Our base for the press event - very lucky to be there

What’s a bike press launch really like?

If like me, you’d always wondered what it was really like to attend a bike launch, I thought you might find it interesting to hear about how I found attending my first ever press camp.

Just the facts - all of them
Just the facts – all of them

Rose Bikes have now facilitated a number of firsts for this blog over the years: They were the first brand to lend me a bike to review, back at the end of 2010. They were the first brand to lend me a disc braked road bike for review in 2013 (http://girodilento.com/rose-xeon-dx-review/) and they’re the first brand to invite me to join them at a bike launch in 2014.

However, jet setting off to Austria to find out and ride bikes wasn’t something I’d done before so when I saw my friend Dave Arthur from Road.cc was also on the guest list, I gave him a quick call just to check the basics out. The basic advice was to pack plenty of riding gear (for wet & dry weather) and to remember to take your pedals. Because the weather forecast wasn’t looking great, I did pack quite a bit of wet weather riding gear – more than dry weather gear to be honest. Obviously I also packed my camera, notepad and laptop.

My logistics were to be at Heathrow Terminal 1 in time for a 0650 departure on July 24th. This meant a 0330 alarm call, which was a struggle as I’m not a morning person. I got to Heathrow just after 5am and found absolute carnage in the check-in area. Four different airlines were trying to get flights checked in and baggage processed but the baggage carousel had broken. So there were about 300 people in a queue and flights were being called one at a time. After not moving in the queue at all after 30 minutes, my flight to Munich was called. I put up my hand and someone took me to a special queue and finally got my bags checked in. Then a stressful wait in a queue for security and x-rays meant I finally got to the flight about 90 seconds before the other UK guys boarded the flight. Nice one Heathrow!

Our early morning ride out of Heathrow
Our early morning ride out of Heathrow

Flying Lufthansa meant typical German efficiency and the flight to Munich was very pleasant. We all had instructions to head to an airport transfer service for a shuttle bus for the hotel in Austria. We had a short 20 minute wait for a connecting flight from Stockholm to deliver 2 Swedish journalists and we were on our way to our destination. Rose split their press camp into two halves. We were the second group but in total there were around 70 journalists from about 15 countries who attended the event.

I think we’d only driven for about 5 minutes before I was being impressed again by the quality of German infrastructure – including segregated bike paths which I saw regularly out of my window in the minibus on the way to Austria.

Home for the duration of the trip
Home for the duration of the trip

Upon arrival at the venue, a very nice hotel in the beautiful region of Tyrol (http://www.tyrol.com/) we checked in. Dave and I were sharing a room, so we dropped our bags and popped down to check out where everything was. A quick lunch was followed by the product presentations, where the Rose guys talked about their new BikeTown Shop opening in the second half of the year in Munich (they already have 6,000sq m shop in their home town of Bocholt. http://www.rosebikes.com/content/about-rose/the-rose-stores/rose-biketown-bocholt). In the new shop customers will be able to see all of the bikes, configure them on an iPad next to the bike, choosing exactly what spec they want and to place their order. Rose offers a high level of customisation options on their bikes and they told us that their customers greatly value this. I would too.

At that point the product designers introduced their new models. First Mountain bikes, then Road. Notes were made, photos taken and questions asked. We were then invited to get changed and go riding.

With the presentations over it was time to get out and ride
With the presentations over it was time to get out and ride

The new disc braked road bikes were in big demand with the press, so I put my name on the new super light aluminium race bike (Xeon RS) instead. I put my pedals on, set my saddle height, grabbed a drink, switched my Garmin on and pedalled off into Austria! I had no real idea where I was going. What I thought was a fully charged Garmin switched off with a dead battery 30 seconds after I started. So I started recording my ride via Strava on my phone. One of the Rose guys had suggested, I turn right then the first major left and follow the road around towards the right. So I followed my nose for a while and was surprised how busy the roads were. Lots of Austrian traffic. Most drivers were very polite and careful around me on a bike though, which was appreciated. It only took about half an hour to realise that I didn’t really know where I was and couldn’t remember the name of my hotel or the village we were staying in. I’d found a nice little climb with a view of the mountains and I started trying to work my way back in a loop to the hotel. This worked ok until I reached a right turn into a tunnel that was motor traffic only. So I decided just to retrace my steps back to the hotel and made a mental note to research routes a bit more before setting off next time.

The selection of brand new Rose bikes available for the press to ride (first come first served)
The selection of brand new Rose bikes available for the press to ride (first come first served)

Because there were lots of bikes I wanted to ride – going out for 40kms like I had, didn’t seem like a great idea. So I made a plan to work out a 15-20km loop with some climbing for the next day.

Enjoying the Austrian scenery and the new 2015 Rose Xeon RS with Ultegra
Enjoying the Austrian scenery and the new 2015 Rose Xeon RS with Ultegra

Dinner was in the Hotel and very pleasant followed by beers in the hotel bar that evening. After a 3:30am start, I was fading a bit by midnight and I turned in at the point I felt that the next beer might be a game changer (if you know what I mean).

The next morning after breakfast, Dave said that he was going to spend the morning on mountain bikes (they had chairlifts to the top of the mountains and apparently some great trails) but asked if I fancied joining him for a road ride in the afternoon. It’s always good to ride with company, so that sounded good to me.

I worked out my short route and got out to test it on the new top of the range road frame the Xeon X-Lite (800gms for a 57cm frame). With a bit of exploring and wrong turn or too my loop included gravel, tarmac, flat roads, and climbs. It was perfect for what I wanted and also had some beautiful spots for taking photos.

New Rose X-Lite Team Ultegra Di2 at rest
New Rose X-Lite Team Ultegra Di2 at rest

A second lap of the new loop on the new 11 speed 105 Xeon RS got me to lunch. Having been too busy to ride a lot recently, I was finding the climbing pretty hard going and I was riding nowhere near the big mountains that surrounded us.

Aboard the new 2015 Rose Xeon RS 2000 with 11 speed 105
Aboard the new 2015 Rose Xeon RS 2000 with 11 speed 105

Dave Arthur had been eyeing up the biggest mountain around us – the Kitzbüheler Horn which rises to just on 2,000m. After lunch Dave and I picked out the bikes we wanted to try, then Dave asked about the Horn. Thomas from Rose told us that a couple of guys had ridden it yesterday and said it was the hardest ride they’d ever done.

The view towards Kitzbüheler Horn from the hotel
The view towards Kitzbüheler Horn from the hotel

Thomas also told us that it was the hardest climb in Austria. 7km at an average of 14.7% with kicks to 22%. I think that pretty much decided that it had to be done for Dave – I wasn’t feeling so keen. I’m going to write a separate post about this, so you’ll have to wait to read that. What I can say though is that that was the afternoon sorted out.

The 2015 Xeon Team CGF most of the way up a very high and steep mountain
The 2015 Rose Xeon Team CGF most of the way up a very high and steep mountain

That evening we were all driven to restaurant high up in the mountains with fabulous views and authentic Tyrolian food and entertainment – including Yodelling! It was a beautiful spot – good food and the music was fun – even if the two musicians had a slightly unnerving habit of staring right at you as they sang.

A stunning location for a bar ... and Saturday evenings dinner
A stunning location for a bar … and Saturday evenings dinner

Once we were back at the Hotel, I partook in another few beers in the bar before turning in – again not too many as I wanted to make sure I could get as much riding as I could on as many bikes as possible. For me, this was a rare opportunity to ride a lot of bikes in a range and I wasn’t going to risk it with long nights in the bar.

Saturday was the final day of the trip and our shuttle bus left for Munich Airport at 11.45am. I’d had breakfast by 9, so was torn between starting writing up the visit or getting one last ride in. One last ride won and I took out the completely new Xeon DX road disc bike for about 15km. I’m glad I did too – it was very nice.

Enjoying the 2015 Rose Xeon DX and the fantastic  Austrian countryside for one last ride
Enjoying the 2015 Rose Xeon DX and the fantastic Austrian countryside for one last ride

A quick shower, packing and a few final technical questions for the bike designer followed by a coke and ice cream in the sunshine with my fellow UK travellers before we left for the airport.

The flight back to the UK was a pleasure – more Lufthansa efficiency & our UK group said our goodbyes at the baggage carousel of terminal one. Even the M25 was unusally kind to me with a quick trip home to Kent.

If you hadn’t already guessed, I had a fantastic trip. As a blogger who typically doesn’t get this level of access to bike brands it had been an absolute treat. The guys (and girls) at Rose had been very welcoming and professional, whilst also leaving you the space to get on with the riding you wanted to do – no hard sell on the brand or the bikes, which in fairness they didn’t need. The venue had been fantastic and so was Austria.

I know that for the seasoned journalists on the trip, it was more just a normal part of their job. Even in what many of us would call a dream job, the novelty does eventually wear off and it becomes just another part of your routine. For me though, it was a complete pleasure and I’m very grateful to Rose for inviting me.

One of my biggest challenges for this blog is getting new product to test, perhaps especially bikes, so the ability to ride 5 different bikes over 3 days (even for short rides) is enormously helpful. We were also very lucky with the weather and that helped make the trip more enjoyable and productive too. The forecast had been for lots of rain and there’s no question it would have been very different in that case. However for everyone, the sun meant more riding and that’s good for Rose too.

I hope that Rose’s lead will mean that I get an opportunity like this again – time will tell.

My thanks again, particularly to Fin who looks after Rose in the UK, for the invitation!

If you’d like to read my thoughts on the new Rose road bikes range for 2015, please click on this link: http://girodilento.com/rose-bikes-2015-four-new-road-models-first-ride-reviews/ or of course, visit Rose at: http://www.rosebikes.co.uk/

And thanks for reading….

Typical UK urban traffic congestion via @aseasyasriding

Eliminate urban road congestion for good in the UK for £20bn – An open letter to the Department of Transport

Transport is a key challenge for healthy, happy, prosperous & more liveable towns and cities. It’s something that almost everyone in most UK urban environments agrees doesn’t work well anymore for anyone.

We’ve had the answer to this problem hidden in plain sight for over 100 years.

It’s the bicycle.

In this post I’ll attempt to explain why I believe it’s the solution to make our towns and cities work better and our citizens (of all ages) healthier and happier.

Britain invented the bicycle as we know it today. Britain pioneered the use of the bicycle for transport and led the world until the 1950s. In the early 1950’s the British made as many trips by bicycle as the Dutch do today – over 30% of all journeys, all over the country.

Our geography hasn’t changed, our approach to transport did.

In our towns across the country we cannot continue to have the private motor car as the primary way people make their journeys – it’s not sustainable and it’s not working any more.

We simply don’t have enough physical room in our towns and cities for everyone to have a car, drive it around and park it. This doesn’t work, not anywhere in the world.

