Race Blade Pro XL Mudguards Review

race-blade-xl

I’ve been a big fan of clip-on mudguards for many years. However, they do have a habit of breaking after several years of use. Parking bikes in Oxford is a bit rough and tumble, so these flexible mudguards tend to get a bit battered.

old-battered-mudguards

I got a few coats dirty using this depleted mudguard. Definitely time for an ugrade

With my rear mudguard snapped in half, it was a good excuse to upgrade to the latest model – Race Blade Pro XL. Continue Reading →

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Bali bicycle

I spent a few weeks in Bali. No cycling, though a little swimming in the ocean, which was nice.

There were not many bicycles in Bali, which is probably due to the dangers of road traffic here.

I did meet this chap cycling on his bike. He was cycling so slowly I could keep up with him by walking very fast. I admired his poise. Impatient traffic was beeping him loudly as they wanted to squeeze past on these narrow roads, but he seemed completely unmoved. If it was me, I might have tried cycling a little faster, but he never altered his speed or position on the road.

In Bali, there are many mopeds on the roads, and you can sometimes see a family of four squeezed onto the back of one – usually without any crash hats.

Roundabouts also have a different meaning in Bali, you don’t go around the roundabout, but just straight to your preferred exit – contraflow so to speak. It was interesting to see – though not something I would be particularly inclined to cycle in.

 

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Best tubular tyres

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

  1. Low cCost
  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

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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. Continue Reading →

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Comments

Thanks for kind comments on the recent post about retirement. In particular, thanks for those comments from those who have experienced a similar issue and made a recovery. It is very encouraging to hear. Perhaps my initial understanding was overly pessimistic. It seems self-diagnosis on the internet is not an entirely reliable method of medical diagnosis – who would have thought?

Anyway, I will definitely explore all options and hope that sometime I will be writing on something other than this hip.


One golden law of the internet is “Never read the comments” As a general rule, in the internet comment sections lurk the darker side of human nature. But, there is always an exception to any rule, and comments on cyclinguphill have often been very thoughtful and useful.  It’s also good to know people have picked up a few things from the blog over the years. It is a nice coincidence, that since I started blogging about hill climbs there has been an increase in interest and participation (I remember days when you would often get start lists of 9-10 people) with big fields across the country.

When you ponder retirement, you become aware of how much value there is in participating in cycle sport – not so much from the goal of winning and picking up the odd cheque for £20 with a free cup of tea – but to meet fellow cyclists who share a similar love of the sport.

The Cotswolds

As a general rule, I don’t think about the past. But, injury can make you a little more reflective. Sometimes images come of cycling through the Cotswolds, driving up to the Peak District or racing up quiet hills in Yorkshire. It is evocative of good times spent on the bike.

Stang

Well, enough of self-reflection, I have a tickly cough, so I have to go and do some research on the world wide web and find out what major disease I have. (only kidding mother!)

 

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The end of the road

After two years of diligently doing all kinds of exercises only to see a gradual decline in my hip, I went for another X-Ray – thinking there might be some kind of structural defect. This time the doctor said the hip showed femoroacetabular impingement. I think in layman’s terms they mean bone spur, so when the hip moves – bones move against each other causing problems. Unfortunately, no amount of rest or exercises can solve this extra-bone misalignment. Apparently, it is quite common, but if you exercise a lot, it can aggravate the situation and you notice it much earlier than a non-active person.

If it is bad enough – there is the possibility of surgery, but even if I do have surgery, and even if successful, the days of time trials and hill climb intervals are, unfortunately, over. I don’t believe surgery can take you back to complete recovery.

If anything it tends to deteriorate over time, and there is a higher probability of causing osteoarthritis, so the motivation of riding through pain and damaging cartilage is not that appealing.

I did look into Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) – the idea it is mainly false signals from the brain which are sending pain when it is not needed. I was really hoping this was the case. I definitely believe TMS is a real situation, but in my case, many things didn’t add up. I don’t have any kind of meaningful stress which could be causing it. It’s been painful sitting for a long time. Now I understand why I’m always squirming around seats and find long-distance driving a pain.

The funny thing is that since diagnosis, it feels worse – so there is probably some mental aspect in addition. In one sense, it is good to have a diagnosis, but I kind of preferred the previous glimmer of hope and belief there was nothing fundamentally wrong. I’m not sure why the MRI scan I had ten months ago didn’t show anything.

I know it could be a lot worse and all that, but it’s hard to avoid the fact it is a major disappointment. Make a couple of jokes about turning Vet, and before you know it the body has shut up shop 40 years early. I definitely could see myself competing as a ‘super vet.’ Even until this week, I still retained pretensions of being competitive in next years national hill climb championship. Of course, there are always other things to do, but it is hard to replicate the joy of cycling, visiting races, meeting cyclists, taking part and pushing the body to its limits. I have already looked into e-bikes, but was discouraged by a top speed of only 15mph. Anyway, it’s not the same.

