Friday, 17 November 2017

British Cycling allow disc brakes in road races for 2018!

Just as I was mulling over what events to enter next year, British Cycling announce that they are going to allow disc brakes in road races.
Tip toeing around Goodwood in the bunch
I entered a closed circuit race at Goodwood last summer, but I had to break my old Trek out of retirement, as it was the only bike I had that was eligible. I wasn’t feeling particularly confident about the experience of bunch racing anyway, given the hospital visit that followed my previous road race! So not being on my usual bike didn’t help. Also the Merida Scultura is undoubtedly a much better weapon for racing. I know “it’s not about the bike” but it would certainly help psychologically at least.
Race legal this year!
So I am delighted that BC have seen the light. I know others will not be, siting the discrepancy in braking ability within the bunch as dangerous – not an argument I understand. The aim of the announcement was to make the sport more inclusive and accessible. For me at least it has worked. I wasn’t planning on adding any road events to my calendar for 2018, but now I’ll definitely give it some consideration. (Just don't tell Mrs C!)

Well done British Cycling!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

If it ain't raining, it ain't training!

As mentioned in my previous post, it has been a busy few weeks. We’ve closed the shop, which was the most manically, busiest time I've ever experienced. I then immediately started my new job the very next day. The new commute ride is under 3 miles if I go direct, so it will need some extending if the journey is to provide any kind of serious training.

With no more workshop I've also had to migrate my cycling kit back home. Evenings are once again spent beavering away in the shed! Talking of the evenings, now the clocks have changed it is dark early. So it can take extra motivation to get the bike out at the end of a busy day.

As an example, the weather forecast was terrible for Tuesday, with heavy rain moving in around 6pm. I dropped everything at 5pm and was out the office door in my cycle kit by 5.15. A light drizzle was already falling and immediately fogged up my glasses as I cruised out of the car park. If I rode straight home I’d beat the worst of the weather and be home and dry in around 15 minutes.

However, my extra motivation to stay out came in the form of the weekly club ride which was due to meet outside the old shop at 6.30. I was out and kitted up - what was a bit of rain! So with over an hour to kill I cruised through town and out into the lanes north of Chichester. The rain became heavier and heavier and I got slowly damper, but the effort kept me warm. With over 20 miles in the bank I rolled up to the shop just as the heavens really let rip. 

The rain pounded the road, drumming on my cycle helmet as I waited. I was aware it was madness, but I felt compelled to hang around to see if anyone was as bonkers as me. Amazingly Scott rolled round the corner and joined me in the torrential downpour.

The two of us had just decided that nobody need know if we slipped home instead of committing to the route published on the Whatapp group, when Colin drove up in a sea of spray. For some reason it felt wrong to pack it in now there was three of us. Damn Colin!

So off we set on roads that were more like rivers. The spray from Scotts rear wheel filling my shoes and the wind chilling my hands inside sodden gloves. It was horrific and to any sane human being we were utterly mad. But that sense of camaraderie meant we slogged our way through the darkness to the top of Selhurst. I lost all sense of feeling in my hands on the descent, so we did indeed cut things short, but we’d been out. Together we'd ridden our bikes which I'm sure we'd never have contemplated left to our own devices. We were committed cyclists and proudly posted a photo on social media to prove our dedication to those who had (sensibly) stayed at home. They'd missed out! 

Wet & frozen but we were out riding our bikes!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

2017 Summary

You'll have noticed my weekly blogs have slowed somewhat lately. Such are the pressures for time on a business owner! The big announcement is that City Cycles will be closing this month. Initially this is likely to mean extra pressure on my time, but we'll see how we get on once things settle down.

Away from business autumn is traditionally when the cycling season ends, riders reflect on the achievements of the year and look ahead and start planning their training for the next seasons goals. Here is my look back at 2017 from a cycling point of view.

Club and Sponsorship:
Owner and rider for City Cycles, we were sponsored by McMurdo and Strada wheels.

I continued to race the S-Works Stumpjumper with no upgrades from last year.
I didn’t apply for a British Cycling racing license this year as I had no race goals.

Riding and training time was limited at the end of 2016 and into 2017. So I tried to hang on best I could to a residual level of fitness. I set a basic goal of 100 miles a week, which I have achieved more often than not. The truth is though that 2017 will be my lowest annual total of time in the saddle since 2010.

Finishing 4th in the first Gorrick Masters in January lead to me focusing on the series. Another 4th at round two and then stepping on the podium in 2nd at the third round meant I was leading on points going into the final race. Unfortunately I only managed 6th which meant I tied on points with the winner, losing out on count back to finish second in the series. Disappointed and pleased at the same time!
2nd in the Gorrick Masters Spring Series

I rode against Darren in the Open category at the Southern Champs, having a strong race to finish 6th.

