Thursday, 20 July 2017

Schwalbe Pro One Tyre Review- Road Tubeless

There has been lots of road cycling topics on my blog recently, you'd be forgiven for forgetting I am an mountain biker! This is a review for tubeless road bike tyres, a mountain biking staple for many years that is now finally coming across to the road.


I purchased the Schwalbe Pro One's as a pair in a conversion pack supplied with latex and tyre lubricant. I chose 25mm tyres which I fitted to a pair of Roval CLX 32 rims. 

Mounting tubeless tyres is something I've done a thousand times on the mountain bike. The process was the same and there were no unexpected surprises with the Pro One's. They snapped onto the rim easily and I added the sealant through the valve, removing the core with the tool supplied with the tyre kit. Both tyres inflated with minimal fuss using a track pump. Where it was slightly more unnerving was pumping them up to 90 psi instead of 20, and it certainly made me jump as the bead popped into place with a loud 'crack!'

First impressions are muted by the squeaky noise the fresh rubber makes as it squirms along the asphalt. The best way to describe it is like wearing new trainers at the squash court. Whether this is mould release agent from manufacture I don't know, but it does fade quite quickly. Grip is also worryingly low during those early first few miles. I'd say it was about 60-80 miles before my confidence grew and I was able to lean on the tyres during high speed corners. I haven't experienced this with new tyres before and don't know why tubeless tyres should be any different.

One of the definite advantages of the tubeless set-up was the ability to run the tyres at 80 to 85psi. There is a significant improvement in comfort with no trade off in rolling resistance compared to the 95 to 100psi I'd normally run on a tubed set-up.

I really don't rate the Schwalbe Doc Blue latex supplied with the kit. Overnight between every ride for the first week the tyres went flat. They stayed up during the rides, but you seem to need to keep the latex active inside the tyre because as soon as I stopped the pressures would drop. Swapping to Stans No Tubes immediately cured the problem.

The first wet ride was a big disappointment. The Pro Ones are sketchy, providing very little confidence in corners and desperately low grip compared to something like the similarly priced Continental 4000s2. On steep climbs the rear wheel was spinning out, while those around me encountered no such difficulties finding traction. Bear in mind that the lower pressures of tubeless tyres should, in theory, offer more grip due to the larger contact area with the ground. The rain had also washed out flints and grit which lead to a small cut in the center of the tyre which refused to seal.

Nowadays when I ride a mountain bike with inner tubes it feels totally wooden. The same was true when I swapped back to tubes after riding the Pro Ones. So I've learnt that tubeless has definite advantages in terms of the ride quality, but after a month and several hundred miles the Schwalbe Pro Ones are unfortunately coming off the bike.  

Even after the unusual bedding in period the Schwalbe Pro Ones do not offer the performance of a high quality tubed tyre and I'd definitely avoid the Schwalbe latex. Time for me to explore some other tubeless options.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Road Racing - I probably won't be trying it again.

This blog is about me (Ben) racing bikes. Nothing says what type of bikes!

Mountain Biking is of course my first love, it's in my DNA. Its everything I love about cycling. I've been racing off-road for 20 years, seen it all and know the scene inside out. My limited experience of road racing is two closed circuit races at a 4th cat level. The second race was yesterday and having finished there was no rush of excitement and verbal diarrhea that comes after an off-road event. Sitting here now I am not motivated in any way to try it again. Why?


First the positive. It certainly makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck the first time you ride at high speed in a large peleton. It's like nothing else in cycling, just the noise of 50 bikes is something else.

After a few minutes you get used to riding elbow to elbow, sucked along by those in front. The excitement level drops. You then spend the next 8 laps desperately trying to hold your line and not to collide with those around you. You want to stay tucked into the group although you seem magnetically drawn to the back.

Of course at some point you decide to break the boredom by visiting the front of the pack. You grab a wheel and work your way forward. Its great, you're going nearly 30mph and feeling strong - maybe you could make a break? Then the rider ahead pulls over and the wind hits you like you've ridden into a brick wall. You are at the head to a huge arrow of riders and your legs are burning with the effort. After what seems like eternity, somebody comes through and you begin to freefall like a stone back through the pack. The effort has pushed you to your physical limit and now your legs are churning, lungs heaving as the last rider slips past. You have to get out of the saddle and sprint to try and hang onto the same group which a moment ago you were leading.

After a couple more laps you recover and settle back into the group. The pace dips and then picks up again, the peloton concertinas and then stretches out. All you and majority of the others want to do is stay safely in the pack. A few at the front try fruitlessly to escape, the best getting maybe 20 meters down the road before they too fade and drop back.

90% of the race is about survival and staying upright. Final lap - the bell rings signalling the start of the real race. The pace increases dramatically as everyone jostles for a position near the front. People take risks as they try to move forward and things get a little scary. Sweeping into the last corner those who have managed to get into the lead fight out the sprint, the rest coast across the line, finishing position now totally irrelevant. You could have spent the entire race rolling along merrily in the middle of the group without putting in any effort at all.

