Monday, 4 September 2017

Milking Mamhead ....

Over the years I have often wondered what it would be like to live near or next to an iconic climb. Haytor, Cheddar for example though noting we do not have mountain ranges within the UK. Just yesterday on the Tour of Britain live they discussed how much of Britain's road went up and over rather than around as per France, Italy and co. I have always wondered if it would compel the rider to hit it as much as possible and decide to monster the climb as often as possible. The old adage of hills hurt rings true, but the question I ask myself would you get better at it, faster, easier or burn out ? I suspect that in relative terms speed would come, but that could be based on the rider weight and ability.  

In reference to living near a mecca climb, it has not happened, as Cheddar and Haytor have always been a ride away or a drive away if you want to start at the bottom. However, I had a rubicon moment last week when I realised I do indeed have a great climb ten minutes from my door which is the lamentable Mamhead. The climb that gave me the fear for the best part of three years. I am not the only one, a lot of local riders worry about it, but perhaps a tad unduly. I have ridden harder roads for sure. But and it is a big but I have decided to take on the climb as much as possible and given I had some time off work and thus feeling much fresher legged I rode it four times last week and I intend on riding it once a week  at least til' the weather renders it otherwise.

I created a private segment on Strava which I called golf club cross roads to t junction as to me, this is the complete climb before I turn right and head towards Exeter race course. The metrics are as follows -

1. Sea Level to 790 feet.

2. The latter part I suspect is 8/9% to the top - some corners feel steeper, I must use the Garmin to evaluate.

3. After the cross roads a false flat leads you to the very top of Haldon where again you hit 834 feet approx give or take Garmin and it's in ability to deal with height.

Now, in relative terms this is not a huge climb. Haytor is 1350 feet, Gospel pass is 1350, Cheddar is 802 feet once up-to Charterhouse, Frocester Hill is 778 feet,  So it is a good 500 feet less that the two big boys, but it is steep and relentless and there is corner after corner, shrouded in tree line and mist most of the time. You feel like you have ridden into Forks; Washington as featured in Twilight !

In the 5 times I have ridden it every ascent felt different and I had no memory recall of where the 'end' of the climb proper is as I call it. It is a test for sure and hopefully it will put me in good stead for some of the aforementioned bigger climbs when the time comes. I still do not know if I will develop as a climber by doing this. The usual cycling idioms apply when training hard but in reality, if I can get a sub 20 minute time going up then I would be delighted. Regarding development I did 13,000 feet this week - in context the most I have ascended in one month is 23,000 feet as when you convince yourself you cannot climb, you avoid the climbs.

My current PB sits at 23.18 mins - I have gained 2 mins already, but lost time on another day ! What I am yet to work out is do I monster the first half and smash that as fast as possible then drop back into recovery and suffer in zone 1/2 going up or try it the other way around. The first half is the easier half but you need to spend energy wisely. 

Time will tell. I love cycling. I need a climbing bike !

Friday, 1 September 2017

August and everything after, but before ....

So, August has been and gone. The endless summer did not appear and surf is not up. But, it was a progressive month with some good consumer miles put on the bike. I managed to bank 448 miles which I feel bar the odd shoddy commute were 'good' miles. Nothing wasted. A few full gas efforts on my summer Tiverton blast where I attained a sub 2.10 for 40 rolling miles. Bristol to Exminster was a long shift and I did not take it over the 100 miles for the sake of it.  I did add in a couple of taper rides to keep the legs turning over in zone 1 and this paid off. As ever, the desire to ride everyday is there but one has to be smart and pragmatic and not. I am not 20 anymore. Oddly however, I felt incredibly fit mid week this week after the long ride, but long rides do that and I feel that they elevate fitness double quick time. Interestingly a new FTP attained this week at 250 watts for 20 minutes when 'just riding along' rather than beasting myself on a 20 min threshold test.

I set myself a target of 400 miles a month and met it, which is nice. That is a minimum of 400 miles bagged every month since February - smashed it in fact. I have decided to now hit the climbs locally and do as much climbing as I can over September and October before the cold weather bites. It has always been my achille's heel - going up but I am liking the local hell climbs which can be very rewarding.

I am loving the Dogma and its current guise, the bike  very good at climbing, but such is its character going down and across I often cite it as the best bike I have ever ridden. It is something else.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Bristol to Exminster. Again.

So today was a long shift, Bristol to Exminster. A 6.00 am start due to a light morning and good weather, which in turn turned into a mini heat wave.  I was in bed by 8.30pm on Saturday evening after stopping over at Mum and Dads.

I woke up with a head-ache, a strange nagging viral headache which I have had for about a week. I do not feel ill, but oddly, as soon as you ride you realise that your HR is elevated and your power zones are thrown slightly out. But, I decided to press on and hopefully ride it out as they say. In the end 97.4 miles with a 'moving time' of 6 hours 5 mins.

