Friday, 26 July 2013

Carbon Revolution

I can remember the first time a rode a bike with carbon wheel rims. I had the opportunity to try Kate Potters world cup race bike, while we were on holiday in the Pyrenees with the Potters holiday company AQR. Even during the short sprint up the street it was obvious to me that compared to my bike at the time, it was like stepping from a Ford into a Ferrari. The acceleration was instant and the handling more responsive, everything about the bike was yelling that it wanted to go fast!
This experience was over 4 years ago. Since then I have switched to a Carbon S-Works frame and upgraded components to a point where I am not far off the level of Kate’s bike I rode in Luchon. The only item missing up to now has been the carbon wheels. Carbon rims were a rare sight (on a mountain bike at least) until recently. Over the past couple of years technology has advanced and prices of carbon products has dropped from stratospheric to affordably expensive! In terms of mountain bike wheels, I see the Specialized Roval SL’s as the benchmark here. A pair of Rovals as raced by Spesh’s pro riders will set you back £1200 with a weight of around 1400g. Speaking of weight, carbon wheels don’t offer a weight advantage over a quality set of aluminium race wheels. In fact they are often heavier, but the advantage of carbons lateral rigidity is a reduction in flex across the wheel. In theory this should allow the rider to pick their line more accurately, when turning in and carving through a corner. That’s the marketing hype anyway, and I have read endless reviews supporting this view!
At the weekend I received a parcel from China in the post. Inside were two matt black carbon rims from Light-Bicycles. The profile of the rims is identical to the 2013 Roval SL’s and the weight 370g. My current aluminium Crest rims hit the scales at 380g so there is a marginal gain. With my budget around half the cost of the Rovals, the rims are being built up on some Stans 3.30 hubs using CX Ray spokes. Am I going to notice the difference? Will I be riding a Ferrari next weekend? Expect a ride report soon!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Cancelled, Postponed & Frustrated

I haven’t seen a puddle let alone mud on the trails for months. The post ride bike clean requires only a duster. The weather has been perfect for cycling. Warm morning commutes along the seafront and balmy evening thrashes across Kingley Vale have become almost daily routine. As a consequence I’ve been piling on the miles and I’m definitely going well at the moment. After 4th place at Deepcut a fortnight ago I was eagerly anticipating  a sunny, summer of racing.
Then came the news that the 4th round of the Southern XC series had been cancelled after an issue with the land owners. Not to worry the following Sunday was my local race in Chichester. A chance of a podium or even an elusive win perhaps?
With a couple of friends I pre-rode the route a few days before and purchased a new Renegade semi slick tyre for a boost of speed on the baked chalk paths.
With final preparations underway I checked the event website to confirm the start time. To my huge disappointment and frustration it read; “Event Postponed.”
My next race is now a month away. The best summer in a decade is slipping by with no opportunity for me to prove that the recent training has added more than just a tan to my legs. What a waste of great weather and good form. For a few days, with no goal to train for my motivation waned. Already news of next year's bikes and components is flooding the web; it felt like the 2013 season was already over.
Of course it isn’t. There is still the small matter of the National XC at the Olympic venue in Essex. However, after that it is the autumn races before the winter enduros. It just seems ironic and such a shame that during weeks of unprecedented summer sunshine I am already planning my winter race schedule.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Fast Find Ranger PLB

Mountain biking is all about exploration, adventure and adrenalin fuelled excitement. Two wheels let you rapidly travel further than you often can on foot and experience more of the great outdoors. Rapidly developing bike technology allows riders to tackle more technical and challenging terrain, at ever increasing speeds. Unfortunately this means that when something goes wrong it is likely to hurt and you can find yourself far from home and assistance. Cyclists are used to carrying spares and tools for trailside repairs. The most important item in your pack could be the one that saves your life. Carrying a Fast Find Ranger PLB means that wherever you are in the world, you have immediate access to the global search and rescue services.

To learn more about this rugged Personal Locator Beacon follow the link.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Are You Tough Enough?

Wow, what a scorcher! The predicted heatwave struck and it even managed to coincide with the weekend. Perfect weather for a leisurely bike ride down to the coast and an ice cream on the front. Not for me! Instead I faced the ordeal of 4 hours in sweaty, dusty lycra charging flat out around a wood in Surrey, with a Sunday lunch of energy gels and Go bars!  
For the last six years the Army, with a little help from the experts at Gorrick, have organised the 'Are You Tough Enough?', MTB endurance race near the Deepcut Barracks in Surrey. For variety this year they moved the venue across the road to Frith Hill, creating a new 7 mile course with many of the traditional Gorrick twists and turns mixed up with some faster open trails.
Tropical temperatures meant that it really was a case of hydrate or die. I’d been drinking extra water for a couple of days beforehand to ensure I started in the best possible shape. I took along 8 large bottles of water to pick up each lap, along with gels to keep the fluid level high.
There was some short lived relief from the heat as we dashed away from the simmering concrete of the start arena into the dappled shade of the forest. After the wild melee of the start, there was a fast rooty descent that strung the riders out into single file. I was about 10th in line, keen not to get caught up behind slower riders but at the same time conserving energy for the long afternoon ahead.  

Dusty helmet stripes!
The Saharan trail conditions threw up clouds of dust as the pack swept around the course. When the sweat inevitably began to pour the dirt clung to riders faces and legs until we looked like a cast of Mary Poppins chimney sweeps. The sandy conditions meant bikes drifted through the corners although the tyres buzzed along nicely on the rock hard open paths.

For the first half of the race I clung on desperately trying to keep my friend Ian in sight. I closed on the climbs and then he would pull away again on the technical sections. When I finally caught him I literally crawled past unable to say a word, in my own little world of pain. The first 2 hours were all about racing, the second two were about survival. Every part of my body started to cramp, including my feet and hands. I drunk as much as I could, taking on water at the pit stops and downing bottles of water and munching bananas.
As I closed back on the arena for the 6th time, I could hear the commentator counting down the time left. Wringing a little bit extra out of the knotted muscles in my legs I crossed the line with less than a minute to spare. My reward; an extra lap and another 45 minutes of racing! Unfortunately a racer from Dyson Cycles who I had been riding with for over 3 hours came through just behind me to keep me honest! So with no chance to sit up, I fought the ever increasing cramp in my legs to slowly stretch my safety margin until I was able to relax slightly and roll to the line.
I was delighted to come home in fourth place. My best result of the year so far and a sure sign that I am better suited to the longer endurance format of racing. Next time the podium!