The bike and kit on the bike

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My Trek Domane (without the mud guards and top tube bag)

You will see lots of different bikes on the Deloitte Ride Across Britain although most bikes conform to the drop handle bar type rather than mountain bikes or hybrid bikes.  However, on the 2018 ride there was a “Fat Bike” with huge off road tyres probably more suited to sand or snow which still finished (so I’m told) in the top 10 finishers each day – it probably says more about the fitness of the rider than the bike!

The Bike

I was in a fortunate position to have a selection of bikes to choose from with the choice of a “race” bike and an “endurance” bike.  As the Deloitte Ride Across Britain is a succession of nine 100 plus mile days, I decided on the endurance bike – in my case a Trek Domane with disc brakes.  The Domane comes with the Trek IsoSpeed decoupler on the seat post and the handle bars (headset) so introduces an element of suspension and removes some of the road “buzz”  Other bike manufacturers have their own “suspension” systems – there were plenty of Specialized Roubaix bikes being ridden on the 2018 ride.  I certainly notice the difference between the Domane and my race bike.  However, even the Domane struggled with the 2 hours of horrible road surface on the A702 next to the M74 towards Edinburgh!

The Domane also has a slightly more relaxed riding position with the rider being more upright than a pure race bike.  Again, from my point of view being comfortable on the bike was an important part of being able to enjoy the RAB experience.

The Gears

There was a lot of discussion the Deloitte RAB Facebook forum about the choice of gearing with some riders claiming that a standard 53-39 front chain ring coupled with a 11-25 rear cassette was all they would need.  All I can say to that is “Good Luck!”.  My view is why make life difficult for yourself when facing 20% ramps on the Lecht and plenty of 10% hills during the ride.  After a few days in the ride, even a 6% slope can be a challenge especially if you are unlucky enough to have a headwind as well!  

My Domane came with a compact 50-34 chainring as  standard together with a 11-34 rear cassette.  I’m a large rider, 188 cm (6’2″) and 85 kg (about 13 1/2 stone) when I started the ride.  I never regretted for a minute having the 34 rear cassette and had a few envious comments (when they could speak struggling uphill) from riders with a 11-28 rear cassette.  My advice – go for as large a rear cassette as you can fit on your bike, unless you are a super climber or have a brilliant power to weight ratio.  You can always fit your race cassette with smaller jumps between gears when you get home after the ride.

The Wheels

Leave the 60 or 80 mm deep section wheels at home if you have a choice.  Deloitte RAB is not meant to be a race.  The riders with deep section wheels really struggled with the cross winds, especially on the long slog up to Edinburgh where you are exposed on the road alongside the motorway and the gale force winds we had on the last day when even 35 mm deep wheels were “twitchy” at times.

Saddle bags and frame bags

Another bug bear of mine was the size of some saddle bags and the fitting of huge frame bags.  I ended up with a standard saddle bag large enough to fit a couple of spare inner tubes, tyre levers and multitool (even though I was running tubeless tyres), mini-pump attached to the frame and a small top tube bag for six energy bars and gels (a visual reminder to keep eating when riding).  This left the jersey pockets solely for the waterproof jacket (when it wasn’t doubling up as a wind jacket), mobile phone and winter gloves.

I guess some riders had a spare base layer, socks and jersey in their saddle bag or frame bag.  My view was once I got damp, I needed to keep moving and if it was that wet, having a dry base layer for 30 minutes wouldn’t make too much difference in an 8-9 hour ride.  I wanted to keep the weight down as much as practicably possible.

Mudguards

Another divisive topic!  I didn’t regret having a rear mudguard – it kept me and the rear of my bike relatively mud free.  Cyclists following me also appreciated not getting a face full of water and mud on the wet days.  I fitted temporary mudguards – the front mudguard decided to come loose at 70kph on the descent from Glenshee – serious wheel wobble and nearly a very nasty crash.  My tip, fit proper mudguards if you can and a front mudguard makes little difference ! 

Bike fit

I had a bike fit for my bike and it did make a difference to the comfort of the ride.  Before the fit, I had developed some sore Achilles tendons which were resolved with the fit.  My advice, have a bike fit and if possible have a check up after 6 months once you have got fitter and more used to riding longer distances – most reputable fitters will give a discount for a check up. 

