Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cycling for the Purist

I suppose that I am somewhat typical of the average cyclist.  Start out doing a little cycling, meet some friends who light my enthusiasm, become a bit more proficient and start to desire better kit,. With some people, and this includes me,  this then leads on to a growing appreciation of the history of the sport and the classic engineering which distinguishes the celebrated marques from the mass produced items.  An even smaller subset of these people are keen enough that they enter the realm of the competitive cyclist, and it is at this point that our ways part as I arrived too late and too unfit to ever contemplate racing.
The purest form of cycle racing is the Time Trial. From watching on TV and following threads on the web I was aware of both the Individual Time Trial and the Team Time Trial. The distances chosen for these events vary between short, medium and long, but even within these categories there is much variation as the nature of the local topography and road structure makes each course unique and so times for even the same distance cannot really be safely compared.

Talking to some local cyclists I discovered that Derby Mercury is a local club which holds Time Trials close to where I live and so I determined to go along and watch. When I retired I bought both a bike and a camera, never having been involved in either cycling or photography before, so this presented an opportunity to combine both my newly acquired interests.

Last Tuesday’s event was billed as a 2UP TT over 12.5miles with an elevation gain of 711ft. Whilst not a formal Open Event, there were a number of guest riders and in total over 50 cyclists took part.

The pairs of riders were set on their way at 2 minute intervals and I gathered that the aim was to keep swapping the lead in order to share the pain of the headwind and enable the rear rider of the pair to be towed along in the slp stream for an easier ride.

Having witnessed the initial gathering and start of the first few pairs, I moved position to place myself at the top of Long lane Hill where I hoped to capture a few pained faces as the riders climbed the first hill

As I understood it, the tactics were to remain in close formation to maximize the benefit of the wind shield but despite the hill being fairly close to the start it was severe enough to break up some formations and leave the leader looking behind desperately for his partner.

The race itself was open to both men and women, young and old, using a wide range of kit though the majority of the frames were carbon and I did not spot a Mercian all evening. The most noticeable difference amongst the bikes was in the choice of wheels ranging from “ordinary “ wheels to deep rims to full blown disc wheels. The noise coming from these machines as they sped past was like a music symphony.

As the light faded I hurried back to the finishing area to see some of the competitors arrive back. Many of the pairs were by now in ragged formations but to my eyes all still seemed to be going strong.  The finishing times ranged from 27 minutes to 43 minutes and to put this into comparison it would take me about 60 minutes; the difference between a racer and a pedal pusher!

I really enjoyed my evening out and thank yo to both Derby Mercury and all the riders for letting me stand around, ask stupid questions and capture both their pain and glory.

( If you click on any image then you will see it in a larger version and can easily navigate between the various pictures )

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tours with a Mercian

G S Gazzetta Leisure Tours

Cycling at its best is such a social sport and as I became a little more confident of my ability I started to ride with others. The last blog article described a typical ride with the Derby CTC. But I enjoy talking about cycling as well as being in action, and so I joined GS Gazzetta.

"G S " stands for "Gruppo Sportivo", "Sporting Group " - a classic Italian cycling reference relating to members of a cycling club. G.S. Gazzetta membership is OPEN and is registered with British Cycling. The members of G.S. Gazzetta are truly international giving the club the great advantage of sharing unique knowledge and love for cycling. Founded in the spirit of the Italian " Gruppo Sportivo ", membership to G.S. Gazzetta is open to all cyclists, regardless of location, status or ability.

Members of GS Gazzetta are spread far and wide and the majority of them never meet up face to face. But through Twitter I met Mark who lives  a mere 50 miles from me and so we decided to go on a ride to-gether, the first ever ride of the Midland Branch of GS Gazzetta.
It needs to be understood here that cyclists can be classified into one of four categories:
Professionals; Club Racers, Club Cyclists and , finally, Pedal Pushers. It seems to me that the vast majority of the GS Gazzetta peleton belong to Category 2 ( sportif riders are included here ) whilst I am very firmly embedded in Category 4, whilst Mark is definitely in Cat 2.
Whilst the language of cycling may be the same between these different categories, the interpretation is very different indeed as was amply demonstrated in this ride, a leisure ride.

