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Chris Froome – The Climb Review

Review of Chris Froome – The Climb.

chris-froome-climbLast week I received a copy of Chris Froome – The Climb for my birthday, and have spent the past two weeks reading it. I have enjoyed the book, and have read at quite a quick pace. It is an unusual and quite intriguing cycling story. Gangly Kenyan born Brit learns to ride mountain bike with local Kenyan cyclists and despite multiple crashes, having to impersonate officials and coping with tropical diseases, manages to work his way into the European pro cycling scene.

Even if it stopped there, it would be quite an interesting story – a triumph of will and determination over adversity and an unlikely background for a pro cyclist. Of course, it doesn’t stop at just getting into a pro team, Froome has gone on to win the Tour de France twice, Olympic bronze and has come very close in the Vuelta twice. If all that wasn’t enough drama for a wannabe cyclist, Froome was fated to be the first winner of the Tour de France, since the very public expose of the greatest doping scandals in cycling (if not sport).

There was a time when cyclists were heroes, and any awkward questions were swept under the carpet. But, post-Lance – and anyone who has the temerity to win a race, is subject to the latent suspicion and, at times, hostility of those who are fed up with the unending doping scandals that have blighted the sport in recent decades. What might have been celebrated as a romantic story – “The guy who went from the African bush to the Champs Elysees podium” – has – to an extent – been overshadowed by questions of where did this guy come from? If he was this talented, why wasn’t he winning bigger and earlier?

A strong theme in the book is that Chris gets to tell his side of the story. How he started, how he became a better cyclist, how he missed out, why race performances often didn’t match training data. A cynic might say, it is a long attempt at self-justification, but I didn’t feel that. Everyone tells their story in a way to portray themselves in the best light. Especially given the sub-plots circulating around pro cycling, I wouldn’t have expected anything else.

African roots

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In many ways the early chapters are amongst the strongest in the book. It is just a very different life – brought up feeding pet rabbits to your pet python, the only white boy training with Kenyan locals and learning to ply his trade on a mountain bike bought from a supermarket. This is boys own stuff, and makes the Otley CC Sunday run through Yorkshire Dales look like a walk in the park. Continue Reading →

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dhb Extreme Weather overshoe

The dhb Extreme Weather overshoe is a tough, rainproof overshoe designed for cold and wet winter rides.

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I received a free review copy in the post at the start of the month. Training has been somewhat interrupted by minor injury niggles this month, but I’ve still been out several times. Often wet, and only a couple of times cold.

The shoe is pretty impressive in being waterproof. Constant spray doesn’t seem to get through at all, which is a big bonus. Continue Reading →

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Proviz Reflect 360 Cycling Jacket Review

This review of a Proviz jacket is written by a friend Adam Thornton, who is a bike-ability instructor in Sheffield.


 

Proviz REFLECT 360 Cycling Jacket Review
Or, how I feel like auditioning for the next Tron film

I write this review after going out for an early-morning ride on a bleak morning. It was raining – that fine rain that I quite like cycling in because it’s soft when it hits your face. I’m now looking at my jacket drying on the clotheshorse and, despite it being on the far side of the room and away from the window (the only source of light), the jacket has an ethereal quality to it in the way it reflects light. This ability to reflect light and its chameleon-like quality is the jacket’s primary selling point, but we’ll get to that later.

First impressions

adam-Indoor-lightBack when the jacket arrived in the post I could immediately see it was well finished, with tissue paper wrapped around the zip pulls and a quality-looking product. The material has an unusual feel to it due to the technical nature of the special fabric. It’s a bit like a gore-tex jacket, but smoother.

