happened if it had given way while doing over 40 down Leith Hill…

It also seems that Brian, owner of my favourite bike shop Pedalworks has kept the fork as a kind of trophy of the nutty clown that rode over 100 miles on it!

Cheers

This Is The Week!

So here we are. On Sunday I will join 19,999 other cyclists on the inaugural RideLondon-Surrey 100!

It’s difficult to believe that I first started the process of entering the event back in October 2012, followed by the long wait for the initial ballot results in February of this year, which was unsuccessful. Fortunately, I had already registered my interest in riding for Children with Cancer UK as a charity entrant and upon receiving my ballot knockback I got granted a place with CwC within the same week.

The hard work training wise began from November last year and has steadily stepped up through 2013. Anybody who has followed this blog, will hopefully have had some insight in to my progress fitness, strength and technique wise. I’ve still got loads to learn but I’ve got to be really happy with how far I’ve come. I’ve been able to track my performance progression by using tools such as Strava, which has helped monitor my fitness, power and speed. Of course over an extended period of time the gains can seem marginal (didn’t someone famous say that!?) and only be borne out by the data. However you can’t beat actually seeing the difference for yourself in the flesh so to speak.

I rode the London to Southend in July 2012 which at the time was (by far) the furthest I had ever ridden, but still became the main catalyst for taking the sport much more seriously. I recorded a time of around 4 ½ hours on a hybrid bike and in a fair amount of pain brought on by cramp and an inadequate level of fitness. While at the time I was proud of my efforts I knew even then that there was massive room for improvement – yes with the bike, but more importantly with me.

On July 21st 2013, I returned with my friend and colleague Dan to do the ride again. This time not for charity and personal achievement, but as a training ride!! That in itself felt a huge step on in progress, but by the fact that we recorded the 52 miles in 03hr 05 minutes – almost a full hour and a half less than last year! Not to mention I felt really good at the end, which was just as well because we had to ride half of the distance back the other way to get back to where we’d parked the cars! I really enjoyed the day and it was fun doing about 77 miles with Dan, who should also be very proud of his own progress.

From a personal point of view I cannot wait to test myself on the RL route and based upon the press ramp up this week, I don’t think any of us who will be participating will realise just how big an event it is until the actual day. The other point of pride for me is the huge amount of support I’ve had from friends, family and colleagues on the fund raising front. After all, I’m able to participate in this great occasion thanks to CwC and as anybody who has read my Fundraising and Awareness page will know, Childhood cancer is very close to my heart. It’s going to be a pleasure and honour representing such a great charity! There is still time to donate if you can spare a pound or two. Every penny will help! If you would like to help you can click on the CwC UK logo below to go straight to my Virgin Money Giving page. Thanks! J

In closing for this blog update, I should also mention that on Sunday I won’t be underestimating the Law of the Sod! Having gone nearly three months since the last time I had a puncture, I got well and truly caught out last week while out on a training run. Only a few days before I’d treated myself to a good quality mini pump that fits nicely in my shirt pocket. It’s brilliant… if you remember to take it with you! The one occasion I wasn’t armed with the pump the inevitable happened (to explosive effect!). Fortunately I was able to call out the fifth emergency service to come and rescue me – i.e. The Missus!

See you on the other side.

Cheers!

The (Surrey) Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of…

Me grunting and swearing mainly!

This week I decided, in a moment of clarity/stupidity to combine some training with a recce of the Surrey Hill section of the RideLondon 100 route. Taking out all of the very cool elements of the RideLondon, e.g. The Olympic Park start, the Mall finish etc., when it comes down to it, as a cyclist I’m going to want to know the answer to the questions… “Where are the hills and how bad are they!?”.

The answer to the first question is clearly the Surrey countryside. The second question was what I was looking to answer on this trip, so that when I come to do the ride for real on August 4th, I won’t be facing any surprises. There’s a perfectly valid point of view that suggests that it could be worse to know what’s coming and I’d be better off just getting on with it on the day. However, I have a slightly OCD side to my nature when it comes to preparing myself for events and thus the “f**k it lets wing it” approach wasn’t going to be an option!

