Double puncture fun

I should really have known better than to write a blog post about the perfect conditions and great cycling. If I were superstitious I’d be ranting about karma coming to get me, or something like that.

In fairness I’ve been exceptionally lucky with the weather recently. My last post centred around the Welsh micro-summer, and although it was significantly cooler this time round with a chill breeze the sun was still shining and I didn’t feel frostnip setting in! It’s a good job I haven’t been desparate for two days of riding, because (aptly-named) Sundays have been miserable, wet, windy affairs, quickly pushing out all memories of the sun.

Anglesey's picturesque coastline

Anglesey’s picturesque coastline, though it looks a lot warmer than it felt in the wind

During the last ride I made a maintenance to-do list of little niggles:

* The upper limit on the front deraillieur needs adjusting because it sheds the chain when changing to the largest front ring.
* The brake pads need replacing on the front.
* The headset needs to be replace to stop the excessive play.

Of course I got back and got sidetracked, and didn’t touch the bike for the week. The first item is pretty straightforward and isn’t too bad to work around. The other two caused a more substantial issue. When braking, the pads would pulse, binding and releasing a few times a second. This combined with the play in the headset to create a really unnerving situation where the front wheel moved foward and backward a couple of inches as the whole bike shook. Not optimal!

The route around Anglesey

A nice semi-coastal circuit… at least to start with.

Of course I didn’t realise any of this until after I’d set off. My original plan was to do a full circuit of Anglesey, which would come in at around 110 miles. My first impression of the route is that it’s a lot hillier than I expected, with the road winding towards the coast and then back inland, each time losing and re-gaining height. Not that any of that is a bad thing. The views were generally great, the roads quiet and the going good. There was a pretty consistant headwind which made things feel harder, but my average was still around 15mph.

That’s when disaster struck! I picked up a puncture on my front wheel near Cemaes Bay (near the top of Anglesey) so pulled over and started the timer. The innertube swap was seamless and I was feeling pretty good as I put the last 15 PSI in when the valve on the tube snapped in half, right through the thread. I’ve never seen that before.

The offending valve, shortly after it messed with "The Fury"

The offending valve, shortly after it messed with “The Fury”

I rarely pick up punctures (the last one I had was probably a year ago) so I only carry a single spare inner tube, along with some Park Tool self-adhesive patches in case I get a second puncture. This left my in a bit of a poor state when I couldn’t find the source of the leak in the first tube but had little choice but to put it back in and pump it up.

Needless to say I beat a direct route back down the A5 towards home, stopping every five to ten minutes to put some more air in. It was surprising the effect stopping regularly had on me, and the return leg felt many times harder because of it.

The trip taught me a little about how I handle adversity, but the big lesson is that there’s more to cycling than just spinning legs. Knowing how to handle breakdowns and improvise is just as important, otherwise you can be stuck miles from home having to give up an call for help!

Another thing I noticed was that things felt generally harder because I’d not carbo-loaded the night before. It’s easy to fix that for the next training ride, but it provides some insight into how we’ll be a few days into the trip. Once we’re into the cycle (excuse the pun) of replenishing energy in the evening how easy will it be to take on the extra carbs to be fully stocked for the next day.

The Menai Bridge

The Menai Bridge

So now I’m back I’ve stripped down the bike and removed the headset to try to find a replacement, though it’s not as simple as I’d expected. It appears my bike has an obscure set of dimensions which don’t match any standards so after an evening of measuring, Googling, measuring again and scratching my head, I’ve given up and got in touch with Wiggle, who I’m hoping will prove their worth again and get me back on the road. No pressure Wiggle, but it’s the team training weekend coming up, so it needs to be back up and running by Friday evening!

In the absence of being able to work on the bike, I’ve been thinking about potential routes for the weekend. The plan is (roughly) to go to Leeds for Saturday and then to return to Wales for Sunday to get around some logistical problems caused by Jen’s car needing some TLC. The day in Snowdonia is easy (and one of my favourite local loops): a 32 mile loop from Bethesda to Llanberis, Capel and home. Saturday is a little trickier as I’ve not lived there for years. Yet again Google Street View will come in handy!

