It’s been over a month since I wrote on this blog but a lot has happened in that time and we are hurtling towards our very own D-Day
Firstly, Adam and I (plus my future brother in law Ash and my friends Ben & Jenny) completed the Pearson London to Brighton run. Ben is training for L’Etape Du Tour which will see him climb the Col d’Izoard at the end of brutal Alps Tour stage so he and Ash did the reverse journey too, but getting up and over Ditchling Beacon was enough for me and Adam!
Secondly, I turned 40 on the 23rd May. I decided that this milestone should be celebrated with another milestone so I took the day off work and challenged myself to cycle up Box Hill. I made sure that I took it fairly steady as I wanted to reach the top (plus I did stop to take a photo on the Zig Zag Road) so I completed the hill in twelve and a half minutes which I was pretty happy about.
On the way home I punctured and, while changing the inner tube at a BP garage, I got to thinking that I could definitely do Box Hill quicker so I made a plan to revisit it on the following Sunday. The second attempt was much easier and I knocked nearly four minutes off my previous time, I was delighted to do it in under nine minutes!
Last week Ash, Ben and I took part in the Evans Cycles Ride It Woking Sportive. Ash and Ben took on the 90 mile course while I settled for the middle distance 60 miles. It was a lovely route, not too hilly but a couple of punchy bits and the weather was kind to us. I was impressed by the set up of the event, the food stations were well stocked and had lots of variety, parking and registration was painless and the route (in the main) was well signposted. I completed my 60 miles in 4 hours and 21 minutes (including stops). My only annoyance was missing out on a ‘Gold’ average speed of 14mph, coming in at 13.4mph. I didn’t need the second feed stop really (10 miles from the end) and then I took a wrong turn, I’m sure I would’ve been over 14mph if I hadn’t hae done those two things!
With little over a month to go I knew that I needed to step up my efforts and my distance so, on Saturday, I devised a route that would see me complete my first 100km ride. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and the route was great but the windy conditions and the 5,725ft of climbing made it really challenging. The attempt on Toys Hill, 60 miles in, was particularly difficult and I had to stop a couple of times. However, climb and you shall be rewarded – the views over Ashdown Forest were amazing
I completed 71.2 miles (114km) in a total time of 6 hours and 13 minutes which would’ve been a bit quicker in less blustery condiditions, but I was really pleased with myself that I completed the 100km.
In a couple of weeks time Adam and I are taking on a different cycling experience. For our birthdays, our better halves have bought us a taster session on track bikes at the Lea Valley VeloPark – I am both excited and apprehensive in equal measure! The thought of a bike with no brakes isn’t exactly normal!
After that it will be all systems go for Paris
I’d been told by various people that a professional bike fit was a very worthwhile exercise so, with a long distance in the saddle on the horizon, I decided to book myself in for one. My hope was that the adjustments made would not only improve my comfort on the bike, but also the efficiency of my output to make sure I got every last bit of power that I was generating.
I think, as with most things, it is best for your own peace of mind that you go somewhere that you are familiar with and that you trust. I made my appointment at Pearson Cycles in Sutton as they have been in business for over 150 years, plus I used to go there a lot as a kid and I trust their knowledge and expertise. Their ‘on the bike fit’ costs £125 (£25 deposit payable in advance) and lasts for around one and a half hours, though the cost may rise if you purchase components that they recommend to improve your fit. It is worth noting that, should you buy those components at the time, they will be fitted free of workshop costs so it is worth considering.
The process itself starts a mini interview so that the fitter can understand what your goals are (endurance, racing etc) and also take your measurements. As I found out, this wasn’t just a case of the fitter measuring your inside leg, they want to understand your flexibility through measuring leg raise and hip flexion as well as the width of your seat bones for saddle purposes and other pertinent info. Foot measurements, including arch heights, were taken so that the fitter could position the cleats correctly and ascertain whether wedges or insoles were required. It was a much more detailed process than I had expected but I was intrigued by the science and eager to find out what the final result would be.
