Category Archives: sport

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.

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.

BearBones 200 live tracking

You can see this weekend’s ride on Spotwalla:

Or it should display here:

Note that the thick blue line is the official route. My actual tracking should be showing on top of it. This is the BearBones 200km bikepacking ride

If this is not working then see http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0cSgXVfo7pa3POc5gBxJgluG85kq9n9PX

Preparing to go light on the BB200

On Saturday at about 8am I start the BearBones 200. This means preparing to ride as light as possible because there is a LOT of climbing on this 200km ride. I’ll be riding my Shand Stoater “Bike for Life” in a very stripped down guise.

Initial estimates (which because of the way online applications measure height are probably an underestimate) are of 14,300 feet (4,360 m) of climbing. That is a lot more than I have ever climbed in one ride before (as well as by far the longest mostly off road ride). The elevation profile looks like this:

bb200-evelvation

I do not intend or expect to do this without stopping for some sleep, which will be just a matter of crashing out in my bivy bag somewhere along the route. However, given the amount of climbing I’m trying harder than ever to keep the weight down. The most effective way to do this would be to not eat again before Saturday morning – but I’m not contemplating that 😉

What I am doing is going more minimal than ever before.

  • stripped down tools and repairs kit
    • tiny ratchet handle and heads for all the fittings on the bike
    • 8 & 10 mm spanner
    • 2 tyre levers
    • hand tyre pump with CO2 support
    • 2 CO2 cartridges
    • self adhesive tube patches
    • 1 spare inner tube
    • a few zip ties
    • some insulation tape
    • spare drive belt

IMG_20151006_120049

  • No cooking kit at all. Just one titanium spork for eating takeaways.

 

  • For sleeping I’m taking just:
    • Bivy bag
    • Exped UL7 sleeping mat with pillow/pump
    • Sleeping quilt
    • thermal long johns, long sleeved top and socks. If I need more I’ll just add my cycling clothes. If I get too cold when cycling these could be added.

     

      20151006_103741

     

    • Some food that can be eaten cold. Full list later.
    • Some wet wipes
    • First aid kit including sudocrem
    • Fully charged USB battery and usb cable to recharge my Garmin sat nav
    • lights (Exposure Joystick [maybe helmet mount], Exposure Tracer, Dynamo front light, cateye rear light)
    • clothes to wear while cycling
      • 3/4 length shorts with separate padded inner
      • waterproof socks
      • Shimano MT91 Boots
      • Warm gloves
      • waterproof top
      • short sleeve top
      • thin long sleeve top
      • warm windproof and shower proof top
      • helmet
    • Mobile phone (switched off to save battery as there will rarely be a signal)
    • Garmin 1000 with the route loaded. Only extra sensor will be heart rate monitor to keep battery use down.
    • SPOT Satellite tracker (and you will be able to track me from this blog – but I’m not allowed to publish the route until I start).
    • some cash and one bank card
    • Car key

     

    My intention is to fit this in 3 bags strapped to the bike:

    • Seatpost: Wildcat Gear Tiger with Alpkit tapered dry bag
    • Handlebar: Wildcat Gear Lion harness with Alpkit dual 20 litre dry bag
    • Handlebar: Wildcat Gear Lioness

    I’ll be starting from Llanbrynmair at about 8am and trying to get to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant at about 72 miles before 10pm when Spar shop closes and ideally while the chippy is open. I’ll make sure I can survive if I don’t get there in time to stock up.

    After that it will just depend how I feel and the weather. My only goal is to finish before the limit limit of 36 hours although the finish closes at 10pm on Sunday. Realistically in Wales I don’t expect to find any shops open on Sunday. Maybe I’ll find a pub at some random point in the day for some hot food.

Heaven for Strava nerds

If, like me, you love seeing your rides on Strava (and I have lots!) then I highly recommend VeloViewer. At only £9.99 a year it gives you an almost infinite number of ways to view your ride (and run) data. Some beautiful graphics as well such as this one from the Blenheim Palace Triathlon a couple of years ago:

blenheim

A great British one man business that is doing something very creative and useful. Worth Supporting.

Crazy inspiring stories

This tale of the Highland Trail 550 by Tom, the fastest finisher is both crazy and inspiring.

Of course he was riding a Shand 🙂

Not that all Shand riders are capable of such feats, even if their bikes are 😉

Signed up for a crazy thing

At the weekend I came over all crazy and have signed up for the Bear Bones 200. This is probably the daftest thing I have ever done! Last year I watched it online by following the satellite tracking dots and heard afterwards how incredibly tough it had been with hours at a time of “Hike a Bike” sections (where you have to push or carry your bike because the conditions are unrideable – often tussocky boggy mountainsides).

