101

Readers, forgive me for I have sinned. For over a year now I’ve been trying to find the courage to unburden myself of this particular incident. What better than to use the 101st post on this blog. I’d love to say it’s something we’ve all done at some point but sadly most people are simply more sensible and not willing to stoop to such a low level for the sake of a small prize.

It was a stunning summers day last year. I’d just gotten back from a very enjoyable steady ride, a few days previously my Uni results had come through and they’d been better than expected, better still I’d just received a brand new TT skin suit in the post. In short life was good. As is so often the case the perfect day was ruined upon opening what was initially an innocent looking email from Strava. The email informed me that a KOM I’d held for a long time had been stolen.

This particular segment had ben very, very hard to take. It had only been right at the very end of the previous summer that I’d managed it with one of those lung busting efforts that makes you feel like you’re going to pass out. I was not happy. To add insult to injury my time had been beaten by a rather impressive twenty seconds.

Oh how I tossed and turned that night, replaying the segment over and over again in my head and trying to come up with ways in which I could take back my title. At that point I really, really should have left it however my competitive nature succeeded in getting the better of me. On my commute to work the following morning I couldn’t help but notice how perfect the direction of the wind was.  The one nice thing that particular boss ever did for me was to let me have that afternoon off due to the shop being quiet. Yes ladies and gentleman, I left work early mainly so as to try and get a Strava KOM. This in itself would have been worthy of confession but sadly there is more to the story.

When I got home I didn’t hesitate to prepare the Foil for an impulsive attempt to reclaim the crown. That is where it starts getting… um… sad. Off went the bottle cages, taking a drink with me would inevitably add weight and compromise aerodynamics. I changed the inner tubes to latex ones and gave the chain a coat of special hydrodynamic lube, honesty more attention to detail than went into preparation for an average race. I know what you’re thinking, this is a bit extreme but not too bad in the great scheme of things. Just wait.

It was sitting there on my bed, still in the packaging and practically begging to used. So it was that without so much as a thought I put on my new skinsuit. A road racing speedsuit might have been acceptable but this was dedicated TT model, long sleeves and no pockets – the works. I came to the conclusion that if I was going to go aero I might as well complete the package. On went my aero helmet and overshoes. To all intents and purposes I was in full TT gear.

I don’t even want to think about how stupid I must have looked heading out in that particular apparel. Such things really, really should only be warn when you have a number pinned to your back. To make maters worse I didn’t even bring the essential spares; if I punctured there would have been no choice but to walk home. Maybe, maybe if I managed to take the segment it would be justified. It was not. It still haunts me to this day that I missed out by a grand total of two seconds, granted I managed to take two other KOM’s in the process but they were consolation prizes at best.

To summarise I made a complete fool of myself in vain. I hope that by reading this you can learn from my mistakes, which is to say the perfect example of what you should never do that I have illustrated above.

Thanks for reading

 

Baptism of Fire

The definition of a truly epic ride is not universally agreed upon. To my mind in order to qualify for the accolade at least two of the following criteria must be met.

  1. Bad weather – Extreme heat, Snow, Rain and/or block headwinds.
  2. Equipment failure – Mechanical problems or GPS going on the blink.
  3. Climbs – At least one thats over 20%
  4. Distance – 1o0 km minimum on a road bike.
  5. Suffering – Preferably conducted whilst tired from a previous ride, or if you really want to push it there’s always the hungover option.

Over the past six years I’ve done a fair few of these, ones that stand out include last years birthday century, the third stage of the 2016 Tour of Wessex and my foolhardy MTB trip in the snow this spring. Last Sunday such a ride unexpectedly took place. Here’s the lowdown.

I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t get off to the best of starts. I’d planned this ride with a Uni friend which meant driving down to Exeter. Despite driving carefully due to having my best bike in the back of the car I succeeded in having a minor collision with a bus about 500 feet from my destination. Attempting to put my left wing mirror back together with gaffer tape in a car park wasn’t my idea of a fun evening.

Not for the first time I cursed the weather forecasters for lying to me the following morning, a cloudy but dry day had been promised. Waking up listening to that telltale sound of raindrops on the window that every Cyclist learns to dread sent a chill down my spine. This wasn’t going to be plain sailing. Matters were further complicated when I managed to get lost on the way to meet my friend at his house, despite having lived in Exeter for the best part of two years I have yet to learn how to successfully navigate it.

Following the obligatory pre-ride coffee we set off. I must admit to having had a few misgivings about planning a ride on Dartmoor. The weather up there is notoriously unpredictable even at the best of times and more often than not there are tricky hazards to negotiate; cattle grids, cows and ponies in the middle of the road, lanes that haven’t been resurfaced in twenty years and some very steep and narrow sections that you can’t afford to switch off on.

Anyway, with this ride long overdue we weren’t going to give up that easily. Getting out of the city was straightforward enough and soon we were heading out on the road to the moor. The B3212 is one of those sections of tarmac that I have something of a love/hate relationship with. It’s good fun on the way out, mild climbs and some wicked descents, yet on the way back on legs that are inevitably tired that road has nearly killed me many a time. On this occasion it was pretty neutral, we rode at talking pace and admired the spectacular Devon scenery that really comes into it’s own at this time of year.

The first stop came 15 miles into the ride at the town of Moretonhampstead. Clouds were looming overhead, ordinarily this wouldn’t have worried me but when it comes to Dartmoor rain showers tend to be accompanied by very high winds. Rather foolishly I’d opted for deep section wheels which can be very tricky in those conditions. With a growing sense of dread that I tried my best to conceal from my companion I broke out the packable waterproof.

