Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Return of the gravel / bike / King. (biking)

Yes. I am aware it has been a long clock since I last posted. I am not like the cycling glitterati on You-Tube who constantly update social media, vlogs, blogs, grams and the like as real world takes precedent. Family, dogs, life and co. But, since we last spoke, a few bicycle related things have happened. 

So, going back to my last 2017 post regarding feeling unwell, I actually got iller and iller to the point I was, um, what you might call 'very ill'. My friends and family suspect I had pneumonia. Doctors refused antibiotics so nature ran it's course. I cannot be sure although I agree that the symptoms were there and frankly it has taken me an absolute age to recover, if I am indeed fully recovered. I spent all of December training on the smart turbo. Averaging three sessions a week. All interval based shaking down as interval hill work (think pain), regular intervals and sprint work (think easy). I also did a couple of zone 1 leg loosen rides to keep the hips rotating. Right now, I would say this this has paid off. I feel very strong, very fit and given it is the last day of January tomorrow, I feel like I should do in May so kudos to the direct drive turbo and Wahoo training plans. 23 sessions logged with more to come. It works. Thankfully the yesteryear way of riding a turbo aimlessly is outmoded and long forgotten. Heck, we all owned turbo trainers way back when but lets be frank, very few of us got anything out of them other than abject boredom and squashed bollox. I left my old turbo in Bristol when I moved. Probably in land fill right now.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I made a decision to buy a 'gravel bike' the current cycling zeitgeist seen with modified cross, gravel, bike packing bikes - call it what you like - Salsa called it first and decided to go for the Giant Tough Road SLR GX0 drop bar bike, which has been a revelation. Historically, I had viewed gravel bikes with a sense of cash cow as like the 29er, then the 27.5er they were brought to the public in a fanfare telling us this was what we needed to be on. In the case of the 29er, Gary Fisher was telling us this 20 years previous but I digress. Technology was not ready for revised geometry when Fisher and co. were radical dudes as they are now, albeit younger. 

In 2012 if I can recall correctly, something like 9 of the top 10 in the Olympic MTB cross country event rode 29'ers before people started calling the bikes barge like, slow to turn and not so good. However, I loved em, still do. A 29'er is to my mind a road bike for the woods, til now. The recent upsurge in Gravel bikes has usurped the 29'er and agile, fast, smart looking 700c bikes are now the new king. The king is dead, long live the king.  Hand on heart I have found my gravel bike to simply be joyful. It reminded me of why I fell in love with cycling in the early 80's when I used to scramble about the lanes of Horfield; Bristol behind my parents house on my BMX, Geoff Delderfields grifter and what ever bike I could lay my hands on for any period of time. 

Where I live in Devon is a brutal place to ride a road bike, but interestingly, there is a bizarre hinterland between the coast and the moor which is awash with gravel tracks, fire-road, green lanes, ratty Devon maze like back roads and to top it all off, a mountain bike trail centre at the top of a 1000 foot climb on Haldon. My gravel bike has tackled it all with relish. Shod with 40c tyres running 40 psi I have taken this bike everywhere you can imagine. I kid you not. Gravel, toe path, road, green lane, bridleway, two blue runs on Haldon, cycle paths, regular roads - the lot. Presently it is my favourite rig and is a great switch up from my main passion road cycling. Even netted a few runs on the two blue trails at Haldon with the full face MTB crew looking on agog. It will help my fitness loads as yes there is traction off road, but on road not as fast as a stock road machine, but actually not slow. The benefit of a fatter tyre and hydraulic disk brakes is simply sublime and makes me question whether my fleet should be disk. Jury out, I have a few things to think about but as before, for someone who felt that disks on road bikes was illogical, and just bonkers, I have thought again. So. many. positives. But, on the gravel machine I have completed 144 miles in 15 days. Nice.

For now, I will leave you with a few images of the machine in action here in Devon. 24 miles of off road again today. It is a proper all over body work out for sure, but when the shit goes down on fast Tuesday this machine will have rendered me into a great place.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Like a wrecking ball....

Long time since my last post. This is due to illness hammering me like a wrecking ball and effectively putting an end to my predicted 2017 mileage of 4500 miles. But it happens and I cannot ignore what an effective year I have had on the bike with 4100 miles logged and with a huge variance in the type of riding. It has been a good year.

