CC Luton Reliability Ride

First post of 2012 about my first proper ride of the year.

For various reasons including some illness, I’d only been out on a single 20 mile ride in 2012 before this event. Therefore I was slightly apprehensive about a 100km ride through the Chilterns straight off the bat. However, it all turned out great. The weather was chilly but bright and I arrived at the start to find a healthy number of people, including a couple of fellow Verulam CC members. After signing in I just missed a large group heading off by about 30 seconds. Luckily so had a few others including some guys from Hemel CC so we sped along and managed to get onto the bigger group after a few miles. In the rush my GPS hadn’t acquired a lock so the route above is missing a mile or so.

Once caught onto the back of the main group of about thirty riders we almost immediately came to the bottom of Ivinghoe Beacon. At this point it transpired that the group were the “group 1″ riders, aiming for a fast time. Hence I quickly got dropped on the climb, but I was by no means the only one. The descent through Gaddesden and down towards Hemel saw mainly solo riding, but at a decent enough pace. To be honest I was probably pushing a bit too fast. At the turn near Hemel to head up towards Bovingdon I took my first gel and continued on solo riding through Chesham and on towards Great Missenden. Once up Frith Hill I managed to join up with another small group and we made light work of the climbing up towards Hawridge and beyond towards Tring. However near Tring I started to feel the lack of miles in my legs a bit and dropped off.

From Tring back to Edlesborough was solo, including the familiar Tom’s Hill. In the end I recorded a time of 3 hours 48 minutes which put me near the start of the “medium” target time period. Quite pleasing when I was a bit worried about coming in under the five hour mark to begin with :-) I’ve obviously still got some fitness given the relatively lazy winter, but a new bike (more on that to come) may have played a part as well. Another pleasing aspect was that this formed the longest single stint ride I’ve done without any kind of break.

Prescription Oakley Jawbones

Eyewear is important in cycling, regardless of the quality of your vision. You may have 20/20 sight, but when it is raining and spray stings your eyes, or worse a fly or wasp flies right into your face you’ll be far better off if you have something protecting your eyes.

Then there is the question of sunlight and shade. When cycling on a bright day you want sunglasses which will stop intense sunshine and glare from distracting you. However on a dull overcast day you don’t want to be wearing sunglasses which made everything too dark. Finally on some days you find both types of condition, so what do you do then?

I’ve worn glasses for most of my adult life to combat my astigmatism. I’m not long or short sighted at all, but due to the shape of my eyes vertically aligned objects are somewhat blurred. Since starting cycling I simply wore my regular glasses for this reason. However on sunny days I found it annoying not to be able to wear sunglasses, and additionally my regular glasses didn’t do a good job of protecting the whole of my eyes.

I’ve been a user of Oakley sunglasses for years and years but never justified to myself the expense of getting a prescription pair, until recently that is. Since really taking up cycling I could finally make the justification to myself and now I wonder why I took so long!

When researching I focussed on:

  • Frame type – with the decisions being around size, shape, protection and comfort more than style.
  • Lens type – as these would be primarily used for cycling I wanted versatility in a multitude of light conditions

There are two main types of Oakley frame that suit cycling.

The traditional wrap-around frame provides a lot of protection with minimal frame interference with your peripheral vision and good ventilation meaning they don’t fog up. The main frame in Oakleys wrap-around range is the Radar, which comes in various formats. However, I’ve never really liked this style.

The more traditional full-frame type is represented by the Jawbone and Split Jacket styles. There’s little difference between them, the Split Jacket is simply a smaller version of the Jawbone to suit a different type of face. The key features of both are their flexibility. Unlike most full-frame glasses they have interchangeable lenses thanks to the hinged “jaws”. You simply unclip the jaws at the nose piece and they hinge away from the lens, allowing it to slide out. Thus, a single set of frames can be used with multiple lenses for various conditions. Finally, the Jawbone and Split Jacket come in a wide variety of colours, and you can even create your own custom versions.

After a few visits to stores, including the Oakley Store in Covent Garden I settled on Jawbones. The bigger size fitted me more snugly and meant that there was less frame in my peripheral vision. As for colour, I opted simple Matt White to match my helmet.