Sure enough things soon turned… interesting. Within five miles we were riding along in driving rain accompanied by a relentless headwind. This served to remind me that despite it’s beauty Dartmoor is a place that demands caution and respect. It’s no wonder they built a prison up there. By mile 25 I was seriously considering turning back. Had I been riding alone I probably would have done just that but as it was we soldiered on, preying for the turning that would take us out of the wind.

Fortunately the rain stopped very soon after we’d turned off, the road was more sheltered and we no longer had to fight the wind. My thoughts now turned to the hard climbs that we were soon to encounter, Dartmoor contains four of the top 100 climbs in the UK and this route took in two of them. We started off with Dartmeet, beginning with a brutal 20% section with a bit of a false summit this climb can play some nasty tricks on you. I decided to bend the truth a little at this point, telling my friend that none of the climbs still to come were going to be as bad as this one. I decided not to try for a PR and instead save my strength for the rest of the ride (best excuse ever for setting a really slow time that one).

It was only a few miles later that we encountered Widdecombe. This climb always brings back a few memories, two years ago it came up at mile 70 of a 100 mile ride and I don’t think I’ve ever found a climb so unpleasant as I did on that day. In all fairness this time round it could have been a lot worse, my Scott climbs very well and rarely have I been so grateful for it. I did my best to keep up my “worst is over” charade, knowing full well that the real suffering was yet to come.

After some flattish miles we came back into Moretonhampsted. We treated ourselves to a cafe stop, the caffeine hit a very welcome boost after having survived trial by rain and hills. Unfortunately this resulted in an unexpected problem, my Garmin threw in the towel. Rarely does that device let me down but when it does it’s a serious nuisance. That meant I was going to have to navigate the next few miles by “instinct” which in my case really means “haven’t got a bloody clue”. You won’t be surprised to hear I took a wrong turning and lead us up an unnecessary climb that we then had to come back down before heading up another similarly unpleasant hill to get to the correct turning. It’s a wonder my friend has since agreed to go for another ride.

A few mercifully easy miles followed, if you discount the particularly treacherous lane on the way to Kennik Reservoir, those potholes could swallow a man whole unless carefully avoided. That particular rant is for another day. We soon began to descend, this should have bought joy but I must admit it was bittersweet. The upcoming climb would have been challenging at the very beginning of the ride, eight miles from home it was going to be a killer. And kill us it did. On the flat you can hide from the fatigue to a certain extent, once you’ve built some momentum sustaining it is relatively straightforward. When it comes to steep climbs it’s another matter. This one was especially cruel, going up in short but very steep increments with flat in-between. Three times I thought we’d reached the top, there’s nothing more demoralising than a false dawn.

Finally we reached Haldon forest, the point at which we’d turn for home, it was a mutual decision to go with the slightly more direct route, we’d both had enough pain for one day. Returning to the outskirts of Exeter bought a big sigh of relief, we’d survived. It was then that I decided to deem this ride epic, having met four of the five criteria above it was worthy of the title. I ought to mention here that it was the first properly long ride my friend had ever done, I’m slightly in awe of his level of mental toughness. This was truly a Baptism of fire into the world of Cycling.

Thanks for reading.

 

Lifting for Dummies

If you happen to be one of the three or so people who read this regularly you might remember a post last year (who am I kidding?) in which I went on for a bit about dipping my toe into the somewhat alien world of the gym. In my usual fashion I stuck at it for a couple of months before losing interest and going back to just riding a bike.

As part of my quest to enjoy myself more this year I decided to head back. The Cycling physique may be a practical one when it comes to climbing steep hills but that’s where it’s usefulness ends. Long have I been fed-up of the mismatch, powerful and muscular legs coupled with arms that could easily be mistaken for those of a life-size stick figure at a distance. Last year my Swim training went some way to correct it but having not been in the water for the best part of three months (please don’t judge me too harshly) the status quo was soon restored.

So it was that I decided to embark on a mission, making 2018 the year in which I’d finally learn how to lift weights and hopefully get rid of that scrawny upper body for good. Of course with me being me it didn’t get off to the best of starts – with the money I intended to spend on a Gym membership instead being invested in a new bike. I reasoned however that with my completely untrained status something could still be achieved. Good old-fashioned core exercises did in fact come in very useful for a few weeks. Rather embarrassingly the size of my biceps noticeably increased following a regime of simple push-ups.

Once the second portion of Student Loan came through I finally took the plunge and decided to invest in an actual Gym membership. I can hear you sighing already for which I do not blame you, for I was indeed one of those new-years resolution people invading the weight room & getting in the way.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that the only suitable gear I had available on the morning of my first lifting session consisted of my fluorescent green running top (at least one size too large) and a particularly ‘colourful’ pair of shorts – who doesn’t love a bit of orange? My attempt to keep a low profile had already fallen victim to unintentional sabotage. I’ve long since learnt that the best way to fit in is often to act like you know what you are doing, even if it’s not the case at all. In keeping with this principle I walked into the weight room with my head held high and promptly only very narrowly avoided a head on collision with someone. Not to be deterred I carried on, settling on the first machine that became available – I’d like to think I didn’t look too confused when reading the very simple instructions detailing how to use the thing.

Since then I’ll hesitantly report that things have slightly improved. I have now become slightly more versed in the language of weight lifting, at the very least I now know the difference between a squat & a deadlift. I’d even go as far as to say that I’ve started to enjoy it, the indoor environment making a welcome change from the muddy roads & trails that make up my usual training ground.

