Sunday, 29 April 2012

April showers

I rode the Evans Cycles Ride-It Hatfield sportive today.  The organisers said that less than half the pre-booked riders turned up due to the appalling weather, so I must have been really stupid because I hadn't pre-booked and still treked over to the start by train and bike with a view to doing the long, 90 mile route.

Evans hadn't marked the long route so I reluctantly ticked the on-line entry form for 60 mile, medium distance and joined a small group readying themselves to start.  Some of the riders in the group had brought their best bikes despite the weather; there was a Parlee and a Cervelo S3 in the group as well as my Basso.

After leaving the starting venue the road descended to the main Potters Bar road and I freewheeled past the two exotic bikes on my handbuilt winter wheels with ease.  The road then started going uphill and my legs were feeling loosened up from the 9 mile cycle from St Albans railway station and I pulled away from the group and began picking off riders who had started earlier.

I caught two riders who immediately jumped on my wheel and I dragged them along until the next big climb where they passed me and managed to gain a bit of distance.  I set my targets on catching them.

I took a wrong turn at a junction near Digswell and did a quick U-turn. The roads at this point were flooded and I initially took it easy hoping to keep my feet dry.  It was at this point that the Cervelo S3 caught me up and then flatted; his lightweight tyres on ENVE rims weren't very practical for the conditions.

I re-caught the two riders on the road to Watton at Stone and we had a quick chat, my Basso receiving compliments again. They sat on my wheel until dropping me yet again on the hills to Walkern.  There was a block headwind from Walkern all the way to Cromer and I almost gave up hope of catching them but at Cromer the route headed back and I pushed hard determined to complete the ride in a good time.

With my scalp lost to the two riders I pressed on and spotted them just before the feed station and as they stopped I didn't and attacked. I overheard the man at the feed station say there were only two other riders ahead so, with scalp restored, I went on a charge, optimistically hoping of catching them.

I continued solo along the lanes, with severe flooding on many and, with soaked shoes I rode like a mad Belgian and caught and passed the two cyclists on the run in to Hertford.  From then on I half expected to be caught and overtaken by faster riders but it didn't happen.

On the final leg I overtook several other cyclists, presumably who had completed the shorter route and only one of which was able to re-take his scalp when my left thigh began to cramp.  There are some cheeky climbs in the last 5 miles and my leg was getting stiffer by the mile.

I eventually finished in 3hrs 32mins.  I rode back to St Albans railway station in the pouring rain which I don't think had stopped all morning.  Total distance today: 74 miles.

Total miles for the week: 135.

I wish I could have done the 90 mile route today as I desperately have to build on my miles ahead of l'Ardechoise.

Friday, 27 April 2012

It's all about the bike

I concur with Sir Paul Smith. Robert Penn's book is 'fantastic'. 

I have watched the television production he made during the writing of the book and, whilst it is entertaining and informative, the factual references, history and anecdotes in the book make it a must read for any cyclist.

I have a huge respect for Rob's cycling achievements too - in the Drivetrain section of his book he tells the story of cycling up the Khunjerab Pass, one of the highest paved road passes in the World (4733m), cycling uphill on his loaded bike for 7 days!  I won't spoil what happens when he reaches the top of the Pass. You will have to read the book.

A bit of a tip for Rob though - if you are being filmed on the bike, as you were on the climb to the Madonna del Ghisallo, don't clear your nose the farmers way. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Hose pipe ban?

I have and needed to find a solution for cleaning the bicycles...

and this 8 litre capacity pump-to-pressurize sprayer does the job. Not bad for £12 plus P&P.

Dry window

It has been raining all week and when it wasn't raining it was hailing.  Actually that's not true, as my lunchtime training ride on Tuesday remained dry for the hour and I only got soaked through on one leg of my 3 days commute.  I read on one commuter cycling forum that you should expect to get soaked through twelve times a year which is about right as I think I resort to wearing my over-trousers about that much.

This morning though it was beautiful weather and I managed to get in a 35 mile pedal on the Basso.  I followed my front wheel...
and ended up passing through the village of Langford and then on to Broom.
Before Broom there is Holme water mill owned by the Jordan cereal company who are developing a visitors centre which is due to open next year.

I stopped to take a quick photo of a decayed bust (sadly without a description) in front of the sluice.

I continued my ride going around Old Warden towards Cardington.  On route I stopped to take another photograph of a building I have been researching on the internet.

It is Warden Abbey and associated with the only vineyard in Bedfordshire.

I hadn't realised until getting to Old Warden, but today was the local road race and I stopped to watch the first lap before heading home.
A young Rapha-Condor rider was trying to solo away immediately after the neutralised zone ended.

Swiftly followed by the peloton

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Van Nicholas Chinook

I have had my Chinook for 5 years.  I bought it using the Cyclescheme and specified it with the Ultegra 6603 groupset.  It has helped me complete l'Etape du Tour, the Marmotte, the Time Megeve Mont Blanc and many other sportives.

