Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Gorrick Spring Series - Round 2

The Crowthorne course is a true classic. However, the guys and girls at Gorrick do a fantastic job of mixing up the trails and introducing new sections to keep the experience fresh every time we visit. This time the course was the usual challenging twisty, rooty singletrack, linked with some open fireroad to test the legs and lungs. Storm Doris had left the course super grippy so it was fast and furious with no let up.

Charging away down the long open start we jostled for position as the path undulated up and down. One second I was in 3rd then some riders powered by in the slipstream, then they faded and others came through. It was frantic! On the final rise that lead into the first section of singletrack I surged into 2nd and dived between the trees.

Lungs burning I whipped the bike left and right, the leader pulling away slightly in front. Briefly I was on my own, but soon another rider was breathing down my neck and he eventually bundled through on the inside of a sweeping bend. Head down I chased hard, he was the same rider who had finished just ahead of me at the previous round, depriving me of a podium spot.

We hit the next open section, and I tucked into an aero position and fought back to his wheel, but I had dragged two companions with me in my wake. They both slithered past as we rode briefly in a group of 4 before the elastic began to stretch and the gaps started to grow. I was at the back, keeping the rider ahead honest and was only 10 seconds back when we completed the first lap.

I was still carrying the scars from my road traffic accident on Tuesday. Dosed up with Ibuprofen my shoulder, which had been my main concern, wasn't really causing me any grief but deep breathing was uncomfortable with sore ribs.

Into lap 2 and initially the gap ahead probably grew slightly but then I became aware that he was slowly but surely coming back to me. I drew myself closer and closer until I grabbed the opportunity to duck past as he stumbled on the roots, running wide while letting through the leading rider who had caught us both from the race behind.  

I gave it all I had, using the faster rider to pace myself and eek out a bit of a gap. However, I couldn't completely shake off my pursuer. Every time I checked over my shoulder he would be there and he wasn't giving up! Even when I couldn't see him the rattle of his bike over the roots was a constant reminder to keep pushing. On the final straight I glanced back and he was charging out of the saddle in flat out hot pursuit!

I had built up a large enough gap and finished 4th for the second event running. Maybe I'll get on the podium next time!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Choose your route carefully

Tuesday night is the City Cycles shop ride. After 3 months and purely for a sense of variety I decided it was time to take a different route out of town. Oh how I regret that decision now!

The first mile of the route would take us through a couple of mini roundabouts. I lead 12 riders safely across the first and at the second we were turning right. A car was approaching from the right but I had time to comfortably enter the roundabout before it arrived. I was aware that there was also a car approaching from my left, but I had priority, turned and exited the roundabout the car now behind me.

The first I was aware of trouble was the crunch of breaking carbon fibre. I can't remember hitting the windscreen of the car, but I do have a distinct memory of flying through the air with time to think "this is going to hurt!" I had no idea where I was headed and my airborne adventure could very well have ended under the wheels of an oncoming car. As it happened I crashed to ground some way up the road in shock and completely winded.

As I lay on the cold tarmac I could see the car which had hit me with its windscreen completely caved in and smashed. Two of my riding partners reached me first, but with the air knocked out of my lungs I was initially unable to speak. The driver of the car got out and I heard him ask "Is he alive?"

I was alive and although my right hand side hurt pretty bad, I wiggled my toes and fingers, completed a personal assessment and started to realise I had been extremely lucky. Of course once you are laying in the middle of the road after being launched into orbit by a car you are on a one way ticket to A&E. However after a very brief ambulance ride, and a miraculously short wait for a full examination I was home in time for an extremely uncomfortable night in my own bed.

Everyone of the riders behind me who I have spoken too about what they witnessed have all mentioned the noise. The loud 'bang' as I was fired into the air!

Unfortunately the bike didn't escape so fortunately as myself. On only its second outing and with only 60 miles under its belt the Merida Scultura met its end. The crunch of carbon I remembered  had been the rear wheel disintegrating. The handlebars are completely mangled after presumably being trapped under the car and dragged along the road.

As my wife frequently reminds me, she has now had a fair few calls from the A&E departments of various different hospitals. The roads are dangerous places for cyclists, especially at night. Even festooned with lights you are vulnerable. The best thing you can do is stay away from busy or dangerous sections of road, so from now on I'll be sticking to the usual route out of town each week.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Merida Scultura 2017 Review

The Merida Scultura is ridden by the Bahrain Merida pro tour team and will be used as their lightweight climbing bike at the 2017 Grand Tours. The bike I rode was the Scultura 5000 disc, the geometry is slightly more relaxed compared to the team bike and uses Merida CF2 carbon which gives away around 150g compared to its CF4 professional cousin. The 5000 comes with a predominantly Shimano Ultegra groupset but with a RS500 crankset and 105 cassette. The wheels are Merida own branded and although not total heavyweights they aren’t going to flatter the bikes lightweight frame. For an extra £350 the Merida 6000 provides a full Ultegra drive chain with Fulcrum Racing Expert wheels.

