I’m always trying to get faster on the bike and its fairly obvious that the best way to do that is by spending more time on the bike. But if you’re like me and you often find yourself working long hours, or you enjoy spending your time at home with your wife and kids, then its hard to find enough time to get some decent miles in the legs.
I’m a strong believer in quality over quantity and if you can squeeze in just a few extra rides with some quality workouts then you will be well on your way to getting much more bike fit. One great way of squeezing in extra miles? Commuting to work by bike. The secret is to commute angry! Ride as hard as you can to work if the road and traffic allow of course. And if you can afford to, increase the distance somewhat on the return trip and chuck in some hard intervals. Like I said, Quality not Quantity and you if you ca make a 5-10 mile commute as hard as a 30-40 mile weekend ride then you are on the right path.
Extra weight and less aero
Often when commuting you are carrying a lot of extra weight, a change of clothes, your lunch, maybe your even riding on your heavy commuter bike? Also you probably won’t be wearing your most aero clothing. I’m usually not in kit that Team Sky would endorse, often commuting in a t-shirt and football shorts . All the extra weight and increased air resistance will make you feel like your flying though when you get back on a race light machine with your performance lycra!
A little is better than nothing at all
I don’t do it every day, but I find that by cycling to work and back maybe 2 or 3 times a week has vastly increased my performance on my club and weekend rides. I’m honestly fitter than I’ve ever been because of it. Not only that, I’ve saved an absolute mint in fuel costs! Yes, you could just get out on your bike every evening instead, but then you miss out on the family time. So while the weather is nice and the days are still long, why not give it a try to make up for those hours you don’t get to spend on your bike?
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’
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.
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.
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!
Cycling is a great way to get fit and for me Road Biking is the best way to do it. Your road bike is all about going far and going fast so here is 6 1/2 steps for an absolute beginner who wants to get fitter, faster and further on their road bike.
Step 1: Get a bike
Fairly obvious really. Being an absolute beginner means you may not even have a bike. But buying a bike may not be as simple one may think. Many things may need to be taken into consideration. Budget for starters, but questions need to be asked like what type of riding will you be doing? What type of riding do you want to be doing in the future? What type of riding do your friends do? You don’t want to limit yourself, but at the same time you want to make the most of your situation and passion.
For example maybe you want to do endurance or adventure riding? Perhaps your an urban commuter but want to get into local club riding or criterium’s? Chances are you may have no idea what riding you want to do and you just want to go out and ride. The beauty of road cycling is its versatility and whatever you decide there is a bike out there for you!
Step 2: Go out and ride
Even more obvious than step 1! But its true. You don’t need to worry about getting fitter yet. Forget training plans and FTP tests and concentrate on enjoying your bike and growing in confidence. Learn the basics like bike handling skills and road smarts. Learn to ride with clipless pedals and to take on fuel while on the move.
Step 3: Set a goal
Okay, now we are beginning to move away from the absolute beginner status. You own a bike and you’ve been putting in the miles. Your confidence has grown and you’ve probably started to notice your fitness increase already, just by getting out and about on your bike. Now you want to start pushing it to the next level? You need a goal.
It might be something as simple as loosing 10kg or maybe completing a 100km or 100 mile ride. Maybe you’ve set a goal as a group like cycle coast to coast? Whatever it is, by setting a goal you will be provided you with the motivation you need to get on your bike even when you don’t want to.
Step 4: Live well off the bike
Cycling is all about power to weight. The stronger you are the faster you go, the lighter you are the faster you go… its simple really. I’m for anything in moderation but if you want to see the benefits of getting faster and being able to go further, then your’e going to have to make a commitment off the bike as well. By eating healthy you are going to improve your performance on a bike. Make sure you fuel well pre and post ride and sleep well to allow for your body to recover.
Step 5: Go out and ride more
If you want to get fitter you’ve got to do the work, so set aside time to get out on your bike. Many of us can’t spend every day on our bike so cheat a bit. Try and commute to work a few times a week to get those extra miles in or use a turbo trainer for when the weather is poor or the nights are longer. Ride with friends or even join a local club so that you are committed to riding more with likeminded people.
Step 6: Train on specifics
Start working on the specifics. Im not talking about getting a coach or anything (unless you want to). Just put together a basic plan which suits your goal or objective. Throw in some longer distance rides if you want to improve your endurance. Chuck in some intervals on that commute to work by sprinting to sign posts or going in hard up every hill. Have a day when you just go all out as hard as you can for as long as you can. Even have a rest day where you just spin the legs for that recovery.
