Lazer Blade Helmet Review

Well ventilated, superlight lid that doesn’t break the bank. At least that’s what a standard Lazer Blade Review will say. And to be honest it’s very hard to argue that. I’ve been using the Lazar Blade in a gloss black and Belgian blue for the best part of 3 years now. I’ve never had a bad off in this time so it would be hard for me to vouch for its primary job, which is protecting your head. But Lazer have been making helmets since 1919, so I’m pretty sure they have the protection side nailed down.

Well Cool!

The most obvious element of the Lazar Blade is its 22 vents. This makes for a very cool and well ventilated helmet. You can really feel the air rushing over your head and keeping you cool. I used this helmet riding around the South of France in 38’C temperatures and it did the job. Don’t get me wrong, I was bloody hot but I couldn’t imagine doing that ride in my aero lid. With ventilation comes less material and with less material comes less weight. Coming in at 220g, I genuinely think you’d be hard pressed to find a lighter helmet at this price point. And if it wasn’t for the slightly awkward retention system, it would almost feel as if you’re riding around without a helmet on at all.

Lazer Blade Retention System

Awkward Retention

I’ve mentioned the awkwardness of the retention system, so I need to elaborate. It comes in a unique system where the barrel adjustment sits at the top of the helmet. However I found it difficult to get the fit right and often found myself readjusting on longer rides. This isn’t a problem I’ve had with other helmets I’ve had. Also the part of the helmet that cradles the back of the head felt a little less supportive. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t ‘confidence inspiring’ and almost gave a perched feeling which I didn’t really like. I must say though that this may bit in part of my massive oddly shaped dome!

Hard to fault?

The straps were fine and highly adjustable. If a little difficult to get right at first, once they were set, they felt comfortable and looked tidy enough. The only other thing I didn’t quite like was the Sunglasses dock. I wear Oakley Jawbreakers and I gave up on trying to hold them in my helmet vents early on. They didn’t feel secure and also the arms on the sunglasses dug into the top of my head.

Lazer Blade Fit

Most Importantly…

How did it look? Well I personally though it looked great, for a bike helmet. Usually in this price range (and often in higher price ranges,) they are bulky and ‘mushroomy’. My head is 60cm so my Lazer Blade was a large, but even in its largest form the Blade looked slick and fairly low profile. It looks a lot like the Z1, Lazers high end offering but obviously at around 1/3 of the price.

In Summary

There are plenty of colour choices in the Lazer Blade’s range and there is also the option to fit an Aero-Shell to save you those extra Watts. This isn’t something I ever used, although its worth mentioning as it certainly increases the versatility of this lid. All in all the Lazer Blade is an atheistically pleasing, well ventilated superlight lid, albeit not perfect. However, at £40 I think you would be very hard pressed to find anything close to as good as this helmet for the same price.

LAZER BLADE HELMET – BLACK/BLUE – £29.99 at ProBikeKit.co.uk 

Get Wife Fit, Part 2

The Get Wife Fit series continues, with Lizzie beginning to get to grips with cycling (indoors anyway)… 

Week 1

Once I’d gotten over the initial shock of the FTP test, and my bum from being so sore it hurt to walk, I really wanted to improve, I’m naturally a competitive person, and like to see progress, so for me to be able to actually see how I have been improving makes me want to keep going!

So Chris had a look and found a short 30 min workout ride on Zwift for me, I did it without dying, and actually felt a lot better during, it felt do-able…

Until Chris started going on about how I need to keep upping my FTP, um excuse me I like my FTP exactly where it is thank you! My problem is I like to do it all by myself, and whilst Chris knows what he’s going on about, I think he forgets that I have literally no interest in racing, or getting a top end bike, I just want to get a bit fitter!

6 Week FTP Training

When I was left to my own devises I was able to find a training plan that seemed to make sense to me, it felt like there was something to aim towards at the end of it, its measurable and tells me what I am working on each day. Perfect!

Day 1 was working on the foundation, it felt like a good work out, without being too hard, I actually…dare I say it…enjoyed it! I was still having connection issues at this point, and kept getting irritated with having to stop, re-load, and start again, so after a couple of false starts I made it through.

Day 2 was strength, I’ve fairly strong legs, I was a runner at school, and as I’ve said before I play netball twice a week (WA/WD/C – the running positions, if you know what I’m talking about!) so I thought I would be fairly OK, if not good at this one. Well I started the warm up, and thought that it was a bit weird, the warm up was trying to get me to do 100w for 10 mins, I did it, but thought I was going to die! I ended up ringing Chris and telling him I couldn’t do it, it was far too hard and I thought I was going to vom! Turns out the FTP from Chris’ ride was still on it, I think he was testing me, or that he’d gone insane!

