After several months of research and procrastination I’ve finally bought a power assisted bicycle – an e-bike. Power assisted means that you have to pedal; you can’t ride it like a motorbike or moped. Over 15.5 mph you’re on your own as the motorised assistance ceases at that speed. Above that you ride it like an ordinary pushbike. What sold me on the idea was a ride I did round the 38 mile Isle of Man TT Mountain Circuit a few weeks ago, a ride I wrote about here and which I could not have done on any of my conventional road bikes. I did a fair bit of the ride at over 15.5 mph so unassisted and reached speeds of over 30mph freewheeling down the mountain but made shameless use of the electric motor up the 7 mile mountain climb. It also makes hill starts and setting off quickly and smoothly in traffic much easier and controlled. 

The other thing that prompted me to look into e-bikes was an experience I had a few weeks ago riding with my friend David in the hilly terrain around Settle and Bolton-by-Bowland over the Lancashire border. We only managed 26 miles and David, apart from on the flat and downhill, David was soft pedalling up all the hills or waiting for me. I had to get off on several occasions and walk for a bit to recover my breathing and heart rate on the steeper climbs. Depsite this being a ride long planned and looked forward to I’m sorry to say that on the whole it was not a pleasant experience. To put this in perspective David is 76 and, unlike me, has never given up cycling even doing the odd time trial up unto a year or two ago. Also he is only 11 stone compared with my 14 stone. Combine this with the fact that he is certainly able to produce as much power as me and probably more, the difference in our up hill performance is obvious, especially since I was suffering from the effects of a long term cold. Never-the-less, to match David I would either have to lose another 3 stone or increase my power by about 33% none of which is likely.

It’s the hills that are the killer for me and even though I’m OK one the flat or mildly undulating roads a hilly ride means I run out of energy quite quickly. The e-bike will allow me to enjoy longer leisure rides than I am capable of on my conventional bikes. My limit at the moment seems to be about 35 miles, less on hilly terrain and I’m often knackered when I get home. In fact often the last few miles are hardly pleasurable at all. I’m hoping this can still improve but I will never get back to the sorts or beautiful rides I had in my teens, 20s and 30s. I posted a picture here sometime ago of a certificate I got in the early 1980s for a CTC event covering 240 miles in 24 hours. At 72 those days are long gone. I used to cycle from Leeds to Burnsall in the Yorkshire Dales on Saturday mornings and be back for lunch! Now I can just about do a trip to Bingley 5 Rise lock to the café and back along the canal! With my e-bike 50 mile round trips like Burnsall will be back on the agenda. I will also be able to use the bike to visit friends who live too far away to cycle to and get there without being a sweaty mess and needing a lie down when I arrive. And I will still be getting exercise through cycling but will be in control of just how much effort I want to make rather than this being dictated by the hills and wind. It also means I can wrap up properly against cold and rain as with the power assistance I won’t be marinating in my own juices when the going gets tough.

I can’t think of a downside to this decision for me but time will tell. I’ll let you know what problems I have if any.

Neo update

In the last two posts I mentioned that I had not got the Neo setup quite right as the gears didn’t change very smoothly and one of them, the 4th from bottom gear (i.e. from the largest sprocket) slipped and was unusable. However, I have been riding the bike like this since July and it hasn’t stopped me enjoying riding on Zwift and so up until today have not got round to trying to fix it. This is also partly because it took me so long to fit the cassette in the first place that, since it was ride-able, I was reluctant to spend another 4 hours trying to sort it out. I did discuss this with Woodrups some time ago and the theory was that I had fitted the offending sprocket the wrong way round. I decided to attempt the fix at this stage as recently I had been getting involved in rather more demanding rides on Zwift including some handicap races and I found that the unusable sprocket was frequently the one I needed!

In the event, fixing it today was not too bad. I had indeed fitted the 4th sprocket the wrong way round and when I put the bike back on the trainer this gear now worked fine. Much to my dismay another sprocket had become unusable due to slipping. In this case I spotted straightway that I had put a spacer on the wrong side of it so it was hard pressed up against the next sprocket, thus making 2 of them unusable. This was soon remedied and now all seems well. The whole process took me about an hour so a vast improvement on the 4 hours the original cassette fitting took me.

I have made extensive and regular use of the trainer and Zwift but not had much time to record anything here. I will do so in the near future, including my first experiences of virtual racing. I’ve still be going out in the real world (IRL rides – in real life) while the weather has been good and will continue to do throughout the winter but there is no doubt I will hit next Spring significantly fitter than in the past now I have a smart trainer and Zwift.