Rather surprisingly it’s made a difference on the bike. Despite still being a few kg’s above racing weight I’m climbing pretty well, keeping up with riders in my club who could left me for dead over the summer. At a guess I would say it’s due to improved efficiency owing to a much stronger core reducing the amount of energy wasted. Better still it’s produced visible results, those skinny arms are a thing of the past and, in certain lights anyway, my chest and abs are taking on some decent tone. Nothing spectacular but it’s a start.

Of course there is still a great deal to learn. Any Uni friends reading this will probably laugh when I admit that I haven’t dared touch the free weights yet for fear of injuring myself. Another question to which I have yet to find an answer is that of exactly what you’re supposed to do when the machine you want to use isn’t free? Standing there awkwardly whilst scrolling through my phone is surely far from the best long term solution.

Lifting is slowly working it’s way to becoming a regular and long-term part of my training. For what it’s worth I’m glad to have made the effort, who knows – one day I might even get to the point of being vaguely competent at it. That’s all for today, time to go and clean my bike.

Thanks for reading.

21 Things

Well, that one went by very quickly. Another year older and in theory at least, a bit wiser. Very soon after my last birthday I learned one thing, century rides in the Winter are not a good form of celebration. This time round I have done the usual thing and left making plans right till the last minute. For a while I toyed with the idea of running a Half Marathon, 21km for 21 years has a nice ring to it. That was before I felt the twinge in my ankles after running a mere five miles one day last week. Probably not the best idea. A 21 mile ride? Well, looking at the weather forecast that one probably isn’t gonna happen either. So to that end I’m going to make it easy for myself – here are 21 things I have learned in the past year.

  1. Once again I can’t stress this one enough. Century rides in winter are not, I repeat NOT a good form of celebration. You will come back tired, hungry and covered in mud.
  2. When going on a Cycling trip always bring spare tyres. Because there is aways the possibility that your rubber will end up getting ruined, if not for the generosity of fellow riders this can easily be a ride-ending complication.
  3. When Mountain Biking do not get distracted because you might up crashing into a tree and spraining your wrist.
  4. Switching sports half way through the season is very hard.
  5. Wetsuits are very tricky to get on and off. It is perfectly possible that not learning how to to do it can ruin a race performance.
  6. When going to the Gym for the first time in months and trying not to look conspicuous, wearing a fluorescent green running top will not help your cause.
  7. Open water swimming is scary. For heavens sake practice it before your event.
  8. You can’t beat fish and chips for a post-race meal. Okay, from a nutrition point of view you certainly can but I’m talking about sheer enjoyment.
  9. Check your crank bolts, if they look worn then change them. Do not, for example leave them in place until you can’t remove them and have to resort to the local bike shop.
  10. Do not let your ego get in the way of your Triathlon pacing strategy. You may end up going quicker on the bike leg but the run will be an embarrassment.
  11. If Road Racing doesn’t turn out to be your thing then just stop doing it and find other outlets for that competitive side. It’ll be one of the best sporting decisions you ever make.
  12. Always check your kit bag before leaving for an event. It would be terrible to say, forget your helmet and have to drive back home in the small hours in order to go and retrieve it.
  13. Don’t eat a big meal before doing a Time Trial, your Skinsuit will make the resulting bulge in your stomach obvious to all your competitors.
  14. Check your Garmin is charged before going out for a long ride. Trying to navigate the old fashioned way just doesn’t work – especially if you have no sense of direction.
  15. Make sure your saddlebag always contains an emergency tenner, if not you might miss out on that piece of Carrot Cake you’ve ridden all the way to a particular Cafe for.
  16. Grit your teeth and finish the race. The feeling you get at the end will be worth it.
  17. Enjoy the social side of Cycling. Gruelling solo training rides have their place but so do easy spins to the Cafe with your mates.
  18. Mudguards are awesome. They might not look attractive but they’ll keep you dry on those winter Club rides.
  19. Off road riding is hard but good fun. Who doesn’t enjoy jumping over rocks and falling afoul of the odd tree stump?
  20. You really don’t need that new bike. But get it anyway because life is just too short to not allow yourself the odd carbon fibre indulgence.
  21. Have fun. If you’re not a professional athlete then why not take some pressure off yourself and stop taking everything so seriously? You’ll feel miles better for it.

Well, that’s just about all I can think of. I’m sure in a years time a great deal will have happened; success, failure, triumphs, defeats, races I’ll always want to remember and ones I’ll do my best to forget. As always I will let you know how it goes. Finally, thank you to family and friends especially those who have had to put up with me for the full 21 years. Here’s to many more.

Thanks for reading

The last Bean

Hopefully that title will have been sufficiently intriguing to have got you to click on the link. I promise to explain it’s meaning further on in the post. The inspiration came to me last week upon getting back from one of the worst rides I’ve had in a long time. ‘Spin to the Coast’, sounds ideal right? Well in this case no, the combination of a mild wrist sprain, dodgy gears and torrential rain made it a thoroughly torrid experience. It was one of those very rare occasions where I climbed off the bike in a worse mood than I had been when setting out. “Could be worse” I thought to myself. At that point I couldn’t help but dredge up a long repressed memory, my very worst day on the bike. I’m going to share the tale with you as a form of therapy.

It was the summer of 2013. Cycling and I had spent some time apart but during the few weeks prior to ‘that ride’ we had reignited the relationship. I look back fondly at the honeymoon phase, the days when I would get stronger week in week out. That said I still had a rather long way to go. Following my GCSE exams earlier that summer I was still very much on the heavy side. Sporting a haircut reminiscent of that of Boris Johnson and wearing my bright yellow jersey with the marmite logo spread across the back (incidentally the only one I possessed at the time) I probably resembled an over-sized teddy bear. Anyway, moving on.

