Views from Burnsall and Wharfedale

It’s the third time in three days, I’ve cycled through Burnsall; with views like this it doesn’t take much encouragement. It was just one of those days where you have to keep pinching yourself to remember it’s the middle of December.

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Bolton Abbey

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Bolton Abbey Crossroadsclimbing-barden

2 Cyclists climb up the Strid, lower Wharfedale.2-mtbs-wharfedale-2

Looking towards Burnsall Continue Reading →

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Cycling up the Yorkshire Dales in winter

For December, it is unseasonably mild up here in Yorkshire. I was lucky to have a free day, so I set off up Wharfedale for a five hour ride around Yorkshire. Once you get off the main roads, there’s very little traffic at this time of the year – the odd car, the occasional cyclist, and a few tractors spraying cow manure onto the road. It all makes for seasonal good cheer. At least I wasn’t wearing my white leg warmers.

I was travelling up the B road from Grassington towards Kettlewell. I can report there are several trucks and workman creating the smoothest tarmac north of Dover. This newly found enthusiasm for filling in potholes must be either an unusual display of largesse and goodwill from Yorkshire County Council or perhaps there is just an important bicycle race arriving in a few months.

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I only wish the Tour de France could stay for a couple more days and go through every small road in Yorkshire, it could make it a cyclists’ heaven up here  – if you didn’t have to fight puddles, mud and potholes. But, I suppose you can’t have everything. ‘Character building’, ‘ good practise for cyclo-cross’  I hear the spirit of Yorkshire saying – I guess it doesn’t matter as long as you’re getting the miles in.

Just before Kettlewell I turned off the B road and headed towards Arncliffe and Lintondale. If it was quiet on the B roads, it was positively isolated on these roads. I didn’t even have a manure dispensing trailer to keep me company. I kept a decent tempo towards Halton Gill before turning left up a long steep hill into the wind. You get a marvellous view to your left and Pen Y Ghent looming over your right hand shoulder. The view made up for the depressingly slow progress into a stiff Westerley. As you descend towards Settle, another big fell, Ingleborough dominates the skyline to your right. It may be a little on the grey and damp side, but it’s  spectacular scenery to be passing through.

After the isolation and wilderness of the Yorkshire moors, down in Settle, there is a reconnection with the more usual pace of normal life. Trucks trundling along the A65 soon break the peace of being on the top of Silverdale with just sheep for company. But, I didn’t have any stomach for riding on busy roads at the moment, instead I tried my luck turning left, up a sharp incline out of Settle to Scalebar Bridge. It was a strong tailwaind at this point, but it’s still a brute of a climb. There’s a section of pave before a really testing 18-20% grind out of the town. There’s little respite on the long climb, which is a shame, because you are afforded fantastic views if you look over your shoulder down into Settle.

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As hill climbing goes, I’m still in reasonably good shape, but if I hadn’t written my Christmas list already, I’d be adding a compact Chainset at the top of my list. It’s one thing to rattle up a 20% climb on your light summer bike, but when you’re weighed down my mudguards,  several layers of clothes, and an excess of mince pies, you don’t feel quite ready for smashing up these climbs. It felt like pedalling squares – grinding away on my 39*25, wishing I had a lower gear to enable a more mid-winter, friendly cadence.

Mind you later near Malham, I saw a classic old school rider churning away on his winter stead. He was fighting the roads of Yorkshire on a classic looking fixed bike. As I came to overtake him. I offered a bit of encouragement.

“Good luck, riding fixed around here.”

“Aye.”

That was his single syllable contribution to a fledgling conversation –  it says everything and more about the gritty Yorkshire old school riders.  Why waste words, when you can concentrate on cycling? Continue Reading →

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Left – right leg imbalance

In the past several years, I’ve had recurrent knee problems. It usually starts to occur at the end of a long winter training season. This year I’m trying hard to prevent the problem rather than wait for pain to develop.

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It’s all about balance

In previous years, I’ve visited a good sports physio in Oxford (David Jones, Oxford Sports Rehabilitation) who has helped diagnose why there is knee pain and what to do about it. In a nutshell, the problem was related to having one leg significantly weaker than another. Therefore, by the end of a long ride, the weak leg is struggling to keep up. Rather than move up and down in a straight line, the weak leg starts to flop around. It is this unnatural movement which causes pain in the knee to develop.

