Mechanical Load Outs

So we were talking about being self-sufficient, and your bare minimum load out.

Basic Load Out

So this is the minimum I take? But why?

The smallest amount of mechanical kit I carry on any ride!

Spare Tube

You are not going to stand on the side of a road and do an old school patch. I don’t even patch the tube when I get home, I chuck it. I don’t want to pull out a patched tube and find it won’t inflate 50 miles from home in the cold and wet. Carry spare tubes. If you’re on a massive epic multi-day ride or something, yes, take a patch kit and patch in the evening so you don’t have to find somewhere to buy another. But for day riding, new spare in the load out is essential.

CO2 Canister or Pump

CO2 is a really good way to quickly inflate your tube when you change it. They’re simple and fast to use, see a nice GCN Video Here.  I have a couple of different CO2 dispensers, as I have toolkits pre-loaded on two bikes. This is my favourite type as it has a twist valve to control the flow. Generally my basic load out is just CO2. You could carry a pump instead. But you need at least one or the other.

Tyre Levers

Depending on your rim and tyre choice, as well as your hand strength and experience, you can change a flat without tyre levers. But always best to carry them. Mine are integrated into my Multi-Tool.

Multi-Tool

I carry a Topeak Hexus II that I’ve had for years. It’s got integrated tyre levers, chain tool and hex bits for all my hex heads on the bike. It’s also got spoke tools that work on my spokes and a few other bits. I’ve not had a situation where it doesn’t do what I need yet. I suspect it may have been discontinued and replaced with the Hexus X now, which has a few more tools and is 3g heavier. If I was upgrading I’d be tempted to look at Leyzene products as they usually seem pretty nice.

Quick Link for your Chain

Combined with a chain breaker. This is helpful in the event you break your chain, which is possible even if you aren’t some super sprinter putting out thousands of watts. I’ve done it. And I’m not that powerful! It’s also helpful in a total rear mech disaster. Break and shorten the chain, re-linking with the quick link to make yourself a single speed bike and still be able to ride home.

Know What to do With Them

It’s no good carrying this kit and relying on someone else to use it for you. There are some things that may be beyond people, but, you should be prepared to tackle a few basic problems yourself, and to have a go with advice and support at others with this kit.

Deal with a Flat

You must know how to change your inner. You can practice this at home. There’s a few basic things that trip up people who’ve not done it before:

  1. Release the brakes (unless it’s a disc brake)
  2. Put the rear in the bottom cog to remove the rear wheel easily
  3. Make sure you check the tyre for the source of the flat and remove anything that’s sticking in it to avoid a fresh new puncture!
  4. Put some air in the new inner before stuffing into the tyre

These are the little non-obvious things it’s easy to trip up on. But you should have the technique at least basically right. It’s easy to try at home. GCN to the rescue again here.

Adjust Your Brakes

Vital to understand how to adjust your brakes. If something happens, wheel goes out of true, brakes are too loose etc on a ride you need to know how to slacken them off or tighten them up to keep you safe. A good GCN Video Here.

Adjust Your Gears

If you’ve got a minor issue with your shifting, tinkering on the road if you’re not experienced is likely to make it worse. However, in the event of some kind of accident or issue that means you can’t ride the bike without a bit of a fiddle, then again, GCN have some tips here.

Buckled Wheels

Of course our road surfaces are rubbish. SO it’s quite likely you could buckle a wheel out on a ride and that cause you issues getting home. You should be aware how to deal with that.

Expanding Your Kit

So if you’re out on a solo ride for a shortish distance, you might get away with one tube and one canister of CO2. If you’re out on a group ride, if everyone has a tube and a canister, then that might be enough for many more rides, until the ratio of remaining spare tubes and canisters in the group goes down.

If you’re out for a longer ride solo, or a longer group ride, at least one person needs to be carrying a pump. Either negotiate the pump carrier. Or always take a pump, assuming you’re the one person stops you or your friends from being stranded.

There are loads of good compact pumps on the market. Small for going in jersey pockets. You don’t need a huge pump the size of your top tube!

