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Saturday, 28 July 2012

Ultan's 24hr TT report (worth a read!)

Ultan and I go way back. I first lent him a bike as a favour to Rapha as he was doing an epic ride for them. We clicked and next thing you know he was helping me with the design work and branding for when we moved to the new shop.
His latest obsession is ultra long TTs - and Ben has been helping him with his TT position, and last month he bought a lovely Trek Speed Concept from us.

Here is his cracking report of the National 24 hr TT:

The Mersey Roads National 24hr TT Championships 2012 was my third 24. The first was ‘have a go and survive’, the second attempt was to 'give it a lash', and the third time I aimed to 'empty the tanks'. 

I was much more organized this year, and had everything boxed off and prepped which allowed me to relax a lot the night before, but once we drove into the HQ at Farndon the nerves hit me straight away. The nerves were further heightened when I went to sign on and was told that John Warnock - the big favorite - had pulled out and the organisers said that maybe I could win it. I knew I had a chance and so did a few others, so I had to settle the head and go about making the most of it.

From the start I went hard and probably too hard, but I was thinking make hay when the sun is shining and follow the bike. I had a couple of comfort issues early on but they soon settled down. For the first 10 hours it was basically head down and get into it. The first 3 or 4 hours are always nervy and my eating and drinking was triggered more by this rather than necessity. But, after my first break the rhythm of eating and drinking became clearer. After this I started to think of all the training, stretching, tennis-balling and good nutrition that I had done in an attempt to prepare the mind for the hours ahead.  

I blew. I went out too quick and suffered for twenty odd miles. “This could be a long night” I thought to myself, but luckily I recovered just as darkness fell. I felt great for the first few hours of darkness so I rid hard, probably way too hard but I was trying to make up for the first blow, but without thinking I was drilling straight towards another. I still had the lead but knew that my number 2 was close. He remained too close for comfort for those first 12 hours, so with each blazing lap I was hoping to be putting time into him, it was never as much as I thought.

Thinking positively is critical to riding a good 24. You have to believe that everyone is going to crack or have a rough patch because 9 times out of 10 everyone has a dip. Looking back now it seems number 2 was trying to make pace with me rather than vice versa and maybe I drew him out of his own ride. After hauling my arse through some hard dark hours I started to get feedback that I was gaining on him. Luckily my wingman pulled up alongside me and told me to go handy and not put a huge effort in. The best advice I got. 10 miles up the road I spot him labouring his bike. Putting the boot down and around him, I drove it on for another few miles then cooled off to steady the ship for the long haul. Day had come again and I was energized from the change. I was sure he was going to attack me but it never came. That probably gave me the edge to pull it together for another few hours. But having dug holes too deep, too early on, I was always going to vulnerable. I had to go steady.

500 was my target but I wasn't settled enough to hit that marker this year. Next time. 489miles in total and a national title. I'll take that. I made the most of my chance and I am honoured the efforts of my crew who were exceptional; Oisín, Finnian and Bas. Bespoke have kept me moving smoothly all year from body to bike, so I owe them huge thanks also. Until next year. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Low Back Pain While Riding

by Ben Hallam

There is an interesting article in the latest issue of Manual Therapy relating to cyclists with lower back pain (

The results from this study mirror what I see regularly during bike fits; the people that complain of lower back pain tend to be the ones that sag back onto their saddles and flex from the lower back. This lumbar flexion puts additional strain on the back muscles and tissues and makes it very hard for the core muscles to stabilise the spine. As they found in the study, simply changing the bike position (in this case tilting the saddle which has been shown to sometimes relieve low back pain) often doesn’t change someone’s learnt motor program (their learnt posture on the bike).

The take home messages from this study would be that a) positioning the bars too low can encourage lower lumbar flexion and potentially increase the likelihood of lower back pain and b) position changes need to be combined with both on and off the bike posture correction to help strengthen the core and maintain a neutral pelvic posture while riding.   

Monday, 9 July 2012

Rotor 3D+ and Q ring review

3 weeks after getting them installed, I thought it a good time to write a short review on the Rotor cranks and Q rings I have on my Parlee.

There are loads of options, and there is one thing that’s very important to understand:
Rotor sell their system as a module. So you can choose individual components or the complete package;

Crank arms
Q rings (or normal round rings)

So you can get Rotor crank arms with normal rings, OR you can put Q rings on your existing chainset. Or you can be a hitter like me and get the full system.

This review will be mainly about the Q rings as I don’t have a great deal to say about the crank arms (I have the 3D+ version which is for BB30 frames, but you can also get 3D for normal 24mm BBs).
I don’t mean this in a bad way – its simply that crank arms to me should be like stems or seatposts. If you don’t notice them they are doing their job.
The 3D+ does look cool which its machined finish, and its certainly light and stiff but I would love it if they brought out a stealth one that had less garish decals…..

