Category Archives: Random drivel

Festive 500, greater than the numbers.

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464 kilometres remaining.

Christmas Eve. 36k down. South of Cape Egmont, New Zealand. A ditch outside a rural tennis club.

We’d rolled out from home and headed south, a light tail-wind kicking at our heels. Alright, it was going to be harder coming back, but there were two of us, and stomping the last leg into a headwind seemed like a declaration of intent for the week ahead. We covered the first ten miles at a brisk pace, kicking up the steep rolling hills on the way to Okato, sometimes backing off at the top, but more often not. There the road turns onto the coast proper. Turn right at any point: next stop Chile, nine thousand kilometres of southern ocean away. With a short hop between the road and the sea, it’s a wind-scoured, shelterless stretch that on any average day can be a soul destroying slog. Today though, the breeze goaded us on, and soon we were time-trialling south, a steady pace in the forties.

Thirty minutes later we turned inland. There’s a lane I’d found a month or so before that I wanted to show Andy. It twists between hedges of box thorn, the crown of the road is green and gravelled. Add a couple of psychotic, half-starved farm collies that have to chase if they want to eat, and we could almost be back in my native Cornwall.

By mutual consent, we dropped in side-by-side and sat up.
“It’s around here somewhere.” I said.
”I’ve got a stiff back after that.” Andy said. “Getting home could be fun.”
I stood up in the pedals to look over a hedge, and then an thunderbolt of pain went down one side – back and leg. I came to a grinding halt and for a long, long time, the air was blue with swearing. I tried a few, ginger revolutions, and – to labour the thunderbolt metaphor, Thor took a few preparatory swings, just to let me know what would be coming my way if I persisted.  I wasn’t pedalling anywhere: my back had gone, right on schedule – just as the osteopath had gone on holiday.

Andy left me on a small patch of grass outside the Rahotu Tennis club and headed inland. The northerly breeze was whipping itself into something much more interested, and the signs were that once again, the weather forecast – northerly breeze later was going to be another of MetService’s gloriously horrible understatements. I sheltered in the lee of the clubhouse where it was warm and still. I tried a little yoga – dog shit peppered the grass, my knees dug into invisible gravel. The pain lessened, a little. I dozed, and then international rescue arrived, my wife and the car.

That, I thought, was that. I drunk a beer or two and tried to be philosophical about it. I broke it fifteen years ago and compared to the view from there that I thought would be my future – the possibility of a life permanently curtailed, pain a daily constant – I’ve nothing to moan about, even if I swear a bit during the daily yoga that’s part of the deal.

I slept in the shape of a question mark; I got out of bed and fell over. The thing won’t get better on its own, so I hobbled the block to the beach and back. A fifteen-degree list is ten by the time I’m home, and I passed the bike in the hallway and allowed myself to think: a spin might help – just a gentle one.

The subject was broached.

It’s your own bloody fault if it goes. Why are you such a stubborn arse?

And then – I’m not driving that far again. Stay close to home.

I spun for an hour and a bit – in the sense of one-legged clod walloping being spinning – then climbed off and lay for another twenty minutes in the shade of a kowhai tree, waiting for my body to get used to the idea of being straight-ish again. A pair of Tui argued around me; the dogs came and licked my legs.

That afternoon, I did it again. It hadn’t killed me, I said. More might make it better I said. And then I didn’t say I was only fifteen kilometres behind festive 500 par – one thing at a time.

And so, that’s how my 500 started – a series of recovery rides, not too far from home. Recovery rides turned, day by day, into something else. To the same loops, I tacked on road-ends I’d never visited, places not on the way to or from anywhere else. I found the best fruit ice-cream, sold from a pink caravan that overlooks the sea, fifteen kilometres from home – often passed, never stopped. The lady there told me I’d missed a pair of humpbacks travelling north by less than an hour, so stopping became a daily ritual, a sugar-and-fat hit while scouring the horizon. I found that the track to the old gold mine at Boar’s Head was closed, that the beetle sculpture that used to raise a smile on the commute never died, it just moved. I logged miles with my son: we sat on the stoop of a village shop washing down a snickers with milk, just as I did when I was his age – on the days when Will Broome used to smash me to pieces on the back road past Hellingly Hospital, half a world away. No, the pain never receded, and the kink never really straightened until New Year’s Day, and a day off. And no, I didn’t end up with the kind of supercharged legs I was looking for, or smash the thing in three rides, but in a very real way I reconnected with the greatest bit of cycling that – amongst all the races, and the time-crunched training, the talk of junk miles, and chasing segments – I’d almost forgotten was there.

