Saturday 28 April 2018

A Magical Mystery Tour (70 Miles) (LGD - 15 Days)

With the big adventure rapidly approaching Daren (Nairo) Morgan was eager or us to go for a ride together before I leave for the US of A tarmac. And just so you don’t get the wrong impression, the ‘eagerness’ was mutual. We had hoped to be joined by Richard as it’s been quite a while since the three of us have ridden together. Unfortunately, Richard had drawn the dog-sitting short straw today so it was just the two of us. When we were discussing the route earlier in the week I suggested that Nairo planned the route as a sort of mystery tour -  a cycling leaving present for me. In other words, I would have absolutely no idea where we were heading. Nairo seemed quite happy with the challenge and I was equally happy with the prospect of being able to draught (i.e. follow behind) him for the whole ride on the basis of not knowing where we were going.

I was quite impressed when Nairo phoned last night to confirm the arrangements. With the possibility of some rain showers we decided to start slightly later than usual and he told me that we should meet in the car park of the St George’s Distillery at East Harling. He mentioned that he had phoned them to confirm that it would be okay to park in their overflow car park. The distillery has a new shop and café which we were keen to investigate at the end of our ride.

Well this morning brought heavy grey clouds and a sort of fine drizzly mist that looked as if it might be around for the duration. We met in the car park as planned, prepared our bikes and got ready to set off. I’ve recently bought a new rain jacket, a Castelli Idro, which is made from a new Gortex fabric. It has been widely reviewed and described as a game changer. Its main selling point is that it is claimed to combine full waterproofing with total breathability. In my experience, you can have one or the other but I have never owned a jacket that achieves both. I’ve owned several waterproof jackets which are very efficient at trapping sweat eventually leaving me almost as wet as I would have been from the rain. I’ve also owned several tops which are warm and breathable but in wet conditions eventually let the rain through and become rather soggy. The Idro is also very light and so packs away nicely as well as being quite close fitting so it doesn’t flap about when wearing it. Today looked being a day to find out if the claims were true.

We rolled out of the car park and through East Harling heading towards New Buckenham. Nairo did his usual thing of starting like a cork popping out of a champagne bottle. Riding into a headwind I settled into my more usual steady pace. After a couple of looks back over his shoulder, Nairo eventually got the message and eased back a bit so we hooked up. By now the rain was falling quite hard and, encouragingly I could see droplets and beads of water forming on the sleeves of the Idro – usually a good sign of waterproofing. As we headed north easterly along the B1113 through New Buckenham and Tacolneston I could see Nairo was regularly looking at his Garmin so I guessed that he was checking out progress along the route. The only thing I knew was that it was going to be about 55 miles from start to finish. There was a slight hesitation at the turn to Hapton before Nairo pressed on heading ever closer to the outskirts of Norwich. Eventually we arrived at Keswick and turned down a narrow lane that I thought was a dead end. In fact it was the entrance to one of the city’s Park and Rides. With a slightly hesitant meander around the car park we eventually emerged at the other side and after crossing under the busy A47 were soon back on a nice country lane heading towards Caistor St Edmund. I was pretty impressed with Nairo’s route planning – using a Park and Ride as a traffic calmed shortcut seemed pretty inspired – something I probably wouldn’t have thought of unless I knew the area well.

With the rain still falling and our tyres swishing along the wet tarmac, dodging the puddles which surely concealed wheel-buckling potholes we headed past Poringland (a lovely name) eventually arriving at Surlingham and the edge of the Broads. We were making our way along the River Yare Valley when once again I realised that Nario was fixated with his Garmin. As we approached Claxton at just past the 30-mile point he told me that his Garmin had now frozen and wasn’t tracking our route. No worries! Nairo managed to reset the wayward device and we were soon underway again. When I asked him how far we had to go he flipped his Garmin screen and told me “44 miles”. Now readers, remember that this was intended to be a 55-mile magical mystery tour and we had already covered 30 miles so by my reckoning we should have about 25 miles left.