There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the knee. The problem was in the cycling action which was causing the knee joint to move in a way that caused friction.

The physio had a good model of a leg. When it works properly the leg is like a lever moving up and down in a straight line. When the leg moves at an angle you can see how it causes problems for the knee.

Solution to weak leg

Having a correct diagnosis of the problem is an important starting point. It was a relief to learn that I didn’t have a fundamental problem with my knee, and that it could be solved.

The solution was then to increase strength in the weak leg so it would be able to keep up with the other leg. This was a simple collection of exercises, which involved standing up from a chair on one leg, leg squats on one leg.

I have a series of leg exercises, I try and do them for 20 minutes or so on off days for the bike. I make a particular effort to do these exercises if I’m having a period of time off the bike.

Checking left leg – Right leg imbalance

A good way to check leg strength is to use a leg press machine.

In February 2013, I could only lift 25kg with my left leg. With my right leg I could lift 40kg. It was a huge imbalance in strength. To be honest, I was shocked at how weak that left leg was. 25kg is not very much, when you considered how much I was cycling.

When I tested in April 2009, we didn’t use a leg press machine, but my legs were weaker than in 2013. I couldn’t do a proper leg squat without my legs wobbling all over the place.

Joining a Gym

I’ve always felt a gym is a waste of money. I’ve never been inspired to go to a gym and join a few other sweaty participants with horrible music blaring out. But, I thought that testing my legs could help to self-diagnose any weakness and work to prevent leg imbalances before the problem returns. Continue Reading →

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Cycling through London and a visit to Rapha

Last Monday, I went down to London, hoping to do a bit of Christmas shopping by bike. The day before I signed up for the Brompton hire dock. For £1 annual membership, you can hire a Brompton for £5 a day. It is available from quite a few train stations, such as Oxford. It sounds a fantastic idea. Get a train and then cycle around the city. In the end, I decided not to hire a Brompton. I got put off by the notice you had to carry it with you at all times; they don’t allow you to lock it up outside whilst you go into shop. In the end, I thought I might as well take my battered old commuting bike. Save £5 and less worries about getting the bike stolen.

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Hyde Park, London

From Paddington, it’s a short stretch to Hyde Park. It was quite pleasant cycling around Hyde Park. There is a decent bike path, with enough room to have a separate path for pedestrians.  At one point though, I saw some signs to say bike path was closed because it was Christmas, I couldn’t quite work out why. The shared bike facility works well, if you’re not racing and have a little patience. One or two cyclists came flying through a busy intersection with bell ringing loudly hoping people would jump out of the way; it’s the kind of approach that doesn’t really help to get more shared cycle facilities.

I came across some tourists who had just had hired some Boris bikes. They obviously had a few difficulties with handling the 25kg bikes. One tourist veered impeccably across my path completely unaware of where she was going. Fortunately, I had a little bit of that generous Christmas spirit; I was going relatively slowly and could anticipate the random movement. It would have been different, if I was cycling at top speed.

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As much fun as it was to go round and round Hyde Park, I needed to venture into the hectic world of central London and try and find a nice cafe to eat, and possibly a few shops to visit. Although, the media can exaggerate the dangers of cycling; it’s hard not to be conscious of the recent spate of serious accidents in London. November was a grim month for London cyclists, no matter how you look at it. I was cycling in defensive mode. –  trying to anticipate dangers, not in a rush, following rules of the road, not taking any unnecessary risks.

If I was a Londoner, I might be able to find the best cycle route East across London, but I didn’t have the patience to examine multiple maps, so I just headed West, trying to follow suitably looking quiet roads. The cycling can best be described as stop start; it’s a bit of a jungle out there. It’s definitely hard work cycling through London, I don’t really envy London commuters, though it’s not as bad as recent headlines make out. The main problem is that you are sharing roads with innumerable buses, lorries, vans. On one occasion a van did a quick three point turn in the road. It was a good job I was on my toes, I had to reverse onto pavement to make sure he didn’t reverse into me. But, apart from that, it was relatively incident free. But, you have to ride with a heightened sense of awareness more than anywhere else. For what it’s worth, I would never dream of cycling around London with headphones on.

