Training load

So far this season has had a bigger training load than previous years. This wasn’t really a conscious decision, it just kind of happened. Quite often in previous seasons, I’ve taken 1 or 2 months off due to injury / accident / other reasons. There’s no major harm in taking 4-5 weeks off – you just take longer to get to your peak form. But, this year, I’ve been able to have more time to train and no major breaks off the bike. I think two weeks in hilly Croatia helped quite a bit.

daffodils-spring

I’ve quite enjoyed this winter’s training. The higher load and mileage gives a good sense of fitness. When you get used to a higher training load, you feel recovery can be quicker. I don’t think I could have managed this kind of training load, when I started cycling – it can take several years to keep building up a base aerobic fitness and basic muscle strength. But, very unscientifically – progressively higher training loads, do seem to help make you go faster. Perhaps there is a bit of good luck in getting the right kind of training load too.

At this time of the season, I’m conscious of not getting carried away too early. There is still a long time to go to the last weekend in October. But, I can get easily ‘bored’ of just doing steady rides. By February I was itching to get back into going up hills fast. I enjoy hilly rides in the Chilterns more than anything. Going along the Chiltern ridge going up whichever hill you fancy (and hasn’t got traffic works). There are plenty of good hills to choose from – Whiteleaf, Kop Hill, Aston Hill (A40) Kingston Blount, Chinnor, Britwell Hill and more.

Still, the hilly interval rides have a different feel to September / October. I’m not training to exhaustion or really pushing it. There is often a thought in the mind, to hold back a little. Allow room for greater intensity later in the year. But, I’m looking forward to Buxton Mountain time trial in a couple of weeks, so this week has been a bit heavier than usual.

Sweet Spot

Another type of training which is good for time trials is to ride in the ‘sweet spot’ (I often call it the sweat spot – more from lack of ability to spell properly than offering a redefinition of training terminology) One definition of the sweet spot is moderately hard – perhaps 10-15% less than what you could maintain in a 25 mile TT. 85% of your FTP (Functional threshold Power). Perhaps there are different definitions, but for me it requires quite a bit of concentration to keep a weighted power output around 240-250 watts (compared to a current FTP of roughly 305) Continue Reading →

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Best tubular tyres

For tyres and tubulars there is generally a well known trade off

  1. Low Cost
  2. Low rolling resistance
  3. Puncture resistance.
  4. Low Weight

It is impossible to have all four targets met. Even if money is no object, you still have to choose a trade off between low rolling resistance / low weight and puncture resistance.

I spend more time researching and choosing tubulars to buy than I do anything else. So many combinations, choices, decisions and trade offs!. In the good old days, I’d just shove Continental Competition on and have done with it. But, I fear I’m losing too much time with good old Continental Competition. Even now I have an increasing choice of tubulars, I can spend ages trying to work out which tubular to use. In short there is no easy answer.

When it comes to buying tubulars, I’ve often caught in two minds. I want to use a lightweight tubular like Vittoria Chrono / Veloflex Record, but then I think about puncturing and walking along a windswept dual carriageway for 10 miles, and I think I might as well stick to Continental Competition.

The problem is that as the competition gets more intense, and you look harder for marginal gains, the idea of getting better tubulars becomes more attractive.

Front Wheel / Back Wheel

Another consideration is that the rear wheel is more likely to puncture / more likely to wear down because it is the rear wheel which transmits your power output. Therefore, it is a good idea to consider getting a slightly more reliable (heavy) tyre for the rear. I generally risk lighter tubulars on the front wheel.

Conditions

In an ideal world, you would change your tubulars depending on conditions. For a dry day on a nice smooth dual carriageway, It is worth risking a proper track / timetrial tub like Vittoria Crono. Also, if you think you’ve got a chance for a PB, it makes sense to choose the fastest tubular. But, if you’re doing a 30 mile hilly time trial on rough roads in the wet, you  have a higher chance of puncturing; in these conditions it is not a good choice to go for a feather lightweight smooth tub.

I don’t particularly like the hassle of changing tubulars before every race – so tend to go for the default stronger puncture resistance. However, I am leaning more towards faster tubulars these days.

