Cycling to Work – Commuter Racing

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Being a Commuter and Cycling to Work

There’s definitely a few of us who as a commuter are lucky enough to live roughly near to where they work and are foolhardy enough to brave the traffic to commute into work on our bikes. Out on the street you’ll see huge variation in what people use to get to work. From cheap heavy mountain bikes to the odd person still out on their carbon ride in the depths of winter sliding around on the ice.

cycling commuting clothing

Aside from the steed, clothing shows similar amounts of variation. There’s plenty of garish yellowy green hi-vis on show, clippy shoes, smart shoes (and even one person with clippy shoes without the clips – like having football boots without the studs) and even the odd Rapha jersey for some reason. I’ve already covered cycling kit as a whole here, but the commuter kit throws in a whole new world of possibilities.

Personally I go for the tweed jacket with laptop bag ballast, suited and booted approach, which given it has the aerodynamic properties of a woven sail flapping in the wind makes my ride into work just that touch harder. It’s still easier and quicker than having to get changed more than I need to.

rapha tailored jacket stylish cycling commuter

Commuter Racing

It’s only natural then that we want to defeat the others that we come across on our route, some battles get played out repeatedly at the same times and the same places, just on different days. There are different ‘stages’ or ‘tracks’, the most common one for me in Birmingham is the Gooch Street – Pershore Road – Hurst Street bike route blast, however Broad Street was once a happy hunting ground and there’s a special place for beating people up the hill into Kings Heath.

russell road moseley birmingham
The climb to Kings Heath

Everyone has their own route and points where they come across other commuters, but like all cycle racing a hill climb victory is worth more than simply being quicker than someone on the flat. Especially if you’ve got a laptop bag.

Now there are a couple of unofficial rules, going through red lights is a big no-no and an instant disqualification. Being able to then still pass someone who has gone through one of them gives a solid moral victory however. Gaining a sense of achievement by blasting past someone who is going at glacial levels of slowness is not cool, you’d have to blast past about six for one real victory.

Also overtaking and then going immediately left across their path is a bit of a dick move (it’s dangerous enough when drivers do it). Drafting is allowed, but don’t expect much information coming back to you like you would on the club ride. Their last minute swerve around the pothole could see you hit it for instance. The questionable quality of mudguards also makes this practice disadvantageous if it’s a damp day, as you’ll only end up mucky for work.

cycling commuting hi vis pannier

The Commuter Racer Mindset

It takes the right sort of person to initiate a race with someone they don’t know, who probably doesn’t know they’re racing and is just using a bike as a means to get to work. Hyper competitiveness is a must, a turn of speed is very useful, as is the ability to self-justify this behaviour. ‘I’m just doing it to get to work quicker’, ‘this is good training’ and ‘my anaerobic levels are going through the roof!’

Some races start by accident because the number one goal is to get into town and make that train, despite leaving the house 5 minutes later than you should have. Soon you have lots of overtakes and someone smart who has jumped onto your back wheel that you have to try and burn off where possible.

The dream days are the ones where all the lights are green, all the islands are clear and you can smash it to work in 15 minutes without having had to stop on the way.

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Cycling to Work – Commuter Racing was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Zwift Review – A New Way of Indoor Training

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So what is Zwift? Well, traditionally Winter cycling saw people putting on layer after layer, braving the cold and wet on a club ride or having to resort to riding indoors on a turbo trainer. The latter was always dull, staring at the four walls out of your mind bored. Some people found relief in watching films whilst riding, I generally had to resort to playing the Xbox. By distracting my brain from clock watching by playing Fifa (driving games didn’t work very well, it’s hard to fight the urge to lean into the corners). Around two years ago Zwift was created to fill in that gap and make indoor training much more interesting.

Mathew Mitchell Zwift KISS (C) 28th November 2016
Leading the group – no helmet, black/blue kit and white/green bike.

Zwift Review

Anyone with a bike, a turbo trainer (£100+), a couple of sensors (£50), an ANT+ stick (£10) and a PC can get going. As you ride, Zwift calculates your power in watts and converts that to a speed in-game as you zoom around a couple of virtual worlds. Most people will start off with a solo workout or two before exploring the world of group rides and Zwift racing. A number of pros can be found riding as well, the likes of Jens Voigt, Michal Kwiatkowski, Laurens Ten Dam, Michael Matthews, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Andre Greipel, Thomas de Gendt, Jasper Stuyven, Fumy Beppu and Axel Merckx. I suppose you could play the likes of FIFA and Madden with/against some pros but they’re less upfront about it. On Zwift real names are used and you can even get a notification to your phone if someone you like starts riding.

