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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.

 

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.

 

 

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:

Tour of Wessex #2 (after)

All points of the compass: the Tour of Wessex.

All points of the compass: the Tour of Wessex.

Perhaps not quite the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike, the Tour of Wessex 3-day sportive was nevertheless a triple helping of very tough riding. As ever, the pain and discomfort fades from the memory, in this case leaving a generous sense of satisfaction. There’s no doubt that I felt under-prepared for the event, but my body rose to the occasion, and in fact by the 3rd day I felt much more robust, both mentally and physically, than I had at the beginning of Stage 1. Overall I came 53rd of the 204 riders to finish all 3 days, in a time of 19hrs 46min 07s.

So, a brief overview of the three stages, written quite quickly so I don’t forget it all.

Day 1 (106 miles)

  • Not much sleep (4-5hrs) after a long drive, never good for body or mind.
  • Missed big groups in fast early stages after unlucky traffic holdups.
  • Climbing through Cheddar Gorge was spectacular.
  • Long solo sections battered my morale.
  • Head winds after the third feed stop almost finished me off, I really deteriorated and was ready to pack it in.

Day 2 (117 miles)

  • Good sleep, legs in surprisingly good knick after a massage yesterday.
  • Resolved with Jonny and Duncan to have a more social day and stay together.
  • Good banter and drafting routine in groups.
  • Great to see Corfe Castle and the Dorset coast.
  • Had the option to bail and return to London. Resolved to continue.

Day 3 (106 miles)

  • Just me and Duncan. In the drizzle.
  • First three hours into light rain, riding on someone else’s wheel basically like standing over a garden sprinkler.
  • Great sense of solidarity in the groups now. Good communication, brisk riding.
  • Couple of big hills, including Dunkery Beacon, which was tough but no real issue.
  • Encountered lots of cars in windy lanes banked by tall hedgerows – pretty stressful.
  • Outrageously punchy pace lines towards the end.

The hardest bits for me were not the hills, which I barely seemed to notice; instead it was the brutally efficient pace lines. I’m not exactly built like Thor Hushovd, so leading on the front into a buffeting wind after 250 miles cumulative riding was fairly strenuous. Worse than the lead out, though, was peeling off and being unable to stay on the back when the next rider in line, rested from sitting in the slipstream, then put in a monster surge.

I would definitely say the Tour of Wessex is an absolute must for any sportive rider. The organisation and support were both excellent. Book it up asap, and book massages every day. At £12 for 30mins you’d be a fool not to. And try and book Cleers View Farm – top choice for accommodation very near to the event centre.

The only comment I would add is that the time categories were unrealistic. If Gold is out of reach for all but a tiny elite of riders then the ranges need adjusting. Sure, it’s a hard event, but 4% Gold on day 1, 1% on day 2, 0 (zero!) on day 3? Error.

Parting shot: a self-portrait in the event center bathrooms after the end of Stage 3.

Girona training camp

Somewhere in Northern Spain.

Somewhere in Northern Spain.

I recently returned from a week’s training holiday in the countryside just north of Girona. Jonny, Millsy, Simmo and I were well looked after by our hosts Girona Cycling, and – despite getting a cold, and enduring epic quantities of rain in the first half of the week – we had a great trip.

Highlights included:

  • an awesome loop from Mas Pelegri over to Olot, taking in some snaking climbs and swooping descents through forests


View Serinya loop in a larger map

  • 3-course meals, every night, cooked up by long-time Rapha rider and chef Ben
  • Finally getting the chance to see A Sunday in Hell on DVD (twice in one day as it turned out)

Low-points included:

  • Monday – rain; Tuesday – rain; Wednesday – rain
  • Friday’s ride, when we headed out with Maarten de Jonge (a Dutch pro on the Endura Racing team) to climb Els Angels. I can’t remember feeling weaker on a bike – I wasn’t bonking, it must have been some sort of post-viral exhaustion. Considering my usual form on hills, it was pretty gutting to be dropped hard and often.

Happy New Year

So, it’s 12th January.

Wet.

Wet.

And it’s wet out. Although I guess we’ve had worse.

A brief update on my cycling:

  • I’m not doing a lot of riding right now. I resolved last year that I wouldn’t stress out about winter miles, and that I wouldn’t ride in icy conditions or pouring rain.
  • My weight is 11st 3. I feel pretty tubby, but actually this is 2-3 pounds lighter than I weighed in Jan 2010, and 6-9 pounds lighter than Jan 2009. I’m 6 pounds heavier than my target weight, but this will come off easily over the next few months.
  • I have been in the gym, not just on the spin bike, but hitting some weights, at least once a week since the start of November.

