07/03/2022 - My fitness proved more reliable than my bike
The view I’ve had mostly through the winter has been from my shed atop my turbo (see photo above). But this weekend I did a road event. Not exactly a mass event with 150 riders, but the Verulam Reliability Ride was the first event with the possibility of riding in groups I’d gone in for since the pandemic . In fact, the Verulam Reliability Ride was the last event I rode just before the first lockdown back in March 2020, so there was a nice symmetry about riding it again. The 2020 ride dang near killed me with 5,000ft of gain over 70 miles. I was struggling with fitness that spring.
I was so delighted that this event was taking place. I am a massive fan of Reliability Rides, they are just so English and give me that day at Wimbledon, Test match at Lord’s feeling. Village hall, tea, cake and sandwiches, it’s all good. I know, I’m an easy date. It’s similar with time trials. It’s the grass roots of our sport and it’s so uncool that it is in fact super cool.
The Verulam Reliability Ride is part of the Chiltern Classics series of six rides that take place January to March. Reliability Rides are traditionally ridden as pre-season leg testers and this series fits the bill perfectly. Plus they only cost about a tenner to ride and you always get a good feed at the finish. It’s old school base training for me and I usually ride one or two each year. When I came to plan my season in December, I checked the organising clubs’ websites and it looked like none were being staged, so I elected to ride all the routes in DIY mode. It turned out that two are being staged, the Verulam Reliability Ride on 6 March and the Berkhampstead Reliability Ride on 13 March.
The Verulam ride went really well for me. It features some brutal ramps up (to 18%) and a few longish ascents. Whiteleaf is now indelibly printed on my psyche, but I handled them all steadily and (almost) finished feeling strong. I say almost because I had quite a few flats, ran out of tubes, switched to patches, but had only one. When the cupboard was bare and no sign of passing riders, I did what I’d never done, I admitted defeat and called HQ. The organiser, Alan, drove out and picked me up. I was not bothered by not finishing, it wasn’t a race and I was only five miles from the finish. We had a good chat in the car and listened to the Arsenal match on the radio before arriving at the HQ and refuelling on sandwiches, tea and cake. It was a good day.
Memo to self: check stock of patches in advance and pack three tubes rather than two.
All these Chiltern Classics routes are fabulous. All are quite testing, with plenty of challenging climbs, technical twisty roads and rough but quiet back lanes.
If you fancy the Berkhampstead Reliability Ride, it starts and finishes at the Musette Café in Aldbury. You could drive there or take a train to nearby Tring from Euston.
Great write up David. Thanks for sharing.
Nice going, +Sir_Shannonball.
Good writeup @Sir_Shannonball, I need to do more of them!
Here's photographer Judith Parry's images from the Verulam event, taken near the top of Whiteleaf Hill. Some even manage a smile.
14/03/2022 - Bike not fixed, so I used a fixed bike
In my view you can’t get much more old school than doing pre-season reliability rides. Well, it turns out you can. This weekend I ended up doing a reliability ride on a fixed-gear bike. I know, pure masochism and even more old school. This was not my first choice. I’d had some indexing issues with my road bike and the shop thought it was down to a wonky drop out. A simple fix. So, I duly booked it in. However, it turns out the drop out was true, but the entire drive chain needed replacing. The shop had all the parts aside from the hill-friendly 12-29T cassettes I favour. No probs, I’ll just order one myself and fit it in a few days, except it won’t arrive until after the weekend and my next reliability ride. So… the only choice is my only other bike – my trusty Bob Jackson Vigorelli. I had it set up with a reasonably modest 68in (49:19) gear. It’ll be fine, I tell myself...
There are six Chiltern Classic routes and this week I chose to do the Harp Hilly Hundred route, which is as you’d expect, quite hilly. It starts from King’s Langley. There is something of an overlap between these routes, so you do get a strong sense of déjà vu. Well, it’s actual vu, because there is repetition. Most rides pass through Link Road in Great Missendon, Wendover features in all of them and there is an odd castle-like building that is something is do with a reservoir. There’s a photo below. It’s somewhere between Chesham and Berkhampted. It turns up so much, I think I've been seeing this turret in my dreams, too.
There are five main climbs in this ride. The first is a long slow one up to Ashridge as you leave Berkhampsted, which takes you through some lovely woodland. The second is shorter, but more brutal rise on the B4546 up to Whipsnade. This tops out at 13%. Then there’s a compulsory climb at Wendover Woods, Ivinghoe Beacon and finally there’s quite a challenging ramp out of Berkhamstead.