Tacx Neo – 5 weeks later

In the 5 weeks I’ve had the Neo I’ve ridden it 27 times. long enough for a detailed reflection on the experience. It’s an expensive bit of kit and, if you pay the full price, can cost you £1300. I did rather better than that but it was still a considerable investment. I bought it for various reasons but on the technical side it is the quietest on the market, it has all the necessary connectivity for use with laptops, smart phones, TVs and, importantly, Zwift (of which more later – it is the deal maker as far as I am concerned) and even has a ‘road feel’ feature so that you feel the cobbles, paving, boardwalks and gravel as you ride over them. This can be disabled if you wish. It is also very accurate in its measurements of cadence, watts, speed and miles as well as how it reacts to gradients – It will measure power at far higher levels than I will ever achieve and accurately simulates gradients up to 25%. How all this adds up to an enthralling experience when riding on Zwift, either alone or in a social or race group, I’ll leave ’til another post.

When I got it home and unpacked it, I found the setting up was very easy with the exception of fitting the sprockets to the freewheel body. It is designed to take either Shimano or Campagnola sprockets, 10 or 11 speed but this complicates the way the sprockets line up with the appropriate spines. I took me nearly 4 hours to get the sprockets on and my Giant Defy Advanced up and running on the trainer. The first problem was getting the sprockets on in the first place. I couldn’t see how they should slide on so I just tried everything until, one at a time, I succeeded in getting them to slip over the splines. But then the sprockets were loose. On reading the instruction again I deduced (it wasn’t very clear) that as I had only 10 sprockets I needed an additional spacer behind the innermost sprocket to make up for the missing twelfth. So it all had to come off and be put back on again. Hence the four hours.

Once the bike was on the trainer things went better. It was very easy to install Zwift on my laptop and the mobile app on my tablet. I didn’t take advantage of the 1 week’s free trial and started to pay the subscription straight away. Right from the start I was hooked by Zwift. I set up the laptop immediately in front of the bike so I can read the screen easily and reach the keyboard for changing the camera view and sending text messages to anyone I’m riding with. I have an open window beside me and a water bottle on the window sill alongside a Bluetooth speaker on which I’m playing a Spotify playlist. I have a heavy duty rubberised mat under the bike to make the trainer even more quiet and collect all the sweat I leak and I hang a towel over the handlebars for frequent mopping downs. I can easily spend an hour riding on this set up whereas on my old turbo rollers I was bored out of my skull withing 15 minutes. And riding with others up hill and down dale,through London and the Surrey hills, or on The Richmond, Virginia, 2015 world championship course, or on the fictional roads and the volcano of Watopia, or undertaking any of the structure training programmes and workouts, brings out a lot more effort than if you’re just pedalling along to a bit of music on a standard set of rollers or a non-networked static bike.

Having said all that, I have had other problems. The most irritating is that the gear changes do not move the chain smoothly through the gears and the 4th sprocket from bottom is unusable as the chain just slips over it. I’ve spoken to the dealer I bought the Neo from and it seem I am by no means the first to have this problem. It sounds like I have put the slipping sprocket on the wrong way round and may have not got the others lined up properly. Having got a couple of tips I will reassemble the block in the next few days and see if I can fix it. In the meantime I will carry on as it is and as I have been for the last 5 weeks.

The other problem was after I upgraded the firmware on the trainer using the Tacx utility app on my Android tablet, Zwift stopped registering my cadence. My on screen avatar just freewheeled everywhere even though my real-life legs were whirling around! I repeated the upgrade process again and immediately all was well. In fact the road feel feature started working too, for the first time.

I’ve ridden with a number of training and social groups on Zwift and loved it all. My FTP (functional threshold power) is currently 167 watts and, given my weight is 89 kilogrammes, my power/weight ration is approximately 1.9 w/kg. This is important as it places me in one of the 4 categories for the purposes of entering appropriate races, training and social rides. The fourth group is D for riders with a w/kg of 1.5 to 2.5. So as you can see, I’m near the bottom of the bottom just about! I have survived a couple of events where the pace was held at between 1.5 and 2.0 w/kg and have just about got to the end of the hour.

So this is where I’m at so far. Another post will report when I get my gear changes sorted out – the shop has offered to do this for me if I can’t manage it – and report on how I’m getting on with Zwift, what the features I love are, and what I’ve learnt about the Zwift platform and virtual riding.

Zwift and smart trainers

For a few months now I’ve been trying to persuade myself to buy a new smart trainer and start riding on Zwift, the internet cycling social platform. So last Tuesday 25th July I bought a Tacx Neo direct drive smart trainer and set it up on the spare bedroom.

It took a while to fit the sprockets from the Giant Defy to the cassette body on the trainer but once I realised it needed an additional spacer (I had 10 sprockets and the body takes 11) all went quite well except I get chain jumping on the 4th largest sprocket, the first separate sprocket after the block of 3 biggest). A smart trainer measures speed (mph), cadence (rpm) and power in watts. When linked to software it will display and record all this data.

