Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas & New Year 2012

I was lucky enough this year to receive some great cycling gifts from my family and fiancee.

That's more than enough to keep me going through the winter months!

I hope that you gave and received some cool Christmas gifts (cycling or not) and more importantly, had a great time whatever you did.

I'd like to thank you if you have taken the time to read this blog over the last few months. I hope that you have enjoyed it and found some of it relevant. If you subscribed via RSS previously, I may have messed up your subscription by re-naming the blog and the URL. Have a check and please share if you don't mind!

I'll be continuing to write as I really enjoy it. It's something I didn't think I'd get into quite as much, but as the new year begins I shall be expanding the blog with more posts.

Thank you once again! I wish you a safe and prosperous New Year!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

A Cautionary Tale

First, some background.

At the flooded bike shop sale where I picked up my commuter bike, I also managed to get my hands on some Shimano SPD shoes for a bargain £10. They'd been sat in my wardrobe until I got some pedals (as a gift for Christmas). I'd been looking forward to trying these out.

Fast forward to Boxing Day. This is traditionally a day where friends gather to eat, drink and be merry. This Boxing Day was no different.

The next day, 27th, I woke up after a late night. I felt OK, so decided to switch the pedals on my Scott SUB 35 to the SPDs and go for a spin - not too far. By the time I was ready it was 12:50 PM. I'd eaten two clementines and a banana, put another banana in my rear pocket and filled my bottle with isotonic Lucozade. And away I went.

I'm sure by now you're expecting a tale of how I forgot that my feet were clipped in and had some accident. Unfortunately for you, I didn't. I had one stumble but found the whole clipped in experience very good. The feeling and sound of clipping in was secure and reassuring, pedalling was assured.

I'd set off with a view to doing 15-20 miles, or just enough to cover the 10 miles in precipitation challenge in the 12 Days Of Cycling over on Google+.

After a quick stop to take a photo, I took a look at the map on display in the parking bay I'd stopped in. If I carried on a bit from where I originally intended to turn off, I'd be able to make my way to Durham city. This would be great as the day after (28th Dec) I'd arranged our traditional Festive Footy (11-a-side, muddy pitch, great fun). As it had been raining I thought a pitch inspection would be required. The route there took in disused bridleways and would be ideal with no traffic. I was looking forward to getting home, having some tomato soup with buttered bread and tea.

By the time I'd reached the top of Cornsay Colliery bank my legs felt empty. I ate my banana, the sweetest, most tastiest banana I'd ever eaten. I was wishing I'd brought more. On I went through Lanchester and then onto the bridleway to Durham. The pitch was OK; great, let's go home. By now it was getting dark and I'd covered about 27 miles. Soup was calling me.

My light went out. It hadn't been charged in a while. Rear lights were good, I was wearing my reflective jacket so I wasn't to worried. I was very tired. By the time I got to Spennymoor I called home to say I'd be half an hour or so. I carried on. Soup ever closer.

A section of road that is known locally as the "Mad Mile". It's a national speed limit road that I've ridden before. It's wide so I'm not too perturbed by it. Half way up this stretch I had to stop. It's unlit, my light was out. By now, my legs had nothing. My breath was short, vision becoming blurred, cold sweats, shaking uncontrollably. I knelt down on the grass verge, leaning on the bike. I had to resist the very strong urge to lie down. I just wanted to lie down but couldn't out there on that busy road in the dark. I rested, tried to drink from my empty bottle, cursed, then got back on the bike.

A mile or so from where I'd stopped there is a petrol station. I'd get there and be OK I thought. I made it in, staggered up to the pump attendant with my bottle asking for water. I had no money to purchase a snack. I rang my fiancee, there was no answer. I was feeling really desperate at this point. I called my friend Will and asked him to come and meet me with a banana or chocolate. He came with some chocolate and cola. While I was waiting for him, my fiancee Rebecca called. I asked her to come and get me. "Please, I'm cold, shaking, dizzy". I feel bad thinking about it because I'd panicked her. She came with the car and we went home. I was so grateful for Will and Rebecca's help because I'd gone from being a confident and strong cyclist to a desperately isolated gibbering wreck. It was very alarming.

After a hot shower, some pasta and warm tea, I felt much better. Then suddenly I got the most painful cramp in a place I've never had it before - in the back of my thigh. This hurt so much I was nearly in tears.

I know the lessons I learnt this day:

  • ALWAYS eat sufficiently before heading out.
  • ALWAYS take your mobile phone.
  • ALWAYS carry some money.
  • ALWAYS ensure your light is fully charged.
There is one thing I'm not sure about though. The cramps. Did I get get cramps because I'd set my SPD pedals up slightly wrong? Did I get them because I hadn't been fuelling my body correctly, replacing the electrolytes etc as I went? Or is it a combination of the two?

Find the route I took here and the result from my heart rate monitor here.

Last commute of 2012

This is a retrospective post. My last commute was on 19/12/12.

