The 2016 BBAR

I have just attended the Cycling Time Trials 'Champions Night', held at Heythrop Park in Oxfordshire, to pick up my bling for finishing 2nd in the 2016 BBAR competition. Check it out below - that's real zinc alloy that is.

 
 

You are probably wondering what the BBAR is. A lot of people don't know, even those who consider themselves keen cyclists.

It stands for 'British Best All-Rounder', a national time trial competition, in which riders are ranked by average speed* over their best 50mile, 100mile and 12hour time trials of the season. The Wikipedia page (here) has some more historical information, but suffice to say in the good ol' days it was really popular and regular competition updates would appear in cycling weekly and people were generally interested in the event. Now it barely gets a mention, which is a shame because it turns out I am quite good at it.

*it is not a true average, but the average speed from each event divided by 3. I.e an average of the average speeds. Not the average speed over the entire distance. I think I am making this sound more complicated than it is.... 

 

WHY I DO IT...

I first became aware of the BBAR competition only a few years ago. I went through a phase of riding sportives (freeloading them, natch, by accidentally riding the same course that just happens to have a sportive arranged that day) with mates with the aim of getting the strava KOM. One such time, in 2013, me and two friends 'entered' the New Forest 100 and had a really great ride. I was convinced we would be significantly faster than anyone else riding the event. And we were, almost, but there was one person who was much quicker - by 13mins (actually, 3 people, riding together, but that ruins the story); Julian Jenkinson*. I found out he was the 'BBAR' winner in 2010 with an average speed of 27.202mph. I started to read up about the competition and I was amazed at the speeds the winners were averaging. In fact, I thought it was probably a typo or I was misunderstanding how you calculate the speed or something. 

Skip forward to 2015 and I found myself finishing 2nd overall (see blog post here), something I never thought would be possible. I think I'm now hooked....

 *sadly, Julian Jenkinson recently passed away, suffering a heart attack while out on a bike ride. I was particularly saddened by this news, despite never having the chance to meet him.

 

2016 BBAR REVIEW

I remember a conversation with AS Test Team mate Paul Elcock at the beginning of 2016, where I was reflecting on my 2015 2nd Place BBAR result. I was pleased with the placing, but there was a huge difference in average speed between my rides and those of Adam Topham & Richard Bideau (who was unfortunately disqualified through no fault of his own). I was saying to Paul I didn't think it was possible to close the gap at all - I was already churning out all the watts. Anyway, we concluded I needed to work on my aerodynamics. I spent loads of hours testing positions out at the track, and was lucky enough to get advice from Rob Barrett and David Woodhouse (who is now also a team mate).

The testing paid off. I was significantly faster than I was in 2015, and I have closed the gap significantly between me and the top.

 
 

I won't go over the detail of each race because I've already written about them in 'race reports', but as a basic comparison;

2015 qualifying times:

  • 12hr 292.15miles
  • 100mile 3:37:18
  • 50mile 1:44:20
  • BBAR average: 26.903mph

2016 qualifying times:

I think I could have gone marginally faster if I had learned about pacing before my last race of the season, if I hadn't gone wrong 100meters from end of the Shaftesbury 50, and if the BDCA 100miler hadn't been cancelled due to poor weather. Still, it leaves some room for improvement during 2017. I can't wait....

Congratulations to Richard Bideau who won the 2016 BBAR with a mind boggling all time record average speed of 28.867mph. He gave a great speech at the Champions Night dinner, which you can watch on the YouTube CTT channel.

Also picking up an award at the ceremony was GS Henley team mate Harvey Weinberger, for winning the junior national hill climb award; an incredible achievement.

Me collecting the BBAR 2nd Place medal

Picture of Richard Bideau picking up his trophy for winning the BBAR 2016

GS Henleys Harvey Weinberger picking up award for junior national hill climb. 

Delicious roll I buttered, then ate

How to Ride the Ironman Wales bike course (possibly...)

Ironman Wales 2016 is just around the corner, so I thought I would share some thoughts (I'll refrain from calling them 'tips' in case it turns out to be terrible advice...) about how to nail/smash/rip up/destroy/just ride the bike course. I have ridden it quite a few times now (both in practice and racing at 2012 and 2014 events) with the fastest being 5hr 22mins 31sec, which was the 5th fastest bike split of the day.

