Disrupted training

country-roadAn Oxfordshire road

Training in the past few weeks has been disrupted. A cold before Buxton MTT, then two weeks in New York. For some reason it is much harder to train in New York (not just the roads and drivers) but the general motivation.  It’s a combination of factors, but for some reason, I always feel like I’m swimming against the current (or cycling into headwind for want of a better analogy). I think my longest ride in NY was 23 miles. In England, 23 miles is the warm-up before the intervals start.

Fortunately, a quiet few weeks doesn’t matter so much after a good winter’s training. I cycled nearly 1,300 miles in March, which is a lot of miles. It’s probably good to have an easy few weeks every now and then.

In New York, cycling was a struggle, the familiar enthusiasm for cycling ebbed away – on the positive side, you remember there’s more to life to cycling.  Another thing about not training is that you remember what it is like to have fresh legs – not tired out and recovering from some hard session – it’s almost a joy to walk up stairs. Still, when you get out of the habit of training, you start to worry about losing the cycling bug.

But as soon as I got back on my own TT bike and went up the Chiltern hills, the rhythm came back and you soon pick up where you left off. I didn’t seem to lose anything by having three weeks off. But, this week I’ve had to hold back a little because the knees felt a little strained after 3 hours of hilly training. Nothing serious, they seem to be getting used to it again. Still I just entered a 100 mile time trial, and that’s enough to get you worried about training volume. Even with 4,000 winter miles, a good cyclist is always worrying about doing enough training.

This Sunday Beacon Mountain Time trial. I hope all the jet lag has evaporated with Matt Bottrill off a few minutes after me.

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Bontrager R4 Tyre Review

I’ve had quite a few Bontrager tyres on new bikes I’ve bought from Trek. I’ve never replaced them with Bontrager tyres, preferring other tyres instead. But, since I’ve had four tyres in recent past. This is quick review.

bontrager-r4-tyre
Bontrager R4

The Trek Speed Concept came with Bontrager R4 clinchers. These are the top of the range Bontrager tyres with 320TPI, weighing just 230 grams, which makes them a high spec top end road tyre..

It has a super supple polyamide synthetic fibre reinforcement for added casing strength on the outside. Also, as well, has the ‘hard case lite protection’ underneath the outer tread to protect against punctures.

Making it easy to solve the tyre width dilemma, it is available in 25c only.

It is quite supple and easy to put on and off the tyre rim (even with tubeless ready rims, which often make it a little tougher). The tyre rolls quite well, though it’s hard to evaluate given that I was riding on the Speed Concept which is supposed to be a super fast TT bike. Whether the feeling of speed is from £6,000 bike or £50 tyres, take your own guess. Continue Reading →

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Reducing the cost of cycling

Cycling can seem an expensive hobby. I am the worst culprit – just look at my product reviews Shimano Dura Ace Di2, AX Lightness saddle (69grams) e.t.c. Whatever branch of cycling you take up, it seems there is no limit to the amount of money you can spend. However, here’s a short reminder that it doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. It’s quite possible to keep cycling very cheap.

1. Homemade mudguard flap

fairy-mudguard-500x376

50 years of mudguard flaps

 

A cut off bit from a washing up liquid bottle is the perfect size for a mudguard flap. It’s surprising how much a bit of super-glue and reusable plastic ties can do for your bike. This is the old make do and mend philosophy. Don’t just buy something new, try fix and adapt.

2. Make do with one bike

24 hour record holder (541 miles) Andy Wilkinson is a true legend of long distance time-trialling. He deserves more recognition than he gets. How does he do such impressive distances? Well, for a start he only has one bike – a basic steel frame; on this one bike he does his commuting, training and racing. He says that only having one bike enables him to really get to know his bike, perfect his position and enables him to do better races. For those of us who work on the principle that the optimum number of bikes is N+1 – this is truly radical, (but, how much money would I have in the bank if I had followed this advice) It is a reminder that you don’t need to keep buying a new bike in order to do better.

3. Make your bike last

wearing-dhb-jacket-commuting-bike

I went through a period of reviewing potential new commuting bikes – shiny single speeds, foldups, hybrid bikes, and lower end road bikes. But, when it came to the crunch, there seemed no point in spending money for only a relative minor improvement. My commuting bike has been going for 15+ years, and shows no sign of age; hopefully, it will last another 15+ years at least. It is true, a carbon fork would give a modicum of more comfort. Perhaps the braking power of disc brakes would improve performance 15% – but do I really need these? No. My commuting bike has already outlasted quite a few cars. When I try to work out the cost per mile of my commuting bike – it is incredibly low. My winter training bike cost £700 and has done (at a very rough estimate) 40,000 miles (0.0175 pence per mile). Is there any cheaper form of transport?