Anyway, he fixed it and it became a ride I slightly hated less!

Where am I now?

Well, I’m not going on everyday, I try to at least go on twice a week, with Netball twice a week too, thats FOUR whole days of exercise, thats more then enough right?

At the end of the day I decided to give it a go, and I am liking it more each time, does this mean I’d go out on the real life road, hmmm I’m not so sure, there is the small problem of having to buy a bike for me. Secretly I have my eye on a matt black one with bright pink accents, spotted from Lutterworth Cycle Centre when Chris was too busy buying his helmet. But, I am really conscious of spending all that money and then not enjoying it?

(this is not the bike, but looked at the website and thought it was lush!)

Let me know if you’ve got any suggestions for a (very) novice rider, thats cheapish, and looks good?

Anyway, if you want to follow my slow, but steady, progress feel free to join me on Strava/Zwift (you can find me by my name Lizzie Ramsdale)

More next week!

Road Grand Tours – Initial Impression’s

If you’ve kept up with my blog journal then you are probably aware that cycling outdoors isn’t an option for me right now. I am currently in a rehabilitation phase after knee surgery, which means that scratching my cycling itch is is left solely to an indoor  turbo trainer. My bike times has mostly been spent spinning away around the island of Watopia in the highly popular cycling MMO, Zwift. However, I’ve recently joined the Beta for a new kid on the block, ‘Road Grand Tours‘, and here are my initial impressions.

 

Road Grand Tours

 

Zwift has always had its competition, for example, a while back I wrote a comparison against The Sufferfest. Then there is Trainer Road which although a more training and numbers focused program, it too has also been kicking around as an alternative to the more gaming centric Zwift. And since the rise in popularity of smart trainers and virtual cycling simulators, other similar Zwift-like programs have begun to emerge including Vitruago and now the Strava heavy Road Grand Tours.

I was put onto Road Grand Tours by a friend, at that time I was willing to try anything in an effort to mix things up a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Zwift. I love the racing, the workouts and even just jumping on for a quick spin. However, I was happy to have the opportunity to try a new environment and a new world to explore.

Character Creation

I set up an account and signed up for Beta. I instantly received access and loaded up the program in anticipation. Road Grand Tours didnt really offer much in terms of character creation, other than a selection of different coloured Adidas Kits and an 8bar Crit kit, a Laser Bullet lid and a choice between a Ridley Aero bike or different variations of the BMC Teamachine. This is Beta however, so it was probably to be expected. It would be unfair to compare Road Grand Tours content to Zwift which has been making waves a good few years now. Besides, I like the Teamachine in a laser blue.

 Out on Mont Ventoux

There are several courses you can choose to and although I’m yet to try them all, those I have tried are interesting enough. My first destination was the infamous Mont Ventoux. I rode the real thing last summer, so I was interested to see how real life compared to the virtual version. The route on Road Grand Tours isn’t the famous grand tour climb from Bedoin, but the less popular and just as difficult route from nearby Malacene. First impressions were that the graphics were good and the game was stable. There was absolutely no issues with synchronisation between my turbo and the program and I was effortlessly able to jump into the South of France and start riding up a bloody big hill.

The environment was fairly accurate, the game even had the hotel I stayed in last year with the adjacent car park at the base of the Malacene climb. I was impressed at the level of detail. The gradients also felt accurate, as did the few changes in direction. I didn’t manage to go all the way to the top (I’m in rehab remember), but I’d be interested to see how they captured the lunar landscape and meteorological station at the top.  Albeit a short taster, I had no issues what-so-ever, the drafting felt intuitive and the changes in gradient felt instantaneous as my Tacx switch up the resistance in order to replicate the ever changing steepness of Mont Ventoux.

Realism

It’s safe to say that I was interested to try more of what Road Grand Tours had to offer. My initial experience was very good. The program felt polished (certainly for BETA) and in many ways more realistic than its main competitor. Maybe it was the more realistic colour tones that the graphics engine had to offer? But it wasn’t just the graphics and design of the game that felt realistic. The drafting seemed really intuitive, and when riding with my brother up the iconic Cap Formentor. I was able to position my bike and sit on his wheel with relative ease. The amount of times I chase down a fellow rider on Zwift in order to catch a tow, only to shoot past them at twice the speed! This just didn’t seem to be the case on RGT. Add to that a handy percentage value on the UI which gave me an figure for my drafting benefit. This meant I could carefully adjust my output in order to get maximum wheel sucker mode.

