The slump before the … what?

The last couple of weeks have been tough.  I did an 80k race, which is one bottle more than I’m used to carrying,  and demanding too, of eating at least something.  I felt good though, and went off the front.  These were roads I know well, so I was able to set myself goals knowing how far I had to go, where the tough bits were, and where I had to get to with a decent gap before I could think about looking for chickens to count.  I never made it, but it was close enough to give me hope:  I was hovered up perhaps 2k before that point.   After 25k out front on my own I was toast and slid out of the peloton willingly, happy with my day’s work, but just a little sad I hadn’t quite had the goods to seal the deal.

So hope sprung eternal, and with a good performance to motivate me I took a day off work and told the kids not to get into trouble while I went to set about some serious miles.  The figures are meh:  130-odd k in just under 5 hours, with 2,900m of climbing.  It’s a tough ride, but perhaps not as tough as I made it feel.  The last hour and a half’s suffering was dante-esque.  What was supposed to be an enjoyable romp on the bike, a confidence-builder for the hundred miler at the end of the month has had quite the reverse effect.  My legs are heavy and – to be brutally honest about this – my arse is killing me.

It would be stupid to read too much into this.  Often,  my best form comes after my worst.  I’m not going to expect too much from this weekend’s racing, but I’ll be listening to my body with interest.  And it’s finally pushed me into trying a new saddle to replace the Specialized Romin which sort-of-but-not-quite suits me.  I’ve gone for a Bontrager Serano, which is an entirely different concept to the Romin, much more akin to the old Concors and Cinelli SLX’s of my youth.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’ll be reviewing it in the future, well after I’ve given my arse time to get used to it.

In the meantime,  I suspect I’m going to be trying to rack up k’s as painlessly as possible, keeping up the training stress with consistency rather than big days.  It probably won’t be enough to get me to the business end of the Round the Mountain in the right position, but there’s … just enough buts there to keep me hoping.

Not just the one I sit on.  See what I did there?

Chinese carbon wheels – which way to go?

If you’re like me – and judging from the length of the related threads on weightweenies plenty are – you will, at some point, have looked at getting a set of carbon wheels from China.  Providers like FarSports, CarbonSpeedCycle, and Yeoleo offer a bedazzling variety of products.  Wide, U-shaped rims, apparently everything the big boys are offering, and at a fraction of the price.  What’s the catch?

The bike industry is not transparent.  The inrng post who makes what offers a small insight into the bewildering world of cycling brand names.  What gets outsourced to where and who is even more nebulous.

Taiwan’s Gigantex, for example, are known to make carbon rims for plenty of brands with cachet and credibility.   All the Chinese providers listed above offer badge-engineering services.  If you want to start your own wheel label it’s never been easier.  A quick read through the open-mold carbon clinchers thread on weightweenies reveals plenty of satisfied customers.  It also reveals more than a few horror stories.

I’m not going to go into the carbon clincher safety debate here, and I am certainly not going to take the point of view that only the biggest and most moneyed purveyors of carbon hard-on material can get it right.

I know Zipp and ENVE etc spend a huge amount on R & D, and I know too, that Chinese companies are damn good at reverse-engineering (read: stealing) carbon tech in the blink of an eye.  (Your morality on buying copied stuff is your own. You might think there’s more than one big brand got it coming to ’em.  I won’t argue.) And you and I both know there’s lots of cheap knock-off crap out there along with the good copies, and that if your Chinese wheel fails – well, good luck with that warranty.

There is, however, a reason that China has come to dominate the world’s manufacturing base:  more often than not they get it right enough, for the right price, which is what most of us want.  You can get a serviceable wheel from China.

But does it make sense?

I am no expert on carbon fiber, but I’m perfectly capable of adding a few figures together.  A pair of Chinese carbon clinchers with basic but serviceable Novatec hubs runs, near as dammit, $700 NZD delivered to your door.  A quick read of the weightweenie thread I’ve linked to above tells me you should allow too, for the possibility of returning at least one of the wheels for something flawless.  Let’s call that another $100, because it will be.  If it gets lost or damaged, look forward to a week or two of fun with your carrier.