Width of Wheel

zipp-808

Zipp 808 and many new wheels come in a wider width making it better to have slightly wider tyres. Here I have a 21′ Corsa!. I’ve now switched to a 22′ Veloflex Record Sprinter

 

When I got into cycling, I made the ‘schoolboy error’ of buying 18′ width tyres. I made the assumption that the more narrowe the tyre  – the less rolling resistance there will be. Nowadays, you can hear the fastest tyres are 25′ even 28′. There are conflicting reports, but I’m happy with anything – 22-25. Perhaps slightly wider at the rear is preferable. I heard Team Sky use 24.5′ width tubulars – I’m not sure how they calculated 24.5 is better than 25.  But I wouldn’t lose too much sleep if you have a 23’!

Too many models

The reason that I revisited this post is that whenever I go to buy tubulars, I always spend hours trying to find the best tubular. One problem is that companies make a bewildering array of tubulars – just as you get used to one model, you find it has become discontinued and you can’t buy it anyway. This happened yesterday with Veloflex Record Sprinter – I couldn’t find anywhere to buy it. Continue Reading →

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Rowsley Bar

I’m slowly working through the 100 greatest climbs. Today is Rowsley Bar a few miles south east of Bakewell in the Peak District. I have not ridden yet, though I raced up Beeley moor a few miles north up the same ridge.

 

Rowsley-bar

Top of Rowsley Bar Photo: Clarke Family

  • Bakewell, Peak District
  • Distance: 0.6 miles
  • Average gradient: 13%
  • Maximum gradient: 20%
  • Height gain. 443ft / 135m
  • 100 climbs: #34
  • Rowsley Bar, Strava
  • Everesting? – 66 * 1.2 miles = 79.2 miles

Jim Henderson gives a description of full course

“The new course started quite steadily, then went into some woods and around a couple of vicious hairpin bends, rumoured to be 1:4 at the apex. The half-way point marked the end of the hardest section and was followed by a long section of false flat, before a tricky sting in the tail where the road kicked up again for the final 400 metres or so. All was on a minor road which was closed to traffic.”

Jim Henderson’s Page

Photos courtesy Clarke Family Photos

Rowsley-bar

Rowsley Bar bottom – Photo: Clarke Family

Continue Reading →

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10 Reasons to commute to work

A while back – whilst in York, , I saw an advert encouraging people to cycle to work. – ‘It only takes 15 minutes to cycle to work – give it a try.’

So inspired by York’s cycling campaign here are 10 good reasons to commute by bike.

oxford-cyclist-scarf

1. Save Money

A good bike may cost £200-£400. But, it can last for years. You will save petrol, car parking / bus fares. It can easily add up. In Oxford it would cost £9 to park all day – if you can find somewhere to park. Bike maintenance is likely to be nothing more than a few inner tubes, and new chain and cassette every 3,000 miles. When you take your bike for a service, generally you don’t have to worry about spending hundreds of pounds like for a car.

2. Health

Cycling is an excellent way to get low impact exercise. If you do very little exercise, cycling will improve your aerobic fitness and help to avoid heart related health problems. If you don’t have time (or the money) to go to a gym, why not try cycling to work / shops. People may worry that cycling is perceived as a dangerous activity. But, the health benefits of lower obesity / lower heart disease e.t.c. far outweigh the risk of accidents. See: How How safe is cycling? – Cycling Statistics

 

3. Save Time

beating-congestion-donnington

For many short distance commutes through town, cycling can be quicker than driving or getting the bus. Many of our car journeys are less than 3 miles. If you try cycling, the time is often much quicker, especially in city centres. In commuting periods, you often get traffic jams and cyclists can both help reduce congestion and get there quicker. For me, getting to centre of Oxford, cycling is 5 minutes quicker than driving and 15 minutes quicker than the bus.

Also, a bike is more reliable than public transport, less likely to turn up late. Fate is in your own hands. Continue Reading →

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Dura Ace Di2 9070 Groupset review

I’ve been using the Shimano Dura Ace di2 for a couple of months now, so I thought, after extensive testing, I would give a review.

Overall, I’m very impressed. It is very good and makes a difference over mechanical shifting. It is very expensive, and initially I was regretting spending the money on Dura Ace, when I could have saved a £1,000 and got Ultegra, but now I’m glad I ‘bit the bullet’.

For many years in cycling, ‘electronic gears’ got a bad press. When electronic gears were first introduced, they were often reported as ‘freezing in big races’ and this put me off electronic for a long time. But, Di2 seems to be very durable.

whole-di-2

Dura Ace Di2 – 56*21

 

Durability

I’ve been using for a couple of months, without any issues, but to get a better perspective I asked my mechanic friends at Beeline. Mark said they have seen a lot of people use Shimano Di2, and it has been excellent for durability and easy of maintenance. He said it was a lot more reliable than other electronic gears. Mark said many people just ride their bike all year and get it serviced once a year. He said Di2 was good for those riders who didn’t want to do anything but just ride and recharge their batteries. He seemed quite enthusiastic about Di2 and would recommend it as the best groupset.

