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Still biking? Definitely…

“Still biking Grant?” is a question I’ve been asked many times throughout my life, by friends or different people that I’ve met along the way. Riding a bike has been such a big part of what I do, it’s hard to imagine it not being the case. I think it’s the momentum, freedom and just being outside, that I love so much

The Sweetest Climb: Port de Pailhères

 

By Grant Williams

I am always on the look out for new climbs, and it was beautiful images of the Port de Pailhères in France, that caught my eye, whilst eagerly skimming the pages of yet another cycling magazine, which had recently dropped through our letterbox. 

The riders had visited the climb during October 2012 and the mountain tops were snow covered. These were in contrast with the dark colours of the valley and a vivid blue sky, with the road snaking its way up to the summit. These images were more than enough to make me want to visit, and experience what they had. 

The Port de Pailhères remained out of reach for a few years, but the desire to visit was constant. I love being on my bike in the high mountains. The memory of these times, or planning the next adventure, both play a huge part in who I am. 

A passion for these bike trips is something I share with my partner, Emma, and we were both excited about visiting the Ariège Pyrénées, an area neither of us had visited before.  We chose to stay in a pretty village, just above Ax-les-Thermes. The western approach to this wonderful climb begins in this town, so it seemed a perfect location. We had two weeks to explore the area. 

Our journey to these places tends to involve travelling long distances in the car, and it’s usually late afternoon or early evening when we arrive at the destination. Any fatigue quickly disappears when the road signs begin the show the name of climbs we are here to ride, and the excitement of being in the mountain environment builds.

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The first day involves setting up the bikes, and putting the ride kit in some form of order. This is well practised, and quickly leads on to a look at maps and weather forecast.  Rain was due by early afternoon, but that was a few hours away, we were in the Pyrenees, and the Pailhères was on the doorstep. Why not just take a ride up, and see how far we get before the dark clouds sweeping into the valley prompt us to turn around, and head back down to the apartment? 

There was already some cloud cover, but it was warm, and it felt great to be breathing in the mountain air, clicking through the gears, and reconnecting with the movement and sensations that come with being on the bike. 

When riding from Ax-les-Thermes, the Pailhères gifts the rider with a mix of sensory treats. Quite early on the ascent, we enjoyed the beauty of the mountain lake Goulours, heavily wooded on one side, more open on its others. The water a mix of blue or glass clear, depending on the angle of view. We stopped and gazed for a few moments, before heading on, promising to return and walk its shoreline. 

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Sections of the road surface were fresh when we visited, the new, black macadam was smooth, and made the steeper gradients which occur through the tree line, that little bit easier. The presence of the new surfacing was softened by the River Lauze which edges the road. The water looks so fresh and clean, sparkling when the sunlight catches the flow. The sound of the moving water forms a beautiful distraction from the deep breaths of exertion while climbing, or the blend of bicycle and the wind, during a descent. 

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The pitch of the road eased before the ski village of Ascou-Pailhères came into view, and the bike effortlessly gathered momentum. This was one of those moments of contrast on a climb, when the forces of gravity and gradient temporarily relent, the legs spin easily, and the body and breathing relax. 

Cattle wandered freely, enjoying this grassy area, and evidence of their presence decorated the road surface…. I would look out for this natural hazard on the way down!  Glancing up at the high mountain peaks, it was easy to become completely immersed in the moment, but I was searching for view points that would allow me to look down the valley, and check for signs of rain clouds moving in. This was hindered by the landscape and trees, so I rode on, passing through the ski village, clicking up though the gears, as the road began to elevate again.

A wide area of macadam, static ski lifts, and being further into the mountains made me feel quite small, compared to the scale of the surroundings. Another wonderful sensation of the mountains.   As the climb rose above the tree line, the surface suddenly changed to being quite pale and weathered. The road cut into the hillside was edged by rock, deep orange and black in colouration. 

The height gain created the potential to view the valley below, the horizon was slightly darker, and one or two compact black clouds had ominously drifted in. Looking up, the sky remained relatively clear, and a large switchback gave way to what looked like a virtually straight run to the top.

