Riding in Wales with Madison

Sometimes it’s better not to know the route you’re riding in advance. Sometime’s knowing might put you off and you could miss out on something special.

About 8 weeks ago I was lucky enough to get an email from the PR department at major UK cycling distributor Madison, inviting me to join them for a ride in Wales.

Obviously I said yes and waited patiently for further info. When that came the week before the ride, further details were sparse. Be in Rhyader, Wales for 10am on Thursday morning and be ready for a 4-5 hour ride. We’ll provide the kit, so see you then.

After six months off my bike last year thanks to a back injury, I’m still rebuilding my fitness. However I had just recently finished a training plan and had made some solid progress. I figured that 4 to 5 hours would probably be around 100km and I’d managed that recently for the first time in a year at the Puncheur Sportive. So I thought, I should be ok to ride around that distance again in Wales with a bunch of road cycling journalists.

I had a good drive up to Rhyader the evening before the ride. Most of my time in Wales has been dominated by pouring rain and grey skies but this time the weather was stunning. As an expat-Kiwi, driving deeper into Wales made me think of home a little but I was loving the Welsh scenery and positively looking forward to getting out on a bike to enjoy it.

Madison had arranged a 2 day event with a mountain bike ride on day one to be followed by the roadies on day two. You can imagine my surprise to see George and some of his colleagues from Road Cycling UK on the Mountainbike ride. What were they thinking! (just kidding). It’s always good to see familiar faces like George and Oli from Bikeradar. The bike industry has a lot of great people to go riding with and generally hang out with, which was another highlight of this adventure.

The next morning at the end of breakfast, Mike from Madison handed me a box and said “Here’s your kit for the ride”.

I have to be honest and say I’d brought a few bits and pieces with me just in case I needed them. I had my own GPS (a Lezyne Super GPS) and whilst I was given a fantastic pair of new Pearl Izumi shoes to wear, they didn’t have cleats, so I used the Shimano S-Phyre shoes that arrived last year just as I hurt my back. I’m still getting my mileage up on these for review and they’re very much on brand with Madison, it also meant I didn’t have to fit cleats there and then.

The rest of my kit for the day was a Lazer Z1 helmet in Orange and White. A pair of brand new Pearl Izumi Pro Escape bib shorts, a Madison RoadRace Apex Short Sleeve jersey in a terrific Hex Camo in Green and Orange, paired with some Madison Sportive Socks also in the terrific Hex Camo. My outfit for the day was completed with a pair of Madison RoadRace Mitts in Black and I borrowed a pair of new brand to Madison, 100%, Speedcraft riding glasses.

As it was Wales (given my previous experiences), it was sensible that we were also issued with a Madison RoadRace Premio Waterproof jacket. I initially put this on as it’s a lightweight packable jacket as the start of the day was a bit cool. But we took long enough to get organised and riding that I warmed up enough to put it in my jersey pocket for the first half of the ride. By then it had warmed up a lot and I popped it into the Madison’s van at a stop and collected it again at the end of the ride.

The orange highlights theme to my outfit for the day were to match my ride for the day a Genesis Zero Disc 3, with an orangey red accent in it’s colourway. It was a welcome return to the Zero Disc for me as I’d previously reviewed this bike and enjoyed it. It was nice to get another opportunity to see how I felt about the bike and to take it on a good long ride again.

One final element on the product side, was water bottles. We were all issued Madison Genesis team Elite Fly bottles. It was my first experience of this bottle and by the end of the ride they had completely won me over.

When we eventually did roll out, I was bowled over by the Welsh scenery right from the first few kilometres. Wales is a beautiful place and when the sun comes out, it’s quite spectacular.

Our route for the day was in fact also a mystery to the Madison PR guys, Mike and Aled. They’d worked with Phil from Mountain Bike Wales and apparently he’d asked how hard a ride we’d all want and was told – something challenging but still fun and won’t smash them to pieces. So that’s what we started off riding.

Looking fast near the beginning

As we got further into the countryside it also emerged that we might have a few quite difficult climbs to ride…. just a few though. Frankly, early on I was enjoying the ride and company so much I didn’t give that too much thought and just enjoyed the chatter, the scenery and riding a bike through the glorious Welsh countryside.

The first 10 miles were relatively flat, which lulled a number of us into a bit of a false sense of security. Of course, it wasn’t too long before we got into proper rolling countryside and being the “elder statesman” of the group, I found myself towards the back of the field with a slight but growing worry about how hard this might turn out to be and how much fitter were the other riders than myself.

