Little Rissington

Yesterday was the longest day of the year and many seemed to have availed the opportunity to post monster rides 200km. It seems if you’re not everesting your local hill, it’s just a recovery ride these days. I managed my own ‘epic’ ride, a relatively modest 70 miles to Bourton on the Water. It was an enjoyable ride – good weather, good tempo and nice to get to roads and parts of the Cotswolds I’ve seen very little of in the past few years.

bourton-on-water

Since trying to get back into cycling this year my rides have tended to be either very fast or very short and slow. I’ve had difficulty recovering from rides, so tend to go out every three days. If I only go out 2 or 3 times a week, I like to cycle fast because that is what I enjoy most.  That’s my logic anyway.

When I had a bad injury, people asked about an e-bike. It would be nice to see the countryside, but I can’t see myself using one. For me, the real attraction of cycling is making a big effort and trying to improve fitness. The scenery by the side of the road is secondary – though with days like yesterday definitely a big bonus.

Fast roads of new roads?

When riding I tend to choose well-travelled routes which minimise stopping, right turns and traffic jams. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Oxfordshire roads and which can enable you to cycle a long way without having to stop. Even after all these years, I like to see a good average speed, and often start my Garmin after getting the slow two miles out of town.

Sometimes I like to try and go on new roads, but I generally end up back on the tried and test roads which give the best momentum. The ideal is to cycle an hour into a headwind and then fly back on some B road. It can be flat or hilly. The main thing is the feeling of speed and effort.

After all these short fast rides, I wanted to do a different kind of ride to Bourton, no big efforts, just steady pace and do the highest mileage for a couple of years. I made it to the beautiful village of Bourton on the Water and it seems many others had the same idea. After months of being cooked up inside, it is understandable people wished to stretch their legs. I didn’t hang around in Bourton though, the queue for the ice-cream takeaway seemed to snake around half the village.

There was only one big climb of the day, through Little Rissington. It is one of those climbs, where you can go pretty quick because it’s not too steep, there are a few corners to accelerate out of in the village and it makes a really quite nice climb. I would have stopped to take a photo, but once your cycling uphill, you don’t want to stop your momentum and lose your precious average speed.

Little Rissington climb

  • Location: Little Rissington, Cotswolds
  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Average gradient: 5%
  • Maximum gradient: 12%
  • Height gain 117 m
  • 100 climbs: 102
  • Strava segment
  • Direction: East

Veloviewer

Strava

Cycling and hayfever

Hayfever can be a minor irritation for many cyclists during the peak pollen months of summer, but it can also become debilitating in severe cases. I have experienced mild hayfever for several years. Usually I suffer at the end of the ride when my nose starts streaming for 30-60 mins. But during the past week, with high pollen counts, I’ve experienced more severe symptoms even when cycling. In terms of treatment for hayfever, I have relied on cetirizine hydrochloride (Piriteze) I usually take when it is bad. But, last weekend, it didn’t make much difference, so I looked into more possible solutions. (Vaseline around nose and Fluticasone propionate nasal spray)

Rise of hayfever

Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a rise in cases of hayfever with one study by charity Allergy UK warning over 30 million adults could suffer hayfever by 2030. Interestingly the first known recorded case of hayfever was not recorded until the nineteenth century by John Bostock who in March 1819 presented an interesting case to the Medical and Chirurgical Society: ‘Case of a periodical affection of the eyes and chest.’ It seems to be a modern phenomena and something about modern life is making it worse.

Suggested reasons for the rise in hayfever include:

  • Rise in air pollution which combined with pollen acts as a greater irritant.
  • Children spending less time outdoors and so not developing the same level of natural immunity to pollen.
  • Climate change – warmer summers create more smogs and lead to higher pollen counts
  • Change in diet – non-organic GMO food, industrial farming causing internal allergies to things like pollen.