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Even the bikes parked outside Rapha have a certain class

I always go to London with the great intentions of having a fantastic time, visit loads of shops, find a great cafe. But, after 20 minutes of cycling towards Covent Garden / Soho, the London experience was already getting a little tough. I had no idea where I was, just going from side street to side street. You pass so many cafes, you keep think you’ll find a better one; so end up going past many.

After several cafes came and went, I was investigating one cafe, only to notice it was the Rapha cafe! I know Rapha from somewhere, O yes! the cycle team and cycle clothing company. Sometimes, it does work out just rambling through London. I went into the Rapha cafe and shop. I eyed a very attractive winter jacket; it looked superbly designed and made. Though it didn’t have a price tag, and I was too shy to ask. It would make an excellent Christmas present, if Santa Claus reads this blog. It was a good place to hang out though. Lots of cycling memorabilia and magazines and a good cycling feel.

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The shop has a convenient rack to hang a bikes. I couldn’t help but notice these two bikes next to each other. 1 an immaculate Team Sky issue Pinarello Dogma. The other, the most battered old Merckx commuting bike you could imagine. And the battered Merckx is probably the best choice for cycling in London!

After a good lunch at an excellent nearby cafe, Bills, I started to head back to Paddington. Though, I thought I ought to make a cursory attempt at shopping. I chose a five floored Waterstones in Picadilly, but my heart wasn’t really in it. London is too big a place to shop. And I was thinking more about the vague cycle route back to Paddington.

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Rapha Cafe and shop. The Rapha Festive 500 is a challenge to ride 500km between Dec 24 and Dec 31.

Taking the bike on the train was fine, and it was good having a bike to get from Paddington into Central London. I thought it was difficult cycling into Oxford, but after a day in London, I realise there are much harder places to cycle. It’s hard to add anything to what has already been said about cycling in  London. Except, it would be great if London could be made more accommodating for cyclists. It was an interesting experience and I was glad to come across the Rapha shop and cafe.

Related

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A Century Ride

It might be early December, but it’s always nice to get a century ride in. Cycling 100 miles in a day, is always a little bit of an achievement, even if you do race 25 times a year and ride 10,000 miles a year.

The last time I managed to cycle 100 miles in a day was the National 100 mile TT  back in July. It was up in the Lake District in the midst of a heatwave, I managed to complete the 100 miles in 3.46. I finished exhausted and dehydrated. Today, was just a bit slower (2.25 hour), and there was certainly no chance of heat stroke!

November and December are very unstructured in terms of training. Basically I go out cycling whenever I feel like it. That generally means cycling quite a lot. I tried to make myself have a break after the national hill climb championship at the end of October. I managed a quiet two weeks before I got an itch to get on the bike, and for want of a better phrase ‘get the miles in’. Despite trying to have a break, I still managed nearly 900 miles in November, with quite a few 80 mile + rides thrown in. I could have made a few centuries in November, but the light fades pretty fast. The biggest challenge to riding a century in deep mid winter is finding enough time in the day to complete the miles. You can’t dawdle for too long in the morning coffee shop if you want a 100 miles in December.

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Bourton on the hill. Possible the most scenic village climb in England

A few weeks ago, I went out to Bourton on the Hill with a dismally slow 15.7 mph average speed. Over 6 hours for 95 miles. Any other time of the year, I might have done a 5 mile circuit, but it was already on the dark side when I got home.

At the moment, I’m not quite sure whether I’m training or just enjoying riding the bike. Even if I wasn’t doing any racing next year, I still think I’d be going out for a six hour bike ride. It’s a bit bonus if you can enjoy training for its own sake.

I’m never entirely sure of the benefits of six hour long slow distance rides when you’re a hill climb specialist. But, although I’ve no qualifications in cycle coaching, I assume it’s better than sitting on the couch stuffing my face with maltesers.

There’s a great freedom to this time of the year. In the race season, I tend to ride the same routes. I don’t want to be thinking about where to go. When interval training, I tend to go South East towards the Chilterns. It’s either flat or a very good long hill; excellent territory for interval sessions. But, interval sessions feel a different lifetime at this time of the year. So for a change, I love to go towards the Cotswolds and enjoy the quiet country lanes and picture postcard villages. Some are so beautiful, you think you’ve gone back in a time warp to the 1930s (well, at least until that Audi driver comes flying around the corners whilst speaking into his iPhone…)

Continue Reading →

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100 mile time trial – Training and pacing

A reader asked if I had any ideas training for a 100 mile time trial. Next year, the National 100 mile TT will be one of my main pre-hill climb season targets. Last year I finished 5th in a time of 3.46, and I hope to go a bit better next year. I set a pb of 3.34.17 in 2014

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Basic Training for a 100 mile TT

At the risk of stating the obvious, the 100 mile TT is a formidable challenge. It’s one thing to ride 100 miles, but to race 100 miles, is quite a challenge. A quickish rider will be able to do it in 4 hours.

