New year, new goals, new adventures

As personal achievement goals go, 2017 is going to be a pretty tough year to beat. This time last year Julie and I had just found out that we’d been successful in securing a place in the Transcontinental Race and were both surprised and slightly in shock. If I’m honest, that state of mind stayed with both of us right up until the moment we were lining up to climb the Muur on the evening of July 28.

As much as we’d both love to have another crack at the TCR (as we are both convinced we could do it faster now that we know what we’re dealing with), this year it’s just not going to be possible for us, mainly because of constraints in time and money.

I work for a cycling social enterprise based in Sheffield. Summer is our busiest time at work and I can’t justify taking off another month in July / August. There are only 12 of us in the team, and they’re all keen cyclists too, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to leave them to pick up my slack two summers in a row. I also spent a big chunk of my savings on the TCR last year, not just on the race itself but on new equipment, a new groupset for Teacake, jabs, insurance and preparation, it all adds up.

That said, I’m still planning to have plenty of adventures on the bike in 2018, they’ll just be a bit shorter and a bit cheaper but hopefully just as exciting and challenging.

Goal one: More audax stuff

As ongoing goals go, I still have to complete my current attempt at Randonneur Round the Year – an audax challenge to complete a 200km audax every month for 12 consecutive months. I initially started 2017’s attempt in February but I forgot to validate a leg of the TCR during August so I had to start all over again in September and therefore have another eight to go. RRtY is a great way to stay motivated to keep riding throughout the winter months, although I’ve not planned when I’m riding January’s yet so I need to pull my finger out really.

IMG_2122

I also missed out on my Super Randonneur in 2017  – another audax challenge where you complete a 200, 300, 400 and 600 km event in the same year – because my right-hand gear shifter packed in 400 km into my 600 and I didn’t have enough time in the year to fit another one in, so I’ll be having another crack at that this year. I’m still working my way through the audax calendar to decide which events I’m going to do.

Goal two: Gravel

Another goal for 2018 is to have a go at mastering the gravel.  I spend pretty much all of my cycling time firmly rooted to the tarmac and, as my work colleagues will tell you, I am not much of a mountain biker. I lack the nerve and the skills – I can barely get myself across Houndkirk in one piece.

IMG_1864
Nice, flat Greek gravel in the sunshine – about the limit of my current capabilities.

I’m hoping that the gravel will be somewhere in between the two extremes – just far enough out of my comfort zone to make it an interesting learning curve but not so far out of my reach that I end up throwing the towel in. Those of you that followed us on social media while riding the TCR will know that we encountered quite a lot of the stuff on our journey and although I was pretty rubbish on it, once I’d got the hang of it I did start to enjoy it, but there’s definitely room for improvement. I like having a go at new stuff and if there isn’t any difficulty involved then it wouldn’t be a challenge, right?

Goal three: More mini-adventures

So, aside from my audax goals, rather than one big, long adventure, I’ve got a few mini ones planned instead.

The main event: Normandicat, 9-12 May, Normandy: http://normandicat.com/

Normandicat is a four-day race that circumnavigates the region of Normandy, France and Julie and I are competing as a pair again.

I really enjoyed the free-route aspect of the TCR, even though we made loads of mistakes, as it feels much more like your own adventure when you get to decide your own route so I spent quite a long time looking for something similar on a smaller scale that wasn’t taking place mid-summer.

IMG_2505
Let the route planning commence.

The Normandicat fulfils most of that criteria – it’s an unsupported, free-route race of around 900km with nine control points. It starts in Bayeaux (of tapestry fame) at 10pm on Wednesday, 9th May and finishes on Saturday, 12th at 7pm. You can also choose to complete sections of the route off-road if you want to and I’m thinking that we should get some wider tyres on our road bikes and hit the unsurfaced roads.

I’m looking forward to riding in a pair with Julie again as we work well together as a team. We’ve not ridden together since Julie broke her arm at the end of September and she’s still not back on the bike yet. But she has been keeping her fitness up on the Wattbike and we still have a few months to get some big miles in so I’m not panicking yet.

Adventure no.2: The Dirty Reiver, 20 – 21 April, Kielder Forest: https://www.dirtyreiver.co.uk/

I do like to throw myself in at the deep end and what better way to commit to mastering the gravel than to a enter a 200km event that’s full of the stuff in just four months time? It could, of course, be the daftest idea I’ve ever had. There’s a time cut-off point at 10 hours for the 130km mark so my aim is to just try to make the cut-off. There’s also 3500m of climbing and while I’m not so bad at going uphill, I am pretty ropy at going downhill, so I need to get practising …I think I’m going to need another bike!

Adventure no.3: A bit of French touring with Etape du Tour thrown in, Early July, Annecy: http://www.letapedutour.com/en/

Everyone I know who’s ridden the Etape has loved it and as it starts in Annecy this year – one of my favourite places in France – I decided to enter. I’m not massively into huge sportives but I do fancy the opportunity to ride a couple of classic French climbs on traffic-free roads. I’ll be going with my friend Andy and this trip is much more of a holiday rather than a challenge, although the event itself will be tough day.