If I’m going on a 100 mile ride, I just add a few bits, two more inner tubes, some zip ties and a cafe lock. Sometimes I also take some more industrial tyre levers, as my particular tyre/rim combo can be hard work!

Zip ties can be used to bodge things that are hanging loose when the shouldn’t be. The Cafe lock gives you a tiny amount of safety when parking your bike up at the cafe. It’s not exactly super-safe, but, it might be enough to give you time to stop a thief or have a casual idiot not bother.

Carrying the Kit

The Velominati would have us believe under Rules 29-31 we shouldn’t use a saddle bag or mount our pumps on our frames and should stuff it all in our Jersey Pockets.

Well that’s a load of rubbish. Generally, if I’m out for a club ride on a Sunday or a shortish solo I use a small saddle bag for everything except pump and cafe lock, I stick the single tube, chain links, multitool etc in the bag and the cafe lock and pump in my jersey.

If I’m going further at short notice, I might shove another tube in the jersey pockets. I’m more likely to shift everything to the bigger saddle bag which has room for my full load out, except the pump. On one of my bikes I have a pump mount on the bottle cage. I’ve been too lazy to buy and fit another for the other bike!

This keeps my jersey pockets free for the other essentials, that aren’t tools.

Be Self-Sufficient

You may be riding as a group of friends, with a club or solo. In all cases you should be prepared to look after yourself in a wide range of mechanical and other eventualities. This means carrying a minimum amount of “stuff” with you to be ready to deal with those eventualities, as well as simple things like having a back-up plan if it goes fundamentally wrong. Like that time my rear wheel rim failed in the middle of The Peak District.

The load-out you’ll need to take will vary depending on many factors, like how far the ride is, how many are out, where you start and finish, what the time of year and day is. But there’s always a core basic minimum that you might need to expand on. It doesn’t matter if you’re solo or in a group, you should always have these things to deal with your own problems.

Basic Mechanical Essentials

Basically, never go for a bike ride without:

  1. Spare Inner Tube
  2. Something to inflate it with
  3. Tyre Levers
  4. Multi-tool including a chain breaker
  5. Quick Link for your Chain

My specific version of this load out is this:

The smallest amount of mechanical kit I carry on any ride!

See Mechanical Load Out for more.

Basic Life Essentials

So with the mechanical stuff, you’re going to want a few extra things, on every ride, no matter what:

  1. Mobile Phone
  2. Cash
  3. Other Payment

Phone

In case of an emergency you need to be able to contact people. That means a mobile phone. You may be an an area with no signal, the advantage in riding in a group is that with people over different mobile networks, the blackspot chance drop a bit. This doesn’t really need any further explanation.

But make sure you protect your phone! Mine is in a Tech21 Evo case, this has some magic drop protection in it. Combined with the Tempered Glass screen protector (Anker) I’ve not damaged the phone despite many nasty drops.

If your phone is not water proof, then it needs to go in at least a small plastic bag. You can get dedicated phone carrying pouches etc. But I generally go with a small sandwich bag and that’s always worked for me!

Make sure if you’re using your phone to record your ride, it also has enough battery power you can phone for assistance in an emergency!

Cash

Small remote shops and cafes don’t always take a card. Carry cash. Carry a £10 at least. Some cafes on club rides turn out to be expensive. And if you bonk and need an extra shop or cafe stop, being able to buy more food is critical!

Other Payment

So this is either a credit/debit card or in my case my phone set up for contactless payment. The later is a bit of a risk. There are still lots of places that will take a card but don’t do contactless. I’ll pay with my phone as much as possible and keep the cash as a reserve system. This also means I’m never carrying change if I can help it!

So far, I’ve not run into anywhere I’ve needed to fail over to cash because of the card vs contactless thing. But plenty of places where I’ve needed to go to cash over a card.

Extras

I’m not really sure anything else falls into this category, except something I carry as personal choice, which is a set of dog tags. These have my name, blood type and emergency contact details on. There are other options. I like these. I’ve had a couple of crashes, including one that caused memory loss. So I like the peace of mind that I have these on me.