The illness started on or around 14th November. Steve and I decided to ride the South Hams, a district of Southern Devon which sits between Newton Abbott and Plymouth with towns such as Totnes and Dartington sandwiched in between. The roads here are incredibly odd. Hard to convey in words, but imagine a bunch of roads like a roller-coaster ride.  You go up, you go down, you go up, you go down. To me, roads like this make for tricky riding as you gain speed going down so you hammer the bike into the bike ring and then coast up and then drop it into the small ring to get up the climb. Hard to find tempo or rhythm on the bike like this and certainly tricky when you are ill. But we plod about the ride netting 35 miles with 3,000 feet of climbing breaking down as 1000 feet for every ten or so miles. Lumpy. I just felt odd that day, like I had no power. From then on I have been beset by an absolute stinker of a cold and having a very hard time shaking it off and it has turned into a rotten cough on my chest. I have thrown in two estuary loops which have been tempered by the cold and that is it. In the meantime I have set a bike up on the smart turbo for winter and will use this for various workouts over the coming three months combined with my single speed to commute and build power on.  I have just literally done a Wahoo pre-planned mixed interval / pyramid session on the turbo over 40 minutes.

Being honest illness has robbed me of some verve and passion but 2018 looms and the key to remaining committed to your chosen sport is rebooting and going again. I am looking forward to 2018 for sure. Roll on the spring.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Dartmoor Dividends ....

Yesterday we had an early morning shakedown to Dartmoor via the Teign Valley and climbed from the from bottom of Steps Bridge to Moretonhampstead - a great climb on the whole with a couple of super steep sharp sections offset by a decent long climb on good tarmac, washed down with a fast decent into the base of Morton before a 20% hill asks you questions as you actually arrive in Moreton, a typical damp Dartmoor village.  Mildly slower over the three miles but there was a nasty head wind pushing us back and post 85 miles on Tuesday it was nice to spin up the legs.

This kind of ride asks questions of the rider and the kit as it is one of those days when a climbing bike is required heading up, but once at the top, a team car would be ideal and you can transition to an aero-bike and super deep wheels to enjoy the way down as the road currys favour..

That said I took the TCR over the F8 yesterday as it suits this ride. It is something else. We literally buried it on the Lustleigh road coming back and whilst topping out at 40.3 mph on the flat I held 20.7 mph for 6 miles. Again a bit boom or bust bike riding as I call it but 'Devon dividends' can be like that, what you lose you gain. There are too many great descents for overtly controlled bike riding going down and the thrill of hammering the bike is just great.  This segment or section of road has become and all time favourite of mine and begs for the beanz though care has to be taken as you do get the Saturday and Sunday car drivers pottling about, unaware that we are holding 35-40 mph in sections going down. In the year 2017 I have shaved 8 minutes off this decent simply by getting fitter and thus faster as the year progresses. But do not let the image of the segment below trick you, as fast as it is, there are some very heavy switch backs and a couple of off camber 15% climbs which bring any speed to a brake shuddering halt which is a shame.

My kit was flawless yesterday and again winter looms so it is nice to enjoy the 'A' bikes before the single speed comes out to play. It is a real luxury having an SL TCR and a Dogma F8 in the stable. I am a lucky lad. The 303's stay on the TCR and the Spin wheels stay on the Dogma. Horses for courses. A wasp to a bumble bee. They are very different bikes set up with different kit. Short reach bars on the TCR as longer reach (39.5cm) as a bike frame, where as the Dogma has a longer stem and a long reach, long drop classic bar for comfort and position as a shorter reach bike overall at (38.5cm) reach which is great for long fast cruising miles and super fast descending with a mildly slacker head tube. That said both bikes light up at fast speeds as you would expect from a race bike. At 15-18 mph they basically ride the same. Go north of 18mph and the after burners engage, which is how pro bike riders feel 24/7. I will smash through my 400 miles a month target for October and will see how November pans out. I only did 170 miles last November after crashing the bike in between Ashcombe and Dawlish Water with terribly greasy roads rendering my traction moot after a car appeared from nowhere. Of course the clocks have changed now and really where are in what I feel is winter for the British bike rider now. However, it is glorious sunshine today. Result.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Visit Barnstaple.

Strapline; Visit Barnstaple. It may be shitting it down, but the coffee is great.

So, today we had our annual run to the sun which is a paradox as we live in 'Southish Devon' where it is habitually sunny most of the year. Our run to the Sun takes us to North Devon where typically topically en-route it started shitting it down.  I've no issue with rain. I hate wind. It was windy as heck coming back. The issue regarding rain in so much is we set off cross country from Stoke Canon as I came up with the idea of going the back way to Crediton from James' front door which whilst in ethos was sound, in practice the back lanes were so caked in farmers mud our steeds were ratty as hell within the first 5 miles. Rain only compounds this and honestly, by the time we got to Barney we were covered and wet though the typical mizzle did not soak us through. Wet but dry. Hard to explain. The bikes however were filthy.