The good news is that it’s fixable – if we put the bicycle back to the centre of urban transport.

It’s time to remind ourselves of why the bicycle is the best transport solution for moving people in towns & cities.

The sum of 100 years of traffic engineering is if you build more space for traffic, more traffic will come to fill it. Fortunately the reverse is also true. We’ve spent the last 65 years designing out cycling in the UK but it’s time to turn this around for the sake of our health and the future prosperity of our communities.

Cycling is enormously space efficient, it has no pollution, eliminates congestion, has virtually no wear on the roads, increases health and can be a quick, easy and pleasurable way to get around town and to do your shopping – but only if we design it properly into our streetscape.

To do this requires leadership and it means taking a step back and thinking about how we can best move people for the benefit of everyone in our towns and cities. We should be aiming to make cycling the default choice for the majority of urban journeys.

In many towns, the vast majority of car traffic is local journeys that start and stop within a few miles. We should be aiming for 50%+ of all local journeys by bike and this is easily and cost effectively achievable.

40 years ago the Dutch made a choice to prioritise cycling over motor traffic – we (in the UK but also almost all English speaking countries) carried on designing only for motor traffic. The Dutch are now healthier, less obese, more active, have less congestion, less pollution and have the best children’s well-being in the world. They also have road injuries of less than 1/3 of we do and easily manageable health system as people’s health continues to improve across all ages.

We’ve become one of the most obese, most sedentary nations in the world with terrible congestion that costs us billions a year, road design that put us all into conflict with each other, rising deaths and injuries for the vulnerable on our roads, falling quality of life, 10’s of thousands of deaths each year either directly or indirectly as a result of our transport system and a high cost for personal travel. We designed cycling, walking and active health out of our transport system, whereas the Dutch made active travel the core principle.

Some notes to consider from the film above:

–           People think the Dutch have always planned and designed for cycling – it’s simply not true

–           Also notice the speed people were riding. Transport or utility cycling is low speed at 10-15mph, so people ride in normal clothes and don’t get into a sweat (they don’t have showers at work as they don’t need them). People of all ages can ride comfortably and safely at this speed with the right road design. Road design is absolutely key and we’re decades behind in the UK right now as we can see outside our windows or windscreens.

Some of the specific UK problems the bicycle can help solve include the following

Congestion

o   We simply don’t have the room for everyone to drive a car as their main method of getting about. Cities and towns all over the world have tried and failed to make this work.

o   The car based transport monoculture is stuck in the 1960’s and it’s created the same problems everywhere in the world. Congestion, pollution, road deaths, obesity etc, etc, which have never been fixed. It’s a system that can only work with much lower numbers of cars. Building more roads only brings more traffic – Google induced demand to find out more.

o   In 1970 the population of the UK was 48m and we had 12m cars. By 2010 we had only increased the population to 56m but we had 30m cars.

o   A single road traffic lane can at best accommodate around 2,000 cars per hour. The same space can allow 14,000 bicycles an hour. We can move 7x the people using bikes where space is limited (most towns and cities).

o   It’s not just roads we don’t have the space for cars to dominate it’s parking them too.

  • The Institute for Transportation and Development (USA) calculated the space required to park 2,000 people.
    • By car: 7.2 football fields
    • By bike 0.15 footballs fields – 2% of the space needed to park cars!

o   The solution to congestion is counter intuitive – the Dutch cut their streets in half to increase safety & reduce congestion. Reduce road space available to cars and re-think where we let them go. We need to put people first not cars because that’s our challenge: moving people not cars

o   Most UK car journeys are short: Of all trips made in 2012, 20% were less than one mile in length, 66% less than 5 miles and 95% were less than 25 miles. All eminently cycle-able distances. The average length of a journey in the UK is 7m and in the town where I live 60-80% of local journeys start and finish in the town.

Cars don’t just produce congestion, there are other consequences too:

Pollution

o   Our road transport system in the UK kills 29,000 people per year from traffic pollution. Road Transport accounts for 50% of total emissions and has a cost of $1.7trillion across the EU

o   Pollution also has other health impacts, such as asthma and allergies for many people and is deeply unpleasant to live with

Traffic noise

o   Dutch towns are quiet – traffic noise reduces liveability for residents near busy roads (including lowering property values)

o   Studies in Scandinavia have shown that traffic noise significantly heightens the risk of strokes

Road safety

  • 5 people die every day on UK roads and this is positioned as a good result! 5 families destroyed everyday.
  • 30,000 people are KSI on UK roads and 195,000 injured each year.
  • 200 Children a month are killed or seriously injured on UK roads
  • Sweden set a target for 0 road deaths – Vision Zero – why haven’t we? Perhaps because it requires a complete rethink on all parts of our road network. Whilst there are still road deaths in Sweden today – they’ve cut the toll by over a 1/3 already. Saving lives and saving cost to society.
  • Sustainable Safety – mistakes that don’t kill. The Dutch principle of Sustainable Safety says that regardless of transport mode people make mistakes and that when people make mistakes, they shouldn’t have to pay with their lives. As a result they design their roads knowing people will make mistakes but working to ensure no one is killed as result. When someone is killed, a full investigation takes place and road is redesigned and rebuilt within months. Let’s do that here too.
  • For every 1 cyclist death there are 4 pedestrians killed on UK roads and the UK has one of the highest rates of pedestrian deaths in Europe. It’s shameful that we kill so many vulnerable road users, especially as it needn’t be this way.
  • When road deaths amongst vulnerable users falls it’s more likely that it’s because they’ve been scared away altogether rather than the roads are working better. People stay out of dangerous places wherever possible.
  • Today 5 people will die on our roads, 63 will be seriously injured and 534 will be injured. We could design our transport system to significantly reduce this – if we decided to.

Cycling Safety

  • Cycling is statistically safer than gardening. You’re more likely to get injured in an hour of gardening that an hour of cycling but to many, it doesn’t feel safe.
  • If you cycled 1 hr per day for 40 years, you’d cover 180,000km. You’d still only have a 1 in 150 chance of being killed. If you lived in the Netherlands, your risk of danger would be 2/3 less than this.

Obesity (in both adults & children) & health

  • 67% of men & 57% of UK adults are overweight or obese. Transport policies are a key reason that needs to be acknowledged. The Dutch level of obesity for adults is 10%
  • 60,000 people die every year from inactivity related heart disease – the Dutch level of risk is half that of the UK
  • A minimum of 5,000 people die from obesity each year
  • Health report after health report and experts continue to argue that active travel must be prioritised to improve UK health – cycling as transport can be a game changer like it has been for the Dutch
  • A recent UK govt report said that we are less physically active than at any time in the history of this country

All told about 100,000 people a year die because of our transport system as it’s currently configured.

Some points to note from this second film:

  • As well as benefitting a wide range of people this video also shows some important points about the design of the paths:
  • They are continuous and focus on helping cyclists maintain momentum (ie. Not stopping) which means people can & do ride slowly but still cover distances highly efficiently and easily with minimal effort
  • They are wide, smooth and separated from heavy traffic
  • Routes are direct and shorter than travelling by car because bikes are prioritised over cars
  • They are well maintained and of a very high quality – think A-Roads for bikes
  • They make the journey and progress easy and pleasurable

I’ve spoken to a number of mobility scooter users in the last few months and they tell me our roads are a terrifying place for them to travel in even using our “best” cycle paths.

Our car dominated society has contributed to creating social barriers

  • Having people “locked” away in cars has increased social isolation and busy roads split communities. We all behave differently behind the wheel and behind glass.
  • Bikes get people connecting with each other, with their neighbourhood and with nature. Neighbours can chat with each other on bikes and ride side by side.
  • 40% of the UK population don’t have a drivers licence including 28% of adults over the age of 17. Let’s build a bike transport system everybody from 8-80 can use
  • Whilst motoring has brought us advantages – it has brought unintended social consequences too

Eliminating the school run

  • 50% of Dutch primary school children ride to school – over 90% of secondary school children. After 8 years old most children do this unaccompanied and completely safely. This also eliminates after school car journeys to clubs and activities and is key to childhood freedom, health and happiness. 38% of Dutch children ride between 6-15km each way to get to school – it’s not just those who live close.
  • In 2010 the average distance for a child to travel to their primary school was 1.5m 43% of children were driven there! The National Transport Survey in 2011 said 64% of primary school children live within 1-2miles of school but only 2% of UK children cycle to school.
  • The former Mayor of Bogota said “A great city isn’t one that has highways but where a child on a bicycle can ride safely everywhere”.  He also said “If children had as much public space as cars most cities in the world would become marvellous”
  • This is simply an engineering problem
  • Let’s gives back some childhood freedom & independence to our children that’s been almost totally lost thanks to motor traffic
  • If we want our children to be safe in our town – we need to redesign our roads but we’d all benefit.

Let’s reduce transport costs for our citizens

Running a car is expensive. Figures from London say the costs of running a car is £458 per month, travelling by public transport is £225 per month and a bike £9 per month. Start multiplying that for multi car families and we are talking a large amount of money per household. All of this expense on cars represents money not spent in our local shops and businesses. Money spent at the petrol pump typically leaves the local community.

Let’s help our local businesses

  • All over the world retailers overestimate how many people shop by car. They also think that more cars mean more customers – it does not & I haven’t managed to find a study yet that says this.
  • Pedestrians spend 65% more than motorists – TfL data
  • For every car parking space we can fit 10+ bikes – would we rather retailers had 1 customer visit or up to 10?
  • If we think about car parking outside shops – is it better to have parking spaces for say 20 cars or a bike lane that can safely bring 1000 people a day?
  • Out of town shopping malls work not because of parking – once someone gets out of their car they’re in a completely safe, car free, pedestrianized environment where they focus on the retail experience.
  • Bikes can easily carry shopping and cargo bikes can easily carry large loads
  • Shopping habits are changing in a way that is perfect for bikes: People are now shopping little and often.
  • 10 years ago we didn’t have a café culture – in 10 years time let’s be a city bike society – our health, happiness and international competitiveness may well depend on it. If we don’t other countries will.

Free-ing up road capacity for essential trips

  • If we can move 50%+ of local journeys to bikes we would free up road space for people who really do need to use a car.
  • Cars still have a place for longer trips but once we’ve made our towns around the bicycle we can then start joining up towns with high speed cycle paths and motor traffic will continue to fall as will congestion.

Where this takes us too is that I want a better quality of life for everyone in urban Britain regardless of age and I believe that only the bicycle can deliver this magic bullet.

It’s people and places that make towns great, not cars and traffic. If you plan for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.

Cycling infrastructure only works if it’s of sufficient quality to attract people to use it – it has to be direct, safe, convenient and a pleasure to use. There has to be a network that goes everywhere designed to be accessible for those from 8-80 who have not ridden bikes but want to. It’s for people that don’t ride a bike now

Currently our roads are noisy, dangerous and hostile. Let’s give them back to people.

