Taming The Beast

The weather forecast was right. The Beast From The East did pay a visit to Blighty and it did cause the chaos and disruption that was promised. Anyone who has spent any time in the UK will know we are rubbish at dealing with any kind of unexpected or inclement weather. I did not want to be greeted by scenes like this of a morning.

However pretty snow can look, I knew it would cause me issues. These were compounded by inability to work from home due to Virigin Media screwing up the TV and internet connections for the whole of the area I live in……all week! Ever the cyclist, my brain had two trains of thought

  1. If the snow continues into the weekend there’s no way I’m making it out on the bike. Boo.
  2. If the internet outage continues Zwift won’t work in my shed and that will make a trainer session a whole lot more boring. Boo.

Fortunately the internet service was fixed and reactivated on Friday night so, while I looked out at the snow, at least I knew I’d get on Zwift.

I swapped the snow of Warlingham for the snow of the epic KOM on Watopia yesterday and did an hour’s worth of pedalling, so better than nothing.


Zwift is definitely my fall back option as I much prefer being outside and so my brain started thinking about the Zwift model. The more I thought about it, the more I got irritated.

Last year Zwift announced that membership plans would rise from £7.99 to £12.99 (though I am still paying £7.99 for this year, having been signed up before their deadline), yet I still have to reach certain levels that they define to unlock different courses and bits of road. I’m sorry, but for £7.99 (soon to be £12.99) I expect to have access to every road that is on Zwift! It’s bad enough that whenever I go to use Zwift it’s static map rotation is always on bloody Watopia, I want to be able to choose where I ride and I think the price increases should pay for extra servers to allow that function. I’m not fussed about different kits or bikes, let the levels unlock all of that extra content, not the actual roads.

Fortunately, Strade Bianche happened in the afternoon and that cheered me up immeasurably. I had backed Tiesj Benoot in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and he had put in a stirling effort before falling away before the finish so I backed him again, this time at 20/1 E/W. He rode a great race, made sure he was on the right side of the splits, jettisoned the chasing group and bridged a 40 second gap across to the leaders (Romain Bardet and Wout Van Aert) before leaving them in his wake on the steepest last section of white gravel. It was a phenomenal effort.


I finished the race £125 richer and Benoot finished the race with his first professional win, delivered in emphatic style. Chapeau Tiesj, dirty faces do win races!

Paris Nice starts today and I’ve had a few quid Alaphilippe to take home the title, though Sky look very strong.


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I’m Official!

I’d been itching to get back out on my bike since we got back from holiday so I braved the cold weather on Saturday morning and went for a short, 20 mile ride. It was an absolutely stunning morning, the neck tube/winter cap/toe covers kept the biting cold at bay and even a road closed sign couldn’t dampen my enjoyment at being back out on the bike.


First outing this year for the Oakley’s! Needed!

I went out on my usual route and I’m glad that I did because it looks as though the ‘Beast From The East’ may scupper rides for the near future. Snow arrived today and more is forecast so I better get that Zwift setup right again!

I received an email today confirming my charity place on the Prudential Ride London 100 so it is now official! No going back! No wimping out!


I’d better start increasing the mileage and getting serious about completing this mammoth challenge.

……in the meantime, while it snows, I’ll sit and look at new bikes on the internet!


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Antigua Break Sans Bike

I’ve always been very fortunate to have decent holidays and this February half term is no different. 10 of us, my family and my in laws, have jetted off to Jolly Beach in Antigua for some much needed sunshine. You may think that may be a good excuse to let up a bit but I’m not going to let that happen, as the pic below shows I made use of the hotel’s gym facilities this morning!

Following that I thought about going for a walk to warm down a bit, so I headed down the beach towards the marina.

It was a lovely walk, Antigua had some amazing scenery with small to large boats coming from everywhere to enjoy the overwhelming beauty of the island. What I hadn’t really expected was a real yearning for my bike, but I found some roads that rose out of the sea like monsters. Paths heading to the top of steep hills where large houses were built to enjoy every last ounce of the wondrous view of the Caribbean sea and it’s brilliant blue waters. I would’ve loved to have a bike with me to have a crack at the below but instead I had to walk up it. The breeze across the island would’ve prevented it from being a sweat fest but I’m sure I’d have got close to using all available gears!

As with everything, what goes up must come down and the descent would’ve been equally thrilling, the harbour hurtling towards you promising a refreshing dip in the sea at the end

I think I’ll check out Strava when I get home to have a look at the gradients involved but these were certainly punchy climbs that would’ve required a sizeable effort. Maybe one day I’ll return with a bike!


