Salt & Sham 10 Mile TT 2018

I took part in an early season time trial on the U102 course in Iron Acton this past weekend. It was a bright and sunny day but also typically freezing for February, so it seemed slightly mad to be out racing in nothing but tight-fitting lycra. This was the inaugural event of Salt & Sham (SAS) cycling club, so I wanted to take part and show my support for a local club. The fact that I might catch pneumonia seemed a small price to pay.

After signing on and collecting my race number I headed out for what would normally have been a warm up, but was more a case of just keeping moving to avoid freezing. There was a headwind for the slightly longer outward leg, and combined with a hill leading up to the turnaround it could potentially have made the first half of the race a tough mental challenge. But I felt like I found a good rhythm, walking that fine tightrope between going bloody hard but not overdoing it. Plus I overtook my minute man and then two-minute man on the outward leg which always helps the confidence.


There were 42 riders taking part, plus a healthy number of spectators along the route shouting encouragement and shaking cowbells making it an enjoyable event. And the tailwind and downhill stretch from the turnaround improved things even further. It’s an exhilarating feeling to be buzzing along at high speed with nothing but the sound of the whistling wind and a disc wheel whooshing for company.


With the wind on my back, I kept my momentum up most of the small rises without losing too much speed and for the final couple of miles I was hanging on, wanting to give it everything but also knowing that I was already at my limit.


Emptying the tank



My finishing time was 25:41 giving an average speed of 23.4mph. I rode the race blind in terms of data on my bike computer, but looking at it afterwards I averaged just over 300 watts which is a personal best power output, a significantly positive outcome for such an early season race. The winner was Josh Griffiths from Bristol South CC in a time of 22:51. I ended up placing 16th.

So if I want to start threatening the podium I need to find another 3 minutes from somewhere. I’m not sure whether this could come from improved aerodynamics, increased specific fitness or better rest and nutrition. These are all areas that I’ve only recently started paying better attention to. However, I do have enough experience of cycling to know that whatever the question, a new bike is usually the answer.

“Avon Cycleway” 100 mile loop

I decided late last night to ride the Avon Cycleway loop around Bristol today. Like some of the best and worst ideas I’ve had, this one was discovered somewhere near the bottom of a bottle of wine.


Sunny and windy on the Avon Cycleway today


The sun slowly broke through the clouds 

I woke this morning without too much of a fuzzy head, ate breakfast twice before then preparing my bike. I had a completely free day to myself as well as a personal point to prove after my only other 100 mile ride this year resulted in being painfully towed and finally dropped by my fitter and faster mate.

With my jersey pockets and stomach stuffed full of food I set off at around 9am heading towards Bath along narrow country lanes. The Avon Cycleway is an 85 mile loop around Bristol along quiet lanes and bike paths. Looking back this was one of the first long rides featured on this blog almost four years ago.

One of the problems on long rides in unknown territories is refuelling. Especially on a Sunday with most shops shut. I ended up barricading my bike between two signs outside a little shop and checking on it several times. The thought of it being stolen miles from home was a hassle I could do without.

Finger crossed it'll be here when I come back

Finger crossed it’ll be here when I come back

Having successfully navigated around 70 miles of twists and turns, I got lost at the exact same point as last time. Somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle of Avonmouth the signs just seem to disappear. Fortunately I could see the looming Avon Bridge and headed in the right direction. As with all 100 milers the final 20 miles were fairly tough, but the warm breeze of a welcome tailwind helped me home. I was just around the corner from home when I realised I was going to finish up on 96 or 97 miles. Putting fatigue aside I took a small detour to hit the magic 100.

Tandem cycling in the USA

We’re currently on holiday in Maryland, USA visiting my wife’s family. We last visited two years ago, back in the long-forgotten pre-baby era when we could do whatever we wanted. Looking back that free time was clearly wasted on me because all I ever seemed to do was cycle.

This holiday we had a couple of blissful days to ourselves – leaving the little one with her grandma we headed off to the beach. Unimaginatively I steered us towards a bike hire shop at the earliest opportunity.

Tandem beach cruiser

Tandem beach cruiser

Neither of us had ridden a tandem before and it turned out to be great fun. It was easy to talk to each other and being permanently hitched together removes any potential competitiveness of cycling with another person. In theory a tandem ought to be more efficient than a regular bicycle, but that relies on both people pedalling. If, say, the person on the back was sometimes just letting their feet be turned by the pedals then a tandem could in fact be very hard work for the person on the front. Fortunately American beachfronts aren’t short on refreshment opportunities for hard-worked cyclists.