Edit: I also competed at Ironman Wales 2016 [blog post] where I got a new bike course pb of 4:58:06sec, which was the fastest bike split of the day [strava link].

 
2014 Top 5 bike splits of the day (list sorted by bike split time)

2014 Top 5 bike splits of the day (list sorted by bike split time)

 

Course overview (strava segment here)

The course is 'only' 110.6miles long according to my garmin. Don't worry you won't feel like you got it easy, as it also takes in 2500m of total elevation gain along the way, with short and (very) sharp climbs (some >15%) together with technical descents with some fairly sharp corners making it difficult to carry speed.

 
IM Wales bike course elevation profile (2500m total gain) 

IM Wales bike course elevation profile (2500m total gain) 

 

I would recommend riding the course (or key parts of the course) before race day so you know exactly what to expect. If riding it isn't possible, then driving the course is a good substitute, although if doing this really try and take in what the course would be like if you were riding it.

Also, as with any Ironman ride, make sure you know where the feeds stops are located. Possibly write them on a mini stickey note and sellotape to your top tube. It makes deciding whether to stop at a particular feed station during the race easier if you know when the next one will be.

 

Bike Selection

Due to the challenging elevation profile of the course, a lot of people seem to debate whether to use a full on TT rig or a road bike with clip on aerobars. I have used both, and would pick the TT rig every time.  This would definitely depend on how comfortable you are on a TT bike though - you need to be confident descending the technical downhill sections whilst on the TT extensions and feel comfortable climbing the short, steep hills, probably out of the saddle (I try and stay in aero position for as many climbs as possible). 

 
Be sure you are confident doing technical descents if you choose a TT rig. 

Be sure you are confident doing technical descents if you choose a TT rig. 

 

Good brakes are essential, not just for safety but to maximise speed in the technical sections. Also bare in mind that this is Ironman Wales, in Wales(!), where it always rains. So if you are using carbon wheels maybe make sure the brake blocks work well in the wet.

In terms of gearing, I have previously used a compact 50/34 and standard 53/39, but always with an 11-28 cassette. Again this probably comes down to personal preference and whether you like to spin or grind out big gears. I would definitely recommend having an 'easy' gear option though to save your legs when those sharp steep climbs keep coming at you.

 

To disc or not to disc

Another thing to agonise over is whether to use a disc or a deep section rim on the rear. Previously, I have used 65mm deep sections on the front and rear, opting for lightness over the aerodynamics of a disc. It can also be windy in Wales so this should influence selection.

There will be a 'tipping point' speed where it would become detrimental to pick a disc wheel over a lighter non disc option, so you need to be honest with yourself and pick appropriately.

However If there is favourable wind forecast, and your disc is a fancy lightweight one, it may be worthwhile picking a disc over a shallow or deep section wheel.

 

Ride the hills hard (ish)

The conventional wisdom of the ironman triathlete is to ride smoothly, keeping the variability index as low as possible, to minimise fatigue on the legs. In my opinion, this doesn't work so well on the Wales course. The reason being that because of the technical descents, you end up freewheeling more than usual. All the time you spend freewheeling, you are doing exactly no watts. So if you then ride up the hills conservatively, you'll end up just riding the whole course under powered and a bit slow. (On the other hand, riding a course such as Lanzarote which has a similar amount of climbing, but with much longer, straight descents, you can still lay the power down descending and so keep power variability low).

So although it carries a higher risk, it may be worth thinking about going slightly harder up the climbs than you would like to, and then using the descents to recover while concentrating on carrying speed.

 

heartbreak hill (aka St Brides hill)

This is a highlight of the ride for me, and some good news; you do this climb twice! (as it is in the second loop of the course). In the past there have been huge crowds here, all goading you to light the fuse and go ballistic up the climb. It's like a scene from a mountain stage in the TdF.

 
Heartbreak hill - the crowds make this climb spectacular  

Heartbreak hill - the crowds make this climb spectacular  

 

he advice here would probably be stick to your race plan and avoid going too much in to the red (i.e high heart rate).