I left work at 11:30 AM, so the commute was in daylight - a rare treat indeed this time of year! I'd noticed that a section of the Auckland Way looked a strange colour in the twilight  of dusk and dawn and under my LED front light. My pedalling also seemed to get a bit more laboured, as if the surface was exceptionally muddy. I could tell that some re-surfacing work had been done as I could see small bulldozer tracks at the periphery of the track. Plus it was a few feet wider.

So travelling home with a bigger smile on my face than usual, I was intrigued to see what had been done. It turns out that a layer of grey shingle had been spread quite widely over the existing track.
New surface works
In places it was very compact, but in others it was soft, like the surface material had been sprinkled over the top. This was the "riding on sand" effect I was feeling.
Soft section of track
It's an improvement, because there was a deep rut in this section, caused by some severe rainfall during the summer. However, I'm left wondering why the council had waited until it was winter and raining pretty much constantly to repair the track? It would make more sense to do it when it was dry so when they compacted it, it would stay compact rather than be torn up by bicycle wheels and walkers when it is wet and loose?
Rut caused by rainfall. Notice how narrow the track is in comparison!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Maybe next time I visit Iceland

This impressive display was on a wall at Reykjavik main bus terminal. There was no chance of any off road biking on this trip due to the season and the fact we were here for Rebecca's birthday.
But in the summer months it would be awesome to be able to ride up and around volcanic craters and across lava fields. I also think it would be a bit dangerous to do that on your own. Maybe I could persuade Sam in a couple of years? Would we bring our own bikes? I don't know, its pretty pricey getting there, but if we did we have our own transportation for the entirety of the stay.
Ideally there'd be a photographer at the top taking a new photo to update the poster and it would be me, still riding to the top and not pushing the bike up absolutely knackered like the man currently is!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Cycling in Reykjavik?

Just a quick post while I'm waiting in the lobby for another excursion.
I'd love to do this but I highly doubt I'd get Rebecca to go along with it!
I've seen quite a few cyclists whilst here, all well wrapped up and some running spiked tyres. Considering there is only 4 hours daylight here, the majority aren't that well illuminated.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Abandoned or stolen?

While out walking our dog Melba along my work commute route, I came across this bike; nobody around. Just lying half in the ditch.

Its a kids bike, not particularly expensive. On a closer look I noticed the front brake lever was snapped, as was the rear derailleur.

That damage might occur in a severe crash, but there was no other evidence of this. Another explanation could be it was stolen and vandalised. You would hope the owner wouldn't be so ungrateful.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Commute decisions

Until my mudguards arrive I'm commuting on the roads. Its quicker by around 5-10 minutes depending on how fit I'm feeling and the weather, but the traffic is really busy. Its an A-road all the way whereas the quiet way is a disused railway.

There has been a lot of rain in the north east of England since Sunday although its eased off a bit now. I certainly didn't fancy making my way through the slop of the railway and having to clean up before I go into work. And vice versa tonight. So roads it was and I got wet - not on the inside, I have appropriate clothing. Mudguards, please hurry up!

I'm lucky however as there is a  showering facility at my workplace. Its always a great feeling to finish a ride with a hot shower and fresh clothes. The feeling is second to none.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Change of blog title & URL

I've decided to change the name of my blog from "All Things Bikes" to "Bishop Auckland Biking", along with the URL.

I just felt that "All Things Bikes" was a little bit generic and it didn't stand a chance in search engines with all the other All Things Bikes sites. The title now is much more specific to what I do and where I am - this makes more sense to me.

Friday, 23 November 2012

RC helicopter trail footage!

Sadly, not of me pulling some sweet moves on my local trails but some really lucky buggers out in Fruita, Colorado. Apologies if you have already seen this amazing footage captured by a remote controlled helicopter carrying a camera, but I had to share it. It looks fantastic. I especially like the shots with the trail dog running along the ridge.

Have you ever ridden anything like this? It looks so smooth and flowy - no chance of anything like this in England!

The video is below or head on over to for the full post.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

New commuting bike

As you may be aware, I went to a bike sale over the weekend in search of a singlespeed/fixie for my commute. In the end I opted for a nice looking hub geared commuter bike.

It's a Scott SUB 35, where SUB stands for (Speed Utility Bike - I like it!) and the spec of said bike can be found as a note in my biking Springpad notebook.

Low maintenance commuting, here I come!
Initially, the plan was to get a singlespeed cheap. That wasn't an option in the sale, so after some discussion with a nice staff member who advised a great deal on the frame of this bike, I decided to snap up a bargain. It has 8 gears in the rear hub, which is quite heavy actually. All I need to do to convert to singlespeed is get a new wheel and hub, ensure it's correctly spaced for chain alignment and tension it all up. Seems pretty straight forward. There are also mounts for a mech hanger, should I want to go down this route in future. There are also disc brake mounts too, should I decide to upgrade from the bog standard V-brakes. This is a bike that has a lot of potential for a lot of guises!

