Thursday, September 30, 2010

In praise of Flickr - The Commons

Peloton  passeert kudde schapen  / Cyclists passing a herd of sheep
I'm not the first one to recommend you check out the Commons on Flickr, but seriously, do, it's brilliant. Essentially it's a library of copyright free images for you to look at and use, all tagged up so you can search for specific keywords. Brilliant.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tabata Training for Cyclocross

Tabata Training HR Graph, originally uploaded by Andy Waterman.
I've been a big fan of Tabata training since I dicovered it last year, and recently a couple of people have been asking what it entails.
Wikipedia describes Tabata training as "A popular regimen based on a 1996 study which uses 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes (8 cycles)."
In Tabata's original study, two groups trained on a stationary bike. One group did traditional steady state exercise for 60mins per day, five days per week, for six weeks. At the end of that period, having done 30 hours of training, their mean VO2max had increased from 53ml/kg to 58ml/kg but anaerobic capacity was largely unchanged.
The second group performed the high-intensity intervals as described above. Again, this group performed the exercise five days per week for six weeks, albeit, they were only doing four minutes work per day. Having done a total of two hours exercise in six weeks, it was found that the high intensity group had increased their VO2max by an average of 7ml/kg (compared to 5ml/kg in the steady state group) and their anaerobic capacity had gone up by 28 per cent.
Those are some incredible results.

What drew me to Tabata intervals is that they are quick. The graph above shows how I perform the session on my turbo trainier and I'm done after 30mins. As anyone who has trained on a stationary trainer will tell you, the sooner you can get off the better.
Secondly, cyclocross is all about VO2max, lactate threshold and being able to get a big gear rolling, quickly, and that's what Tabata does. I do these on my CX bike, in 46x12 and in that 10secs in between intervals your revs drop to 50 or 60rpm, meaning you need to accelerate hard in the saddle to get going again.

If you look at the graph above you can see how I structure the session. I normally ride home from work then get straight on the turbo. I then spend seven minutes in the little ring spinning easily, before doing an incremental warm-up to get my heart rate up. I start at the top of the cassette (19 or 21 sprocket) and knock it down one gear every minute, maintaining the revs all the way through. The first five minutes feel pretty easy, but the last three get really quite hard. This is also the warm-up I use before a CX race, when I can be bothered to take the turbo along.
At 15minutes in I drop it back into the small ring and spin for five minutes. I have a drink, crank the fan up to 11 and mentally prepare myself for what lies ahead.
At 20 minutes in I start the Tabata session. I drop it down to 46x12 and accelerate in the saddle as hard as I can. Each interval has to be as hard as you can do it, like you're sprinting for the World Championships. While I tend to stay in the same gear all the way through, the actual work done decreases with each interval — at first I can average 135rpm, whilst by the end I'm struggling to touch 100.
As you can see, heart rate increases all the way through the session, the 10 second recoveries being massively insufficient for any real recuperation to take place.
After the last interval I'm usually so spent I have to collapse off the bike and put myself in the recovery position. Even that hurts though — you will (should) be so exhausted at the end of a Tabata session that even lying on the floor hurts.
As soon as I feel I can, I get back on the bike and cool down till the clock strikes 30 mins.
If you have a Garmin you can set up an advanced interval session to tell you exactly when to start and finish your intervals. It makes life way easier and means you don't look at the clock the whole time — you can just concentrate on turning yourself inside out.

So how often? Well, I tend to race most Sundays, so I take Mondays and Fridays as recovery days, meaning I do my "training" between Tuesday and Thursday. I find that I'm normally fresh enough to do these intervals twice per week, on Tuesday and Thursday. Trying to do them every day as they did in the original study would be a recipe for disaster — or lactate poisoning!

Tabata hurts, but at this time of year when motivation is still high, it's something I find it quite easy to motivate myself for. It hurts, but only for four minutes. Anyone can cope with that, right? Give it a go and see how you get on, and don't stop after one session — it will take two or three to get your eye in. Also, don't feel the need to do more than one set of intervals. If you warm up properly you should be able to get everything out in one set — that's Tabata's plan and the method's greatest strength. One set, as hard as you can go. Just do it — BOOM!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wicked ride

Did a wicked ride with Danny from MBR yesterday, starting from Leatherhead. Nice change from the usual mucking about on the Surrey Hills. It felt like the last day of summer, but we made the most of it, especially finishing off the ride with a 30mph singletrack descent on bone dry trails. So much fun.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More bike lust

This Raleigh singlespeed cross bike, complete with belt drive and tubeless wheels is covered as part of CX magazine's Vegas coverage. I reckon I'd find a bike like this would be so useful, especially for local racing. I use 46x19 or 21 nearly the whole time when I race cross at Herne Hill, so a singlespeed would be great, and a belt drive — maintenance free, quiet, smooth — would be fantastic for training on. Unfortuantely this frame is US only and I can't see the market for singlespeed CX frames being too big in the UK. Heathens. If money was no object though, I definitely get something like this built up. Check out the details on the CX magazine website. 
That said, I'd prefer a steel singlespeed to a carbon one. When you're saving the weight of deraileurs and chainrings, you might as well go for steel as far as I'm concerned — last year's Raleigh special SSCXWC frame fits the bill perfectly, bar a split chainstay to allow for a belt drive.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I really want a touring bike

