Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Turning the Uncle John into a Winter Bike and Commuter Bike

I've had my Planet X Uncle John for maybe 8 years and circumstances have meant that I need a winter training bike for on the roads and can't justify a new purchase so I've spent the last month updating the Uncle John to use as my commuter come winter hack.

The Uncle John has been a fantastic bike over the years. I originally bought it to try some cyclocross racing for a change of scenario over the weekend although realised that the grief I received from my Mum for how much mud was going into her washing machine meant the cyclocross bike stayed more as a summer bike for playing around in the woods and the occasional early 'cross season race whilst conditions were relatively dry.  

Planet X Uncle John ready for xc commuting

My commute gives me the opportunity to ride almost anything I please. I can drop down onto some fantastic flowing woodland singletrack that's well suited to the cyclocross bike, I can even easily find my way onto some gravel tracks or take the fastest route to the office on the roads. For that reason the cyclocross bike has always been great to have.

I've actually considered streamlining the number of bikes I have for a while. My old Kinesis Racelight T winter bike started to develop a number of concerns and being 8 years old it really needed significant amounts of replacement that I might as well have needed to buy a new groupset for the the bike. Therefore the idea of spending a little bit of time, money and TLC on the CX bike to turn it into the ultimate winter bike made sense.

Reflective tape on the handlebars and a Solar Storm  light from eBay

It's amazing what a few additions and replacements can do to a bike. The bolts had started to round off on the FSA Gossamer chainset that came with the bike and I also needed to replace the bottom bracket so opted for a Tiagra Compact Chainset (34/50)

With creaking coming from a lot of places on the bike I opted for a new set of wheels. Picking up a set of Fulcrum Racing 7 LG wheels to be matched with some slightly wider tyres, I swayed between Schwalbe's ultra-reliable Marathon Plus but eventually opted for some Schwalbe Durano Plus tyres with the same obscene level of puncture protection except for a more road specific tread.

A set of SKS Blumels Mudguards have also been fitted and a chunky Lezyne pannier rack I had lying around in storage has finally been fitted although in honesty I don't actually own a pannier bag to use it.

The Mudguards have been a little challenging as the Planet X Uncle John doesn't feature a bridge or screw hole at the chainstays to secure a mudguard. I've had to solve this with the use of a zip tie although as you'll see from the photo below there is now a gap between tyre and guard running in towards the bottom bracket so I'm still on the lookout for solutions to resolve this if anyone has one.

Planet X Uncle John set up for winter road training and commuting 

How does it feel on the roads- Heavy!
I've found that the combination of the relatively heavy Fulcrum Racing 7 LQ wheelset and nearly 500 gram per tyre of Schalbe Durano Plus means that acceleration is hindered. Especially when you add in the additional weight of the pannier rack too. It will be interesting to see just how this affects me over a winter of riding. I'm hoping it's just taking me some time to adjust but it's certainly harder work than I'm used to out on the roads compared to my old Kinesis Racelight T.

My consideration is to change to some lighter tyres after Christmas to see if it adds an extra bit of zip whilst training starts to gear itself towards next seasons races so we will see if that adds better acceleration. At the moment the Uncle John just feels like hard work but hopefully it will pay off.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Dark and White Winter Mountain Bike Orienteering Event 1 Chapel en le Frith

I thought it would be good to try something different this winter. Wanting to ride many of next years Mountain Marathon MTB Series and other mountain bike events but also adding to winter training I saw an advert a while ago for Dark and White Cycling's Winter Trailquest series which features events all over the Peak District. Now know as Mountain Bike Orienteering the idea of navigation and cycling adds a different element to training.

At the start of my first Mountain Bke Orienteering event. Dark and White Winter MBO Round 1

With event 1 being staged in Chapel en le Frith on the Western side of the Peak District we meandered our way over after an early start. I've only ever done one orienteering event in the past at the Red Bull Robin Hood event so it would be intriguing how well I would actually get on. I didn't have high hopes but it's certainly good to keep things fresh and for a little over £15 an event I can't grumble on pricing.

After picking up my event map I had a generous 3 hours to dob as many checkpoints as possible. After a couple of wrong turns in Chapel en le Frith itself I finally found myself on the right minor road out towards Dove Holes after wasting a good 5 minutes trying to find my way but I had at least my first 10 points in the bag.

When I hit the A6 at Dove Holes a navigational error meant that I followed Doveholes Dale in error by going straight across. Looking for the red and white tape along the road I realised my error when it pulled alongside the railway. A quick right then left would likely have solved this at the A6 but cost me valuable time as I had to go out and back to the checkpoint I was looking for to add another 15 points to my tally.

From here things started to look up for a while and I hit my first cross country section along a bridleway from Smalldale across the side of Lodes Marsh laden with muddy puddles and mountain bikers. More points in the bag before climbing the quarry access route up high above the Donkey Sanctuary to Bee Low to nail another set of points along bridleways I've never before ridden.

Dropping back down to the A6 I thought I saw a road off to the right on the map that would help cut out part of the journey up to Blackbrook but it was actually the map showing me the edge of the Peak District National Park. Maybe it's time Ordnance Survey change the colour scheme as talking back at HQ at least one other person made the same error and ended up going up someones driveway.

