OCD

If you asked Yoli about me I’m pretty certain that, in amongst some good qualities which she would hopefully mention, would be the fact that I am an obsessive worrier. I prefer to think of it as just being careful about planning, but Yoli’s assessment is I suspect closer to the truth. In all the years I have been travelling on business, I can’t remember ever missing a flight. I can, however, recall many times arriving at an empty checkin desk hours before departure to the amused look of the attendant who is more used to seeing doddery pensioners allowing hours more time than they need than smartly dressed business men. The only time I came close to missing my plane was because I arrived so early that everything was closed and I fell asleep waiting for the desks to open. Even then, my internal worry clock woke me just in time to make the flight.

My ability to obsess over things doesn’t just extend to travel. Any significant purchase ends up being endlessly researched, sometimes re-reading the same reviews and opinions multiple times to see if I missed some subtle point that might mean the item in question looked a a better or worse fit than an initial cursory read had suggested. Yoli had been winning the battle to get me to just buy stuff we needed and not worry so much until a spate of recent impulse purchases went bad, all of them needing to be returned, arguments with shop owners, refunds, credits and shopping for replacement items. To be fair though, the refund arguments were very few, in this day of internet shopping it’s good to see that a number of our local shops realise their edge is now service and there’s no quibbling over faulty or inadequate items. None of that helps Yoli though, I’m now worse than ever on wanting to research every tiny facet before the plastic comes out.

What has all this got to do with cycling you may be wondering? Well, if you hadn’t already gleaned it from the preceding entries, planning and acquiring the components for Jolly has been a perfect case in point. The one significant impulse buy I made during this last year’s heightened interest in cycling was the Easton wheels, and that went south in a bad way.

The ramifications of my Easton issues are still rumbling on too. Helderberg Cycle World and Omnico have been excellent and replaced the wheels, but my lack of confidence in the wheels means they are sitting in the garage unused, still wrapped and boxed. That has left me riding the old Shimano wheels from Merry, and scrambling around trying to get both my audax wheelset and my new general training and racing wheelsets sorted. And by “scrambling around” I of course mean obssessive worrying and large dollops of internet reading. Luckily many of our favourite TV series have recently ended, so the latter has mostly been done on the couch with with some trashy show on as background noise.

I have at last, I think, come to some decisions though – which will no doubt be a big relief to Yoli who is sick to her teeth of hearing about this rim, and that hub, or these spokes. Of course the names of these have about as much meaning to her as any brand of fashion would have to me, but despite that she mostly manages a smile and an encouraging nod rather than a “what the hell are you asking/telling me this for?“, which frankly would be more than justified.

And the winners are …


Choosing components for the audax wheels wasn’t difficult. There are a few tried and tested formulas, and it’s way simpler to follow one of these rather than, well, reinvent the wheel. I’ve opted for Mavic Open Pro rims, 32H front and 36H rear, laced with double butted spokes to Hope Pro3 hubs. For audax use strength outweighs lightness, hence the high spoke count, although the Mavic rims themselves aren’t particularly heavy. Hope hubs have a reputation for durability under harsh conditions, thanks in part to their sealed bearings. In fact, I will have an extra 32H front rim laced to a SON Dynamo hub, also a standard component on many audax machines. This wheel will get used for rides likely to have long night-time sections, which will include PBP since it starts at night. It’ll also quite probably get used on LEL too, given it is intended as a dress rehearsal for all of the equipment I plan to use on PBP.