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Kit Doping 2018

Much is always made of the pro team kits when they are released for the new season. For sure, there are some absolute horrors that keep occurring (AG2R La Mondiale I’m looking at you!) but there are some good ones too (I really like the new EF Education First Drapac and Movistar 2018 kits)

Fortunately (I think), I’m not a pro tour rider so I don’t worry about which horrendous, over sponsored kit I have to wear on a daily basis! The downside is that I don’t have the cash to kit myself out in the frequently overpriced brands like Castelli, Assos and Rapha and anyway most of those aren’t exactly made for someone of my shape! I have, however, found a few brands that deliver on both quality and price and have designs to suit every cyclist from the classic to the extroverted. Here are my favourites:

Fat Lad At The Back – www.fatladattheback.com

It’s not just a clever name, they really do produce gear for lads (and lasses) that is more accommodating for people of a slightly larger shape, not the svelte whippets with 0% body fat! Made for people with between a 36″ and 52″ chest, I found them perfect when I took up cycling again as they afforded me the room to move and breathe. There’s some great, fun designs alongside some with more classic stylings

Both Adam and I are massive fans of this British brand and their attitude to getting people of all shapes and sizes back into the enjoyment of riding a bike.

Stolen Goat – www.stolengoat.com

Possibly my favourite cycling kit brand ever. A big statement but they have super cool designs to suit every taste from classic to quirky and they’re at the forefront of kit doping in my book. I started wearing their gear when I’d started losing a few pounds but their Bodyline series is still pretty accommodating.


I love my Stolen Goat Flandrien Fighter jersey, one of several that I own

I received an email for a sneak peak to their Spring/Summer 2018 range this week and it looks as though my bank balance is going to take another hammering! They have some great new products and can kit you out from head to toe at a very reasonable price. You can be sure of quality and comfort from another British brand


A selection of the new Stolen Goat Spring/Summer 2018 jerseys

Chapeau! – www.chapeau.cc

Despite the French name this is another British brand, but it does carry all of the coolness that you would expect of a Gallic brand. Avid cycling fans will know that a shout of “Chapeau!” is an indication of respect for a cyclist’s effort or achievement and the brand use this to create their ranges for ‘The first timers, the cafe riders, club racers and dedicated trainers’. Their style is simple, minimal but ultra cool and effective. My favourite pieces are the club jerseys, of which I own a couple, because they have a great fit and are extremely good summer jerseys but all of their lines carry the same quality led production


Me donning my Chapeau! black club jersey at the Evans Ride It Woking in 2017

So, there you have it. My three favourite cycling kit brands and it feels great to say that all of them are British, showing that cycling and cycling culture is alive and well in the lanes and B roads of GB. If you need new kit check them out, I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed


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Things I’ve Learnt Through Cycling

I’ve learnt a lot since taking up cycling. I’ve learnt a lot about the mechanics of a bike, I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of the cake stop, I’ve learnt a lot about the camaraderie between complete strangers that cycling facilitates and I’ve learnt a lot about myself and how far I can push this knackered old carcass. If I had to pick my top 3 things that I’ve learnt, they would be as follows

  1. Though a physical pursuit, mental strength can push you to heights you never thought possible
  2. Adam snores – a lot!
  3. Don’t ride when you’re ill.

The third one on that list is what brings me to this post as, a while back, I learnt this the hard way. I’d been suffering all week with a bog standard cold, not enough to keep me off work but enough for it to be incredibly annoying. The weekend was heralded by a glorious, sunny morning and I was feeling better so I decided to make the most of it and headed out on my bike. There is a Strava segment that I mention a lot (you’ll notice), not 3 miles from my house, called ‘Nasty Little Rise’ which, as the name suggests, is enough to get the heart and legs pumping nicely. On that particular day that segment took every ounce of energy out of my body, at the top of the rise I had to dismount and sit down because I was fearing the dreaded ‘bonk’. I’d started to feel a bit feint and not at all right so I turned tail and headed back home. Lesson learnt – don’t ride when you’re ill.

This week I’ve been ill. A similar situation to the above with an annoying cold that has gone round the office laying waste to even the hardiest of souls. Remembering my previous mistake I shelved my plans for a Saturday ride in favour of a turbo session in the shed (it rained anyway so I didn’t feel so bad). I’ve got the setup just about right now


The turbo trainer set up in my shed

I have the Tacx Flow T2240 Smart trainer (which I bought for £200 from Halfords) linked up to Zwift on my Macbook via a Wahoo Blue SC speed and cadence sensor. I also bought the Wahoo Tickr heart rate monitor, mostly through curiosity rather than knowing what to do with the data! All I need now is a floor standing fan to keep me cool as it gets warm in that little shed, whatever the weather outside!

I did a 10 mile warm up, about half an hour, on the Watopia flat route as I wasn’t sure how I’d manage but I felt ok so I was pleased. I then did a few intervals to try and really blow the cold away. I managed a few, 4 minutes average speed then 30 seconds full gas, so in the circumstances I considered that a triumph!


Hopefully I can get rid of the cold so I can get out on my bike before we go away on holiday on Thursday!