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I continued on, climbing a relatively consistent gradient of around 8-9%.  The air was slightly cooler now, and the landscape sparse, with no more than grass covering the mountain side, and the occasional flower adding life and colour to the rocky outcrops. Having watched the Tour de France reach the summit of the Pailhères, I knew of its barren top, and the reality was similar to how I had imagined.

I glanced behind to increasing cloud below, and recognised that heading back had got to happen soon. Looking up, the road curved left, then disappeared over a brow. If that was the top, it was reachable on this ride, so clicking down a gear, I pressed on. 

Continue reading “The Sweetest Climb: Port de Pailhères”

Review of Shave Cream & Post-Shave Lotion by VeloSkin

Product Review by Grant

Shave Cream by Veloskin

The Shave Cream carries the brand’s signature, fresh, citrus scent, created by the inclusion of orange blossom and bergamot. It is a subtle, clean fragrance, which adds to the experience of using the product, and complements the other high quality ingredients which are used to form the Cream.

Like the Chamois Cream, the Shave Cream is quite dense in texture, which makes it easy to remove from the canister, and to use.  On application, it’s density immediately changes, and the Cream applies readily and evenly across the skin.

To gauge the performance of the Veloskin product, I used it alongside a shaving gel by a popular, long-standing brand, who manufacture shaving products and accessories.

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Setting aside appearance and fragrance of the Creams when shaving, the difference in performance of each product was noticeable. The Veloskin Shave Cream provides a much more comfortable shave, in which the razor travels smoothly and consistently, without causing any irritation. The resulting shave being close, clean, and with no visible skin damage or discomfort.

To create the product, Veloskin use more than ten natural ingredients, which are specifically chosen for their properties to care for the skin both during and after shaving. I certainly found the choice of ingredients results in a superb Shave Cream.

Since the trial, I have continued to use the Veloskin Shave Cream virtually every day for a number of months, and it has continued to provide the same level of performance and comfort.

If you are looking for an excellent Shave Cream, VeloSkin’s is really worth checking out.

Post Shave Lotion by Veloskin

The Post Shave Lotion is a rich, smooth cream, which can be can be applied to either legs or face after shaving.  The lotion has the natural fragrance of orange blossom and bergamot, which VeloSkin use as their trademark scent. This subtle fragrance is something I really like.

Continue reading “Review of Shave Cream & Post-Shave Lotion by VeloSkin”

Veloskin: Chamois Cream & Soothing Gel Review

Product Review by Grant.

Good fortune played its part in me being drawn to Veloskin, before I could even buy their products.  Some of my favourite rides follow the steep contours of the Lake District, and images of these roads featured in the brand’s Instagram activity. How could I not be intrigued? So I was very keen to make my first purchase, soon after their launch during Summer 2017.

Veloskin offer a range of skincare products to meet the needs of cyclists. Their current range includes Chamois Cream, Shave Cream, Post Shave Cream, Moisturiser and Soothing Gel. These types of products play a key part in keeping us comfortable and healthy, and I put a lot of effort into choosing what I believe are the right ones. This is primarily based on high quality, natural ingredients, the performance of the product, and experiencing a non-adverse response when using them.

Veloskin use natural ingredients within all of their range, selecting each one on its quality, suitability and benefits to the skin.

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Chamois Cream by Veloskin

On opening the canister of Chamois Cream you are greeted by a fresh citrus scent. The fragrance is created by the inclusion of orange blossom and bergamot, and is a signature of the Veloskin range. I really like the scent, which was seemingly inspired from cycling in Mallorca and Northern Italy.

Fourteen natural, active ingredients are included within the Veloskin Chamois Cream. These were selected based on their potential to soothe and hydrate, protect, moisturise and revitalise. The cream’s properties are anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiseptic, as well as providing nourishment for the skin and the wonderful scent.

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The cream is quite dense, not sticky, and despite its relatively solid appearance, it is easy to apply and achieve a smooth, consistent, protective layer.