It’s proved much harder to decide on a replacement for my Eastons since I want something that is both strong enough for everyday training and light enough for “racing” – by which I mean PPA rides where I care about my time, since I’m nowhere near fast enough to be actually racing anyone apart from my own shadow. The problem though, is not that there are few wheels which fit this bill, but there are way way too many. If you believe the marketing blurb, practical every wheel you can buy is “tough enough for training, yet fast enough for racing”. Frankly, most aren’t – my Eastons being a classic case in point. They were wonderfully fast on timed rides, but just didn’t seem to be able to soak up the day to day punishment. Maybe I’m just rough on my wheels, but whatever the cause it’s made me cautious of lightly spoked, race oriented wheels. In the end, despite the horrendous shipping costs from the UK, I decided to go with Velocity A23 rims, 24H front and 28H rear laced to Dura Ace 7900 hubs with Sapim CX-Ray bladed spokes. I had the hubs already, which helps offset some of the cost, as does the ability to sell my replacement Eastons at an “as new” price, since they are actually still new and unused. The bladed spokes are a bit of an extravagance, but their reduced weight and reputation for toughness were hard to resist. Plus of the many reviews I read on the A23 rims, most were laced with bladed spokes. This included some guys who had pounded them on dirt roads and muddy tracks without issues or breakages. It seems not everyone believes they need a a mountain bike to go offroad.

So there you have it – hours of research and dithering, boiled down to two short paragraphs. Yoli can heave a sigh of relief that the ear bending is over and the topic is done, and I can look forward to getting the new wheels built and tried out. Hopefully this won’t take long as being reduced to one set of wheels has held me back from setting Merry up as a permanent fixture on my newly acquired indoor trainer – a Tacx Bushido. And no, you don’t want to know how much prevarication that decision took, although I will write up some notes once I’ve had a chance to try it out.

On the positive side for Yoli, with this behind me I can start to work on that weatherproof bits and bobs cupboard for her vegetable garden, which has been overdue now since April. And, as it inevitable willl, when that process becomes a maze of interlinking options and decisions needing to be contemplated, at least it’ll be on a topic vaguely of interest to her.

Solo

Sometimes you just need to get out and ride. Not because you’re trying to get away from anything. Quite the reverse, because you’re trying to get towards something. Yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, the last few Wannabees club rides have been great, even the ones in the rain. But this weekend I needed to ride, and with a proper grown up evening planned in Cape Town Saturday evening followed by  a night in the Grand Daddy Hotel, Saturday morning was always going to be my best opportunity for riding.

The weekend club rides can be a bit too frantic for my tastes, too much pent up energy from the working week blasting off at a heated pace. With a cold start to the day forecast, but fabulous sunny weather later I decided to fall back to a solo ride starting at a more relaxed 8am. In the end, it was a shade after nine as my wheels rolled out of the gate, accompanied by a “ride safe” from Yoli and a “are you going to go large fast daddy?” from Ben.

One thing I did keep consistent with a club ride was starting out down the hill. This was going to be a relaxing solo ride on a gorgeous sunny winter’s day, so a quad crunching climb up the hill did not fit the bill nearly so well as a whiz down followed by an easy loosening spin up Old Stellenbosch Road. A cheesy grin was already stuck on my face even before I reached cruising pace out along the R44. Today’s ride would be  a gentle 70km odd out to Klapmuts and back – an old favourite route from Argus training rides earlier this year, and one I hadn’t ridden since.

Coasting into Stellenbosch, my first reaction to the parked cars scattered both sides of the road was that there must be a school rugby game on. Then I noticed the bike racks hung off the back of pretty much every car and remembered it was the Die Burger mountain bike race today.. What amazing weather I thought for the riders, given the rain and storms of the past few weekends.  Our paths crossed a number of times on the road out of Stellenbosch, as the MTB trail zigzagged between farm trails on either side of the R44.

The riding was surprisingly easy despite keeping up a reasonable pace, no doubt helped by my training these last few weeks. And somewhere just between Krom Rhee road and Kanonkop it happened. The peace and quiet of riding with only my own inner voice for company caught up with me on the road right there, and suddenly I realised how much I’d missed riding solo: time to sit up and enjoy the view, with no distractions apart from the rhythmic whir of pedals and humming wheel hubs; time to think, and be alone with those thoughts.

Something wonderful happened over the remaining forty kilometres or so of riding – a whole host of murky and tangled issues that had been troubling me over the past few weeks unravelled themselves and everything became simple and clear again. It’s something of a cliché to say it was a life changing ride, but in this case it would be absolutely true – quite literally, although exactly why will have to be the subject of a future entry. For now all I can really say is that something else I learned today is that through all the club rides and training, I won’t be losing sight again of the pleasure and enjoyment of the occasional ride alone, for no other reason than the pure pleasure of cycling.