Eccentric bottom bracket for chain tension
Option for mech hanger
Option for disc brake

First Impressions

I had my first commute yesterday and it went really well I thought. The 700c wheels and no fork are the biggest and most noticeable difference on each surface type. Tarmac roads are silent and the bike glides along but the hard pack disused railway section (65% of the commute, one way) is a bit of a bone-shaker in some sections. I might have to consider bigger tyres. A couple of other niggles are I wear 5Ten Impact 2 Low shoes, which are really wide. This means the pedals feel tiny under my feet and my heels occasionally rub against the chain stays. Not too much of a hassle, but this is more due to the fact I've ridden the same bike for two years now and the new bicycle feels unusual. This reminds me, I've never written a post about my Revolution Triad itself, just the rides. I must do that at some point!
The shifting is pretty amazing! Instant changes as soon as the grip shift is twisted means acceleration is fantastic. The ratios seem pretty sweet too, with one being a perfect granny ring if I ever encounter a particular hefty gradient. Being able to shift into gear when stationary is a real boon too.

Next Steps

  • Full length mudguards will be so handy as the commute is a muddy one and getting home dirty after a day of working is a bit of a chore. Plus the bicycle needs to come into the house at the minute so the less dirty it is, the easier this task will become.
  • I need a new mounting bracket for my D-lock. The old one has become distorted from prising it off my other frame due to a woeful design, so I've sourced another one of a different design (I suppose Kryptonite have realised the error of their ways and changed the design). At the minute, the lock is in my backpack, which is very heavy.
  • Decide whether to switch to singlespeed. The gears are so smooth and being enclosed in a hub, should be low maintenance.
  • Upgrade the brakes to disc? Only the rear is possible.
  • Get a rack and panniers for cargo.
As you can see, I have a lot of things to get excited about with this bike!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Flooded bike shop back in action

Recently the north east of England has seen some pretty wet weather, with many floods in places.
One such place was Newburn in Newcastle, where a bike shop succumbed to the deluge. As well as that, thieves broke in and stole £20K worth of bicycles. Its bad enough the owners livelihood had been destroyed by natural causes, but for thieves to make it much, much worse is a real low blow.
The fact the shop reopens on Saturday 10th November with the remaining 200+ bikes cleaned and serviced shows just how much could have been salvaged from the flood - if it had been left to be salvaged in the first place.
I'll be going to the sale in order to find myself a single speed commuter bike to save running my hard tail into the ground over winter. Sam and Stuart will also be there, possibly just browsing but also on the lookout for full suspension trail bikes. The sale will also include clothing and shoes.
I must admit I'm looking forward to picking up a bargain, but a little part of me feels like I'm taking advantage of people whose hand has been forced to sell their stock at really low prices. If the get rid of the flood damaged stock, they can rebuild the business, which I suppose is the redeeming element of helping the business out.
You can read a full news article by following the link below.

Newburn cycle shop is back in saddle after floods - Chronicle News - News - ChronicleLive

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Keeping your bike secure in town

Bicycles are expensive and desirable items that get stolen all the time. It's coming up to Christmas so it's even more of a good idea to learn how to lock your bike securely. You don't want to come back from Christmas shopping to find your pride and joy is now some thief's pride and joy/quick buck.

First off, you need a good quality D-lock, the smaller the better. The smaller it is, the harder it is to prise the lock apart. This is because it is harder to get a crowbar or car jack into the open space in the lock, especially when the secure bike rack and frame of the bike is also in there.

A secondary lock is probably also needed to secure the front wheel and/or saddle if it's easily removable. A lighter duty cable lock is all I use, and is admittedly the weakest link. The way I see it is that it's cheaper to replace a front wheel or saddle than it is the whole bike.

Let's see how to secure the bike with a D-lock

D-lock securing rear wheel and frame
As you can see above, the D-lock leaves no room in it to be forced open. The U-section of the lock goes around the bike rack, in the rear triangle of the frame and over the rear wheel. Nothing can be removed here without cutting the wheel, frame or bike rack. The lock I use is shown in the link below. It's a great lock, not too big or heavy and the cable is really heavy duty. I only use the cable on weekend rides where I need to lock 2 or 3 bikes up. The smaller cable fits in my back pack easier.

Now let's look at the front of the bike

Securing the front wheel and saddle
I've used my cable lock by passing it through the front wheel, around the bike rack and through the rails on my saddle. This isn't fool-proof, as the saddle could be unbolted from the rails and the seat post and saddle would be freed. I should have wrapped the cable twice around the bike rack to make it harder for potential thieves to gain any purchase on prising it open. Unlike the D-lock however, a cable lock is prone to bolt-cutter attacks.