Now that we’re into the final countdown (not the kazoo version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2Btg7lFlig) it’s really pushing me to get my ducks in a row ready for the weekends so I can guarantee a big ride. It’s time to step it up a bit though, so once the bike’s better I need to start evening rides. These are much easier when it’s an extended trip home, so it’s time to get the drybag and rear rack out and start commuting. 15 miles extra a day will definitely help out, and if I managed 350 miles outside in April what will May bring?

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The joys and perils of not having a car

As my poor car is currently in North Wales having its broken bits lovingly tended to by Ryan, my bike is now my only means of transport for all my daily needs.  Ordinarily I would drive the 17 mile round trip to Asda, so without the car I was considering a trip to a much nearer but more expensive shop to buy food.  But keen to incorporate longer bike rids whenever I can, I decided to sacrifice a few hours of my day to cycle there….

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Can I fit a week’s worth of shopping onto my bike?

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Fully packed with an extra 15kg of weight!

I learnt a few things today which I can add to my growing knowledge of cycling:

1) When on a lightweight twitchy bike, that you are clipped in to, with a weeks worth of food weighing you down, it is quite scary when your shoe lace gets trapped in the pedal meaning you can’t move your right foot, or unclip.  Particularly scary when cycling in busy traffic.  Note to self: always check shoe laces are firmly tucked away before setting off.

2) Just because it can fit in the pannier bag, doesn’t mean you should buy it.  Did I need the 1.5kg of flour?  Well yes, that’s why I bought it, but I really should have thought about the weight of everything before buying… especially all those potatoes!

3) Your bike is not as easy to turn sharp corners when fully laden with a week’s worth of shopping…do not attempt to do this or you will nearly fall off and look like an idiot.

4) When lots of people are staring at you as you walk around the supermarket, don’t assume it’s because of the noise of your SPDs, or that you have helmet hair…assume it may be because of the bike grease smeared on your face.

5) Even a supermarket trip can be logged on runkeeper and therefore sneakily counted as ‘training’:

Check out that calorie burn...I should have bought some biscuits to snack on the cycle home.

Check out that calorie burn…I should have bought some biscuits to snack on the cycle home.

We have all the time in the world

Except unlike the Louis Armstrong song, we don’t. In less then two months we will be starting to slow down the training in the last week before the long cycle to Switzerland begins.

As my general fitness was quite low when we started this journey its unfortunate for me that just going out for a few cycle rides a week is not enough training to be ready for two weeks of cycling (even if it is “mostly flat”). The problem is, along with my cycle training I have a couple of other commitments: a full time job; studying distance learning for a masters degree; looking for new jobs and applying for them as my one year trainee position comes to an end in August.

The upshot of this is that I have zero time to do anything else, and time spent eating biscuits and drinking tea is being drastically cut into!

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Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to fit everything in.

One sacrifice I’ve made is using up my annual leave from work in order to study.  I’ve booked two days off to give me a long four day weekend, which I would love to spend cycling everyday, adding as many miles to my training schedule as I can fit in. Unfortunately I have two assignments due in the next few weeks which need to be attended to pretty quickly.

It’s hard to know what the best thing is to do.  Part of me wants to spend four days studying solidly and get everything done, but I know I can’t take that many days off without cycling.  Yesterday I spent all day studying and it made me very grouchy, towards the end of the day my productivity started to slip as well.  So today I’ve made sure to incorporate training into my day:

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Today’s uninspiring view

I think the important thing for me at the moment is to try and have a balance between all the things I need to do.  An hour on the turbo trainer has left me completely sweaty but now I’ve cooled down and am ready for a shower then some lunch, I feel more energised and ready for my afternoon of studying.