Another big thing of electronic gears is that you don’t have to worry about frayed cables or adjusting gears because of stretched cables. This is another reason why it makes it easy to maintain.

The batteries last for a long time – a couple of months. I recharge every month, even if the battery light doesn’t come on, because it’s hard to believe it can last for so long (unlike the iPhone, which seems to go dead very quick)

Ease of use

The main attraction of electronic shifting is that it is claimed to be easier to shift, quicker and more reliable.

I have had some problems setting up Shimano Di2. When I put a 56 chain ring on, I tried moving front derailleur and I got it at an odd angle and this made a loud clicking noise for a while. There is a very small screw to adjust angle, but I didn’t find it first time. I took to bike shop and they got it fixed.

Apart from that it has worked very well. As mentioned in recent review of workstand I often need to adjust the gears. The hub of the training wheel is in different place to hub of disc-wheel. When I swap wheels, I have to adjust the gears – which is a bit of a pain. (but an issue for any groupset) Fortunately the Di2 groupset is quite a nice piece of equipment to adjust.

adjust-mode

Put it in adjust mode and make fine adjustments until the gears work smoothly. It is quite satisfying job, and easy than mechanical adjustment. I’ve always struggled to satisfactorily adjust gears on mechanical gears, but it’s one job you really want to be able to do. The Workstand does make it a lot easier.

Gear Shifting

Once set up properly, it is a dream to shift gears. Because I do hilly time trials, I like to have the biggest range of gears possiblye 39-56 chainrings on the front. Cassette 25-11. Shifting from a 39 chain ring to 56 is quite a jump. The only issue I’ve had is when pedalling slowly on rollers. It performs best under pressure in a race.  I’ve never missed a gear change in a race. With mechanical Dura Ace this happened quite frequently. I remember in Nat HC of 2013, shifting into the big ring, but it wouldn’t go – this was a big problem. Di2 is more reliable in this regard.

front-end-shifters

The beauty of gear shifting with Di2 does encourage you to to change gears more frequently. It’s so quick you don’t really lose any momentum. Sometimes with mechanical Dura Ace I would think twice before shifting.

gear-shifters

A good feature of Di2 is that you can have buttons wherever you want them. Rather than in just one place – you can have them on both the ends of the tribars and the sides. This means you can shift without moving hand position – another marginal gain.

One small thing is that it took me quite a while to get used to the buttons, I pressed up when I meant to press down, but this can be overcome through getting used to it. Also, I’ve been riding all winter with big thick ski gloves, you have to work hard to get right button. But, I wouldn’t really change this, I hope not to have to use ski gloves to do time trials.

If you wanted you can add more custom buttons e.g. on top of handlebars. You can also customise the gear changes – such as customising the speed of change – though I can’t see myself doing that.

Mechanical failure?

If you did get a mechanical, like battery wearing down, you can manually push the rear derailleur to change gear – so you can always get home.

Accept 28 T

rear-dereailleur

A good benefit of the 9070 series is that it accepts a 28 cassette. I often want to use a 28 cassette on really hilly terrain. Pros also want to use 28 cassettes. I always thought it didn’t look good for Shimano when pros had to switch to Ultegra to get up the really steep hills.

Do we need 11 speed?

I was annoyed when 11 speed came out. I was quite happy with 10 speed and was more annoyed at the likely cost and inconvenience of upgrading. (I even wrote a post – please no 12 speed) But, when you actually get 11 speed, it’s quite nice – especially when so easy to change.

Of course, we don’t need 11 speed, I would have preferred if everyone had stuck at 10 speed and we could all have saved a bit of mony, but now 11 speed is here, it is just a little better.

Automatic adjustment of front derailleur

One stand out feature is that when you change the rear cog, the system automatically adjusts the front dérailleur so that you maintain a good chain line and prevent rubbing on the derailleur. This means if you are in 56*12 and change rear cassette you can go up to say 56*23 and, as you do, the front derailleur automatically changes to prevent rubbing. It’s helpful to be able to stay in big ring for longer.

Weight

Weight of Shimano Dura Ace Di2 9070 is 2047g.