The whole picture

A fully secured bike
When the bike is secured as above, you can go about town safer in the knowledge you've probably prevented your bike from being stolen. But remember! If a thief is determined, he'll have the right tools, so nothing is 100% safe from being stolen. Park in a busy and well lit area of town and try not to be too long if you are parked in a less than desirable part of town. Always remember to remove any lights and pumps too.

One last thing...

Below you will find a map of secure bike racks I have used in Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor. I'll be adding to this map in future so keep it handy. If you would like to add any bike parking, get in touch or leave a comment below. Also, any tips you may have for securing your bike leave below in the comments section too.

Thanks for reading and here's to stopping bike thieves!

View Secure Bike Parking in a larger map

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Kirroughtree ride review

Last Friday/Saturday I went up to Kirroughtree with 5 friends. This is the first time I've been to this trail centre, hotly tipped as one of the best of the 7 Stanes, vying for position with Glentress. We've been to Glentress twice before, so it was only fair that we give this one a shot.

We stayed at the Galloway Activity Centre, with a view to stay in the big cabin. 6 men needs a bit of space. Sam however, decided to mix things up by changing the booking for us to stay in a Mongolian yurt. He actually arrived there first as he was working in Scotland that day. After viewing the yurt, he then decided that it was too small and rearranged the cabin booking. It was probably a good thing that the centre was quiet (it was October and the weather is getting colder) and the cabin was available for us.

I drove up with Alec (first time biking with us) and arrived when it was dark, so we couldn't get a feel for the place. Ben (has been to Glentress with us), Colin, (has ridden with us plenty of times before) and Stuart (ridden many more times with us before) all arrived in a short time of each other. The cabin had two heaters - one of which didn't work. Never mind, we'll leave the functional one on while we go into Castle Douglas to eat and it'll be warm when we get back, we thought. Not quite. After arriving back to the cabin with a few bottles of beer and snacks after a fairly sub-standard steak and chips, the cabin was still freezing cold. The car thermometer was registering -0.5 degrees Celsius. 
The less than comfortable bed
 So we all climbed into our sleeping bags and had a few drinks and a bit of chat. At this point, I'll mention that the bed I was to sleep on was also less than functional. The slats weren't broken, but just had enough flex in them to allow them to slip off the lip that supported my weight. "It'll be OK" I thought, "When I'm laid on it, the weight will be spread and it won't collapse". Sure enough, at 3 AM, whilst turning over, it collapsed.
Although to be fair, I was glad that I didn't draw the short straw and have to sleep on the fold out sofa bed. Poor Alec and Stuart didn't sleep too well. How the centre could advertise the cabin as "comfortably" sleeping 6 adults, I don't know. A complaint was made in the morning.

The view in the morning was stunning though.

A beautiful day for riding.
We ate breakfast and lost two riders. Sam had hurt his back lifting his bike into the car the previous day and it had only gotten worse during the night. It was deemed too unsafe for him to ride, so he sadly went home. Ben also succumbed to some illness, dubbed by Alec as "Scottish Night-time AIDS", as he was fine before going to bed but sick in the morning. So he also went home. The trail centre was 45 minutes drive away so the 4 remaining quickly made tracks to the trail head.

We got going and the trails were in great condition. Nice and dry and feeling quite fast. There is some nice climbing through the trees and some quite technical descents. I felt that the single track sections were quite short and finished really quickly and spat us back out onto the fire roads too often This meant frequent saddle height adjustments which got a bit annoying. Not annoying enough for me to fork out £300-ish on a remote dropper seat post though. Still, it was nice to be able to regroup often for a bit of chat and Jaffa Cakes. We were taking it reasonably easy along the red route and would decide whether to do the black route when we made it that far. The first black route trail feature we came across was a really steep rolling drop, about 2m high and caught me off guard. After some discussion, I attempted it and cleared it well. That set the adrenalin going and after that the black route would be getting ridden!

After a couple of hours, Colin decided to call it a day as he had to be home for a party and it was a good 3+ hour drive home. We bade him farewell and continued on.
Colin left us at the top of the climb called "Stairway To Heaven". This was one of the two climbs I could recall the names of after studying the map, the other being "Heartbreak Hill". I was recording my ride with Strava, so I decided to really attack the climb. I'm glad I did because I recorded my first King Of The Mountain achievement! I was very pleased with myself.

It was at this point that I had to stop recording as my battery was just about flat and I wanted to see how I had done on the climb. I'm glad I did. Because of that, I had to estimate the rest of the route (16.7 miles):

View Kirroughtree - estimated in a larger map

It was a good ride, but I don't think it's the best trail centre in the 7 Stanes. It loses out on being a much longer drive to get there and facilities are nowhere near on a par with Glentress. The trails are relatively similar too. The only thing that Kirroughtree has over Glentress is "McMoab". This was by far the hardest part of the ride, even with the best route indicated with arrows painted to the surface.
Stuart in the distance, taking on McMoab. McMoab won, Stuart's saddle rails almost snapped!
I'd go back to Kirroughtree and fully complete the black route, by making sure we had more time. And also booking better accommodation!

