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An excuse to go for a ride on a shiny Salsa Mukluk fatbike (borrowed, once again from Keep Pedalling) on a beach presented itself at the weekend. Telling myself that going for a ride on an almost-empty and very-familiar stretch of sand on Anglesey would be ideal preparation for the Battle on the Beach race in a couple of weeks, I dragged the kids and their grandparents (and the dog and a kite) out for a daytrip.
After confirming to various passers-by that the contraption I’d just pulled from the back of the car was indeed a bicycle with four inch-wide tyres, I trundled off down the slipway and onto the sand. As it turns out, quite soft sand and quite unlike the ‘concrete-hard’ sand of the actual race I was preparing for.
While the bike took the conditions in its stride, it turns out that soft sand is pretty hard work if you want to go reasonably fast. Once you accept that you can’t simply mash a tall gear and get away with it then ease off and take in the views, things are a lot more civilised.
Hard cornering is exciting, as is hitting a very soft patch at full-pelt. So exciting in fact that you’re probably going to crash, much to the amusement of your kids.
I also re-discovered that very wide tyres throw up a lot of debris and water in the general direction of your face and your bum. So I got soaked and covered in sand, which would have been ok had I not been riding in jeans and a woolly jumper. Which would have been ok had I had something else to wear in the café later on that wasn’t a pair of downhill shorts and a pair of Fantastic Mr Fox socks…
A cracking day out, then. Do I feel more prepared for Battle on the Beach? Ermm…….
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Remembering how battered and sore I felt at the end of the Strathpuffer was important as my narrow tyres glided across the billiard table-smooth tarmac. I had to recall memories of recent wet and incredibly windy rides in the hills north of Manchester as I felt the rays of sunshine and the warm breeze on my back. As the sweat dripped from my face onto the top tube of my gleaming white ‘best’ bike while I rode in the searing noon heat of the Canary Islands, I drew comparisons in my mind to the last time I was sat on the turbo trainer in the gloom of the cellar.
I spent all last week in Tenerife, mostly for a family holiday but also to get some early-season miles in to finally lay to rest my post-Strathpuffer indifference. A chance to shoehorn some quality road cycling in and kick-start my year during a relaxing break, get my tanlines back, spend some time with Deb and the kids, play with some Lego, read a book, eat nice food and mess about in a swimming pool.
I was careful that the cycling aspect of this trip didn’t become an all-encompassing thing – I’m only preparing, grabbing back my fitness and enthusiasm at the moment. There was simply nothing to be gained by buggering off repeatedly for 8 hour rides. I took some lights, had a couple of early starts, watched the sun rise from the top of Teide and while I made sure that the rides were hard, I kept things under control.
I actually rode every day for six days, but I’d alternate between moderately-long, early-start rides and short, intense rides at lower altitudes. While a 17 hour week while on holiday can’t be sniffed at, it was nothing compared to the edge of destruction week Dave and I had in Tenerife back in May…
A highlight (and perhaps an illustration of the relaxed mood) was at the end of the customary Massive Climb up the road from sea level to the cable car station at almost 2500 metres I stopped and built a snowman. Back at our rented villa, the temperature was in the mid-eighties but up here things were decidedly more wintry. A couple of snaps and an hour long descent later and I was relaxing in the swimming pool trying to cool off.
Somehow riding down the A666 from Darwen doesn’t seem anywhere near as good but I’m ready for all that now and much less likely to wonder why the bloody hell I’m bothering at 6am on a rainy, dark Tuesday morning at the side of the road somewhere near Bacup.
I finished reading my book too. Even though I’ve started loads, I think this is the first time I’ve actually finished a book in years. Sign of a proper break, that.
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I probably shouldn’t admit to this, but I’ve been trying to destroy these wheels. Almost two years ago, I was loaned a pair of Rolf Ralos 9 wheels and if I’m being honest, I thought they looked nice, they certainly weighed very little but I didn’t hold out much hope for them surviving a winter and a hard season of endurance racing and training (I’ve even done some cyclocross racing on them, including the 3 Peaks). My expectations were proved to be very different to reality….
When I saw the low number of spokes, I expected the wheels to be bashed into wobbly egg shapes quite quickly. They’re still dead straight.
I expected the rims to be dinged and for them to start to leak air from the tubeless tyres. They’re still almost unmarked and the tyres still hold air.
The only thing wrong with them right now, after several thousand training miles in typical UK conditions and six 24 hour races (including a total of 54 laps of the Strathpuffer component-doom over two races), is the hub bearings will need replacing soon. Not desperately, there’s just some side to side play that’s all.
I’ve been nothing but impressed with these wheels. They’re tough, easy to set up tubeless (which is good because I’ve got zero patience with hard-to-setup-tubeless wheels), they look good and they’re more than light enough for racing.
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A vital aspect of any 24 hour solo race, especially the Strathpuffer, is lighting. The ability to see where you’re going in the dark when riding a bike at speed is a basic necessity, but not only do your lights need to be bright, they’ve got to be reliable and ideally compact and lightweight.