When the going gets tough, the tough get compensated with ice cream

One of the trickier aspects of tandem cycling was turning. The person on the rear can’t always see the twists and turns ahead but needs to participate to some extent in leaning on sharper bends. The other tricky aspect is starting and stopping. All of this requires a bit of communication but we seemed to get the hang of things and be motoring along quite well.

My other cycling this holiday has been using Pete’s arsenal of bikes in his basement. I took a single-speed out a couple of times but it mostly ended up being a reminder of how fit I used to be when we last visited. Riding up hills on a single-speed is tough work, and I quickly swapped for a bike with gears.


Getting out for some road cycling 

“Knog Blinder” review

Over the course of this blog I’ve written a handful of cycling product reviews – I try to buy as few cycling products as possible so generally don’t have too much to review. Unfortunately I am now in need of a new rear light as the old one broke. It was a ” Knog Blinder 4 Circle Rear LED” and I can’t say I was too disappointed when it died. I haven’t been overly impressed by it and now have good reason to purchase a replacement. Hopefully I’ll make a better choice this time.


The Knog Blinder – style over substance?

First the positives – it’s very bright and lives up to the name ‘Blinder’. It has about 5 functions, one being constant and the other 4 being various flashing sequences. Arguably 3 of these are superfluous but maybe some people like to have a choice. It’s easy to clip onto the seat post via a rubber band and metal clip, but it probably wouldn’t attach securely to smaller tubes such as the seat stays if you have a saddle bag. And you certainly couldn’t clip it onto a saddle bag or mudguard. It’s rechargeable via a flip-out USB connector. Onto the negatives. Battery life has always seemed too short. It’s difficult to know exactly how long it lasts, but it’s somewhere between 2 and 3 hours. I’ve been on a few 3 hour rides where I’ve come home to find the light not working. Not only does this seem unsuitable to a sport where people often cycle for several hours, but it also means you need to charge it after every ride. When I was using it for commuting in the Winter I used to charge it twice a day, once at work and again at home just to be sure. This was obviously a nuisance. The USB connection is also a bit temperamental and there have been times when it was plugged in but not receiving charge. The final and terminal flaw with the design was that the rubber band clamp perished. I think I’ve had the light for 18 months. In that time it’s had good use and been subjected to lots of rain, but still, for a light that costs somewhere between £25 to £30 you’d expect better.


Perished rubber band

I also own a Knog front light, and similarly this has a battery life of about 2 hours. So, going forward I will be looking for a light with a longer battery life. And probably not a Knog. Clearly all of that removing and reattaching to charge this one up has contributed to it wearing out. If anyone can recommend a good rear light (or has better experience of the Knog Blinder) then please feel free to respond in the comments section below.

* After writing this post, I checked out the Knog website and read that all of their products have a 2 year manufacturers guarantee. So I sent the product back to the distributer and was issued a full refund. So despite not being completely happy with the quality of this particular Knog product, I can’t fault the integrity of the company.

Long rides or short rides: a matter of perspective

Several times this year I’ve headed out with the intention of riding 50 miles but have ended up doing 30. Partly because I keep underestimating how long it takes to ride 50 miles, especially at this time of year. And partly because the winter weather gets the better of me after two cold hours in the saddle.


Up on the grey and threatening hills


Glimpses of Spring 

Cycling’s a funny hobby – how did it make me think two hours of exercise is a short workout? When I play football, or run, or go to the gym I never do it for more than two hours. Often for much shorter, depending on whether I get tired, substituted or sent off. However, one of the benefits of cycling is that you can be fairly flexible with your timing and do it when you have an opportunity. Plus there’s no travel time, you just ride from the front door for as long as you’ve got. I’m sure when the weather improves and life gets less busy I’ll find the time to ride for longer.

Today was one of those classic English drizzle days. Too warm to wear a rain coat and too wet to go without. I stopped a few times to take it off, put it back on, take it off, etc.  I may have only ridden 30 miles but I made sure to include a good climb. Two miles of constant climbing in warm drizzle wearing too many layers resulted in a boil-in-the bag effect. This was followed by several miles of cold sweat, the sort of feeling you associate with having a fever. It was somewhere in the midst of this unpleasantness that I thought, bugger this I’m going home for a cup of tea.


Doing the rain coat dance 

I think it’s just a matter of perspective. Two hours of exercise at this time of year is good enough for me. I’ll save my long rides for the summer when you ride for longer because it’s enjoyable.