A whole load of photos of the ride can be seen here.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Strava and commuting

This week I've been experimenting with Strava whilst commuting the 7 miles (yes, I know its not far!) And there is a nice 4.5 mile section of disused railway which has been ridden quite a fair few number of times. Last night on my journey home, I was 7 seconds off taking the top spot. 7 seconds! I thought I'd done it. I will do it at some point.
The point of Strava is to better your performance, time-trialling against others but more importantly yourself. So far in the 6 commutes I've gone for it, I've really gone for it. After the first day I left my hefty D-lock and work clothes at work. I then dropped the hydration pack out and used a bottle, all to save weight. It worked; my times got better. The past 3 days the weather in northern England in October has been unsurprisingly awful - foggy, drizzly and dark. The track is wet and muddy, leaves falling from the trees make it slippy and I could barely see 5 meters in front of me. So there's my excuse: the weather is slowing me down! Wait until I get decent conditions and I'll try again!
I don't know what the conditions were like when the fastest time was set. It could be that he's just faster than me.
The conditions do take their toll though. Today my legs were heavy and I was labouring. Tonight I decided to just do a normal ride home, sticking to my low heart rate zones. However, this in itself is not without its problems. As the weather has turned for the worse, its thicker longer gloves and a waterproof jacket. This ensures I can't quickly look at my HRM wristwatch to check my zones. Although it does have an audible alert (slow beep telling me to up the pace, fast beep telling me to slow down and quiet when everything is just right). However under the layers of clothing and layers of tyre, traffic and wind noise its difficult hear it beeping. I could wear the watch over the jacket, restricting movement or fasten it to the bars somehow. This would allow me to hear it but maybe not see the screen as its behind my headlight and definitely too dark under the trees. This of course would require some kind of custom mount too.

What would you do?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Getting into Strava

I've been using SportsTrackLive for a few years now to log my rides, but I've given Strava for Android a go. It does pretty much the same as STL (distance, time, altitude, pace etc) but it has the awesome extra feature that it allows you to add "segments" of your ride, so over time and further rides on the same course you can see how you are faring in the speed stakes. You can also see where other riders have been and made segments, so you can have a bit of friendly competition as you do it. It's strangely addictive and today I gave it a go to see how fast I could make it along the disused railway part of my commute.

First real goes using Strava

Second and third on the way to and from work respectively! Pretty pleased with that. Only 52 seconds off top spot in the southbound direction. I was behind a bloke all the way along the railway section tonight too, I couldn't get past him. It is pretty narrow and to be fair I didn't ask to be past as he was going at a canny pace. Maybe if I had gone past him I'd be sitting at the top of the leader board right now?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

EA Sports Active 2 - 9 week program finished

Now I know the name of this blog is "All Things Bikes". Well I started heart rate training properly a couple of months ago by keeping in the low heart rate zone on my commute. I felt that it wasn't particularly strenuous and at the time, football sessions had been dropping off due to not having enough players. You can see below that there was only 1 session (y-axis up the side) from the end of July/beginning of August, with not being on at all some weeks through September.

Number of football sessions (y-axis) in a 17 week period from July 1st to 16th October

Also during this time period, the number of weekly bicycle commutes was dropping. I was regularly doing at least 4 per week until around the 15th August, which was the Lakes trip. My thinking here was "Don't go out and wear your legs out unnecessarily". And then after the trip, my bike was damaged and so were my legs!
Number of weekly commutes (y-axis) in a 17 week period from July 1st to 16th October

So in between all this period of stop-start football and bicycling, I decided to break out the EA Sports Active 2 kit on the PS3 to keep on top of my fitness. I worked through the 9 week program (4 sessions per week, 36 total), starting on the 3rd August. I'd record my results in so I could keep track of how I was going.

Number of  EA Sports Active sessions in an 11 week period from August 1st to 16th October

As you can see the program overran due to weekends away biking, stag party and weddings. In the program you can do any missed workouts and alter your schedule to accommodate things like this. Unfortunately, in PS3 terms, I did not actually complete the full program; I missed the end date by two workouts. This meant I didn't get the "gold trophy" (NOOOO!) but I was able to do a custom workout and select the two I had missed #35 & #36. So in real life terms, I did complete the program.

So let's have a look at some figures from doing this 9 week program:

NOTE: All trend lines have their values up the right hand y-axis.


Weight monitored over the 9 week program
My weight decreased nicely over the first 2/3rds of the program, even decreasing slightly over the big gap in the exercises over the weekend 14th September (Stu's stag party) - not eating properly - maybe? After this it increased back to where I left off training (10th September) at 81Kg, which is a 3Kg loss. Result!