By comparison

  • Mechanical Dura Ace is 2074 grams
  • Ultegra 6870 Di2 – around 2,680g (I think this is wrong, I believe new Ultegra is just 300 grams heavier than Dura Ace, but I haven’t been able to find confirmation anywhere.)
  • SRAM Red 2013 mechanincal groupset. 1,670g
  • Campagnolo Record 11 Speed – 2039g

(note, I have not tested the above weights myself)

For weight weenies amongst us

Weight    2047
Front Derailleur    114
Rear Derailleur    217
Chainset    637
Shift Levers    237
Chain    249
Cassette    192
Brake Calipers    286
Bottom Bracket    65
Battery    50

I got these weights from Bike Radar article on Shimano Di2

Aesthetics and Aerodynamics

front-dereailleur

One of the  reasons for buying Dura Ace Di2 rather than Ultegra, is that the front derailleur hub is smaller and more elegant.

di-2-front-derailleur

Ultegra is a little less aero

In general, with Di2, there are less wires going around and it is fairly compact. I put the batter case near the stem. Most wires can be hidden with a bit of internal routing.

front-end-cables

Brakes

Brakes are very good. Can’t think of anything else to say here.

Crankset

The crankset is still made out of aluminium because SHimano claim it is stronger than Carbon.

Annoyingly I’ve ditched by four arm crankset to make use of my Quark Power meter, so I have a Shimano 9070 Di2 Crankset for sale on ebay very soon.

Overall

It is very good. It is hard to find any real meaningful faults. The only drawback of Dura Ace Di2 9070 is the price – it really is expensive. It’s annoying that something so expensive is so good because there is a big motivation to try and buy it. The good news is that Ultegra Di2 is just as good, except £1,000 – £2,000 cheaper!

 

External links

Dura Ace Di2 9070 at Wiggle

Ultegra 6870 at Chain reaction cycles

Dura Ace Di2 at Amazon.com

Review of Di2 9070 at Bike Radar

 

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RTTC Classic Series – Round 1 Stafford R.C

The RTTC Classic series is a series of six national CTT events which make a national time trial series. The series counts the combined score from your four best events. The events have been chosen to include some of the major time trial ‘classic’ events – on non standard distance over a variety of terrain. The aim is to give an added focus to riding ‘sporting’ non-standard distances.

See: Classic series at CTT

stafford-1

Personally I like the time trial series, because it makes a nice change to do interesting courses, rather than just look for ‘fast’ dual carriageway courses. With threats of more A roads becoming mini motorways, many feel these kinds of sporting courses are more likely to be the future of timetrialling.

In addition, my enthusiasm for sporting courses is also encouraged by the rather self-interested motive of doing better on any race that goes up hill!

Today was a 22 mile circuit (K48/23) around Utoxeter and Weston – an event very well managed and promoted by  Stafford Road Club. It includes 422m of ascent in 22 miles. There’s no major hills, just a few short sharp shocks. Overall, the course is reasonably fast, with a ‘relatively’ good road surface (actually very good for UK) and opportunities for some quick sections too. Continue Reading →

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Hartside Fell

Hartside Fell is long steady climb in the north Pennines. It is one of the longest continual climbs in England – rising 400m over 5 miles. It will be used as a summit finish in this years Tour of Britain, stage 5.

hartside

Photo by Bryn looking West from top of Hartside

 

  • Location: A686 – North East of Penrith towards Alston
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Avg grade 5.0%
  • Max Grade: 7.0%
  • Elev Gain: 400m
  • Maximum Elevation – 1915ft / 583m
  • Cat: 2
  • 100 hills #77
  • Strava segment
  • Everesting? 23*9.8 miles = 225 miles
heandfi-fiona-hartside-floods-2009

Photo Fiona in Eden from top of Hartside after floods of 2009

hartside-bruciestokes

Photo Brucie Stokes – bottom of Hartside

Continue Reading →

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Lifeline Professional Workstand – Review

After years of prevaricating, I got around to buying a Workstand to be able to work on my bike. I was reluctant to buy a work stand because:

  • I’m not very good at bike maintenance and tend to prefer to take it into bike shops. I was reluctant to purchase when with many jobs it’s easier to take into a shop.
  • I don’t have much space in my conservatory. I have so many bikes, there isn’t really room for a work stand.

On the other hand, I thought buying a workstand may have the following benefits:

  • It may make me better at bike maintenance – it’s hard enough adjusting gears without using one hand to hold bike up and the other hand to adjust gears.
  • It’s inconvenient having to take bike to a bikeshop all the time.
  • It might make it easier to clean the bike.