Some alternative advice would be to make the most of the atmosphere and go mental up the climb.... I did this (well, tried to) and the reaction from the spectators was worth it.

 

Save some leg!

You need to remember that the run course is not flat either. According to my Garmin, it has ~400m of elevation gain over 4 laps. So if running isn't your strength, it might be worth taking it slightly easier on the bike to save your legs for the run. Otherwise it may be a very miserable, long, experience...

 
IM Wales Run Course is hilly so dont leave it all out there on the bike...

IM Wales Run Course is hilly so dont leave it all out there on the bike...

 

Full Moon Sunset Swim

Living in Henley-on-Thames has some great perks, including regular open water swimming right on your doorstep.

A lot of people find the idea of swimming in the Thames disgusting, but I can tell you I've only been violently ill twice (which I can definitely attribute to swimming). Every swim feels like an adventure; usually starting early in the morning, often as the sun is rising, with a light mist sitting just above the water. You have to be prepared to share the water with all manner of wildlife, including families of ducks and swans (and once, a capybara), enjoying the tranquility of the river before boats (and swimmers) ruin the peace.

Anyway, last week a message came through from Angus (photographer & triathlete), organising a 'full moon sunset swim'. Well, I'm never one to turn down a new experience, even if it does carry the potential risk of a short bout of amoebic dysentery.

On the evening of the swim, Angus was conveniently ill and wasn't swimming, but he brought along his drone and filmed me and Adam Brittain (training for Ironman Wales 2016, which I am also going to attempt) and made this short video.

Angus is clearly an excellent photographer and editor; he's managed to cut the footage to make it appear like I can actually swim.

 

Source: http://www.athleteservice.com/sunset-swimm...

My middle class hell

[Author: Richard Thyer]

Full disclosure; I'm only a handful of years from MAMILdom. I fully intend to be one, and as the years pass by, I will proudly wrap my ever-expanding paunch in ever tighter, and more exotic, technical fabrics.

And hey, what's wrong with that? What's wrong with wearing the correct clothing to partake in the activity you love? Nothing. The tabloid press and certain motoring advocacy organisations love to denigrate the MAMIL as a pathetic creature, one who is but a pinch flat away from having the screens drawn around them whilst a man in a flat cap loads a shotgun. The picture painted of them is of a man who should know better than to ride a pushbike, a child's toy, and one who shouldn't be clogging up the roads with their silly little hobby. And that is wrong.

The simple joy of riding a bike is something many of us have held onto since childhood, in some cases for half a century. Sometimes even more. Some of us like to push our limits, train hard, and some of us take it further and compete, but what joins us all is the obsession with finding that moment of pure pedalling where the sensation of speed and effort is in perfect balance. At this moment you're in harmony with the machine beneath you, with the wind in your face, the sun on your back (if you don't live in the UK that is) and your cares and worries ebb from the front of your mind to that dark corner at the back reserved for giving a shit about Strictly and getting a toy meerkat with your insurance.

But this is where I begin to have a problem. And that problem is where I ride. The Surrey Hills are designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and they really are beautiful. That is, if you're not being forced into a ditch by a Volvo XC90. Or Audi Q7. Or a Disco. Or...well, you get the idea. No matter how early I get out there is always a veritable concours d'élégance parading through the most remote and out of the way country lanes Surrey has to offer with each vehicle piloted by a frustrated motorist livid at the nanoseconds lost to a bloody cyclist. Strangely this seems to hit its peak at about 9am on a Sunday when normal people should be having a lie-in. Why must they all have such massive cars for such tiny roads? I see fewer 4x4's when visiting the other half's folks in rural Somerset.

 

But what of the MAMIL? In a nutshell this:

image.jpg

Surrey is chock full of cyclists.  You literally cannot wave at every one or you would never have both hands on the bars.  The message in the pic above is very twee, but I fully advocate acknowledging your fellow cyclists.  My preferred method is a bit of a smile and/or a slight nod.  No need to go overboard - I'm not mental.

