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Cotty epic

Michael Cotty’s 666km Alpine ride in August was beyond epic…

Good article on about the tech set up too.

Chalkpit Lane

At last weekend’s Winter Warmer sportive Jonny, Millsy and I were introduced to Chalkpit Lane, a 20% monster climb from Oxted. Here’s the Strava segment:

Unfortunately, despite having ridden it twice now – once at the event last Sunday, and once today (just to see the size of it again) – my Strava GPS signal has evidently not been consistent enough to match my route with the existing segment.

I imagine I must have ridden down it before – it joins on to a route I ride often – but I know I would have remembered riding up it. I was going pretty well last Sunday before this thing blew my legs to pieces. I was literally crawling for several kms afterwards. That is what comes of not doing much in the way of steep road hills since May.

My Retül fit at Bespoke Cycling

The Wilier mounted on the turbo, ready for position scanning.

The Wilier mounted on the turbo, ready for position scanning.

About a month ago I had a Retül bike fit at Bespoke Cycling in Farringdon. The experience could prove to be some kind of watershed in my cycling history, and was probably the best £200 I’ve ever spent on bikes and riding.

Retül (‘re-tool’, ‘rettle’?) is a 3D bike-fitting service that aims to optimise your riding position. After scanning your existing position on your bike using sensors attached to various points on your body, the system suggests adjustments based on the optimal angles (torso, elbow, hips, knee, ankle) for power and comfort. The outcome is a document tailored to your physique, that you can take to any bike shop to assist with the fit process.

Bespoke Cycling insist on a bike fit before they sell you a road bike. It makes complete sense: although with enough spacers here and there you would fit almost any frame of the correct height, your figures will naturally match certain models and will guide your selection. The complete service is a 2-hour one-on-one process that starts with a discovery process about your riding – how much you ride, whether you’re comfortable riding, and how balanced and flexible your body is naturally. It moves on to the Retül fit, and finishes with a final fitting on your new bike.

My initial analysis by Ben Hallam, Bespoke’s resident physio and bike fit guru, indicated the following about my riding position:

  • My torso was stretched out and at an overly racy/aero angle on the hoods. I’d kind of always known this because I had never been naturally comfortable on the hoods, my preferred resting position was about 2 inches back on the curve of the handlebars.
  • My saddle was too high and too far back, exaggerating the stretched position and resulting in my rocking at the hips to lever my left leg over the pedal. My saddle rails were actually bent as a result of this.
  • My handle bar drops were too deep and my bars weren’t in the right position (this was me compensating for the fact that the drops were too far away).
  • I was a ‘paddler’ i.e. my pedal stroke tended to pull up from the toes after the down stroke. This was caused by 1) incorrect cleat position and 2) sitting too far back, and was evidenced not only by the Retül angles but also by my shoes and insoles, which revealed indents from my toes where I had been digging them in to claw the pedal back. This was also leading to discomfort in my foot arches on long rides.

Basically, I may as well never have ridden a road bike before for all that my bike fit me or that I knew how to ride it.

Once I had been analysed on my existing road bike, Ben put me on the Retül jig to fine tune my position and correct the wonky angles. Here are some before and after shots:

Before and after photos.

Before and after photos. Note the Fausto Coppi-esque hunch in the before shot.

Ben had the following recommendations to improve my pedalling efficiency:

  • Keep your chest up and away from stomach, maintain a longer flatter back (tuck chin down and back slightly).
  • Try and grow long and look over your bars for the front wheel skewer.
  • Relax the upper shoulders and pinch shoulder blades gently back and slightly down to open the chest and slightly bend in the arms.
  • Rotate the hips slightly forward.
  • Keep the pressure on each sit bone even throughout the pedal stroke to minimise hip movement.
  • Relax your ankle into a slight toe down position on the up stroke.
  • Drive the knee forward from 9 o’clock position (horizontal back)
  • Pick foot into a toe up position at 12 o’clock (top dead centre) to land onto the ball of the foot.
  • Squeeze your glutes and push down with pressure on the 2nd ball of the foot (base of the second toe) throughout the stroke.
  • At horizontal forward (3 o’clock), pressure should be going straight down through the ball of the foot and not through the heel. Scrape the feet through 6 o’clock (bottom dead centre) as if you are scraping mud off the bottom of the balls of your feet.
  • Continue to scrape backwards until the crank is at horizontal back (9 o’clock).
  • Keep your toes relaxed throughout.

