If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…
After the recent near death experiences with cantilever brakes on the Uncle John, I had a re-think and decided to somehow make the mini-v’s work with the mudguards. Given the amount of people who arrive at this blog through searching for info on this humble English cyclocross bike, I thought I’d better share my solution.
When I first fitted my SKS Chromoplastic P45 mudguards, it looked like the Tektro 926 mini-v’s wouldn’t clear the top of them (which led to the unsuccessful experiment with the cantilever brakes…) On closer inspection, they can just about clear the top of the guards, especially if you file down the underside of the bit where the noodle goes through. I was always happy with the power of these brakes, but was annoyed at the lack of pad clearance, which was only just feasible with straight road wheels but a rim wearing nightmare off road. With their reinstallation, I decided to try the ‘Travel Agents’ by Problem Solvers to gain more clearance. These little gadgets are as clever as their name, essentially converting the short amount of cable pulled by the lever into an increased amount of travel at the calliper. It does this via a wheel, which replaces the noodle. It may look a little unsightly, and weight weenies will moan about the extra grams, but it works well and has less friction than a noodle.
The Travel Agent seems to do it’s job well and though it didn’t change the pull ratio as much as I thought it would, it was enough to allow a little pad clearance and still have effective braking without the levers hitting the bars. I’ve just test ridden them and the brakes felt as strong as the SRAM Force callipers I’ve got on the Boardman. So I’ve finally achieved my original objective of having mudguards big enough to accommodate my Schwalbe 30mm CX-Pro’s and still get decent braking with my SRAM Rival levers.
To be honest, I should maybe have just gone with disc brakes when I built the bike, but it’s a bit late late now as I’d have to buy a new fork and build new wheels, as well as the new callipers. Maybe on my next ‘cross bike…
It’s an interesting thought that the oldest and most simplistic form of the modern bicycle also attracts the most diverse cultural groups and usage. For those unfamiliar with fixed gear bikes, they have no gears or even a freewheel – if the wheels are moving then so are your legs!
Historically, fixed gear bikes were the norm until some clever sod invented the freewheel, which then allowed you to ‘coast’ once you were up to speed (very useful when going downhill). Early professional road cyclists used them and track cyclists at velodromes still do. Track bikes also have the distinction of not having brakes, which is also how some people like to ride them on the road. This style of riding, which requires the rider to lock their legs to skid to a halt, became popular with New York couriers before spreading to the rest of the world. The current ‘fixie’ scene combines this often precarious form of riding with fashion, both for the rider and bike and has even spawned the sport of bicycle polo.
So what’s my involvement with fixed gear? Well for me, it’s nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with riding. What started as a cost-effective commuter bike (the obligatory Specialized Langster) developed into a whole new appreciation of pedalling. People often talk about the zen like quality of riding fixed and how you’re connected to the road in a more positive way and whilst I don’t disagree with such thoughts, here’s eight quantifiable reasons for riding fixed.
If you consider how much riding time you’d usually spend coasting, you begin to realise how beneficial this style of riding is for your legs. In 2010 whilst starting training for the Etape du Tour I spent long, cold, dark winter evenings hurtling round the flat lanes of Cheshire on the Langster, often up to 50 miles and was amazed at the fitness I gained. Coaches refer to a ‘base’ of fitness that you can develop and riding fixed is the old school base building method that’s been around for years.
2. Pedalling technique
Non-obsessive cyclists might assume that there is no real technique to pedalling – your legs simply turn the pedals round. Those of us in the know appreciate that it’s not quite that simple. You should be producing even power throughout the whole circle and riding fixed can help achieve that even pedalling style, even when going downhill with a ridiculously high cadence. For maximum fun, try riding a fixed gear bike indoors on the rollers – it’s nowhere near as easy as the pro’s make it look at the velodrome…
3. Ultimate control in traffic
I admit that I was initially apprehensive about riding fixed gear through city centre traffic. It’s only since doing it on a non-fixed bike that I’ve realised the benefits. Weaving through traffic at slow speeds is so much easier to control when you’re controlling your acceleration and deceleration with your legs.
