Wednesday, 24 December 2014

2014 End of Term Report


7179 : Miles ridden
478 : Hours in the saddle
10 : Races
6: Top 10's
2 : Podiums
0 : Wins

Highlight:
First Gorrick Podium
Low point:
Crash at  Dunsfold 4th Cat Road Race
Favourite Ride:
Sunny Good Friday blast through Porridgepot and other Gorrick classics with Matt Craner and the crew.


2014 Summary:
2014 has been an enjoyable, rewarding and successful year of racing, with podiums and consistent top 10 finishes. Things started positively in January when 9th at the final round of the Brass Monkeys secured 5th place overall in the four race series. Even better, Spring heralded my first podium finish since 2012 and first ever at a Gorrick event after 11 years and nearly 50 attempts. There was another strong top 10 result at the Kawasaki Enduro in May before my season hit a bit of a speed bump.

My first (and quite probably last) foray into the world of road racing ended in a South London hospital ward. It had started well, as I enjoyed the experience of racing in a large peloton on a warm, sunny, evening. With the line insight we opened up for the final sprint and at 30mph the rider in front of me unclipped and nose dived to the floor. His cart wheeling bike bringing me and several others hurtling to the ground. Six months after my slide along the asphalt, cheek bones have healed and luckily I still have both my ears, but the scars are still visible.

Missing the bulk of the summer races, including the nationals, was frustrating but provided me with an opportunity to just get out and ride. Evenings after work were spent under blue skies on the green South Downs, enjoying the glorious dry trails. When finally it was time to start training again, the dry weather meant I could pile on the miles commuting to work. This was lucky because my fitness was shocking; numerous times I was left trailing off the back of a social group ride. However, as I racked up the miles the weight dropped off and strength returned to my legs.

My return to racing in the Autumn started just as the Spring had finished, with another podium at a Gorrick cross country event. Despite another week in hospital during October I was back in time to finish 7th in the Masters Plus category at the final XC race of the year.

Unlike last year I had very few long rides under my belt going into the winter endurance races so a series best of 8th in atrocious conditions at the first round of the Brass Monkeys series was a personal triumph.
 
I’ve really enjoyed my cycling in 2014, the uncompetitive summer was frustrating but it was nice to forget about racing for a bit and revel in the simple enjoyment of leaving the house and exploring the local trails. Competitively it was rewarding to get back on the podium and I was generally pleased with my performances, since I’m not getting any younger! (Only two years away from the Vets category now!)

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Weight Weenie – Part 3

The final part of my gram shaving exercise really is just nit picking! Weight savings are negligible in the grand scheme of things, but the prices are low and it satisfies my inner bike geek!

A bike is covered in steel bolts. Companies like Pro-bolt offer a complete range of far lighter aluminium and titanium fasteners, in a range of colours to match your ride. Individually the gains are insignificant, but if you start to consider ten disc rotor bolts, four for the disc callipers and handlebar stems etc. there are small but cumulative gains to be had.

It isn’t suddenly going to propel you to the front of the race but mentally knowing you’ve optimised your bike does provide a physiological crutch when you’re on the starting grid staring at the other riders tricked out race rigs.


Bottle cage bolts. Replacing the steel bolts with aluminium saves more than 50% - 7g.





Replacing the bolt in my seat post clamp with a Titanium replacement saves 3g.
  
Weight weenie saving: 10g

Monday, 15 December 2014

Brass Monkeys : Round 2 - The Christmas Cracker

 
Santa on his way to 11th place!

After the mud bath that was round 1, Sunday produced a perfect crisp winters day for the 2nd installment of the Brass Monkeys series. The course provided some awesome fast technical trails mixed with long taxing fireroad climbs. It was a frosty start but the sun was shining and bikes stayed relatively mud free after 4 hours racing.

For me it was a race of two halves, the fast stop/start nature at the beginning of the lap suiting me perfectly. From the start I even stayed with George Budd and the leaders for the first few miles until we reached the swoopy army trenches section. All day I made up ground and passed riders early on, only for them to catch me again later in the lap.

My run of top 10 finishes came to an end (just), but I finished strongly ahead of several riders who I haven't beaten for a couple of years. I think they were surprised to see Santa coming through!


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Weight Weenie – Part 2

The most ‘bling’ weight saving upgrade also provides the most significant weight saving. I have replaced both of the existing front and rear quick release axles with Italian crafted aluminium from Carbon-ti. Yes, this means sacrificing the quick release facility, but in longer races I am carrying a mini tool with me anyway, and in shorter cross country races I don’t carry any spares, so I wouldn’t be in a position to fix a puncture anyhow.


The standard Shimano 142x12mm axle plus Rock Shox 15mm bolt thru weighed in at a portly 164g.



Carbon-ti front and rear axles are a featherweight 69g.

Weight weenie saving: 95g

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Weight Weenie – Part 1

This is the first of a 3 part series covering some gram saving changes I’ve recently made to my bike.

With the 4 hour winter marathon races in mind, I turned my attention so reducing the weight of tools and spares fighting for space with the fig rolls in my jersey pocket. The obvious place to start looking was the Crank Brothers multi-tool. Including a chain tool, along with the usual assortment of Allen keys and drivers, it is quite a chunk of metal. Taped too it is usually a replacement chain link, which does have the potential to become unstuck and lost. 


