Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Kilo To Go: Tour of the Peak

Image courtesy of  Kilo To Go

Feeling the need for another ‘challenge’ to foster a better riding and training regime, I convinced a mate to join me on the 115 mile version of the Tour of the Peak.

Having done a few hilly sportives now, I admit to booking it with a rather blasé attitude and essentially rocked up at the start line not having done any form of hill training – aside from a brief jaunt over to Lickey for a lumpy morning’s ride the week before. The reality started to kick when Joel and I started to look at the profile as we drove towards Bakewell the day before the event but even then I was quietly thinking it would just a long day in the saddle. After all, how bad could 3 main climbs in the Peak District really be?

Some gentle hills early on...

The forecast has predicted a dry day with a nice steady wind of 19mph with occasional gusts of 35, less than ideal but the absence of rain would be welcome given the temperature and distance.

After a terrible night of listening to the snoring of various third parties at the Hathersage YHA, neither of us felt particularly fresh on arrival at the start line in Bakewell - in fact I don't mind admitting that I felt hideous and wanted to get out on the road to stop feeling sorry for myself!

Joel in the background wondering how the hell he'd ended up here, now, on this day...

The event was well organised (parking in large fields at the Agricultural Centre was a gamble for the organisers), with lots of marshalls and signage, and after short wait and a pep-talk from lively woman at the start line, we were off in a large group of 30 or so.

We'd discussed that we'd try and find a reasonably sized group going at our speed and sit in for a bit but we quickly found ourselves moving more quickly than everyone else and certainly faster than we'd discussed the night before. The hills started literally from the off and the sound of frequent gear changes became an early soundtrack. All the while we knew the toughest hill was the first biggie of the day, Wynatts Pass, and nervous excitement was rife - at least it was for me! There were a few quick and technical descents before then and lots to keep us interested - including the amazing scenery. The Peak District does a good line in rolling landscape views.

Arriving at Wynatts Pass in no time, the pace slowed, the volume of people in the way soared and the synchronised panting started. Just as we hit the cattle grid that marked the start of the timed climb, Joel realised he was already out of gears and I couldn't help but help him by laughing out loud. It was going to be a long climb!

Wynatts Pass looking rather flat.

I got frustrated as people weaved all over the road trying trying to lessen the gradient and before long these people become pedestrians, forced to push their bikes uphill. The climb from the grid to the first bend is fine and once in the rhythm I could have tapped it out all day but the hill Gods had other things in store and on hitting the first right hand bend offered a whole new treat. The wind whistles down the rocky shoulder as you pass it and the gradient ramps up almost immediately. This with the combination of the wind meant it was becoming almost impossible to keep the front wheel on the ground. Having decided that there was no way I was getting off the bike so early on, I went against protocol and was out of the saddle grinding squares up to the top. Once passed the timing gate I stopped to wait for Joel whilst deciding that including Wynatts in a ride like this is just for PR purposes as its neither good or enjoyable - its simply a spectacle.

The spectacle of Wynatts Pass.

Once we'd regrouped we looked forward to the descent into Edale, which didn't disappoint, and we rolled along only stopping at 25 miles for a super-quick fluid refill. The first 50 miles felt tough as the wind was blowing quite a bit and letting us know that we'd be fighting all the way around this ride.

Stopping at the feed station at 50 or so miles in Hade Edge was longer than expected: Joel was in need of a hot tea (and I couldn't blame him) and my crank arm needed tightening as it was helpfully deciding that this was the ride to randomly work loose! Luckily there was a set of tools at the feed station, a counter serving tea and coffee and plenty of ham batches to go around! I was getting to the stage where sweet things were getting tiresome and the taste of savoury food seemed to have divine qualities.

Anticipating Holme Moss

After giving Joel a little pep talk, we zipped up, said thanks to the ever-attentive team and got back on it. It was climbing from here all the way up Holme Moss and the climb itself is really nice and almost Alpine-like, as it switches back and forth at a fairly polite gradient.

Holme Moss - our immediate future

Things got real at the summit though, where the wind was brutal at this, the highest and most exposed point of the ride. The wind was so bad, I had to lean over at a silly angle on my right just to stay upright. The descent, which should have been a well-earned prize, was equally as ridiculous and lets just cover it by saying that speed wobble is not funny at 42mph whilst trying to keep out of the gutter.

