If You Can’t Beat Them……

I’ve long eschewed the Rapha brand. My reasons for this were very basic; 1) It was too expensive for me 2) Every cyclist that has ever looked down their nose at me has been dressed head to toe in the brand and 3) I once tried one of their jerseys on in the Soho shop and I looked like a bucket of blancmange in a bin bag.

00000IMG_00000_BURST20190707112428732_COVER

I’d wanted to buy a decent set of bib shorts for some time but I couldn’t bring myself to spend the kind of money on the brands that were suggested in every ‘best bib shorts’ write up. Assos, Le Col, Endura and Castelli all featured as highly as their prices

The difference for Rapha was the introduction of their ‘Core’ range in April. The bibs have reviewed brilliantly since then and, at £85, they were a price that I could stretch to. I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

I wore the bibs on our first outing in Stockholm, a very hot 80km ride so not mega long but enough to get a feel for how they were going to perform. I didn’t have any of the irritations of cheaper bibs, I didn’t have to adjust myself as much and I felt extremely comfortable for the whole ride. If you’re looking for a set of bibs that are a bit of an upgrade but won’t break the bank, then the Rapha Core bibs are definitely for you!

IAIN

Svenska Cykel

Last Friday I set off for Stockholm with my friends Ben and Cameron to see another one of our friends, Rob, who has lived out there for over 10 years. We’d planned this as a cycling holiday, using Rob’s house as a base, but I’d never travelled with a bike box before so I was a little apprehensive and intrigued as to how this would work out!

We hired 3 Bike Box Alan bike boxes from a local company, GoBikeGo, for a very reasonable price of £6 per day with a deposit of £100 to cover any damages. I’d never packed a bike box before but found it relatively straightforward after watching a couple of videos on YouTube, particularly this GCN one.

The airport procedure was a lot smoother than I expected too. After checking in at the automated machines we were ushered down to the oversize baggage belt where a helpful gentleman took both our luggage and the bike boxes for us (top tip – if traveling with a bike box use a back pack or a bag with straps as they’ll take those through oversize baggage too!). All safely arrived intact at the other end (albeit in completely different areas of the baggage reclaim) so we made our way to Rob’s to put the bikes back together.

Rob had planned three rides for us on varying routes around the area south of Stockholm. Day 3 was to be reserved for a slightly lighter ride, with some island hopping and ferry travel mixed in

Day 1 – 80km

strava3504500118122570689

The first route took us south out of the suburbs into the Swedish countryside. It became apparent fairly early on that the terrain was going to be much like that of Northern France, rolling roads with very little freewheeling or totally flat roads. The going was fairly tough due to a combination of a stiff breeze, a warm sun and several alcoholic beverages the day before. I don’t drink a lot these days so it seemed to affect me more than the others, plus I was wishing I hadn’t bothered with a base layer by 10 miles in! We headed, stopping only to answer the call of nature, through a town called Västerhaninge down to the coast at Årsta havsbad where we stopped for lunch at a hot dog stall by the ferry port, it did a mean Bratwurst!

After a nice lunch break we made our way back into Stockholm itself and rewarded ourselves with a beer at a place called the Thai Boat

IMG_20190629_162851_953

The lady at the Thai Boat wasn’t particularly accommodating of our cyclist ways, denying us a table where we could keep watch over the bikes, but we stayed for one before heading back to Rob’s.

Day 2 – 111km

strava4125844114224012711

On day 2 I felt a bit better! I’d managed my alcohol intake the previous evening, ditched the base layer and slept a lot better overall. We headed out along the same route as day 1 but instead of continuing south to the cost at Västerhaninge, we headed South West and stopped at what Rob told us was a castle called Häringe Slott. It looked more like a manor house to me…..

We continued on to a small place called Spångbro, 60km in, where the Co-Op provided lunchtime provisions, consumed in the shade of a large tree on the grounds of a beautiful white Lutheran church at Sorunda

Rob had promised us two things on the way back: a) a 3km stretch of ‘gravel’ road that was a little bit ‘bumpy’ and b) a beer by one of the many lakes in Sweden. Ignoring the first bit in favour of the second bit, we saddled up and got on our way. The ‘gravel sector’, as it had become known, was a bit of a challenge as there were quite a few dips in the road that looked like asteroids had crashed into it. Amazingly, we all came out of it unscathed! The other side of that section wasn’t so bad, more like loose road chippings

From there, we continued up to a lake at Sundby Gård where we stopped for a well earned refreshment or two. I could post a lot of pictures of lakes around Stockholm as there’s lots to choose from, but they all look the same so here’s one!

