Thursday, 8 December 2016

Planning Ahead - The 2017 Season

As the sun sets on 2016, I'm looking ahead to what next year's events and racing could bring. New adventures, new challenges, and new places to explore. There are some interesting new ideas on the horizon, so here is a provisional plan for my 2017 calendar...



January

Isle of Wight Coastal Path Challenge
The year always starts with one assured challenge: January weather. I'm planning to break up the month of base miles, with one off-the-bike cross-training challenge; myself and a group of friends are planning to run/walk the 71 mile coastal path around the Isle of Wight, over two days. There is an organised event that does this in April, but I'll be busy bike racing then; so we decided that doing it in the blissful heat of January would be ideal... our overnight wild-camp should be interesting!




February

TorTour CycloCross
February kicks off big time, with the TorTour Cyclocross Stage Race in Zürich, Switzerland. Snow, sub-zero temperatures, and a lot of mud; these are all things that are likely to make an appearance. I have yet to do a race in Switzerland, and I also am yet to do a cyclocross race; so this will be a baptism of fire (or snow!)



Wiggle High5 Mallorca
Late February will then see me hopefully warming up a bit... as I head to Mallorca again with Wiggle High5 Pro Women's Cycling Team, for our annual press and media camp. It's a good workout chasing these girls up the Sa Calobra hairpins; trying to capture the drama with the GoPro mounted to your handlebars.




March

Strade Bianche Grand Fondo
The Strade Bianche has always been one of my favourite Spring Classics. The white roads of Tuscany have just as much appeal (if not more) than the cobbles of Flanders. This year, I'm hoping to cover the Women's Strade Bianche for Wiggle High5 on the Saturday, then ride the Sportful sponsored Strade Bianche Grand Fondo on the Sunday. Fingers crossed it works out. 



Down Lane 'Everest'
The idea of 'Everesting' is pretty simple: climb the same climb, descend the same climb; repeat, until your total ride elevation is greater than the height of Everest (8,848 metres). My aim is to do it on this Strava segment, which climbs the legendary Down Lane in Ventnor, Isle of Wight. At 235 metres elevation per ascent, it will require 38 repetitions of the climb, which I estimate will be about 15 hours of climbing. I'm going to need a big breakfast...




April

OMM Bike
This year, I ran the Original Mountain Marathon in Scotland. Yes, I ran. The adventure and orienteering part of it suited me perfectly. The running... not so much. However, the team at OMM also organise two OMM Bike events; where riders take part in a similar orienteering race format as the running marathons. I'm hoping to do next April's edition, in the Brecon Beacons.




May

Fred Whitton
I've fancied doing the Saddleback Fred Whitton for some time. A recent drive back through the Lake District reminded me of how beautiful it is there, so I'm adding it to my to-do list for 2017.



MTB Coast2Coast
If I manage to secure a place in the Fred Whitton, I'm also toying with the idea of piggy-backing a MTB Coast2Coast along this route. When you've driven that far north, you may as well make the most of it...




June

No commitments yet. Wondering about the HERO Dolomites again, or perhaps the Eroica Britannia...




July

5 Maratonas
The Maratona is one of the oldest cyclo-sportives in the cycling calendar. The first Maratona dles Dolomites was run on 12th July 1987, as a celebration of the first 10 years of the cycling club Societá Ciclistica Alta Badia-Raiffeisen This inaugural route took in seven Dolomite passes: Gardena, Sella, Fedaia, Duran, Forcella Staulanza, Falzarego and Valparola, over a 175 kilometre distance. Since that first iconic route, there have been four more variations; several with over 6,000 metres of elevation gain.

Local company 'Holimites' has mapped these iconic routes onto smart little route cards. Last year, I received a pack of these, and it sparked the idea that it would be an incredible challenge to try and ride all five routes, on five consecutive days. The 5 Maratonas will be a great challenge, in one of my favourite places to ride!



L'Etape du Tour
L'Etapé du Tour
Back in 2015, I rode L'Etape du Tour with Le Coq Sportif (read the blog post). In 2017, I'm likely to be in the Alps/Dolomites around the time of the Etapé, and really hope to ride the incredible stage up the Col d'Izoard.




August

GripGrab Hansens Cykellob Gravel Race
GripGrab Hansens Cykellob Gravel Race
This 120 kilometre 'Gravel Race' looks like a great event (check out this photo blog). Sponsored by a Danish ice cream company, it promises to provide the perfect August bike race!