Route courtesy of RL-Surrey 100

I wanted to map out approximately 50 miles worth of riding in to my session, so decided that I’d set off from West Byfleet and follow the RideLondon route down to Forest Green and back up to Cobham. I then planned to cycle back in to Byfleet to pick up the car. This route would take in all of the significant climbs on the RL, the first being Newlands Corner, then Leith Hill and finally Box Hill – made famous for its part on the Olympic road races. Total distance should have been about 48 miles…

The initial part of the ride was really easy going, fast paced and noticeably level terrain. My average speed up to the village of Ripley was around 19mph and I was feeling very comfortable. As I headed towards and through West Horsley, the terrain was a bit more rolling but still no problem. I knew my first climb would be Newlands, but not knowing the area at all I had no idea what the approach would be like or what to look out for. In fact due to the distinct lack of signage I started to think I’d gone off route until I made a left turn in to a road and was met with a sign that simply said “Welcome to the Surrey Hills” – which also happened to be the foot of the Newlands climb…

Newlands is deceptive – just over a mile long with 392 feet of climbing from bottom to top. It’s considered a category 4 climb in the cycling world with around half of the distance being at a gradient of between 5 and 10%. After reaching the summit I certainly knew I’d put some effort in! The run from Newlands to the village of Abinger Hammer (great name!) was a predominantly downhill run along the A25, providing plenty of time to get some energy back in to the legs.

Church at Holmbury St. Mary

Once off the busy A-road it was back in to the hills to climb one side of the valley in to the picturesque village of Holmbury St. Mary. This place is like the real life equivalent of a set of David Winter cottages – just beautiful. Not least the church perched on the hillside (see pic). Pushing on I followed the route down to Forest Green, before turning to the approach to Leith Hill and the climb up the other side of the valley.

Looking up Leith Hill

Ahhh… Leith Hill. It’s a climb of about 500 feet to the top with at least one section approaching 15% over 1.3 miles. The road winds its way to the summit and is one of those where you’re left hoping that the next bend is the top – only to be left disappointed!

There is no doubt Leith is a challenge and I didn’t need much persuading 2/3rd the way up to take a photo “break”… J This all being said was it as bad as I’d built it up to be in my mind? Well I guess it’s probably mainly testament to the training and work I have put in since the winter, that I felt that whilst the legs were burning and the pace was slow, I felt in control. Reaching the top my heart rate was in the 160s and I pulled over to do a map check rather than actually need to rest for a period. That said, the couple of minutes rest didn’t go a-miss!

After enjoying the long descent down the other side of Leith Hill it was back on to the A roads towards Box Hill. I remembered the approach on to the hill quite well from watching the Olympic Road Race on the TV and there definitely felt a sense of familiarity with this section of the route – even though I’d never been on the roads myself.

Box Hill Climb

The climb for Box Hill is on a road called Zig Zag Road, where (the clue being in the name) the route zig-zags its way up the hill. I guess it’s probably one of the closest climbs in look and feel to the continental alpine ascents, with the regular switch backs. I have to say it here and now – Box Hill was fun! Once settled in to the saddle, the gradient is manageable and I just took my time and enjoyed the stunning views across the valley. The other positive to the climb was reading the road graffiti still visible from the Olympics. For anybody that doesn’t know it’s very common for the public to daub the roads of climbs prior to big cycle races with messages, pictures etc. for the riders and I guess the opportunity for it to get spotted on TV. Once I’d ridden over the obligatory “TEAM GB”, “GO WIGGO” I came to “CAV HAVE MY BABIES” – to which my main thought was “I bet that was a bloke who wrote that!”

One other bonus from the fact that Box Hill was a key part of the Olympic route is the smooth surface, which had been re-tarmacked prior to the Games. This made the climb even more enjoyable (if you can call climbing enjoyable!) as the bike just rolled beautifully along.

My original plan had been to stop for a tea stop at the summit of Box Hill at the café there, as I had been reliably informed that the cakes are awesome. However, time was already getting on longer than I’d planned so I decided to have a quick admire of the view and then plough on.

The reason I was behind schedule was due to the frequent map checks as the Surrey area is not familiar to me at all. Several times I had over-run a junction by as much as a mile at times and had to double back. Now, from Box Hill I knew I wasn’t a huge distance from getting back to Byfleet – IF I didn’t get lost on the way.

I got lost. Several times. You’d had the hills being alive with the sound of me grunting my way up the ascents, now the hills were blue with me swearing at my lack of local knowledge and Surrey’s lack of good road signs!

So, all told my 48 mile recce became just shy of 60 miles. To be honest, swearing aside it was no drama – in fact for the most part a real pleasure. A beautiful part of England to cycle in and one that come RideLondon I’m sure I’ll really enjoy again before the dash back to the City and the Mall.

Cheers!

A Busy Month!

It’s been a while since my last blog post, but there’s been plenty going on!