Continue reading “Veloskin: Chamois Cream & Soothing Gel Review”

Knog Blinder Mr Chips Front and Rear Light Set

Sculpted aerodynamic profiles, and significant variation in tube diameter have become integral to many of the frames and components that we use. As much as we enjoy the benefits of this technology, it can make mounting equipment such as lights, computers etc, a little challenging.

The Knog Blinder MOB  Mr Chips front and rear light units are packed with features, but the aspect that initially drew me to them is their versatility to be used with modern bike/component design. These units are compact, neat, and lightweight, making them a discrete addition to your bars and seatpost.

The Knog Blinders have the potential to be mounted on both round and aero tube shapes. This is achieved by the shape of the lights, in the area where they contact the handlebar or seat post, and the inherent stretch within the rubber strap, which also forms part of the means of attaching the light. The strap is a replaceable item, but I have have not experienced any breakages during the twelve months that I have been using the lights. Once attached, the lights remain in position. Different length straps are provided to enable interchangeability between bikes.

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The front and rear lights have five different modes which range from the unit being constantly lit, strobe, and variations of intermittent flashing. These are accessed via the on/off button which sits at the rear of the light. From a personal perspective, I would prefer this button to be slightly more pronounced, as operating it with cold, wet hands, or in full finger winter gloves, would ideally be a little easier.

A combination of the LED technology and the design of the front and rear units provide a clean, bright light. The beam has a 120 degree angle, to assist front and side on visibility. The lumen output for the lights is shown as 80 for the front light, 44 for the rear. Knog identify that the lights provide the potential to be seen from at least 1.2 kilometres. Friends who I ride with advise me that the visibility provided is extremely good. Continue reading “Knog Blinder Mr Chips Front and Rear Light Set”

TORQ Fitness: Performance Coaching and Fitness Testing

Blog Post by Emma

Grant and I don’t race our bikes, but we simply love riding and to get the most out of our year, especially our summer trip to the mountains of Europe, we use TORQ Fitness for our training.  So I thought I’d write a little about this, to dispel any myths that training plans or coaching are only for those who compete.

You may be familiar with the brand from their superb range of energy and recovery products. However, TORQ first started out in 1999, set up by Director Matt Hart as a fitness and coaching consultancy, with the nutritional products coming a little later in 2002.

We started going to TORQ in 2007, after a friend recommended it.  We had enjoyed three summer trips to the French Alps and the Dolomites in previous years, and we decided to explore how we might benefit from more structured training.  At that time, TORQ were based in the village of Westbury, near Shrewsbury, so only about an hour and a half away from us.   However, they have since relocated to the picturesque location of Bryn Mawr in Powys.

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Back in 2007 we attended a full day’s education, which also included the fitness testing.  The education covered various aspects of training: energy systems, aerobic and anaerobic training, nutrition etc.  It was also a time to discuss our aims/goals, what we hoped to achieve and what our training capacity was.  I must add that a very fine lunch was also included and the chance to sample TORQ’s products. All of this was to form the basis of our first 6 months training plan.

Since that first visit, we’ve returned every Autumn, to carry out a test, in preparation for the following year’s training plan.  We generally run our plan from January to June, our main objective being three weeks cycling in the mountains.   So let me tell you more about our fitness testing experience.

It’s a good idea to have a substantial breakfast, as you need to leave a gap of 3 hours between eating, and taking the first part of the test.  This is the lactate threshold test, which is carried out indoors using a power meter on your own bike or on a Watt Bike.  A resting heart rate and lactate reading are taken first.  Then you are asked to start pedalling at a low wattage, which you increase at gradual intervals, whilst your TORQ coach measures your heart rate and takes blood lactate readings.  Don’t worry, this is painless! A quick needle click in your ear lobe is all it takes.   Throughout this process you will be asked to confirm your perceived level of exertion.  From this you will ultimately learn what your lactate threshold is, and what your endurance training zones will be (using power and / or heart rate). Continue reading “TORQ Fitness: Performance Coaching and Fitness Testing”

Review of Q36.5 Long Sleeve Hybrid Que

Blog Post by Grant

The Long Sleeve Hybrid Que by Q36.5 is a garment I have a real affinity for. It was one of my first items of Q36.5 clothing, and it prompted me to explore and purchase much more of their range.