London at Night

London, Italy, etc.

The following day I tried the nighttime crit-course of Canary Wharf and also the hilly but short circuit of Pienza, and was equally as impressed. Both were shot circuits, but the environment was interesting enough. Familiar Short sprint sessions with leaderboard tables were a welcome addition to mix up the pace a little bit. They also link to Strava as segments which is a great feature. RGT doesn’t offer the ability to change direction or explore like you can in Zwift, but there is a wide variety of different real-life courses like the previously mentioned bucket list climbs, as well as some more I haven’t yet tried. I’m looking forward to trying out the famous Stelvio and its numerous switchbacks.

To Summarise

You don’t get the scheduled events and racing (soon to be added) or a work out mode either. Also the volume of other riders is significantly lower than Zwift. But when I think back to Zwift Beta, I can’t help but be excited for whats to come in Road Grand Tours. They say the game is close to complete, but I’m sure more would be added to as the platform moves out of BETA. And the future will probably be a monthly subscription model. Right now its free to try and I would certainly recommend it as a welcome alternative.

 

Get Wife Fit

Cycling can be quite a lonely sport, well for me at least it is. Apart from my weekly club rides and the odd jaunt out with a friend, the majority of my cycling is out on my own. Add my hours spent training to my work commitments and it becomes difficult to find barely any quality time to spend with my wife.

So I came up with an idea. What if I got my wife into our amazing sport? I have 2 problems though. She doesn’t own a bike and perhaps the greater obstacle is that she friggin hates cycling! However, I’ve rigged up my old bike, shortened the seat tube and somehow managed to convince her to at least have go. As well as all that I’ve roped her into writing a post series on her experience with the bike! 

Introducing Lizzie

Right, let me first start by saying I really friggin hate cycling, we tried it many (pre-kid) years ago when Chris first got into mountain biking, I had his mum’s 20 year old bike. We’d go on a few bike rides together in the evenings around the village we lived in at the time, but then he got it in his head that we should go on an ‘epic’ bike ride, as in 20 miles…60 miles later with me crying on a bench begging Chris to go and get the car, my hatred of cycling began!

Don’t get me wrong, the day is now something we look back at as a funny story in our relationship, you know ‘do you remember the time you threw your bike on the ground and stropped off’ but I have never forgotten how exhausted, sore and hungry (we ran out of food around mile 30!) and utterly miserable I felt on that bench, also knowing I still had about 5 miles to go to get home, including a fair few hills!

Why now?

Flash forward to now, a baby, a house move and general life happenings, Chris’s love of cycling only increased, and eventually he turned into a road cyclist, and a constant nagging at me to give it a go.

A few major issues with this –

1. I’m scared of riding on roads, I hate the idea of cars behind me, feeling that pressure to move out of the way, or worse, been overtaken too closely etc etc

2. As much as I love my husband, he is one competitive b**t**d, whilst this is good for improving his own fitness, for me it makes me want to punch him in the face!

3. The thought of having to clip in and out is just difficult for me, I’m not the most graceful of people and would inevitably fall flat on my face!

But with all this in mind, I thought I would give it a go, I still have baby weight to get off (can I still say this, or am I just overweight now?) so who best to turn to then my husband, who has been there/done that with his own fitness/weight loss through cycling.

Then he made me do an FTP test

I agreed to get on the turbo trainer, no outside riding for me! Not least because I no longer own a bike, so with a bit of playing around with the old mountain bike I was all set up to give it a go. Then I thought I was going to die, I mean I play netball around 2 times a week, so not totally un-fit, but my god that was an experience!

There were a few teething issues with the connection, but I finished it and came out with an FTP of 60. Pretty darn shameful, but you know what you’ve got to start somewhere!

 

I felt pretty positive about it all, until I woke up the next day and my bum was so sore that I could barely walk (too many innuendo’s!) the thought of getting back on the bike was making the me hate the bloody thing even more. But I got on, I even have a cushion, picture Chris hanging his head in shame, but its what works for me!

I’ve built up slowly, and completed my first week, but thats a story for another time!

 

 

Using Cycling for Rehab from Knee Surgery

Where am I at?