A closer look: The inside-out test

One of the tricks I’ve learnt to do when considering buying an item of clothing I’ll be using for sport is to turn it inside out and have a good look at the sewing and the inside. I’ve found that because of the vigorous nature of training and the frequent putting-on and taking-off of the garment, if the sewing inside isn’t top notch or even if there’s a tiny thread loose then it only takes one catch as you’re putting your arm in to cause proper damage. The Proviz REFLECT 360 is advertised as having sealed seams for waterproofing so it was particularly important that the stitching is top grade. Also, sometimes I’ve had clothing with a soft cotton mesh inside which isn’t good quality, so once something snags on it in a sleeve, then it’s not long before the whole inner-sleeve becomes shredded. Throughout the whole Proviz jacket it is clear that the seams, stitching, and material quality are very good and that jacket will have a long life. In fact, the stitching is very well hidden and on the outside is completely sealed to make the jacket very waterproof. Continue Reading →

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DHB Waterproof trousers

For any commuter cyclist, waterproof trousers are essential. I remember the first two years of working in town, I was too tight to buy any waterproof trousers. When it rained I would teach by standing by the radiator waiting for trousers to dry. Happy days!

Then I got a pay rise and bought a pair of waterproof trousers from an outdoor shop. They weren’t very good. Firstly they were too short and so your ankles got very wet. So I bought a pair of walking garters to fill the gap and stop the trouser getting stuck in the chain. I’ve been meaning to buy a proper pair of cycling waterproof trousers for several years, but I never seem to get round to it. There’s always a new deep section front wheel to buy.

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waterproof trousers

For the past two years, the elastic waist broke on my  old trouser. So it meant when I got off the bike, the waterproof trousers would start to fall down. A bit embarrassing, even if there was another pair of trousers underneath. Anyway when I was offered a pair of DHB waterproof trousers to review, I was pretty happy. Anything was going to be a big improvement…

I got them a couple of months ago, and to be honest there haven’t been that many wet days. But, when it has rained, I’ve put them on and they have done a good job in keeping my dry.

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Perhaps there is a second career as a cycling model.

Continue Reading →

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Best saddle bags

A review of different saddle bags I’ve used over the years. The number of saddle bags I have bought in my cycling career is bordering on the faintly ridiculous. This is only a small selection I’ve tried and used. I really don’t know what I do to saddle bags, but they never seem to last.

I think part of the problem with saddle bags is that no matter what size I get, I always end up stuffing more stuff than is sensible. My saddle bags end up bulging at the seems. In addition, I often try to fit them around Aero seat posts, which leads to straps getting frayed. Perhaps that is where I’m going wrong.

General Points on Saddle Bags

People often seem to get attracted to buy ‘small’ compact saddle bags because they look good. But, when I get small saddle bags, I tend to regret it because I can’t fit in what I need to. Or you can fit everything in, but you need to spend ages stuffing it in and then having to take everything out to get at something. I’m also not keen with having weight in my jersey pockets, I’d rather have everything in a saddle bag and leave the jersey pockets for food only. Continue Reading →

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Obree Way – Review

obree-wayI reviewed the Obree Way last year, but it cost £30 (which was a bit pricey even for a good book.) But  I see it’s available in paperback for £11.99 now. The Obree Way at Amazon.co.uk

The Obree way is Graeme Obree’s unique and distinctive approach to training. It is an approach to training Obree developed himself over many years of his own successful cycling career. The book is worth reading just from the perspective of gaining an insight into the training and mentality of a World Champion, you also gain the feeling the author really put is heart and soul into the book. I think every cyclist will be able to pick up something from this training manual.

One thing I liked about reading the book is that I always felt Obree was just sat across the room talking about his training. It was like listening to an old club hand share his training secrets. But, in this case the old ‘club hand’ happens to have held the prestigious world hour record on two occasions and also is a former world champion. Obree’s pedigree definitely is important. If some of these training principles were explained by Tom, Dick or Harry you might be tempted to brush them off as being too obvious or too simple. But, if they worked for Obree, you give them much more importance.

Essential Aspects of the Obree Way.