The final decision was on which lenses to go for. There are at least 24 different options in the Oakley prescription range. One decision I had made was to go for Transistions adaptive lenses. These photo chromatic lenses adjust their tint according to light conditions. From a cycling point of view this means they are useful for more days of the year. This is important given that I really didn’t want to have to purchase more than one set of prescription lenses if I could avoid it.

As an aside, anybody who watched the 2010 Tour De France on Eurosport in the UK will likely remember the Tyler Farrar Transitions ad which seemed to be played during every single ad break during the coverage. Rumor has it that this was part of the deal that took Bradley Wiggins from Garmin to Team Sky.

There are a number of Transistions lenses in the Oakley range. The main consideration is the level of light transmission that each one gives which for Transistions lenses is of course measured as a range. In the end I opted for the Grey option which go from pretty much clear at 93% light transmission to a dark grey at 16% light transmission. I opted for vented lenses, which basically means they have holes at the top and bottom to allow some air to circulate behind the lenses to aid in the prevention of fogging.

With my decision made, ordering was done via rxsport.co.uk and involved entering my prescription details as well as measuring my pupil distance using the method described on their site. The service was excellent with the glasses arriving within about ten days from ordering (bearing in mind they are made to order of course.)

The glasses arrived in a sturdy Jawbone specific hard case along with a usual Oakley soft cloth and a spare pair of nose pieces of a different size to the ones fitted in case you need to swap.

Here they are just out of the packaging, inside the house:

You can see that the lenses are basically clear. In low light conditions on the bike, even at night, this allows them to be used and still to provide the protection they give.

When taking them outside, on a fairly sunny day, but with the sun behind cloud, they looked like this after about a minute:

That’s not as dark as they go, but is still a pretty dramatic change from before. It is worth noting that they tend to go darker quicker then they go lighter. In practice this means that on the bike they do not suddenly lighten if you go from bright light into a tree covered section for instance. However I’ve not found any problem here and I cycle through a lot of tree covered lanes! It is also worth noting that the transition happens in response to UV light. This means that they do not change indoors (or at least not much) and also means in some cars with special windscreens they may not change at all. However as I bought them as cycling glasses this is irrelevant to me.

So, how have I found them for cycling? In a word: awesome. They really are the best cycling equipment purchase I’ve made, bar bikes themselves. They are so much better than wearing my regular glasses and the optical quality is as good if not better. The quality of the lenses is excellent and after over 400 miles wearing them in conditions ranging from bright sunny days to driving rain I have no complaints. The only minor issue is that they do tend to fog up a bit when you’ve stopped after a hard effort, but on the move they stay clear thanks to the vented lenses. The protection is excellent and I have had flies hit them as a test! At first I did find that the frames were visible in my peripheral vision, but I soon got used to that.

Perhaps the only other negative is that they truly are cycling only sunglasses. Worn on their own they look just a little weird. This is a combination of the Jawbone design which let’s face it is rather “bug eyed” and my own choice of Matt White colour. When combined with a helmet this looks cool, but on their own is a little too much in contrast to my own colour! Since buying them however I’ve noticed both Brad Wiggins and Geraint Thomas regularly rocking white Oakleys so I’m in good company! Spot the difference (although I think G is wearing Split Jackets)…

Geraint Thomas in white Oakleys!

(Image from this Guardian article)

In summary, if like me you cycle and you’ve never been able to fully justify the purchase of prescription glasses then my message is simply, stop lusting over a new set of wheels or more weight saving equipment and invest in your eyes. After all, you only have one pair of them!

Ride Around London

The big one.

This was my main cycling goal for 2011. Whilst I’d done a couple of smaller organized rides earlier in the year and have certainly stepped up my cycling activity recently, this was the motivation. Whilst a single day, relatively flat, 115 mile ride is not much in the grand scheme of things it would be the longest ride I’d ever done. I also wanted to do it in a reasonable time, not simply suffer around slowly and on my own.