The replacement Top Peak mini tool weighs only 74g, but doesn’t include a chain splitter. This weight I moved to the bike by using a Specialised SWAT headset cap. This replaces the existing head cap, with a clever integrated chain tool. It also provides a handy and secure storage location for the chain links.






Weight before: 180 + 22 = 202g

Weight after: 74 + 29 = 103g

Weight weenie saving : 99g

Monday, 24 November 2014

Merida Brass Monkeys Series - Round 1 Minley Manor

Conditions on Sunday were amongst the worst I have ever experienced at a bike race. Every turn of the pedals sounded like I was grinding stones through a mangle. Grit and dirt flooded its way into every nook and cranny of bike and clothing. The churned mud offered no grip, the rear tyre spinning and fish tailing. It wasn’t just forward motion that was a challenge, I had no brakes at all from the end of the first lap after my brake pads ground down to the metal. Rain fell incessantly all day and by the end of the race some of the puddles were deeper than my bottom bracket.
 
It had rained overnight and was still pouring as I slithered the car into the quagmire that doubled as the carpark at Minley Manor. I wasn’t keen on even getting out of the car and was soaked before I reached the starting line. There is no ‘Masters’ category at Brass Monkeys so I was feeling old as I nudged my way into the huddle of soggy riders. The rescheduled race times didn’t really work from my point of view. Starting 15 minutes after the massive 200 strong 2 hour field, we were almost immediately upon the back markers. In such treacherous conditions many were really struggling and making your way through was complicated by the ruts and puddles which didn’t really offer many alternative lines. 
 
Unusually for a 4hour race I had a race long duel with a couple of riders. We repeatedly swapped positions over the first few hours, taking turns to slip and slide ahead, occasionally even getting out of sight, but before long we’d end up back together. We started to shout comments to each other about the conditions, trying alternative lines and generally just falling over in the mud! It wasn’t until lap 4 that I made the decisive break and I don’t believe either of them were foolish enough to join me for lap 5!
 
In a strange masochistic type of way it was enjoyable. At the very least it was an experience and a race I’ll not forget. I added to my run of top ten finishes by slithering home in 8th.

Monday, 17 November 2014

DHB Toe Cover Overshoe Review



Dave has asked for a review of my latest weapon against that old adversary - the British weather. He's asked because on Sunday I was sporting some fetching DHB neoprene toe covers. Everyone else on the ride was kitted out in full overshoes, so it would be interesting to see how these little numbers withstood the elements during 4 hours riding around the lanes of Sussex in mid November.
 
I originally bought these from Wiggle to keep my feet warm during the winter. They quickly and simply slip on over the toes of your shoes and I haven't noticed with them moving or sliding around. Quick fitment and removal is such an advantage over Neoprene overshoes, which let’s be honest, can be a bit of a pig. I can fight with slippery, muddy overshoes for several minutes, spreading mud around the kitchen floor. All this wrestling stresses the seams which ultimately fail, along with the zip. None of these problems here.
 
Another issue I have with full overshoes is the inability to adjust your shoes once they are on. The DHB toe warmers allow finger access to tweak ratchets or straps. Full overshoes also give you huge clown feet, which can rub on expensive cranks and frames.
 
My reason for choosing the DHB option, apart from the very reasonable £7 asking price, was that they covered the entire front of the shoe up to the top of the tongue, unlike some competitors that really do just focus on the toes.
 
So do they work? Well they definitely keep out the chill on a fresh Autumn morning, although we're not into proper winter yet I'm optimistic they'll be up to the job for everything but the coldest days. Where I have found them particularly useful so far, is on days when the roads or trails are wet, but it isn't raining. In these conditions they do an excellent job of keeping water and muck thrown up by the front tyre, off your shoes and your feet therefore nice and dry. In proper monsoon conditions full overshoes will do a better job of preventing water ingress to your tootsies, but it is relative. Even with full booties the water eventually runs down your legs, soaking into your socks and filling your shoes. So you are only delaying the inevitable.
 
Back to Sunday's ride and to respond to Dave's initial request. It wasn't cold so the primary purpose of these little black numbers wasn't tested. It also started dry but the roads were wet after showers overnight. The DHB's did an excellent job of keeping the road spray off my shoes perfectly. At this point full overshoes were overkill and perhaps a bit toasty in the hazy sunshine. Towards the end of the ride we did run into some rain, not heavy, but the puddles got progressively deeper. Although the top of my socks started to get damp, when I got home the insides of my shoes were still dry and dandy. So probably the DHB toe shields were the perfect compromise for these mixed conditions.
 
In summary I'd highly recommend these little slippers. They are so easy to pull on, take off and even store in a jersey pocket if not needed any longer. They keep wind chill off your feet and in many situations provide all the water protection you'll need, with only a fraction of the hassle associated with  full overshoes. They are already an essential part of my Autumn wardrobe.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Last Training Ride




Next weekend ride will be the Merida Brass Monkey at Minley Manor.

Ride Stats:
  • Distance - 107km
  • Time - 4hrs
  • Climbing - 1142m





Monday, 10 November 2014

End of the XC Season - Gorrick Autumn Classic 2


After enjoying the hospitality of the NHS for a few days, followed by a much needed  week away recuperating and devouring Pasta in Rome, I had no idea what level of performance to expect this Sunday at the second Gorrick Autumn Classic. Despite the possibility of embarrassment I had no hesitation in going since it was the final XC race of the year and Gorrick always produce an enjoyable  course. Entertaining cycling was guaranteed!