The record for 100 mile TT is  Kevin Dawson (03:22:45) in 2003. If you think that sounds fast, Ian Cammish did 3:31:53 in 1983 before tribars and discwheels.

A 100 mile TT is possibly cycling’s answer to the marathon; it’s a similar effort in terms of time.

Base Endurance

The obvious starting point for doing a 100 mile TT is to do sufficient aerobic endurance training. If you are starting from scratch, this will take a good 6 months to build up. You can do 10 mile TT or 25 mile TT on little training, but unless you want to suffer like anything, you need that base endurance to be comfortable sitting in the saddle and able to complete the distance.

Minimum base endurance

As a minimum, I would suggest you need one long ride of 3-4 hours every fortnight. If possible, you would make it more frequent and longer. In winter and early season, I would do these training rides around level 2, so it is around 70% max heart rate. around 60-70% max threshold power.  These aerobic training slowly build up aerobic fitness, fat-burning capacity and ability to cycle for long periods. There are also smaller benefits for top end performance, such as increased lactate threshold. But, this is the first priority in terms of training for 100 miles. At the least, I would do a ride of 80 miles before racing. If you’ve already done a 100, it will be good for your confidence psychologically. But, it’s not essential. I know a few good time triallistswho will only do over 80 miles in a 100 mile TT.

Optimal base endurance

To maximise my chances in the 100 mile TT, I will be concentrating on the winter months in building up a strong aerobic endurance. At the moment, in November, I’m trying to do two long rides a week of 5-6 hours (averaging about 16mph). The average speed is not important. These are the classic long slow distance rides (LSD); you can easily do it with other riders. With a couple of shorter rides, it provides quite a strong framework for later in the season. At this time of the year, I don’t see these as ‘junk miles’, but an important foundation for increasing intensity in Jan and Feb.

Throughout Dec, Jan and Feb, I will continue to work on this aspect of cycle fitness. I don’t rigidly stick to level 2, but sometimes in the year it is good to concentrate on a particular type of training, after a long seasons hill climbs, endurance training seems a nice break from top level intervals.

A very rough target is to manage 1,000 miles a month in winter. But, these days, I’m less religious about clocking up the miles. It’s important not to get carried away and maintain a good balance between rest and training. This balance is different for different athletes. In my first season, 1,000 mile a month would have left me pretty tired, after a few seasons accumulation in fitness, it is more manageable. But, in the winter, I still leave a good two days of rest or very easy riding. Also, in a month, it’s good to vary effort from week to week. Perhaps 3 weeks of 200-300 miles, and in the fourth week have much lighter week.

Sweat Spot training

A typical cyclist might be racing a 100 mile TT at around 80-90% of threshold power. e.g. if you average 300 watts for a 25 mile TT, you might do well to average 250 watts for a 100 mile TT. This effort level of 10-15 % below your threshold for an hour, is often termed sweat spot training or ‘tempo’ training.

It is called the sweat spot because you can gain big improvements in fitness, with only relatively limited muscle damage and tiredness. If you race at threshold or above, you can make more gains, but also face greater fatigue and need more rest.

Therefore, in training for a 100 mile TT, a very good training schedule will be to incorporate these ‘tempo’ rides into your training.

Early in the year, you can start off with just doing one hour at this tempo of 80-85% threshold power. You will need to concentrate to maintain the power and effort, conversation is no longer really possible; it will be difficult to do in a group, unless you have a small number of riders of similar ability.

As the year progresses, increase the duration of these tempo rides from 1 hour to 2, 3 and even four hours. This is training which closely matches your race pace, so it is targeted training to the race effort of a 100 mile TT.