Not Rule 5

Man, have I gone soft. Or maybe just fussy. Or maybe fussy and soft. Either way I’m definitely not hard. I went out for a ride this afternoon in what looked to be a fine Spring day, but seemed to turn into a harsh Winter within minutes of the ride. Wind and cold and rain and blah blah blah, all the normal things you should expect at this time of year. Rather than becoming a fair-weather cyclist, I seem to have gone the whole hog and become a fair-season cyclist. Basically, today was too cold and I woosed out. I was hoping to ride for a couple of hours but a hail storm in the first half hour completely killed my spirits. Cycling in a hail storm feels like having your face sand-blasted. At least it does if you’re a woosey cyclist who needs to “harden the f**k up”. Anyway, it seems fairly unlikely that I would take up face-sandblasting as a hobby, so maybe hail-storm cycling in freezing weather just isn’t for me. And if that makes me a “fair-weather” cyclist then so be it.

Shortly after the face sand-blasting I turned up a hill. After a few hundred metres the road went from slush to ice. I stopped. Got off the bike and thought: “this is nuts, I’m going home”. And I did.

Roll on Spring …

Two hours plus

I went out for my longest ride of the year today. Which isn’t really saying much, I think it was only my third ride of 2015. I’d put in a full shift looking after our toddler daughter all of last weekend, so in return I was given exclusive rights to my own Saturday today. It’s sometimes hard to imagine that less than 2 years ago I owned exclusive rights to all of every weekend. No wonder I took up cycling as a hobby – I needed something to fill those long, responsibility-free hours. Unfortunately, these days I’m even less imaginative when given total freedom – the world was my oyster and I chose to go for a long cycle and then do some DIY on the house. Rock n roll!

Following my last post, my rest week turned into a rest fortnight. In my normal non-cycling life I split my time between looking after our daughter and working as a part time builder / carpenter. So a break from cycling doesn’t mean I’m being restful. But one of main goals for 2015 is to try and stay injury-free. It’s not good for childcare, it’s bad for work, it puts a stop to cycling and according to Mrs BikeVCar it turns me into “a right grumplestiltskin”. So if I feel like I need another rest week I’ll take another rest week and hopefully enjoy the long-term benefits.

I was intending to ride 50 miles today. It was a plan I’d made after a couple of Friday night beers. For the last few months my longest rides have been around the 30 mile mark. In the winter this takes me a couple of hours. I find 2 hours to be a personal threshold in cycling – riding over 2 hours requires me to take food, in the summer it means an extra water bottle, and in the winter it’s a level of masochism that I’m not normally interested in. But today I went for it.

After a hearty breakfast I layered up and set off. Within the first hour I’d already reduced my goal to 40 miles. And after an hour and a half, on my way up Cheddar Gorge at a painfully slow speed I seriously considered just heading back home and calling it a day at around 30 miles. Enough with this unnecessary torture.

There were a few big groups of teenage lads on the Gorge with these peculiar downhill trikes that I’d never seen before. The trikes looked pretty cool and were essentially bikes so I considered putting a temporary stop to my suffering and having a chat with my cycling brethren. But then I remembered I’m not young anymore and it would have been plainly embarrassing for everyone if I’d tried to start a conversation. Some old guy in dorktastic head-to-toe lycra trying to mix it with the kids. Just leave it and suffer on, I sensibly decided.

Trike Drifting

Trike Drifting is for cool kids and not people who have to come home and do a Google search for “downhill trike” to find out what it’s called

Once on the top of the Mendips for a second and final time, I surprised myself by turning away from home and committing to an extra hour in the saddle. I rode for nearly 3 hours, covering over 40 miles and returned home frozen and completely worn out. For that final hour my stomach gnawed away at me and my fingers froze through my thick gloves – to the point where the gloves felt like they were soaking and had shrunk. I was wearing my winter cycling boots and the thickest socks so at least my feet survived – but in hindsight these additional nerdly items of clothing were another good reason I didn’t stop on the Gorge.

It feels good to get a decent ride under my belt for the year. But it was also reassuring confirmation that winter rides over 2 hours require a level of dedication that I’m currently not feeling. I’ll be waiting for the temperatures to rise significantly before I increase my ride lengths.

The Recovery Week

There are a number of reasons for taking time off from exercise. Allowing your body to heal fully after several weeks of a strenuous programme is one. Taking heed of the sensible advice from a loved one that maybe you’re doing too much too soon after returning from an injury or illness is another. Even if that sensible advice manifests itself as unwelcome nagging. If you think the nagging’s bad, just imagine what the “I told you so’s” are going to feel like.

Endurance sports and weight lifting both tend to recommend a full rest week at least every 8 to 10 weeks to allow muscles to repair and fitness to increase. Other sports such as golf, fishing or darts recommend that you do something strenuous every few weeks just to remind yourself that your sport is actually rest.

This week I am having a recovery week. It’s certainly easier to enforce rest when the weather’s bad and you’ve got lots of other things to keep you busy. I had been out for a long run and a good cycle last week, and despite following the surgeon’s advice about rehabilitation times, I still don’t want to risk overdoing it and injuring any newly healed tissue. This week was also the first time our daughter tried cycling. She was as unhappy about cycling as I am about not cycling. Great teamwork.

