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!

 

Get Bike Fit… Again

WTF have I been doing?!

Let’s be honest, I’ve been slacking recently when it comes to my bike and motivation has been lacking. I think having a break every now and then is healthy but 2 months is a bit much! Where have I been? Well, nowhere really, but often when you put the big miles in for a prolonged period, fatigue, injury and illness can sometimes catch up with you and in turn, motivation can really take a hit. And like all motivation saps, I have an accompanying sob story and a couple of sorry excuses!

Sorry Excuse

You could say I had a bit of a double whammy, which pretty much nuked any motivation I had to jump on my bike. At the beginning of September I was hit with the flu… big time! I know every bloke says that, but seriously, I’ve never been that ill! Even now a couple months on I’ve still got some symptoms. It was crazy, I didn’t get out of bed for 10 days and put me off my bike for the best part of 2-3 weeks.

The Missing Ligament

I began to feel a little better which meant I was able to jump back on my bike and start putting in some miles again, but almost as soon as I was over my cold… ‘ahem’ FLU, I then found out I have to have reconstructive surgery on my right knee, effectively putting me off the bike properly for at least 4 months, probably more. It turns out that my ACL on my right knee is non-existent, meaning that I have to have surgery to take muscle out of my hamstring to replace the missing ligament. This bombshell gave me the mindset of “whats the f**king point?” I completely downed tools and shunned my bike for the best part of 6 weeks.

The Motivation is Back!

 


Why am I back on it? Well, for starters I began to miss it. I’m still waiting for my operation so nothing has changed there, but I figured that if I go into that in the best shape possible then its only going increase my chances of a quick recovery. Theres no point in dropping it altogether until I get back to a point where I can ride again. I’m only going to get fatter and slower while I wallow over my situation, so I may as well carry on regardless until I have to go under the knife.

So Unfit it’s a Joke

It turns out that 2 months away from cycling completely kills your fitness. I’m a shadow of my former self and its going to be some weeks before I’m back up to a standard close to where I was this summer. I did an hours ride the other day at 220w and slowly increased it to 305w and I was absolutely blowing out my arse! I couldn’t believe how unfit I was. I’ve taken to short bursts on Zwift, an hour here and hour there to try and get some sort of base fitness up and hopefully slowly but surely it will begin to come back. The Workout mode is fairly effective and I’m especially concentrating on Sweet Spot with some intervals if I have the energy. If I can’t get a free weekend with decent weather then I’ll try get a big ride in but I think I’ll struggle in my current state.

Stay Tuned!

Anyway, I thought I’d post an update to my current situation and why I haven’t really blogged for a couple of months. I’m planning on doing an FTP test this week which will be interesting. My Summer FTP was at 339w so I’ll be sure to post about how far I’ve fell away and update you on my climb back to full fitness.

Rest assured the Ride Journal will be back soon, as wells as much more content too!

Time to Get Bike Fit… again

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.

 

 

 

Ride Journal – Entry 3 – Cafe Ventoux with The Gilbert’s 

Ride Journal – Entry 3 had been planned for a while. A good friend of mine who lives up north is down for the week before he goes off to South Africa for 6 months. He’s also into his cycling so it was an opportunity to get out together. The ride was planned for the Thursday and we timed it perfectly, as despite the lousy weather over the last couple of weeks, Thursday was actually quite nice. The sun was out, the wind was down, what could go wrong?

The mystery of the missing Garmin

How about a missing Garmin? When cleaning my bike down the day before it turned out that my 3 year old decided to hide my bike computer. Not realising until the following morning before the ride, I spent 15 minutes tearing apart the garage until I gave up and headed over to Dunton Basset to meet John… ‘Garminless’

Ride Journal Entry 3 - Garminless

I set off at a gentle pace. John had text me the night before and told me his parents would be joining us. Both are into cycling but I expected it to be a slightly slower ride than usual, which to be honest is just what I needed. The conditions were perfect as I slipped through Ashby Parva and down into Leire, and missing my turn to Dunton meant I had to take the slightly longer route round, up a fairly steep 3 minute climb. I didn’t push it though, I just big ringed it at a very low cadence before reaching my rendezvous point.

Meet the Parents

A quick introduction with the parents (we’ve met briefly before) and we were on our way. Destination… Cafe Ventoux. The same place I wanted to go on Ride Journal Entry 1! However this time the place would be open (I checked beforehand) and early on the pace was actually fairly steady although having no Garmin meant I was only going on feel as we pushed on into a light headwind up towards Arnesby and on into Saddington. The short steep climbs around Saddington warmed the legs up nicely for our arrival into Kibworth. It turns out Mike grew up in n’ around Kibworth so I was able to get a bit historical knowledge of the area as we made our way through towards Cafe Ventoux.

Light cloud occasionally blocked out the sun and the pace was nice. Certainly easy enough for me to hold conversation with the company, but not to easy so it felt like a decent workout. I skipped breakfast so I was mostly pondering on what cake I’ll be tucking into upon arrival to the Bike shop come Cafe, come ‘Experience Centre‘. I think you need rides like this in your weekly routine. As I mentioned in my 6 1/2 steps for absolute beginners, you shouldn’t kill yourself on every outing and allowing time for your legs to recover will mean over-training or burning out shouldn’t be an issue.

