As some of our European friends get their first taste of the outdoors in many weeks I guess it was inevitable that my mind should start to consider what life will be like post lockdown, from the children returning to schools to my own return to an office I haven’t stepped foot in for some seven weeks now. There are going to be safety and social distancing measures that will, undoubtedly, change the way that we move, interact and rejoin the human race but this is a bike blog and one specific thing played over in my mind…….my commute.
My commute pales into insignificance next to some of my colleagues’ efforts, a mere 20 minute bus journey compared to some who spend hours on packed trains or in bumper to bumper traffic. I have always eschewed commuting by bike because of the practical aspects; the creased clothes, carrying stuff backwards and forwards to the office, the never ending washing of kit and that’s not mentioning the fact that my commute, at 7km, starts and stops before it even gets going but manages to include one sizeable hill on the homeward leg. The current situation, however, is making me rethink this attitude towards a bike commuter existence and I have decided to take it on, with gusto!
So, a new bike for the journey? An e-bike to make that hill easier? No, where’s the fun in that? I’ve decided to fix up my old Felt Z75 that currently resides permanently on my turbo trainer, the same that served me so well in Sweden and on the L2P adventure
I love a little project so this will certainly keep my mind active for a while, so far I have considered that the following tasks are essential!
Like I said, that will keep me going for a while in between bouts of working from home, I’ve already started by preparing the wheels for their tubeless debut
However this did cause injury when a tyre lever sprang out and smacked me in between the eyes!
The other thing that I have been looking at for this is commuter clothing. I don’t really want to go full Lycra every day for a 7km journey so I need alternative, but practical clothing. Does anybody have any brand or product suggestions? Thanks in advance!
So I think it’s fair to say that 2020 hasn’t exactly gone according to plan, correct? To date this year I’ve had a holiday to Cyprus cancelled, the Giro has been ‘postponed’ as has the Etape du Tour (unlikely they will go ahead this year in my opinion) and it is looking highly unlikely that Ride London will happen either. That’s pretty much a full house for my cycling events this year.
To brighten the gloom of a long, event-less year I decided to take the plunge and invest some of the money I have saved from these cancelled trips on a power meter. I’d toyed with the idea for a little while and had spent many an hour watching YouTube videos and reading articles on the different types but had resisted due to my lack of knowledge around power based training…..that plus the fact that it seemed a little excessive for someone whose main cycling trip consists of a slow, leisurely roll around the lanes of Kent! The cancellation of the trips made previously unavailable funds available though so which one to pick; Pedals? Crank? Crankset? Left and Right? There was a lot to consider!
I settled on going the full hog, a complete crankset changeover as I wouldn’t need to switch between bikes all that often (if at all) and I chose the Stages Power Meter on an Ultegra chainset. This, however, was to present a new challenge that I had not considered! Specialized bikes use the BB30 bottom bracket rather than a 24mm one that Shimano use, hence the brand using FSA cranks, so I also had to buy some adaptors that would convert the bracket to the correct size for the Shimano cranks. That wasn’t as straightforward as it would seem as descriptions weren’t exactly clear but, thanks to a couple of forums, I found the Wheels Manufacturing BB30 to 24mm Crank Spindle Shims.
So, on the back of internet advice, my shopping list increased to:
Now I’ll admit that this task filled me with a little trepidation as I had never removed or replaced a crankset before. I’m slowly building up a knowledge of bike tasks but this struck me as one where I could really balls things up! Undeterred, I began the process of removing the old FSA cranks from my bike and it was there where I nearly gave up almost instantly as the crankset just wouldn’t move through the bracket, even with some pretty heavy handed encouragement with the rubber mallet! I was on the point of conceding defeat when ‘one last whack’ seemed to dislodge the crank and I was finally able to remove the offending article.
