Sunday, 31 January 2016

Winter Mountain Biking

The weather has been pretty weird this winter. Just one short weekend of cold, otherwise it has been mild, wet and windy. This has left the exposed South Downs muddy and the chalk paths tretcherous and slippery. For this reason my mountain bike has spent far too many weekends hanging in the shed with an empty Trek Madone shaped space next to it.

I love all types of bikes and cycling, but if describing what type of cyclist I am, I would always say 'Mountain Biker'. Real mountain bikers are not afraid of a little bit of mud, so enough of this hiding behind the hedges in my clean roadie lycra.

In a thick drizzle I left home and climbed up the rocky, deeply rutted chalk bridleway to the Trundle. Despite the miserable weather so far so good. However, sticky mud and a strong headwind made the descent into the Lavant valley genuinely arduous.

The climb from the B2141 up to the top of the Kingley Vale nature reserve offered very little traction, every pedal stroke a desperate search for forward propulsion. The woodland drop down the other side involved a lot of squirming and slithering, bike and rider seldom going where the front wheel was pointed.

With the wind finally on my back  the climb from Hooksway to the South Downs Way was actually fairly brisk. At the top I passed the only other cyclists I met all day, a statistic that by itself probably explains the madness of my escapade! The tail wind still pushing me on I splashed along, weaving side to side dodging puddles, as the national trail levelled out towards Cocking. Maybe it was over confidence as I hussled the bike along, but without warning the back wheel flicked out to the right. As I tried to catch the huge tank slapper my front wheel squirrelled straight across the path and fired me directly into the barbed wire fence on the right. Nothing damaged I extracted myself from the rusty metalwork and looked around to make sure nobody had witnessed my muddy dismount. What were the chances? The only other people in Southern England insane enough to be out on on the Downs on a day like this were still in sight a few hundred yards behind. I set off quickly before my pride could be damaged any more.

Time was short, so after Cocking I snuck up the road to the Oil rig and along the service fireroad to Charlton. I was cold and soaked with half the South Downs still hanging from my bike or stuck to my clothing. My wife was not impressed when I squeltched up to the back door!

To be honest I would struggle to say I enjoyed the mornings events, but there was a definite sense of achievement that made it all worth while.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Changing priorities

The intention was for this weeks blog to have been stunning Go-Pro footage of me carving my way around the singletrack of the Surrey Hills. However, my wife is expecting our second child imminently and after she suffered a dodgy night I decided I should be staying closer to home on Sunday. So here I am sitting in front of the keyboard empty handed!

Family priorities mean cycling has been slipped quietly to simmer on the back burner for a while. Well that is the impression I like to give to my wife anyway! I do normally have a training schedule drawn up that extends at least two months in advance. However, I have entered zero mileage and no ride targets at all for January and February. I’m just going to see how it goes and grab any opportunities to ride that I can. Once Junior has made their appearance and the tide of visitors and well-wishers has slowed, I will begin to get an idea of what life is like with two little people to look after. Then I can plan the return of some kind of structure to by riding.  By the middle of January I would normally have all my races and goals for the year pencilled in and priorities planned out. Here at least I have entered race dates in the calendar, but there are no particular goals beyond the fact that it would just be nice to be there and taking part! This means I haven’t persued sponsors for 2016, as that would have tied me down to certain commitments.

In fact the squeeze on my free time has already begun. For the first time in years I resorted to leaving a bike at the local shop for some maintenance. A large part of my enjoyment of cycling comes from the tinkering and fettling with bike set-up. So it was with a heavy heart that I handed over the road bike for a new bottom bracket and rear mech. I collected it on Friday and I immediately could see things that weren’t done the way I would have liked to do them. Don’t get me wrong, the work had been completed and everything was working wonderfully, but it’s just small things like splitting the chain in the same place as the original joint so there are not two potential weak spots. The sort of fussiness you can have when you work on your own bike in your own time.

So this probably won’t be the last blog I write this year without a defined topic. In fact you can expect some downtime once the latest addition to the household decides to make their appearance. Come February the 7th I probably won’t even have time to realise I’ve missed the first race of the year !!

Friday, 15 January 2016

Challenge Strada Bianca Tyre Review

I promised a review of the Challenge Strada Bianca tyres I bought last week for my commuting bike and here it is! It is a lot shorter than I had been expecting.

Despite being covered in Italian branding, the tyres are hand made in Thailand; the tread stuck to one side of the bead and a red puncture protective layer on the other. Because the adhesive doesn’t need heat to cure Challenge claim the tyres are more supple than normal mass produced tyres which are created by injecting hot rubber into a mould. In theory the result is a smoother more compliant feel out on the road. Unusually this also means the tyres are supplied completely flat like a belt.

Now, I had read that this layout made them tricky to fit, but nothing had prepared me for the frustrating hour of sweating, cursing, blood loss, broken tyre levers and damaged inner tubes. My problems weren’t just down to the unusual profile, these tyres are INCREDIABLY tight! When with a deafening ‘SNAP’ I finally heaved the final inch of bead into place, I stood back, took a deep breath and considered my options. The scenario running through my mind was a cold, dark morning commute, the rain beating down on the tarmac around me. The front tyre is flat and I’m still 30 minutes from the office. What would be my chances of getting the tyre off and back on again with shivering numb fingers? The answer was obvious - absolutely zero!

So off the tyre came and before the second even made it out of the box they were winging their way back to the distribution warehouse they came from. In their place I purchased a set of 28mm Schwalbe Durano tyres. I reviewed these previously on my blog and have been using them very reliably for over 2 years now. At £20 each they were half the price of the Strada Bianca’s, and although I’ll never know for sure, I very much doubt the performance is half as good.

As well as the benefit to my bank balance, I popped the Durano’s on by hand without a tyre lever in sight. After the first ride I also pulled three shards of glass from the front tyre large enough to start my own stain glass window. The tyre was still inflated, so the puncture protection definitely works. Experience tells me they are durable and I like the grip and rolling resistance. The only question is why I didn’t buy them in the first place, the likely answer is I was lured by the Italian marketing.

So if you had been hoping for this review to be all about the beautiful, fluffy, cloud like quality of the ride, you’ve been disappointed. However, if you wanted so save yourself £40 I hope this review was helpful.  

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

A week off!

Today is my 7th day of abstinence from the velocipede! Back in October, when I was feeling low and really wanted a break, I promised myself a week out of the saddle to celebrate the end of the year and give my weary limbs a rest. It is a testament to how much I must have needed some time out, that I have actually enjoyed this period of inactivity. Normally after a few days I would be climbing the walls, grumpy and generally driving my wife mad!

I admit that the persistent wet and windy weather has certainly made it easier than it would have been looking out the window at crisp bright winters mornings!

The void has not obviously been without thoughts of cycling. I have been busy pillaging the online January sales to rebuild the commuting bike. It’ll shortly be upgraded to 10sp XT with Challenge Strada Bianca 30mm tyres for winter commuting duty. The full off-road tyres will be back when the trails emerge from under 6 inches of water. I’ve also been back to Light Bicycles ordering a new set of rims for the MTB race bike direct from China. So expect reviews of all these goodies in the weeks to come.

So the itch is now back, tomorrow morning I’ll be up early and out in the dark unlocking the shed preparing for the ride to work. I’m already looking forward to this weekend and I don’t even know what I’ll be doing, but it’ll involve a bike and coffee!

New tyres, wheels and drivechain are on the way!