Let’s give the UK public a true choice in transport modes whilst remembering that a significant number are either unable or would rather not have to drive

  • 60% plus UK citizens when asked say they’d like to be able to use a bike and that more should be done for cycling.
  • Around 70% of people say they simply will not ride with motor traffic of any kind.
  • Many people now resent the money and time they spend in their cars

The car is a 20th century solution that doesn’t work in the 21st Century.

People are driving less

  • Young people are choosing not to get drivers licenses
  • We don’t have the space for everyone to drive anyway and the side effects are literally killing us or making us miserable
  • We need to work out the most efficient ways to move the most people in our urban environments – not use traffic modelling to force a few more cars in at the expense of everything else.
  • Mileage driver per person has continued to fall every year since early this century (DfT stats)
  • We don’t have a choice but to fix this

So why don’t 98% of the population cycle now?

  • Our road designs
  • Appallingly poor cycling provision & repellent conditions
  • We’ve not built for cycling but you don’t build doors based on how many people are walking through walls, nor do you build bridges based on how many people are swimming across rivers.

What it’s not:

  • Because of hills – San Francisco is one of the fastest growing bicycle cities in the USA. The Swiss make 5-10 times more journeys by bike that the UK do. Our bodies are amazing – they’re designed to move and they adapt rapidly. Today’s daunting hill is next months, no problems. Our hills will give our residents greater & faster health benefits.
  • Because of getting sweaty – transport cycling is about riding slowly and just using a more efficient model – 10-15mph does not get your sweaty especially when we design so that cyclists don’t need to stop. The Dutch and Danes ride in ordinary clothing on comfortable bikes that are easy to ride
  • Of not wanting to – we’ve removed the choice – we’ve made our roads too hostile.

So what is: it?

  • It’s that we’ve tried to “encourage” or “educate” drivers & cyclists for 40 years to share the road rather than build high quality cycling infrastructure so only 2% of people cycle. The Dutch redesigned their road system with cycling at the centre and 40% of journeys are made by bike.
  • The vast majority of people will not ride with motor traffic. It’s these people we need to design for – not people who already cycle. Again the Dutch have solved this and perfected it over 40 years – if you build it well, people will come
  • 23% of Journeys by people aged over 65 in NL are by bike. Less than 1% in the UK
  • 40% of all trips by people aged under 17 in NL are by bike. Less than 2% in the UK

How to fix this:

  • Look at the world’s best – we’re very lucky that it’s only 200 miles from here
  • Take the world’s best and improve it – don’t re-invent the wheel
  • To reduce congestion we have to reduce the road space and access for cars – it’s worked in the Netherlands, Sweden and more recently in New York City. Nothing else works.
  • Realise that bikes have different needs than cars or pedestrians & design for them.
  • Design for Cargo bike traffic – let’s make it easy for people to not have a second car – we don’t have the room for them – let’s build dual carriageways for bikes
  • Allow bikes to keep moving from one side of the town to the other without stopping.
  • Engineer out the school run – make it safe for children to ride across town in safety on their own. Remove the need for parental taxi services.
  • It only took the Dutch 10 years to transform their transport system.
  • In 1970 bicycles only made up 10% of Copenhagen traffic – now it’s 50%.
  • They decided to make it happen, overruling complainers– many of whom now ride instead, permanently eliminating congestion.
  • Recognise there is currently little best practice at all in the UK but British engineers are some of the best on the planet – let’s allow them to fix this for us and make us a world leader – not to mention healthier, happier, richer and less stressed.
  • Try things – trial to see what works before we do it permanently – it also gives people a chance to get used to it.
  • Let’s make bold changes – tinkering around the edges will mean failure. We need to open up to new ways of transport planning. What we’ve been doing isn’t and won’t work.

That’s my magic bullet – it’s the only proven and cost effective way that I’ve been able to find to deliver all of these benefits

It will make Britain more liveable, healthier, prosperous and welcoming.

So what is it going to cost?

The Dutch spend €30 per person per year as the world’s best. To keep it simple, let’s just use £30 per head per year. That works out to around £2bn per year. It would take 10 years to transform our country, if we do it properly, so say £20bn. According to the government’s own estimates, for every £1 spent on cycling infrastructure, £4 is saved in the NHS. £20bn to eliminate congestion permanently and save the NHS £80bn – not to mention save 10’s of thousands of lives per year. It’s so much cheaper to build high quality bike infrastructure compared to roads for motor traffic.

This government has allocated around £40bn for HS2 and nearly £50bn for new roads – so the money is there. To transform the entire country we need £2bn a year for 10 years – half the price of the lowest estimate for the HS2 project and we’d transform the lives of everyone in the country.

Two quotes for you before my final video:

“Adding more cars in urban environments is not going to work” Alan Mullaly, CEO Ford Motor Co, 2014.

“If access by road is the key to economic prosperity, Birmingham should be the wealthiest city in Britain. It is not.” Oliver Tickell, 1993.

Here’s my final video and it’s one to inspire us all….

There are some powerful messages in there … not least notice how big the applause was for the improvements to cycling! Everyone benefits from fixing this and bikes are a key tool. It’s a fantastic video.

We can’t make our towns or cities work now or in the future the way it is – as the UK continues to grow we need a different paradigm for us to keep up – let alone to prosper.

Other countries and cities are already doing this – we will be left behind if we don’t and jobs will leave, house prices will fall, sickness and obesity will continue to rise.

Let’s choose to make Britain a model for embracing the bicycle and make this country a truly wonderful place to live. Let’s turn transport from being a burden to a blessing.

Thanks for reading

For those who’d like to know more about how cycling can fix our towns and cities, please visit the following sites for a much better explanation than I’ve given. These are where I’ve gone to learn:

http://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/

http://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/

http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/

The last post I wrote about why we need to embrace the bicycle in Britain is here, in case you’d like to read it: http://girodilento.com/why-britain-more-than-ever-needs-the-bicycle/

One last extremely good video that explains what’s possible and how to do this:

Thanks to @AsEasyAsRiding for the photo at the beginning

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Wiggle Dragon Ride Review June 2014

The Dragon Ride is one of the most famous and most demanding sportives in Britain. It’s not an event I’ve ridden but this year my friend Damien did and I asked if he’d like to write a post about the experience and this is his story: 

On the 4th or 5th of June I came home to a small and unassuming
envelope which I’d taken to be a circular until I finally opened it
and discovered enclosed my race number – 3747 – plus timing chip and various stickers for my bike and helmet. They filled me with dread – and not the thrill I’d had earlier in the year when I received my
“Accepted” magazine from the nice people that run the Prudential
RideLondon-Surrey 100. Let me explain…

I’d had a fairly simple strategy for my sportive preparations during
2013: Ride my bike. To be more specific, go and ride up as many hills
as it takes, and make sure I’d ridden the requisite distances before
heading to any start line. In other words, make sure I knew what I was
in for and make sure I was up to it because I’d already done something similar. With the exception of Whitedown Lane at the very beginning of last season, it had proven an effective strategy.

However, at the beginning of 2014 Mr girodilento and I had
hatched a plan to transform ourselves into fitter, stronger and harder
riding gods. Our principal motivation was to surprise and then destroy our regular nemesis, using a thoroughly professional one-two on the hills. After a careful analysis of the opposition’s training, the standout difference was (and is) his apparent (and somewhat unnatural) love of the turbo trainer. That and the many hours they while away together.64005_DRA14_WJC_002165

So a new strategy was born for 2014 – structured training. One of us
took to a Wattbike and the other (me) dusted down the turbo trainer
and subscribed to TrainerRoad. The theory of which had all seemed well and good at the beginning of the year; I approximated Wattbike’s Dragon Ride training programme using TrainerRoad rides, and off I went. My goal was to follow the lead of my hero/ nemesis and wear out my turbo trainer. I even mused about what I would replace it with.

Reality could not have turned out to be more of a stark contrast. I
had a series of chest infections which kept me off my bike. Normally I
would ride through coughs and colds, but with a very large ride
looming ever more threateningly on the horizon, I reasoned that rest
was a good idea. But here’s the thing, when that envelope dropped
through the door I’d completed just 6 of a 12-week programme. Worse, I’d begun deviating wildly from Wattbike’s recommendations. In a nutshell, I lacked confidence, was underprepared and turbo training had left me with a sore arse.

Bike stuff

After quite a lot of discussion, I’d come to the obvious conclusion
that riding a compact was the sensible choice for tackling Brecon
Beacons. I’d recently bought a previously enjoyed Cannondale CAAD 10 (fantastic bike, by the way) and transferred my Ultegra 6700 10-speed over, installing a Praxis Works bottom bracket at the same time so that I could use it with the original Shimano cranks.
Unfortunately my rear wheel, a Mavic Kysrium Elite, was just about to give up the ghost, so I also put on the Fulcrum 3 wheelset which the previous bike owner had thrown in with our deal.

I’ve enjoyed riding the Kysriums, they’re a great value, light, stiff
and reliable wheel. To my rear end, they seem more comfortable than
the Fulcrums. Not to say that the Fulcrum is a bad wheel, in many
respects the two wheelsets are similar, but I guess it’s just what
I’ve become used to. And it made me think again about saddle choice,
because this is an area I’ve found hard to get right. Really hard. At
Scott’s recommendation, I bought and fitted a Pro Turnix Carbon
(142mm) and I have to say, it’s about the best thing I’ve ever bought
for my bike. Transformational is the word I’d use for it’s comfort
(it’s lightweight and relatively low cost too). Recommended purchase!

Five go mad in Powys

So off I went to Wales, full of misgivings. I met with my riding
buddies – two of the Schneider Electric lads with whom Scott and I had ridden coast to coast in 2013 – in Margam Park. They were being joined by two others.

64005_DRA14_COJ_002955One of our group looked strong and ready, having put in some hard
miles in Yorkshire leading up to the day. Three looked like they’d
just emerged from the pub smoking area after a lock-in. But the most
nervous was the fifth rider – me. During a very disturbed night’s
sleep, I’d spent a lot of time wondering if my son had any Tramadol
left over after a recent operation and whether it would have been any
help to me in the ensuing 12 hours.

One thing you have to hand the Wiggle/ Human Race people, they know how to organise a ride and get people off the starting line. We got through the briefing and across the start line very efficiently, and
quickly we were off towards Port Talbot on the flat. For the first few
kilometres we rode with hills to our right; I was reminded of that bit
in Braveheart when Wallace’s executioner draws back a blanket to
reveal the instruments of torture and ultimately, demise. My
confidence was that high!

