Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Monday, 13 October 2008

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Monday, 11 August 2008


Image from Rollazpaluza.com

My first experience of 'roller racing' was on Friday night at Rollapaluza XI. An excellent night of frantic leg spinning in a (night)club environment with my team mate Stuart. We made it to the second round of the Madison team event, and I scraped through to the quarter finals in the individual rounds (last race finishing just after midnight!). A good laugh, but my thighs are still hurting 3 days later!

The sun was bright down there (photo by Caspar of Rollapaluza)

Stuart awaits the start of his qualifying round

Check out this movie link to get an idea of the atmosphere.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Masters of Beastway!

For the past 5 years or so, Wednesday nights during the summer in London have meant one thing for me: mountain bike racing. Billed as “grass roots racing”, Beastway gets its name from its long term venue at Eastway Cycle Circuit, now sadly demolished as part of the 2012 Olympic preparations.
The Masters category at Beastway is probably the largest and arguably the most fiercely contested. 2 years ago (the last year at Eastway) I managed 5th overall in the series. Last year, the first at Hainault Country Park, I moved up to 3rd overall. This year my objective was to get on the podium again.

The Masters line up for Round 1 (photo by Rikk Cahill)

One change for this year was that the series was reduced from 10 to 5 rounds, with a race only every other week. May 21st was the first race, and the sun was shining. 132 riders were on the start line and I felt pretty good from the start, coming in 3rd behind Richard Craven (Ford CC) and Paul Delahunty (London Dynamo) in a very convincing 1st.

Round 2 approached, and the forecast was not good. Rain was expected and a slight overreaction on my part saw me lining up with 1.7” mud tires. The draggy grass sections were waterlogged, but under the trees, my narrow tires struggled to find grip on the wet roots. Combined with the appearance of very fast displaced Frenchman, Sylvain Garde (Addiscombe CC), I only managed a rather disappointing 8th place.

Round 3 was dry again, and a similar result to Round 1, coming in third overall, behind Gavin Williams in 2nd and Paul Delahunty in first (again). Richard Craven had a crash during the race and had bent his rear disc rotor. As I result, I passed him during the last part of the last lap and put the hammer down to make sure he couldn't come back at me.

Round 4. Instead of my usual 13 mile ride from work to Hainault, I saved some energy by driving out to the race, having taken the day off to attend my daughters' school open day. I don't know whether its better to save the energy or get a good warm up, but it was certainly nice not to have to ride home 16 miles afterwards. Although the weather had looked a little iffy, the race was dry and I was battling for 3rd with William Jones (CPH), swapping places a number of times. Towards the end of the penultimate lap I made my move on a short technical climb, and had pulled out 20m when I lost the front wheel in the soft soil on a tight left-hander. Other than a few scrapes, the bike and I were in one piece, but now I was 30m back and I just couldn't close the gap. 4th, but this time 1st and 2nd places were taken by riders who hadn't appeared in the series yet. Delahunty and Craven were on their hols, and Williams DNF'd.

Round 5. With 4 reasonably consistent finishes so far, I was sitting in 1st in the rankings by some margin, but my closest competition of Delahunty, Craven and Williams had only finished 3 races (best 4 out of 5 are counted in the series). A bit of rough arithmetic showed it was going to be pretty close. With a CO2 inflater strapped to my seatpost (just in case), I took to the staring line and looked around me. All of the usual suspects were there, including the 1st and 2nd places from Round 2, making their second appearance. Delahunty, Craven and Williams were all there, as was Jones. The objective was to improve as much as possible over my 8th place in Round 2. The race was very fast from the start, and I sat in about 6th on lap 1, having overtaken a couple of fast starters. However, my 3 nearest competitors were ahead of me. Delahunty finished first (again) and Williams came in one place ahead of me in 4th. Most significantly, Craven seemed to have faded half way around to 8th place.

The Masters line up for Round 5 (photo by Christian Pratt)

When it was all over, I improved on my 3rd overall last year to 2nd this year. I was very happy with that, and I enjoyed the close competition a lot this year. Bring on Beastway at the new Hog Hill Circuit next year!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Paris Roubaix Sportive 2008

For some strange reason I got the urge to sign up for this event early in 200 after reading an article about it on LondonCycleSport.com here. Unfortunately, I'd missed the article when it was published and the trip was fully booked. The organiser, Scott Bugden, kindly offered me a place on the waiting list, and in the meantime I thought about how I might do it unsupported. Fortunately I was spared the reality of a planned 2am coach trip from the finish line to the start (so I could leave my car at the finish) when a place on Scott's trip became available in April.

