a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday, 24 November 2019

A revelation: E bikes give you really great legs ... FACT ! In collaboration with The Bike Rack, Yarm.

I have wanted to write something on E bikes for a while but the fact that I had never actually ridden one presented a bit of a snag. Problem solved during a casual chat about the current cycling market with my good friends at my favourite local bike shop The Bike Rack, Yarm and an offer to take one of their Giant E bikes on loan ... I couldn't say yes quickly enough.

My original plan was to do a simple comparison between a pedal assisted E MTB and my own MTB over the same circuit including a favourite gravel climb that I have tackled many times, simply to find out how much easier and quicker I could get up it on an E Bike. I will come clean at this point and confess that I also chose this segment to see if I could take the Strava KOM currently held by my son and coach Jack (@ensocycling on Instagram) and as an added bonus the second and third fastest times were owned by two old friends and training partners Shaun and Chris, so just a bit of fun that I thought the lads would enjoy ... or maybe not ?

That was my original plan and I did the comparison (results later in the blog) but riding the E bike was such a brilliant, eye-opening experience that it caused me to think a lot more broadly about the implications for cycling in the not too distant future. So please bare with me while I share a few thoughts that came to me during and after my first E bike experience.

Although I only rode the Giant Fathom E+ 3 for a couple of hours I realised almost immediately that the fun in E bike riding is off the scale, especially if you consider some of the best things about cycling, freedom, escape, exploration ... the cafe ! On an E bike you don't have to be concerned abut hills which means you can ride for longer without getting fatigued and it also means you can go where you want, when you want and work as hard as you want and as a result you can cover the miles without noticing.

Regular blog readers will know that I like to race and to be able to do that I train quite hard (My Strava) but I have also come to realise that not every ride can be or has to be about PRs and accumulating maximum TSS no matter what age you are. (Training Stress Score - explained in a blog post HERE Training Peaks)  Have a ride on an E bike and you will smile I guarantee it, that's because they are absolutely brilliant fun and even if you are a 'serious cyclists' as I consider myself to be not every ride has to be a pure athletic performance.

Above (top) my Giant TCX carbon twentyniner, not new by any means but still a great ride. Below the Giant Fathom E+ 3 from The Bike Rack, Yarm lightweight AlUXX SL frame with a SyncDrive Sport motor. The Fathom is currently priced at £1899 which when you consider that you can easily pay three or even four times that for a conventional MTB is a real bargain. I did the 'test' on a Strava segment that I have ridden over ninety times and although the rides were two days apart conditions were almost identical, very little wind, very wet and very cold. The climb is about half an hours ride from The Bike Rack in Yarm and by the time I got there I felt like I was already used to the E bike.

The Fulthorpe/Grindon climb is 1.2 miles long with an average gradient of 2.3% although the first third is considerably steeper with the middle third (above) probably around 4% and the final third flat/undulating, the surface is loose gravel throughout. During the Giant Fathom E bike effort I didn't have any rear wheel slip on the climb and I always felt in control of the front end, on the short descending bits it felt really planted and stable, probably because of the extra weight. I have virtually zero experience of motorbikes or mopeds so I came to the E bike with an open mind as to what riding it compared to and I was delighted to find that rather than feeling like you are hanging on to a self propelled machine it just feels like you have suddenly developed really good legs which is an awesome sensation !

While I was washing the Fathom before returning it to The Bike Rack I was wondering why E bikes are frowned upon in certain quarters. It may be because E bikes have been around in Europe for a lot longer than they have been available here and have been primarily used by older people who were dependant on bikes as a form of transport (think the Netherlands) As a result E bikes extended cycling participation for many more years for a lot of people so this is perhaps why E bikes picked up the unfortunate reputation of being for the older generation, thankfully this is now changing.

