Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ride Review - Planet X Nanolight High Modulus

There comes at point where you just need something new, every one has that feeling at some point. There may be no need to get for it but you just want something shiny and different. This is how i have been feeling for a while about my current bike, a 2008 Trek Madone 5.2, which i have used for a few season now and had many great races on and some very frightening experiences. Don't get me wrong, i think the bike is great and it has done me proud but i guess i have just become bored of it, i don't get excited when i ride it anymore so i have decided, now that i have a full time job, that its time to get a new one. There were two very big problems with coming to this conclusion, firstly there is way to many frames to choose from now days and i like a lot of them and secondly, the ones that i like the most are well out of my price range at the moment so i had to reset my sight back to reality.

After many weeks of debating, thinking, looking for bargains, checking out second hand bikes and out dated models i came across a company which i had never really considered, Planet X. I have brought things from the online store in the past and use a set of the 50mm carbon tubulars for racing, they seem to be able to sell things at amazing prices and yet there own products always seem to perform to the same standards of kit which are 3 times the price. I had seen a new frame which they had just launched, the Nanolight High Modulus which was basically and updated, lightened and stiffened version of its predecessor and in true PX style it was reduced by a whopping 42% bringing the price down to £699.99. After seeing one in the flesh a few days later and doing quite a bit if research in to it i decided to take a plunge in to the unknown and order myself one, i had originally ordered a Large but after asking around on forums i realised that a Medium was the best size for me. Payments sent and confirmed i had just brought myself a new bike and i was very excited and little bit anxious to know how it would perform given that i had previously been riding a bike with Tour winning pedigree which had years of R and D and input from the best riders in the world.

Ordering and Receiving the Frame.
I placed my order directly on the Planet X website, a painless process which took seconds. I was informed that i would have to but a specific steerer bung so i put this in my basket as well which cost an extra £15.00. The website informed me that the frame size i wanted were out of stock and would be in on the 13 of May. The 13th of May soon came buy, i checked my account to see if my order had been dispatched but saw that the frames were now expected on the 17th, a bit annoying but great that they had updated the website straight away. On the 17th i gave Planet X a call to see if they had arrived and was told that they had all come in and were being sorted through, i called them again the next day to get an update and was told that the frames had all been checked and confirmed and that mine would be sent out the same day. Each time i called them i got through no probs and my questions were answered quickly and efficiently so first impression of customer service was very good.

The next day my frame was delivered, packed and protected very well. after unpacking it and checking it over, i am pleased to say that there were no scuffs or chips to be seen and everything looking in order. The frame looks the bee's Knee's, quite similar to my trek in many ways, however the PX has a much more tradition looking frame unlike the Treks Compact design which is one of the reasons why i liked the look of the PX. The frame was very light as was the fork, unfortunately i didn't weight them before i built it up so i cant confirm whether they were as light as stated but hey, they felt light. Now the only thing left to do was build this bad boy up!!

Building up the Bike.
This was a simple case of swapping all the bits from my Trek over to the Planet X, there were a few bits that i had brought new (Bars, seat post and stem) but other than that it was all the same kit. It was nice to see that the frame had sent with a faced BB which is something that a lot of companies don't do so this was great as meant i could crack on. The BB and the headset went in with no fuss and there was nothing in the way of tolerance or fit issues. In fact the whole bike went together seamlessly with no problems what so ever, something that doesn't happen very often when it comes to me.

The First Ride And My First Impressions.
The Bike was petty much done, i had yet to put the bars on as i wanted to ride it with the original kit on to what size stem to order and as it was this was a good idea. The first thing that i noticed was that the front end felt a bit higher than my Trek even though the head tube length was exactly the same, i figured that this was because the head tube angle was 0.5 degrees slacker than the Trek, only a tiny amount but enough to make a different to how high the bars sit. Mind you i did run my Trek stupidly low so any bike would feel high compared to that. I decided to order a 130mm stem, 10mm longer than what i was running on the Trek as i wanted to stretch out more and i also went for the -17 degree drop so as to get lower and resemble my Treks saddle to bard drop. Perfect.