4. Track stands
It was through riding fixed that I mastered the art of standing still on the bicycle. Not massively exciting, but useful at traffic lights as it saves you having to unclip your feet. This is due to being able to put your bars at 45˚ and control your forward and backwards motion. It’s not just a cool trick though, as the control and technique helps with the mountain biking.
5. Hill climbing
Hills with no gears? Oh yes! I’m not talking long alpine climbs, but any short ramp of up to 15% can be ‘attacked’ on a fixed gear bike in a way that you just wouldn’t on your normal road bike. Maybe it’s the lack of gears to wimp out with, or that if you don’t commit your whole body to it 100% then you’ll grind to a halt and fall over. Strava’s proved to me that my best efforts on short hills are when riding a fixed gear bike and the Monsal Hill climb course record set by Malcom Elliot in 1981 whilst riding a fixed wheel bike still stands to this day.
6. No gears, no hassles
Keeping your gears working well isn’t exactly rocket science, but if you’re going to be riding a bike through city centre grime and winter country lanes then it’s nice not to have to have any to collect muck in. All you need to do is give the chain a wipe and lube from time to time and occasionally re-tension the rear wheel as the chain inevitably stretches.
7. A cheaper bike
Whether you’re building or buying, a fixed gear bike is way cheaper than a geared road bike. If you’ve ever specced up your own road bike then you’ll have realised how much goes on the gear levers and derailleurs. Not a problem on the fixie so you either get a much cheaper bike, or if you spend the same money you’ll get a better quality of important components, such as wheels.
8. The fitness gauge
One thing about having to turn the one same gear is that you know how your legs are feeling, there’s no hiding behind easier gears. I used to commute in and out of town on a 48×17 fixed wheel every day and it was the best measurement of fitness I’ve ever had. If I ever started considering changing to a 16t sprocket then I knew I was on form. If I was struggling to turn the pedals it was time for an easy week…
Having already cycled up the height of Mount Everest 12 times this year, it’s nice to just enjoy the rhythm of some flat or gently rolling roads on a fixed gear bike. Too much of anything can wear you down and we all need variety, so the hills can wait whilst I recondition my legs and perfect my pedalling ready for 2014. It’s going to be a good year!
As Greg Lemond, the American Tour De France winner once said: “It doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster”. Returning to Tenerife for another training camp (or ‘holiday’ as I tactfully refer to them at home) was a painful reminder of the first half of Greg’s famous quote. Somewhere in my cycling obsessed brain, I’d decided that having pedalled up Mount Teidi several times earlier in the year that it would somehow be easier this time.
Obviously this was not the case. I might have moved to the edge of the Peak District, but any UK climb starts to look like a pathetic pimple once you leave your Tenerife hotel by the sea and embark on a continual climb to the lip of the crater at 7200ft/2200m. For an average amateur like me, that’s three hours of non-stop climbing, depending on route, fitness and form. For more specific route advice check out the blog from the last ‘holiday’.
Coping with the climb
If you’re not a veteran of long climbs you’ll be needing some coping strategies to get you through. 25 miles of uphill is obviously a lot to come to terms with, so break it into the three sections, but ride straight through onto the next one though or you might be tempted to stop. There’s plenty of time to think, although if you’re really serious you’ll only be concentrating on your pedalling and breathing. I can’t claim to be that disciplined yet though, so for me, life gets evaluated, perspective is gained and often these blogs get written.
I don’t think I could cope with any kind of long ride without a decent amount of data to look at, which is where the Garmin 705 comes in. Average speed, heart rate, cadence, gradient – they’re aIl decent distractions, but you can’t beat watching the altitude readout on a long climb. On a climb like Mount Teidi you see altitude figures on your Garmin that would normally have you planning a system reset and thoughts like ‘only another 2000 feet of climbing’ become almost normal.
I’ve gone off the route into the actual crater, with it’s howling winds, broken Tarmac and coaches, in favour of pausing to eat my squashed sandwich before the frantic hour of descent back to the hotel. It’s worth doing once though, just for the spectacle of it. In the UK I go out of my way to create rides that form perfect loops, or at least interesting shapes (that’ll be the OCD…) Out here though, I’m perfectly happy to retrace my route in order to relive and celebrate every hard earned slope and hairpin whilst (almost) graciously swooping downwards with gravity now very much on my side.