Looking to the future the impact of E bikes will be huge as they are increasingly adopted as energy efficient, emission free transport transport with health and physical well being benefits thrown in. E bikes in the future will replace a lot of short car journeys and they have the potential to transform  transport more generally as they are likely to be the first major shift towards electrically powered low cost mass transportation.
The weight of E bikes will come down rapidly as motor and battery technology advances and bike design will be revolutionised. The E bikes of the not too distant future will be packed with technology which will be totally integrated, Bluetooth connectivity, GPS and mapping will all be standard features and the motors will be automatically linked to both the riders heart rate and the bikes suspension inputs to ensure a super smooth ride experience.

So much for the future but now the bit you really want to know, did I get the KOM and by how much ? well the answer is YES ... and NO !

My Strava PB for the FULL climb was 5 min 30 secs - set in August 2016, probably on a CX bike, probably with a tail wind.

Friday 1st Nov 2019 - My Strava effort on the Fathom E + 3 was 4 min 25 secs a PB by over a minute and just 15 secs short of Jack's KOM

Monday 4th Nov 2019 - My Strava effort on my carbon Giant XTC 29er was a 'slow' 7 min 41 secs  although I was definitely trying hard but I had also done two decent rides over the weekend that I could feel in my legs.

So over the full climb in virtually identical conditions just two days apart I was over three minutes quicker on the Fathom which really surprised me, especially when you take in to account that the pedal assist probably only helped for half the climb. 

Up the steep first section of the climb I posted 2 min 08 secs on the Fathom setting a new KOM by a whopping 2 seconds - RESULT ! and a 56 sec improvement on my PR set way back in December 2014.

As I said earlier the climb has three distinct sections of varying gradient and taking the KOM from Jack by 2 secs for the first short but steep section may not sound much of an improvement but bear in mind he set the KOM on a feather light carbon gravel bike, probably in dry conditions and he is an Elite rider after all. The pedal assist on the Fathom (and all UK E bikes) only operates below 15 mph so the steeper the incline the greater the benefit. Unfortunately as the climb got flatter toward the top up to date technology ceased to be a benefit and of date legs held me back and Jack retained his KOM for the full climb.

Just to clarify and in case anybody from the 'Strava Police' is reading this I know I could and should have uploaded my Strava ride on the Fathom as an E Bike ride but where's the fun in that ! I have however now made the ride private so it no longer appears on any leader boards and I am back in my rightful place a little bit further down the local 'pecking order'. 
If you use Strava and are interested in some of the sociology behind it's use here are some links to some of my previous posts based on the research I did for my PhD on the Technological Fetishism of Strava that affects us all, Strava Prison is all about surveillance and KUDOS Explained answers the question is it a gift or a bribe?

Thanks to Simon at the The Bike Rack for the loan of the Fathom and Mark @thebikerackyarm the man I rely on to look after all of my bikes and who knows everything there is to know about E bikes ... and the future of cycling. 
As for me, an E bike is definitely in my future 100% !


Sunday, 10 November 2019

Cycling sea to sea and other epic endeavours with @tompkyschallenges

So if you decided that you wanted to do some sort of physical challenge to raise money for a really good cause like Great Ormond Street Hospital, what would you do ? Maybe a sponsored walk ? a half or even a full marathon ? something on two wheels ? what about a sportive ride ? they can be quite tough. All good ideas and worthy of sponsorship but not quite enough for James Tompkinson (below) James decided that a one off challenge was not going to be any where near tough enough for him ... not even close, so he decided to embark on a year of physical challenges, one each month for the whole of 2019 and so far he has a completion rate of 100% yes it's 10/10 so far for @tompkyschallenges (Note: you can make a donation to Great Ormond Street by following any of the links in today's blog)

James dressed for the weather (2 deg C and raining) and looking slightly apprehensive at the start of challenge 10/12 a 130 mile, two day ride from Whitehaven in the west to Sunderland in the east, with 9000 feet of climbing en-route including crossing the inhospitable North Pennines. You may know some one who has ridden the coast to coast, most likely with a group, most likely during the summer months, but not many none cyclists do it solo, at the end of October, on a 35 year old bike, having only done one 20 mile training ride in the previous 6 months. Loves a challenge does James Tompkinson.
                                             Even map reading can be a bit of a challenge on top of the North Pennines in October

Back to January and its challenge No 1 of 12 - The 'Fan Dance'. If potential SAS recruits find the Fan Dance particularly challenging in the winter then it was bound to appeal to Tompky.

