Friday, 31 January 2014

Brass Monkeys 5th Place Series Overall

Brass Monkeys Series official standings released. Even better than I thought.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Brass Monkeys Rnd 4 - The Finale

3 months, 4 venues, 17hours 45minutes and 168 miles of racing. The brilliant Brass Monkeys Winter Series is over for another year!

Before                                                                 After

Going into the final round on Sunday I was looking to consolidate my top ten position in the series. A similar situation as the previous two years, where illness and mechanical problems had twice conspired to leave me outside the points.

You will always need a helping hand from Lady Luck to navigate the best part of 18 hours racing spread over 3 months, without a mechanical, a puncture, injury or illness. You can help yourself with careful planning and preparation. So by all accounts I should have been in serious trouble come Sunday.

Exhausted after a hectic week at work which had included 6 hours on Saturday, when I finally got home all I'd really felt like doing was putting my feet up. Instead I huddled in a chilly shed checking over the bike. To my horror I discovered that I had clearly finished my last race with the cranks no longer attached to each other! A frantic dash for spares to the one local bike shop that was still open, enabled me to fudge a solution using some ancient old cranks scavenged from my wife's bike. Once this work was done it was too late for a sensible dinner, instead I settled for two fish fingers and a bacon butty before heading to bed. Hardly the food of champions!

The series has been quite spectacularly blighted by poor weather -the latest winter storm sweeping in just as the riders gathered for the start. The rain beat down on shivering bodies and soaked into the already saturated earth. I was wet; I was cold and that was pretty much how I remained for the next 5 hours, except I got considerably more muddy! The hilly course was already a challenge of endurance, the increasingly slippery conditions contriving to make thing much tougher; stealing all traction on the climbs and robbing you of control on the decents.

Days like this are all about survival. I entered my own little world, a cacoon of shivering arms and tired legs, just turning over the pedals and staying out of trouble. I have no recollection of people talking to me or offering encouragement from the sidelines. I lost count of the number of laps I had completed, crossing the line in a daze. Seeking comfort in the heated marque, warmth slowly seeped back into my limbs bringing me back to life. Focusing on the live timing screen infront of me I read - Ben Connor : 8th! 

This evening  nursing aching limbs and some bruises from a fall, I sat down to calculate my series position. (The official results will be published later in the week.) I am hugely satisfied to complete one of the grimest winters of racing 6th in the overall standings. All those hours of toiling in the mud and training in the rain have paid off. I'm genuinely very pleased with this positive and encouraging start to the year!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Review - Specialized Sub Zero Gloves

I am one of those who struggles with cold hands on the bike. It has been a problem area for a number of years and I have tried a variety of solutions. Would the Sub Zero finally be the glove that kept my pinkies warm?

There is nothing worse than a great winters ride being ruined by cold hands. I frequently amuse my friends at coffee stops by peeling off three layers of gloves. Like Russian dolls on each hand! They meanwhile will have been coasting along in normal long fingered gloves, the kind I'd reserve for July and August. So I am conscious that I have a particular issue with my extremities

The warmest gloves I have ever owned were a pair of mittens. The advantage of mittens is that your fingers have each other to keep themselves warm. The BIG disadvantage is the lack of control you face operating gears and brakes. Its a bit like trying to drive in your slippers, and on a mountain bike especially, could be highly dangerous.

So on paper the Sub Zero looks to tick several boxes.
  • It comes with a separate thin liner glove to help layer up in extreme cold.
  • It has two semi mitten type fingers that mean your digits are cosied up next to each other.
  • The slightly strange lobster claw styling means that you can safely reach for the brake and hold the handlebar at the same time.

To be honest this winter has been more of the mild and damp variety so far. However, there have been a few frosty mornings to test the Sub Zero's abilities. Only once have I needed to use the liner, which actually looks like it'll make a pretty decent spring/autumn glove if used on its own. This also makes the £40-50 outlay seem a little more reasonable. Most of the time the two fingered outer mit has been more than enough - which is testament to how warm these gloves are. In fact when riding home I've sometimes found them almost too hot! So thermal performance can't be faulted. I have finally ditched all my merino liners and latex gloves in favour of these beauties. 

Useful thin liner glove

I say beauties but to be honest I did have to endure some humorous comments regarding my new claw hands. Also they are reasonably bulky so you do loose some sensitivity and dexterity when riding, but I guess that is the price you pay for warm hands.

The Sub Zero also boldly claims to be waterproof. I've had the misfortune to have tested Specialized "Hypora" shell in some quite extreme conditions. Truth be told the water does creep in after around 40 minutes. Part of the problem is those nice long cuffs, which do such an excellent job of sealing over your sleeves to keep out the cold. In the rain they unfortunately channel all the water that drips down your arms straight into the gloves.

Despite the dubious waterproof claims these gloves have revolutionised my cycling this winter. No more cursing as I try and stretch a third glove over two pairs of inners. No more dancing around trying to shake some feeling into my finger tips when I reach the office in the morning. If like me you suffer from cold hands on the bike I 100% recommend the Sub Zero.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Brass Monkeys - Round 3

I’d been readying my wetsuit and snorkel in preparation for the race on Sunday. Much of the country is currently knee deep in water and the weather forecast for Sunday was laced with phrases like “severe weather warning” and “flood risk”. Yet I woke up to a crisp, chilly morning which added the prospect of ice into the equation. At the Ash Ranges venue bright and early, the grass was still white with frost and there was an early detour in place to avoid a stretch of sheet ice. 

It was a tough course with little opportunity for respite. I’m not going to say it wasn’t muddy, but the course was amazingly dry considering the amount of rain we have had over the past month. The challenge was finding firmer ground, riders tip toeing along the sides of the trail, or even through the heather, in search of traction. The woodland sections stood up well and remained grippy throughout the race. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the open trails, which deteriorated as the race progressed. What had been the best line only a lap before might be impassable just 40 minutes later. In the end, I was finding that due to its firmer base the original track was often the best bet, once your tyres cut through the upper layer of slop.

Plunging through areas of mud and mirk our chains and brakes began to complain more and more. Each turn of the pedal was met by a graunching, grinding noise as sand and grit was ground between chain and chainrings. I’d fitted new brake pads before the race, which was good as I could feel the resistance as the disk forced it’s layer of dirt through the calliper.

I started well and although a lead group slipped away I found myself at the front of a following group with whom I spent much of the race. I tried frequently to escape, but after each effort I’d glance back over my shoulder to see a long line of grimacing faces. Swapping positions as different sections of the course played to our individual strengths we fought the elements, our own bodies and each other up every climb and down the singletrack.

As the laps ticked by the race thinned out, mechanical issues accounted for some and the conditions took their toll on others. Coming into the sixth lap I had a little dig on the first climb, where traction was now quite limited. Despite tyres slipping and spinning I had finally escaped those behind! Keen to maintain my advantage, I was also conscious of keeping something in reserve for the final lap. However, I had miscalculated how much my lap times had slowed in the poor conditions. Counting the seconds on my Garmin I was aware I was getting tight for time. Despite a late effort I crossed the line just a few minutes after the 4 hour cut-off. I was at least saved an additional lap of suffering! 13th position- my best result of the series so far. One round to go!