Fuel

If you’re going epic, you’re going to need to carry fuel in the form of something to eat and something to drink. I always carry at least a 500ml bottle of water and an emergency gel (or small pack of Harribo, thanks wiggle!) Just In Case of unexpected bonking. But what you carry and take on on a ride is a big subject all of it’s own! Just don’t forget to take something!

Road Ride Rules

As far as I’m concerned there’s a few rules you must follow as a road rider on the roads of the UK. And I’m not talking about The Rules. Or even The Highway Code. The later being a given and the former being a thing of personal choice.

But these rules really, really matter if you’re going epic.

  1. Be self-sufficient
  2. Have The Route
  3. Look after those you ride with
  4. Respect Others on the road and be an ambassador for Cyclists

To an extent, these rules are self-explanatory. Perhaps to a newer rider or someone stepping up to Epic Hilly Road Riding they could do with some clarifications and explanations.

  1. Be self-sufficient

You may be riding as a group of friends, with a club or solo. In all cases you should be prepared to look after yourself in a wide range of eventualities. This means carrying a minimum amount of “stuff” with you to be ready to deal with those eventualities, as well as simple things like having a back-up plan if it goes fundamentally wrong. Like that time my rear wheel rim failed in the middle of The Peak District.

The load-out you’ll need to take will vary depending on many factors, like how far the ride is, how many are out, where you start and finish, what the time of year and day is. But there’s always a core basic minimum that you might need to expand on.

If you want to know what that is, then read up on being self-sufficient here.

  1. Have The Route

Bottom line is you need to know where to go.

Now if you’re riding solo, or leading the ride and know exactly where you are going for the full ride, or are off to explore on our own (or with a group who are happy with that approach to navigation) then you have The Route. Otherwise you need to make sure you have The Route.

Typically, this means you’ve got the route file as a GPX or TCX and loaded it on your navigation device. But if you’re taking part in a planned group ride with a specific route, or an event, you must make sure that you have The Route.

If there are only a few people with the route and something splits a group, or someone has an accident, or a mechanical issue, you’ll be lost. If it’s your turn on the front and you don’t have The Route you could miss a turn.

You also ought to have some idea of The Route. Is it hilly? (It had better be!) Which are the interesting climbs? Where are they in The Route? Where is(are) the cafe stop(s)?

It’s just basically incredibly rude to not have The Route. It’s even ruder to not have The Route and constantly ask about The Route. It’s also a risk because if you are the one with a mechanical, and your group fails to respect rule 3 you could get dropped and left somewhere with no idea where you’re going! I’d be sympathetic to breaches of Rule 3 with regards to people who didn’t follow Rule 1 and Rule 2!

#AlwaysHaveTheRoute

  1. Look after those you ride with

We all have good and bad days. Some days this means you’re plagued with mechanical issues, despite how well you maintain your bike. Some days you’re just “off” and can’t hold the pace. Other days you get your fuelling wrong and bonk. Some days you’re riding with stronger riders. Some days you’re the strongest rider.

Look after those you ride with. Give them a wheel to follow when they suffer. Drop the pace. Help when there’s a mechanical issue. Even if they’ve not followed Rule 1.

When riding in a line or two-up line, make sure you call out or indicate dangers, like the pot holes, grids and other obstacles. Call out when the junction is clear. Warn of cars up and down the line. Make sure the rider behind you is still on your wheel. Take your turn on the front. Rotate off rather than burn out.

If we all do that, the group works fast and efficient. No-one is broken and left behind. Mechanical issues are fixed quicker. This is key to good group riding. And good group riding is essential for going really epic.

  1. Respect Others on the road

Looking after those we ride with has a core of self-interest. If we look after them, they will look after us. But we also need to respect others on the road.

We all have an equal right to be safe on the roads. This will come from respecting other road users. There are some who are a risk to us, and we must respect that risk and protect ourselves from it. There are those to whom we are a risk, and we must respect that risk and do our best to protect them from it. It’s a bit do-unto-others style.

