An unexpected rest

After an amazing ride on Thursday this weekend has been suprisingly inert, with the end result being two beautifully sunny days and zero miles covered.

Bike by Llyn Mymbyr (Plas y Brenin)

Stopping for a swim at Llyn Mymbyr (Plas y Brenin) on the way home (ish) from work

The ongoing headset saga

For the past few months I’ve been tackling a recurring problem with my headset, which connects the forks to the frame of the bike. Even after being tightened it only takes 30-40 miles before there’s play again and the forks can be rocked backwards and forwards slightly.

I have tried the “just carry on” approach, but found to my peril that even a small amount of play in the headset translates to “AAAARRRGHH I’M GOING TO DIEEEEEEEE” when braking from 40 mph downhill. Not doing that again.

Working my way through forums and flame wars it seems that the cause of recurring play in headsets can be narrowed down to:

  1. Stem too loose
  2. Headset not compressed enough prior to stem tightening
  3. No carbon assembly paste
  4. Too many spacers
  5. The stem (though I didn’t find a good reason why)
  6. Crown race not flush against the fork crown
  7. Magic voodoo, because you don’t own a £3000 bike (or because you do)

Prior to this weekend I had worked my way through options 1 to 4, with no real improvement. Replacing the stem seemed a bit of a long shot, but I have been loaned a spare stem to see for sure. I also stripped down the fork and re-seated the crown race.

The crown race did look a little wonky (although I am good at finding faults in perfection) so I’m hoping that will have solved it, but I did the sensible thing and took the bearings out of the headset to check them as well (just in case).

The downside to this sensibility is that I removed the lower bearing in an “alternative manner”, i.e. I fired 100 tiny balls of steel to all four corners of the garage, never to be seen again. Having rendered my bike immobile I now have to wait for my new headset to turn up to see if the maintenance worked!

I found this setback really hard to take, having been worn down by the maintenance required before every ride just to get rid of the shaking for a few miles. It’s only a few weeks before we set off so every mile and every session counts, and to be off the bike for the best part of a week is heartbreaking. Fortunately there are a hundred other tasks I’ve been neglecting while my routine has been bike, rollers, bike, bike, rollers; so now is a good time to focus on those things, and route planning is this evening’s task.

All things being equal I should be back on the road by Thursday evening, ready for a big weekend with Megan visiting on Sunday.

Training & planning diary – 5 weeks to go.

This week has been a difficult one for training, so here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to this past week:

Monday 27th May
After my punctures at the weekend I spent some time on Sunday night trying to repair my innertube that had been on the bike until last Thursday’s puncture, only to be totally unable to find a hole or any other reason it may be flat.  I pumped it back up and so far have had no problems, but I found myself really nervous about getting a flat tyre.  After work I was feeling very tired and really not in the mood for a longer cycle, but I forced myself to turn left outside work and cycled away from my house.

I didn’t want to cycle too far into the wilds in case anything happened to the tyre, so I stuck to the cycle paths beside the Oxford ring road.  To get any kind of distance I had to go up and down the same stretches quite a lot which got boring quite quickly so after a while I decided to meander around some roads and see where I ended up.  Unfortunately Oxford isn’t really that big so my total distance was a lot shorter then I’d intended as I found myself accidentally cycling home when I didn’t intend to!  A good way to get some mileage in after work and I managed 17 miles.

Cycling to and from work: 20.3 miles

Tuesday 28th May
The usual British problem arrived on Tuesday with the torrential rain and strong winds arriving for both my cycle to and from work. I’m not too keen on a long cycle ride in the rain, especially around city streets as it becomes slightly more dangerous when your visibility is reduced.  Instead of extending my cycle home I arrived back, changed out of my dripping wet clothes and prepared for a stint on the turbo trainer.  I started with a 10 minute warm up of increasing speeds, followed by a few minute-long sprints (how quick can you pedal before you need to throw up?), and then some 5 minute hill climbs (how long can you stand up and pedal before you need to throw up?).  As you can probably tell, these sessions are such a hard push that quite often I feel a little sick, but so far I’ve managed to keep that urge under control

Cycling to and from work: 6.55 Miles
Time on the turbo trainer: 45 minutes
Stretching exercises before bed

Wednesday 29th May
Things start to go a bit pear shaped from today.  Again there is another day of torrential rain, so after I get back from work and clear up the puddles from the hallway I did plan to get the turbo trainer out for another session…..

My bedroom unfortunately has very thin nets instead of curtains so every day this week I’ve been woken up by the sunshine at 5am.  By Wednesday evening I’m so tired I can barely keep myself awake long enough to eat dinner.  At 6.30pm I was in bed!

Cycling to and from work: 6.1 miles 

Thursday 30th May
Another night of hardly any sleep does not put me in the best from of mind for the day ahead.  I did think it would be a good idea to do lots of cycling today but as we’re planning to do a very lot of cycling at the weekend I need to have a few rest days, reluctantly I take today off as well.

Thankfully the eye-mask I ordered from ebay arrived so I may be able to sleep without being woken up by bright sunshine.

Cycling to and from work: 6.55 miles

Friday 31st May
Success!  A full nights sleep at last!

Today I cycle to and from work and then jump straight into the car to head up to Leeds where our weekend adventures start.  When I arrive (a little late thanks to the closed motorway and a next to useless diversion) I eat a massive amount of pasta and garlic bread before we set about some bike maintenance.  I wanted Ryan to have a quick look at my front brake which has becoming increasingly wobbly recently, though not causing me any problems whilst braking.

Ryan had to take the brake off the bike and started to clean it whilst also trying to work out how it had been so wobbly, when he noticed what no one else had so far noticed, including the bike shop I had taken it to previously, there was a vital spring missing from the back of the brake which it needs in order to pull back to its original position after braking so that it doesn’t stay on permanently.