So, now to the moment of truth, what did the bike ride like compared to the Trek? Well i am pleased to say that i am overly impressed and very happy with my bargain frame. There was a lot of talk about the frames stiffness with many riders saying the the older model used to flex all over the place and the new one had some flex as well. I have to honest, when i first went out i ride it with a very critical view trying to find any fault that cropped up and as far as flex is concerned, WHAT FLEX!! This frame is stiff, OK I'm not the heaviest or most powerful sprinter but i can still make a spongy frame wobble but not this one, i was accelerating, sprinting, climbing hard out of the saddle and the bike just kept wanting more. The only this i had was some clicking and creaking coming from the BB but it turns out this was because my bearing were a bit dry and after a bit of riding it has vanished.
The other thing i can say is that this is the smoothest, most silent bike i have ridden, it just feels so sure footed when you ride it. It smooths out rough road but gives nice feedback so you get the best of both worlds which is great. I can also confidently say that who ever designed the geometry clearly knows there stuff as this frame goes round corners like its on rails. Again the top tube and fork and perfectly stiff and tracks corners like nothing i have ridden, its mega responsive to cornering but not twitchy to ride, as you can tell i am very impressed with this bike and even more so given the price. I hoped that it would be at least comparable to my Trek but on reflection i thing i prefer the ride of the Planet X, this may surprise a lot of people just like it surprised me but it honestly how i feel.

In conclusion its fair to say that this bike will definitely do the job for a while whilst i save up for a Cannondale Super Six High Mod!! and i hope to enjoy much success in races whilst riding it. Personally i love the way it looks as much as the way it rides but no of this compares to how much i love the price. If you were considering getting a Planet X but wasn't sure then take my advice and get one, you wont be disappointed and if you were looking at options for a new frame then i would give this some consideration. It may not have the name or the profile of the big brand bikes but don't let that put you off, you would be surprised how many frames come out of the same factory in China, its just that they put different stickers on them before sending them off :)

Hope this review help answer any questions that you might have had about Planet X bikes but if not then just ask, i would be more than happy to answer anymore.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

West Midlands Regional Road Race Championships 2011

Event - WMRRC E/1/2/3
Distance - 85 miles
Location - Bridgenorth
Course - Rolling with one main climb which is step and narrow
Conditions - Warm but Gail force winds

Finishing Position - 13th in the Elite Category
Winner - Liam Hollanhan (Team Raleigh)
To come 13th in the Regional Champs is something which i am extremally pleased with and even more so after a lot of injuries, bad luck a personal problems. This is a write up of today's epic ride which will be with me for a long time.

Rise and Shine
at 7.15 am the car was loaded up and i was on my way to Bridgenorth for the Regional Champs along with my good Friend and racing buddy, Tony Kiss who lives just down the road from me and was racing in the same race. After last weekends big day of riding and racing i decided to have 3 easy days as i felt pretty tired, on Thursday i was feeling great and did my last training session before today. I was feeling really good and did a super hard set of intervals and some race simulation stuff, on reflection i think i dug too deep during this ride as i didn't feel as perky as i had hoped for as we rolled out of the HQ and up the long neutralized climb before the start of the race. I was feeling dead when i got to the top of this so i was more than a little worried about i would fare once the race got going proper.
From experience i know that it takes me a good 40 minutes to get thoroughly warmed up, problem with this is that recently in my races, the decisive break has always gone early so i just end up suffering like a dog as my legs struggle with the transition from blocks of lead to nicely oiled pistons. Today was not much different.

The race was hard from the beginning and with the Gail force wind that were blowing across the course, even holding a wheel was tiring work. On the first lap, 2 group went away one after the other and eventually formed to create a group of about 20 riders. As usual, i missed these moves due to still feeling like i had just got out of bed but was not overly concerned as the 2 big favorites from the Raleigh Pro Squad were still in my group. However, with not much going on i was finally feeling good to take some initiative and attacked the bunch before the main climb on the circuit. This climb is  about 1 mile long, pretty steep in places and is on a very narrow, rough single track road so it is vital to be in the right place. When i went off the front i took another rider with me but as we hit the climb i proved a bit to strong for him and by the top i was on my own between the tow groups and wasn't really sure what to do for the best!

