Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Upcoming Rides

One of the joys of my job, and there currently aren't that many, is that I get to travel around a fair bit. This is handy when taking on the 100 climbs as occasionally an opportunity arises that allows me to mix business with a bit of pleasure. Well, I say pleasure, I actually mean sweating and gurning my way up some god awful piece of tarmac after rushing to or from a meeting.

Anyway, by this time next week I'm hoping to have ticked off another couple of climbs. This Thursday I'm hoping that a meeting in Somerset will give me enough time to finally complete the South West climbs and tackle Weston Hill. My previous attempt to combine riding this hill with a meeting failed when my crap nav took me to it via the longest possible route and I simply ran out of time. Hopefully this time around knowing where the climb is, and having figured out another faster route to it, I can complete it in plenty of time to get changed, have a bit of lunch and get to my meeting. It is a climb that finishes with a 20% flourish so I may be rather red faced and out of breath by the time I get to work but thats all part of the challenge.

A few days after Weston Hill I'm hoping to ride Jiggers Bank. I have a meeting in the West Midlands and as I'm travelling all that way from North Devon it seems daft not to try and knock off at least one of the outstanding climbs in the Midlands. I was tempted to be adventurous and take on The Burway but I would be faced with riding it after a hideously early start, several hours of driving and at least 2 hours of being sat in meetings. Jiggers Bank seemed a more sensible option, especially when you consider that it is a 3/10 rated climb as opposed to the 9/10 Burway.

Thats the plan for the next week or so. Hopefully I'll be able to take a bit of time off work before the end of November and have a 2 day trip to the South East. I was hoping to have knocked off at least 40 of the 100 climbs by the end of the year. Knee problems in Devon and a couple of less than successful trips to Wales have really impacted on my planned schedule to hit that number so I'm intending to try and reach the target of at least 30 climbs by the end of November. At the moment being able to achieve this relies partly on my meetings in Somerset and the West Midlands not being cancelled so fingers crossed it all works out.

A few thoughts on the Uncle John

I feel a bit sorry for my Uncle John. I built it up with the idea that it would be the ideal bike for riding up big hills and, after a rushed build, I've largely not been in the best of shape to get the best out of it. Over the last couple of weeks I've got the cold that hit me in Wales out of my system and have been able to put some proper miles on the bike.

My initial impression that it is more responsive that my faithful Surly Cross Check seems to be correct although I think the Cross Check is more stable through fast down hill bends. I'm still fiddling with the riding position on the Uncle John so there might be a few things I can tweak to improve my position on the bike which may help a bit with the handling.

Overall not a bad bike but still needs a bit of tweaking

The Uncle John is certainly a fairly stiff bike and it climbs well, especially during out of the saddle efforts. In fact I've been experiencing a bit of brake rub when really pushing the bike on hard climbs so maybe my wheels are being shown up by the stiffer frame. On the other hand I do seem to be getting up certain local climbs I know well a bit quicker that I do on the Cross Check so I can live with a bit of brake rub.

The build quality of the frame is pretty good although I'm already starting to lose paint off the bottom of the down tube thanks to a few stones being flicked up by the front tyre. The Kinesis fork on the other hand still looks like it is fresh out of the box and is probably stiffer than the frame it is attached to. I have to admit I've not made a particularly comfortable bike and the cheap saddle I bought creaks more than I do and will need to be replaced at some point.

I'm still experiencing a few grumbles with the rear derailleurs indexing but I'm prepared to live with that for the time being as I'll probably be repositioning the shift levers in December when I take a break from riding and I'll sort out the shifting then. The good thing about running bar end shifters is that I can set them to friction shifting mode if the indexing gets really out. The bad thing about them is I've managed to position them in such a way that hard climbing out of the saddle can sometimes result in me changing gear with my knees which is awkward and frequently painful. This will be sorted out by angling the shifters out a little which will help keep them out of my way.

Anyway, thats all for now. Next stop Weston Hill

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

I think I'm Jinxed when it comes to Wales

Its true, I think I am. Twice now I've attempted to get a decent number of the Welsh climbs knocked off and on both occasions I have failed to achieve my goal. I think the South Eastern climbs are a better bet for the remainder of the year, especially as the winter weather starts to arrive, so Wales can now wait until next spring. Some of the Welsh hills are very exposed and the lanes of Surrey and Sussex sound a much better bet.

