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

Monday, 14 April 2014

Podium at Porridgepot

A blend of Goldfrapp and muffled commentary from the PA system drifted through the woods. I was nearing the end of my final lap, there was no more I could do to catch the rider ahead, all I had now was the occasional glimpse of him through the trees. I couldn’t hear a rider behind and I had seen nothing but an empty path when I had dared to glance over my shoulder a little earlier. I kept on pushing just in case, I was in third and would be standing on the podium for the first time this year, all I had to do now was bring it home. My attention moved to the bike and I started to worry, terrified every creak was the tell tale sign of an imminent component failure. I almost convinced myself that the rear tyre was going soft as I avoided stones and roots I had simply blasted straight across earlier in the race.

The final round of the Gorrick Spring Series had begun under clear blue skies. The course was dry and fast, with plenty of high speed singletrack to test the reflexes. I hadn’t entered the previous rounds so I was not gridded at the start, mingling instead with the massed ranks of riders lured out by the spring sunshine. As we dashed off down a steep, rooty decent I was repeatedly boxed in as we all jostled to get to the front. There wasn’t really any pressure on me for this event, it was a bit of a  bonus ride after a week away with the family in Devon scoffing chips and ice-cream. With nothing to lose I was probably slightly more assertive than normal and forced my way into 5th as the path narrowed.

The leader quickly pulled away from the group of three ahead of me, as I fought to stay in contact. Gorrick have re-jigged their start times, but I cannot understand why they set the womens races off first. We were almost immediately catching the back markers and there is nothing more frustrating than watching your opponents pull away while you’re snarled up behind a slower rider. I was bulked a couple of times and had to push hard to get back on the wheels of those ahead. Having closed the gap I dipped inside one and then another at a couple of the slower corners, but we were all clogged up behind the rider in 2nd . Finally the path opened onto a short section of tarmac and I accelerated past, towing those behind through with me. Having stolen a slipstream, they tried to sneak ahead at the next corner, but I closed the door and pushed hard up the next hill. Over the top of the climb the series leader came past and we slowly rode away from those following.
By the end of the first lap I had dropped 20 seconds behind 2nd place and spent the next two laps repeatedly attempting to close the gap. Half way through the final lap I got within a couple of bike lengths, but I had burnt my bridges and when he pushed for home towards the end I couldn’t go with him. Despite my paranoia there was no puncture and the bike held together perfectly, on perhaps it’s final competitive outing. I passed under the finishing banner extremely pleased with 3rd position.