Following a good clean and re-grease, the shims and new crankset went on pretty easily. I did have to remove the adaptors a couple of times to ensure that I had the correct spacers on that would allow the crankset to work freely and not hinder the front derailleur or any other mechanism. Also, worth remembering where you had the chain before doing this, it took me a while to remember I’d shifted to the small ring before the install so the derailleur looked completely out of sync! I was surprised at just how easy the installation was, the calibration of the power meter was a straightforward affair with the Stages app and equally easy to sync to my Garmin with a little ride round the block
Now, it is all a question of learning what to do with this new piece of equipment! Training Peaks had a very good blog on the subject so I am going to use that as my inspiration!
I have also created an account with Training Peaks and am currently enjoying the trial period for their Premium service. There looks like a wealth of data to get my head round, it’s certainly a thorough platform!
The new addition looks great on my bike, interested to see where this will lead me next….
As parts of Europe begin to emerge slightly from lockdown, here in the UK we are continuing to follow the guidelines put in place by the Government some weeks back. It doesn’t look like that is going to change, for the next few weeks at least, as the country attempts to turn the tide on Covid-19.
The past weekend was Easter, this year though the bookend bank holidays of Good Friday and Easter Monday were a strange occurrence where usually they are anticipated greatly for the two days off work! Everything is currently merging into one like the period between Christmas and New Year. I’d planned two rides, one for Good Friday and one for Easter Sunday and I was particularly interested to see what the Sunday was like out and about as it is normally the quietest day of the whole year. The weather was also forecast to be glorious so, again, I thought I would make best use of the situation in case more stringent measures were introduced because of people disregarding the social distancing guidelines.
Good Friday was lovely. Still arm warmers weather in the early morning but the legs were out for the first time this year and it felt pretty good. Even in the midst of a global crisis the bike, the weather and the calmness of a reduced traffic countryside made me smile.
What didn’t make me smile was an annoying brake rub that started after going over a bump. I thought it may be the new brake pads wearing in and that it would stop but it didn’t, if anything the couple of minor adjustments I made to the calliper made it worse! It wasn’t enough to stop me and make me turn for home, but it was annoying! I rode 50km including TWICE up my now ‘most hated to loved’ Beddlestead Lane so I was pleased with that. I headed home and fixed that pesky brake rub, the wheel was turning so smooth I couldn’t wait to get back out on Sunday.
Easter Sunday was quiet and then some! It’s normally the quietest day of the year anyway because most of the shops are closed and, unlike Christmas Day, people aren’t moving around all over the place to meet friends and family for dinners or celebrations. The past Sunday was the heady mix of birds singing and the whirr of a rather gorgeous Hunt freehub through the lanes.
I’d planned to do a 60km loop including Ide Hill and a couple of new lanes but I was having such a good time that I just kept going, arriving back at my front door some 80km later. It was a lovely morning, it’s going to be hard to accept when traffic levels return to pre Covid-19 levels.
These two rides have given me another thing to obsess over…….data! But that’s a post for another time.
Aside from being one of my favourite tracks by The Clash, the title of this particular post sums up how I’m feeling a little bit. While I am maintaining my training and enjoying it for the most part, the creeping inevitability of the Etape being postponed or cancelled is always in the back of my mind.
While turbo sessions and weekend rides have prevailed under the current partial lockdown, I am noticing a huge change in the amount of movement outside of these efforts. In ‘normal’ times I would easily break 10,000 steps a day but this rarely breaks 4,000 currently and it’s difficult to get two young children to go on a walk that equates to 6,000 steps! Also, through the availability of food and the proximity to a stocked fridge/cupboard, the diet has been tested to the limit.
Fortunately my willpower has been pretty good and I’ve managed to stay away from temptation on the whole, especially the Easter related products that have started to appear around the house! I’d noticed at the weekend that my face was starting to look slimmer again so I did another comparison….
My weight had fluctuated around the 73-74kg mark since the middle of February so I was fully prepared for a slight increase on the back of the changes in diet when I stepped on the scales this morning, however I had a nice surprise when the reading came back at 72.1kg (11st 5lb). That’s now a full 13kg (2st) lost so I’m incredibly happy with that and it was the little boost that I needed to keep going. I have 2.1kg (4.6lbs) to go to hit my 70kg target but am now approaching that with a renewed focus. Long rides may not be really possible at the moment so if I can’t build up the endurance I will damn well make sure that the weight part of it is working!