But why does it even matter?  Well, because cycling is a team sport and even if you're out on your own, you're still part of the team. Just because your impressive stock portfolio has afforded you a Di2 bedecked Venge doesn't mean your watts are better than anyone else's.  Unfortunately for the MAMILs of the middle class heartlands this is not the prevailing opinion.  And that is a shame.  Seemingly, a bulging bank balance has rendered these gentlemen - and it always the blokes - incapable of reciprocating acknowledgment whilst cycling. Men south of the MAMIL border will say hi whilst training in their team kit, dishevelled chaps on pre-war Raleighs and jerseys so washed they've gone see-through can do it, so why not the middle class MAMIL?

Is it a big deal? In reality, no. But when you've run the gauntlet to finally find some peace and quiet, having a moody bloke stare dismissively at you as you say 'morning' is a bit of a kick in the nuts.

 

Let's not kick each other in the nuts.


Author: Rich Thyer  
  
 
  
    
  
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 Rich has been writing about bikes since 2016, but riding them for a bit longer. Based in the cycle-ponce catwalk of Surrey, with his girlfriend and two cats, he enjoys training for a race that'll never happen, and searching for those elusive 'good legs'. SVT sufferer. Beer drinker. Commute KoM holder. 

Author: Rich Thyer

Rich has been writing about bikes since 2016, but riding them for a bit longer. Based in the cycle-ponce catwalk of Surrey, with his girlfriend and two cats, he enjoys training for a race that'll never happen, and searching for those elusive 'good legs'. SVT sufferer. Beer drinker. Commute KoM holder. 

Putting the holes in (my Cervelo P2)

For some time now, I have wanted to reroute the cables on my 2012 Cervelo P2 to make it more similar to the routing on a 2015 Cervelo P2 (See below).

 

Unfortunately this requires taking a power drill to the frame to create the holes through which to route the cables.

The benefits of this modification (minor aesthetic improvement, a nano watt saved at 30mph, sense of achievement? clutching at straws...) didn't outweigh the risks for me (voiding warranty, drilling the holes wrong, cracking the frame, weakening the frame) and so I didn't ever take the plunge.

Then a few weeks ago a friend of mine (Ryan Davies) who happens to have the exact same frame, sent me a photo of his, post-modification, together with the offer of some spare parts needed to do the modification (mainly Jagwire bits, see images). This planted the seed in my mind, which quickly developed into it being an essential modification without which my bike would be virtually un-rideable. I started gathering all the necessary parts to get the ball rolling.

The method I followed is described on TriRigs YouTube channel here. I took some photos as I went along which can be seen below. Everything went very smoothly, and although I haven't empirically tested the frame and confirmed it isn't going to snap, I have every confidence the structural integrity hasn't been compromised. Time will tell...

Cable routing before the modification. Shifter cables enter the frame on the downtube.

Cable routing before the modification. Shifter cables enter the frame on the downtube.

Another view of the cable routing before. 

Another view of the cable routing before. 

Marking out the holes

Marking out the holes

Drilling. Pilot holes were drilled, then worked up to a 7mm hole. 

Drilling. Pilot holes were drilled, then worked up to a 7mm hole. 

image.jpg
Sanding the holes to 7.5mm with wet and dry   

Sanding the holes to 7.5mm with wet and dry

 

Jagwire lined end caps have a small nylon hose that can be removed and inserted into the black jagwire cable guide stopper

I threaded some cable sheath onto the jagwire nozzles and glued in place.

I threaded some cable sheath onto the jagwire nozzles and glued in place.

image.jpg
Finished modification  

Finished modification  

2016: The year I will exploit marginal gains

After my previous time trial bike improvements I blogged about [here], you may be thinking I have already done this. Well, that was marginal gains level 1; just scratching the surface. Leaving it to the last TT of the season was possibly an error and so I am still not certain how much difference it really made. Despite this, I have been thinking about how to get more free speed in 2016 for each BBAR distance and have generated a list (I love a good list. I may even treat myself and put it in excel so I can perform some calculations at a later date). In 2015 I got lucky with some results (or rather, other better riders got unlucky), and so I need to up my game in 2016.....