Sharing this navigational insight with Nairo as we rolled along, initially produced a puzzled frown rapidly followed by a worried look. Sensing that Nairo may have had enough of being the mystery route captain I asked him where we were headed. He reeled off an impressive list of places which as I totted up the mileages led me to conclude that if he was correct, the total distance was going to be well over 80 miles! Clearly something was amiss. So we pulled over just before Woodton and with a bit of discussion opted to follow the more direct, and shorter route back to East Harling. For the record I should add that the rain and the wind continued to contribute to our discomfort.

As we turned east towards Hempnall and Tasburgh, Nairo let slip that his Garmin was still telling him that we had over 40 miles to go. Well enough of this. I know the roads round here well enough and decided that the time had come to do a spot of leading from the front. We made good progress with the benefit of what was now a tailwind, and as the road was quite quiet were able to ride side by side and chat about life, the universe and navigation skills. Approaching a junction just after Hapton I was ready to turn left and retrace our route back to East Harling. I suddenly realised that Nairo, who was leading at this point, was about to turn right. So we stopped to confer whereupon Nairo informed me that his Garmin was confidently saying we only had two miles left to go. Fortunately, because we had already ridden the road in the other direction earlier Nairo readily accepted that the way to East Harling was left.

From here on we rode along secure in the knowledge that East Harling, a hot drink and cake, possibly lots of it, lay ahead in about 10 miles. Even the incessant rain didn’t seem to trouble us. Sadly, poor Nairo was to suffer further misfortune. Crossing Banham Moor, about 5 miles from the end he had a rear wheel puncture. What bad luck! Cold fingers meant that changing the tube was a bit of a challenge but we were soon underway again and (yaay) back at East Harling where the refreshments more than met our expectations. And do you know what? I took off my Idro to reveal a bone-dry jersey underneath. A quick shake of the Idro and it was dry again. Not even a damp patch along the seams. It would seem that the claims of total waterproofing and full breathability are entirely justified. I should add that throughout the ride I was hardly aware that I was wearing it.

As we sat in the café there was a sudden transformation in Nairo’s demeanour. It was like watching the lights come on. He had managed to work out why his distances were all wrong. With a slightly sheepish expression he fessed up that he had planned the route to start and finish near Wreningham about 10 miles up the road from East Harling. And do you know what? Wreningham is two miles from that left/right turn after Hapton!  Long standing readers of these pages will know that Nairo leads a parallel life, when he’s not on his bike, as a magician. This is definitely the last time I’ll be asking him for a magical mystery tour.

If you would like to know where we actually went, then click here to look at the route flyby. If you want to know where we should have gone I’m afraid I can’t help you. That’s a (magical) mystery.

Thursday 19 April 2018

There's Something Going On (110 Miles) (LGD - 24 Days)

Slowly but surely the final preparations for my upcoming US of A tour are completing. Yesterday I managed to overcome the last major logistical hurdle – the small matter of getting my bike case from LA to Boston. The CV will be flying with me to LA packed in a rather natty special purpose hard shell bike case. Following a recommendation from one of my ‘new’ cousins in the Bianchi Owners Club USA company called BikeFlights will arrange to ship the case to my hotel in Boston. Teresa, my contact at the hotel, who has been extremely helpful in answering my queries, confirmed last night that the hotel will be quite happy to look after the case until I arrive. I have been learning the art of “reaching out” and seem to have got the hang of it judging by my results.

With just over two weeks to go virtually all of my preparations are now complete. There are a few small details to resolve but these are all very straightforward. Probably the biggest piece of ‘work’ remaining is hitting my goal of 5,000 miles for the year to date before I set off.