Cafe Ventoux

We arrived at Cafe Ventoux at around 11am. A quick check of my phone revealed that the Strava App I’d been using as my Garmin backup had failed me only 6 miles into the ride! Marvellous! (Credit to John who sent me his GPX file later that afternoon so I had some record of my ride albeit slightly inaccurate). I ordered a flat white and a slice of carrot cake, somehow resisting the temptation of my usual choice of their rather tasty cinnamon flapjacks. We had a look around their Experience Centre, specifically their range of Boardman Elite bikes and stylish cycling apparel in the form of Le Col and Leicester based Velobici. £175 for a jersey though??? After balking at the costly price tags we made our way outside and awaited the arrival of our coffee and cake and well worth the wait it was. I found enough time in between shovelling cake to moan about my missing Garmin as well as discussing the impending apocalypse before we was again back on our bikes for the return leg of our ride.

Home Bound

The journey home incorporated much of the route out in reverse, with omission of the village of Cranroe instead opting for a lovely section of road though Gloosten. The road was tight with a very sharp climb followed by a fast descent through twisting terrain littered with potholes and loose gravel. The TCR absorbed the rough profile of the road with ease and I was able to tuck in and plunge down the hill at a lively pace side by side with John, making it by far the most enjoyable part of the ride. We were however halted by a puddle/lake at the very bottom forcing us to slowly creep around off road.

I took the opportunity to catch up with John  on the way back into Saddington and couldn’t help but be jealous as he spoke of his impending trip so South Africa… jammy bastard! Julia pushed on into the wind and I occasionally gave her a break doing my own stints at the front and as we made our way back past Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome myself and Julia had inadvertently opened up a little gap between ourselves and the other two.

I hate goodbyes!

We slowed the pace a little and only a mile further would pretty much be where we said our goodbyes. Mike, Julia and John headed back off to Dunton Basset and I hastily made my way home to Lutterworth aware that I hadn’t long before the start of my late shift. Continuing to match the previous ‘fairly relaxed’ effort I took in the familiar rural views of the surrounding Leicestershire countryside.

Arriving home with little time to spare, I hung my bike in the garage and decided to spend the 5 minutes I did have to renew the search for my missing Garmin. I only need 15 seconds though as I immediately set eyes on it nestled on the top of my tool box. Typical!

Ride Journal – Entry 2 – Wet and Windy… Again!

It seems that in recent weeks the only weather being thrown at South Leicestershire is plenty of wind and copious amounts of rain. Nevertheless, I can only cope with so many consecuetive days grinding away on the turbo, so it was time to get out there and in amongst the sodden local country lanes. And since this was my only ride in the week not on the turbo trainer, it has become my latest entry to my Ride Journal. See Entry 1 here

Hit that Sweet Spot

To be fair, changeable would be a more accurate description than biblical on this particular day so I thought I’d squeeze in 30 miles of Sweet Spot Training while there was a break in the clouds. I always consider Sweet Spot as one of my favourite forms of training, as riding at just below threshold for a prolonged period is hard but it doesn’t completely decimate you, like say intervals for example. It’s also great when you have limited training time as it helps to build your aerobic base while increasing your abilities at higher intensity too. Basically you get a lot of bang for your buck!

On into Warwickshire

I donned my cycling kit, removed my Giant TCR from the turbo and set off south towards Warwickshire. Although the rain was intermittent the wind was consistently blowing hard and I decided that heading out through the local Warwickshire villages would mean I would have a huge tailwind coming home. This tactic however promised a difficult ride out, fighting a block headwind and by Christ it was strong. Still, I always find it an advantage to struggle into the wind first so you can reap the rewards of a nice tail wind back.

Making it up as I go

Although I had a general direction planned, I made my route up as I went along. A local club I recently started riding with usually heads out this was so I was familiar with most of the roads. I headed out into Ullesthorpe, Claybrooke and the took a left to cross the A5 out towards the small village of Monks Kirby. The tarmac (as it is in most of the UK) was littered with loose gravel and potholes that I had to navigate down the short decent into the village centre. At this point the rain had begun to let off again and sunlight started to crack through the cloud cover.

Out the back of Monks Kirby I made another left up a short but tough kick up into and through Pailton and then on towards Rugby. The roads around heare were tight, twisting and fast and I quickly made ground out towards Kings Norton against the relentless headwind.

Even though I was somewhat familiar with these roads, my knowledge wasn’t exactly expert and that was more relevant the further from home I was. I found myself out on the other side of Brinklow, a small village between Rugby and Coventry. Recognising my location and aware of a possible route home down the Fosse Way I decided that this was going to be my point of return and the moment when that headwind would become my ally.

Finally a tailwind

I darted back through Brinklow, battling past the enticing aroma of the village Chippy and set nice pace down the Fosse. The perfectly straight tarmac meant that I had the full force of the tailwind at my aid. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d spent the best part of 20 miles being battered by it then I would have considered it cheating! I was setting PR’s and I knew it. As I sailed home the rain returned and with that the slick terrain. These conditions were  slightly unnerving on the Fosse Way and with signs every 1/2 mile reminding me that I’m in a “high accident zone” I decided to turn off at Stretton and rejoin the route I took out through Monks Kirby.

