Time to go

It’s taken a few days of reflection to get out of the inevitable downbeat mood following last Sunday’s somewhat disastrous performance. I’ve decided to forget about running for a couple of weeks and go back to doing what I know best, namely riding my bike. The sole upshot of a bad race is the surge in motivation that tends to come along afterwards. It’s time to redeem myself; get lean, ride hard and eventually get fast again.

I’ve committed to riding at least six days a week and already I’m starting to see a difference. Short commutes do a surprisingly good job of loosening the legs up, making it much easier to persuade myself to get out for training rides after work. Having a summer job I enjoy coupled with no exams and deadlines to worry about has put me in a good mental state, one in which I can really focus on training.

For the first time in a long while I genuinely look forward to the challenge of riding hard, today’s effort has gone some way to convince me that there might yet be some good performances in the pipeline this season. A 21 MPH average with a KOM taken in the process and a normalised power of 297 Watts indicates my legs haven’t forgotten what to do just yet.

Having enjoyed off road riding over these past few months I’ve decided to take the plunge and enter my first MTB event, a local off-road sportive. Nothing particularly challenging but I’m expecting it to be a big learning curve nonetheless. My trail riding skills still leave rather a lot to be desired and getting round without a few cuts and bruises would be something of a miracle.

After a few frustrating afternoons in the garage all the bikes are pretty much up together and ready for the summer ahead. My mechanical skills finally seem to have improved to a point where I no longer have to resort to the bike shop at the first sign of trouble (famous last words?).

My ever faithful Cannondale has been given a very thorough clean and put away until late September. The 50/34 chainset it’s currently sporting is ideal for hilly Devon but the flatter roads of Dorset call for a bike with harder gearing.

Enter the Tarmac. This might not be my fastest steed but it’s very often the one I find myself taking out of the garage. Having gotten round to giving it some long overdue replacement headset bearings I have to say it’s a superb ride. I’ve long tried to replicate the riding position on my other machines but I have yet to manage it.

After the torrid weather we were subjected too over the winter I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have had a few weeks of sun. For me the best part of this has been seeing the condition of the roads improve to the extent where it’s safe to take the Scott out without fear of getting it scratched. I’m itching to use it in anger and target a few local KOM’s during the coming months.

It’s been a long while since I’ve gotten out on the TT bike. Having decided last year that Road Racing wasn’t for me  its the time trial scene that I want to focus on this time round. At the moment I’m sad to admit that a major barrier to this is needing to lose 4-5 Kg so as to be-able to fit into my skinsuit without fear of ripping it.

My MTB has definitely suffered the after effects of being ridden multiple times in blizzard conditions over the spring. It’s needed new brake pads, a bottom bracket replacement and a fresh chain. Having sorted that out the fork is now feeling rather lacklustre and the noise coming from the headset doesn’t fill me with confidence. I’ve admitted defeat and booked it into the local bike shop for a service.

Last but not least project gravel has gotten off the ground. Following a respray it’ll be time to fit the bottom bracket, headset and forks to the frame – soon followed by some wheels. Already this has presented a few challenges but more on that in a future post.

In short I’m looking forward to a Summer of Cycling. I dare say there will be highs, lows, triumphs, disasters and the usual series of funny moments. Stay tuned for more.

Thanks for reading

It’s Over

Folks, we’ve made it. After what I must admit has been a very challenging few months in all sorts of ways it’s unbelievably satisfying that my friends and I have made it through the second year of University. In the interest of honesty I’m writing this whilst nursing the mother of all hangovers having let off a serious amount of steam last night following my last exam.  I’d like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the friends and family members who’ve made that time bearable. To all of you who’ve put up with my complaining and helped keep my mind in the right place trust me when I say that it’s very deeply appreciated.

In the interest of getting a decent set of grades when results day arrives in a few weeks time I must admit that my fitness has fallen by the wayside. Sadly a diet based largely on convenience rather than nutritional value has lead to some weight gain. I’m not going to let myself feel guilty about that this time round, constantly striving for perfection in all aspects of life simply isn’t a good way to live in my opinion. Instead I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting faster, stronger and leaner over the next three months before it all starts up again.

