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. 

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Fast Tuesday 5; 3 it's the magic number ....

Fast Tuesday has again been and gone and it was another resounding success with another PB achieved along with a new FTP for myself, now at 236 watts for 20 minutes.

James was back on board again today and frankly it was good to have him out as three seems to make a big difference to a two up which I will come back to later. The same ethos was applied as last week with a beginning middle and end being logged onto Strava as three different rides. I think fairs fair and all that. It is a much better exercise in getting decent times recorded in relevance to the actual effort as riding across town can lose time and power. 

I had good legs today. I felt powerful and in control for the 26 fast miles and never felt like I was over extending compared to last week. I did suffer slightly on the two mirror climbs, but naturally popped it into the small ring, span up, crested, got back into zone 2 before opening up the tanks and going full gas again in the big ring. To be honest, James pretty much held the front going up and coming back, which is fine by me. Smart riders ride smart and of course, James is happy smashing the front. He has no threshold, he is an animal. Steve rode fantastically as ever and put in another good shift on the propel with very good form and technique despite advising us that he was not feeling 100%. Fair play though we all literally hammered it. The longest Strava segment reveals the full gas tomfoolery - 11.4 miles at 21.7 miles an hour for 31 mins 30 secs (pic below). Interestingly, I was 4 minutes quicker this week on that section. I knew I had heavy legs last week and this reminds me. What a difference.

In summary, as below 26 miles in just under 1 hour 17. A new FTP and a PB for the course which is delightful. Average speed 20.6 miles an hour. Think about it. That is 20.6 miles an hour for 26 miles. Brilliant. The TCR was faultless today. Shod with narrow wheels it was no less fast without deep wheels or an aero bike of which I had convinced myself the TCR would not ride like the Madone. Not true, just as fast in recreational land. The Giant in house carbon wheels are just fantastic, super stiff, super light and super fast though I remain a hung jury on the Giant 'stock' tyres. They seem sticky/grippy compared to my Schwalbe one's which appear to have been discontinued. Bummer.

Going back to the two vs. three. Here is the crazy bit. I / we felt like we rode hammer down all the way home, because actually we did. The crazy thing ? Compared to last week we were at 26 miles in 1 hr 19 and 43 secs where as today, paradoxically, we were 26 miles at 1 hour 17 and 08 secs. A difference of 2 minutes 35 seconds quicker. It felt inherently faster but a simple reminder that as discussed before recreational bike riders can look for minutes. Pro's look for seconds and formula one guys look for tenths. We are just regular guys who like riding bikes. To some that makes us irregular.  These people of which one we encountered in a road rage incident today do not ride bikes. He was swiftly dispatched with a blast from my water bottle. As they say in Australia, he looked like a proper crack head bogan.  What a fool.

Fast Tuesday has become a wonderful part of the week. Great company, great bike riding. You gotta love it. Roll on next week.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

A rest is as good as a change ....

Rest. An important by word in world sport.

Recovery. Another important by word.

Rest and recovery go together. The trouble is as bike riders sometimes, I think we simply forget to rest. We do recover. That starts the minute we step off the bike with the correct procedure. Good nutrition, ablutions including stretching and compression, sleep and feet up ! 

But the the thing I have come to realise is that rest is as important as recovery and I think sometimes us bike riders simply ride, ride and ride some more. Yes, the fitness increases and yes form can change, but fatigue can accumulate and thus render heavy, sore legs and you can effectively over reach, before the over training kicks in. 

This is where data comes in. The appliance of science. I have been looking at my numbers for the year so far and I decided to have a few days off the bike this week as I felt tired and overly sore in the legs and my threshold despite attaining a new FTP felt lower than it should have on Tuesday. Strava tells me that on Saturday, my 'form', a division of the aforementioned fatigue and fitness will reset to zero which basically means I should have good legs. This is the result of 400 - 500 miles a month on the bike and why I chose to work with power and heart rate. I am told form should hover around +10 through to -10.

I figure a body builder would not always go to the gym and do bicep curls daily as it would simply just hurt, look stupid and in turn give him very sore muscles. I think the same can go for bike riding. We used to use mileage and speed as a barometer for 'fitness' but times have changed and power allows us to ride smart. Remember to rest people.

Over and out.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Fast Tuesday Part 4. Bicycle Redux.