I ended up back in Chapel en le Frith before cutting up to Blackbrook up what is known as Peaslows or I think used as the Sparrowpit Hill Climb. I was starting to need some sugars so used this as an opportunity to back off a little and take in a Clif bar whilst I climbed up to around 400m above sea level. I hadn't quite expected the level of climbing the event would have.

After gathering another 10 points at Blackbrook I dropped down to Sparrowpit and on to Perryfoot for another quick and easy checkpoint before settling off along the narrow road towards Rushup Edge that forms part of the Pennine Bridleway. Having never ridden the Pennine Bridleway I wasn't sure what to expect. It's certainly rough in places but ride able and after bagging another set of points there was the option of carrying on for a long section along the Pennine Bridleway or dropping down towards the small village of Malcoff. The section of the bridleway looked to pass through a lot of the contours on the map so despite being a 20 point checkpoint it looked a risk in terms of time so I opted to drop down to Malcoff down a field which turned into a rather muddy, slippery track with a gate that had seized up and needed me to lift my bike over.

My next checkpoint came on the edge of Bridgeholme Green before carrying on along Charley Lane and making a monumental mistake. At the crossroads atop Carley Lane I misread the map and thought I was heading west towards Eccles Pike, however I was heading northwest to the Village of Whitehough. Whilst I was drastically off the course I wanted I did catch a glimpse of an amazing beer garden at the Old Hall Inn so all wasn't lost. This is winter training after all.

I managed to nab a checkpoint by the Black Brook near Buxworth before climbing up towards a checkpoint on the outskirts of New Horwich. If I'd had my wits about me I'd have nabbed the checkpoint near Shallcross Hall Farm Too but I was now starting to get conscious of time as I climbed Elnur Lane which just seems to go on upwards.

I swung left towards the top of Elnur Lane dropping down a narrow road to be confronted by a tractor. A quick slam on of the brakes I fortunately managed to stop in sensible time before speeding downhill towards a quick left and right in the village of Combs which also had a great looking pub

I nabbed another checkpoint on the edge of Combs Reservoir before arriving at the main B road into Chapel en le Frith with about 5 minutes to get back to HQ within the 3 hour time limit. That should have been straightforward until a bus pulled up at it's stop and I was left waiting behind for an eternity without an opportunity to pass. The seconds ticked by as the bus pulled off only to get held up by a parked car on the high street and yet more oncoming traffic.

In the end I rolled into HQ 41 seconds late, losing a minuscule 1 point off my 180 points gathered. I'll take that for my first event and definitely something to work on for future. There was also a lot of road type riding at the event, In some ways I could have ridden a less trail specific tyre or even a cyclocross bike more successfully.

I learnt a few things in my first Mountain Bike Orienteering event

  1. I really need a map board for the next event to save me stuffing my map down my bib tights or simply holding it whilst riding
  2. I don't need to rush to hit the first checkpoint. Learning how to best get out of the HQ would be a better idea
  3. I need to eat and drink more. I only had a Clif Bar during a 3 hour event. I should be nailing 400 odd calories an hour for strong riding over the winter
  4. I carried too much with me. I should really be looking at using the back pockets of a jersey instead of a camelback as it certainly doesn't feel as comfortable for me.
Round 2 is at the Longshaw Estate near Bakewell so a little closer to home and with roads I have some knowledge of which hopefully will work in my favour. I loved the Peak District scenery in the area this weekend and somewhere different keeps things fresh over a long winter.

For more info check out http://darkwhitecycling.co.uk/mountain-bike-events/ 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Jemma Does the 2016 Rat Race Coast to Coast

The Coast to Coast 2016 Multisport Event

Jemma's account of the 2016 Rat Race Coast to Coast

For this year big test was the Coast to Coast with myself going solo. After completing the event last year with Liam I wanted to beat my times from back in 2015. Recently my mountain bike skills have improved a lot when compared to last year having taken on a number of red routes at local trail centres and generally getting used to riding my mtb. Coming into the event this had given me an increased confidence boost.

Knowing what to expect from each of the stages we were hoping the weather was kind for us after the previous weekend's extreme conditions for Man V Mountain causing disruption to the planned course after a dissipating hurricane.

Great thing I knew what to expect from start to finish but having better weather conditions last year was hoping to have similar but after previous weekends weather at Man Vs mountain from the dissipated hurricane weather was unsettled to start with a rather cold start.  Opting to wear my Gillet over my cycling outfit was a good move till I got too warm with having only small pockets in the back of my Adidas climacool cycling top I had to hold it for about 4 of the 7 miles run to Cawdor castle.  The run itself is a good mix of trail, single track with little amount of pavement.  With the long stretches of single track with no option to overtake like last year was going as fast as the person in front of you.  I felt I was going an ok pace finally getting to transition getting self all ready for the move was quite smooth.