The planned destination was West Bay, a small coastal village about twenty-five miles away from my home town of Yeovil. It was set to be a spectacular day and I still remember being awoken by rays of sunshine and enthusiastically preparing my bike, spurred on by the thought of a piece of cake by the sea. My father and I had planned the route the day before. These were the days before Garmin GPS navigation could be considered genuinely trustworthy so we had been careful to note down the directions. What could possibly go wrong?

It started out fairly smoothly, primarily because we were very familiar with the first ten miles or so of the route. As was usually the case in those days my legs felt good until we got to the first significant hill, my bulk presented a very significant obstacle. By the time I reached the top my Father had had the time to stop and take his first energy gel, it was incidents like these (i.e. being humiliated by a man almost thirty years my senior) that finally gave me the willpower to shed those pounds.

Soon we encountered the first obstacle. A wrong turning lead us down a steep and slippery descent that culminated in a dead end. Typically the Garmin only realised we were off course once we’d reached the bottom of the hill. Climbing back up it was going to be challenging at the best of times, with the road surface less than perfect due to rain the day before it was a nightmare. In fact, who could have blamed me for… um… getting off and pushing.

Having survived that particular ordeal we continued, still relatively undeterred in our foolish pursuit of a slice of expensive Coffee & Walnut. Looking back it feels inevitable that we ended up on precisely the main road which we had been trying to avoid. It was highly nerve-wracking especially as a novice to negotiate that kind of traffic. Lorries passing within feet of you is one of the worst experiences you’ll ever have on a bike.

After a few more ‘navigational teething problems’ we eventually made it to our destination. Having been caught up in trying not to get lost we had failed to notice the ominously large black could forming in the sky above us. We made the decision to forgo the cafe stop in the hope of making it home before the heavens opened. The rather dispirited expression on my face in the sole surviving photograph from that ride says it all. No cake, a high chance of rain and humiliation at the hands of hills. If only things had stayed that good.

 

The minute we set off it began to rain. We’re not talking a light shower either, rather a continual deluge that didn’t let off for several hours. Neither my Father or I had had the presence of mind to bring packable waterproofs, being relatively new to the sport at that time there were a great many lessons we had yet to learn. Onwards we ploughed, a lycra-clad dynamic duo nobly battling with the elements (couple of idiots who hadn’t bothered to check the forecast, desperate to get home to avoid becoming hypothermic).

 

A metal drain cover that I failed to see in time made short work of my back wheel. I went down hard, emerging with several bruises and a bloodied knee. Still we continued, as neither of us had a signal there was simply no choice. Fifteen minutes later we came to a turning, of course the Garmin chose that moment to give up completely though we did not yet realise it. Following it’s directions then took us in a perfect circle. The pain in my knee made it difficult to ride, by the time we reached the junction for the second time I was having to hop off the bike every few minutes – making us even colder.

What happened next? Well you probably won’t be surprised to learn that my Father punctured at the worst possible time. We ended up standing in a muddy gateway attempting to change his inner tube, the experience punctuated by the occasional showering of muddy water thrown up by a passing HGV. By this point we had both had enough. All joking aside it was a dangerous situation we found ourselves in.

A mile down the road we still had no idea of our exact location. It’s surprising how different even familiar roads can look in the wet, of course it didn’t help that we shared the family trait of a remarkably poor sense of direction. We took the first available turning, desperate to get off the main road and find some shelter. My Father bravely attempted to remove the undergrowth from the road sign marking the junction, at the very least we might be-able to find out where the road we had just taken would lead us. No such luck, the sign was for a place neither of us had ever heard of.

By this point I was walking up and down trying to get a signal. I would have happily got down on one knee and proposed to my phone when eventually one bar appeared in the top left hand corner of it’s screen. After what seemed like an eternity I was able to get the postcode for our location. With no hesitation whatsoever I called home for rescue.  So there we were. What had begun as an idyllic two-wheeled adventure culminated in the pair of us stood on a grass verge at the side of the road sharing a pack of jelly beans, the only food we had left between us. By the time my mother arrived we were down to the very last one.

And that is where it ended. Driving away from the scene in our ever faithful Toyota Land Cruiser, my Mother thoroughly exasperated at our sheer ineptitude and (I suspect) struggling not to burst into laughter at the thought of the predicament in which we had been found. It’s easily the closest I have ever come to putting the bike in the shed and throwing away the key.

Looking back I learnt a number of valuable lessons that day. Crucial tips such as; always take a waterproof, bring more than the bare minimum amount of food you think you’ll need, if possible have a rough idea of the route beforehand in case GPS fails and perhaps the most important of them all – check the bloody weather forecast before heading out. The phrase ‘Character building’ is one I use rather liberally but that day truly was, never again have I climbed off and walked up a hill.

Thanks for reading.