Read moreCycling and hayfever

Broken rear mech hanger after gears stuck in wheel

In the past two months, I have been making good progress with cycling. Ironically, lockdown discouraged me from cycling into town so instead, I went out into the countryside and have been going further and faster. I still take care of back and hips and follow a disciplined routine of stretching, essentric exercises and all-round strengthening. I have worked hard to find new exercises to work on any weak part of my body. I’ve had many false dawns in past four years, but feel reasonably hopeful.

toot-baldon
A nice ride out to Toot Baldon

In fact, progress has been so good I decided to get the time trial bike down from the loft. Over the past four years I have toyed with selling the bike, but the loss of value selling on the second-hand market always dissuaded me. Plus I really enjoy riding the time trial bike. I find it as comfortable as a road bike, but you get an extra 1-2mph free speed. There’s nothing better than flying along a bit of road with a nice tailwind and body in good shape. Despite only a couple of months of training, I have felt quite fast.

Yesterday I went out to Brill hills for one of my favourite circuits around Brill, Chilton, Chearsely, Ashenden and Dorton. The ride was going very well. Perfect weather and I felt some of the old form going up the climbs. On my final climb up to Brill I had a bad gear change and then a pretty brutal clunk as the rear mech went into the wheel and tore off part of the frame. In one sense it was an innocuous little accident, but devastating for the bicycle. Update, it looks like it is just rear mech hanger (not frame) I had to ring for a taxi and get a lift home. £55 for a taxi, but that is just the start. I shall contact Trek UK to see if they can help.

I was stranded by the roadside and tried to shorten the chain to make it work without gear mech, but it was a fruitless effort and I only succeeded in smearing oil all over my hands and clothes. I walked up the hill to a nearby house so I could work out the postcode and exact address. A nice man seemed to see my predicament and from suitable distance told me the address. I sat on the grass and watched a few other cyclists go up to Brill; it was quite a popular place to be cycling. Brill is becoming a place of bad luck. I remember having to get another taxi from Brill a couple of years ago for a similar situation (Broken chain).

Read moreBroken rear mech hanger after gears stuck in wheel

Cycling during lockdown

In the past six weeks, I have stopped commuting into town on the river path because – there’s no reason to go into town, plus cycle paths are relatively crowded these days. It sounds a strange thing to say, but it feels much safer on the roads these days.

Traffic levels are definitely down, a few times I have been on so-called busy roads around Oxford and they have been relatively quiet. Whilst traffic levels are down on usual, there seem to be a lot more cyclists. Last weekend there seemed to be quite a few newbies, enjoying the opportunity to escape the confines of home. Mostly people are out alone, apart from the odd couple or family with children. When I overtake people, I leave a large gap. Travelling at speed two meters behind might not be enough.

The other day I was cycling up a hill (relatively fast) when another cyclist in a Team Sky replica jersey went flying past me. In any other circumstance I would jump on his wheel like a limpet to a magnet, but the government has literally outlawed wheelsucking (And not before time too!) so I had to watch as the Sky jersey slowly disappeared into the distance. Even though they have sold thousands of replica jerseys, you can’t help but secretly wonder – was it perhaps Geraint Thomas or Luke Rowe doing a very cheeky 200-mile ride from Wales? Alas, no, it was just an everyday cyclist reminding me that no one remains king of the hill for very long.

In a time of real suffering for many, there’s a part of you that questions whether you should be ‘enjoying’ cycling. I remember when 1,000 deaths a day were reported in Italy, it sounded horrifying. But, when it happens in your own country there is often a surreal distance from the suffering which occurs mostly out of view.

But overall, I feel the mental and physical benefits of solo cycling on the road outweigh the potential downsides and think it is good people have the opportunity to exercise at least once a day.

Many people are noticing a dramatic improvement in air quality. One study suggests the fall in traffic levels and pollution could save – 11,000 lives across Europe from health problems related to air pollution. On top of that fatal accidents are down. Hopefully, in a post-COVID world, we will try to re-evaluate what is important and endeavour to maintain lower pollution levels and lower traffic accidents, even as economic activity returns.