Then we started climbing. Climbing, climbing, climbing. The first
20-odd kilometres took us up to about 500m; a proper climb. The sort of climb I’d wondered about whilst tackling our local, relatively
modest 100 – 150m hills. Something does happen in your head as you
turn and head up, turn and head up and, just as you think the summit
is sight, turn and head up again. I started to fret about what this
was going to be like on tired, 100-mile legs.

By way of reward, the scenery is absolutely magnificent in Wales. In
parts, stunning. Certainly amongst the best I’ve had the pleasure to
ride. The roads were very quiet and in the main, the surfaces in very
good condition. Certainly our Kentish roads don’t hold a candle to
them. At the beginning of the ride everyone was in good spirits,
cheered by the banter of the Welsh. The day started to warm up, and
although it never really got going weather-wise remaining drafty
throughout, it didn’t really rain other than a short shower.

64005_DRA14_OFF_006438The problem with riding the Dragon is that you’re only ever climbing
or descending. There’s not really any time spent on the flat to ride
your legs back into form. That’s my excuse anyway. The good news about the ride is that all that pain seems to draw people together. It is a good humoured ride, from the volunteers manning the feed stations to the marshalls and riders themselves, there was a pervasive
cheerfulness. I’m not sure whether this was down to the relatively
benign weather or mild hysteria, but bring it on.

Another point is the general standard of riding. Now I’ve ridden a few
sportives and although I wouldn’t say I’m an expert cyclist, in
14,000km over the last 30-odd months, I’ve shared the road with the
good, the bad and the downright ugly. OK, so on some of the tougher
climbs there was a certain amount of weaving (me too), and in some of the tighter lanes it was sometimes hard to make forward progress as slower riders formed roadblocks when gradients kicked in. But I saw and heard very little testiness, and descending seemed controlled and disciplined. On reflection, this may be in the nature of the ride and the people that take it on. Unlike some of the more “accessible” sportives, climbs are for climbing, not walking.

The hours ticked by, the climbs ticked off: Blwch, Rhigos, Penderyn,
Heol Senni/ Devils Elbow. Past the 100-mile marker and up the Black
Mountain. And even when you think it’s all over, a couple of steep and spiteful inclines, then out of Neath and up Cimla. We’d stopped at the feed station just around 150km in, and from that point my head had gone. I’d seriously considered abandoning or joining the shorter Medio Fondo. But in the end, there was no real choice but to dig in and press on. We closed up and rode together for the last 20km, me just looking at the wheel in front and hating every meter climbed over the publicised 3000m, every kilometer that we hadn’t expected.

64005_DRA14_BYW_001681And then there we were; back in Margam Park. Other than having to stop when the guy in front fell off at the foot of the Devils Elbow, I’d
ridden the whole thing. My biggest ride ever at 226km, with a healthy
3650m of climbing (significantly more than the 2250m which was my
previous record). It felt good, and it still feels good – a real
achievement. Even though I know at least one local rider for whom the Welsh Dragon was a training ride for an even bigger adventure in the Alps, I’m satisfied. I wasn’t prepared for how tired I’d be, even a
fortnight after, or how hungry I’d be. But it feels, well, righteous.

I was surprised how far and hard I can/ one can go when the challenge
presents itself. I have learned to trust the turbo – it is my friend.
I have also learned to hate the sweetness of energy gels, bars and
drinks when you spend a day in the saddle. By contrast, I have
discovered that salted, boiled potatoes in their skins are as fine a
food as you can get. But to understand that, maybe you need to get
yourself signed on to next year’s Wiggle Welsh Dragon Gran Fondo :)

RI_2

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Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2 11 speed install and early riding impressions….

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of Di2 from the start and have watched it with interest. However other than a short go on a Shimano Dura Ace 9070 bike on a turbo trainer, I’ve never ridden it.

When I built up my new NeilPryde Nazare/Alize test bike recently, it seemed like the perfect moment to make the leap to Di2. After some conversations with a few people including the good folks at Madison, I had bought myself a Di2 groupset.

Excited to be making the leap to Di2!
Excited to be making the leap to Di2!

I thought it might be interesting for people to see a little about how Di2 is installed and setup, so I took my camera for the build and took some notes to share with you. I’m no mechanic so my observations are pretty general rather than an instructional guide.

Internal Junction box and wiring
Internal Junction box and wiring

The first thing done was to run the connecting cables for the gear shifting through the downtube from the stem to the bottom bracket where on my frameset the internal junction box runs. Then the wires from the junction box to the front and rear mechs were installed as was the one for my external battery under the non drive side chainstay. In fact choosing the cables to connect the mechs and battery are really the only “tricky” part of deciding what you need to order. You need a cable from the each shifter to the junction box under the stem. You then need a cable to run from the top junction box to the bottom bracket junction box. Then cables from the bottom bracket junction to the battery and the mechs. Shimano sell the cables in a range of lengths, so it’s a matter of getting your tape measure out and working out what lengths you need to connect everything together.

Front mech install...
Front mech install…

Installing a lot of the components is exactly the same as a mechanical build – the brakes and brake cables, the cranks and bottom bracket (I went for a Praxis Works conversion bottom bracket to run my Ultegra crank in a PF30 frame).

Praxis Works Conversion Bottom Bracket
Praxis Works Conversion Bottom Bracket

Also the chain and cassette and even the rear mech mounts the same way as a mechanical one. The front mech is slightly different as there is also a bracing plate and bolt to stop the mech twisting under the significant torque the motor generates shifting between the front rings.

External battery mount being attached and connected
External battery mount being attached and connected

Once everything is installed on the bike, it was connected to a laptop to ensure that all of the electronic components each had the latest firmware. It is possible that if they don’t due to different timings of manufacture that they won’t work right away – checking and updating the firmware makes sure they’re all using the same software version. The laptop interface also gives you the opportunity to adjust how the levers work in terms of speed of shift or which buttons shift which gears. I left everything as standard except increased the speed of the shifts. Once the software was all up to date, Jack from Madison then set up the gear shifting.

Firmware checks as part of the build process
Firmware checks as part of the build process

Setting up the front mech was done with both front and rear on the inside cogs (so small ring at the front and biggest cog at the back). A Di2 mech over shifts and then trims back when it goes up onto the big ring, so setting the limits correctly is key. Once this has been done properly – it should just shift perfectly on an ongoing basis and does on my bike.

Close up of the correctly mounted front mech
Close up of the correctly mounted front mech

With the rear mech, again setting the limit screws is the first thing to do and once this is good, the shifting itself is adjusted. To do this you move rear cassette into the 6th of 11 gears (i.e. the middle gear) and enter the adjustment mode using the junction box at the stem. This is then your digital barrel adjuster that has 12 micro adjustment points in each direction from the middle – so 25 points of adjustment.

Chain going on....
Chain going on….

Pressing the gear shifters adjusts the gear shift position either up or down a fraction allowing you to really fine tune the shifting. Once that bits sorted – it’s done. It’s a simple but clever design and I think 25 points of adjust for the digital barrel adjuster seems amazingly precise.

Di2 Rear mech prior to indexing adjustments
Di2 Rear mech prior to indexing adjustments

Obviously one of the great things about Di2 is no cable stretch – so the gear shifting should stay bang on. I’ve done around 350km now and it’s still perfect.  Fast, easy, silent and with a fantastic trimming noise from the front mech as you move across the cassette.

NeilPryde Alize/Nazare with Deda Zero100 stem and Di2 junction box
NeilPryde Alize/Nazare with Deda Zero100 stem and Di2 junction box

One piece of advice/warning I was given was that because of the power of the motors front and rear – NEVER press the gear shift button when you’re not riding as the motors are strong enough to bend the rear mech hanger or bend the front mech. So good practice is to remove the battery whenever you’re not riding it – if someone either accidentally or pushes a shift button or purpose it can do damage to your bike. The same goes for if you’re travelling somewhere in the car – if you go over a bump and your shift lever clicks on a gear – that can be a problem – so disconnect the battery. It’ll save you anguish, potentially cost and keep your gear shifting perfect.

During the setup of the gear shifting speed....
During the setup of the gear shifting speed….

Of course you have to then remember  where you put your battery! I haven’t lost mine yet (nearly but not quite).

NeilPryde Alize (Nazare) Di2 6870 front mech & cranks
NeilPryde Alize (Nazare) Di2 6870 front mech & cranks

Charging the battery took about an hour the first time. Charges should last up to 600km. I took my battery out after about 250km to charge it just in case and it took less than 30minutes to charge. It’s really not something to worry too much about. Obviously the more you change gear, the faster the battery will run down – bot you’ve got hundreds if not thousands of gear shifts per battery charge.

New Ultegra 6870 Di2 rear mech
New Ultegra 6870 Di2 rear mech

Di2 Riding impressions:

In action at the Wiggle UKCE Bournemouth Sportive
In action at the Wiggle UKCE Bournemouth Sportive

Out on the road so far it’s been a joy to use. It’s not pefect – nothing is but it’s very nice indeed. Your are literally just pressing a button to shift. There is some feedback through the button but that’s the bit that’s not quite perfect for me – unless you press the button just enough it doesn’t always shift and I’ve missed a few shifts as a result. If you’re resting your finger on the shift lever hitting a bump can mean you accidentally change gear – but in fairness that’s a problem I have with my Campagnolo Chorus shifters too. Maybe my lever’s are a touch off but if you click more firmly it works perfectly every time.  In the fast shift mode I’m using – the shifts are very quick – and perfect performed. The system trims itself as you move across the cassette meaning all 22 gears are perfectly usable – it also makes a cool noise as it trims which you and your riding companions will audibly hear! The front shift is impressive too and is fine under load – although I always try to lift off a bit shifting up on any bike I ride.

Having the gear shifting working so well also helps my bike run very quietly. Often riding with others when you get to a climb and people start lots of gear shifting to get to the right gear it can be quite noisy as chains clatter across cassettes but there’s none of that with Di2 – no clatter just smooth fast shifting. If you like a quiet bike – Di2 is the best thing I’ve found other than riding a steel bike for a quietness.

So apart from a few tiny niggles around the operation of the shift levers, I’m very, very impressed with Di2. Yes it’s not particularly cheap at roughly the same street price of Dura Ace 9000 mechanical but I suspect it’ll be both cheap to run (due to shifting better and looking after the chain cassette accordingly) and very reliable. This is the 4th generation of Shimano Di2 now, so it should be as reliable as any other high quality Japanese engineering!

It feels like a bit of an extravagance compared to say mechanical Ultegra 6800 which is really good too – but sometimes it’s nice to be able to have a treat and this one certainly is very cool as well as working beautifully. There are more bikes out there now with Di2, so it’s not perhaps the novelty it was say 12 months ago – but Di2 bikes still aren’t exactly everywhere.

Ultegra 6870 Di2 completed install
Ultegra 6870 Di2 completed install

My plan is for this to be a long term test, so I’ll keep riding it though the year and report in on any further findings.  If you have any questions, please let me know. Thanks for reading.