Yes, the car driver who yelled abuse as he did a close pass on a blind bend over a blind hill was an idiot. So was the horse rider who didn’t look before turning across your path. As was the dog walker who failed to control their over-excited and aggressive dog.

But so is the cyclist who jumps the red lights, rides on the pavement, sits in the blind spot of the lorry…

There are idiots on the road in every group of road-users giving that group of road users a bad name. That bad name spreads and people treat that group of road users as people who should not be on the road.

We must rise above that, we must follow the highway code, be safe and considerate of other users. Respect other users of the road. We must set that good example.

Because it might be another group of cyclists who get into an accident because we were the ones who did the stupid thing. And we don’t want that do we?

Tour of Penrith

This year’s big event for me was theTour of Penrith. This is the second self-organised three-day cycling tour myself and a group of great friends from B&DCC have put together and ridden. In terms of Hills, this was by far the most epic, despite having tackled The Tour of the Highlands and our self-organised Tour of Shropshire, both of which included some big name climbs.

This year was my turn to organise, as I’d ridden in the lakes, the National Cycle Network C2C route and had a bit of local knowledge from that. I used the C2C Guide website to find somewhere to stay and stumbled on The Strickland Arms near Penrith for a base. This looked pretty good. A cycling focused pub with good group accommodation and an amazing sounding menu, plenty of space to park, on quiet roads, within reach of a lot of epic cycling. Seemed a bit of a no brainer, so we booked in.

I was a bit nervous before we got there as to whether or not it’d work out. They’d been really helpful via email as we’d sorted out all the names and who owed what etc. As we set off, Google Maps informed us that the pub didn’t open till 5, which could have been a problem with some people arriving mid-morning to get a ride in.

It wasn’t. They were there and we got sorted out and it was perfect. They have a “shrine” to when Team Sky visited on the 2012 Tour of Britain, complete with Wiggo signed yellow jersey. They’re really enthusiastic about cycling too. Cracking place to stay, friendly and we settled in. Since not all of us had booked the day off work, it seemed a good time to start sending pictures of us enjoying a pint in the pub to the rest…

We had a good first evening in the pub, preparing well for a tough day ahead cycling by drinking and eating. Possibly a bit too much drinking given we had 102 miles ahead the next day. But these trips are as much about the social aspect as the riding bit!

Saturday’s ride was into the North Penines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was a little cool and grey at the start of the day, but we soon warmed up and the weather was pretty spot on. Sunny spells, cloudy spells. Kept the temperature just about right for a hilly ride.

The route snaked us through the Eden Valley to get a warm up before tackling Hartside, which is a nice long steady climb up to the now burned out remains of the previously highest cafe in England. Amazing views from up there, out across the valley to the Lake District. But a massive headwind slowed us up the climb. The last snake of the road was in the lea of the hill and I was dropping down gears and picking up speed, showing how much affect the head wind had.

At the top we stopped for some photos, but the wind was cold so we headed off on the descent, which normally is super fast and rewarding, but as we were full into the wind was tough going and steady!

From this point on we followed the NCN C2C route to Stanhope. Which meant repeated climbs, but on good, quiet roads with decent tarmac. Beautiful part of the world to cycle in. Cafe stop at Allenheads was well timed as we were all ready for something by then.

More undulations got us to Stanhope, where we were due to climb Crawleyside, another long climb but with some tougher sections that Hartside. Again, up into the head-wind making it tougher than usual. Views at the top a bit less epic, but the descent was supported by a tail wind and we flew down for a quick stop at a shop for ice creams, more water and fuel.

Now riding with a tail wind, and leaving the NCN C2C route, we had to climb and drop again repeatedly to get back to the Eden Valley. Some outstanding long stead climbs, some vicious kickers too. Some great descents to match the climbs, through quiet roads with good surfaces. The final stretch of climb was a series of long gradual climbs taking us out of the hilly areas before an amazing descent back to Brough where a final shop stop fuelled us up for the last 20 miles of gentle undulations back to the pub.