For 5/12 it was a case of not one but three physical challenges in 24 hours but not a solo effort this time as James enlisted six 'willing' volunteers to take it on with him. The Three Peaks is also a testing logistical challenge and Mum Anne (centre) and Dad Gerard (right) were on hand to support, transport and feed the team.

Planning twelve significant challenges in a year is actually quite a challenge in itself, especially when you work full time and have other sporting and family commitments. So when James realised he had a cousin's wedding to attend in Greece in June his only option was to find a Greek challenge - running from Athens to Sparta it was then for 6/12, just a small matter of 150 miles in 30 deg plus temperatures.

James above exhausted and maybe just a little emotional at 1.40 AM at the statue of Leonidas a warrior king of Sparta, having completed his Greek odyssey in 68.5 hours with 34.5 hours 'moving time'

Challenge 9/12 - Medal and finisher tee shirt at the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin marathon is regarded as a really fast/flat course so James was hoping for a good time. Unusually James doesn't wear a watch for his runs as he prefers to go on 'feel'. His strategy must suit him because despite some nutrition issues in the second half of the race he ran a 6 min PB to finish in 3 hours 32 mins and posted 10k, 10 mile, 15k and 20 K PBs too.

2019 @tompkyschallenges completed so far

January - The Fan Dance a 15 mile SAS selection test in the Brecon Beacons. finishing 12th despite his boots falling apart after 2 miles.
February - The Isle of Wight run, a 75 mile full lap of the island, nice weather expected, he got sub zero temps and a covering of snow.
March - London to Paris - 240 miles in 3 days with his best friend of 25 years, James actually did a bit of cycling before this one.
April - London Marathon - an 'easy' weekend in the big city a guest at the  Great Ormond Street after party and a 3hrs 39min finish.
May - The Three Peaks: Snowdon, Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis in 24 hours (23.32) with six lunatic friends and Mam and Dad support crew.
June - Athens to Sparta run, 35 degrees, and huge blisters, again with family support and @elliereess feet up for James at the wedding.
July - Cleveland Way run, closer to home, but equally tough, 110 miles of North Yorkshire coast over a scorching holiday weekend.
August - Race to the Stones - 62 mile run along the Ridgeway, England's oldest path in 12hrs 9mins finishing 86th out of 3000.
September - Berlin marathon, another family affair running with brother Chris and brother in law Sam, James claiming the honours.
October - C to C cycling, I witnessed this one, was impressed, even amazed, but also slightly peeved that he made it look so easy.

And this month's challenge your probably wondering ? well James has found a nice steep hill and worked out that if he runs up it 31 times it will be the same altitude gain as an ascent of Everest ... so that's what he is going to do !

Surprisingly James is not really an endurance athlete, although he is obviously extremely fit and physically very robust, but he is primarily a field sport athlete, hockey, football and cricket are his favoured sports and although he trains really hard it's probably not in a way that is ideally suited to any of the challenges that he has undertaken.

So how does he do it ? The answer is simple, he is incredibly motivated to help a fantastic cause and has an iron will to succeed. Strength of mind is not something that is necessarily linked with athleticism, nor is it a function of natural ability or physical fitness. In the end it comes down to sheer determination and stubbornness, manifested in an absolute refusal to ever give up. This is an extremely rare attribute and if you are not born with it you can never acquire it ... ever.

Chapeau James Tompkinson.

You can read more about James and his challenging year and also donate over at his blog:


Sunday, 27 October 2019

End of season silliness with Muckle CC

Last Sunday I spent the morning at a hill climb in Northumberland, I didn't ride it obviously, I am in all honesty fairly stupid but no not that stupid. I was there to support my friend, training partner and talented hill climber Hannah Farran of Team Boompods at the final race of her season ... and to get some blog content obviously.

Hill climbing for those who are not familiar with the event is a niche activity in a niche sport and is a cycling event unique to the UK and is quite simply a time trial up a hill. Chris Boardman sums up the hill climb well in the introduction to the excellent book: A Corinthian Endeavour: The story of the National Hill Climb Championship by Paul Jones.