I think most keen cyclists/ cycling fans have witnessed the pros tackle Paris Roubaix. It is the stuff of legends. I was keen to sample it myself, so decided to do some research on equipment. I knew the pros often use different bikes for Paris Roubaix. Some good examples of this can be seen in this Cycling Weekly article about the 2008 event. This article shows some riders chose to use cyclocross frames instead of their usual road frame. Partly out of a desire not to destroy my Giant TCR Composite (see below), and partly because I bought a CX bike in at the beginning of the year, I decided to use this. I will add some posts about what I did to prep it for the big day, but it was nothing too dramatic. The homework paid off, and the bike performed brilliantly. This may sound strange, but I now feel I have a bond with it after it got though such harsh conditions without a complaint (OK the headset feels a little notchy, but that's about it). This is what the bike looked like after the race (safely back at home) -

My research also included obtaining a copy of the excellent film of the 1976 Paris Roubaix. You can see a clip of it here. Very 1970s, and I took it with me on the trip so we could watch it on the coach. The commentary includes the following rather alarming words "Year after year this hell is the setting for a veritable Dante's Inferno, with incredible tortures and even martyrdom." This seemed to upset some of the coach party!

So how did it go? It was a truly fantastic day all in all - probably the best day on a bike I have ever had. After a very early start I completed the 260km distance in 10hrs 23mins, which included a couple of quite lengthy stops at the first 2 feed stations (there were loads, and all excellent) while we waited for various members of our group. I got more and more anxious to get on with proceedings as the day went on, and once I gained confidence over the cobbles, I set out on my own to tackle the last 100km. I felt great, and swinging into the Velodrome at Roubaix was such a great feeling.

I have to admit though, the cobbles were absolutely terrifying at first. The first section (Troisville) was still wet and muddy from the previous day's rain. And this was supposed to be one of the easier sections (according to my nerdy colour-coded chart - see below). This really was "Shock and Awe" - my shock at the severity of the cobbles, and awe at the pros tackling them at race speed. It was clear that if you were riding at race speed on this surface and you lost it, a serious injury was highly likely (as a few people discovered). Downhill on wet and muddy cobbles was clearly a serious challenge.

One of the great things about this event is that you can cover 100km on nice French roads and then the rest of the distance is so broken up with the 28 sections of pave, that you never really get bored. The technique I adopted (which seems to be the most commonly used) was as follows -

  1. use the margins and edges where possible, otherwise stay on the smoothest part available (usually the middle) - don't be a hero;

  2. push a big gear, hold the top of the bars and power across at a reasoble pace (I aimed for 24-28km/h); and

  3. respect your equipment - don't abuse the bike if you don't have to, but equally don't pussy-foot around - be confident.
And the reward at the end? Well, a shower in the famous showers was a truly amazing experience, changing in the cubicle named in honour of the 2003 winner -

And being so close to the Belgian border, the frites were good and came with plenty of mayo!
More stories here.

Friday, 21 March 2008

EVENT: Good Friday Track Meet 2008

For the past few years I have made a point of attending this great event, and as I now have a track bike, it is of even more interest (see below). Although the event seemed to be lacking in big names this year (no Brad Wiggins, Sean Yates, Malcolm Elliot etc..), it is still a spectacle to behold and a good number of people braved the cold on a very windy day. I 'm not sure I'd have been too happy with a disc wheel on my bike in those winds!

The hilarious selection of trade stands were present as usual (15 year old knackered rear mech or dayglo jersey advertising some local metalworks anyone?!). I did, however, manage to pick up a neat French bike stand called a "Loby's Foot" for a tenner. Anyway, lot's of entertaining action and a great atmosphere. Once again, the event battled and won the battle with the weather. My plan is to be there on the track next year!


Having had done a few track sessions a couple of years ago, and living near the fabulous Herne Hill Velodrome, I felt it was time to explore this a little further. I had looked at a few track bikes on eBay, but was never sure what to go for. I had seen the Felt TK2 and thought it looked like a great machine, but at £1,000 it was a lot of dough for a bike with no gears or brakes (or pedals for that matter). Anyway, I spotted a great deal on a 58cm 2007 model and decided "what the hell".

I'm not going to review the bike in this post (not enough time on it yet), but I thought I'd post a couple of pics of it at its first outing at Herne Hill a couple of weeks ago. It seems like a great machine, although the saddle (Felt branded) is the most uncomfortable piece of junk I have ever had the misfortune to place my backside on. It will be heading to an auction near you REAL soon.

REVIEW: Rotor S-1 Stem

About a month ago, I felt it was time to make a few upgrades to my trusty road race bike (see below). When I built it up a couple of years ago, I did so with a limited budget, and sourced some of the finishing kit (bars, stem, post and carbon cages) from Planet-X. Their kit is light, fairly stylish and very good value and, to be honest, has never given me any trouble. However, when I decided to build up a new commuter/ CX bike I thought I'd transfer a few of those parts and use it as an excuse for some upgrades to my race bike.

This brings me on to the Rotor S-1 Stem. I'd seen a few reviews of this product, and read its claims of being the lightest in the world. I liked the look of it, so I ordered one, a bargain at £86(!!). I didn't weigh it, but it felt staggeringly light and is very beautiful, with its wide open faceplate and scalloped machining. I had read that it was a bit tricky to fit, with its headless, twin-threaded bolts. The UK importer assured me if I read the instructions (i.e. unlike typical male) I would be fine.