I’m incredibly fortunate to be supported by Exposure Lights. Not only are their products, in my opinion, the best that money can buy but their seemingly unwavering support of the racing scene in this country puts them head and shoulders above the competition.
The now-familiar cable-free design of all the Exposure Lights units means that things are neat and tidy without yards of cables flapping around and swapping lights mid-race is as fast as swapping a water bottle. Just unclip the quick-release handlebar bracket or pull the helmet light out of its (award-winning) ball-and-socket mount, chuck another one on there and off you go.
…that is, if you actually need to swap a light. The burn times of all lights in the range are also very impressive. I can easily complete a 24 hour race in the summer without any light swapping as long as I use full power on my bar-mounted light only when needed and I keep the helmet-mounted Joystick set to medium.
The latest batch of lights, handed to me just in time at the start of the Strathpuffer (thanks John) consists of a helmet-mounted Diablo and bar mounted Six Pack and Reflex lights. I thought the Exposure lights I already had were impressive, but these are a whole new level in terms of output, weight, size features and burn times.
The Reflex is without doubt the best light I’ve ever used. On full power the output is a quite incredible 2200 lumens and the beam quality ensures that you’re able to see far enough down the trail to ride at daylight speeds at all times. The readout on the back of the light tells you how much burn time you’re got left in hours and minutes and adjusts immediately when you switch between high, medium and low.
There’s almost a dozen programmable ‘modes’ that allow you to pre-define the output levels available. Some programs cut the available output options down to low and full power, which I find particularly handy.
The light also weighs next to nothing (292 grams) and doesn’t take up much room. Oh, and you can set the light to automatically adjust its output based on whether you’re slowly grinding uphill or hooning back down again. How cool is that?
Slightly bigger and without the some of the clever technology is the Six Pack – still with loads of programmable modes and an amazing punchy output, the battery lasts for ages and it’s as super-reliable as all the Exposure lights I’ve used in the past.
Finally (and I’ve got to mention this one because it’s about as trick as it gets) – I actually received this light as a prize for winning the solo at the Strathpuffer – the Exposure Equinox is an amazing piece of kit. Basically a helmet light with a maximum output the same as a Six Pack (2000 lumens). That amount of light on your head is probably only needed in a handful of situations in the average mountain biker’s lifetime, but it’s there if you need it.
At lower output settings the burn times are really good and output-wise things are still pretty bonkers and more than bright enough for most situations. The best bit though is the wireless switch. Mounted on your bars, the switch allows you to toggle between the output settings, maximising the battery life. The switch itself is also illuminated in green, amber or red depending on the amount of juice left in the battery and it’s only 124g. It’s just superb.
I’d honestly not consider riding with any other brand of lights.
Click here to see the full range of lights, specifications and accessories (such as extended batteries and extra mounting hardware).
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When I received this lovely, white, short-sleeved and well-vented cycling jersey from ProBikeKit to review in the middle of winter I wondered how I was going to manage to do a proper job of it. A big ride would be the best way to test it I thought, and luckily I had one planned.
Unfortunately the ‘big ride’ in question was the Strathpuffer 24 hour race, so to be honest I was worried about how well the jersey would cope both during and afterwards….
The race is sufficiently cold to warrant wearing a jacket for the duration but I didn’t need a base layer this time as the temperature was unseasonably mild.
The jersey in question is made by Craft, so I expected it to be a quality item. I’ve got a lot of Craft gear already and it’s all very, very good.
The Craft “Performance Bike Tour” jersey looks like a fairly-standard, snug-fitting cycling top with a few nice touches. The sleeves are cut at a slight angle so that the ‘outside’ doesn’t ride up and look like a sleeveless top (or one that’s just too small). There’s a nicely-placed mesh vent at the back of the neck – just where you want one in warm weather in fact.
There are the usual three pockets at the rear but one of them has a zip – so there’s somewhere to stash your keys and cake money.
There’s a full-length zip. I like full-length zips. I’m off for a ride somewhere hot and sunny in a few weeks so I’ll use the full-length zip quite a lot then.
So, I wore it at the Strathpuffer. For 24 hours I wore it. It didn’t chafe or rub or start to cause any unnecessary discomfort. I carried a tool, gels and some other stuff in the pockets and it didn’t get stretched. It was subjected to 24 hours’ worth of my sweat and toil. It got splashed with filthy mud a fair bit in the parts that were showing from under my jacket and then after all that it was dumped for hours and hours in a washing bag in the back of the van.
When I put it in the washing machine at 40 degrees with all the other almost-ruined kit I feared the worst. I thought that that lovely white top would be a murky beige colour from now on but surprisingly, it’s as good as new.
ProBikeKit USA: http://www.probikekit.com/home.dept
ProBikeKit Australia: http://www.probikekit.com.au/home.dept