Wednesday 28 September 2011

Indian Summer

Who'd have thought it? There I was, just writing about having to fit mudguards, and we've been blasted with sunshine and warmth. Finally, summer has arrived. 22C on Monday, 24C today, 26C forecast for the weekend.

Actually, I didn't just write about the mudguards. I fitted them. My Crud Roadracer guards are now in their third fitting and oddly they've got harder to attach. Somehow I need to cut bits off each time I put them on. Maybe my frame is shrinking - it does keep getting wet.

After fitting the guards, the next obvious step was to get the bike on the turbo. I find it vital to fit mudguards for turbo use - it gets pretty moist in my garage duing some of those interval sessions and I'd rather take a shower in clean water at the end of the session, rather than doing it with sweat during the session.

So - guards, turbo. I've also bought a new softshell jersey for use on the road (continuing my love affair with Gore bike clothing) and stocked up on Minty Arse Lard. Oh, and mud tyres on the mountain bikes.

And along comes the heat. Still, bring on the dry, hardpacked trails, the smell of roasting tarmac and the salt-encrusted helmet straps. I'll cope with the guards when I don't need them, the mud tyres in the dust and I'll leave that new shell hanging in the garage.

This is the UK.

Snow next week then.

Friday 23 September 2011

Tools are ace

This may be slightly obvious to some readers but tools, in particular specialist tools, are ace.

When I first started trying to do my own bike maintenance I had the basic, usual things - allen keys, screwdrivers, pliers, some squirty cream and a hammer. I could therefore do smaller tasks, and with a significant amount of bodging and swearing, slightly more complex ones too. Over the years I've built up a good collection of odd shaped pieces of metal half dipped in blue plastic that all do one thing, and one thing only, very well.
  • A chainring bolt spanner is ideal for saving you from having to try and grip the back of the bolt with a pair of pliers.
  • A chainwhip is ideal for saving you from having to try and grip a cassette with a pair of pliers.
  • A decent chaintool is ideal for saving you from having to snap a chain with a pair of pliers.
  • A star-flangled nut tool is ideal for saving you from having to try and seat a star-fangled nut with a screwdriver. Only joking! You'd try and do it with needle nose pliers.
Basically, I used to try and fix things with pliers. If they didn't work, I'd hit things with a hammer, and then try the pliers. I have spent over £100 on tools to use instead of pliers.

A couple of days ago I replaced my drive train (cassette, chainrings and chain), bottom bracket and shifters. Out came the chainwhip and lockring tools. Out came the Shimano HTII tool. The workshop chain tool. The cable cutter. The copper slip. The baby wipes. The latex frickin' gloves.

All went swimmingly apart from undoing one plastic cap that goes on the end of the crank axle. I just couldn't get it to undo using the HTII tool - my fingers couldn't grip it hard enough. What solved the problem?

Pliers. Never forget the pliers.

Monday 12 September 2011

Week off

I have a week off. I'm not going anywhere exciting so I should have time to do some riding, some mechanics and some winterisation.

I thought a week in September would be a good idea - September is always warm and sunny, right? Not this week. To be fair, it looks reasonable but starting the week with the remains of a hurricane isn't the best. Watching the footage of the Tour of Britain I'm just glad I'm not in Scotland.

The plan is to get a few decent rides in - with a vague idea of doing a 100 miler at some point. A couple of years ago Jon and I thought we'd try and do a century (technical term for a hundred mile ride) every month through the winter. We counted a ride we'd already done in September, then found ourselves at the end of October with no ride done and no weekends left - which lead to the infamous after work ride.

This year I've done a century in April (Cotswold Spring Classic), May (Tour of Wessex), June (Magnificat) and August (Cirencester-Aylesbury-Newbury). This week seems like a good opportunity to tick off September, and we'll just see what happens.

Future maybe/possible/we'll see plans include some winter MTB enduros and some planning and decision making over the road rides next year - I'd like something up big mountains with a vague element of competition too.

Right, better get down to the garage to fix on those mudguards.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Torq 12:12 - Riding, not racing

After my lack of mountain biking this year I took a minor leap of faith (or should that be a hop of faith?) and agreed to partner Darren at the Torq 12:12 mountain bike race. It was on a strickly "non-competitive" basis though which meant there was no need to ride fast, or even ride much at all.

The race starts at midday and finishes at midnight - hence the 12:12 name - and as Darren picked me up in the morning he reiterated his non-competitive stance by stating that we probably wouldn't even need lights. That suited me - whilst I've done a few off-road rides recently I'm still nervous about crashing. Darkness and the forecast rain would increase the chances of this dramatically. He was also suffering with a cold so we decided to treat the trip as "just going for a bike ride, where there might be lots of other people riding too".

Somehow I ended up being the starting rider (the event is a relay) and decided to take my non-competitive role seriously by bimbling round the first lap. I might have overtaken a few people on the climbs but I certainly wasn't racing anyone. There were a few numpties who thought that they might save 5 seconds on a 12 hour race by barging past but generally people were pretty relaxed.

There were a couple of slightly sketchy points (which I sorted out on the second lap) but all-in-all the course was condusive to staying rubber-side down. Some dampness, a touch of moistness and a smear of greasiness on the roots but nothing that Mud-X tyres at 25psi couldn't cope with.

(Slight aside - Bontrager Mud-X are my favourite tyre in all the world. Is it wrong to have a favourite tyre?)

Ten minutes into my first lap the rain started. Just as I finished and handed over to Darren the rain stopped.

Five minutes into my second lap the rain started again, and continued throughout my third lap (we were doing double laps this time).

Shortly after I handed over to Darren the rain stopped. Half an hour later it started again, and this time it looked like it was going to continue for a while. I considered the options.
  • If I went out again, that would mean Darren would either have to go out again too or be called a wuss for the next month.
  • Darren really wasn't feeling well. It would be cruel to make him ride again.
  • Stopping now would be really non-competitive, thereby executing our strategy perfectly.
  • If we stopped we could go for hot chips.
  • Chips are delicious.
As Darren came in, sodden and filthy, after his double lap, I met him in the change over area. Dressed in normal clothes, with no helmet and no bike.

"Are you not going out again? Why not? Oh, OK."

He didn't take much convincing. That's the lure of chips for you.

So, we only lasted six hours of the race, but quite frankly we were both fairly satisfied. I hadn't fallen off, Darren hadn't colapsed vomiting and we were home at a reasonable hour. I quite like this non-competitive thing.