In some ways it is quite infuriating that I didn’t go through this process back in 2007 when I bought my Wilier. Then again, it is hugely positive to have a fresh start at this stage, and to be able to look forward to a new era of efficient, comfortable riding. Already, after only 8 hours riding my new bike, I no longer seem to experience much lower back stiffness; my hot feet and sore arches have gone; and I can ride for prolonged periods both on the hoods and even in the drops.

My advice would be: if you’re doing any kind of serious road riding, riding sportives or racing, get a proper fit. I honestly cannot recommend it highly enough.


Road bike warranties

What warranty coverage do some of the big road bike manufacturers offer on their frames?

  • Condor – 2 years – read more
  • Wilier – 4 years (5 years if registered online 10 days from purchase) – read more
  • Look – 5 years
  • Canyon – 6 years – read more
  • Felt – lifetime
  • Trek – lifetime – read more
  • Parlee – lifetime – read more
  • Specialized – lifetime – read more

Naturally, the precise terms of all these will differ – but the list gives an idea of the range. By all accounts, Trek is the daddy of bike warranties. Joe is onto the fourth or fifth incarnation of his Madone 7.2 frame, which has persistently developed a crack in exactly the same place on the seat tube.

Busted Wilier

The hairline crack in the Wilier frame.

The hairline crack in the Wilier frame.

The above photo pretty much sums up where I’ve been (as far as road cycling is concerned) for the last five months.

As posted, April-May witnessed a catalogue of mechanicals and breakages on my Wilier as quite a few of the parts gave up the ghost at about the same time. During this period, one particular glitch wouldn’t go away: a creaking noise that worsened when climbing out of the saddle. I had my ultra-torque bearings replaced in March, but still the creaks continued.

I finally discovered what I suspected was the problem after a ride with Millsy. The hairline crack, just above the shoulder of the bottom bracket shell, was only visible if the light caught the veneer just right. It was more obvious when I ran my finger across it. I couldn’t recall having banged the frame, or ridden into a pothole, or wrenched it off the turbo trainer, or any single incident that could have caused it – but nonetheless, it was there.

I investigated my options:

Warranty replacement

My first thought was to check out whether I was covered under the Wilier manufacturer’s warranty. I took the bike into Cycle Surgery, where I’d bought the bike in August 2007. They firstly agreed with me that the frame was cracked, but secondly pointed out that Wilier only covers its frames under warranty for 48 months – and I was outside of this.

Note: Wilier currently offers a 5-year warranty on its frames IF the purchaser registers the product online within 10 days of purchase. I don’t understand why they are so strict about the 10-day window if you have proof of purchase – but then I won’t be buying another Wilier, so I don’t really care.

Insurance claim

My bike isn’t itemised on my insurance schedule because it is prohibitively expensive to do so. However, I am generally covered up to the value of £1500 for theft and damage to any of my property, and this includes my bikes.

I contacted my insurer, explaining that the bike was five years old, had developed a crack over the last few months, and that I had been advised not to ride it further on the road (by a guy at Cadence in Crystal Palace). Because the damage could not be traced to a particular incident, however, neither the insurer nor Wheelies Direct were interested – the crack was due to ‘wear and tear’, so I wasn’t covered.

This actually went back and forth for ages. I argued that the crack was a terminal failure, and not reasonable wear and tear; I could have invented an accident to explain the damage, but actually felt that this was exactly the kind of unexpected loss that I wanted to be insured against, so kept pressing my point. I didn’t get anywhere.

Olive branch / sympathy deal

Cycle Surgery had already contacted Wilier on my behalf to explore the possibility of either a discount on an upgraded replacement frame (like the Gran Turismo), or possibly a free swap to an older Izoard frame. The only offer to come back was a 10% discount on any new frame purchase – which wasn’t enough to persuade me to invest more money in the firm’s products, which I now consider to be unreliable.

Having spoken to a couple of other bike shops, though, I was persuaded that the shop floor team at Cycle Surgery (with all due respect to them, because they provide a decent service) might not necessarily have the ear of someone who mattered at Wilier. I was told about bike owners in similar situations who had been better compensated by going via an independent store – so I took the bike to my local shop, Dever Cycles, which also stocks Wilier.