Looks like the good weather is here to stay for a bit so I’m going to make sure I get out tomorrow in case stricter lockdown conditions are implemented over the Easter weekend!
I have a new outlook on life! The builders have managed to finish the loft and en suite and, although it isn’t painted or carpeted, it’s enough for me to put a table in for a makeshift office! Some brief respite from the noise of the rest of the house but no more staring out the front window!
As for cycling we’re still allowed to go outdoors at the moment, though good weather at the weekend caused the Government to remind people that sunbathing in parks and on beaches isn’t part of their social distancing guidelines and I feared the worst!
I went for a 50km ride on Saturday and I was pleasantly surprised by the people that I encountered as the vast majority were in ones and twos and cycling sensibly and responsibly. I only saw one group of three (who certainly didn’t look like they lived together) and they got a few choice words. The most difficult part of the ride was keeping a rhythm on hills when bridging gaps to other riders, unless I was going much quicker I hung back as overtaking would shorten a gap for too long and I didn’t want to annoy people but then it became difficult to cycle at my own pace.
I also made the decision, as the possibility of an outdoor ban looms, that I would revisit roads and segments that have given me trouble in the past. I’ve found that a bad experience on a road in the past gives me a huge mental block, but as I’m now a much stronger cyclist and my understanding of what could have just been a ‘bad day’ has improved I wanted to conquer those mental blocks. Beddlestead Lane is one such place.
When I first got back on a bike in 2014 as a very unfit man in his mid 30s, I made a mistake one day in going down Beddlestead Lane. What starts off as a gloriously fast descent soon kicks up to a 3km long climb. It is only a 3.8% average across the 3km which, to me now, seems quite insignificant, but back then it was like climbing Everest.
I remember stopping not even halfway up, coughing up a smoker’s lung and then suffering the indignity of having to walk up the rest of way. I was close to throwing that bike away that day and it really gave me a reality check of just how unfit I was. I never went back……until last Saturday.
I know I’m fitter, stronger and an all round better cyclist than I was all those years ago but it didn’t stop the mental block from questioning my ability, I’m finding the emotional and psychological side of sport a very interesting subject at the moment. I rode my usual route over to the turning for Beddlestead and stopped…..
I watched a couple of riders disappear over the lip of the descent and gave myself a bit of a talking to before pushing off down the road. As the descent levelled and the road began to rise I made sure I was in the correct gear and got into a good rhythm, the doubts washed away and I spun my way fairly easily up the lane. I caught up with the two guys that had gone on ahead which reassured my feeble mind of just how far I’ve developed as a rider, but I hung back and maintained the distance between us. As the end of the road appeared an embarrassment entered my head and I reminded myself not to be so bloody stupid next time!
The rest of the ride was a slow and steady enjoyment of my surroundings, the peace and the fine weather. When the cars come back I’m going to dream of days like Saturday.
So, while the roads are quiet, I’m going to do more of this. There are several roads that I want to go back to, to banish old memories and challenge the new me.
Stay well, stay safe
I’m sitting here looking out of my lounge window. Not that strange in itself but I’m currently sitting at my dining room table, pretending to work from home. While the Covid-19 pandemic was gathering pace around the globe we were right in the middle of a loft conversion and getting a new kitchen, our builders rushing to make sure that the loft room was both usable and safe (if not painted and carpeted) before the inevitable lockdown. What we hadn’t factored in was the storage of our new kitchen, hence the emptying of the dining room and the repositioning of the dining room table! In the time I’ve been looking out of the window I’ve seen quite a few people out jogging or out for a family walk, which made me smile as I recalled a recent tweet by Mark Cavendish
Now I’ve never been one to lecture people on their exercise habits, having only really been serious about my cycling for the past 6 years or so, but it is incredible that the isolation caused by this horrible, deathly virus is making people seek the outdoors and exercise and spending more time with their families than ever before. I myself have spent over a week solely in the company of three people and, while the world is smaller than ever before thanks to technology, it has made me feel closer to my family……..BUT I do, more than ever, understand the need for my bicycle, the freedom it gives me and the effect it has on my overall mental health. If people keep breaking the rules and cycling is banned (as it has been in some European countries) I will be devastated and I can imagine that it will have a detrimental effect on my overall mood.