On a fixed-gear bike you have to commit to climbs like these mentally and physically. Being in a inappropriate gear, you have to keep it turning (or churning in my case). You can’t think of easing off or you will. If you do, it’s so much harder to get going again. After the Berkhampsted climb there was a strong dip and rise in the road on Leyhill Road. On the downhill it said 14% and it looked similar going up. This got int my brain and somehow I conspired to unclip on the right side. I’m blaming worn out cleats (since replaced), but once you stop on a grade like that, it’s so hard to start again and clip in. You can ride downhill, clip in easily, turn around and then climb. I was not going to climb this twice, so I hoofed it for 100m to the top.
Last week it was my bike that lacked reliability. This week the bike held firm, but the body was tested more sorely. Sore being the operative word. I finished the Verulam ride feeling strong and Training Peaks gave me 273 TSS (Training Stress Score - a scientific measure of how hard the ride was). This week, I finished feeling utterly ruined. I could barely stand up that evening and Sunday I suffered with the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). And the TSS score? A paltry 217! Clearly Training Peaks knows nothing about fixed-gear riding. Sections when you’d normally freewheel, you’re still pedalling because of the fixed-gear. It’s a TSS rip off, but my legs know and I’ve scheduled an extra recovery day before I do my next session. The next long ride will not be on my Bob Jackson and will feel so much easier.
Almost forgot the most important thing, the rest stop. I used the café at the Tring Garden Centre on Bulbourne Road. The food is decent, but I should point out that they have expanded the café enormously without a comparable increase in staff, so you might have to queue to order in busy times. There is a good outdoor space and tons of space inside. I had an americano and a bacon and sausage sandwich before heading off to tackle the Wendover Woods climb.
Here's the route. You can drive up or take a train to nearby Hemel Hempstead from Eutson.
22/03/2022 - In praise of the Fixie Loop
As we head into British Summer Time, take advantage of the midweek club rides, including this one.
Somehow I’ve ridden the Fixie Loop 99 times. As I close in on a century of rides on this local route, I’m reflecting on just what it is that keeps drawing me back to it. I’ve ridden it fast (chasing KOMs), slow (as a recovery ride), as a kind of intro ride for friends or just a shorter ride on days when a long stint just isn’t possible. Oh, yeah, and sometimes I even ride it on a fixed-gear bike.
I learned the loop back in 2012 from Stan Cmakal at London Phoenix. He called it his “fixie loop," although he was riding a lovely green Wilier geared bike that day and we were a 3up. The route stuck with me and when we were looking to start our first midweek club rides at ICC, I put this forward for Thursdays. Later we added the North London Hills and Radlett Revolution for Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Does the Fixie Loop lend itself to fixed-gear riding? Pretty much, although for the 25 miles from my front door, it’s about 1,250ft of elevation gain. Translate to a century ride and 5,000ft of climbing doesn’t sound so fixie friendly. But there are no 10% sections, almost all the rises feel pretty gradual, so you should not end up feeling too over-geared on a fixed-gear.
Snaking its way out of the capital, but never straying too far, it still manages to feel quite rural. It achieves this by darting around mainly back lanes and between Totteridge, Potters Bar and as far north as Welham Green. There are several long stretches without traffic lights, junctions or give way, so you can work in some good length intervals, if you like.
What’s on the route? Llamas! If you’re lucky you can catch a glimpse of these creatures at Royal Veterinary College and Equine Practice and Referral Hospital on Hawkshead Road. It’s the largest and longest-established vet school in the English-speaking world and is a college of the University of London. (You know I had to look that up, right?).
Just before the RVC, there is what appears to be a castle remnant. Could this Grade II listed building be some form of llama defence scheme? It turns out Folly Arch (also on Hawkshead Road at the junction with Swanley Bar Lane) was actually part of a grand garden design from the 1700s.
Getting back to cycling, I naturally created a Strava segment for this route. Well, it was possibly the only way for me to get a KOM. But I did. This was after the club had been running rides on it for a while, so I did have some competition. Fresh from a Mallorca training camp, I rode it solo and attacked all the way through, I got lucky with the lights in Potters Bar and gained the KOM with a respectable 1:10:08. There followed much grief for me when co-club founder +RichardM and +michool nabbed it off me. Ironically, it was on a tandem. It felt like mechanical doping, but hats off to them anyway. I think Dorian took it next riding in a group. Charlie Salt currently holds the KOM (57:29) and Marine Guerin the QOM (1:05:55).