What wasn’t on my side this visit though, was the wind. Having quickly realised that none of the weather forecasts could be relied on, I just set off each time regardless. Whilst it was never an issue on the way up, and once past Vilaflor it was ghostly still, the descents lower down became somewhat terrifying for a man trying to cling on to a lightweight carbon bike.
So was Greg right?
I’d certainly not found it any easier this time, but was I any quicker? Via the magic of Strava, it turned out that I was! Without the ability to upload my rides until returning to the UK, I’d been attacking the routes based on fairly imprecise targets and maximum efforts. It seemed to have worked though, as I’d shaved minutes off every category 1 segment and even PR’d on every descent as well. Although I did the same amount of rides as last time, I didn’t actually do as many miles and climbing, but what I did do was ride harder. And maybe it’s that intensity that’s been lacking from my riding this year. So whilst I’ve not achieved any of the sportive results I wanted this year, I’m treating my performance on Teidi as an achievement.
Here’s the evidence on Strava: ride 1, ride 2, ride 3, ride 4. I feel like I’ve ‘done’ Teidi properly now and having been there twice, it’s probably time to find another training camp destination. Oops, I mean holiday…
There’s a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. If you apply the same logic to bikes then you’ll probably end up fitting mudguards. It was this idea of making my Planet X Uncle John an all weather winter road bike that led me to finally confront my aversion to mudguards. I can’t really explain why I’ve resisted them for so long, but there’s just something uncool about them. They’ll turn a sleek and racy looking bike into an old man’s steed and I wasn’t quite that sure I was ready for that kind of bike in my life.
The obvious choice of mudguard
The SKS Chromoplastic’s are universally regarded as the best ‘proper’ mudguards around and I opted for the P45 set so that I could still run my cross wheels with 30mm Schwalbe CX-Pro’s on as well as my winter road wheels fitted with the excellent Durano Plus 23mm tyres. Having fitted the ‘guards this week and tested them in appropriately wet weather on their first ride, I can confirm that they are indeed brilliant. The instructions however, are not worth the very small piece of paper they’re written on and I had to have a look at a colleagues bike to understand how the little plastic hoods work. I also had to get a bit creative with the drill to fashion a fixing to the seat stay bridge on the Uncle John, which seems to be 90 degrees off compared to the fixings provided. Be prepared to spend a while getting all this right, as you’ll probably have to fit the guards without the plastic hoods, then mark up where you’ll need to cut them, then take each side off to cut and fit the hoods. It’s not rocket science, but it’s all a bit fiddly.
The Tektro brakes of death
The installation of mudguards required a change of strategy with the brakes, as my Tektro 926AL mini-v’s didn’t provide enough clearance. The Tektro CR520/720′s cantilever brakes have a lot of fans online, despite the admittedly poor pads. It didn’t bother me though, as I planned to reuse my Koolstop dual compounds I’d been using. They brakes were reasonably fiddly to fit and for some reason, you have to ignore the conveniently placed 5mm allen bolt and struggle with the nut round the back of the yoke. Having spent a week reading reviews and swotting up on mechanical advantage ratios and straddle wire heights, I was confident that they would work well.
That first ride in the wet proved that all my research had been in vain. The front brake had some ability to slow me down on descents, but not enough power to avoid a long guessing game of whether I would stop in time before each junction. The rear brake was even more interesting… Before the rain came down it felt weak and underpowered, but the situation got much worse in the wet. After some scientific testing involving a long descent and the speed readout on my Garmin, I concluded that pulling the brake as hard as I could made absolutely no difference to my speed. I carried on using it, but it was only really working as a placebo brake. After a few terrifying near misses I decided to change my route as there were some steep descents coming up that I don’t think I would have survived.
It was an interesting comparison though, as it was the same wheels, levers and pads – just a change of calliper from the min-v’s to cantilever. I wasn’t totally convinced by the Surly rear hanger I’d bought, which resembled a big paper clip and probably only as strong, but I can’t imagine it being entirely responsible for the lack of power.
But what about the mudguards?
Despite the terrors of going downhill, the addition of mudguards transformed the wet ride. Obviously I was still getting rained on from above, but the lack of spray coming up from the road was very noticeable, with no more soggy backside to soak you through and make you cold. An unexpected bonus was not having to wear any eyewear in the rain, as there was nothing coming up from the road. I also avoided getting splattered in mud when going down some more rural lanes and before long I’d started to lose my ingrained habit of avoiding puddles.
