Gear ratios

Tonight I tried to figure out if my hub-geared bike is a sane choice USING THE POWER OF MATHS!

For example, this guy sounds pretty pleased to have had a “25-12 tooth cassette and 30 – 42 – 52 chainrings” to get up the hills of Devon.  That means his “easiest gear” used a 30 tooth sprocket at the front and a 25 tooth sprocket at the back, and so one turn of the pedals turned the back wheel 1.25 times.

My hub gear bike came with a 44 tooth chainring and a 20 tooth sprocket at the back – a ratio of 2.2 by itself.  But the hub gear itself provides a ratio of 0.53 (easy) to 1.61 (hard).  So the combination means that my easiest gear ratio is 1.16.  Looks like I should have an even easier time uphill than Mr Derailleur.

What’s more, I think his racing bike has larger wheels (700mm = 27.5″) than mine (26″) which means that each revolution of his wheels makes him go further.  Good news for him on the flat, but bad news for his hill climbing.  To be truthful, I can’t figure out whether those measurements reflect the distance to the wheel rim or the outer edge of the tyre.

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The Competition

I wonder if I’ll meet these guys:

“Two men expect to take 12 days to travel a 970-mile route from Land’s End to John O’Groats in two vintage tractors. James Williamson and Johnny Sinclair, both from the Highlands, must avoid motorways during May’s charity effort.”  (see full story)


Staying warm, eating food

Twice during my training, I’ve stupidly failed to eat enough during the ride, and both times the effect has been pretty severe.  Typically, I’ve been out on a ride which turned out to be longer than I expected (eg. because of a strong headwind).  Then I run out of food/water, and I think “stuff it, I just want to get home” and press on rather than stopping to refuel.

This is a really bad idea.

Three things happen.  Firstly, your energy just goes away and cycling suddenly becomes hard.  Secondly, your body temperature seems to drop rapidly – but you don’t realise how chilled you’ve got until you stop cycling.  Thirdly, your concentration, risk perception and reaction times become seriously impaired.  The worst part of this is this: It happens fast, and I don’t realise that its happening.  I mean, I know I’m tired and hungry, but I don’t notice the temperature drop, and once you’re in the bad zone you’re just thinking about getting home and nothing else.

Boy, this is all good stuff to learn during training.  Actually, I’m much more conscientious about eating and drinking when I’m on long rides.  Every time I even think about water or drinking, I take a drink.  And I eat something at least every 10 miles or 45 minutes.  But I seem to have a dumb blindspot during ride of about two hours.

I guess the main risk during the actual LEJOG ride is towards the end of the day when I’ll be tempted to “just get there”.  Or to try and take a ‘late lunch’ instead of stopping at the right time.  So I hope that writing this down will help me remember this!  And I’m definitely going to pack some glucose sweets for instant emergency refueling.

Edit:  It’s just occurred to me that there was also something else in common on both these rides.  The first part of the ride was slow and hard work (hills, or against the wind) so I was hot and sweating.  Then the second part of the ride was at higher speeds and colder weather.  So, the temperature drop combined with the wind chill on damp cycling gear makes for a nasty combo.  A wise cyclist would stop, adjust layers and be comfortable …

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Changing gear

I was excitedly looking forward to getting my shiny new touring bike this week.  Unfortunately, when all the new bikes got delivered to BikeTrax (the bike shop), my bike was missing.  Ridgeback, the company who make the bike, now say they can’t built it until June because of supply problems.  I spent a lot of this week on the phone, but didn’t get anywhere.  I’ve now had to cancel the whole order.  Google take note:  Ridgeback == bad.

All of which means … plan B is needed!  I’ll do the ride on my existing bike, which is a 8-speed hub geared Courier Nexus which I use for commuting to work.  Whilst undeniably the touring bike would’ve been a bit nicer, I’m reminded of the title of Lance Armstrong’s book – “It’s Not About The Bike”.  The challenge is a mental and physical one at heart, and the bike itself is a relatively minor factor.  On the plus side, I’ve done all my training on this bike and I know that I can do long days in the saddle fairly comfortably.