 

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First Look: Redant Precision bike cleaners for matt, carbon and titanium finishes

I was recently sent some samples of the new Redant Precision range of bike cleaners to try out and see what I thought of them. I met Vern from Redant back at the Core Bike Show and found his story of wanting to bring a car detailing approach and quality of product to bike cleaning a compelling one. If you’ve not ever noticed the car detailing market, it’s full of people who take amazing care in the cleaning and presentation of their vehicles, agonising over ingredients and combinations of products for the highest quality finish and clean. It’s way too OCD for me personally, but I admire their focus and dedication and this applies to the products they use as well as the end result.

Redant Carbon Fibre products are work best for painted finishes, carbon, steel or aluminium
Redant Carbon Fibre products are work best for painted finishes, carbon, steel or aluminium

The team behind Redant come from a background in chemistry and have taken a similarly focused approach to developing their products, making sure they both clean and protect your two wheeled pride and joy. Many of us have a lot invested in our bikes, so the idea of a top end cleaning system specifically formulated for the materials and paint finishes common to bikes is an interesting one. My bikes are amongst my most prized possessions so products like this are something I was definitely keen to check out. When you think of how many £5k+ or even £10k+ bikes you can buy now – you’ll want to take fantastically good care of them.

Redant have created a cleaner and a finishing agent for matt carbon frames, painted bike frames (carbon, steel or aluminium) and for titanium frames. I’ve been sent a set of each to try. The ingredients are designed to be safe for each type of frame finish, the cleaners are bio-degradable and the cleaners are designed to be sprayed all over your bike including the drivetrain, thanks to a degreasing agent as well. The cleaners are also PH neutral to ensure they’re kind to your frame. The frame protector finishing protects are also designed for each type of bike. For example the carbon/painted frame finish has a shine enhancer for paint finishes, whereas the matt finish one has a UV protector to help protect from the effects of the sun.

I waited until my new NeilPryde (http://girodilento.com/first-look-neilpryde-alizenazare-di2-aero-test-platform/) was built and getting dirty before trying the products out. I’ll also be using the carbon frame version on my painted steel Stoemper Taylör (http://girodilento.com/stoemper-taylor-build-and-first-look/) as Redant say that the carbon frame version of the products work well on any painted finish – including, steel & aluminium. Sadly I don’t have a titanium bike to test the Titanium version on – but two out of three should give me a pretty good perspective.

Redant Matt Finish cleaner & protector
Redant Matt Finish cleaner & protector

I’ve now used the Matt cleaning system twice on my NeilPryde. The first was a very quick clean in the garden at dusk where I sprayed the cleaner over the bike, left it for 3-4 minutes then hosed it off just with cold water and used a microfiber cloth to clean over the bike with. For a start to finish clean of 6-7 minutes I was really impressed with how easy it was.

Yesterday I did another clean on the same bike. I’d ridden it three times without cleaning for about 190km of riding. The bike definitely looked dirty, if not completely filthy.

Following the instructions, I sprayed the matt finish cleaner reasonably liberally over the bike and then set my phone timer for 5 minutes. With about 45 seconds of the timer left, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and began hosing the bike down with water. Again, I did this while wiping over the bike with a microfiber cloth. Just like the first clean, the dirt came off the bike incredibly easily.

From a first couple of goes with the matt finish cleaner, I’m very impressed. I’ll try out the carbon finish one next.

Yesterday, I also then finished the clean by applying the finishing agent, to protect the finish on my bike. It was also very easy to apply – simply sprayed onto the now clean bike onto all of the carbon parts. The frame protectors have a drying agent, so on a warm day it dryed very quickly. Once again I was wiping on the finish with a clean dry microfiber cloth to make sure it all went on evenly. Again it didn’t take long at all – but my bike looks great.

If you’d like more information, Redant are in the process of building a new website but they do have an active Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Redant-Precision/437463999719759

The products are in bike shops now and are distributed by i-Ride. I’ve checked and they’re in one of my local bike shops already. If you can’t see them in your local shop – just ask them.

 

Thanks for reading

On the 58 Aeros and my Stoemper Taylor riding the New Forest sportive recently

Wattbike Big Legs training update

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Wattbike training update. A lot of the reason for that is I’ve been too busy riding the Wattbike and getting out and doing some tough rides on the road. I had intended to write an update before Liege-Bastogne-Liege but with training, working and family life something had to give and I’m sorry to say it was this training update.

As you may know, I borrowed the Wattbike to help me train for Liege-Bastogne-Liege (LBL). The catch was that the Wattbike sportive programme is 16 weeks long and LBL was 8 weeks into the programme.

I’m just finishing week 10 of the plan now and am going to cover some of the highlights of the last 4-5 weeks in this update.

One of the many things that I’ve warmed to about the Wattbike is that it can help you get the specific training you need done in a relatively short amount of time each week, certainly less than riding on the road. Looking back at the last few months I’ve been doing 4-6hours a week including riding both inside and outside. Last year my target was 6-9hours a week.

I’ve been really busy recently and a great thing about the Wattbike is I can do my training on it and still be in the house with my family. Weekends away riding and working has been meaning I’ve been around less for my kids. When I am home at the moment I know I don’t have to get out on the bike to get some miles done- I can just ride indoors and still participate in family life (well more than disappearing down country lanes for hours).

My Wattbike training plan has still had a remarkable amount of zone 2 in the sessions and it’s been great watching my body slowly get the hang of putting out the power I’m supposed to be producing at a lower heart rate. If I’m tired or stressed it doesn’t help my heart rate, but the power is the power. Interestingly I’ve also noticed that the zone 2 session immediately after a hard ride or hard workout gives me a noticeably lower heart rate for my zone 2 power, which is great.
Looking back to the end of week three of the plan, I did a 100km ride with David Alvarez of Stoemper Bikes and really battled over the last 40km. It’s a loop I’ve done a few times and had ridden much better than this before. That ride made me worry about whether I could be fit in time for LBL but I put that to one side, trusted my Wattbike plan and kept knocking out the training hours. I had 5 weeks of training to go after all.

Towards the end of March, I rode another favourite loop with my friend Damien and although it was a great day out and a decent average speed of 28.4kmh, I felt I’d worked really hard – more than I would have thought for the speed.

So once again, I was worrying about LBL and the fact that I’d only be half way through the programme for the toughest ride I’d ever done.
Meanwhile I was slowly ticking off the weeks of training for the Wattbike plan. The plan I’m doing is one of Wattbike’s free training plans – the Sportive, level 4. I’m putting all of my sessions on Strava if you’re interested (but I don’t blame you if you’re not).

The next key ride to check my progress was at the Wiggle New Forest Sportive in early April:

I rode this with a friend (James) on a beautiful spring day. In fairness, it wasn’t the most gruelling of courses and James did more of his fair share on the front (I did ride on the front as you can see in the photo at the top, which is from the New Forest ride). This ride was great – I felt good all through the ride. James set a sensible early pace of just over 30kmh per hour, so we didn’t burn too many matches to begin with. We ended up averaging over 30kmh for the entire ride – something I’d only ever done once before on a ride in a group of about 8 guys. This was very encouraging and I certainly felt on this ride that the Wattbike training was showing a bit more – particularly in my ability to hold an effort for much longer than previously as some of the “intervals” I’m doing mean you ride and hold a specific intensity/pace (power level) for 3-4 minutes. This was a very good day indeed!

The next challenge after that was LBL itself and you’ve probably read my thoughts on it by now: http://girodilento.com/riding-liege-bastogne-liege-challenge-sportive/ To cut a long story short, once again I felt that the Wattbike had helped give me more endurance and more ability to ride at a higher tempo for less effort on both climbs and the flat. I’ve always been poor at riding on the flat but I seem to be doing it a bit better at the moment. As it turned out I did have the endurance I needed, which was fantastic but we weren’t out to set any speed records, which helps a lot too. I believe my Wattbike training was a key part of getting this ride done (not least of all as it’s been the core of my riding for the couple of months preceding).

I had an easy week after LBL as I felt too tired and too uninterested to ride. After that it was back into the Wattbike plan again and another great road ride at the Wiggle Jurassic Beast.

I rode with Paddy from Upgrade Bikes and he was keen to get round the short course as fast as possible. Paddy literally attacked right off the start line and my body didn’t like it at all. I found the first hour very hard going but did my best to keep up and take the occasional turn on the front. It was a mostly sunny morning for us – but with 25-30mph breezes, it was very windy! For the first third of the ride we averaged comfortably over 30kmh but that was before the climbs and before a big dose of the headwinds. I climbed well enough and after about 40 minutes into the ride I was doing better, my legs were hurting less and I was able to keep pace with Paddy a touch easier. It was still hard though but all the better for it.

Last year we did the same ride with David from Stoemper, so there were three of us in a chaingang and it wasn’t nearly as windy. Last year we were also 30 seconds faster around the 58km course and I think Paddy and I rode very well in 2014 to get that close. A hard ride but a great ride and one that reminded me that keeping up the Wattbike training is extremely important.

I’ve only one more ride to do in week 10 and that’ll be an outside ride on local roads this weekend with my mate Warren, who’s the fastest rider I ride with. Riding with Warren will be good fun and will give me a useful feeling for how I’m really doing. Doing a bunch of rides away from home is fantastic but I feel that I need a good local ride or two now to check my progress against. That opportunity is now upon me and I’ll report back.

I think the Wattbike is a brilliant piece of kit, it’s really transformed my view on training. Training with power (as well as heart rate) means I just concentrate on getting the work done in my programme for each session. I know if I do that, I’ll make progress.
If I get too tired after a tough week, I have taken an easy week where I do half the training volume to get some rest. Getting my main training sessions done indoors during the week also means I can simply get out and enjoy my ride on a weekend without giving training a second thought. That’s great too.
As I said earlier, I also like the fact that I can do my training at home whilst my kids/wife are around.

Training with a power meter is a great thing and I’m enjoying the Wattbike so much as it cancels out variables like, terrain, windspeed, temperature, traffic etc that I can’t imagine owning a power meter to ride on the road. It suddenly seems like solving the wrong problem. Considering I spent about the cost of the Wattbike (perhaps more) on my last winter training bike (the Kinesis GF_Ti v2) and that a really good power meter is well over £1k – I don’t even think the £2k asking price on a Wattbike is that bad (aside from the fact I don’t have £2k right now).

I’m very fortunate in that I have a couple of terrific summer bikes. When it rains at the moment, I don’t even think about using one of them – I just do another session on the Wattbike. I can really see that for me – the Wattbike might be my perfect winter training bike.
Perhaps, I’m still in the honeymoon period? I’ll keep training and let’s find out in my next update.