By the end of the ride, I’d come to terms with having ‘guards on my bike. I was now a proper road cyclist; I’d come of age and I was ok with that. If having mudguards encourages me to get out and get more miles in over winter then it’s a positive move. They might have swelled the weight of the bike close to 10kg but it will just make the Boardman feel even more amazing when I get back on it.
All I need to do now is find some cantilever brakes that work and I’ll be a happy winter rider. Suggestions welcome.
Whilst I didn’t actually need another set of road wheels, I’ve always fancied some that were at least a little bit aero. Obviously I’d love some deep section carbon rimmed models, but I can’t really justify the cost. And so my quest to balance weight, performance and cost began. If you’re new to wheel building then you might want to read the previous post encouraging you to give it a go.
Warning: if you’re not in the least bit interested in bicycle wheels, then you may find this post a little bit dull.
I wanted some wheels that were under 1500g without skewers, a rim depth great enough to hopefully provide some aero advantage and a total cost of under £300. I knew that deeper aluminium rims would weigh more, but that could be offset by running fewer spokes due to the increased rim strength. I’m struggling to stay at 80kg so was reluctant to go for the popular 20/24 spoke count. Having been forced to carry my bike home after snapping spokes on my 16/20 Shimano RS80′s before I wanted a wheel that would still function with a spoke out. I settled on 24/28 as a safe compromise and started buying components. One benefit to building your own wheels is that you can spread the cost by buying components whenever you have the money.
Having previously discovered and road tested the 288g BT12 hubs from an Ebay seller for £75 for a previous build, I was more than willing to go with them again. I did have a panic with my first pair after 1100 miles when the rear hub developed an alarming cracking sound that sounded like my carbon frame was about to snap. Having finally worked out how to get into them (take the skewer out and stick an allen key in each end – so obvious I didn’t notice!) I gave them a quick clean and a regrease and they’re like new again.
The rim of choice?
After much research, I stumbled across the TSR 27 from a company called Tune, featuring a rim depth of 27mm, (only) available in 24/28 holes and £33 pounds online from Germany. The site claimed they were “about 430g” which sounded amazing, so I was slightly gutted when they weighed out at 455g each. Still, they’re deeper, lighter and cheaper than Mavic’s popular CXP33 and I liked the understated lack of logo’s. Tune themselves sell a wheelset with these rims on for over £500 and it gets specced on bikes costing £4500, so I was surprised to pick them up so cheap. Also under consideration was the IRD cadence Aero, but the only UK distributer I could find ran out of stock when I had the money…
Bit of a no-brainer, but for lightweight and aero I don’t know of anything better than the Sapim CX-Ray. I also really like building with them, as despite being a two handed job, it’s impossible to get in a mess with spoke wind-up. These spokes are brilliant but unfortunately the most expensive components of the wheel build, especially in black. The best place I’ve found is here. I opted for matching black aluminium nipples for an all black sleek looking wheelset (it seems that looks matter to me and my wheels…)
I’d only ever built with the double eye-letted Mavic Open Pro’s before, so I initially fell for the trap of half lacing the wheel then dropping a nipple in the rim and having to unlace it all to get it out. I ended up using an old spoke to poke the nipple through the rim without losing it (are any non-wheelbuilders still reading at this point?) I thought that less spokes might make the build harder, but I had them trued, tensioned and stressed fairly easily. I’d also decided to try VeloPlugs instead of my usual Velox tape (saving a few more grams…) though I also ran a layer of standard insulation tape over them to prevent the chance of losing any plugs in a roadside repair. I like to easily see some coloured rim tape before pumping a tyre up to 110psi so I know I haven’t pinched the tube.
I like these wheels – they look great and weigh 1471g without skewers (+44g with my Planet X favourites) and came in under my £300 budget. By comparision, Shimano Dura Ace wheels cost over twice as much, aren’t as aero/deep but do weigh 90g less. Obviously the Dura Ace wheelset has more kudos and is ridden by pro riders, but for the money and extra 90g I’ll go with my self built efforts. If a spoke snaps I can still ride home (no following team car for me) and a new spoke costs £2 instead of £10 with a lengthy wait from Madison. I wisely ordered an extra spoke for each length just in case. Also, when I wear the rim down I can buy a new one for £33, whereas it is not even financially viable to re-rim a high end Shimano wheel, you’d have bought a very expensive wheel with a limited life span.
