Thursday, 29 August 2013


Ah, the 'S' word.

There, I've said it. Most club cyclists will know of Strava the web site that lets you compare your times along particular sections of road, known as segments, against other cyclists. Like most things it has a good and a bad side.

On the bad side it can encourage reckless cycling. One view of Strava is that it's a virtual race, similar to those automata you chase on indoor rowing machines or exercise bikes. There's an ongoing case in the US against a cyclist chasing a fast time on a segment who collided with a group of pedestrians one of whom later died from injuries sustained in the collision. All I can say about this individual is that there are pillocks in all walks of life. I also know of one cyclist who died whilst trying to claim top spot on a segment, known as "King of the Mountains", though this was actually on a descent rather than an uphill climb.

There are also some segments that are potentially quite dangerous, usually descents but also those in urban areas that cross through major junctions or traffic lights. We've some round here and I really can't be bothered with putting any effort in to them at all.

So what of the good side? Well if you are like me: middle aged and not the slimmest of chaps, then Strava can be used as a training tool and as a means of measuring progress or more accurately the possibility of not slowing down quite so quickly :-) Since pretty well every climb on UK roads is covered by at least one segment (you get all sorts of "X climb full" and "X climb short" segments) there's always something local to be able to use as a benchmark. More on this in a while.

After a while you get to know the segments you can do well on and target those. Usually I look at the fastest time and add 50% to get an idea of what I'm capable of, occasionally though I do a lot better than that and manage a top ten placing just a few percentage points away from the KOM. What can throw the league tables out are weather and company. Get an exposed segment on a windy day with a tail wind and you are going to get a good time, it's really hard to determine purely from the times if this has happened. Similarly if a group heads out for a ride then it's quite possible for the whole group to flood the top spots, this happened last night on our club ride: on one segment 7 out of the top 20 times were posted by club members on that ride! On another segment we logged 5 out of the top ten. Not exactly fair to any lone rider who comes along afterwards and tries to match our times.

Then again on a ride at the weekend I was hanging on the tail of two strong riders and cut my personal best on one climb from 9:20 (from April this year) down to 6:34. Other than determination to try and keep up with them it was all my own effort and I received no assistance from them so I was pretty pleased with that.

Using segments as a benchmark is what I find Strava to be most useful for: there are some climbs locally that I know I can do that *little bit* better on. As an example there's a hill close by that for most of last year I would manage to get up in around ten minutes though my best time was 9:15, the fastest time was (and is) 6:30 by a professional cyclist so not far from my 50% rule. An obvious target for this year was to get under nine minutes. A few attempts saw me get close to my best time then out of the blue I got up it in 8:30 and a couple of rides later that was down to 8:03 so obviously getting under 8 minutes is more than possible.

Intelligent use of Strava has certainly helped me get quicker over the last year such that I can now, just about, keep up with the fast group from the club when I certainly couldn't even just a few months ago.

Anyway the next post will be, as they used to say, completely different.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

More Long Rides

We'd been looking after our niece last week and after dropping her off back home Cath was keen to get some longer rides done. More specifically: "Let's do a 100 miler".

A bit of fiddling around on MapMyRide I got one worked out over roads that we hadn't done much riding over. The one problem was that it went over two watersheds before heading back over those same watersheds to get home.

A reasonably early on Friday start saw us on our way up Wharfedale readying ourselves for the first climb, which happened to be the easiest, over Kidstones to Bishopdale. It's a long steady climb with just the last couple of hundred metres steepening up. Then it's a blast down the dale to our first cafe stop in Aysgarth.

The next leg was to head over Redmire to Reeth then up Swaledale before beginning the return journey via Oxnop Scar. The climb up from Redmire is long but again steady with just one short section of 14%, there's a few false summits though if you don't know the road. Swaledale is my favourite dale and the ride from Reeth to the foot of the climb back out of the valley was surprisingly quiet of traffic - there were nearly as many cyclists. I've ridden over Oxnop Scar before but in the opposite direction, all I can remember is an undulating section near the top and some steep bends at the bottom.

The bottom section is much, much, steeper than I remember it and I'm forced on to the wrong side of the lane to get round one left hander. The upper part is much easier though the last few hundred metres steepen up a bit. Once back in Wensleydale we keep to the north side of the dale to reach Hawes and our next cafe stop.

I'd managed to get Cath over Oxnop by saying it was harder than our next climb - Fleet Moss. Now we'd find out. She managed the first section OK but struggled on the final bit of the main climb.

All that was left was the long descent down to Buckden and then back down Wharfedale. Except as we were riding through Skipton, we had an encounter with a driver who attempted to overtake us when there was oncoming traffic and then behaved aggressively towards us. I was annoyed enough that I noted the license plate and reported it to the police. As it happens they would only take it further if we were willing to go to court. All I was wanting was for them "to have a word", as it is, the driver's record has been tagged in case of future incidents. One incident to spoil a great day.

On Saturday I had a 100Km blast with Andy and Iain. Well they had a blast, I was hanging on for grim death! By the time we got to Halton Gill we'd only been going an hour, so now for the big climb of the day over to Stainforth, again I was behind the other two but post ride analysis (Strava) showed I'd ridden it in a personal best by three minutes :-)

After a loop round by Austwick we headed for a cafe in Settle. Iain needed to get back quick so went back via the A65 while Andy and I went the long way via the back lanes. All in all a hard session and it took a while to recover.

Monday I managed to get a ride done that I'd been meaning to do for a while. We got the first train from Skipton up to Kirkby Stephen and then headed back south.

First up was Lamps Moss, I'd ridden down this on the Etape du Dales in May, the Etape being the reason I'd wanted to do this as a training ride to get some hills in. Steep at first then a series of ramps with flatter sections to get a breather. The biggest flat section is just before the final ramp which although not as steep as the first section but quite a bit longer and I'm panting hard by the top.

