Category Archives: Everesting

Why cycle … because we can and we want to

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I have done quite a lot of climbing on the bike this year – Strava says 56,788 m (186,321 feet). Although the wisdom of deciding to do an ‘everest’ in July is open to question, once the decision was made, hill training seemed perfectly sensible (or, indeed, essential).

However, having read an excellent blog post by Tempocyclist, I realise that since then I’ve developed a case of average-kph-itis. This is an obsession with producing rides with the highest possible average kph figures, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

The symptoms are clear: setting routes looking for flat roads and tailwinds; an irrational annoyance at hills, junctions, traffic and everything that slows you down; not stopping for photos or anything else; and a constant looking down at the average speed window on the Garmin.

Now, I’m all in favour of cycling fast, training hard and getting better on the bike – but an improving average kph should be a result of those, not the main aim of the ride.

I’m 62, I don’t race and no one pays me to cycle – so sometimes I need to remind myself that I ride for pleasure and personal satisfaction, not to try to impress or beat anyone else.

Today I went out with this in mind. I deliberately turned down some flat fast roads that would have offered some ‘vanity kph’ and headed over to Lambourn for a few hills and a generally ‘nice’ ride. The result – 56 km with 601 m of climbing at 25.1 kph (35 miles, 1971 feet at 15.6 mph) … and a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.

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What do cyclists do in the winter?

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New and old – the Rose and the Giant

There are definite signs of the approach of winter in Oxfordshire. The copper beech trees are starting to turn  and the horse chestnut is covering one of the paved areas in the garden with leaves.

That is the end of “Out of Town’ with Jack Hargreaves (sadly, the fact I can remember that dates me).

While appreciating that hardier cyclists just keep cycling throughout the year, and richer cyclists simply head south, my thoughts now turn to the end of the regular cycling season in an effort to remember what normal people do with their time.

Although normality does intrude occasionally, I prefer to focus on four key things at this time of year: thinking back on the cycling year just gone, planning next year’s cycling, tinkering with bikes and working out how to stay reasonably fit so that getting back into the swing of it in the Spring isn’t too awful (important as the White horse Challenge is in April).

The cycling year just gone: 2017 has been a pretty good one – I missed my 5 hour target for the 90 mile (145km) White horse Challenge by 5 minutes, but set a PB, and rode strongly in the sportive on 1 October, even if we did take the wrong route. Better was coming home first in the club’s 70 mile (112km) sportive (even though it’s not a race) but best of all was completing my ‘everest’ in July. Considering that I so very nearly talked myself out of the attempt that morning, and went into it sure it would fail, I’m delighted to have done it.

Planning for 2018: The White Horse Challenge remains unfinished business – so I will have to do that again, still trying to beat the 5 hours. The week’s cycling in the alps is (almost) a given, but the big difference this year is the aim of cycling out there, unsupported. It will probably be about 750 miles (1200km) and I’d thought about doing it alone but one of the friends I ride with might be able to come with me – and I’d certainly not try to stop him as he would be excellent company.

One other thought I’m toying with is that doing the bicinglette (Ventoux 6 times in a day, twice by each of the routes) and then adding on one more ascent from Sault would gain access to two fairly exclusive clubs – the bicinglette has currently been achieved by only 217 people and the ‘high rouleurs’ society (for 10,000 meters of climbing) currently has only 300 members. Sounds crazy but less than 1100 metres of climbing more that the everesting. The big problem with the bicinglette is that it can only be done on Ventoux!

Tinkering with bikes: If I cycle out to the alps, I’d probably take my old 2006 Giant TCR2 and leave it out there – that would help solve the potential issue of getting it back to the UK and would mean I’ll always have a bike there in case we decide to fly out in the future. I’ve found some pedals and I’m trying to pick up a replacement right hand brifter, but the main job has been solving the issue of the stuck seat post. It has been wedged in very firmly for a few years and has defied everything, including a can of WD40 and putting the post in a vice and using the leverage of the whole frame to try to twist it, without success.