The organisers struck gold with milder weather than the wintery flavour of the week before and the sun shone all morning. The torrential rain from Saturday meant there were some puddles, and the majority of the trails were covered in a thin layer of mud, but below this was a good firm base, so racing was still fast and the grip was actually pretty good. Even the wet roots didn’t seem to be as scary as they can be.

Crowthorne is a Gorrick classic so parts of the course are very familiar including the famous corkscrew! There were also some new sections too to link it all together, creating a mixture of fast open trails and fun twisty bits. As at the previous round the course was pretty flat, again not providing enough climbing for me to make up for my (lack of) technical skills!

I decided to man up this week and raced in the recently renamed ‘Masters Plus’ category. This basically means an extra lap compared to the regular Masters (30-40 years) race. My thinking being that the longer race should provide a bit more training for the Brass Monkeys series which starts in a  fortnight.

Unlike the previous round there was plenty of space for the riders to spread out as we sped away from the start down the wide fireroad. The only worry is riding in close proximity at such high speed. Round the first bend I counted a group of 8 riders ahead and as the first lap went on I fought hard to keep them in sight. A top 10 finish would be nice I figured! On a strength sapping rooty incline I caught and passed one rider and a few minutes later as we started the 2nd lap I passed another. The rest seemed to have sprouted wings and flown!

The other massive advantage of the Master Plus race was the limited number of backmarkers from other categories to slow my progress. Instead I surged along empty singletrack, only tyre marks in the mud providing evidence that those I was racing existed! Coming up the climb after the Corkscrew I was able to look back and could see another rider 20-30 seconds back. Behind him came the leading Vets who had started a few minutes after us. As a handful of Vets caught me one ploughed through a puddle on his fat bike creating a bow wave like the QE2!

Into the final lap I was hoping I could hold onto my 7th place at the end. Still with nobody ahead I looked back to see the same rider I had spotted earlier, but my heart sank because he had closed. By now we were catching some slower riders and typically I turned into a tight wooded section to discover a lady crawling along, and with trees tightly packed either side there was no immediate way through. By the time I was past I could hear the other rider was now right on my rear wheel and breathing down my neck. Worse still just before the corkscrew on a steep loose decent he slipped past on the inside as I wandered wide. I was determined to make amends immediately, but he knew I was coming and we both sprinted flat out up the next climb as if the finish line were at the top! With the last few turns of the pedals I pulled ahead and turned into the next bend in front. There was no time to catch my breath now and I worked hard on the next flatter section to try and eke out a little gap of a few seconds. I blasted up the second to last climb in the hope it would be job done, but he hadn’t given up and on the final little ramp he was right back on my rear wheel. Twisting down to the finish line, I stuck tightly to the inside of the bends making myself as wide as possible to prevent him finding a way through. He took defeat well and we had a great chat after the race, once I had recovered enough to speak that is!

So another top 10 finish was a nice way to complete the XC racing for the year. The Gorrick course was cracking as ever, producing another brilliant days cycling. Next up the winter marathon races! Last year I was 5th in the Brass Monkeys series, but I had months of solid training under my belt. This year I haven’t completed a 4 hour ride since the Kawasaki 100 on May the 5th

Monday, 27 October 2014

Back out on the road!

View from the back!

Far from fully recovered after my hospital visit I was still determined to get some miles under my belt before a week away in Rome. So I coughed and spluttered my way around the roads of West Sussex for 3 hours; hanging on at the back of the group, desperately drafting to stay with the wheels.

After a week of Pasta and Pizza I should return fighting fit and ready for action. Which is lucky since the first Sunday back will be the second Gorrick Autumn race at Crowthorne.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Break in Proceedings

Just as everything was looking rosey and my training was going well, life pulls the rug from under my feet again! This week I had hoped to put in some good base training miles before a week off on holiday in Rome. 

Monday started out to plan, nearly 40 miles chalked up on the usual commute. That evening I sat down for my evening dinner and a piece of chicken wedged in my throat. After spending the entire night in the Queen Alexandra A&E department I was admitted for surgery and have spent the last few days on a drip unable to eat solids. 

The way this year is going I think I should take out a season ticket with the NHS! 

I am home now and hopeful I might try and get out on the bike before flying to Italy. The past few weeks I really felt I was coming into form.  In the grand scheme of things it probably doesn't make much difference, but it is frustrating to think I will be sitting out two weeks.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Incentive to ride

After such a long beautiful summer it is getting to that time of year when the commute to work isn’t quite as enjoyable. Nevertheless I still find the incentive to step out into the dark on a wet autumn morning.

I find one of my biggest motivators is found on the days I decide to take the car. I experience a really strong feeling of guilt and also a pang of envy as I drive past the cyclists who have made the effort. Seeing the familiar faces I normally nod too as I pedal the other way, is enough to ensure I am out there with them the next day.

It might sound counter intuitive but I have far more energy on days when I ride to the office. I arrive with vitality, ready for the day ahead. I use the time on the bike to plan my day so I arrived prepped and ready to go. The cycle commute gives me time alone with my thoughts with no external pressures. In comparison the commute by car is a stressful and frustrating experience. I have been working in Portsmouth for nearly 8 years and the increase in traffic means the car journey is taking noticeably longer than it once did. The choice of 45 hectic minutes in the car is starting to lose its main advantage of extra time in bed, when compared to 60 minutes on the bike. In truth there is still a 30 minute difference once you factor in the shower and change of clothes, but I’d rather sacrifice those 30 minutes in bed for a better state of body and mind.