Prior to owning the Hybrid Que, there was a gap in the cycling clothing I was using when riding in the varied temperatures and weather conditions we experience in the UK, particularly during the Spring and Autumn. Not being completely comfortable when out riding or training was detracting from the enjoyment or effectiveness of being on the bike during my favourite seasons.

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The Long Sleeve Hybrid Que resolved this, as it provided the fit, breathability, and protection I had been looking for, and a host of features which made it really stand out. So how is this achieved…..

Q36.5 incorporate two of their high performance fabrics into the design of the garment. Scientific data relating to regional sweat rates of an athlete’s body, forms some of what is used to ensure the optimum is achieved from these materials.

The chest, upper back, upper arms and front of forearms are formed in Unique HybridShell. This densely woven fabric is extremely wind blocking, breathable, highly water resistant, and has a ribbed fleece back. These properties are complemented by the level of elasticity within the material.

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Unique Fabric L1 is utilised in the back, and underside of the forearms of the garment. It is soft to the touch, has a high level of elasticity, extremely effective at wicking moisture, and is constructed in a way that makes it resilient but lightweight.

The Long Sleeve Hybrid Que is noticeably light (200g), and is shaped to be comfortable and efficient when on the bike. The Pre Shaped fit is something to factor in when you first try one; from a personal perspective, I find the on-bike fit is extremely good.

Grant Blue Standing Climb

Ergogenic Pattern is incorporated into the design of the Hybrid Que. This feature serves to provide support to specific muscular groups, and reduce the effect of fatigue on these muscles, particularly on long or more intense rides. Ergogenic Pattern is noticeable by the snug feel of the garment, and how it complements on-bike position, and pedalling motion. Having used a number of items of clothing with this feature, I really value the comfort and performance it provides.

This fabric and design expertise are examples of the technology that Q36.5 use to fulfil their design criteria to enable healthy body temperature to be sustained, throughout a ride.

As a rider, wearing the Long Sleeve Hybrid Que feels different. The fit, fabrics, low volume, and weight take away bulk and restriction, which is inherent to clothing used to overcome cooler temperatures and varied conditions. These properties are noticeable when getting ready for a ride, to those moments in training or riding when a turn of speed, or movement feels unhindered. This adds a real positive to the cycling experience as a whole.

Within the Q36.5 website, detail is provided relating to combinations of their clothing which complement the Hybrid Que, to enable rider comfort across temperatures ranging from 5 degrees Celsius to above 15 degrees Celsius. From a personal perspective, I tend use the Hybrid Que in the middle area of that temperature range. This varies between rides when the temperature is reasonably constant, to early starts, or late finishes when the day is warming or cooling. The technical fabrics ensure comfort, and I vary the baselayer (Q36.5 Baselayer 1, 2 or 3), and add the superb L1 Vest, when temperatures dip.

Blue with Snow Camo Gilet

The performance and versatility of the Hybrid Que is constantly beneficial, but becomes most apparent as the ride or conditions become more challenging. When descending or riding in cool temperatures or winds, the effectiveness of the wind blocking fabric and lack of front facing seams is extremely high. Should the intensity of the ride increase, the build up of heat and moisture is managed by the fabrics and their placement, and rider comfort is maintained. This performance is something I really appreciate when riding in the hills or mountains, as is the water resistance of the garment should drizzle or low cloud drift in.

Green Goyt Valley

The Hybrid Que is superb for long days in the saddle, due to how comfortable it is, plus being equipped with necessary features: the pocket system, known as the Invisible Pocket System is virtually flush when not in use. It incorporates three main cargo areas, plus a zip pocket, and has the capacity to carry essential items, numerous bars and gels to keep the legs turning. The pocket on the left arm is really useful for stashing a bar or gel, making that emergency energy boost really easy to access. Reflective tabs and thread are also integrated into the front and back of the garment.