So how do they ride? Great! I’m not sure how much faster they feel over my Open Pro wheels, but (in my head) they feel quick. They feel nice and stiff with no noticeable brake rub when going hard out of the saddle and I’d recommend them to anyone looking to build some good wheels on a budget.
The only problem I now have is finding a decent reason to my next set of wheels…
It’s sometimes hard to get motivated when the alarm goes off at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning, especially when you know that it’s going to result in five or six hours of gruelling mountain biking round the South Pennines in abysmal conditions. Yes, it’s the Mary Towneley Loop Mountain Bike Challenge again and the 6th year for me.
For those not familiar with this particular form of suffering, it involves a lap of the MTL, which is part of the excellent Pennine Bridleway. The event is run by the local mountain rescue team and the top value £20 entry fee supports their service. That’s comforting, as the weather forecast for this year suggested that they might be busy looking after some of us. Whilst yesterday was a warm, clear sunny early autumn day – today was forecast to feature high velocity horizontal rain. Classic pennine weather.
The route is approximately 46 miles with 6500ft of climbing (74km/1950m for non-UK readers) over grass/mud tracks, cobbled pack-horse routes and generally rough and rocky terrain. There’s not much flat and there’s not much tarmac. To be honest, it’s a brute of a route, but I’ve watched my times improve since that first year when I was chuffed to get under 7 hours, so it’s become a bit of a benchmark for my fitness. Last year I got round in a very respectable 5h24m and I was now left wondering whether I had a quicker time in me. The course record is apparently around 4h15m, which still seems unreachable for me. I was amazed by the large amount of riders braving the elements this year, as last time the weather was this bad (in 2010) only about 70 riders started, allowing me to bag a cheeky 10th place.
I met Duncan, my partner in crime for the day, on the start line. I knew he’d been knocking out 5h30m loops in training, including opening all the gates himself, so I assured him to crack on at his own pace and not hold back for me. We blasted round together for the first 20 miles in great time though, so quick that we started worrying that we’d gone too hard too soon. I felt ok though and had been working to the mantra of “keep Duncan in sight and you’ll do alright” which I’d just about managed to do.
However, by mile 26 it all started going wrong for me…
At the bottom of another tough climb I felt a bad hunger knock. Foolishly, I decided to try to keep the rapidly disappearing Duncan in sight and deal with the issue after the climb, which was stupid as this climb was the one section of the route that would have really benefitted from a full suspension bike and a lack of fuel just made it worse for me. My chain also started to develop serious chain-suck on the little ring (for the non-tech types, when the chain ring approaches the end of its useful life, the chain jams, especially in muddy conditions…). This meant that the remaining 20 miles would not have the benefit of nice low gears on the hills. It was also about this time that the rain really started to heavy.
After a few miles of sulking, I had a word with myself and found my flow again – not quite Duncan pace, but pushing as hard as I thought I could sustain till the end. Odd as it might seem, once I’m totally soaked to the skin, covered in mud and suffering badly, I actually start to really enjoy myself. Obviously I’m counting the miles down and willing myself towards the end by using whatever mind tricks I can, but there’s something rather enjoyably epic about it. By the last (and biggest) climb I realised I could still get back within 5h30m, so despite the aching legs, back and arms, I stepped it up again. The weather was so bad by now that two riders about 100m in front of me were barely visible through the mist. I set them as a target and ground out an adrenaline fuelled pace up the cobbled ascent of ‘Rooley Moor Road’. I caught them at the top and the three of us blasted past Cragg Quarry, though the track was now more like a river. The descent was fast and rough but I just let the brakes off and rode it out. The recent mountain bike ‘practice’ rides had definitely paid off.
Bizarrely, the longest tarmac section of the whole route is the final few miles back to the event HQ, though it’s obviously uphill, just in case you thought it might be an easy finish. Now’s the time to lock the forks out and empty the tank. I was so hungry I felt sick, but I’d have plenty of time for feeling ill once I’d finished.
