Monday, 21 April 2014

Lune Coal Road Ride

Starting in Lancashire and looping over to the Yorkshire Dales and then back via Cumbria, this sixty-five mile ride was one of the best I've ever ridden.  With rolling countryside, killer climbs, hidden villages and stunning scenery (see picture), it truly was four hours in the saddle well spent.

Without the prompt of Toby Cummins who had travelled North to spend the weekend at his in-laws and had offered an invite to join him and friend Deborah on the route, I'd never have got to discover this hidden gem of a ride called the 'Lune Coal Road Challenge.'

The Only Way Is Up

Setting off into a tough headwind which remained with us for much of the thirty miles as we headed East, the route steadily climbs for 25 miles, where you then get a break before hitting the big climb of the day called 'Garsdale Head' which is a steep climb around the 38 mile mark.  

222M high and 3.8km long, it's one of those where you just have to push the pedals through, with 20% gradients at points. It's one of the climbs that features in Simon Warrens book - 'The 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs'.  This was definitely the hardest hill of the day for me and I hit my heart rate max of 185bpm as I crested the top!

Route Profile for Lune Coal Road Challenge
It was well worth the pain as the descent from the other side was stunning.  You had to be on the brakes pretty much the whole way down as the slingshot speed was ridiculous, if you like descending fast, you'd love it.  There were some switchbacks where you could get caught out near the bottom but for the thrill lovers it was awesome.  I had carbon 50mm wheels on so had to take it easy in the winds, still managed 38mph with brakes on though!

Climb number two was heading out of the village of Dent around the 45M mark, called 'Barbondale' which was profile wise similar to Garsdale head but not quite as long.  The upside of that climb was a piece of road which dropped down into a valley, literally straight where you could just hit big speed.  As you can see from the route profile above, it was about five to six miles long and exhilarating to fly down after a tough couple of climbs.
 
Cobbled main street of Dent

 With the wind on our backs we pushed on to a lovely cafe in Kirkby Lonsdale, which fellow rider - Debbie - had up her sleeve, which had a good selection of hot food, cakes and more importantly - tea!  Pretty place and very much on the tourist route, very busy.  Heading back towards the start point in Caton, we picked the pace up and averaged around 20mph for the five miles running in, which was thoroughly enjoyable.
 
Stunning views on the Yorkshire Dales
Only an hour away from Manchester, this was really worth the drive up to ride.  Although windy, the scenery, roads and climbs just made for a perfect recipe of cycling.  Arriving back, the distance was 65 miles with just short of 5K ascent, giving a ride ascent ratio of 76 which is 'hilly/hard.'

June brings some big rides in the diary, so hard days with hilly profiles are a pre-requisite of building fitness and strength.  As my training builds I'll be doing hilly rides on a Saturday and flatter rides on a Sunday.  With the long Easter holiday here in the UK, it's meant a decent training block of 170 miles (272KM) with 7.5K of ascent (2300M).

You can find the link to the route here.  Thanks to Toby for the invite and pictures, plus Debbie for the route and cafe.  My Garmin data you can see here.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Preparing for a multi-day cycling event


So many people are doing so much for good causes right now and with the growth in cycling, inevitably more and more multi-day events are cropping up.  Common questions I get asked via the comments section of the blog relate to the preparation, kit and training required so thought it high time to get a post up with some pointers.  Here's 10 tips and links to other related posts: -