The Hybrid Que is available in a number of colour options in both light and darker shades. When possible, I choose brighter colours for the clothing I use for road cycling. The Green Fluo was my initial choice, and I have recently added the Light Blu version.

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If you are looking for a highly versatile item of cycling clothing, and something which will close a gap between your summer and winter options, the Long Sleeve Hybrid Que is really worth checking out.

For more information go to http://www.q36-5.com

Road Cycling in the Cevennes

Road Cycling in the Cevennes – Blog Post by Emma

We spent the first of our three weeks in France, during July, in the remote but beautiful region of the Cevennes. We have Phil Deeker of Rapha Cent Cols fame to thank for this, after we spotted some amazing photos on social media a couple of years ago, and also having watched Ray Meares’ ” Wild France” programme on TV. The region was described as being tranquil with a spectacular landscape; mountains, gorges and limestone plateaus.

This beautiful region of natural park is situated north east of the Ariege Pyrenees, and west of the Alps. It sits south of the city of Clermont Ferrand and north of Montpellier. We chose to base ourselves in a small hamlet, which sits above the town of Florac, and it turned out to be a perfect location. Florac itself was approximately 5 miles from our gite, so we stocked up at the local supermarket and boulangerie on Sunday morning, and by lunchtime we were keen to get the legs turning, after two long days in the car.

Day 1: 19 miles Les Bondons

We decided to do a short ride as we were tired from the journey. We cycled to a pretty village called Les Bondons, which involved a nice winding climb to get us started, leading to a striking plateau. The scenery, although you would not describe it as mountainous on this particular ride, was still spectacular with the “puechs” a distinct feature of this landscape. The roads were quiet and we descended back to our base on a very small road, with a rather bumpy surface.

Day 2: 65 miles Mont Aigoual

The weather was beautiful, and we were ready for a longer day in the saddle. Mont Aigoual was our destination, at 1567m, this was definitely a mountain as opposed to a hill! To reach Mont Aigoual from Florac you have more than one option due to the network of roads. We chose to ride through the pretty village of Vebron and then through the Gorges du Tapoul. This is probably one of the quietest roads I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding: so scenic and peaceful…..and also quite challenging with a good chunk of 9% as we climbed to the village of Cabrillac.

From there it was the final stretch to Mont Aigoual, the road was a constant, slight uphill, but never steep at this point. As we reached the road to the observatory, we saw a large group of cyclists. Up to then we’d not seen any other road cyclists. The views from the summit are simply magnificent, a clear blue sky, light winds and 28 degrees made this a pretty perfect day. We returned via a different road from Cabrillac, descending Col de Perjuret. Having ridden down this road, we decided it was a “must do” to ride up it during the course of our trip.

Continue reading “Road Cycling in the Cevennes”

Q36.5 Jersey Short Sleeve L1 Pinstripe

Q36.5 Jersey Short Sleeve L1 Pinstripe (Available in Men’s and Women’s Ranges) – By Grant Williams

Our experience, enjoyment, or level of performance on the bike is normally greatest when it is not compromised by distraction, or interference from the equipment we are using.  Q36.5 create their cycling apparel to enable healthy body temperature to be sustained during the ride. This translates into rider comfort and performance.

Having heard so many positive comments about the Jersey Short Sleeve L1 Pinstripe, I was really looking forward to using one. The Jersey would form part of the clothing I would be taking on a trip to the mountains in France, and would create the perfect opportunity to try the garment in terrain and temperatures which differ from the UK. The Jersey provides High UV protection +50SPF.

Prior to obtaining the Jersey, I visited the brand’s website to learn more about the garment.  Q36.5 describe the Jersey Short Sleeve L1 Pinstripe as being high performance, and highly versatile, without weight penalty. They utilise a number of their technologies to create this, one of which is the addition of silver thread to the jersey fabric. This serves to improve heat and moisture management, and is subtly visible in the form of fine pinstripes running through the fabric.