3. Homemade energy drink.

If you want to avoid paying £1.30 for every sachet of energy drink, why not make your own. Get some maltodextrin powder, fructose powder, a touch of salt, some orange juice and you have. Alternatively, you can just use ordinary table sugar. One simple recipe for a homemade energy drink. For 1 litre of energy drink, add:

  • 60-80 grams of sugar
  • No added sugar cordial
  • A pinch of salt
  • topping up with water

 

4. Avoid the fashion labels

rapha-outside

You can spend a fortune on Rapha clothing and the like. It looks good but comparatively expensive.

5. Buy from non-cycling shops

Often the cheapest place to buy cycling undergarments e.t.c is from non-cycling shops. Thermal underwear and wicking layers can be cheaper from clothes shops and other outlets. I got quite a few good thermal layers from Marks & Spencers – they do the job for winter training.

It’s the same with energy bars, often you can get same performance from much cheaper non-branded energy bars.  I often go to my local Pound Shop and buy six Fruesli bars or similar (12p per energy bar, and if you look at the ingredients, it’s effectively the same percentage of carbohydrates.

How did Graeme Obree prepare for his hour record? Marmalade sandwiches; I bet that is not part of Team Sky’s hour record preparation for Bradley Wiggins, but it did the job for Obree. You don’t always have to spend a fortune on energy bars to get the best nutrition.

6. Get aerodynamics for free

If you really want to go faster, then the secret is to make yourself more aerodynamic. At 40kmph, 90% of resistance against a bike is air resistance. If you look at some pictures of time triallists, you will see how they can reduce their frontal area. The secret to reducing frontal area is not spending £3,000 on a time trial frame, but, getting the body into most efficient tuck. Even a cheap pair of aerobars for £20, will make a huge difference to reducing wind resistance and give you a good bang for your buck. You can spend a fortune on aerodynamic aids, but many of the key improvements can be made with very little cost. Tips for aerodynamics.

7. Do you really need it?

So often I’ve bought something because it was well marketed and looks nice, but I don’t really need it. There are some accessories you need like a lock and lights. But, for some reason, I’m always gullible for the latest light, which is brighter than the last. So I have a whole shed of different lights and components. When I look at my shed, I’m embarrassed about all the things I’ve bought thinking these will be good, but they hardly get used.

8. Ditch obsession with low weight / expensive components

margina-gains-1g

A 1 gram weight saving really not worth making!

 

This is a definite case of the kettle calling the pot black. Is there a worse culprit for spending silly money on silly weight saving components? (marginal gains hill climb bike) Probably not, but unless you miss a major hill climb championship medal by 1 second, those 500g weight saving is not essential. Even a bike 1kg heavier is not the end of the world. If you look at time saved from weight loss on a bike – it is less than you might imagine. 1kg up the Rake is worth 2 seconds.

If you really want to save weight, eat a few less chips; that’s the really cheap way to loose proper weight.

9. Buy the complete bike

It is amazing the equipment you can get on a sub £1,000 bike. If you spend £1,000 on a road bike, the constituent parts would cost you roughly double. Therefore, always try to buy the best bike you can and resist temptation to add expensive parts which only marginally add to performance.

10. Go down a groupset

The main difference between Shimano Ultegra and Shimano Dura Ace is about £500. The main difference between Dura Ace Di2 and Ultegra Di2 is about £1,500. If cyclists had to do ‘blind testing’ of different equipment, would we notice the difference? Probably not. I appreciate blind testing is difficult for bicycles, but if we were really honest, we would often struggle to notice the difference.

12. Do your own repairs

bike-in-stand

Rather than taking it down bike shop, and getting someone to do it for you, you can save quite a bit. Though with my experience is an amateur bike mechanic, this may prove a false economy. Also, compared to motor repairs, I’ve always found bike maintenance to be very cheap.

13. Ride the bike

croissant-on-the-commute

Croissant on the commute – cheaper than filling up car with petrol

 

The real way to get value for money from your bicycle is to ride it around town. Save money on the bus, save money on parking and petrol. Or even use a bike instead of owning a car. If you use a bike like this, it will pay for itself within a few months.

 

Conclusion

Cycling can be a very cheap method of transport. It is only in recent years, that we have been increasingly enticed to spend more on bicycles and bike components. However, I’m the worst culprit. I just like spending money on bicycles. Many times, I don’t really need to spend the money, but what else are you going to spend it on which will give as much joy? The only thing is if you’re on a tight budget, just remember the 24 hour record holder – a relatively cheap old steel frame. At the end of the day, it’s the human engine and not the size of your wallet, which makes a cycling champion. And if you’re not in the world of marginal gains, cycling can be very cheap indeed.

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Cycle deaths / casualties in the UK

A look at statistics for fatalities and casualties on the roads.