Today was a superb sunny day – the hottest for the year to date. There was only one thing for it. Head to the Suffolk coast to introduce the CV to the Oscar winning doughnuts. As we will be setting off from Hollywood this seemed the perfect preparation. As opened the back door to the garage there was quite a buzz from my Bianchi family inside. I suspect that they had been winding the CV up with the prospect of a doughnut. We set off at a good pace passing through Debenham and Woodbridge under blue skies and warming sun. The CV seemed really eager to press ahead and was a delight to ride.  After a quick detour to Bawdsey Quay we headed over to Orford and the Pump Street Bakery. The CV opted for a raspberry doughnut; I went for a rather nice coconut macaroon with a cappuccino.

Rather reluctantly we left on the 40-mile homeward leg through Saxmundham, Framlingham, Stradbroke and Eye before arriving back at home. You can follow the route flyby here. Yet again I regretted not having the time to tack on a few miles at the end of ride. The CV was certainly keen to keep going. Well, she is an endurance bike after all! And today I have covered 4,600 miles since the start of the year, so I should be able to reach my 5,000-mile goal without difficulty.

Monday 16 April 2018

Good Vibrations (104 Miles) (LGD - 27 Days)

There has been a lot happening at Captain Century HQ over the last few weeks. Preparations for the US of A tour are moving ahead rapidly. With just over three weeks to go I am really looking forward to clipping into my pedals early on the morning of 13 May and riding away from Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles.

With Mick Madgett and the CV
I reached an important milestone last week when I took delivery of the bike that I'll be riding on the tour. It’s been purpose built to my specification by Uncle Mick and Cousins Tony and Sean at Madgetts Cycles in Diss. The frame is a Bianchi Infinito CV and it’s equipped with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 chainset and derailleurs, Shimano disc brakes and a Fi’zi: k finishing kit (bars, stem and seat post). Wheels are Mavic Ksyriums shod with my tyres of choice – Michelin Pro 4 Endurance (28 mm for comfort). All completed with a specially designed, and unique Fi’zi:k: Antares Saddle. The Infinito frame supplied by Bianchi is in the 2016 colour scheme which is, in my view, beautifully understated (black with celeste detailing). I definitely feel that I will be pedalling across the US of A in comfort and style! The photos don’t really do it justice.

Before anyone tries to malign me there are a couple of details that I’d like to share with you. When we were discussing the build, Tony offered up some Bianchi branded celeste bar tape. I then committed a major sin because when I saw it I told him that “you can have too much Bianchi”. You could have heard a pin drop in the shop as Tony (and Mick and Sean who were some distance away) all looked at me in horror. I don’t think they believed that such heinous words had emerged from my lips. Realising what I had said, I engaged in some rapid but probably unconvincing backtracking. What I had meant to say was that in keeping with the understated design theme, “less is more”, some plain black Fi’zi: k bar tape would go nicely. We got there in the end, but I suspect a note has been made of my wayward remarks which may come back to haunt me.

Regular readers may also have noticed that I have used a word that usually doesn’t appear in my vocabulary. As you will know, I have long been a Campagnolo rider – i.e. a Campy man (no, not that sort!). Riding an Italian heritage frame seems to demand Italian heritage components. I can remember buying my first bit of Campy kit (a seat post in 1973) which I still have fitted to my winter bike supporting my Brooks Professional Saddle (bought in 1972) and now as comfortable as a reclining armchair!

Well the word in question is ‘Shimano’ or as I prefer to refer to it – Shimano-no. I’ve opted for Shimano-no solely because spare parts are much more widely available in the US of A. Campag is, I am told, harder to find. Hopefully I won’t need any spares but prudence has won over style and fashion – for now.

I had a couple of short test rides last week but the weather hasn’t been great and I really wanted to start getting to know the bike on dry roads if possible. Well, today was just right to take the CV out and put it through its paces on its maiden century. The route I followed took me north east almost to the Broads before turning south at Bungay and heading through the delightful South Elmham villages which I wrote about in Passione Celeste (In Search of Some Saints – 25 July 2016). From Halesworth I then followed a slightly winding route to clock up the mileage.