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On taking the jersey from its packaging, it is noticeably light. The fabric has a soft feel to it, but is densely woven, and different to what I have experienced with garments from other brands. The pinstripe within the fabric also enhances the appearance of the jersey.

The jersey has a pre-shape fit, to match a cyclist’s position when riding, and is formed with minimal seams, none of which are front facing. When putting it on, the fit feels close, and different from day to day clothing. When on the bike, the effect of the minimalist design, fabric and pre-shape is superb, as the presence of the jersey becomes barely noticeable, other than a comfortable, snug feel. Whilst riding, this is complemented by how the jersey remains in position when pockets are loaded, and the sleeves stay in place without being overly tight or restrictive.

Continue reading “Q36.5 Jersey Short Sleeve L1 Pinstripe”

The Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra – Q&A with Chris Beattie

Introduction

Some of the most enjoyable cycling I do, is inspired by people who challenge themselves to ride what seem huge distances, cycle across mountain ranges, or both! This may take place in the form of an event, or solo ride.

Learning about such accomplishments has certainly encouraged both myself and partner Emma, to increase the distance of our rides, or add extra climbs, Cols, or Passos when cycling in the hills or mountains.

I came to know of Chris Beattie, through his role as an ambassador for Q36.5, who produce high performance cycling clothing. Whilst learning about their products, I was also able to gain an insight into Chris’s cycling exploits, which range from riding fast time trials, placing high in various Gran Fondos and more.

On reading that Chris was racing in the 2017 Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra, I was keen to find out about his experience, and was really pleased when he agreed to a Q&A. 

The Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra is an event in which either solo riders or teams take on a course which is 555 km in length. The participants have up to 40 hours to complete the distance, but some of the riders are finishing in approximately half this time. Chris is one of these people.

Q&A

1) The setting of Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra looks extremely picturesque, but very challenging. When did you decide this was an event you would like to participate in, and what were the features that drew you to this race?

A large portion of Donegal is still untouched when away from towns and villages and is stunning on a clear, sunny day! The roads are undulating and indeed relentless even between the climbs! Traffic is normally light and therefore a perfect place to ride!

This year was the second running of the Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra 555 race, and I became aware of the event about one week before the first edition. After seeing the quality of the riders lining up, the parcours and the finishing times, I knew straight away I had to tackle the event in 2017! I had ridden long rides in the past, but I knew this event was really going to challenge me physically and mentally, and that it would also be a challenge logistically. The professionalism of the event organisers and the chip timing with live tracking was a big bonus and I knew this event was going to be world class. I was committed!

2) On choosing this event, what adjustments did you make to your training to be both physically and mentally prepared?

The main focus for me was maintaining pace over distance in training. During the last couple of years my focus had been Gran Fondo events so around 100/110 miles, and about 7500 ft of climbing. This event would multiply that by three! The distance in my long training rides would increase regularly, but interval work and hill repeats were still included to raise the threshold and keep the high end topped up for the efforts on the climbs. On these long rides efficiency is key but recovery is essential. Mentally I break the ride down into segments so instead of thinking 180 miles today I say 60 miles x 3 and I know 120 miles is fine so only the last section dwells on your mind! Sleep deprivation comes into play when pushing for quick times in ultra events, and I did blocks of training on greatly reduced sleep, so the body would adapt, and not want to shut down after long durations on the bike.

3) Passionate sports people frequently juggle the challenge of working full time and training for events. How did you go about achieving this?

My 9 to 5 is based at a University Campus which has its benefits! Firstly, holidays are good, so I get time to do big training blocks and to travel for big climbs and good weather! On a day-to-day basis, I commute to work on the bike, which is a bare minimum of 10 miles each way (but typically around 20 each way on average). The commute negates wasted time in the daily routine and maximizes riding time so even with an extended evening training session I can still be home with enough time to eat and rest….just! I am currently logging around 18,000 miles a year, so anything is possible when you plan your schedule.

Continue reading “The Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra – Q&A with Chris Beattie”

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