I’m sure that most people taking part will be doing it on super-light carbon road bikes but jumping on a plane with my best bike in a box just to ride the route and then flying back home again doesn’t really appeal to me. Instead I’m planning on getting a bit of touring done too so I’m hoping to take a fully-loaded Teacake to somewhere in France on the train and then riding over to Annecy. Ideally, if I had loads of time we would ride there and back but I have less than two weeks and Andy’s idea of a long day in the saddle isn’t quite the same as mine any more.

Adventure no.4: Torino – Nice rally, 3rd September: https://torino-nice.weebly.com/

As I don’t want to be away from work too much during the summer months, Torino-Nice in September fits in well with my plans for 2018. This will be the third year that the rally has taken place. It’s a mixed-terrain 700km route that takes in some high cols in Italy and France, including the Col d’Izoard and the unsurfaced Colle Finestre – but by September I’m bound to be a gravel expert, right? It’s not a race and you can take your time if you want to – there’s no official finish cut-off time. I’ll be hoping to do it in around a week, but don’t hold me to that.

Goal four: More camping and bivvying

I also want to get some mini-bikepacking / bivvying weekends in around the UK this year. Last year really rekindled my love of sleeping outdoors. I love the simplicity of getting everything you need on the bike, not worrying too much about accommodation and just riding until you feel like it’s time to stop. During the Summer months there’s something magical about getting up as the sun is rising and hitting the roads and trails while everyone else is still sleeping – for a brief moment it feels like the world is all yours.

 

Goal five: Ride 15,000km minimum 

The last goal I’ve been wrestling with is my annual distance target. I managed to pedal over 18,000km in 2017 but 4000 of those were in the 20 days during the TCR so I’m not sure that I’ll be up for reaching those dizzy heights again this year. As a starting point I’ve pledged to ride 15,000km with 10000km.cc – I’ll aim for that and anything over and above is a bonus.

So that’s the plan so far, and it’s also probably most of my annual leave accounted for too. None of my goals are ridiculously unachievable (well, we’ll see how the gravel one pans out) so let’s see how I get on. Progress reports will be posted up as and when…

 

Bella Luna

I’ve been shying away from updating the blog for a while. Mainly because I’m feeling a bit guilty about not getting the rest of my Transcontinental experience down on paper yet. Riding it was hard enough but writing about riding it is proving to be even harder. So, I’m going to procrastinate a little longer and write about my new Fizik Luna saddle instead.

Luna_sml Lots of people have been asking me how I’ve been getting on with it and I can honestly say that I flippin’ love it.

I didn’t realise just how much I loved it until I got in the shower last Saturday night and now I feel the need to tell everyone how fantastic it is. So what happened in the shower on Saturday night that made me fall completely in love with my Luna? Well, nothing happened and that’s the point.

Let me put this into context. Last Saturday I rode a 200km audax and when I’ve had a long day on the bike, even if I’ve had a reasonably comfortable ride, it’s often when I jump the shower afterwards and the hot water hits that I notice if things are little sensitive in the saddle area. On this occasion though, nothing – no stinging, no redness, no chafing. In fact, my bum didn’t really feel like it had been sat on a bike at all, never mind for 10 hours.

And it dawned on me that since I started riding with the Luna just over a month ago, I’ve already ridden almost 1000km on it and I’ve hardly had cause to notice it, which is exactly how a good saddle ought to feel.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know that last May I started riding with the Luna’s sportier companion, the Fizik Luce, on my Kinesis – the bike that I would be riding the TCR on. The Luce and I had a few teething troubles and it took me a long time to get comfortable with it on longer-distance rides. However, I kept persevering with it and rode the TCR on it without too much trouble. I did have some soreness, especially on my pressure points, but I kind of expected that I would’ve had that with any saddle after riding 220km a day for 20 consecutive days. So, overall I was pretty happy with the way that the Luce performed.

Luna_sml_2Fast Forward to this October, when I saw the new Luna previewed on the Extra stand at the Cycle Show. The Luna X5 has been designed primarily for off-road use but I could see straight away that this new design offered a different solution to the issues that I’d personally had with the Luce on rides of over 200km.

The narrow nose and front cutaway that I loved so much on the Luce are also present on the Luna but the angles on the wingtips are not as pronounced and the area under the sit bones offers more padding, so perfect for very long days (and nights).

Just like the Luce, the Luna comes in two different widths (I’m riding the regular) and comes in carbon and alloy versions. The alloy version weighs in at 255g, a mere 25g heavier than the Luce and well worth it for the extra comfort that I’ve experienced.

Although the Luna has been designed with female mountain bikers in mind, I think that ultra-endurance riders, who are often in the saddle for 12+ hours a day – whether on or off road – will definitely welcome the flexibility, support and extra comfort that this saddle provides.

I know that other people’s saddle recommendations should often be taken with a pinch of salt, as we’re all different shapes and sizes, but I really do love this saddle and for my requirements it’s spot-on. I’ve moved the Luce over to my summer road bike, which is where it is best suited and I’ll be riding on the Luna on all my long-distance adventures next year.

Now I’m looking forward to my long days in saddle even more than usual. I might even spend a bit more time on some of that gravel that I’ve developed such a liking for and I’m sure the Luna will be up for it too.