What the LEL?

“You’re seriously going to enter that?”

Hent’s view on my audaxing interests had mellowed a shade from his comment about me being mad at the beginning of this blog. He and Lanie were over for dinner last Saturday evening and our conversation had moved from cycling in general, to some stunning Joberg2c footage which had been used on a recent Avis TV ad. Hent raised an eyebrow at the 900km in 9 days schedule which prompted me to mention my intention to enter LEL (London-Edinburgh-London) next year. As we talked more, it dawned on me that I haven’t really mentioned LEL here on the blog.

Two or three months back Yoli and I were having dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, Taste just outside Somerset West on the R44. For a day or so I’d been wondering about whether LEL would be a good idea, but I knew there was no point considering it unless Yoli was comfortable with the idea. Given that we have work, family and friends in the UK, it’s not a difficult trip to combine with other things and no shortage of things to do whilst there.

A few things had sparked my interest in LEL. First of those was the distance – at 1,400km it’s actually longer than PBP albeit with an extra day allowed to compensate for that. The next attraction is that it is two years before the next PBP event in 2015. Whilst that may make it a tad ambitious in terms of my training, it will give me valuable practical experience of what a long audax event entails, allowing time to improve and refine my ideas on equipment and preparations before PBP. And finally, there is the question of whether I am made of the right stuff to complete these long audax rides. Hopefully LEL will help me answer that question before committing myself to the qualifying brevets and the final stages along the road to PBP.

Luckily, Yoli is extremely understanding and tolerant of my cycling addiction and immediately grasped the logic of adding LEL to the DC as training stages towards PBP. Although maybe the candlelit ambience, Anton’s excellent food and Ed’s superb wine helped get the idea across too.

So that’s how LEL came into the planning of my journey to Paris, and hardly a day goes by without some aspect of the going through my mind. The most often areas I find myself contemplating aren’t actually the cycling at all – I can train for that. The trickier parts to gauge are what a workable sleeping and eating pattern will be. I know from reading many accounts of PBP experiences that, aside from injury, over tiredness and lack of nutrition are big dangers as the hours and days wear on. An average speed of 20 KM/h sounds easy until you think about doing it five days in a row. Actually for LEL the real average is closer to 14 KM/h but you need to get out ahead of that speed to eke out time to eat and sleep, not to mention contingency for mechanicals.

For now though, it’s all about building the kilometres towards the DC. It’s been hard at times to get out training lately, especially with some very wet riding. But the looming prospect of a tough team 200km ride in November and needing to make a final decision on LEL by Jan 5th 2013 have served as more than enough motivation to keep cycling.

Bad wheels, or bad luck?

Under any other circumstances, sitting outside on a sunny winters day at Rooi Els with a cup of cappuccino to complement the stunning views would more than enough to put a smile on my face. But when it is winter, and sunny days are rare, sitting looking at views is not something I’d trade for enjoying them from the saddle of my bike. And enjoying my midweek ride is just what I had been doing until my Easton EA 90 SLX wheels let me down again.

I’d made a concious decision to lead the group up the climb back from Betty’s Bay. It’s fairly long but not steep, making it perfect for settling into a nice brisk pace to spin up to the top. Being just four riders we ended up riding in twos: Penny alongside me at the head; and John and Tom tucked on our wheels behind. Energy wise, I’d judged the haul up well – as we crested the top I was starting to feel the effort in my lungs, although my legs still felt strong and energetic.

Starting the free-wheel down I was looking forward to seeing how well I would last the remaining few hills, given my recent lack of training and the decent pace we had kept up. But around halfway down I heard an ominous crack, followed immediately by a wobbling front wheel. I instantly knew it was another broken spoke, having had exactly the same experience at the end of the Wellington Lions ride back in February. I’m a fairly cautious (in other words slow!) descender, and Penny and John were already too far ahead to hear me cry out “mechanical“. Tom pulled alongside as my bike rapidly slowed under the involuntary braking of the no longer round front wheel. He graciously offered to wait with me, but there was really no point him also spoiling his ride so I bid him farewell and asked him to let the others know what had happened when he caught up with them.