Last year bikeradar reviewed the Chinook and claimed it was the ideal sportive bike. I think they are absolutely correct as the frame has just the right amount of spring to make it responsive yet comfortable on longer rides.

I bought the bicycle with the intention of keeping it forever and, to-date, it has had some upgrades mostly courtesy of a civil claim against a driver who knocked me off it, but (now that lent is over) it is getting an overhaul.  Rather than sell the bicycle and replace it with a new one, I am upgrading the components to make it lighter, adding to the enjoyment of riding it and for it to get me to the finish line on the l'Ardechoise (hopefully) marathon.

I had already swapped the chainset to a Rotor 3D compact with Q rings earlier this year. I added the new carbon Ultegra pedals and the brake calipers were also swapped to the magnesium TRP970SL.  Then I deliberated on whether to go for the Di2 groupset, either the new Ultegra or the more expensive Dura-Ace.

In the end I couldn't justify paying almost £1,500 for the levers, derailleurs, cables and battery with charger for the Dura-Ace kit and decided to save the money and weight by going for the mechanical 7900 Dura-Ace.

I am in the process of building the bike up with the new groupset and will post pictures, weight and my feedback on the changes shortly.

What's next in terms of fettling and tweaks...perhaps replacement transfers from Van Nicholas as those on my bike are looking a little chipped and tired, maybe new titanium bolts for the stem and seatpost clamps and I also like the look of the new titanium jockey wheels from Van Nicholas although 75 Euros is a bit steep.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Cyclebabble book

You may have gathered from the surprise treats that I have aged a further year and my generous family continue to fuel my cycling hobby.

Amongst the many gifts, I received several cycling-related books and I'm about to finish reading the first: Cyclebabble - Bloggers on biking, edited by J.Randerson and P.Walker.

I have struggled to put the book down and I immediately set the related Guardian newspaper's cycle blog as one of my favourites.

I like to think I'm a well rounded cyclist (pun slightly intended given my struggle with weight loss) and enjoy all forms of cycling, building bikes, commuting, racing, reading tips and other's opinions and the book ticks all of the boxes.

A couple of small memorable quotes from the book:
  • "I believe that every time you swing your leg over the saddle, your heart lifts a little at a moment pregnant with possibility."
  • "Your worst day on the bike is still better than your best day in the office."
One of the threads within the blog  has got me questioning part of my daily commute and I have become concerned whether I'm contributing to anti-social behaviour by cycling part of my early morning route on the Thames Path. I consulted a policeman who said it wasn't illegal and he wasn't aware of any by-laws banning it, but some new signs have been erected renaming the path as a walkway and adding cycle restrictions.  I'll continue to use it and ride considerately but I may have to look at an alternative safe route soon.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Laps on wood

I had another treat this weekend and got an introduction to riding the boards at Manchester.  It was fantastic!

Manchester velodrome taster sesssion.

The taster session lasted an hour which was enough as I was dripping with sweat by the end.
You receive instruction on how to start and leave the circuit, constant reminders to shoulder check and the basics on the UCI rules.  It gave me a better appreciation of the elite riders and I'd love to have further sessions.  I think if I lived closer then I would certainly try to get accredited.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Gravé at Easter

I rode the Rapha Hell of the North on Easter Sunday...

An early start to catch the 7:58am train and (no surprise) FirstCapitalConnect are reporting delays, thankfully of only a few minutes.  I have ridden the Rapha ride twice before and have memorised the 4 mile route from West Hampstead Thameslink to the start at Pond Square.  Even so I know it will be cutting it fine to be there amongst the first to depart at 9am. All the more scalps to take :-)

I chose the Basso with my Winter wheels and the Vittoria open pavé tyres. Ideal for the wet roads and the tracks that I knew lie ahead.

The ride from West Hampstead station up through Hampstead and round the Heath was quiet with very little traffic and no sign of any other cyclists.  I was surprised at how many art galleries there are in Hampstead high street, certainly more than you'd expect given the amount of vacant shops in most other towns.  The high class florists in a marquee at the side of Spaniards road was equally surprising, especially being open at 09:30am on Easter Sunday.

On arriving in Pond square, Rapha had laid out some barriers adorned with Flandrian flags to arrange for the riders to queue past a signing-on table and then back on to the road to be flagged away in small groups.  There were only eight or so cyclists and myself readying for the off and I rushed through to join a small group already waiting to go and we were off down the A1000 almost immediately.

Our little peloton appeared to be made up of a mixed bunch; some club riders who looked a bit useful and several riders like myself wearing Rapha kit.  We were being led out at a reasonable pace by a cyclist on a Dawes Galaxy and I tucked in behind someone on a Condor fitted with mudguards.  At the first lengthy downhill section my handbuilt Winter wheels (and perhaps my extra weight) had me freewheeling past the peloton and I continued the pace dropping all but one.

This other rider struck up a conversation, initially remarking about my tyres and then we got talking about other sportives we had both ticked off.  We passed several other cyclists and got into a good pace, he being a little quicker on the climbs requiring me to push myself a bit more than I might have alone and me taking the lead on the descents and flats.