I stopped the clock at 5h25m which put me roughly 26th out of 195 starters and only a minute slower than last year. It would have been amazing to have beaten my best time, but given the mechanical and meteorological disadvantages I’m going to claim it as a successful day on the bike. Duncan had managed a very impressive 5h01m and is already contemplating a sub 4h30m time. I reckon I might have a sub 5 hour effort in me, but not in that kind of weather…
If you fancy a well run and friendly, but absolutely brutal mountain bike event then I can definitely recommend this one. Free tea and toast at the start and tea and cakes at the end. What’s not to like?
On Sunday I rode the Manchester 100 for the sixth time. It’s an odd event for many reasons. Firstly, it starts 7 miles to the south of Manchester but then mercifully heads off away from the city towards the the quiet roads of the Cheshire plains, which is a wise direction to take. The other aspect that make the event odd, is the range of people who take part. The event is a charity ride, not a sportive – there’s no timing chips or results posted online, but it doesn’t stop the thousands of amateur cyclists turning up on their £2000+ carbon bikes complete with deep section carbon rims. Many of these riders have splashed out on full pro-team kit, whether they have the figure for it or not.
At the other end of the scale are the riders who are actually doing it for charity – sometimes massively overweight people on cheap bikes, grinding away with their feet flat on the pedals, knees sticking out and their torso’s rocking with the effort. But they’re the real stars of the day. They’ve raised lots of money for the event’s charity (The Christie, a cancer support charity) and some of them have gone to the trouble of getting t-shirts made to commemorate their departed loved ones, sometimes complete with photos. Fair play to them.
And me? Satisfied that (at least some of) my entry fee is going to charity, I turn up to hammer my way round the 100 miles on a fixed gear bike and hopefully bump into a few people I know. It’s become a bit of a tradition and I’m convinced that it’s a good form of training and an ideal build up to the mountain bike event in two weeks time. This year I decided to further handicap myself by pedalling from my new home in Macclesfield, taking the daily total to 114miles (183km). Despite a crap nights sleep, I felt great as I set off at 7.45am and was raring to go when I got to the start. It seems that I’d definitely ‘brought the good legs’ as Hugh Porter would say*.
In the absence of my fast riding colleague of previous years, I’d decided to start late and hopefully bump into a couple of other mates on the way round. Unfortunately, it turned out that they’d set off even later than me so consequently I spent the 100 miles on my own looking out for them. But it didn’t really matter though as I was flying round and having a great time on my own. There’s something about riding fixed that’s just really, really enjoyable and it will probably get written about on here in a rather evangelical style sooner or later. The Dolan Pre Cursa was feeling fast and the only irritation was the congestion, which seemed worse than usual. This might have been due to setting off later, but usually after the first 10 miles it thins out nicely. There was a lot of riders two and three abreast who weren’t bothered to check behind them to see if any car or rider wanted to overtake. It really started to get a bit irritating as the day wore on, but hey, it’s not a race or even a sportive!
Despite it not being a sportive, there were some quality sights. Here’s my favourites:
- I was thoroughly entertained by one aging rider who had donned a proper aerodynamic time trial helmet with long tail fin. He managed to turn this marginal gain into a definite loss by riding with his head down, trailing the fin through the air and negating any possible benefit. His compression socks also deserve an honourable mention.
- The man who was ‘riding’ what could only be described as a cross trainer on wheels. I think it was one of these. Respect!
- The lady smoking a cigarette whilst cycling caught my eye. Particularly ironic given the charity she was supporting.
- I didn’t get to see the rider, but I saw a very high end bike with very expensive deep section rims at the lunch stop, though I thought the mountain bike mudguard hanging off the seat post spoilt the aesthetic a little.
I worked with a few other riders, but mostly just cracked on alone, only stopping to fill bottles at feed stops. I finished the day with an average moving speed of 18.2mph (29kph) which given the congestion wasn’t too bad at all. There’s always a good vibe at the finish and even a few people cheering you on along the way, so long as you don’t take it too seriously it’s a really fun day out, highly recommended. I might have to shave my legs for next year to fit in with the more serious types though…
* Hugh Porter is arguably the worst cycling commentator from the UK, possibly even the world. Despite his trademark style of getting riders names wrong in his irritating Wolverhampton accent, he still gets regular employment with the BBC, who incredibly now let him apply the same treatment to swimming.