If that equation puts you off, what then?  Do you really have no other choice?

Of course you do. Go secondhand.

For $500, to my door, I got a pair of Reynolds DV46 tubulars with less than a thousand k on them, essentially unmarked.  1315g, 46mm profile.  No weight limit.

$500, all up.
$500, all up.

OK, they’re a couple of years old.  OK, they’re not 11-speed compatible, but I won’t be there myself for a couple of years. How long were you expecting those Chinese wheels to last, anyway?

So far so good.  Then chuck in the almost-brand new Dura-Ace cassette, the brand-new Vittoria Corsa tub on the back wheel, then half-worn Schwalbe on the front with plenty more life in it.  The valve extensions.  The wheel bags.  The nice hope skewers. The envelope with the four barely worn SwissStop yellow pads in it.

I rode these for the first time in a race a couple of weeks ago.  It was pissing down and windy.  Modern wisdom says that these older wheels don’t stop, they fly like a kite and want to do nothing so much as pitch you into a hedge at the first breath of wind.

I’ve got nothing against modern wisdom.  It makes good stuff cheap.

If you disagree, if you’ve had great (or bad) experiences with Chinese carbon, or if you’ve snagged a great secondhand deal – I’d love to hear about it…





If Schrodinger rode a bike…

Another weekend in back country New Zealand.  Another race out in my favourite neck of the woods, the aptly-named Forgotten Highway.  It’s cold and a steady, permeating drizzle falls from a low, featureless sky that tops this part of the world like nothing so much as a giant, featureless Tupperware lid.

I huddle for longer in the hall than usual, but then again, I’ve arrived too early.  I’m dressed, caffeinated, and ready for action that’s not yet ready to happen. Story of my life.  I try a warmup, but instead I just get cold and wet.  The first seven or eight k are slightly downhill anyway.  Better to stay dry.  I pin my number to my gilet; it won’t be coming off.

A huddle at the start, under a dripping lean-to that juts from an abandoned Engineer’s workshop.  Chat:  what the fuck are we doing this for’s, I think I’ll keep the warmers on, at least it’s not windy as well, eh?  Grades start to feed out, queue on the line.  I’ll stay here until the last minute.

Finally, my turn.  Plenty have stayed home today – and who can blame them? – so it’s a small grade.  A couple have moved up – it’s not a course for them, but we’ll keep them together if we can.  Once the hills kick, that’s where this’ll split, and then it’ll be game on to the finish.  Better to get warm and keep the group rolling nicely now.

Legs feel leaden, but they’re turning.  Same for everyone.  Same for everyone.  Keep saying it, look around, know you’re right.  Know you’re going well.  Hills come and go, the group thins.  Longer turns on the front now.  I can see who’s weak and strong.  I’m strong.  If we’re to get the front I’ll have to pull.  I do.  If I’m going to take it I’ll have to keep something in the tank.  History tells me that’s a greasy tightrope.

My glasses are almost impenetrable now; I’m soaked.  The chill’s crept through my overshoes and my toes are going.  The hands are still working, somehow.  Let’s get this done.  Hills are to be savoured, going up – warmth returns, and the guy who’s been sitting on is dropped and burning matches.  Another down.  The final hill, and I go.  It doesn’t last – I’m climbing well, but not that well.  We think we can see the front now, though – we’ll have more chance bringing it back if we stay together, the three of us that are left.

We get the last – well, we though it was the last, but turns out it wasn’t – a kilometer before the line.  I’ve fallen off the greasy tightrope again – too much time on the front.  Nothing left for the sprint.  Hard ride for nothing.  The finish comes and goes, no-ones hanging around.  There was no-one watching, either.  Within five minutes it might not have happened at all.  Back to a cold, miserable Sunday;  fireside reading and a roast.  Sun comes out on the journey home.

DHB Aeron Race bib short review

Being a tightwad, or a parent of two teenagers – categorise as you see fit –  I’m a longtime user of wiggle’s own brand DHB stuff.  I’ve used various flavours of their shorts for training and commuting for the last few years. The Aeron Race bibs have been something of a staple in my wardrobe in particular.  A new pair’s arrived to replace a pair which needed to be buried for humanity’s good, so now seems as good a time as any to pass on my hard-won prejudices about these shorts – like most clothing I’ve ever come across, they’re not perfect.  There’s good, bad, and downright confusing.