A couple of weeks have passed since my knee surgery rehab began, at least the cycling side of that rehab anyway. Zwift has been my main focus, in fact my only focus since I really struggle clipping in/out right now, so any riding outside is pretty much out of the question (as tempting as it is with this amazing weather). Also I can’t actually pedal while in a standing position, even two weeks on. I’m not sure why, my leg just won’t go while standing.

Progress

The first week was pretty depressing. I could barely spin the pedals and the first 10 minutes were excruciatingly painful. However as time has gone on, things are getting better. My knee is less painful (as is my arse), my leg is bending so much more, my power is increasing and so is my stamina. I’m obviously not attempting any lung busting climbs or balls out racing, so my focus has purely been on getting my legs moving again but I’m definitely noticing a vast improvement.

I want to get out!

I drove past my cycling club last night who were out on a their weekly ride in glorious sunshine. Which was a little depressing. However, the great thing is that my brother who used to cycle up until a few years ago has started joining me in an effort to get fit again. Although his focus is mostly on shedding a few pounds and increasing power output, we are both at a similar level now so it should be good to experience this journey together.

Abus GameChanger

My craving to go out is hard to resist though. So much so, I’ve purchased a new lid in anticipation for when I do get back out on the road and right now I’m looking at some Speedplay Zero pedals as the adjustable float my help my knee out a bit. I’m targeting a jaunt out early next month, on a local flat route I used to do… here’s hoping!

Starting from Scratch after Knee Surgery

Knee Surgery

So at the beginning of March I had surgery on my right knee. I’ve mentioned on here before that I ruptured my knee ligament and for the last 2 and a bit years I’ve been cycling with no ACL in my right knee.

Well I’ve finally had that fixed. On the 3rd March this year I went under the knife and had 28cm of hamstring removed and put into my knee to replace the missing ligament. I also had some cartilage repaired and now 8 weeks later I’m just about coming out of the initial stage of rehab.

Long Road Ahead

It’s going to be long road ahead to even get close to my previous levels on a bike but I’m determined to do it. The last 8 weeks have been mainly resting my leg in an effort to reduce the swelling with some closed chain exercises in to try and increase my movement. It’s been rough, to say the least. I’ve hammered Netflix, put endless hours into Monster Hunter World and eaten myself into a coma.

But yesterday I was given the green light from my Surgeon to start back on the bike. Only indoors right now, but it was a start. I couldn’t wait to get home, set up my bike on the turbo and start spinning again! My excitement was soon put to bed when I realised I can only just about turn the pedals and thats which some astonishing discomfort. I should have known it wasn’t going to be pretty when I barely squeezed into my cycling kit before hand. It literally felt like I’ve never ridden a bike before in my life. It took every ounce of me just to rotate the pedals and I could bare push 60Watts. I did 3 miles and had to get off!

My god I’m rubbish!

Only then did it hit home that I’m starting from scratch. Last summer I was 11st 4lbs with an FTP of 336watts. Right now I can barely spin up a bike and I’m pushing 14st. As I look down at my legs now, my good leg has lost its definition. My bad leg just looks like a pencil. To say that I’ve got a way to go is an understatement but I’m eyeing up a return to my peak by September.

I’m going to schedule something in late summer, an event of some kind. Probably not to the scale of Ventoux 3 times but certainly something challenging. Maybe a trip round the peaks or century loop in the lakes. I’m not sure yet but I’ll figure it out soon enough. Right now I need to get back on that turbo.

I plan to use this blog as a platform to journal and track my progress. It will be interesting t read back on this at the end of the year to see if I realise my ambition.

The Rapha Clubhouse – Bicester Shopping Village

Christmas Shopping at Rapha Archive Store

It’s that time of year isn’t it? Christmas shopping is starting to ramp up and my wife deems in necessary to drag me round the shops in an effort to get our present buying done early. This time though there was something in it for me! An opportunity to check out the new Rapha Outlet (or ‘Rapha Archive Store‘ as its called on their website) at the Bicester Shopping Village.

Rapha Archive Store

I’ll start by saying that my experience of Rapha Clubhouses is limited to say the least and although I do own a couple of Rapha products, I have never once purchased anything in store at a ‘proper’ Rapha shop. That being said, I’m no stranger to similar ‘high-end’ cycling shops and often frequent my local luxury cycling cafe/shop Cafe Ventoux which I consider to be one of the best in the country.

The Kit

Now I’m not going to dwell too much on the quality of the kit, but more the experience in the store. Most of us already know that Rapha make some bloody great kit albeit quite expensive. But the old adage of ‘you pay for what you get’ often rings true and I believe that this is the case with Rapha’s products. Yes it is perhaps a little too pricey, but if you do splash out then with you are guaranteed to get great quality, nice fitting, good looking kit.