  1. If you're BMI is over 25 lose some weight.  The lighter you are, the better your power to weight ratio which will make you ride faster and climb quicker.  Give yourself plenty of time to do this, losing 1-2 pounds a week as your goal.
  2. Put 25MM tyres on your bike.  They are more comfortable, better for grip and more puncture resistant.  I ride Continental GP4000 tyres.
  3. Get fitted on your bike.  If you're multi-day event involves long distances of 80M or more, you need to get your fit spot-on.  By doing this you will avoid niggles, aches and pains or injury.
  4. Ride appropriate route profiles.  If you're doing a Lands End to John O' Groats for example, you need to be able to climb hills.  Work hills into your training, don't just ride flat routes.  Read this blog about ride ascent ratio to see what I mean.
  5. Understand your route in advance.  On a multi-day event, each day can bring a different profile or challenge. Think about the requirements of each day in advance in terms of your clothing, nutrition and effort.  When you are going to stop and re-fuel.  What your weather contingencies might be and sunrise/sunset, all to be taken into account.  Key thing is to know which are the easy and hard days.
  6. Learn how to ride efficiently as a group.  If a group of you are doing the event, then learning to ride efficiently as a group will reduce your energy requirements and get you there with less effort.  You should be able to ride 2x2, riding in a tightly formed group with three or four inches between you and the rider in front (wheel distance).  This will save you around 20-25% of effort if you deploy correctly and share the load amongst the group.  Watch cycling on the TV and see how the professionals do it and pratice.
  7. Get your bike serviced.  Your bike should be in tip top condition in readiness for the challenge. Seen so many times riders arrive on bikes they've borrowed or bikes in poor mechanical condition.  The bottom line is you will slow the whole group down if you experience mechanical problems en route which could be avoided. 
  8. Invest in good quality clothing and equipment.  Nipping into Decathlon for some cheap shorts won't cut it if you're doing a 10 day x 100 mile event.  Invest in the best you can afford, particularly for contact points like your backside, hands and feet!  Read 10 items of cycling clothing you should own.  Blog here.
  9. Build up your miles and aerobic engine.  Multi-day events require a large aerobic and stamina base.  If you're doing a multi-day event of 100 miles per day over three or ten days, you must build your engine on the bike through long miles.  At least three to four months away from the event you need to be putting in 80M-100M per week in the saddle to build up your base.
  10. Work on your core strength off the bike.  Working on your core strength will help you cope with the demands on your body the event will bring. A strong core gives the stable base you'll need for climbing and long days of pedalling.  Blog on developing your core strength here.
You may also benefit from reading the blogposts below, the key thing is to not underestimate what you have signed up for.  Treat it seriously, plan, train and arrive on the line ready to fulfill the ambitions of the people you are doing it for.  Good luck!

  • 50 tips for a new road cyclist.  Blog here.
  • Getting the right saddle position.  Blog here.
  • Getting the right saddle height.  Blog here.
  • Tips for saddle comfort.  Blog here
  • 10 tips for replacing an inner tube.  Blog here.
  • 10 things to carry on your bike in your saddle bag.  Blog here.
  • Gear ratios for new road cyclists.  Blog here.
  • 10 foods to boost energy.  Blog here.
  • Choosing the right saddle.  Blog here.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

March 2014 Mileage


The first quarter of this year has to be the windiest I can remember since starting road cycling in August 2009 (5 years).  Every time I've chatted to a fellow cyclist on the road whilst out there's been a real concensus that the wind conditions have been challenging to say the least.

This weekend, was the first weekend I've felt the wind has really let up and the conditions softened with a guest appearance from the sun - happy days!

A tough start to the year with mileage down around 30% vs. the previous year.  I'd hoped to hit around 900 miles for the quarter start however conditions and personal commitments have simply got in the way so it's time to ratchet up the training April and May ready for a big month in June (Yorkshire Tour de France stages plus London to Paris).

The Heart of the Matter

Coming back from rides, heart rate has been tipping into zone 4 indicating the effort required to hit any kind of average speed in the conditions.  Many a ride has seen my heart rate go anaerobic whilst battling into a brutal headwind and achieving a paltry 12mph, pedalling squares.  Last Sunday I couldn't even hit 17mph on a downhill without pedalling into it, today on the same piece of road - 24mph.  

With those sort of heart rates, it's really important to keep an eye on carbohydrate levels whilst you're out and so extra food is a necessity whilst also staying hydrated.  After putting in 100 miles this weekend in more favourable conditions, legs don't feel anywhere near as battered as they have done in recent weeks.

So, drawing a line under the start to 2014, the key positive is average speed of 16.6mph (26.4kph).  It's up on last year however taking into account the conditions, I'm happy that the base fitness that I have is OK so now plan to spend more time on core conditioning and intervals during April + May.