I will continue to post a bit about cycling around Oxford.

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River Cycle Path

With limited opportunities for cycling, I am enjoying the revamped cycle path along the River Thames.

bike-path

The path used to get very muddy in winter, making it unattractive as a place to cycle. Also, it used to be about two people wide. The council have widened the path by a couple of feet (making it effectively three people wide). They have also laid a new surface – tarmac with loose chippings.

Both improvements make a big difference. The chippings are not slippy (unless perhaps you were racing), but they do slow you down by 1 or 2 mph compared to smooth tarmac. But, given it is a shared path, that is a good thing. The extra two feet makes a big difference. As you can now pass a couple on the path without them having to move. The extra space is great for both cyclists, pedestrians, dog walkers and rowing coaches who cycle slowly along the path looking at the river and not where they are going.

 

I am trying to do more cycling, but usually don’t feel like a ‘proper ride’ So I have been getting more miles in by relying on cycling into town and around Oxford. I have started cycling to Iffley lock – which is in the opposite direction to town, but you then get an interrupted run along the river path all the way to Abingdon Road. It has increased the commute from 2.5 miles to 4.0 miles, but it hardly takes any longer. The shortest route has quite a few crossings and traffic lights. The longer way on the path is much less interrupted. I go at a steady pace on the path, but it is quicker because you aren’t waiting for minutes at lights and junctions. It’s not rocket science, but when we measure the time of a journey, we tend to look closely at a distance rather than average speed.

path-by-river

Old narrower path

The old narrow path

In this age of austerity, it is great the council are able to pay for a project like this. It is a relatively small investment but has made a big improvement in the quality of commuting. The biggest advantage of course is that you can cycle without any traffic. Sometimes you need to slow at pinch points – for when crews bring out boats to the river or if there are many people on the path, but I’m not in a rush and happy to go slow.

Views from the cycle path

The other side of the river

St Mary’s Church and Radcliffe Camera

Mid winter and frost.

Autumn at the Head of the River.

Related

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Alf Engers – ‘I Like Alf’ – book review

i-like-alfYou can’t do time trialling in the UK without becoming dimly aware of a mythical figure called Alf Engers. Emerging out of that ‘golden age’ of the 60s and 70s when timetrials ruled the road, you pick up the odd snatched comments about the first sub-50 minute 25 mile TT on a road bike (no TT bars). Riding in the middle of the road. Brushes with authority. The London baker doing a night-shift to 3 am and then breaking records at 6 am. Even now, as the author mentions, you can still hear the phrase “But, what would Alf Engers have done?”

It all amounts to whispers from the past and, in the absence of direct testimony, you place your subjective impressions above any reality. Muffled opinions in between the course codes and obscure regulations. The funny thing is whenever I met the late John Woodburn, he would always tell me how he had to start a time trial with a working bell, and when he got around the corner from the start-keeper, he would throw it off in disgust. It’s a shame I never asked about his times racing with Alf Engers. It never occurred to me, but that’s one of the many things I learnt from the book.

The thing about legends of the past is that you never quite know fact from fiction, exaggeration from reality. Timetrialling doesn’t tend to throw up too many characters; it’s a sport for the nerds and obsessive attention to detail. A rock star in a sheepskin coat who snubbed his nose up at the stuffy RTTC by riding too fast has all the makings of a great story.

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“I Like Alf” on the way to New York

When I heard Paul Jones would be writing a book on Alf Engers, I thought somehow that this was a match made in Heaven. If ever a writer could do justice to a biopic of ‘The King’, it was P. Jones – who can make even sparsely populated hill climbs sound exotic and exciting. Except with Alf – ‘Heaven‘ is perhaps not quite the right epitaph; more like a “match made in Heaven – with a touch of the devil’s mischief thrown in for good measure.”

If there is a drawback to the book, it is short. I read in two days. But, it reminds me of the pastor who gave an interminably long sermon of two hours – and when asked why his sermon was so long, he responded that he didn’t have time to make it short. Brevity is the soul of wit and all that. The benefit is that the book moves along at a great pace, evoking the spirit of the times from post-war Britain to the slow evolution of parochial time-trialling. At last, I have a direct understanding of Engers. – What made him tick, what he did for the sport, the great battles of the past – all within the context of today. It was like finding out that Robin Hood is a real historical figure, and he was a pretty decent bloke to boot.

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Alf Engers

As a story, you couldn’t make it up. It is hard to understand why a full-time baker could be banned from the sport for five years (age 22-27), because he had one failed season as an independent. It seems the spirit of amateur endeavour were lost in the rules, regulations and prejudices of the time. It is Alf’s comeback which is really the riveting part of the book. National records, complaints, counter-complaints, detractors and supporters in equal measure – it is all told with great pace, humour and sympathy to the rider who was breaking both records and pulling the RTTC out of its carefully controlled past. Continue Reading →

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Lightest wheels

An evaluation of the lightest wheels available for a road bike.