The actual ride was a massive success with huge dividends made on the last ride back in April. Two things were at play here. One being '6' months fitter than in April and actually being on my Dogma F8 / Spin 45 combo over the Madone 9 / zipp combo. The Madone was beautiful, fast and efficient but I felt very nervous on it when shod with Zipp's when the road pointed down. Testament to this is the fastest I descended in April was 30 mph where as today I hit 44 mph no problem. The F8 out descends anything I have ridden up to date my hand built spin wheels ride with incredible assurance and they handle beautifully. No wobble, no issues, just stiff, fast, light and strong. Great wheels give you the confidence to drop at speed. My Vittoria tyres are just sublime too.

Timing (not moving) were as follows -

10 miles 39.38

20 miles 1.16

30 miles 1.51

40 miles 2.32

50 miles 3.14

60 miles 3.56

70 miles 5.03

80 miles 5.33

90 miles 6.19

Aprils times were as follows -

10 miles 42.14

20 miles 1.22

30 miles 2.01

40 miles 2.52

50 miles 3.39

60 miles 4.21

70 miles 5.45

80 miles 6.40

90 miles 7.28

Certainly some marginal to big gains made. I have certainly nailed a faster 40 miles in Devon, but factor in traffic lights leaving Bristol and things add up. My route takes me through the centre of Bristol and the reprobates were out all heading home from Night clubs as I rode by. You have to laugh. You would have thought it was the middle of the day. Looking at 60 - 80 mile timings, the overall timing difference are borne out of two things, fitness and common sense in using the A30 out of Chard rather than going 'across country'. The Yarcombe climb is a massive ball ache, two 900 feet climbs but the beauty of it is the fast descent into the back end of Honiton. It is a very high road at the top of the Blackdown Hills and an easterly wind chopped about, looking down to my right reveals the Otter Valley, not great when you get occasional vertigo on a bike, but I beavered (clever - Ed) away and descended well with bank holiday traffic not too bad overall. I also rode smart by hopping straight back onto the A30 leaving Honiton and time trialled to the Ottery exit rather than ride halfway to Sidmouth via the huge climb I call Tesco hill. There is no doubt that arriving in East Devon via Chard is a big ask in bike riding terms as the ride takes on a different dynamic if you are an average climber 70 miles into a long solo ride but to my mind, it is the best route. Riding across to Taunton and around the top and on to Tivvy is cheating, but I think I will do that next to test the actual mileage.

In reference to power output, my aforementioned headache had things slightly skewed and I felt like I rode in a zone higher than I would have, but data as follows. Oddly the bulk was in zone 1 which I can only assume was when the pedals were not turning. Zone 2 ideal on a long ride. One caveat to note is that historically, I always find portions of a long ride when I zone out and today the strange thing about hitting the Somerset levels south of Cheddar is that it is effectively so flat and unrewarding that you actually lose speed an thus time rather than gain it as I suppose the beauty of hilly terrain is what goes up etc. Flat riding unless TT'ing can now be a bit mundane though riding two or three up may be better. I think that being a good endurance rider is not about riding as fast as f**k everywhere you go, but learning to moderate the ride and make the power count. The turtle and the hare stuff.  I was, by my own admittance a bit boom or bust today, but that was due to my head and simply wanting to attain a better time. Staying in zone 2 where possible requires massive discipline. Credit to the serious long haul riders out there. If you do not know power understand that you can ride all day in the right zone with nutrition. Clever stuff. On the subject of nutrition, I had 2 bananas, 1 energy bar, 4 slices of pre-cut malt loaf, 5 energy gels and 6 bottles of water at 800ml. Nice !

Overall, it was a great ride. The Dogma is great, the only caveat I level is that is really is a super stiff bike and a couple of days off the bike required. It certainly sends more feedback into the rider than the Madone did. Sportive / endurance bikes likely a better bet than this this style of frame, but then they don't get the work done when it matters.  I would like to try something like a Canyon or a new Synapse on this route, but to be frank, I am not binning my 'fast' bike for two or three rides a year. I felt a little more 'beat' than I expected, but I set off in overshoes, knee warmers and a long sleeve base layer and in reality I could have lost them by 8.30 am such was the warmth - after 90 miles I was a cooked goose with white marks mirroring the shape of my sunglasses and my lips dryer than a Nuns front garden.

Anyway, job done. 2017 is all about 2018 now. Cheers.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

This is Anfield. Sort of ....

Way back when in the 1970's and 1980's Liverpool football club dominated everything. They swept all aside and won pretty much everything you could win as a club side. Something interesting arose during that time; mind games. Famed for big characters of the era, Clough and so on, mind games were nothing new, but it ramped up a notch and the fact that many teams travelled to Liverpool and 'bottled' it as they walked out to the pitch under the famous 'this is anfield' sign. The game was effectively lost before they even set foot onto the turf. It is all in the head.