I still haven’t decided if I should have another two days of studying to see if I can finish everything, with a few hours of turbo trainer sessions to keep up the training.  Or, if I should call it quits tomorrow and spend the whole day out on the bike.

I may have to make a sacrifice on long-distance cycling this week to get these assignments finished, but I know I can’t relax for a moment on the training.  I need to keep going and put cycling into every day.  I already cycle to work so I can push myself a bit harder on those days and sprint home, plus I’m trying to get out running as well to improve my overall general fitness levels.  Cycling indoors is not good enough preparation for spending all day every day for two weeks on a bike but it may have to make do for the next few days.

What I do know is that as soon as I’ve handed these assignments in I have the whole summer off until studying starts again in September. That means I can concentrate on cycling longer distances, cycling more days, cycling quicker, cycling more hills, getting fitter, getting stronger, improving my nutrition and energy…oh, and working full time and finding a new job.  But those last two are easy in comparison.

At the time of writing this blog post this is how much time we have left:

Will we be ready in time?

Will we be ready in time?

I have no doubt we’ll make it to Switzerland (I’m stubborn enough to never give up!) but I’m under no illusions of how hard it will be.  The next 67 days are going to be busy, so lets get on with it…now, pass me the biscuits, I have an assignment to write!

 

Inner-tube rapids

So today , after cleaning my bike .. Removing all the grit and grime from the gear cassette , and all the rust from the chain I put the wheels back on the frame and I’m met with the sound of gushing water .
Reaching the conclusion that there must be water in my tire left over from our bike-swim around the Isle of Wight last weekend, I started to dismantle my wheel.
Not only was there a running river in my wheel, but I’ve also noticed that my tire has a puncture in it and a section of it is badly distorted.
When I got the puncture, riding around Anglesey 2 weeks ago , my tire must’ve taken some damage as well.
So a new tire is now on the shopping list. But I’m sure this one will do for now , so i’ll jump on the turbo trainer this afternoon.

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The shortest summer on record

On Saturday I completed my first substantial solo ride of the year: ~90 miles from Bangor to Llanrwst, Denbigh, St Asaph and home. For the first 65 miles I was pondering this blog post and thinking about how I could word a careful apology. After all, we’re going on about training, hardship and challenge. The problem was that nothing really felt like “training”, not for the first two thirds at least.

Genevieve, my trusty steed!

Genevieve, my trusty steed! Cable-tying my jacket above the bottle cage worked pretty well.

Sure, I was pushing myself and trying to maintain a reasonable pace. And true, I wasn’t hanging around taking pictures or jumping in icy rivers to cool down, but when you’re cruising along quiet B-roads in the countryside with a perfect blue sky and no wind it doesn’t get much better. It certainly doesn’t feel like training and feels a lot more like a great thing to do on a perfect day.

This was my first time riding east of Llanrwst with the exception of the coastal route to Chester, and every hill I crested led to an even more amazing view. The rolling hills strike a marked contrast to the Ogwen valley’s aggressiveness, and I had to make a conscious effort to keep looking at the road and not the countryside.

Above Llanrwst towards Llanddoged

Above Llanrwst towards Llanddoged. It became much hillier after this point.

Spring (at least when we get the sunny portions) has got to be my favourite time to ride. There’s so much going on around you as you pass through different areas, and at the moment there’s plenty of young lambs running around, fields being bashed, rolled, ploughed and prepared, building work, and so on to keep you thinking.

I planned the route the night before, and came up with a few options, mostly staying within the confines of Snowdonia. This route piqued my interest though because it was predominantly in areas I didn’t know, and calm, sunny days are the best to go exploring. Google Street View is now in my list of indispensable tools for cycling and probably helped me save half an hour over the course of the day by looking at each major turn I needed to make in advance. I didn’t try to commit each one to memory like I did the town names I was passing through, but each time I’d be riding along and think “this looks familiar” before seeing the turn and taking it. No faff, far less map-checking and generally improved enjoyment that comes with the confidence that you’re on the right track.