Heritage in Champagne, originally uploaded by CondorCycles.
I've been thinking about a touring bike for ages now. There's no way I can justify the expense or the space — I live in a one-bedroom flat and I'm meant to be saving for a mortgage — but the idea of touring by bike has really taken hold of me. Nick Craig reckons its the best training you can do as well, and he should know.
This is a Condor Heritage; it would do me quie nicely I reckon, with a modern saddle and double chainset to speed things up a little. Alternatively, I reckon a Decade Convert could work pretty well, and a Genesis Croix de Fer looks pretty cool too, esepecially for doubling up as a cyclocross training bike.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Simon Warren, 100 Climbs, Velodrome

Simon Warren, originally uploaded by Andy Waterman.
Shot yesterday at Herne Hill Velodrome, which is seriously under threat and currently has NO long term future. Go to and pledge your support.

This photo is of Simon Warren who wrote the book 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs: A Road Cyclist's Guide to Britain's Hills, go and buy a copy and make him a millionaire

Sunday, September 19, 2010

MBR shoot - ride with your kids

I was back at Cwmcarn yesterday with Al Tulett and cyclocross rival Matt Holmes shooting a feature about riding with your kids for MBR. Most of our readers are 30 and 40-something blokes, many of whom you'd expect have kids. So where are those kids? I hardly ever see any riding at trail centres or even on the Surrey Hills. Allister and his kids are always out riding and the boys, Dan and Ben love it. They're good riders too - Ben, 9, happily rode two laps of Cwmcarn yesterday and would have done more if any of the adults could have been bothered to join him.
If you ride with your kids, I'd be interested in hearing from you - it's something we'd really like to encourage and it would be good to hear about how you go about it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Good days, bad days

For every day you spend off the front, feeling untouchable and dishing out the hurt, you spend 10 days hanging on for grim death, barely keeping touch with the back of the bunch.

For every mile you spend off the front, basking in the glory of a lone breakaway, you spend 100 miles out the back, dodging the blows of well-intentioned but ultimately humiliating applause.

"Well done! Keep going!"

I can't, I'm empty.

For every instance you feel you've ridden to your potential, there will be 1000 occasions where you don't, where you go home disappointed, angry, and questioning your decision to devote so much of your life to this stupid, pointless sport.

And yet the good days, rare though they are, feel so good that the misery of the bad days and the even worse miles fades into insignificance, and you persevere, pushed on by the memory of better times. The more you ride, you theorise, the sooner those good times will return.

Today was a bad day.
Tomorrow could - will - be different.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Strikebreakers (for girls)

There's been a tube strike in London this week which has seen a lot of people getting on their bikes to get to work, rather than battling an unsympathetic public transport network. The strike has caused such misery amongst commuters, even my girlfriend is beginning to see the benefits of cycling to work. Her new found enthusiasm for two-wheeled transport got me looking at bikes for her — it's not the sort of thing we get to cover at all on MBR, and actually, I'm quite impressed by what's out there now.
If I get her a new bike, top of the list is the new Charge Bikes Hob. It looks nice (and looks even better in the flesh), it's got a step-through frame so she can wear a skirt, and one gear is more than enough for riding around London.

On paper £630 looks like quite a lot for such a simple bike, but the frame's good (Tange tubing - not some unbranded old crap) and all the components are top quality, so it's actually pretty good value.
NB. My opinion of value when it comes to bicycles is totally skewed and is probably best ignored.
Next on my list is the Creme Cafe Racer. It basically does the same thing as the Hob, except with gears (7, in the hub), dynamo lights, a rack a slightly more euro feel. At £850 though it's definitely at the luxury end of the spectrum — probably a good choice if you can get cycle2work though.

I can't help thinking though, once the strikes are over, one of Boris's Barclays bike might be a better idea for many commuters than actually owning a bike. A bit like cloud computing I guess — why store stuff on your own computer when you can store it in the cloud? And why own a bike when you can just use one as and when you need it?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

First Loser #2 and Autumn Mornings

Autumn Mornings
Cyclocross season has arrived. Last night I rode my first race since February, a small pre-season event at Herne Hill velodrome, and scored my second second place in three days. I only got my bike working again on Tuesday and didn't get a chance to ride it before the race, so my skills were rusty to say the least. Obviously I've been riding an MTB a lot, so I knew what I wanted to do on the cross bike, but getting the bike and my brain to work together wasn't always easy. Also, coming from an MTB with its embarrasment of braking and cornering grip, it's hard to feel immediately confident on the skinning tyred, fragile-feeling cross bike.
I was feeling better by the end of the hour, but the first few laps were bad, and saw me languishing alone in fifth place. My gradual rediscovery of my technical skills luckily coincided with the guys in front of me suffering a spate of mechanicals and tiredness so I managed to claw my way up to second with a lap to go. One more lap and I reckon I could have won, but that's racing.
The first lap was hilarious with a course marking cock-up sending us round the course in the opposite direction to how it had originally been laid out. It certainly didn't benefit my sketchiness having practised everything the other way round. Still, we were all in the same boat and it was great fun.
The weather for the last few days has been brilliant. I hope it stays like this for the whole of the autumn like it did last year - I absolutely love these cool crisp mornings and warm days and the great light you get first thing in the morning.