Luckily Yolandi was at home, and the hour it took her to reach me passed quite quickly with the views, my coffee, and my inbox to work through. I wasn’t happy though: two spoke breakages in 8 months and less than 2,000km of usage is just not what I’d expected from high end wheels. Especially since everything else about them I like – they’re very light and spin very fast. But durable they are not, at least not the set I have.

Having done some internet research – it seems that there are many happy customers, with lots of distance on these wheels and no problems. There is no shortage of other unhappy riders though whose experiences pretty much exactly mirror mine – multiple and repeated spoke breakages with relatively low usage, and also loosening hubs which is something I had to get fixed just last week. So I’ve lobbied Helderberg Cycle World to try and get me either a replacement set or a refund from Omnico, the SA distributors. Hopefully I’ll get a rock solid set in replacement, and will be able to report back that I was unlucky with a defective set.

26 Jul 12 – Postcript to original entry:
Yet another case of superb service from Helderberg Cycles and Omnico, they replaced the wheels with a brand new boxed set. I can’t really say whether my set were just defective, or there is something inherent in the Easton’s that doesn’t suit my riding, but it’s great to have the support of my LBS and the importer in getting me a replacement set.


Photos from Easton website

Rain, Rain …

Rule #5 – Harden The F*ck Up


Rule #9 – If you are out riding in bad weather it means you are badass. Period.

Source: the rules as laid down by the Velominati, Keepers of the Cog.
Today was definitely a day for contemplating both of these rules, and they were cited on a few occasions to cheer our small group of riders and prevent further defections to home or a coffee shop due to the inclement conditions.

Even though they disagreed on how much, and when it would start, every forecast was predicting a cold morning with some rain. With little doubt of a downpour, it was clearly a perfect day to break out the Endura Flyte jacket for it’s inaugural ride, the only one of the items brought over on Mum’s visit not to have been road tested yet. In theory, this jacket should be more water and windproof than my lightweight jacket or gilet, albeit at the expense of portability. Once on, the jacket needs to stay on as it does not fold down small enough to go in a jersey pocket. So you need to be pretty sure it will be cold and/or wet enough that the jacket will be needed for the whole ride.

Along with the new jacket, I also put on my Deluge Zipless overshoes and FS-260 leg warmers. Both of these have had one previous outing and proved their value at beating the cold, but this would be their first test in the rain.

I must confess, as I started down the road with all my layers on I was almost too warm. But even in the dark of the morning, I could just make the outline of some fairly ominous looking clouds in the sky. Sure enough, swinging right at the lights into Main Road and heading towards our meeting point at Waterstone Village a few small half-hearted spots of rain were already drifting lazily on the air. It was easy to ignore them at first as we chatted in the car park, but even before we started off a steadily increasing drizzle was glinting in the gathering beams of headlights arriving for the ride. By the time we reached Beach Road in Strand the drizzle had turned into full on rain – so much for the forecasts which had suggested we would stay dry until 11 o’clock.

A quick stop and confer and it was agreed that with nearby Gordon’s Bay hidden by a blanket of cloud and rain, the coast road would not make for a pleasant ride. Not willing to abandon the ride though, the decision was made to change our route and we swung back and headed for Vlaberg. Conditions did not improve by heading inland though, and as we span wetly along our new route each junction we crossed saw a fresh crop of riders elect to turn for home. By the time we left the R102 the attrition was complete: our group had been culled to seven or eight die hard riders, buoyed along by a consensus that since we were already wet we may as well just keep going.