The ride up was great. We smashed it in fact and for long spells we were riding tempo on the flat with examples of good averages for long spells (pictured) such as 59 minutes at 20.4 mph - effectively 20 odd miles at 20 mph. Nice riding.  Not hard when James is on the front. I can imagine what a pro rider feels like when Tony Martin is pulling on the front or signs for your team. "Here come the hurt". James has no threshold. However, speed is not the be all and end all for development, and data tells me I logged 170 watts for 59 minutes for an average cadence of 82 is about right on a rolling road as a 'club rider', which is why I took the TCR today. It delivers wattage in a different way and requires less torque but favours cadence. The absurd thing is that this is a flat Devon ride yet we still did 4,384 feet of climbing. Nuts.  Naturally we lost speed with the wet roads.  It was great to see Barnstaple Long Bridge as we made it. Kinda reminds me of Bridge on the River Kwai. It is a lovely sight and allegedly it was built in or around 1280ad. Despite its shortcomings the arrival is a nice view across the Taw and the chance to recover, recharge and go again.

Into Barney, James' home place of birth we stopped at Bike Shed for two coffees and a slice of cake. I took the pragmatic decision to buy some Endura toe covers as my socks were soaked and my feet were getting colder. They worked a treat. Bike Shed a great shop. So much to see. As I say want and need are not best mates ! 

Heading back smack on 56 miles someone flicked a switch and I noticed my cadence dropping off and being frank, I felt like a cooked goose which is not like me. I rode 13 odd miles battling through it and I know that a lack of nutrition on the way up buried me on the way back. Thankfully James gave me a flap jack and along with a gel that got me the full 84 miles home. I feel today's ride was tempered by mistakes on my part. 

One going the back way.

Two not wearing overshoes.

Three not fuelling enough. 

Even as a seasoned bike rider you learn all the time and it wont happen again. In context North Bristol to South Devon easier than this as I eat all the way back. Remedial stuff. 

All told it was a great few hours in the saddle and James was again great company though I leave you with the quote of the day "Pete - see that lay by over there ? I have had sex in it".

First up James, that's called dogging. Secondly I suppose you can take the boy out of Barney but you'll never take the Barney outta the boy ...! Quality comment Jamesy.

A great shift to end the long rides in 2018.  190 watts over 84 miles & 106 pb's on Strava of which 80 were gold. Mental. Note the clocks go back this weekend.  Roll on March 2018.

 Til' next time.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren't enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress - Viggo Mortensen.

I smashed out a 'fast' Devon 43 miler on Tuesday with the first 40 miles being great. Riding back into the Pinhoe side of Exeter was dreadful. Another new housing estate to add more traffic is being built and the road was split by temporary traffic lights. Pain. I ended up getting every red light coming home which again dropped the average speed, but I treated it as a nice warm down. 

Interestingly I hit 40 rolling miles at 2.20 which is slower than normal, but it was fresh, overcast and damp. Picked up a solid PB from Exeter to Stoke Canon at 12 mins and had a solid reverse triangle of which I still sit at 5th fastest in Devon for my age group approaching 50. The question my co-rider Steve quite rightly asks is why do Strava not allow us to differentiate solo vs. group rides. Two is faster than one, three up faster than two and so on. Anyway, overall, despite not realising it on the bike, I cite a headwind coming back as I lost 4 minutes here and there. 2018's big goal for me is to go sub 2.05 for 40 on this loop. Is it doable ? We shall see. I can remember going sub 2 hours for 30 miles ten years ago approx on Strada shop rides in a group before Garmin was popular (first 705 bought 2009) so I feel that to attain this is Devon where NOWHERE is flat is great going but I cannot recall the data as it is not there.

However, this Tuesday, post ride, I felt f**ked ! A soreness in my quads I have not felt in a long time. So, I went into recovery mode and had some eggs on toast once in the door. In the evening I drove up to Tesco to buy some REGO recovery 'sauce' as my legs felt spent. I also decided to ride to work this week and spin the legs up riding in the small ring only and stay in zone 1 where at all possible.  Classic Zone 1 recovery stuff. Slow to go fast. I assume that I went over the edge fatigue wise though I monitor my TSS / fatigue regularly, though it would seem accumulative fatigue has caught up. But, with some smart off the bike time, recovery and common sense the legs will recover in earnest to our late pilgrimage to Barnstaple (next week) which shakes down as the best part of 100 miles. It is the last hurrah before the clocks change and a lovely ride with a tea stop at the bike shed, a cool bike shop situated in Barney. The big shift in my riding in the last couple of years is opening up the tanks solo and burying myself on the bike for development rather than just riding around. Historically, before I moved I was a strong bike rider, good at riding a bike, that is all. I used to enjoy endurance zone 1 / 2 stuff but in all likely hood fell onto the trap of not developing. I admit I have no desire to race a bike what so ever, but I do have personal goals to manage and attain and that is great. As bike riders we live life and manage our time well. We are not drinkers, gamblers, abusive partners. We simply enjoy the raw brutality of a solid bike ride. Wonderful stuff.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Mid point October ....

