Team Salesengine '10' F2D/10 1/4/17

I had reasonable hopes for this event - it's a nice DC course with a smooth turn at the Cambridge end. I travelled out with Katja, who's start was (as I recall) about 4 minutes after me. It was fairly breezy  on the day. In fact, when I went out to warm up it was obviously going to be quite hard on the return leg.Based in Cambourne, the F2D/10 starts on a minor road, but soon makes a sharp left turn at a roundabout to go down the slip road on the A428 in the Cambridge direction. There was a rather neat tailwind for much of the outbound leg, and it was good riding, with not too much traffic. Until, that is, when an enormous honking startled me just as I entered the slip road for the turn. It quickly became apparent that this was emanating from a correspondingly enormous truck, which came up the sliproad past me, though giving me plenty of space. Worryingly, it was followed by a line of at least 6 cars, and I feared I'd get held up at the turn. The turn is quite fast, with gentle and well-cambered curving turn to a roundabout - when I approached the roundabout, the entire train of traffic was in the left hand Cambridge-bound lane, and I had a clear run through to make my turn.As feared, the stiff headwind on return leg made things a bit difficult! On some of the rises, I was embarrassingly slow. I just grit my teeth and pressed on as best I could. The exit from the DC to finish is often a bit troublesome with traffic at the roundabout - today I had not real issues, and stamped on the pedals to record 22:32, about what I'd expect for the course and conditions. 

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Stoke Hammond '10' 18/3/17

This was the first event of the season with a major effort required for placing warning signs.Nathan and I went round placing signs - the whole exercise took rather too long and left me with a bit of a dash to get back for the race itself (thanks to Carol for the lift). Without a proper warmup, I felt pretty sluggish to start with, but pulled through to finish with a 24:01, which I was reasonably pleased with given the time of year and the lack of a warmup. Actually, I ended up in such a rush that I failed to engage the Garmin effectively - missing the start of the race!

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Port Talbot Wheelers 2-up '25' 12/3/17

The Port Talbot Wheelers 2-up event is usually my first open event of the season, and the first of Team Grumpy's two regular 2-up events in the season (the other being the Duo Normand, of course). In recent years, the event has been run on a course that is half dual carriageway and half lumpy back roads - actually an excellent test of a 2-up team. This year, the organisers used one of the R25/3 variants, including the descent of Neath bank, a hill riders don't have to race back up. Consequently it's a course that delivers consistently fast performances. My view is that it's not so good as a test of 2-up skills, but it does make a change.My preparations for the event were somewhat hampered by a 4 day trip to the USA, followed by a mucoid cold I presumably picked up in my travels, so I didn't really have too much optimism for the event. But at least the cold was pretty mild other than having blocked airways - and who breathes through their nose when racing anyway!The version of the course started in an industrial estate near Rhigos. While we were 'warming up', the forecast rain started. It wasn't particularly cold though. We set off briskly and joined the main road into a relatively gentle headwind, but enough to make us look forward to the descent! Gerry felt the beginnings of his exercise-induced breathing issue at this point, but I think this eased as we began the descent. In the past, Gerry has had alarming moments on this fast descent, albeit in windier conditions, so he's often a bit nervous - not today, though.Once at the bottom, it was a matter of keeping up reasonably frequent changeovers. I think we rode well technically, though an inspection of my Garmin trace indicates our speed tended to fluctuate rather a bit. We did get slowed twice at roundabouts, once in the outbound leg by a car, and then on the return leg by what appeared to be a funfair (!) travelling up the course.We crossed the line in 56:18, I think giving us 27th place. Full results at the CTT website 

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Astwood '10' 4/3/17

After the uncertainty around this event, it went off almost without a hitch and with a sizeable turnout of riders.I rode up to the BikeBus in time to see Tony setting out the signs around the start, and then went out with Bryan to place signs out on the course (at this point, there seemed to be about 5 or 6 riders). Out near Chicheley Hall, we found a car that had rolled off the road. Luckily, there didn't seem to be casualties, but police had been called and there was a copious amount of mud on the road. And the car seemed to be pretty badly bashed up.We returned to the BikeBus to alert riders to this hazard, and discovered well over 30 riders had turned out! At this point Ian Stokes offered to drive down to the scene of the crash to check it was still passable - in fact he remained there while the riders passed through and made sure the road was kept passable for us (when I came through as number 37, most of the mud had been removed).I finished with a modest 25:17. Full results are at the NBRC website.Apart from that, the event went very smoothly. I didn't feel particularly ready to race, what with being off the bike for 5 days for a trip to the USA. On the other hand, I felt pretty comfortable in an aero tuck, and it was good to confirm that the bike was fully functional again after the Blipbox failure of November-December.  