The ride was 102 miles, and we took it steady, plenty of time to re-group on every climb. Plenty of chat and banter. Hard work eating and drinking so much that evening…

Day 2 we had decided to ride the Lake District, we’d planned to move the cars to Greystoke, this meant we could hit three major Lake District climbs and some really beautiful places.

We parked in a good car park at Greystoke itself where it turned out there was a quite serious looking TT kicking off, and rode to the start of the route. The roads were small, pretty good surfaces and very light on traffic. The weather was incredible. Warm and sunny with a tailwind!

We cruised round some stunning places, looping round to the north of Bassenthwaite, it was just amazing out on the bike in those conditions.

At Bassenthwaite there’s really only one road though. The A66. We got our heads down and with two strong riders driving the pace on the front with very little traffic indeed we made short work of the small section of dual carriageway on the route before striking out up Whinlatter. Whinlatter is a beautiful climb, twisting up through the woods past a visitors centre. There was some confusion over where the Strava segment ended, which is a little way into the descent, before we doubled back to the cafe.

Which was too busy to stop at, so just a quick bottle re-fill and off. We seemed to have lost Neil though. Turns out he misheard the details of where the segment ended, did the full Whinlatter descent and rode back up just as we were descending to find him… ooops…

From here you ride into Buttermere valley, we stopped at a cafe where they were a bit chaotic and overwhelmed with us. I wouldn’t stop there again to be honest. A bit pricey and rubbish service. But the food was good. Even if we did sit and cook in the suntrap for a bit.

Buttermere is stunning. No other words. But that also explains why so many cars make their way down the twisty single track road to the main village. We stopped for a few shots on the way in, it’s that pretty to look at. At Buttermere though, the route turned left to climb Newlands Hause. Into the headwind.

Newlands is a tough climb, longish with some really steep sections, especially at the finish. At the top everyone felt great for doing it though. Loads of happy faces, photos of bikes held aloft. Then we went back down it the way we came to head for Honister.

Honister is tough. There’s a really long 7% lead in before you hit the wall of the climb. 25% up to the slate mine and cafe. With traffic. Including a bus. A bus which clipped Neil knocking him off. The chaos of this resulted in a few of us walking the last section of the climb. When you stop on that there’s no chance of clipping back in.

A refuel and bike repair at the top before a descent and chase along the valley to Keswick for Ice Cream before the final climb back along the NCN route up to Greystoke and the best pint ever. It had been a baking hot day, despite the wind, and I’d cooked. I needed that beer. Wiped out.

After that we were back to the pub for more food, more beer and as it turned out a bit of a party!

Day three was all about Great Dun Fell. The plan was mixed, there was a full 100km route, however, some of us needed to get back/to other places so planned to just ride the route as far as GDF then loop back to the pub for an early depart.

The route gently climbed and twisted through the Eden Valley with Great Dun Fell always visible high on the hills in front. We turned off onto the dead end road and immediately started to climb. The road is amazing. Single track, really good surface and as it’s a dead end and closed to traffic from part way up no traffic on it either.

You can’t quite see where the road goes, suddenly you’ll go round a bend and a new section is revealed, or unless you’re Ian and way up front, you could see where the road was (if you believed it…) by seeing the faster riders up front riding up ahead.

Unfortunately, we were again into a headwind, which was really tough in parts. And the road is tough on it’s own. 7.5km long, with multiple ramps of 25% and “easy” sections down to a mere 10-12% it just climbs and climbs. One gate required a dismount to get round before the final turns to the Radar Station at the summit.

About 5km into the climb you start to get the most amazing views. GDF is really high up, but on the edge of a flat area. The views are hard to beat on a clear day. You felt like you were on the top of the world!

Back down to the bottom, where the group split, some riders opting for the full 100km, others off to home/holidays.

It was a brilliant weekend, there are some amazing places to ride up there. The pub made a perfect base for a cycling weekend. But the best bit was the strong group of friends riding. Great group of people to ride with. It’s never perfect, mechanical issues happen, people have flat spots and struggle. Hard to keep a large group working well together over 200+ miles. But we make it work and it’s great.

Everyone is still buzzing, main topic of conversation – where are we going next year?