Thanks for reading.

If you’d like to findout more about the Wattbike, please visit their site here: https://wattbike.com/uk/

P.S. I’m sure my legs have grown (thickness) since I’ve been training by Wattbike, so that’s where the title comes from

UPDATED: 18/05/14

I had a great ride with my friend Warren on Saturday morning and as I’d hoped it was perfect reflection point with my progress.  Warren’s riding better than I have ever seen him manage before and he’s reaping the rewards from training on his turbo at least a couple of times a week if not more for the last 4 years or so. We did one of the more challenging loops we ride. Weather conditions were pretty much perfect: warm, dry and only a little breeze.  I didn’t sleep well the night before, which isn’t ideal but can and does happen to us all sometimes.

For me it was a 114km ride including 1622m of climbing. According to Strava, I had 21 Personal Best segment times on the ride and I averaged 28.2kmh. The previous fastest average I’ve had from three goes at that loop was 26.2kmh. I rode particularly well on the flatter parts of the ride but struggled as the climbs got steeper. I felt like I’d lost my climbing legs but looking at the data, even where I’d not set a personal best, I was generally riding at a pace that was towards my best times on almost every segment. It was a bit deceiving at the time as Warren is riding so well, he was leaving me behind easily on all of the climbs, so I thought I was doing worse than I actually was. I still don’t feel like I’m riding at my best – or close to it but there’s no doubt to me anyway, some solid progress is being made. Given that since February the Wattbike has been how I’ve trained, I have to conclude it’s delivering results. I don’t think it’s a leap to think that if I keep following instructions more progress will follow? I’ll keep training and report back.

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Bellitanner bib shorts and jersey first ride review

Bellitanner is a brand that probably isn’t familiar to you. It’s a young German brand created by long time bike industry veteran and ex-pro cyclist Roger Tanner. Roger also runs the Pearl bicycle brand. Bellitanner was set up initially to build a range of fixie style bikes and one of his bikes: the New Yorker won a Bikeradar Best in Show Award at Eurobike in 2013 (http://www.bikeradar.com/road/gallery/article/bikeradars-best-in-show-eurobike-2013-38176/6/) It’s a very cool design, so it was a good winner.

Stylish Bellitanner summer jersey from the front
Stylish Bellitanner summer jersey from the front

Bellitanner is in the process of expanding their product range to include clothing and they very kindly sent me an early pair of their new bib shorts and jersey to get out and ride in. Both the bib shorts and the jerseys will be available to order directly from the Bellitanner website initially and the intention behind the product is to create products of a high quality without necessarily a high end price.

I’ve been riding the shorts in particular over the last month both indoors on the  Wattbike and also out on the road (mostly under tights as it’s still been pretty cool).

Modelling the Bellitanner outfit - front view
Modelling the Bellitanner outfit – front view

I ride a medium and I’ve found the sizing of both the shorts and the jersey very good – they’re race cut but not a super thin Italian style fit – they’re definitely slim fitting but in a good way.

The construction of the shorts seems good and they feel like they should last well. The seams inside the shorts I’ve been sent aren’t flat locked but I can’t say I’ve noticed this particularly as a comfort issue. The white upper fabric is a touch stiff to the touch compared to some other brands, but it holds it’s position on the bike fine. The pad is comfortable and generous in its thickness – to me it’s perhaps a bit thicker than I’d have personally specified and it feels a bit bulky when you’re off the bike. You can also feel the extra thickness of the pad you’re riding and it increases comfort but it does isolate you a little from the feeling of the road – which could be good or bad, depending on your point of view.

Bellitanner bib shorts pad and stitching detail
Bellitanner bib shorts pad and stitching detail

Most of the bib shorts I’ve ridden in recent years have tended to have quite a thin multi-density pad so the extra thickness of these shorts has been a noticeable difference. My early impressions are that these are a decent short but they won’t knock my favourites at this price point off their perch (http://girodilento.com/capo-pursuit-bib-shorts-review/). As I mentioned though, these are early samples and the design and materials may well evolve (or may have since I was sent these). Where they’ve been best for me so far is on the Wattbike for longer sessions, where I find I get pretty uncomfortable after an hour. These shorts thanks to the thicker pad definitely help on sessions over an hour long (it still hurts though).

Bellitanner Bib shorts - upper detail
Bellitanner Bib shorts – upper detail

The jersey again is a well sized garment with a good shape and the fabric used feels good to the touch. I really like the shade of blue as well and as an outfit (bib shorts and jersey) they look smart (to me anyway). It’s a summer weight fabric and in the few times I’ve tried it before it’s warmed up too much, I know it’s a jersey I’ll wear regularly in the months to come. As you can see from the pictures, the construction is relatively straightforward: three pockets at the rear, one with a zip. There is some venting around the under arms as well for breathability.

Inside the Bellitanner jersey, some stitching and breathability around armpits detail
Inside the Bellitanner jersey, some stitching and breathability around armpits detail

I don’t have an enormous amount of technical details about fabrics and pad manufacturer, so in the meantime I’m getting out and riding them to see how they wear. Both garments are made for Bellitanner by a relatively new cycling clothing company RH77, who I know Roger from Bellitanner has a strong relationship with.

Jersey rear view with pockets alongside bib shorts
Jersey rear view with pockets alongside bib shorts

Pricing for the bibshorts is expected to be Euro 135 or about £110 and the jersey is priced at Euro 79 or about £65.

If you’d like to find out more, you can visit the Bellitanner website at http://bellitannerbikes.com/

Thanks for reading.

Outfit rear view
Outfit rear view
Ultegra 6870 Di2 completed install

First look: NeilPryde Alize/Nazaré Di2 aero test platform

One of the best bikes I’ve ever owned was my original NeilPryde Alize aero bike. I bought it when I worked with the brand as UK agent when they first arrived in the UK. It was also a great bike to test aero wheels on, like the review I wrote on the Reynolds Forty Six wheels a while back (http://girodilento.com/reynolds-forty-six-clincher-wheelset-review-or-how-i-learned-to-love-cheating/). Sadly financial pressures meant I had to sell that bike last year and it was a very reluctant sale and one I immediately regretted.

Discussions with a few different people in the bike industry in the months following and it became clear that for blogging and review purposes it made a lot of sense to try and get another one – especially as I’d spent so much time on my old one making it a frameset I knew very well for reviewing components on. Take aero wheels for example – it makes more sense to test them on an aero bike as well as my steel Stoemper Taylör, particularly as most people will put them on a carbon bike.

NeilPryde Alize (Nazare) Di2 6870 front mech & cranks
NeilPryde Alize (Nazare) Di2 6870 front mech & cranks

After a few discussions, my friends at NeilPryde found a frameset that they could help me out with. With the frameset safely stashed in my office I got to thinking about gruppos. Even after 3,000+ km on Campagnolo on my Stoemper, I’m a Shimano guy and I’ve been very keen to try out Di2 for sometime. Given that Ultegra 6870 had just been released, it’s the one I set my heart on and the good folks at Madison helped me make that a reality. They were even kind enough to build it up for me (there’s a blog to come on that). The only non-Shimano part I’m using is the Praxis Works conversion bottom bracket to allow me to run the new Ultegra crank (I’ve gone for 52/36) with the Alize’s PF30 bottom bracket (http://praxiscycles.com/conversion-bb/).

NeilPryde Alize/Nazare complete
NeilPryde Alize/Nazare complete

The Alize I have is the 2013 model year in matt black. It has some improvements over my original bike so it’ll be good to see how they work out. I rode 4,000km on my old one and I’m hoping I can notice the difference. The changes include changing from BSA to PF30 bottom bracket, which drops some weight and makes it easier to manufacture. The dropouts are now carbon. It’s now dual compatible with mechanical and Di2 groupsets. The headtube area has been stiffened following requests from the UHC who loved the frameset but wanted a little less weight and a bit more stiffness in the front end without sacrificing the compliance at the rear. I’m also curious to see if this new and improved bike can still run 28mm tyres like the old one could. All of the changes should have made what I already think is an excellent bike, just a little better. Time will tell. I may even get a TT seatpost for it. Maybe.

NeilPryde Alize/Nazare with Deda Zero100 finishing kit and Lizard Skins tape
NeilPryde Alize/Nazare with Deda Zero100 finishing kit and Lizard Skins tape

For the finishing kit, I’ve stuck with some personal favourites as the base point: Deda Zero 100 bars and stem. I love these Deda bars, so they’re a great starting point. Obviously I hope to swap them off to try and review others in time – but they’re the base case. The bar tape is my first time to try Lizard Skins highly regarded product and I have the 2.5mm version on the Alize (Nazaré). I’ve been given one of the new Pro Turnix saddles to try and that’s on the bike – they’re a new product, are very light and the one I have is the 132mm width.

New Pro Turnix Saddle
New Pro Turnix Saddle

Rounding it out is a set of fabulous Reynolds Aero 58’s including the new Cryo-Blue Power brake pads, which promise big gains in braking performance. I’ve just ridden these wheels at Liege-Bastogne-Liege on my Stoemper with the old pads, so I’m looking forward to trying the new ones out. Tyres are another old favourite now: Michelin Pro 4 Service Course in 25mm. I love 25mm tyres and I like race tyres and I find these both fast and comfortable.

Reynolds Aero 58s and Cryo-Blue Power pads look fantastic
Reynolds Aero 58s and Cryo-Blue Power pads look fantastic

I think the build looks fantastic and I can’t wait to try it out. I’ve been busy since it’s been built up so I’ve only ridden up and down my street (in my jeans and boat shoes) to make sure the Di2 gears didn’t get knocked in the car on the way here. They seem fine and this weekend it’ll get it’s first ride at the Wiggle Jurassic beast – just on the short course. I may even dust my UHC Pro Cycling jersey off for the ride if the weather plays ball (not looking enormously likely).

NeilPryde Alize/Nazare with Deda Zero100 stem and Di2 junction box
NeilPryde Alize/Nazare with Deda Zero100 stem and Di2 junction box

I’ll be doing a long term test on Di2 and will also write a review on the Alize/Nazaré which I didn’t do on my old one as I was working with NeilPryde and I didn’t think it was a fair thing to do as I had a commercial interest in saying great things about it. I really, loved the bike but didn’t review it. Now I have no such commercial interest and will write a review but I’d be shocked if NeilPryde had dropped the ball with it. I’m expecting it to be very good still – perhaps a touch more race bike than before.

Ultegra 6800 brakes have been highly praised - looking forward to trying them out
Ultegra 6800 brakes have been highly praised – looking forward to trying them out

The great thing for me about changing to Shimano 11 speed on the NeilPryde is that now things are more interchangeable with my Stoemper which is 11 speed Campagnolo. I’ve been running the Aero 58’s on both bikes using an Ultegra 6800 cassette. My Campagnolo Chorus just needed a barrel adjuster tweak and it’s been working very, very well.