Since the end of April, I have joined a local cycling club, racked up my highest number of miles in a single event and competed in my debut Time Trial race.  Amongst all that I have continued to push hard on the training towards the Ride London-Surrey 100.  All told it’s been pretty busy!

In The Club…

Whilst only being a few months in to my first year as a road cyclist, following a winter spent almost entirely on fitness work, I have already learnt an awful lot.  However, I felt that being a solo rider, whilst fun would only take my training and experience so far.  I wanted to look for a local cycling club to help me take my riding on to the next stage.  To get experience in group riding, learning the finer points of cycling etiquette, gleaning knowledge and advice from senior club members and not to mention the sense of belonging are all of the things I was looking to gain from a club.  However, as a first year novice the actual most important thing was to find the right club for me.  I couldn’t stand the thought of joining a group and being made to feel inferior or that I didn’t belong there for whatever reason.  Fortunately I’ve hit the sweet spot first time with the Hitchin Nomads CC.  After joining them for my first Sunday morning club run in April, I was immediately made to feel welcome by members of the group who all introduced themselves at various points on the ride.  It was hard work and a definite new experience being encouraged to hold the wheel of the rider in front to keep the group intact – but it was great!

After going out with the club on three Sunday rides I became a paid up member of the Nomads at the beginning of May. They’re a great bunch of people and I’m really enjoying being part of the group.  I’ve got loads to learn but there’s plenty of friendly advice on hand and also it’s good to have that regular kick up the backside to push me on harder – especially when it comes to recovering my ground after being spat out the back of the bunch on a group ride! :)

Getting The Miles In…

I’m now regularly putting in over a hundred miles a week as the training continues. A combination of turbo training intervals during the week and long rides at the weekend seems to be working well for me in the main. On May 19th I took part in the Nomads’ annual Sportive over an 80 mile course. My plan was to cycle the ten miles from home to the start and then ride home afterwards to make it a centenary day miles wise. The sportive had about two hundred cyclists participating which is great for a local event and a lot of the course covered a lot of familiar areas for me, as being close to home many parts of the route were on my training routes. Our allotted group set out at 09:08 and I was lucky to have a fellow club mate Brendon as a ride partner. For the first 60 odd miles we worked really well together as a pair, taking our turns on the front in the wind and our pace was great. At the second feed stop, we caught up with the rest of the Nomads who were kicking back with a cuppa! After grabbing a drink, an energy gel and the customary handful of jelly babies :), the plan then was to ride the remainder of the course as a club group and finish together.

Everything was cool for the next five miles, but unfortunately I became increasingly affected by cramps in the back of my calves. I’d had some cramps on and off from about mile 50 but hadn’t had too much trouble, however now I was finding it increasingly difficult to keep the pace up, especially when the little bursts were required. As a result I gradually dropped off the back of the group and became resigned to finishing on my own at my now slower pace. After about fifteen minutes on my own I caught sight of Brendon on his own up ahead. I can’t tell you how grateful I was to him for consciously dropping back out of the main group to ride me in – it was a real gesture of camaraderie that I appreciated no end, especially as I was now going to directly affect his average speed.

Cramp is a horrible thing because fitness wise I felt fresh, fuelled and more than up to finishing strong. However when you can’t turn over the pedals in your normal efficient way due to trying to compensate for the pain the average speed takes a dive – from around 18mph for the best part of 60 miles to 14-15 for the final 20. It was really annoying and something I hadn’t suffered with in a long while. Once I’d got home later it became obvious why I’d had the cramp – dehydration. I had thought that throughout the ride I had been keeping well on top of my fuelling but it would appear that I was either not adequately hydrated prior to the ride or that with the warmer weather my electrolytes were being consumed at a faster rate than I’d calculated. Either way, it’s a lesson learned and will definitely be something I’ll be wary of going in to long rides as the weather gets warmer. (edit: HAHAHA – fat chance of the weather getting warmer!)

So, despite the painful and slower last 20 we finished in a time of 04:56:13 with an average speed of 16.2mph. Considering that last ¼ of the sportive had been ridden at least 2mph average slower I’ve got to be fairly pleased with that. I’ve got to be honest though, the plan to ride home went out of the window and my wife had to come and get me! This of course is pretty shameful considering Rule #5 of the Velominati states simply “HARDEN THE F*CK UP!”. I’ll have to put that one down to experience then! :D

Flat Out For 30 Miles? Oh Go On Then…

Immediately after the finish of the Sportive I probably wasn’t thinking straight, because Simon our Club Captain immediately said “Put you down for the Interclub 30 Time Trial next Sunday Steve?”. My response was “errr yeah OK!” – not having the foggiest idea what I was letting myself in for!