'The hill climb is a wonderfully social, spectator-friendly event providing a seasonal focal point and transition in to the off season. I think they will always be enjoyed primarily by a passionate minority, but they are part of our cycling heritage and I hope they continue to be so for years to come. Not everything has to be about winning and beating the rest of the world; some things can and simply should be enjoyed for their own sake and perhaps the hill climb should be cherished in this category, something more or less unique to us.' 

Hanna going through her structured warm up on the turbo, Prospect Hill near Corbridge in Northumberland is approximately a mile long and very steep and with a series of corners, the road is narrow and as a good proportion of the hill is under tree cover is covered in leaves in places. With the road surface getting rougher the nearer you get to the top it's a tough challenge for sure, one that Hannah expected to complete in just over 5 minutes.
Hannah on the line on her HC prepared Cervelo and ready for the pain to begin, she was bang on target with a 5.12 but had to settle for second place on the day after a flying Grace Inglis of the host club rode a suberb 5.08 to take the win, while top spot in the men's category went to David Huck of Barrow Central Wheelers.

First competitor to take to the start line looked like he had travelled down to Northumberland from north of the border, I didn't catch his name but someone thought it was Wallace ... William I think ? brave though, lot of heart.

What particularly impressed me about this competitor was his meticulous attention to colour co-ordination from his head band right down to his Velotoze !
In the Fixie/MTB/Fancy Dress category where anything goes as long as its not a road, cyclo-cross or gravel bike the guy above was seriously quick. Up to the first corner (visible in the picture below) he looked to be as fast as any of the previous starters, really impressive, not sure what happened after he went out of sight, but if there had been a prize for the fastest first 300 metres the Fat Bike Guy would have definitely been in with a shout.

Comparing painful moments afterwards, above is Hannah chatting to Alex Ingham of the AIMS Cycling team, by his own admission Alex is not a hill climb specialist by any means, so why bother ? Well Alex is also the MD of MI Supplies and Muckle CC had recently ordered their club leisure wear from his company so he thought the right thing to do was to turn up and support their hill climb, even though it meant 120 mile round trip, for a 5 minute event, nice gesture that I thought.

Someone else who travelled a fair distance to be at the hill climb was top cycling shooter and great friend of north east cycling Darran Moore, if you want too see some great action pictures from the day check him out on Facebook Darran Moore Photography or on Instagarm @darran_moore_photography. Darran is an ever present at races in the north east all through the season and the time and effort he puts in along with the quality images he gives away without charge is hugely appreciated by everyone in the region and rightly so.

There was great atmosphere in the HQ as the results were calculated and it seemed like everyone and their supporters had stayed around for the prize giving, although the fantastic free buffet may have also had something to do with that. Muckle CC are a club that have only been around since 2015 but they are an enthusiastic bunch who have quickly established a reputation for putting on great events that are a little bit different from the norm. The club regularly have a strong presence in the regions road races and criteriums and are a great an example of what a cycling club with good ideas and an up to date outlook can achieve.

Winner of the over 82kg category above Lewis Wake of Team Kirkley Cycles looking very happy with his prize ... a meat pie obviously, did I mention that the boys and girls at Muckle CC like to things a bit differently ?

Final pic of today and an acknowledgement and a thanks to some new partners who will be supporting both the blog and my racing next season. I will be training and racing in custom kit designed and supplied by Yorkshire based Raceskin and wearing helmets and eye wear from R2 - Ride your race I am also looking forward to a productive collaboration using wheels from CES Sport. I feel really fortunate to be working with these enthusiastic partners in 2020, exciting times ahead.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