It wasn’t me

At the time if writing it’s Sunday morning, the highlight of the week for Cyclists up and down the country. The weekend Club Ride is one of those traditions dating back many years. For me riding with the fast group it always goes something like this;

  1. Morning panic. What on earth have I done with those arm warmers? Are my tyres done? Did I download the route last night? Why oh why didn’t I just set that damn alarm twenty minutes earlier?
  2. Short Time Trial effort to get to the meeting place, no time for a gentle warm up – this is life or death.
  3. Arrive. Try to conceal the extent of my breathlessness, look around in the hope that that bloke who beat me up a hill last week hasn’t turned up.
  4. Spend a few minutes getting cold and attempting to make small talk, be sure to have watched the latest pro-race so it seems you know what you’re talking about.
  5. Set off, pretend you’re feeling good by doing an early turn on the front – preferably on a slight downhill.
  6. Retreat to the back as the pace picks up, tell myself it’s not a race but still fail to suppress the urge to test my legs against everyone else’s when a good hill comes along.
  7. The Cafe stop. For me this is the best bit, hard earned coffee and cake.
  8. Get going again, hope the legs don’t feel this bad the rest of the way. Regret that massive slice of cake once the first hill presents itself.
  9. The bit that hurts. Everyone doing increasingly hard turns on the front, trying to push the average speed up. Last five miles usually done at race pace, hope I’ve got something left for that final push.
  10. Come home and collapse on the sofa with a recovery drink and the latest copy of Cycling Weekly. Try and fail to come up with a reasonable answer to the question: “How can you possibly enjoy it?” as posed by a family member upon seeing the state of me.

Anyway, this morning I woke up and saw that it was pouring with rain outside. Following a ride with a friend yesterday that started out as ‘not too fast’ and ended up being a 2up TT effort my legs were screaming at me to stay in bed. I happily obeyed. Never one to miss out on the cafe stop experience I decided to bake a cake instead of going for a ride. I’m calling it a day of ‘extra recovery’.

The Calendar is rather depressingly starting to move towards Autumn. Cue checking that the Winter bike is ready to go forth and face the mud, wind and rain that will be here sooner than I’d like. My ever faithful Cannondale has been equipped for the role, complete with a massive saddlebag containing spares for every eventuality. Clip-on mudguards and winter tyres have been purchased and installed. One task remains, installing a compact chainset in order to spare my knees on the Devon Hills. That brings me onto another story.

Two weeks ago I was reunited with my LEJOG steed, finding it had suffered gravely at the hands of all that the 880 mile trip had thrown at it. Grease and mud had found their way into just about everything, the once pristine frame now covered in a generous layer of caked-on muck. Thinking back, perhaps bringing a machine with a matt orange paint job wasn’t the most sensible idea. In the time I’ve had the bike only one thing has proved effective at removing the stubborn marks. A fun afternoon was spent attacking the frame with a tube of Tesco Value spearmint toothpaste, after three hours of scrubbing it with a toothbrush my Tarmac returned to it’s former glory.

Sadly that was only half the story; dirty cables, crunchy bottom bracket and decaying bar tape just to name a few of the issues. Worst of all was that most dreaded of problems, a rounded crank bolt holding my power meter in place. Had I attempted to sort all of it out myself the bike and I might not have survived the process, after all it did take me over a year to learn how to change a tyre. Time for a trip to the Local Bike Shop.

The good people at Tri Uk have always done a good job of correcting my handiwork. Over the years I’ve presented them with badly adjusted gears, bodged cable changes, rusted headsets and bottom brackets that should have been changed six months ago. It probably didn’t come as a surprise when I handed over my Specialized and informed them that I’d managed to destroy the offending bolt with a torque wrench. I can’t imagine they bought my excuse that it had been installed in a rush. It was akin to being back at school, trying to explain to a teacher why I hadn’t done my homework – with no note from my mother to bail me out. In actual fact I simply forgot to use the new crank bolts I’d ordered.

Ten days later and the fate of my Power Meter is still unknown, in the end the bolt had to be sawn off. I’m offering up a silent prayer that it will be possible to resurrect it by means of a drill, being a student there is no way I’d be-able to afford a replacement for the next few months at least. I’ve been gently advised by the mechanic dealing with my bike that it might be best to “not go anywhere near a screwdriver” from now on. Judging by this experience I’m inclined to agree with him. I may have some talents but working on bikes is not one of them.

Thanks for reading.

An unexpected journey

It seemed like a good idea at the time. A final tune-up event before the first A-priority race of the season (aka judgement day) at the end of this week. How hard could a 25 mile TT turn out to be? As it turned out the answer to that question is very – though perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

Inspite of much searching I could only find one event at the right time, the downside being that getting to the start line would involve a long drive. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have presented a major problem. Yet with the TT starting relatively early in the morning it would mean a 5:30 AM start. Fortunately my father had also entered the event, one thing we have in common is a deep hatred of having to wake up early. A decision was made to go up the night before.

It was all going well. For once I didn’t have the nagging feeling that I’d forgotten something, the drive had been mercifully uneventful and the accommodation was very pleasant. Before going down to eat I decided to make one final check that everything was ready for the morning. Shoes? Check. Skinsuit? Check. Gels? Check. Food? Check. Helmet? Oh dear. The most critical piece of equipment had indeed been left behind. I won’t repeat the phrase that went through my head at that moment.

Sadly there was only one solution, namely driving all the way back home to collect the aforementioned helmet. This is one of those incidents that family and friends will probably never allow me to forget. The masterful plan to get a decent nights sleep immediately went out of the window. The pair of us got back to the hotel just after midnight. There was at least one positive that I could draw from this misadventure, a high level of emotional investment in the TT the following day. Having gone to such trouble to get there doing badly was unthinkable.

Race day dawned, characterised by that familiar sound of the alarm going off at some god-awful time of the morning. Normally I wouldn’t be phased by a 7AM start yet the events of the previous night made it a real struggle. Red-eyed and groggy I forced down a truly disgusting cup of instant coffee followed by lukewarm porridge. Next it was time to collect the bikes from the disused function room where they had been stored overnight, I’m now very glad we didn’t leave them in the car. Some drunken idiot must have thought it a great idea to take a key to the paintwork of our vehicle at some point in the small hours of the morning.