“He had never liked October. Ever since he had first lay in the autumn leaves before his grandmother's house many years ago and heard the wind and saw the empty trees. It had made him cry, without a reason. And a little of that sadness returned each year to him. It always went away with spring."

Mid October bares down on the British rider like a Kamikaze pilot. The darkness looms. Two weekends til' the clocks change. Lights will be shod upon the single speed and the best bikes will be squirrelled away for safety unless we have an Indian summer and dog days extend. So far it has been a reasonable month on the bike though beset by illness and road works in and around our stomping ground. September concluded as a positive months riding with the most feet ascended since I started using a bike computer in 2009. Prior to that I just rode. I have carried the desire to 'practice' climbing into October and come to realise that getting PB's is a hard thing to attain as there are so many variables on local climbs including weather, wind, legs, heart and lungs. I did Mamhead today and was a good 4 minutes off my best, but today it seems I could not find the right gear. Even on the flat I was battling cadence, but the heart and head felt fine. Tired I suppose. In a way, November and the next two or three months allow the body and mind to recharge as 4000 miles this year is a great figure to attain and as before, I am not a spring chicken. Presently I sit at 180 miles with a target of 270 miles to attain last years figure. I have already beaten the climbing figure which is nice and shows a culture shift in my 'Devon' riding. A new PB on the local Doccombe climb 300 feet to 1000 feet over 21 mins at 231 watts average power. Pleased with that. The descent into Bovey from Morton is something else and again, a gold was attained here. Last week we threw in fast Tuesday and nailed 28 miles in sub 1.30 in windy conditions on a rolling road so that was nice. Still unsure if fast hellish miles beat long ploddy miles, but I suppose the two work well together. Still monstering the bike along is worth every second post ride.

Still half the month to go but apparently a huge storm and 100 mile winds are around the corner which in turn may render this week a total write off. Time will tell. In the meantime, love to all x

Monday, 2 October 2017

September in review ....

“We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer's wreckage. We will welcome summer's ghost.”  ― Henry Rollins

So, September has succumbed to October and as per normal it was a good month on and off the bike. Oddly, a terrible stomach bug curtailed my ambition of hitting 450-500 miles which I was well on target for, but a painful bug from the depths of hell itself robbed me of bicycle time and 2 leg loosener commutes as I was too ill to ride a bike. However, data shakes down as follows -

419 miles ridden.

21,800 feet ascended.

28 hours logged over 25 rides.

I was on course for a higher climbing figure, but Steve and I had a lamentable day trying to do Dartmoor last week as there were road works everywhere and Haytor was like Piccadilly circus which was a huge shame as that is the long climb to build the data up when you set yourself a goal. 

In the end, I rode the aforementioned Mamhead once every week and attained a new PB of 21.10 from 21.15 on the cat 3 climb over 3.6 miles on the Strava segment.  Just a mere 5 seconds and 23.10 from 23.18 from my 'private segment'. 8 seconds ! It really is a test of a climb and one that I feel I would only snare more time on my shaving the weight off the body which I am kind of over right now. At 45 I spend too many years worrying about my weight and sage advice from Steve has helped me deal with it. Ultimately, there are too many variables on this hill, but in context I am training on it to aid other rides and other hills which may be hugely shorter.  

Last week we rode from Bovey to Morton which was a 6 mile climb at 44 minutes and it was not hard, just kept turning the pedals and riding up. The descent was immense, 3 odd miles at 28 miles an hour. Magical. As before, in Devon you learn to ride in a different way and use the small ring and cadence to great effect. I went for a ride in my old stomping ground last Saturday and in all honestly, it felt pan flat. 900 feet over 31 miles where as here I do 3000 feet or thereabouts in the same distance. Still riding a bike, but in a different way. Managed to throw in a 'Fast Tuesday' too with a moving average of 19.9 mph at 214 watts for 25.5 miles in 1 hour 17. Sub 1 hour 15 has to be a goal really though I think we have done it already.

Overall the positives outweigh the negatives and though I lost a £40 tyre after just three rides and got a few soakings, being out on the bike is simply awesome. I have ridden 3500 miles so far this year, the equivalent of Exminster to New York. This is the most I have ridden since 2013. Before that like most recreational riders 4000 - 6000 miles outside was very doable and often done. Not too shabby. I hope to hit 4000 miles no problem so long as the light and the weather look after us. Ultimately it kinda means nothing, but it is part of my life and something I enjoy a lot. Buddy and Bella have me walking three miles each evening too ! They are simply joyful.

'Til next time.