Hills have the same effect on cyclists. The mental aspect of a hill can more often than not supersede the actual demands of the hill in question and today, there is no better example of this as I nailed Mamhead, another mythical Devon climb that has given me the the heebeegeebees since I moved here. It had me in the head so to speak and for the last three years, I have turned right before the climb proper begins. It was after all once used in the UK National hill climb championship so yes, it is a test.

Being frank I have no idea why I worried so much. It was far from a breeze, but I have ridden much harder hills and frankly I look forward to using it more as it is literally ten minutes from my door. Similar to Cheddar with a couple of steep corners, it climbs 3.6 miles from sea level to a smidge under 800 feet. Not that high, but sharp rather than long and the first half is a very elusive false flat. I averaged 221 watts at 9.4 mph for the climb and span up though interestingly, I did not get into the 32 tooth cog as my bike was slipping and would not hold the gear, so rather than risk the chain spilling I rode one cog down. That is a result. This in itself could make the new Ultegra 11-30 appealing one day. Even Dura Ace, mmmm, lovely.

My bike as ever rode beautifully and no complaints apart from the howling wind on the top of Haldon Ridge, the hinterland between the coast and Dartmoor. Have said it before, but you can reinvent yourself as a climber within the realms of your natural skill set on a push bike. 

I have never raced a bike competitively, but one thing I can assure you is that no one wins a training ride. It is simply the joy of being on the bike and days like today are joyful.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

wheel update .... loco loco.

So first things first, a decent Estuary loop this morning. Ploddy though, I felt tired from the off so did not go out and hammer it, simply just went for a decent bike ride. It was busy out, stupidly busy but these are Devon coastal roads mid August. It is to be expected. I did get an interesting PB on the last sharp steep section of the Woodbury road which again proves that my wheels have been a solid investment and a decent buy. The road which is a test, the long draggy climb to four firs cross road ended up being a silver PB without actually giving it the beans. I could not - too much holiday traffic and I was behind a funeral cortege. Respect is due. But a segment within a segment reveals a PB with the main drag up coming in at 5.06 mins, 242 watts average power and an average speed of 8.9 mph on a cat 4 climb. Have said it over and over, I am not a climber. Never have been, never will be, but things like this please me. I would top out at 220 watts on my Zipp 303 and start to slow down, which I can assume was based on flex ? Sustaining speed mattered to me, over outright climbing acceleration.

I have had a couple of questions from people regarding the wheels and the facts are as follows. The Zipp wheels were very flexy at the hub. Something was not working for me with them and a couple of fellow riders noted it out on the bike. The rub is that the rims are probably very good, we all know what sapim cx ray spokes are about, but somehow the build and performance did not warrant the money Zipp and the relevant distributors charge for the wheelset. Simple as that. 70 marketing, 20% VAT and 10% wheel.

Being honest, a few things to note that is that in certain situations the two wheel sets are very similar, but to my mind, the Spin 45's do out perform the Zipps for a fraction of the cost. I use evidence; data including power, time and speed to analyse this and it is there, all be it on occasion, marginal to paraphrase big Dave. The oddity comes from the fact that they 'feel' very different and this must be down to the stiffness of the Spin 45's.

What these wheels do do is hold speed, stay stiff and keep the bike going fast on the right roads hence my reverse triangle times getting faster and faster.  Another thing to note is that the Spin wheels feel inherently safer than the Zipps which get blown all over the road despite every review, sound bite and critic saying how great they are in side winds. Not true. The 404's I had before the 303's were the most dangerous set of wheels I have ever experienced to the point that I would stop the bike at the top of hills and not want to descend. I felt like Mike Windgren, the character Elvis Presley played in Fun in Acapulco, a trapeze artist who moves to mexico to become a high cliff diver beset with panic attacks. Not funny. The 404's were moved on and 303's came in. What a gutter. You live and learn. My mate James said Zipp are s**t - I should have listened.

The thing to remember is I tasked Drew at Spin to build some stiff wheels akin to a 303, and speed is a bonus, but evidently, it seems that the two go together.  Since the wheels have been shod on the bike, I have had to put a 52 back on the front as it felt hugely under geared with a 50 on the front. You cannot say more than that as a testament to performance. Happy days.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The faster I was the faster I went ....

Speed. A funny old thing. We crave it and try and create, nurture it and try to simply get faster on our bikes -  and more often than not we do, within the realms of our physical capabilities. In reference to speed, due to commitments off the bike, this week, I decided to get two sharp rides to Tivvy and back in and the results are different with the latter ride from this morning yielding a PB, a decent average speed and a broad smile.