In the end, on Monday, I decided to cut it out as it was not in perfectly straight and was not at quite the right height. I cut off the post (metal, strangely, considering that it’s a composite frame) and with a hand held hacksaw blade cut the down length of the post from the inside. It was a hell of a job which involved much bleeding and swearing but eventually I did it, without cutting much of a groove in the inside of the frame itself. I did my cut at the back of the post so it has strengthening from the rear stay assembly and from the seat post clamp itself – I’ll keep a watchful eye on it to make sure it’s still safe. I’ve ordered a carbon replacement post so I might have taken some weight off the bike, as a by-product.

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Many miles on it like this and you’d appreciate standing on the pedals

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Better out than in

An odd thing that has occurred to me is that when I bought the Giant I was terrified of hills and looked for a bike with a triple. With its 28 on the back, its bottom gear is actually a tiny bit higher than my Rose with its compact and a 32 on the back! How times change.

Then there are my 20 or so other bikes to have a look at …

Staying fit: as I get older, I tend to feel the cold more so it’s back to the turbo when it’s not possible to get out in sensible weather. Beyond that, I’ll keep running with Mrs Omil twice a week and will start the squats, lunges, planks and sit ups to keep the legs moving and the core strong.

It’s not yet too cold – with luck plenty more cycling on the roads to come yet.

Roll up, roll up – free kph?

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My bike, complete with tri bars, looking out at the garden

I bought a set of tri bars a few months ago but didn’t fit them at the time as I was mainly cycling up hills in preparation for my trip to the alps and the ‘everesting’. With the prospect of a long ride out to the alps next summer it seemed sensible to dust them off so this week I fitted them and decided to take them for a test ride today.

I wasn’t expecting great things as I’ve not done too much cycling since July. This week I’ve been out running a couple of times with Mrs Omil and had spent a hard day of manual labour in the garden yesterday – so pretty well everything ached this morning. I wasn’t sure it was going to be a good day to test the tri bars as it seemed entirely possible that I wouldn’t even be able to bend low enough to get down to them.

I opted to do my usual test route (45.1km with around 300m or so of climbing) – to my surprise I felt better on the bike than I had walking round the house so I decided to push on reasonably hard.

To be honest, I was a bit of a wimp coming back up to the hoods whenever the road surface got bad (which was frequent) or when there was a bit of traffic.

I felt a bit of pressure in the forearm and my neck took a bit more strain than normal (Shermer’s neck, here I come?) so the bars certainly aren’t set up right yet. I think they need to be set longer, tilted down a bit and the saddle might need to be moved forward and tilted down a little.

Despite all that, I matched my pb for the circuit at an average of 30.9kph. The previous pb ride was in back in early July when I certainly felt fitter.

So, not exactly proof that the tri bars made me quicker – but on the basis that I was expecting to be slower, there’s is certainly some cause for optimism. As I build up a bit more fitness, it will be interesting to see if I can improve on that pb.

 

Bears, wolves and saddlebags

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I might have to rethink that top tube pack

I’m not saying that long-distance, multi-day cycling is the dark side of the sport – but there are certainly some black arts involved.

I’ve found a very good website (https://ridefar.info) written by a 3 time Transcontinental participant and although I’ve promised myself that I won’t obsess (yet) about my plan to ride to the alps next summer, I have done some preliminary research. It reveals that the problems posed by matters like:

  • assembling the right kit
  • carrying it on the bike
  • route planning
  • navigation
  • bike tools
  • device charging
  • refuelling strategies
  • sleeping plans and
  • required fitness

are on a scale well beyond my current understanding.

Will my reasonably aggressive geometry racing bike (with its maximum 25cm tyres) be suitable for French cycle paths? Can I tell which ‘D’ roads are OK and which will bring certain death under the wheels of a 2CV? Will I be able to find places to charge the phone and Garmin on the way? Can I survive the wild boar, wolves, bears and vampires if I sleep rough? Will I be able to live on a diet of McDonald’s, Haribo, ice cream and Coca Cola, as many in the Transcontinental Race appear to? Will I really need to take that second velvet smoking jacket?

They all seem to be fair questions, apart from the fact that there are, as far as I know, no bears in France, other than the Pyrenees.