Lana dropped my off at Herne Hill Velodrome at about 6:30am and I made my way to registration whilst she turned around and headed home back to bed! Not knowing anybody else on the event I attached myself to a small group waiting at the start and after a short briefing we were off. The sky was just starting to lighten as we headed up through Dulwich towards Crystal Palace. The temperature was cool but not chilly. Arm warmers sufficed. The group I was in consisted of two guys from the army, three other guys who knew each other, myself and one other solo rider. After a first ten miles through built up South London we hit some nicer roads and the first bit of meaningful gradient. At this stage I got the nice surprise to find that I made it up the hill faster than all but one of the group I was in. This continued through the day (almost) as I found I was moving past plenty of riders and not getting overtaken too much. At the top of the first hill at Chipstead I found myself with a couple of guys as we headed down the descent towards the base of Box Hill.

We were now encased in morning mists as we looped around towards the base of the climb. Box Hill itself was a comfortable slog. I didn’t push hard knowing that there were still the best part of 80 miles still to come. After a quick break at the food stop positioned at the top of the hill I headed off for the nice descent and fairly fast 35 miles towards Windsor and the half-way point. I made it to the stop with about four hours elapsed and took the opportunity for a 20 minute break to refuel and stretch a bit for the forthcoming Chilterns segment.

We hit some crosswinds through Eton Dorney and at one point it looked like the weather might turn, but soon the sun broke through for the arrival of the leafy Chiltern country lanes and some short sharp climbs towards the next food stop at Chipperfield. This proved to be the most welcome stop with coffee and ham rolls supplied! At this stage my legs were a little tired and my neck complaining but nothing that I was worried about. This also marked the start of the final leg which for me was firmly on home turf. I’d pretty much cycled the route from this point on various rides out. Despite some dragging climbs I made good progress and got past St. Albans as I hit the 100 mile mark. The ten miles after that proved to be the most difficult of the ride as the terrain along The Ridgeway, Cuffley and Goffs Oak saw some climbs with very tired legs! However from there it was a fast final few miles to the finish at Lee Valley Country Park and some welcome pasta, soon followed by a burger and chips!

My final moving time was 7 hours 35 minutes for the 115 miles, giving me a moving average speed of 15.2mph. This was faster than the first century I completed a couple of weeks before which was pleasing. Looking at the official timing it turns out I finished 132nd out of the 401 registered riders for the 115 mile course which again I was very happy with. I also felt good the next day with no real aches or pains!

Finally, what’s most important is the reason for this event in the first place. The whole thing was put on by Access Sport, a great charity that aims to help disadvantaged kids get involved in sport. In particular they do a lot with various cycling schemes in and around London. The event was first class (although one piece of feedback would be that the signage could be better – the directional arrows had very small heads!) and I was happy to be able to raise over £350 which my employer will also generously double.

I’m looking forward to the 2012 event already!

First Century Ride

This happened a little while ago now, but is significant enough to warrant a post.

As part of my build up to the Ride Around London sportive, I decided to use some built up holiday time to take a week of work with the intention of spending most of it cycling. A friend, Paul, decided to take a Monday off and join me for a ride. The plan was to do 80 miles or so.

The chosen day was Monday 12th September, otherwise most notable for the weather in effect. The tail end of a hurricane was hitting Britain and the Tour of Britain stage from Kendal to Blackpool that day was cancelled. I’d been out on a 50 mile club run the day before and suffered into some pretty strong headwinds.

So it was that I met Paul in Shenley at about 10am and we set off to follow a rough route that would take us East into the 40mph gusting wind for about 25 miles into the Chilterns before turning back towards St. Albans, onwards to Hertford and down to Potters Bar.

Thankfully whilst the wind was certainly a challenge it did stay dry and we made good progress. After heading around various parts of the Chilterns including Tom’s Hill, Ivinghoe Beacon and Dagnall we stopped for a bite to eat at a pub in Gaddesdon Row after about 50 miles. At this stage I was feeling fine and looking forward to a tailwind. We then headed back towards St. Albans and turned North to loop around the top of Welwyn Garden City before heading towards Hertford. Along this part of the ride Paul suffered a puncture and I was certainly thankful of the rest. By this stage, after a couple of diversions from the planned route, I knew we were headed for more distance than anticipated so we headed due South through Essendon towards Potters Bar. Unfortunately this included Essendon Hill which I’d only ever done down, not up and with weary legs it turned into a slog. At Potters Bar and 91 miles in we parted company as Paul headed back to North London and I turned East towards home. Less than a mile from which I had to stop to mark the significance of the occasion :-)

With a total moving time of 7 hours and ten minutes at an average of 14.1mph I was very happy with the ride, especially as it included around 1500m of ascent and some strong headwinds. I felt pretty good afterwards, especially considering I’d ridden 150 miles in two days, although my legs were a little stiff for a couple of days.