Discount

Now this Rapha Archive Store isn’t an ordinary Rapha Clubhouse. It’s basically an Outlet Store that sells mostly last seasons products that is no longer available in normal Clubhouses and at a discounted price. There was plenty of range in the store, from standard race fit cycling kit to their commuter targeted City collection and it wasn’t your usual XS and XL sizes that you sometimes get in outlet stores either. They had plenty of caps, mitts, bidons, bags and a whole host of other bits and bobs for both Men and Women (no Sunglasses though or at least I didn’t see any).

If money was no object I would have walked out with a suitcase full of stuff but alas, even the discounted price meant that a pair of last seasons Bib Shorts were still £125 which is around £50 to £75 off Bib Shorts in a Rapha Clubhouse, so not too bad really but still on the expensive side. They also had Jerseys in there at around £60 – £80, so again a decent discount.

Inside Rapha Archive Store

I would say that if you in the market for some new gear and you don’t mind wearing last seasons product then its definitely worth checking out the Rapha Archive Store. The Staff I spoke to were great, obviously keen cyclists which was nice and they really couldn’t do enough for you. It just had a nice atmosphere. With a few TV screens showing a bit of the Giro, some nice fixtures and fittings… it generally just had a nice, clean, decent vibe.

Not an Ordinary Outlet Store

They run various club rides also, which was nice to see that despite it being an Outlet they still had the various features that a normal Clubhouses would have. They also had a Coffee Shop instore! It wasn’t exactly busy, but my flat white was great and it perfectly complimented my gluten free Brownie.

Rapha Coffee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, I would definitely recommend checking the Rapha Archive Store at Bicester out. If only to grab a few minutes while your Missus is in TOD’s down the road looking at shoes. Be careful though, because you may end up spending a few quid!

 

Ride Journal – Entry 4 – Banbury with the MAMILS

Banbury with the MAMILS

It’s been a little while since my last ride Journal. Not because I’ve not had any good rides to write about. In fact I’ve been on a plethora of interesting rides over the last fortnight. I just haven’t had the time to blog about any of them. However my spin to Banbury with the MAMILS (Middle Aged Men in Lycra for those unfamiliar with the term) and back was too good of a ride to leave rotting in the archives of my Strava profile. With near misses, new roads, a top 200 climb and a free coffee, I felt it only right that I put pen (or at least laptop) to my recent weekend journey out in the beautiful Warwickshire countryside.

Firstly, I’m not too sure if MAMILS is considered a derogatory term or not these days. Especially after Sir Chris Hoy’s recent comments about them, although it was slightly tongue in cheek. Also I’m probably at least 6-7 years away from being labelled as Middle Aged, so is it right for a MIL to refer to someone as a MAMIL in a world where everybody is offended? Perhaps I’m overthinking this…

 

Rushing Around

Anyway, I was supposed to ride to Rugby and meet up with 3 ‘middle aged men dressed in tight cycling attire’ by the Bilton Coop. However my inability to cope with early mornings (more specifically getting out of bed), meant I had to lob my bike in the car and tear arse down the A5. I didn’t want to be late as I actually only knew 1 of the 3 other cyclists, and even him I’d only met a few times although one of those occasions was on a weekends riding in the Ventoux Province of France where I got to know him quite well. Still, I just about made it with little time to spare and after some quick introductions we were away, out towards Dunchurch, destination Banbury, Oxfordshire.

 

A Bad Start

Within the first two minutes my ride almost descended into catastrophe. Riding side by side with my fellow Mont Ventoux’r, we were mostly catching up on the last few months cycling including discussions on new bikes and our approaching trip the the NEC Cycle Show next month. However my sense of direction decided to fail me when I near enough turned into his bike at a busy junction. He was fine, but how I held onto my bike I’ll never know. A few meters of snaking across the tarmac, desperately freeing my feet so I could stabilise myself was followed by embarrassment and both of us apologising to each other, when it was I who clearly fluffed up.

Anyway, we pressed on over the A45, the near miss now a distant memory as we glided through some beautiful countryside accompanied by absolutely glorious weather conditions. This wasn’t a tough session, it was a coffee ride in every sense and socially and scenically it was just what I wanted on a hot summer Saturday morning. We rode through some beautiful quaint little villages which I mostly forget the names of but the roads we quiet, intriguing and perfect for riding your bike fast.

