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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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On a Muddy One

Photo by SL Images https://www.facebook.com/SL1643

Trig's Broom

Anyone who rides cyclocross will know the havoc it wreaks on your bike. My trusty Cannondale CAADX 5 is not quite 3 years old but is already a bit like "Trig's broom". New wheels (now on their second set of spokes), cassette, stem, seatpost, right STI lever, bottom bracket, three chains, front brake, two rear derailleurs and gear hangers have all been added to the excellent frameset in the last 18 months or so. Some of these have been improvements, but most are due to the accelerated aging process brought on from riding through mud and grit. The most recent casualty was that second rear derailleur. Riding hard up a grassy slope during Tuesday night training I was greeted with the sickening crunch of the rear mech detaching itself from my bike and meeting the spokes. It's a common problem in cyclocross when mud and grass jam the jockey wheels and the chain pulls the mech over the top of the cassette. Initially relieved that this happened in training and not a race, I soon realised that my chance of competing in the Notts and Derby race at Markeaton had diminished somewhat. Despite the best efforts of our coach Nick Walling and his wondrous shed of bike bits, I was going to be without my race bike.

The Book of Genesis

Fortunately, help was at hand from the unlikely source of my commuting bike. I bought my Genesis Day One Disc singlespeed on the bike to work scheme, needing a low maintenance ride with excellent stopping power. I've done a few bridleways on it, but away from the daily commute, it has mostly served time as a winter trainer. With a steel frame and workmanlike wheels, it's no flyweight, but it's sturdy and reliable and I love it. Inspired by this article on Sheldon Brown I decided to save my race. A freewheel was purchased, giving me a 42/21 ratio. New mud tyres were added and the paraphenalia of commuting stripped away, producing a respectable 10.5kg steed. Despite this, it was with some trepidation that I approached race day - would my legs be up to the task?

Mud Glorious Mud

I've spent the season so far riding in the West Midlands league and this was to be my first race at Markeaton. An exchange on twitter gave me an idea of what to expect "the slippiest mud you've ever ridden, and much hilarity". The warm up lap confirmed this to be the case with several unrideable sections and a ridiculously tricky corner involving a slippery bank and a tree:

Photo by Mick Bown

Fortunately I coped with that bit much better during the race, mostly through never attempting to ride it. Not every rider was so lucky as this brilliant set of photos from Mick Bown shows. In the end the singlespeed served me well - it was only in the last lap where the weight of the mud I was lugging round the course finally took its toll. A number of mistakes saw me lose a few places to riders benefiting from bike changes. Still a final position of 20th represented my best result of the season so far... might even ride the Genesis for my next race. I just need to convince Kirsty of the merits of standing in field for an hour with a jetwasher.

There's a chainset in there somewhere

Friday, November 14, 2014

Cyclocross getting easier?

Looking at my results in the West Midlands Cyclocross League this year, it's clear I am doing significantly better than last time around. In 2013, I finished all my races in the bottom half of my category (Vets 40-49) and more often than not, comfortably so. This year I've reached the dizzying heights of the top 20% in one race and never out of the top half. I'm finding myself in battles with riders who last year easily beat me. Which has left me wondering... why is it I'm apparently doing so much better and how can I build on my improvement to get faster still? Here are my theories:

Training harder
Towards the end of last season I started using my turbo trainer between races to do interval sessions. This coincided with an improvement in my finishing positions. This year I got the turbo out before the season started. Using workouts from Simon Burney's cyclocross training guide I have forced myself into the garage every week. It's not pleasant, but it seems to be helping.

Practising technique
This year I have managed to get a weekly club cyclocross training session up and running. It started small - just me and a 16 year old girl - but as it said in Cyclocross Magazine "if you build it, they will come". Numbers have increased and we now have the enthusiasm and expertise of Nick Walling to run the sessions. Even the lack of floodlights has not stopped us blasting round the park every week in the winter darkness. My cornering, remounting and all round handling have improved dramatically. Nick's son Josh has helped with "race craft", mainly by riding into me on corners!

Improved kit
No major changes to bike or tyres, but I have got a shorter stem on Nick's advice - down from 110mm to 80mm. The bike feels more reactive on rough sections and I seem to be able to heave it up the hills better. I even wore a skinsuit for one race (it had been gathering dust since I gave up time trialling). Not sure it made me faster, but it did make me feel Iike I had to try harder!

