Faster by Michael Hutchinson Review


fasterFaster: The Obsession, Science and Luck behind the World’s fastest cyclists‘ by Michael Hutchinson is a look at what makes the world’s elite cyclists go faster. Is speed due to natural talent, genetics, training, diet,  cutting edge technical equipment or a combination of all of these? During his investigation, Hutchinson reveals a lot about his own personal journey / obsession with going faster, which is both revealing and humorous. He also gets to interview some of the leading figures within the successful British Cycling / Team Sky set up.

I read it pretty fast, and enjoyed it because:

  • I share a similar obsession with trying to go faster on the bike (though realising I haven’t spent the past 10 years sleeping in an altitude tent does make me feel a bit like an amateur)
  • It is written well, with a good sense of humour. This is a big plus for another cycling book. Somehow Hutchinson can even make the law of turbulence seem entertaining (not that I really understood what he was saying about turbulence) If there is one criticism of his writing style, there is often one too many sub-clauses; the end of the sentence is quite divergent from the start – but since I’m quite prone to liberally adding sub-clauses myself – it’s a fault I’m happy to forgive.
  • Within the several chapters, there are a few nuggets of wisdom which actually might help me go faster (or at least save me thousands of pounds in spending money on things which aren’t worth the outlay.)
  • It’s a bit of a coup to get so many interviews with the hierarchy of Team Sky and British Cycling. There is often good advice from the Team Sky / British Cycling coaches. I like the fact pro-cyclists say they don’t mind sharing interval sessions. As they say it’s one thing to know what to do, it’s another thing to actually do it.

Personal journey

I never relate so well to general cycling ‘text’ books on how to go faster. But, I do enjoy reading the personal experiences of cyclists who have been there and done it, especially if they do similar races to myself. It is interesting to read the highs and lows of Hutchinson’s career from going too hard at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games  (finishing in 15th place – though Hutchinson says he could never bear to look where he finished) to a creditable 4th place in 2006 and 2010. Overall, you get the impression of someone enjoying the process of trying to go faster, even if it involves some crazy decisions. But, this ongoing effort seems to mean as much as the 50 domestic national titles. Important for those who don’t have 50 national titles.

I took this photo at the 2010 National Champs – Hutchinson talking to B.Wiggins. The third rider is some unknown amateur, such is cycling.

Power figures and different types of riders

These days, there is always an interest in power figures (especially when you’ve just bought one and think it might be broken because the power output is much less than you would like to say). If I remember correctly, Hutchinson says he peaked at 470 watts for a 10 mile TT. His recovery rides are at an average power that I might struggle to do if I went all out in a 10 mile TT. Power figures are not dropped in just to boast about, there is usually a point, often self-deprecating as to why very big VO2 max and high power figures are not necessarily enough.

Just to prove the point, I can claim to be one of the very few people to beat Hutchinson in a time trial, when I wasn’t even riding a TT bike, but a humble road bike. (2012 National hill climb on Long Hill). That’s the beauty of cycling, Hutchinson can catch me for 16 minutes in the National 100 mile TT, but when the road goes uphill, it can favour a completely different kind of rider. From the likes of track sprinters like Chris Hoy to mountain goats like me, there is a huge range of disciplines which suit different riders. This is something the book explains quite well Hutchinson was built for endurance time trials. A near perfect physiology, but a cautionary reminder, even with 50 national titles, there is always someone more talented, more lucky in the genetic lottery, or better at training and all the rest.


I read the book in two days, but, I’m already struggling to remember what I’ve read. It is definitely the kind of book which benefits from careful reading, and also reading a second time. There are some concepts which are more complicated than just ‘pedalare’  The irony of reading the book, is that I approached it very much with the same motivation as Hutchinson approaches cycling – what can I take out of this book which  makes me go faster on the bike? I’m sure many cyclists will relate to that constant questioning of life decisions

– but, what will make me go faster?

It’s the question always at the back of your mind. The book helps to clarify how as athletes we carry this motive around with us. It’s not quite that we need to set up Aerodynamics and Speed Freaks Anonymous, but it is a humorously cautionary tale on the fine line between dedication and obsession.

Nuggets of Wisdom

After reading the book, some nuggets of wisdom which I remember:

The best skinsuit may make substantially more improvements in aerodynamics than upgrading your bike. Why spend £7,000 on a new time trial bike, when you can spend £1,000 on a cutting edge skin suit? (because the bike looks better?) If you really want to go faster for free, forget breaking into a bank to find £7,000 for a new bike. Try breaking into British Cycling headquarters and find those skinsuits put in a cardboard box after the UCI decided they were too fast. Somewhere in a Manchester cupboard is aerodynamic gold.