Bridging The Gap With The Big Boys
As i got over the top of the climb i looked behind to see if the other rider had managed to get back on, as it was he hadn't but instead had been replaced with a fast charging group of 4 being lead by Dan Fleeman, ex Cervelo-Test Team Rider now riding for Team Raleigh, behind him was his team mate Liam Hollowhan who was followed by Richard Cartland of Phil Corley Cycles and another rider who i don't know. I knew this was my ticket to the front of the race so i made sure i jumped on the train before it left the station. I imagined in my head that this break would be hard but still like any other break i had been in were i would feel comfortable most of the time. I was so wrong it wasn't even funny!!!
Riding in this break with the calibre of rider that was with me and with the savage wind conditions as well proved to be one of the hardest hours that i have ever spent on a bike. I had never suffered so much as i did when we were bridging that gap. Pro riders are in a different league and the Pace they were setting was amazing. There was no let up, ever. even on the fast down hill sections in to a head wind i was down as low as i could go as still struggling to hold the wheels, there power was amazing. I tried to help when i could but for the most part i was just trying to hold on and praying that we would close the gap soon. In the end it took about 1.5 laps which seemed to last an age but finally we made the junction and to say i was pleased was a n understatement, not just because the pain was over but because i had just ridden in a select chasing group riding full bore containing 2 professional bike riders, one of whom had ridden for a pro tour squad, this made me glow inside just a little bit.

No Time To Rest.
Now that we had made the front group which now contained pretty much all of the favorites as well as my mate Tony Kiss who was in the right place and the right move ta the start, it was clear that the winner would come from this group. However, because the group was still quite large, co-operation was some what limited and know body wanted to take up the work. A few dig went in and i had to close a few gap which also hurt quite a bit, especially after giving everything i had trying to stay with that chasing group. Eventually a group managed to sneak away in mush the same fashion as it did when they went at the start of the race, it contained some big hitters who were working well together and soon they had a big gap and were out of sight.
Back in our group which now contained about 10, riders were still unwilling to chase and instead just decided to attack each other. At this point i was beginning to feel pretty empty, a lot of which was due to the lack of respite even when in the wheels due to the savage cross wind which was cutting us to pieces. If fact the wind was so strong that earlier in the race it actually lifter a rider of the road and blew him in to the verge, i was on his wheel at the time and to say it scared the shit out of me is again an understatement.

With half a lap to go the leading group had an unbridgeable gap so in our bunch the attention turned to racing each other. the 10 had been whittled down to about 8 and on the final ascent of the final climb the pressure was put on and 4 of us came over the top in front; Myself, Tony and two other riders. We only held a small gap over the other 4 but we kept the pace high before entering the final straight where all pretty much lined up along side each other in drag strip fashion. Next thing i know, the rider to my left decided he would try to come through the gap between me and the other rider which wasn't actually there, so in the process he made heavy contact with my bars and almost took me out. after pointing my self back in the right direction the sprint had gone, i tries to make up some ground but ended up rolling in behind Tony who rode another great race to take 12th and putting me in 13th. Its always nice when Friends finish close and i don't think you can get closer than that.

The race was won overall by Liam Hollowhan of Team Raleigh who, to be fare, deserved it after bridging the huge gap and then being able to take the sprint, it just shows how good these guys really are. The nice thing about today's race was that it really was the strongest guy who won and i feel that this trend continued down the other places. This was a race where only the strongest survive and only the hardest finish so it was quite a satisfying race.

The Junior race set off about 10 minutes after our race but was 50 miles long not 85 like ours. Still, it was a hugely contested race where our very own Joshua Papworth powered to a fantastic 2nd place only just being pipped to the win by half a wheel. Well done to Josh.

This was one of the hardest races i have done but also one of the most rewarding, here is some power data that was taken using my Quarq+Garmin 800 set up

Time - 03:36:54
Distance - 85.4 miles
Average Speed - 23.7 mph
Ave Cadence - 87 rpm
Work - 2805 kj
Ave Power - 216 watts
Normalised Power - 249 watts
TSS - 331.2
Intensity Factor - 0.959, this is high for a 3.5 hr road race and shows why the race felt so hard!

This is the power file from today's race.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Race Report - Birmingham CC Circuit Races

Sorry, a bit of a delay posting this one.