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SRAM eTap Aero - Part 3

Just a brief update on my last posting about the SRAM eTap Aero kit. I now have a fully functional eTap set up on my main time trial bike, almost two months to the day that I first reported the defective blipbox to the mail order retailer.Since mid-December, I've periodically communicated with the retailer by email (though it's not been obvious who to email) and via Twitter direct messaging. I've also contacted SRAM via Twitter and then email, to try and get a handle on where the problem has been. As far as I can tell, there have been supply chain problems somewhere along the line, though there seem to be some startling communication problems within the retailer.Anyway on Tuesday I received an email telling me the replacement blipbox had been packed and posted for next day delivery. About half an hour later, I received a second email (from an other person at the retailer) saying that the blipbox had been listed as present in a consignment, but that it was missing, so a further delay was to be expected. I replied, querying this information, and got another email saying they'd got it wrong, and the blipbox was indeed out for delivery.And it arrived, first thing the following morning! That evening, I fitted it, paired the gear mechs, and all is now fine with my time trial bike. The whole sorry tale has been a bit of a saga, and I am at least rather pleased it happen out of the main racing season.

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Silca T-Ratchet Kit + Ti-Torque

I guess I'm really a sucker for  this sort of thing: a miniature toolset that offers a portable torque wrench of 2-8Nm all packed in a quality pouch with a wide range of bits (2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6 mm Hex key; T10, T20 and T25 Torx; and a PH2 Philips) and corresponding driver ratchet. A rather blingy tool probably useful as a portable toolkit. After perusing various online emporia, I decided to place the order directly with Silca in Indianapolis.

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New Year's Day '10'

This is an event that's always a good start to the year, despite the generally cold weather: it's good to blow the cobwebs off, and it's a change from turbo training! The weather forecast was pretty appalling: heavy rain starting well before the event, and continuing all day. Despite this, we had 17 riders show up, along with two timekeepers, a marshal (and sign placer) and a pusher off - thanks, Steph, Tony, Bryan and Dick!Fortunately, the forecast rain wasn't in evidence as we all signed on and rode the event. For me, the race was a bit of an eye-opener. Quick at times, I found it pretty tough going a lot of the time. I have no idea why this was - there wasn't really much wind out there. Every time the road went gently up, my speed dropped away. At least I was reasonably comfortable on the bike. I finished in 4th place with a disappointing 25:24. Still, I was first NBRC rider (I think the other guys were on rod bikes!).The rain held off until I was setting off to ride home - it got pretty heavy, and I got home completely drenched and cold.Due to the problems I've been having with the eTap Aero setup on the P5, I had decided to ride the P3 today. It's current configuration has Powertap P1 pedals, with vintage wheels: Hed Stinger 90 front and Corima disc rear. I've recently upgraded this bike to 11-speed, to ensure interchangeability with the P5. This itself was a bit complicated as 9-speed freehubs won't take a Shimano 11-speed cassette.Full results at the NBRC website. Here's the Garmin trace:

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SRAM eTap Aero - Part 2

This is a longer-term update: I've ridden with the eTap Aero group on my Cervelo P5 for pretty much the whole of the 2016 season, from mid-March through to my traditional season closing event, the Duo Normand in late September. During this period, the set has performed flawlessly. Until the end of the season, that is - see the end of this report for more on that.I did find that the old style Campagnolo Record chainset, which was 9-speed and with a pair of third party TA rings, wasn't ideally suited to the 11-speed transmission. In fact, I found that the chain tended to drop between the rings. So in the end, I decided to buy buy a newer model. I like the Campag Ultra-Torque system, so I stuck with Record - though the new four bolt rings seem to a bit more inflexible regarding third party chain rings. Still, 53 x 11 ought to be big enough for anyone!One of the particularly annoying things about the (frankly rather expensive) eTap Aero set was the lack of sensibly designed switches for the ends of the handlebar extensions. Initially, I mounted the blips on the underside of the extensions, just down from the ends of the bars. This has the effect of requiring a distinct movement of hands to effect a gear change, which wasn't ideal. So I mounted the blips by virtue of classic bodging into the ends of the extensions. This worked well, and served me well until the end of the season, by which time SRAM had finally brought out *proper* extension-end switches, called **clics**. Mind you, these are unreasonably expensive for components that by right ought to have been part of the group to start with.Above: modified blip switches, mounted in the ends of extensions. This bodge involves bits of bar plug, tub tape and black insulating tape!Below: The real McCoy - expensive SRAM clic switchesDuring use, I had no issues with batteries running out. The Garmin 520 I use links well with the eTap system, with display options such as current gear selection (which is surprisingly useful) and battery status. the Instruction leaflet cautions agains transporting the bike with batteries attached in case they discharge - the gear mechs are motion sensitive. In use, i didn't find this an issue for drives of up to an hour to an event, and even the 12h journey to Normandy for the Duo Normand.I do have a problem with the eTap system to report. In November, shortly after the racing season finished, I noticed that one of the inputs to the blipbox was no longer functioning. By switching blips between the inputs, I concluded that the input rather than the blips was at fault. I arranged a return to the mail order supplier in mid-November. At the end of December, I am still awaiting a replacement blipbox. This rather unsatisfactory turn of events somewhat reduces my enthusiasm for the eTap system. It's not clear whether the issue lies with the mail order supplier or with SRAM (who may have supply problems). More later on this.