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Adamo saddle review

Adamo saddles are a unique design of saddles by the company ISM. The basic principle is to cut out the ‘dead’ area on a saddle. Focus saddle and padding on your ‘sit’ bones which is the most important thing and avoid the ‘numbness’ associated with sitting on a conventional saddle.


It certainly looks distinctive. This is the ISM, Adamo ‘Breakaway’

Motivations for buying an Adamo

In early Feb, I was doing a 90 minute effort on the rollers on my time trial bike. After an hour, the pain and discomfort in crotch area was really bad. By the end of the session, I just couldn’t bear to be in the time trial position. It felt like everything was getting squashed and numb. I wanted to finish the 90 minutes on rollers, but I could only do it by getting out of the saddle (which on the rollers is tricky)

Also, in last years National 100 (5th in a time of 3.46) the last 10 miles were ruined by great pain in shoulders and groin. I was squirming all over the bike because of the numbness and lost substantial time.

Since, I want to do a 12 hour time trial on the TT bike, I knew something had to change. Adamo saddles have been recommended to me by quite a few time triallists. Not everyone is convinced, but some people seem quite passionate – and it is rare for people to get passionate about a saddle (apart from maybe Brooks). Just looking at the Adamo Saddle made me think it was more comfortable. Like all great inventions and designs, once done, it seems so intuitive to put the padding where you need it and cut away where you just get numbness.

Adamo Time trial version

Adamo produce an almost bewildering array of variations on their original saddle. It would be hard to test them all. But, since I was buying for time trials, the obvious option was to buy the time trial saddle.


Adamo TT weight 274 grams – lighter than most other versions.

Adamo also claim that  for the time trial saddle:

‘The design allows for increased hip rotation, thus decreasing a rider’s aerodynamic drag and opens the diaphragm for easier breathing. Riders report an increase in wattage due to the more aggressive positioning. Sloped front arms provide extra relief to the superficial perineal space.”

This wasn’t my motivation for buying, but increased wattage seems a good thing.

Review of riding experience

The first ride was two hours on the rollers on the time trial bike. That’s quite an aggressive position and involved not stopping or getting out of the saddle.

It was a revelation. The improvement in comfort was very marked. I would say at the end of 90 minutes, there was 60% less pain, and after two hours I could still have kept going. That awful feeling of numbness just wasn’t there. This is the most important feature of the saddle, it really does work and makes long distance time trialling less painful.

Since that first roller session, I’ve done two four hour rides on the time trial bike. Again, it is remarkably comfortable for four hours in a race position. I will review after doing a 100 mile race and 12 hours. But, I’m confident that the saddle will make a significant difference and justify its price tag.

It is not to say it is a panacea. After two hours on the rollers, my seat bones (the bones which make most contact with saddle) were a little sore. You could tell they had absorbed a lot of weight. But, it is a very manageable ache, and more noticeable when you get off the bike. To be honest, if I was racing on an open road, I would have moved around more and given my backside more breathing space than two hours on the rollers.

Is there increased hip rotation? ISM claim increased hip rotation, and I when I spoke to  Matt Bottril last year at the BDCA 50, he was saying he found the Adamo saddle helped his power.

But, to be honest, I was so absorbed in noticing the improved comfort, that I didn’t really notice much difference in actual power I was putting out. Maybe there is an advantage, I would have to retest.

Update after nine months use – One downside of Adamo is that I have had chaffing on the outside of the saddle – on the inmost thighs. You don’t notice whilst cycling, but after it has been raw and I’ve been putting on Sudocrem – it’s not a show stopper, just a bit irritating.


Front view of Adamo saddle

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Review of leg warmers

I’ve accumulated quite a few leg warmers over the past 10 years. This is a review of the different models I’ve been using.


From left to right

  • Specialized
  • Altura ergofit
  • DHB Vaeon Roubaix
  • Castelli nanoflex
  • Blue ‘prorace’ – discontinued.

Not featured here, I’ve also tried on some Impsport custom legwarmers.

Features I look for in leg warmers:

  • Not too tight so when cycling you don’t feel they are restricting your movement.
  • Stay in position, don’t roll down your leg
  • Warm. – different degrees of warmth depending on conditions. I like to have a thin pair, and a warmer pair.
  • Zip is useful for taking off over cycling shoes

To a large degree, some of these features need picking the right size as much as the individual brand.


I like the Specialized leg warmer because it has a soft and flexible fabric. When you put it on, it doesn’t appear too tight. They are also quite thin, which makes it good for those times when it’s warming up, but not quite ready for shorts.