In order to keep myself busy I’ve come up with a summer project that I’m hoping will give me some useful new skills. I can feel family and close friends rolling their eyes at this when I say that I’ve gone and bought Bike number six, or at least the beginnings of it. Let me explain. Having now ridden both road and mountain bikes I can testify that each is good fun for entirely different reasons. Road bikes are fast, nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of descending a mountain at 45 Mph. With MTB it’s the terrain that makes it interesting, developing the technical skills that needed to tackle rocks, roots and whatever else the local trails might have in store. It goes without saying that each also comes with disadvantages, spending hours on the road can be very monotonous and hauling that heavy MTB up steep climbs is never an enjoyable experience.

That begs the question, there must be a place for something in-between? A bike that can be ridden to the local trail centre at a reasonable pace, used to tackle some of the easier off-roading on offer and then ridden home again. For any non-Cyclists reading this I’m talking about gravel bikes, at first glance they look like road bikes with bigger tyres and in all honesty that’s not a bad description. You usually find them with disc brakes, clearance for large and possibly knobbly tyres and a long wheelbase to make the handling as stable as possible. Here’s something to illustrate it.

Left to right; Roadie, Gravel bike, MTB

It’s a common argument, one that I’d probably agree with, that the concept is actually nothing new. Gravel bikes do much the same job as early MTB’s did 25-30 years ago. That one got me thinking, instead of buying an expensive modern gravel frame why not pick up an old MTB frame and convert it? There are a number of advantages besides lower cost to doing it this way; I can build the bike to my exact specification and not have to worry about changing stock parts, I’ll learn a lot of new mechanical skills along the way and at the end of it I’ll have a completely unique machine.

Here is the starting point, a 1997 Merlin frame that I bought for £55 on Ebay. If you’re not a Cycling geek you can probably skip these next few paragraphs.

I chose it for a few reasons. It’s surprisingly light for a 20-year old frame being made of Aluminium rather than Steel. The hub spacing on the rear is more modern 135 mm rather than 130, that means it’ll accommodate an 11 speed freehub. The frame was originally designed for 26′ wheels but the clearance is wide enough that it can take 650b ones instead, making it faster on the road and easier to handle on the rougher stuff. Better still it’s designed for a 1 & 1/8 inch steerer, making it easy enough to source a modern fork that will work with the frame. Likewise it’ll accommodate an up to-date shimano hollowtech II bottom bracket, saving a great deal of headaches.

What’s the plan then? It was hard to tell what condition the paintwork was in from the photos alone, once it got here it was apparent that the frame was in need of a respray, as it stands british racing green is on the cards. Next on the agenda will be sorting out the bottom bracket, headset and fork. Quickly followed by finding a decent set of wheels and tyres. I suspect thereafter is where things will start to get a bit tricker. If there’s one thing I don’t miss from the bikes of my childhood its V-Brakes; squeaky, difficult to set up and dreadful in the wet. To that end I’m going with a disc-brake conversion, on the front it’s simply a matter of buying a fork with disc mounts. As for the rear it’s more complicated.  The only option is to go with an adapter, there are a few around but sourcing one of good quality which will fit that particular frame might well be a frustrating experience. In the interest of keeping costs low and simplicity of installation I’m going to go for cable operated discs over the hydraulic variety.

Next I’ll turn my attention to the drivetrain. I’m not entirely convinced that single chainring (1x) setups are going to take off for road bikes but for MTB and Gravel riding I’m a big fan. In short there’s less to go wrong, stick a big enough cassette on the back and you’ll have a good range of gears, the downside to this is cost. I won’t go into it in too much detail, essentially 1x rear mech’s for mountain bikes are relatively affordable but of course won’t work with road shifters, it won’t surprise you to hear that road-compatible models are very pricey. That means searching the internet for a second hand bargain.

Once that’s sorted it’ll be time for the finishing touches. Depending on what the budget allows I’d like to go for a carbon seatpost to increase comfort, gravel specific handlebars and a few personalised decals. Estimating the total cost of this build is very difficult but I’m hoping it’ll come to under £1,000. Hopefully at the end of it I’ll have a machine that will tick all the desired boxes; versatility, durability, and fun factor. If I’m lucky there will be enough money left over towards the end of the summer to take a trip to somewhere new and really put the bike through it’s paces. Roll on Summer.

Thanks for reading.