In an attempt to motivate others from the Tuesday shop ride I entered a road race at Goodwood motor circuit in July. It was my first return to bunch road racing since an accident a few years ago at Dunsfold. I was nervous, with very little confidence and didn't enjoy the experience. I did enough to ensure I finished with the bunch and didn't bother contesting for a position.

In August I learnt just how much my fitness has suffered compared to previous years. At the Brighton Big Dog I had to really reign myself in just to ensure I finished. In the end 14th wasn’t a bad result - but I felt terrible!
Relief as I crossed the line at Brighton Big Dig with a beer

Weekly Tuesday shop rides have been a success and became my cycling social outing! The pace could be slow, but it got me out every week regardless of the weather and we have created a great group that will hopefully continue to cycle together in the future.

I wasn’t often free to meet up with the usual Sunday group, but it was great to catch up on the rare occasion we did all make it out together.

Isle of Wight ride. The weather was utterly glorious, the roads quite and smooth - 100 miles with great company.

In summary:
Fitness might be fading and there was much less opportunity for cycling, but I was still out their enjoying racing and riding my bike!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Merida Launch Event 2018

Last week I made the 3 hour drive to Nottingham and attended the Merida 2018 launch event. As the quote goes, "Merida are the biggest bike company you've never heard of". They are in fact the 2nd largest bicycle manufacturer in the world and have been producing bikes for better known names for decades. These include Specialized of whom they hold a 49% stake and the Merida bikes roll off the produciton line next to those from the big 'S'.

Obviously at such an event it is the new bikes that attract the attention. Without doubt the most attention grabbing of these is the redesigned Reacto. The Merida design office in Germany has been busy, improving the aerodynamic efficiency by 5% while at the same time decreasing the weight to around 1kg. This makes the aero focused bike a consideration as an everyday bike, even if you live in the hills. 

Merida also claim the new Reacto is more comfortable. A large part of this is the S-Flex seatpost, which now has a bigger flexible 'zone', but also the seatstays have been re-profiled to increase vertical compliance.

The other fresh faced bike from the Taiwnese / German giants is the all new Silex. This is Merida's first foray into the, on trend, gravel bike market. I'll admit that from the initial photos I didn't think the Silex wasn much of a looker. However, the Silex was the star of the show for me! That long head tube which initially grated is growing on me. It has a purpose to. It raises the front of the bike to put the rider in a more stable, upright position increasing comfort and improving confidence in loose conditions. It also makes the front of the bike stiffer and improves steering compared to the stack of headset spacers that riders often use to raise the handlebar of their bike.

Swinging a leg over the bike I just wanted to ride it away. As a mountain biker it felt totally natural, this was a road bike made for me. Long top tube, low bottom bracket and short stem. It is a bike intended for unpaved roads and can take tyres up to 42mm or 2.25in 650B's. I can't wait to ride one!

On the mountain bike side of things there is a new One-Forty, which follows on the coat tails of the critically acclaimed One-Sixty. It looks agressive standing still, sitting on its 2.6in tyres. Given how I enjoyed riding the shorter travel One-Twenty last year I can only begin to imagine how fun this bike would be to ride.

As a XC racer there wasn't anything new for me. The carbon Big Nine remains unchanged as does the Ninety-Six full sus race bike. The aluminium Big Nine and Big Seven frame has been redesigned and looks hot with it's new shaped alloy tubing.

Friday, 25 August 2017


Emptying my pockets after the Big Dog race.

1 oat bar, 4 energy bars, 1 gel, 1 caffeine gel, 12 energy blocks, 2 bananas, 5.5 litres of electrolyte water and 1 litre of water.

The list above was all digested by me during 6 hours of racing at Brighton Big Dog. Written down it seems like a lot, but during the race I was craving my next hit and would definitely have eaten even more if I could have crammed it into my jersey pockets.

If you want to avoid hitting the dreaded wall, and ward off cramp during a longer event it is essential that you refuel as you ride. I started a habit a long time ago of making myself eat every 30 minutes during a race, regardless of the situation. It pays off in the long run even if you have to surrender a position while munching through a banana.

Energy gels and bars are pretty sickly affairs and can start to get unpalatable when you've already eaten half a dozen that morning. So I have always mixed in bananas, fig rolls and oat bars to keep things appetizing. Actually the Big Dog was the first race for a long time where I haven't taken fig rolls. I'm a recent convert to Clif Bloks energy chews. There are 6 of the little bite sized cubes in the tube which you can squeeze out one at a time. I started with strawberry flavour, dabbled with the caffeine Black Current chews, but my personal favourite is the salty Margarita with added sodium.

Clif bars are great, and more oat bar than energy bar - so less sickly. Peanut Butter is my current fave, but I could be tempted by any. Otherwise I mix and match an assortment of the SIS bars and gels to keep it fresh and interesting.