Now, with what little I know, I know enough that time trialling looks bloody hard work and from what I’d seen it’s riders on Bike Porn standard TT bikes going like the wind. Fact is, from my debut experience riding a TT that’s approximately 90% true! You’d therefore think that me, the first year newbie on my first (and much loved) road bike would be utterly intimidated by the experience. The reality though is that everyone was extremely friendly and encouraging, always ready to offer advice – including those from the rival teams. The TT experience is nothing short of a total buzz. For those who are unfamiliar with the protocols (up until last Sunday morning that’d be me!) you get given a start time and you must be ready to be called forward to the line a minute before your “push-off”. 30 seconds before your start you get held up on the bike so that you can get clipped in to the pedals and ready for a quick getaway. You then get counted down from 10 and on 1, the clock starts, you get a good shove in the back and you are away! Basically from that point on it’s a case of riding the next 30 miles (in this case) as fast as you possibly can. The heart rate stays at a level you’re blatantly not used to and you spend the entire distance on the drops as aero as you can get.

The experience was an utter blast – I loved it! I finished in 01hr 28:18 and I finished 33rd out of 44 starters with an average speed of over 19mph. The fastest time on the day was 20 minutes faster than me, but considering I was one of a few on a road bike and on my first run out I was pretty pleased with that. It’s certainly the fastest 30 miles I’ve ever done!

And Finally…

One last thing. The Children With Cancer cycle jerseys were sent out in the past week. They’re excellent quality and I’ve already done one training ride kitted out in it and am really looking forward to wearing it with the rest of the CwC Ride London team in August!

Cheers!

Sharing The Road

Up until the past weekend I had been somewhat struggling for a subject for the latest blog post.  However, an incident whilst out on my Sunday ride has given me the inspiration I needed – and luckily apart from a few sore places I’m OK to write this.  The subject? Cycling and Traffic.

Based on the opening paragraph, you may have already guessed as to the nature of the incident.  Yep – I had my first collision with a vehicle whilst on my bike.  Thankfully nothing major and like I say just a few sore places where I landed and more importantly (!!) no damage to the bike.Warning-Sign-Falling-Cyclist

After getting home and thinking about the event, it occurred to me that the lady who’s car I had collided with had clearly not seen me behind her.  She had positioned herself to go straight on at a mini roundabout and I was to her behind and left, but as usual had made a point not to be in her blind spot.  Rather than going straight on she changed her mind and also went left.  Even with this first unpredictable move, I had held my distance and moved away with her.  What I didn’t expect was her to then change her mind again and stop suddenly, even though nothing was coming around the roundabout!  I couldn’t stop in time and even under braking I ran in to the back of her.  The back of the bike went in the air and then down, dumping me on the road.

I don’t think, even at this point that the driver had realised quite what had happened as it took her some seconds to get out of the car and come round the back of the vehicle where I had already picked myself and the bike back up.  What came next could have gone one of two ways.  After all I had run in to the back of her and as we all know, when we are driving it’s always the person who hits the car in front who’s at fault (regardless of the stupidity of the other driver).  Instead, the lady couldn’t have been more apologetic.  She said she hadn’t seen me and apologised for braking suddenly.

At this point, I just wanted to be out of there as there was already a queue of traffic backing up.  I had already checked the bike over and it seems a bit nuts now, but I actually felt somewhat embarrassed for being involved in a scene!  I guess my own driver instinct was telling me that I should/could have done more to prevent from hitting her car.

Whilst sitting writing this blog post, I have thought of a number of other “run-ins” and close shaves with traffic whilst out riding over the past few months.  From people who plainly are not looking out for cyclists when pulling out of junctions etc, to those that run you in to the gutter of the road where the loose gravel usually resides – you’d hope innocently (but still foolishly) because they have not judged their own distance from the curb correctly and allowed enough space.  I have also had a fair few of the scumbags who seem to think it’s OK to scream up behind you, honk the horn loudly and accelerate hard past you.

Like it or not, our busy roads have to be shared.  The fact we have more cycle lanes nowadays is a start, but have any of you fellow cyclists noticed that often the cycle lanes are full of the dangerous loose gravel that I spoke of earlier?  This is because most cycle lanes are just to the side of the normal road lane and therefore all of the crap just makes it’s way in to the piece of road that the cyclist is looking to use and supposedly feel safer on!