For me the 5000 made more sense because I was swapping out the chainset anyway for a Dura-Ace 9000 fitted with my preferred oval Rotor chainrings. I also already had some lighter carbon wheels which saved 300g and when matched to the frame really made this bike shine.

First impressions are that this is a very attractive bike. The stealth matt black is balanced nicely with the subtle neon yellow details. The frame makes use of a super wide press fit 86 bottom bracket to maintain the stiffness and help transfer all your power into forward motion. Full internal cable routing is neat and the along with the shaped downtube helps with the aero performance.

This bike eats hills for breakfast, it literally raced up the familiar climbs around Goodwood like a mountain goat on steroids! I would just be settling into my rhythm and look up to find myself already at the top! The handling is sharp and the compact rear end provides a very direct transfer of power. The whole feel of the bike is of a coiled spring ready to pounce! This does mean however that you need to stay awake as the quick handling and light weight combine to make the bike ‘lively’ on bumpy roads or fast descents.

After 5 years being cosseted on a Trek Madone stepping onto the Scultura was like igniting the afterburners! Out of the front door the bike was eager to get going and with fresh legs we galloped away and chomped up the first few climbs of the day! 4 hours later when I stepped off the bike however I was slightly sore and battered. That boundless enthusiasm starts to takes its toll. The skinny bar tape on the Scultura didn’t help, but my arms were tired from constantly having to reign the bike in. My legs and backside were also sore in a way I haven’t encountered for a long time. Leaping onto a new bike for a 4 hour ride isn’t ideal, so we’ll see if my body adapts to the pounding my bones took. To be fair the Madone is a different animal to the Scultura. It is aimed as a comfortable all day bike, with stable predictable handling. This is the same reason it is never going to set your pulse racing like the Scultura!

The 5000 is a fantastically glorious machine, it made me feel like I was Vincenzo Nibali dancing up the Stelvio Pass. Unfortunately it also highlighted that I’m not actually Nibali and three weeks around Italy or France on this bike would probably turn my joints to dust!

My final comments must be regarding the disc brakes. This is the first time I have ridden disc brakes on a road bike and I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Disc brakes are just so obviously better. I don’t mean just a little bit better either I mean, night and day, I would never even think of using rim brakes again, better! My ride started on wet roads in misty drizzle and ended in glorious sunshine. The braking remained constant throughout. Consistent one finger braking in all conditions every time you squeeze the lever. There was great feel, modulation and subtlety when needed or just bundles of power if required. Added to this I wasn’t wearing out my wheels every time I squeezed the lever.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Indoor trainer

Over the past few weeks I've been trying to squeeze in riding time in whatever varied form it takes. Last Monday I was out in the pouring rain test riding the Merida Ninety Six full susser. Under the hazy sunshine 7 days later it was the time to break out the rigid hardtail and head over to the man made trails at Queen Elizabeth Country Park. In between I've done a bit of everything, dashing around town before heading to the shop, I've even been back on the turbo trainer for the first time in 5 years!

Its been a case of a bit here and a bit there, the assorted outings without any real structure largely as a result of the winter weather. First we had the ice. I woke up early a couple of times, wrapped myself in base layers, Roubaix thermals, windproofs, buffs, overshoes and tiptoed around the lanes in the dark. Trouble was I had to concentrate so hard on staying upright it wasn't really much of a workout.

Then we had the rain! I'm no fair weather cyclist, I've no problem with getting wet, but it does hit the motivation slightly when you can hear it beating down on the roof so hard I contemplated building an Ark.

With the great outdoors not looking too appealing I organised a Tacx Vortex indoor trainer for the shop. It's been 5 years since I last used the Turbo trainer at home. I've always found it such a boring activity that I packed it away. I once managed an hour of indoor spinning staring at a heart rate monitor but usually 30 minutes was about all I could handle. However, it does undoubtedly provide the chance for a very focused session, without the variables encountered out in the real world. I used to stick to a 10 min warm-up a batch of 1 minute intervals and then a cool down. As it happens things have moved on in the world of indoor trainers to help get the most out of the time spent with sweat pouring off the end of your nose.

I downloaded the Tacx app to my phone and in about 30 seconds I could see my speed, power, cadence, time and distance. From the phone I adjusted the gradient (resistance) and could select the flavour of my torture from a range of specific training programs. There is also access to the world of online riding with (or against) other individuals around the world, who like you are trapped in their shed wearing nothing but a pair of bib-shorts.

I've found it very beneficial in terms of my technique. I started mashing away but a little investigation found that if I changed up a gear, upped the cadence and focused hard on a circular pedalling motion the speed and power increased for the same or even a perceivable drop in effort. I was able to quickly transfer this improvement to the outside world on my next ride.

So this week looks cold again. Will it freeze the mud to enable some off-road excursions, or will I be teetering around on the ice, or forced to stick it out on the Tacx? As long as it involves a riding a bike I'll be happy!