The Four Rivers Audax. My first and won’t be the last

So yesterday I rode my first Audax. For those who have not heard of Audax it is a sub culture within a sub culture within a sub culture. By that I mean it seems to attract a very loyal following within people who like long distance cycling which itself is a small group within those who like to ride bikes. It is a kind of a cross between racing and touring over long distances.

A of today I am A ‘Randonneur’ (a person who has completed a recognised 200 kilometre ride).

The Four Rivers ride starts in Wem, Shropshire and heads for every hill it can find. First to the Stiperstones and then to Bwlch y Groes, then leaving Lake Bala with a 6 mile climb that I can’t find a name for (horrible springs to mind). Fortunately it was than “nearly” flat or downhill for the last 60+ km.

For most of the first leg (47km) I was hanging onto a group of about 12 which meant despite the big climb at the end of the section (where we split up with me about halfway in the spread out group). There was free cake and coffee at “The Bog Visitor Centre“. I decided to keep the stop short and so left before most of the rest of the group and in fact got to 95km before anyone overtook me. That was a chap who has done 16 Audax 200km’s since October who loves the hills. He was on a flat barred bike and I was much faster downhill and on the flat but he relentlessly chased me on every climb. He got close many times but eventually easily zoomed past me as I was struggling up the very long gradient that eventually led to the 2nd checkpoint (109km) at Lake Vrynwy (no I have no idea how to pronounce it). At the “Old Barn Cafe” there was a checkpoint (you get your “Brevet” card stamped and a special menu for us. I had a fantastic Pasta Bolognaise with local beef which was just what I needed for £5.

Again I didn’t hang around and caught a Yorkshire man on the flat stretch along the lake, once we started to climb upto Bwlch y Groes. That formed a pattern for the rest of the ride. He was much faster than me on the climbs but on flat or gently rolling terrain my aero wheels and fast tyres gave me a big advantage.

I last climbed Bwlch y Groes from the south fully loaded on my Sabbatical immediately after The Welsh Ride Thing. This route from the East was much less steep and had some downhills within it.

Heading down to Lake Bala (somewhat cautiously due to the wet roads) I had a wonderful moment when I overtook a train (the small steam train that runs alongside the lake). That was just before another checkpoint in the visitor car park at Llangower. There I met up with the Yorkshire man again and enjoyed some juice and fruit cake. He left first but in the rolling terrain to the bottom of the lake I caught and dropped in. However, once the 6 mile climb really kicked in he went past me and disappeared off into the distance.

That climb really hurt and I didn’t feel I recovered from it (as in reduced to a crawl by any adverse slope) until a chocolate brownie, scone and jam and coffee at the last checkpoint. With only 45km to go and the promise of only one small climb I felt confident that I could make it.

Again gently rolling with quite a lot of down helped a lot and just after being past by a group of about 8 pelting along I met and passed the Yorkshire man and another who had passed me on the long climb.

Fortunately, the last climb didn’t destroy me and I saw my average speed climb slowly to 21km by the time I reached the finish in 11 hours 10 mins of elapsed time without overtaking or being overtaken again. That average speed is not particularly meaningful as it includes some of the stops but not all (depending on whether I stopped the garmin or not). For the first time I chose to display average speed instead of current speed on my Garmin as Audax have a cut off speed of 15kph. I actually found that quite relaxing.

Again coffee and cake at the finish. To add icing to the cake Jane arrived to collect me just as I got to the finish.

My impressions of Audax are really positive.

  • They are very well organised. People are clearly very experienced and knowledgeable at putting on these events. Puts many others to shame.
  • Everyone was very friendly and there was no put down for me as a newcomer just a welcome.
  • I was nervous and skeptical about the route sheet as it was very alien to me. But thanks to some advice on facebook I had 4 route sheets laminated and carried the current one on my left arm held on with elastic which worked really well. I am confident that even without my garmin I could have comfortably followed this as long as I had something displaying the distance in km. It also helped keep my focus on the current and short goals rather than worrying about the whole (and I really noticed it on the long 6mile climb because there was a single route card entry of 24km which took me over the climb and down to the next checkpoint without any intermediary goals).
  • While a lower gear would have been nice the bike worked fantastically well. Again my new wheels from The Happy Cog were brilliant. The hydraulic SRAM Rival disc brakes gave supreme confidence on some very steep descents. The Schmidt SON dynamo with B&M Luxos-U front light charged my Garmin on the way round (otherwise there is no way the battery would have lasted long enough).