Apart from the personal enjoyment I get from riding a bike, my competitive nature means racing is an important outlet for my personal ambitions. Chasing improved results is a constant objective that can only be achieved by spending time on the bike and maintaining my fitness. Maybe it is my age, or fatherhood, but this has become less important to me recently than it was a few years ago. I have now reached a point where I ride as often as is feasible, while maintaining  a happy home life balance. Increased or more focused training would undoubtedly lead to improved results, but at the moment there isn’t the desire or commitment to make the sacrifices this would require. I am happy knowing what level of cyclist I am, without constantly proving it on the race track. Perhaps in a few years when I hit the Veterans (40+) class I might find the drive to focus again on specific racing goals. 

The final challenge and targets for me are personal cycling achievements. I have recorded every ride I have done since my teenage years nearly 20 years ago. Every month this provides me with a target to beat. During 2014 I have bettered my previous best totals of miles and ride time for six of the nine months. I am currently out on the road and trails chasing down my highest total annual mileage of  6770 miles and 450 hours. Can I make it to 7000 miles?

Other ‘bucket list’ cycling objectives are a multi stage mountain bike race and I still dream of reaching the Mediterranean under my own power. Staying fit and in the saddle is a step towards one day making these dreams a reality.

In truth I don’t really need motivation to ride a bike. The simple pleasure I get, when I am fit and healthy, of powering a bicycle across the countryside is incentive enough.

Monday, 6 October 2014

South Downs Bikes Club Ride

On the first Monday of every month South Downs Bikes host an off-road ride. It is open to all, and has recently been attracting in excess of 50+ riders. I can remember a few years ago, when on a rainy night it might just be 5 or 6 of us ducking out into the gloom from behind the old shop. 

The social aspect of the ride makes for an enjoyable evening. It's a chance to catch-up with other club members or meet new riders. We share stories of recent races or rides, discuss training, talk bikes and very occasionally we might mention non-cycling topics too!

With such a big peleton we usually split at the top of the first climb into three sub-groups and head our different ways. This month the fast group thrashed around the Whiteways singletrack before a team timetrial back to the shop! A stream of headlights blazing a path through the woods.

When we get back to Storrington Martin lays on food for everyone free of charge. In the summer months this if frequently a BBQ, sometimes a curry and occasionally fish 'n' chips! This month however it was pizza, cooked freshly onsite in a mobile Pizza oven. Fantastic!

Thats me sitting with my back to the camera tucking into a slice of Pepperoni Pizza

Monday, 29 September 2014

Gorrick Autumn Classic

After a summer on the sidelines recovering from my accident in June, I was feeling extremely nervous as I tied the number board to my bars on Sunday. At least the weather couldn’t have been kinder. Despite it being the last few days of September it was seriously warm in the autumn sunshine, as the Indian summer continues! A late change of venue meant a return to the sandy arena at Hungry Hill on the outskirts of Aldershot. 
All smiles on the warm-up lap. I was still smiling after the race!

On my warm-up lap I kept waiting for the hill that never came. Instead the course was a relentless, undulating, singletrack frenzy, that required full concentration and commitment. The dry, sandy soil sapped strength and lead to some sketchy cornering! Although there was no ‘hill’ in the true sense of the word, after a few laps there were some drags that really got the legs burning.

I’ll admit to serious butterflies in the pit of my stomach after an extended period without racing. Would I still be able to cut it? Perched on the end of the front row I looked along the grid and was further freaked out about the shaved legged youngsters, looking keen and focused. Unusually the course leapt  almost immediately into a narrow twisty section so I knew with nearly 70 riders fighting to be first in the queue, the start was going to be crucial. I choose my a line through the first few corners, put my head down and waited for the hooter.  

It was the elbows out fight I had expected, but down the first heather lined path I was 3rd and hanging on nicely to the wheels ahead. Emerging after ½ a mile onto the first fireroad I waited for the surely inevitable stream of riders to come charging past. Out of the saddle I could hear the crunch of gravel under tyres and deep breathing, but cutting the corner I dived into the wood still in 3rd. Charging through the tight confines of the lap was hugely rewarding , especially the swoopy bombhole section towards the end. Four of us broke away from the rest of the field, I surrendered 3rd, but still felt comfortable. I’d probably have liked a hill, as on any incline I would surge back to the tail of the group. 

Traffic was a major problem when we caught the tail end of the ladies races and the Grand Veterans. With such a tight course there were very few opportunities to get by and this worked to the advantage of the leading pair who got a small gap before the end of the lap. I could have done without the U-turn here, rushing down a trail only to see the red and white tape disappearing up over the crest on my left! It was 15-20 valuable seconds squandered.

Into the second lap and chasing 3rd, I became confused amongst all back markers about who I was actually racing. At the side of a trail were several riders with punctures and I thought one of them might have been from the leading pair in my race. However, I couldn’t be sure and assumed I was in 4th and was pushing hard to get back on the podium when the rider ahead completely wiped out. The path crossed a little stream and he sailed over the bars, front wheel stuck resolutely in the water. Dodging to the left I went down too. Scrambling back on, the pain in my leg only slowly becoming apparent, I was more concerned that further precious seconds had slipped away.

Into the final lap I gave everything I could, out of the saddle to keep the power down whenever I could. My rear wheel had worked loose so the bike was selecting gears at random, but my final lap was still quicker the one before. Crossing the line I stopped and waited for the commentary............”Ben Connor finishes 3rd in the Open male category”. 