To the good:  the construction’s excellent.  I’ve got a couple of pairs of these that are 4 years old.  There’s been no splitting at the seams, the fabric’s tough and hardwearing.  None of the seams chafe or rub or make their presence felt in any way.

The pad too, is excellent.  It’s a little thicker than that used in the next-one-up Aeron Pro’s.  It’s not, perhaps, quite as comfortable, quite as not-there, on rides of under 3 hours, but for anything longer than that, I’d say this was a better pad.

There are, however, a couple of smallish elephants in the room.    I don’t think I’m of particularly unusual proportions – in face, I’d call myself pretty near an average fit for a cyclist, being 5’11, having a waist that hovers around the 32′-33′ mark,  and a fighting weight of a shade over 170lbs.  My legs seem – to me anyway – to look as if they belong to me and not someone else, and actually, there’s no argument here.  From the waist down these shorts fit very, very well.  Moving up though, and I think they modelled the bibs on a troll, because not only are the bibs themselves are on the narrow side,  they’re mystifyingly short.

I’ve got round this by sewing extensions into the bibs – and not just an inch or two.  Think an extra six inches of lycra to get a fit that doesn’t try and pull your shoulders into your hips every single moment you’re wearing them.  That might not sound much, but when you look at it it’s a long, long way out.  And I don’t think this is a sizing problem, either – I’ve found the same thing with both mediums and large sizes.  If anything, the mediums are a better fit from the waist down.  Perhaps DHB’s sizing for shorts isn’t quite as nutty as Castelli’s for example, but getting a pair that fits first time from just about any short manufacturer out there is a crap shoot.  Is sizing bibs correctly really that hard?

Cosmetically, I suppose it’s a matter of opinion.  I don’t think they look bad, but there’s nothing particularly special about them either.  All in all, as long as you don’t mind an evening cutting apart your new shorts and making them fit like they should in the first place, they’re a good wardrobe staple.

DHB Aeron Race Bib Shorts:



Excellent pad and construction

Good fit from the waist down


Bibs need modifying out of the packet

Bib straps on the narrow side

Boring aesthetics


The 2 x 20 interval – and why race calenders matter

Even if the results haven’t come yet I’m pleased with how I’m going at this point in the season.  Looking back on what I’ve done, there’s a couple or three things that stand out:

Firstly, I’ve been consistent.  There’s nothing worse for a season (with the possible exception of overtraining – but I’m getting ahead of myself) than great chunks of empty space.

I’ve trained moderately, so that my hardest sessions have given me a day of soreness, nothing more.

And thirdly, I started remembering how to train.

This hasn’t been as simple as you might think, because the racing scene and culture I came from in the UK is entirely different to here in New Zealand.  For a start, when the season kicks off in February in the UK it’s truly, horribly bollock cold.  Ice, snow, wind, hail.  Not the kind of things on the road you want to be lining up in a bunch to dodge.  Not the kind of thing you race in for long.  So, the season in the UK’s a bit different.  I won’t go into the schism in UK cycling that gave rise to the RTTC and the BLRC – now British Cycling, but suffice it to say time trials are a thing, and they happen – well, all year round, but particularly between February and Easter, which was kind of when the road really started to kick off.  25’s and 10’s to start – maybe a 50 or two if there’s one to be had.

You see where I’m going with this?  The early part of the season was all about TT pace – about functional threshold power.  I looked back at my old diaries and saw that it took me about three weeks of two races a week before I found any semblance of form.  I’d say light bulb, but I suspect I knew what I wasn’t doing already, but just didn’t want to face up to what was required.  Time trials, and time trial intervals, flat out hurt, and quite apart from anything else, you have to be fit enough to do them to start with.

