Friday, 31 March 2017

Lucky Man

It is almost 6 weeks since I was struck from behind by a car while riding through Chichester. I have been to the doctor this week and largely given the all clear. Without a doubt I was incredibly lucky. Over the past few weeks I have shared my story with many who have similar experiences. What has struck me is how most had endured far worse, frequently life changing, injuries despite the accidents themselves often actually being far less dramatic.

The windscreen of the car which hit me was smashed as it punted me into the air and threw me down the road. The fact that I was totally unaware of the impending impact and therefore didn't have time to tense my muscles might explain my miraculous escape. 

It has however left me feeling vulnerable and exposed to the fragility of life. I have two memories of the accident, one the crescendo of crunching carbon fibre. The other is flying through the air not knowing where I was going to land. Were these going to be my final moments before a car ran me down as I was thrown into its path? 

I was straight back on the bike, even racing a few days later, but I am extremely aware of vehicles approaching and more cautious where I would have previously been confident and maintained road position. Also on fast off-road descents, I can sense the pain and impact of my previous accident. I know from experience of previous accidents that my confidence will grow and with time the memories will fade, but perhaps with age there comes a realisation of my own frailties.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Gorrick Spring Series Round 3

After two 4th placed finishes at the previous rounds I was sitting in second place in the Gorrick Spring series. I already knew that the series leader would be missing the third round so I was keen to finally make that step onto the podium and also collect as many points as possible in his absence.

We were back at Area 51 near Frimley, the site of February's first round. This time however there was no ice that had made the previous race so treacherous. Instead the conditions were dry and the course was running extremely fast. The guys at Gorrick had also been busy cutting in some new trails and linking everything up in reverse to provide a different race track from our previous visit. The end result was very similar though, 100% twisting, undulating singletrack with very little opportunity to relax. Even quickly taking a gel required two attempts!

Third away from the line I followed the leading two into the first climb. The leader was already stretching his legs and opening a gap. I was through into 2nd on the next incline when I was asked if I wanted to pass by the rider ahead. This was an unexpected courtesy! I thought he might perhaps have a mechanical problem, but he re-joined and continued behind me. The leader was soon out sight and despite the presence of the rider behind I steadily stretched out my advantage.

It grew to 20 seconds at the end of the first lap, 40 seconds by lap 2 and nearly a minute into lap 3. By now I was feeling comfortable, but behind me I spotted my friend Jon. He was riding Grand Vets so we weren't directly racing, but there was honour at stake! I pushed a little harder to try and stay ahead until the finish. First I misjudged an awkward root and had to dab a foot to regain balance. Then I brushed a tree while cutting the line a little too tight. It was time for a reality check, I was fatigued and making mistakes. There was no reason to take the risk so I accepted defeat in the friendly rivalry stakes and eased the pace back slightly, finishing in a comfortable 2nd.

So persistence and consistency means I will head into the final round leading the series. I'll need another podium finish to guarantee I stay there.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Going tubeless

I was an early convert and switched to tubeless tyres on my mountain bike many years ago. There is no way I would go back! Occasionally I ride a bike with tubes and the lack of control, feel and grip will be one of the first things I notice.

Replacing the tube with sealant allows you to run lower tyre pressures. At the Gorrick race on Sunday I ran 18psi front and 21psi rear which is the softest I've tried. However, on the fast rooty course it worked perfectly, taking the sting out of the multiple impacts. On the damp soil it also increased the tyre surface area in contact with the ground providing extra grip for cornering up front and increased traction on greasy climbs on the back wheel.You are able to risk running those much lower pressure because there is no chance of pinch flatting a tube against the rim.

So you might think that rolling resistance would go up at such low pressures, but because the tyre is more supple and absorbs small undulations in the trail you actually roll along faster and in much more comfort too.

The big sales pitch behind tubeless tyres is of course their puncture resistance. On YouTube you can watch video's of people stabbing hundreds of nails into tyres or riding over beds of spikes. I have taken off tubeless tyres which when I've checked have had 4 or 5 thorns in them that would have deflated a tube in seconds. So it undoubtedly works! Living on the South Downs one of the main causes for punctures is cuts from flints. This is an area where tubeless sealant isn't always quite so successful. Cuts tend to open and close under stress as the tyre rotates. This means that the hole can continue to weep slowly, sometimes covering rider and bike in a splatter of latex sealant. There is also no doubt that when something does go wrong out on the trail, putting in a replacement tube can be a very messy business!

The same can be said when it comes to fitting tubeless tyres. With a pump it can sometimes be frustrating (and tiring) trying to get in enough air to get the bead to seal allowing the tyre to inflate. However there are some great high volume pumps on the market now which overcome this problem by dumping a volume of air instantaneously. For example the Top Peak Joe Blow Booster.

The final advantage of tubeless tyres is the weight saving. It is relatively small but that weight is in a critical area - rotational mass. So you'll be able to accelerate faster.

I've tried various brands of tubeless sealant but have always come back to the original - Stans No Tubes. They have recently released a Race Sealant which claims to have larger particles floating around in the liquid that seal the hole quicker. This is a claim that is hard to verify as no two punctures are the same, but the peace of mind probably justifies the higher cost.