More Competition
The fields for the WMCross League races are getting bigger - up to 150 riders on the starting grid at times. This makes for a bit more chaos after the whistle, but my improved results have seen me gridded near the front, giving me a definite advantage. Leicester Forest CC has also been much better represented - clubmate Wayne beat me in a pre-season race at Mallory, creating some anxiety about holding on to my Vets trophy. It was at this point I got out the turbo trainer (see Training Harder) He'll not make that mistake again... hopefully.

There may be other reasons - the dry summer has kept the worst of the mud away which probably suits me. Though to paraphrase Greg Lemond, I don't think cyclocross is getting easier, just faster: that post-race nausea is as bad as ever.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Knog Blinder Arc 5.5 as Diagnostic Tool

When warming up in the bath after this afternoon's cold and wet ride home, I was alarmed to find a large swelling on the inner aspect of my left knee. Fortunately the power of Knog allayed my fears as the photo shows. The light shines brightly through the swelling, meaning it is full of clear fluid (a technique known as transillumination). It's probably a menisceal cyst caused by an old cartilage injury from my football days and not at all serious!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Knog Blinder Arc 1.7 and 5.5 Review: Dazzling Aussie Quality

A couple of years ago, I rode the Dunwich Dynamo. If you’re unfamiliar with the event, it’s an overnight bike ride from the East End of London through 120 miles to the Suffolk coast at Dunwich. Things didn’t go ever so smoothly (as reported in Cycling Plus issue 276). Having not fully considered the vagaries of riding rural roads at night, I brought along a 20 year old halogen Cat Eye that seemed bright enough during testing in my back garden.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, I discovered the bike light technology of the early 90's to be wholly inadequate. I’m not sure how many lumens the old unit was putting out, but I’m guessing single figures. Were it not for a full moon and the odd lucky guess, I’d probably still be cycling round Epping Forest.

Bring on the new Knog Blinder Arcs. It’s apparent that things have moved on substantially in the last 20 years. In common with most Knog products, these compact units look great and feel well put together.  Soft touch silicon is complemented by tough polycarbonate housing with anodised aluminium trim (available in 4 colours). The lights attach to the bike using silicone straps and a stainless steel catch, made extra secure with a small magnet. This strap system features on all Knog’s Blinder range, and there have been reports of the silicone fraying when used on oversized bars etc. Perhaps with this in mind, the straps can be replaced on both Arc units via a small screw under the base. Knog claims that both lights are 100% waterproof and they certainly held up well in a heavy rainstorm. The lights are fitted with lithium batteries, recharged via a foldaway USB plug on the rear.

Blinder Arc 5.5
Pumping out 550 lumens, the Arc 5.5 is remarkably bright on its highest setting. The beam pattern produces a good spread on the road ahead and I was able to ride quickly on an unlit potholed track without suffering the sweaty palms of my Dunwich Dynamo experience. Re-joining the road, a single button press dips the light to avoid dazzling motorists. There are 4 settings in all, 3 levels of brightness and a flashing mode. The battery manages a claimed 1.8 hours on full beam and 17 hours on flash. In the box there’s a helmet mount, an extension lead for the USB plug and a spare mounting strap. The Arc Blinder 5.5 has an RRP of £89.99.

Blinder Arc 1.7

At 170 lumens, the more compact Arc 1.7 is not quite as blinding as the 5.5, but is still bright enough for me to ride on the unlit track, albeit with a bit more caution. The above photo is for comparison with the 5.5 and really does not do justice to the amount of light produced. The light boasts the same lighting modes, giving  a claimed 1.4 hours on its brightest setting, 11.7 on flash. The power is adequate for commuting on unlit roads (or even the Dunwich Dynamo), but if you’re looking to do some night time off-roading, I would plump for the 5.5. The Arc Blinder 1.7 has an RRP of £49.99.

Conclusion: Blindingly good lights, great quality, convenient mount system, easy to use.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Local Knowledge: Rides around Leicester in Cycling Plus Magazine

I was asked to contribute to the Local Knowledge section of Cycling Plus. It was all a bit last minute, so I included the club audax for the long route and had a great couple of rides exploring new roads for the shorter versions. The artwork was contributed by Phil Dobson www.magicpen.co.uk although I'm not sure about the inclusion of a tower block in Corby - Rockingham Castle would have looked nicer!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Leicester Forest CC Cyclocross Championships - Success!

This year saw a good turn out from the club for our cyclocross championships during the West Midlands Cross League meeting at Beaumont Leys.

Great course, perhaps the most enjoyable of the season for me. I put in one of my best performances, only coming off once when pedal failed to disengage. All the practice and hard work paid off and I won the Veteran's trophy.

Club president Ian Nutt was there to photograph the event, here is his excellent flickr set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/103581114@N07/sets/72157637779453653/