After sitting looking at the footage for a week I've finally edited together a couple of videos on my efforts to climb The Bwlch and Llangynidr Mountain. The thought of editing footage with a soundtrack of me feeling ill was perhaps unsurprisingly something I put off for as long as possible!

I am pleased to announce that these new videos mark the return of Ass Cam TM . I still need to figure out the best mounting for it but I couldn't resist including a few shots. Sadly it doesn't shoot in widescreen but it at least doesn't have an impossible to remove, and incorrect, timestamp showing on screen like the previous model did.

My ride up Llangynidr didn't take in the full climb. I had managed to complete most of the climb on my last attempt and I was feeling so awful that the final mile was more than enough of a challenge. It didn't have a particularly steep gradient but trying to ride up it with a temperature very nearly finished me off. I'm either stubborn or stupid, can't decide which at the moment.

More than a week on from shooting the footage I'm still feeling the after effects of the cold I attemped to burn off whilst riding up big hills. For the first few days after my latest Welsh adventure I felt very fatigued and not up to much at all. I have managed to get back out on the bike since but trying to ride while ill has obviously pushed me a bit too far into the red and it is only now that I feel I've got the power back in my legs. That'll teach me to push on when I know I should really be resting up.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Wales - Take Two

I think I must have some form of allergy when it comes to the Welsh hills. The first attempt I made was marred by a spectacular lack of form and a need to cut the rides short in the face of a truly awful weather front moving in. This time around my legs were going just fine but the rest of me stopped working.

The Bwlch

My plan was simple; leave home before sun up on a Saturday morning, get to Wales, ride The Bwlch, Bryn Du and then finish off Llangynidr Mountain before heading home. The get up before dawn part worked but annoyingly a cold I had been trying to keep at bay all week finally flourished with a vengeance. First thing Saturday morning I had a scratchy throat and a bit of a dodgy tummy. By the time I reached Price Town to start the first climb I was feeling very unwell. Nevertheless, I still stupidly thought I could push through it and burn off the cold in the process. Oh how wrong was I.

The first part of the climb up The Bwlch is very steep but mercifully short before turning into a long drag past some forestry plantations. Even though the gradient on this part isn’t too fierce I was starting to struggle. My legs felt fine but there was no power to back up that feeling, my stomach was churning unpleasantly and my throat was red hot. I stopped briefly at the road side in an attempt to let it pass and man up. I didn’t really have any choice as my car was parked up the top. When I finally got going again I didn’t feel any better but did seem able to at least get my legs turning in a regular way, albeit slowly.

                        Got to hand it to the Welsh, they know how to build spectacular roads

I was really annoyed at this point as The Bwlch is a lovely climb and the sort of ride that would normally suit me really well. The view as you climb up from the valley opens out and the final section of the ride has some truly spectacular views down the valley and across the neighbouring hills. For me however the ride up was turning into a death march. Where I should have been clicking up into a decent high gear on the final slope I was only able to click up a couple and limp forlornly across the yellow line I assume somebody from a local club has painted across the road to mark the summit. I think I spent most of the ride looking at the tarmac just in front of my wheel and willing the climb to end. Not a pleasant experience.

As I sat in the car after loading my bike back in I had to consider re-evaluating my options. My cold was getting worse and the climb up Bryn Du is a bit of a brute. The first climb had also taken so long to complete it was already nearly midday and I still had a bit of driving to do.

Bryn Du

Not much to say about this climb as I decided it would be sensible to postpone until such a time when I think I can actually ride it. It’s a pretty spectacular hill with a tough gradient that doesn’t really ease off all the way to the top. The further up the climb you get the more interesting the road becomes with a series of tight hairpin bends. As I sat in the car park at the top with my temperature slowly rising and my voice packing up I sensibly decided that even riding down to the bottom of the climb would be a challenge. I just wasn’t feeling very sharp and I could see myself miscalculating a hairpin and launching my bike, with me attached, off the road and into the centre of Aberdare. The road was also covered in water after several days of heavy rain and getting the braking just right going into some of the corners would be critical. Sometimes you have to be honest with yourself and my gut feeling was I was going to be entering into a whole world of hurt attempting the climb. Two local cyclist winched their way up to the summit whilst I sat in the car and the fact it took them a full fifteen minutes to recover sealed the deal for me. They were pushing very similar gearing to me and both looked like they had just had a particularly hard time of it.