I’m sure I’ll have plenty more close shaves – it almost seems inevitable.  I just hope that I have had my one collision and that was as bad as it got – which thankfully was not very bad.  The one thing the UK needs is more investment in more cycle friendly roads, better signage and in my view more focus on raising awareness for drivers to be looking for cyclists whilst they are on the road.

Get-Britain-Cycling-summary-and-recommendations-300dpiThere’s an e-petition that is to be put to the HM Government that recommends that the Get Britain Cycling Report produced by an All Party Parliamentary group be implemented.  The report includes a number of recommendations about road design and standards to help cyclists and pedestrians.  It’s an interesting read.

I’d be interested to hear feedback from readers in other countries what their roads are like and whether there is better provision for cyclists – or not as the case may be.

Cheers!

The Merits of a Pro Bike Fit

When I got my road bike last autumn I spent a lot of time researching via various sources the correct way to set my new machine up as optimally as possible.  Saddle height, distance from the bars, cleat and pedal adjustment etc. You name it, I looked at it and tweaked it.

For a lot of riders, getting to “pretty much” the right position is probably adequate.  However as, in my case where I’m intending on a) putting a LOT of miles in on the bike this year and b) wanting to continually improve my technique, form and performance,  I wanted to be sure that my bike was as closely set up for me as possible  So, I took the plunge and booked myself in for a Bike Fit at Pedalworks in Dunstable.

On the day of the fit, I had to bring along my own bike, shoes and obviously have my shorts on as I’d be spending some time in the saddle.  Brian, who was carrying out the Fit started the session with quite a comprehensive interview, which entailed building a picture of my experience, goals, the type of riding I would be doing etc.  The questioning then turned to pre-existing health conditions and complaints and any self-observed issues with the bike itself.

Insoles

On the right is the standard Shimano insole, on the left is the new insole with raised arches

Following the interview, Brian took more accurate measurements of foot sizes, my shoe sizing, leg measurements etc.  He also built of a picture of my stance, gait and flexibility.  From this piece of work, it became apparent that I have slightly higher than normal arches on the bottom of my feet and could benefit from insoles that help support the arches.

A good half an hour – forty minutes had passed before it was time to get on to the bike.  My bike was put on a turbo trainer in front of a video camera.  One of the features to expect from a bike fit is to be filmed whilst you ride the bike on the turbo.  If you’ve never actually seen yourself ride, this in itself is very interesting.  You “literally” see a totally different viewpoint of what you actually look like riding a bike and it’s quite an eye opener.

The first task was to simply film and observe me on the bike before any adjustments. The still image below was produced as the starting point.

Steve Austin Start

A few things became immediately apparent.

  • The first was, looking at my pedal action and the height my knees at the top of the stroke, along with the angle of my leg at the bottom of the stroke suggested that there was definitely scope to raise the saddle further.  Brian had already adjusted the saddle angle prior to this part of the session due it sloping forward rather than being on the horizontal.
  • The next thing was that the angle from my knee to the pedal spindle suggested that the saddle was a bit too far back.
  • Brian also observed (which of course you can’t see from this image) that looking at my pedal action from the front of the bike, I actually swiveled slightly towards my left side as I sit on the saddle. The effect being that my right knee would angle towards the frame and my left knee slightly away from the frame, rather than in parallel.  It was not a massive angle but something I can definitely say I was aware of due to the occasional rubbing of my right knee on the frame.  If you can imagine the long term effect on your hips and knees with being in this position it’s easy to see how even small anomalies can add up. This was easily corrected with a slight cleat angle adjustment on my left shoe to “pull” my left leg back towards the bike to correct the swivel. Easy.

After adjusting the various areas that affect the power areas – i.e. my legs, Hoods ZoomedBrian turned the attention to the handlebars.  One thing, even prior to the bike fit that I was aware of was that I found riding right on the hoods uncomfortable due to it being too much of a stretch on my arms.  The picture above clearly shows my hoods riding position actually having my hands an inch or so behind the hoods.  If you think about it, any time I changed gear or braked in this position, would require me to shift position and extend myself to reach – Not ideal.

At this point Brian removed my handlebars and replaced them with an adjustable handlebar that allowed him to experiment with different stem lengths, drops etc.  He set the stem length 20mm shorter than the OEM stem supplied on the bike and got me to test again.  Brian also slightly dropped the bar height.  That shortened stem length made an immediate difference in comfort in bringing the hoods back to me rather than me reach for them.  That along with the slightly lower height also shifted my back position to a less upright position and more aero for effectively the same riding position.

The photo below is the final ride position.