After looking online at different options, I choose the Lifeline Professional Workstand from Wiggle.  It had the following advantages

  • At £72 it seemed quite cheap. I didn’t want to get a higher end workstand, when I wasn’t sure how much I would use it.
  • It could be folded up quite small and conveniently put away in a corner.
  • It had reasonably good reviews.

How to set up

To set up, it was fairly quick and intuitive, there are a couple of quick release levers which can quite quickly move the stand from compact to set up.

bike-stand-closed

Quite easy to set up. Continue Reading →

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Obree Way – Review

obree-wayI reviewed the Obree Way last year, but it cost £30 (which was a bit pricey even for a good book.) But  I see it’s available in paperback for £11.99 now. The Obree Way at Amazon.co.uk

The Obree way is Graeme Obree’s unique and distinctive approach to training. It is an approach to training Obree developed himself over many years of his own successful cycling career. The book is worth reading just from the perspective of gaining an insight into the training and mentality of a World Champion, you also gain the feeling the author really put is heart and soul into the book. I think every cyclist will be able to pick up something from this training manual.

One thing I liked about reading the book is that I always felt Obree was just sat across the room talking about his training. It was like listening to an old club hand share his training secrets. But, in this case the old ‘club hand’ happens to have held the prestigious world hour record on two occasions and also is a former world champion. Obree’s pedigree definitely is important. If some of these training principles were explained by Tom, Dick or Harry you might be tempted to brush them off as being too obvious or too simple. But, if they worked for Obree, you give them much more importance.

Essential Aspects of the Obree Way.

Turbo Trainer To Obree, the turbo trainer is a key element of his training. It’s not something just to use when the weather turns icey, but even in the middle of summer. Obree wants to have the ability to very carefully monitor his progress and make sure a training session actually stretches his previous effort; the best way he feels is to use a simple turbo training carefully calibrated to measure exact performance. At this point, in the book I did think perhaps the same could have been achieved from power-meters. But, Obree’s way is largely to ignore computer data. (He says the only time he really uses a heart rate monitor is to make sure on a recovery ride, you stick to a recovery ride.)

obree-superman

Training Sessions

Obree doesn’t believe in intervals. To him the best training is to replicate the kind of race you will be doing.

“Specific training for specific events. Everything else is peripheral and less effective than the base truth of athletic performance enhancement.”

– G.Obree

If you are doing 10 mile time trials, a key training session is to do a 20 minute ride on the turbo as go as fast as you can. Later in the training cycle, after a sufficient time period to recover (could be several days). You have another go at this 20 minute ride, but aim to improve on your previous performance. The simple aim is every time you do one of these ‘key’ training sessions you push your limits and go faster than before. This is the simple training principle of ‘stress and recovery‘ You keep pushing your limits, give yourself chance to fully recover and then push your limits again.

It is beautifully simple. There you won’t find any  ’30 seconds at 95%, 1 min rest; 30 seconds at 95% type training sessions.

Another important training session for Obree, is the ‘glycogen ride’ This is a two hour ride, where you adapt the body to riding with low sugar levels to improve the body’s use of glycogen stores when racing. He says you should finish this training session really exhausted and ready to devour food (which you have prepared beforehand)

Obree also advocates incorporating a session of strength training. This involves pushing a huge gear on a gentle hill at a very low cadence.

Continue Reading →

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Benefits of beetroot juice

beetroot-juiceVarious studies have suggested Beetroot juice is able to increase endurance and delay fatigue for athletes in long distance races. A recent study reported in Cycling Weekly suggested drinking Beetroot juice can also improve speed in short distance races.

According to this small study, in a 10 km time trial, cyclists reduced their average times from 965 seconds to 953 seconds – quite a significant time gap. (Pro rata – works out at nearly 1 minute for 25 mile TT)

“The amount of oxygen required 
to sustain 
sub-maximal exercise 
(ie at 45 per cent and 65 per cent of maximum power) was lower when the active beetroot juice was consumed. More importantly, though, was the finding that compared results to the placebo drink. The active beetroot juice significantly enhanced time trial 
performance – the 
average time recorded fell from 965 seconds to 953 seconds. This was confirmed by the fact that the average power output during the time trials 
rose from 288 watts in the 
placebo trial to 294 watts in the active beetroot juice trial. Again, this was a 
significant improvement.

This study gave cyclists a drink of beetroot juice two hours before the test. In one group the nitrate was removed from the beetroot juice. In the other group, the natural nitrate was left in the beetroot juice. The group with nitrate in, managed to reduce their times. Continue Reading →

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