A broad smile stretched across my face like a Cheshire Cat on the way back to the car, after a glorious day of racing. It was fantastic to be back out competing again and see all the familiar faces. Plus I don’t know how many more rides we can get in this year with weather like this. Surely the mud and cold lurks just around the corner!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Rotor Q Ring

I've had Rotors oval Q rings on my mountain bike for several years. The Spanish manufacturer advertise their rings ability to reduce rider fatigue based on all kinds of scientific lab results. My personal experience is based on feel; they help me keep the pedals spinning and stay on top of a harder gear for longer.

Rotor sponsor a growing number of elite riders, which means they are notching up an impressive list of race successes. The Tour de France and World Championships are one thing, but success is now feeding down to local races like the Brighton Big Dog.

Oval rings on my mtb might help race day performance, but the majority of my miles are chalked up on the road. So I've purchased a 50 tooth Q ring for my Trek Madone. Training on the same rings will I hope encourage my muscle memory to learn an eliptical rhythm before it comes to race day.



Wednesday, 3 September 2014

South Downs Bikes Shop Ride

Summer returned for the September shop ride tonight. A huge gathering of a staggering 78 riders set-off up Chantry Lane. It is a long tarmac climb, quite steep in places, which is used to split the riders into groups. Last month I was left hanging on at the back of the fast group, so I headed off a little tentatively with the first 20 riders up the hill. I was relieved to find the pace more sociable tonight, and I was able to enjoy catching up with some club members I haven't seen for a while and natter with other more familiar faces. 

Riding round the hill top at Cissbury Ring, an ancient circle of trees, we flicked on our lights as the sun started to set. The orange setting sun bled beautifully into the distant mist. The sea glistened on the horizon to our left as we twisted across the grassy Down, the lights of Storrington twinkling below us.

On the decent we met some walkers sitting on a stile admiring the view. The distinctive smoke hanging in the air might have explained their relaxed attitude. "Wow, your lights were like alien spaceships coming over the hill" they marvelled.

As ever Martin was waiting for us back at the shop with a tower of burgers and buns!

Riders gather at the shop - BBQ poised ready for their return in 2 hours!



Monday, 25 August 2014

Weekly Miles

A few weeks ago I posted that in July I had ridden more miles in a calendar month than ever before. Now I can report that last week I rode 234.5 miles (377.4km) which is the most I have ever covered in a week.


The back bone of this was the daily commute to Portsmouth; for the first time this year I got up early every morning from Monday to Friday. I picked a different route home each day, only on Thursday did I resort to the direct route home on the road. Each of the other days I made the most of the weather, picking my way across of the trails of Kingley Vale and around the back of Lavant.

Meaningless miles probably do little for the fitness and just wear you out. So I do try to take it easy some days and push hard on others when the legs are willing. However, with dozens of other commuters around it can be hard not to chase a wheel, and my competitive ego doesn't like it when I am caught!

My weight is finally heading back down towards 70kg so here's hoping that all this time in the saddle is paying off.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Missing the Big Dog Action





Huge congratulations to my regular cycling buddies Dave, Jon and Darren who rode to a stunning 3rd place in the team event at the Brighton Big Dog yesterday, riding for Strada wheels. My team mates from South Downs Bikes took 1st!


Come Sunday morning this left me as Billy-no-mates again, as I continue to try and ride myself back into some kind of form. I took on a 50 mile off-road route based upon the original (and still the best!) course of the Chichester Challenge; an event which is sadly no longer with us.
  
All alone on the South Downs Way.
A great 4 hour ride with over 1300m of climbing.







Sunday, 3 August 2014

Breaking Records


My accident in the middle of May wrote off the rest of that month and my recovery extended well into June. July heralded a serious return to the saddle, initially involving relaxed rides on my own. The first group outings opened my eyes to how much form I had lost in 6 weeks. At the monthly shop ride, which is usually a social evening and a chance for a natter, I was hanging well off the back of the group, out of breathe and on my own! 
 
Weekend rides have been a similarly painful experience, so much so that I had to leave my friends and head home early the other week after I completely hit the wall on a dusty climb up from Duncton.
 
The incredible weather has meant I’ve been commuting to work most days and racking up the miles. So much so that July has seen me pass 800 miles within a calendar month for the first time! I’m hoping all these extra miles will soon have me back on the pace. Of course everyone else is undoubtedly making hay while the sun shines, but let’s hope I have closed the gap a little!


 
 

  • Graph of the mileage this year so far. Nice flat line in May after my accident and a shorter one when I was on holiday in April.

 
 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Summertime

 

Last years summer was so desperate that I only managed an off-road commute once all year, and that was in May. Roll forward to 2014 and what a difference. The trails are baked dry, the sun is shining and it is stiflingly warm even at 6.30 every morning. As well as grabbing a dusty detour after 8 hours in the office, a couple of times recently I have left home early and hit the South Downs before work.

Rather that appearing at my desk tired and weary, I turn up feeling energised and motivated for the day ahead. Plus then knowing you have something fun to look forward to at 5 o'clock makes whatever challenges you might face during the day so much more bearable.





Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Fab Four Ride Again!

It has been over 2 months since I rode with the boys on a Sunday. To fit with my current training schedule a Lemon Drizzle cake at the coffee stop was required to celebrate!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

New Team Kit

The new South Downs Bikes team kit has arrived! I must have a strange physique - Small jersey but XL bib shorts!