Once the gradient eased, life was better from there and crossing in between Torside and Woodhead Reservoir added interest and kept the conditions fairly sensible. I'd pressed on ahead of Joel as we ascended Holme Moss so now I was facing a dilemma of whether to wait at the next feed station or to press on. I couldn't see him as I looked back down the road so I decided that the sooner this was over the better and got my head down and dealt with some miles.

From here, through Hayfield, Chapel-en-le-Frith to Macclesfield its simply up and down all the way - nothing to write home about but at this stage every effort now is chipping away at the reserves - much like attritional warfare.

The Peak District does a good line in rolling landscapes for background interest

The Cat and Fiddle would be the last climb and I'd been thinking about it a lot given that it was the final milestone. I have to say that I haven't climbed it before but I'd happily do it again given half a chance. Its a great climb with views and bends and a fairly good surface all the way up. I'd linked up with a chap who seemed to be happy to climb at a decent tempo and share the pace setting so it was over rather quickly at the time. Tempted by a pub stop, but wanting to stop for several rather than one, I had a little word with myself and knuckled down for the lovely rolling descent over Harper Hill and into Alport. By this point I'd decided that stopping again was not for me so I powered on trying to get it done with the help of a younger lad from Sheffield Road Club. Working together we made light work of the last few miles and tried to finish as strong as we could whilst maintaining a bit of chatter.


I have to admit that seeing the signs for Bakewell and the finish were very much welcome but didn't drag as much as final miles can on a long ride like this. We approached the finish to claps and children with cow bells but it felt like there had been a mass exodus at the grounds. Clearly a lot more folk had taken the sensible decision to do the shorter route and had already left - which meant queuing for a much needed coffee, cake and a hot chicken & stuffing batch was much more bearable. As I sat waiting for Joel I got chatting with other lads, all of whom had stories of mechanicals, punctures, injuries and heriocs but all agreed the day had been, somehow, a pleasurable challenge. I couldn't agree more and sat there waiting and plotting my return whilst Martin Johnson (Ex England rugby captain) crossed the finish line (in a very good time for a man of his size). All in, a great day and food for thought for a return trip for Holme Moss and the Cat and Fiddle climbs...



Monday, 1 June 2015

Lily Camera Drone: For Cycling Selfies?


If we're all being honest, its pretty hard to make take interesting cycling footage with a GoPro, no mater what DIY or new fangled accessory you've got. Hurtling down a moutain pass with a camera positioned on your chest, bars, forks or stays is just not going to be that joyful for anyone else but you to watch!

Short of convincing your video enthusiast mates to drive along side whilst filming or piloting a DIJI for really cool shots, as a cyclist what choice have we got?


Well, up to now that was pretty much it and with some editing skills you can make these things vaguely watchable but they don't tell a story and the shots are not very dynamic! Then Lily came along.

Lily is different to everything else because its self piloted and works using a GPS tracking device that is worn by the film star  subject. This makes for intelligent hands-free filming so you can hammer along that 50mph decent without having to pilot your DIJI or be chased down by a brave mate in a car!

Its got it limitations though I'm afraid - probably the biggest being that its not good at avoiding objects. So, if its following you along an alpine road getting a side tracking shot at 20mph and a truck, bridge, power lines or a travelling circus (more likely) happens to whiz past in the opposite direction its likely that Lily will meet an unfortunate death! There are various tricks that can be performed but the limitations on distance from the subject and height are the other things to consider. Bear in mind that its early days for Lily which is currently on pre-order for the bargain price of $500. Perhaps these issues will be tackled in later versions...


I think with some forward planning and a bit of luck these issues could be overcome and Lily could go on to make user-generated cycling footage a lot less mundane. I want one and have got just the scene for it....



Monday, 25 May 2015

Cycling Food - DIY Energy Bars


Lets keep this simple: We all need energy of some sort to fuel our rides and the simpler the better. Those right there are two pretty good facts. Another fact is that many of us will spend a lot of money fairly frequently on various branded products, but what are the other options? What can be done in your own kitchen and at what cost?

I generally eat some form of high carb, low GI cereals with a slice of toast or malt loaf to fuel a half decent ride (be this pace or distance or both), along with a gel if I'm working hard. Gels are great but after a while they become a bit much and I often feel empty and want to feel like I've eaten something solid. This is easily solved by eating some form of energy bar, flap jack or even a wedge of malt loaf but I find this hard to eat on the bike whilst working hard and panting in a way similar to child-birth.