I had chosen to upgrade the alloy Planet-X bars too, to Deda Spectrum carbon jobs, and mated these to the Rotor S-1 Stem. Now I have a low-range torque wrench, so followed the helpful etched torque figures when tightening the bolts. With a suggested torque of 2.5Nm, this was not much force. Immediately I sensed the bars were not secure. I re-read the instructions and remounted the faceplate after resetting the bolts. I did this a number of times. Still the bars did not feel secure, so I nervously upped the torque a bit. A little happier, I then set off on what was to be a 50km training ride. Half a mile down the rode I went over a bump in the road while riding on the hoods and the bars immediately tilted downwards by 20 degrees or so. Rather rattled by this, I peeled off home and went back to the workshop. Having secured a few hours off from the family to ride, I quickly swapped the stem out for a Thomson X-2, and I was off again. Safe and sound.

So what was the cause of all this? It is true that the instructions recommend the use of "assembly compound" when fitting the bars to the stem, and I didn't use this. They don't provide any with the stem, but my Deda bars had a strange sticky high friction surface on the clamping area anyway. So, did I fit them incorrectly? Were by bars undersized? These were all theories put forward by the UK importer, who graciously agreed to refund me. They also let slip that they thought that the bolt threads in the stem might be a little short, therefore 'blocking' the tightening of the faceplate a little, and also revealed that a 4 bolt version was on the way (for the MTB crowd, not for any other reason, honest). They also told me that I could safely double the recommended torque figures (which I think I probably did anyway). Whatever the reasons, when it comes down to it, a stem that you cannot trust will prevent you from enjoying your bike, and let's face it, could seriously damage your health. I couldn't stop thinking of what would have happened if my bars had slipped while descending a Pyrenean col at 50mph. All in all, this was a valuable lesson for me. A few grams saved in a critical area is just not worth the risk. It also reminded me how dependable Thomson components are. The Rotor S-1 is a beautiful stem, but is let down (in my view) very seriously by its fiddly bolts. Couldn't they have used regular Ti bolts? It would still be light and almost as pretty. Maybe there was an installation or compatibility issue, but I do all my own maintenance, have a fully equipped workshop, and reguarly build up bikes for myself and friends from scratch. I may not be a mechanical genius, but if I get this result, so can others. This is a safety-critical component, and for me, it's not worth the risk.
Verdict: 5/5 for form, 0/5 for function.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

BIKE FEATURE: my 2005 Giant TCR Composite

This is my road race bike. It's a size large Giant TCR Composite in unusual T-Mobile 'Flames' colour scheme, as used by the US T-Mobile, ahem, Women's team.
Spec is Shimano Dura-Ace throughout, except for Bontrager Race X-Lite compact carbon crankset and KMC X-10SL gold chain. Other kit is Thomson X-2 Stem and Masterpiece seatpost, Deda Spectrum carbon bars, Fizik Arione Carbon CX saddle and Look Keo Carbon pedals. Wheels are Ksyrium ES and tyres are currently folding Continental Gator Skins (on account of the winter weather). Weight is 16.3lbs (with pedals).

REVIEW: Torq gel - Black Cherry Yoghurt Flavour

I've been using energy gels for 3 or 4 years now, and I swear by them for keeping my energy levels up during a race or a ride. Having a flask of energy gels in my back pocket during a long race gives me the confidence that I will be able to keep going to the end and still have something left for the last lap.

I've tried lots of brands: PowerGels I find quite disgusting and SIS gels too gloopy and seem to coagulate into lumps in the heat (not nice!). I had settled on High5 gels as being the best, as they come in a variety of fruity flavours and are not too big in terms of volume. They also come in unleaded (regular) and leaded varieties (caffeinated) for that extra kick.

Anyway, during Round 3 of the Thetford Winter MTB Series I was fighting for position with Matt Hart from Torq Fitness and had a chat with him afterwards about their new gels. Having tried a few flavours, I bought a mixed box. I tried my first gel a few weeks ago on a 32 mile training ride on the road around the North Downs: a Black Cherry Yoghurt flavour. Now I like black cherry yoghurt, but wouldn't choose to eat one during a ride. While some of the Torq gels are caffeinated, this one isn't. The ingredients claim a "Research-proven 2:1 Maltodextrin:Fructise formulation for 40% greater carbohydrate delivery". A 45g (29g of which are carbs) sachet contains 114 calories and has a good mix of electrolytes.

So what does it taste like? I suspect this flavour will divide opinion. I quite like it. It's quite sharp and bold for a gel product, and gives your mouth a welcome revival. I'm not sure how great it would be on a very hot day though, when bold flavours are not always as welcome. Anyway, the effect, while obviously subjective, seems to be quite quick to hit the system, and I felt quite quickly reenergised. I'll also be trying the other flavours and also a bunch of their other products.

Verdict: 4/5

Monday, 4 February 2008

What does Overbiked mean?

I came across the term 'overbiked' in a cycling magazine's review of a high-end carbon road bike. I think it was the reviewer's way of saying that the bike was better than he was. As most high-end bikes are close to those used by pro-racers, perhaps this isn't all that surprising. Still, taking 'overbiking' to new heights has become something of a pastime for me. To me 'overbiked' can mean more than that though. It can also simply mean that you are way too obsessed with cycling. That's me too. Anyway, I'm going to use this blog to record my overbiked life, my races and any interesting equipment that I buy or get a chance to try.