I’m doing some maths to figure out if it’d be worth tweaking the gear ratios for the hilly sections at the start and end of the LEJOG route.  Even though the hub gears are all fixed, there’s still a sprocket on the back wheel which you can replace with something other than the default 20 teeth job that came with the bike.

Training: I’ve just got over a fortnight of colds + stomach bugs so the training has been a bit light recently.  I cycled to work a couple of times, including a mammoth 18 mile off-road route coming home on Thursday which looped around next to the airport (passing just under the planes as they departed!).

If I’m feeling up to it, I’ll cycle to/from Kirkcaldy this weekend (~50miles).  Next week, I’m heading down for an evening blast around the red route Glentress and then I’m cycling  to Ayrshire and back at the weekend (~130 miles over 2 days).

Logistic-wise, I need to:

  1. finalise my gear list and try fitting it into my panniers.
  2. Buy a handlebar mount for the GPS
  3. Finalise the route, get it onto GPS and figure out where I’m staying each night
  4. Err, that’s about it.

Five weeks to go …

– Sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/andrewbirkett_lejog

Committed




Committed

Originally uploaded by Andrew Birkett

Tickets booked, sponsorship getting up towards £300. I guess i’m committed now! Unfortunately, the touring bike i ordered has turned into a disaster. It didn’t arrive in the order which the bike shop received this week. Ridgeback in turn say their supplies can’t get them the bits they need to build the bike. Grr. I’m going to phone them now …

Not the Alps

Just for constrast, I had a look to see what kind of climbs the Tour de France guys do.  A couple of years ago, they did the road through Bourg-Saint-Maurice up into Tignes which I know from snowboarding trips.  Bourg is at about 700m, and Tignes le Lac is at 2100m.  So the Tour riders were cycling .. nay, racing .. up 1400m in 19miles.   So that’s an average climb of 73 metres per mile sustained for 19miles.  Whereas on the Wanlockhead road, I was tackling a 57m rise every mile, and only had to do it for 7 miles.

The tour route up Alp d’Huez climbs 1110m in 9.3 miles – a staggering 119 metres gained every mile.  The record times from the tour rides are all sub 40 minutes.   I took 40 minutes to cover my 400m/7mile climb – whereas Pantani did 1110m/9.3miles in the same time.  Well, he was chemically assisted .. but there’s plenty of other folk doing sub-40min climbs there.

Sheez …

Anyhow, go watch Mr Armstrong out psyche and out climb everyone else again.

The Lang Whang

The Lang Whang

I’ve always thought the Lang Whang was a strange name for a road, but it’s certainly descriptive.  Long, hilly, goes through the middle of nowhere – well, Carstairs/Carnwath to Edinburgh anyway.  The best bit about the route is that, once you are past Tarbrax, you get a huge amount of high speed downhilling into Edinburgh.  Even once you’re back in the city, the route through Juniper Green is top-gear speed-camera-taunting stuff.

The magic numbers for today were: 65 miles in 4h13m, averaging 15mph, and my hrm says 125bpm average.  The ride was fueled by a multistage breakfast (cereal, bacon sandwich, big pancake, 2 cups of tea), a litre of liquid (sports juice and water), one fruit&nut chocolate bar, two caramel wafers, half a packet of wine gums and a banana.  I feel like a machine for turning chocolate into heat.

After yesterday’s hill riding I did a lot of stretches and felt totally fine this morning.  I never used to bother stretching, until last year I went to a yoga class and realised how tight/short my leg muscles were.  Now I’m much more aware of this, I don’t just think ‘oh well, my legs must just be sore from cycling’.

