A Lesson in Motivation

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A big part of 24 hour racing is mental strength and your capacity to tolerate the discomfort and pain that comes from riding a bike for such a long duration. Before I’d done my first 24 hour solo, a friend and soloist said to me:

“If you can do the first 20 hours you’ll be OK – it’s the last 4 hours that really hurts”

I remember being unable to comprehend what I would feel like after just 12 hours, never mind 20. But I discovered that its not so much how much your body hurts, it’s how much you think it hurts. If you can motivate yourself to stay focused on the riding you find that your body will only hurt so much.

Motivation is the key to a lot of things I guess, and maintaining it can be tricky. Last week is probably a good example with things like work, the weather, darkness and my bike all conspiring against me to some extent. But the reality is most of it could have been overcome with a little motivation. It was a bit like being in the pits at a 24hr race – you know you should be out on on the course riding your bike, because if you aren’t then you’re not making any progress.


Solar Power

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The sun appeared as a pale disc through the fog this morning. While the rest of the country was bathed in sunshine (according to the weatherman), it looked like I was going have to wait a little while before I saw any of it. My enthusiasm to get out on the bike was growing faster than the fog was clearing, so at 10.30am, I went out anyway. Trying to dress for a ride that was going to involve freezing fog and most likely brilliant sunshine later on was a bit tricky, but a combination of thick gloves, buff, windproof jacket, neoprene overshoes and ¾ length leggings seemed to work OK, even if it looked a little odd.

Once I’d finally escaped from the valley bottom, leaving behind the bitterly cold fog, I found myself beneath acres of blue sky criss-crossed with vapour trails, and not a cloud to be seen. Its been the best day we’ve had for the last two months by far, and while this winter seems to have been a struggle to get the miles down, today I felt like I could ride all day.

For the first time this training season, I completed a 5 hour road ride. With over 2000m of climbing, and 80 miles, I found form today that had previously evaded me this winter. The sun on my back gave me the strength to stay out for that extra hour, just so I could enjoy it a bit longer.


Innovation saves the day

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I must confess to getting a little exited by things that are either exceptionally well made, or extremely innovative. Before I explain the reason for my recent excitement I need to take you back a few weeks first:

Getting the fork steerer length right on a bike is a tricky business. Trim off too much and you’re in big trouble, leave too much on and your bike looks messy with lots of spacers above and below the stem. Now, the problem I had was not cutting too much off specifically, it was more taking a fork off one bike with a short head tube and trying to fit it to a bike with a slightly longer headtube. So, there I was looking at 30mm of steerer tube protruding above the Chris King headset I’d just pressed into my Kona Leroi frame. I put the Syntace stem I had in one hand back down on the bench. A rummage around in the spares box uncovered a Truvativ stem with a single bolt which came to just below the top of the steerer. It sort of fitted, but not in way that inspired confidence.

Following a tip off the Weightweenies forum, a solution appeared in the form of a stem, from Avid, of all people. I didn’t even know Avid did stems 😕
With a sketchy description of a unique clamping system using a collet, and its three bolts placed unusually on the top of the stem, I must admit I was more than slightly intrigued. As luck would have it, there was one on Ebay, which I snapped up.


You’d think a stem is a stem is a stem. They’re been around for years, and apart from coming in different lengths, colours, rises and weights there isn’t much to separate them in terms of design. Avid have taken something which we all take for granted and redesigned it.


What I find amazing about the Avid stem is effectiveness of the design and the way its been executed. The collet fits over the top of my (short) steerer tube and is bolted to the star-fangled nut, then the stem mounted on top and the three bolts gradually compress the collet so it clamps to the steerer in much the same way the chuck of a drill works. Sure, its more complicated that a normal stem, but I’m still really impressed with it.


Test, testing

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I’ve been training with power now for the last year and a bit, and I must say I’ve found it pretty useful. Training with heart rate is all very well, but it tends not to reflect performance in a consistant manner if you’re a bit tired or its windy. Power on the other hand gives you an instant read-out of you output every second of every ride that is comparable with other rides irrespective of how I felt or whether it was windy or not.

In order to get the most out of power training, I need to make sure I train at the right levels, which means testing. There are two values that are most significant: lower lactate threshld and upper (or anaerobic) threshold.

The anaerobic one is easy to determine – ride as hard as you can up the longest hill you can find for 30mins, and read off your average watts. The lower one is a bit more complicated and involves measuring blood lactate at different steady state wattage values until a shift is seen in the line graph. For me, this is at 175 watts, which is OK for my weight.

Lactate Power Test

So, am I fit? Well, I think so. I’m at a good point to be at in the middle of the winter, with values not too far off my peak in the middle of the summer. Lets see where I am at the end of the winter.


A Spooky Night

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While gale force winds battered most of the rest of the UK today, it wasn’t too bad down here in Wales. Sure, it was windy with occasional very strong gusts, but it didn’t stop me from taking the ‘cross bike out for a quick spin in the forest. I never see another sole on my evening rides here, which is perhaps no great suprise. Now, I don’t normally find night riding at all intimidating, but there was something about tonight that was just a bit different.

I was reminded of a time back in my university days when I was camping with a friend up at Llyn Idwal in Snowdonia. Under what was largely a cloudless sky, there was quite a strong wind when we set camp. After cooking some tea, we sat and chatted about our days walking and planning for tomorrow. The wind had dropped to virtually nothing. Our conversations were interrupted by a strange noise coming across the lake. First it was very quiet, the sound of a light breeze, but it soon began to gather momentum and speed, and quickly turned into a loud rushing noise that sounded more like a train coming. Suddenly it struck the tent – the flysheet shook violently and the candle lantern nearly lost its light. The sound could be heard receding into the distance. It was one of the most intimidating moments I’ve ever experienced, for which we’ve found no meteorological explanation – a single and very strong wave of air had hit our tent at high speed, in complete isolation.

This evening, you’d hear the odd gust approaching, but it would often carry over my head and play in the canopy of the trees around me. Suddenly: wham! – I was hit side on by a very strong gust that nearly had me off my bike. As I listened to it whirling off into the darkness, there was a strange unearthly sensation behind it. I was left with a feeling that, despite being the only person in the forest, I was not alone.


Olympic Rings

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I picked up my new race wheels yesterday. I say “new” but I’ve had the hubs for a good few years now. Following their recent service my Chris Kings hubs sound like new again, and the love-it-or-hate-it high freewheel sounds beautiful. The new bit is, well, the rest of the wheel – rims, spokes and nipples. Having agonised for ages over which rims to go for I opted for Stan’s NoTubes ZTR Olympics. I got them from Jon at Just Riding Along, and was particularly impressed when they both arrived with their weight of 345 grams inscribed on each rim 🙂


All laced up with Sapim Race spokes and brass nipples for durability and with the yellow spoke tape fitted, they tipped the scales at 1496g for the pair. Nice and lightweight, tubeless compatible and hopefully very fast 8)


Quiet Rewards

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I like climbs. I’ll ride along way to get to them, and today was no exception. After enduring 1.5hrs of stiff headwind, and drizzle that wouldn’t give up, I found myself at the bottom of the climb that goes from Llangadog to Brynaman – the Black Mountain. For nearly half and hour I climbed, eventually up into the cloud meeting the rain at its source. As I neared the top, I turned the last corner and with it put the wind onto my back. Then it hit me.


All I could hear was the sound of my breathing and my tires on the road. There were no voices, no far off buzz of traffic, no birds, no noise from the wind as it pushed me gently along as I rode, just silence. Its not often you “hear” silence these days, and even less so on the road. Moments like these don’t happen [to me] very often, and in an odd sort of way it felt rewarding.