In a mountain bike race you have to push hard for the entire distance. You might be 50th, but you'll fight tooth and nail with the rider ahead for 49th. There is always somebody to race, and the course itself to challenge yourself against. Road racing isn't like that. You wait the entire race, and if you choose the wrong wheel to follow at the critical moment you've boxed out and have to wait for next week.

Perhaps that is what motivates people - the thought that perhaps it'll work out next time and they will be in the right place at the right time. It requires fitness undoubtedly, skill to position and gauge your effort but definitely luck. Personally I think I'll stick to the knobbly tyres.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Beware of the dark side!

Today is race day! But instead of packing the shock pump and driving into a muddy wood I'm heading for the glamour of Goodwood motor circuit. This is because I am racing a closed circuit road race.

This will be only my second competitive outing on the black top. Unfortunately my first ended in a London A&E department, having my ear sewn back on. This wasn't my fault. Unlike mountain biking accidents which are a result of your own lack of talent and the trees don't tend to leap out at you. In a road race you are very dependent on the other riders. My previous race came to a dramatic end when the rider ahead of me unclipped and went down as he opened up the final sprint. At 30 mph there wasn't any time to take avoiding action.

Due to the UCI's aversion to disc brakes I'll be taking the same old bike to Goodwood. This has a tiny 46t chainring so there will not be much chance of me taking part in the sprint today - which is probably a good thing! This evenings race is more about the atmosphere and the experience.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Merida One-Twenty 7 XT Review


This is a very different bike to the usual XC race machines I normally ride. It is the type of bike that encourages you to have fun and push boundaries.

120mm may not sound like a lot of travel and by modern standards it isn't, but I ended up throwing it downhill like a hooligan. Lets not pretend here, I normally like both wheels attached to the ground and speed to be a result of my own input rather than gravity assisted. However the Merida encouraged me to get the pads out of the shed for the first time in years and try a style of riding that is slightly different.

The frame is technically a single pivot design with surprise, surprise 120mm of travel courtesy of a Fox EVOL shock. The shock leverage is controlled by a linkage and is mounted to the lover swingarm at the other end. This works a treat, you feel well supported when pedalling with the rear end beautifully controlled over moderately rough stuff  the suspension doing a great job of keeping the rear wheel on the ground. Taking it a step further even I was able to easily use the maximum amount of travel on offer.

The XT edition I was riding came with a 130mm travel Rock Shox Sektor fork. This is the let down of the bike. The action of the fork is nowhere near as smooth and reactive as the rear suspension, which leaves the bike feeling a bit mismatched. I tried running the fork at quite a low pressure to encourage a more supple feel, but it still felt wooden. The bike I had was the 2016 version and I notice Merida have specced a Fox fork this year, perhaps this will have resolved the problem.

The full XT drivechain works beautifully as I have come to expect of Shimano. Even the slightly tired groupset on my demo bike never skipped a beat, even as I stumbled over jumps and drops.

It isn't the lightest bike in the world, but the aluminium frame is pretty easy on the scales compared to the competition. Coupled with the fork and shock lock outs you can propel yourself uphill efficiently, but the fun begins when you've got to the top of the hill. It sure brings a smile to your face on the way back down. You'll get the most out of this bike when you ride it aggressively, and chuck it around a bit. The handling is on the money and the rear suspension is impressive. The Merida One Twenty is a bit of a blast!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Southern XC Championship

As we negotiated the nonchalant New Forest ponies I was reminded of the frustration of last years Southern Area Championships. I missed out on the podium by half a second. Once again the champs were being held at Crow Hill, but 12 months later given my limited training I wasn't expecting to be anywhere near the podium this time round.



The largest number of riders I have seen at a race for some time gathered in the sunshine. Having missed the previous rounds I wasn't gridded, but was lucky to still find myself on the second row for the start. We sprinted away around the wide sweeping opening curves before we descended down to the wood. I made a good get away escaping the melee behind. No chance to look back but there was plenty of shouting and the unmistakable sound of bikes tangling as elbows and handlebars became intertwined.

I surrendered a couple of places before we turned into the first series of tricky left and right bends. Under the trees the path was still damp and along with wet roots it meant we had to tip toe around until the course opened up and the speed increased again.

There was a long double track path which gradually lead into the first climb. Amazingly in a race of 60 riders I found myself isolated, too far back to get a slip stream from the group ahead, but a few seconds clear of those frantically chasing behind.

The wooded sections were littered with roots. As I clattered through, bouncing over the serpentine network of woody limbs I wished for the extra climbing traction and confidence on descents of a full suspension bike.

I passed one or two stragglers that fell back from the group ahead of me, finishing the first lap somewhere outside the top 10. I continued to race on my own, the group dangling like a carrot a few seconds ahead. I was caught by one rider who passed me during the second lap, but I quickly got back in front towing him along behind me for a while. At least this kept me focused as it can be hard to maintain a race pace on your own.