To some extent, I actually felt a little disappointed about the fact that I’d broken the 100 mile mark before the Ride Around London. Whilst I now knew I could do the distance (to the effect that I actually didn’t head out on the bike for the rest of my week off!) the challenge of the sportive had lessened. Still, it is another cycling achievement ticked off.

Training update

It’s been a while since I last posted about my training for the Ride Around London. There are now only just over three weeks to go to the event. I’ve clocked up 170 miles since my last update, but mostly on rides of 45-55 miles in length. I need to increase this and aim to get at least one 80 mile ride in my legs. To this end I’ve booked a week off work in the near future in order to give myself the chance to get down to the Surrey Hills and get a long ride in during the week as well as my normal weekend rides.

Whilst the bank holiday was busy I did get the chance to head out with my friend Alice on Monday for a 55 mile jaunt around the Chilterns.

Whilst the pace wasn’t that high, there was a fair amount of climbing involved including going up the Dunstable Downs escarpment twice as well as a drag up to Ivinghoe Beacon. It was also my first attempt to follow a course on my Garmin Edge 500. This didn’t work out so well as the device appeared to crash whenever paging beyond the course screen. In addition when on the course screen it often lost the course altogether and finally decided to completely give up the ghost 9.5 miles from home.

Finally, a reminder as to why I’m doing this – to raise money for Access Sport. Please visit my Justgiving page and make a donation if you can. As my employer, Pearson will double what I raise up to my £500 target so even if you can just spare £5 that is going to result in over £10 (including Gift Aid) going to charity!

Strava versus Garmin Connect for tracking cycle rides

I love my Garmin Edge 500 GPS cycle computer. It tracks pretty much every piece of data I would want (I don’t have a power meter though) to know how I’m doing on my rides. Up to now I’ve used the Garmin Connect site to upload ride activity for viewing and analysis.

Connect is very good, and whilst lots of people seem to complain about it, I’ve always found it fine in terms of performance and stability. There are a few things that I find annoying: I don’t like that they moved to Bing Maps, they just don’t work as well as Google and there’s no terrain view. I also wish they would show an indicator on the map when you hover over a point on the various graphs (e.g. to see where exactly the elevation occurred on the map) and finally I wish they would show some form of gradient information. Connect does however do a good job of displaying and making accessible all of the data that the Edge captures.

The sharing capabilities are basic on Garmin Connect. The Facebook sharing is pretty poor as it just displays a Connect logo on the news post. The Twitter integration is also poor with no ride details in the default message being posted. Finally, blog integration is via an iframe widget which doesn’t work in WordPress. There is an OK third party plugin which I’ve used here (and which in the latest version allows you to use Google Maps!)

Recently however I’ve been looking at a site called Strava. I’d seen it referenced on BikeRadar and other forums, mainly as it has a nifty feature which extracts hills and other segments from the rides people submit and tracks performances and generates leader boards.

However, as a pure Garmin Connect alternative, Strava seems very useful. It uploads from my Edge 500 directly, uses GMaps, includes gradient info, links the maps and graphs and what’s more it is entirely HTML with no Flash (another pet hate about Garmin Connect)

There are a couple more features in Strava, including a power estimation (which should probably be taken with a large pinch of salt) and a “suffer score” which rates your rides according to how tough they were based on your HR zones.

The social aspects of Strava are also much stronger than Garmin Connect. Whilst you can find other people and rides on Connect, it always seems like an afterthought only provided through a search interface. In Strava you can follow other riders, view their profile, give them “kudos” for a particular ride and also find clubs in your area. Clubs themselves can establish a presence on the site. It feels much more like a cycling social network.