I have size L. It is prone to slip down, but if you put it underneath a pair of shorts, then it stays fine. Because it is thin, it dries pretty quick.

I’ve had it for over 5 years and has lasted well. Simple, but effective. They seem to have discontinued this model, which is a shame because it has been a very good product. The new Specialized leg warmer is called the Specialized EZ, I haven’t tried it, and unfortunately, it’s a bit more expensive (up from £32 to £40). Specialized EZ at Evans

Altura Ergofit

altura-ergo-fitThis was one of the most expensive leg warmer. The idea is that it comes pre-cut in the shape of a leg. It doesn’t lie flat, but has the bend built into the knee. The idea is that anatomically designed for your leg, it stays in place whilst offering greater freedom of movement.

Initially I ordered a size L, but this proved too big for me. It wouldn’t stay up and was very long. I sent it back and got a size M. This definitely stayed up, but it was a real struggle to get the leg on. The end of the leg warmer is stiff and small, to get it over your foot you have to take off your socks and really give it a good yank. Also, after a few weeks, I developed a hole in the stitching. The leg warmer felt quite tight when riding.

This has been the most disappointing leg warmer, because it isn’t comfortable and is difficult to get on, causing the stitching to come loose. It may just be unlucky with the sizing, but large felt too big, and medium felt too small. It seems a good idea to have an anatomical fit for the shape of the leg, but somehow it didn’t work for me. If you look at other reviews, other people are more positive, so you might have a different experience.

Clip on SKS Mudguards review

For the past four years, I’ve been using different types of SKS mudguards on my winter training bikes. Overall, I’m very pleased with the product. They do the main job of keeping the worst spray off your clothes. They are also quite easy to fit and adjust. They have also proved satisfactorily resilient.

Original SKS race blades.

I bought these original SKS race blades about four or five years ago. I can’t remember how many years, but they are still going strong.

After a few years, I once had a problem with the black supports coming away from the metal mudguard, but a bit of super-glue did the trick and they are still working on this Ribble.


SKS Race blade mudguard

This came out about two years ago. I was sent a free review copy. I was pleased to get a free review copy because I probably would have been willing to buy. They are an improved version of the original race blades. They have better adjust ability and a bit longer protection at the end, with those clip on flaps. They look pretty elegant with a smart carbon finish.


Advantages of SKS race blades

  • They are quick to fit on. No tools are needed. Just adjust with your hands. If they do rub, it is usually easy to fix by moving the different parts of the adjustable mudguards.
  • You don’t have to take off brakes to fit.
  • They are good for road bikes with narrow clearance between wheel and frame/brake
  • They are light only 250 grams, and are quite unobtrusive on the bike.
  • They are quiet with no rattle, like I used to get on the old fashioned mudguards.
  • They are like quick release wheels. It’s less than 30 seconds  to take off, and perhaps a minute or two to fit on. Excellent if packing a bike up.
  • They have proved quite robust.
  • You can choose the wide road version or narrow road version depending on size of road tyres. The narrow are for 25″ and less.sks-race-blade-front
  • With a bit of fiddling, they fitted my unusually shaped forks on this Ribble. There is also quite a narrow clearance between wheel and frame on this bike. Though whether they fit all bikes, I’m not sure.


  • Unlike traditional mudguards they don’t offer all round wheel protection. You get even more water and mud flying out by the rear brake, so it needs a bit of cleaning.
  • They are not quite as solid as the more traditional muguards. If you lean your bike against wall with mudguards, they may get put out of shape, requiring adjustment.

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Stages power meters

Stages power meter promise reliable power meter recording at a relatively cheap price. Whilst many SRMs can go for over £2,000. Stages power meters will be £599 (For Shimano 105) to £799 (Shimano Dura Ace 7900). Not only that but they are lightweight (20grams) and easy to switch between bikes.


This summer I spent quite a bit of time researching power meters and I came to the conclusion, I wanted  to get the cheapest one. For me, this was Quark, I ended up spending £1,400 and it was a big hole in the cycling budget.

Quark Elsa

Firstly, the Quark experience has not been so good. A few weeks after buying (and after one race) it broke. We spent ages trying to fix the power meter reading, but the problem was in the crank arm itself so with help of Beeline we sent it back to the distributor. After a delay they sent it back saying it worked. But, it didn’t work, and they hadn’t even put a battery in it. Then we had to send back again. Eventually, four months after it stopped working (Sep 15) I’ve finally got it back in working condition yesterday (Jan 15). It would have been interesting, if not useful being able to use for the hill climb season. It was a lot of toing and froing between the bikeshop. Though in retrospective, I was glad I bought it from Beeline, as they were very helpful in dealing with the Quark distributor.