PANO_20190630_162519.vr

The lakes were clear and a mecca for the locals on a warm weekend such as the one we experienced. We eschewed the chance of a dip in favour of a couple of beers in the cafe overlooking this beautiful spot

From here it was only an 18km roll home so we took it easy and made our way back to Rob’s. It was in this part, not the awful gravelly bit, where the only puncture of the weekend occurred and obviously it was going to be me! After a year and a bit of rolling on tubeless tyres I hadn’t changed a puncture in ages so it took a little longer than expected! That done we finished the final 5km.

Day 3 – 75km

strava741139764430533185

Day 3 was going to be my favourite day. Since planning the trip I’d wanted to go and see at least one of the many islands that makes up the archipelago around the coast to the east of Stockholm and it didn’t disappoint.

We headed south again to a small coastal town called Dalarö

Dalaro

We parked up, bought some refreshments in the local shop and found ourselves a spot to sit while we waited for the ferry to take us to Ornö, one of the largest islands in the area

Nothing quite like a Fanta Lemon and some wine gums to replenish the sugar reserves.

Ornö was a beautiful island. Good roads, hardly any traffic at all and a gentle breeze that refreshed you as you pedalled on. We cycled from one side of the island to the other, about 10km all in all, then took a breather on the dock of the bay

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We’d planned to take a different ferry back to the mainland, one that docked a bit closer to home to reduce the ride at the other end, so we had some time to kill. We decided to visit the remains of a fort at Sundby Ornö

It was there where the weather decided to make a non forecasted intervention. As we left the fort to head to the ferry port it absolutely tipped it down with rain, we arrived drenched and bedraggled. Fortunately, the kind cafe at the port provided blankets and beer so we passed a couple of hours drying out and drinking. It was about an hour in when we considered we should eat too.

IMG-20190701-WA0039

We’d just about dried out when the ferry came. I’m not going to describe it, I’m going to let the pictures do the talking as it was a stunning ride back to the mainland (with more beer)

I’ve never been drunk in charge of a bicycle before but those last 20km back after we disembarked were the hardest (and funniest) km’s that I have ever ridden.

We packed up the boxes and returned home the next day. A brilliant trip, I can heartily recommend taking in the Swedish countryside in summer as it is a beautiful place. All in all we managed about 265km over the course of the three days which was very achievable given the terrain. We flew from Gatwick to Arlanda with Norwegian Air who were great, cost was about £250pp for a return flight with a 20kg checked bag and a bike box.

MVIMG_20190628_134744.jpg
The Bike Box Alan Was Sturdy And Arrived Safe & Sound

I would definitely go back to Sweden with a bike again. I would like to stay in one of the more rural holiday homes that we saw and explore the archipelago a bit more as that was stunning. Now it’s back to training for the Ride London, under a month to go!

IAIN

Bike Shed Essentials

The lead image is my bike shed. There are many like it but this one is mine as the famous movie quote goes. An ever growing obsession with the sport has led to an accumulation of stuff over time from the metal signs on the doors and spare parts to the cleaning equipment that inhabits many sheds across the land.

The reason for this post is that I’ve come to realise that there are five things that every bike shed needs. There are, obviously, lots of tools and potions that are available for burgeoning obsessives like myself but I’ve found these to be the most consistently useful.

1. Workshop Bike Stand – Aldi £24.99

Bikemate-Bike-Assembly-Stand-A

I got this exact one from Aldi for £25 when they first started exploring cycling events and it is still one of the best purchases I have ever made. The clamp is firm and holds the bike perfectly in position by the seat post, my bike has a top tube shape that makes it incompatible that way. I use this every single time I clean or do anything to my bike.

2. Pipecleaners – Amazon £7.85 (360)

Do what now? Pipecleaners? Why?

91g2Miony5L._SL1500_.jpg

Well, what’s the point of using your chain cleaner made out of two toothbrushes if your cassette is filthy? A cassette can look sparkling to the naked eye but in between the cogs lurks all kinds of dirt and grime. Sit with your wheel in front of you, cassette pointing away, then run a pipecleaner in between each cog, using the action of the freehub to get it spotlessly clean. (There are also thicker pipecleaners that you can use on the crankset too!)