I'm only crying because this bike has too many wheels

I’m only crying because this bike has one too many wheels

Next week I hope to return feeling stronger, fitter and mentally refreshed. Well, at least as mentally and physically refreshed as you can feel with a young toddler in the house.


Absence makes the heart grow fonder … or maybe it just makes you forget the pain

The local roads seem to be swarming in cyclists at the moment. I’ve been on the mend from surgery and not cycling, so maybe my perception has been slightly warped as I notice and envy every cyclist I see. But I think it’s more likely down to the ever-increasing popularity of cycling combined with New Years fitness resolutions. I’m all in favour of increasing cycling participation: the more who do it, the more normal it becomes and the more likely it will be for non-cyclists to have close friends and family who cycle. And you would hope when these non-cyclists are behind the wheel of their cars or vans, they might be a little more careful and courteous to cyclists. I guess there are a few other barriers to harmony on the roads, such as rude cyclists and obscene amounts of lycra, but at least this strength-in-numbers approach is a good start. On most of my own rides I usually confront a driver when it was me who made the mistake and then return home to look in the mirror and think “WTF am I wearing?!”

"Smile for the camera .... ok, well at least try not to look completely pissed off"

“Smile for the camera …. ok, well at least try not to look completely pissed off”

This weekend I headed out for my first ride of the year. It was cold and windy and I immediately found myself wondering what I’d been missing so much. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but I think injury and illness can make you a bit deluded. I kept thinking: “I’d be enjoying this a lot more if it was sunny and I was fit.” It’s difficult finding a window to get out and ride at this time of year. The roads are icy in the mornings and it gets dark late afternoon. Plus we have a small human child and a crumbly house which are both in constant need of my time and energy. And certainly more deserving of my time than riding around in circles dressed like Peter Pan. Peter Pan was definitely a cyclist, prancing around in those stretchy trousers and never growing up. Anyway, at least the benefit of cycling is that it’s relatively low overhead time-wise when compared to other sports. When you get a small window of opportunity you can just race out the door and do your thing for as long as you’ve got.

Litte cold bike on the hills

Litte cold bike on the hills

Cold, wet, windy, dark and muddy. The perfect ride

Cold, wet, windy, dark and muddy. The perfect ride

I decided to do a ride of two halves, firstly a flat lap of the lake and then a climb up into the hills. This is then capped off with an enjoyable long descent home … so it’s technically a ride of three halves. I’ve been riding the turbo trainer a little bit lately as part of my rehab and it’s helped me to feel the difference in efficiency between a beautiful, smooth and fast pedaling speed and my own slow, cumbersome pedal-mashing technique. The French call it ‘souplesse’, a fluid and even technique. I might be able to say it, but I can’t do it. Anyway, I kept the cadence sensor on my bike and tried to translate some of this into reality on the roads. It’s pretty hilly around these parts which can quickly kill momentum. Plus I quite like getting out of the saddle on a climb, but I did find it helped my stamina to keep the legs spinning quickly … at least when I remembered. Once up on the hills I thought I’d finally found my sweet-spot, souplesse Nirvana as I flew along at speed for several miles without feeling pain or tiredness. Unfortunately it turned out to be a tail-wind! It doesn’t matter how many times this happens, it still fools me every time. Ah well … it was a beautiful tailwind and with a long and sweeping descent home, at least I realised what I’d been missing so much.

Taking it steady

I am thankfully now healed from my troublesome injury and have been getting out on the bike a couple of times a week. It’s looking a bit like Winter and feeling like it too. But it was only officially confirmed as Winter today when the average speed for my ride ended up below 14mph – the true threshold of Autumn / Winter. I was slow going uphill due to the weight of winter bike, mudguards and many layers of clothing. And slow going downhill due to a cautious approach on the treacherous roads and from trying to lessen the numbing effects of cold winds blasting my bare face. For me this time of year isn’t about speed, it’s about getting out when I have an opportunity to ride. Especially on those cold, crisp, sunny days like today.


Casting long winter shadows 

When the sun’s hanging this low in the sky, visibility can be quite difficult at times. I make sure to wear colourful clothing, have a decent set of lights and take a good look before making any manoeuvres. It’s also another reason to take it steady in the winter. I rode a 25 mile loop today, mostly along quiet back lanes. This is probably somewhere near the limit of what I want to ride at this time of year. The back lanes were filthy and despite the mudguards my bike seems to be growing a thick, brown, winter coat to keep it warm over the coming months. The signs of good winter use.


On the quiet roads of the Mendip Hills today