Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The wind beneath my wheels ....

Today's forecast, which is usually loose at best was for a calm morning, offset by severe rain and thunder storms in the afternoon, which would in light of the heat and humidity be a good thing. 

James and I embarked down to Steve's mid morning where we concluded a sharp hilly ride the order of the day, throwing in Haytor at the half way point or so. The issue is that the aforementioned forecast did not predict what I consider to be brutal winds in and around Dartmoor, which in turn felt on top of us, despite every turn, as ever, the usual omni wind. That said, we still monstered the ride and put some good efforts into the bikes. James and Steve climbed Haytor as lively as ever. Sadly, I was 2 minutes slower than my last effort, which annoys me, but in the grand scheme of being a recreational bike rider is not really worth worrying about.  The crazy thing is that by looking at my data, I was less than 1 mile an hour slower going up, which turns into 2 minutes logged. This does of course bring the Tour De France into context and the every second counts ethos the big guns bring to the party. Wind may have played a part as the hedges were swirling about en-route to the top.

The beauty of today as that as ever, what goes up must come down and it was a lot of fun hammering the bike down some super fast steep to gradual descents. Turns out I maxed the bike out at 40mph (pic below) on the flat caning it into the top end of Newton Abbot near Stover, coming back inbound on a graduated flat. Nice.  

Have said it several times, but the Pinarello F8 has two modes. On and off. It is a 'good' climbing bike but as a 'race' bike, frankly, it eggs the rider on, constantly asking the rider for more. I have never ridden a bike like it.  Seriously it is insane. People call it a weapon, though a weapon of choice. Gun to a knife fight and all that. I am aware of the reckless hyperbole abound the internet on bike reviews and subjective or objective opinions, but to me, this thing is simply incredible. Incredible in the sense that it begs for more, more more, faster, faster, faster, attack, attack, attack.  It turns rides into wanton effort which I suppose is both good and bad. I suppose you are out there in the least giving it your best. To me as ever when the road lights up and begs the rider for effort, in that sense, I have yet to ride a bike like it. It makes sense how at last years Tour De France Team SKY effectively became a descending attack team (remember Froome sat on the top tube) as well as a 'climb in a pack team' as this bike descending at pro speed must give them so much confidence. Read these words as you will, but do understand that at 45, I have ridden a decent bunch of 'superbikes' and this thing trumps them all. In all honesty, I would like the box fresh build weight of a Giant TCR unpainted but in cycling terms well it is hard to convey what an F8 can do til you ride one for prolonged periods.  Caveat emptor however; It is super unerringly stiff thus super efficient. Stiffness can be offset by 5 less psi in the front tyre.

It was again a cracking ride with the Tuesday boys and though we were greeted by a down pour getting back into Newton, we concluded the blast with coffee and food at Steve's. A top bobbin day. 45 Strava based PB's over 32 miles of which 30 odd were gold. Not a bad return.

Monday, 10 July 2017

The road to Perdition ....

The Road to Perdition , sorry I mean Tiverton as it is known locally, is frankly, a joke. 

I blogged in my last piece about how I felt a bit fatigued at mid summer, I had not clocked enough base miles and whilst the mind was willing, the legs it seems were not. So, over four rides, I bagged 200 miles doing the same loop from my village to Perdition, across country and back down via the 'villages' that bisect the M5 south criss-crossing the motorway four or five times. It should read like and be an excellent ride and in mileage terms it is. A couple of rises up and down, but on the whole, it lends itself to tempo riding with a couple of solid climbs at the start to warm the legs and lungs.  You can attain solid milage crawling back into Exeter via Pinhoe and the hoard who sacked it some years ago after arriving in Exmouth in long ships. Interestingly, hoe means 'top of the hill' in Saxon dialect and I can confirm that there is a small rise up into a very busy Pinhoe at the 43 mile mark to test the legs. I would love to see the Devon of yesteryear - beautiful country lanes, quiet and calm, not destroyed by the influx of traffic and utter mayhem on a daily level. I would imagine that Devon less than 100 years ago was just idyllic. You cannot stop progress however tragic it is. Brand new housing estates galore on the corner of every road now. The villages merge into a sprawling mess known as Exeter. Shame.

The caveat to the Perdition, sorry Tiverton loop however is that the tarmac both ways is quite literally the worst road surface I have ever ever come across. The amount of road buzz the surface generates is somewhat uncanny and testament to how bad the surface is and how it makes the bike feel over the course of four rides it shook the pinch bolts loose on my left hand crank arm, thus rendering it out of the bottom bracket ! Small mercy's for multi tools eh ? Thankfully it was still attached to my shoe.  My co-rider Steve could himself not believe how bad the road is and had his first experience of bicycle white finger driven by road buzz. Post ride fettling and nipping up required.