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

30 minutes after leaving work....

My laid back recovery continues under sunny skies! Just 30 minutes after work I can be on the South Downs. 


I have been taking the chance to explore new trails and found a real gem today. I regularly ride past the bridleway sign near Funtington on my way home, but this time I took the plunge. What I discovered was half a mile of sinuous, snaking singletrack. Hidden, winding between the trees a second trail has formed to avoid the main path, which shows heavy use by horses and is probably impassable when wet. Leading to a derelict farm it provides a perfect link from the south to access the trails at Kingley Vale.

My riding hasn't been that focused in the 7 weeks since face planting tarmac at 30mph. I've been cycling purely for pleasure for the first time in years. Largely  saddle time has been squeezed into the mornings and evenings either side of work, leaving weekends for time with the family. I've gone where my wheels take me, and if I don't feel like a horrible climb I'll find a alternative route round. I can sense my confidence isn't quite where it was pre accident and my weight and fitness show signs of my laid back attitude. I'll continue to enjoy my new relaxed approach through the summer before formalising my plans for next year.

Friday, 13 June 2014

MTB Racer Converted to Commuter Bike

With the weather as nice as it has been recently I just want to be out on the bike every day. Bright starts make the early morning commute enjoyable and by 5pm I'm itching to get out the office and start my meander home.

In the morning I'm out the door at 6.30am, head down, burning up the 17 miles of asphalt to Portsmouth. However on the way home what I really want to do is hit the bridleways onto the South Downs and explore. So I've built up a bike that I think offers the best of both worlds. Speed and efficiency to get me to work on time, and still capable of handling some off-road abuse in the evening.


To say it is built up from a selection of cast off's would slightly under sell it. The S-Works Stumpjumper frame was the love of my life, and my mtb race rig until a few weeks ago. Fitted with Specialized lightweight carbon cranks, and a 32t Rotor Q-Ring to keep me pedaling efficiently. Stans Crest wheels were gracing my race bike a year ago and keep the rotating mass low. My favourite Phenom saddle is showing its age, torn leather perched on a Syntace carbon post. Admittedly the non-oversized Easton bar does look a little spindly by todays standards.

Two anolmalies; items not stripped off my race bike in recent years but raided from the spares bin. An old 105 road rear mech moves the chain across a 9 speed 11-25 road cassette.

A few new parts were needed to complete the build. Most obvious is the carbon fork. An Ebay purchase, I don't know much about its origins, but it appears to be one of the many unbranded parts you can pick-up direct from China these days. A length of 480mm leaves the  geometry unchanged. In need of a rear brake the cheapest hydraulic brakes available were Deore. Although stunningly cheap I love everything about this brake; a great shaped stubby little lever, provides a bundle of controllable power.

Possibly the most critical part of a bike like this is the tyre choice. I can't fault the Continental 32mm touring tyres, which I picked up for £20 at my local shop. Rolling well they also provide confidence on the road, hidden under mudguards they should do me good service this winter. Dropping a few psi they take chalky bridleways in their stride, getting me up onto the Downs. Bigs hits from rocks and roots can be unsettling, a little more volume, especially up front, would help.

I'm really enjoying riding this bike just now, and giving it a second lease of life as a commuter. Lightweight, quick and nimble I can't wait to grab it from the shed in the morning and head off to work.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Tortuous Time Off

It has been a tough bike free two weeks since my accident. Today was especially hard, not only was it a crystal clear sunny day perfect for a two wheeled foray into the wilderness. I'd also had today pencilled in as the main competitive target of the year. The Merida Summer Monkey at Caesars Camp. I pre-entered almost as soon as entries opened and had targeted my training towards a result today.

Instead of blasting aorund the trails and fighting it out for a podium, I have instead been tinkering around the garden and cutting the lawn. Wounds are healing, but I am still feeling so tired. The accident and the concussion have really knocked the stuffing out of me. I have yet to make it through a day without a good long nap!

The really bitter pill is that my 2014 race season is over, and it is really hard to adjust my priorities after focusing so long on this year. 

Hopefully a new helmet will arrive next week and I can enjoy exploring the local trails this summer without the pressure of racing. I've also been enjoying some longer weekends with my son and yesterday got him out on a bike!

An uncomfortable looking Daddy is told which way to go next!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Dunsfold 4th Cat - First Road Race- Never Again!

The Surrey racing league hold 4th category road racing every Friday through the Summer. I've never entered a road race before and the weather was a balmy 20 degrees and the skies were blue. Everything seemed so perfect for a bike ride.

I arrived at Dunsfold aerodrome to find 50 cars already in the carpark and others still arriving. Undoubtebly a big turnout due to the weather. For a 4th Cat race there was a lot of nice machinery on show, several £5k bikes and lots of bling kit.

Having pinned on my number and with a simple "4th Cats off ya go" from the starter, we were underway. Being an airfield the Dunsfold course is just a flat simple loop of the perimeter road. I had told myself that I was only here on a fact finding mission to gain experience, I wasn't going to get caught up in the racing. That resolution lasted until the second lap.

At 27mph I was finding the tightly packed center of the group quite intimidating. It is nice tucked away only having to freewheel along much of the time - it hardly feels like a race - but you need eyes in the back of your head and to trust those around you. For piece of mind I worked myself to the outside, but then found myself in a chain moving to the front! A small group had broken away and suddenly I was on the front of the main group taking turns to chase them back down. It was only the 3rd lap - this wasn't what I had planned!

