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+

Commuting to get Fit

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.

Commute Angry

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.

Commute to get fit

 

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?

Get Bike Fit – 6 1/2 Steps for an Absolute Beginner

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!

Absolute Beginner? Get a bike
mmmmmmmmm…. new bike

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.

Absolute Beginner? Ride
Get out and ride… and take pictures of your bike

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.

Absolute Beginner? Lay off the fatty food
Lay off the fatty food!

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.

Absolute Beginner? Work on Specifics
Get that sweat on!

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!

Absolute Beginner? Become a machine
Become a MACHINE

 

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!

Zwift vs Sufferfest – Which is better for delivering results?

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.

Zwift vs Sufferfest
Zwift vs Sufferfest

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!

The Sufferfest

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.

The Sufferfest - Revolver

Zwift

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!