Here's the link to the club thread on the Thursday Fixie Loop rides. However you choose to ride it, I hope you enjoy this route.
As I recall you flagged my and +michool's ride on Strava.
Since then you have obviously learned to appreciate the merits of "mechanical doping"...
Big fan of the fixie loop, I really enjoyed reading this. Nice one!
Yes, it is very good. My favourite of the mid-week rides. Though the original Fixie Loop segment has a weird kink in it connecting Mays Ln to Nupton Dr, so there is a Fixie 2.0 version that cuts that out https://www.strava.com/segments/24436249
The KOM on this improved segment is also a bit slower, so easier to take if you intend to go for it.
Great write up David
28/03/2022 - Men in black
Time trial shakedown ride
It’s always a good idea to give your equipment a good on-road test before an event or a season of events. So, now that +RichardM, my time trial partner, was back from his winter sojourn in the States, we set up a session to road test the tandem bike we’d be using.
Of course, my first - and most important - question was “what should we wear?” Form is temporary, but style is permanent, I argued. I suggested we go all black. Racing on the road was banned in the UK in 1890. Events still took place, time trials being the least obtrusive and racers did their best to be inconspicuous, racing at the crack of dawn doors (so events were usually over by 8am) and kitting themselves out in black from head to ankle to go under the radar. They never wore numbers and had to be equipped with a bell. So, black then, but no bell.
Ralph Dougherty at speed in a 1930s time trial dressed all in black including tights and alpaca jacket. Rather daringly he has rolled his sleeves up to show some flesh whereas the norm would be to have sleeves down and the hands in black mitt.
The course we chose was to be our very own Club 10, which starts in South Mymms. This was developed by former committee member +aidan who also wrote a great introduction to time trialling and an FAQ in the club newsletter back in April 2016 that is still worth dipping into.
It’s not the flattest 10 course, but has pretty standard features. It’s an out and back and has a few turns and roundabouts. But it is a very near course, so it you want to practice doing a 10 mile time trial, this fits the bill nicely. Islington CC has run 3 club races a year on this course for several years and it would be great to see them back on the programme after a the Covid interruption for next season. Time trialling is such an accessible form of racing which requires to special technical or group riding skills and you are only racing yourself, so it's truly for all ability levels.
Time trialling is also a good way of benchmarking your fitness, which is partly what brought me and Richard to the South Mymms course. We decided to ride at roughly the effort we’d do for a 25-mile event. I’d call that 9/10. Once we’d finished, we both felt fresh and greed that we’d each put in an 8/10 effort, while slightly beating our race power from last year. This bodes well.
Our time was not good, but we were stopped by traffic three times and were not wearing any aero kit. And then there was brake rub. The part of the shakedown ride that relates to the bike revealed an ongoing teething issue with the disc wheel, which is leaning annoyingly on one brake pad. A marginal loss to add to the traffic and lack of pointy helmets. Other issues with the bike were all solved, so overall we came away feeling positive.
Our first race is the Farnborough and Camberley CC 25 on 9 April, which looks a reasonably fast course. Top tandem pair Ian Greenstreet and Rachael Elliott hold the course record at 00:48:42. Their record is not in jeopardy from us, but we’ll look to improve our own PB.
Time trial race opportunities
You can view and enter all the open races on the Cycling Time Trials website. It’s pretty cheap (£10-14) and you usually get tea and cake at the HQ after. North Road CC, Finsbury Park CC and Hertfordshire Wheelers all run a series of club 10s that are not too far away and are open to non-members taking part. If in doubt, call or email in advance. In fact, North Road are credited with staging the very first time trial in 1895, a 50 miler.
"Top tandem pair Ian Greenstreet and Rachael Elliott hold the course record at 00:48:42. Their record is not in jeopardy from us..."
Indeed. Not even if we were to ingest a boat load of EPO between now and then.
Good photos, by the way.
04/04/2022 – New bike day
Is there anything better than new bike day? Nothing really, except maybe two new bike days. My first was a test ride on a titanium Mason Bokeh (mine will arrive next week), the second the arrival of the gravel-capable titanium tandem that +RichardM had built up from a one-off Bingham frame. I think I’ve got that “too much cake” (or too much titanium) feeling.