My mood was gradually going from bad to worse. What was supposed to have been a bit of fun was turning into a complete and utter disaster. By the time I arrived on the start line my teeth were chattering, a thin skinsuit may be aerodynamic but doesn’t offer much in the way of warmth on a cold spring morning. On the plus side my legs felt surprisingly fresh – perhaps this wouldn’t turn out to be a complete flop after all.

Five miles into the event the first hitch presented itself, I failed to notice a conveniently placed drain cover. Fortunately I managed not to lose control of the bike when going over it, my water bottle was however a casualty. That meant covering the rest of the distance with no available fuel, I wasn’t convinced I’d need to take energy on board in the first place but having the option would have been reassuring. Fortunately I was distracted by the sight of my minute man a few meters ahead, catching someone in a TT always provides a massive moral boost.

As it turned out these catches would continue throughout the ride, six in total. There are few things as satisfying as going past someone riding a bike worth at least 3x as much as your own. However it wasn’t all smooth going. Half way through the effort I noticed some pain in the saddle area, pain that very soon turned to near agony. I’d never been in the TT position for that long before and with hindsight it’s something I really, really, really should have practiced.

That second lap of the course proved to be a mental battle. Every fiber of my being was screaming at me to stop or at the very least get out of the aero tuck. I was genuinely grateful to be briefly held up by a slow moving tractor. Rarely have I been so relieved to see a finish line. Let’s just say that if the course had been any longer I may well have had to explain to my parents that they had no hope of grandchildren. Upon getting home I removed the saddle immediately, a bare seat post would probably have been more comfortable.

Inspite of all the disaster the event yielded a good result. A time of 1:01:10 doesn’t sound like much over 40k but on a hilly course it was better than I would have expected. Enough for 4th place overall, back at the beginning of the season I’d have laughed if someone had told me I’d end up finishing in the top five in an open TT. I will admit to being slightly gutted though, five seconds faster and I would have been on the podium. I’m convinced that with a correctly fitting saddle that would have been easily achievable. Such is life as they say.

Anyway. Overall I’m pleased, it’s reassuring to have come away with a good result inspite of so many problems in the run up to and during the event. I’m still feeling the effects. Aching legs, sore neck and the need to walk as if suffering with rickets oweing to my saddle mistake. Writing this is providing a very welcome distraction from the nagging thought that this really isn’t the ideal state to be in with the most important race of the season a mere six days away. I’ll leave it there for today – time to frantically search eBay for a new saddle.

As ever, thanks for reading.

Not again – surely.

Oh the irony. One of the main themes of various lectures this week has been the effect of exercise on the immune system. I should therefore have been well aware of the elevated risk of catching something nasty following a bout of heavy training and taken the necessary actions to reduce it. Sadly I did not. In what is becoming a tradition I succeeded in avoiding any form of illness right up until the day before my first competitive outing. To any long-term followers this might sound familiar. 

This time though, I was determined not to miss the event. Especially having just spent the best part of the previous afternoon sorting out my TT bike, of course changing the wheels meant everything had to be adjusted – why wouldn’t it have done? That would just have been too simple. As colds go it’s about as mild as it gets – just a sore throat and a slightly stuffy nose. In which case, no excuse to not be on the start line.

Anyway, onto the day itself. It was of course the morning where the clocks went forward (i.e. losing an hour of sleep), and that on which some of my fellow students thought it was a brilliant idea to play some god-awful music very loudly at 3AM. Volatile was the word I would have used to describe my state upon climbing out of bed, bleary eyed and steadily losing the will to live. Still, I suppose it was my choice to enter that particular Time Trial so there isn’t much point in moaning.

At least it was decent weather, meaning the sky was blue for what felt like the first time in months. It was a nice feeling, riding my bike along empty roads so early in the morning.  Hoping all the while that my Garmin didn’t decide to give up the ghost and leave me stranded somewhere in the middle of Devon with no hope of finding the event HQ. A combination of potent nasal spray, coffee and porridge began to work it’s magic – I didn’t feel amazing by any stretch of the imagination but no longer had the legs of an octogenarian.

The next stage was mercifully simple; sign-on, do battle with various pieces of aero equipment, gulp down that last energy gel and ride over to the start. I know what you’re thinking and yes, I did get a bit lost – fortunately I was able to follow another rider and arrived with minutes to spare. Any naive hopes of a podium had long since evaporated – survival was now my goal. TT’s are a heaven for expensive equipment – dimpled skin suits, disc wheels, integrated carbon frames and just about everything else you could imagine.  I can’t deny feeling a tad inadequate with my humble Cannondale Slice 105 and standard clothing.

Honestly the first five miles were horrendous. My legs did not take kindly to going from a cold start, I was soon breathing heavily – probably sounding like something out of a bad horror film. Experience kicked in then, this had happened to me before – I knew that if I pushed on my legs would start to feel better. Fortunately they did, just in time for the hardest part of the course. Hills are not easy at the best of times but trying to climb in the aero position makes them that bit harder. Oh, and of course there was also a headwind to contend with.

My spirits were given a much needed boost upon seeing my minute man (he who had set off before me) up ahead. It’s always satisfying to make the catch in a TT, especially when it’s someone with a nicer bike. Over the next couple of miles I slowly gained time on my immediate rival – something which did a very good job of taking my mind off the pain. I would have overtaken him, had a junction not presented itself at exactly the wrong moment – forcing me to wait and lose a few crucial seconds.