Interestingly,  post Tiverton, this week I put a much higher quality of inner tube on the front and back of the bike and it has already had a huge impact on the ride feel, lessened the excessive road buzz and taken the bike to another level. The mid summer base miles have paid off and I will continue to monster them out as and when I can. I threw Estuary loop 2 into the mix Saturday evening and hammered it going the 29 miles hilly miles in 1.44 - three minutes faster than my PB and some solid golds attained on Strava.  Have said it before, but time can be a useful barometer for us mere mortals on push bikes. Overall I have taken 8 minutes off the loop this year (images attached) Far to many variables to answer how and why, but usually, just fitness.

Finally, I went up Clapham again last week. Utterly crazy hill. I will blog about the 'hinterland' some other time.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Slowly slowly, catchy monkey ....

Having a hard time on the bike and hitting the usual mid year point by going backwards. 2,200 miles recorded come rain or shine, wind or hail, every mile is outside. Regards to going backwards, over training ? Wrong gearing ? Basically just shit on a bike ? No idea, but the evidence is there. I suspect that ultimately I did not put enough base miles in the can before I started riding hard and fast, or as fast as I can so to speak. The old British base miles are still the recipe to a good summer on the bike. Winter miles for summer smiles as they say. But, something else is odd. I genuinely feel tired in the legs and overly heavy legged which the usual post ride ablutions sort out, including rollers, baths and decent food. But I suspect I am simply just tired - I did 200 miles in 7 days over the last week and I am not as young as I once was. Rest is the order of the day and perhaps a change of outlook with less commute miles going into the mix. Commuting is a great start and end to the day, but it turns a 9 hour day into a 11 hour day and burns the energy, which needs to go back in.  Iron tablets will be bought.

All told, due to using 'power' I can analyse what is occurring and I have gone back to compact cranks (50/34) as anything else in Devon simply a ball ache and just too hard. Gone are my 53/39 days but such is life.  Somewhat oddly my cadence has dropped from 79 in April to 69 now. Surely a sign that I feel a bit spent though I have been hitting bigger hills and longer climbs which will always yield a lower turning speed when you have track legs. 10 rpm is huge though and I will see what is happening over the coming weeks.

So,  in light of this, I tried to simply just put some good miles in the tank Saturday and today and on Saturday I attained 62pbs and today 74pbs with a raft of golds, so it is in the mix somewhere, I just need to get oxygen to the legs as whilst I rode, there was not a great deal of snap.  Could be cheap inner tubes I suppose ;-)

Anyway, I read a great piece the other day about how 'amateur' cyclists like me and all the others are simply shit Sunday league footballers. Quite true that and I completely agree, though I would suggest that a decent pair of footy boots inherently cheaper than a 'good' to 'great' bike.

Fucking cycling. Take the rough with the smooth eh .... live fast die slowly or something like that.

Cheers drive - until next time ....

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Dartmare !!

So, to start I will advise that the blog title is tongue in cheek. Dartmoor can indeed be a Dartmare, but actually, it is a place I am learning more about riding wise and overall enjoying the test, which it undoubtedly is.  As I have said many times, it is unrelenting, sharp, steep, long, busy, but above all a great place to ride your bike once there and when the conditions curry favour.

We set off from Steve's house three up, which today included Mark, who is prepping for the Dartmoor classic - 100 miles of hill after hill. In isolation, each climb is doable, but when you string them together, it can be pretty hellish and very fatiguing on all body parts, legs, lungs, neck and shoulders. Today's highlight is a rapid and big improvement for me with reference to what is known as the Doccombe climb, a climb which equates to approx. 6 miles from Steps Bridge, peaking at Mortonhampstead. I shaved 9 minutes 30 seconds off the climb today which is born out fitness rather than profound weight loss.  It is a wonderful climb. Evidently the road was re-tarmaced for the tour of Britain. Smooth and as close as you'll get to a French col within the UK in my opinion. 

We had a quick brew in Morton where bike chat ensued with other cyclists outside the cafe and we were again on our way, slightly stoney legged after a stop. Mark took us across country on one of the Mid Devon secret rat runs, which in turn warranted gravel bikes !!! This brought us out on the base of Haytor, but at the far side, passing Hound tour before cresting Haytor from 600 feet up to 1300 feet approx. Much easier than the ride up from Bovey. All three of us rode 'down' Haytor full gas with Steve really letting his Dogma fly. Fearless. It really is a fast descent and riding smart required.  A bit like Burrington Coombe, but far more dangerous.