Cycling View of Napton on the Hill

The Edge

The road started to get a bit lumpy as we approached Priors Marston, and it went from lumpy to considerably steep out through the back of Wormleighton. The ride was arduous but at the same time lovely riding nonetheless, with excellent views over by Burton Dasset Country Park.

The big hill was yet to come though. Edge Hill in fact, which comes in at number 136 in Simon Warren’s Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs: A Road Cyclists Guide to Britains Greatest Climbs. It is a hill I’ve never actually taken on despite it being relatively local to me. I’ve heard about it though and it certainly something I wanted to experience. As it happened, our ride would join the climb part the way up, which meant to get the full ‘Edge Hill experience’ I had to cycle downhill in the opposite direction to my group, just to u-turn at the bottom and begin my ascent up The Edge!

To be honest, all the talk and conjecture about Edge Hill on the way to it kind of overhyped it a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it was a climb. But it was kind of short and sweet, averaging at 9.5% and it left me a little underwhelmed. Thats not to say it was a bad climb, far from it, in fact I’d say its the best climb around these parts by a long way. It was just built up to be something epic when in reality it was a sharpish 4 minute climb in fairly nice surroundings. It reminded me of the time when Gladiator was released and everyone said it was the greatest film ever! When I finally got round to seeing it, I thought “yes, its good… but greatest ever?”.

 

Down into Banbury

After the slight anti-climax of Edge hill and rejoining my fellow MAMILS, we rode single file down a long sweeping decent that felt like it went all the way to Banbury. This was a very fast road and it’s pretty much the only time we really pushed it as a group on the way out, putting in a proper effort, chain-ganging it all the way into Banbury. I wasn’t the route planner, so I’m not sure why they chose Banbury as the days terminus as it wasn’t exactly pleasant. Maybe we hit the wrong part of town, but we road through some rather nice villages which surely would have offered a better resting place that Costa Coffee at the Gateway Shopping Centre? Although I have to say, I do love a good flat white from costa accompanied by a slice of Victoria Sponge. And its even better when its free, with Rob (one of the MAMILS) offering to get his round in. I argued I should buy my own since its my first time riding with them, but if truth be told, I didn’t fight much of a battle and ended up whole-heartedly accepting his generosity.

I hope they never read this, but Rob, Andy and Dean who I rode with were possibly 3 of the nicest blokes I’ve had the pleasure of joining in a group ride. We chewed the fat and after finishing our coffees we were back on the bike for the return leg of our morning cycle.

 

Goodbye Banbury

It certainly wasn’t a sad goodbye and I can’t see me making many efforts to return to the market town on the edge of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds in the near future (sorry Banbrians). We set of at quick pace on what Dean described as “a bastard of a road”, and it was. The A361 was busy, loud, miserable and full of pot holes. It didn’t stop me from setting a top 5 time on Strava through the back of Chipping Warden however. Although thats most likely because local cyclists with experience of the area do their best to avoid this stretch of tarmac. We turned off the main road at this point up through the exoticly named Aston Le Walls, skirting past the Boddington Reservoir to rejoin the road we headed out on at Priors Marston. The pace settled into a nice rhythm as we discussed the well trodden topic of motorist vs cyclists. I was able to capture a couple of nice shots of Napton on the Hill on a sheep ridden road near Lower Shuckburgh, although after later inspection I realised my beautiful landscape picture had been inadvertently photo-bombed by Andy taking a piss!

MAMILS

 

On into Rugby

I started to recognise some of the village names again which meant we wasn’t far from home (by home and mean the Bilton Coop). Andy and Dean both ride with the Rugby Racers Club and we hit one of their regular time trial routes on the A45. At this point it seemed it was every man for himself and the small group began to split somewhat on the steady climb up the dual carriageway back into Dunchurch. I opened the legs up a bit myself but decided to wait for Rob (who was slightly slower up the climbs) at the entrance of the Dun Cow to regroup before we said our goodbyes.

I thanked both Rob and Andy and agreed that I would definitely be joining them again when possible as along with Dean they were great company, and headed down the Dunchurch Road  to my hastily parked car. A quick removal of my front wheel,the bike was back in the boot of my car and I was on my way back to Lutterworth with 60 decent miles in the legs.

 

 

 

Cycling – The Power of the Mind

Getting fast on a bike is all about power, weight and endurance right? …Wrong. An integral part of getting faster or going further on your bike is the mind. How much pain can you endure? How much further can you push? How much longer can you suffer? One of the things I have done this year is concentrate on improving my mental conditioning with amazing results.