In memory of Johnny P

My final race of 2019 was going to be the TLI John Parkinson Memorial Road Race held on one of my favourite circuits at Siddington in Cheshire. I say 'was going to be' because unfortunately the weather intervened very quickly and fairly emphatically on the morning of the race causing it be cancelled just an hour or so before it was due to start, which was a bit of a shame.
During the ten minute drive from my hotel to race HQ at Goosetry Village Hall I had to negotiate several sections of flooded road, so even before I got there I wasn't very confident that the race would go ahead.
I was particularly disappointed not to finish my season with the John Parkinson Memorial because it was an event that had really appealed to me after reading about it's history and significance. To their credit Macclesfield Wheelers have been running this memorial event since 1957, although there were a couple of missed years (2003 and 2005) this year was to be the 60th edition. Memorial races are a common feature of the UK cycling calendar often held in memory of a long standing club stalwart in recognition of a significant contribution to the sport, or perhaps a successful and well known local competitor and they are an important tradition in British racing.

What is unusual and significant about the John Parkinson Memorial, aside from the fact that this was to be its 60th running is that it was in memory of a rider and Macclesfield Wheeler who was tragically killed aged just twenty. Here is a short extract from one of the tributes paid to John at the time of his death.
"John was devoted to cycling, especially the bunched game. Although never quite reaching the elusive grade that seems to bless the selective minority of racing men. What he lacked in speed he made up for with enthusiasm. He derived a big kick out of competing alongside any notabilities gracing the various local classics and although as inevitably happened in the majority of cases he came in alone at the tale-end of the event, he would vigorously enthuse upon what had taken place and never appeared despondent or dispirited at his lowly placing."
I am pretty sure that I would have liked John Parkinson and reading about his attitude to the sport all these years later I can definitely relate to his approach to racing and the enjoyment he got from taking part ... it's not the winning it's the taking part that matters, a crucial point that is so easy to forget.
Something else struck me about this extract and it's some of the language and phrases used, such as the 'the bunched game' the 'local classics' and 'any notabilities'. These comments and choice of words have to be read in the context of the sport at the time. In 1957 when this tribute was written massed start road racing on public roads 'the bunched game' was still a relatively new format, having only been re-introduced in the early 1940's after an absence of over fifty years. Despite being written just over a decade after road racing was re-introduced it would seem that that it had become popular enough for star riders to emerge 'notabilities' and for some of the races to be already regarded as 'local classics'.
Racing on the roads had been banned in 1890 by the cycling governing body of the time the National Cyclists Union out of a fear that the unpopularity of road racing due to the perceived inconvenience and disruption it caused would lead to a ban on all forms of cycling. The growing popularity of bicycles had provided the working class with the physical means of escape from the confines of early industrial life and bike races which attracted large crowds had quickly become working class gatherings in the countryside. The NCU fearing that all cycling on public roads could be banned introduced the ban as they regarded cycling as a gentleman's leisure pursuit that had to be protected.
Everyone was trying to remain optimistic and signing on went ahead but the rain was still hammering down so I didn't go as far as actually pinning my number on.
I have probably raced over in the north west a dozen times this season and the Bike Marshalls have been at every event I have done. They are a smashing bunch of fellas who do a superb job and their presence always makes racing on roads that are still open to traffic feel that much safer. The thirty rider strong group was established in 2006 and since then they have assisted at over a 1000 events covering 133K event miles. The primary role of the Bike Marshalls is to be a visible presence on the race course to provide reassurance to participants, spectators and the wider public. The Marshalls are the eyes of the event organiser and are the first responders if any thing unexpected happens. Their strength is in not only what they do but in the capabilities they have and what they can do when needed.
The bike Marshall's reporting back to race organiser David Higham of the promoting club that the race circuit had several areas of standing water across both sides of the road. No race organiser wants to cancel a race less than an hour before it's due to start, particularly when a lot of the riders have travelled long distances to take part. A huge amount of work by a big team of people goes in to preparing for and running these races so it was obviously a tough call but it was absolutely the correct one.
Ironically, a couple of days after the John Parkinson was cancelled due to standing water on the course we got some stark reminders at the U23 time trial at UCI World Championships in Harrogate of what happens when tough decisions on rapidly changing course conditions are not made. Maybe the UCI should have simply asked someone they trusted and could rely on like the Bike Marshall's to drive round the course to check. Although to be fair they did appear to be a bit more organised for the men's road race and shortened the course before the start due to flooding.
If you want to read a bit more on the very early history of the UK cycling scene see my post here Pretending not to race and on the age related racing organised by the TLI and LVRC there are a couple of post here Age is just a letter and here Tour of the Abberleys