It’s expensive too: a front wheel with the right dynamo is probably bespoke and a few hundred pounds, the charger device is another hundred, the various kit bags behind the saddle, under and over the crossbar and on the handlebars could easily be yet another hundred (each), as can quality light weight sleeping bags, tents etc.

The best thing is that I now have an excuse to put the tri-bars that I bought a few weeks ago onto the bike. They might be a good idea on the long straight roads in France, assuming my old body can adapt to the position.

Of course, getting it right is very important, not least because a problem could occur a few hundred miles from home and many miles from anywhere – so I’ve got to take it seriously. When everesting I was never more than 8 miles from the apartment and long sportives tend to have some support – even if it’s only a broom wagon. What’s more, I don’t speak any significant amount of French.

However, this will be my first – and possibly only – foray into this cycling genre, so I plan on being cautious and will try to adopt an approach with modest expenditure. I will dress this meanness up as merely being an innovative extra dimension to the challenge I have set myself.

Plan for 2018 – ride to the alps

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Perhaps I’d better find a way around some of these on the journey out to the alps

Forgive me for wittering on about challenges for 2018. It’s a long way away but if I hadn’t committed publicly to my everesting attempt I know for certain that I would not have left the apartment to do it last month.

Thinking about it, I am still very happy with the idea of cycling out to the alps next July for my annual week’s climbing with friends.

The Transcontinental Race has a lot to answer for – I don’t think I’d be contemplating this without the inspiration of a race that started on 28 July and which has seen only 146 of the 285 starters finish, with one competitor still racing as I type. Come on David Coulon, only 13.7km to go after nearly 4000km of racing – and RIP Frank Simons who died in a collision with a car on the first night.

Without researching the route in any detail, it looks like nearly 1000km of cycling which I would like to do in 4 days, unsupported – and probably alone. I’m lucky that I can take a credit card and book into a hotel when I like but I’d prefer to see if I could sleep rough for at least some of the time. To be honest, I’m don’t think 62 year old retired solicitors do that sort of thing. I’m not sure if I have the guts for it – perhaps next year is the year I find out.

So, loads of logistics to think about: tent?, basha?, tarpaulin?, bivvy bag?, sleeping bag? (pretty well all unknown to me but I’ve started reading up on them). Bags to put on the bike: handlebar?, seat post?, under or over the top tube?. What about route design and navigation, food plan?

I was planning to take my old Giant TCR2 out to the apartment and leave it there so perhaps I could cycle out there on that – but it’s been 2 years since I last rode it and that means sorting the old and slightly unreliable shifters and perhaps making it a compact rather than a triple.

Part of the problem is that it’s all too far away – I will need interim checkpoints. Skiing in January hardly fits the bill but the White Horse Challenge in April is an obvious one: c.150km with 1400m of climbing and still my elusive sub 5 hour target. What else though – obviously some long rides building up distance and then putting them together, back to back. Perhaps 2018 is the year for a spring training camp out in a Spanish island? Perhaps I need to get out on the bike again – post-everesting time off officially over!

I need a plan.

Fitter, faster, further – the improvement dilemma

Most regular cyclists want to improve, whether it’s fitter, faster or further – or any combination of those. I completely understand that and I want to improve on all three – but there’s a but ..

The issue is that such improvements are unlikely to be even across members of a cycling group, and that can cause problems.

Let me explain.

I joined the group I ride with about 6 or 7 years ago. We were a slightly motley crew with carbon, aluminium and steel, racing, hybrid and touring bikes. The group was very sociable, we waited to regroup regularly and had a ‘banana break’ at halfway which was also a major regrouping and the opportunity for a chat. We’d do about 45 miles (c. 72km) on a Saturday morning at just over 14mph (c. 23kph). There were those who could cycle faster but they sacrificed some speed for sociability.

It’s all moved on over the years. Bikes have been upgraded and so have the riders’ abilities. More now cycle on the continent in the summer and more have climbed a few Alps – this year 3 more did Ventoux. Last year a group rode the length of the Pyrenees and this year a group rode in Corsica. The 100m Ride London, long sportives like the Dragon Gran Fondo, the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux, everesting and even Paris Brest Paris have now been tackled by group members.