Despite all the millions invested in the development of these energy foods I still find that the good old banana gives me the best mid race boost. The potassium also wards off cramps, the only negative being that they are slightly difficult to transport. (In the end you get used to eating mushy banana. It's easier to chew anyway!)

I always add SIS electrolyte tablets to my bottles. Again it gives you more energy than standard water, although I'll often keep a plain water bottle in the pit area at hotter events, which can be gulped or poured over
the head when stopping to pick up supplies.

Different riders will swear by all sorts of mid race snacks. The important thing is to find what works for you and what will seem appetizing and digestible 5 hours into an event. Practice eating on social rides before your big event so your body is used to digesting food on the go.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Ben's Bike for Brighton Big Dog

Brighton Big Dog is all about the climbs. Sure this means there is an equal amount fo sweet descents, but these are more flowing and aren't particularly techincal. A lightweight hardtail is the weapon of choice on such a climbers course. Sure you could argue that over six hours a full suspension bike will reduce fatigue as you hammer over a gazillion roots. However, if you want pure speed I think a weight weenie race bike will get you round the 6 mile course faster every time.

For 2017 I'm still riding my S-Works Stumpjumper, the medium frame weighing just over 1kg. Up front are the 100mm travel DT Swiss OMP O.L.D Race forks, which are buttery smooth, weigh less than two full water bottles and can be locked out via the neat bar remote when stonking on the pedals up a climb.

Such are the severity of a couple of the climbs that this is one of those rare occasions where I use the lowest gear. Since Switzerland last summer I have been running a 30t Absolute Black oval chainring paired with a 10-42 cassette at the rear.

Tyres are another area to save weight and reduce rolling resistance. I have reviewed the Vittoria Peyote on my blog previously and love the confidence and predictability it provides up front. I'm a recent convert to the rediculously skinny and low profile Specialized Renegade, but I have been impressed. Early in the race when it was still a bit greasey under the trees I had to observe a little caution on the descents, but it rolled fast everywhere else. Be warned I opted for the Control casing, the lighter S-Works is a little fragile and prone to punctures.

XTR brakes, shifters and rear mech peformed faultlessly as usual. I pinch a few grams back by using Hope floating disc rotors, there are even lighter options out there, but I haven't found one that offers the stopping power and control of the Hopes.

I've got a 17 degree negative rise Ritchey WCS stem to slam the 680mm Pro handlebar as low as it can go. Lightweight carbon rims on Stans hubs, built up by Darren at Strada wheels keep the weight to a minimum, but are reliable and easy to maintain.

Hanging under the Phenom saddle is a saddle bag. Largely due to laziness, unusually I carried two inner tubes where I'd normally have saved a few grams and left the second in the pit area. Packed in with the tubes were two tyre levers, a Topeak chain tool and SRAM chain link. I carried a Lezyne pump in my jersey pocket and left the CO2 cannister at home this time to make room for the second tube. 

She's a lightweight beauty and she didn't skip a beat the entire race.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Brighton Big Dog 2017

What a difference a year makes! 12 months ago Big Dog was the first weekend of a triple header that included the Swiss Grand Raid and the National Marathon Champs. I arrived prepared, fit and ready for 6 hours and the best part of 3000m of climbing. As a result I finished 10th in a high class field which included the National Champion. This year I had no competitive marathon events under my belt before Brighton and only a fraction of the mileage in my legs. I was going to have to rely on experience and determination.

My first mistake was pretty fundamental. My daughter woke me at 6.30am so we got up and had breakfast. I started the race at 12pm having eaten nothing since my morning bowl of cereal, apart from a banana. The 12 o-clock start is tricky, but an early lunch would have set me up far better for 6 hours of grueling racing. 

The second mistake was hoping that I'd somehow rediscover the form of 12 months ago. The competitive instinct meant I set off at a similar pace to last year. The reality check came 4 laps in, when after only 2hrs and 30 minutes I had my first twang of cramp in my thighs. There was still a very long way to go, so I ate everything I had in my jersey pockets, downed my bottle of water and backed right off. Laps 5 and 6 were slow as I spun my way up the climbs, but luckily I started to recover and felt strong enough to push a little harder again on the final couple of laps. 

Brighton Big Dog is undoubtably the best event I attend in terms of atmosphere, organisation and the fantastic course. The route is really one for the climbers, with several long agonising fireroad ascents and a couple of sharp, technical, rooty climbs thrown in for good measure. The reward for all that climbing is some absolutely awesome singletrack decents. It's very enjoyable and rewarding. Luckily the rain over night hadn't made much impact under the trees of Stanmer park and the trails were running fast in the sunshine.

Considering the mess I was in at the half way point I am really proud to hold it all together and make it to the finish at all. 14th out of 72 in an age range of 18 to 39 ain't bad either for an old timer 6 months from his 40th birthday.