The good thing about sweat spot training is that it is a lot of fun and rewarding. You can do quite a bit of it without excess fatigue. If you have limited training time, then I would concentrate on this sweat spot training. Effort at this intensity will bring substantially more gains than low intensity level 1 and 2. Continue Reading →

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Hill climb photos

A look at hill climbs through the eyes of a photographer.

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‘Hill Climb Agony’. Photo by Bernard Thompson.

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The National Championship at Winnats Pass. Spectators throng the side of the road.

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The Catford CC Hill Climb. The Catford CC hill climb can make a claim to be the world’ oldest cycle race. The first race was held at Westerham Hill on August 20th 1887. In those days, it was considered an achievement to get to the top without falling off. Riders rode a mixture of ‘safety bicycles’ and penny farthings – all on solid tyres. Of 24 starters, only 12 made it to the top. That’s how the sport of hill climbing began. You could say it was a lot harder in them days.

Pre – race Warming up

Familiar-view

It’s a strange sport sometimes. Drive up the M1, to a beautiful part of the Peak District. Spend 1 hour warming up on a turbo and rollers in the carpark. Then kill yourself up a 5 minute hill. But, those five minutes can give such an exhilaration, you keep coming back for more… Continue Reading →

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The Bike Shed

More from the wonderful collection of black and white cycling photos, uploaded by Peter Morris, Flickr. These photos are of H.R.Dick Morris.

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The classic bike shed. H.R. ‘Dick’ Morris Continue Reading →

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Jack Rossiter and Land’s End to John o’ Groats record of 1929

I came across these wonderful collection of black and white cycling photos, uploaded by Peter Morris, Flickr. The photos are of family members, primarily H.R.Dick Morris and Jack Rossiter.

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Jack Rossiter at Land’s End on a tricycle

  • In this newspaper extract, it states Jack Rossiter, broke the Land’s End to John o Groats record, with a time of two days 13 hours 22 minutes. The newspaper goes on to say he is regarded as the greatest cyclist England has ever produced. (See: Opperman’s record attempt)
  • Jack Rossiter broke the record which had stood for 30 years, set by Harry Green in 1907. He rode on a Raleigh bicycle, with a three speed Sturmey Archer. He used a “K” hub, giving variations of 2? per cent. below and 33 1/3 per cent. above normal.
  • A year later he broke the 1,000 miles record, which had also been standing for 21 years, by nearly 4 hours. (See: Sheldon Brown)
  • According to this, Jack Rossiter finished 13th in the 1921 World Championship in Denmark (link)
  • Congleton Cycling Club have the Jack Rossiter Memorial trophy for the most improved rider.

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Jack Rossiter in the North Road 24, 1928. The caption under the image stated 408 miles, second!

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Jack Rossiter with support crew.

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Before the days of proper bike racks. Continue Reading →

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Building up the base miles

Since the National at the end of October, I’ve been taking it relatively easy. Apart from Zappi CC hill climb, I’ve had  a laid back approach to cycling – a bit of level one delivering letters around Oxford, the odd session on the rollers.  But generally it feels like a time to prioritise things other than cycling for a change. It becomes a bit of a relief to look at the pouring rain out of the window and know you can just stay indoors and without feeling like you’re losing form at the wrong time of the season!

To use an old fashioned cliche, everything has it’s season and November feels more like a season for eating cake and drooling over the latest TT machine.

The new Boardman TT bikes is tantalisingly beautiful. (Cycling weekly photos)  You want to buy it on aesthetics alone; how can such a wonderfully engineered bike fail to do anything but fly through the air – like the proverbial knife through butter?

Alas, there is always another bicycle to buy!

It’s also time to put some attention on that murky business of earning money so that I can re-enter the time trial machine arms race. We could declare a truce and mimic the UCI in not riding anything post 1976 and the Eddy Merckx era. But, although my credit care limit would be quite happy with riding steel frames, we would lose something if we didn’t have new bicycles to pour over in the winter months. If we didn’t have bike catalogues and internet sites to fill our winter months, we might find ourselves going out to train on the hard cold winter mornings and that would never do.

autumn-colour-road

But, after a couple of weeks of easy riding, I find the old itch to get out on the bike returning. It’s one thing to pootle around Oxford, but when the sun comes out in November, I yearn to get out into the Cotswolds to enjoy the last colour of autumn before the winter gods shut up shop, leaving a bleak 3 months of austerity. Continue Reading →

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