It’s dawned on me. Since getting into road biking I haven’t really put much effort into playing on the mountain bike. It may be because the roads are more accessible and I can generally ride faster for longer on road but that shouldn’t be an excuse. My love for the trails has been re-ignited.
I hadn’t been over to Cannock Chase since the wet, muddy, slippy trip in February where I was tortured with my lack of fitness on both the Follow the Dog and Monkey trails. I couldn’t keep up, I threw up and I stacked it a couple of times and broke parts off my bike. However, last weekend I was asked if I’d like to have another go at it.
It was the hottest weekend of the year and the trails were completely different. They were bone dry, in parts sandy, but mostly hard packed or loose gravel. My fitness had improved massively and despite the heat I managed to get around both trails with relative ease. It was a weird to start with being back on a heavy hard tail but I got back into the swing of things soon enough. It was a good ride. Actually, no, it was a great ride but I was still lacking in confidence.
On Wednesday evening I decided to take a trip over to Cannock by myself to ride a lap or two of the Follow the Dog trail. I always think riding solo is a bit risky. There’s always a thought in the back of my mind, what if I come off and nobody finds me, but the same could be said out on the country roads on the Holdsworth. Still. I wanted the practice and if anything did happen there were other riders around to lend a hand.
I ended up doing two laps, without stopping clocking up 13.5 miles. It was amazing. The trails were running so fast and I repeatedly set PBs and built my confidence. It had rained a small amount the night before so any loose dirt from the weekend had been packed down and it just gave me so much more confidence in me and the bike. By the second lap I was concentrating more on my technique and trying to pick the right line and carry speed. My technique still needs a lot of work though. The one thing I consistently slip back into is looking at the floor in front of my bike instead of further up the course so I panic in the switchbacks and slow right down. It’ll all come with practice though.
I filmed both the weekend and Wednesday evening rides but I haven’t been able to get much online with Adobe being locked up and GoPros own software failing miserably. I did however manage to upload the last few sections of my second solo lap. Conveniently I had restarted the recording just before so it wasn’t too long to upload and crop on YouTube.
These are some of my favourite sections. The beginning section “Son of Chain Slapper” and the following section through the trees I felt a lot more confident on and the bumps and ruts didn’t bother me so much. The “Seven Dwarfs” after with the banks still catches me out through. I don’t have the confidence at the moment to trust my bike to ride high and grip into the banks. I lost a lot of speed there. The last sections “Are We there Yet” and “Rocks and Rollers” are probably my most confident runs. They’re quick but they seem forgiving. I know I don’t get much air off the rocks and drops but last year I would have avoided them so to take them without breaking was a massive confidence boost for me.
I’m going to try and get back over every Wednesday now. The trail riding fire has re-ignited inside me and the plain speed of the road just won’t cut it.
I think I understand now why people like to ride fixed gear. Once I remembered I couldn’t actually stop pedalling and sorted out any chain tension issues the fear that was always in the back of my mind seems to have disappeared. I love riding fixed. I use the bike every day now, riding to work and the long way home through town and it hasn’t thrown up any issues. I’ve got used to only riding with the front brake and the constant spin of the pedals. I’m relying on the brake less and less too. I’ve been riding it so much when I got back on my mountain bike at the weekend it felt wrong to stop pedalling and coast…
There is one thing I’ve taken to doing while riding on the roads though and that’s wearing my GoPro. Last week I almost ended up under the wheels of some idiot women after she tried to turn left, from the right hand lane, through me. The lanes were clearly marked (left to turn left and continue straight and right for a right turn) but she seemed to have thought her little Citroen could beat me off the line and complete a turn in front of me all within 20 meters. It was such a close call that now I’m not going out without the camera. Essentially it’s not going to stop anyone from being a dick and hitting me but it might provide vital evidence…
Here’s a “little” video from my ride home one evening last week. I have a GoPro HD Hero attached via a “Chesty” mount and while you can’t see where my head is looking it gives a good idea of what’s going on.
Touch wood, nothing, or should I say nobody will try and hit me again but you ever know…
On another note, I learnt something new about the Raleigh frame I’d used for the bike earlier. After upgrading the few parts last week I wanted to try and find a suitable modern BB and crank combination. The measurement for the BB shell on the Raleigh is 71mm but all I could find on VeloSolo were 68mm or 73mm Bottom Brackets. I was going to make the assumption I could just “bodge” one of those sizes on but I decided to do a little research first.