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, 18 August 2019

Pedalling underwater on Route One

This week I did a bit of off road riding on the gravel bike and enjoyed a day out that I have been wanting to have for a couple of years now, I will explain the reason for the delay a little later. I am pretty lucky where I live in that our house is only a few a few hundred metres from a really good cycle path. What I hadn't realised until I started planning my day out was that our local cycle path forms part of the SUSTRANS  National Cycle Network and the section of cycle path closest to me is actually part of Sustrans Route 1 a cycle route that stretches all the way up the east coast from Dover right up to the Shetland Isles, an incredible 1,695 miles.

The recently re-opened and beautifully restored 900 metre long Tyne Cycle Tunnel. It looks like it's a dead end in this picture but it's left at the end for the stairs or right for the lift.

The ride that I had planned wasn't quite so epic, just a one day excursion up to the Quayside at Newcastle, the reason for the delay in doing this ride was that I have been waiting for the re-opening of the Tyne Pedestrian and Cycle Tunnel  (Tunnel Hub) The tunnels, one for pedestrians and one for cyclists have been closed for six years for refurbishment a project which was delayed numerous times and went hugely over budget in part due to the discovery of significant amounts of asbestos but also due to issues with various contractors. There have been a few promised opening dates which have passed for various reasons but the tunnels finally re-opened on August 6th.

The pedestrian and cycle tunnels first opened in 1951 to provide access to the north side of the Tyne for the large numbers of people who worked at the shipyards, lead and chemical works that lined the banks of the river at that time. At peak usage up 20,000 people used the tunnels daily to get to work until local industries particularly ship building began to steadily decline from the late sixties. 

The tunnel entrances - Jarrow on the south side and Heddon on the north.

Originally my plan was to ride from home up Route One through the tunnel and along the north side of the Tyne to the Cycle Hub on the Newcastle Quayside and then return the same way. After considering it in a bit more detail I realised that the distance was going to be around a hundred miles which at my gravel bike riding pace was going to be a very long day out. So I came up with plan B, let the train take the strain or a bit of it anyway. Travelling by train with a bike was also something new to me and I wasn't sure if it was going to be a bit of a hassle, it wasn't at all, in fact it was really easy. I rode to Thornaby station about 20 minutes on the cycle path, bought a ticket to Sunderland and the fifty minute journey knocked twenty eight miles of my cycling distance, I even had a seat.

I quite enjoyed my little train trip and I am definitely going to do it again, either a one way ride and a train home or the other way round. From Sunderland station I was only few minutes pedal away from the Wearmouth bridge across the Wear and back on Route One heading for the coast and ready for a coffee.

First stop was at Fausto Coffee a great cycling themed cafe at Roker, super location with good food and right on the beach, definitely worth popping in if you are in the area. From Fausto its cycle paths all the way up to South Shields, a really nice ride with loads to see on route and plenty of places to take a break ... or a picture.

         Gravel bike and the Souter Lighthouse at the Whitburn Coastal Park ... plus a dog.

                                          I had forgotten how nice the beach at South Shields is.

When the tunnels opened in 1951 the access was provided by two escalators and a lift at either end. At the time they were installed the escalators were the longest single span vertical rise wooden escalators in the world. Access to the tunnels now is intended to be only by the lifts as presumably the cost of restoring or replacing the nearly 70 year old escalators was too high but one of the escalators has been left at each end to be used as a stairway in an emergency.