Into the third lap I eventually closed on the remains of the group I had been chasing all race. I tucked in amongst the wheels waiting for the long fireroad at the beginning of the final lap to make my attack. In preparation I moved up to second in the group as we worked through the last section of singletrack before the course opened up. There was one particularly large root which I had jumped on the previous 3 laps. For some reason as I chased closely behind the rider ahead I decided to swing around the root this time. At high speed my front wheel caught the edge of the root and washed out bringing me crashing to the ground in a cloud of gravel and dust.

Leaping quickly back on I discovered my brake and gear lever had been twisted round the handlebar, so I had to try and beat them back into position while negotiating the rest of the roots and trees. I hurtled along the fireroad roaring straight past the group I had been with, even catching a couple of others by the top of the climb.

Fuelled by adrenalin I chased every wheel. I was catching back markers now so I was passing riders left, right and center. On the final climb where last year I had so narrowly missed out on a podium, there was one final rider up ahead. I closed in and dodged past dashing for the line

It seems it wasn't just back markers I had been passing. Checking the results I ended the final lap in 6th place only a minute off the podium. So perhaps my fitness hasn't evaporated as much as I feared. In the end I am immensely pleased with how the race went and proud of the result.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Beginners Guide XC Racing - UK

You have been riding for a while and getting competitive with your riding buddies trying to be the first to the top of that killer climb during the Sunday social ride. Now you have decided to take the plunge and want to try your first XC (cross country) mountain bike race. So which category do you enter and what can you expect on the day?

At first glance the categories can seem confusing but if you are just starting out here are the options:

Ability based categories:

Fun
The easy, stress free first step. Often involves just a single 30 minute lap of the course. You'll get a huge range of abilities and equipment in a Fun race. Apart from a few ringers at the front you'll not need to worry about things getting overly competitive. It's a chance to find you feet and enjoy riding the course.

Open
Exactly what it says - open to everyone. Expect an hour to 90 minutes of racing. Laps times at the front will be comparative with the leading times, so it'll provide you with a good bench mark of your level over a representative race distance.

Sport/Expert/Elite
These levels are recognised nationally (and internationally) by British Cycling and the UCI. If you have a race licence you begin your route up the tiered ranking in the Sport category. Based on your results you earn points and at the end of the season the top Sport riders in the country get upgraded to Expert and from Expert to Elite. These categories are for those aged 18-30. The race will probably be a lap longer than the Open race and obviously very competitive. This is where the serious club and sponsored riders fight it out.

Age based categories:

Masters / Veterans / Grand Vets / Super Vets
Over 30? Never fear you can race against people of similar vintage to yourself! Masters is 30-39, Veterans 40-49, Grand Vets 50-59 and Super Vets 60+. Don't think you're in for a easy time however, this is where the ex-pros end up in the twilight of their careers!

Start lines can be busy places get their early!

Race Day - What to expect
Make sure your bike is clean and well prepared the night before. A race is a tough environment for man and machinery, even very minor mechanical issues will cost you time and may end your race completely. Make sure you have tested your bike in its race spec. Race day is not the time to try something new, you want to be familiar with your bike if you are going to get the most out of it.

Arrive at the venue nice and early. Allow a minimum of an hour before your race. You will need to register and collect your number, and pre-ride the course. At some national events there are designated practice times, local events don't tend to have limits provided you stay out of the way of racers  while you're out on the course. Familiarising yourself with the route is very important. Going the wrong would be very costly and you'll also need to know if there are any technical sections where you may elect to ride the slower but easier 'B-line'. Charging around the corner into an unexpected gap jump is not something you want to do in a race. Also it gives you a feel for the lap and where to focus your efforts and where the passing opportunities are. 

Get to the start line at least 10 minutes before the race is due to begin. It is usual for different categories to start one after the other, so to avoid having to push your way through a throng of anxious hyped up racers make sure you know where you are meant to be and when. Some races are gridded based on performance at previous events so either wait for your name to be called or slot in at the back. Once on the grid stay where the commisaire instructs and wait for the starters horn/whistle/gun. You usually get 1 minute, 30 second and 10 second warnings.
The start is always a sprint! Hold your own but do so fairly.
The start will be fast as everyone jostles for position. Once underway fight for space and hold your ground but do it fairly. Making yourself as wide as you can is expected, but bumping and pushing is not going to go down well and may get you disqualified. When catching a slower rider an early shout of "Rider!" will make them aware of your approach. If you can help further and say "On your left/right" it will minimise time lost when passing. Obviously you don't have to let riders from your race through. However, you may be caught by faster riders from other categories racing at the same time as you. Imagine the shoe was on the other foot and allow them through as soon as possible. Nothing is more frustrating during a race than seeing a hard earned 10 second lead evapourate following somebody from a different race. So stay aware of your surroundings.

After you flop over the line in exhaustion enjoy a friendly chat with the guy who you spent the whole race chasing but just pipped you. At the end of the day racing is a very social activity, and you are likely to learn a lot from listening to how other riders handled the course, set-up their bike or their preparation. Tips that will be very useful next time! Stay to applaud the podium or collect your trophy and then head home with the warm post race buzz!