Saturday rides are still a similar length but are now more likely to be ridden at 17-19 mph (c. 27-30kph).

A second ‘blue’ group was introduced successfully which does shorter and slower rides with an emphasis on the social side – some of us take turns to lead that and it’s always enjoyable but will not provide good training for the more committed cyclist. The issues are really with the faster, longer ‘red’ group.

Don’t get me wrong, I think all progress this is brilliant – but it comes with a price. Not everyone has improved at the same rate and some now struggle to keep up. With a focus on speed, the group does not often stop to regroup. It also makes it hard if not impossible for inexperienced riders to join the group – and introducing newcomers to the joys of cycling was always a key purpose of the group. It’s a group of good people (and me) – we set up a charitable company to raise funds for local cycling initiatives and we are quite prominent in the town, with our own annual sportive being part of the town’s festival.

Last Saturday I rode with a very nice chap who was riding with the group for the first time. We rode at a very respectable 15.5mph (c. 25kph) but were left behind by the main group. I was telling him about the social side of the group and the chance to meet a few people at the banana break – but we never had a break as the group(s) in front didn’t stop long enough for us to catch up.

There was a lady riding behind us and a ‘sweep’ but we didn’t see them either as we kept going, waiting for the break which never came – but by the time we realised that it was a bit late to stop. Apparently, another very good cyclist was dropped by the main group on Saturday and had what he called an ‘improvised limp home’ – that wouldn’t have happened in the past.

What’s the answer?

Multiple groups? A return to ‘collegiate’ cycling rather than the more self-centred ‘push myself at my optimum speed’? A more rigorous regrouping regime? None is perfect or, perhaps, possible.

Of course, I am no saint in all of this. I probably felt worse about Saturday because I’d have liked to have joined a fast group after the half-way break. I have cycled with the group less this year because of my specific training for my ‘everest’ last month – so I’m as selfish as anyone else.

My options? I could stay and simply join the fast groups – or I could effectively leave the group and do my own thing.

But there’s the irony – I’d be leaving and being anti-social in protest at the anti-social nature of the group; and I’d be putting my own cycling first in protest at the way others do the very same thing.

It makes my head hurt. Come to think of it, it used to be my legs hurting – at least that’s another beneficial feature of cycling improvement!

What’s next on the sprocket list?

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When your three main goals for the year fall in April and July, by August you are left wondering what to do next. I fear that the rest of this year is going to feel like an anticlimax so thoughts turn to the inevitable bucket list (or for me as it’s likely to be cycling-related, the sprocket list).

For 2017, the key goals were:
– White Horse Challenge in April: the target was sub 5 hours which I missed by 5 minutes although I did post a PB
– Everesting: a tick for that
– Farcycles Sportive: although I traded down to the 70 mile route, I was first home and, even though it’s not a race, I’m still pleased with that.

It looks like I’ve got to go for the WHC again, still chasing the elusive sub-5 hour time, but what else?

Over the last week I’ve been an avid follower of the Transcontinental Race. Massive respect to James Hayden for winning it and to everyone who is taking part (10 days in and only 2 of the 285 entrants have finished). That has to go on the list – even though it’s a universe of insanity beyond even the everesting. It feels like that might be a stretch too far for 2018 but it’s on the list.

One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while is to cycle out to the alps for my annual trip to Les Carroz. It’s about 700 miles door to door by car – I don’t know what avoiding main roads does to that but in my books it qualifies as a long way. It would be a good test to see if I could contemplate the Transcontinental Race.

LEJOG or JOGLE must be a possibility – unsupported and done as quickly as possible.

The bicinglette (two times each of the 3 roads up Ventoux, within a day) is the other possible target for 2018 – currently, there are only 205 people shown as completing the bicinglette. To do that and then add the extra 1200m to become a ‘high rouleur’ would be great.

It’s all subject to domestic negotiation and possible outbreaks of sanity – but it’s fun to plan and plot.