Interestingly, once out of Bovey, I started to feel very strong and the ride back from Haytor to Newton was great, I felt fit and lively after all the climbing and could have gone into TT mode for a while. In all, another great day on the bike in Devon. 43.6 miles, 3035 feet ascended and some lovely descents encountered too. The sun was out and on the whole the wind was a non issue. It is days like today we 'train' for. The first tan lines of summer have been cultivated on Devon's answer to Moordor. The bike's performed wonderfully, but in reality, there can be only one. Overall, getting around these hills a huge success. I had a third of the veins removed from my left leg 15 years ago and the right leg is as bad. It makes climbing harder than it should be or could be due to a lack of oxygen moving around in the old pins, but hey ho, life goes on.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Dartmoor inc. Haytor ....

So today we wheeled out the climbing bikes which despite being labelled as climbing bikes, are just good do it all bikes sans deep section wheels and heavy gears, more spritely in the way they ride shod with compact chainsets and broad gears. Aside from Steve who decided to tackle the 3.2 miles of Haytor with a 12-25.  Loco loco. Dartmoor is a vast expanse of nothingness. Barren in its landscape, I find it foreboding and intimidating at times, such is its ley. Straight out of a Dickensian novel or even a Charlotte Bronte muse of whom I quote, somewhat aptly for riding a bike on Dartmoor - "It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it..."

I was on my 'new' 'used' Emonda which is shaping up to be a beautiful bike and an excellent cost effective build as a climbing bike.  It has all the hallmarks of TREK quality control though made by Giant (note from editor; no it is made in the USA by TREK as 'level 6 carbon'. Steve was on his Pinarello Dogma F8, a super bike if ever there was one, and super in design and use, not just super in the adverb / superlative used to describe it. "That really is a super bike Mr. !" Catch my drift ? "Thanks son, It is a Dogma, go tell your friends". The differences for both of us going up were palpable from aero-bikes which whilst fast, in my opinion just do not climb like round tubes on bikes. 

On a personal note, I managed to shave nearly 8 minutes off my Haytor PB which is great news which ever way you look at it. It is a tough climb which you can almost split into three points. To my mind it is inherently harder than my old friend Cheddar - slightly longer steeper as a whole thing though nothing quite as sharp as steep corner at Cheddar. I cite Cheddar as a well worn path and one of the local cycling 'mecca' sites that attract infamy and sometimes misinformation. One mans easy is another mans hard. One thing to note is Haytor fools the rider umpteen times thinking you have nailed it, only to corner and find more 'fake' flat snaking away, pointing up. The climb only really stops when you get to the highest point past the monolithic stones and start thinking about the way down. Steve rode ahead of me by design as he is a lighter rider shaping up for a great 2017 on the bike. To get up Haytor 12-25 is some achievement for a recreational rider shackled by the reality of life. Out on the bike, home, then the school run, then fish fingers and mash etc etc. No massage, no soigneurs to massage us once off the bike, just us, just life. Wash the bike when you get two minutes. Probably the best way though. As Bradley says on his new Skoda advert his greatest achievements happened off the bike along with the cool millions Skoda are no doubt lining his pockets with.

The trouble with riding with someone sat astride an F8 is a bit like going out in a quality motor yourself and your mate/co-rider is in an F1 car. The F8 simply wants to go and in Steve words, it is dirty fast. To me it/they looked like a rabid dog attacking at each chance, whether up, down or across. I would snag my water bottle for a sip, look down and boom he was gone. Fair play Steve it really is some bike. This of course is no disservice to the Emonda, again a wonderful bike, but within the pantheon of super bikes, one or two spring to mind - and the current Dogma stable in it various guises has to be included in this list. Pinarello has shaved the meat from the bone since the Dogma was reborn as a carbon frame in 2010 at the behest of Team SKY and made a super light, super stiff, super fast bike that looks stunning from every angle. So many great details in the frame.

Figures from today blotted by my lack of power meter. My HR monitor has died to so today was a novel ride in the art of just riding. Never one to stare at the stem like Chris Froome, I do enjoy the analytical side of power. It has given me a better understanding of the sport. Riding without it a mindset shift change, but I suppose it can be like spending time without pants on. Dependant on the wind direction it can be quite nice ! However, for spot the ball fans it pans out as 32.2 miles, 2,339 feet of climbing, average speed 13.7 mph and fastest mph going down 37.4. The descent into Ashburton is rapid and caution has to be taken. I've really started enjoying my riding again and I am getting to grips with Devon riding. It has taken me two years, and been here 4 years this year. It is bloody testing, tough, sheer and unrelenting, but I am stronger now than ever, I just carry a bit more timber and am slightly less fit though my legs are feeling bigger, stronger and as wide as ever. 2017 is all about 2018 anyway !!! Another great 2 hrs 21 on the bike with Steve. What a positively decent riding buddy / friend / cycling nut /co-rider he has become. Images below.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Nailing a KOM ....