So this was my longest ride yet at 133.9 miles. It had over 8,700 feet of climbing. My moving average was 14mph and my overall average 12mph. I am a happy bunny 🙂

As usual I carried far too much stuff (all the warnings about being in very remote places without a reliable phone signal meant I went prepared for almost anything – my first aid kit was larger than some riders saddlebag). Too many clothes and too much food meant I could have carried at least 1kg less weight.

On the other hand I started this ride 6kg lighter than I was at the end of February and wow that did make a huge difference. Probably the difference between riding and walking up some of the climbs.

So if you have not tried an Audax I recommend it (they start from 50km and go upto 1440km).

My ride on Strava:

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
11:09:18 09:33:19 133.96 14.02 38.70 8,707.35
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

Go faster wheels from TheHappyCog

This week has been a great test of my go faster wheels from TheHappyCog. In fact of course these are not just Go Faster wheels they are also:

  • Go more serviceable wheels (thanks to the Hope Pro4 rear hub which is beautifully easy to service)
  • Go lighter wheels (0.5kg saving)
  • Go better lit wheels (thanks to the Schmidt Son28 dynamo powering a B&M Luxos IQ2 front Light)
  • Go fewer punctures (at least in theory due to tubeless Schwalbe Pro-One tyres)
  • Go noisier wheels (the Hope Pro4 freewheel lives upto their reputation for loud freewheeling)

So on Monday I rode 64 miles to Cliff College in Derbyshire (just north of Chatsworth House) for a meeting which finished at 4pm on Tuesday when I rode home again. I carried just under 12kg of luggage in 2 Ortlieb Classic panniers.

Going there it was:

  • 64.0 miles
  • 4:50:12 Moving Time
  • 4,232ft of climbing

Coming back:

  • 64.1 miles
  • 4:28:58 Moving Time
  • 3,589ft of climbing

On the way there I had to walk one section just before Birchover (about 20% and wet+gravel). Coming home I went around Stanton in-Peak to avoid a 25% climb.

I kept being surprised at how fast I was going (8 personal records going and 38 coming home). That despite quite a large part of the route being new to me (on the other hand quite a lot I have only ridden once before making the PR’s easy to get).

One that stands out is a 1.1 mile segment between Barrow-on-Soar and Sileby. According to Strava I have now ridden this 8 times. This time I knocked 10 seconds off my best time despite it coming 60 miles into a ride carrying 12kg of panniers.

I’m not anywhere near my fittest (been focusing on losing weight and not done many miles this year). I am a bit lighter than my last best time (but much less than 12kg of luggage lighter). The key differences are

  • the wheels with their “deep”ish aero section rims and rotating weight saving
  • the tyres (28mm Schwalbe Pro-One instead of 32mm Durano Plus)
  • lower stem so that I am a bit more aero

I can’t quantify the saving due to each of these, however, 2 out of the 3 are related to the new wheels 🙂

Another work cycle tour: Syston to Cliff College

This is my route for tomorrow (and in reverse on Tuesday) as I have 24 hours of training to be a Methodist Superintendent Minister (and yes I have heard all the jokes already):

102.68 km route with 1,565 m of climbing. Check it out!

Source: Syston to Cliff College – VeloViewer

That is 64 miles and 5,100 feet of climbing in old money 😉

I’ll be on my renewed Whyte Suffolk, hopefully having packed very light (for me). The weather forecast is good which is extra icing on the cake. I went to Cliff for a conference in September but due to various circumstances I got a lift halfway there although I did ride all the way home. I have since tuned the route a little, with hopefully some quieter roads by skirting Derby differently. Going on my Whyte rather than my Bike for Life does mean travelling lighter but it should also save a fair bit of time.

There are some big/steep climbs on this route but also some gorgeous views and very quiet roads.

These rides will also be significant as, if all goes well, they will mean me achieving an Eddington number of 60 (riding 60 miles on 60 different days) which I just failed to complete by the end of 2015.

Entered my first official Audax ride

So on Saturday 7th May I have entered my first “official”, “proper” Audax ride. I’ll be doing the Four Rivers Ride which is 215km riding west from Wem in Shropshire. The route looks like it includes a different route up to Bwlch y Groes the highest pass in North Wales from the one I rode up during my sabbatical, doubt it is any easier 😉

Still from there it is all downhill for the last 50km or so 🙂

The time requirement means averaging over 9.5mph including all stops which with all the climbing and my current fitness is going to be “interesting”.

A proper test of massive bike upgrades

Yesterday I wrote about the upgrades to my Whyte Suffolk. I decided I needed to test them so, as I had an evening free, I went for a nice ride. In the end I tested a slight modification of the route for the Syston Sportive that we are running on 30th April (entries still open at £31 supporting our Youth Cafe and Community Hub).