Training – the Rider

After completing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain in 2018 I thought it may assist riders who have signed up for the 2019 edition if I shared my top tips for being able to enjoy the whole experience rather than just surviving.  This blog post will be about the physical side of preparing for the ride.  As I write this post, in nine months time the 2019 edition riders will have hopefully completed the ride.  While you cannot always prevent accidents causing you to pull out of the ride, there isn’t (at this stage of the year) anything from preventing anyone getting in the best physical shape for the ride.

Here are my tops tips for training for the ride:

  • Do follow a training programme.  Threshold Sports publish training plans for Novice, Intermediate and Experienced cyclists.  I was lucky enough to have a personal trainer with a background in endurance sports (Ironman races) so had the best of both worlds with a personalised training programme and I chose the Intermediate training plan as a reference point.
  • Do get used to cycling in wet weather.  I’m not advocating going out when it is icy or absolutely pouring with rain, however, you do need to know that your wet weather gear keeps you dry and warm.  If your kit copes with February and March weather it should be able to cope with anything that Scotland in September can throw at you.
  • Don’t think you can get away with just going out for 50 mile training rides.  Long rides are necessary to get used to being in the saddle for 7-10 hours a day.
  • I did very few training rides of more than 90 miles.  However, I did enter a number of 100 mile sportives.  It is good to know that you can ride 100 miles in a day before you arrive at Land’s End.
  • Do consider entering at least one multi-day event.  Nothing can really prepare you for the cumulative effect of riding at least 100 miles for nine days, although the Rapha Festive 500 comes close.  Threshold Sports organise the Dulux London Revolution (11-12 May 2019), a two day ride round London which includes a night in the infamous little green tents!  London Revolution I did the Dragon Tour in South Wales last year, three days riding in the Brecon Beacons and finishing with the Dragon Ride (7-9 June 2019) Dragon Ride with options for 160 km, 223 km and the Dragon Devil at 300km.
  • If you cannot find time for a multi-day event, try and replicate the effect by entering a 100 mile sportive and doing a long ride on the day before or the day after the sportive.
  • Think about attending the RAB training ride (24 March) RAB Training Ride.  I picked up some good tips last year (see my previous post RAB Training Ride) and met some riders before the RAB started (particularly useful as a solo rider).
  • Do not neglect hill climbs as part of your training.  I’m very lucky with lots of hills in South Wales.  If you live in London, the Chilterns are pretty close to the west (the tube runs to Amersham and trains run to High Wycombe and Princes Risborough) and the South Downs (to the south!).  Anyone living is Norfolk and Suffolk has a bit of a problem!  The Chiltern 100 sportive (14 July) is a pretty good way of duplicating Days 1 and 2 of RAB.
  • Don’t believe the RAB “bubble” will get you through.  You still have to do the riding and there is only so much encouragement the Threshold Sports Chaperonnes can give.  Remember, on the third pick up in the Broom Wagon, you are “asked to leave” the ride.
  • You really don’t want to be getting into camp after 6 pm each day (which could mean 11 hours out on the road).  You have to deal with cleaning your bike, showering, possibly seeing the medics, hopefully having a massage and getting some supper before listening to the rider briefing at 8 pm.

What would would I do differently if I was riding the Deloitte Ride Across Britain 2019 (by the way, I’m not!) ?  I would do more two day consecutive long rides of 5-6 hours duration on a few more occasions in the summer (June and July).

Next month, I plan to write about the choice of bike for the ride.

Autumn training – Motivation Blues

I always find it difficult to keep motivated to train once the clocks change and the weather starts to get colder and usually wetter.  By this time last year I had entered the Deloitte Ride Across Britain so I had something to aim for and I knew that if I didn’t put in some constant training between November and March I would pay for the inactivity later in the year when I needed to increase the training to gain fitness for the sportives and the ride in September.

Now I have no major challenge planned for 2019 – the Deloitte Ride Across Britain was a one off “bucket list” event for me and I had made it clear to my sponsors that I wasn’t going to make a habit of doing major sponsored events.  This means I’m not training for anything in specific and will not be letting anyone down if I back out of any particular sportive.  Also, to be honest, I’m not sure if I want to go through the amount of training I put myself through in 2018 in order to end up riding the Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) without any fitness issues and completing each day in the top 25% quartile of the riders in the event.  It has been nice getting my life back since September.