Needing to check the map

Needing to check the map. This junction beat me and I had to resort to the map.

The one big mistake I did make, and am still paying for, was forgetting sun cream. As I pootled down towards Aber I remembered and thought “aah, I’m not going back now, I faffed too much before I set off”. Bad Idea. My arms and legs are still bright red two days on, with razor sharp lines where my jersey, shorts, gloves and socks end. It did make me think about how ridiculous we’re going to look when we arrive in Locarno. Fingerless gloves are going to leave an interesting semi-permanent tan.

So the questions is: what happened after 66 miles which made it feel like training? The answer is two-fold: Conwy council and a lack of food. The latter wasn’t too serious, but I took half a sandwich too few so spent the last hour feeling like it was harder work than it should have been. Lesson learned. The former was much less pleasant.

Whenever I’ve cycled the national cycle route from Bangor to Chester I’ve always headed up through Old Colwyn towards Llysfaen, skipping out the Colywn Bay seafront. This was generally not on purpose. On the way home I thought I’d follow the front, but was quickly disappointed as the cyclepath deteriorated from high-quality smooth tarmac to a broken, rough, uneven path which weaved around lampposts making it clear the cycle lane was an unimportant afterthought. In fairness some sections had good intentions, with one including a cycle lane separated from the road and the pedestrian area with low concrete bollards, but the thin layer of red tarmac that was applied to make the cycle lane obvious has rapidly fallen into disrepair, and was so juddery I came out the other side with bruised palms and a sore back.

Perfect cycle path at Llanddulas

Perfect cycle path at Llanddulas. If only Colwyn Bay was like this!

Overall a great day out, and once I’d eaten and recovered definitely felt like another day would be feasible. Of course the “Welsh summer” had something to say about it and Sunday morning was a windy rainfest of epic proportions. Fingers’ crossed for another few days like that before we set off!

All By Myself

As Team Pedal all live in different parts of the country, it’s not that often that we get to cycle together.  Today was one of those lonely days, when I only had myself for motivation to get up and go out on a bike ride this morning.

Packing

Most of my lone cycle rides this far have either been: less than 15 miles (so I could fit any necessary snacks in my tiny saddle bag); more than 15 miles in bad weather (more snacks needed for the duration, but needing to wear a jacket due to freezing wind/rain/snow meant I had pockets to put food in).  Today is gloriously sunny (no coat necessary) and my plan for a 50 mile route meant the dilemma I had this morning was what to do with the much needed food.  Not yet having a cycle jersey (that come with pockets on the back) and having the smallest saddle bag in the world (which needs to hold anything necessary to fix a puncture or a chain breakage) meant I had to improvise somewhat:

Jam sandwiches and bananas safely attached

Jam sandwiches and bananas safely attached

I took the bag that normally hold my inflatable camping pillow and secured it around the middle with elastic bands.  I was impressed with how well this worked….until I started to eat the food, and found my bananas very squished!

Navigation

Last night I spent over two hours planning the route.  As most of you should now be aware, my navigation skills leave a lot to be desired.  I first used the website Runkeeper to plot a route.  This is useful because you can place markers and map out exactly where you want to go.  Once this route is saved you can then use it to your advantage when your navigation fails whilst out on the bike.  Runkeeper has an app you can use on your phone which will record the route you’re on, if you add the saved route as another layer on this map you can see both the route you’re supposed to take and the route you’re actually taking:

Oops, shouldn't have turned right there

Oops, shouldn’t have turned right there

This has in the past come in useful, today I only noticed I’d gone the wrong route a long time after I’d done it, as it was all heading in the right direction.

Second I use Google Street View, which I find invaluable when route planning.  You can have a look at Street View for any junctions on your route and see landmarks and roadsigns.  I find this a lot easier to remember then just to look at a map and remember what towns I need to go to.  Although I do seem to be getting better at remembering town names as a few times today I took wrong turnings following signs for villages I know I had to go to (as the map above shows).  It took me off the planned route, but I ended up in the right place after all.