Mathew Mitchell Zwift KISS (C) 28th November 2016
The lead group has formed, I’m going with it and seeing how far I can get

Zwift works well because of the social aspect. Whilst you can be a hermit and simply ride on a workout passing everyone by with no interaction, the most fun is had on group rides. The well led ones are kept to a reasonable manageable speed. Somewhere between too easy and too difficult where conversation (typing in this case) is possible whilst riding and the chat helps the time spend riding fly by. Facebook groups help established groups get closer and before you know it, you’re fully involved in the Zwift community. A new set of people are asking where you were on Sunday and encouraging you to beat personal bests and improve that FTP (functional threshold power).

Zwift Racing

As a relatively new convert to racing on Zwift I’ve realised I’ve now found the tip of the iceberg. This stuff is serious.
Anyone who hasn’t forked out for a power meter is looked down upon and so is not racing with a heart rate monitor. The efforts required to finish high up are huge, in my last two races I’ve had to lie down straight away afterwards because I’ve put myself into the red so much. A sign of good training! As in real-life, racing is split into categories, this effectively means that in the middle of a mass race you can ignore those marked with an A because they’ll be disappearing into the distance shortly. It also gives newbies a chance to race against each other in the starter D category rather than feeling like they’re being thrown straight into the masses.

Mathew Mitchell Zwift KISS (C) 28th November 2016
Still in the lead group…

My first race was on the Richmond 2014 World Championship circuit. I managed to lose all of the groups and spent nearly the whole thing on my own. Guaranteed to be the slowest way to race, with no draft effect to help the speed. I had put myself in the D category as a beginner but the power I put out meant I got upgraded to 10th (of 11) in the C category. The auto-upgrade prevents people under-representing themselves and winning categories they’re too good for.

I had another go a few weeks later and whilst it was hard work it was much improved. I finished 4th in C category after getting myself into one of the leading groups and then gradually falling backwards as I lost contact with my group on the last lap. Despite that, what was most memorable after this race was Zwift crashing and my PC refusing to reboot. After re-installing Windows I lost all the data and couldn’t upload it to Strava either. Far from ideal.

The last two weeks I’ve been back on it cycling wise and have done 4 races. Two results of 13 and 19 in the B category, and two more of 2 and 8 in the C category. It’s fair to say that I’m somewhere between the B and C categories and that the race circuits heavily impact what I can do. The circuit in London is a favourite, it’s relatively flat with only a blast up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square that causes brief issues. Unsurprisingly this is where I’ve done my B races. I seem to have hit on a strategy of going as fast as I can early on, hanging onto the quickest group for as long as possible and then seeing who I can hold off until the end. Hanging onto the back of a quick group early on does give you huge leads over chasing groups, I just need some more fitness to hang on until the end! It’s been this week where I’ve found out about the work that Nathan Guerra (a top American MTB-er) who has a Youtube channel that broadcasts Zwift races live as he provides commentary. It’s been useful to be able to re-watch the races and see at which point I should’ve done something better or been more active at a crucial point. It also helps me get better screenshots!

Mathew Mitchell Zwift Friday Criterium 25th November 2016
Caught on Youtube – near the start of a race trying to escape with a group

Conclusion on Zwift

As a means of indoor training, for me Zwift has made it something worthwhile and actually enjoyable to do. It saves me having to go out into the city to train on dark, wet, cold evenings so I could probably claim some safety advantages to using it as well. Especially because you can’t crash on Zwift, unless you’re particularly careless and fall off your bike somehow. Having group rides and races means that you can choose what sort of ride you want to do, whilst managing to have that social aspect. Being able to race against other actual people makes it that extra bit real and allows the competitive side to come out. It pushes you far more than a winter club ride or than you would doing a workout on your own. By doing more than just riding long rides and doing specific training rides and races, the data has shown that I’ve made improvements despite riding less in the last two months – my FTP is now around 45 watts higher than it was when I first started on Zwift 3 months ago. For me, being able to play on Zwift and ride regularly has definitely been a worthwhile investment.

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Zwift Review – A New Way of Indoor Training was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

How to Repair Carbon Frame – Split Dropout

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I was out riding my carbon frame earlier this week and suddenly the back end felt like it was wobbling around, I put it down to having a different tyre on that was pumped right up but the feeling persisted. Eventually 7 and a half miles out, I got off and checked it out properly.

Carbon fibre broken?

Turns out there was a clear crack through the drive side dropout area that meant the chainstay was pretty much hanging loose and flexing every time I pedalled. With no option, I had to nurse it home by riding it back through the city trying to avoid all potholes and look for the smoothest part of the road. From behind apparently it was like my back wheel was wagging like a tail – each time I stopped pedalling I could hear and feel the wheel rubbing on the brakes, effectively keeping it upright. It turns out the dropout had split around the screw that attaches it to the frame, one of the few aluminium parts on the carbon frame!