The drop in to Swaledale is long and not all downhill but before too long we are at the foot of the next climb of the day - Buttertubs. Again I'd done this in the other direction on the Etape so new territory. The first section is fairly steep but rideable whilst seated and then there's an easier section past a barn before the road ramps up and it's out of the saddle for the zig-zags before a long blast past the Buttertubs themselves before the final steepening gets to the summit.

It's a blast down to Hawes - Fleet Moss looms large across the valley - same cafe stop as before. Once we got going again it's not quite so much of a struggle for Cath as the previous effort. We still aren't halfway but we have the three big climbs out of the way and we have the usual run-in back down the valley to Skipton, just time for an ice-cream in Kettlewell though.

So some good hard cycling done. Now need to recharge my batteries. :-)

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Kildwick TT

"We're doing the Kildwick time trial on Wednesday!" said Cath "Oh, are we?", "Yep, I've said we're doing it"

So the die was cast. Now neither Cath nor I have ever done a time trial or indeed any other form of bike race on the roads so this was a bit of a departure. We've done a few trailquests and a mountain bike race at a local show once but nothing on the roads. I was intending to go out with the fast crew on Wednesday night but: "they're all doing the TT". No escape there then.

As the day drew closer, Cath began to get more nervous - "What have I done?", "What do I do?" - answer: put your head down and pedal like ****!

Come the allotted evening we rode down to Kildwick, there were already a few cyclists milling around, all looking very thin and serious. There's a lot of seriously expensive bikes around. Eventually the organiser turned up and we paid our money and picked up a bib number. First rider off at 1900 then at one minute intervals. I was #11, Cath was #14. Eventually the rest of the Skipton crowd arrived, so many that as a club we were over 1/3 of the entries! The course is probably as flat as you are likely to get around here.

A few rides round the block for a warm up and then it was away to the start. Slowly the number of riders in front of me dwindled and then it was my turn. "Three, two, one, go!" A few pedal strokes then it was up in to the big ring and on to the drops. Try to go as hard as I can without blowing up, keep the cadence high and spin those gears.

The first roundabout comes up in six minutes flat then it's on to the bypass and the long drag up to the top roundabout. Even in a car this bit of road just seems to go on and on with the roundabout always just over the horizon. Eventually the marshall is in sight, the roundabout is clear so no chance of a rest. The return should be easier but there's actually a headwind and once the long descent is done the effort to keep going becomes greater. Cath is still heading out and on the start of the climb to the turning point. There's no sign of the rider in front, he's long gone (he actually came 3rd) so it's just keep spinning.

I'm back in sight of the first roundabout again when I'm overtaken by the rider behind, I'm surprised it's taken this long actually. I almost come to a halt at the roundabout when a car turns across me without indicating then it's more effort to get back up to speed and there's a rider ahead (not in the race) to act as a target. All too quickly I'm past him and then I hear a clunk as he picks up my wheel and begins to draft me!

More effort from burning legs and lungs and then it's a filter left to the finish. My sneaky drafter yells a "thank you" and carries on. I cross the line and pull up. Once I've got my breath back I check my time: 26:51, not bad - the best time was 20:30 though the rider is a semi-pro. By the time everyone is in, it's starting to go dark so rather than head back to Skipton for the club TT prize giving we head straight home. Cath managed a respectable 31:24.

Thoughts? Well it's hard work and you need to have your technique nailed, which I don't. Still I've got a target to aim at.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Manchester Velodrome

Well I survived! Our taster session at the Manchester Velodrome went well, no-one fell off and we all enjoyed it.

It was a bit of a shock to get on to a bike so lightly equipped, modern road bikes are nearly as complex as their motorised cousins. I'm not sure what the gearing was but it was fairly easy and you didn't need legs like Sir Chris Hoy to get things moving. The banked curves looked very intimidating.

The hour long session included a basic lesson with instructions on how to slow down and what the lines on the track meant - I can't remember what the red and blue lines are for, the black line at the bottom is the racing line and the measured length of the track. A couple of test laps at the inside of the track, some more instructions mainly about overtaking and then we are let loose for the rest of the session.

Apparently you need to be going around 18mph to make use of the banked sections, if you go slightly less than this you can hear your tyres squeak as you slip down the bank which is a bit disconcerting to say the least. Once you do reach the required speed then things get easier and harder at the same time. Easier because you actually go round the banking without feeling as if you are going to fall off, harder because there is simply no respite - you can't stop pedalling at any time.

It took a few laps before I had enough confidence and went above the black line, then it was just a matter of working higher and higher. Of course as you move up the bank you have further to travel so in order to use the banking you have to move faster - I think the blue line is 15 metres longer than the black line so you have to go 265/250 * 18mph  or just over 19mph to keep pace with someone on the black line. Of course even though the best line is the one at the bottom of the slope everyone is seeing how far up the banking they dare go! Most of us got above the blue line at some time, I managed to get towards the top of the advertising banners which is still quite a way from the top of the bank - there's a shot here of the track - some definitely got higher.

By the end of the hour, or half hour of actual full-on riding we were all pretty knackered - there's no freewheeling, the only way to get a rest is to slow down and move to the inside of the track and get off the bike.  One of the first questions everyone asked in the cafe afterwards was how many times you forgot to keep pedalling. The common answer was two or three, if you were doing 20mph then it was an interesting experience with the bike bucking around under you.

All in all a lot of fun and we've already booked an improver session - chain lines ALA team pursuit, along with something called "stacking. If you've not done it then it's well worth it and when you consider that you are renting the national stadium for just £120 for an hour it's really value for money.

Bring on the next session!