3. Bontrager 5nm Torque Wrench – J E James £9.99

s-l300

Quite simply your go to tool for making sure that everything on your bike is tightened to the correct level. Most bolts (seatpost, stem, bars etc) are 5nm and this Bontrager wrench is brilliant. Fits nicely in the hand with satisfying click as you get to 5nm

4. X-Tools Allen Key Twin Head Ball End – Wiggle £2.99 Each

X-Tools-Allen-Key-TwinHead-Ball-End-Internal-Black-Silver-NotSet-XTLSALNKYTWNHDBALENDBLUE2

Everybody should have these. Don’t rely on a multitool for your allen key needs while working out of your shed, these will make your life SOOOOOO much easier. The long, ball end side of the tool is excellent for reaching hard to reach bolts (bottle cages!) while the handle itself offers a significantly better grip for leverage against stubborn bolts. I’d recommend 3mm, 4mm and 5mm versions as these will cover the majority of bolts on your bike.

5. Cut Water Bottles – THE BACK OF YOUR CUPBOARD!

Outdoor Sports Bicycle bottles SHIMAN ELITE Top Plastic water bottle Cycling bottles Cups Agua Bicicleta original al-H3VF2JPL_741x550

If, like me, you have a habit of collecting bidons from seemingly everywhere then this is a great way to use the old ones, especially rather rubbish promotional ones that get sent your way. Simple cut them in half and use the bottom half for a variety of tasks, from brush and tool storage to a receptacle for soaking that dirty chain in degreaser. Old bidons are cheap and extremely useful!

As I said at the top of the post there are so many tools and potions and accessories that you could buy to fill up that bike shed but these are the 5 things that I use a lot, certainly the pipecleaners and the cut bidons could be something that you’ve not heard of before. Let me know your must have bike shed essentials……

IAIN

Another Year Older…

Yesterday I turned 42. It’s not a number that is celebrated outside of fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy but I was determined, as with most previous birthdays, to get out on my bike and prove to myself that 42 is really quite an insignificant number.

As the Ride London is inching ever closer I had planned a route that would take in both the climbs of Leith Hill and Box Hill and these would come after 70km of cycling so I could get a really good idea of where I am in my preparations. I was a bit concerned about this as by this time last year I had already completed the 160km Pearson Cycles London to Brighton & Back.

I had a good feeling in the legs when I set off, the sun was shining and there were no sign of any arm or leg warmers at all! My good mood was dampened (literally) at the bottom of Titsey Hill where some kind of river had appeared across the road, leaving me with two soggy feet that got colder the quicker I went! Thankfully they dried out fairly quickly and I could get back to enjoying my ride. It was a stunningly beautiful Thursday, light on traffic and everyone I encountered seemed to be in good spirits – perhaps the promise of a Bank Holiday weekend had something to do with that.

One thing I did notice massively was a small change that I had made to the cockpit of my bike. I’d previously felt that my position was wrong, that I was reaching a bit and perhaps the setup was too aggressive for my size (and shape!). Earlier in the week I had swapped out the stock 100mm stem that came with my bike for a 90mm Deda one (shown below)

IMG_20190523_135002_022.jpg
My New Deda Zero 2 90mm Stem & Lizard Skins Bar Tape

The difference was unbelievable, my riding position felt much more comfortable and I felt like my power transfer had increased as a result. All from shortening the stem by 10mm. If you are having similar feelings then I can definitely recommend trying a shorter stem. The bike’s handling did feel a bit more ‘twitchy’ but, once I had got used to the difference, I was back to descending and cornering at my usual speeds. With good legs and a new level of comfort in my bike position I pushed on through the lanes of Kent, Sussex and Surrey to the base of Leith Hill, a place that most cyclists hold with a certain reverence.

It’s not the toughest of climbs by a long shot but it’s also not the easiest in the area, if anything I find the (more popular) Box Hill a lot easier than this. The climb itself is 2km long with an average gradient of 6.7%, but there’s not much rhythm to be found as it pitches and rolls it’s way to the top with gradients of up to 14.5% in places.

leith hill.png

I’ve only climbed Leith Hill a handful of times, it’s location isn’t that convenient for me, but I felt good enough to give it a good crack yesterday and I was rewarded with a PR on Strava, knocking 18 seconds off my previous best time. I may be 5 minutes behind the current KOM holder but I was happy with that, next challenge is a sub 10 minute attempt!

The descent from Leith Hill is as I remember it, still quite sketchy in places due to the reduced visibility from the tree cover and a fairly uneven road surface! I drafted two cars down to the A25 and headed to Box Hill.

Box Hill was lovely and peaceful, a far cry from what it will be this weekend when scores of cyclists will descend (or ascend) on one of the most popular Strava segments. I think I may have had a PR here too if it wasn’t for getting caught up behind a slower cyclist while cars overtook around the second hairpin. The view from the top, as always on a sunny day, was stunning – it is one of my favourite places in the world.