I have said it before, but going after Strava segments not really my bag or ideology on a bike. However, the beauty of Strava is that some segments appeal, fall into your lap as on a route or loop and thus become a real challenge or frustration. One such challenge is / was Roubaix Lane, a devilishly testing 1.9 mile section joining Mamhead to Kenn Lane. It is challenging for several reasons. Up and down, a typical Devon lane, narrow, sketchy and on the wrong day riddled with traffic using the back lanes as a rat run to avoid the traffic / road works in and around Exeter, the next 'big city' but far enough away to be a lane.

Up until now, I have had mixed results, never really attempted to nail it I have simply hit the segment with 'good legs'. Average times and speeds, usually curtailed by a steep mid point, horses or tractors. Today though, the stars aligned and I managed to nail the segment without encroachment from cars in any form and I had good legs so just kept the hammer down up and down and attacked. In the end the yield was as follows - 

1.9 miles at 22.5 mph with an average power output of 232 watts. This scored a time of 5.17 mins, thus propelling me to the top of the pile, the KOM on Strava which has had 1,833 attempts by 657 people. The paradox ? I did this carrying my bag to work ! It can get quicker. Images below.

To me, that is a massive result. Sometimes, moving to Devon was the hardest thing I could have done as a bike rider due to the terrain, I used to hate this 'segment' but but moments like this remind you it is worth while and you can reinvent the wheel. Heck, I am not suddenly a champion hill climber as the lane played into my hands and style. I would imagine someone somewhere may try and 'take it back' now which is fair enough. It is in the public domain and quite rightly so. I dedicate today's effort to my father in law, Alan, who sadly passed away yesterday. He was a cricket and golf fanatic, but always had time to talk cycling with me. RIP Alan.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Breaking away, breaking up ....

Cycling is to my mind the most paradoxical sport on the planet. How so many millions of us end up choosing cycling as our 'go to' sport is a mystery and often people cite cycling for the loner, the lost and the people coming back from or riding towards something. Who knows, though the beauty of being a rider is that yes, I admit I can be a solitary soul happy in my own company but as a cyclist you are never far from a network of other riders, events and discussion.  Brilliant !

But what I have found odd and occasionally complex about cycling is that it can be one huge paradox in so many ways. First of all, performance. How can you ride like an unleashed dog one day and a drugged cat the next ? Why is it deep wheels are ultimately no faster than shallow wheels ? Why is it I am riding on the absolute rivet and yet I feel I get no faster ? How are some people hitting 3000 miles in May already and how come some people are simply just better it riding a bike than me.

Such is life. Everyone can excel at somethings, others not so. It does not mean I do not love riding a bike. The beauty is that I am at one with myself capability wise and realise that in performance terms at 45 years old I am on a downward slope though I have years of riding full gas left in the tank. Guys in their 20's, heck -even their teens have no idea how blessed they are to be riding carbon 11 speed bikes with decent wheels. The tech has come so far on and off the bike and what has occurred is frankly crazy. But, the mad thing about bicycle sales is that since the boom which I think began in 2008, the volume shifted has nothing like the impact bicycle sales in the 1930's and again 1970 through to 1973ish where millions and I mean literally millions of bikes were sold. 2008 to 2013 when the road market slowed back down is just a drop in the ocean compared to the massive volume unboxed for the buying public 1930's with social mobility and in the 1970's with cost effective bikes being churned out by the big guns before the Taiwanese conglomerates got in on the act. The new world order have been making bikes for just over 40 years. They are just babies in a strange kind of way.

Anyway, maybe, ultimately, as a person I am to self critical, self aware or self deprecating as there are millions of middle aged men up and down the land sitting on sofa's getting ill and not even realising it. I have a saying - "Live fast, die slowly or live slowly, die fast". 

Perhaps I just need to lighten up about my ability. I know I am average, hence the title of this blog. Doubtful though as at 45 that horse has bolted. In the words of De La Soul "I wish I was a little bit taller", though I change the lyrics to faster. That is the paradox of cycling, there is always a bigger fish, born to ride a bike with faster legs. Life goes on. It turns out that the fast Tuesday crew are all in the top ten on the Tuesday ride/route on Strava this year ? The route chainganged / hammered by many is frankly a little mecca locally simply due to the fact it is really about as 'flat'  as a route gets in Devon - 1800 feet over 30 miles. It really is a lumpy county.

Is that failure ? Of course not, it is a massive success and it is all about perspective.