Flat is Dull

I seem to have broken my resolve to post regularly on here after my weekly rides. I blame the weather. I had a few weekends riding was awful. Either didn’t get out or it was the worst day I’ve ever had on a bike.

The Big Red Ride run by Mansfield Road Club is a popular event with the club I ride with, so I was talked into doing it. The ride itself is a 100km flat ride round north Nottinghamshire. Not really my thing. But it was a chance, with ride in to the start and home again after, to get a 100 mile ride in to early in the year, and ride with my friends in the club.

Of course then it rained, there was wind, and the temperature (excluding wind chill) was barely over freezing. 4 degrees. urgh.

I got dropped accidentally due to a largish group, traffic and a nasty headwind and spent a while solo before matching up with some other riders from the club at a slower pace. I rode on the front of that group mostly, in the wind, in the rain. Freezing cold. No hills to warm me. It was miserable.

I got back to the start, caught up with my friends. Had a coffee and cake before riding off home. Andrew was kind enough to wait for me and make sure I was ok riding most of the way home. I was ok. Just miserable. The cake got me moving again. I’d not been able to eat as my hands were too cold to change gear, let alone fumble food out of my jersey, open it and eat.

Swore off flat rides after that.

In revenge, I took a group out to ride my route titled Evil. I get a lot of stick for being a sadist and only plotting evil hilly rides. I originally put Evil together as a joke. It was 50 miles with 7,500 feet of climb. Very vicious. But then we decided it had to be ridden. Some Martins (three), Jon and I rode it last year and I had a brilliant time. It felt great. The route went out through The Strines to take on Pearoyd Lane, one of the Hundred Greatest Climbs. The Strines is just beautiful. Pearoyd is tough but rewarding.

So we did it again this year, tweaked slightly to allow a cafe stop. We had a bigger group, which I thought was great, seeing my enthusiasm for hills spreading to more riders, some of whom used to loathe hilly rides.

Again I loved it. The fact it was 10 degrees, not 4, and the sun came out and the rain stayed away helped. But hills are just so satisfying.

Got home, sorted out my ride and saw that on the Hundred Greatest leaderboard I’m in the top 10% sitting at four hundred and something out of over four thousand riders.

That’s got me buzzing to get more of the 100 ticked off, and get some better times on segments I’ve done before.

But this weekend, I’ve got to go do a flat ride, because of a club event 🙁

New Hills – Nearly Always a Good Thing

Today, we arranged a group ride outside the club, to go a bit earlier and a bit further and a bit hillier than a regular club ride, with the group of us that rode TOTH and will be riding Shropshire. We had a few people who couldn’t make it, but it was a good group to get together.

I’d plotted a route that took us into The Peak a route I rarely go, plus along a couple of new roads I’d never tried. There aren’t many of them and even less that go up hill. But one of these looked like a good hill.

Of course, I’d been a bit rushed in the week and hadn’t checked streetview to see if it was a proper road.

It did have Tarmac all the way along it, and mostly you could avoid the potholes. But it may have been a bit muddier than is sensible to ride. But we got through it, and up it. Most of us missed the main segments due to a puncture we all stopped to encourage. But it was a nice steep hill. One I’ll plan to re-visit after a good long dry spell in the summer maybe…

We also hit a few more hills I like to climb. Stanton in the Peak is a nice little climb. Steep to start, with a nice extended finish. Froggatt is a good long persistent climb, as is Long Rake.

It was a great ride, brilliant atmosphere riding with that group as always. I think I need new front brake pads now though…

Big Ring VR

A few winters ago I tried a training plan from The Time Crunched Cyclist book. While getting on the Turbo through the winter improved my fitness, making myself slog through a dull turbo session, even one where I was having to hit hard numbers, was tough. It was really hard to hit the numbers too. Keeping going through 5 minutes of pain was just not working for me.

After I got knocked off the bike last year I was desperate not to lose my fitness levels. So I got on the turbo with Zwift. That made for me all the difference. I can ride hard up a mountain for 20 minutes. I can take more pain for much longer when there are bends, ramps, dips and other riders to blast past. It’s been working well for me.