IMG_6974The complete bike as you see here, sans bottle cages and pedals is 7.4kgs which is pretty respectable for a bike with 58mm deep carbon clinchers on it.

I also have some Rolf wheels here to try and again they’ll be run on both bikes starting shortly.

New Ultegra 6870 Di2 rear mech
New Ultegra 6870 Di2 rear mech

Actually, the only things I’m missing are new bottle cages, perhaps a Garmin Outfront mount (thanks to the Di2 junction box under the stem) and maybe new pedals – also made of carbon to match. Minor details and not ones that’ll stop me from getting riding.

IMG_6981Thanks for reading.

More information here:

http://www.neilprydebikes.com/bikes/nazare/overview.html

http://cycle.shimano-eu.com/publish/content/global_cycle/en/nl/index/components/road/ultegra_6870.html

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First look: Bontrager 2014 – soft goods range highlights…

On a recent visit to Trek UK as well as spending time talking about bikes and racing and all kinds of stuff, we spent some time talking about Bontrager.

Bontrager might be a brand that you think is simply the finishing kit on a Trek bike and whilst that is undoubtedly true, you may not realise that the company is now putting as much R&D into the Bontrager range of products as they do into bikes. I didn’t to be honest, but it was a very interesting thought – especially when I reflected on the fact that I believe Trek have been doing some fantastic product development on their new bikes for the last few years.

Trek are a company that fascinates me in many ways, they have a well-deserved reputation of quality for their bike lines (ask anyone in the bike trade) but they’ve not been  a company (if you leave the whole Lance thing to one side) that has typically marketed themselves as loudly, boldly or aggressively as some of their competitors.

What they do like to do is look at the science behind the products from design, to materials and how best to bring them together and they’ve now significantly upped their game on this aspect of the Bontrager soft goods range.

Take saddles as an example: Trek/Bontrager has spent time researching physiology for saddle design with a white paper on this you can download and read if you wish on their website. This kind of rigour is being applied across the product range and part of the logic behind Trek Factory Racing is to combine the science with the pounding that the pro riders give the products – not to mention their fussiness about what they like and don’t like. This logic was used by Cervelo with the Cervelo Test Team but Trek with Bontrager have a much, much bigger range of products to test and trial with their pro teams.

Another interesting thing about the approach with Bontrager is that for all of this investment they are making in science, design, materials and testing, they’re not look at charging premium prices, which is very interesting for us recreational riders and something I find personally compelling.

So after talking through a range of the products, I’ve been lucky enough to be given a few to try and share my thoughts on and they are as follows:

Bontrager Paradigm RL Saddle retail £89.99

Bontrager Paradigm RL saddle
Bontrager Paradigm RL saddle

This is a mid-range saddle in terms of market pricing, but was recommended as being comfortable and a good all-round saddle. I went to the medium of the three widths and have put it on my Stoemper, replacing a Prologo Scratch Pro. The first thing I noticed was that the Bontrager saddle was lighter than the Prologo 220gms versus 250. I boldly went for a 100km initial ride and that was a bit of a challenge for my backside. However, it did break the saddle in as on each subsequent ride I’ve felt more and more comfortable. I’m now very happy on the saddle. It’s a good looking piece of kit to me as well  with a clean and modern design. It’s also a good price point and so far after a few hundred kilometres on board, I can’t see a reason why you shouldn’t check this particular model out if you’re looking to try a different saddle.  I’m certainly very happy and am not thinking of taking it off my bike.  I must confess though to having some minor saddle sores after 170+km at Liege Bastogne Liege but that was my longest day ever on a bike.

Bontrager Paradigm RL Saddle
Bontrager Paradigm RL Saddle

http://www.bontrager.com/model/09860

A link to purchase from Evans Cycles: http://tidd.ly/eb6a5910

Bontrager Race Thermal Bibshorts £74.99 retail

Bontrager Race Thermal Bib Shorts from the front
Bontrager Race Thermal Bib Shorts from the front

When we were talking about garments to try, Chris from Trek was positively glowing in her praise of these shorts. I hate the cold, so the thought of some shorts with a thermal fabric seemed like a winner for the spring (and autumn). Again I was told how much effort is going into the design, fabrics and pads in the design of these products but without seeking to charge exorbitant prices. After riding in these shorts a few times now, I have to say I share Chris’s enthusiasm. I would go so far to say that these are the best shorts I’ve ever ridden for less than £100 retail – they really are terrific. The thermal Profila fabric that Bontrager use on these in these bib shorts feels fantastic to the touch – really nice. The pad in the shorts is also very, very good and again I’d say the best pad I’ve ridden for under £100. The fit is excellent, the seams are all flatlock stitched around the pad and legs (not on the upper and straps) and they seem very well finished. I’ve been wearing them a lot and they are holding up well to regular use and washing.

Bontrager Race Thermal Bib Shorts - rear view
Bontrager Race Thermal Bib Shorts – rear view

So far, I can’t see a reason why these shouldn’t go straight to the top of your shopping list. I think they’re a fantastic buy for £75 and I can see that I might need more of these in my wardrobe. It’s also got me wondering about some of the other bib shorts in the range. I’d call these a star buy (if I had such a rating system). The Race Thermal bibs were also my choice for riding Liege-Bastogne-Liege and I was happy all day in them.

Bontrager Race Thermal Bib Shorts Pad
Bontrager Race Thermal Bib Shorts Pad

http://www.bontrager.com/model/09692

 

Bontrager RXL 180 Softshell Jacket £89.99

Bontrager RXL 180 Softshell Jacket
Bontrager RXL 180 Softshell Jacket

This garment is perfect for spring and autumn riding. It’s long sleeved, with a windproof front but not back, so it breathes and lets you vent heat through the back of the garment. If you know your Castelli range, it’s similar in concept to the Trasparente jersey (but the Bontrager one is £50 cheaper). It’s not a winter jacket but it’s a jersey for changeable conditions. I’ve unintentionally ridden in this down to just under 5 degrees with a winter base layer and been fine (whilst riding) and I’ve also gotten it wrong and ridden in it on a day the temperatures got up to 18 degrees and it was a bit hot. However because it has a full length zip, it’s reasonably easy to regulate the temperature. The sleeves on the jersey feature cuffs that go over your fingers, which is great when it’s cooler and they enhance the transition between your sleeve and your gloves. For warmer days, you could possibly do without gloves and ride using the cuffs on your handlebars.

Bontrager RXL 180 Softshell jacket rear view & Bontrager Velocis helmet
Bontrager RXL 180 Softshell jacket rear view & Bontrager Velocis helmet

The windproof front of the jersey works extremely well at allowing you to keep warmer in a medium weight garment and I think it’s a terrific product. The fabric’s not particularly thick but because it blocks the wind it doesn’t need to be. Riding at a reasonable tempo and it seems to manage heat pretty well at temperatures lower than I thought I’d be able to comfortably ride in. It’s an excellent autumn and spring garment that might even work in the winter if you run hot.

The styling is a little conservative but again it’s modern, well thought through, has reflective bits and the colour works well with any black lycra bib shorts. Yes, it’s a little more restrained than if the Italian’s had designed it but it’s a garment that looks good and is well made and a pleasure to wear.

I have to be honest and say it’s another garment, I’ve really fallen for. For those days where you don’t want to ride in arm warmers, it’s a great product and again at a good price for the quality and performance you get. I really like this.

http://www.bontrager.com/model/11343

A link to purchase from Evans Cycles (it’s on sale at the time of posting): http://tidd.ly/cdf750b0

Bontrager Velocis helmet £159.99 retail

A good shot of the Bontrager Velocis helmet at work on the bike (from LBL)
A good shot of the Bontrager Velocis helmet at work on the bike (from LBL)

The Velocis is Bontrager’s new top of the range road helmet and has been designed with input from and is ridden by Trek Factory racing. Whilst it’s far from a lightweight price – it’s a competitive price compared with other top of the range offerings.

It was designed to meet the requirements of the race team and it features an accessory suggested by Jens Voigt no less – a detachable, cap style peak that velcros on to the front of the helmet but because it’s just a peak – doesn’t compromise ventilation through the top of the helmet.

Bontrager Velocis Helmet
Bontrager Velocis Helmet

The mounting system is intuitive and effective for adjusting and it only took about 15 seconds to perfect the fit for me. According to Bontrager the new composite inner skeleton used in the design allows them to create bigger vents and keep the weight down. It’s light at 200gms (on my scales), which is less than advertised and unusally Bontrager offers a free replacement crash guarantee in your first year of ownership, which is something I hope to not need! The styling is very modern, with a relatively flat profile and as far as helmets go – I think it looks great on.  From asking around (in the trade), it seems that it’s a helmet that is deservedly pro level in its quality, design and fit.  The padding system works well and I’ve been comfortable in it in all of the riding conditions I’ve tried so far. I have used Jen’s peak and the thing I particularly like about it is that it’s very easy to put on or off as the light changes. Because it’s compact it doesn’t take up much more room in your pocket than a gel, so I’ve found myself riding with it more often than I thought – it just adds a touch of versatility that I hadn’t thought I’d appreciate. I’m thoroughly enjoying the Velocis and it’s definitely my go to helmet now and I rate it as better than my old S-Works which was my best helmet.

Here’s a link to the product info:  http://www.bontrager.com/model/11626

A link to purchase from Evans Cycles: http://tidd.ly/10f9cedb

So from trying four different types of the latest Bontrager kit, there’s not one I wouldn’t recommend or buy with my own money.  These are well designed, well made products, that are reasonably priced that are all performing exactly as I’d hoped if not better. I have every confidence they should wear well and continue to perform at a high level and honestly I reckon it’s time to make sure Bontrager is on your list for soft goods. Bontrager has gotten serious about their range of products, bringing science, R&D and attention to detail to them and they should absolutely go on your shortlist. The 2014 range is very good and it should only continue to improve.

Thanks for reading and apologies for the less than perfect photos – I wasn’t home before dark when getting this post ready. I will replace them as I can.

A good shot of the Bontrager Velocis helmet at work on the bike (from LBL)

Riding the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Challenge sportive

Last year I rode my first Spring Classic sportive at the Tour of Flanders (http://girodilento.com/the-tour-of-flanders-from-the-gutter/)

It was a fantastic experience in which amongst other things I learnt about riding on cobbles (by doing it mostly quite badly). Almost before I’d finished my post ride beer in Flanders, I was wondering which of the remaining four other Spring Classics I should be targeting next .

After some discussion with my friend David Alvarez at Stoemper bikes, who has a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of all five Classics, we decided on Liege-Bastogne-Liege (LBL).