The thought process for the list above went something like….. The shorter the event, the faster I will be moving, but for less time. As explained by this equation, the power to overcome drag goes up with speed not linearly, but by a cubed relationship i.e. As you go faster, it gets much harder to go faster.  Therefore, reducing my aerodynamic drag for the 50mile TT (and 100mile to an extent) is of greatest importance, and I will sacrifice a lot of comfort.

For the 12hr, I will be moving slower, but for a longer time. This means although the aerodynamic losses are lower, the penalty of any additional drag will be experienced over a longer time. So aerodynamics are still paramount, but having ridden a 12hour last year I know that comfort is definitely more important!

I’ll post some updates as I implement these improvements, and whether they make any noticeable difference,

The 2015 BBAR

Timetrialling was a bit of an after thought for me in 2015; at least in the competitive sense anyway. I thought I would have a go at the British Best All Rounder (BBAR) competition, requiring me to race a 50mile, 100mile and 12hour, but I didn’t want to travel far to hunt out the fastest courses or buy expensive aerodynamic kit designed by NASA engineers that promise to save me fractions of a Watt at re-entry speeds. Before 2015 I hadn’t raced in a skinsuit, a TT helmet, or used a disc wheel. In fact, I had only ever entered 1 open TT event. My overall finishing position is not particularly important to me, only how my recent times compare to my last. My BBAR ‘campaign’ was simply to ride the distances and see how I do, in turn allowing me to consume huge volumes of porridge.

However, this viewpoint gradually shifted over the course of the 2015 season. Like an awful tv talent(less) show, here is my 'journey'.....

 

H50/8 10-05-2015 (Strava link): The first race was a 50mile TT on the H50/8 course. I was borrowing a friends disc wheel (Zipp 900 tubular) and his skinsuit (a club skinsuit which didn’t fit me brilliantly), and my bike was set up for long distance triathlons and far from ‘aggressive’. The ride was going well, until the 40th mile when the freehub of the borrowed wheel started slipping under power. This gradually got worse over the next few miles and I started to think I wouldn’t even make the finish line. I limped over the line in 1hr 49min 43sec (at which point my ass cheeks immediately went into cramp, but that’s probably a story for a different kind of website). I came 5th overall (1st place was Adam Topham with 1hr 42min 18sec) and was very pleased with my performance.

H100/88 24-05-2015 (Strava link): The next race was the 100mile TT on the H100/88 course. Still borrowing my friends disc wheel (but with working freehub) but now with my own skinsuit (an Inverse skinsuit in club colours) and TT Helmet (Catlike Chrono, but without the visor fitted). During this ride, I realised that a 20mile section of the Bentley course is about a decade overdue for resurfacing. The consequence of this awful road surface was some fairly severe gooch pain and me questioning if I would ever be able to have children. I remember being chuffed with my 3hr 45min 50sec time, until I saw Adam Topham of HWCC posted a time of 3hr 34mins 11sec, blowing my mind in the process.

H12h/88 14-06-2015 (Strava link): With the knowledge of the poor road surface from my previous 100mile TT, I was dreading the prospect of 12 hours of targeted gooch torture. I thought it would be wise to wear a second pair of bib shorts under my skinsuit, to try and minimise the pain. This tactic didn’t work, in fact, all the padding seemed to make it much worse. The whole day was a journey through different pains, including the moment Mark Holton (the eventual winner) overtook me at such a pace it felt like my brakes were rubbing. Despite some low points (hours 6 to 8 particularly so, where I considered giving up), I came through and rode 292.15miles, 2nd place to the winner Mark who rode an incredible 316.7miles. There is nothing like a total trouncing to bring me back down to earth and confirm just how average I am.

MOVING GOAL POSTS

Having completed all three events, and largely thanks to my above-average 12 hour TT result, I was overall first in the BBAR tables. This sounds better than it was, as most people (particularly the fastest) had yet to complete a 12 hour TT and so did not appear in the tables.

Over the next month or so, I dropped to 3rd, then 5th, then 7th, etc as other riders improved their times. A friend of mine told me he was going to be riding a ‘fast’ 100mile TT, on the A100/4 course near Derby. We could lift share, and the date suited me, so I decided to get my entry in.

