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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, 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.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Another season, another discipline. After the "right time, right place" purchase of this actual Giant Anthem mountain bike, it was only a matter of time before I gave XC racing a try. With the Friday Night Summer Series providing a number of events on my doorstep - I decided to break my small wheeled, knobbly-tyred duck at Delapre Park in Northampton. A new club trophy meant that a number of Leicester Forest riders also joined the fray.

I had a feeling that the racing might be a bit like cyclocross and whilst there were some similarities - the mass start, the duration of the race and the lap format - there were several significant differences. The laps seemed significantly longer than those found in cross - winding deep into the woods of the park. The course was also more technical with more roots and branches to contend with. A few sections would have been unrideable on a cross bike and were to a beginner like me on a mountain bike! One section in particular gave me trouble - I fell off on 4 out of the 5 laps! The feeling of pure exhaustion and nausea at the end of the race was all too familiar though.

So was it  a success? I loved it - off-road riding is my favourite activity these days and a hour of blasting through woods and across trails was marvellous. As for the racing - I generally spend my summers in a lazy, untrained state - this was something of a shock to the system. Riders who I normally compete with in the cross league left me for dead. Still - I will be back - there's a few more events in the neighbourhood and it can't hurt my cyclocross fitness!