Whilst the Quark was in the workshop, getting returned , I came to hear about a new power meter called Stages which you just fit to a crank arm. I soon started to regret buying Quark and thought if I’d waited I could have saved £800 and the pain of my Quark not working. Stages seemed to give everything I want from a power meter.

Advantages of Stages

  • Very light 20 grams! (important for hill climbers)
  • Easy to put on – Even easier than Quark. Even I a self-confessed non bike mechanic could move Stages around without even having to drive bike to bikeshop (something I dislike having to do)
  • Much cheaper than other power meters.
  • You don’t have to worry about changing wheels / changing bikes. As long as you have same crank arm (which I do) it is quite easy to take off and put on another crank arm. This is a big bonus for me, because I have so many different bikes and wheels.
  • Reviews suggest consistent power meter readings.

Too good to be true?

I’ve already splashed out £1,400 on a Quark, but I plan to leave this on my time trial bike. Once you get used to riding power, you want to see what you do on your other bikes. Even though I only used it for four weeks, I would like to have power meter on road bike to measure hill climb interval efforts. The problem is that I often change from road bike to TT bike almost every day. If I was a pure time triallist one pm may be enough. But, I’m not. Stages seems the obvious choice for a second power meter. Only £700 or £800 so it’s pretty enticing because it doesn’t blow the budget completely.

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Altura night vision flite jacket – long term review

I’ve been using this Altura night vision jacket for over a year. I received it last year as a free product for review.


In summary: it is an excellent light weight / breathable jacket, that you can keep in back pocket or saddle bag. Even after consistent rain for an hour, you stay relatively dry and warm, yet you don’t sweat excessively.


The first downside to the jacket, is that in my case the zip didn’t work. I can’t undo it, without a long time of frustrating tugging and pulling. I have to leave zipped up, and just put over my head. On noting this flaw in the product, I mentioned to the Altura rep, who sent the jacket in the first place. He replied by saying, ‘OK, please don’t mention in your review.’  I never heard anything else, like perhaps a replacement jacket. It wasn’t exactly  the most amazing piece of marketing strategy and customer care.

In fairness, I think I was unlucky. Looking at other online reviews, I’ve not noticed anyone else complain about a broken zip. Perhaps if you had bought a jacket, you would have got better after sales service. The bizarre thing is I keep thinking the jacket is so good, it’s worth buying one just to get one with a working zip, but in the end it doesn’t seem worth the £70 just for jacket with a working zip so I use this good jacket which needs unorthodox putting on. It means I have to stop to put it on, but to be honest I’m no good at putting on jackets whilst cycling – like the pros anyway.


I chose a size L because I’m tall, (6ft 3″) and have long legs. I’m as thin as the proverbial hill climb whippet (36″ chest maybe) so it is inevitably baggy. But, it’s not too bad, I’ve usually got quite a few layers underneath anyway. It does make a difference having a waterproof jacket which goes down just past your wrists. Helps to keep your hands warm. I like it because it seems designed for the racing position. It’s a little on the short side when standing up, but quite good in position.

Waterproofing and breathability

When looking for a waterproof jacket, there seems to be a three way trade off

  1. Price
  2. Waterproofing
  3. Breathability

To score highly on both 2 and 3, you need to pay a lot. At £70, this jacket is quite expensive for a small fold away jacket, but it offers an excellent combination of waterproofing and breathability. This is definitely a proper waterproof jacket (as opposed to ‘water resistant’) I’ve been out in some heavy rain, and feel securely protected from the worst of the weather. But, it’s never too hot, and you can go as hard as you like up hills without becoming excessively sweaty.

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Assos T.607 F.I Mille S5 – long term review


A review of Assos T607 F1 Mile shorts after a year of using them.

Summary They are very expensive for a pair of shorts – around £160. But, they are probably one of the best cycling products I have bought in recent years. They have really made long 5-7 hour winter training rides much more comfortable. I used to get all kinds of pain and discomfort, but these shorts mean I don’t even think about that aspect of cycling.


Admittedly I have worn some pretty cheap and unconvincing shorts in the past. This was a big step forward from a pair of shorts costing £40 to nearly four times the value. But, I couldn’t go back to the older shorts now.


A year ago, I also bought some F1 Assos Uno cycle shorts for £117.  They are also excellent, But, I find I tend to wear these T607 more often because I prefer the insulation and they are slightly more comfortable than even the F1 Uno.

The problem with cycling is that there is always a temptation to spend lots of money – weight saving carbon fibre, cool clothing, new bike e.t.c. It’s always hard to know whether spending these great sums is justified.