Mmmm bop?

Mmmm bop?

 

After the half-way point I realised my route took me back onto the National Cycle route into Oxford, so I didn’t bother using street view or planning this much, assuming it would be easier to follow signs.  I will soon write another blog post about how much I generally dislike following National Cycle Route signs, and today has really added fuel to my dislike.  Today saw 20 minutes spent wandering around a busy town, lost and unable to find any route signs; following a path that took me through a busy park (with lots of children and dogs running around so I thought it was safer to get off the bike and walk for 10 minutes; at least an hour on paths so bumpy and unstable that I was worried I might be damaging the bike.  I think this added a lot of extra time to the journey that wasn’t really necessary – though I now know some beautiful routes to go for a walk or a non-road bike cycle.

 

 

Hello Spring!

The weather today in Oxfordshire is beautiful, but setting off at 7am meant it was a bit cold and frosty at first.  I stubbornly refused to go back for my gloves, despite my hands frosting to the handlebars for the first half an hour, because I knew I wouldn’t need them later.  I’m glad I persevered because it turned into a beautiful sunny day.

Today was possibly one of the nicest cycle rides I’ve been on.  I wasn’t familiar with the route so I spent a lot of time winding down the country lanes beside open fields muttering “wow….this is so beautiful”.  Don’t tell Ryan, but I saw a few nice houses for sale in these villages, enough rooms for the whole family to live together, but perhaps a bit out of our price range!

For my second snack stop I found a nice bench, shaded under a tree, and sat down to eat my jam sandwiches and have a chat with a lovely lady who’d just come from the church fete next door…I think she thought I was crazy when I told her how far I’d cycled (40 miles by that point).

I don’t think the lovely weather and the great views helped me go any quicker, but I was home for lunch and I had a great morning out.  Oh, and the detours meant I covered nearly 57 miles..not too bad for a saturday morning.

Happy to be outside at 7am for a bike ride...must be mad!

Happy to be outside at 7am for a bike ride…must be mad!

Forget the rain

Frozen Llyn OgwenSo I could write a bit of a post rehashing the events of last weekend and adding to Jen’s disaster list that I *almost* destroyed my iPhone by putting it in my jacket pocket while it was 1/2 full of water (cheers Isle of Wight Freelander driver who aimed for that puddle!), but this evening’s sunshine has pushed all thoughts of winter, wind and rain from my mind.

It’s hard to believe that only two weeks ago Llyn Ogwen was frozen and half of Snowdonia was snowbound when I spent this evening on the driveway fitting a new chain and giving the bike a good bit of TLC. The weather looks good for tomorrow, a little cloudy but with almost no wind. Perfect conditions for a long ride down the coast.
A great evening for bike maintenance

The first thing to deal with was fitting the new chain. The Shimano chain which came with the bike has seen over 3000 miles and is starting to look a bit worn. By taking a tape measure and measuring 12″ of chain it’s possible to see roughly how worn the chain is. Measuring from the center of the first pin, as the chain wears the nearest pin to 12″ moves slightly further away. It seems to be generally advised that if it’s over 1/16th of an inch further to the center of the pin it’s time to replace the cassette and the chain. Mine was just under 1/16th, so a new chain should do (phew, those Ultegra cassettes aren’t cheap!).

Measuring the chain

Starting from the 1″ marker means the play from the end of the tape measure doesn’t affect your measurement

The downside to winter riding is that it takes a toll on your kit. Inspecting the bike after the chain was fitted I noticed that the headset and bottom bracket both need replacing. Definitely a job for another day!

Now that summer’s here* I’m feeling much more excited about getting out on the road. Everything’s much more pleasant when you can stop for ice cream every hour!

* Summer in North Wales is traditionally 2 weeks in March, then back to rain until winter…

Summer's here (almost) in the Nantlle valley

Summer’s here (almost) in the Nantlle valley