Readers of this blog will know that I use Training Peaks to track my fitness levels.  The training graphs show a decline in fitness since the end of the ride – to be expected given the huge effort required to complete the ride and the fact that the weather has not been too conducive to long outside rides.

These graphs show the fitness line declining rapidly since the end of the ride and now flattening off as a result of re-starting a fitness programme.  I’m about 20 “points” below the fitness level before the ride – not too bad and not unexpected given the amount of training I was able to carry out over the summer.  My current aim is to stay above the 365 day fitness line for as long as possible; April 2019 will probably be the tipping point!  My weight has increased since the end of the ride to around 87-88 kg and you don’t want to know about the body fat percentage!  Let’s just say I haven’t bought any chocolate in the last two weekly shops and it’s given me the kick up the backside I needed!  The one date in the diary for 2019 is the KOM Sportive run by my coach Lawrence at Enduraprep on 30 March – I don’t think I’m allowed to miss it!

I went past one of the locations of my regular photos today in a ride to Cowbridge and I now have a collection of photos from March to November of some oak trees near Dyffryn Gardens.

This week I have an event to go to with Dementia UK in London where I will find out how the money I raised in the ride will be used.  The final total is £5,050 plus Gift Aid which gives a fantastic grand total of £6,012.78.  The Virgin Money Giving page will close in the middle of December (three months after the end of the ride).  It has been very easy to operate and I can certainly recommend it compared to other more expensive donation sites.

Deloitte Ride Across Britain – two weeks on

It seems ages since I got back home only two weeks ago after completing the hardest nine days of my life!  I went out for my first outside ride on Saturday since the Land’s End to John O’Groats ride and rediscovered my love of cycling.  No sticking to a training plan, no worrying about power output, average speed or Strava segments, just riding in the gorgeous autumn sunshine round the Vale of Glamorgan.  I went for a ride through the lanes and had a coffee at one of my favourite cycle cafes, Cafe Velo in Llantwit Major.  There’s always a cyclist or two, sometimes a whole peloton, having coffee, cake or a slice and being welcomed by Dave, Julie and Ellie-May.

I posted about the ride on the Deloitte Ride Across Britain Facebook group page (a closed site before you ask) and have been amazed by the number of likes and comments.  I think it struck a chord with a lot of riders who pushed themselves to the limit to complete the ride.  I know the Deloitte RAB is meant to be all about enjoying cycling, however, riding nine consecutive century rides (plus a bit or a lot more most days) takes more than just enjoyment to complete!

I have put together a film of my best photos from the trip plus a few from the professional photographers and Threshold Sports (taken from places that I just couldn’t get to) and up loaded it to You Tube which can be accessed here  It does start to play immediately, at least on my computer.  Any editing errors (including the music choice from Apple iMovie) are all mine as is not crediting anyone whose photo I have used by mistake.

As for my fundraising, I am absolutely astonished and delighted to have reached £5,000 (plus Gift Aid) today for Dementia UK  It is going to make such a difference to the work Dementia UK can do to help support families dealing with dementia.  If you ever need any advice or support regarding dementia, I do urge you to call their helpline.  If you would like to sponsor me, you can still donate via my Virgin Money Giving page for a couple more weeks via a link here  I think honours are now just about even between me and my sister as to who has raised more money for Dementia UK with my cycle ride and her London Marathon in 2016.  Our father would have been terribly proud of both of us.

Finally, this could be the last post I write about the Deloitte Ride Across Britain and my 11 month journey of training and taking part in the ride.  I hope you have enjoyed reading the blogs as much I have enjoyed writing them.  Any suggestions as to continuing the blog would be gratefully received.

Reflections on completing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain

A week ago I got home after completing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, having ridden from Land’s End to John O’Groats, a distance of 982 miles in nine days.

The overwhelming feeling is a huge sense of achievement in completing the ride and remaining physically strong, subject to the crash injuries which didn’t stop me cycling but probably had an adverse effect towards the end of the ride.  No trips to the physios or any requirement for sports tape!  I’m sure my father would have been terribly proud of me – all my family have said they are slightly in awe at what I have done after following my daily blog and tracking my ride in “real time” on Strava.  Why am I supporting Dementia UK in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain ? John Evans (1934 – 2010) I had a succession of great messages on Whats App during the ride, most motivational and some asking what had happened to me on Day 5 (my second crash on the railway level crossing) as I seemed to be going at a snail’s pace to pit stop 1!  I had a lovely card from my colleagues at work today saying how well I had done – something I will get framed for the office wall!