Ready to Depart           
And so last Saturday I loaded my dream Mercian Vincitore Special onto the car and set off for the land of Mow Cop, Teggs Nose and the other Alsager mountains. Mark had asked me what sort of ride I fancied and what distance and pace I could manage. We had settled upon around 75km at a leisurely pace with just a couple of very minor hills. I should have been more specific!  For a club cyclist *around* 75km means anything between 75 and 150km and in pedal pusher terms an average speed of 25k/hr for over 100km is definitely not leisurely!

Teresa had provided me some advice on the need to refuel and hydrate when out on hard rides and to be fairly disciplined about it. Thank goodness I took her advice  and so I was fully equipped with snack food, sugar boosters and liquid.  We started off by going up hill, which in my innocence I took to be the first of the two *minor climbs *. Wrong!  A minor climb to a pedal pusher is a virtual downhill doddle to a proper cyclist. This was going to be a hard ride. Having done about 10k and ascended the first of the Strava Categorized climbs the sugar boosters were in action.  Of course, one of the benefits of climbing mountains is the coasting down the other side. Wrong again.  Someone needs to teach Mark the benefits of freewheeling when you are already travelling at 60+ km/hr.

Mark the Super Domestique
He was however proving to be an excellent super domestique and as he towed me along the stretch towards our lunch stop it was exhilarating to be travelling at an average of greater than 32km/hr for km after km.  A new first for me.

We stopped at Audlem for lunch at a great cafe with plenty of character and a favourite haunt for cyclists who kept on arriving as we were there. It seems that cafe stops are not normally part of Mark’s agenda, another huge difference between cyclists and pedal pushers.  I should say that we had already done three climbs by lunch and so I was expecting a flat journey back, but that of course neglected the definition of a * climb * by a proper cyclist.  So i was wrong again!

We covered 3 counties on our ride; Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire and some of the scenery was magnificent despite the glowering sky which threatened to soak us at any moment.


Beeston Castle

Having found a flat bit Mark pointed out to me Beeston Castle and proposed this as our next point of call....not to stop and admire you understand, not even a pit stop, more an opportunity to gather evidence of our visit. I understand now why they build castles atop mountains. The invading cyclists are cream crackered by the time they reach the summit.

After conquoring the castle

I would have liked to tell you about the afternoon tea stops..but there weren’t any, just a 70 km sprint home where Mark’s wife was much more understanding and soon had the kettle on.

To demonstrate the differences between youth and a  pensioner, my average heart rate during the ride was 138bpm with a maximum of 166, noting that my ABSOLUTE maximum should be <169bpm. Mark meanwhile cruised along in sub recovery mode with an average of 118bpm and a slight bit of effort raising it to 162bpm at one point.

It was a great day for me, and Mark provided sterling work as a super domestique. Thanks!

I must look out for other opportunities of GS Gazzetta Leisure Tours, but first I need to draft some Rules of Engagement

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Ride Around Derbyshire Lanes

Whilst most of the previous  entries on this blog have been about equipment, I do actually cycle as well. I started by just  riding by myself  but was persuaded to join  the Derby Branch of the Cycling Touring Club ( CTC ) and am now a regular on the Thursday rides. The majority of us are Old Age Pensioners but occasionally we are joined by a younger set who have taken a day off  work or who are on school holidays. What follows is an account of one of our recent rides.

Girls Galore

It is 09-25 at the Market Place with the rain pelting down, and forecast to get worse, and I am all alone. 
Where are all the intrepid hardy veterans who make up the Thursday Squad?
A few phone calls later and the truth is laid bare. 

               .”too wet “, “too cold “, “ too blowy”, “ too tired “.