It was a glorious ride 🙂 51 miles on empty roads, including a number of really tiny roads that I’ve not used before. Highly recommended.

[Ride id=532163531]

Summary of the changes to the bike.

Wheels from TheHappyCog

Oh Wow! Awesome! Fantastic! All I hoped for and more. They are fast! I absolutely love them. The bike feels much faster with these. Given that it was a 51 mile ride with 2,400 feet of climbing, late at night so no stops for food (and my feet were getting very cold) I was impressed with my average speed of 14.4mph – especially given my previous longest ride this year has been under 30 miles.

I also set 12 Strava Personal Records which tends to indicate the speed is a step up.

B&M Luxos IQ2 front Light

Fast wheels require good lighting and this coupled with the Schmidt SON 28 dynamo is the best front light I have ever used. I managed over 41 mph in pitch dark on an unknown road without any worries. Subjectively this is like riding with a car headlight.

Not only is it brilliant at lighting the road ahead and to the sides on full beam but it also has a dipped beam option (I tend to use that around town) and the best side visibility I’ve ever had.

All that with zero dazzle for the rider, daylight LED running lights and no batteries. Plus the option (untested by me at the moment) of USB charging for your Garmin or phone or whatever.

Hope Pro 4 rear hub.

I love the contrast between an absolutely silent ride until you freewheel at which point you worry that you might wake everyone up for miles around.

The hub functions beautifully but then you expect that from new products. What should really stand out is the long term reliability, easy maintenance and flexibility (support for multiple axle and freehub standards), which is completely different from the other hubs I have ever used.

SRAM Rival Hydraulic Brakes and 22 speed gears

The braking is completely transformed. Exactly what I was hoping for. Very precise, controllable and powerful. Plus I really like the high front to the hoods which give a very secure feeling. Easier to bleed than the Hope brakes that I have on my Bike for Life (although their 4 pot design gives even more powerful braking which is significant when touring with a heavy load).

The gears also work well. I really like the “double tap” change (which really means: Light Tap for smaller cog and Medium Push for a larger cog). Having the brake lever only move in one direction also feels more secure. They are very easy to setup.

TorTec Ultralite Rear Rack with Carradice CarraDura Rack Bag

This combination works well for rides where you want some tools (but need have 2 water bottles so can’t use a water bottle tool carrier), clothing, lock etc. ie for me pretty much all long rides. The bag also acts as a bit of a rear mudguard.

20160401_132710And finally a 50 mile ride late at night is a great way to help meet your weight target for the next day 😉 Not to mention the goal to cycle a minimum of 50 miles a week!

Updated Whyte Suffolk

I have now completed a set of upgrades to my Whyte Suffolk these were triggered by

  • Wheel problems. The front, quite dramatically, broke a spoke. More recently the rear freehub failed (and was a pig to replace and I never quite got the bearings right again).
  • Brake disappointments. The TRP Hy-Rd have never really lived up to their promises.

However, I decided that I like the frame a lot and so it was worth upgrading the components especially if as I did I made sure they were future proof and so could be moved to a different frame if required. The goal is for this to be a fast bike for club rides, for long day rides and hopefully for some Audax rides.

The key upgrade is the wheels.

20160331_133000

Closer look here

20160321_160253

These are custom built by TheHappyCog to my specification which includes:

  • Carbon rims from Light Bicycle (light, aerodynamic, tubeless compatible, wide rims for larger tyres):
    • Front: 35mm U shape rim
    • Rear: 55mm U shape rim
  • Schmidt SON 28 dynamo front hub. With 15mm axle for future compatibility using a Nukeproof adapter to fit Quick Release fork
  • Hope pro4 rear hub. For maximum reliability and serviceability (plus UK made). This can support QR or 12mm axles by just changing the end caps.

Compared to the standard Whyte wheels I have saved about 0.5kg despite adding a dynamo hub. They should also be stronger, more puncture proof (jury is out on that one at the moment) and a lot more aerodynamic (I decided I didn’t want a deeper, more aerodynamic front rim as I want to be able to use them even when windy).

By buying handmade wheels from a small UK wheel builder I get a much higher build quality. Plus by going for essentially unbranded rims I get the whole package (including dynamo and very high quality rear hub) much cheaper than branded aero wheels.