Mmm, large amounts of tasty food await …

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Wanlockhead

Auchinleck to Mennock, then up the hill to Wanlockhead
Auchinleck to Mennock, then up the hill to Wanlockhead

In preperation for the hills of Devon and Cornwall, I sought out the hilliest hill I could find – the road up the Lead Hills to Wanlockhead, the highest village in Scotland.  It was a super windy day (30mph according to the Met Office) which offered some assistance.   The climb started after about 33km, rising from 130m above sea level to about 450m at the top.  A lot of the route was steady climbing, but there were three or four very steep sections which had me pushing hard in my lowest gear (8 speed nexus).  There’s a nasty steep section at the start – I was worried it was going to be that steep the whole way!  But then it settles down for a while, with only a couple of hard bits.  The longest hard section was right at the top.  I nearly got off and pushed, but stuck with it and was rewarded with the sight of the village of Wanlockhead over the top.  There was one further steep climb beyond the village which I did for completeness (amazing how much extra energy you suddenly get when you realise that you ‘are there’).  It took 1h20m to get to Mennock, and then 40mins of climbing to get to Wanlockhead.  In total, I did 39 miles.

The descent was almost worse than the ascent – the weather turned worse and I was cycling into the teeth of a rain laced gale.  I had to stop and put on a rain coat, just to stop getting froozen with the wind chill.  Then later I put on waterproof trousers and a beanie under my helmet to ward off the freezing wind.  A couple of cattle grids and some loose grit on a wet corner kept me focused.  I’m doing all these training rides fully loaded with two panniers and two full water bottles.  But today I was glad to have all my ’emergency clothes’ with me – I needed them!  On my way down, I saw a racer guy pedalling uphill in basic race gear.  I can’t imagine how chilly he’ll have got on the way down!

The photos are on flickr.

Overall, I’m really pleased – the ~400m climbs in Dartmoor won’t be a total surprise to me now.  I’m glad my new bike will have some lower gears though.  The 8-speed nexus hub gear bike was totally ridable today, but it was always sobering to realise that you’d ran out of gears and just needed to muscle up the hill.  Tomorrow, I’ll cycle the 62 miles back up into Edinburgh which’ll take between 4 and 5 hours (depending on which way the wind is blowing!).

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Route planning

Planning a LE-JOG route is quite good fun in the internet age.  You can fly around the country on Google Earth, and use tools like bikehike.co.uk to design routes which you can copy onto a GPS system.  You can experiment with routes and check how bad the hills are!   Quite a few people have done this ride before and put up GPX trails of where they went.

One problem is that my GPS system (ok, actually my brother’s!) can only store 50 points per route, and 20 routes overall.  I’ve found that you need about 250 points to accurately track all the roads on each day of the LEJOG route.  Apps like gpsbabel can simplify routes down so they use fewer points, but you also lose accuracy.  This isn’t much of a problem in the highlands of Scotland where there are only two roads.  But trying to pick your way through a city with waypoints that are a mile apart won’t work.

I don’t really want to buy a new shiny GPS system just for this trip, so I’ve decided to stick with a combination of lower-resolution GPS routes plus pages torn from a roadmap.

On my training rides, I keep having to stop and get my map (or food) out of my panniers.  This is a pain, so I’m definitely going to invest in a handlebar bag so I can check the map or grab something to eat without stopping.  A waterproof map cover is a must in the Scottish weather!

By using the bikehike site, I’ve been able to scope out what kind of hills I’ll be hitting.  Day 2 through Dartmoor looks one of the worst, with 400m climbs.  In constrast, Arthur’s Seat in the centre of Edinburgh is only 100m high.  I’ve been hunting for good hill-training routes, and have settled on the road from Sanquhar up to Wanlockhead as being pretty representative of the Devon hills.

– Sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/andrewbirkett_lejog

Also, Epic Fail

Also, a week after I finish my Lands End – John O’Groats ride, I’m going to be doing a 10 hour endurance mountain bike race called “10 Under the Ben“.  Team Epic Fail (myself, Jeremy and Frank) will be doing a relay team, racing around the Fort William XC mountain biking track (as used at the mtb world cup!).  We’re just doing this for fun, but if you want to come up to Fort William and cheer us on, we’d love to see you!  It’s on May 30th.

This means I’m cutting my road training with stints on the mountain bike, going to work on the muddy offroad trail along Silverknowes and through the Dalmeny estate.  In April, I’m going to head up to Fort William to check out the course – the bikehike site shows a few good 100m climbs in there.  I read a riders review from last year talking about lots of people walking the rocky sections – but now I have no idea whether that means they’re scary huge or ridable.