What shall I do?
And then, out of the darkness two young women arrive, Emma and Tracey; both decked out in Derby Mercury Racing Club kit and looking extremely lithe and fit putting my pooh bear shape to shame.
And so, for the first time in recorded history, the Thursday Ride gets under way with more women than men in the peleton. We wind our way through the city traffic and out to Markeaton and then up towards Mickleover and Radbourne, Tracey hammering out a punishing tempo at the front.  The next psychological blow comes when Emma tells me about her latest training and racing day on the boards at Manchester Velodrome, my legs instantly feel weaker. Perhaps I need to alter the route to put a few steep hills in on the basis that sprinters are not good on climbs, but then neither am I, so I stick to the planned route as we move through Sutton and on towards Mount Pleasant. A tea stop is obviously needed so we head to the Salt Box at Hatton, the long straight flat road giving the girls an opportunity to open up the throttle as I try and cling to the back wheel. Refuelling over we set out again through Scropton. To have any hope of surviving this day I need to find a way of restraining these athletic girls and so I plot a route through the back lanes and head to Sudbury prison :-) The Secret Diner provides us with an excellent lunch and a time for my legs and lungs to recover.  After lunch we head towards Foston where I point out a property well noted for its Alsation guard dogs which have the freedom of the fenced grounds. On cue, the dogs hurtle towards the fence barking loudly, and it is only then that we notice that someone has left the gate open!  The girls went into turbo sprint mode and my heart rate monitor soared to a new record for maximum count. Excitement over we eased off the throttle and wound our way through Church Broughton, Longford and back to Radbourne and then onto Derby.
Total distance 65km
Speed, very fast in veteran units
And thanks to the girls for excellent company.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Jewellry for a Mercian

Did I ( or my wife!! )  ever really believe that once I had bought the bike that that would be the end of the expenditure?

Having acquired my new bike it was not long before I realized that I needed a few extras and so I prepared to drop down to the local supermarket to get some stuff.

STOP!!!! “ shouted one of my cycling friends on the web..
” You can’t just go and buy any old junk for a hand crafted Mercian Vincitore Special. It will ruin the entire look. Accessories for a bike are like cuff-links for a dress shirt . They need to be chosen with care to reflect the personality of the bike.

And so I started doing some research.

Cycling Nutrition is a black hole to me.   I rapidly discovered that going on long rides and taking neither liquid nor food with me led to severe energy loss and numerous aches and pains throughout my musculature. So I decided to buy a water bottle to ensure that at least I had some liquid. On one of my old bikes, which has no bosses on the frame, I just attached the bottle cage to the downtube using a couple of black plastic cable ties, a sort of workable if not elegant solution. I say “ sort of works “ because the bottle does occasionally spontaneously eject itself from the cage when going over a pothole or bump in the road.  I thought for the Vincitore it deserved something better. So I ensured there were two sets of bottle cage bosses built onto the frame and I chose an Elite Custom Race Bottle Cage in a colour which matched the rest of the frame paintwork. This is claimed to be a true design classic and the self adjusting and rubber tensioner grips should hold the bottle in place even over the worst roads that I might encounter. So far, no bottle missile ejections have taken place so it is performing well.

I am no long distance tourer but I do have to transport spares, tools and other stuff. So what to use to carry these things about. The plastic bag strapped to a rack which I have been using just did not seem appropriate. Searching around and talking to others I discovered Carradice. In the early 1930’s Wilf Carradice, frustrated that there were no suitable saddlebags to buy, decided to make one for himself. To his surprise, he was inundated by friends asking him to make more. And so, Carradice of Nelson was born. Even to this day the heart of the company still remains the core range of 100% waterproof cotton duck panniers and saddle bags with leather straps, which have withstood the test of time for over 70 years and are loved and cherished the world over. They are still made by hand in the factory in Nelson and mine was made by Sue.

I am fascinated by numbers.

I always have been.

As a small choir boy I used to pass the time during the service by factorizing the hymn numbers and testing them for primality. And so it was only natural that I would want to record all the data associated with my cycling. Faster, higher, further does not really apply to me but I still wanted to record my achievements/failings and discuss them with my cycling friends on our Tea Shop Tours.
Technology has advanced since those days of my boyhood when one had an odometer attached to the fork which clicked over at every revolution of the wheel. There are a wide variety of devices on the market from wired to wireless and an increasing range of data that can be captured. I chose a Garmin 500 and added on the optional wireless heart rate and combined speed/cadence sensor  which pretty much covered all of the information bases aside from full web access. The data is displayed in up to eight customisable fields per 'page' but now there are a full 41 options to choose from and three instead of two pages on which to spread them out.  
Whilst I transfer all this to my computer using Garmin Connect, and recently I have started to use Strava as well, I still use a spread sheet to keep track of total distances covered and see whether I am on target for my self set yearly mileage.  Defence in depth and a protection should the web services expire.