Having previously ridden a few hundred kilometres on the Genesis Zero, I quickly settled in with the bike and was reminded that it was a firm but fun ride. It’s a while since I rode a through axle bike on the road and as the miles ticked by I found myself feeling very pleased to have the extra stiffness and security they bring on twisty, fast descents on unfamiliar roads.

In the discussions as we rode, there was a lot of talk about disc brake bikes and I was thoroughly enjoying the Zero Disc and was happy to not be on a caliper braked bike.

The first major challenge of the ride was Devils Staircase, which while only 1.3km long has an average gradient of 12% and maximum of 25%. The first half is the hardest with a series of switchbacks that had me wrenching on the handlebars of the Genesis to literally pull the bike up the climbs. I pondered having to stop, it was that steep but managed to ride up it tolerably well. I’ve always found that a key to climbing is just to find a pace that you can maintain and not to worry about the speed of anyone else.

You only battle yourself on the climbs, especially the steeper ones. Given the puce colour in my face in the photo below, you can see I was definitely trying! It’s very handy having a professional photographer, taking tabs on your exploits to keep you honest. You’ll also note I was trying to ride around the flattest part of the hairpin!

Wrestling my way up the Devil’s Staircase

Climbing Devil’s Staircase was followed by a very steep and fast descent down the other side. It set a pattern on descents for the day of me being overtaken by most of the riders on descents! It highlights one of the challenges of training indoors, in that it doesn’t help you with your road craft. Some sketchy turns on the descent were a piece of cake for the hydraulic disc brakes, as was easily slowing at the bottom of a 25% descent.

Not long after the descent we had a 3rd category climb to deal with called Bwlch Esgair Gelli (on Strava), which I appear to have ridden well enough to be in the top 20% of all riders over it. I was doing pretty well and whilst spending a lot of quality time with my granny gear (a 36/28 since you asked), was feeling pretty good.

This might have been the 10km climb … or just another long but beautiful Welsh climb.

By the time we got to our lunch break we’d ridden just under 60km and climbed around 1200m. I’d ridden it surprisingly well given my concerns about fitness. I was ready for food though and wasn’t the only one. I don’t think the cafe quite knew what had hit them as we tried to eat all the food they had.

After lunch we were again tricked by a section of relatively flat riding that we all rode at a decent clip. I was on the front with our guide Phil for this section generally chit chatting and as another hill appeared in the distance he pointed to a village near the top and said, we’re heading for that.

I managed to get up to the village pretty well but at this point I was just starting to feel a bit tired …. and more concerned about how much climbing we were doing and had yet to do.

At just after 75km I had a proper “wobble”. We hit a 4th category climb called Pont rhyd-y-goes to Hafod (again on Strava). Phil told us it was a punchy climb and mentioned something else with a Devil in it’s name but said it’s ok, we’d be turning off before then. So we rode up the hill keeping a look out for a right hand fork to take us away from the Devil.

However the right hand fork turned out to be where the road kicked up again to around 18% and after a few hundred metres, my head/legs “popped” and I had to stop. Stopping is never a good thing when you’re on a group ride. I took a minute, got my heart rate down a bit, clipped in and got pedaling again. I think we’d climbed over 1500m in around 80kms by then and it’d been years since I’ve climbed this much on a ride and this was most definitely the toughest ride since I hurt my back.

I was getting tired and was having a wobble but wasn’t the only one finding it tough. Almost all of us were and we were increasingly cursing our terrific Welsh guide Phil. He was largely ignoring our moaning and making sure he rode alongside us when he felt we needed the company or if he needed to chase down the faster riders to make sure they didn’t miss any turns.

On the 10km climb. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought it would be

To lift the mood at this point Phil told us we only had a couple of climbs left to do. The first one was a 10km one though apparently, which wasn’t music to our ears. In fairness according to Strava it was closer to 8km and mercifully it was a much kinder gradient than we’d been riding. To be frank, it was so much easier that I didn’t realise I ridden it until we regrouped at the end of it.

I still had a smile on my face …. most of the time!

We’d ridden 90km at this point and most of us were asking Phil “how much further to go now” and had been for a while. Phil’s normal answer was around 20km regardless of when we asked. After a bit more descending we began climbing again, once more with stunning views.

By this point I’d come out of the other side of my wobble and was feeling much better. I knew that I’d get the ride done no matter what Phil threw at us now and whilst I was tired, I was actually really pleased with how I was handling a challenging ride. I was feeling determined and whilst my endurance levels had dropped, I had felt that they’d stabilised and I could and would keep pressing on!