Month  to Date

Mileage- 254 miles (-30% vs PY)
Ride Time - 15hrs 09mins 
Ascent - 7,677ft
Avg. Speed - 16.8mph (+8% vs PY)
Avg. HR - 152bpm
Calories (estimate) -10,442
Ride Ascent Ratio (Ascent/Miles) - 30.2 (Flat) (-22% vs. PY)

Year to Date

Mileage- 687 miles (-24% vs PY)
Ride Time - 41hrs 27mins 
Ascent - 19,942ft
Avg. Speed - 16.6mph (+9% vs PY)
Avg. HR - 150bpm
Calories (estimate) -27,300
Ride Ascent Ratio (Ascent/Miles) - 28.8 (Flat) (-4% vs. PY)

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Saddle Up!

One of the most important contact points on your bike is your saddle.  For some, it can seem like a never ending search trying to find one that you feel comfortable with.  If you check out eBay, you'll see lots of 'only ridden once' ad, always a bargain or two to be had!

Starting out, I tested a few and finally settled on the Selle Italia Gel Flow saddle as being the one that suited me best.  I now ride this saddle on all three of my bikes as it seems to provide the right balance between comfort and performance, with minimal chafing and rub (that's not a sales pitch for Selle Italia by the way, just my preferred choice after a lot of trial and error).

Saddles are quite an individual thing.  Each of us has different sit bones, so the search for the right fit can be a long one.  You can narrow your choices down by figuring out how wide apart your sit bones are (one of those things that I wish I'd known before trialling so many saddles).  The short video at the end of this article will quickly demonstrate how you can figure that out.

It's not just about your sit bones, it's also about your physique and position on the bike.  If you big muscly legs, you'll likely want a saddle with a narrow profile at the front.  If you ride with quite an aggressive position, you'll likely want a short stubby front end.  My position on the bike is quite neutral and the top of my legs are not huge, so the Selle Italia saddle above is perfect for me.

The other thing you might want to consider is a cut out in the saddle (see picture).  This provides some relief to your 'crown jewels' whether male or female, handy on longer rides.  When you've found the right saddle it's also important to sort out the right height plus fore/aft position.  You can find some previous articles I've written on this below: -

Tips for saddle comfort.  Click here.
Configuring the Correct Saddle height.  Click here.
Configuring your saddle Fore/Aft position.  Click here

If you're planning to get into road cycling in a big way, then I'd recommend that you think about upgrading your saddle.  When you buy your first bike, they generally come with a basic saddle, which may not be best for you.  You can upgrade for around £50, which is well worth the investment if you're planning to spend a long time out munching the miles. 


Sunday, 2 March 2014

Feb 2014 Mileage


February was not just a whitewash, it was a windwash!

Blustery conditions continued to batter the North West making riding conditions dangerous with 50-70mph gusts across two weekends.  It led to me missing three rides during the month and ultimately my monthly mileage goal of 320 miles (the one day where conditions seemed to settle, we had an important family occasion which took priority over riding).

Windy City

Getting out in the first weekend of the month, it was brutal. Returning home after hours in headwinds and gusts was character building to say the least, but I felt pretty happy rolling back with a speed of around 16.5mph (26.4kph) given how challenging things were.  

It gave me some confidence that I could go into the next two weekends hanging on to some fitness, however wind speed and gusts intensified.  Watching Davina McCall complete her Sport Relief ride in the intense wind and rain, raised nothing but admiration for what she achieved.

With the month eroding, I rolled out on the last Saturday and within the first mile of leaving home thought to turn back as the conditions were again really tough (up to 70mph gusts).  I hadn't realised when looking out from home, things looked relatively OK, but really needing some miles opted to push on through it and pick a route on lanes where I might benefit from some protection.

After a hard fifty miler on a pan flat route, I bonked one mile from home and pedalled squares all the way back.  That horrible moment when your tanks feel empty takes a good dose of mental attitude to push on.  

Looking back it was so windy, I was just focusing on turning the pedals and made a schoolboy error by not eating, a classic loss of situational awareness through tiredness.  Still it at least meant I could add some more miles, opting for a recovery ride on the Sunday following.

March Meltdown?

No miles for the first weekend for me. Yesterday I went to watch the Eddie Soens race in Aintree which was well worth it, was a great race which I viewed from the passenger seat of the neutral support service vehicles.  Today, recovering after a late night!