The past decade has seen a divergence between the rate of accidents for cycle users versus other types of users. Overall, road fatalities and casualties are falling, but cycle users are seeing a rise in the number of serious casualties

In the past 15 years, there has been a trend for cycling fatalities to fluctuate between 100 and 120. Serious casualties have seen a 31% increase.

Number of killed or seriously injured cyclists 2000-2013

2013 Overall Fatalities

Total fatalities

Significant fall in overall fatalities on UK roads.

  Continue Reading →

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Best road bikes under £1,000

Firstly, some general principles about buying a road bike for under £1,000.

  • It is a very competitive market segment with numerous bike companies offering several models. It is impossible to review anything like close to all the models available.
  • To some extent, many of the bikes in this price bracket will be quite similar. It is hard to find huge variances in quality and spec.
  • A more important question is to ask – where is best place to get a bike? What features do I want from a road bike? Have I left enough money for important extras.
  • Which is best material? Steel, Aluminium, Carbon fibre or even titanium? There are not many full carbon fibre bikes for under £1,000, but there are an increasing number of companies who can squeeze a carbon fibre bike under £1,000. I wouldn’t see it as essential. Also, it is not just the material, but how it is put together. You can get cheap carbon fibre frames and more expensive carbon fibre frames. To get a carbon fibre frame under £1,000 may lead to lower quality. Aluminium is very popular in this price bracket because it is cheap, strong and easy to mass produce. The disadvantage of aluminium is that it tends to give a bit of a ‘harsher’ ride – you notice more potholes. Aluminium is also harder to mould into attractive smooth lines (though new technology has led to improved Aluminium frames in recent years, and we are starting to see more Aluminium in top end road bikes)
  • Sportive vs Road bike. A sportive bike is a racing road bike, with slightly different geometry. They tend to have a taller headset to give a more upright and comfortable position. Racing bike geometry tends to make you lower – more aerodynamic and tends to be less comfortable. There is not a huge difference, but you can choose between comfort / speed. Sportive bikes also tend to be less stiff – absorbing more vibrations more comfortable ride. Finally sportives tend to have compact chainsets 50/34 – rather than bigger gears, such as 53/39.
  • Many £1,000 bikes have some cheap components, such as wheels and tyres to allow them to stay under £1,000. It means if you get into the road bike, you can consider later buying some better race wheels, which often provide a big upgrade on the cheaper wheels which come with the bike.

Cycle to work scheme

Bikes under £1,000 also fall under the UK governments cycle to work schemes. If your employer has signed up, you could save a significant amount (25%). If your employer hasn’t signed up, try and encourage them to!

Groupsets for bikes under £1.000

For bikes under £1,000 – the most common groupsets are Shimano Tiagra or Shimano 105. 105 is a very good groupset and comes fairly close to the performance standard of Ultegra and Dura Ace. It benefits from many ‘hand-me-down’ technology. 105 is probably as good as Dura Ace was many years ago. A very rough order of groupsets.

  • Shimano Claris (tends to be fitted to cheaper Hybrid bikes)
  • Shimano Sora (9 speed road bike groupset (£429)
  • Shimano Tiagra (now 10 speed) RRP £449
  • Shimano 105 (10 speed, now 11 speed) RRP £559

You can buy these groupsets cheaper than the list price, but it does shows that if you built up a bike from different parts, it would be more expensive than buying the full bike altogether.

 

Firstly my bikes which I bought under £1,000

Ribble Aluminium Frame-

winter-training-bike

I bought this over 10 years ago. It is is Aluminium frame, carbon fibre fork and Shimano 105 groupset. It came in at around £900 and I bought from Ribble Bike builder. I got a custom paint job. I raced on it for a few seasons, but has now become my winter training bike. All of the groupset has worn away several times, but I am still on the existing frame and fork. It has held up very well, despite taking a real battering. The paint on the carbon fork has started to peel away, but carbon fibre is inert and will not rust. The good thing about aluminium is that the odd dent, doesn’t impact on the frame too much (Unlike carbon fibre, where it can write-off the frame). Continue Reading →

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New York Cycle Lanes

The fine line between the car door and the SUV.

Where possible I try to look on the bright side of cycling. Look for the positives and avoid complaining about x, y and z. However, when cycling in America (more specifically, Jamaica / Forest Hills, Queens, New York) I always feel bad because it is hard to put a positive spin on it. Cycling in this part of the world is just tough. If you ever wondered why only 0.5% of journeys in America are by bicycle, just come and have a go yourself.

new-york-cycle-lane

This is a cycle lane on 164th Street. It is part of a recent attempt to offer some form of infrastructure for cyclists. The problem is that if you ride in the middle of the cycle lane, you are at risk of being hit by an opening car door. Most New Yorkers do not expect cyclists on the roads, so you have to expect the worst. It means when I cycle on this kind of cycle lane, I’m hugging the left curb of the cycle lane. I’m riding just to the inside of the left white painted line. If you stray an inch over into the road, you risk getting beeped like crazy. If you have cycle in the middle of the lane you risk getting hit by car door. You feel there is about 6 inches of the whole road, where it’s kind of OK to cycle and hope for the best.

watch-out-ny-cycle-lane

These cars are actually quite small by American standards. 50% of cars seem to be SUVs – which is understandable given the state of the roads. There are potholes galore. To be fair the winter in NY was really cold and tough, it means it’s a constant battle to repair the roads. Continue Reading →

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Shimano Dura Ace 9000 11sp Chainset

Not the most exciting post to get back into blogging, but you have to start somewhere.