Finally, Strava is much better at sharing your ride data outside. It integrates to Facebook and Twitter via Connect and OAuth well and default messages are better than Connect (e.g. on Twitter it includes the ride distance) There are nice widgets for including information on blogs, though again they rely on iframes which WordPress will strip out of blog posts. Thankfully I found an excellent plugin which solves that (see the previous post for examples of it in use) The plugin makes use of the Strava JSON API (Garmin also have an API) and I make a small tweak to it to display distance/speed in miles/miles per hour. Finally, it has some good privacy options including the ability to obfuscate certain locations on maps. For instance if you start/finish rides at your home you can tell Strava where that is and it will truncate routes to make it less obvious.

There are some niggles. Firstly, and most importantly, to use all of it’s capabilities requires you to pay a subscription ($60 per year) which I have done. However they recently lifted the 5 ride upload per month limit for non paying users which makes the site much more useful if you don’t want to pay. I also find that navigation could be better, the search doesn’t deal with non US locations too well (e.g. defaults are not local to me) and there could be more contextual help available. Finally it is difficult to bootstrap your network of people. Options to import friends from Facebook/Twitter would be good.

All in all however I’ve already found it better to use and much cleaner and fresher than Garmin Connect. Given the difficulties that a lot of people seem to have with Connect right now, and their bungled updates recently, then maybe Strava will be the winner.

Training update – 1 Aug to 7th Aug

As a way of tracking my training leading up to and beyond the Ride Around London (see JustGiving sponsorship widget on the right, hint hint…) I’m going to write a weekly update summary.

The last week saw me head out for one evening ride after work. I clocked up twenty miles and found a couple of nice short steep hills quite nearby. I Got a bit lost in Harpenden though and inadvertently headed back towards Wheathampstead.

On Saturday I headed out with a friend, Paul. We’d arranged to meet in Potters Bar as he was coming from North London. I got a bit lost on the way and ended up in South Mimms Services, but once sorted we did about 25 miles up to Hertford and back through some lovely countryside. I’d always aimed for this to be a relatively relaxed ride but at times the pace was quite high anyway. With the to and from St. Albans added in this was a useful 45 miles.

The next day I once again headed out with my new cycling club on a Sunday Run. I joined the Intermediates again and we headed out towards Leighton Buzzard, over the Dunstable Downs. There were a couple of nice climbs but in general this was an easier ride than the week before. I felt good however, especially considering I’d been out the previous day. The cake stop was nice but the journey back saw the rain start falling for the last 15 miles or so and nobody had come prepared. There were one or two hairy moments on descents and corners but we all got back no problem. One person did puncture, so I spent some time that afternoon practicing changes so that if it happens to me I won’t hold people up too long.

In summary, I’ve managed 120 miles at 15-16mph average over the week, which I think bodes pretty well at this stage. I now need to start increasing the length of one of the rides each week to build up to the point where I can comfortably do 80-90 miles in one go.

VCC Sunday ride

As mentioned before, I’m targeting a 115 mile charity ride at the end of September. Up until now, my training has been infrequent. To combat this I finally decided to bite the bullet and join the Verulam Cycling Club. Today I headed out on their weekly Sunday club ride. At 9am there were about 50 people at the top of St. Albans high street and a lot of expensive machinery on show. I joined the “intermediates” group which is meant to average about 16mph. This is slightly more than I’d typically manage on my own, but the theory was that I could always drop back to the “sociables” group who would be on the same route. There were a couple of other newbies in the group as well.

The plan was to head for a tea stop in Westmill then head back, meaning a round trip of 55-60 miles. As we headed out of St. Albans towards Wheathampstead I concentrated on getting used to the mechanics of group riding, as well as chatting to whoever was next to me as we rode two abreast. I’ve nearly always ridden solo, but once I’d sussed out the rules and etiquette of an organized group I found the miles simply flew by. You use less energy when sheltered in the slipstream of the person in front and therefore the average speed of a group is typically higher than solo riding. This leaves you with more energy when it comes to the uphill stuff and I found myself pushing up the hills more than I usually would, even overtaking some of the group. When riding solo you spend so much energy pushing through the wind all the time that hills just become morale sapping.