Steve Austin Final

Shifting my rear position both up and forward has produced a more efficient pedal action that now gives me a good base to improve my own technique to in turn generate greater power.  The shortened stem and lower handlebar height has given me more comfort riding on both the hoods and the drops, in turn also flattening my back angle for a better aero position.

I’m finding that when it comes to cycling, a lot is down to the individual to improve themselves. Conditioning, fitness, diet, technique, equipment etc. all coming in to play.  However, I don’t think you can underestimate enough the merits of having your bike set up correctly and if you are going to take the sport seriously enough, having it done by a professional.  It’s a no-brainer really when you consider the potential for extreme discomfort, which at best will ruin your enjoyment of what you are doing and inhibit improvement, to at worst causing serious long term injury.

Cheers!

Wahoo RFLKT iPhone Bike Computer Review – First Impressions

Today’s Blog is a bit of a review – not something I normally do but here goes!

Wahoo FitnessOver the past year I’ve dabbled with several iPhone cycling apps to record my workouts and road rides. I’ve pretty much tried all of the top apps from Endomondo, Cyclemeter, MapMyRide and Strava.  The two that up until now that I have stuck with as favourites are MMR and Strava.

With regard to sensors I went for Wahoo’s ANT+ heart rate and speed/cadence sensors and have found that the Wahoo Fitness app is great for having all of the important data on screen (the latest v3.0′s facelift is really nice).  The app is also great for quickly uploading direct to Strava and MapMyRide (amongst others) with a one press.

So I’ve been giving thought to purchasing a handlebar cycle computer as I’m reluctant to put my iPhone on there – even in a case.  This presents somewhat of a problem though when I’ve got the phone in my jersey pocket and I’ve been lacking the eyes-on data feedback during the ride.  I’ve been giving consideration to buying a Garmin 500 or 510 but Wahoo’s latest offering, the RFLKT caught my eye – with functionality, customization potential and crucially for me the price at almost half the price (at current exchange rate) of a new Garmin 500.

The RFLKT basically does no more than display the data being presented to it from the paired iPhone and therefore uses a small amount of power – a coin battery which should last about a year.  The device pairs with iPhones from the 4S onwards (and the iPad Mini) as it relies on the lower power Bluetooth 4.0.

After a quick query on Wahoo’s facebook page to check that my combination of an iPhone 5, my ANT+ sensors that I’ve yet to upgrade to Bluetooth and the Wahoo Key and a (very quick) positive response from Wahoo Support, I took the plunge and ordered directly from their site.  The RFLKT is not yet available in the UK but even with priority delivery from FedEx on top of the $129 list price, the whole conversion still came in at £109 – well below Garmin territory.

The RFLKT took just three days to arrive from the States – which is pretty damn good to say the least!RFLKT Unboxed

Upon opening the packaging, the included kit includes the RFLKT (obviously!), some attachments for mounting on the bike stem and an already attached mount for the handlebar, which I opted for.

On the BikeI had it mounted on the bar of my roadie within a couple of minutes and no more again to have it paired with my iPhone via the Wahoo Fitness app.  I’d already spent a little while the previous night fiddling with the RFLKT settings on the app to set up my preferred screen configurations.  RFLKT allows you to upload custom pages to the device, the number of which is dictated by the complexity of the page itself.  So for instance you may get away with five or six pages of data where you have a relatively small amount of info displayed, compared to perhaps 3-4 where you’ve got four plus boxes on the page.  I like to have a lot of data to hand, so set my main screen up like the image to the right.iPhone Screen

With all of the sensors paired it was time to give the RFLKT a proper go.  I came up against a bit of an issue with my iPhone 5 running the Wahoo Fitness app where the screen would come up and all of the values would update but every few seconds it looked like it was trying to re-download the page configuration.  A bit puzzled I tested the same configuration and sensor combination on my iPad Mini and had no problem whatsoever.  I’m going to raise a case with Wahoo on this one and will update. ** UPDATE – FIXED!! (see below).

The RFLKT is now (since the last week of March) supported in Cyclemeter.  I haven’t used this app in a while but still had it installed so thought I’d give that a go as well.  To enable RFLKT in Cyclemeter you have to pay a one-off £1.99 in app purchase.  Seems a bit cheeky to me but I went for it nonetheless.  With Cyclemeter, you can really start to see what the 3rd party developers (in this case Abvio) are looking to do with RFLKT.