I was surprised how easily my legs span up the first ramp of the Vlaberg climb, but three and a half weeks off the bike for our holidays caught up with me on the second ramp and it was a slow crawl to the top and the waiting group of riders. Flying down the Stellenbosch Arterial, a mix of road spray and rain made for a solid drenching. Penny commented that it was surprisingly exhilarating, which in a weird way it was: it’s not every day you get to take a 45km/h shower.

The remainder of our ride home from Stellenbosch was a bit of a struggle – my legs felt good, but lack of saddle time definitely showed in my energy levels. Our usual coffee stop was abandoned by consensus. None of us wanted to stop and allow the wet and cold seep in deeper and then have to get back on the bikes again. So we pedalled briskly for home, and bid our farewells as we peeled off the R44 at our various exit points.
 

Back home, after over two hours of solid riding in the rain, it was time to assess how the kit had performed. Wettest were my First Ascent gloves and shorts – to be fair, the shorts aren’t billed as water proof, but the gloves in theory are all weather outdoor gloves. They did keep my hands warm, but get a marginal thumbs down for waterproofing. My legs felt wet during the ride, but rather surprisingly peeling off the leg warmers they actually seemed quite dry. I suspect the close fit of the warmers had something to do with the sensation of being wet, so these get a solid thumbs up. My feet were warm and toasty all ride, but the boot covers and cycle shoes were a little damp. I suspect fitting my mudguards for an audax event would see much less road spray on the boots and drier feet as a result, so another thumbs up there. Last to come off was my jacket. My jersey was only slightly damp on the back and dry on the front, which given the conditions I’d rate as excellent. Oddly, my thermal vest was wetter than the jersey, so I must have been sweating more than I had realised. First prize for dryness though goes to my new Pocpac phone pouch – not only dry inside, but outside too, although that probably bears as much testament to the effectiveness of the Endura jacket as the actual pouch itself.

All in all it was a surprisingly memorable and enjoyable ride given the conditions. Without the camaraderie of the brave souls who stuck it out it would have been a miserable ride in foul weather. But the lively and friendly banter kept going the whole ride, lifting spirits and preventing anyone dwelling on the steady drenching of rain and road spray. Cheers folks!

All photos from Endura web-site

Reasons to Ride

Many things were civilized about today’s ride to Franschhoek: the 8am start, not only an hour later but lighter, and with much less traffic; a beautiful day with sunny blue skies; a relaxed and friendly pace in our small group of mid-week riders.

Top of the list though has to be the midway coffee stop, and very specifically the excellent chocolate filled croissants. I need to backtrack at this point and explain that on our last ride to Franschhoek I foolishly let John guilt me out of ordering one. Excellent as the bran muffin was on that occasion, it left me hankering after a croissant ever since. The Betty’s Bay coffee shop makes a great coffee, but on our last trip out that way they only had muffins. So today, nothing was going to guide me away from some seriously loaded patisserie. Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint – fresh, light and delicious. The perfect accompaniment to a decent cappuccino.

The ride back was a joy – the wind which had slowed our progress into Franschhoek was firmly on our backs and made for easy riding back to the turn towards Helshoogte. On the steady rise up through Pniel, the day warmed noticeably, and with the strenuous and sweaty final climb still ahead of us we stopped to shed the last of layers of wind protection. My legs just didn’t have any drive in them today – Sunday’s 90km DC ride, followed by Monday’s hamstring exercises in the gym had left my legs heavy acheing. I just about managed to cling on to Penny’s wheel through to the summit of the pass, but there was no sprint left in the tank for the final stretch. The ride and day were far too nice for that to bother me though.

We kept up a nice steady pace through Stellenbosch and back to Somerset West and the ride was over all too soon. A great last ride before our vacation, one that leaves me looking forward to a nice break and the DC training programme kicking off in earnest when we return.

All photographs by author.

Unsuitable clothing

‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.’ 

Alfred Wainwright

Maybe it was coincidence, but just as the Wannabee newsletter arrived with news that the DC Training schedule was on the web site, winter also blew into the Cape with a vengeance. Perhaps we’d also chanced our luck one too many times by commenting on great weather we were having for our Wednesday morning rides. Either way, the recent pleasant and mild autumn cycling seems to be over.