I glanced down at my Garmin then, just five miles to go – time to ramp up the pace. Well, that would have been my strategy had there been anything left in the tank. In actual fact, it was hard enough just to keep my speed up – let alone think of a fast finish. A small mercy was granted now, a descent coupled with a tailwind. It’s always nice to see 40mph come up the screen. Finally the end was in sight, the prospect of a recovery drink followed by a slice of cake was precisely the motivation I needed in order to carry on.

After one more turning the finish line came into view, just typical that I should be passed by another rider meters before crossing it. I’d made another mistake here, or rather the organisers had – the course was in fact 14 miles long as a pose to 17. Not that you’d have caught me complaining. I’d like to think I would have gone a bit faster with that knowledge in my head – though realistically it’s unlikely.

The next challenge was finding my way back the start, this ought to have been a simple matter of following the other riders. Unless of course they happened to be heading out for post TT ride and not going back to HQ – suppose I really should have thought to ask. There followed three miles of muddy lanes, before coming across another group of lost Cyclists. Between us we managed to work out the way.

Now came the time to wait for the results. I was apprehensive then, this being the first real test of my legs since the last race of 2016. I had a few excuses of course (course length misinformation, not being tapered, not wearing a skin suit and having a bit of a cold – just to make then all very clear). In the end I was pleasantly surprised, 10th out a field of 48 – not bad for a first ever Open TT given the circumstances. Last season the best I managed was 11th in a low-key club event. “It’s worked” – I thought to myself then. All those winter miles, the early morning hill reps and evening turbo sessions. Relief was the overriding factor – concrete proof that I wasn’t performing badly relative to others.

It was time to head home then, except of course things just weren’t that simple. It was the last thing I wanted to do but nonetheless it was what my training plan called for. Another hour of riding in order to achieve the prescribed training load for the week. I wouldn’t ordinarily have bothered, however this happens to be my last hard week of training before the taper for my upcoming A race begins. Spurred on by the thought of an upcoming rest week (and really, really not wanting to get home and finish writing up the week’s lecture notes) – I pushed myself through those last few miles.

Never has a shower felt so good or a massive bar of chocolate tasted so guilt-free. That brings us neatly to this point – I’m of course writing this as a means of procrastination. Looking back, in riding when slightly under the weather I’ve failed to take my own advice. Somehow I have a feeling that the next few days are not going to be much fun. Still, there are many positives to take from the experience.

Stay tuned.

Mechanical Mayhem

It’s something of an embarrassment. For all the (hopefully good) advice I’ve given out on this blog, there is one area into which I daren’t venture. The dreaded maintenance or repair that must be carried out in order to keep a bike ticking over, in other words anything do to with mechanics. In order to appreciate the true extent of my mechanical ineptitude – bear in mind that it took two years before I could successfully fix a puncture. Rattles, squeaks and rubbing sounds always send a chill down my spine – I just know that finding the problem and working out how to fix it will be a long, painful and often expensive process.

Since moving away from home I have at least tried to become more self sufficient. At the very least I can normally complete basic tasks such as changing a cassette, adjusting gears and swapping pedals over. Though the above still often require multiple attempts and a desperate hunt for a good maintenance video on YouTube. Getting the tools out is something for which I must always steel myself, with an espresso machine on hand and relaxing music in the background (mainly to drown out the swearing). Yesterday I was forced to do precisely that.

I had my fingers crossed that my faithful Cannondale would make it through the Winter without need of significant maintenance. Up until a few weeks ago, everything seemed fine – until the front brake decided to stop working. Fortunately sorting this out was so far beyond my capability that I could justify outsourcing the work (i.e. asking my Father to come down and mend the offending component). In the end we both decided to abide by traditional cycling wisdom  – “when in doubt, get a new one”. Simple enough, old brake off and new one on. After a mere three attempts accompanied by one or two minor expletives I managed it all by myself. All was right again, so it seemed.

This brings us neatly to last Friday. Upon inspecting my Winter Wheels I could come to no conclusion other than the fact that they were borderline dangerous to ride. Never have I seen a rim quite so concave, after four winters those hoops were certainly past their sell-by date. The tyres too were in need of changing, the Devon lanes having finally gotten the better of them. Unusually, I had been organised enough to anticipate this – having another set of wheels waiting in the wings. “Simple” I thought – “swap the cassette over and put on a pair of tyres – why not change the brake shoes while I’m at it?“.

Having borrowed the tools from home, I was all set – borderline confident, what could possibly go wrong? Firstly I failed to work out why the cassette wouldn’t fit the new wheels. After a mere half an hour I twigged that I needed a spacer to make an 11 speed hub compatible with the older 10 speed cassette. Next it was onto the tyres – no problem once I’d remembered that you have to unscrew the valve cap in order to pump up an inner tube. In hindsight, 7PM on a Sunday evening following a long day of travelling was not the best time to try and meddle with things I barely understand.

Finally – the dreaded brake shoes. A job that I have observed the completion of on many occasions, yet never dared attempt myself. I was well prepared, YouTube video on hand and all the tools laid out within easy reach. In the beginning it went remarkably smoothly; no lost bolts,  allen key injuries (of which I have a depressingly long history) or terminal breakages. Then came the problem, replacing the brake shoe having not put the brake block back together beforehand – making it impossible to get it back on the bike. Removal of the brake shoe should have been easy, had I not secured it in place using an old and corroded screw that refused to budge.