After trying for a while to fashion a spring out of various things found in the garage we made the difficult decision that we weren’t going to be able to do a 100 mile cycle route as planned as it would be too dangerous.  Instead, we decided to get straight out to a cycle shop first thing on Saturday morning to buy a replacement so we could get out for a little bit in the afternoon.

Miles cycled: 6.49

Saturday 1st June
At 9am we were at a large cycle shop in Leeds ready to purchase a new front brake.  Surprisingly, given it is a major chain shop, they didn’t have a brake so we made our way back to the small independent shop near home who we called on the way to find out if he had a brake – and he did!  Everything fixed and ready to go we finally set out on our Saturday cycle at 11:30am and did a really nice 32 mile route.

We had planned to go a bit further, but as time was getting on and we had planned a much longer route for Sunday, we decided to cut it short at 32 miles.

On the route home I started to get a lot of back pain, the kind I used to get before we shortened my stem.  I don’t know why in particular it started to hurt today when it was a short number of miles, but maybe it was the terrible road surface we were on and all the bumps and pot holes that made my grip more tense which caused the pain.  Whatever it was,  Ryan and I decided it might be about time that we look into getting me a new frame.  We spent most of the rest of the evening looking into buying a new frame, or maybe even an entirely new bike for me.

Miles cycled: 32.61

 

Sunday 2nd June
We had a difficult decision on Sunday morning, with Ryan suffering hip pain from cycling the day before, Megan suffering from a bad cough and generally feeling unwell, and this being the last weekend we will all be together before the set off.  What was a more productive way to spend our time?  Megan and I decided to do a really short 7 miles but found the steepest hill we could so it was a testing 7 miles.  I think I managed 25mph going down the hill but Megan was a lot quicker then me, so her confidence going down hill has clearly really improved since January!

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Ready to get going, despite the setbacks

We spent the rest of the afternoon looking at maps of France, plotting routes in the UK, looking up campsites and discussing what was the best thing to do – book them all first or just turn up and see.  Richard seems happy to do the latter, and I’m sure the support team will do a great job finding the tired hungry cyclists somewhere to sleep.  I’m sure we wouldn’t care if it was spot in someone’s garden, we’ll just be happy to rest after a long day on the bike.

We also extended our to-do-list and discussed possible food needs.  This weekend also allowed us to test the various sports drinks we may be able to take and decide on what flavours we like best (an important decision, given one particular drinks tastes like you’re swallowing dirty feet!).  We created plans of what we will need to do each morning and evening of the trip to make sure things go throughly – such as checking the bikes over in the evening for any damage or cleaning that needs to be done, and washing our lycra.  We need to make sure everything runs smoothly so this planning day was vital for the team.

In the evening Ryan and I drove back to Wales as I have the day off work tomorrow.  We spent some time discussing my need for a new bike frame so I emailed the cycle shop in Oxford I go to to ask their advice and to see if they would be able to build it up for me if I bought a new frame – as well as giving my bike a thorough service at the same time.  Hopefully they’ll be able to help out so we can get the bike sorted quickly.

Miles cycled: 7

Thoughts on last week:
There certainly wasn’t as much cycling as I had hoped, but I think we’ve all been feeling a bit under the weather in one way or another, so it was good to take some time to rest.  The important thing about resting at this stage is to make sure we are doing something else productive for the team so it was great that we got to spend so much time planning what to do.  In the coming week I will be finalising exactly what route we’ll be taking through the UK, whilst Megan and Richard finalise the French route and Ryan does Switzerland.  Then we can send each other the route plans so we can start to memorise them to make navigation a little bit easier.  We still have a lot to do in terms of planning as well as training, so the next few weeks are going to be busy!

Car collision fun

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So, a disappointing end to the May Team Pedal training weekend. I was in charge of route planning and navigation, and was really excited about the route I’d planned down towards Stocksbridge and then all around Huddersfield, overall racking up 78 miles in good time.

We set off, sans Jen as she was under the weather, in high spirits and I was optimistic that I could finally navigate a whole route successfully.

The first 7 miles were pretty easy as we followed the cycle route towards Dewsbury, and then we quickly got on our way following a few A roads, hitting a couple of hills, getting to a certain point then turning back to take the correct exit. It was an interesting morning and the route was proving to be quite enjoyable.

Me and Ryan were just heading down an A road that connected the two villages we were cycling through, and came to a roundabout. I’m pretty confident with roundabouts, I enter them at speed , I’m comfortable with my signalling and this time was no different. Ryan was about 20ft ahead of me, already at the exit, and I was just rounding the roundabout signalling to exit and a car pulled out onto the roundabout without seeing me. From what I can remember I tried to veer back to hug the centre of the roundabout to get out of the cars way, but not fast enough, the car hit me and knocked me off my bike. Luckily, I was no worse off than a throbbing right side and a sore head, no broken bones or blood (aside from a slight cut to the ankle), but my bike , however, is in the wars.

My rear wheel was pinned under the car causing it to bend, damaging the rear derailleur and the structure of the wheel. Yesterday was spent attempting to truer the wheel, but alas it has to be replaced, along with a new derailleur.

A few more minor damages include my wind jacket and clippy shoes, they were ripped and damaged on the road, and over all my helmet… which has some pretty hefty cracks and dents in the structure. Jen made a very good point on the IMPORTANCE OF HELMETS when she pointed at the crack that now runs all up the right hand side and said: “see, imagine if that was your skull”. The thwack that my head made when it hit the ground (and this was only a very minor accident) was enough to freak me out and give me some rotten headaches for the next day, so thinking about the consequences of not having a helmet on for a fall like that is pretty scary. I’ll definitely be investing in another Giro Monza helmet again, thats for sure.

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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?

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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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