As a time triallist and self-employed writer, I am more used to the solitary existence both on the bike and in the work environment. But, after six weeks (or is it seven now?) there is something of a wistful desire to return to normal life and meet people in person rather than through the prism of electronic screens. Unfortunately, the current situation does not seem to have a quick fix.  It’s going to be a challenging few months, if not years.

M40 empty
An empty M40 last Sunday.

BTW: the most popular articles on my economics website, is how much can a government print money? (the good news is – quite a lot!)

Stay safe!

Time Trial Records

A compilation of time trial records.  Updated 2020.

Marcin Bialoblocki (One Pro Cycling) a Polish national racing in the UK smashed the previous record held by Alex Dowsett and James Gullen of 17.20 – setting a new time of 16.35. Anna Turvey Tyneside Vagabonds CC) also set a new womens record of 19.08. Results CTT. The next day Bialoblocki set a new 25 mile record of 44.04. A few weeks later, Hayley Simmonds was the first women to go under 19 mins, setting a record of 18.36.

10 Mile Time Trial

  • Marcin Bialoblocki – 16-35 – Course V718 10/09/2016 – 36.2 mph (450 watts)
  • Alex Dowsett (Movistar)- 17.20 – Course E2/10 – 01/06/2014
  • Michael Hutchinson – 17-45 – Course – V718  – 26/08/2012 (33.8 mph)
  • Michael Hutchinson  – 17.57 – Course: V718 – 24/07/2010
  • Bradley Wiggins –         17.58 – Course: Levens 16/09/2006 (33.4mph)
  • James Gullen – 17.09 – Course V719 – 11/09/2016

25 Mile TT

  • Marcin Bialoblocki44.04 – R25/3H – 11/09/2016 – 34.04 mph
  • Alex Dowsett              – 44.29  – E2/25 –  29/05/16
  • Matt Bottrill –             – 45.43  R25/3L 07/09/14
  • Michael Hutchinson – 45:46  Port Talbot Wheelers 25 09/09/2012
  • Dave McCann           –  45-54Course R25/3 20/09/2009
  • Chris Boardman       –  45.57 – Oxford University
  • Sean Yates                  – 46-57  – H25/13  28/09/1997
  • Alf Engers                    – 49-24 – E72

Read moreTime Trial Records

Speedplay pedals review long term

speedplay-pedal-grease

I started using Speedplay pedals back in 2006. I wrote the first review in 2008. This is an updated review after using them for nearly fourteen years.

Summary

speedplay Speedplay pedals are very good to ride on. They took a little bit of getting used to (like floating on ice is common feeling), but now I don’t want to go to any other system. They are light, small and easy to use. I’ve never had any problems when actually cycling with them, and since pedalling is so important, this makes me want to like them and overcome any faults they may have.  The main drawback of Speedplay pedals is that they have been an expensive choice. In particular, they are more prone to long-term maintenance problems. Three times I’ve had to throw away a pair because the internal bearings seized up (it was always the left pedal which went. So I have three spare right pedals lying around).

I once complained to Speedplay and someone from America rang up to say they never get maintenance problems if you look after them and pursue regular maintenance – using grease gun and lube. I was disappointed I couldn’t buy a spare left-hand pedal to match up my surplus right pedals.

If you do buy Speedplay, it is really essential, you learn to grease and lube regularly; I wish I had done earlier.

Why I Switched to Speedplay

My first clipless pedals were the more common Look pedals. The reason I switched to Speedplay pedals was:

  1. I had some problems with my knees and (rightly or wrongly) I blamed the Look pedals and the way my movement was restricted. I liked the idea of having a large angle of float that comes with Speedplay
  2. I wanted to save weight. Speedplay comes in at 205 grams and 150 grams for Titanium version. These were the lightest pedals on the market, at the time. However, the gap between the weight of Speedplay and Look has been reduced with the introduction of new models like the Look Keo. At 240 grams + cleats they offer good value for money at only £39.99
  3. Very aerodynamic – pedal is small surface area.
  4. Cleats are easy to set up. I always found the Look cleats a bit fiddly to get in the right position. If they were slightly out, it could cause problems. Speedplay are much easier to set up because of the greater degree of lateral movement.
  5. Optimal power transference because the pedal is encased in the shoe with minimal stack height. Whether there actually is better power transfer, I don’t know. But, it does feel good.
  6. I like many aspects of  Speedplay Zero Aero – and may buy if I get back into racing.