On one of the best cycling websites out there (Sheldon Brown) I found all the information I needed. It turns out, back in the good old days there were so many different variations for threading and BB size that it all got a bit confusing and “standard” sizes were slowly phased in. Unfortunately Raleigh, being such a big company, decided against changing all their patterns and kept using their own sizes. That now means instead of having a 68mm shell with 24 TPI, I have a 71mm shell with a finer 26 TPI thread. Apparently there are ways out there of converting the Raleigh specifications but it’s a lot of hassle and sticking at the current specs I don’t have much choice but to stay with the original gear.
It’s not too much of an issue as the old gear is still working well but it would have been nice to fit a shiny new modern external bearing BB. If you’re using an old Raleigh frame for a fixed gear conversion, be warned the BB isn’t the only Raleigh specific item. The headset also uses the same threading which probably explains why my new headset was a little awkward to thread on….
Have a read of the differences here.
Second ride in and I’ve managed to snap the chain although I’m lucky it wasn’t more.
This morning I decided to take the fixie for a spin to work. It’s only a short trip so I thought it would make good practice. There are a couple of moderate descents on the way there but I was confident if I just took it steady I’d be fine. Unfortunately as I was riding down the second hill I felt the chain start to skip and then all of a sudden I had no gear. The chain was flapping around and then there was a horrible clunk before I could come to a stop. I turned around to find my chain back up the road and a fair few gauges in my fresh paint work. With it being such a simple bike I hadn’t packed my tool kit so I had to walk the bike the rest of the way to work.
Apologies for the iPhone photo!
I had remembered to charge my GoPro’s battery and set it running looking behind me before the ride though. It caught the moment as the chain went flying, and what I didn’t realise at the time was the car following me. If the chain had caught in my wheel I may not have made it into work… I’m glad it just snapped and chewed the paint!
(As always, switch to HD – the chain flies off at around the 5 minute mark)
I got to work a couple of minutes late with a broken bike and the prospect of a “long” walk home. Not really how I wanted to start the day! Fortunately though, later in the day I had a bit of a brain wave. When the chain had snapped I’d lost two pins and one of the “outer” links. I was left with two inner links to join but they didn’t look too damaged. I figured if I managed to remove the pin from one I could join the chain together and hopefully it would still fit on the bike. I’d made the chain as long as I could when fitting it so the wheel had plenty of room to move forward in the drop outs. It was all down to coming up with a way to remove and install the one pin…
I work in a test laboratory so luckily we have a lot of tools. I managed to carefully combine a M6 nut (to push the pin into) and a small nail (to push the pin out) and used a vice to provide the force. It got the pin out just enough that I could use a set of mole grips to wiggle it free. Rejoining the chain was simple. I tapped the pin in as far as I could with a hammer before using the nail, bolt and vice again to position the pin fully. I’m quite glad I have a quick link on the chain so I didn’t have to do that procedure on the bike. The pin was a bit stiff but a bit of wiggling around freed it up and after trying it on the bike I found it had just enough length left to fit.
Apologies for the iPhone photo!
I rode the bike home without any issues. I took a more gentle route to avoid the steeper hills and used the brake more but I’m glad to say the chain held up. I won’t be riding without some spare links and a chain tool now though! I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the damage to the paint. It shouldn’t be too hard to respray that small area but I’m worried about the colour match. We’ll see what happens on the next ride!
Damn I’ve neglected this. I’m going to blame it on Cannock Chase taking up my Wednesday nights for writing up these posts… Anyway, here goes another Throwback Thursday.
Back in April last year I was set to do my first track day. I’d seen it advertised through Track Ninjas, who were in turn organising the day with Javelin and after looking at the track reviews I thought it would be a good place to start. My Civic was being built for track so I was pretty excited for it’s first outing. It wasn’t entirely set up though; some adjustable suspension components hadn’t turned up in time and that meant the alignment wasn’t right. Not an ideal situation but it didn’t stop me pushing the car to my limits.
It was pretty exciting thinking about tearing around a track with my own car but the night before that excitement turned to nerves. The weather wasn’t looking the best and I wasn’t feeling overly confident that I almost considered not going. The fear of ruining my car suddenly dawned on me but I knew I’d kick myself if I backed out and didn’t give it a go. I’m glad I went!
It was an early start to meet up with the guys from Track Ninjas before heading to the track. Blyton park is an old airfield that’s recently been resurfaced into a purpose built small race track. It’s not just a big mass of concrete with cones dotted around though; the tarmac has been nicely laid out into a smooth and flowing circuit. It’s not as aggressive as some tracks but it’s far from boring either and if you do happen to have a wobble, there’s plenty of run off to save yourself in. As you’d expect, before you’re let loose on the track you have to participate in a safety briefing and a sighting lap but once those formalities are out of the way; it’s all yours.
I was still full of nerves on the sighting laps with loads of thoughts running through my head about how I could end up ruining my car but as soon as I got onto the first of my sessions all those thoughts disappeared. I got into my own little world and started getting to know my car properly. I was always worried about whether it would keep up with other cars and how considerate other drivers would be but I shouldn’t have been. Everyone respects each other and I found no matter the car or driver ability there’s always room. The first session was going great. The track was green and my road tyres were performing well but I did notice towards the end of the session they were getting a bit hot and loosing some grip. I could have kept going and going but with a whole day and an open pit lane there was no point making a silly mistake so I headed back to “the pits”.
As I pulled off the track I was collared by one of the marshalls though. Every track day has a noise limit and my car (without the bung in) had blown the 105dB limit. It’s something that still baffles me; noise limits where there are going to be cars “racing” but I guess you’ve got to be considerate to the neighbours… Luckily I did have a bung so before the next session I fitted that and dropped below the 105db limit. It starved a bit of performance but rules are rules…
As the day went on, my confidence grew. I was trying to learn the lines and learn different techniques. Looking back at the videos I can see loads of mistakes but on my first proper track day… I’ll let them slide. I really think it’s worth having a camera in your car if you’re going to be doing a few days. You learn so much by feel of the road and making mistakes but in the heat of the moment, with all the adrenaline rushing round your veins, you just don’t pick up on everything a video can. I realised how rough my down shifts were and realised I needed to practice “heel-toe”. I realised how sporadic my shifting was in some corners. I wouldn’t have realised any of this without a video to look back on (and it really helped when I returned to Blyton later in the year).
With my confidence continuing to grow I pushed the car more and more and got as much time on track as I could. It even began to rain during the day but to me that just meant a clear track and I stayed out throughout. It helped I had road tyres on too that could cope with the rain. There were a few sketchy moments but I’m glad to say I didn’t come off the track once. The whole day I pushed the car to what I felt were my limits and all my fears had disappeared. I’d learnt a lot about the car. It needed the geometry done and some semi slick tyres. I’d learnt a lot about my own driving but most importantly, I’d had a fucking good time! Really there’s nothing like chucking your own car around a track. It had me hooked.
Massive thanks to everyone at Track Ninjas and Javelin who sorted out the day, and helped me through the day. There’s a link in the side bar ( >>>> ) to the Track Ninjas website so check them out!
Here’s a few videos from the day. All shot on my GoPro HD Hero with the motorsport mount. They’re all filmed in HD so you may have to change the settings to optimise the playback but I hope they give a sense of what Blyton is like. I know I make mistakes but you’ve got to make them to learn. (I thought I had more than 2 videos to show, but apparently not! – I did a lot more than 2 sessions!)
It’s been raining on and off recently but yesterday the sun was shining and the ground was relatively dry so I decided to join in on another ride around Cannock Chase. I felt a bit more confident than last time but my technique is still really bad. I found I was constantly worried about where my wheel was going to end up so constantly focused on the ground. That, and the nerves made me go cautiously into the switch backs. It got a bit better throughout the ride though and on the last sections I was focusing more on what I was approaching rather than what was under my wheel. Those sections were a hell of a lot faster and smoother than the first!
After my first outing a couple of weeks ago and the complete failure of the GoPro handlebar mount I didn’t have much faith in gathering any footage but I have some good news. After repositioning the mount to hang under my bikes stem and tightening it as much as possible without breaking the plastic; it didn’t come loose once. It’s still a bit shaky and the sound quality isn’t amazing but at least it stayed in one place. The only problem now is I don’t have any editing software so all the footage is still raw and unedited.
It was an hours long ride and everything was captured apart from the long up hill slogs. Everything apart from the last fast sections where I must have mis-hit the record button and it failed to start; pretty annoying as those were the best sections.
If anyone has any advice as to how to get better quality videos from the Go Pro (bog standard old HD Hero) please shout up, or any links to good free editing software, that’ll be greatly appreciated. Hopefully next time my technique will improve more and I can post faster times again.
If you haven’t already, change the video quality to 1080p HD, all the lower quality playbacks look terrible.