I have joined Zwift which gives you a range of virtual locations to ride, at the moment various circuits if different length and terrains on a fictitious island called Watopia, various courses in and around London including the Surrey hills like Box Hill, and the Richmond USA world championship course from 2015. In addition there are a number of training workouts to choose from for everyone from beginners to top athletes.

I have joined three Facebook groups focused on group rides and races on Zwift. The Big Ring, based in Australia, runs a series of weekly races on Mondays and Thursdays. The Monday races are handicap events which in principle puts everyone on a level footing. Most races are for different categories of riders depending on their watts per kilogram measurement. This is calculated by dividing your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) by your weight in kilograms. FTP represents your ability to sustain the highest possible power output over 45 to 60 minutes. Generally speaking the figure used is 95% average power you can achieve going flat out for 20 minutes. Mines about 160 watts at the moment so my watts per kilogram (current weight 94 kg) is 1.7 w/k, not very good. For Zwift races this puts me firmly in the D category for riders under 2.5 w/k. The Big Ring handicap races even everyone up by assigning them a weight to enter into their Zwift profile before the race. Strong light riders have an increased weight and heavy weak riders like me are given a lighter weight to enter. At the moment my race weight is 78 kilograms! The highest is 220 and the lowest 58. My first race will be next monday.

In the meantime I did a steady paced 1 hour ride with another Facebook group, Ride On For Health, or RO4H. This was very steady and it got me used to riding in company, drafting and closing gaps. The illustration below is of me (my avatar is not a good likeness!) leading the group. It’s a good supportive group mainly focused on fitness and health and, where appropriate rehabilitation.  Zwift seems to simulate drafting and the gradients very well and you get a real feel for group riding and the tactics of racing. On this ride I got a bit carried away and around the 40 minute mark another rider, not in our group, came past and I jumped on his wheel gaping my group by about 15 seconds at one point. I dropped back fairly quickly and we all finished together as intended.


Tadcaster Sportive 2017

When I bought my Giant Defy Advance all carbon sportive bike in March 2013, just over four years ago, I had no idea how little I would use it. For most of that year I was doing fairly short rides on my steel hybrid to get fit and the first sportive I entered was the Lincolnshire Arrow in May 2014. This didn’t happen as I was unexpectedly away and the following April, 2015, I had the mountain bike accident that required most of the summer to recover. So the first sportive I managed to do was April 2016, the Tadcaster event I reported on here, three years after buying the bike. As a result of my stay in hospital with a ruptured kidney I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery in August 2016 which kept me off my bike for most of the rest of the year but I did manage to ride the 2017 Tadcaster sportive earlier this month. But as the route recorded below, I only did 22 miles.

I played in a racketball tournament the day before and had a fairly heavy evening so got up late on the Sunday morning and had to rush. I got to Tadcaster in time to sign on and get through the starting gate before it closed but I was on my own. The route for the 60k event, which I was doing, was common to both events, the 60k and the 100k. Those doing the longer event repeated the first 3 miles or so of the 60k route and then went off on another 40 k hilly loop to the north east of Leeds. The route was well signed but unfortunately I missed the right turn in Boston Spa for the initial 60k loop and when I picked up the next sign I was unknowingly on the 40k hilly finishing loop for the100k event. As soon as I got into the hills near Collingham I knew I’d gone wrong but didn’t feel I had the fitness to turn back. I carried on, walking on a couple of the steeper hills and eventually got back to Tadcaster when I recorded a time of 1 hour 51 minutes, an average speed of 12 mph which, in the circumstances, was quite creditable. But it was a lonely ride with none of the group riding I’d bee looking forward to, or being able to shelter in the wheels like I had last year. On the plus side it was lovely countryside, the East Leeds villages are very pretty, and it was a sunny and fairly windless day.

I shall do more sportives and also look out for suitable audax and reliability trial events. I’ve got a few days cycling with my friend Mike in Scotland in June and France again in July. There is also talk of doing the Sustrans route along the coast from Dover to Brighton. We shall see.

Pre-breakfast training

I did one of my regular short fitness ride this morning before breakfast on my carbon Giant Defy. The difference is amazing, compared with my trusty hybrid. I did the ride in 31 minutes rather than the 40 or so I normally take. The tyres are rather narrow (23mm) for some of the road surfaces round here and I’m wondering if I could do with a more utility road bike in my stable. The Ridgeback hybrid is very heavy but I wouldn’t dream of parting with it. It makes a great commuting bike and of course, being heavy, it gives me plenty of exercise too!