After the cleat placement it was onto the bike, hooked up to a turbo trainer. Gustavo, my fitter, got me to pedal as I would normally while he observed and stuck a few stickers on me. Upon questioning, Gustavo told me that he had to qualify to become a bike fitter by completing a 10 day course and then it took completing at least 50 fits before he was able to identify issues almost straight away with the naked eye. Gustavo took some measurements, asked me a few questions about how I felt and then got to work adjusting my bike
From my untrained eye my bike looked perfectly fine but here’s a list!
At least my frame size was the right one!
There were things that I could never have fixed with the original factory components, for example the setback seatpost supplied would not allow the saddle to move far enough forward for me and the 42cm bars were too wide for my shoulders. I wanted to be in the best position that I could so I agreed to making all of the changes that Gustavo had recommended except for the crank size change which he said wasn’t necessary. It is worth mentioning again that it is likely that you will have to buy parts because factory made bikes are made with a one size fits all approach and it is incredibly unlikely you’ll match that spec, so take extra cash or a credit card with you. I sat and watched as Gustavo changed my seatpost, stem and handlebars, pausing at several points to get me on the trainer to check his measurements and the positioning.
The final result was amazing and that is not an exaggeration, it felt completely different to sit on let alone ride. My considerable mass was now over the bottom bracket and the shorter stem and narrower bars made my cycling position more compact. I noticed that my arms were no longer prone to locking at the elbow, something that Gustavo told me had been changed by the correct positioning of the seat, stem and bars. I was extremely happy with the result so I paid up, bid Gustavo farewell and set off on my ride home. It was during that ride that I could really sense the difference as my effort seemed to be rewarded with more response from the bike, I hate to think how much energy I wasted with the old bike fit.
This morning I went out and completed a 30 mile route around Surrey. I noticed a benefit in climbing (probably through the power transfer improving) but mostly that the ache I used to get through my shoulders was completely gone, all through handlebars that were 2cm narrower.
If you have bought a decent bike off the peg online and are planning to do a lot of cycling it is a very worthwhile exercise to get a proper fit done. I enjoyed the experience and learnt a lot about myself as well as the setup of a bike. Everyone should get a Cycle Fit report (as per the picture) as part of the process so any future bike purchased can be set up exactly to your specification without the need for another fitting.
Recently, I finally got around to catching up with a few things on my TiVo box as they were starting to pile up. One thing caught my eye that I had been meaning to watch for some time, Pedalling Dreams: The Raleigh Story.
The documentary itself was an incredibly interesting insight into the rise and fall of one of the largest manufacturers, in any field, that this country has ever seen. Many of the technologies that are still used on bikes today were pioneered by designers and engineers at the Raleigh cycle plant in Nottingham and it was interesting to see how they evolved to keep cycling relevant, from battling the rise of the car to the introduction of trends like BMX and mountain bikes. They were also amongst the first to use sports stars of the day to promote their bikes.
You can still watch the documentary here, it is well worth it:
Now I was a tad too young to own the iconic Raleigh Chopper (though I did ride a fair few that belonged to brothers and sisters of my friends) but Raleigh bikes were a massive part of my childhood and it got me reminiscing about the Raleighs I owned as a kid
What 80’s kid didn’t want to be Andy Ruffel?! The BMX champion rode his last season in the Raleigh colours. That bike with the white mag wheels, don’t try and convince me on the yellow ones, was the coolest thing around. It didn’t matter if you couldn’t do any tricks on it, you just looked slick!
With the BMX craze dying out bikes started to revert back to traditional types. We wanted to cycle to school, we wanted to pass the cycling proficiency test and we were told we needed sensible bikes! I got this Raleigh Racer and it was anything but sensible, I could absolutely fly down the hills where I lived (no helmets in those days) and, following a school trip to France where we witnessed Le Tour in full flight, I would spend hours hurtling round the roads where I lived, pretending to be Sean Yates, Greg LeMond or Laurent Fignon. It was a fabulously made bike and probably my favourite.
The mountain bike craze broke big time when I was in senior school, it had come over from the US with all the razzmatazz you would expect of an American bred sport. Adverts were bright and loud, as were the bikes and the clothes that went with it and we embraced all of it. I was bought a Raleigh MTB Team bike for my birthday and proceeded to take my cycling offroad which was great fun. It was around this time that we became aware of other brands such as Ridgeback, Diamondback and Muddy Fox but most of us rode Raleigh’s (although some poor souls got the garish Raleigh Lizard, below)
Raleigh is no longer a British company though it is still headquartered in Nottingham, but it is good to know it is in safe hands and hands that know a thing or two about bikes and the history of the brand. Accell, the current owners, also own the Lapierre and Ghost brands which make lovely bicycles so the future looks good. It is also good to see a Raleigh Bike Team back up and competing and I will be supporting them in the Pearl Izumi Tour Series when it rolls into Croydon in May, check the link below to see if the Tour Series has an event near you
There are so many bike brands to chose from these days that it is difficult to remember a time where that one brand mattered so much but Raleigh did, well to me anyway.
De, de, derrrrr, de…… de, de, de, de, derrrrrr! It’s the Paris Countdown!
With little over three months to go until Adam and I push off for Paris the scale of the journey we are about to undertake is starting to become very real indeed.
Training has become easier thanks to the improved weather we’ve had recently and last week I managed to ride over 50 miles for the first time since I did the London to Brighton bike ride in 2014. I ached a LOT after that, particularly in the knees, but I was glad to have done it. I decided to try and build on that so, yesterday, I got out round the rolling terrain of Kent and put another 60 miles into my legs which was incredibly satisfying as well as tiring. Kent is a wonderful county to cycle round in the springtime, the fields are awash with vibrant colours and the wildlife is just starting to venture forth as winter subsides. There is always the temptation of some amazing pubs to stop at but I pushed on through to get home in good time.
This week, well Saturday, I am going to have a professional ‘on the bike’ fit at Pearson Cycles to make sure that I am all in the right place on my bike and maximising every single watt that I generate. I love Pearson Cycles, I’ve been going there since I was a boy, so I’m looking forward to it. It is especially important to get this done now as I have a small tour of the New Forest, the Pearson Cycles London to Brighton and the Evans Woking Ride It coming up in the next few weeks.
Obviously there is a massive reason why Adam and I are doing this and our fundraising has been going pretty well, to date we have raised over £3,200 between us but we could still do with more! Please donate if you can by following the Donate link at the top of the page
I’d planned a 40 mile ride today, I thought it would be a nice spring outing! What I got was a breezy, blustery day that made 40 miles feel like 60! It was one of those days where you have to battle into headwinds on some parts and battle to keep control of your bike in crosswinds on other parts….why do you never get tailwinds?!
Still, good to get out and get 40 miles under my belt, the distances are increasing!
I had a day off on Friday as I had dinner and a comedy show booked for mine and Karen’s 6th wedding anniversary so what better way to spend a lovely spring morning than to go for a ride. The fact that it was Friday was an added bonus as most people were at work and the roads were so much quieter! It dawned on me, while on my travels, that I’ve learnt quite a lot about myself while cycling as well as about cycling itself so I thought I’d jot them down here.
1. Preparation Is Key
There was a time when I would roll out of bed, struggle into the bibs and get out of the door as soon as possible in order to hit the roads whilst they were at their most quiet but I’ve realised that was a massive error on my part. I would struggle to do long distances, hills would quite often end up being walked up and I would end up feeling totally spent at the end of a ride. Recently I have changed that approach – I make sure that I get up with my son at the weekend, have a good breakfast (zero fat yoghurt, oats and fruit, made the night before), do some stretching (check out yoga poses for cyclists on Pinterest) and have a shower before getting into the bibs. The results have been remarkable really, my whole performance has improved but it is significant that the rest of the day is now not a write off after a long ride.
2. Everything Feels So Much Better When The Sun Shines
No explanation needed really, it just does. Everything becomes far less of a hassle.
3. Climbing Hills Is Fun
I used to dread them. My legs were weak, my lung capacity poor after years on the fags, I’d sweat at the mere sight of a slight ridge and I’d invariably end up walking while convincing myself that my bad knee (old football injury) was hurting – it wasn’t.
Now I’ve discovered a bit of a love of the hills. It’s taken a long time and a lot of dedication to building up my leg strength through squats, deadlifts, leg presses and leg raises at the gym but it is starting to pay dividends. I feel stronger going into a climb and I feel more able to control my cadence, I’ve also learnt to pace the climb rather than go too hard too soon.
On Friday I made it up Hillbury Road (Croydon) in one go, something I had never done before. It’s not a steep gradient, 1.1 mile at an average of 5.3%, but there is a nasty little left turn at the top which kicks up to the top of the road so it is a challenge. The last time I attempted it I had to stop at the bend for fear of bonking, this wasn’t a quick time but I was happy to chalk up the achievement
4. People Are Friendly, Some Cyclists Are Not
I will always say hello or cast a wave in the direction of a fellow cyclist, I’ll always stop if I see someone who looks like they’re having a bit of a mechanical or they’re lost but it amazes me the amount of cyclists who don’t. A lot of them seem to be so far up their own backsides that they seem to have forgotten why they got into cycling in the first place, to have fun! If you’re out and about be nice, say hello to people!
Weirdly, people not on bikes seem to be the complete opposite (bar the odd arsehole driver). I’ve had lovely conversations with dog walkers, runners and an elderly gentleman who sat next to me on a bench when I stopped for a food break. If people were all just a little bit friendlier the world would be a much better place.
5. Getting Nutrition Right Has A Dramatic Effect
I’m only now getting to a stage where I am understanding the benefit of drinking and eating at the right times. Not only that but, after a lot of trial and error, I have found products that agree with me! I’ve been through a lot of brands in the past that repeated on me, making me feel slightly sick and spoiling the ride. I gave up on gels for that very reason a while back but have since found brands that do not give me that horrible feeling. Here are my current favourite brands:
Getting the timings of refuelling right has given me a massive performance benefit but it really does seem to be an individual thing so no general timing plan will work, you have to know your own body.
6. My Body Hates Me
“Everybody knows how much my body hates me” sang Billy Bragg in Sexuality and I’m starting to understand what he meant. Nearing 40 it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine whether the creaks and clunks are coming from my bike or my body. The battles are greater the older I get but the rewards seem to be so much more satisfying.
7. Keep Going, It’s Worth It
#outsideisfree so the hashtag goes and it is totally true. I’m lucky to live in an area with outstanding scenery, a perfect place for cycling and some amazing views if you battle up the many hills of Surrey and Kent. I feel free when cycling, it gives me a sense of achievement that I haven’t found elsewhere. Forget your Garmin and your Strava every now and again to take in the freebies around you
Enjoy your ride, wherever you go
Last weekend, Adam and I took ourselves off to the London Bike Show at the ExCel to get some much needed inspiration for our training. While we were obviously most interested in the road aspect of cycling, I think we both came back with dreams of taking up mountain biking and BMX’ing too! There were some beautiful bikes on show as well as some very famous ones.
It was great to see so many UK based bike manufacturers at the show, we really seem to have some talented and innovative frame builders and designers in this country.
A lot of the 2017 season bikes were on show, not least the Pinarello Dogma F10 which really blew us away with its smooth lines. It was on show in both Team Wiggins and Team Sky colours.
As I mentioned earlier there were also some pretty famous bikes on show. Famous enough was the Brownlee brothers’ Rio 2016 bike….
….but then we saw this, Chris Boardman’s Lotus Olympic bike from Barcelona 1992
It’s amazing to think that this bike is 25 years old this year, a fantastic piece of history.
We also made it round a lot of the clothing stands, we were most taken with the Chapeau! and Fat Lad At The Back stands. Adam bought a fetching pink number at the latter while I went for a more reserved blue number (ordered online because they didn’t have my size). Our sensible purchasing was almost undone by the appearance of an Um Bongo vest however….
I was most impressed with (and purchased) a multitool from Altum, a magnetic and modular system that combines the tools you need in your seat pack into one device. Very clever and I was happy to support them with a purchase.
As I said at the top of the post we could’ve quite easily come back converted into mountain bikers or BMX’ers, there some very enticing machines on show.
With the stands, bikes and the MTB air show it was well worth a visit however I would’ve liked to see more workshop stands (tools, cleaners and components) and advice. I was looking for a new saddle and was hoping to find someone at the show that could point me in the right direction but that wasn’t possible. All said we still had a good day out and a big thanks to Peter for my Manhattan Portage drawstring bag, it has come in very handy!
The weather recently has been pretty horrible and that, coupled with a shortage of time, has meant that not many miles have been covered on my bike. I have a turbo trainer that lives in my shed and have been doing some HIIT workouts on it but turbo sessions are pretty dull at the best of times.
I’d heard a bit about Zwift through a colleague at work who had bought a Tacx smart trainer and signed up for the online cycling world. I’d initially discarded it as I wasn’t prepared to shell out £200 for a new smart trainer but after a bit more reading I signed up for the 7 day free trial and watched a bit of the action online. It looked fun so I decided to attempt the budget route!
Fortunately my WiFi signal is decent enough that it reaches to my shed, if yours doesn’t you may need a WiFi range extender.
I found the setup incredibly easy and straightforward. Obviously I had already downloaded Zwift and signed up so that didn’t need doing and the most difficult bit was getting my pedal off, but that was only because I couldn’t find my pedal spanner!
I picked the London8 route for my first foray into Zwift territory as I know those roads incredibly well and I was interested to see how well they had been replicated. The maps and scenery are incredibly detailed and, although some creative licence has been taken (Box Hill is in Central London according to the Strava map and I don’t remember the Olympic road race going through the Tube) it is a lot of fun and an hour on the trainer went a lot quicker. There are different challenges within each of the maps, much like any cycling event (KOM, Sprint etc) so you can challenge yourself in different disciplines.
The only major downside to the budget setup is that you have to adjust your gears and resistance manually to reflect the change in terrain, smart trainers alter resistance automatically. It took me a while to get used to that but it was soon second nature.
There is a good communication system within Zwift and downloading the Zwift app for mobile (iOS or Android) adds to the functionality as you can perform a variety of tasks from it without leaving your saddle.
Some maps also have left or right turn choices to make and the app helps here as well, turn left and turn right buttons appear at the top of the screen (above) so you can quickly tap which way you want to go.
One of the guys who is also doing the London to Paris ride also jumped on at the same time (you can follow friends, find out when they’re online and what map they’re on). It was easy to communicate through the text function and I was soon on his wheel as he led me out up Box Hill.
I really enjoyed my first hour on Zwift, it certainly went by quicker than a normal turbo session. I’ll definitely be back on it soon to explore some of the other maps attempt some of the challenges like ‘Ride California’.
If you are considering Zwift and and don’t already own a turbo trainer then you’d probably be better off buying a smart trainer straight off, it will be a lot easier to connect and get going. However, for those with trainers, the budget route I took is still effective and enjoyable without the extra outlay.
Feel free to add me on Zwift, Iain Sisson. See you out there
I realise that I may be in the minority but I actually really enjoy cleaning my bike. As a kid I would spend more time in my parents’ garage taking my bike apart and cleaning it than out on the road riding it. I would delight in tinkering with the components, with the resulting finely tuned machine a result of trial an error rather than following specific You Tube videos. A trip to Pearson Cycles in Sutton would quite often occur to upgrade the handlebar grips, bottle cages, seat or pump – huge upgrades for a generally moneyless kid!
Years later I still like cleaning and tinkering with my bike but I’ve got a bit more knowledge and a bit more money to spend these days. It’s incredibly important too so I decided to write a blog post about it! From the day the first leaf drops in autumn, bikes start to pick up the grit, grime, mud and dirt that accumulates in cooler, wetter weather so a good cleaning regime is a must to keep your bike in prime working order over the winter. Here are a few products that have permanent residence in my bike shed.
This great little stand is only £5.99 from Wiggle and it is perfect for propping up your bike while you clean the rear elements of the bike, especially the chain and drive train.
Nano technology apparently! Whatever it is this is great for shifting stubborn dirt and grime without loads of elbow grease, a must have. 1 litre retails for about £9
It’s really important to keep your chain free from dirt and grime and to prevent rusting of the links. This chain cleaner (plus the attachment) retails for £15. The cleaner shuts around the chain and dispenses cleaner onto the rotating brushes as the chain turns, the stand previously mentioned is perfect to complete this task! It can take a bit of getting used to but it works really well.
Obviously one only for those with disc brakes, this re-hydrates the brake disc pads as well as shifting dirt from them. Comes with a WD40 style ‘straw’ to allow you to get right into the disc brake. Retails for about £6 usually
No exaggeration, one of the greatest products known to man. This shifts absolutely everything and you can use it on all components. The best tenner you’ll spend, probably.
Usually retailing for about £3.50 these are a key part of your maintenance routine. Some claim to offer multi condition lube products but most bike mechanics would recommend an individual product suited to the current conditions.
Prevention is better than the cure? Heard that one before? After cleaning, a light coating of GT85 all over the bike and its components will create a film that seals out moisture, dirt and dust. You can pick up a can for a couple of quid so it’s a bit of a no brainer
Well, that’s it, my key bits of cleaning kit. Special mention go to the Muc Off Drivetrain Cleaner, the Bag o’ Rags, a set of cleaning brushes and a decent floor standing track pump all of which should also inhabit your bike cave
In the time honoured tradition of post payday emails requesting sponsorship for various charity events, I sent mine out today.
It’s always a little thrill when the Just Giving notification pops up on my phone and today was no different until I realised that I had broken the £1,000 sponsorship mark. I know Adam and I are undertaking something that is quite considerable, but the generosity that my friends, colleagues and suppliers have shown towards the cause is quite overwhelming so thank you to everyone who has donated or pledged support.
With just under 6 months to go until we push off for Paris I’m hopeful that I can get to the £2,500 mark, that would mean so much to a great charity
I know Adam has started his funds drive too so we could be sitting on a very healthy joint donation pot come July
Today marks 6 months till Le Grand Depart, 6 months till Adam and I saddle up and set off for Paris on our great adventure.
I’ll be honest, I think it’s crept up on us both a little bit. With Christmas and New year in the books its time to really knuckle down, get a bit fitter and get miles into the lazy winter legs. Adam has a new bike, of which I am slightly jealous, and he’s busy reinventing his whole existence by the sounds of it. I, meanwhile, have been keeping my twice weekly gym ritual to get some strength work in but I did get out on my bike for the first time this year last weekend. It was horrible. A combination of freezing winds, residual snow, ice, fallen trees and closed roads turned my journey into a very stop start 14 miles.
Stopping to take that photo got compacted snow in my cleats, I couldn’t clip back in and I got fed up. Hopefully the weather will be a little bit more favourable this weekend!
I know six months is a long time but I’ve got a feeling July will be on us before we know it! Onwards and upwards!
Sometimes fate has a nasty habit of giving you a reminder of the fleeting, fragile nature of human life. It cuts straight through the day to day and shocks you to the core.
Some of you may have seen the awful accident involving a tram in Croydon this week, in which 7 people tragically lost their lives. It was a terrible event that hushed the streets of Croydon, everyone was genuinely shocked that it had happened. Then, yet again, fate intervened and brought the accident much closer to home than I cared for. The only lady to die in the accident was a parent of one of my wife’s pupils at the school where she works and she’d taught her other daughter 2 years ago. How do you begin to tell those girls that their mum isn’t coming home? How does the father cope with managing his grief process while also being responsible for the girls and their emotional wellbeing?
The shock element of the above adds an additional factor to an already difficult situation and it is a completely different process, but it reminded me of why we’re doing what we’re doing. The difference we can make to people experiencing a seismic shift in their lives caused by unwanted and unexpected intrusions is immeasurable and the clarity provided by the events of this week has really brought that home.