A100/4 5-9-2015 (Strava link): This course was certainly fast. I remember stopping in the car before the event to try and find a suitable position to leave some drink bottles at the side of the road, and there being a noticeable draft from all the passing lorries. The conditions were ideal, apart from a total lack of passing traffic in the middle 2hrs of the race; normally a good thing while riding a bike, but not when you want to be sucked along. I finished the race in 3hr 37mins 19sec and in 4th Place, 4mins behind 3rd place professional Triathlete Joe Skipper. I was slightly disappointed I wasn’t a bit closer to Joe’s time, but looking back there were definitely some areas of improvement both in my nutrition on the day and bike set up.

MOVING UP

I now had a fairly respectable 100mile and 12 hour TT result under my belt and moved in to 6th place overall in the BBAR competition. Now my 50mile TT result from the H50/8 course was starting to look fairly out of place next to other times posted by fellow BBAR contenders. I looked in to the remaining 2015 season 50mile TTs, of which there were only really 2, neither of which looked particularly quick. I decided to target the B50/18 course, which I had read had a course record of around 1hr 45min (depending on the source I looked at). I thought even if I could knock a few minutes off my 1hr 49min time, it could make a difference to my BBAR position.


B50/18 20-9-2015 (Strava Link): The course was definitely not as fast as I was expecting, with one very questionable turn point that required crossing lanes of traffic. I had pulled out all the stops for this event (see this post about my TT bike set up) and so was going to give it my all and hope to at least knock a minute off my current time. 20mins before my start time, I noticed the disc wheel (tubular) had a slow puncture. I tried to fix this with some ‘pit stop’, but it went everywhere except in the tyre, including all over myself, car, bike frame etc. In danger of missing my start time, I decided to put as much air in as I could and ride to the start. Lady luck was obviously on my side, as the tyre managed to retain enough air pressure to complete the event, and post a time of 1hr 44min 20sec, second to Adam Topham with a 1hr 40min 08sec time. Again, Topham showing true class and consistency, with another great result in a different league to my own.


FINAL BBAR RESULTS WITH A TWIST

So concluded the 2015 BBAR ‘campaign’ and a 3rd place overall BBAR standing. I was extremely proud of myself, particularly as the season wasn’t particularly focused and blighted with equipment failure. But there was another twist in the tale….

Without going in to the detail, Richard Bideau, who had provisionally won the 2015 BBAR, mainly thanks to his (record breaking) 100mile competition record he got during 2015 (~3hrs 18mins), had his result annulled as it was discovered the 100mile TT course was actually....... ~99.8miles. Unfortunately for Richard, he had not undertaken another 100mile TT and so was removed from the competition. This meant I moved in to 2nd Place (although only by technicality as Richard could probably ride an MTB 100miles quicker than my time).

I attended the CTT Champions night on 16-01-2016 to collect the BBAR 2nd place award. I was expecting to get a generic plastic cycling medal, but was really pleased to see a BBAR specific medal complete with a nice embossed presentation case! Some photos from the night are posted below.

BBAR 2nd Place medal

On stage collecting the award

Champions Dinner. That's my name that is. Porridge wasn't on the menu :(

X-Bionic Winter Ride Out & Kit Demo @Athlete Service

An email from Laurence Plant at Athlete Service arrived in my inbox last week, requesting some volunteers to test out £700 (Symframe jacket, Trick jersey and Effektor shorts, leg & arm warmers) worth of X-Bionic road kit in the rain. I jumped at the chance, partly because I was interested to see how £700 worth of kit performed (particularly the 'thorny devil' technology), but mainly because he said I would get a free coffee afterwards. Also, the ex-pro downhill mountain biker David Hemming would be handing the kit out (I was a fan of his and the other MBUK guys in my youth).

I woke at 07:00hrs and got the porridge on. I opted for a delicious concoction of Oats, Bran Flakes, Golden Syrup and Chia Seeds. I was feeling quite drained, so opted for extra golden syrup in place of a serving of peanut butter to boost the carbohydrate content. The bran flakes were added towards the end of cooking to provide a welcome, soft, but yielding texture in the mouth and the chia seeds added a nice snap. I resisted the urge to make a second bowl as I only had a short ride planned for the day.

