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

The first ‘official’ Team Pedal training weekend

We’ve reached the end of Team Pedal’s first official training weekend. In fact it was a weekend of firsts, not least being the first time we’ve all cycled together and the first substantial trip for Megan’s new bike.

There was a bit of contention on the route choice, and part of my winning argument included the fact that there’s generally a good tailwind on the route. For Megan this was going to be a big step up: going from a previous personal best of 6 miles to 70 is no small undertaking, and similarly Jen hadn’t tackled more than around 35-40 before.

Despite this I was optimistic and kept repeating the vital statistics: even if we travel at 10 mph it’ll only take 7 hours. 7 hours is enough to do it entirely in daylight, and we’ll probably be aiming for more like 23-15 mph average. Definitely. And pushing for 70 miles gives us a good idea of how we can hold up to the sort of distance we’ll be covering on the big ride and how we’ll feel on day 2.

Let’s do it!

Feeling good and ready to ride

Feeling good and ready to ride

Inappropriate shoes!

Inappropriate shoes!

So we set off at 10am, a little after sunrise (and then some), but it made sense to get a good night’s sleep after late arrivals from Jen and Megan. There were a couple of initial hiccups, including Jen’s realisation that she’d forgotten her trainers so had to do the ride in casual runners and stopping to raise Megan’s saddle about 6 inches, but soon we were underway, and the progress was good. We rode with Dave and Steph, who turned up in significantly warmer attire than we’d chosen, particularly me in my 3/4 length thick lycra, cycling t-shirt and thin windproof. Although it started off as a pretty brisk morning, the sun was soon out and it was almost like a spring day. Good clothing choice. Win #1.

One of the nice things about the North Wales cycle route is how much time you spend on completely flat ground right by the sea. We undertook a couple of ascents, the first one up through Colwyn Bay and the second cutting inland after Prestatyn. Both hill climbs were on quiet roads, and as I said previously the improvements to the route for cyclists has been great in the past few years. Only Shotton high street remains as a busy on-road adventure, but hopefully that can be phased out in the near future.

Cycling by the sea

Cycling by the sea

It was only when were neared Shotton that I realised there was no way we’d make Chester before dark. Initially I thought this wouldn’t be a major problem, after all we had a few lights between us, but with the sun went the warmth. Once we joined the cycle path down the old railway line into Chester there were no streetlights, and our puny front lights meant we couldn’t go above 7-8mph (with the exception of Dave, who brought a portable star!) so we settled into a slow, cold grind for the last hour.

I can’t say the last section was particularly pleasurable, but it did teach me a valuable lesson: always assume the worst and take an extra layer, or at least gloves and shoes not designed for summer racing!

When we got ourselves to Chester station we were in a bit of a state. Too cold to stand around, Jen was shivering too much to talk properly, and Megan’s face said it all. They ran off to Costa to order hot chocolate as I went in search of train tickets. Now it’s a little off-topic, but I’ve got to say that £20 each to get from Chester to Bangor is a massive rip off, and anyone trying to promote the use of public transport in government should really be able to see that people won’t choose to jump on train to go 70 miles when it costs almost a full tank of fuel for a car which could take you 500.

Finally there!

Finally there!

How many tickets?

How many tickets?

Well deserved hot chocolates. Try to smile Meg!

Well deserved hot chocolates. Try to smile Meg!

Once we’d figured out the Virgin cycle ticket process (one for you, one for your bike, one for you for your bike) we settled in while the train covered 70 miles in the time it took us to cover 10. We talked about things we’d learned, how we felt about it, what we’d eat when we got in, but mostly how much we’d enjoyed the trip. Yes, even with the cold harshness of the final few miles.

Overall I was really impressed with both Megan and Jen. In the past few months they’ve put in a lot more effort than I have and it really showed. Megan was fearlessly attacking hills and generally took the ride as it came. Jen didn’t have to stop on a single hill and kept her average speed even though we doubled the mileage. All good pointers, and good motivation to keep on improving on the (long) road to being ready for the big ride.

A big thank-you has to go to Luke, who very kindly picked us up from Bangor train station and saved us the ride home. We also got in to discover dinner was already prepared and ready to go. You can’t beat that when all you want to do is sink into a chair and fall asleep!