Turbo Trainer To Obree, the turbo trainer is a key element of his training. It’s not something just to use when the weather turns icey, but even in the middle of summer. Obree wants to have the ability to very carefully monitor his progress and make sure a training session actually stretches his previous effort; the best way he feels is to use a simple turbo training carefully calibrated to measure exact performance. At this point, in the book I did think perhaps the same could have been achieved from power-meters. But, Obree’s way is largely to ignore computer data. (He says the only time he really uses a heart rate monitor is to make sure on a recovery ride, you stick to a recovery ride.)

obree-superman

Training Sessions

Obree doesn’t believe in intervals. To him the best training is to replicate the kind of race you will be doing.

“Specific training for specific events. Everything else is peripheral and less effective than the base truth of athletic performance enhancement.”

– G.Obree

If you are doing 10 mile time trials, a key training session is to do a 20 minute ride on the turbo as go as fast as you can. Later in the training cycle, after a sufficient time period to recover (could be several days). You have another go at this 20 minute ride, but aim to improve on your previous performance. The simple aim is every time you do one of these ‘key’ training sessions you push your limits and go faster than before. This is the simple training principle of ‘stress and recovery‘ You keep pushing your limits, give yourself chance to fully recover and then push your limits again.

It is beautifully simple. There you won’t find any  ’30 seconds at 95%, 1 min rest; 30 seconds at 95% type training sessions.

Another important training session for Obree, is the ‘glycogen ride’ This is a two hour ride, where you adapt the body to riding with low sugar levels to improve the body’s use of glycogen stores when racing. He says you should finish this training session really exhausted and ready to devour food (which you have prepared beforehand)

Obree also advocates incorporating a session of strength training. This involves pushing a huge gear on a gentle hill at a very low cadence.

Continue Reading →

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DHB Flashlight waterproof jacket

I was offered a chance to review two products sent from Wiggle. The first thing I chose was a waterproof jacket. In the past few years, technology has improved, but for various reasons I haven’t bought one for a long time. I needed a proper waterproof cycling jacket just for commuting into town on rainy days.

The DHB Flashlight Compact-XT Waterproof Jacket claims to be lightweight, waterproof, breathable and adjustable.

dhb-Flashlight-Compact

It comes in a choice of two colour – blue or fluorescent yellow. I chose the fluorescent yellow for better visibility on the commute into work.

Sizing – I chose medium expecting it to be a little short. I’m very tall (6″31) and thin, so it’s always hard to get a good fit, but the sleeves came down nearly to gloves and it wasn’t too baggy. This was my main need – I didn’t want it to be too flappy.

Waterproofness

The jacket is definitely waterproof, it kept me dry in quite persistent rain and shows no signs of leaking at the seams. It feels quite solidly made.

DHB state the Waterproof Jacket has a waterproof rating of 10,000 mm to keep you protected, with additional rain defence from Teflon™

Breathability

It is not bad for breathability. I rode commuting into town and didn’t work up a sweat. If your training really hard, then I’m sure it will get a bit more sweaty. But, I think overall it is fairly decent for breathability. There are flaps on the back to allow some air to escape without allowing water in. The zip is fairly easy to undo, if you need to let a bit more air in the front.

Quality of build

  • The zip seems fairly solid and so far has no problems.
  • I like the adjustability of the cuffs. It is easy and quick to change with velcro and quite useful for getting on and over winter ski gloves.
  • The fluorescent jacket certainly stands out on the roads.
  • It comes with a few pockets – not that I tend to use pockets on a waterproof jacket.
  • Despite my awkward build, it is a good fit.

wearing-dhb-jacket-commuting-bike

Continue Reading →

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Ammaco Dresden Review

Ammaco Dresden. A hybrid bike for under £170. It looks good and seems to offer tremendous value. But, as soon as you start riding it you know why it is so cheap. Yet, these cheap hybrid bikes do sell tremendously well. Many buyers just want a bike under £200, no matter what the components are like. Bicycle lovers will instinctively turn their nose up at any bike under £200. So what is it really like?