The Q rings have been a huge success. There has been a real trend towards Ossytmeric rings recently (though Mechanic Matt is old enough to remember the ill-fated Shimano biopace system). Recently however Rotor have had huge success with Carlos Sastre winning the Tour and this year Ryder Hysdeal won the Giro on them. Bradley Wiggins is on a different system (with an even more aggressive shape) but the principle is the same….

And what is the principle? Well its quite simple; a round ring is round (doh!)  so a 53 tooth stays a 53 tooth throughout the stroke, whereas the Q ring is ossyemnetirc in shape, and  when you are in the power phase (around  2 o’clock to 5 oc’lock) the teeth become an effective 55. Then in the recovery phase the teeth become an effective 50.

So you are pushing a bigger gear when you are strong, and a smaller gear in the recovery phase (so you get to the next power phase quicker).   Genius….

In reality they do seem to work – I felt a real snappiness on the recovery phase – almost like you were pedalling ever so slightly downhill….

I have not done a threshold test and cannot quantify if they are more powerful but they feel they are, and that is often half the battle…..
I know guys who have done tests and say their numbers are up 3-5%. Not massive, but at 300 watts that’s c15 watts, and every bit helps!

People say that the biggest difference is when you go back to normal round rings. You then feel all the imperfections in your stroke…

The other big advantage is the choice of chainrings you can have. In the Giro there was a real trend towards what is termed ‘mid-compacts’. In English this means 52-36, so straddling standard (53/39) and compact (50/34). Now the Pros used this because the Giro climbs are so ridiculously steep, but for me I thought it would be perfect for the Alps.
A 52 is plenty big enough for me (especially using an 11) and a 36 allows you to spin up far more than on a 39. But I also think 36 is much more useful than a 34, as often you are in the 34 and then its too small so you go to the 50 and its too big!

However chainring versatility is something that the other big boy will soon share, as SRAM, Shimano and Campag either have, or will have, 52/36 chainring options.

This is not a universal downside, rather a personal peeve as at present I cannot use my Dura Ace SRM with them (you can use Dura Ace cranks just not SRMs because of the extra machining), and I am really missing knowing my numbers for training and racing. For instance on QBH I would have loved to see where my power went from hours 1-2, 3-4 and 5-6.

The other downside (and this is the major one) is that you will make Matt unhappy. Because of their shape setting up the front mech can be an issue (as teeth are never at the same height throughout a revolution). Likewise shifting is good, but there can be a tiny pause vs normal rings (especially compared to my Di2 shifting).

Many people like a uniform groupset, and its true the big 3 spend a fortune on R&D ensuring that their chainrings are designed to work perfectly with their chains and cassettes. Obviously you don’t get that with using Rotor….

How popular will Q rings get? Its hard to tell – they are certainly not the easiest sell to those who have not already read the science behind them For example I got all sorts of banter from my friends saying that my chainrings had melted in the Spanish sun…
And I can imagine if you were new to cycling and you were unlucky and your chain fell off, or you miss-shifted, Q rings would be the first to be blamed and off the bike. So they are not an easy sell, but I certainly think they are worth a very serious consideration by anyone who takes their cycling seriously. 

Friday, 6 July 2012

Does More Caffeine Increase Performance?

by Ben Hallam

Many sports drinks and energy gels have now got varying levels of caffeine in them. Caffeine is a central nervous system and metabolic stimulant which has been shown in many studies to increase sports performance. Up until 2004, there was a limit on the amount of caffeine you could consume without failing a drugs test and WADA are still monitoring the use of caffeine in sport to detect patterns of misuse (1).

So, does taking lots of caffeine increase performance exponentially? If 250mg makes you go faster will 500mg make you go faster still? There’s been an interesting recent study in the Journal of Sports Sciences by Desbrow et. al. looking at the effects of different levels of caffeine intake (2). Three groups of cyclists were tested over 60 minutes (very similar to a 40km time trial effort) and then retested after taking either a 6mg of caffeine per kg of body weight, 3mg of caffeine per kg of body weight or a placebo 90 minutes before. The two caffeine groups saw a significant increase in performance but there wasn’t a significant difference in improvement between the two caffeine levels. Therefore, taking more caffeine won’t have the effect of increasing performance further.

Taking too much caffeine, however, can have negative side effects. The Scientific Committee on Food have noted that 5mg caffeine per kilogram bodyweight per day can cause irritability, nervousness or anxiety, particularly if you’re not used to consuming large amounts of caffeine (3).

So what does 3mg per kg of body weight equate to? Below is a quick conversion table and some examples of typical levels of caffeine found in different products:

Body Weight

Typical Caffeine Amount
Average of 40mg (4)
Instant Coffee
Average of 54mg (4)
Ground Coffee
Average of 105mg (4)
Coca Cola (can)
32mg (5)
Red Bull (250ml)
80mg (6)
Monster (500ml)
160ml (7)
ProPlus (1 tablet)
50mg (8)