The ride also showed me parts of Great Britain that I have never seen before – Shropshire, part of the Lake District between Preston and Penrith and my personal favourites the Cairngorms and Scottish Highlands on Days 7 and 8.  I would love to go back and retrace some of the Scottish legs and have a bit more time to take in the scenery and take a few more photos.

Threshold Sports had warned us before the event that Days 1 and 2 through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset to Bath would be the toughest.  In retrospect, I found the cumulative effect of Days 7 and 8 the hardest days of the ride, both long days at 114 and 119 miles respectively plus an awful lot of climbing (both steep hills and long energy sapping drags).

The question I am always being asked is “Would you do it again?”.  The answer is “No”.  Not because I didn’t enjoy it, I did enjoy the experience and I’ve mentioned the achievement and scenery.  However, it is a bucket list box “ticked”.  We were also incredibly lucky with the weather.  If you split the nine days into three sectors per day (making 27 in total) we had wet weather on no more than five sectors.  We also had strong tail winds for virtually the whole ride.  Day 9 would have been a completely different, horrible experience with a northerly headwind and rain.  I wouldn’t want to tempt fate and ruin the great memories by doing the ride again in bad weather. Things would have been so different if the ride had been a week later.

Is the Deloitte Ride Across Britain for you?

The short answer is “Yes” if you want to challenge yourself both physically and mentally and have the best possible support in completing a Land’s End to John O’Groats ride.  The Threshold Sports slogan is “More is in you”.  This was certainly true for a large number of riders.  I was pretty fit before I started training and then spent the best part of nine months training for the ride so that I am now as fit as I have been for over 20 years.  It meant that I my average “moving pace” over the whole ride was 15 mph so I was able to get into camp most days by 3.30 pm giving myself as much recovery time as possible.  I wouldn’t have coped with getting in each day just before the 7 pm cut off time.

My tips for a successful ride would be:

  • Train consistently and a lot for the ride.  I am looking forward to “getting my life back”.  Two Months To Go – Training Review  I have the greatest respect for the families of riders given the amount of training required.  I didn’t have anyone to “report to” or ask permission from when training.
  • Do not underestimate the relentless nature of riding over 100 miles a day for nine straight days and the impact it has on your body.  You cannot get away with just riding 40-50 mile training rides – the RAB “bubble” will not get you through to the end.  That said, nothing can prepare you for the ride itself!
  • Do train on hills, both long draggy hills and shorter steep hills.
  • Get a rear cassette with as high a gear as possible.  I had an 11-34 cassette and was grateful for every one of the 34 teeth when married up with a 50 34 compact front chain ring when going up The Lecht, Glenshee and Cothelstone Hill.  Do not be taken in by the cyclists who say that a semi-compact 53-39 front chain ring and an 11-28 rear cassette will be fine unless you are whippet thin and can climb like Chris Froome or Alberto Contador!
  • Have a professional bike fit for your bike well before the event and get used to riding the bike so that you do not get any niggles when riding.
  • If you don’t like camping, go for the Plus package – worth every penny for the long, hot showers, comfy beds and space to unpack all your kit each night.  You also get a 20 minute sports massage each day rather than 10 minutes every other day – trust me, it makes a difference!
  • Consider using a personal trainer experienced with training people for endurance events.  Threshold Sports do issue a training programme but I found it much easier to have my trainer, Lawrence Cronk (an Ironman coach) at Enduraprep, checking my progress and tailoring my programme to fit round sportives that I entered.  There was also the threat of a “kick up the backside” from someone if training slipped which can be useful with long periods of training.
  • Invest in decent wet weather gear and train when it is raining; you will then know if it keeps you dry and how you react to being cold and wet (badly in my case).  The suggest kit list from Threshold Sports is definitely useful – how some riders managed at the start of Day 8 without leg warmers and full gloves, I will not know – it was freezing!
  • I went to the Ride Across Britain training day in April which I found extremely useful, both to meet other riders, get some practical tips and to see how my training was going compared to other riders. RAB Training Ride
  • Chose a charity that resonates with you on a personal basis as it is then much easier to ask friends and colleagues to sponsor you.  It also gives you the added impetus to keep training and riding during the ride itself.
  • If you are a stronger rider, do slow down and be prepared to help or tow weaker riders, even if it just to the next pit stop or camp – remember, it is the Deloitte Ride Across Britain rather than the Race Across Britain!