People think that a big fat saddle is going to be more comfortable to sit on. I guess the size of this saddle spreads the weight. But, it isn’t really any more comfortable to ride.

The thing with this bike is I really didn’t feel comfortable to ride more than 15mph. In fact as I was cycling along, I spent a considerable time waiting for gears to index. The back wheel was also buckled, not overly reassuring since I was testing a brand new from shop. I assume this was just very bad luck to pick the bike with a buckle in back wheel.

The brakes are fine at stopping, though you do have to squeeze pretty confidently. I guess you won’t be tearing around corners on this. However, they do look fairly flimsy and will need careful maintenance over time.

I have to say, I really quite like how it looks, at least from a distance. When you get closer, it starts to look a little cheaper, like the plastic mudguards are not going to win any prizes for style.
ammaco-1

Extensive Chain guard protection

Handlebars are adjustable in height, quite a nice touch, though I doubt the actualy buyers would be too fussy about finding optimal handlebar height. It’s the kind of bike you buy and hope to ride it straight from shop. Tyres are cheap and will offer no extra puncture protection, so be prepared for quite a few irritating punctures.

Extras.

For the price, it’s very good to see it come equipped with mudguards and panniers.

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Pretty good mudguards.

ammaco-5

Shimano Turney gears – I found pretty rattly. Takes time for indexing to work. May not have been set up to optimal indexing, but the front changer was pretty slow and hard work to move. Rear mech was better.

ammaco-4Looks nice. A good simple paint job

ammaco-2

To be honest some of the extras on this bike would get pretty close to £165 alone.

If I was a Car?

If the Ammaco Dresden was a car, I’d be tempted to say a Lada with a really nice paint job and roof rack attached at no extra cost.

Who would it Suit?

It would suit a student on a tight budget, absolutely unable to pay more than £200 for a bike. It might also suit someone who wanted to buy a bike for a few months when visiting a new city.

Is it Good Value?

I know this level of bike components will need more maintenance. There will be more punctures, the brakes will need careful attention and it is more likely to rust. It’s good value if you are a student buying a bike for a year or so. If you’re looking for a bike to last a decade, don’t bother.

Would I buy the Bike?

Would Ian Paisley buy a Celtic flag? I’m too much of a bike snob to buy something so cheap. Also the experience of cheap MTB has put me off spending a £150 hoping to get a good deal. What made me want to test this bike is my lodger wants a bike, but has no money. I see 100s of these Ammaco’s around Oxford and to be fair they seem to last pretty well. I guess if I was an impoverished student only wanting to cycle 2 miles a day, I might be happy to ride this. But, then I might be happy to to get a free can of Tesco Value Baked Beans.

Go on get out that student loan and blow it on a nice Pashley! – who needs beer and curry? spend all your grant on a bicycle. “You’ll never regret buying a bicycle”

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101 Damnations – dispatches from 101st Tour de France | Review

101-damnationsNed Boulting’s 101 Damnations ‘Dispatches from the 101st Tour de France‘ is an entertaining account of his perspective on the last edition of the Tour de France.

If you’re expecting a blow by blow account and evaluation of Nibali’s average power outputs on the final climb, you will be dissappointed. The actual race is very much in the background, a canvas to tell amusing tales – from the Tour de France’s very own public urinals to ruminations on the Anglicisation of the Tour de France.

Ned makes little effort to hide his disappointment as the major contenders slip and slide out of the tour. I actually remember many exciting stages of the tour – even if they were won by no-hopers in the overall standings. But, this is a minor quibble – this is not a book for aficionados of  detailed race analysis – it is a book which will appeal to those who like amusing stories about the the characters and idiosyncrasies which make up the Tour de France caravan.