Rather fittingly, I was reminded of the above quote quite recently too. I forget where I came across it, but quite probably it was on a site reviewing cycle clothing. I should have given it some more attention this Wednesday before heading out to ride. I’d looked carefully at the weather forecast for the prospect of rain, but completely overlooked the temperature. This important detail didn’t overlook me as I free-wheeled down our hill though, and by the bottom my fingers and feet were numbing with the cold nicely. Usually some quick pedalling along Main Road gets me up to a decent working temperature, today however the faint breath of warmth to the air wasn’t nearly enough to thaw me out by the time I reached Waterstone. I wasn’t altogether surprised to see no one else there, depending on which forecast you believed there was some some likelihood of rain.

After a respectable wait for any latecomers, I pedalled back out of the parking lot. At this stage I was undecided whether to do a short ride to the top of Helshoogte Pass, a full ride to Franschhoek, or just turn off at the top of the Lord Charles hill on the R44 and head home. Passing under the Steynrust Avenue bridge my first decision was made, I rode on past the turn-off and left the head straight home option behind me. As I rode on I seemed to be following the edge of the weather front. The sky above the hills and the pass ahead of me looked clear and inviting, but overhead hung a thin but line of storm clouds which thickened progressively to my left. My sense of direction has never fully adjusted to life in the southern hemisphere, and it felt to me like the weather should be going the other way bringing more of the clear skies and banishing the remaining clouds. Rather annoyingly though the weather seemed less confused about North and South and so the slight but persistent drizzle accompanied me the whole ride into Stellenbosch.

Riding solo, I reverted to my preferred route through town, turning off at Van Reede road and taking quieter roads past Paul Roos and Stellenbosch high schools. Even with the morning school traffic it seemed considerably less busy than the route the Wannabees normally take to Helshoogte via Molteno road. I’d guess my route could be much less ideal for a large bunch though, with it’s narrow roads and many turns that could split a group up badly. I had been feeling slightly damp and chilly for quite a way, but the cycling was pleasant and a spectacularly bright rainbow whose arc seemed to perfectly frame the whole of Stellenbosch was more than enough to distract me. But as the junction with Helshoogte road came into sight the clouds darkened and the drizzle turned to hard cold sheets of rain. Moments before I’d decided to opt for the long ride, but with the rain my resolve faded. I suddenly realized how cold I had become, and I had neither the clothing nor determination to stay the distance to a coffee stop in Franschhoek with the worsening weather. I swung left instead of right and made a beeline for the nearby shopping centre, and the very welcoming sight of a cafe.

For an impromptu stop, the coffee and muffin were both pretty good. The view wasn’t much compared to the lovely tree lined streets of Franschhoek but at least I was sitting in the dry and warming up slightly as the rain lashed down. Having received my text, Yoli called to check I was ok. She also relayed the news that the weather at home had cleared up and was dry. So rather than hang around, I downed the rest of my coffee, paid the bill and raced back home with the remaining energy that had not been sapped from me by the cold. I had no more rain on the ride home, but I got steadily colder again as I rode – my choice of gear had been woefully inadequate for the conditions, and specifically the temperature. My hands and feet were like ice blocks when I got home. At the very least, I needed a full pair of warmer gloves and a thermal tee under my jersey, plus a proper riding shell rather than just my gilet. I also need to use the shoe covers which my mother brought over, and possibly the leg warmers too.

I can’t blame the weather for the pain of today’s ride, just unsuitable clothing.

Rainbow photograph by Steve Crane.