Tadcaster sportive

On Sunday 10th April Laurie Bailey and I (almost) completed the 60k version of the Tadcaster sportive. In fact we went slightly off route and missed about a 3 mile loop but I was still pleased with how I went. I was confident I would complete the distance but not if I would be able to keep up with a reasonably paced group. We found ourselves in a pretty fast group that batted along at between 15 and 20 mph most of the time and the initial hilly section (about 10 miles of fairly gentle undulations were ridden entirely on the big ring. I was also a bit worried about how safe I would be on a strange and rather fast steering bike riding in close company. I hadn’t ridden my Giant Defy for over a year and had not been on anything like a close ordered group ride for over 30 years! But all was well and I soon got back into the swing of things. When I think of how many thousands of miles of club runs, chain gang sessions and races I have done then perhaps I should have been a bit more confident in my ability. The average speed was just over 15 miles and hour. The whole thing was a great experience and left we keen to do some more this year. Laurie is about 10 years younger than me and a strong rider. I was OK at the back of the group but when needed he paced me to keep me in touch. I seems I can still follow a wheel pretty closely! Over the last 4 miles or so I began to tail off on the finishing hills but always kept going and soon made contact again on the flat and downhill.
Although I had intended to do the Lincoln Arrow sportive in May as well (the one I had to pull out of last year after my mountain bike accident) I will be away that weekend on a narrow boat holiday on the Leeds Liverpool canal. However, there is a similar event near Wetherby in September and I hope to find some audax events or reliability trials before then too. I’m gradually building my fitness and cycling a bit more regularly now. Last week we were in Norfolk staying at Sutton Lea Manor with family and I managed to ride everyday while we were there covering just over 80 miles in short rides of between 7 and 15 miles. This was on my Ridgeback hybrid, a very different experience to riding the much lighter and responsive all carbon Giant Defy.
tadcaster sportive april 2016(2) tadcaster sportive april 2016 tadcaster sportive2016-04

Early season sportives

Last Spring, 2015, I was due to embark on my programme of Sportives and with that in mind I entered the Lincoln Arrow, a suitable short and relatively flat event to get me going. As I reported in May however(Not according to plan) I had to pull out after my mountain bike accident. This year I’ll have another go. I’ve entered the Tadcaster sportive on the 10th April. I’ll be doing the short version, 60 km, and it should be pretty flat. All being well I will also enter the Lincoln Arrow again on May 22nd, probably also the shorter route of 48 miles. This has a few modest hills but is none-the-less pretty flat. Another trip I had to cancel last year was to Islay with my friend Mike to do a bit of cycling and go to the beach rugby at Port Helen. I wrote about this in June 2014 – Cycling on Islay.

Progress update

I’m amazed to discover my last update was in November 2014, 6 months ago. So here’s the latest although not as systematic as some of the earlier ones. The first report was in November 2012 when I recorded that from 17 stone 5 lb in July I was now down to 15 stone 10 lb. Today, just short of 3 years on I am 12 stone 5 lb, a loss of 5 stone. This has not been linear by any means and for about a year I stuck at round 14 stone 6 lb but starting to play racketball, a bit more cycling and regular walking, coupled to starting to log food and calories with MyFitnessPal, I got down to 13 stone by the beginning of April this year. Then I had my accident. When I came out of hospital after 8 days I was down to 12 stone 4 lb. Because of the type of injury and the fitting of a kidney stent  so far I’ve been unable to ride or play racketball although I’ve started to do some very short sedate walks and a few exercises. Most of the weight I’ve lost is fat, so a good thing, but I’ve also lost a pound of two of muscle. My plan is to try and keep my weight down to 12 stone 5 lb or thereabouts by going onto a maintenance calorie allowance (1980) but increase the proportion of protein in my diet. Then, when hopefully the stent comes out sometime later this month and I can return to full exercise, I can raise my weight by regaining muscle, up to round 12 stone 7 or 8 perhaps. To this end I may even do a bit of gym work at the squash club.

Christmas survived!

I started this blog in October 2012, 2 years and 3 months ago when I weighed 17 stone 7 lbs. I finish this year at 13 stone 8 lb. In fact I got down to 13 stone 6 briefly before Christmas but a few days of excessive eating and drinking with the family in Derbyshire piled it on again. I made some effort to mitigate the decline by skipping breakfasts and doing 1 hour walks instead and I assume this has helped a bit. Also in the few days after Christmas before I weighed myself again I played racketball 3 times and got back into my more moderated eating and drinking regime so I probably put on a bit more than the 2 lbs. Anyway, 13 stone 8 is a good place to start from to get down to the 13 stone I’m aiming for by the time the weather gets warmer next year. I’m confident that I can achieve this by mid March and probably earlier. I’m thinking about joining the Airedale Olympic Cycling Club and doing their Saturday social rides and then in due course attempting some 10 mile time trials. I also have plans to develop the Bradford U3A cycling group and doing more on my new mountain bike. I will have to revise my plans to do alpine passes when I’m 70 I think but some decent sportives and audaxes should be achievable.