If we have forgotten already, the Tour de France really did start in Yorkshire. As Boulting says – ‘Leeds to Paris’ – how often do you get to say that? Still, six months later I’m trying to digest the scenes of actually seeing the Tour de France go 2 miles from my home town. There is still an element of surreality to these memories of baking sunshine – as the Tour de France in Yorkshire passed by 3 million spectators, but more than anything the surreal aspect of cycling being so enthusiastically welcomed by nearly everyone.

Ned Boulting comments on the Tour in Yorkshire with a similar degree of astonishment, bewilderment and genuine excitement. This is a rather random excerpt from the chapter about the Tour starting in Leeds.

“…The sign age was in French, most of the languages being spoken were not English, and even the rays of sunshine that beat down on the makeshift courtyards between marquees felt unusually strong for Yorkshire.

It was curiously unsettling and not altogether  mediated by the presence of a truly terrible burger van knocking out gristly sausages in stale baguettes to a bewildered clientèle, more used to being served foie gras and gazpacho. I queued up behind a German, who asked for a ‘beef pattie’ The man looked at him as if he were simple. “We can do you a burger, pal.’

– This is not necessarily the most memorable excerpt from the book – it is a rather random choice – perhaps I choose it because of my strong recollections of cheap burger vans outside Headingley, Leeds which I would go past every weekend on the way to watch the rugby. Nevertheless it gives a flavour of the book. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but I enjoy the humour and random recollections which give an unexpected insight into very small aspects of the race – be it the challenges of interviewing Mark Cavendish or working with the systematically efficient and methodical Chris Boardman.

As well as snippets from the current tour, the book is also an excuse to bring up lesser known stories which make up the great history of the Tour de France. Some excerpts from the past, like the legendary Roger Rivière’s, tragic drug induced high speed crash are reminders of the chequered history of the tour. But, no matter what happens, the stories give the over-riding impression that the Tour is an unmoveable force which not even getting stuck in Pyrenean mud can hold back.

But, although there are plenty of whimsical moments and analysis of disappointing aspects, you can’t hide Boulting’s genuine almost innocent enthusiasm for the sport and the Tour de France – this is quite refreshing.

I read the book all the way to the end, which is praise indeed. I would recommend it if you would enjoy a light-hearted look at the Tour de France. The final word is that the humour is quite British; I’m not sure how quickly it will be translated into German or French, I fear something may get lost in translation.

Buy the book online

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Lifeline hygiene water bottle

A review of ‘Lifeline performance hygiene plus membrane waterbottle‘ – well quite a mouthful of a product title to start with. Doesn’t exactly slip off the tongue.

lifeline-water-bottle

Firstly, it looks quite good, even if it does remind me of some bottle you may find in a hospital with all those clear labels to write your name and blood type on. It is well designed and looks good on the Trek Madone, less so on the winter training hack.

Old marginal gain hill climbing habits die hard. The first thing I did was to put it on the weighing scales because it felt heavier than your typical plastic water bottle. It is of no consequence, but for the record it weighs 125 grams; that’s 40grams more than your standard 750ml bottle.

But no one (I hope) buys a waterbottle on weight – not even me.

Bacteriostatic glass like inner surface

One reason for the extra weight is the ‘bacteriostatic glass-like inner surface‘ again, another suitably impressive sounding title. The good news is that this inner surface does seem to give a noticeable performance feature – the bottle tastes less like plastic – more like drinking out of a glass cup. For those who get tired of retained odour and taste in plastic bottles, this is quite a notable feature. Definitely a strong selling point.

Adjustable cap

cap-turn

Another feature of the bottle is that you can adjust the cap to alter the water flow. In other words, either off or on – I never needed anything in between. I’m not quite sure of the point of this. The problem is that to open the cap you need two hands. When you’re cycling this gets a bit tiresome, especially if you have thick winter gloves on. After a few times of opening and closing I got fed up and just left it open. The good news is that if you leave it open, I didn’t notice any water jump out. But, if no water jumps out, why close it? Continue Reading →

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