Back into Leicestershire

I continued to set a very decent pace as I crossed the county border back into Leicestershire. In fact I managed a few top 10’s according to Strava. I was on the home straight and with a few miles to go I was fresh, fast and in great form. It was at this point when the weather gave me a big F**K YOU. As I turned towards the final stretch the wind had changed direction. Not only that, but it had increased to gale force conditions! I’d near enough come to a stop! Luckily I was almost home and I pressed on, head down over the bars, dodging flying debris and at one point a wheelie bin!

Almost home

I got home safely and took a moment as I stored my bike to catch breath and review my Strava recording. 0.1mph off a 20mph average!!! Damn headwind!

Ride Journal – Entry 1 – Wet, Windy and Starving

I’ve decided to review some of my rides in a weekly segment called Ride Journal. In the first addition I write about a ride that was only supposed to be a quick 6 mile commute 

I was only supposed to be riding the short commute back home when I was asked by a colleague if I fancied going out for a decent ride after work. I had my kit in my locker and normally it would be a great idea, although on this particular day I hadn’t actually eaten anything. It was approaching 2:30pm, I could possibly get away within an hour, however my stomach was already groaning at the lack of any breakfast or lunch. In fact only half a bakewell flapjack from the company canteen had passed my lips that whole day.

“When you say decent ride… how decent?”

Café Ventoux and back?” my colleague replied.

The ‘Cafe Ventoux Loop’ is one of my regular rides so I’m well aware that it is 25 miles out from my house, plus the six miles extra from work.

“Scratch that, it closes at 5pm on Fridays, we could just go out that way though and find a coffee shop”.

Some ummin’ and arrin’ later and I agreed to join him, but only if the Coffee Shop we found sold slabs of cake, so I could at least run on some form of fuel. One hour later I was on my bike. The first 10 minutes of the ride consisted of me making excuses for my almost inevitable bonk. We were flying though, aided by an absolutely glorious tail wind behind us. The first half of the ride was fairly flat too, so other than a few junctions and some temporary traffic lights we were able maintain a decent tempo.

By the time we reached Saddington we had decided that our destination should be the small market town of Uppingham, Rutland. My colleague knew it well and informed me that I had in fact cycled there once before, last year as part of the Rutland Arrivederci Century ride. I believe it was around 90 miles in so I was most likely flagging a bit. At this point the route was beginning to become a bit up and down, with plenty of short sharp kicks offering a perfect environment for some hill intervals. It helps when you ride with someone of an equal ability, if not slightly better, as it pushes you to maintain the pace or at best keep up. This was certainly the case today, especially since I was approaching 20 hours with little or no food.

The hill intervals had taken its toll. As we approached Stockerston my legs were burning with lactic acid. I was also beginning to rekindle the memories of Rutland Arrivederci. One memory in particular was the Climb into Uppingham itself. I remember it being absolute torture last year and with the glorious tail wind of before now a prominent cross wind, I was dreading it.

Low and behold, Stockerston Climb was a relative breeze. It turns out that those months I’ve spent on the indoor turbo trainer has served me well. Don’t get me wrong, my legs felt it, but I set a decent pace and refusing to be provoked into an attack against my colleage, I tucked in, head down and ground away. Before I knew it I was in Uppingham, lid off, tucking into coffee and cake at Don Paddy’s. “Food!”, my stomach could barely believe it. I must say it was possibly the nicest cake I’ve ever eaten, although it would have most likely been the nicest scabby horse I’d ever eaten if that was served alongside my latte.

 

It was while my colleague was offering concern that I was deliberately starving myself in order to beat him up the climbs (I’m not by the way) that the clouds darkened and the heavens began to open. This was going to be a miserable 30 mile ride home in driving rain and a block head wind, running solely on a milky coffee and a slice of Victoria Sponge. A quick stretch of the legs and a downing of the remaining drops of my now cooled caffeine hit and we were again on our way. I decided to sit on the front, channelling my inner Kwiatkowski, and although I didn’t feel the need to chuck my glasses on the roadside I was certainly pushing hard through the almost biblical conditions. The surface was slick in places and flooded in others and I carefully nudged down the hills as opposed to thrashing it down as I did on the way out. Still, despite the wind, rain and lack of food we were able to press on home at a decent pace, swapping duties at the font akin to a mini chain gang albeit only two of us.

As we approached my colleagues house (who lives 5 miles closer than I do) we were absolutely sodden. His teasing earlier about me being anorexic had dissipated and was replaced with heavy breathing with intermittent silence as we rolled into his village. I suppose 50 odd hard miles does that to a man. We pulled over and found some time to moan a bit more about the conditions, but in truth I think we both had enjoyed the battle.

It was then that I was left with the dilemma of having only 5 miles to go, however if I went the long way I could bump my ride up a few miles to get a nice round 100km’s in the legs. Even in this weather, it wasn’t up for debate.

So off I went, home… the long way round.