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It’s The Best Time To Buy…

Worn through your tyres on the turbo trainer over winter? Convinced yourself that it is the bike rather than the extra pounds acquired over Christmas that are making the hills more difficult? Looking for that extra motivation to complete a 100, the Étape or just your first Sportive? Well, the great news is that this seems to be the perfect time to buy a new bicycle!

Manufacturers tempt all cyclists out of the Winter hibernation by showing them pictures of shiny new bikes, drawing lustful looks and an inadvertent collection of appreciative noises. Pictures are passed around and drooled over at cake stops, finances are recalculated and specs are pored over and compared.

Its that last point that brings me to my title, it really is the best time to buy a bike. For all of the glossy marketing and new paint jobs, the manufacturers need somewhere for these bikes to go and that means the retailers clearing out the previous year’s models. For those of you with more money than you know what to do with, stop reading now. For those who like a bit of extra bang for their buck, keep reading. Usually there is very little difference between models year on year, sometimes a newer version of a groupset and/or a new paint job is all that separates them, but the prices are wildly different.

The below shows the differences between the Cannondale Supersix Evo Ultegra Disc road bike, with 2017 on the left and 2018 on the right

Supersix Comparison

I apologise for the small print within the image but, in essence, the only real differences between them are the paintwork, the updated R8020 disc brakes and the inclusion of the new, updated Ultegra R8000 groupset. The R8000 benefits from the ideas and design behind Dura Ace and can accommodate a 34 tooth sprocket but the 6800 is still an excellent option that will suit most casual cyclists, certainly those upgrading from Shimano’s 105 range. The real difference is in the price, the new model carries a RRP of £2,699 but after shopping around I have found examples of the 2017 model for £1,649, some £1,050 cheaper! For the differences in play I know which model I would go for.

So there it is, go and buy a new bike but shop around and don’t be afraid of last year’s model! Remember, as the old saying goes…..

The correct number of bikes to own is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned

Happy trails!


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After The Rains….

I followed up my first ride of 2018 with another one the weekend after. In my experience it’s foolish to try to go too far too soon so I kept the distance to a relatively short 20 miles on roads that I knew well. I’m very conscious that I’ve done little since October so this seems like the best strategy!


Though it may be cold, sometimes wet and often dark, I love riding in the winter months. I find it refreshing for the soul and quite often the low sun that appears casts a completely different light over roads and scenery that passes me by in the summer months. I also like to see the other cyclists that have emerged from turbo trainers in sheds across the county as the nods of appreciation somehow mean more, a ‘well done’ for getting out in the cold and getting back on the roads.

……..all that said the following weekend was appalling, torrential rain so there was no way I was venturing out, however appreciative the nods may have been. I retreated to my turbo for an SST session through Watopia and, by the sheer numbers flying past me, I don’t think I was the only one!

We’d had a fair bit of rain during the last week but I was determined to get out yesterday. I’d planned to keep the distance fairly similar, around 20 odd miles, but the route I’d chosen had far more lumps in it so I knew it would test my legs. I’m going with quality over quantity at the moment!

It turned out to be a beautiful morning round the Surrey/Kent lanes. I drifted easily up to Tatsfield as the sun started to shine over the North Downs, with only the ‘Nasty Little Rise’ Strava segment providing any real resistance. I headed towards the village of Downe, using the lanes to bypass Cudham and Biggin Hill, passing a lot of cyclists on my way, most of them responding to a cheery hello and a wave. At Downe I turned left, descending the delightfully titled Jackass Lane, before turning back towards home at Nash and then on towards Featherbed Lane via the equally delightful North Pole Lane. I finished with my usual climb up Addington Road to Selsdon and then Sanderstead roundabout.


The lanes were lovely and quiet apart from the odd car and the whirr of bicycle wheels, but the previous week’s rain had washed some gravel and mud onto the edges and the centre of the tarmac so it was incredibly important to be attentive, particularly on the downhills at speed. As you can see from the video below, taken between Park Road and The White Bear at Fickleshole, there was a fair bit of debris that pushed me further towards the centre of the road

I know I have a great deal of work to do before July but I’m feeling fairly confident. I’ve been going to the gym twice a week, mixing strength work (squats, leg raises, hamstring curls) with cardio (rowing machine is my favourite!), I’ve been challenging myself to drink more water and I have been keeping a food diary recently which is helping me to regulate what I eat and it’s keeping me honest!

The best thing is that I’ve enjoyed being back on my bike so I know that I’ll be happy and motivated when the longer distances come around. I’ve signed up for a couple of sportives to ensure that I’m hitting targets along the way, both are rides that I’ve done before but the longer versions!

Pearson Brighton & Back Sportive – 144km route including the infamous Ditchling Beacon climb

Evans Ride It Woking – 136km route around the Surrey and Hampshire countryside

The weather looks good for next weekend so I hope to push that distance a little further still and continue my progression. Till then I will busy myself with cleaning the current bike and looking at pictures of potential next bikes!


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