For me, I want something with a bit of substance, it has to be moist but not messy and easily stored and accessed. Some pretty basic research brings up lots of options but I wasn't always convinced by the ingredients or the potential energy values so decided to have a play around. In the end after a bit of experimenting the following works really well - just throw it all in your food processor:


  • 300g stoned dates
  • 300g prunes
  • 5 x dried whole figs
  • 150g mixed nuts (almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts
  • 150g whole oats (more or less if you want to play around with the consistency)

I then just pressed this into a baking tray and put in the fridge to harden a little before  cutting into squares and wrapping in foil. This lot makes approx 16-18 'shots' of a reasonably sized portion. These are more like little squares or 'shots' than bars.

These then get stored in the freezer until I need them but given that we're working with largely dried ingredients - these things last a very long time just in the fridge. I wrap them in the same way I saw a chef for a pro cycling team do hers - you simply fold the foil back on its self to create a little tab that can be pulled to started easily unwrap the shot using just 1 hand.


There's a fair amount of carbs and protein in these little guys but bear in mind that nearly all the carbs is from sugar so I prefer to limit my intake if I'm out all day. You can play around with adding more or less oats, more berries or other dried fruits. The trick though is to get the consistency just right because too soft makes them hard to eat without making a mess and too thick or dry makes it a chore to eat. The ideal consistency is squidgy when pressed but holding its shape.


Enjoy!



Friday, 17 April 2015

I'm not dead - I've been cycling!

I know, I know - I've been very quiet on here recently. Rather than give you the usual excuses of "I've been very busy", "life's been hectic" and "I've been in a beer-induced coma for 7 months, I'll just say that rather than concentrate on the blog I've actually been out cycling and I consider that an equally respectable excuse!

Whilst I'm 99% sure nobody care's, before I resume better service, here's a quick update on what's been going down....

So, I think I left you all with the knee-tremblingly exciting news that I bought a Kuota KOM Air with the promise of a long term review (coming soon), some lighting reviews and a tip for auto-uploading your Garmin rides to Strava. Since then the world has moved on and and so have I.

I've been cycling as much as possible through the winter months and trying keep the weather from reducing my bike to rust and dust. For the most part that's worked out OK and, like most, I'm itching to get back out with the lads from the shop and work back to the fun and form we had at the height of last summer. Whilst I didn't talk much about it on here, I finally caved to Matt's incessant hinting of our joining the local road club (Kenilworth Wheelers) for their Monday night runs. After my initial reluctance we went along, didn't get dropped and grew to love the 26 mile "through and off" riding and the sprint finish back into Cubbington. My biggest regret is not doing this sooner as my fitness and experience spiked almost immediately after we started and even better was the discovery that we're not that slow!

I'd recommend trying your local club runs if you haven't made this step yet - it really a worthwhile experience and having a club does give you access to more like-minded cycling weirdos - if nothing else!

Matt (my cycling neighbour) knows quite a few people and his next trick was to have us join the some lads riding out a few times a week from Mike Vaughan's -  another local bike shop. With a bit of new-found confidence we went along and this is where things got really good. The group was less formal than the club runs and this made for a great atmosphere and a style of riding that encouraged healthy competition and more inclusion. These rides were the highlight of last years cycling.

Despite my best attempts I just never managed to get any cycling holidays organised, UK or otherwise, and so this remains a task for 2015.



What I did  do was complete the New Forest 100 sportive the day after my Birthday in October (Strava details here for those who dig it) and more recently the Rawlinson Bracket 2015 - possibly the UK's friendliest sportive and I couldn't recommend it enough. Last year I got around  the RB fairly quickly but this year was rife with illness and other rubbish excuses. I didn't do too badly on the timed hill climb though:


I want to keep up the Sportive events and attempt to get around them as quick as I can whilst enjoying them and the next challenge is the mighty Tour of the Peaks in May. I think the combination of distance and climbing will make this a challenge.


With the lighter nights and better weather the Tuesday/Thursday shop rides have just started to pick up again and last summer's form doesn't feel quite as far off as I first thought. The task now, I think, is to try my first proper race at Mallory Park.

So, lots of things to come to the blog and maybe, just maybe, there might also be some exciting news involving a small cycling nation calling itself 'France'...