PANO_20190523_140149.vr

I rewarded myself with a birthday bakewell slice from the cafe and refilled my bottles, before heading off on the 35km or so to home.

A brilliant day out that also, as it turns out, included a cup on Strava for placing 9th on the all time list for the Tistey Tuck segment – never had one of those before and it was out of eleven thousand people! I’ll leave it here for posterity!

Screenshot 2019-05-24 at 10.07.03.png

I think, if I keep going on the same trajectory, I will be in a really good place come the Ride 100. I feel more confident, the changes I’ve made to the bike have really worked and I’m looking forward to it

00100sPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190523101516313_COVER.jpg

Enjoy the good weather and wherever the roads take you!

IAIN

Upgrading Old Faithful

One of the by-products of buying a set of new wheels is that you end up with a set of wheels that suddenly aren’t doing very much. I had this very scenario, with a decent set of DT Swiss wheels from my Specialized so I decided to put them on my old Felt bike (which I am intending to take to Sweden). I cleaned the cassette, swapped it over and (after a few days waiting for some brand new disc rotors) I set about putting them on my bike. Well, all I can say is that it was more taxing than I thought! After much pissing about with shims and fiddling with the position of disc calipers, I finally managed to get them running true without any disc brake rub. Score!

My other ‘project’ for this bike was to change the handlebars. When I had the original bike fit on the Felt the guy had changed the bars for a 40cm wide set but I wanted to change back to a 42cm as the 40cm felt like it prevented my chest from opening out and restricted my breathing a bit.

I ordered a set of Zipp Service Course bars and some new Deda bar tape. I’ve NEVER attempted this before so I studied the GCN YouTube channel several times before starting out

I do find that the GCN channel has a wealth of useful content for ‘shed mechanics’ such as myself, the Park Tool channel also has some useful stuff so do give them a search if you’re not sure of how to approach a certain task

I followed the handlebar taping video as closely as I could, starting with the removal of the old tape, the old bars and putting the new bars on

I was a bit apprehensive about taking on this task but, using the video and taking my time, it was a lot like putting a new grip on a badminton racket apart from the obvious obstacle of the brake hoods! I did unwind and rewind the tape a few times to try and get as good a finish as I could and I’m pretty pleased with the results!

Ok, so it’s not the most difficult of tasks and the finish isn’t perfect but I’m really happy with the result! It’s another thing that I can tick off the list of things I know how to do to my bike and next time I do it the result will be better.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With the new tape and the ‘new’ wheels the old steed is looking good for Stockholm and should still be able to turn a few heads!

IAIN

A Sunday In Hell

This past weekend Adam and I travelled to Northern France to witness, first hand, probably the toughest one day bike race in the pro calendar, Paris-Roubaix or L’Enfer Du Nord (The Hell of the North) as it is reverently known by cycling fans. It is a race that starts in Compiègne (some 85km outside of Paris) and heads north, through 257km of French countryside, culminating in a sprint finish after a one and a half lap circuit of the famous Vélodrome André-Pétrieux in Roubaix. If 257km is not enough to test the riders, there are 29 cobbled ‘secteurs’ of varying degrees of length and difficulty to contend with and it is these that quite often prove the undoing of both man and machine.

Paris Roubaix Route

It is a race that has driven the most famous cyclists of all time to despair and ruin, spawning legendary soundbites as broken men slump on the grass in the velodrome

“Paris-Roubaix is bullshit” – Bernard Hinault

“Paris-Roubaix is a horrible race to ride, but the most beautiful one to win” – Sean Kelly

The images are no different, perhaps the most iconic and certainly my favourite is of a muddied and battered Greg LeMond sitting in the Roubaix showers after finishing 55th in the 1991 edition of the race. Still in his Z Vetements kit, LeMond sits broken in the showers with a can of Coca-Cola and a ham and cheese baguette as he tries to breathe some life into his aching bones

lemond
Greg LeMond after the 1991 edition of Paris-Roubaix

The above image was taken by Klaas Jan van der Weij and won the World Press Photo Of The Year (Sports Category) that year.