We're into March now, so here's to a big improvement and a few calmer days (crosses fingers).  The weather is what is is.  I'm a big fan of getting out wherever possible, however icy conditions and severe winds always make me think twice.  The roads are dangerous enough already so with additional attributes to consider.  

The only one positive I took away was that my average speed was up year on year, despite the conditions, so that's something to reflect on.

Month  to Date

Mileage- 178 miles (-45% vs PY)
Ride Time - 10hrs 49mins 
Ascent - 4,688ft
Avg. Speed - 16.5mph (+8% vs PY)
Avg. HR - 153bpm
Calories (estimate) -7,502
Ride Ascent Ratio (Ascent/Miles) - 26.3 (Flat) (-16% vs. PY)

Year to Date

Mileage- 432 miles (-20% vs PY)
Ride Time - 26hrs 18mins 
Ascent - 12,275ft
Avg. Speed - 16.5mph (+12% vs PY)
Avg. HR - 150bpm
Calories (estimate) -16,858
Ride Ascent Ratio (Ascent/Miles) - 28.4 (Flat) (same vs. PY)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

January 2014 Mileage



The jump into January is done.  Key objective for me was to start as strongly as I could, with the primary aim of doing more miles than the same period the year before. 

It's been quite a tough month in terms of weather conditions, with a lot of wind and some cold/icy mornings.  It was topped by the ride yesterday in 25mph general wind conditions and 40mph gusts here in the NW - it made for a really hard 50 mile ride and some very heavy legs today.

Nevertheless it's job done with a monthly mileage of 254 which is 14% vs. the previous year and a faster average speed (16.4mph/26km/h).  The heart rate tells the story of just how much wind there has been, a lot of energy needed just to keep momentum!

Here comes the Tour

Between now and into the Spring, I'll be training hard for June where I've got two big rides to aim for.  First is the two Yorkshire routes of the Tour de France over two days in aid of the Steve Prescott Foundation, then followed by London to Paris again (third time).   

The Tour de France route is something I've been wanting to do but hadn't pinpointed the right event, this one came out of the blue, so I jumped at the chance (further blogpost to come).  London to Paris 2014 will see me target to go up another group in terms of speed, so something to keep me focused on the tough days.  I'll be slotting a couple of sportives in for added motivation and milestones too.

January has just been about maintaining fitness on pretty flat routes.  As the weather improves I'll look to head for the hills more and also work on strength and conditioning training at the gym using weights.  It really worked for me last year, building ride intensity on Saturday rides, then going flat on a Sunday.  Most importantly is to shift some weight, one of the best ways to ride and climb quicker.


Month  to Date

Mileage- 254 miles (+14% vs PY)
Ride Time - 15hrs 28mins 
Ascent - 7,547ft
Avg. Speed - 16.4mph (+12% vs PY)
Avg. HR - 147bpm
Calories (estimate) -9,356
Ride Ascent Ratio (Ascent/Miles) - 29.9 (Flat) (+45% vs. PY)

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Ride your own ride



15.5mph, heart rate 161bpm, battling into a headwind, feeling pretty miserable and then a member of the GB talent squad comes flying past and disappears into the distance like it's a perfect summers day, a memorable moment from my ride yesterday.

A firm reminder that when you're out on your bike, you're going to come across lots of people who are faster, fitter or lighter than you and to ride your own ride, within your own limits.

I'm riding in a specific heart rate zone during January, top of zone 3 to keep my fitness topped up.  It means that you have to pedal hard down hills to keep your heart rate up and slow right down when going up, which creates a yo-yo effect.  Interesting when you've flown past someone on a descent for them to then catch you up and pass you again on an ascent.

See the wind as your training partner

Yesterday was a really interesting ride.  Strong gusts of wind meant the going was really hard and arriving at my planned cafe stop, I was feeling pretty whacked, it had been a big effort for 25 miles.  I needed to have a word with myself about "manning up" for the second half.  It reminded me of a conversation I had with legend - Graeme Obree - who said "see hills and wind as your training partners."  Sound advice.