September

7 Countries. 7 Passes. Bikepacking Trip
It's BIG... This is the provisional plan for my 2017 tour: 7 European countries. 7 European mountain passes. Starting in Copenhagen, Denmark (following the Hansens Cykellob Race); finishing in La Grasse, France. The passes include Hochtannbergpass (Austria), Hahntennjoch (Austria), Timmelsjoch (Austria/Italy), Stelvio Pass (Italy/Switzerland), Montgenevre (Italy/France), Ventoux (France), Port d'Envalira (Andorra). The countries are Denmark, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Andorra. The rough totals are: 2,900 kilometres; 49,000 metres elevation gain.

The tour will be split into two/three parts. The first from Copenhagen to the Fugleflugtslinjen ferry, to Germany. The second is through Germany and down to the mountains, before heading along the south coast of France, and then up to Andorra. For the final leg, I will be hopefully off-load my panniers into a support car, and then ride the gravel path from Andorra to my good friend Augustus's house, near La Grasse in the Corbieres.




October - November - December 

No commitments yet. 
We'll see where that horizon takes us... (might have a rest!)



Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Review - Arkel Seatpacker 9 Bikepacking Seatpack

Arkel Seatpacker Seatbag Review
Why use a bikepacking seatpack for bike touring? Why not use panniers and a rack? The two principle reasons are lower weight, and when you have an inability to mount a rack to your frame (it might not have rack bolt bosses, or it might have suspension).

A bikepacking seatpack adds significant carrying capacity to your mountain bike or road bike, and does so without the need for a pannier rack. Bikepacking seatpacks aren't without their issues though; the most common being thigh rub, and 'bag swing' - both pretty self-explanatory. However, this new Seatpacker from Canadian brand Arkel bags promises to overcome both these downfalls. I was keen to test it out...


Quality kit

First of all, I want to mention the exceptional build quality of Arkel luggage, because I have yet to test anything that compares to it. I use an Arkel TailRider Trunkbag and Randonneur Rack on my cyclocross bike for my daily commute. I used the Arkel Orca 25 Front Panniers and Arkel Handlebar Bag for the 'Coasts and Cols' tour. In both of these cases, the bags have taken significant use and abuse (over two years of commuting for the TailRider and Randonneur rack), yet in both cases the bags have continued to perform completely faultlessly, and show incredible durability.

The kit from the Canadian brand is serious bike touring luggage, which is easily capable of round-the-world adventures, or the abuse of a daily commute. The Seatpacker seatbag follows the same trend; from the moment you fit it to the bike, it is clear that it is a well-designed and well-tested piece of bike luggage.


A rigid frame design

Many bikepacking seatpacks mount to the saddlerails and seatpost with strong Velcro straps; offering a lightweight securing system, which makes them fairly universally compatible across bike designs. However, this method of attachment is also one of the main contributors to the downfalls of seatpacks: notably 'thigh rub' and 'bag swing'. To overcome the issue, the alternative mounting system is to use a rail that the seatpack attaches onto; this does add some extra weight, but it means the bag is a lot more secure, and that it can be positioned further back from the saddle - reducing the chance of rubbing on rotating legs.

Arkel have adopted the rigid frame design, but they have also developed it further; creating a seatpack that is super solid, but uniquely (as far as I am aware) also dropper post compatible! This is because the system doesn't actually attach to the seatpost at all! Also great news if you're concerned about scuffing your carbon post.

Does it work? Yes. The pack is super quick to mount; sliding onto the frame and then strapping into place with one Velcro strap. Once mounted, the Arkel Seatpacker has proven itself to be super secure. Even loaded with a week's worth of shirts, and lunch, on a Monday morning commute, it didn't rattle, swing, or sway. There is no annoying thigh rub either, which both your mind and cycling shorts will thank you for. It seems that the pioneering rigid frame design works.

The only element I haven't yet tested on the Arkel Seatpacker is how well it works with a dropper post. However, the design suggests it should, and the only potential prohibiting factor I can foresee, is whether your dropper post will actually have the strength to push up a full loaded saddlebag (I guess you can always give it a helping hand).



Dry storage

Bikepacking gets damp, quite frequently. Your seatpack also acts rather like a giant rear mudguard on wet roads, taking the brunt of your rear wheel's spray. These two realities mean that you need your seatpack to be as waterproof as possible, and to not collect or retain moisture. To achieve this, many brands opt for a dry bag, stashed inside a holster - providing a fully waterproof capsule. The disadvantage of this is system is that it limits how much you can 'shape' the bag; it also means you effectively have both the thick dry bag fabric, and the holster fabric in places, which increases the weight and bulkiness of the unit.

In an effort to make the Seatpacker 9 as light, as aero, and as unrestrictive on your leg movement as possible, Arkel have opted for the alternative approach. They have produced the Seatpacker as a one-unit system, where the bag itself is waterproof, and attaches to the bike without a holster.