Step 6 1/2: Analyse, review and build
What are you doing well at? What needs improving? Maybe you’re really fast for 15 miles but then rapidly tail off as you go further? Build on your strengths and target those weaknesses by tweaking your riding. You will find quickly that you move from absolute beginner to absolute machine!
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!
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!
I’ve owned the Chapeau Café Jersey now for almost a year to the day. I know this as it was an anniversary present from my wife, who bought it for me as I was after a Jersey that was more for my weekend rides with friends rather than training or even racing. I’d had my eye on Chapeau as a brand, and even though at the time I’d never owned anything by Chapeau, I liked what they were about, stylish, reasonably priced and not too common.
My wife paid £50 (full price) for the Chapeau Café Jersey, bought from their online store. Delivery was “prompt” according to her and upon receiving the gift I was suitably impressed. My wife bought me the design titled “Blue Chest Stripe” as requested and with the Café range described as “a relaxed fit jersey… suitable for casual weekend rides and commuting” the cut certainly reflected that. It’s not something made for marginal gains. I’m 6ft and at 75kg the top hung quite low and loose on the biceps and chest. When I say loose, it was tight for a t-shirt but certainly looser than cycling jerseys I’m used to. The fabric had the feel of a cotton based material (apparently 64% bamboo/polyester) so it made for a comfortable feel and again very different to any other cycling jersey I own.
Not designed for efforts?
For the first few months I loved the Chapeau Café Jersey and it actually became my favourite jersey for a good while. I even wore it for a couple of local sportives, however I did notice some issues. The rear pockets started to sag on longer rides if you store stuff in them. In fact I’ve found that after just holding my phone in my rear pockets for a couple of hours, the material stretches to a point where it starts catching the underside of my seat when I climb out of the saddle!
Another issue is perspiration concealment. This isn’t normally an issue and if you stick to rides that the Jersey is designed for i.e. casual rides to the local café, then it probably won’t ever be an issue either. However, if like me you sweat at the mere mention of a ‘hard effort’ then this jersey probably won’t display you in the best light when you reach your destination. The sweat really shows on this jersey, similar to that when wearing a t-shirt on an indoor turbo trainer.
Again though, the Chapeau Café Jersey isn’t really made for hard efforts and intense workouts. If you want that then the Chapeau Tempo range would probably be the best choice to make. I do have one final gripe though. The Chapeau Café Jersey hasn’t aged well. Even though it’s a year old, I used to save it purely for my weekend rides and the odd jaunt out in the week with friends. Even then I barely wore it through the winter months as I opted for slightly warmer gear. However, even with so relatively little use, the Jersey now appears washed and overly worn. The material looks like an old t-shirt I’d decorate the front room wearing, which is disappointing for something that’s not expensive but not exactly budget. Maybe it would age better if hand washed only?
I like the look and style of the Chapeau Café Jersey when I was out with friends (long beard optional). First impressions were comfortable, good quality and reasonable pricing. However it has not aged well and the fact that the material and longer cut means the rear pockets are borderline unusable for anything other than a credit card means I probably wouldn’t buy again.
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.
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.
Zwift vs Sufferfest, which one came out on top for me? Which platform kept me motivated longer and delivered results faster?
The days when toiling away on a turbo trainer was comparable to medieval torture are long gone. In the new age of smart trainers like the Wahoo Kickr or the Tacx Vortex, riding your bike indoors can actually be quite fun (other Turbo Trainers are avaliable). Riding on a turbo won’t be improving your bike handling skills and I don’t think it could ever truly replace the feeling of being outside in the elements on your bicycle, however using platforms like Zwift and The Sufferfest mean that you don’t have to stick on the Corrie Omnibus to grind away those hours spent training indoors.
Turbo training increases your fitness… fact. A major advantage of the turbo is the consistency it provides. I don’t know of many roads where you can pedal constantly for an hour, just focussing on the effort without worrying about vehicles, traffic lights and junctions. In terms of the work you can do in a given time it beats the road hands down. According to some, 60 minutes on the turbo can equate to about a 90 minute outdoor ride, plus its quick and easy. With no need to put on any cycling specific apparel, you could just jump on the bike in your pants if it takes your fancy. How you ride your bike in the pain cave is your business though!