Birmingham CC Circuit Races
Category - E/1/2
Location - Birmingham Business Park
Course Profile - Pan Flat, 3 Left hand Turns
Conditions - Windy, dull but dry

In the realm of competitive sports and training for competitive sports, there are certain races during the year which you mark out as your targets or aims for the year. The number of these A priority events varies from athlete to athlete, some will have target a series of races while other will peg there entire season on one event. Either way, theses target events are what we train for during the winter and we focus everything else towards, this also includes other races.
If you ask most a lot of riders what the best form of training is then a lot will say that racing is the best form of training, we all see the pros do a similar thing. Many will use the Criterium De Dulphine as preparation for the Tour de France, other will use the Vuelta as prep for the world championships. There argument will be that if you want to get better However, is someone wanted to replicate the exact demands of competition or that of there targeted event then i would say that there is no better training than racing its self, especially if the race used for training is of similar nature or over similar terrain as your target event.

With one of my target races of the year, The Midlands Regional Road Championships, very nearly up on me, i decided it was time to get specific and engage in some training that would replicate the demands of the race. With no road race of similar length or profile available, i had to get creative and make the best with what i had.  Birmingham Cycling Clubs annual circuit race was the only event that was accessible to me this weekend, the big problem was that a 35mile pan flat circuit race wasn't quite like the 90 mile rolling road race that would make up the Regional Championships. So, with in mind i decided that the best thing i could do in order to replicate the intensity and distance of the race was to ride to the event, race and then ride home. This was i would be getting the rough duration in to my legs and also implementing so race specific intensity and tactics. Perfect!

My race, the Elite category race, was scheduled to start at 1330 with signing on closing 20 minutes before hand. My Garmin calculated that the distance to the race was 18 mile so i decided to leave at 1145 in order to allow my self a casual Level 2 ride to race with time to spare. One problem, the Garmin calculated the distance as the crow flies, the actual route it would take me was almost 25 mile. I didn't realise this until i was half way there and cutting it very fine, so at this point i had to get my head down and essentially TT my way to the start. to cut a long story short, i got there but with about 1 minute to spare before signing on closed. Not quite the relaxed ride in that i had in mind but instead one that had used up a fair chunk of my already suppressed glycogen stores, but at least i was nice and warm!

After getting my old Echelon team mate, Joe Page, to help with my numbers, i did a few laps to keep warm before heading to the start. In typical circuit race fashion the start was pretty brisk with a few powerful moves coming early, i found my self towards the back of the group still trying to get my legs in to race mode. In fact i was very nearly dropped early on in the race when i made a very amateurish mistake by exiting a corner on the wrong side of the bunch whilst heading in to the cross wind section, the echelon formed the other side from me an i was left with no shelter and a gap to make up, thankfully i managed to crawl my way back on. I made sure i never did this again.
Breaks shot off the front but came back as fast as they went, the pace would ease up and then fire up again, micro bursts of accelerations and changes of pace were rife as the typically are in races and one of the many things that are hard to replicate during training. Although jumpy, the race felt fairy rhythmic, that was until the rider they call TANK due to his large presence sprinted from a corner, unclipped both feet from the pedals at 35mph, slammed on the top tube and snapping the front of the bike clean in half before hitting the deck complete with sparks. The incident didn't cause anyone else to crash and thankfully TANK was fine albeit a little annoyed about breaking his bike.

With only a few laps to go a break had managed to go clear and the bunch was getting jittery and aggressive, attacking its self rather than working together to get the break back. On the last lap we were closing in ob the break but discovered it was too little to late which meant that the bunch the spread across the road and initiated the sprint. my legs were pretty empty at this point but i had a bit of dig but just ended up rolling in with the bunch, safe and sound which is the main thing. I ain't no sprinted, i have a bit of kick which is effective at the end of tiring road races after sprinting from a small breakaway group but against the big bunch sprinters it just not good enough so i tend to keep out there way.
So with the race done and my numbers handed back in, i had some food and a gel and set about my 25 mile cool down ride back home. Actually my legs were feeling alright so i managed a god pace back home sticking to a solid Level 2 power and still feeling good when i arrived at my door.
With just over 4 hrs on the clock and an Elite Level Circuit race in the middle, i can say that i had a good day of event specific training and am feeling pretty ready for the Champs next weekend. Now i just need a few easy days to let the ride take effect.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Race Report - Halesowen Road Race

Halesowen Road Race
Sunday 8th May 2011
70 miles - 5 laps of Astley Circuit, Stourport on Severn

After the heavy down pour of rain that we had on Saturday night i was relieved to have woken up to a dry day, albeit cloudy and very windy. I have been looking forward to this race for a while and really hoping to repeat my good performance from last year where i placed 4th after breaking away with a small group for over 40 miles.
After a good week of solid training and 2 easy day preceding the race, i was optimistic that i would feel good and have some punch in my legs. I arrived at race HQ at about 8.30 am and got myself sorted ready for the 9.30 start. I had no official team mates today but i did have a kind of unofficial team mate, Tony Kiss, who is a member of Stratford Club Club of which i am a second claim member. Tony is a great all round riders and fast becoming a exceptional road racer and having won his first race of the season only a few weeks ago his confidence was sky high.