A good pre ride porridge with extra carbs.

The organised ride wasn't scheduled until 09:30hrs, so I decided to do an extra 1hr loop before hand. The conditions were wet (light rain), windy (30mph gusts), and mild (10degC). Fairly grim, but probably ideal for testing out the gear.

During my initial 1hr solo loop, I got a puncture descending the Stonor valley. I replaced the tube quickly, but noticed a large slice in the sidewall of my tyre. Time was getting tight, so I raced back to Athlete Service, which was fairly busy with other local riders who were trying the kit out, and immediately borrowed a track pump to get some decent pressure back in the tyre. BOOM! The tyre exploded, much to the shock of everyone in the shop. Rather than replace the tube/tyre, I decided to grab a spare bike, then picked up the kit I was to test out.

I was surprised to be told (by David Hemming) I was probably a medium size (I would usually take a large). The kit was colourful, in a grotesque, clashing way, but was informed it was also available in black!

After donning the kit, the group (about 10 or so riders) left Athlete Service to ride a 20ish mile loop in the kit.

The fit of the kit was fantastic, very close fitting but didn't feel restrictive. I was told by David Hemming during the ride that each item is made from a single continuous piece of string. I asked how long the piece of string was, to which he answered with the rhetorical question "How long is a piece of string?". Hilarious as this was, I actually wanted to know how long the string was.

The ride was a steady pace, with a few big, short, efforts (for example, when friend Joe Harris tested his legs up a climb and "became the asshole on the ride [he] didn't want to be" - his words....). The kit felt slightly too warm for the conditions, but it wasn't uncomfortable. During the short efforts, it definitely felt hot, but I didn't feel like I was getting too sweaty or steamy. I did think the seat pad in the shorts was a little uncomfortable, but I think this could have been because it was wet from road spray, and maybe this would be helped on longer rides with some chamois creme.

On returning to Athlete Service, and removing the kit to return to David, I noticed just how dry it all was. Usually, my kit would be fairly damp from sweat, but this was bone dry. This is a key selling point of the kit, so it was good to see it had performed as promised.

I think the standout piece of kit for the day, in my opinion, were the leg warmers. They fitted superbly and stayed in place really well under the shorts. These retail at £53 which I think is great value. I'll be getting some of these, as it means I can use my good (& expensive) bib shorts throughout winter without needing to have a wardrobe full of bib tights.

In summary, the kit performed really well, in terms of fit, temperature regulation and sweat prevention. The aesthetics are a little too unique for me, but as it is also available in black this is not an issue. The only downside was I didn't find the seat pad as comfortable as some other shorts I own (Assos, Rapha) but this may be down to the conditions and lack of lube.

[STRAVA RIDE LINK]

Puncture stop near Christmas Common.

(Barista) Laurence making the post ride coffee....

Ex-pro DH MTBer David Hemming with all the kit....

Post ride snack.... Poached eggs on toast.

Learning to swim…

At the beginning of 2012, I decided to enter Ironman Wales (September 2012).  I was a keen cyclist and runner already, and despite not having been swimming since my school days thought it would probably be ‘like riding a bike’ and come back naturally (or at least no worse). I was wrong, my first swim ‘training’ session was a disaster, and involved me struggling to finish a 25m length of the pool, before having a mild panic attack.

Determination got me a long way, and I managed to build the distance up enough (swimming 3x a week, around 2.5km-3km per session) but was never fast; probably around the 1:45 to 1:50/100m pace. It felt like an exponential amount of effort was required to get very little increase in speed.

By the time Ironman Wales arrived, I was comfortable swimming 3.8km and did a fairly respectable 66min swim time, although I think the swim was short or there was some convenient whirlpool currents helping me along.

A few years of triathloning passed, and my swim pace stayed identical, irrelevant of how much (or little) swim training I did. Swimming was boring to me, and only ever a necessary evil. Perhaps because of this, or because in an Ironman event the swim is the shortest part to try and shave time off, I didn’t ever try and seek improvements in this area. I was content that my swimming wasn’t awful, and that my cycling and running were good enough to make up for my weak swim.