We wanted to take in as much of the race weekend as we possibly could so we decided to make our base in an AirBnB in Valenciennes. It’s a small, quiet place but it is circa 10km away from the Trouée d’Arenberg (where we wanted to watch the race), 135km from Compiègne and 75km from Roubaix so it is fairly central to the race route. On our way to the accommodation on Friday we decided to pop into Arenberg to have a look around pre-race and we were glad we did, catching the Trek, FDJ and Bahrain Merida teams out doing their recon rides

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Arenberg is one of the ***** secteurs of pavé on the route and it is iconic for both its location and its difficulty. The great Eddy Merckx once said of Arenberg:

This isn’t where you win Paris-Roubaix but it’s where you can lose it”

We walked the whole of the 2.3km length of the trench, taking in the absurdity of riding over the bricks (cobbles is too soft a word) that formed the path through the forest. There were plenty of amateurs out testing themselves on the pavé as we walked, from a variety of nations, all marvelling at being in one of the greatest sporting locations on earth.

On Saturday we travelled down to Compiègne for the team presentations and to soak up some more pre-race atmosphere. A top tip here is to stand behind the stage as this is where the team buses pull up, allowing you a chance to glimpse a close up or even a photo of your favourite rider. I had a special reason for going as I had arranged to go and say hello to my cycling game rider, Mike Teunissen

IMG_20190413_155002.jpg
Mike Teunissen rides for the Jumbo-Visma team and would go on to finish 7th in Roubaix

I was delighted to get a few minutes with Mike, he was a lovely guy so it was good to be able to chat with him and offer our best wishes for the race. Mike would go on to finish 7th (which is no mean feat), improving on his 11th place from 2018. He will continue to get better results, this is his race and it suits his style.

On race day we positioned ourselves in the Arenberg Trench, having parked about a kilometre away so we could make a quick(ish) getaway. We got there about 11am, four hours before the race was scheduled to go through, but we soon realised that you could turn up any time up to 1:30pm and still get a decent viewing spot. Parking, however, seemed a different matter.

MVIMG_20190414_115620

The arrival of the race was signalled by the appearance overhead of the helicopters at a bout 2:50pm and, a few minutes later a stream of professional cyclists thundered over the cobbles in front of us, their faces contorted as they tried to deal with the vibrations and bumps while concentrating on a safe passage over the pavé. It was a truly amazing spectacle, lasting no longer than a couple of minutes, but something that I will remember for ever

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the riders had stormed through the trench we hot footed it to the car and set off for Roubaix with the intention of getting into the Velodrome for the finish. We made good time and managed to park about a mile away, in plenty of time to see the final 40km of the race unfold on the big screen and the sprint to the line. We positioned ourselves on the hill at the corner of the finishing straight with some slightly drunk but very amiable Belgians and there we watched Gilbert beat Politt in 2 up sprint to take his 4th monument, a phenomenal achievement.

It was a fantastic end to a brilliant weekend and I’m delighted we managed to make the velodrome as well as the Arenberg Forest. Adam and I have resolved to do this again sometime (maybe at a different race), just got to plan it out!

At the end of it all, when any bike race is done, there’s only one thing to do……

IMG_20190414_173756

IAIN

New Wheels Day!

In all the reviews I read in magazines or watch online, there is usually one common theme – upgrading stock wheels will make a huge difference to the overall performance of the bike.

My Hunt Bike Wheels order arrived this week and I was very excited….

I’m not the most confident of bike mechanics (I’ve often thought of doing a course in it but they aren’t very common) so I made a point of watching a few YouTube videos to help me, as well as ordering some new tools (which always makes me feel instantly more knowledgeable!). I knew that I had to complete the following:

  1. Move the disc brakes from the old wheels to the new
  2. Move the cassette from the old back wheel to the new

As a result of the above, the toolbox swelled with the purchase of a Shimano Cassette Lockring Tool, an X-Tools Chain Whip and a Lifeline Chain Keeper (which I had meant to purchase for a little while). I also thought it would be a bit of bad form to adorn a new set of wheels with a dirty old cassette so I ordered a new Shimano Ultegra R8000 11-28T Cassette!

Even with the new tools and the multiple views of the YouTube videos, I was still a little apprehensive of hooking up the new wheels mainly due to the transfer of the disc brakes and ensuring everything was secured properly. I needn’t have worried, save for a slight altercation with a rogue elastic spacer that prevented the cassette from moving freely (meaning the chain whip came in handy), the transfer of the disc brakes and the installation of the new cassette went very smoothly.

My Specialized Tarmac Expert Disc now sit on top a pair of Hunt 30 Carbon Aero Disc wheels and very nice they are too.

I maintain that one of the greatest noises in the world is the sound of a well made hub and freewheel and the Hunt wheels do not disappoint!

Ooh, that’s great isn’t it!

Well I would have gone for a ride to test them out but 1. it rained 2. my wife is ill so I had the kids to look after and 3. I’m ill too! Doubt I’ll get to test them out before we leave for Roubaix!

IAIN