But I got a tweet this week that I checked out:

This needed looking into. BigRingVR are offering an alternative Virtual Reality training option. This one provides streaming videos of iconic climbs which sync the gradient to your turbo, if you have a zwift capable turbo that is.

I figured I’d check it out, because there are some climbs on there I’d just love to do for real, include L’Alpe D’Huez.

The app is in Beta. It’s not as user friendly as Zwift, but they tag their site with user experience focused. I don’t know where they are with their plans, but I think the app needs some work to attract the masses as it’s a bit techie to get started on. Having helped a few club mates get going on Zwift. They’ve got a way to go on that.

Anyway, no bother for me to get it set up and ready to go. I warmed up a bit on Zwift as it looks like all the climbs are pretty much straight into the main course. And a 8.8 mile climb felt like I should warm up.

It works. I was engaged. I had no problem with getting myself to stay on the trainer for the 1hr 7 it took me to complete the climb. There are options to ride against opponents loaded from TCX files (race your own ghost?) but no other riders on the route with you, except from the camera footage they use for the climbs.

The footage was really good high quality footage, but, it’s shot as a vehicle rides a constant speed up. I was slower than that, so everything seems to be in slow motion, which is a bit odd, with a few jumps where they got stuck in traffic/at the road works. But there were other riders to try and catch, and I did. But no idea how hard they were riding, how fast they were. The details in Zwift really helped me there.

Of course, if you’re using real footage, that’s inevitable. But, it just doesn’t feel as natural as the virtual world of Zwift.

Also, as the camera was fixed, the view doesn’t look into the corners like you would in the real world, which felt constrained at points.

Still, it was good, kept me engaged and riding. And it’s in Beta so who knows where it will be when it’s finished. One to keep an eye on as an option.

There are however other similar products out there already. They’ll all have the same weird slow motion experience or not ride at your actual pace. That’s inevitable. And perhaps their UI is even less user friendly. I might check a few out.

I think I’ll have another go at BigRingVR during the week. See what another climb is like and if I can track down a TCX partner to race. But I think Zwift has the edge with other real riders, and the world moving at the right pace.

Pretzel Club

The plan for this morning was to head out into the Peak again for a good  hilly ride. The forecasts I’d seen were for a nippy start and rain kicking in later in the day, but for me, was good enough to think I could get out, ride the route and probably only get soaked for the last 20-30 miles.

Which for me, seemed a fair deal.

Unfortunately, it had been wet yesterday and when I got up to walk the dog I saw that my road had been replaced with an ice laden death trap. And the next road. The next road after that is gritted, but, was still not great.

A new plan was needed.

Matt had mentioned that he was going to ride the Pretzel. This is the uber-segment on Watopia. It takes in both the KOM and Epic climbs as well as the Sprint in both directions and is just over 40 miles long.

The idea of riding that far on the turbo wasn’t a nice one. But it’s there, the Pretzel is a challenge. And that’s enough to get me interested.

I got the garage set up and got on the bike to ride. Mat joined in a bit later, then Darren and JPW. Pretzel club was rolling. A bit of messaging between us to keep us motivated on our individual quests.

Darren quit. Because he’s a quitter. Says he’s got a cold. Some excuse. Matt suffered a Strava crash throwing away most of his ride. JPW took his usual breaks…

It’s done though. I rode the whole thing, my official segment time 2:31:56 and I have no intention of ever trying to improve it! 60-90 minutes is a decent Zwift training session. And mentally do-able for me. It’s so much better than any other indoor training option for keeping me engaged. But not for 2:30. Well not again anyway. Challenge ticked off. Back to normal turbo and hoping for better Sunday weather!

Testing the Legs

So the January Spanker was the first proper ride of the year. I was on the heavy bike with the fast guys so I was slow. I felt strong. But I was lagging behind constantly. I needed a proper test of my fitness. Needed a proper chance to assess how I was on the bike in the depths of the winter fitness slump after not having been able to ride properly since the accident in August.