Firstly, it’s not often you buy a pair of shorts, and with it you get an owners manual. There’s some rather discouraging warnings.

  • Do not machine wash
  • Do not wash with other clothes.
  • Do not ride near brambles
  • Do not get caught in velcro
  • (Do not get pushed into barbed wire by TV motorbike) (youtube)

Overall, there seems to be a strong warning emanating from this owners manual – Assos shorts are not designed to last. Not the most reassuring thing to read about something just costing shy of £160. Because of this I have taken care of these shorts more than any other piece of clothing I have owned.

I have hand washed them, I have taken a pee, according to the users manual, I have even avoided jumping through bramble whilst wearing them

One year on, I have got considerable use out of them, and they are still going strong. The padding is starting to be slightly worn, but it doesn’t look like it needs replacing. I’m hopefully of getting another couple of years use out of them.


Assos warn that proper sizing is very important. Get a size too big and it won’t stay still and move around. Get a size too small and it will stretch the seams and over time disintegrate (there’s a lot of talk about the shorts disintegrating). Rather worryingly, they say most professionals usually start in size L, and later in the season move down to size M. All very well for professionals who don’t have to pay £150 to change sizes. But, I want to get size right first time. I choose size L because it fitted my height 180-185cm, (but not the weight of 80kg).

I have worn the large sizes for over a year, and it still fits fine. There is no need of wanting to move down a size. But, for obvious reasons, you want to take care with getting the right size. Importantly, there should be a stretching of shorts when you stand up in them. The important thing is that they fit you whilst in the cycling position.

Comfort of Ride

The fabric is amazingly comfortable, the shorts are comfortable everywhere. As Assos states, when you stand up, it feels tight because it’s designed to be worn in the cycle posture. And I don’t think you need a Swiss owners manual to tell you these shorts are not designed for ‘social use’ (though the ever-thorough Swiss do actually tell you that they don’t recommend wearing these shorts in a ‘social situation’)

The manual tells you to not pull the shorts into place, but merely let the shorts do the work. I oblige and let the fabric move into position, as I set off down the road. The dimpled padded insert is considerable and really well designed. Not like some old shorts where the rather feeble padding seems to stop at an inappropriate point.

After two hours into the ride, you realise you’ve hardly noticed your saddle or seating position. It’s very comfortable. After five hours in the saddle, the first signs of hardness start to appear. But, this is relatively mild. At the end of the ride, I was really praising the design of the saddle. It’s done a lot to improve the ride quality over other cycle shorts. It is a big step up from any other cycle shorts that I have experienced. This winter I have been doing rides of up to seven hours. I’ve never experienced any real discomfort. I used to suffer from a lot of the dreaded saddle sore. But, this past year, I have rarely suffered, apart from after a few time trials (where I wear skinsuit and not these shorts)

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Bontrager RXL waterproof overshoes


Review of the The Bontrager RXL waterproof overshoe.

I’m always on the lookout for warm footwear and accessories. These Bontrager RXL overshoes looked very warm with a generous fleece lining. They also came recommended from Steve, the bike mechanic in BikeZone. Despite already having a pair of overshoes, I bought these. They cost £36, so I was hoping they would give an impressive performance to justify the price tag. Steve gave me a tip that he recommended erring on the side of getting a bigger size.

He said the first pair he had were tight, restricting the blood flow and defeating the purpose of overshoes. I take shoe size 46.5, so I chose the XL size which says it fits 47-48. It proved a good fit for my Mavic cycling shoes – size 46.5. I’m sure it would be fine also for shoe size 47, but 48 might be a little on the tight side. Despite getting XL, it was a snug fit, and once on didn’t move. There is a good strong zip and it is well made.



Underneath the shoe is designed for durability, with generous holes and no insulation. It means it won’t deteriorate walking around, but it doesn’t offer any insulation from the underneath. A complement to this shoe may be a lining of your shoe pad.



The main selling point for this overshoe was the generous fleece lining. It is warmer that most overshoes. My feet were quite warm at 10 degrees without the usual hotpads. These over shoes are ideal for really cold days.


If you’re feet aren’t prone to the cold, these might even be a bit warm during spring and autumn, where it is a close call on whether to wear overshoes or not. If you don’t often get cold feet, you might be better off with a cheaper and slightly thinner overshoe. At £40, it really is quite an expensive overshoe.


If you want maximum insulation for an overshoe, it is hard to beat this.

Despite warmth and the layers of insulation, I find it perfectly breathable. It’s not sweaty. I sometimes find the neoprene overshoes to be a bit on the sweaty side.

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