I caught the breakaway group and at the exact moment I did the others came surging through from behind. The entire pack of 50+ riders streamed past as if I wasn't moving. My legs weakened from the chase there was nothing I could do either. The final rider came past and the gap grew. I yoyo'd off the back for a few seconds knowing once I had gone that was it. With the last reserves of energy I sprinted to try and stay on! 1st lesson learnt!

Back in the peleton  the laps went by while I recovered, slowly working myself back towards the front, into the top 20 or so. I was determined not to waste any more effort so moved around within the group to stay sheltered from the wind. The laps ticked by and with two to go the pace was really high as riders began to jostle for prime position. I held my nerve, getting used now to the tight proximity of the riders.

So into the final straight, the finish line in sight. I was up in the top ten holding my place waiting to time my sprint. Already past 30mph the guy infront got out the saddle to open up, hit something in the road and went down. His bike flew up into the air, I couldn't avoid it.

The next memory I have is being loaded onto the ambulance. Final stop a painful night in Tooting A&E. After 5 hours laying flat on my back in a neck brace looking at the ceiling I was finally given the all clear. What a relief, but then they started picking at my other wounds. A broken cheek bone was cleaned up, and I was told not to sneeze as I might lose my eye. My ear had been worn down to the cartilage so an agonising hour was spent with the plastic surgeon as he stretched the skin I did have and sewed it over the wound.

I'm now back home, the worse of my injuries at the moment are the road rash which makes almost every position uncomfortable. So my first road race, and probably my last as well. It may take a while but when I get back on the bike I'm sticking to the MTB.




Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Southern Champs Course Recce

Isaac Pucci has the task of designing the course for the British Southern XC Championships. I tagged along for a guided tour on Sunday. As expected Isaac has included some serious climbs linked together with lots of fun bits. Despite a demo from our tour guide I will be taking the 'B-line' around the gap jump on race day! 


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Kawasaki Enduro

Only a few minutes into the 50 mile race and I was already pushing my physical limits. From the gun a group of ten riders had immediately broken away from the pack and I was trying desperately to go with them. It was madness I had no hope of maintaining this kind of pace for another 4-5 hours, so gradually I made the decision to let them slip away. I had to hope that they had misjudged their pace and would come back to me as the day unfolded.

Such had been the frenetic pace over the opening miles, that there was nobody insight behind. I found myself isolated. Judging the distribution of effort in a marathon race is hard - especially without a reference. It would be all too easy to lose concentration and slip pack towards the chasing pack, who were undoubtedly somewhere in the forest behind me!


Despite the sunny weather there was a surprising amount of standing water to be navigated. I rode several sections with feet unclipped, raised high to prevent soggy socks! Grip was also very poor. Having ridden around Deepcut twice in the past three weeks I was familiar with the trails, but wasn’t able to attack them as we had a fortnight ago. The hours ticked past and the passage of riders moved the water aside, so conditions did improve significantly, leaving a nicely consistent flowing course. On the first lap I waited for the hill which never came, instead the course undulated backwards and forwards. Frequently just the other side of the trees riders would be streaming in the opposite direction on a totally different part of the lap.

Blindly following the tape and arrows I began to wonder if I was the only person in the race! After a couple of laps it was a relief to finally catch some back markers, but it is so hard to get past on tired legs. All too easily you slot in behind them and find yourself moving at their pace instead of yours. You need to repeatedly find the energy to push past when the opportunity arises. A friendly shout works on some who peal to the side, others intent on their own race are not so generous.

I’d paced myself well and was able to push for the line on the final lap in the hope that there was somebody ahead whose legs were more tired than mine. After 4 hours those undulations began to feel like proper inclines!

As it happens one rider ahead had punctured so I was pleased to finish in the top ten, minutes clear of the nearest rider behind. The self motivation to keep pushing and my pacing were positives to take forward for next week.

Unfortunately the mud was probably good practice too for Scotland, however I severely doubt that there will be the same lack of hills on Saturday!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Countdown to Selkirk - 4 Hour MTB training ride from Chichester

At 2pm under grey ominous skies a nervous gaggle of riders were huddled on the starting grid in the New Forest waiting for the 3rd round of the Southern XC series to get underway. Meanwhile I was in my garden hosing an inch of mud off my legs!

Instead of racing I had been on a 4 hour training ride in preparation for the National Marathon Championships, which take place at Selkirk in the Scottish borders on the 10th May. A date that suddenly seems alarmingly close! The entry list includes ex-Olympians and multiple national champions, so there is considerable incentive not to embarrass myself!

I have ridden more miles, and spent more time in the saddle over the first 3 months of 2014 than any previous year, but after my holiday I was conscious that I hadn’t completed a long ride for a couple of weeks. So instead of packing the car for the New Forest, I was out the door and spinning my way towards a South Downs swathed in mist and cloud.

Showers were forecast, and it started to rain almost the instant I settled into the saddle. Unfortunately this particular shower lasted for 4 hours, just varying occasionally in intensity. The first off-road section of my ride took me up through the stunning Bluebells of the Rewell Wood. In the sunshine it would have been worthy of a postcard. Unfortunately the rainwater had already started to puddle and turn the surface of the trails into a glossy emulsion. At this point not being too dirty I was still bothering to avoid the puddles.