As we got onto another climb we had a fantastic view over the Craig Goch Reservoir. We stopped to regroup at the turning into the valley and Phil explained that he’d originally planned to take us through the valley for the photos and scenery but there was another option. The other option was to climb for another mile or so and then have a descent of about 4 miles back into Rhyader to finish the ride. The unanimous decision was to do the mile long climb.

I got dropped on the descent again but that was fine. I’d watched my GPS roll over 100km and over 1950m of climbing. Post 1700m I suddenly got excited about doing more climbing as I wanted to get to 2000m. Amusingly for me, my GPS was the only one that hadn’t hit 2,000m by the time we got back to Rhyader. It got to 1999m. Seriously. So obviously I said to the others, I’m just going to pop round the corner and ride up the nearest hill. I didn’t have to go far and was back in a couple of minutes with 13 metres added.

It had been a fantastic ride. One of the best ones I can remember since riding a spring classic. It had undoubtably been a challenging ride and we were all pretty tired afterwards.

It really had been a beautiful ride in almost perfect weather. The company had been great and all of the kit I’d ridden in had  impressed. It was a nice change from talking to brand managers or PR guys at a show on a stand. Being presented with my riding outfit the day worked really well for me. The Pearl Izumi shorts were very, very impressive. They felt luxurious and very comfortable all day. I’ve since done another 100km ride in them and they’ve been great again. I’ll do a review in due course.

When at shows or in shops, I’ve often put a Lazer helmet on my head and thought they didn’t sit quite right for the shape of my head. Maybe I have a pointy head but I’ve always found that the top of my head rests against the top of the helmet on a Lazer and that’s always put me off. Before the ride when I put the Z1 helmet on, I found the same thing happened. Oddly though, it was completely fine on the ride, I didn’t notice any contact with my head at all, which was a pleasant surprise. I’ll spend some more time riding in it and see how I find it.

The Madison clothing was very good too. I know the team at Madison have been working hard on this for a number of years now but I’d never tried any. I love the design of the Hex Camo jersey. The fit was good as were the pockets and worked very well. The mitts also impressed. I often find a new set of mitts takes a few rides to give a little around your hands but the RoadRace Mitts, were comfortable to ride in all day. They’re not overly padded but they worked well. The socks also in Hex Camo also looked great and may qualify as sock doping? They were comfortable and have gone through the wash fine after the ride. I like that the socks come in Twin packs with two different designs, it’s a nice touch to help make your wardrobe that little bit more interesting and more socks are always good like more shoes.

Speaking of shoes, the S-Phyres worked perfectly. I’m trying to ride in them as much as I can at the moment so I can review them shortly. I’m happy to say though that they are a terrific shoe and offer a super stiff sole. The Boa closures are a great addition and the pearlescent white colour I have looks terrific.

The 100% riding glasses I borrowed for the day were also impressive. I usually ride in Oakley’s and have a lot of love for Oakley lenses. However the 100% lenses seemed to be very close on quality and I found them comfortable to wear. I wear hard contact lenses which mean I really need to keep dust etc out of my eyes when riding and the 100% design did a good job of this.

At the start of this post I wrote that sometimes it’s good to not know exactly what you have in front of you to ride. I said to Mike after we finished that if he’d sent me a GPX file with a route of 105km and 2,000m of climbing that there was a high chance I’d have declined the ride. Not because I wouldn’t have wanted to do it but because I wouldn’t have been sure I could have ridden it. I lost all of my fitness between April and October last year and over 20% of my FTP. I’ve been working pretty hard for the last few months to rebuild it and am getting there but this would have seemed like a major riding challenge. However, I’m so glad I did it. I rode the first half really well, had a proper wobble about 75km in but was much better again by around 85km. From then on I was just determined that I was going to get it done and I did.

It’s a testament to the work I’ve been doing in my training, which has been almost all indoors on a Wahoo Kickr (more about that soon) and a nice reminder that mostly we can do more than we think on a bike if we keep going. The temptation can be very high to step off on a hard ride but it’s hugely satisfying to keep pushing yourself.

I’m grateful to Madison for the invitation and for their hospitality. I was impressed with the kit and to be frank, it’s all there for riding in, so it was nice to just get on with the ride and let the kit do what it’s supposed to do. Madison are obviously continuing to make good strides with their clothing and Pearl Izumi clearly have some strong new product coming to market too.

I’ve enjoyed every Genesis bike I’ve reviewed and I enjoyed my day on the Zero Disc. If you’d like to know more about them, I’ve linked in my review below:

Genesis Zero Disc Review

Thanks for reading!