Autumn is here – Don’t survive it – thrive!
Autumn is here with a vengeance. The storm is hammering on the windows and the rain is a relentless accompanying percussion. Going out training is going to be tough. But this is where it counts – a good winter base and I can really enjoy a summer of touring, riding with friends and the odd race or two for fun. The problem is, the super light-weight Tour De France copy doesn’t seem quite as inviting in these conditions – time to get a winter bike sorted. As an ultra distance cyclist, here’s what I’ve found works for me.
Here’s the thinking behind my choice of kit:
Tyres and Rims
At 23.6mm wide and with double eyelets these DT Swiss 540 rims are strong, able to withstand the pot-hole strewn roads of the UK when ridden by normal sized folk. Go for a minimum of 32 spokes for a great balance of strength and comfort (36 hole for bomb proof performance). These tyres and rims will be heavier than superlight 20 spoke wheels, but you won’t need to get them trued every few months either. Add at least 25c tyres for comfort. 28c run at lower pressure and you could be riding a bike with suspension. Forget 23c nonsense. They are a harsher, slower and more uncomfortable ride. Make sure you buy a frame that can taken larger tyres.
Brooks B17 – it’s a classic. Look at the bike of almost any ultra distance cyclist and you will find a Brooks saddle. Heavy if you go for the steel and leather model, very expensive in the titanium flavour, but whichever one you choose, the suspended leather top provides comfort all the way. Just be prepared to fiddle about a bit in the early days to get the position just right.
Go dynamo. Save yourself the faff of having to recharge your batteries every few days. Dynamos are a fit and forget bit of kit allowing you to run lights as often as you wish never having to worry about battery run-times. I run mine all the time. Modern dyanmos are very efficient and the additional effort required to operate them is almost impossible to detect. Best of all, you can recharge your phone as well whilst you ride. In this setup, a Schmidt hub has been married to seriously bright lights from Exposure.
Riding without mudguards in winter is nuts. You may as well ride through a car wash. That bikes are sold without attachment points for mudguards is just plain stupid. We live in country where there is lots of rain, without mudguards your feet are constantly being soaked – like holding them under a tap. At the back, not only do you get covered in dirty, muddy grime, but you spray everyone behind you too. Do the social, sensible thing – buy some mudguards. Make sure they go around the whole wheel. If your bike frame won’t take proper ones, there are some good compromise solutions.
Yes it’s huge! But – set out at 5:30am on an autumn or spring day and it can be close to zero or below. By lunchtime, the temperature can be into low double figures. That’s a ten-degree range. Early on you need a shell, thick gloves, maybe a helmet liner and overshoes. By lunchtime, you’ve got pockets full of spare clothing sagging around your hips. How about you just put all the kit into the bag and leave your body free from unwanted weight? These sorts of bags don’t weigh too much and using the quick-fix system can be transferred from bike to bike. It’s only vanity that stops most riders using them. It also means you can carry the kit you need to ensure you keep on riding (pump, tubes, bike tool, chain tool, spare links, tyre and tube patches, cash, credit card, phone etc). Be warned, you will often end up carrying other people’s kit when you feel sorry for how uncomfortable they look. I’m using a Vau-de bag. The bag is excellent, the quick fix mounting system less, so. I’ve had to replace the seat post mount a couple of times.
Buy what frame you like – as long as it takes the right sized tyres and proper mudguards. Don’t be misled by all the hype though, tyre pressure, tyre size, bar tape and saddle choice will make far more difference to comfort than frame material. Frame geometry will make the biggest difference to handling and comfort. These factors apply whether it’s carbon, titanium or aluminium.
It’s a small detail – but try double wrapping your bars for that really comfortable feel. It’s a bit more cushioning and it’s more comfortable for people with bigger hands.
After years of riding single speed I’m back using gears again. In this setup, I’m using a 9 speed which I’ve chosen this for absolute simplicity. I’m using a Dura Ace bar end shifter mounted on the bars using a Paul Components ‘Thumbie’. This is so simple and reliable that even if the indexing goes out a little bit on a long ride, I can switch to friction only and like the old fashioned bikes of the 70s and 80s shift gear by feel. Trust me, when you still have 100 miles or more to go, being able to still change gear without a messy road side ‘tune-up’ is really valuable.
Just because its winter doesn’t mean I don’t take training seriously. Costing almost as much as the rest of the bike, these power meter pedals allow you to monitor your effort accurately no matter the wind direction, the weight of the bike or the type of terrain. You don’t need a minimalist carbon bike to train hard – you need to be comfortable. The bike setup provides the optimum setup for winter training – the pedals help make sure every session counts. Best of all I can transfer them from one bike to another.
Aside from my pedals – if there is one bit of kit I would compromise the choice of other kit to be able to buy it’s my Garmin Edge, I’m using an 800. I’ve also got a Garmin Etrex for those rides over 12 hours – beyond the battery life of the Edge. I love this device for three reasons. 1) I can plan and upload lots of new routes to see new places and have trouble free navigation – no folded soggy bits of map for me. 2) I can see all the relevant information on distance, time, and speed etc. 3) It links to my heart rate monitor and power meter I can make every ride a great training session.
Unless you are one of the few people who naturally look like Chris Froome or Bradley Wiggins, you are probably carrying a few extra pounds and skin tight lycra is not the most flattering, yes to close fitting – no to shrink wrapping. Finally, there are some companies beginning to produce kit for normal people like me. At 6ft and 85kg I’m no weight weenie. I’m using kit made by the Yorkshire company ‘Fat Lad at the Back’ or FLAB as they like to shorten it. Unsubtle as the brand name might be, but the kit is very comfortable…..and think about it – you can’t lose wearing it!
Do it intelligently!
It helps to make sense of how to get the best from the limited time and resources we all have. I’m enjoying reading “Performance Cycling” edited by James Hopker and Simon Jobson. A quick check on the principles before heading out the door to train.
This is what works for me. All of the above contributes to me being able to train day after day whatever the weather. The reason is simple – I’m comfortable. Cycling is not meant to be a form of punishment! We are not Tour de France riders; we are normal human beings living in a damp but very beautiful country. We need kit appropriate to the conditions we ride in and the condition we are in. If you can afford it – have the Tour Replica bike and enjoy it. But start with the bike you can ride all the time first. Yes, you may end up a fraction slower, but actually – does it really matter? In the summer you can always lose the mudguards, use a smaller saddle bag and swap to a non-dynamo wheel and the bike and ride and feel like a pro. But best of all you will be a lot faster – because you were able to train all winter.
Have fun out there.
Dominic in an ultra endurance cyclist, currently training for a second attempt on the tandem Lands End to John O’Groats record. This year he completed the London-Edinburgh-London Audax on a single speed in a shade of 77 hours. He has competed in the Race Across the Alps, Transpyr and other long distance rides. He is a multi Ironman finisher, marathon runner and adventure racer.