It was the winner for a number of reasons. I wanted less cobbles next time, so Roubaix was out. I like rolling hills and great views and I wanted to choose a ride that perhaps your average cycling fan might not.  In fairness, that criteria could have almost equally applied to Amstel Gold and I can’t really tell you why LBL won, other than it’s the oldest of them and “La Doyenne” – but it did.

Last year David and I invited Dave Arthur from Road.cc to join us for Flanders to try out a Stoemper on the cobbles and we had a such a good time we invited Dave to join us again for another adventure.

Dave and I drove over to David’s house in Belgium on the Thursday evening before the ride and got to enjoy Brussels traffic at rush hour as we crawled along the motorways that surround the Belgian capital. By going on Thursday we had an easy Friday including a relatively short 30ish km shakedown ride in 24 degrees and sunshine – hardly spring classics weather but extremely welcome.

Our leisurely Friday spilled over onto the Saturday morning as we debated how late we could sleep in before we had to get up and still make the ride, largely because I am the antithesis of a morning person.

sportograf-47200177LBL is a much smaller sportive in terms of numbers than Flanders. Flanders is now limited to 16,000 riders and sells out in advance – my guess is that LBL had about half that number and most of them seemed to be looking for a car park when we got there to do the same.

Signing on at LBL - efficient and easy
Signing on at LBL – efficient and easy

We hadn’t registered in advance but signing up was fantastically efficient and easy. As was getting out and starting the ride apart from a bit of squeeze rolling out of the gateway and into the road to begin.

And we're off
And we’re off

As with Flanders last year – I didn’t really know what I was riding into apart from a lot of hills and climbing. I knew we were doing 167km but I didn’t know how many meters of climbing that would bring. My previous record for the most climbing was about 1850m. My previous longest ride was Flanders at just over 130km. I was expecting both of these records to be broken….

In the first few meters of the ride ... looking a touch nervous
In the first few meters of the ride … looking a touch nervous

After about 15km we got to the 0 kilometre board which confused me (not hard) but it was simply where the pro race started from after the neutral zone. The ride till that point had really been all about trying to exit Liege and if you’ve watched the race on TV, you’ll know it’s not the most attractive of French cities.

The route card we were given at registration showed seven categorised climbs for the 167km route. As we left Liege and began a climb, David was quick to point out that this wasn’t one of them. In fact we’d climbed over 800m before we hit the first “official” climb. For the first 50kms or so I rode pretty well. The speed and standard of the riders in Belgium was very high but the three of us were covering ground at a decent speed without going mad and chasing faster groups – it was going to be a long day out after all and for us it was a social ride above all.

All was going well until somewhere between say 50 and 90km where I had a proper mental wobble and started to worry about whether I would be able to complete the course. The number of meters we had climbed was ticking up fast but most of the categorised climbs were in the second half. I was starting to wonder how much climbing really was in front of me – was it 3,000m, 4,000, or even 5,000? Given the most I’d climbed on a ride was substantially less than any of the amounts, they all felt like a huge jump. Especially when you consider I was also going to ride 30-40km more than I had ever managed before. As any of you reading this blog will have noticed, I had been using a Wattbike for training (and it’s been great but the longest session I’d done was 90minutes) and I’d only managed to get half way through my 16 week programme. This was weighing on my mind too. Add in the fact that I was descending gingerly on faster sweeping roads than I’d ridden before and losing contact with Dave and David each time and I was finding all of these thoughts snowballing into genuine concern about my ability to complete the ride.

I felt worst about 70km in where I thought there could still be up to 110km to ride and a lot of climbing (maybe). The two Davids seemed to be riding well but definitely noticed my change in body language and general demeanour (mental note: don’t take up Poker).

It was around this point that David suggested we do an extra climb – the Cote de Stockeu. I moaned a bit about this and said I was happy to give it a miss but was talked around – reluctantly. David’s logic was impeccable: the Stockeu is an iconic climb – complete with the statue of Eddy Merckx at the top. It is also pretty, bloody steep at 1.1km long with an average gradient of 10.5% but it kicks to over 20%.

sportograf-47215902Now that I have ridden it I have to say it’s a pretty cool climb and that David was right. You climb up and into the trees and each time the road kinks it seems to kick up steeper. Dave Arthur shot off and attacked as it was a timed climb and disappeared almost in the blink of an eye and he went on to do this on all of the special timed climbs.

Dave Arthur "attacks" at some point or another & I fail to notice
Dave Arthur “attacks” at some point or another & I fail to notice
Here's Dave still "attacking" & I still haven't noticed ;-)
Here’s Dave still “attacking” & I still haven’t noticed ;-)

The next climb we got to was the Côte de la Haute Levee, which is 3.5km at an average grade of 5.6% and a maximum of 12%. Not long after that was the Côte du Rosier which is a bit higher average gradient at 5.7% and a kilometre longer at 4.5km. Rosier is just that bit steeper and is harder to maintain pace on but it’s still a very picturesque climb through the trees on a quiet road.  The other great thing for me about getting to the top of the Rosier – was that it meant we were over half way round and I was starting to feel a bit better again. Not awesome, but better and there were “only” 4 of the 7 categorized climbs left to ride.

sportograf-47234141It got still better at that point, from the Rosier there was almost 30km of mostly riding downhill. During that there was also a wonderful section along a river where David and Dave sat on the front and dragged along a peloton that started with 4 of us and finished at about 60 riders – none of whom wanted to jump off the front. So we all rode together at about 35kmh, which was a fantastic way to tick off a chunk of miles.

Having a quiet contemplative moment on my own ...
Having a quiet contemplative moment on my own …

The next climb to come was the famous Côte de la Redoute. It’s another tough one but it’s fantastic too – lots of painted names on the road (mostly for Philipe Gilbert and he had a party tent half way up for his fans with a big screen outside). It was also my first time riding through all the camper vans like you see during the Tour. Redoute had dozens of them on the climb up and plenty of their occupants were at the roadside cheering us all on, which was also great. Dave Arthur once again danced off up the climb like Contador, whilst David and I, shall we say, took a more measured approach ;-)

Looking "focused" on Redoute - it's also my FFS face
Looking “focused” on Redoute – it’s also my FFS face

From the top of Redoute there was also less than 30miles to go and that felt like a good moment. Whilst I didn’t realise it at the time, we’d also done all of the biggest and hardest climbs. I popped one of my last two energy gels at that point having decided to use them as encouragement at the 50km and 25km to go points. Of course at every food stop I’d been eating the waffles because …. well you have to.

Once we got back to Liege, it was a blast to recognise some of the industrial buildings and the town’s football stadium as we rode past sights I’d only previously seen on TV.

The last climb of the day was another of those iconic ones from the pro race, the Côte de Saint Nicolas – which winds its way up through a poor neighbourhood in Liege. The climb is only 1000m long but averages 11.1% and tops out at 17% and that’s not easy with the best part of 100miles in your legs. Even though we were riding up it late in the afternoon, there were plenty of kids out waving and shouting “allez, allez” at us, which was wonderful and helped put a smile on your face while battling along in your granniest of gears.

One more draggy climb up the straight road that Dan Martin crashed at the top of on the Sunday. When we rode it, there was plenty of motor traffic, as well as lots of bikes trying to finish the ride. This mixture also included a bus stopping and starting as we rode up – it wasn’t ideal but it was the last bit, so it was fine.

At the finish line!
At the finish line!

We rolled down a hill into the start and finish area and all felt delighted to complete a fantastic ride and to tick off another Spring classic sportive. We gave the event numbers back off our bikes (converting each into €5 for beers), collected our medal, got our free t-shirts, then frites and a celebratory beer each (in a glass we could take home as a keepsake). Hands were shaken, backs were slapped and there were lots of smiles.

I had ridden the last 50km really well and felt great at the end – like I could have carried on riding – but I was glad I didn’t have too. We’d all ridden well and I’d learned a few more lessons and things for the future. Like working out exactly how much climbing I’ll be doing for example.

I’m particularly delighted to have done my first 100m ride at such a special place. I take a bit of extra confidence from the amount of climbing on the ride – especially as we’d ridden sensibly enough that I didn’t feel wrecked at the end.

I still get a kick out of seeing those Mavic cars on rides I'm doing
I still get a kick out of seeing those Mavic cars on rides I’m doing

LBL had also given me my first proper taste of fast sweeping descents and I had a learning curve on these. For the first half of the ride, I descended like my grandmother would, nervous about the braking power on the fantastic Reynolds Aero 58’s I had on my bike for the day. I got better as the day progressed and am looking forward to the next time already. LBL also showed me I need to spend more time learning to ride with a group – I’m not happy to sit on someone’s wheel if I don’t know them and even when I do I’m not close enough. Hayfever had given me lots of issues with pollen/grit in my eyes and that was annoying. On the plus side I rode much better on the flat parts than I had before, which I think the Wattbike has definitely helped. On the few cobbled sections, I rode them much, much better than last year, which was really pleasing. The locals who rode the ride were very good. I’ve never been passed so much in my life, including by plenty of women and I was delighted to see so many women riding. I was particularly impressed by the number of people climbing fast in the big ring in the last third of the ride – both male and female.

Learning to descend round sweeping high speed corners having long been dropped
Learning to descend round sweeping high speed corners having long been dropped

As someone who moans a lot about the dangerous driving of many British drivers, it was disappointing to see plenty of equally awful Belgian driving. The roads for the sportive had a lot more cars on them than I remember at Flanders. Rider behaviour was generally very good though.

If you like the idea of doing a spring classics ride but aren’t so keen on cobbles – do put Liege Bastogne Liege on your list – it’s a fantastic ride. If you want a really big challenge – do the full 279 in a day and climb the best part of 5,000m. A lot of people did and I take my hat off to them. I think the LBL course is a more interesting one than Flanders if you’re doing the full course as the first 100km of Flanders isn’t the most interesting but they’re both brilliant days out. We were lucky with the weather – summer clothing and sunburn.

I've got one of those!
I’ve got one of those!

We were all happy and a bit tired on Saturday evening. We agreed to not go too crazy on Sunday morning, so rather than chasing the race all day we opted to go to a restaurant across the road from the La Choufe brewery – had a large lunch and some of the fine beer and only then went to see the race.

We drove to the Côte de la Redoute and positioned ourselves on a bend just near the Philipe Gilbert party tent. We arrived about half an hour before the riders, cheered them as they went past, then sat on the grass and watched the rest of the race on the big screen that was probably the only one for miles around.

No idea who the locals favourite was ....
No idea who the locals favourite was ….

It was a terrific end to a fantastic weekend. I’m already wondering which one to go for next year. I quite fancy doing Flanders again, but Amstel Gold might be fun too.

Thanks for reading!

My Strava for the day is here if you’re interested:

A nice shot of someone getting to the top of Redoute
A nice shot of someone getting to the top of Redoute