Good plan so far, but unfortunately when I arrived at the Jarrow entrance there was something of a hold up because the lift on the south side wasn't working. As I waited at the top to descend there was a group of cyclists trying to come up and it was obviously a massive struggle for them. The six cyclists (3 male and 3 female) all looked to be in their seventies and were carrying/dragging their far from lightweight bikes up the 140 steps. Such was the effort required they were having to stop every few steps to recover. Eventually after about twenty minutes four of the group had made it up but one of the ladies was still only half way being assisted by a friend and the two ladies were lifting her bike up one step at time with a long queue of people behind. The elderly gents in the party were in no condition to help so at this point, feeling a bit sorry for them and also to speed things up bit, I did my good deed for the day and went down and carried the heavy hybrid bike up, for her for which she was extremely grateful. There is probably a case for closing the tunnel if either of the lifts is out of order as climbing up with a bike is really quite challenging for anyone - might be worth checking if you are planning ride up there.

                             Pedal pushing and coffee drinking on Tyneside with VelojunkieCC

On the north side of the river it's a very easy pedal of about four miles to the Cycle Hub This section of the ride is along Hadrians Cycle Route a 170 mile trail that goes all the way across the country from South Shields to Ravenglass in Cumbria. 

The Cycle Hub is a really well used facility with a great cafe, a workshop and hire bikes available and only a few minutes ride from Newcastle quayside and the city centre. With almost a 50 miles home I didn't stay too long before re-tracing my route back to the tunnel on the way passing the Segedunum Roman Fort at Wallsend, somewhere that looks worth a visit next time.

After my cafe stop I knew I had the challenge of the dreaded escalator to look forward to, although it turned out not to be as tough for me as it was for the poor I guy I was chatting to at the bottom. He was about to go up for the fourth time carrying his own hefty looking MTB after already carrying up his wife's bike and both his kids bikes, nice chap, if I had got there a little earlier I could have helped ... or maybe not.  

After a few road miles through South Shields and across the river Wear to Sunderland the last 35 miles were all off road mostly on gravel trails along the route of disused railway tracks. Final distance for the day was 72 miles with 6 hours of pedalling, you can check out the route here on my STRAVA 

I took a a bit of a diversion as I passed through the port of Seaham on the way home to take the final picture of the day of the Tommy World War One Soldier sculpture - absolutely beautiful.


Sunday, 16 June 2019

Racing with power: But is the beard costing me watts ?

At this point in June I am half way through my race season and I have had a mid-season break. To summarise how the racing has gone so far, just OK. I have really enjoyed it, managed a couple of decent rides but without getting any results, so it's definitely a case of could do better.

The beard is in the wind ! Picture courtesy of  Larry Hickmott of the VeloUK website

I have been using a Precision power meter supplied to me by for training and racing and it has worked flawlessly since I got it in November. The the only attention it's required has been two new batteries. The little CR2032 battery is dead easy to change and lasts about three months which isn't bad when you consider that I ride almost everyday.

 You can read about my initial experiences with the 4iiii power meter HERE Training with power #1 and Training with power #2

I have learned a lot from using the power meter and one of the most important things that has been confirmed to me is that racing is way harder than training. I know that's stating the flaming obvious ! but it's true, and from using the power meter for the first time I now know how much harder. This startling revelation has serious implications as to how I will be approaching my races for the rest of the season. Let me explain.

                                                                                                 Racing is hard ... FACT

Normalised power (NP) is used to quantify the physiological cost of a ride or race. When there is a lot of variation in efforts (as in a road race) the NP value is much higher than for example an even paced endurance ride. During a hard winter of training (MyStrava) and bearing in mind I almost exclusively train with much younger and much fitter riders, the highest NP I recorded for a tough structured two hour training ride was 186 watts and the average NP for my hardest two hour training rides over the winter was 175 watts.

When I have compared this to my NP for races of around two hours, which most LVRC/TLI events are the highest NP I have done this year was 236 watts and the average NP has been 228 watts, in other words my two hour races have been 30% harder than my hardest two hour training rides.

   November test effort
         Best training effort
        Best race effort
     1 minute
           370 watts
                362 watts
              416 watts
     5 minute
           235 watts
                251 watts
              272 watts
     20 minute
           212 watts
                230 watts
              237 watts

A comparison of my best testing, training and racing efforts: have I got fitter ? or do I just need to be in a race to get the best out of myself ? (remember social facilitation ?) I think the answer is probably yes to both questions.