Heading out for the back half, I got the wind on my back and it was still at tough at times, but more manageable, I managed to lift the average speed to 16.5mph (26.4km/h).  Thing is, I'm glad I went out.  I try and put in a decent January to get some early miles in to set the tone for the year and that means rain, wind and some tough riding at times.  Still rule 5 applies, which Twitter follower @hardboiled2006 reminded me of, that set me up nicely.

Heading out today, it was like yesterday never happened.  Doing the same circuit in reverse, everything just seemed to click.  Arriving back home, my ride average was 18mph (28.8km/h), compared to yesterdays 16.5mph (+9%) with the same average heart rate.  Amazing how the same route on two different days can deliver such a different outcome.

Riding in inclement conditions is essential if you're going to keep your fitness, improve and build into the New Year.  Half of it is in your head, giving it some Jens - "shut up legs."

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Riding in Icy Conditions


It's always a difficult call when the weather has been cold overnight as to whether conditions the following morning are going to be OK to ride in.  As a rule of thumb, if it's been freezing overnight, I tend not to ride the following day due to risk of black ice.

Kicking in to 2014, I was keen to get some solid miles in.  January 2013 saw me cover 224 miles in total,  2012 was 204 miles, primarily due to cold weather conditions.  With only one ride last weekend, I had some catching up to do, so although cold overnight I resolved to get out.  Key things to consider when riding in icy conditions are: -

1) Dressing appropriately.
2) Choosing an appropriate route.
3) Slowing down.
4) Whether to go out or stay in and do some intervals instead!

Each to their own, I opted to go out.  There was the familiar crunch underneath the tyres indicating that the roads were likely to be precarious, so conclusion was to keep the ride on main roads.  I only had a couple of hours and had lower miles on the clock yesterday due to a puncture, so I was keen in the couple of hours I had to get out and get some miles in.

As I rode, a few things came in to my head about ride safety in such conditions.  Passing a big peloton of club riders, I thought they were pretty mad personally to ride in a tight group given the unpredictable road conditions. The thoughts I had were: -

1) Running on wider tyres (25mm/28mm) gives you more rubber on the road.
2) The importance of carrying a foil blanket in your back pocket.  If you do go over unsuspectingly, it's vital to keep warm.  For a couple of quid, this is something that will assist you or a fellow cyclist in an emergency.
3) Using the back brake more than the front to avoid losing the front end.
4) The importance of carrying 'ICE' information.  See previous blogpost here about Road Life ID which I use.
5) Going out a bit later to allow the sun to rise and do its work.
6) Steering clear of the gutter at the side of the road, where ice is most likely to form due to lack of salt on the road.
7) Taking turns a bit wider and slower than normal.

Despite a couple of wobbles on unexpected black ice, slowing down on today's ride and keeping things smooth and predictable, it meant the very cold part of the morning around 8.15am passed without drama.  30 miles more in the bag, 121 in total so far this month.

Pump/Valve Incompatibility

It was in contrast to yesterday, which was nearly a write off, with very wet conditions.  There was a lot of surface water and riding through a puddle - bang - I hit a hidden pothole, something I'd previously blogged to beware of!  Straight away, the tyre went down and I had a pinch puncture.  

Usual pack drill, wheel off, tyre off, tube out, I can do it in my sleep now, but I had a repeat of a previous problem.  When removing the hose of my Lezyne Pressure drive pump after inflating the tyre, it also undid the valve inside the Continental inner tube, rendering me unable to pump the tyre up as the valve was completely removed from the tube.

Same thing happened at the back end of last year but I put it down to the long 80mm valves on my deep section rims, thankfully a passing fellow cyclist lent me his pump with a standard press-on fitting and everything was fine.

Conclusion is I've permanently retired the Lezyne pump as I can't have that happening on a ride.  Prior to that it hasn't happened to me before, so it could also be a batch of tubes that I purchased where the valves weren't tight enough in the tube.

Anyhow, it was also a great reminder when passing someone to always ask if everything is OK?  

Here's to a Great 2014

With the New Year firmly upon us, I wish you safe, epic and wind assisted miles, whatever your goals.  For me, it's all about continuing to use the bike as a tool to stay fit, think clearly and see some amazing countryside whilst riding with some great like minded people.  Chapeau!