With limited options, I’ve decided to epoxy the crack and then wrap carbon fibre tow around the whole area in an attempt to reconnect and brace the joint to the carbon frame.

Doing the Carbon Frame Repair

Enjoy the pictures of the repair!

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How to Repair Carbon Frame – Split Dropout was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Saintbury Hill – Cotswold Climbs 2

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Saintbury Hill
Saintbury Hill

Saintbury Hill is as well revered as Dover’s Hill and it’s a near cert that any local Warwickshire Sportive will go up at least one of them.
The climb is about a mile long and feels like it gets easier as you go up the climb but still has an average of 9%.

Saintbury Hill Climb

Starting at the edge of the picturesque Cotswold village of Saintbury with its distinctive church nestled on the hillside, the hardest part of the climb is going through and out the other side of the village. Struggling up the 15% gradient here is the point where your legs are burning, urging you to stop.

Saintbury Hill
Saintbury Church

Coming out of the village, there’s a gentle hook left and a steady but very steep ramp up to the sharp right which touches 16%. This ramp has excellent views to the left and shows how much height you’ve gained in a couple of minutes of pedalling. Whether or not you have the energy to look past your front wheel is a different matter!

After just about managing to get round the right-hander (the steepest part of the climb), you’re covered by trees for most of the rest of the climb. After 50-100 metres you get some respite for your legs with the gradient trickling down to a more manageable 4-5% as you pass the crossroads. This is finally where my legs start to suit the climb, being able to power up the lower gradient after being on the limit previously

Saintbury Hill
View from the Crossroads

Nearing the top of Saintbury Hill

Looking left at the crossroads, this is your last real view across the Vale of Evesham as you head back into the trees. This second half generally averages about 7% with a couple of short bites that kick back up to 10% for 15 metres or so. There’s not much to look at during this part just the slightly eerie woods and maybe the odd rambler.

Saintbury Hill
View from the top

As soon as you come out the trees you can see the golf club entrance on the right and the work is over. If you’ve got anything left, you can sprint the 3% finish to the main road junction and look out across the Cotswolds to Blockley Hill on the other side of the Cam valley.

My PB: 8minutes 54 seconds – set back in 2014, I definitely need to do a proper hill climb blast on this (590th from 3440 on Strava).

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Saintbury Hill – Cotswold Climbs 2 was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Dover’s Hill – Cotswold Climbs 1

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Dover's Hill
Dover’s Hill

As hills go, Dover’s Hill is very well-known. It’s the site of the famous ‘Cotswold Olympicks’ or Dover’s Games held every year on hill followed by a torchlight procession down in Chipping Campden and a general town-wide level of drunkenness.

From a cycling perspective however, it’s interesting as the site of several British National Hill Climb Championships. People like former Cervelo TestTeam rider Dan Fleeman, 1980 Olympic Cyclist Jeff Williams and 5 time Hill Climb winner Jim Henderson have all conquered this climb to be National Champion.

Dover’s Hill Climb

The hill itself is 1 mile long with a little bit of tenuous climbing from the road junction up to the real hill. Once you reach the tight left-hander, it’s go!

Dover's Hill
The hill gets steeper…

The hill ramps up slowly for a hundred metres or past the last house before getting steeper as you go round the sharp right hand corner. This corner is lethal on the descent if you don’t know it. As you climb in the near dark from the thick tree canopy (I often take off the sunglasses for this climb) you’re in a battle where the hill is getting harder and you’re getting less strong. Eventually by the farm on the right you get a brief respite before starting the hard work again.

Dover's Hill
The view from the top looking down..

Nearing the top of Dover’s Hill

This is the first point where you can see the top of Dover’s Hill and all you have to do to reach it is one last blast up the steepest part of the climb, around 12-14% at this point. On the upside the trees disappear from the right hand side of the road and (especially in the Summer) you get a great view of the Cotswold Edge extending down to Cheltenham, with Cleeve Hill very visible.

Battling through, out of the saddle, you go back into tree cover and finally reach the top after around 6-7 minutes. The car park entrance on the left being the peak and a fun, speedy roll down to the crossroads junction and into Chipping Campden to get your breath back. The relentless steepness, with no respite in the middle like Saintbury, makes this one a personal wall of a climb.

My PB – 7minutes 5seconds – 757th of 3307 on Strava
Somehow still not improved upon since 2013, need to do it as a short blast rather than during a sportive!

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Dover’s Hill – Cotswold Climbs 1 was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling