Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Progress Report

With just over 50 days until the Grand Raid, time to assess how it is all going?

Training through April and May was great, I definetly felt I was making progress. The road bike stayed in the shed, while weekend, evening and even commuting duties were all on the mountain bike. I find road riding is fine for base fitness, but if I want to be mountain bike fit, I have to ride off-road. Compared to road riding it is a less consistent effort, requiring shorter bursts of power for the constantly changing terrain. The late Spring weather meant I was able to hit the trails and also focus on increasing the number of climbs. The longest climbs on the South Downs are only a few minutes, which is nothing compared to the hour long Alpine challenges I face in August, but it trains the muscles and technique. 

As we entered Summer I was feeling stronger on the bike, able to push harder when I challenged myself. However, June hasn't been as positive a month and the progress has slowed. Some of this is due to the weather. This week I resorted to dusting off the road bike for the first time in months. Storms also meant we had to cancel a long training ride, which would have been useful preparation. Important family commitments, like my sons birthday party have also reduced the mileage.

It was scary to realise nearly a month had passed since I had completed a ride much over 3 hours. So although we were on the tarmac, I was keen to make the most of this Sunday. I was out of bed an hour earlier than needed and got in a bonus loop before meeting up with the others. This meant I had done 3 hours by the time we stopped for coffee at Rowlands Castle. The cafe has become a focal point for local clubs and training rides. The hour blast home afterwards certainly tested the legs!

Coffee stop at Rowlands

I am starting to think about the kit needed for Switzerland. The 30 tooth chainring in my last post should help with the climbing. I've also spent literally hours researching tyres. I don't want to drag anything too heavy over 5000m of mountain climbs, but equally really want to avoid delays to fix punctures. The cycling nirvana of light and robust - watch this space to see what I decide!

It'll be July this week, so with a limited number of weekends left, I'm keen to fit in some longer efforts in the saddle. I'm conscious there is one more weekend to sit out in a few weeks for my daughters Christening. Then the week before the Grand Raid I have entered the Brighton Big Dog, which I am going to use a shakedown for kit and bike. I don't want to take anything new and untested out to Switzerland. The clock is ticking!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Oval chainring by Absolute Black

Some bike bling came through the post box today! The Grand Raid is now only 8 weeks away. With 5000m of vertical Swiss Alp trails at the forefront of my mind; I am hoping a 30 tooth chainring, paired with a 10-42 cassette, will allow me to crawl up the steepest of slopes.

I have been successfully running a 32 tooth Absolute Black ring for over a year. Manufactured in Poland AB machine lightweight direct mount rings specifically for my Race Face cinch cranks. Even better they now come in red! I have been riding and enjoying the benefits of oval rings on all my bikes for 5 years. 

See my previous summary of the 32t chainring: Absolute Black Chainring Review

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Specialized Prevail v Giro Synthe Review

My failure to spot a low hanging branch meant it was time to invest in a new helmet. I’ve been riding various Specialized helmets over the past 10 years, the highlight being my old S3 which fitted my bonce perfectly. However, the dented Prevail (my second) hadn’t ever been quite as comfortable. With this in mind and a voucher code in hand I opted to skip Specialized’s excellent great crash replacement scheme, which I have had the misfortune to use several times. Instead I opted for a Giro Synthe from Chainreaction Cycles.

I'll admit to a bit of showrooming. I tried a few helmets on at a local shop to gauge the fit and size before ordering the Synthe. Giro advertise the helmet as general purpose semi-aero design. I thought I would do a direct comparison between my old Prevail and the Synthe, as both are top level helmets frequently seen in the pro peleton.

Weight: Winner Prevail

The Synthe is still impressively light, but is 10% heavier than the Prevail. When I first put it on I thought I could feel a difference, but once out on the road you’d be hard pushed to notice the 20g.

My medium Prevail is 203g
My medium Synthe is 223g

Profile: Winner Synthe
The Synthe is noticeably more compact, which Giro claim offers an aerodynamic advantage. I’m not sure I can notice this when riding normally, but struggling with a 40mph gusty headwind the other day it definitely felt like there was less force tugging at my head.

 Cooling: Winner Prevail
I guess the Synthe has to sacrifice something for the tighter profile. It is hardly noticeable in normal conditions, but I could sense there was slightly less air flow over my head. However, it wasn’t enough to really distract me, both helmets are extremely well vented.

Comfort: Winner Synthe
Fit is a subjective thing and what I find comfortable might be another mans torture. However, I have always struggled with the Prevail. I’ve adjusted the brace at the back up and down (a feature the Synthe doesn’t have), but I always got hot spots at the back and front of my head. The main outer of the Synthe floats above your head which is held by the plastic harness.

Use: Dead heat!
Both helmets have a similar closure system, with a dial at the back to adjust the fit. As already mentioned the Specialized allows you to adjust the height of the rear brace. However, the straps come set to length so you can’t adjust the joint under the ears. I found this can cause the straps to flap in the breeze. The Synthe also has parking ports for glasses which are great on sweaty climbs. They seem to hold both of my riding glasses snuggly.

So on paper there isn’t much between these two cycling hats! A lot depends on comfort and how they fit the individual, but all being equal it will depend if you do lots of climbing in hot weather or spend your time in the saddle head down into a cool breeze.

For me this is a rare case where I am willing to sacrifice a few grams for the relief of a better fit. Here in the UK the temperature is seldom a big deal and the aero advantages might pay off now and again.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Southern Region XC Championship

The sun beat down on the New Forest for the Southern Regional Cross Country Championships. I was three rows back on the grid, sweat already beading on my brow. Around me 54 other riders, all eager to get away for the downhill dash to the first corner; a loose rubbly bend that led into an equally scrabbly type of climb before the course funnelled through a gate way. We all knew the start would be critical.

The commissaire gave the 10 second warning, the horn sounded and we all plunged down to the bend in a cloud of dust and a cacophony of sliding tyres and squealing brakes. I stuck tight to the inside and just hoped that everyone around me stayed upright. Safely round  I was then on the outside for the uphill bend, but once it levelled out I surged to make up as many positions as possible by the gate. Once again I cut in and hoped the riders around me stayed out of my way. I picked off two further riders plunging down towards the wood and the first singletrack. My friend Darren had been gridded first as the leader of the series. On the decent my momentum carried me past him and up into 3rd. First challenge successfully completed! Not only had I survived the turmoil but had found myself at the head of the race.

Through the singletrack I stuck close to the rider ahead. I could have gone faster, but I was pleased to recover slightly from my effort off the line. Meanwhile the leader pulled away, opening a gap of around 20 metres. We swung left then right through long sweeping bends, before the course fired us back out onto a doubletrack fireroad. I popped through into 2nd briefly, but was immediately passed myself by two riders from behind. I leapt on their wheel, taking advantage of the slip stream as we began to close slightly on the lead rider.

The path ramped from here, the gradient increasing gradually before steepening dramatically at the end. After a few more twists and turns we were back onto another fireroad and two more riders came through as I dropped off the pace of those I had been following. The rest of the course was a twisty rooty tangle of trails, surprisingly damp and slick given the conditions. Darren too got through and I fought the urge to chase him, pacing myself and perhaps still paying slightly for my early efforts.

At the end of the first lap I was 7th with Darren in a group of three, 15 seconds ahead. Darren insight was like dangling a carrot, it is always easier to chase than be chased. I had been pacing myself and felt comfortable with the gap. However, backmarkers really hampered my efforts to close the distance back to Darren’s little group. Just as I would make it, a slower rider would get between us and the gap would open up again. I think the luck just about averaged out, Darren and I completing our second laps in exactly the same time.

Into the final lap and it was now or never. I nailed the sweeping bends and out onto the fireroad climb again. I was closer and did everything I could to get back to the wheels ahead.  My approach had not gone unnoticed and I could see them repeatedly glancing over their shoulders. It was clear I was going to catch them before the top, the question was did I surge straight past or sit and recover?

I decided to regroup and sat at the back of the group catching my breath. We flowed through the single track and I picked off Darren and  then as we hit the next fireroad I surged to the front. I gapped them briefly, but slowly I pulled the riders behind along with me. There wasn’t far to go now, and with track position I did as much I had to just to keep the others behind, while preparing myself for the uphill sprint finish that was inevitably coming.

As soon as I rounded the final bend I powered away, every sinew straining, every drop of energy remaining being used. I just had time to glance behind and relax as I crossed the line.

But if only I had concentrated on what was ahead as well as behind. When the results were published later that evening I realised I had missed the podium by 1.2 seconds! I hadn’t even clocked who the riders ahead were, if I had, would I have caught them before the line? Perhaps, but to be honest I’d have taken 4th sitting sweltering on the start.  I also won my personal duel with Darren, but he crossed the line with a sharply angled saddle, which had deprived him of the chance to challenge properly.  

Friday, 3 June 2016

Fast Find Ranger PLB

I picked up a Fast Find Ranger PLB from McMurdo today in preparation for the Grand Raid race across the high passes of the Swiss Alps this summer. A PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) means that when you get into trouble help is only the press of a button away.

The Fast Find Ranger is fitted with GPS and once activated will inform the emergency services of your position, anywhere in the world, within minutes. The product is free to use, with no subscription or monthly costs and works anywhere with a good view of the sky and the orbiting satellites.

It's lightweight, fits easily in a pocket or bag and means you are always prepared for trouble, even when travelling outside the range of mobile phone networks. You can buy them online for around £175.

I'll post some more details in a later blog. For the moment check out the website to discover more: www.mcmurdogroup.com