No expense spared - a butty rest!
I paused for lunch in Stradbroke where I bought a tasty egg mayo bap at the Stradbroke Bakery. A while ago I found out that the husband of the lady who works behind the counter there is a keen tester (a time triallist for non-cycling readers!) This is always good for a chat. Today I mentioned my US of A ride and the lady said she looked forward to hearing about it when I was back, I left her a note of my web address so she could read about it on these pages. And if, you are reading this dear lady, please excuse my bad manners as I forgot to ask your name! I promise to correct myself next time I pop in.

From Stradbroke I headed over towards Debenham before turning north for the last 20 miles home. You can see my route from the flyby (click here).

But what of the Infinito CV? It’s most distinguishing feature is the use of Bianchi’s countervail (CV) technology. This is a vibration cancelling system which involves incorporating a layer of viscoelastic material in between the layers of carbon that make up the frame. It was developed in conjunction with NASA and was first used on bikes (Infinitos) that were raced at the Hell of the North (Paris~Roubaix). I already own an Infinito which pre-dates the introduction of the CV technology so I was keen to see what difference it would make.

Over the ride I found that the bike was perfectly set up for me. It provided a really comfortable ride and is exactly matched to my measurements. There’s going to be no need for any seatpost height or saddle position tweaking. The handlebars are also in exactly the right position, so no adjustments needed there either. Getting the right riding position is crucial – especially for long distance rides and multi-stage riding. So, I’m happy with the set up.

The hydraulic disc brakes are very efficient and provide a reassuring stopping action with little effort. The real test will be riding downhill in the wet. But I’m pretty relaxed if it takes a while to discover the answer to that question.  The electronic gear changes are as smooth as silk – both when upshifting and downshifting. And quiet too. (I actually missed the distinctive, and for me reassuring clunk of mechanical Campag gear changes.) The only issue I had was with the shifters themselves. The large paddle shifts the chain over the cassette and moves the gears outwards to a higher gear (i.e. the reverse of the Campag paddle). And a few times when wanting to change down to a lower gear my thumb instinctively reached for the non-existent Campag snib on the inside of the brake leaver hood instead of the small front paddle that Shimano-no uses. Hopefully I will soon get the hang of this.

Now the big question is comfort and how did it compare to the pre-CV Infinito? Well I have to say that the CV is really smooth. British roads are renowned among cyclists for being heavy i.e. quite rough. Leaving aside the thorny issue of potholes and ruts I think British roads have less tar in relation to the proportion of chips in their surface dressing. This means that the surface is inherently quite rough creating a sort of low level background vibration that we gradually get used to – until riding on a really smooth (i.e. tar rich) surface.

My sense today was that the background vibration had largely disappeared. The ride really did feel much smoother. But a word of caution. The CV is equipped with 28mm tyres running at a lower pressure so that is bound to have a dampening effect. My pre-CV Infinito runs with 23mm tyres at a higher pressure so conversely that will have a less dampening effect. Whatever the relative merits of CV and tyre width there is no doubt that the new machine is much more comfortable.

Performance-wise the CV is no slouch. I gave it a bit of welly at a few points on the ride and it responded eagerly though it’s not quite as responsive as my Oltre XR1 which definitely has a kick when accelerating. Climbing is a delight – in and out of the saddle and the CV responds well, even seeming to encourage the extra uphill effort. Descents are great. Although I didn’t have anything really testing to experiment with, this is a frame that definitely wants to lead me through sweeping downhill twists and turns. The reassurance of the disc brakes provides added comfort in the probably unlikely event that I get carried away.

For me, the real test of a bike is what I feel like when I get to the end of a ride. This is definitely a bike that wants to go places. Arriving home I felt as if I could have carried on for another century. It was just a shame that I had other things to do. So I am looking forward to getting to know the CV. I sense that we are going to have a blast in the US of A. And as the Beach Boys sang:

I’m pickin’ up good vibrations
She’s giving me excitations

Good, good, good – good vibrations