After about 28 miles we hit the tea stop, and a very nice one it was too! A Lemon Drizzle cake, coffee and bottle fill up hit the spot nicely.

The ride back was fun with some short climbs and some nice fast sections. I peeled off as we got to Sandridge as my parents were coming over, so I missed the final 5 miles or so.

All in all it was a very enjoyable ride, and I’ll be aiming to become a regular. It has also made me sure that I’ll want to get into a group on the Ride Around London. Up to now on sportives I’ve suffered through on my own, failing to put in the effort to latch on when groups have come past.

Verulam CC Ride for a Reason

On Sunday I took part in the Verulam Cycling Club Ride for a Reason cycling event in St. Albans. This is organized to coincide with National Bike Week and is the fifth year it has been run. Obviously it is the first year I’ve taken part given we’ve only been living here for two months.

On Friday I’d still not decided whether or not to do the 44 mile route, or attempt the tougher 64 mile version. The latter is not much shorter than the longest ride I’ve ever done. However after signing up for the Ride Around London I figured the longer route would give me a good benchmark of where I was and how much training I’m going to need to plan for before September rolls around.

Turnout was pretty good (I think about 130 people in all) and at 8am when I started pretty much everybody was doing to longest route. The weather, even at that time was very warm, and it was only going to get warmer as the morning went on. For the first 30 miles I felt great and, whilst riding on my own the majority of the time managed an average speed of about 16mph over some undulating terrain (but with no real hills) I felt strong in my legs and powered up most of the bumps I came across. I probably spent more time in the big ring than I’ve done before, holding about 20mph on the flat

However, then the sun really started to take effect and whilst I was drinking lots and taking the odd gel, I did feel my energy levels falling. This, combined with the much hiller second half of the ride slowed me down a lot. At 40 miles I hit the main challenge of the hill coming from Charlton into Preston. Whilst short, it is consistently steep with my Garmin reporting about a 17% gradient in places. Climbing remains my weakest point and I had to stop a couple of times just for a few seconds to let me heart rate go down a bit.

After that was a welcome checkpoint (all three of which were excellently run and given the low entry price of £7 very well stocked!) The run after the checkpoint then involved a few more short but not so sharp hills. I rolled home in 4 hours 17.5 minutes of moving time, averaging 14.9mph. Further gory details from my Garmin are here.

I was certainly impressed with the running of the event, and plan to attend one of the next Verulam CC Sunday runs before probably joining up. All in all this event told me that I’ve got a lot of work to do to make the 115 mile event in September enjoyable and not a long slog! At least the sun should not be so strong. Finally, lesson of the day is to remember to apply sunblock. I’ve got wicked pro-style tan lines!

Ride Around London 2011

I’ve not blogged much about cycling on here (if at all) but it has been a sport I’ve been interested in and have followed for most of my life. Last year I became a fully fledged MAMIL (well, maybe not yet middle-aged) and bought a road bike. I did a couple of events in Ireland last autumn (the Wicklow 100 and the Leinster Loop) and spent many happy hours in the saddle in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains building up my fitness.

However since the turn of the year and our move back to the UK I’ve not been on the bike so much. I’ve only clocked up a total of 130 miles in 2011 so far according to my Garmin. Fourty of those were in one event at the St. Albans Charity Cycle ride, and another thirty on a weekend ride to visit my parents recently. I do ride my hybrid bike to and from the train station most days, but that is just a four mile round trip.

However, all that is about to change as I am going to ramp up my cycling. To provide motivation I’ve signed up for the 2011 Ride Around London in September. This is a 115 mile event, which means it will be my first century ride and about 40 miles further than I’ve ridden in one day. It also takes in a fair few hills including Box Hill (which the pros will be tackling numerous times on the London 2012 Olympic road races) and a stint through the Chiltern Hills.

Ride Around London route

The event is being held in support of Access Sport, a charity that aims to provide more access to local sport to children, especially in deprived areas. To that end, I’ve set up a Just Giving page on which you can sponsor me.

I’m going to blog more about my cycling here to keep track of my progress. To begin with I’m planning to enter the Verulam CC’s Ride For a Reason event this Sunday though I’ve not decided on whether I’ll do the 44 mile or 64 mile route yet.