Number on, pockets filled and briefing over it was time to roll away through the neutralized zone. Last years winner, Mike Jones of Paramount CRT was here looking to defend his title which he has held for the last 2 years, my tactic for the early part of the race was to mark mike and wait for the decisive move which i knew would involve him. Whilst i was sitting mid pack watching Mike, Tony had decided to go with a early move which went after about 10 minutes, because it was so soon everybody saw it as a no hopers moves which would come back in no time. This was far from the case. The 4 riders that made up the move just kept on riding and although never gaining much more than a minute nothing really happened to bring the back. I was still marking my man and had a few dig in order to go with a few moves but nothing really happened.
At the half way point of the race with the break still out in front, i decided that now was the time to start thinking about making a move. I made an attack after a bit of a lull in the bunch, a summer valley rider came with me, we had a good gap but i was a bit to strong for my companion meaning he couldn't pull very hard on the front. Soon we got caught by the bunch, however the front of the group remained fairly split so rather that let it all close back up i  decided to just ride off the front again. I didn't really expect this to come to much but after looking back i was surprised to see that i had a good gap, however i was coming in to the draggy headwind section so i thought i would be caught here for sure. After making it past the point i was still off the front by about 20 seconds and i was only about 25 seconds away from the break which was now down to 2 riders; Tony and Toby from cadence cycles. I kept battling the head wind but i couldn't quite seem to close the gap any more, i thought i would never get there. Yet, i looked back to check my gap and who did i see coming across the gap to me, non other that the man i was marking; Mike Jones. Once he made the bridge, we worked together to grab on to the break making a good group of 4 strong riders. Now i knew this was a good move and potentially a winning one at that.

With 2 laps to go we were working well together and held about a 45 second gap over the bunch. I was feeling OK in my legs although i was getting a bit of stomach trouble which was proving a bit uncomfortable. I was really pleased to have gotten up to Tony and it was great fun riding off the front with a team mate and a Friend. Tony though. was beginning to tire after being out in front all day and had stopped pulling on the front., this gave us 3 more work to take up which lead to the gap coming down to 20 seconds as we started the last lap. We kept digging hard, determined to stay away from the hard charging bunch. With half a lap to go we were looking behind and looking a 4 other riders bridging up to us after they had escaped the clutch of the bunch. after they latched on to out group making it 8, they added a bit more fire power to our cause but also made things a little more disorganized.

As we hit the final climb before the 3km run to the finish, an inevitable attack went, i was the only one able to respond but it never came to much so we ended up hitting the finish straight as a group of 8 with only a 20 second gap over the bunch. Tense wasn't the word. I managed to get of the front with about 1km to go and st in mid pack. The sprint went with Mike Jones responding hard, i jumped on his wheel but couldn't keep on it as he rounded the 2 in front of him take take his 3rd win in a row. I was fast closing in on 3rd place but just ran out of real estate so claimed 4th place. Tony come over the line in 8th place just a head of the main bunch sprint which was fantastic given that he had been out in front for the entire 70 mile race. Chapeau.

At the start of this report i said that i was hoping for a repeat of last year, what i wasn't expecting as and almost identical repeat of last year. The make up if the race was the same, the winner came from a group of 8 like last year, the winner; Mike Jones was the same and i came in 4th just like last year. After 2 broken Collar bones and moths of illness i am more than happy to have repeated last years result at what is a fantastic race. I took away £30 for my troubles and Tony went home with £50 worth of bike shop voucher from his 8th place over all and claiming 1st 3rd cat.

So over all a great race and a very pleasing result for myself and for stratford cycling club.

1st Mike Jones Paramount CRT
2nd Toby Elchler VC Montpelier
3rd Glndwr Griffiths Cycle Mart
4th Dan Bill Cult Racing
5th James Nockley Planet X
6th Conor Ryan VC Montpelier