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Tacx Neo smart trainer

Most of my ‘serious’ and focussed training is done in the garage on a turbo trainer - the time available to me for training is quite limited, and consequently I train before going to work, so usually around 6am. I therefore use the turbo trainer all year round. For the last few years, I’ve been using the iOS app Motivo to manage my turbo training sessions. Unfortunately, I’d recently been having trouble pairing my ANT HR strap to it (and occasionally this problem affected any of my devices). Whether this reflected a problem with my iPad ANT adapter, I’m not sure. In any event, TrainerRoad appeared a bit more robust in this regard. It hadn’t escaped me that TrainerRoad also features turbo trainer control via ANT_ FE-C.[caption id="attachment_3723" align="alignnone" width="234"] The venerable Cateye CS-1000 turbo trainer[/caption]My primary indoor turbo trainer over the last 20 years has been a Cateye Cycle Simulator CS1000. This is a pretty solid device which was very stable in use, and lasted me well. It got rather rusty, the head unit failed, the fan cover broke, the head unit fell off, the variable magnetic load got stuck, and finally the bearings sounded a bit shot (given the amount of use, this thing lasted very well indeed). So I figured I’d buy a new turbo trainer. Looking around, I had to decide whether I’d stick with a ‘dumb’ turbo, or upgrade to one of the increasingly ‘smart’ turbos now available. Also, whether I go for one of the newer ‘wheel-out’ turbos or stick with one that left the rear wheel in place with the tyre against a roller.After a bit of thought, I decided to go seriously upmarket. After all, I do spend a lot of time on the turbo and as I mentioned, it’s where I do most of my training. I therefore looked at trainers such as the Tacx Neo and the Wahoo Kickr and decided to go for the Tacx Neo, which was subject to a bit of a reduction at Wiggle (plus I got a further reduction as a frequent customer). I reckoned that if The Tacx lasts as long as the Cateye, it won’t have been a major expense. The DC Rainmaker blog was invaluable for this decision - see his latest review of indoor trainers, his detailed review of the Tacx Neo, and his explanation of ANT FE-C.In due course, a massive and very heavy box arrived from Wiggle. I humphed the thing into the garage and began to unpack it. As well as the turbo trainer itself, there’s a front wheel riser block, a power supply, a skewer and a cassette lock ring and spacer set. The bike I’m currently training on is an old retired steel TT frame, running 9 speed Shimano transmission, so I whipped off the cassette and installed that on the Tacx freehub, which is made by Edco and can take cassettes with Shimano or Campagnolo splines. It’s a little fiddly as the splines aren’t as obvious as on a true Shimano or Campagnolo freehub body, but it’s not difficult. I have both Shimano and Campagnolo lockring tools in my toolkit, so no problems there.[caption id="attachment_3729" align="alignnone" width="430"] The Tacx Neo Smart trainer. There's also a power brick not shown.[/caption]Once the side arms/wings are unfolded and locked into place, the turbo has a rather SF-style appearance, a bit like a TIE fighter designed by Batman. Its weird appearance is enhanced during use by the unearthly glow it emits from its underside - blue at light intensity, purple at intermediate intensity and deep red when you’re absolutely hammering it. Structurally, it seems very robust, though the outer shell is some kind of plastic.[caption id="attachment_3732" align="alignnone" width="796"] Here's a picture showing all the bits inside a Tacx Neo. No flywheel![/caption]Fitting a bike to the turbo is very easy though I find bikes with rear facing dropouts such as my Cervelos are more of a hassle and you can get a bit oily. For the most part, this isn’t an issue for me, since I leave the training bike mounted to the turbo, and I’m not going to cart the Neo off to races for warmups on anything like a regular basis. 22kg of turbo in and out of the car is likely to give me back issues! The supplied skewer works well, and the bike when mounted seems very secure. Interestingly, and in contrast to the traditional turbo trainers I’ve used in the past, the bike mounted on the Tacx Neo can lean a bit from side to side, which is a little disconcerting at first but eventually feels a bit more like riding a bike for real. The original model, which I have, has rather tight clearances against the more exotic carbon frames (typical of TT bikes), and the Neo has been modified for 2017 to give a bit more clearance, though the internals are unchanged. My Cervelo P5 does fit. Just. I know this because somewhat unbelievably I carted this behemoth of a turbo trainer all the way to Normandy to warm up prior to the 2016 Duo Normand!There are Android and iOS apps available on the respective app stores which enable firmware updates and so forth. The Tacx Neo doesn’t require calibration. In use, the Neo is very quiet, with most of the noise coming from the drive train. I have almost exclusively used it in Erg mode, with resistance controlled by TrainerRoad. I found this a bit disconcerting at first. I’m used to easing off a bit as I tire during a training session, but with the Neo, the cadence just drops away while the head is maintained. So, the first lesson is not to overface yourself with an over-ambitious interval session.Pros - very quiet; very heavy and stable; good feel; doesn’t require calibration; works with or without external power; ANT Fe-C and Bluetooth Smart compatibleCons - first generation casing doesn’t accomodate all frames (my P5 fits (just!); very heavy - at around 22kg, you need to think carefully about taking it with you for warmup!Things I’ve not explored: I haven’t tried Zwift, mostly because it doesn’t appeal to me; I haven’t tried using my Garmin 520 to replay a course previously ridden, mostly because I haven’t got around to it.Notes -

  1. The turbo requires a cassette which isn’t supplied, you can use either Campagnolo or Shimano (I’ve used 9-speed and 11- speed Shimano cassettes) - it’s an Edco freehub that takes both. Fitting the cassette is pretty straightforward, though check you have the correct splined tool.
  2. The Tacx Neo doesn’t come with software , but does have a discount voucher for the Tacx software. I downloaded the Android and iOS apps for managing firmware updates and so forth, but I didn’t download the Tacx software for using the turbo, as I intended to use TrainerRoad.
  3. If you plan to use the Neo with a PC or Mac, you will probably need an ANT USB stick. TrainerRoad have released an beta Android version of their app, both my Samsung devices have built in ANT . iOS devices do not, so an external dongle will be needed, and I don’t know if there is one available for lightning connectors.

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Duo Normand 2016

This was Team Grumpy's 13th ride at the Duo Normand - as you'll see in the report, the event was marred by tragedy in the race. The report is written using Microsoft Sway, here's the direct link if the embedded version doesn't work on your platform.  

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