Sunday, 27 October 2013

South Downs 100 Sportive

Attracting thousands of riders the South Downs 100 Sportive twists and climbs around the lanes and hills of the national park. Four of us set out on a none too special day weather wise. The news had just come in of a tornado near by at Hayling Island and intermittent showers meant the roads were greasy. The wind has also brought down a lot of debris, the lanes were littered with twigs and leaves. Add acorns and conkers to the mix and it could be quite dicey on the fast descents and sharp bends. Even at road events I get muddy!

We set off from Chichester up the first climb to Goodwood. Here we soon picked up a nice group of riders and by Petworth our numbers had swelled to around 20. The wind on our backs and fresh legs meaning people were keen to take a turn at the front we raced north at over 20mph. 

The roads around Kirdford seem to be constantly undulating so it was with much relief we piled into the first feed station to pick up fig rolls, bananas and gels. After the stop the group was disbanded and we had to make our own way across to Midhurst.

The rain had also brought a lot of grit out onto the road. As we moved past slower riders we constantly had to swap the side of the road and risk the flints and stones between the car tyre tracks. We'd already seen dozens of people at the side of the road, pump in hand, fixing flats. So with eight tyres between us we knew that by the law of averages we'd eventually have to stop to repair a puncture. As we hit the bottom of the climb at Woolbeding it happened - to my relief it was Dave! He fought with several pumps until we finally got rolling, only for it to go flat again almost immediately. All those riders we had passed earlier in the day were streaming past until with the help of Jon's CO2 and my spare tube we eventually got back underway. 

We weren't too bothered by times so stopped shortly afterwards for a coffee and cake at our new favourite haunt at Milland. By now it was after lunch and I needed to get home, so at the top of Harting Hill I made a beeline back to Chichester. The others continued east to East Meon and the climb back over Butser Hill. By then I was at home with my feet up, which was lucky because this was when the hail storm struck!

My shortened route came in at 82 miles, the three boys did the full 100 plus some bonus miles by the time they got home. Despite the weather it was brilliant to share our local roads with so many other cyclists who had travelled from across the country.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Autumn Classic

If I didn’t have bad luck I’d have no luck at all!
I hadn’t intended to ride the Autumn Classic, but since my two previous races had been beset by problems I thought I’d try and get a result on the board. Ignoring the thick blanket of drizzle covering the whole of Southern England I made the hour drive to Frith Hill near Deepcut. I’ve mentioned this course in my blog before, it’s been very much a case of famine or feast for me!
Despite the rain the course was still dry and fast flowing for my practise lap. I was really enjoying the rapid singletrack and short steep climbs. I was feeling good and the bike was running well. I’d fitted a new Rocket Ron front tyre the day before, following a recent run of punctures. So it was especially frustrating to find the tyre going flat about 3.5 miles into the 4.5 mile lap. I limped back to the car just as the monsoon really set it! In torrential rain, water ran down the back of my neck and slowly filled my shoes as I wrestled to fit a new inner tube. Repaired just in time, I rolled sodden to the line for the start.

 By this time the decision had been made to shorten the course due to the inclement weather. There was already some deep standing water on the wide gravel road leading away from the start. As we raced away riders swung left and right hunting for the driest line between the puddles. Attempting to stay out of trouble I was riding along the outside edge of the path when I was elbowed wide into the undergrowth as a rider swept across in front of me! Crawling back onto course I was now at the back of the pack and pushing to get back on terms. I rounded the corner at the base of the first climb, hoping to power past a couple of riders ahead. Instead there was a very load snap, a crunch and I came to an abrupt stop.
I looked down to find my rear mech hanging from the chain. The mech hanger had broken, the cable had snapped the entire mech had travelled neatly all the way around the chainring before jamming into the frame. It was a tangled broken mass of metal, my race was over. The long trudge back to the car in the pouring rain provided plenty of time for me to consider my run of misfortune. Coupled with the 3 summer race cancellations I haven’t actually made it to the finish line without a technical problem since 7th July! (By coincidence my 4th place at Frith Hill!)

Monday, 7 October 2013

Light Bicycles - Carbon 29er Rim Review

In August I received some carbon 29er rims from Light Bicycles. Light Bicycles are based in China and provide a range of carbon rims and other cycle related products. By ordering direct from China there are significant cost savings to be had.  Light Bikes delivered a well packaged pair of rims to my door for less than £275. Including online traceable shipment and the UK import duty.


Undoubtedly there is an element of doubt when ordering direct from a faceless corporation on the other side of the world. There is not the same confidence in the product that you have when buying from a major brand.  Of course quality shouldn’t be a problem, the majority of well known global brands are manufactured in China, maybe even at the same factory! The difference is probably just a sticker on the outside and some swish packaging. There is still the issue of what to do if something does go wrong, and you have to accept that there isn’t the benefit of simple local support. So do your homework and make sure you know what you are buying. Light Bicycles have been providing wheels rims for several years; there is now a wealth of overwhelmingly positive feedback available online. In addition the company themselves make a special effort on their website to promote their customers positive experiences, with comments and photos from all over the world. Most have an individual response from Nancy, who is the consumer face of the business.
The service offered is almost bespoke, I emailed the company with my initial request and asked if they could provide off-set spoke drilling. I received a reply from Nancy next day, with details, prices and lots of options. In the end I chose the standard 32 spoke hole rims with a matt UD finish. On recommendation from my wheel builder (thanks Daz!) I had the rims built up using CX-ray spokes onto Stans 3.31 Hubs. Stans hubs offer an excellent combination of value for money, low weight and reliable performance. There is also the option to convert them to any of the current hub standards should I change frame or forks in the future. All in the wheels weighed just over 1500g, taped and valved. Good start!
It was a baptism of fire for my new hoops, at a rocky Hadley Farm national XC. I had a major accident after only 5 miles, leaving two chips in the front rim and the spokes scratched. Depressingly the wheels were already in worse condition than my previous set! I emailed Nancy and although the damage was purely my fault they offered a discount on a replacement rim. Great service! A friend suggested that I use Araldite epoxy resin to repair the damage, which was only to the tyre hook and not structural. The finished job was so good I can now hardly tell where the damage was, so I have decided not to return the rim. The positive I could draw from this bad start was that the wheel still ran perfectly straight and true despite the heavy impact.
In the past month I have now completed another race and enough miles around my local trails to form an initial impression of the wheels. These are my first carbon rims, my assessment is based on a comparison to my previous Stans Crest wheels using the same Stans hubs. Racing I’ll admit I didn’t really notice a radical difference, but this is probably because I am focused more on my own performance than worrying about the bike! Back home on familiar trails the differences became more noticeable. Tracking across dried ruts was one of the areas where the extra stiffness stood out. An aluminium wheel might get trapped in the wrong rut and then jump out. The carbon wheel just went where I pointed it, transferring smoothly across the trail. Heading down a familiar piece of Singletrack at Whiteways, I was aware that I was holding the line better through the tree roots than I could have previously.  

In summary, I decided to get new wheels because the hubs where beginning to get rough and tired on my old set. I didn’t have the budget for top of the line wheels like the Specialized Rovals. The Light Bikes rims provided a cheap entry into the world of carbon rims. The weights are on a par with aluminium so there isn’t a radical performance benefit to be had in terms of pure straight line speed. However, the carbon rims do track better through the corners and across obstacles, inspiring greater confidence as you tackle rough terrain. I can vouch for the quality of the Light Bicycles products and the customer service in my experience has been excellent.