First cycle ride of 2020

Yesterday, of all days, I managed to go on my first bicycle ride of 2020. It was a wonderful spring day, crisp, clear and not too much traffic either.

trek-brill

I have been happily commuting into town but it’s not the same as a ‘proper bike ride’ Perhaps the news the Spanish and Italians are currently prohibited from cycling encouraged me to don the lycra and finally make a proper ride. As quite a few have observed – we often only appreciate what we have, when it starts getting taken away from you.

selfie-tejvan
I take a selfie every five years. The last one was on the Tourmalet (2015)

These are unusual times. The kind of thing that happens elsewhere or in the past, not the kind of thing we ever expect will happen to us. On the positive side, I was well stocked up on toilet paper well before the crisis started. I have a plan to make it through the whole thing without ever buying any loo roll, that will be my contribution to the Great Britain supply chain. (plus planting more potatoes.)

As I consider how to spend the next few months primarily from home, thoughts turn to life under virtual house arrest. I have the last two episodes of Paris-Nice recorded, which I am currently watching for five minutes a day. At this rate, I will make it through to September (don’t tell me who won!) where hopefully we might be back to normal. If Eurosport had any sense, they would be digging out old one-day classics from the past. Usually their repeat schedule is nothing more imaginative than last year. Just about the only results I can remember are last years and they are the repeats I least want to watch. But, to be honest, I can’t watch tv any more. Drama and films seem to futile when you can watch Planet Earth – Season 21 for free. There are so many plot lines and twists, it’s hard to keep up. Though if I was writing the script I would let the good guys win a bit more often.

Born in 1976, I have never lived through any kind of crisis, so it is all unchartered. Personally I’m not worried for myself. But, I am concerned on behalf of many others in more perilous positions. If anything good can come from this challenge – it is to bring to the fore a collective spirit, the idea we are all in it together and rather rushing to buy more loo roll, see what our elderly neighbours might need. Looking for silver linings is pretty hard, but I’m glad to see experts are valued again. And telling the truth and human empathy once more back in vogue. It will be a difficult few months for everyone but a little kindness and thoughtfulness can go a long way to making it more bearable.

And if you run out of loo roll, get in contact and I will tell you a few secrets that only ultra-long distance cyclists know about!

 

Best commuting bike under £500

electra-loft-7d-2016-womens-hybrid-bike-yellow-EV262778-1000-1

For £500, you can get a pretty decent commuting bike. Personally, I wouldn’t be keen to spend much more than £500 for a commuting bike. If you lock the bike up in town, there is an increased chance of theft, so with just a £500, you get more peace of mind than you would if you had spent over a £1,000.

I bought a very nice commuting bike in 1999 for about £550 (It was a Trek) but it got stolen from the back of my house. I bought a second hand bike (Trek 1000) from a neighbour for £200 as a temporary stop gap. 17 years later, I’m still riding this temporary stopgap. It is essentially an aluminium road bike, adapted for commuting. I often check out alternative commuting bikes and have test ridden a few, partly for this blog, partly for interest in ‘upgrading’ my commuting bike.

There is a great choice of commuting bikes for under £500. I would separate the choices into:

tl
The most common bike is variations on the hybrid – cross between MTB and road bike, giving maximum functionality needed for commuting.
  1. Classic / Retro Style Bikes – Look cool, great joy to have. Slower. heavier. A bit more expensive. Not great quality at less than £500.
  2. Hybrid Bikes – best value. Most practical, most widely bought. Cheap prices due to economies of scale.
  3. Mountain Bikes – Good for rough terrain like canal paths. Wider tyres are slower. FOr under £500, you won’t get a ‘real’ mountain bike, more like a hybrid geared towards the MTB range.
  4. Road Bikes – Faster, narrower tyres, more aggressive riding position, but less stable than hybrid bikes. Useful for longer commutes and those wishing to combine commuting with training.
  5. Single Speed Bikes – Easy to maintain. Look cool. More expensive (not many under £500). Not good if you have lots of hills!
  6. Foldups – Useful for those commuting by train. Limited choice for under £500. Certainly, no Bromptons come under this price range.