Going back to Tuesday, it started with the weather forecast. Rain predicted though thankfully it stayed away. Over shoes, rain coat and hat were worn in earnest however. The roads were wet and this curtailed times, but overall, 42.2 miles bagged in 2.32 with the 40 mile marker banked at 2.28 - a full 10 minutes slower than the last attempt which was simply due to sopping wet roads. But today at 5.15 am it was clear, dry and still and though I nearly pressed snooze on the alarm when it went off as Buddy might not wake me, I decided to get up and get at it. In the end I smashed another 'PB' and made the 40 mile marker at 2.10 - the fastest 40 on that loop yet. 18.5 miles per hour for 43 miles and 18.7 mph for 'reverse triangle' one of the local Exeter Wheeler segments. Thrilled with that and also thrilled with my ascension up the Strava table as it now reads.

1.11th fastest this year in all age groups, not just 45+. 

2. 5th fastest 46 - 54 years. 

To many, Strava an abject waste of time, but for the solo rider a great tool when used in context. That is not too shabby at 45.5 years old.  It is far from flat, rolling in fact and a good test for any bike rider capable or not. Do not forget I effectively packed cycling in and did not ride a bike over a year 2013 into 2015 ! Smart !

It was a cold, fresh start to the day and the fog was lovely lying low in the valley enroute to Tiverton. I needed to ride within myself across to Halberton as the fog was super thick and I could not see 50 yards. I normally cain the bike down hill here, so again, scope to go faster. Everything clicked into place going up and coming back. 

What I would say is if my Spin DM8 45's roll like this, I wonder what a set of 58's would do. I roll with 45's due to the wind in Devon but actually, over the last week or two it has been better and a 58 set up would have flown today. I am only chasing time, my time, but it is self improvement and the love of cycling, testing myself and getting out there staying fit internally and externally that matters.  As someone in a bike shop somewhere in the world likely just said "I ain't no professional" though my bike is cleaned, maintained and looked after and looks fairly pro ! In reference to my wheels, they are simply sublime. They reward power, relentless cycling and deliver speed in a way that the Zipps did not. As before, the Zipps would bottom out, drop off and speed would drop away on a rolling climb where as knocking the cassette down two and then dropping into the small ring allows the bike to power along, crest, smash it into the big ring and power up. Brilliant !

Anyway, in context, locally, there are people who could drop me in a heart beat and I am cool with that. Devon is a serious place to ride a bike, talented or not.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

And all through the house not a mouse was stirring ....

Except for Pete and Buddy the puppy ...!

So, Buddy has at 12 weeks has become my alarm clock. He wakes up everyday at 5.15 gives me a whimper call from across the landing upon which I remove myself from bed when I am on shift. He goes out, has a wee, comes in, has a bite to eat, goes out, has a poo, comes in and then goes back to bed. Idyllic. He is an awesome little dog and the perfect fodder to Bella our 7 month old black lab. They have become best friends. It is however interesting how two dogs can be so different due to the intrinsic nature of the breed. Bella retrieves, Buddy herds. 

Anyway, the beauty of an early start means I can throw in an early ride. Hammer the ride, get some full gas shenanigans in the tank and be home by 9. Out at 6am today, home by 8.30 and 43 miles bagged with a marginal gain at 40 miles - 2 hours 18 over 2 hours 20 on Tuesday.  Aggregate riding as I call it. Some Strava segments were quicker, some segments were slower, but overall mildly quicker which is always nice with a headwind.  I wore knee warmers and a base layer today as though at the height of summer it is very nippy early doors.  My Vittoria corsa g+ 25mm tan side walls ( jesus - that is a mouthful - ed) had their maiden voyage and all seems fine. I note that they lack the hum of the previous Vittoria tyres I have used tub and clincher wise, but they roll well and will no doubt roll faster once they bed in. I was unsure on tan side walls til the were shod onto the wheels but god they look super fly. So, 85 miles bagged in two rides this week. I will commute tomorrow with a zone 1 leg loosener in and out of work and a top up of the miles and wrap up another great week on and off the bike. As an aside my progression for time and pace continues and the triangle segment as it is known is down to 1 hour 46 mins (pic below) and can get faster. The brilliant thing is that I have entered the all time top ten fastest at my age group which is a great surprise and topically, there is life in the old dog yet !

The thing holding me back is me. Simple. But, do not forget there is 1,614 feet of climbing on this loop which is about as flat as it gets in Devon. It is funny, but as a bike rider you cultivate routes and this one has become my go to test ride as it suits me and I enjoy it much more than dragging myself up 22% hills in and around Dartmoor, though the two can compliment each other.

My Spin wheels have been a revelation. Life is good, Buddy and Bella bring so much joy to our lives and my Dogma F8 is simply wonderful as bikes go.