Sunday, 29 December 2013

December 2013 and Annual Mileage Totals



That's it, my 2013 mileage came to an end today with a ride this morning, back to work tomorrow, so time to compile the annual statistics.


2013 has been a good year, I'd set a target of around 4,000 miles for the year, given that all my riding is done at weekends and the Garmin is reporting 4,092 miles, so it went to the wire or I'm very good at forecasting (perhaps some crossover from the day job).  

The mileage across the year has been spread below: -

Q1 - 911 miles/1,457km
Q2 - 1,429 miles/2,286km
Q3 - 1,063 miles/1,700km
Q4  - 689 miles/1,102km

Lower miles in Q4 were linked to a number of personal and professional commitments which meant quite a few missing weekends for rides.  Higher mileage in Q2 is attributed to the London to Paris ride of around 300 miles (480km).

Taking the annual mileage as an average across the number of rides completed (105), it means an average of around 39 miles (62km), which generally speaking is about where I'm at during the weekends.

Comparing to last year, my annual mileage was +32% up (2012 - 3,082), average speed was up 10% (2012 - 14.7mph), ascent was +80% up (2012 - 82,963), RAR was up +23% (2012 - 26.8).

So, this basically means I've ridden 10% faster, with route profiles being on average 23% harder, which I'm pretty happy with.  Fastest recorded long distance ride over the year was the Manchester 100 sportive over a distance of 100 miles (160km) which finished with an average speed of 18.6mph (29.8km/h).  I think that was my best ride of the year as I rode the event alone.

Most importantly, I've been in the saddle for 250 hours of quality thinking time.  You may not know this but when you are cycling your brain frequency steps into a state called 'alpha' thinking.  When you are in the grind of life with lights flashing, buzzers going, e-mails dinging and constant things demanding your attention, you only use around 15% of your brains frequency for thinking.  Jump on a bike and it leaps to around 60%.

So, not only does riding a bike make you fitter, allow you to ride great roads, visit new places and meet new people, it also the place to de-stress, creatively think and come up with your next big idea.  

I hope that 2013 has been a good year for you on the bike and you have achieved your goals.  We're all different in what we want to achieve as cyclists, primarily dictated by the time we can devote and what we do it for.  For me, it remains to stay physically fit, having dedicated thinking time and a passion for something away from the workplace.

2014 is now knocking, so for all readers, I wish you an amazing 2014, safe miles and a great tailwind.  Happy New Year!

Month  to Date

Mileage-  262 miles
Ride Time - 16hrs 32mins
Climbing - 8,606ft
Avg. Speed - 15.9mph
Avg. HR - 151bpm
Calories (estimate) -11,798
Ride Ascent Ratio (Ascent/Miles) - 32.8 (Flat)

Year to Date

Mileage- 4,092 miles/6,547km
Ride Time - 250hrs 12mins
Climbing - 149,999ft
Avg. Speed - 16.3 mph/26km/h
Avg. HR - 146bpm
Calories (estimate) -147,346
Ride Ascent Ratio (Ascent/Miles) - 33.1 (Flat/Undulating)

Sunday, 22 December 2013

2013 Round Up

It's that time when the year is drawing to a close and worth a quick moment of reflection as to the key moments of 2013.  So, 10 things that have stood out for me this year are:-

  1. Chris Froome winning the Tour de France and showing some real guts whilst without much of his team for many key stages.
  2. Riding my fastest 100 miles at an average of 18.6mph in September.
  3. The horrendous weather at the Tour of Britain race this year and that excellent day in the The Lakes which really saw the riders suffer.  Nice job Wiggo for the win.
  4. How cycling continues to take off in the UK with so many new riders on the road.
  5. Completing London to Paris again in June (personal) with a great bunch of people from Skoda Cycling.
  6. Number of cyclists being killed on the road seems to be taking a worrying turn in the wrong direction.
  7. Riding the mountains in Tenerife in early November - going back there!
  8. The big fight for the Presidency of the UCI with the new President - Brian Cookson - taking over.
  9. Getting a new road cycling business - Beacon Bikes - off the ground and the first store opened in Whalley, near Clitheroe (personal).
  10. The blog clicking over 750,000 visits, something I never planned for.

So, they are some of mine. What about you? What have your highlights been? Feel free to leave a comment.