Fitting the final details – pt 1

After some soul searching I opted to stick with SPD style pedals rather than going to a proper road pedal such as the Look KEO range which William and a few others had recommended. It wasn’t that I doubted the widsom of the advice, but experiences of seasoned audax riders suggest that walking safely and comfortable at stops wins out over strict pedalling efficiency.
With a bit of web research, the Shimano A600 pedals and RT-82 shoes seemed to be an almost ideal compromise. The pedals are light, single sided and have a much larger platform than a conventional mountain bike SPD pedal. The shoes are a touring shoe, also light and with a reasonably stiff sole, and an upper that is much closer to a road shoe design. Sadly, cycle touring doesn’t seem to be a big market for Shimano in South Africa and so neither were readily available locally, meaning an online order to the UK was needed. Wiggle were helpful as ever though.
The almost final part of the jigsaw for now,  was the handlebar. In fact, over the first few weeks riding Jolly, I came to like the entry level Giant bars that we’d fitted initially. So by the time my Wiggle order arrived with the pedals, shoes, and Ritchey Pro Biomax II bar I wasn’t really sure the new and more expensive bar would add very much. Having spent the money though, I figured I should at least give it a try and after a couple of weeks riding with them I’m very glad I did. Many of the reviews I’d read commented favourably on the the small “speed bump” sculpted into the drops, and I have to agree – it makes for a very comfortable position for riding in the drops especially after a prolonged period.
With these remaining pieces in place it was time to go have a proper bike fitting. A number of the Wannabees riders spoke highly of Erika Green and her husband Spook, of Daisyway Coaching Systems. Rather handily, they are just a short ride down the road from me, so a visit was clearly in order. In fact, we only got part way through the fitting. Spinning on the stationary trainer, Spook quickly confirmed that my saddle height was correct, but also agreed with William’s assessment that my saddle needed to go back approx 5mm further than my current seatpost allowed. That’s not great news, because it means I have two lovely expensive USE Alien Titanium seatposts that I can’t use. Worse still, it leaves me with just the similarly pricey Van Nicholas seatpost as the only Titanium post with a larger setback. We wrapped up this first part of the fitting with a proper cleat setup, and deferred further saddle and stem adjustments until I could get a Van Nicholas seatpost to try.
With a couple of rides done since the fitting, I can already feel the benefit of the proper cleat positioning – definitely helping for a smoother and more natural pedal stroke. I might be imagining it, but it feels like I can lay down more explosive power too when needed, but perhaps that is just a factor of my other training starting to pay off.
Just need to wait patiently now for the new seatpost before we can make those final adjustments – and hope that I can sell the surplus USE ones for a decent price locally.
Photographs of Shimano pedals, shoes, and Ritchey handlebar from the Wiggle cycle store website.
Photographs of USE Alien seatpost picture from Chain Reaction Cycles cyclestore website.

Winter gear

Wintry weather has officially arrived in the Cape, and with almost perfect timing also came my Mum’s visit from the UK with my new cycling gear for cold and wet weather in her suitcase.

Wednesday’s Wannabees ride was the perfect opportunity to give some of the new kit a try out. Free-wheeling away from our house the morning was still dark, and as I picked up speed down the hill to our rendezvous point the wind chill added a nasty bite to the already cold air. I can’t say I was toasty, but the new Endura Laser gilet and FS260 Pro arm warmers did a pretty good job at keeping the worst of it out.
 
I had expected to be taking them off quite soon into the ride, in fact I’d originally thought they’d only be on as far as our start point and wouldn’t be needed after that. On the first few kilometres to Stellenbosch though, the morning stubbornly refused to warm up, a sure sign that summer weather was now fully behind us. As we climbed the short ramp by Techno Park, Nadine commented how much colder the hollows felt as you sped down into them – something I had noticed moments earlier as we went through the bottom of the dip.

So the gear stayed on. Even at the top of Helshoogte, I resisted the temptation to shed them having built up a nice warm sweat on the climb. And I was glad I had as we rushed down the other side into shadows and more chilly air on the road through Pniel. Despite the early cold though, the day could not have been more glorious – truly a day where it was a privilege to have to be to out riding and enjoying the stunning scenery and magnificent autumn colours. Finally, on the last stretches of the outbound ride into Franschhoek, the day started to warm up and I began to feel over dressed. Luckily, Wednesday is very much an LSD ride, so there was a welcome cafe stop after we’d observed club tradition by visiting the Huguenot monument before turning around. By this stage, it was just myself, Penny, Adolfo and Tom riding, Nadine having turned back at Stellenbosch due to time constraints.