In my first post on training with power (Training with power #1) I came to the conclusion that I needed to improve my 5 minute effort as I felt that it was when this sort of effort was required towards the end of races that I would sometimes start to struggle. I now believe that these difficult race moments were not due to the nature of the effort, the terrain or my lack of power, but more likely due to the fact that I have simply been running out of gas towards the end of a race, partly due to being under-fuelled at the start and in part due to not conserving my energy during the race. The serious mistake that I have been making has been to assume that because I can get through a hard two hour training ride without eating much, that I can do the same in very hard a two hour race, preceded by a high intensity warm up - BIG MISTAKE ! I now know thanks to the power meter that in a race I am working 30% harder and as a result I am getting through my available energy and 'emptying the tank' much more quickly.

Trying to stay near the front at the TLI National Circuit Championships at Oulton Park. I felt strong all race and definitely didn't run out of energy, mind you it was only an hour ! I am in good company in this picture with multiple national champion Alan Forrester on the front in green, to my left in white current national champion Steve Wilkinson and E category (60-65) winner on the day and on my wheel in blue Andy Donaldson winner of the F category (65-70). 

Under fuelling 

One of the drawbacks of doing a full season of age group racing for me is that most of the racing is in the north west and living in the north east means that I often have to drive two hours on the morning of a race. After having a basic breakfast I normally eat nothing in the car on the way there and then just eat a banana or an energy bar after doing my 30 - 40  minute warm up. I may have a gel or a handful of Jelly Babies during the race or I may not. I now realise that I have been seriously under fuelling for the demands of race days and that I have most likely just been running out of energy when it really matters ... in the last 15 - 20 minutes of the race !

So I will be making three significant changes in the second half of my season:

1. A radically different approach to race day nutrition, with a detailed plan of what I will be eating for breakfast, on the way to races and before and after. 

2. Making sure that I consume calories every 20 minutes during races.

3. A much more measured approach to the way I use my energy during races, paying much more attention to conserving it where possible.

The Beard question

So now on to the serious issue of this weeks blog and time to address the obvious question that has been raised several times already this season: Is the beard costing me watts ? lets look at the evidence.

Pretty sure my Ribble Aero 883 race whip isn't costing me watts but what about the hairy face ?
I haven't been able to track down any academic studies on the topic but there have been a couple of what you might call 'experiments'. In 2014 bike manufacturers Specialized carried out some wind tunnel testing led by the companies aerodynamicist's Chris Yu and Mark Cote to try and establish what happens to a riders drag coefficient with a full beard and after shaving the beard off, Youtube video here - Beard no Beard

According to Yu there was a detectable difference between the before and after shaving results, but it was very marginal, with the beard was one second slower over 40 km, which I can live with. 

A slightly less serious experiment was done by the guys over at GCN Aerobeard again using a wind tunnel, these tests were done with or without what they described as a 'luscious' beard. The only problem with this test was they used a clean shaven subject who then put on a false beard for the second test, not very scientific, presumably because they didn't have a volunteer with a beard ... who was prepared to sacrifice it for the sake of their video !

GCN also concluded that the difference was marginal and was also position dependant, but when riding on the hoods a luscious (false) beard was faster. An encouraging outcome for me because if you check the racing pics on today's blog I am on the hoods in all of them. Bit of an issue with the term 'luscious' though as I think that mine has gone a bit beyond the luscious stage to be honest, not so much a neatly trimmed goatee but more a full on Gandalf !

So Specialized say slower but GCN say quicker who do I believe ? For the final word who else would I consult other than my friend and Ribble Pro Cycling team mate 'Mr Aero' himself Dan Bigham who I have featured previously on the blog On getting aero and Interview with Dan  

Dan's verdict: 
'It's a well established fact that a substantial beard costs between 7-10 watts but the morale benefits may significantly outweigh this' 

So there we have it, as mine definitely qualifies as substantial it looks like the beard is costing me watts, but nevertheless it's staying ! and I will happily take the significant morale benefit in to the second half of my season.

I am going to try and keep it out of the wind though ... obviously !

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