Using Speedplay

I have been very happy with the Speedplay. They are definitely a little strange when you first test them. But, it is amazing how quickly you can get used to the large float. Cycling with Speedplay feels very natural. Some might feel the large degree of float makes it harder when sprinting.

Read moreSpeedplay pedals review long term

Autumn photos

autumn
A recent ride to Watlington was good. This is from the top of Aston Hill

I think the last time I posted I was toying with a very last-minute entry to the National Hill Climb on Haytor Vale. For a few years, the idea of a national hill climb on a long climb like Haytor was a very far distant carrot to try and get fit. One last hurrah, so to speak. It’s the kind of long climb that only comes around once every seven years or so. But, in the end, it was not to be. Even if I managed to make a last-minute dash for fitness, I don’t think I would have been troubling the timekeepers at the business end of the results board.

The 2019 on National looks like it was a great event. With worthy winners of Ed Laverack and Hayley Simmonds.

SI Joint / top of pelvis

I enjoyed a brief resurgence in September but – as if to make the decision for entering national for me – old problems returned two days before the deadline. It’s a pain in the lower back by the top of the pelvis, going down to SI joint. I always assumed it was related to FAI and problem on right hip. But, now I think it’s a completely separate problem. The outer hip is mostly fine since the operation, but it has done nothing for this other problem. It’s kind of like one down two to go. (+ dodgy hamstring). I suppose it was still good to have the operation, but on cycling front, not much is actually that different.

Exercises for SI Joint / Muscle issue

I’ve been up Aston Hill many times, but this is the first time I’ve stopped to take a photo

I’ve scoured the internet, plus all my physios and have an impressive collection of exercises, strengthening posture improvement efforts – related to addressing this issue. In lieu of cycling, I’ve developed a regular morning routine, yoga, strengthening e.t.c. As a result, my core strength is better now than at any previous time. It must help a little, but hasn’t shifted since three years of trying.

Last year, I announced a retirement whilst at the same time retaining a secret hope of returning to top form and even regaining former glories. But, now it feels more like time really is up and rather than frustrated at what is not, you start to appreciate the advantages of not actually killing yourself to try and be on top form. It’s kind of liberating to look out of the window, see the rain and say, well I don’t have to go out today – not even on the rollers!

Cycling

I am still cycling as much as relative comfort allows. Most of it involves cycling to Oxford. My daily commute gets longer and longer, even if it involves going round and round very small hilly loops. I still get great joy from accumulating miles, a daily commute of 10-13 miles, adds up and last week I made 113 miles. Occasionally, if the rain relents, I might go out for a longer ride. I always think, that before the final leaf fall, this is a great time for cycling.

Streatley hill – National Hill Climb Championship 2020

Next year the National Hill Climb Championship is on Streatley Hill. Short and steep

Limitations of stretching

As a side dish to the hip problem. I’ve had a bad hamstring for the past 12 months. I was doing some exercises to strengthen muscles last year when the next day I had a mild hamstring strain. It was one of those strains which is not really painful, and you think it should get better in a few days, weeks. But, whatever I did, it hung around. When I tried to cycle hard, it got worse. I tried

  • Rest – including no exercise for two months over winter.
  • Stretching – frequent and persistent stretching. When I first tried, I couldn’t reach my ankles. But, now I can get all fingers to the ground. I stretched hamstring three times a day for nine months.
  • Strength training. I progressed slowly and steadily with the Hungarian dead-lift – which is a good exercise for strengthening the hamstrings. I also bought a balance ball for another hamstring exercise. I did other exercises for all-round balanced leg and hip strength.