So how about the platforms that I’ve had the pleasure of using? The Sufferfest and Zwift have their highlights and both offer very different experiences. The Sufferfest is slightly less impressive and unlike Zwift where you are put into a virtual world where you can ride with other people, you are instead following a video and expected to match certain cadence and power values based on your FTP. It sounds super straightforward and simple compared to Zwift and it is, but thats not say its bad. The videos are designed to be highly motivating and in most cases I find that the Sufferfest videos hold my interest much more than the comparable Workout Mode in Zwift. Time seems to pass quicker and at no point did I find myself desperately waiting for it to be over. As you toil away, The Sufferfest will place you in a famous race or in some cases a solo ride up an epic climb. Motivating and often humorous messages will flash up across the screen to help break up the monotony of turbo training and overall the package helps provide an immersive and entertaining experience.
Also The Sufferfest now taps into the mental and recovery aspects of improving your fitness and performance with cycling specific Yoga and Mind training videos as part of the software’s catalogue. I certainly consider both of these invaluable factors in improving your cycling fitness and conditioning. Especially the mental training which I wrote about recently on my blog.
Like The Sufferfest, Zwift has more than just workouts. In fact Workouts are really only a subsidiary of Zwift and a recent addition to the platform. Thats not to say that the Workout mode is inferior in any way. If fact quite the opposite, with an extensive catalogue of different Workouts and also the ability to import your own that you or possibly your coach has created and tailored specifically for you, Zwift pretty has everything you need. No, it doesn’t have the motivational on screen text or music that comes with The Sufferfest, but what it does have is other real life cyclists riding with you. Cyclist you may want to ride with or maybe even beat to the top of Box Hill? As I ventured out around the fictional island of Watopia or Richmond and London, I often found myself joining group rides for recovery sessions or even just jumping on for an hour with my friends, competing against each other in sprints, trying to hit the summits first etc. But where Zwift really came into its own for me though was the community led racing events. I was addicted to it. Not only that, the racing on Zwift is pretty much full gas out of the blocks and stays at that level right up to the finish, meaning you get an extremely good workout.
Zwift is effectively a video game that keeps you fit. You earn XP for riding, finishing workouts, completing sprints and KOM’s. The more XP you earn the more gear you unlock or different bikes you can ride. This sort of stuff makes you get back in the saddle. You start to want those better wheels so you can be faster on those virtual races, and the only way to get them is to ride more.
So which is better?
Firstly, whatever training platform you choose to use, if you put the time in, you will get fitter on the bike and you will enjoy your time on the Turbo Trainer ten fold compared to slogging away looking at your garage wall. I found that both platforms delivered results, improving my FTP, increasing my performance an ultimately providing me with the motivation to get on the bike. In the end the only thing that matters is that you get a good training session instead of becoming a couchlandrian!
If I’m honest, I find Zwift slightly more up my street as its not as one dimensional as The Sufferfest is. I think what The Sufferfest does, it does brilliantly. Workouts are enjoyable (as enjoyable as absolutely killing yourself can be anyway) and they are effective. Another thing worth mentioning is that I have never had a problem with The Sufferfest software. It has never crashed, disconnected or lagged out in any way, where as I’ve had very few, but still some connection issues with Zwift. Having said that, Zwift as a package I think is unparalleled in what it can offer right now. Workouts, social rides, racing, even just bumming around London on your own! The world is incredibly immersive and although not quite as good as getting out in the real world, its definitely as close as it gets right now.
If you only want to use the Turbo trainer for workouts and improving your FTP for the Summer season then subscribe to The Sufferfest. You will get plenty of good hard quality sessions to keep you occupied throughout the winter and in prime condition for the summer season. However if like me, you want more that just workouts, then Zwift is for you. Join a social ride, sit in a group, race in a Crit. Do all the things you want to do in real life but in relative discomfort of your home! And when the sun comes out and you get back on actual tarmac, you will be stronger and faster than ever!
Just to note, I’m yet to use TrainerRoad hence the reason I’ve not mentioned it. However I am lead to believe that it really stands out if you want a structured training plan. Perhaps I will try it for a future blog post!
I used to be fat and slow. Just check my Strava back in 2014, I can prove it! But through cycling I was able to drop from 15.5st to 11.5st and actually become a half decent Road Cyclist in the process.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly no pro. If you are, then I probably won’t be able to offer you much advice. But if you’re a budding cyclist who wants to get fit and fairly fast then I reckon my experience over the last 2 years would be worth a read.
My plan? To blog about my rides. What do I do to get leaner and faster? What do I wear to make me faster? How do I stay motivated to get back on the bike? What type of riding do I do? And much much more.