This was a tricky one. It had to be the Peak District to get a real test. But I didn’t want to start hitting the 100 Climbs. As it was January, there was a risk of ice making roads dangerous.

A bit of thought and poking round with Strava Routes came up with a loop that took in some tough climbs, to give me a test, mainly on bigger roads that I hoped would be well gritted and travelled enough that I’d be safe on the bike.

I prepped the good bike to. The light weight carbon bike. Took it off the turbo, fitted the non-turbo rear. Reindexed the gears. Cleaned and lubed the drive chain. Fitted lights, saddle bag with the right spares. Made sure I was all set.

Sunday came and it was cold, very cold. So I layered up in my finest winter gear, loaded the route and set off to meet my mate.

I think I got the layering about right. We hit snow, rain, sleet, hail and rain. Occasionally it was dry too. It wasn’t too awful out. It felt great to be out riding in the Peak in not-the-greatest weather. Tough. Rule #9 applied.

After the boring bit (with hills) riding out to the real Peak, we had a good cruise across the top of Froggatt before dropping down to Hathersage and steaming along Hope Valley to Bradwell where we hit the climb on the road to Tideswell.

That’s a good road to ride. Starts stead, building the climb, kick and a drop before that final slog to the top. Often a bit busy with traffic, on a cold wet January Sunday it’s quite empty. Felt good. Smashed up it.

We dropped down to Miller’s Dale, which is a nice cruise down, before climbing out via Priestcliffe. Again, good steady climb. And across to Longnor.

There’s a brilliant cafe at Longnor, but we were on a no-cafe-stop ride. No fannying around. It’s winter. Get the hills ridden and get home.

After Longnor is one of my favourite Peak District climbs. Crowdecote is half a mile. It’s steep. It has hair pins. It’s a beautiful place. That was shrouded in fog and drizzle this week.

I got my 4th best time up there. Which I thought was great going for January. My legs were starting to try and attract my attention by then though. Hope to set a PR up it in a few months, on a nice day. I do love that climb.

Cracked on from there, back to Bakewell, Bradwell and then using Owler Bar as the best option to climb back out of the Peak. I paced steady up that. Save what was left in the legs.

It was just great getting out for a proper ride. At points, when the snow was light and proper snow, settling on the edges of the road and fields, it was magical. At others, like the hail facial tattoo, it was a bit grim. But generally it was great.

I’m not in peak form, it’s January. I need to keep the Zwift sessions going in the week and work on the fitness. But I’m ready for proper long rides in the Peak. Well. Ready to start building the stamina better. My back is not used to that long on a bike any more and is killing me…

Zwift vs Reality

If you ride a bike you can’t avoid hearing about Zwift. Virtual Reality riding linked to your smart trainer to make that winter training more bearable. For some, including me, it’s a massive win keeping me motivated to sit on my turbo for over an hour this evening trying to set some new PRs on some virtual hills.

For others, they can’t understand why we’re not out in the cold wet and dark getting killed by winter motorists as well as cold wet and miserable.

But each to their own…

Big bone of contention is that Zwift racks up your mileage and climb totals for the year on Strava, which annoys the hell out of people.

So, should it count? Is it close enough to reality?

I only really care about going up hills, so let’s look at that. First, I remember Ben at Veloviewer.com posting an article about how to find segments you’ve ridden that are like a climb of interest you won’t get to ride. It’s here. So we can use that to find a segment that suits us for comparison.

To save me the bother, Andrew pointed out that Half China is quite a lot like Carr Lane. Which is a segment B&DCC, the club we ride with, runs a hill climb up so we’re quite familiar with.

How to compare? Well I figure VAM is a good one. I’ve only ridden Carr Lane 7 times, which is nothing compared to Andrew who is over 80 repeats. My VAM ranges from 652.4 3 and a half years ago to just over 1000 for my PR and last April.

My VAM for Half China goes from 844 a few days ago to just over 1000 just before I got ill late last year and slumped my fitness.

I’d say that’s a pretty fair comparison and climb on Zwift counts then.

I checked one or two other segments, seems close enough to me.