For several years, I used a pair of  Zipp 404 which are excellent all-round wheels; they are also quite light, yet aerodynamic. However, they are not the best choice for some of the steepest hills.

zipp-404-firecrest

The combined weight of the Zipp 404 weight pair Tubular front 568g – rear 696g was 1266 grams.

Interestingly the new version of Zipp 404 Firecrest are heavier than my old model. The 2014 Firecrest tubular has a weight of 1470 grams according to Zipp. But, with claims of much better aerodynamics.

AX-Lightness Premium Road

My front wheel is based on a Tune Mig 45 20 hole. Built onto AX-Lightness SRT 22 20 Hole rim superspokes.

This comes in at 365 grams (actual) With a super light track tub, it is only 523 grams.

When I have visitors around, I sometimes give them this wheel to pick up with their little finger. It always elicits an exclamation as the little finger goes shooting through the roof. ‘That’s light!’ comes the cry. – Everybody needs a party piece, mine just happens to be offering a lightweight front wheel to pick up. (maybe I should take up juggling instead?)

Continue Reading →

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Pea Royd Lane

Pea Royd Lane has been the venue for the national hill climb championships in 2009, 2014 and it will be the last minute venue for the 2018 National Championships.

It is a classic hill climb length- relatively short and steep with a few sharp corners to make it really testing.  The gradient is variable from fairly shallow at the bottom to a gradient of up to 20% near the top.

Blog from 2014 national hill climb championship

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Practice run August 2014

I was driving up north this weekend, so I took the short detour off the M1 to revisit Stocksbridge and have a go at Pea Royd Lane, which I haven’t done since 2009. The weather was warm with a cross wind. It felt like a headwind at the start, but tailwind in the middle. The last section I couldn’t work out. That’s the nature of the course, the wind can be all over the place.

Pea-Royd-Lane-view-from-top

Great view from the top

The over-riding impression of the climb was it’s steep and also a painful reminder of how hard hill climbs are. I’ve been looking for a similar hill in Oxfordshire, but there is nothing which gets the same height gain, in such as short space of time – though Whiteleaf hill and Chinnor Hill come close.

After a warm up, I gave it a good effort –  to try and get a rough idea of what time I can do after a summer of 50 and 100 mile time trials.  I’ve gone deeper in the hill climb season proper. But, it was plenty hard enough. I’m sure there was a lurking thought somewhere in my mind ‘Why do I do hill climbs again?’

It’s a hard hill climb because the gradient is always changing. The road surface is also quite rough. There was plenty of loose gravel, chippings and patched up road surface. I hear it is going to be resurfaced soon!

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Half way up, there’s a slight easing of gradient over the road bridge before the rest of the climb looms into view.

I took lots of photos of the climb (see bottom of post). It’s quite a mix of scenic Yorkshire views, with some ageing steel plants and electricity pylons thrown in. Still it’s a good view from the top.

Continue Reading →

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What do do when you can’t cycle

When I got injured back in July 2016, I thought perhaps a few weeks off the bike would be a blessing in disguise after a big few seasons. Little did I expect the weeks would turn into months, and the months into years. This is third hill climb season I will miss. I did get one or two invites to hill climbs which was nice, but even if my back and hip were better, I still have a lingering cough from summer virus when I make significant exertion.

In a way, these years off the bike remind me of my early twenties. Where a combination of illness and injuries kept me off the bike from around 1998 to 2004. The difference is that in those days I did not do very much to get better. More than anything, I had the mentality of a student and I was too tight to pay £45 to see a physiotherapist. When I did go to a good physio, it helped considerably and on a few occasions of injury, I was able to get better.

This time, I have tried everything you can think of. But, nothing seems to shift the relatively minor but very stubborn injury. It is becoming a mystery. I have tried several physios, osteopaths, rolfing massage (painful, relaxing and expensive) Egoscue, Pilates, stretching, riding through pain, complete rest. MRI scan, expensive back doctor specialist e.t.c. And at times, a combination of the lot. There is probably something missing but I’ve become weary for trying new things.  Whenever I go to someone, they are always optimistic it will soon be better and I believe this optimism. I don’t think my problem is a negative thought pattern or subconsciously holding onto suffering. I remain hopeful I will be able to ride properly soon, but then I’ve been hopeful for the past 27 months.

What to do when not cycling?

Often you notice how much you value something when you can’t do it anymore. Cycling was a great balance to my work of sitting hunched over a computer. I thought without cycling I’d be able to do a lot more with all the new free time I have. But, it doesn’t always feel like that. Not able to exercise makes you less dynamic and you can end up struggling to maintain that same sense of purpose. Certainly having virus over summer was not much fun. I have written two economics books, but that feels scant consolation. Continue Reading →

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