So, while we are allowed, I will make the most of the freedoms that we are afforded in a sensible, safe manner. Safety, is a key word in this situation as we obviously don’t want to be putting any further unnecessary pressures onto our brilliant NHS service so no fast descents and taking great care on suspect road surfaces! In addition to that it is also advisable to pay attention to the weather; yesterday was forecast to be gusty winds (which duly arrived) so I hunkered down in my shed for some indoor training on Zwift. Be sensible, don’t take risks!
As for training, I am fully expecting the Etape to be cancelled/postponed any day now but I am continuing with my training plan. The SST Short training workout is proving to be a real hit for my fitness and it is really noticeable once I get outside on my bike so I have moved to doing this session twice a week. When I started, I used an FTP of 170 to ease myself into the plan but that has steadily increased over the last four months and I’m currently running at 220 watts. I’m going to start to move that on again now to see where I can get to when the lockdown ends.
Take care of yourselves, your quaranteams, your families. Stay positive, stay strong, stay well.
Currently, here in the UK, we are still not under any enforced kind of lockdown. We are able to go outside, exercise and go to the shops as long as we practice the social distancing that has been well documented over the past few weeks, keeping at least 2 metres from other people for both our safety and theirs. What I have seen this past weekend shocked and saddened me, the couldn’t care less approach of some sections of the general public was unbelievable. From the crowds in Richmond Park (cyclists, why go there of all places?!) to walkers climbing Snowdon to the crush for more product at the supermarkets, what part of this do they not understand? The issue was the weather was too good!
We had to brave Tesco last week, there is no other way, so we arrived at 5:45am for opening at 6am just to get the bare essentials and get out. It isn’t something I would prefer to do but it is impossible to get delivery slots that will deliver in sufficient time. We will be making as much use of small, independent businesses as we can.
Where cycling is concerned, I did go out for a ride on Sunday. I stuck to quieter roads, took it easy (no fast descents) and made sure I enjoyed the sun on my face for what could be one of the last times for a while. There are those that will say I am being reckless going out on my bike but I believe I am in less danger than I am usually and, as long as I am taking the correct precautions, there is no sense in stopping riding until I am told to do so. I saw many like minded people when I was out and only one group who received a muttered word as I passed them.
I will go out again if I can this week, the weather is set to hold fair and I don’t want to be restricted to Zwift if I don’t have to.
Follow the rules as they are prescribed, stay healthy, stay active but keep yourself to yourself
The ever worsening situation surrounding the Covid-19 virus has been the main story for every news broadcast, paper and online media platform. We’ve seen incredibly sad images from around the globe of people losing their lives to this aggressive virus. It came as no real surprise to Adam or myself that the decision was made, 2 days ago, to postpone the Giro d’Italia. Lombardy has been at the heart of the outbreak in Italy and tough measures have been taken to limit the spread of the disease, a multi national bike race just pales into insignificance compared to what the people of that wonderful region have been going through. Neither of us are religious men, but we sincerely hope that the clouds start to lift from the region soon and the people can start to go back to some kind of semblance of normality. We hope to be able to use our flights to visit the region later in the year for Il Lombardia, all things being well.
As different countries impose different measures and sanctions it was inevitable that sporting events would be affected, although rather inexplicably Paris-Nice and the Cheltenham Festival still went ahead! The cycling season is as good as over before it really began as the list of races that are ‘postponed’ racks up. Though postponed is the word used, I cannot fathom how these races would be slotted into an already stacked calendar later in the year. My overriding hope is that this becomes a nice problem to have as things improve and they are able to be run, rather than a footnote to a horrible and destructive illness.