Ok, I know it’s a cycling blog and I have no pretensions of culinary greatness, but I feel the need to share the recipe for my cycling fuel with you. Until two years ago, I used to buy those expensive sports nutrition bars to eat on big rides. Then I realised that it was essentially just posh flapjack, so after some investigative Googling I decided to start making my own. I should tell you up front that I am not especially known for my skills in the kitchen, in fact I’d say that I’m fairly inept. Toast and the occasional pasta dish were the previous extent of my repertoire, so making flapjack was into a whole new area of cooking for me.
I tell you this by way of encouragement: once you get the hang of this, you’ll be in and out of the kitchen in half an hour, from prep to cleaning up afterwards. You’ll also start tweaking the recipe to suit your own tastes. And the results? Rocket fuel! The first time I took this out on a group mountain bike I had some just before the final tough climb at the end of a long ride. I flew up the climb like it was the first of the day. So, if you want to make your own cheap, tasty and high performance cycling fuel then read on.
Baking tray (I use one 12″ x 8″ x 1″)
Scales (the same scales that you secretly weigh bike components on)
Bowls (just for weighing ingredients in)
Wok (or half the ingredients if you only have a large frying pan)
16oz block of butter
18oz of porridge oats (I’ve recently been using Museli as well)
12oz of dried fruit (the cheapo stuff from the baking aisle in the supermarket works fine)
4oz of castor sugar (or any sugar to be honest)
12oz of golden syrup (using treacle or honey as part of the 12oz can be interesting)
- Put the oven on to 180 degrees, turn on the radio/stereo/iPod.
- Thoroughly grease the baking tray with butter.
- Cube the butter and start melting it in the wok over a medium heat. Try not to boil it.
- Weight out 4oz of sugar and 12oz of syrup into a bowl.
- Once the butter’s almost melted, throw the sugar/syrup combo in.
- Stir it all in so it’s melted into a sickly mess that looks dangerously unhealthy.
- Weigh out and add 18oz of oats and stir in. It’ll seem too much, but keep turning it in until there’s no whiteness in the oats.
- Weigh out and add in the fruit. Feel free to add anything else at this point. Seeds are good, if you’re into that kind of thing.
- Once it’s all blended in, transfer it to the greased baking tray. I find that the back of a spoon works best to press it in firmly.
- Place in the middle of the oven for 12 minutes.
And that’s it. Clean up whilst it’s cooking to avoid getting in trouble, taking care to wipe the syrup tin or it will gunk up the cupboard. After 12 minutes, take it out and leave to cool. It should just be browned round the edges – don’t panic and bake it for longer though, as it will be properly done once it’s cooled. When it is cooled, you can take out and chop up into your preferred shapes/sizes and wrap in cling film or foil. This is my least favourite stage of the whole operation, but if you do it now you’ve got a convenient stock to grab from on your way out for a ride.
My other advice would be to only eat this stuff when you’re actually out riding. A decent slice of this fuels a couple of hours in the saddle so don’t be tempted by a slice when you’re just sat on the couch or you’ll notice massive weight gains…
A recent trip round the classic Jacob’s Ladder loop in the Peak district highlighted a problem that’s been developing for a while. Whilst I’m fine on the smoother, more flowing descents, when it comes to the technical rocky stuff with drop offs and loose boulders I seem to have lost my bottle.
Any non-mountain bikers reading this may well be thinking “What the hell are you trying to ride that kind of trail for anyway?” but that’s mountain biking. At least in the Peak District anyway, other UK regions may have easier riding geology, but I don’t want to stir up the North/South divide.
The ride had me thinking back to 10 years ago when I first started biking round there: bumping down the same trails on a heavy bike with 80mm of unresponsive front suspension and dangerously ineffective v-brakes. I don’t remember being as cautious as I am now on my fat tyred custom hard tail. So what’s going wrong?
Lack of practice?