I ordered my Bokeh from Mason Cycles a long time ago, back in June 2021, but had an existential crisis about the frame size and delivery got put back from December to April. Gulp. That’s a big delay. As the delivery neared, I decided to take a day off to test ride a Bokeh and make sure the sizing was exactly what I needed. Mason Cycles is based on a farm near Lansing in Sussex on the south coast. Their HQ, the Mason barn, is near the Downs Link and they had a short test loop lined up for me. In fact, they had lined up owner Dom Mason’s own titanium Bokeh for me to ride. It’s a handsome bike, kitted out with Hunt wheels, plush 42mm WTB Resolute tyres and electronic GRX 1x group set.
What a teaser on two counts. First, it rode like a dream, solid, nimble and perfectly suited to its purpose. And secondly, the Downs Link is seriously lovely. I am going to have to plot a return and really take in this part of the world more fully. I’ve resisted electronic shifting so far, but this worked quicky and flawlessly and has planted a seed in my brain.
I’d had my eye on the Bokeh for a long time. In truth, I was going backward and forwards between two British brands, the Mason Bokeh and the Fairlight Secan, which I’ve seen a clubmate toting on the Gritty 50 and is highly rated by bike reviewer David English. The latter is a classical-looking steel bike, just as capable and modern as the Bokeh. It was a very close thing. Having left his role as Creative Director at Kinesis in 2016 and Dom Mason has created an incredible range of bikes and I’ve fully bought into the vision.
Although Dom’s Bokeh was incredible, mine will be different. It will be alloy and the non-electronic Campagnolo Ekar with lighter Hunt Gravel Race wheels. My intention is to run the 42mm Resolutes in gravel season and 32mm and fenders for the off season, when it will serve as a winter trainer.
The second instalment of new bike bliss came in the shape of a bicycle made for two. Richard’s Bingham Built titanium tandem. This is a serious bit of engineering, which Richard details fully in the Ongoing build projects thread.
We took this beefy beast out for about 45 miles of gravel riding in south Herts to get a measure of it. What hit me is how oversized the down tube and that (tandem-only) tube between the two bottom brackets is. Actually, and the top tube. All the tubes. But they are so to do a job and it does it well. The most striking thing for me is how those chunky tubes delivered such a silky smooth ride. I know those trails and tracks, and many are quite rough and always leave you beaten up and full of aches and pains. I know it’s not just my age, honest. Four hours later, I felt unbelievably untouched by the bumps and grinds. It was as if the bike had an invisible suspension system. That’s the only way I can describe it. I haven’t finished a gravel ride feeling so fresh. And, yes, I did pedal.
One part of the spec worth flagging is the satellite shifters. This is now a relatively easy addition with the advent of wireless mini buttons. For background, Richard is something of a grinder, while I am more of a spinner. I know this only too well as we race together on a tandem and have even finished one event with an average cadence of 66rpm. Really we are incompatible; I thought so that day. As pilot he has control of the gearing on the time trial bike. However, wisely or perhaps foolishly, he chose to include satellite shifters for the stoker in this build. This was at times hilarious. Both resisting shifting (waiting for the other to click) or trying to get the first shift in (like being somehow "right") or both shifting at the same time (and then someone has to click back down or up). A can of worms has been opened.
Finally, I have to say I was grateful to the pilot for taking a cautious approach to any really dodgy looking bits of the course. Negotiating any kind of technical tarmac is pretty challenging on a tandem, off road it's a bigger responsibility. Speaking of responsibilities, in my opinion, the role of the pilot is a kind of backseat driver-in-chief. To be in charge of the sat nav, pacing and master of all sarcasm, which was, I felt, undiminished by the terrain.
As I write, I’m still charged from this double high. I’m also still waiting for my Bokeh to come (3 more sleeps) and thinking about how much fun I’m gonna have on these bikes. Good things are worth waiting for. I'm feeling very lucky.
Photo below is Mason Cycles HQ - orange Bokeh blocking the path to the coffee maker
Ah yes. The stoker satellite shifters.
Who on earth thought they were a bright idea?
Brilliant write up :)
11/04/2022 - When second place does not count as the podium
Saturday was the first race of the time trial season for myself and my tandem partner +RichardM. He reported elsewhere how we got on at the Farnborough and Camberley CC 25.
Tandem time trial racing is something of a niche within a niche and we are often the only tandem entered. There was a £10 tandem prize on offer, less than the race fee and often there is no prize. Today, though, we had illustrious company in the shape of national champions Rachel Elliott and Ian Greenstreet. The tenner was always going to be theirs. They are a very rapid and had our proverbial backsides handed to us on a plate, being overtaken at the 5 mile mark by Rachel and Ian.