Once I left the sheltered grounds of Cawdor castle the wind hit me and at that time didn’t know this is the biggest obstacle of the whole weekend.  Small climbs was made ten times worse and finding needing to drink more often than usual.  Handling bike and eating was a no go with the force of the wind. Regular food and drink stops was needed and by the amount of people doing the same I knew wasn’t alone. With around 10 miles to go I just about ran out of water in my backpack and less than a quarter of bottle full of liquid.  This was a concern as I knew there wasn’t any shops on the route I knew of.  Battling quad fatigue where they started to lock up wasn’t what I hoped for.  Stretching out and taking time to eat yet more food and battled on was now seeing signs for Fort Augustus so knew end was in sight for Day 1.

The start of the long final climb I was following a man and for motivation tried to keep him in sight and keep his pace.  Just before the second large incline I lost him but saw a magical campervan with a sign saying water for Rat racers.  This guy was a proper star I stopped to collect water to then start with quad lock again and guy came over to see how I was and filled my water bottle up.  Small chat with others which come to fill water bottles up I took time to have my pork scratchings the salt is definitely what I needed and felt immediately better.  The last part of the climb which I would say was the third incline was rather steep and kept peddling with a few walking up as unable to manage it I got to the top without getting off my bike.  Load cheers from other racers as they saw what I done gave me massive boost and then to be told by Marshalls to watch my speed on my descent down the hill.  The wind again spoiled this last year I went rather fast eying Liam’s line last year with my hand on brakes.  This time no need to use the brakes the wind stopped me going fast as it rolled off the loch into me slowing me down.  Getting to transition and getting my arm and leg warmers off and anything I didn’t want wet for the kayak part which will end my day.  The run was a nice ease out from the battering wind I experienced for the past four or so hours.  The kayak was very windy and I was teamed up with another person and let’s say we was as clueless as each other after either missing buoys or just about taking them out with the kayak got round Loch Ness in one piece to finally get some food inside me and resting up as knew had to have my A game on for day two in any hopes of beating last years’ time my 2016 goal

Cawdor Castle to Fort Augustus cycling. Fort Augustus Kayak Stage st

Day 2 of the Rat Race Coast to Coast

We were also advised the last kayak wasn’t going ahead with the weather being very windy and Rat race have safety as no 1 priority.  I was quite happy about this as last year’s 2nd kayak stage was a long tough one.  My position in the holding pen I knew had gave myself the best chance to get round the 1st tricky off road cycling without waiting too much.

I set off and found a rhythm found to overtake a few people and get overtook by others these mainly been cyclocross bikes. I found myself in a bunch where I managed to keep up in these off road sections but the guy behind me was brake squeaking a lot and could hear his annoyance weather was to myself for the fact got no way of overtaking anyone.  I coped with the switchbacks far better this year with only few times where I had to put foot down as with the experts going through the area the day before and the moist weather was rather churned up.  Knowing there wouldn’t be much flat and stable areas for consume food I took opportunities at key points I know where off road met on road and scoffed as many shot blocks as possible with cherry flapjack.

This ride I felt more confident on the hills I wasn’t stressed and found people walking up and was just powering up (in lowest gears).  One hill I was side of a guy and he didn’t realise how it kicked up after the cattle grid and came right into my path thus stopping my momentum.  Gutted I had to walk the rest way up.  A homemade chia flapjack made me feel better and off I went again.  Managed to even have a conversation with a few people along the way saw some regular Rat racers I knew.  Not a puncture in sight and the closer I was getting to Fort William as I saw the sign I felt rather emotional.  Last year I saw this sign almost broken this year I was ready for my smash and grab at the Esso garage for a sandwich to fuel my mountainous run.  Doing Man Vs Mountain the week before gave me the last bit of prep for this run and felt ready to take it on. 

The transition was placed different this year to last year in a football ground so had to hold my sandwich a bit longer than I thought I would be doing.  Parking up my bike stripping my bike for the remaining food supplies I got changed took off my bib shorts and put on full length bottoms on with my asics running shorts while opted to keep on my cycling jersey and Gillet.  With only 30 mins allowed in transition I started to eat my sandwiches and anything else I saw to eat and found hot drinks also I missed this last year so had a couple of warm milky coffees to help warm me up.  Last toilet stop and away I went ironically enough I bumped into a guy which I had done at the same point last year this year. He complemented on how well and lean I looked well will take that complement and run with that.

The run I started to ease into a rhythm before getting to the 1st lot of hills run what I could and power walk the rest of them.  My progress was a lot better and the weather for a change had taken a change for the better.  The change was that there was times I had people to talk to which I didn’t have last year.  The wind had kept the midges away so that made the run far much better.  The major disappointment was the Epsom Run sense I was using died halfway through the run so didn’t track all my progress but with the official time splits I done major improvements from last years times regarding day 2.  Taking this as a major positive for 2017 goals which still contemplating though at least a Duathlon and an intro to an ultra-race (30 miles) will make an appearance in my Event calendar.

Day Two Strava

Fort Augustus to Fort William cycling Fort William to Kinlochleven
Watch ran out of battery but ran out a total of 14.9 miles was run on this stage and that stage took me 3.14 hours to complete.