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.

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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:

Pros:

Price

Excellent pad and construction

Good fit from the waist down

Cons:

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.

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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.

Winter training, part 1

Here in New Zealand – or my part of it, anyway – we have two seasons a year.  Basically, we have a back-to-front system that apes the Euro calendar but for a mid year break, enforced by the general bollock-coldness of this time of year.  Our season end – traditionally marked in the northern hemisphere by getting fat and staying indoors getting drunk round the fire – is here marked by getting fat and going to the beach, then getting drunk round the barbeque.  The true beginning of the year – the base miles of December and January – are really rather civilised.  Long, slow social rides in the height of summer, followed by early morning intervals in warm dawn light, all washed down with isotonic replacement summer ales. My excuse for a core workout involves going surfing in bathwater temperature, friendly blue waves.  Bliss.

But this, the middle of the year, is a little different.  An eight-week lay off presages winter – not really long enough to get horribly out of condition and give up entirely, short enough to push through.  Cue storms from the deep south, weeks of forty knot winds.  Roads slick with cow shit and forest debris.

Against this backdrop I’ve taken a week’s leave, time to catch up on life, a few household chores (not if I have my way), hang with the kids, and pack a bit of saddle time in.  The next goal is our local classic, a hundred miler that happens in the jaws of spring, and it is, in every sense, a classic.  It’s the oldest road race in NZ, there’s books written about it, and it’s always, always, bollock-shatteringly hard.

Last year I spent the five minutes before the start huddled under no shelter whatsoever being pelted with hailstones the size of my thumbnail, before setting off on the forty miles to the first turn into the teeth of a spring storm of rare ferocity.  It’s a handicap, so basically a team time trial until it all blows to shit, and so there was no poncing about, no gentle neutral section, just balls out and go.  After thirty miles I punctured, picked up a spare wheel, then chased for three to get back, arriving  with my eyeballs hanging out on my cheeks.  Two turns in the group and I was done: spat out of the back faster’n’a thruppeny whore getting rid of the taste of the village idiot.  I turned round, rode back to the start in record time with the wind behind me, and chastened, applauded the finishers in, and  they deserved that.  The field was – well, as decimated means one in ten, that won’t do.  Half-ated.  Fully half the field abandoned.  Another hailstorm got the remnants before the finish, and to a man they were hollow-eyed, empty, shells.  I envied each of them bitterly.  They had seen the worst that this race has chucked at the peloton in living memory, whereas I had quit.

And so this year, I have vowed, is to be different.  I will not be on the start line this year wondering where I’ll come off: so to work.  I’ll laugh at headwinds, and look forward to the final climb where it all comes apart with relish.   It begins now, as it should, in the shit weather, on the rubble-strewn roads, and I’m only lying a little bit when I say that I’m looking forward to every single minute.

The Round the Mountain’s been running since 1911.  It’s a great race under threat from the cost of complying to NZTA rules about racing on state highways and it needs all the support it can get.  You can enter here.  You won’t get the thousand-strong fields of the summer jolly – you’ll get seventy-ish riders, among who will be some of the toughest nuts in the country, legs that you’ll think will never walk again,  and a memory that’ll last a lifetime.  If of course, you don’t DNF.

 

Ambrosio Nemesis review, or praying at the temple

Let’s be clear.  If you’re a cyclist in the bottom 85% of our size distribution as a species you don’t need this wheelset.  (Unless that is, you’ve got room in the garage and you love cobbles, gravel, and paying reverence to the best part of the year, the spring classics.  Invent reason to suit.)  But  if you’re over a hundred and something kg,  if you’re sick of breaking wheels and you want a nice sunday best that’s not going to explode in showers of expensive, overstressed carbon, these could be your friend.  Read this, then beg or borrow a set from somewhere and tell me if I’m right. I have more than a sneaking suspicion I am.

Regardless of weight, lots of us revere the Nemesis.  Just go check out Weight Weenies, or have a peek on Velominati.  Admirers are many, fervent, and constant.  This last soldier of the box-section, handbuilt days has not gone quietly into the night – the last rites might have been read in the media, right next to another full column ad for something carbon and temporary, but not out here in the trenches. It has a special place in our collective heart, and it shows no sign of letting go just yet.

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The gold flag…

Mine are 32 hole laced to Dura Ace 7900 hubs, in a 3x pattern, using double-butted DT competition spokes.  There are many valid reasons for using alternative spoking patterns, but none of them apply to the Nemesis.  3x is the law here.

Hub choice for the Nemesis seems to be, by convention, limited to a fairly narrow range.  Admittedly there isn’t the choice of high spoke count hubs there once was but wheelsets made with the Nemesis seem to draw from an even more select pool consisting of Dura Ace, Record, Chris King, and Ambrosio’s own (PMP sourced) hubs, notably on those sets built by Harry Rowland.  These wheels get built for the toughest of tough lives, even if only a vanishingly small percentage of them will ever get to see the Arenberg or the Carrefour l’Abre.

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Shiny hubs, shiny spokes. Like Coco Chanel’s little black dress for a bike.

Similarly, the choice of tyres seems to be bound to a select few classics from the cobbles.  Handmade FMB’s for the well heeled, Veloflex’s, and the Vittoria Pave’s, which are what I’m rolling at the moment.  I always have, actually, on these rims – this is the third tyre on the rear, the second on the front.  I have nothing bad to say about the Paves, except for the set I bought off TradeMe that had mangled base tapes that refused to stay glued unless they were kept up to pressure.  They haven’t cut up any worse than any other tyre I’ve ever had, I’ve never punctured a set, and the ride is just…special. That doesn’t mean though, I won’t allow for the possibility of there being other dance partners.  When these go I’m going to try a set of Conti Gatorskins, just because they’re cheap, and that means I can use them even more, presuming they’re not altogether horrible.  (I’ve never tried a conti tub, and I’ll do so with a little trepidation.  Butyl inner tubes and a reputation for riding like lengths of hosepipe, apparently.  But I’ll never know until I try, so I’m keeping an open mind, for now.)

Classic box section rims never look old, because they're already old.
Classic box section rims never look old, because they’re already old.

So what do they weigh, and how do they ride?  If you’re asking the weight question you’re missing the point.  Mine come out at a fanny under1700g for the pair, since you ask, sans skewers tyres and glue.

To the ride.  As you’d expect the handling in foul weather is just what you want,  but to regard these wheels as an anachronistic, one trick slug is a mistake:  I have a 40k loop near home that climbs from sea level to a little under 500m, then plunges and twists and turns through a greasy rainforest-covered lane into an 8k nuts-out descent, then another 7k of flat time trialling to the finish.  It’s my barometer loop, because it measures everything, and out of all my wheelsets I’ve gone round fastest on the Nemesis.  The braking on them is better than on any rim I’ve ever ridden and the Paves inspire confidence like no clincher ever has when the surface is 90% shit and pothole.

Alright, they don’t get pulled out for that many races.  Yes, there’s faster wheels in the garage for most days.  I won’t be humming and ahh-ing between these and the Reynolds or even the Zondas.  Aero was a chocolate bar when these were born, and shit as the roads around here may be, they’re still well within the everyday capabilities of more youthful, faster models.

But none of them will ever, and I mean ever,  feel as special as these. Get your best grimace on, find a muddy puddle, and pretend you’re on King Kelly’s wheel or that Boonen’s choking in your dust.

Some things never grow old.