Average Heart Rate

Average heart rate monitored by the EA Sports Active kit
The average heart rate is all over the place. From as low as 82 bpm to 119 bpm, this is influenced by all sorts of external factors:
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Illness
  • How generally motivated you are
This shows that if my max heart rate is 185 bpm and Polar recommend that the weight loss zone is 70%-80%, this is 129 - 148 bpm. I was nowhere near that, more like 54%, which is in the recovery zone. Perhaps if I did the program again, I'd select the harder intensity and not the medium one.

Average recovery time

Every new week a I was made to perform a "fitness test". Heart rate recovery time is in seconds
The fitness test consisted of doing foot fires until my heart rate was up to around 130 bpm (typically after 2 minutes of the exercise), then I had to walk on the spot until it had dropped to what it was before the test. The trend of the graph is generally good. Initially it took 46 seconds, by the end of the program 33 seconds. With a big jump on the penultimate fitness test, which I can't explain - sorry!

Overall thoughts

I took on the 9 week program to stay active and see if heart rate training helps to lose a little bit of weight - I used to never veer off 82Kg so when I hit 84 I thought it would be a good experiment. And yes, I lost some weight and consequently look a little bit leaner (even if I do say so myself).

Whether I restart the 9 week program remains to be seen as it can get repetitive a bit boring. Although, it works. You need to keep on top of it, keep completing the missed workouts which will occur because life is like that and you'll see changes if you commit to exercise.

I also must add, I did absolutely no dieting, just ate and drank what I felt like.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Lakes ride - 6 Passes in 2 days - DAY 2

So after another long delay here is a quick write up of day 2 of our Lakes "adventure". I really need to keep on top of these things!

The route can be found here.

This route involved a lot of road riding, which was good as my bike was suffering. However the road went over two passes - Hardknott Pass, which is tied with another road as the steepest road in England with a 33% gradient. Impressive. I was determined to struggle up it but alas, I couldn't do it. Sam had a great bit of banter with a roadie as I continued up without him in my own personal challenge. It went something like this:

Sam "Is this any easier on a road bike?"
Roadie "NO! HARDER!"
Sam "Even with 10Kg packs on your back?"
Roadie - says nothing, just rides on.

Sometimes, you just got to love the pleasantness of pure road cyclists. They just think they are in a different class to lowly mountain bikers. Mind, this is some, not all. Just to be clear.

View from almost the top of Hardknott Pass
While Sam was busy making friends I decided to take a breather as I was finding it difficult to keep my front wheel pinned down. The views were spectacular. The natural landscapes and also the tourists attempting to drive up and down the pass. AMAZING. Cars on 3 wheels coming around the steep hairpins, stinking of burning clutches and brake discs.

Sam making his way up the pass
We were doing this the "easy way" too, if we were travelling east to west, the climbs are steeper in that direction.

The next pass was Wrynose Pass, with more 1in 33 gradients. This one I was even more determined to get up in one attempt. And I almost did. In a manoeuvre to get a better line I over-cooked it and the front wheel slipped off the tarmac into the dirt/grass at the side of the road. I got back on and completed it, so I was pretty disappointed I had that one slip. Speaking of tarmac, some of the steeper sections were rippled where it had started to slip down the hill. Crazy. I continued over the summit and onto the descent. Just as I rounded the first corner, I ran into a family who had managed to get their Fiat 500 stuck. I'm not sure how, but the husband and eldest daughter and I got pushing and we got it free and away up the hill. The guy then informed me the clutch was burning so he stopped to let it cool and couldn't get any momentum again. That's a steep bank.

Sam at the top of Stake Pass. Sweat or mist?
The last pass was Stake Pass. This was more of the same as day 1, but by now were on the way home. Fatigue was setting in and we just got on with it. The summit was like some kind of lunar landscape and the mist certainly added to the eerie feeling. However the descent on the other side was the best bit of descending we did all weekend, it was just a shame it didn't last very long. Never mind, it was still a blast, despite the narrow trail. Concentration was key.
That's me descending Stake Pass. The trail was 30cm wide and quite the drop on the right hand side!
When we made it down, it was a simple case of following the river along to Stonethwaite to finish. We passed a group of lads on full suspension bikes heading the way we'd just came. I have no idea where they were heading. It would have been a canny haul up.

We made it back to the car and youth hostel where we were generously allowed the use of the showers. 6.5 hours and we were tired, cold and hungry, but a huge sense of accomplishment made it all worthwhile.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Lakes ride - 6 Passes in 2 days - DAY 1

It has been almost a month since we completed the ride that Sam & I thought would really challenge us. I haven't blogged about it since we finished it for a number of reasons; there's been a lot of other more important stuff to do but the main reason would be: There wasn't a whole lot of riding involved. As Sam succinctly put it half way up one of the passes: "Mountain biking in the Lakes is an oxymoron".

Yes, there were mountains. And yes, there were bikes. But was there any kind of trail riding? Maybe. Take a look below at Sam making his way on the ascent up Scarth Gap Pass:

How exactly do you ride up this?!
So day 1 was pretty much the same for the climbs, literally. We were pretty fed up to be honest. We made it over Scarth Gap into Black Sail Hut which was so surreal and a welcome respite that it absurdly made the blood, sweat and almost tears of frustration worth it.