Also I get wider rims for wider tyres (much more comfortable, probably just as fast and better for puncture resistance) that work with tubeless tyres (which I am convinced are the best for the future). I have gone for the higher speed Schwalbe Pro-One tyres at present which have a great reputation. However, on my first ride I hit a huge pothole (hidden by a puddle) and got a huge puncture that so badly tore the tyre that the sealant failed to work. I might need to switch to Schwalbe G-One as Jane is using if that doesn’t prove to be an isolated instance.

For the front light powered by the dynamo I have installed a B&M Luxos IQ2 which gives

  • a 90 lumens main beam.
  • a handlebar switch for full beam/dipped beam
  • daylight running lights
  • a usb charger

It is quite large but I’m very happy with the way it has fitted using a Supernova adapter bracket I bought from Shand

20160331_133031

To sort the brakes I decided to upgrade nearly the whole drivetrain and have switched to Sram Rival with 11 speed and hydraulic disk brakes. This is the same as Jane’s bike which means we only need one bleed kit and maintenance should be easier due to consistency. It also gives me a slightly wider gear range than I had before. First impressions are that the braking is superb! Plus the brake hoods feel super secure (no fear of your hands slipping off the front) and I like the double tap gear change.

I also took the opportunity to fit a new rack that just looks so much better than the last one that I found in the shed and rattled a lot.

20160331_133046

Finally I felt able to “slam” the stem. Must be the massage and stretching exercises that Jo has been using to rebuild me each time I hurt myself by running. This does highlight the only dislike I have about the setup of the bike which is the way the cables/hoses exit the frame and are so unaerodynamic as they go to the handlebars.

20160331_133059

Anyway on today’s quick test around Syston I immediately set to PR’s on strava segments, so looking good 🙂

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
00:20:04 00:19:45 4.96 15.05 31.09 98.43
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

New wife bike. A Bish Bash Bosh from On One

So the cat is out of the bag. Jane has a new bike. A very discreet Bish Bash Bosh from On One:

20160314_145249

The professional image from their website (of a slightly different spec) is:

So why a new bike? Lots of reasons:

  • Jane picked up a leg injury last summer. There does not seem to have been a single specific cause but, at the very least, her road bike made it worse. In particular a bumpy downhill which required a complete stop at the bottom. Jane has struggled with the brakes on that bike and we have tried various pads to improve them. However, she could never apply them hard enough to be confident stopping. We think that made her very tense and rigid over the bumps and it jarred her leg. It also sapped her confidence.
  • Jane is going on a Women’s Cycle Tour in France in the summer. While I had fitted a rack to her Specialized Dolce Elite Equipped, with 25mm tyres and weak brakes it wasn’t going to be ideal.
  • This year is one of those milestone birthdays that is worth celebrating.

So we looked at lots and lots of bikes. In particular Jane test rode a Specialised bike with hydraulic disk brakes and discovered that she could stop exactly where she wanted with no fuss and without having to strain at the brake levers. For her this was a complete game changer (and sadly we didn’t see any women’s road bikes with disk brakes, even cable operated 18 months ago).

So we looked at lots of bikes, mostly on the internet because finding stock isn’t easy. We did like the Specialized Dolce Comp Evo. Again there are not a lot of women’s road bikes with hydraulic disk brakes, 30mm+ tyres and both mudguard and rack fittings. We noted all the key measurements from Jane’s current bike to see what else might fit. In particular that was the:

  • Stack height: the vertical height between the bottom bracket and the top of the head tube. This tells you how upright you will sit and Jane prefers a fairly upright riding position even on a drop handlebar bike (it can be adjusted by adding some spacers under the handlebar stem but only to a limited extent).
  • Reach: the horizontal distance between the bottom bracket and the top of the head tube. This determines how stretched out you are going to be (two other key factors affecting this are the saddle position [forward/backward on it’s rails] and the length of the handlebar stem.
  • Seat Tube: Distance from the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube. Determines how low the saddle can be.
  • Step over height: Jane finds bikes with the handlebar and saddle in the same position but a higher cross bar intimidating. So a sloping cross bar giving plenty of clearance when standing over the bike was essential.

There is now quite a lot of choice for men of bikes with hydraulic disk brakes but very little for women. So we looked at buying a frame that we could fit out exactly right. That is when I came across the Bish Bash Bosh from On One. The frame ticked lots of our boxes but at £999 for the frame only was going to be an expensive build. However, when we looked at the build options we realised that the Rival 11 Hydraulic Gravel Adventures model was pretty spot on and a lot cheaper than building up from the frame. So we went up to Sheffield and looked at one before deciding to take the risk of a less well known bike.

