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Doc on a bike. NHS, Leicester Med School, Cycling Plus Magazine. LFCC Cyclocross Champion (old gits category). Riding's the best medicine. Follow me on twitter @awkwardcyclist

Monday, April 25, 2016

Going Round in Ovals - AbsoluteBlack Chainrings Update

Racing in the Central League at Corby. Photo by Jack Chevell
I've been very impressed with AbsoluteBlack's oval chainrings. After fitting one to my cyclocross bike, I went on to obtain my best ever results in the last three races of the season, with two top ten finishes in the Central Cyclocross League. A total of £15 in prize money for the season may not be enough to build a career as a racer, but it certainly paid for the post-race bacon sandwiches. There are many factors that go into good form of course - training, fitness, preparation - but I've always focussed on those areas in the past, without the dramatic improvements in my finishing positions. There's no doubt that using the oval chainrings gives a feeling of more power through the pedal stroke and feeling strong in a race increases confidence (always a good thing). No matter what the reasons, I'll take the improvements and will be sticking with the oval! I've noticed there's been a sudden surge in my clubmates shopping at AbsoluteBlack which might scupper my chances of retaining the Leicester Forest CC Veterans Cyclocross trophy.

Let's off road

With the cyclocross season over, it was time to get the mountain bike out and start preparation for the XC season, in particular the Friday Night Summer Series. In truth, this preparation mainly involves having a bit of a laugh off-road, but I have been working on my technique amongst the fun and frolics. A few trips out to Wakerley Woods to practice on a series of berms has seen me get a bit smoother and faster. It's not the most challenging course, but for a mountain bike newby like me, it's perfect for a quick training session. Another AbsoluteBlack oval now adorns the mountain bike and again I have seen an improvement in my speed on the non-technical sections, particularly uphill. 

Hell of the North Cotswolds

Speaking of challenging courses, they don't come much harder than the Hell of the North Cotswolds. I was recommended this event by Leicester cycling legend Steve Hill. Described as the original and classic British endurance cycling event, this year would be the 32nd edition of the HONC. Riding my mountain bike after a 3 week no-cycling holiday, I knew I was under-prepared. Unfortunately I hadn't anticipated how tough the ride would be - 63 miles of continuous hills over some pretty rough and muddy ground. Seven hours later, I had climbed 6300 feet, crashed, got cramp in every muscle in my legs and generally decided that cycling was not for me. Time dulls pain of course and within a couple of days I was already thinking of entering again next year. A really well organised and friendly event with great food and a great atmosphere, it should be one for everyone's diary. 

The oval chainring behaved itself throughout, despite some thick, heavy mud and rattly decents. My chain stayed firmly in place and the drivetrain never let me down - it was my legs that caused the trouble!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Faffing Continues - AbsoluteBlack Oval Chainring

I've blogged in the past about the efforts I had gone to in an attempt to improve my bike and hopefully improve results. Upgrading, of course, is an integral part of the cycling experience and when AbsoluteBlack launched the cyclocross version of their oval chainring, my faffing sense started tingling. I had been impressed by the performance of the round chainring that I'd adopted in my single chainring set up, but liked the sound of lighter and faster (who wouldn't). After a bit of ebaying I had a SRAM CX-1 chainset and thanks to the excellent AbsoluteBlack website, I was soon set up with a direct mount 38 tooth oval chainring. Very lovely it looks too...

Important though looks are, it's peformance I'm really after and here the chainring doesn't disappoint. My first test ride on the road and I was sure I could feel the difference - like riding with a gentle but constant tailwind. Get the bike off-road and that benefit seems to persist - a feeling supported by a mate who borrowed the bike for a quick spin. The pedal action seems to be smoothed out, less bouncy. The acid test really comes in cyclocross races of course, where I can compare with previous performances against my regular rivals. 

This season has been something of a damp squib, with family and work commitments leading to quite a few missed races. My first chance to try the chainring in anger came in the Notts and Derby CX League race at Markeaton. A muddy course with lots of twists and turns, I didn't do as well as hoped, although I noticed I was doing better than my rivals on the one long climb. An even muddier race at Darley Dale saw me improve significantly - the course featuring long drags in thick mud and less of the technical stuff. It seems the benefits of the oval are more pronounced when I can ride with sustained power and not worry too much about technique. The latest test was in the West Midlands League at Mallory Park  - a race that also stood in as my club championship. Lots of draggy, thick mud and lots of off-camber. This was my best performance in a cross race ever - 6th in the V45 category and winner of the club veteran trophy. I felt really strong throughout and was able to ride sections that others were walking. When I did need to run the lightness of my new set up really helped, with the weight of my bike now down to an impressive 7.5kg.

Photo by Shaun Campling
Some of that will be due to the training I have been putting in, but I'm sure the chainring contributed. I had no issues with my drive train despite three of the muddiest races I've ever competed in. The AbsoluteBlack oval chainring definitely makes faffing worthwhile.

Eagle-eyed readers may also notice that I have some new brakes - more about them next time.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Three Peaks - how did it go?

What a fantastic experience! Best cycling event I have ever entered. It was tough - the climbs in particular - and occasionally a bit scary on the descents, but I got round in 4 hours 21 minutes with a smile on my face at the end. I finished 246th overall, which was better than expected.

Full concentration on my descent of Whernside

I wrote a blog for Cyclocross Magazine on the lessons I learned: http://www.cxmagazine.com/3-peaks-beginner-guide-andy-ward-2015-cyclocross-race. Hopefully I will get to put them into practice next year!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Here come the 3 Peaks!

I'm keeping a training diary for Cyclocross Magazine. Here's my first post: http://www.cxmagazine.com/3-peaks-practice-beginner-introduction-andy-ward-2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


In a previous post I've mentioned the "Trig's broom" nature of my cross bike, with numerous bits and pieces replaced through necessity. I've spent this summer faffing away on the bike entirely through choice in an attempt to make it better. 

First up I changed the handlebars. I realised the old ones were a bit narrow and was attracted to the idea of bars that flare at the drops. The 3T Ergoterras are designed specifically for cyclocross and so far I find them to be a big improvement with less shoulder and neck ache on longer rides. I replaced the Fizik Arione saddle for a San Marco Concor - specifically one designed for mountain biking. I love the comfort of the Arione on my road bike, but found the long "tail" to occasionally get in the way on remounts. Again, so far so good. A Ritchey WCS alloy seatpost has been moved over from my road bike - it's a quality bit of kit and looks great.

The wheels are an eBay bargain - £114 for a pair of Neuvation C50s only previously used on the road. I've added Challenge Limus tubulars after much research and badgering of cyclocross experts. I'm hoping to gain a bit more grip and benefit from the lighter wheels - time will tell.

The drive train has also had an overhaul as I've gone to a single front chain ring in a DIY (and budget) version of SRAM's CX-1. Apex levers - another eBay bargain - replace the old 105 set up, with the supernumerary mechanics stripped out of the left side using this handy guide from Cyclocross Magazine. An X-7 mountain bike rear mech with its rolling clutch mechanism helps chain retention when paired with the Absolute Black narrow wide chainring obtained from a clubmate. A test ride on a rock-hard, rutted bridleway failed to unseat the chain despite rattling out most of my fillings. Last season, badly timed dropped chains cost me hard earned positions in two races, so that's got to be positive. Overall, my modifications have probably saved me about a kilogram in weight without breaking the bank. Hopefully I can take advantage when the season starts at the end of August.