The approach works very well. The double-lined taped-seam fabric, with its secure roll-top closure, ensures a fully waterproof capsule. Whilst the semi-rigid top section of the bag ensures that it keeps its shape, and doesn't need to be compressed into place in a holster. It is a design that helps to keep the weight more evenly distributed within the bag as well; with the narrow 'nose cone' avoiding the tendency for heavier items to shake their way down to the front of the bag, where they are more likely to create a bulge, which bashes against your rotating thighs. Good innovation.



Overall

To conclude, Arkel seem to have done it again, with the Seatpacker. They've taken the concept of a seatpack, and then much like I've seen them do with a handlebar bag, panniers and trunk bag, they've improved upon the norm. 

The Arkel Seatpacker 9L (it is also available in a larger 15 litre version, not tested here) is a compact, durable, aerodynamic, secure and dry way to transport kit. The now expected Arkel quality finish is evident; in everything from the buckles to the bracket bolts; creating a build level that is capable of any kind of touring you can throw at it. No more thigh rub, no more bag swing; just a safe and secure means to carry kit, without the requirement for a pannier rack.

View the Arkel Bags range at arkel-od.com (Link)

Arkel Seatpacker Seatbag Review
The Arkel Seatpacker is a neat little unit, and looks streamlined on the bike

Arkel Seatpacker Seatbag Review
As is the trend with Arkel products, everything from the buckles to the zippers is durable quality

Arkel Seatpacker Seatbag Review
The Arkel Seatpack mounts to the saddle/seatpost by sliding onto the neat little frame

Arkel Seatpacker Seatbag Review
The frame on the Arkel seatpacker attaches with a quick release mechanism onto the saddle rails, and a strap onto the seatpost

Arkel Seatpacker Seatbag Review
To remove the Seatpacker, all you have to do is unstrap this velcro closure, and slide it off

Arkel Seatpacker Seatbag Review
Attention to detail in design is clear with the Arkel Seatpacker, like these reflective blinker light attachments 

Arkel Seatpacker Seatbag Review
The inside of the bag is double lined, for reassuring 100 percent waterproofing

Arkel Seatpacker Seatbag Review
Overall, the Arkel Seatpacker 9L is another superb bit of design and engineering from the Canadian brand


Saturday, 3 December 2016

Top Tips for Endurance Cycling Kit & Bikepacking Clothing

Endurance cycling clothing bike packing clothing
When it comes to long hours in the saddle, and multi-day rides - whether that be bicycle touring, bikepacking or non-stop endurance riding; the kit that you wear is a fundamental part of comfort and performance.

The best endurance cycling clothing is something that is learned, discovered and developed, only through extensive trialling and testing (read more about 'How I Test Kit'). Often, it is the testing and development process for this riding kit, which brings with it some discomfort and discovery; this leads to subsequent refinement of your future kit choices for endurance rides.

In this post, I thought I would share ten of my Top Tips for endurance clothing; for packing light, but riding far - in comfort...



Gloves

GripGrab Easy Rider Mitts
Gloves are an essential item to add comfort and protection. As most of my bike tours have been in September - when the weather is fairly clement, I opt for a pair of durable lightweight mitts for most riding conditions - the GripGrab Easy Rider Mitts are perfect.

When you're touring though, you also need to be prepared for poor conditions; and if you're in the mountains, you need to consider the long descents in potentially cold conditions. For these 'foul weather' conditions, you need a pair of insulating and waterproof full finger gloves - the GripGrab Cloudburst Gloves are ideal.

A further 'Top Tip' for full finger gloves, is to also take a pair of Black Mamba Workshop Gloves with you - with a bit of talcum powder sprayed inside, to help slip them on. Stash these somewhere close to hand. These come in useful when you're in really wet and cold conditions (see Day 3 blog from my 'Coasts and Cols' tour), and your full finger gloves have become saturated; wet gloves aren't windproof, and they're also a nightmare to get on with cold hands. Slip on a pair of slippery latex gloves first though, and it allows you to slip on your full finger riding gloves, and also provides an added layer of insulation and wind protection.



Waterproof Jacket

Gore Bike Wear Oxygen Jacket
Probably the most important piece of riding clothing you'll take with you on a bikepacking trip. I thoroughly recommend spending as much as you can afford to on your waterproof cycling jacket.

Gore Tex remains king in my book, and the Gore Bike Wear Oxygen 2.0 Jacket is my chosen option. 'Boil in the Bag' lightweight clear jackets are fine for racing; when you're generating so much heat that it might not matter that you're soaking yourself in sweat underneath the plastic membrane, for a few hours. However, when you are cycle touring, you might face 10 hours in the saddle in wet conditions - your jacket needs to breathe, be fully waterproof, and be durable.