Maurice, the owner of Dever, very kindly offered to see what he could do – i.e. call Wilier and speak to his contact there. I imagined that the frame could be sent to Wilier so that someone could see the damage first hand, but in fact this would likely have meant either losing the frame – which I wanted to keep for a turbo bike – or being obligated to buy another frame from Wilier. Three weeks later, the upshot was the same 10% discount offer.

New bike

So, after 6 weeks of phone calls and emails and toting the frame around to different retailers, I was back at square one. My only way forward now was a new bike (of which more later). I’d learned a couple of things though:

  • Don’t buy a Wilier. If you buy a £1500 carbon road bike, you expect it to last more than five years, even if you ride it year round. I was disappointed with Wilier’s warranty, and with its paltry compensation offer.
  • Pay attention to the term of your warranty. I suspect that a bike’s warranty doesn’t feature highly in most buyers’ criteria for choosing a bike (it didn’t for me in 2007), but it should do. Personally, I won’t buy another bike that doesn’t cover its frame under a lifetime warranty.



Busted front mech

Busted front mech

Busted front mech

Seems like everything on my road bike is breaking. Within 3 weeks:

  • freehub body
  • front mech
  • front shifter

The mech cage plate snapped on a down-shift at the bottom of the bank just north of Brasted.

Scott Long Leg

Tough sportive yesterday courtesy of the Scott Long Leg, which I rode with Jonny, Millsy, Andy and Max. The event itself had an easy-going first half – which our group made even easier by spinning along and socialising – followed by a very spiky, hard second half – which Jonny and I made harder by chasing each other up the steepest climbs of the day.

In view of the fact that I’m supposed to be riding the Etape du Dales in a fortnight, and that 85 miles is the farthest I’ve ridden in training so far this year, I figured I needed to extend the Long Leg’s 70 mile distance. Therefore Millsy and I started the day in Epsom, and rode to and from the start line.

We’re into our fourth consecutive week of wet weather here, so it was no surprise to find some of the narrower roads in a really poor state – in fact no better than forest tracks. Millsy and Andy both flatted, and there were further mechanicals: Millsy’s rear mech broke after 30 miles, restricting him to a 3-speed drivetrain, and my front shifter broke after the second feed stop. Unable to shift into the big ring, I was forced to keep the cadence high – but actually I found this beneficial. Since I was never tempted to squeeze out extra revolutions from a big gear on an ascent, my legs felt faster and fresher.

I got impatient with the pace early on and made a break, but I didn’t sustain it, partly thanks to a random rider who latched himself onto my back wheel and then started chatting to me. We re-grouped at the second feed. As the gradient really kicked up for the first time, I paid the price for eating a whole chocolate brownie at the feed stop, and struggled with a ball of butter in my stomach. I fell back from Jonny’s pace on the climb, then I lost him for good without a big ring on the descent. In the end he took 6 minutes from me – but I had us at 10th and 11th fastest on the day.

The day’s heroics culminated in a climb over Box Hill on the way back to Epsom.

It’s been a while since I’ve been as wiped out by a ride as I felt last night.

The Tour of the North – debrief and microsite

It’s been 4 weeks since The Tour of the North. My rig is long since cleaned and put away in the shed, the Deuter lies in storage, the tub of Sudocrem is sitting like a trophy on the mantelpiece now hidden from site in a bathroom cupboard. My legs recovered well – in fact the experience transformed my form, and after a week I noticed a big speed and strength boost on the road bike.

Note: this debrief never made it into full post form – but here is the microsite I created for the Tour:

Rapha: Sella


Busted chainring

Definitely one for the broken archives.

This happened back in February. It actually all started in December last year, when I needed to change the dinged chainring (I feel the irony too) on my hack bike, and discovered that the bolts were simply turning in their washers as opposed to unscrewing normally. Out came the drill – wired from my kitchen, out of the window, through my neighbour’s garden, to my work bench. Four hours of heavy hand-tooling later, I succeeded in dismantling the bastard.

The saga continued when I replaced the drilled-out bolts with fresh ones, but didn’t tighten them up properly. 3 days of commuting later, I was pulling away from the lights at the Atkins Road crossroads, and my pedal stroke turned to butter. Looking down, I could see that the force of my downstroke had warped the chainring into the shape of a crisp. Cue an emergency call to Jas, who drove out to rescue me.

I’m now on my third chainring, but so far so normal.