Cyclemeter Page on RFLKTThe customization options are even better than the native Wahoo app and the device worked brilliantly.  You can manipulate box sizes, invert colour schemes, set additional button controls to name a few.  The Cyclemeter RFLKT page is quite an interesting read to give you an idea.

I think I’m going to run with Cyclemeter again for a while and export my workouts to Strava and MMR from there.  It’s not quite as slick as how it’s done from the WF app but workable nonetheless.

So in conclusion, apart from the strange iPhone 5 niggle with the native Wahoo Fitness app, I’m really pleased so far with my purchase!  It has the potential to be a real challenger to the Garmins of this world – especially when you start seeing the app developers introducing things like turn by turn directions etc.  The potential is (almost) never ending which will be able to set the product apart from the competition.  Apparently native Strava app support is coming very soon so that’ll be interesting when it arrives.

Cheers!

** I received a (very fast) response from Wahoo Support to address my iPhone 5 issue.  Looks to have done the trick! See below for email received.

“We have identified the Bluetooth communication error present in some devices (including yours) that causes the iPhone to continually reload page data on the RFLKT. A general firmware update will be available soon for the RFLKT that will correct the page load error as well as offer additional functionality, but an incremental (Beta) firmware update is available to those few of you experiencing the page load error. Please update your RFLKT using the following steps:

Turn RFLKT on, Open the Wahoo Utility app, tap test BT sensors, Tap RFLKT, when RFLKT finishes connecting and displays the message “I’m working!”, touch RFLKT icon (top left corner) and quickly swipe the screen to the right towards the yellow Smiley Face and then back to RFLKT icon. You should now see an option to upgrade your RFLKT firmware. If two or more firmware versions are displayed, choose RFLKT_1.1.0.6 or higher. Once your firmware is upgraded, the “Loading pages” error should be fixed.

Note that because this is currently a Beta firmware update, your iPhone will ask you to update your firmware each time you start the main Wahoo Fitness app. For now, you should decline the second update or your iPhone will reinstall the old firmware on your RFLKT.”

Further EDIT 12/04/2013 – Wahoo have released a final version of the RFLKT firmware that was trialled in beta above. From their facebook page…

RFLKT owners, We just released a small firmware update to fix some memory full calculations, you can now safely hit 100%. It also fixes a few connection issues with some iOS devices. Update via the WahooUtility.We are finalising another update to RFLKT and our App that should cover nearly all the awesome requests you have had.Happy RFLKTing!
UPDATE! 02/08/2013 – Wahoo have released the first major firmware update since the device launch - v1.2!
For a full list of features and changes, head on over to the Wahoo Blog.  I’ll be looking to do a mini review of the latest firmware shortly – look out for my thoughts on this blog!

Social Media at its Best

Short-ish blog this week, but it’s been a good few days on the charity front.

A couple of weeks back I got in touch with our co-ordinator Yvonne at Children with Cancer UK to ask that she could reach out to the other CwC RideLondon team members, to see if they would be OK or me to contact them myself. The purpose being that I thought it would be good for us all to get to know each other, share training and event tips and experiences and hopefully to organise rides amongst ourselves before the RideLondon itself.

Yvonne received an awesome response from the team, with 70 of the riders agreeing for me to contact them. Off the back of an initial email to the group, I set up a closed facebook group for the team members to join. Within 24 hours the group was up to thirty members strong and after a round of posted introductions, it’s absolutely great to see some “regulars” now posting all sorts!

Facebook can at times be a mixed bag, but this is where I think it comes to in to its own. You have a group of people with a common interest and end goal, spread across the UK (and well beyond in some cases) who have not met each other and prior to last weekend probably didn’t know of the existence of any of their other team members. Yet within a couple of days there is already a visible camaraderie building amongst the group – it’s great to see!

Of course, not everybody is on facebook which is absolutely fine. For these guys and ladies I plan to send out a fairly regular digest of the facebook group highlights via email, which might include planned events, training info etc. That being said, the social media element doesn’t have to end there. A lot of the team (especially the regular riders) use various fitness applications which have social elements. e.g. Strava, MapMyRide, Garmin Connect to name a few. So for those guys to whom facebook doesn’t appeal for one reason or another, there is still a mechanism to share with the others.

In other news, my fundraising kitty got a nice boost this week with a £250 donation from my employer easyJet. I’m extremely grateful for this and it’s helped push my total to already well within my £750 target. At the time of writing it stands at £500. Thank You so much to everyone who has donated so far – it’s massively appreciated!