Elliott and Greenstreet
On the plus side, our tandem worked well. The tandem niche aspect means that more or less every machine in a tandem race is unique. Each pair find their own solutions to making their bikes faster. In our case, the addition of a rear disc wheel in 2021 proved problematic, with a few DNFs and even DNSs that year. Happy to report that after some minor engineering, the wheel has now settled in well now and is doing its job of making two aging cyclists a little faster.
Shannon and May
The westward section of the course felt really tough owing to a headwind. Rachel and Ian complained that it seemed a slow day for this course. They should know, it’s their home course. By the way, slow for them turned out to be 29.83mph (see unofficial times below). Having checked out their stats on the Cycling Time Trials website, this was true. They usually race at 30mph+ at all distances. Wow.
Perhaps for comfort or perhaps to reconcile my/our shortcomings, I made a list of things I thought were slowing me/us down:
- It was a windy day (see above).
- My Velotose overshoes interfered with my right cleat, such that I suddenly developed 5-10mm of float (we had to freewheel so I could clip in multiple times and I ended up with a sore right knee).
- A 16:00 start time (I’m totally a morning person).
- I did 2 hrs of digging earlier in the day at the allotment (Did I mention I’m a morning person? When I get up I have to do something with my energy. The allotment is now ready for planting, though).
- A 2-hr drive to the start (this does do something mentally).
- We kept 2 bottles on the bike (these cost you 4w each, I’m told).
- The pilot did not wear his pointy TT helmet (he needs to get over his fear of “picking my nose with it”).
- Lastly, we did no proper warm up. We’d planned to do the BC race warm up on a turbo, didn’t, then just gently ambled 1 ½ miles to the start (It made the first five miles - which were into the wind - even harder).
I guess I should have got these “excuses” in earlier, but I’m taking them as learning points for the rest of the season. Still, we managed to finish the race and come home comfortably under the hour, which we hadn’t done since September 2020.
- It was a windy day (see above).
So, if we have eight excuses for a 25 mile race (above) how many are we going to need for the Prudential Ride 100?
Better get on it +Sir_Shannonball.
So, if we have eight excuses for a 25 mile race (above) how many are we going to need for the Prudential Ride 100?
Better get on it +Sir_Shannonball.
Prudential? They are no longer sponsors, I think RideLondon is now a partnership with Essex County Council. In any case, I have my excuses.
Noted. Focus on pedalling rather than pedantry, +Sir_Shannonball.
Anyway, on the tandem, the main excuse is right in front of you...
Noted. Just, er, focus...
21/04/2022 – The F-word
Why? Why would I get up at stupid o’clock only to go and run my expensive equipment through the dirt necessitating a mandatory deep clean? Why would I bounce around on poor surfaces and shake up my old bones so that they become sore and ache? Why ride at speeds much slower that are achievable on tarmac? Why would I want to get lost in the backend of beyond? Why would I do this when my legs were hammered from racing two days earlier at the Welwyn Wheelers Hilly 50?
Why? Because it’s fun! I get more of the f-word per mile off road that in any other form of our sport.
For several years now London Phoenix have staged their Easter Classic sportive on Easter Monday, which takes in Good Easter, High Easter (a bit like The Great Escape taking in Great Bardfield and Great Dunmow). This year, they offered a gravel edition in addition to two road distances. I had planned to ride the gravel event with +RichardM on his new Bingham gravel tandem, but a heavy cold for the pilot (Richard), meant I was on my own for this one.
So, I rode to the start at Fairlop Waters and set off for a session of gravel grinding. Their route is maybe 70% off road, so although only 43 miles, it’s still a fair challenge. With 14 miles there and 14 miles back, this was going to be a big day. Here's the route if you want to take it on.
Two magical highlights for me were happening on a sea of bluebells in Weald Park, which always takes my breath away. And then having to stop while, perhaps, 300 deer crossed the trail in Dagnam Park. I always enjoy it when the odd deer jumps across my path, but this was of a different order, a long train that looked endless. I spent something like 7 or 8 minutes resting and grinning as they stormed, left to right, in front of me.
Two gripes, there was no coffee at the start available until 9am. I don’t know if that’s a gripe or a declaration of war. No coffee = very bad mood from me. The other was where the GPX track was really unclear and I ended up shimmying under a fence to get back on track. Far from having a sense of humour failure when off road routes go wrong, I actually quite enjoyed it. “How the heck did I end up here?” should be a once or twice a ride moment. It’s part of the fun of having a little adventure. Why not?
An occasional blog by David Shannon +Sir_Shannonball the club founder and club secretary for six years on (you've guessed it) cycling...