Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Goodwood 7 Hill Challenge

On Sunday I set myself a challenge. The chalky folds of the South Downs rise up north of Chichester, the first ridge stretching east from St Roches Hill to Bignor. This is the scenic location for Goodwood race course and offers great views of the coast to the south, and the scenic South Downs national park to the north.

Ignoring my commute, almost every ride I do starts or finishes (sometimes both) with a climb over this chalky obstacle. There are 7 surfaced roads you can use to reach the summit and my personal challenge was to tackle them all in a single ride. To add a little complexity I decided to do so without repeating any section of road in the same direction.

The southern slopes provide three longer steady climbs of a generally lower gradient, the northern face four shorter, steep, stinging ascents. The valley on the northern side of this ridge is one of the most beautiful in the local area. The villages of Singleton, Charlton and East Dean nestle down between the hills, each with its own pub if you are in need of refreshment!

Riding Time: 3hrs (inc. 30min from/to home)
Total Accent: 1023m
Total Distance: 78km

Climb 1 : A285 North from Halnaker
Length: 5.5km
Ascent: 122m
Max Gradient: 6%

Climb 2 : South from East Dean
Max Gradient: 7.5%

Climb 3: Kennel Hill north from Goodwood Motor Circuit
Length: 3.6km
Ascent: 136m
Max Gradient: 7.6%

Climb 4: Town Lane south from Singleton
Length: 2.3km
Ascent: 107m
Max Gradient: 10.6%

Climb 5: Goodwood Hotel north to Pilligreen Lodge
Length: 4.7km
Ascent: 128m
Max Gradient: 6.7%

Climb 6: A285 south to Benges
Ascent: 49m
Max Gradient: 6.3%

Climb 7: Knights Hill south from Charlton
Length: 2km
Ascent: 101m
Max Gradient: 8.1%

It was hard work but on a sunny winters day the beautiful views were more than adequate reward. Unfortunately it is not quite possible to complete the route without repeating a short 200m section from the race course to the Triangle car park. There is persumably an off-road equivalent of this challenge, so far I can think of 6 bridleways leading to the top.....!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Bike Fit

Every year I lavish large sums of money on my bike in the pursuit of extra speed and performance. Often the gains are so negligible and indiscernible, that if they exist at all it is probably only in my head. However, as somebody once said “It’s not about the bike”. At the end of the day it is me that is powering all that expensive carbon and titanium along. Far bigger performance gains could undoubtedly be gained if I ate, slept and trained better. I do what I can in the time available, but cycling is a hobby and has to fit around work and family commitments. So without making drastic changes to my lifestyle it is about being the best I can, with the resources available

With this in mind I had always wanted to have a bike fit session. I have been training and racing bikes for 20 years but much of my bike set-up is formed from habit, I was sure that a fresh pair of eyes would highlight some areas for improvement. So when South Downs Bikes opened their new Bike Fit studio I was one of the first in line!

I rolled my embarrassingly dirty bike into the gleaming brightly lit studio and it was set-up horizontally on a turbo trainer in front of a camera. However, it wasn’t a case of leaping straight on the bike. Far from it, first came a health questionnaire. Injuries, past medical conditions were all covered in detail. Then it was time for the physical examination which was a real eye opener! I was asked to adopt a variety of poses, manipulated on a massage table and even dragged around by my feet. I was truly amazed at the level of detail involved and the time spent discussing each assessment. You do need to be prepared to stand in a brightly lit room barefoot, on one leg, wearing nothing but your cycle shorts! I was diagnosed with collapsing arches which was causing my legs to rotate inwards under load. My right leg was found to be longer than the other, although within normal tolerances I was relieved to hear.

Finally after all this it was at last time to get on the bike. Measurements were taken of my knee angles, hip rotation and other critical dimensions. Then literally mm by mm my cleats, and then saddle position were modified to move me to a more optimal position. You are constantly asked during the process to test the adjustments on the turbo for a few minutes to make sure you are comfortable before moving on to the next item.

After 3 hours my saddle had been raised 9mm and moved forward by 3mm. My cleats were off-set to allow for a twisted seating position and also moved back by a mm or two. I also had some nice new shoe inserts and most noticeably a longer and lower handlebar stem that almost instantly transformed how I felt on the bike.

The whole morning was a fascinating and informative process. The level of detail and the time dedicated to fine tuning my position was extremely impressive. Once back out on the road things did feel a little strange for a while, but I have adapted quickly. I am now in the process of transferring the measurements to my other bikes, even small gains will almost certainly benefit my cycling more than saving 20g on a new titanium widget. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Brass Monkeys Winter Series Rnd 3

Look 4hrs of riding and no mud!
The second Sunday of the year and it was great to be back racing again. Better still the sun shone and the trails were dry, already trumping 99% of the events I attended in 2012! Five hundred riders gathered at the Tunnel Hill course near Pirbright for the third and final round of the Merida Brass Monkeys winter series. Despite the sunshine the average temperature over the 4 hour 30 minutes I was racing was a bone chilling 2 degrees.