I reckon this is a big part of my current problem: too much time spent mincing around in lycra on the road bike. I’ve always mixed the disciplines up, but this year has had a distinct lack of ‘proper’ mountain biking. The majority of my off-road mileage has been on the cross bike on trails considerably tamer than Jacobs Ladder. It’s not been entirely wasted though, as my off-road climbing is faster than ever thanks to my high mileage.
A healthy fear of injury
I’m crap at being injured. If I can’t ride then I start going a bit weird. This is in my mind as I bounce down rocky trails, maybe more than it should be. As you get older you become aware of responsibilities and I’m not the carefree young man that I was. There’s a pro road cyclist who overcame his fear of fast descending by listening to classical music, but I think I’ll need more than a change of playlist to sort this out.
So what’s the plan? Well having slept on it, I’ve realised that like most things in life, if I want to get better I’ll have to practice. I’ve never deliberately practiced riding before, I’ve just ridden. So I might actually go out and find a difficult section of trail and repeat it a few times (I believe proper riders call it ‘sessioning’ a section) then move on to a harder section. Sounds quite dull but I reckon the returns should pay back massively.
I might also take to wearing knee and elbow pads to help with confidence whilst practicing. I suspect going back to riding full suspension would also help me get my downhill mojo back, but I know I’ll not get clearance for it at home….
No work, a good weather forecast and a rest day on the Tour de France – the obvious thing to do was to grab the mountain bike and head out on an adventure! From the list of rides to do this summer, a test ride of the recently opened northern section of the Pennine Bridleway seemed to fit the bill nicely. I’m a big fan of these long distance route type things and the Pennine Bridleway’s a incredible route. Though originally inspired and initiated by the horsey brigade, UK rights of way laws also make this a prime mountain bike route. I know the southern section that runs through the Peak District to the South Pennines where it meets the 47 mile Mary Towneley Loop, which I know particularly well. And until fairly recently, that was it. Last year though, the next instalment opened, from the top of the MTL right up through the South Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales into Cumbria. If they get people out on their bikes and help bring a bit of money into rural areas then it’s a win/win situation.
I like the idea of a mountain bike route that goes from A to B, but it also makes for a complicated day ride. You could get crafty with a riding partner and leave one of your cars down trail and then use it to get back to the other car at the start…. or you could use the train! One advantage of living in Manchester is that it has train routes heading out in all directions. I’m moving out of town a little way next week, so it made sense to utilise these stations to tackle this point to point route.
The railway strategy today was to get a train to Mytholmroyd in the South Pennines and then ride 12 miles of trails to get to the start of the new PBW section, then slog north on the trail 22 miles to near Gisburn, at which point I’d veer off and ride 8 miles of country lanes to the station at Clitheroe. I was tempted to carry on to Long Preston on the edge of the Dales, but the train journey times and price doubled so I’ll have to continue this particular adventure another day. Here’s the ride data on Strava if you want to pinch the route.
The South Pennines are often overlooked as an area of countryside, which is a real shame. Admittedly, it’s not a designated National Park and there are a few creepy farms to occasionally pass through, but to this rider at least, its dramatic rolling moorlands make it well worth a visit. Even the guide book I’d read was dismissive of the area, stating that it was the Yorkshire Dales section that would appeal to people, which is doing the area a massive disservice. One thing to be wary of on such a PBW mission, is that the route manages to sidestep every village and shop where you might have planned to stock up on water. I did an hour without water in rare British summer heat and eventually had to get the map out to plan a diversion to a local pub to rehydrate. The symbol on the OS map is a pint of beer, but I was was just happy for them to fill my camelbak with water.
So anyway, what’s the route like then? Really, really good! As ever, it’s a mix of existing bridleways, reassigned (and re-gated…) paths, along with some totally new bridleways. I’m pleased to report that the new bridleways have been tastefully and sensibly constructed – a rock/gravel base planted with grass seed that should drain well and is already settling in to a trail that looks as old as the some of the other bridleways.
I know some people might dismiss this type of route, claiming that it’s not technical enough, but I’d disagree. The climbs are all rideable and the descents are usually fast and fun enough that a lapse in concentration would mean trouble. Admittedly, it’s not the technical challenge of the Nan Bield pass, but it you carve yourself a decent chunk off, then you’ll know about it by the end of the day. I’m already studying the train timetables for an assault on the next section…