This is a very unusual bike in lots of ways beyond the colour scheme (which attracts a lot of attention). It is very rare to find a carbon frame with rack mounts. It has the latest axle standards (bolt thru 15mm front and 12mm rear) but despite the large bulk of the bottom bracket area of the frame it has old standard bottom bracket sizing with external bearings (which I like for their easy servicing and replacement. They are going to be plenty stiff enough for the power Jane can produce).

I then ordered a few upgrades:

The proof of the pudding is in the riding and the proof is really good.

  • Longer rides (much longer than any since the injury)
  • Now ridden all the way up the hill through South Croxton 5 times on the new bike. (only once or twice ever before)
  • Setting personal bests on segments on every ride.
  • Lightest bike she has ever had.
  • The SRAM brakes and gears are excellent (and the levers very easy to adjust for small hands, even spacing the gear levers in from the brake levers is easy). Jane has found adapting to the doubletap gear change very easy too.

And apparently it is the most comfortable bike Jane has ever ridden. It stops better than any other bike she has had . Pus she is already feeling more confident of it’s handling, especially on bumpy roads and poor surfaces than she has on any other bike.

On our ride today I was following Jane who was at times cruising along at about 20mph which is completely new territory.

Finally Jane really likes the colours and cartoon style “Bish Bash Bosh” writing inside the chain stay and front fork. It certainly stands out (Jane wanted me to point out that the same bike is available in boring grey or bright lime green colours)!

We are very pleased with this!

 

Whyte Suffolk upgrades

I’ve had a number of issues with my Whye Suffolk over recent months.

  • The brakes TRP HR/RD (hydraulic disk brakes at the wheel end that are cable operated) have been getting worse again (already had one replaced and other maintenance done). By worse I mean trouble actually stopping downhill, severely restricting my freedom to go fast.
  • The back wheel has been giving me problems. The freewheel seized and then later failed. I have replaced that but the whole thing was a pig to reassemble and leaves me with reliability fears.
  • I’ve already had a spoke fail on the front wheel.

I really like this bike. I find it both comfortable and fast. It is practical enough to be used for long rides where you need to carry some stuff as well as fast enough for club rides. With the mudguards and 28mm tyres it is also suitable all year round. The Shimano 105 gears are a joy to use. So only the brakes and wheels let it down. [Although I do know that a number of people have had these 2013 frames fail where the internal cables exit, I’ve had no problems and I know the design was changed for newer models]

So I have some really exciting wheels being built by Fraser at TheHappyCog.co.uk more on those in about a week when they arrive.

In preparation for that I’ve been fitting in around too much other stuff some “simple”, “cheap” upgrades. In a sense these are a last resort before looking at proper hydraulic brakes.

  • I’ve fitted really high quality brake cables. I suspect part of the problem is the long lengths of cable housing (used to improve weather protection and as part of the internal cable routing). Sourcing them is tricky because you need such long cable housing. In the end I have fitted a full set of cables: “Jagwire Road Pro XI Brake/Gear Kit” which I got from Tredz.
  • I’ve also fitted rather fancy Swissstop Sintered Disc Pads in the hope that they are as good as their rim brake pads (also from Tredz)
  • All that meant fitting new handlebar tape (Cinelli Gel Cork Bar Tape One Size Black from Wiggle)

Looking good 🙂 Ready for a test ride real soon now.

First test of new Paramo Quito jacket

paramo-quito-jacketYesterday was officially damp. By that I mean heavy rain all day.

So a ride into Leicester for the Cycle City Workshop was a good test for my new waterproof cycling jacket. It is a Paramo Quito which I got for half price from Go Outdoors.

My trousers got absolutely waterlogged as did my socks and trainers. That not helped by the huge standing water puddles along the River Soar/Grand Union Canal on the way home.

But my top half was bone dry. Driest I have ever stayed in such heavy rain. No condensation or leaks. The hood was the most comfortable I’ve used in a long time and it formed a good seal stopping water entering around the neck.

Based on one ride, highly recommended. Especially given the bold ethical and environmental claims by Paramo.

 

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
03:34:55 01:08:31 12.10 10.60 19.68 282.15
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

Not quite there

So I won’t quite manage a couple of the targets I added later in the year. I could blame Storm Frank but really I just left it too late.

So I’ll be under 5,000 miles (4,904 so far) and just shy of achieving an Eddington number of 60 (currently 58 with 2 more 60 mile rides needed to get it to 60).

I’m not disappointed by this, as neither was a target at the beginning of the year. This year is still the 2nd highest number of miles in any one year for me and way over all the others.

I’ll put up a nice graphic from Veloviewer tomorrow summarising 2015’s cycling (waiting to see if I do a ride today or tomorrow first).

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