Next Thursday I will be having a professional bike fit carried out for me and my bike by PedalWorks in Dunstable. Before the season starts proper in April, I want to have my bike adjusted to the closest possible fit for my lanky frame. The last thing I need is any more un-necessary aggravation to my back and knees and I’m really looking forward to seeing what and how the guys at PedalWorks do their thing! I will be blogging the outcomes of the bike fit and the Wiggle Spring Saddle Sportive on 7th April.

Cheers!

Cold Weather Blues (literally) and The Turbo…

OK, so I know that we’re still technically in winter until 20th March, but this cold and wintry weather is just plain boring now – not to mention disruptive training wise! Even with all the winter gear and layers in the world, at some point on that long training ride the wind chill and cold is going to get to you. For me it’s my hands and feet. I originally thought that I simply suffered from bad circulation, as I figured being a lanky 6’3″ (191cm) my body had a long distance to pump blood to the extremities right? Well apparently Doctor Steve wasn’t correct in his analysis and that in fact I have a condition called Raynaud’s Disease which causes my hands in particular to go a lovely shade of blue, followed by intense pain for quite some time after warming up. It’s not the greatest mix for a cyclist trying to grip a pair of drop bars!

Anyway, as I search for the best gloves to keep me out on the road, the turbo trainer continues to be essential in helping me keep the weekly structured training miles going. I’ve read a lot of advice in various magazines, forums and web site articles on turbo training and maximising the benefit. It’s clear that there is no substitute for actually being out on the road and doing it for real, but the turbo definitely has its place.

Here are some immediate advantages:

  • You can get useful training in at any time
  • You’re training on your own bike
  • There are a multitude of training scenarios that you can simulate (within reason) – e.g. sprinting, recovery, hill climbing etc.

The key is not to rack up wasted miles. It serves little purpose to simply turn over the pedals for an hour three times a week with little effort, or at the other extreme spend the entire hour blasting along at max. RPM and resistance. The answer is that both of these techniques have a role at some point, but only as part of a properly structured routine(s). The biggest piece of advice that I took on board early on in my training, was to purchase a heart rate monitor. I went for the Wahoo Fitness Run/Gym Pack for my iPhone. The Wahoo App is great and the Ant+ key that it comes with allows you to connect a number of wireless devices, some of which I’ll come to.

Training by heart rate became quite a revelation to me. Knowing what heart rate zone you are working in is extremely useful in training for the purpose of the session that you are doing. It really starts getting you in to the mentality that the time you spend training should have an outcome and not to waste your time when gains begin to diminish.

The next recommended purchase to good turbo training (as well as for the road) was a combined speed and cadence (pedal speed) sensor. Again I went for the Wahoo product. Having this device in the training armoury is great for working in particular effort and pace zones – e.g. endurance, climbing, time trial. A lot of the turbo training DVDs (I recommend The Sufferfest range of training videos if you are slightly masochistic!!) will make assumptions that you know your cadence.

So all in all, whilst the cold weather is keeping me indoors far more than I’d like, I feel like I’m still getting plenty of productive time in the saddle each week. I know that the warmer temperatures are (hopefully) just around the corner – along with the lighter evenings, so I am not worrying.

Next time I blog will probably be around the time I take part in The Wiggle Spring Saddle sportive on 7th April. I plan to do the 73 mile route.

Cheers!

Building for My First Century Ride – and it’s not London!

I’ve now done three months of base fitness winter training and have nigh on 1100km clocked up since January, no thanks to the British weather a lot of which have been on the turbo. I’m really feeling the benefits of being 9kg lighter than I was at the end of October 2012 and am raring to go to take the training to the next level.

Up until mid-Feb, I didn’t have a place on the RideLondon and unsurprisingly didn’t get a ballot place (myself and 35,000 others who didn’t make the first cut!!), but I was exceedingly fortunate to be chosen by Children with Cancer UK (@CwC_UK) to join their team. So, with a place secured I’m now planning my sportive diary for 2013 through to the RideLondon in August and beyond in to September. Norwich 100 courtesy Bike EventsI’m going to look to enter at least one distance event a month from March onwards and my current training plan is intended to see me nicely to the first week of June, when I will be riding the Norwich 100. The intention is to get a centenary ride under my belt, on what should be pretty moderate terrain. It’s all about the distance for me and to be able to get useful data on my performance over 100 miles, my stamina level, where I need to improve etc. This should put me in a nice position to be able to make necessary adjustments to training and nutrition if required, in good time for August.

The sportive looks like it will be a fun ride with a run out of the city, up to the coast, follow the coast round to Horsey and back to Norwich.

Roll on June 1st!

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