Since none of this made a difference. I tried osteopath and massage. I also tried trigger point therapy, where you feel for painful parts in the muscles and press it – to relieve the pressure. I did this self trigger point therapy quite a few times. One osteopath was good, and it got better for a few days, but within a week it had returned exactly the same as before.

I couldn’t understand why if you do all these things you are supposed to do, it remained stubbornly the same. Anyway, a friend in New York recommended a practitioner who offers an alternative to physical therapy – based on kinesiology. It was reassuringly expensive at $500. But, since I’ve not been buying any expensive bike components in the past few years, I thought why not. I’ve spent more on medical treatments, which haven’t worked.

Read moreLimitations of stretching

Kettlewell to Ilkley

Yesterday I made it up to Kettlewell, which is the furthest I’ve ridden for a long while. I had an operation on my hip this May, which went reasonably well. I still have a few persistent niggles, so it is a bit start and stop. But, yesterday was an enjoyable ride.

On a good September afternoon, with a light tailwind pushing you along – the run from Kettlewell, Grassington, Burnsall, Ilkley, Menston is one of the great joys of cycling. A few short hills, long winding fast descents. If you have the power to get up the little drags, you can really fly home as the amazing scenery wizzes by. Some of the run from Burnsall look different to the last time I was up here as trees have been chopped down on one side and have grown on the other.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, my Shimano Dura-Ace battery started to die on the way out. I don’t think I’ve charged it up all year. The problem with not cycling very much is you get out of the habit. I don’t think I’ve changed the chain for two years… But it seems to keep moving.

Read moreKettlewell to Ilkley

Supporting the French

It’s been a really great Tour de France. I’ve even found myself supporting the French! But, now it reaches the third week, I hope Geraint Thomas comes strong and nips past both the French riders on the last day in the Alps. I don’t think it is so much supporting the French as hoping for an interesting race, where many riders are in contention and with each stage, you can never be sure how it unfolds. Also, it makes a huge difference when one team doesn’t have a dominant mountain train to discourage any and every attack.

Tour de France stage 2

It has always been a shame that the Tour de France is usually the ‘flattest’ of all Grand Tours. The Giro and Vuelta rarely fail to give real interest in the GC, but – despite the odd edition, the Tour de France GC usually ends up being fairly predictable. But, this year it is all up in the air and there seems to be a lot more positive energy around the tour. Crashes are down; there isn’t even any doping saga hanging over the tour.

I think the organisers are finally cottoning on to the idea that seven flat sprint stages don’t make for great tv. I expect for the next few years; there will be a lot of Alaphillipe style stages with short viciously steeps climbs just before the finish. If the Tour is short of ideas, I would recommend going back to Yorkshire for a good week!

tormalet

Watching the tour go up the Tourmalet was a great experience. It is one of the few Alpine* style climbs I’ve ridden – what an amazing amphitheatre for sport. In terms of drama, it couldn’t match Sunday and other previous stages, but I was just enthralled by the spectacle and scenery. How I would like to be climbing up the Tourmalet on top form.

Nobody can predict with any certainty how the next week will unfold, but there is an old adage in the tour, that the best guide is a rider’s record in previous Grand Tours. Form and panache are one thing, but does the rider have the staying power for three weeks? With this in mind, I would put my money on Geraint Thomas – but not very much. He’s still struggling to gain the leadership of Team Ineos. But, a big thing in his favour is the proven ability to stay strong for a whole three-week tour. It is possible that the Alpine climbs (which are not quite as steep as the Pyrenees, will suit Thomas more than the Pyrenees.

Bernal, Alaphillipe, Buchman, Landa and to a lesser extent Kruijswijk all look very good, but as of yet, they don’t have a strong track record of winning a Grand Tour. If Alaphillipe cracks in the Alps, it will be easy to say we all expected it. But, if he doesn’t crack we will also say – well he had such good form why would he crack? It always looks obvious after the event. Anyway, the school holidays are here. A rest day today, Tuesday flat stage, but who knows a strong wind could make it very interesting.

 

(* I know the Tourmalet is in the Pyrenees, but I always find Pyreanean an intimidating word to spell.)