This year I was watching the satellite tracking for the Highland Trail 550 and being particularly impressed by MiniPips ie Rich and Tom (who is 10). Their collection of blog posts is here and their video is here:

Both HT550 and WildcatGear were providing a twitter commentary and lots of us were particularly inspired by the determination of Jenny Graham (now on twitter). In particular it took her some 23 hours to find a way across one river.

https://twitter.com/Pollyhound/status/604296638513987584/photo/1

jenny-river

Afterwards she said that the first time she had tried to cross it was going to be over chest deep, in the end she managed to cross where it was “only” high thigh deep.

Given the suffering of these strong, determined, fit people the fact it inspired me to enter a 200km self supported bikepacking event with a requirement that I take less than 36 hours is something of a mystery to me.

Of course at the moment I have lots of ideas about how I am going to train for this. Training that particularly needs to include pushing a loaded bike up big hills through bogs. What the reality will be is probably very different which is something to worry about until October 10th.

Anyway it will be a good opportunity to really use my new boots (see yesterday’s blog post) 🙂

Sedbergh Sportiv (my first sportiv!)

Today I completed my first ever Sportiv 🙂 The 55 mile Sedbergh Sportiv.

We drove up to Dent yesterday evening because Ann and Paul had invited us to stay in their caravan which made things much easier. The last time I went to Dent was nearly 32 years ago when I walked the Dales Way from Ilkley to Windermere. Mind you I don’t think much has changed since then.

So it was an early start to get to Sedbergh for about 8am. Good coffee and pastries available at the start 🙂 Full mass start of around 110 riders doing a choice of 30, 55 or 70 miles.

The first 10 miles were basically all climbing and went smoothly, then things went a bit pear shaped. First, our food and drink station wasn’t there at 10 miles (where the 70 mile route split off). Then we split up a bit which meant Jane and I failed to notice Paul having a mechanical problem. His 10 speed chain broke, when repaired it broke again and took his rear derailleur out. That is a bit of a heads up for me because I’ve realised that I don’t have the tools or parts for my own 10 speed chain. Will have to sort that out.

So Paul was now in the broom wagon, Ann had got rather cold while they were trying to sort Paul’s bike out but joined Jane and I and we made good speed to the 2nd food point, which did exist and had some very excellent flapjack (made that morning by Sedbergh school).

The next section was the 55 milers on their own, the three of us being closely followed by our very own broom wagon. This was also the part of the route that combined the steepest and longest climbs with a vicious headwind. Both Ann and Jane were forced to walk up some sections. In the end a painful tendon meant Ann joined Paul in the minibus (being Ann she hadn’t complained at all about the toe that she broke last weekend).

Jane and I plodded onward. We thought it was going to get easier when we joined the 70 mile riders on a flatter bit off road at the very top of the world. However, it still went up and the wind was howling against us, so our speed dropped to barely measurable. Fortunately, that was followed by a nice downhill to Orton where there was an extra unscheduled drink and food stop which was very welcome. Jane added an extra, extra layer to look like a Michelin advert which rather restricted her movements 🙂 We continued to plod on, occasionally overtaken by 70 mile route riders.

When we got to Ravenstonedale at just over 40 miles Jane was clearly struggling and then she got severe cramp. Our team of four were down to just one – me. I was determined to escape our team boom wagon, so while they were sorting out how to fit a 3rd bike into the minibus I sprinted off down the road.

For a long time everyone had been saying it was all downhill from Ravenstonedale. They were lying! Not only were there uphill sections but the wind was funneling up the valley stronger than ever so I had to pedal hard even on the steeper downhill sections. I did manage to overtake a few people and finished in an official time of around 5 hours 55 minutes.

At the end there was a good spread of burgers, sausages etc as well as drinks. Plus excellent showers 🙂

Obviously, the broom wagon came in after all the riders and so we were among the last to leave. But we have had a smooth journey home with a meal at Frankie and Benny’s in Uttoxeter on the way. As always our Citroen Berlingo Multispace is very suited to these kinds of events. It takes about 2 minutes to put 2 bikes securely inside which is far easier (and cheaper in fuel) than any rack.

Here is the ride:

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
05:55:21 05:12:25 55.70 10.70 29.75 3,710.63
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

 

Beautiful Syston Syclers club ride

So today I was leading a small group (3 of us) on the “yellow” Syston Syclers Club Ride. We started at the same time as the “slow” 45 mile Red group (which included some new riders as well as some progressing to the longer distance).

We had an absolutely glorious ride to Newtown Lynford, and this time we all returned on the road rather than through Bradgate Park.

My Whyte Suffolk was fantastic and I was pretty pleased to discover that I had broken 9 personal records on the ride. Seems like it must be a pretty quick bike 🙂

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