Sam preparing our mid-ride meal
We had 3 of these types of pass in day one, so we knew what was to come after we had our Wayfarer meals cooked in Sam's trusty Jetboil: climbing with bikes and 10Kg packs on our backs. I was on my knees at one point getting over a ledge on Black Sail Pass.

The descending on the other hand, was insane. So steep and rocky that our hardtail XC bikes couldn't really handle it, brake discs boiling water as we rode through it due to the brakes being held on otherwise you would accelerate into warp speed nearly instantly. Punctures were a bain of my life in the first day, the first coming from a "Puncture Wizard" as we christened him - a probably irate hiker who asked "Have you had any punctures yet?" just as I rolled down a rocky outcrop just after Honnister Pass. It was inevitable that I got a huge pinch flat, the rim slamming down with a jarring thud. Probably bad technique on my part, but most likely the Puncture Wizard. The second was failing to lift my rear wheel high/far enough as I crossed one of the numerous drainage ditches scything across the path. Pictured below is Sam on a section of really rare, rideable, fairly tame descent.
Sections such as this were really enjoyable
After we'd made it over Honnister, Scarth Gap and Black Sail passes safely there was a large section on the roads around Wast Water which would bring some relief to our aching shoulders and stretch out our legs. We set off and after a few minutes it became apparent that my rear wheel was not well. Some pretty awful cranking, scraping knocking sounds were coming from it. We stopped and on inspection, the rear hub moved around on the axle by quite a few millimeters. It seemed that the terrain had been too severe for a hub a couple of years old. Anyway, we had to carry on in order to make it to our accommodation before it got dark. We were only on the roads so it wasn't going to be taking any sever knocks. We also noticed the crank had a little bit of play in it too. Not good.

We made it to our hostel in Eskdale. After around 9 hours, we were ready for some food. Quick! To the pub! The pub stopped serving at 9pm, we made it in to order at 9:03pm and were told we could only order a pizza. RUBBISH! So faced with no other option, we had 3 pizzas between the two of us. Couldn't quite believe how strict they were on this policy. At least it was some sustenance. Finished these quickly and back to bed, ready to face day 2.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Lakes trip is ON!

This afternoon I spent my time cleaning and preparing my bike for the trip. De-greasing the drive train, sorting out the kink in the chain ring and fixing a punctured inner tube (shard of green glass).

It was raining so it felt a bit rushed out in the yard, but I also managed to get some air out of the rear brake line so now it feels a bit more solid and not like I'm squeezing a sponge.

The plan has changed slightly - still the same route and an overnight stay, only now we're staying in Eskdale Youth Hostel which makes our first foray into adventure biking that bit easier. I'll be honest, I'm a bit disappointed we're not camping or staying in a pod as I won't get to try out the cool new lightweight equipment I bought, but it is the first time we've done this so the weight saving is a bonus. I'll talk more about my kit in a future post.

The lack of sleeping equipment means I can take my 20 litre pack instead of the hiking specific 35 litre one I was going to use. I use Springpad quite extensively and for this trip I have a few things noted. This link will show you what I'm taking on this trip. Obviously, Sam has other things like the JetBoil, first aid kit and map, but we'll share them tomorrow (I'll take the first aid kit and the Wayfarer meals he got for us). And again, in a future post, I'll talk about how Springpad is useful for my biking plans.

I'll report back after the weekend and update you all on how it went. But for now, wish us luck!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

A very quick update

It's been a while since I've posted so here's what's going on (briefly):

  • Still persevering with heart rate training on my commutes
  • Have included some additional work outs with EA Sports Active 2 on my PS3. I'm doing a 9 week program and I'm onto the 10th session so far.
  • The weekend riding in the Lakes is scheduled to take place this weekend!
  • I've got some maintenance to perform on my bike before then; puncture, clean, lube, slightly bent middle chain ring.
Hopefully tonight I can make a more detailed post.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Cardiac arrest?!

On Monday's commute home I was having some trouble with my on-going attempts in heart rate training.
My heart rate constantly shot up to 229bpm, despite me barely pedalling. The strap was moist, in the right place and I'd restarted the thing 2 or 3 times. At one point, if I believed the HRM 100%, I should be dead. Up went my heart rate to 229, sat there for a bit beeping crazily at me then just dropped to 0. Not gradually decreasing, just 229 -> 0bpm, like my heart had exploded (it hadn't). In the end I just gave up and copied the morning's result for the evening as it felt about the same. Not precise I know, but hey.

I'd cleaned the back of the strap in the morning after the commute in so after returning home, I cleaned it again with a wet wipe and everything is OK now. I guess there was some kind of film/residue on the sensors.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Hydraulic brakes schoolboy error!