Sadly I punctured before we even got to the first off-road section and I told the other cyclist not to wait.  I replaced the inner tube pretty quickly but couldn't find the cause and I assumed it must have been a thorn which had since come out.  The front tyre flattened again within 100 feet and I found the offending cause; a shard of broken glass lodged in the centre of the tyre.  I managed to repair the puncture using one of my pre-glued Lezyne patches and re-joined the ride, riding solo and, probably now, carrying the lantern rouge.

I upped my pace and began to reel-in other riders.  The first sections of off-road were easy concreted farm tracks but those around Broxbourne were rutted bridleways and I adopted the 'rules of the road' technique suggested by Rapha - accelerate over the rough stuff, with hands on the tops.  It works and I flew past many other cyclists.

One section I knew descended to a river crossing and I warned a couple of riders as I passed them and tipped them off about the footbridge to the left.  As I got to the water I could see a photographer waiting to capture some action shots but I decided not to get my feet wet and sought out the find the path blocked by a neatly stacked log pile.  Ambushed by the photographer I reluctantly rode through the water, filling my shoes and cursing - the cheeky ****.

I caught a larger group of cyclist some wearing Twickenham CC jerseys and, as I picked them off on one off-road climb, my Basso received some compliments from a rider on a Van Nicholas.  I returned the compliment, saying I also owned a Van Nicholas and then dropped him and the rest of his group.

At the feed station I filled up my water bottle and grabbed a banana.  I jokingly asked how many riders were up ahead to be caught, to be told 'most of them' and then praised on my attitude.  Perhaps I was in with a chance of winning one of the prizes - the rider who exudes the most panache (one can hope), maybe the most punctures (with 2 - unlikely) or best bike (I wish).

I carried on more determined to get to the finish and get a good seat in the pub.  As I hit a section of steep off-road I recalled how in 2010 it was like riding up a narrow waterfall and last year how I began to feel tired on the verge of bonking at this point.  I changed down to the granny ring and reflected on how I was feeling - surprisingly good and then two other riders charged past me and I gave chase.

The two whippets were gone as soon as I rounded the next corner and I never saw them again - good speed chaps.

The route crossed the motorway by footbridge for the last 10 kilometers and I had a bit of a scare taking the right hand junction as the road was greasy, I think, from the lorries exiting the nearby aggregate quarry.  I noticed on the return leg over the same footbridge that sand had been put on the road and an Attention sign erected but I don't recall seeing it when my front wheel lost grip in a bottom-twitching moment.

Counting down the two remaining off road sections in the last 10 kilometers and disaster struck again - another front tyre puncture and glass again.  I replaced the inner tube quickly using my last spare tube and topped up the pressure with the CO2 canister.  Incredibly I'd got the tyre up to about 6 bar for the three repairs using just a single canister.

The final leg to the finish was (thankfully) uneventful although it began to rain.  Good timing.

The pub yard was again being used as a secure bicycle park and I left the Basso under the watchful eye of two Rapha employees.  In 2011 I had started the ride in an early group and there were less than 5 other bikes parked up when I arrived at the pub.  This year it was full.

The pub was heaving.  I grabbed a free bottle of Belgian beer, a free bag of chips, found an ok spot to watch the Paris-Roubaix coverage and said 'Op uw gezondheid' (cheers) to Rapha. 

A few notes to myself:
  • buy more inner tubes
  • throw the old Blackburn pump away and get a new one
  • only register again next year (assuming it goes ahead) if you are joined by friends, not necessarily for the ride but for conversation in the pub.
  • take better spectacles to wear in the pub so you can see the tv
  • plan for delays on FirstCapitalConnect (there and back!)

Is it April 1st?

I can't see this catching on?

Article here.
Where are the wipers and what stops it steaming up?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Support your independent!

A flyer was put through my door today for a new cycle shop in Flitwick.
The shop opens this Saturday, 7th April.

I admit I normally seek out online bargains but, for convenience, I love local independent shops and am looking forward to meeting the new shop owners.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Wight stuff

I have just returned from a surprise trip to the Isle of Wight.  My wife arranged for a long weekend for the family staying in Ventnor and she made sure there would be some good cycling roads nearby and the opportunity for me to go for a pedal.

Right on the doorstep was a reasonable climb which is used by the local cycling club for their hill climbs.
I managed to get out on my Wilier on the Saturday morning and the roads were very quiet with little traffic (outside of holiday season). I think the steepest climb on the island is 10% and the roads tend to undulate, so a little bumpy but nothing too strenuous.

I found an amusing article in the Telegraph from 2010 written by their journalists who decided to ride around the Isle of Wight as part of their training for l'Etape.  They got outclimbed by a cycle tourist - something which thankfully didn't happen to me.
My pedal was just a short one, taking in Ventnor, Whitwell (no watercress farm at this one), Godshill, Roud, Niton and Steephill.  I'd like to return to cycle more of the island, perhaps to do a sportive.