Cycling - its all in the mind

If you believe it will happen then it most likely will happen:

Without necessarily improving my fitness I have seen massive increases in my performance, especially over longer distances. I used to think I could go fairly well over anything sub 30 miles. Then as soon as I’d hit that 30 mile mark I’d almost hit a mental wall. As if I was waiting for the inevitable drop in my energy and subsequently speed as well. I was almost forcing my legs to slow down before I even gave myself a chance to show myself I can do it. There’s probably a fancy name for this where if you believe something will happen than it most like will, but if you think the same way as I once did then you are immediately putting yourself on the back foot.

Positive Thinking:

The power of positive thinking
Instead of “I can’t”, you need to think “I can”. How many times have you been out on your bike, running on empty thinking “I can’t do anymore”? What about you instead think “I can and I will go faster!” This is the approach I have been taken and it has allowed me to smash through that 30 mile wall and maintain the same performance across double the distance. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my bad days on the bike when I feel like I’ve got nothing in my legs, but instead of being negative about it, I consider how much of achievement it will be when I crush a ride with heavy legs.

Mind over Matter:

Another technique I employ is blocking out the pain. We’ve all been there, when it’s just you and your bike and your legs are screaming at you. Well there are many techniques you can employ to distract your mind from suffering. You could instead focus on breathing, or maybe do what I do (especially when I’m on the turbo with the music on loud) and sing! You could use markers on the road to get that little bit further or push that little bit harder, for example “I’m going to push harder until the next road sign or next village!” If you start thinking negatively then you need to block it out.

Visualisation Techniques:

The Sufferfest have a Mental Training program which recommends visualising putting up a stop sign to block out any negative thoughts and then to the right of that Stop Sign is an image of you achieving your goal. I employed this technique recently on a fast group ride. The pace was high and at one point around 45 miles in, it I felt I was going to get spat out the back of the group I was in. I instead blocked that thought with my imaginary stop sign and visualised myself not just hanging on, but instead sitting on the front, upping the pace and punishing the rest of the group. I have to say it worked, and not only did I hold on but I sat on the front for a good chunk and ended up splitting the pack up a short climb! Now I use that technique every time negative thoughts start to cloud my mind.

Setting Goals:

Setting Goals
As with anything you want to spend time doing, you need motivation. Motivation is what makes you push further and harder and to get motivation, you need a goal. I’ve started setting goals in every part of my cycling. I have big goals like winning a race or cycling Lands end to John O’Groats. But I also have weekly goals for example “I’m going to cycle 200 miles this week” or “I’m going to do 3 interval sessions this week”. I even set goals on individual rides like distance, Strava Segments or avg speed! Having goals gives you the motivation to get out and achieve them.

Ride in a group:

Riding in a group almost destroys every mental battle you can come up against. If you commit to a group ride it may get you out on your bike when you may not have had the motivation to do so. Only last week I had arranged to ride with some friends early in the morning. The alarm clock went off and every part of my mind and body was telling me to stay in bed. But I didn’t want to let my friends down! So I got up, donned the lycra and headed out on my bike. Another thing group riding helps with is the mind over matter scenario. Cycling in a group often means you can pass the time by just having a chat. Before you know it, you’ve got 30 miles under the belt before you’ve even realised! Finally the confidence you can get from cycling in a group is going to make you go faster. There is always a competitive component of group cycling and you can see how you’re doing in comparison to others. If you have good legs, this comparison will lift your confidence, encouraging increased performance.

Gain the advantage:

The mental side of cycling is often overlooked by most. If you choose to focus on ‘upgrading the mind’ then you’re going to have a massive advantage over the many. Most people in cycling focus soley on increasing there power, improving aero position, eating properly, loosing weight and as always buying better/lighter tech. Obviously, these are all important elements of cycling but if you choose to take time to improve the mind and mental techniques then your gaining a vital component to increasing your performance that is often disregarded.

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1 Review

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1

A race ready lightweight road machine, with skinny tubes, compact geometry, full Ultegra groupset, and carbon tubeless ready wheels.

Upgrading from entry level

I’ve come from a 2014 Giant Defy, so any race oriented bike would probably feel light, stiff and agile compared to the relatively comfy yet equally enjoyable aluminium Defy. However I tested many bikes from rival bike manufacturers in pursuit of a new steed and for me the Giant TCR stood out. Let me point out that at first I wanted my new bike to be “anything but a Giant”. Not because I didn’t like my Defy, in fact I loved it. It was everything I wanted from my first road bike; however after thousands of miles on the Defy I wanted something lighter, racier and different to what I’m used to.