When I got my new Trek Speed Concept it came with Shimano Dura Ace 9000 11 speed groupset. Because I have a Quark Elsa Power meter I have swapped them over, leaving a surplus Dura Ace Chainset.

dura-ace-9000-chainset-54-42

Good looking four armed crankset Continue Reading →

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Oxnop Scar

Oxnop Scar is a climb from Swaledale south towards Wensleydale. Typical of Yorkshire Dales climbs in this part of the world, there is a really steep section of 25%. The steep section is at the bottom, so you will be tired after that for the long remorseless climb towards the top.

The only thing that can be said about the first section is that , traffic permitting, you can take the hairpins wide to reduce the gradient a little. But, it is still quite brutal.

Looking back through some old photos, I found I did this climb a few years ago. In those days, I called it ‘a steep climb in Swaledale’. It was probably done after cycling up Fleet Moss and Buttertubs. The metres ascent can really add up in that part of the world.

  • Location: Swaledale, North Yorkshire
  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Avg grade 6%
  • Max Grade: 25.0%
  • Elev Gain: 236m
  • 100 hills #46
  • Everesting? 36.7 laps – Total distance 183 miles (BTW: useful site http://everesting.io

Photos of the Oxnop climb

bike

Swaledale is a great valley. This was taken at the foot of the climb.

 

oxnop-25-percent

25% sign is well merited. Continue Reading →

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Tips for beginner cyclists

For those just starting to get into road cycling, these are a few tips from my own experience of riding a bike for past 20 years.

Buying a bike

The first place to start is with buying a road bike. You don’t have to spend a fortune. For an entry level road bike, I would advise selecting a budget and sticking to that. Anything in the range of £500 to £1,200 is a very good starting point for an entry level road bike.

bike

  • I have tested a few sub £500 bikes, and they are fairly decent. If you want to get started in road cycling, don’t worry if your budget is only £500. I have bought a Specialized Allez road bike (£600) to use when in New York, and it gives a good enough riding experience for my training over in the US.

Continue Reading →

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Chain Lubrication

chain-lubes

I currently have five different chain lubes on my shelf at the moment. I’m not sure why I have accumulated so many. But, it gives me something to review.

GT-85

gt-85You will find GT-85  in many bike shops and is one of the most popular thin water-displacers. It is excellent as a water displacer and thin lubricant. It is easy to spray on and will prevent rust. After a wet ride, I will give a good spray and spin the chain, allowing water to come off. GT-85 is quite economical, a large 400ml can last quite a long time. However, because it is quite thin, it doesn’t give too much ‘lube’ to chains and as a result, if you rely on it to lube your chain, you can wear through chains quite quick.

It is best not to use this as a lube, but it is good to have around for other purposes.

GT-85 is one of the best sprays for brakes and cables – It helps resist rust, keeps things moving and won’t attract too much dirt. It doesn’t leave much of a residue.

Also, GT-85 makes an excellent way to clean and polish your frame, spray some on, and give a quick polish. You will be pleasantly surprised at how clean it may get. Also, if you do spray on the bike and components, it makes it easier to clean next time.

Great for cleaning, water displacing and using on components, but don’t rely on for overall lubrication.

GT-85 £3.49 (wiggle.co.uk)

TF2 Lubricant

I bought this from Reg Taylor when they recommended as a better chain lube than GT-85 (which I was using at the time). It is a bit denser and stays on the chain well, making it better for long-distance cycling. The added ingredient of Teflon helps to prevent the accumulation of dirt. You can also get this lubricant in non spray form. It is a good all-rounder, if you wanted to get just one chain lube TF2 would fit many of your needs.

I was using this over a wet winter in England, and to be honest, it required quite frequent reapplications. The chain on my commuting bike would often get dry and rusty – despite using chain. On training bike, the chain also ended up quite dry and a little noisy. I’ve seen people claim one lube can last 400 miles, I couldn’t verify this over winter. I would have been better off with a heavier ‘wet ride’ chainlube. On the positive side the chain remains clean and easy to handle.

It will be fine for commuting bike except during very wet winter months. Continue Reading →

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