Day 2: clean up

It took a bit of proddling, but we got out on a quick ride for day two of the training weekend, just to see what it felt like. At 4.5 miles it was nothing to worry about, and we were back in under 30 minutes. This time though, I took my own advice and wrapped up a little warmer. With mountain gloves, a thick jumper and a waterproof jacket I was at just the right temperature. That all changed when we reached the hill to Rachub and I realised it was a segment in Strava. It only took a minute of sprinting for me to have the jacket open, pulling at the Buff on my head thinking “extra layers are stupid”. There’s just no pleasing some people.

Ready for day 2

Ready for day 2

Megan getting the derailleur really clean

Megan getting the derailleur really clean

What weekend would be complete without a bit of cleaning! After all those miles I figured it was the perfect excuse to give Megan a lesson on bike maintenance. I think I got away with getting Megan to clean my bike as well. Jackpot.

Can you beat the power of optimism?

So we’ve been planning our first official training session, and there’s a number of options. So far the best option seems to be going from Bangor to Chester.Directions

 

Now, the first thing that’s been pointed out is that this is somewhat further than we originally agreed. When I say “somewhat”, I mean 30 miles further, but there’s method behind the madness!

With a generally westerly wind and a pretty much flat profile it makes an ideal low-resistance run. Add to that the North Wales train line zipping handily back to Bangor, and you’ve got a low commitment option just in case things go bad.
Elevation profileOver the past few years the North Wales coastal route has seen some pretty great improvements. When I first rode it there was a pretty horrific single-file section near Conwy right next to the A55. Thanks to some fairly significant investment the route now has a well maintained windy path through the sand dunes and a series of bridges to keep you off the expressway.

The main question now is: how far can we go, and does having the railway so accessible make giving up easier? Being the first big ride we’re doing together it’s easy to start with optimism, but after a couple of hours the novelty wears off a little and you start thinking “there’s still quite a way to go yet”. For the bigger rides, it’s always nice to get the remaining miles down to 15-20, and suddenly its back to the original self confidence as I get back into the comfort zone. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the ride (it is the reason I ride after all!), but I guess without that challenge it wouldn’t feel like such an accomplishment afterwards!

 

Will I ever be warm again?

IMG_2400I’ve come up to Wales for this weekends cycling and this morning me and Ryan went out for a couple of hours, cycling down the coastal path and back home for a 20-mile round trip.  Increasing my distance is great training because I am learning a lot about myself and my cycling every time I go out.

On today’s trip I learnt:

  • I actually go a lot faster then I think I do, managing 7 mph up hill was not something I thought myself capable of.
  • My lungs/head will not in fact explode if I keep cycling up very steep hills instead of stopping.
  • I can’t wait to get my bike changed so that it fits me properly, because after an hour the pain in myshoulders and bike was incredibly…well…painful.
  • When cycling in to incredibly strong winds watch out for parked vans, being thrown in to them by an angry gust is not fun.
  •  I need to get some thermal socks for cycling in cold weather, when we got back I couldn’t feel my feet for about an hour.
  • No matter how cold it is and how much I’d rather stay in bed, it feels so much better to be outside getting some air in the lungs. Being back home after trying to warm up also feels pretty good.
  • Standing in a boiling hot shower to warm up your icicle toes just makes them hurt more.

IMG_2401

 

Tomorrow we’re going to stay indoors and do some hours on the turbo trainer, working on sprints to help increase my fitness.  I can’t quite believe that I’m volunteering to do this when it is so very unlike me, but change is a positive thing and I’m embracing it.  It should be just as exhausting as today, but with less icy wind hopefully!

First ride of the year

So there’s something a little unexpected: cycling in January and feeling warm. Today was almost like an end-of-spring day, and the perfect excuse to jump on the bike for a quick ride out to Conwy and back. The photo below is of Conwy castle from the Sychnant side.

Conwy Marina

Okay, that makes it sound a lot easier than it felt. The first ride after Christmas is always hard work, and this was no exception. Perhaps setting myself a 30 mile loop including the Sychnant Pass was a little cruel when there’s a 25mph headwind for the return leg, but what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

The run down to Abergwyngregyn was interesting because there’s still loads of damage from the floods and closed roads. There’s even a good amount of cycling through miniature lakes, and the highlight was climbing a short hill which had an inch and a half of water running down it. Hopefully we’ll be spared too much more rain.