All it needed was some sunshine!
Having pitched into Houghton Forest at Whiteways I made my way up what Strava has appropriately named the “Full Lung Busting Denture” climb. My plan of action for the day was to take on the longest climbs I could find, based on the certain knowledge that the Mountains around Selkirk will dish out a serious climbing challenge.

Still smiling!
Once back down into Droke the next climb was up through Charlton Forest to the South Downs Way. After a mile or so respite the national trail plunges down the a now concreted track into the valley above Cocking, presenting me with the next climb to get up and out the other side. By now bike and rider were a nice shade of chalky grey, and I was plunging unconcerned through the puddles and mud. The rain was still beating down and trail conditions had deteriorated badly. Every turn of the bars was an adventure into unknown territory! I can’t help but think that it might have been representative training for a trip to the Scottish Mountains in May! So having slid and squeltched my way to Harting Down I turned for home, over the two remaining climbs of Telegraph Hill and a particularly muddy Kingley Vale.

Back home I resorted to the hose to remove the mud from tired legs and clothing, before my wife would even entertain letting me near the house. I also had to chisel the chalky residue from what, before today, had still been my shiny new bike. With perfect timing the rain immediately ceased, the sun broke through and shone for the rest of the afternoon!

My final training ride next week will be in a race environment. I’ll be tackling 5 laps of the 10 mile Gorrick Enduro course, which will give me chance to practice the necessary eating, and hydration techniques before travelling to Scotland. Stay tuned to see how it goes!


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

First Ride Review - Yeti ARC Carbon

As a first outing for my new race bike it would be hard to beat a high heartrate thrash around the flowing trails of Porridgepot Hill in the sunshine with my mates. We started by previewing the course for May's Southern XC Championships. The course had a couple of good steep hills to attack, the rest was a beautifull, rhythmic singletrack blast which just challenges you to ride as fast as you can! After a fortnight without rain the conditions couldn't have been more perfect for properly testing my new bike to the max!

I was up late burning the midnight oil in the shed the night before, building up my new Yeti ARC Carbon frameset. 9am the following morning we set off on a 3hr ride around some of the best trails I have ridden.

Immediately it was obvious that this bike begs to be ridden hard. The stiffness at the rear is electrifying, press on the pedals and the bike surges forward. In dusty bermed corners the back wheel tracks exactly where you want it, providing a very accurate, point and shoot style of ride.

In comparison my 2011 S-Works provides a very compliant ride but in corners it can feel a bit wooly. 

3 hours later and I was still enjoying throwing the bike into every flick, curve and technical decent. The directness hadn't become harsh or tiring, perhaps the Syntace HiFlex seatpost helped, but there were no comfort issues here. It is early days, but as we rolled back into the carpark I reflected on one of the most enjoyable days cycling, on the best bike I have had the pleasure to ride.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

New Ride! - Yeti ARC Carbon




Several months later than intended here is my new race bike for 2014. The observant among you will notice that this definitely isn’t the bright yellow S-Works I posted on here a couple of months back. My love affair with that stunning machine lasted up to the point where I hefted her onto the scales. Don’t get me wrong, 1340g is not a heavy frame, but when you consider the equally weighty price tag, you expect a bike like that to be at the cutting edge. 

So it is time to welcome a second Yeti into my life.  So why the Yeti ARC?
Firstly, yes, she is a bit of a looker, in traditional turquoise Yeti war paint. Secondly, (and you might say I am getting old here) is reliability. Life with my previous S-Works seemed to be a constant cycle of bearing maintenance. Yes, press-fit bearings are lighter, but the longest service I got from any of my bottom bracket bearings was six months and it was frequently a lot less. Equally the headset was forever in need of TLC as the sealing was basically non-existent. Yeti have stuck with a traditional 72mm threaded bottom bracket and metal inserts for the headset. This enables me to fit proper sealed bearings which I hope might actually see me through to next year. 

Compared to my current S-Works the head angle is a little slacker and the top tube is longer, stretching the wheelbase. In theory this should produce more stable handling, especially at speed. The chainstays and bottom bracket height are all the same so it should feel quite familiar at the back. 

The majority of the components have been moved across from the old bike, but I have chosen some tasty new components to hang on this lovely frame. Gone are the S-Works cranks, which have caused me endless angst over the past three years. They are replaced by some Race Face Next SL cranks, which come in at around 500g including the bottom bracket! Wow! They have a stiff 30mm diameter axle which fits the Yeti’s threaded bottom bracket using Race Faces’s clever oversized BSA30 bearing cups.

Several of the reviews I have read on the Yeti mention it is a firm ride, so I have fitted a Syntace P6 HiFlex seatpost. This post is designed to flex, offering protection from lumps and bumps on the trail. The only other change is a shorter 80mm stem to balance the longer top tub.

The new Rock Shox SID Brain forks have been retained from the yellow S-Works. I’ll run them at the standard 90mm for a while and see how it feels before deciding if it is worth stepping up to the 100mm Yeti designed the frame around. 

First ride review to follow early next week.


Frame: Yeti ARC Carbon Medium
Fork: Rock Shox SID Brain 90mm
Crankset: Race Face Next SL - 32t
Drivechain: XTR
Wheelset: Light Bicycles Rims / Stans 3.30 hubs
Seatpost: Syntace P6 HiFlex
Stem: Ritchey WCS 80mm
Bars: S-Works 660mm
Brakes: Formula R1