This is where the consistency’s come in – I’ve actually been fit enough and mentally fresh enough, to get on the trainer and crank out one or two sets of these a week.  Here’s my take on the classic 2 x 20:

2 x 20 interval workout

10  minutes – warm-up, gently spinning up a low gear until everything feels nice and loose and I can maintain a high cadence effortlessly.  Maybe add a little resistance, but back right off for the last minute, gather my thoughts and find 20 minutes worth of decent music.

20 minutes at time trial pace.  I’m aiming for a level of resistance on the trainer that’s just above what I can comfortably turn at what I’d call my “normal” hard effort cadence – a little slower, in other words.

5 minutes rest.  Proper rest.  I’d even say get off the bike and collapse for a minute or two.  You can’t recover when you’re working .

20 minutes – go again.  I might vary it around on the second interval, mostly because at the start of it I really can’t believe I’m signing up for another one of these.  I might start with the resistance a little lighter and a higher cadence and then crank it up for the third quarter, before rolling back off just to survive the fourth.

5 minutes cool down.  Start with a minute of trying not to throw up, then spin a low gear and minimum resistance as fast as I can for a minute or two, aiming to slow down to a crawl by the end of the 5.

Climb off, mop up the sweat, shower.  Elevate legs for five minutes while fending off the dogs.

Looking back at my old training diaries, I kept doing 10’s almost all the way through the season.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to – or whether it’s desirable to – keep cranking these out for too much longer.  As I get closer to my main objective I’ll be switching to harder, shorter intervals targeting VO2 max and anaerobic recovery – it’ll be interesting to see how long the current fitness gains stay with me.


At the fork in the road

A couple of races into the back half of the season and things are going well.  True, I’ve only minor placings to show for a solid winter, but I’ve ridden strongly and attacked again and again.  Brains have been lacking, legs haven’t.

Danger lurks ahead, though.  Right about now complacency sets in:  I’m strong now, so I’ll stay strong all year.  A race a week and a couple of twiddles in the week will somehow see me improve.

They won’t.  Someone once said something about either depositing into or withdrawing from the Bank of Fitness, which is a line that I really should make a cracking double entendre from.  Right now, my balance is holding steady, but there’s been a few cracks round the edges.  If I’m not careful I’ll be skint before I know it.

Time trial pace is good.  Stamina’s OK too, but not really where it needs to be for the 100 miles of the Round the Mountain, my target race in two month’s time.

You can’t do everything, so for me there’s going to be a break from racing for a week or three and a block of long rides interspersed with VO2 max and recovery intervals.  Consistency’s the key now, and if I can build on my early season momentum rather than chucking it in the bin I’ll be on the start line at the end of October anticipating, not dreading.  Onwards!

Jagwire Hyper teflon cable review

Cables aren’t the most exciting thing to review, but there’s no getting away from the fact that poor cables, badly fitted, can pretty much ruin everything.  Since Gore stopped making their ride-on sealed cable kits there hasn’t really been a go-to gold standard, although for me – and I suspect for 99% of us – the price of the Gore cables stopped me from ever using them.  A few of Jagwire’s really high-end offerings are starting to creep that way in terms of price, so these are definitely a mid-table offering at 30$ for a gear kit and the same again for the brakes.  This is the first time for a few years I’ve put my head outside the OEM tent and tried something else.  So, how do they stack up?

They come nicely packaged, with an accessory bag containing assorted crimps, ferrules, doughnuts and boots that slip over the outer cable to prevent frame rub.

Frame rub protectors are part of the kit

More importantly, the inner cable is the right diameter, which can be something of an issue with certain models of Shimano shifter.  I’ve taken to cleaning out the channels in the shifter at every cable change to keep things running smoothly – a heavy dose of degreaser, then I heat a small pin in a blowtorch and chase out the channel.  You’d be amazed at how much grease, dirt and shite gets trapped in there and what a difference this makes.

Gold crimps are a nice touch
Gold crimps are a nice touch

As with any cables, installation is 90% of it.  A sharp cut is a must for the outers ( I juggle an angle grinder in bare feet, just for kicks) but this done, the Teflon liners mean they run buttery smooth.  They’re probably not the lightest option out there but as a go-to, year-round cable set they’re a good option.

Bottom Line:

Reasonably priced cable set that’s a pleasure to install and better than higher-priced OEM offerings.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.