I then qualified for the Ironman word championships in 2015. Suddenly, every minute could count. Laurence at Athlete Service suggested I try out the endless pool they have, which is like a swimming equivalent of a treadmill. You swim on the spot against a moving jet of water, and it has mirrors and a camera underwater, so that you can see just how bad you are.

The first session was a revelation to me. For the first time I could see (with Laurence’s help) all the places I was going wrong. There wasn’t really a silver bullet i.e. one thing that I could quickly change and instantly make me swim faster, but lots of little bad habits that accumulated, as seen in the video below.

The main areas Laurence suggested I change (actually, not all at once, but over a number of sessions; you correct one thing and then notice other areas for improvement) were;

  • My right elbow always dropped low
  • Poor body roll
  • Single sided breathing (causing asymmetrical stroke).

Correcting these issues hasn’t been easy. I had to accept that initially my swimming may actually get slower as my stroke was deconstructed and I learned a new technique that felt very different. A great thing about the endless pool, is that you don’t know how fast (slow) you are swimming, which allows you to really focus on technique without feeling guilty about swimming slowly, as I would in a pool (as crazy as this may sound).

My technique is still a work in progress, but my pace is now improving and greater efforts seem to get a greater return in speed. Most importantly, I feel like I have broken through a glass ceiling that I have struggled with since 2012, and the future will now bring further improvements.  

How do you make a Cervelo P2 faster?

How do you make a Cervelo P2 faster? This was the question I needed to answer in an attempt to save 5mins off my 50mile Time Trial PB.

I had thought I was already at the aerodynamic limit of the P2; it is (was) a popular bike among triathletes because of its slightly less aggressive (comfortable even?) geometry that is meant to make running straight off the bike easy.

However I needed to find a 5min saving somehow, so I decided to start exploiting some marginal gains. 5minutes is a lot to shave off a 50miler, so marginal gains alone probably wouldn’t be sufficient, but it would be a start.

I inspected my bike (See picture, below, before improvements) and thought of some areas that could be improved;

Before.....

  • The front end was too high. I rode this same set up in a 12hr TT and whilst not exactly comfortable, I felt for a 50mile TT I could go much lower. Unfortunately, with my existing stem/bars set up I was as low as I could go.
  • The cables were routed externally and untidily in places. Probably not a huge source of aerodynamic drag but obviously doesn’t help, and more importantly looks rubbish.
  • The bar tape was fairly bulky and unclean. Again, not exactly a parachute attached to the bike but may cost a few precious watts.
  • The front brake (side arm) stuck out quit far from the silhouette of the frame.
  • A Standard water bottle and cage was fitted on the downtube. The cervelo P2 has a very narrow downtube and the water bottle placed here sticks out like a sore thumb.

The picture below shows the bike after the improvements. This is what I did;

After....

  •  I fitted a TriRig stem (see LINK – I bought mine from Ryan Davies who imported it but found the geometry didn’t work for him). This has zero rise, compared to my previous stem which had an 8deg rise. This would enable me to get into a much lower position.
  • The TriRig stem has a centre drilling for a centre pull brake. So I fitted a campagnolo centre pull brake which fits within the profile of the cervelo frame well.
  • The TriRig stem also has bottle cage mounts to mount a bottle between the arms. I had read that having a bottle between the arms is actually more aerodynamic than an empty space. I fitted a speedfill bottle in the cage so drinking in an aero position would be easier. I drilled holes in the tribar extensions to route the gear cables internally. These now exit out of the blanking plugs at the rear.
  •  I removed all bar tape. This looks a lot cleaner and actually feels nicer than having bar tape fitted.
  • I fitted new brake and gear cables so I could get the routing as clean as possible.

The result is a much cleaner front profile, with a much more aggressive position. Even if the aerodynamic gains aren’t tangible, psychologically it feels faster. And most importantly I managed to find the 5mins I needed (although, maybe not all 5mins could be attributed to these marginal gains…).

[STRAVA RIDE LINK]