This barrier layer makes the difference between comfort and enjoyment; between being wet and cold, or dry and warm. In essence, your riding jacket is a key safety and performance device - make an investment.



Water Resistant Arm and Leg Warmers 

Sportful NoRain Arm Warmers
When it comes to packable protection, water and wind resistant warmers are superb. My preferred options are Sportful NoRain and GripGrab AquaRepel arm and leg warmers; both provide great protection from the wind and rain, but also have warm fleecy linings to provide insulation.

Leg warmers might seem excessive if you're touring in the summer months; but just like your full finger gloves and waterproof jacket, they will be invaluable when you're descending mountains, making dawn starts, or riding all day in fog or rain.



Merino Wool Socks 

Socks get smelly when you're cycling in them for days on end; there's no getting away from that. Merino is one way to prolong the odour onset though - as the natural wool fibres actually trap and contain the bacteria, rather than letting it breed, like in synthetics.

Merino wool also has the added benefit that it stays warm, even when wet. Additionally, the fabric is a lot more breathable, and better at wicking away sweat than many synthetics. These two properties are great to have in wet or very hot conditions; providing better temperature regulation for your extremities. Some wool socks (like DeFeet Woolie Boolies) are a bit thick, I find; but the GripGrab Merino Socks are suitable for three-season touring.



Windproof Gilet 

Castelli Fawesome 2 Windproof Gilet
Having the ability to add and remove insulation with ease, is essential on all-day rides. Endurance cycling by its nature takes in many weather conditions - so you want to be able to strip back and add insulation quickly and easily.

A windproof and insulating gilet is a great piece of riding clothing to have at your disposal; adding warmth and protection for your core, without adding too much bulk to your carry, when it's not in use. I used a Castelli Fawesome 2 Gilet for my 'Coasts and Cols' trip - it was a great added layer of comfort and protection, both in the mountains and on cold mornings.



Lightweight Cycling Jerseys

Castelli RS Superleggera Jersey
When it comes to riding jerseys and base layers, I opt for the lightest weight layer I can find. The Castelli RS Superleggera Jersey and Castelli Climber's 2.0 Jersey were the two that I took on the 'Coasts and Cols' tour. Both these cycling jerseys are minimalist, breathable and super fast-drying - ideal for wearing on the bike, not taking up too much room in panniers, and not taking too long to dry after you've washed them at your evening camp.



Bib Shorts 

Gore Bike Wear Bib Shorts
It goes without saying that having comfortable bib shorts is a must for any kind of endurance cycling. A bit like your waterproof jacket, it is well worth investing in a good pair of bibs.

I would recommend choosing ones with a high density foam pad, and ideally a compression fabric.

You will find that over multiple days of wearing (and probably not machine washing), that the foam pad on cheaper bib shorts will compress, and provide significantly less comfort; a higher density foam or gel pad is therefore well worth investing in.

Compression fabrics can help to reduce muscle fatigue, and they're often faster drying than thicker traditional Lycra. My personal preference from my last trip was Gore Bike Wear Bib Shorts - they are made with from a high end, durable and supportive fabric; combined with a superb quality pad.



Cycling Helmet, Cap and Eyewear

Make sure the helmet that you take on your trip is comfortable, and that it fits you well - you'll be wearing it for hours on end. I opt for the POC Octal helmet, rather than an enclosed aero design - I find that combining this with a cotton cycling cap, provides more versatility and adaptability for either hot conditions or wet/cold conditions.

When choosing cycling eyewear for touring or bikepacking, look for photochromic or lightly coloured lenses; these will provide the most versatile option for rides that might start and finish in dark conditions, but also take in the midday sun.



Cycling Shoes 

Giro-Privateer-Shoes
You are best opting for mountain bike SPD riding shoes for cycle touring, even on predominately road based rides. Mountain bike shoes have recessed cleats, and also a bit more flex in the soles; these two properties allow you walk around off the bike in more comfort, while also helping to avoid numb toes - which can occur if you wear ultra stiff race shoes for many hours on end.



Top Tip: Kit Washing and Drying

Here's one final Top Tip on how best to dry kit when cycle touring... 

If you have only one set of kit, and you wash it in the evening, then it *might* be dry enough to wear the next day. Slipping on slightly wet kit isn't too bad, and you can always let it dry off with your body heat for the first hour or so of riding - if you cover up with a windproof layer over the top. 

However, if you have the luxury of two sets of kit, then you can dry the kit you wore/washed the night before, on top of your seat pack or panniers whilst you ride. My best discovery for this, is to use a mesh wash bag (you can buy them in most home stores); stuff your damp kit in here, and strap it on top of your panniers. As you ride, the heat and wind will dry the kit within the bag - without the risk of straps or zips dangling into your wheels.