Personally, although it has yet to be 100% confirmed, I am pretty sure that my holiday to Cyprus is cancelled. The bike hire and the climb to Kantara Castle will have to wait for another day. The Etape is further away but my gut tells me that it will not happen this year, the timeline looks too tight to be viable. We wait and we hope, that’s all we can do.
I took the opportunity to go out on my bike this morning, not knowing whether a potential lockdown may make that an impossibility in the coming weeks. I pedalled a familiar route to Box Hill and back, making the most of the lighter mornings and the quieter roads. I could feel the benefit of all the training that I’ve been doing over the past few months as I felt strong, but moreover the situation gave me a feeling that can sometimes get forgotten…….I felt free.
As my wheels carried my home my mind wandered to those that cannot currently feel those freedoms and those who are more at risk to the effects of Covid-19. Please, try to be better. Please, try to be nicer. Please, try to help people that may be at risk. We are all in the same boat, it would help a lot if we all row in the same direction.
It’s been a good month since I’ve posted any updates on this blog, mainly because there hasn’t been a great deal to talk about. Storms and high winds have restricted time spent outside on the bike meaning my Zwift usage has increased dramatically, while elsewhere the whole world is watching and waiting to see what direction the current Coronavirus situation will take.
Certainly the latter has the potential to disrupt some pretty major events in 2020, not least the Tokyo Olympics which would be a great shame. Even closer to my heart is the threat to some major cycling races, with northern Italy experiencing a huge outbreak it looks unlikely that Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo and Tirreno Adriatico will take place. EF Education First have already requested to be allowed to withdraw from the three races mentioned and there have been whispers that the Italian Government have decided that these races will not go ahead……but we shall see!
Strade Bianche is one of my favourite races to watch and the climb to Piazza del Campo in Siena is an absolutely beautiful finish to a race, one of the best anywhere in the world. To lose that from the calendar would be a real shame, but this year would be more disappointing as for us as Mike Teunissen is due to ride the white roads for the first time since 2017 and I know he was/is looking forward to it. Mike had a great start to the season, finishing 6th at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on ‘opening weekend’. He did brilliantly to get in the move that would go on to contest the final but his legs tired on the climb over the cobbles of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and he fell away from the front. Considering it was his first actual race day of 2020 it was an incredibly strong performance and he will take a lot of heart from that, his form looks good and bigger targets await.
Strade Bianche, if it goes ahead, will probably see Mike return to a support role for Wout Van Aert who will be dreaming of a win in a race where he has finished 3rd in the last two years. However, never say never, situations can change in a race and Mike will be feeling confident of taking any opportunities that may come his way…… if the race goes ahead.
For me, the potential impacts of the Coronavirus outbreak are still on a watching brief. Obviously the situation in Italy puts the Giro (and therefore our trip to the Stelvio) under serious threat, but also the Etape and the Ride London could be impacted further down the line. A cancellation of the Etape would be a huge disappointment for me personally so we wait and hope that the situation changes for the better over the next few weeks.
I’ve not let the Coronavirus and the related unknowns hinder my training though, I’ve continued to utilise the Zwift workouts and I’ve started to go back to the gym purely for leg work. The weight loss has slowed right down, as I expected it would, but I’m now down to 73.8kg which is an overall loss of 11.3kg (24.9lbs). The slow down has definitely coincided with the lack of outdoor bike time, fingers crossed the wet and windy weather gives way to some lovely Spring days soon!
The good thing about apps like Strava, MapMyRide etc is that you can look back and see how far you’ve come. It’s not the KOMs/QOMs or the one upmanship of beating your friends (or foes) on certain Strava segments that matters at all, it’s the personal development of the user in question. That thought came to me halfway up Ide Hill at the weekend, as I remembered the first time I tried to conquer that particular road and had to stop halfway up because I was knackered.
