Sunday, 31 May 2015

UP! to the challenge

I was looking to challenge myself this weekend to a 5 hour training ride. All week the weather forecast for Sunday had been pretty shocking, so when it came to planning a ride I decided to stick to the black top. Spicing things up I picked a route that linked two big local climbs up Bexley and Butser hills. The northern approach to Bexley is one of the toughest roads in the area, while Butser is the highest point on the South Downs. To keep the training more relevent I decided to ride a knobbly tyred Stumpjumper.

The forecast hadn't been wrong, Sunday dawned under leaden clouds and relentless drizzle. The route took me through some of the most beautiful countryside that Sussex & Hampshire have to offer, but it was hidden behind sheets of rain, the hills shrouded in cloud. Approaching the top of Butser, visibility was down to a few meters and it was impossible to judge where the summit was. The descent down the other side was like riding straight into a cold bath. A wall of water ferously fell from the sky and flowed down the road like a river beneath me. To absolutely ensure that summiting Butser wasn't the highlight it should have been, I capped it by puncturing in the middle of the deluge. Soaked and now cold I cursed how it was possible to flat a mtb tyre on a road ride!

Ride time : 5 hours
Distance : 71.5 miles
Elevation gain : 1163 meters

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Still there?

Time to end the longest hiatus since I started blogging 3 years ago! The clue is in the name; racing is fundamental to Ben Races Bikes. British Cycling's decision to axe the Masters category took any incentive out of attending the Southern XC Series.  Along with the postponement of the Erlestoke 12 I've been left with a hole in the event calendar. So there haven't been any race reports to write for a while.

Spending my cycling budget for the next decade on the a second new bike in 12 months has also meant I haven't been buying many new bits and bobs to review for you lately either!

View south to the coast from the Downs
Dirty commuting!

I haven't been sitting at home twiddling my thumbs though, I have been making the most of dry dusty bridleways both on the way too and from work. It has been hugely rewarding waking up early, hitting the trails and being up on the Downs while the sun is still low in the sky.

The early starts have resulted in me racking up the highest number of miles in May since records began. (which is 1994 by the way!) I keep reminding myself that this time last year I was laid up after smearing my face down the asphalt at Dunsfold. 

At the weekends I have been focused on longer 4 -5 hour mtb training rides in preparation for the summer enduros. The result of all the off-road miles is a vertiginous April and May. How do I know? Strava.

I subscribe to the 'If it isn't on Strava; it didn't happen' train of thought! With the break in racing Strava has provided an outlet for my competitive attitude. Currently I hold 24 KOM records which is two or three times more than the majority of the past three years since I first logged in. Although I expect that going public will result in a flurry of activity that result in me being empty handed by the end of the week! 
All the stats can be found on Strava


Sunday, 10 May 2015

Absolute Black Oval Chainring Review

The Yeti I raced last year was kitted out with a set of Race Face Next SL cranks. As a dedicated weight weenie there was much to love about them beyond the simple 'Cinch' chainring fitment, and purposeful stiff design. The only problem; there wasn't an oval chainring available that fitted. So when the Yeti departed I swapped back to a Specialized crank with a 32t Rotor Q-Ring. As reported several times on this blog I am totally sold on the benefits of oval chainrings.

Well along have come Absolute black, a UK based company with manufacturing in Poland. They have started producing some beautifully machined oval rings to fit a wide range of different cranks including the Race Face Next SL's.

One niggle I have always had with the Rotor QX1 rings is that they are noisy. When the chain is at either end of the cassette the angle causes it to snag very slightly on the long teeth of the Q-ring. It is annoying and you can't help but feel it is sapping strength as you are hauling a low gear up a climb. The problem has been even worse since I switched to 11 speed, due to the wider extremes of the casssette.

So a 32t Absolute Black chainring was ordered and a matching pair of stealth Next SL cranks. First thing to say is that this is an impressively light combination.

A seriously light and functional combination

Functionally the oval offset of the Absolute Black ring is almost identical to Rotor, so there was no decernable difference to get accustomed too. The tooth profile is lower than the Rotor QX1, closer to SRAM in shape. It retains the chain perfectly without the aid of a chain guide, while running smoothly wihtout a peep or squeak. The rings themselves are lighter and cheaper than those from Rotor so it is thumbs up all round. The only remaining question is durability, so I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Kawasaki G100 - Two seasons in one day!

The persistant drizzle turned to torrential rain just as the shivering riders gathered under the start banner for the Kawasaki G100. 7 laps of the 9 mile course lay ahead, by which time the sun would be out and family and friends would be sitting picnicing on the grass.

The first mile was a mad panic as riders charged off like we were racing down to the shops, oblivious it seemed to the challenge ahead. I let them flood past knowing that I would see many of them later! Trouble was some were out of their depth as soon as the trail turned even slightly technical and battling back through was frustrating.

After several bone dry weeks the rain created a slippery surface sludge that made every corner a battle for grip and control. However, the rain soon stopped and at the end of the 2nd lap I wrestled out of my waterproof like some kind of Mr Bean comedy sketch. The track quickly dried without a hint of mud and sections that had been like negotiating an ice rink became grippy, fast and flowing.

I had a plan for taking on supplies which unusually I stuck too. Every 2nd lap I swapped in a new bottle and grabbed a Go Bar and banana which I slurped and munched whenever the opportunity arose.

For  three laps I rode with a couple of riders, but on lap four I moved to the front of the little group and started to pull away. I was worried I was burning my bridges too early, but having forced a gap I was determined to stay away.

Laps 5 & 6 were the hardest both physically and mentally. Fatigue was setting in, the body was screaming and I was aware I was making bad line choices, bouncing through obstacles instead of riding over them. Lap 7 was in many ways a relief. You don't have to pace yourself any longer, or perserve energy on the climbs. Instead you can push hard and leave every ounce of energy out on the trail.

With about 2 miles to go I passed a Banjo Cycles rider pumping up his tyre. He saw me approach and I could sense his frustration. He finished pumping and madly started packing everything into his pockets. I rode past and glanced over my shoulder to see he was back up and running and I knew he wanted his position back. I rode the two final climbs out of the saddle and hit the final doubled track in full aero tuck! I crossed the line in 6 hours 21 minutes and 44 seconds. 23rd place might not be my best Gorrick 100 result, but in the previous seven attempts I have never finished so strongly, so can take many positives from that.

Usually before the Gorrick 100 I'll have ridden several long 4 hour plus rides during the preceeding weeks. This hasn't happened this year. Coupled with the fact that I had not ridden this far, or for so long in 3 years, I knew I was in for a tough time. I hope to use today's race as a stepping stone to further marathon races over the summer.

The reward for over 6hrs and 20min in the saddle!