I am working on a slide show “film” of my photos from the ride and will post a link to it when completed.

I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has sponsored me so far for the ride.  I have now raised just over £4,750 (plus Gift Aid) to support the work of Dementia UK  My Virgin Money Giving page is still open for donations and can be reached here.  To reach £5,000 would be absolutely amazing!

Physical effect of cycling the Deloitte Ride Across Britain

WARNING :  Some readers may find the images at the end of this post upsetting as they show the results of my crashes on Day 1 and Day 5.  You have been warned!

I knew that cycling over 100 miles a day for nine days with no break would be very tough and I had wanted to make sure that I would enjoy the experience and not just “get through it”.  I had worked with Lawrence Cronk at Enduraprep on my general fitness for several years and when I signed up for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, Lawrence started me on a specific training regime to improve my endurance and cycling specific fitness in particular.  As Lawrence takes part in full distance Ironmans and coaches other people for triathlons so he knows what is required.

The training started in earnest in October/November 2017 and my blog Two Months To Go – Training Review sets out what I had done to June 2018, basically three indoor sessions a week and one or two outdoor rides at the weekend.

In November 2017 I weighed in at a pretty hefty 94 kg (188 cm tall) and just before the ride I was down to 85 kg.  My fitness levels had also improved dramatically as measured by my Functional Threshold Power tests.

After getting home from the ride I was surprised to find that I weighed 86 kg as I felt thinner based on the “belt notch” test.  However, closer inspection of the “clever” scales showed an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in body fat percentage from 20% to 15%, an astounding decrease of 25% over the course of 9 days!  It showed that despite eating a lot during the event, my body ended up eating into my fat reserves to keep going.

The fitness stats on Training Peaks also showed how hard I worked during the ride.  The stats show that I was far too enthusiastic on Days 1, 2 and 3 and paid for it on the later days when my output in terms of power decreased although the intensity required to ride stayed pretty constant – in effect I was working just as hard for less results!  I think I also realised my error and consciously tried to keep my power output low when I wasn’t having to climb very steep steep hills.  I had found Day 4, meant to be an “easy” day particularly hard.

I was also surprised that my maximum heart rate for each day reduced by 20 beats per minute over the course of the 8 days (from 181 on Day 1 to 163 on Day 8) despite the fact that Day 8 had The Lecht climb with a gradient of 28%!  I’m ignoring Day 9 as the gale force tail wind made things relatively easy – thank goodness!

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Fitness trend over the last 90 days.

On the graph above, the pink line shows my fatigue increasing dramatically as the ride went on.  The blue line shows my fitness while the the yellow line shows my form.  I’ll be on top form for an event at the beginning of October! The form line shows how I was “ready” for the ride as well.

As an addendum to my fitness, I did a Functional Threshold Power test 10 days after getting back from the ride. My FTP has increased to 268 compared to 261 in the week before the ride, so I’m much fitter having done RAB.

Now for the “nasty” bit and photos of the results of my crash on Day 1 after 40 miles at Truro which I then aggravated with the crash on the railway crossing on Day 5.  I didn’t take a photo of the initial damage on Day 1 as the medical team immediately slapped a bandage on it when I when to see them after having a shower at Oakhampton.  The rest you can see for yourselves.

In answer to the question “Does it hurt?”, of course it blooming well does!  I’m now on a course of antibiotics to beat the infection and going back to see the doctor next Monday to make sure it is healing.  I have a plentiful supply of dressings but may opt not to wear a suit to work.  I don’t think possible seepage through the bandage and wool suits will mix!

If you haven’t sponsored me so far to help support the work of Dementia UK and you are not persuaded by the fact that I cycled 930 miles with this injury to sponsor me, there isn’t much more I can do !  If you would like to sponsor me, there is still time and you can reach my Virgin Money Giving page here.  Do remember to tick the Gift Aid box if you are eligible as Dementia UK can claim an extra 25% of your sponsorship from HM Revenue & Customs.