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A cyclist’s guide to surviving christmas and the off-season

Since the end of the season I haven’t blogged at all, mostly because to be blogging about something you’re not doing seems fraudulent: as someone once said, I’m a writer only when I write, and it’s the same with the bike.  I climbed off at the end of October and more or less threw it into the dark recesses of the garage.  On average I’ve done 70k a week, if I’m lucky.  Once or twice I’ve gone for a gentlemanly 40-50k with no thought other than to listen to the birds or atone for the dietary sins which seem welded to this time of year, regardless of whichever hemisphere you happen to be in.

The off-season is tradition, and it  comes with a whole heap of downsides.  Some of my trousers are a little tighter than they were a month or two ago.  The hiatus from racing brings with it a whole being-available-for-DIY issue.  Last, but not least, it takes 21 days to make a habit, apparently, and after six weeks of quite frankly absolutely taking the piss it’s going to be doubly hard to get back on track.  No wonder there’s a slew of tinterweb articles preaching caution and temperance.

However, there are huge upsides which are, by my reckoning, severely under-promoted.  By the end of the year my body was screaming at me, fed up with hunching over bars.  Who, after all, does a yoga session or a swim instead of a ride – which one really makes you faster?  Riding does.  Yoga and swimming make you faster for longer, but that’s tomorrow’s problem, and as such they always seem to wait until then.

So my tip for surviving the off season?  Embrace it.  Take the time to make your body hurt less.  Catch up with friends, remember your children’s names, make that pudding you saw on TV and slobbered at back when you could only eat raw carrots because there was a climb that week, and eat it with them.  Take a surf trip or head for the snow.  Pay the debt of gratitude and attention you owe the rest of humanity after opting out of it to ride your bike.

Bike racing at its best verges on the inhuman.   The real point of a well-spent off-season is to remember how to be human.

Happy Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.

 

End of season blue skies, challenges ahead.

I’ve pretty much finished for the year.  The big race got cancelled, and I was in shit shape for it anyway.  I’ve had a season of sore legs, big efforts, and zero results to show for it.   Anyone who’s raced for more than ten minutes knows that a good ride isn’t always measured by results, but sometimes…aaarrgh!   Anyway, a break is due.  I’ve also come to a point of fatigue where I’m sure that a change of focus next year is what’s needed.

I don’t do weights.  This is for a couple of reasons:  One, I did loads in my teens and twenties.  I reached peak gym boredom, and never recovered from the exposure to all that pent-up testosterone and sexual frustration.   Two,  twenty-something years of surfing hasn’t exactly left me like a pipe cleaner in the upper body.  I’ve been trying to lose muscle, not put it on, for the last few years.  And Three: I have a screwed back, and on the three or four occasions I’ve set foot in a gym over the last decade or so I’ve limped out.

I’ve been pretty dedicated to the cause for the last few years, and over the last few weeks I’ve realised a couple of things.  Firstly, my biking fitness might be good, but my general, athletic fitness frankly sucks more than it ever has.  With my back injury, a strong core and good posture is key to a life without pain and, incidentally, to turning pedals quicker.  Of course, on a day-to-day basis, how do you think this works out?  I’ll take another lap of the block, do another interval, rather than stretch and dig the stability ball out.  The work ethic in that direction’s been…absent.  And secondly, I’m bored.  I’ve essentially done the same calendar of events for four years, and I need a change.

Last week, I did my first run in years.  ITB pain did for me a few years ago, and I’d always assumed it’d flare up instantly if I pulled on a pair of running shoes.  It didn’t.

I hit the pool, too.  Yeah, you can see where this is going.

I’m going to do a few tri’s this summer.  Get some pool miles in, get running.  It’s sufficiently different, and it’ll be great for my general fitness.   It might even be good for my personality to get in a headspace of getting-round-and-doing-my-best, as opposed to being a competitive shithead.

And of course, I’ll be needing a new bike.

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.

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.