That ride on Sunday covered 65km in two and a half leisurely hours. By comparison, the 16km ride back home from my Mum’s house when I picked up that bike in 2014 took an hour and a half (with a lot less hills!). I considered that I’d also spent a lot of time off the bike following the London to Brighton in June 2014, in fact I didn’t get back on a bike again until March 2016 so really I have only been riding regularly for nearly 4 years. All of this got me thinking how much I’ve learnt along the way and how all of the experiences have got me to a level that I would never have anticipated 6 years ago.
Be A Weight Weenie…..
……but with yourself, not your bike! The difference you can make by eating right and losing a few pounds is quite extraordinary but you don’t have to live a monk’s life! The below shows two versions of me, 4 months apart in the same kit but with about 20lbs in weight difference
The above has coincided with a marked improvement in times on Strava segments that I ride regularly. A prime example of this is Box Hill, since the turn of the year I have knocked a whole minute off my previous best time on the Zig Zag Road. I have been doing Zwift workouts as well but I’m in no doubt that the weight loss is the main driver of the improvements.
Protect The Core!
A phrase I’ve used many a time at work, albeit with a different meaning. I started doing exercises that focussed on core strength as I had read a few different articles that all highlighted that as a key area. I have to say, they were right! Just a few sessions of planks, sit ups and squats (amongst other things) really started to make a difference on the bike as all of the pedalling motion starts at the core. The best thing is, you don’t need a gym for most of the exercises!
You Get What You Pay For
When you started cycling, unless you’ve more money that sense, chances are you were fairly frugal and bought some fairly inexpensive kit. Question: how long was it before you went out and bought some better kit? Not long, I’ll wager.
Now it is a fair point that there are brands out there, for example Dhb, that are producing good quality kit at extremely reasonable prices but I still maintain that the more you are willing to spend, the better the kit you will get. Fortunately the internet is a great platform for finding a bargain, whether it be the last of a certain size or last year’s colour, so there are brilliant brands available at very good prices. Sportful and Endura are two brands I really like that you can usually find in promotions online.
Get Your On Board Fuelling Right
This is a completely personal thing so it takes a bit of trial and error to find your perfect fuelling strategy but when you do you’ll unlock much better rides with more energy. I didn’t understand this for a long time but when it clicked I started to enjoy cycling a whole lot more.
I start pre ride with mini pittas with scrambled egg and chorizo. I find them a perfect ride fuel and easy on my stomach, plus they only take a couple of minutes to make. I used to have yoghurt, berries and granola but on odd occasions that disagreed with me
During a ride I favour real food over gels (although I still carry gels in case I need a quick hit) and I favour bars from either Science in Sport or Veloforte. The latter are expensive but absolutely worth it, they taste amazing. As I have suffered with cramp in the past my bar of choice is the Avanti, which has sea salt as a main ingredient along with dates, pecans and almonds. They’re vegan, gluten free and 100% natural – an amazing ride food that won’t leave you disappointed. Try them!
Ride Abroad (If You’re From The UK)
Simple one this. The roads and attitudes to cycling are so much better everywhere else in Europe.
A Clean Bike Is A Happy Bike
I’m a weirdo, I like cleaning my bike. I find it therapeutic. I’ve always loved tinkering with bikes, skateboards etc and cleaning the bike allows me that bit of time to indulge that personal joy. There’s a lot of products out there for this task and I’ve bought a lot of them over the years – personal favourites are Squirt Chain Lube and Fenwicks Foaming Chain Cleaner. A clean bike is likely to be more efficient and the cleaning process gives you a chance to figure out potential issues. I had a wobbly brake lever for ages, who knew there was a small screw to tighten under the brake hood that would sort it all out?!
Ride your bike, say hello to other cyclists, wear what you want, ride where you want, ride for however long you want just so long as you’re having fun. Ignore those who think they know it all (apart from professionals, of course), they’re just jealous you’re having more fun than they are.
Enjoy The Ride!