Time to think on my feet. In a feat of ingenuity bought about by sheer desperation I was able to remove the brake shoe using a combination of the following; kitchen knife, scissors, allen key, pliers adjustable spanner and fingernails. I can’t quite recall the method and order.  The secret is already lost to the ages, not that I’m especially bothered – this is one maintenance session I look forward to forgetting. Suffice to say that the brand new brake shoe was rendered unusable and I had to start all over again. By now the language had gone from PG to 18+.

Eventually, it all fitted into place. Though not after having put the brake blocks on the wrong sides, then upside down – before trial and error bought them into the correct position. From what I can see the bike does seem to be rideable – though the next ride won’t be a long one and will contain a large margin of error time wise. Once again I’ll congratulate myself for surviving a mechanical session. Physical recovery won’t take long – psychologically on the other hand, it may prove to be a long term issue.

If nothing else, I hope that this post has provided readers with a degree of comfort – if you happen to struggle with mechanical issues, you are not alone. In this case my advice is simple; if in doubt, just go to the local bike shop. Stay tuned.

A late Bah Humbug

As you might have gathered from the title of the post – I’m not exactly the greatest fan of Valentines Day. Truth be told I have never looked forward to it over the course of twenty years on this earth. Every year I brace myself; happy couples, flowers, chocolates and some truly dreadful cards. This bitterness of course has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I’m still single – honest. The only love I will be celebrating is that which I have for Cycling (in a completely non-creepy way just to be very, very, very clear), writing this made me cast my mind back when it all started…

It began just over four years ago, I still remember it as if it were yesterday. She was sitting right in the far corner of a crowded room. There were many others but I only had eyes for one. For a moment time just seemed to stop, an inner voice telling me that my life was about to change forever. I was bought out of this state or revelry by a friendly tap on the shoulder – “shall I take it off the shelf so you can have a closer look?” said the Bikeshop owner. I suspect the man knew an easy sale when he saw one. One week later and I bought her home, my first proper Road Bike – a Cannondale SuperSix 105.

All these years later and we’re still going strong. As I write this she is sitting in pride of place (i.e. on the turbo trainer). Signs of age are now beginning to show; spilled energy gels, saddlebags and occasional careless transport have all left their mark – yet I shall forever remain faithful. We have had our disagreements, it took me a long time to forgive after being landed in hospital with a broken clavicle. The pair of us have endured much hardship – that 11 speed upgrade that we yearned for so desperately and failed to materialise (though that was mainly due to buying a better pair of wheels instead). Ultimately, none of this matters – our union will not be easily broken.

Yes – there have been and will be other bikes. Of the two, my Specialized is by far the nicer machine to ride – stiffer, lighter and a better fit. With the Scott, everything is still new and exciting – on paper this bike is better in just about every way, especially with the edition of deep section wheels. However, if it ever came down to it and I could only keep one (the sort of thing I often have nightmares about), I would choose the old Cannondale every time. It will always be the bike that saw me through the (not so) spectacular transition from couch potato to mediocre amateur racer. Riding it up Mont Ventoux 3 times back in September felt like a fitting tribute. The sensible course of action would be to sell this bike on, before maintenance starts to cost more than it is worth. Never – not for love or money.

In recent years, Cycling has provided a much sought after excuse to escape civilisation on Valentines Day. A long ride incorporating much suffering has become a tradition. It’s one of the rare occasions for which I can persuade myself to get out of bed on time, that way I can get out early and spend most of the day in the middle of nowhere riding up various steep hills. Thereafter I’ll arrive home exhausted, after a recovery drink followed by a shower – it will be time to go and lie down. At this point I congratulate myself for getting through another 14th. 

Last year the ride was particularly gruelling. It may only have been 4,500 feet of climbing over 100km but was made far harder as a result of my own stupidity. I made the classic beginner mistake, not packing any food or money and only realising it at the furthest point of the ride. I just about made it home without having a complete *bonk – feeling like a hero just for making it through the door (Yes, I do realise that moron is a far more accurate term).

The year before that was arguably even better, in a pain based sense anyway. A triple ascent of Whitesheet Hill – if you haven’t heard of it, this is just about the hardest leg burner that Dorset has to offer, 565 feet of elevation in the course of a mere 1.2 miles. After living in Devon for four months, doing the triple wouldn’t present quite as much of a challenge as it did back then – I was still carrying some extra bulk and had foolishly set out with two full 750ml bottles. Lets just say that the day after this ride I began counting calories.

This time round, the calendar has thrown a Spanner in the works. Just typical that it has to be a Tuesday, where my timetable sadly makes a ride next to impossible. I could of course get up early for a turbo session. Not the best idea, I’d like to stay on speaking terms with my flatmates. Night ride maybe? You would have to to be truly mad to attempt one in this part of the world, the drivers are dangerous enough in broad daylight. Sadly then, the tradition will have to be broken – education getting in the way as usual. Not to worry – a trip to Dartmoor the day afterwards will be the next best thing.

Perhaps this will be the last bah humbug Valentines Day, though based on the current body of supporting evidence it’s not likely. In which case, long may the suffering continue and my *100 Climbs score carry on increasing. In all seriousness I hope that all readers find some way to enjoy or at least successfully endure the 14th – be it spending time with a significant other or hopping on a bike and getting away from it all (accepting that for some readers both of the above might mean the same thing). Rest assured that the next post will be a tad more useful.

For today, that’s all from me. Thanks for reading.

 

*Running out of energy completely, reduced to riding home at a snails pace in a state of utter humiliation.

*Well known Cycling book – 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. Riding them all is a common bucket list feature.