Tonight I needed to replace 2 cracked cup washers on my rear brake caliper mount. I removed the caliper, sorted out the washers and then looked at the gap between the pads, checking it over which isn't a bad thing. One piston was extended further than the other and for some reason, I don't know why, but I pulled the lever so the gap closed and I couldn't get the rotor back in between the pads!


So I had to loosen the bleed screw, let some fluid out and then prise the pads back. Now I'll have to do a full bleed, maybe overhaul the whole system over the weekend as I can't ride it now.

I'm blaming tiredness!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Heart rate training - some numbers

In my last post I mentioned I would include some figures so some of this may make some sense. These values are used by my heart rate monitor in it's calculations.

So as of today, 23/7/2012:

  • Age: 29
  • Height: 1.87m
  • Weight: 85Kg
  • BMI: 24.31
  • VO2 max: 51*
  • Resting heart rate: 42 (averaged over the last couple of mornings. I have seen my heart rate drop to 39 before, which was a little freaky)
  • Maximum heart rate: 170 (I tested this tonight by sprinting up a hill out of Durham Chare on my commute home and then checked my Polar training diary over June and July and then averaged the maximum readings out.)
*VO2 max is measured as"milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight" I calculated it using this formula and is not a 100% precise measurement.

I'm pleased that my BMI and VO2 max are in the right areas of the table, although I have put on around 4Kg. I don't know when, it's been that long since I checked.

VO2 max table

 Age (years)
excellent> 60> 56> 51> 45> 41> 37
above average47-5143-4839-4236-3832-3529-32
below average37-4135-3931-3429-3126-2922-25
very poor< 30< 30< 26< 25< 22< 20

BMI table

classificationBMI (kg/m2)sub-classificationBMI (kg/m2)
underweight< 18.50Severe thinness< 16.00
Moderate thinness16.00 - 16.99
Mild thinness17.00 - 18.49
normal range18.5 - 24.99normal18.5 - 24.99
overweight≥ 25.00pre-obese25.00 - 29.99
(≥ 30.00)
obese class I30.00 - 34.99
obese class II35.00 - 39.99
obese class II≥ 40.00

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Heart Rate Training Equipment

I thought I'd best post about what exactly I am using to do my heart rate training.

Heart rate monitor

Polar F6. I've had this since October 2008 and is a very sturdy and generally reliable piece of kit. As I mentioned in the last post, I think the heart rate transmitter battery is run down and the signal is occasionally dropped. Time for another one, I think. Polar recommend changing the transmitter (you can't just replace the battery, it's a sealed unit) every 2 years, so I'm due a new one!

Training Diary

If you read through the HRM link above you would have seen that the F6 can upload it's exercise entries to an online training diary at This is where I've kept a training diary since I got the HRM and I've religiously stuck to uploading the files. A mine full of data, but is all of it useful?

This is yesterday's work commute home where I attempted to keep in the light intensity zone:

There isn't a great deal of information here regarding the zones: just how long I was in it and what the limits were. I have to know what the zone was, or work it out from your maximum heart rate. It would be handy to know how much time was spent above and below the zone too, but I think this is just a limitation with the F6. I've asked Polar and I'm waiting for a response.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Heart Rate Training

I saw this article on BikeRadar the other day and decided that as I have an HRM, I should use it properly. I use it as a general guide as to how hard I've worked. For commuting, the HRM is set to 70-80% of my max heart rate. I then check how long I'd been in that zone and if the time in the zone was around half the time of the overall journey, I think that's a relatively good result, with the following benefits:

And the same with football, only the HRM is set to 80-90% and anything over 20 mins in the hour of playing was a tough game, with the following benefits:
"Increases muscles' tolerance to lactic acid and improves hard, short effort ability"

However, this isn't the right way to go about it. So tonight I went for the 60-70% light intensity zone - you can find it from the links above - with the key being that I tried to keep my heart rate in the zone, between 112 and 128 BPM.


  • I found this really difficult. The pace was much slower and although it took me 34 minutes to get home, which is fairly average, I thought it was longer. I was 20 minutes in the zone, which isn't very good.
  • I found it difficult to not keep staring at the watch, which I'd strapped to the handle bar stem. The zone is quite tight and the limits were frequently broken with ease.
  • Taking into account that there are points where you have to slow down (stiles, road crossings, traffic lights etc) it might be better to do HRM training inside on an exercise bike, or go somewhere very remote where there will be no obstacles.
  • I think the battery may be low in my chest strap transmitter as sometimes the signal would be lost, reading "00 BPM" on the display, despite being only 30-40cm away.

The future

I'll continue my commute into work and home by sticking to the light intensity zone. I'd like to trim a little bit of flab, so hopefully this will show after 6 weeks or so.
I'll need to weigh myself and perform some calculations and update this blog accordingly. Although it won't be as hardcore as Robbo's blog, I don't think I have the time or patience for that! Check it out, he's dedicated.
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