Fast Tuesday; Bicycle Redux as today is known was about doing fast tuesday on the TCR ADV with my 404's shod on the frame as the Madone 9 has moved on to a lovely new home as I needed to shrink the fleet and keep  my 'Devon bike'. Not a diservice to the Madone, simply that it is better suited to different terrain.  I took a slightly different slant to the actual ride itself today in so much that we had established the busy ride across Newton from one side to another and back in post full gas shenanigans was actually having a negative effect on time and speed. So, the actual ride was segmented into a warm up, the actual fast tuesday part and of course a warm down. Jolly sensible.

What this meant in the end is that the valuable part of the ride, the middle portion was a big success today with some solid numbers appearing on the Garmin post ride and subsquently on Strava. 

These are -

26.0 miles in 1 hour 19 & 43 seconds.

Average speed 19.6 mph.

Average weighted power of 223 watts.

A new 20 minute FTP of 233 watts.

All of these numbers stack up to be a decent shift on the bike despite not feeling great. I felt very tired after a very busy bank holiday weekend and even thought about rain checking the ride, but they only come around once a week and next week is 7 days away. I have had a mysterious virus and an odd lump above my nose which I suspect is sinus related which is usually a sign of being run down. Snoring a bit too, a huge barometer for my partner who prods me in the night. Basically, if I snore, I am shattered. End of.

It was great to ride with Steve again. Monstering along on his Propel ADV SL - it is some bike. It turned heads today and we had two 'old women' commenting on how lovely it was. Steve; take note !!! He is in truly great shape and both of us, mid to latter 40 somethings are making good use of our time on the bike with busy family life away from the two wheeled wonder machines. Steve likes to use the pain cave and get on Zwift through the week. I would do the same. Trouble is my broadband is woeful. Less than 1 meg on an evening would render it pointless. I will stick to the commute riding and I am going to rustle up the single speed this week and put some miles on that as not ridden it since Feb. I intend on resting a bit now as feeling it today. Overall, despite getting a new FTP I did not feel fast. Strava inferred that I was a little 'jet lagged' and how I felt backs this up. The legs were heavy and testament to this was the ride back was three minutes slower over the 11.5 miles - see image below. Windy again but more to do with my legs than the weather today. Fish and chip suppers do not a bike rider make, but they do taste bloody lovely.

Monday, 1 May 2017

April in review ....

April 2017 has been and gone and was a good solid productive month of riding, 507 miles logged, the largest months riding since May 2013 and August 2012 before it, with a real mix in the bag. Long rides, interim rides, full gas rides and some solid commute rides thrown in - all with power, what many consider to be the holy grail and the opening of the door cycling wise. Off the bike I managed to manage my eating and food regime well over Easter where it becomes to easy to eat stupid amounts of chocolate. But, the weight loss continues, if a little slower. Going back to power, I find it hard to moderate it on hills such is the location, but is is fuelling a better understanding of how and where to use it. For example, I nailed a PB on a segment called 'climb out of Starcross' (pic below) a small harbour side village in Devon, and I now know that to better it again, 220 watts for the duration on the fake flat for 6 minutes should do. Easier said than done of course, but with power, you have a real tool for improvement because you can break down the effort and see where and how you rode. There are a lot of variables involved. Fitness, increased threshold and weight loss but most of all, simply getting stronger due to the love of riding a bike.

Highlights of the month passed include some new personal bests along with aforementioned climbs here and there and some very enjoyable fast rides. Best of all, I managed to snag a top ten on Strava on one of the local punchy climbs 'Roubaix Lane'. 2 miles long and up and down like a fiddlers elbow. Well, I smashed it to pieces. Second fastest this year and 8th all time, which to a fat middle aged guy on a bike is simply wonderful. Like running a marathon. The funny thing, I never went out there 'Strava hunting' as it is known, I simply knew I had good legs from the minute I turned into the segment so opened the tanks and thankfully met no agricultural vehicles.

Small things and all that. Works out as 183 watts for 2 miles, average speed 20.8 miles an hour. To me this is a huge thing to achieve given how hard I found Devon as a location to ride a bike in with the move South. I took the TCR out on this way rather than the Madone. Absolutey nowhere near as fast as the Madone and a totally different bike in the way it rides and feels. To use a poor analogy, the TCR is a wasp, the Madone is a big old Bee. Much the same but hugely different. Nothing can top the Madone for flat out speed and this faster it gets the faster it goes riding though the TCR is perfectly suited to the Ardenne nature of Devon lanes sharp, punchy and battered.