After enjoying a decent cappuccino at Traumerei, and some good banter about the DC and other riding stories, we started back. The gilet went in my jersey pocket for the ride home, it had done the job well, keeping off the worst of the wind chill without weighing me down or building up any nasty sweatiness.

The arm warmers stayed on, their job for the return leg being to keep the sun off as I’d forgotten to put any sunscreen on. One minor failing did come out of this – not in my comfort level, which was just as good on the return leg. They cover  my watch face, and I lost track of time. Our pace was already relaxed, and we lost some time with a snake bite puncture from the railway track crossing heading out of Franschhoek. So by the time I got home Yoli was beginning to stress that something had happened to me, and was also a little annoyed that we were going to be late for our vineyard lunch.

All in all though, a lovely ride and great initial impressions from two of the bits of new gear. I should have tried the full rain jacket, leg warmers and shoe covers on my very rainy hill laps session on Friday. Sadly sense did not prevail, and so I returned wet and cold. I won’t be making that mistake again, so with wet weather likely to be a feature of my training rides it won’t be long before I’ll be able to report back on their effectiveness.

I just wish I’d taken some pictures of the stunning day and ride, although in truth I doubt any quickly snatched snapshot would have captured it well.

What’s in a name

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.’
Ask Yoli how many times I’ve prevaricated over joining my local cycling club, the Wannabees, and her answer will almost certainly be accompanied by a rolling of eyes. I should be old enough to know better, but the stupidest of reasons has put me off each time I’ve visited the website to download the forms: the name.

Daft as it is, the name has kept putting me off – cycling is purely a fun past-time for me. Although I can get extremely competitive with myself, I hope I don’t take myself so seriously that anyone one would label me a wannabe. Except now they can, albeit with a slightly different spelling. I have got over myself, seen sense and become a Wannabee member. In the end, the simplest of reasons decided it for me: safety. I’ve been lucky enough to have very few near misses in the four years I’ve been riding solo, but cycling accidents and hijackings are on the increase and with Ben and Yoli to consider the risk feels too high. Cycling as a group is generally safer, and having training partners is an added motivation to get out of bed at 6am on a cold and dark winters morning to go ride.


My first club ride was the midweek Wednesday ride a couple of weeks ago. And what a ride it was As if to both endorse my decision to join, and also chastise me for not doing it before, the guys chose a stunning route for my first ride: Clarence Drive, the scenic coast road from Gordon’s Bay.  I’ve wanted to ride that road since I first started cycling in South Africa, but had shied away from riding it solo because of the lack of a safety lane.

The route and the ride did not disappoint, either on that first week or this Wednesday’s ride when we went a shade further and turned around after climbing the short but steep hill just beyond Rooi Els. The scenery is every bit as majestic when viewed from the saddle, except that it slides by more slowly so you get to appreciate it more. Not to mention being able to hear and smell the ocean crashing against the rocks, in places only a few meters down from the road. The wildlife hasn’t let us down either. We’ve seen mongoose, seals, and large troops of baboons on both rides. In the next few weeks, we should be enjoying sightings of whales too, as they arrive to nurse their young in the bays.

From a cycling perspective, it’s great training too. Riding as a group pushes me to ride faster than I typically do when training solo, especially on the climbs. There’s no room to shift down to the easiest gear and grind slowly up a slope if you have a group to keep up with. Even less so if you’re taking a turn at the front of the group, I did on a couple of short stretches this week

The final bonus from joining also came with a bit of a moral dilemma – John offered to put my name down on their DC team list.  It meant backing down from the provisional DC team that a group of us from The Hub had started to pull together, which wasn’t an easy decision to make. In the end though, the option to train locally with a group of experienced riders who had done the event before was a compelling factor given my always limited time for riding.

So there it is, I’m proud to officially be a Wannabee and Yoli gets to enjoy poking fun at me for being a wannabe every time I don the jersey. Turns out to be more in a name than you might expect.