The course would rate highly amongst the best I have ridden. The vast majority being fast flowing single track, even some of the climbs were technically interesting and challenging. As is usual with Gorrick there was a dizzyingly twisty section in the trees, but on the whole it was a really enjoyable 7 mile circuit. However, as I have already said the highlight was undoubtedly how dry the course was despite the recent weather.

As I had missed a round I wasn’t gridded at the start. This made the first few miles more fun than usual! Back in the pack there was plenty of bumping and barging as everyone fought for the same bit of singletrack. Having found some space I was starting to move up the field when the chain dropped off my new mono chainring. Using a single chainring at the front without a chain guide was always going to be a bit of an experiment and now I had the answer! You DO need a chain guide, even with a clutch rear mech fitted. Anyway it was perhaps only 10 to 20 seconds until I was back up and running but several riders had crept past. The chain dropped 3 more times in the first two laps, until I learnt to avoid the higher gears and ride at the top of the cassette, where the extra tension in the derailleur seemed to keep everything in place. Obviously this meant I lacked top end speed on some of the flatter sections but this became less of an issue as the laps wore on and my pace naturally slowed.

To be honest I felt terrible on the bike. I think a lack of off-road riding was partly to blame, with too many training miles spent on the road bike. Off-road riding is a different type of cycling, power output is far less consistent than steady miles on the road ride. Instead you are constantly pushing up a slope or accelerating out of a corner. As I came round to complete my third lap the legs were beginning to wilt and so was my rear tyre. Luckily I was able to nurse the bike back to the pit area with a little air still remaining.

After a top-up I set off again, only to hit the back of the 2 hour race which had just started. To be honest it wouldn’t have been much slower to walk. The riders at the back of the 2 hour “race” are having a lovely ride in the woods, but you certainly wouldn’t describe their pace as brisk. Constant calls of “Rider left” or “Rider right” often result in a worried glance over the shoulder before a wobbly exit into the foliage. Looking at the lap times I would calculate I lost 8 minutes on a 48 minute lap trapped behind slower riders.

However, eventually perseverance paid off and myself and two other 4 hour riders emerged on the other side. Neither of my new companions seemed willing to come past, both sitting contentedly on my rear wheel for over a lap. As I crossed the line for the 5th time the clock said we had been riding for 3hrs 50 minutes. Only one lap remained. I had a final swig from the bottle, a fig roll from my back pocket and dug deep for the push to the line.

We quickly dropped one of my followers but the other stayed glued to me like a shadow. I pushed on a couple of times and the gap grew to 5 -10 metres but he always got back on my wheel. So after four and a half hours of racing we came to the final hill, a steep tangled mass of roots. I kicked as hard as I possibly could, pushing my calves to the very verge of cramping. Half way up was a back marker, I went to the left, my shadow darted to the right. Then I heard a ‘CLUNK’ and a shout of “Oh Fu*k!” I’ve no idea what happened, I didn’t look back, I just kept pushing hard for the line praying my chain wouldn’t derail one final time.

It didn’t and I finished a respectable although not remarkable 16th out of 72 starters.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

SKS Chromoplastic Review

The SKS Chromoplastic is widely regarded as the king of mudguards. The rigid construction is formed from sandwiching aluminium between two layers of plastic. The guards themselves are held in place with sturdy stays, and all the fixing bolts are supplied to securely mount them to your bike. (You do require mounting points on frame and fork.) Adjustment is simple, just trim the stays to approximately the right length and then tune the final position before tightening all the bolts.

The rigidity of the set-up was quite simply a revelation! I have had other mudguards before and I was constantly having to readjust them to eliminate tyre rub. With the Chromoplastic guards, once they are in place they stay in place. The stays are held under tension so there are no loose, wobbly guards flapping around. This has the added advantage of allowing them to be set-up nice and tight to the tyres. A particular advantage if space is restricted under your frame or fork.

I had no problems fitting the rear guard to my Trek Madone 3.1 but the forks have hidden mounts, so I had to get creative with some simple little right angled brackets. I also chose the black finish which I felt were less obvious and didn't give my Trek the appearance of a shopping bike!

For winter I have stepped up to a 25mm tyre from the 23 I had originally. I did have to slightly retrim the front guard, just because I had set it so close. This took about 5 minutes and now everything is running quietly again. No rattles, no flex just a dry backside and a clean bike!

It is hard to get excited about a set of mudguards, but these really are an awesome bit of kit. It is so nice when you find something that has been well designed and does exactly what you wanted it to do. Top marks!