Llangynidr Mountain - The Return

Despite ducking out of the ride up Bryn Du I was determined to finish off the climb up Llangynidr Mountain. I’m either very stubborn or stupid (probably both) but I figured it wasn’t that big an ask to ride the final stretch of road which was just under a mile. The drive there was slow because of the Saturday afternoon traffic and I arrived at the top not feeling particularly perky. Stepping out of the car into a big puddle didn’t do my mood a lot of good either. Any way, after dodging the obligatory suicidal Welsh sheep I managed to slowly wobble my way up the final part of the climb. It feels satisfying having laid that particular climb to rest but I was feeling totally screwed by the time I got back to the car. It was time to call it quits and head home.

                                             Finally, the view from the top of Llangynidr


My drive home wasn’t the most pleasant I’ve ever had and by the time I went to bed on Saturday night my temperature was peaking. As I type this my bike is still in the car as I don’t have the energy to stick it back in the garage yet. I am feeling over the worst of the cold and my throat at least no longer hurts but I have a wonderful headache and a total lack of energy. When I can retrieve my camera bag from the dark corner where I dropped it last night I’ll stick up some still photos and start editing the videos. Suffice to say they will be even slower than usual!

                   The whole of the mountain to choose from and I park in a giant puddle...

I’m thinking that I should leave the remainder of the Welsh hills for the time being. I just don’t seem to have any luck when it comes to riding them and I think it would be wise to get some form and confidence back by focussing on another region. Wales can wait until Spring. I may decide to tackle some of the South Eastern climbs before the bad winter weather sets in. Not sure yet, but watch this space.

Friday, 5 October 2012

New Toy

When I first started out on this challenge to ride all of the 100 greatest cycling climbs I had two little video cameras. One mounts on my helmet and the other used to be attached to the seat pack on my bike. Sadly the rearward facing camera that I knew as Ass Cam TM was a cheap Chinese knock off of a well known design and a few rides in the poor little thing fried itself whilst charging up. I was upset by this; firstly because it represented 30 quid down the toilet and secondly because it made my poorly edited videos slightly more interesting. Multiple camera angles are always a good thing and a rearward facing camera is good for showing the gradient on the steeper climbs.

After much searching I have found a suitable replacement. It is actually the offical version of the camera the makers of Ass Cam ripped off. It has a much more solid feel to it and hopefully a battery that won't commit hari kari when being changed. Even better it came with a funky water proof case so it looks like a Go Pro that has shrunk in the wash.

Coming soon to a windswept hillside near you

The new camera gets its first airing this weekend when I return to Wales. When I get more used to it and figure out a suitable mounting I'm hoping to experiment with a range of different camera angles. Initial tests show it has better picture quality to the camera it is replacing although it isn't HD quality. Better still it comes with a manual that was written by somebody who actually understands English and the microscopic buttons have labels.

Hopefully by the end of this weekend I'll have some interesting footage to post.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Llangynidr Mountain

Not sure what to say about this climb really. For whatever reason I just failed to do a good job once the road started going up. I'd had a long day and was feeling low on power all day but I'm not sure why.

As soon as I started turning the pedals I knew I was going to suffer on this hill and it proved to be the case. It was quite a frustrating experience as the surroundings were spectacular and the weather was perfect. At least I wasn't having a hard time in the pouring rain.

When I first started out on this quest to take on all 100 climbs I took on Porlock as the very first one knowing that it would expose any weaknesses I had. I thought it would be a valuable learning experience and it was. I was hoping by the time I reached a climb like Llangynidr I would have learnt most of the lessons I needed to. I guess in my favour I was able to keep plugging on and managed to trudge my way up most of the climb but I'm still annoyed as I should have done better. Starting to cramp up at the halfway point didn't help. I guess some days you are the pigeon and on others you are the statue. On Llangynidr I was most definitely the statue.

A couple of training rides since my experience on Llangynidr have shown that I do have the horsepower to go better so I'm putting this hill down as a blip. I'm never going to be the quickest rider on the steeper stuff but I should be able to just keep motoring on.

I'm hoping to return to Wales very soon once the weather clears to tackle another two of the climbs. When I do I'll return to Llangynidr to finish what I started; hopefully without a bad case of cramp to ruin my day. The really annoying thing is I still haven't got a clue about how to pronounce it...