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1 Review

Love at first sight?

I tried a few alternatives, actually I tried several. Yet I eventually succumbed to the matte black classy decals and the smooth compact geometry of the TCR’s frame. Along with the integrated seatpost clamp, fat downtube, internal cable routing and discreet RideSense Bluetooth/ANT+ sensor, this made for one understated and slick looking bicycle. So I decided a test ride was in order at my local Giant stockist. After already falling in love with the bikes aesthetics, I didn’t need the afternoon I had with the bike to fall in love with the ride quality, I just needed 10 minutes. A few hours later I was back at the bike shop placing an order for a Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1.

Many miles later…

A month and nearly 1000 miles in the saddle has passed and I’m still every bit as excited now when riding the TCR as I was on that first test ride. The thing the Giant TCR has in spades is its stiffness and its explosive feel on the road partly due to the Advanced Pro’s highly rated OverDrive 2 head tube allowing you to zip into and through corners as if you’re on rails. The TCR wants to be ridden aggressively, effectively transferring every bit of power from the legs through the bike most notable when accelerating out of twisting descents or up into climbs and despite the snappy and firm ride; it never seems to translate to discomfort. Perhaps it helps that by running tubeless I am able to run slightly lower pressure or maybe it the amount of seat pin on show due to the sloping top tube?

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1 Review

Wheelie great

The stock wheels on this thing are incredible and by far out do most bikes in its price range. Giant specs its own wheels on their bikes and the Advance Pro 1 is fitted with tubeless ready SLR1’s which are lightweight and pretty hard to fault. Again the tyres are also Giant’s own and come in the form of the Gavia SLR 25mm tubeless. They come in slightly narrower than 25mm but they grip the road well enough (even in the wet) and ‘touch wood’, I haven’t had any issues with punctures yet despite the shockingly rough rural roads of Leicestershire. Although I’ve never ran tubeless before so I’m dreading the day I do have to use my tyre worms and super glue!

 

Superb Ultegra

The groupset on the Giant TCR Advance Pro 1 is Shimano’s ever reliable and exceptionally good Ultegra. My Giant Defy was equipped with Shimano 105 which I consider as one of the best (if not the best) around in terms of value for money. If I’m honest though I haven’t noticed too much of a difference with the upgrade other than the obvious weight reduction, but the Ultregra shifters are possibly slightly more positive when changing gear although the benefit is minimal. Check out this write up by road.cc for a head to head with Ultegra v 105

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1 Review

 

Con’s

I’m hard-pressed to find any negatives about this bike. I suppose Giant as a brand is slightly more common than others however that isn’t something that bothers me and I am yet to pass another Giant TCR with my paint scheme. Also I start to feel the saddle a bit on anything over 50 miles, so that may be something I choose to swap out in the near future however that is more of a personal preference. The only other slight negative I’ve found is with the integrated seatpost clamp and that my seat slipped down after a few rides. Although I’d probably put that down to the setup by my LBS rather than the capability of the clamp itself as I haven’t really had any problems since I put an extra couple of turns on the clamp screw.

Conclusion

To sum up, the performance of this bike is second to none, especially if you’re riding it hard! It’s light, responsive and it makes you feel fast! The value for money is great, punching well above its price tag and being equipped with Giants excellent in-house ancillaries, it isn’t a bike where you will be looking to swap out the wheels ASAP. In short, if you are looking for a race ready bike straight out of the box, then this is it!

Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1 Review

Specification:

Frame: Advanced Grade Composite, Electronic Ready
Fork: Advanced-Grade Composite, Full-Composite OverDrive 2 Steerer
Handlebar: Giant Contact SL
Stem: Giant Contact SL
Seatpost: Giant Variant Composite
Saddle: Giant Contact SL Forward
Shifters: Shimano Ultegra
Front Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra
Brakes: Shimano Ultegra
Brake Levers: Shimano Ultegra
Cassette: Shimano Ultegra 11×28
Chain: KMC X11EL-1
Crankset: Shimano Ultegra 36/52
Bottom Bracket: Shimano BB-71 press fit
Wheels: Giant SLR 1 WheelSystem
Tyres: Giant Gavia SL Tubeless, 700x25mm, Folding
Other: RideSense BlueTooth/ANT+