Read moreBest commuting bike under £500

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

Best tubular tyres

vittoria-corsa-sc-tub

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 tradeoff 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 tradeoffs!. 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 narrow 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.

Read moreBest tubular tyres

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

Dusting bike down from the loft

My road bike had a mechanical so I got my time trial bike down from the loft. It has been up there since July 2016. It is the first time I have dusted a bicycle rather than clean it. If not cobwebs and dead spiders, it was covered with plenty of accumulated dust. Fortunately, after a quick clean and charging the electronic gears, it ran as good as new.

Riding a time trial bike can hurt parts of the body – that a road bike can’t reach. If you are unused to riding in a TT position, it is wise to break yourself in gently. But, I have been enjoying my newfound sense of freedom and had my heart on reaching Chipping Norton a good 60 mile round trip on undulating roads.

After slogging into a headwind for the first 30 miles, there was a light tailwind to push me along the return home. There is a great downhill run from Chipping Norton to Charlbury and then Islip. Apart from a few short climbs, you can get up a good speed with a TT bike and tailwind.

I stopped on one occasion to get some blackberries for food.

Read moreDusting bike down from the loft

A return to Chinnor hill

This week I was invited to an interview about hill climbs by a local Oxford photographer Maciek Tomiczek and his friend Nick. Maciek rides for a local Oxford club, Cowley Road Condors and became interested in the discipline of hill climbs. As a result, he is planning to make a short film about hill climbs. He has already interviewed Darryl Webster, and I believe a few more people will be interviewed.

chinnor-corner-2
Chinnor Hill

It was auspicious timing for me to talk about the motivation, enjoyment and challenge of hill climbs, as for the first time in three years, I’ve been able to cycle hard without suffering from any significant physical problem.

After a few weeks of cycling up and down some local hills, I’m quite surprised how quickly old fitness and form return. In fact, it’s returning so quickly, I’m starting to regret booking an expensive Eurostar train to Paris on the last weekend of October. I haven’t given any thought to racing, as I wanted to get rid of all niggles and pains before getting tempted to push it too quickly, too early. I’m busy every weekend in October apart from 5th and 6th. I wonder if there is a local club hill climb that weekend? That would be fun.

The interesting thing for me is that the enthusiasm for training and racing up hills feels undimmed, and I’m enjoying being able to go out. Its good to be able to rediscover my favourite climbs around Brill and the Chilterns. Who knows what will happen next, but I hope to maintain and improve fitness for next year. (I will write on my FAI experiences in the coming weeks.)

tejvan-autlier-500
Photo: Maciek

This week, Maciek also wanted to video me in action. So we went to Chinnor hill to get a few different angles and video shots. It was interesting to revisit Chinnor for the first time in ages. I’ve done a fair few intervals there over the years. I also remember watching the Tour of Britain race up there a few years ago. It was a windy, showery, early Autumn day – quite evocative of the hill climb season. One question, I remember talking about is the memories of doing hill climbs. For me, the abiding memory is nothing about the pain of doing the event. More than anything, the impression that stays in my mind is the scenery and the hills. It’s true you suffer when racing, but as soon as it finishes, I always seem to forget that aspect and you focus on the afterglow of making a good effort.

I turn off Strava notifications, and I try not to even notice if old records stay or go. I think after all these years, some records are still in place. But, hill climbs are popular like never before and a whole new generation of fast riders are coming along. It is good to see. There is a fair few good riders in Oxford, from Zero BC who like to test themselves up Brill. My favourite cycling philosophy is that ‘there’s always somebody better than you.’ (with exception of Eddy Merckx.)

I happened to catch the men U23 world race championship in Yorkshire – very impressed by the race. Epic Yorkshire conditions. Should be a good weekend for women and mens championship.

Recently a reader asked for routes around Oxford, I don’t have any in GPS form, but this is a good starting point for rides from Oxford.

Local routes by Condor Cycles

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