2011 plans:

  • I have the Puncheur on 6th March – the by now traditional early-season benchmark.
  • 12-19 March I’ll be in Girona for a cycling training camp with Millsy, Jonny and Simmo.
  • I’m signed up for the Tour of Wessex in late June, which promises to be a new (and tough) experience.

I don’t have any plans for a European sportive mission this summer. I couldn’t get enthusiastic about the two-part 2011 Étape du Tour – neither leg on its own offered as distinctive a challenge as La Marmotte, and signing up for both was too much money and too much holiday. However, the event is still very much on my list for the future. The Tour of Wessex is a big event on home turf, and for the moment that’s enough.

Other plans will hopefully involve an MTB expedition to Spain around Easter time – ‘stay tuned’, as they used to say during the 90s.

Tour of Britain – Stoke Tour Ride

Top class goodie bag.

My 2010 Tour of Britain tour ride was not the end-of-season finale I’d hoped for. Struck down by a virus shortly after returning from holiday in early September, I still hadn’t made a full recovery, and opted for the 50-mile ‘Challenge’ circuit instead of the full 161km route.

It was a shame, but a sensible call. I didn’t go too badly for the first 40km, but was off the pace I would have been at. I envisaged a quicker, healthier (possibly semi-transparent) version of myself riding ahead, while the real me lagged behind. It’s kind of crushing, that drop-off of form. Your body cannot produce the strength and speed that your mind (which assumes you still are as fit as you used to be a few weeks ago) wills it to, and there’s no way round that. Your fitter, stronger self seems like a figment of your imagination.

The route began about a mile from my back door, and followed roads that I’ve ridden over for many years. The TOB organisation was impeccable – definitely a must in the sportive calendar for me. After the cut-off with the long route, I was solo all the way back to base. Apart from the chilly headwind, it was a breeze. AND I had some roadside support from the Mucklows, who were anxious to regain face after missing me on the Tour of the Peak District.

As per the photo, the goodie bag was the best haul of free kit from any sportive apart from the Maratona dles Dolomites. It included:

  • A £5 Wiggle voucher
  • A copy of Cycling Weekly
  • Anti-chafing gel (binned it actually)
  • Er – Gillette shave gel
  • 1 x Kelloggs Elevenses
  • Pomegranate juice (needs diluting)
  • A t-shirt (like I need another sportive t-shirt)
  • Highlighted route maps from the Stoke and Devon legs of the 2010 Tour

The maps were the cherry on top.

Retro bikes – Kona Muni-Mula

1998* Kona Muni-Mula.

1998* Kona Muni-Mula (August 2005).

I’ve been getting all misty-eyed about retro bikes lately – check out my homages to Ross’s Marin and Andy’s Klein. It seems only appropriate to look back at my old Kona Muni-Mula in her heyday.

The shot above was taken just before heading up to the Lake District for an ex-UYCC camping and bike trip in August 2005. By this point the spec was roughly as follows:

  • Mavic 719(?) rims
  • Hope hubs
  • Panaracer Trailblasters
  • Raceface XY seatpost (still the best seatpost ever made, full stop)
  • Raceface stem
  • WTB saddle
  • Gripshift (I always was a fan)
  • Carbon brake levers
  • XTR V-brakes
  • Marzocchi Bomber fork
  • XT drivetrain
  • Ringlé bottle cage

You have to admit it looks pretty goddamn fly. Probably a unique build as well, especially since the frame – which I got on insurance after my Lava Dome was bent on the flight back from Vancouver – had an experimental paint-job, and this particular colour was never distributed widely (check Bikepedia for the Muni-Mula’s off-the-peg contemporaries).

I’ll be interested to see how the new Kona Kula Deluxe handles by comparison…

Woodcote sportive

As anticipated, today’s 135km Woodcote sportive was hard and fast. On a technical, hilly route with lots of gravel, many flatted – but my Conti GP4000s once again proved their worth.

By my reckoning my average speed was 18.6 mph, compared with 18.2 mph on the 100-mile Great Western sportive in June. It was a shorter distance, so this makes sense, considering both events were similarly hilly. However, being in a smaller group today meant doing more pulls on the front – so the speed increase is encouraging. (more…)

Robert Penn’s bike

I caught Robert Penn’s fantastic documentary on BBC4 on Monday night. The Story of the Bicycle, timed to coincide with the launch of Penn’s book All about the Bike (jacket below), saw the one-time round-the-world cyclist build his dream bike from parts sourced direct from manufacturers in many different countries – bars from Italy, hand-built wheels from the U.S., etc.

The resulting super-rig, the bike of dreams, turned out to be a Brian Rourke steel frame equipped with full Campagnolo Record, Continental tyres, Chris King headset, Cinelli bars, and – the cherry on top! – a Brook’s saddle. A fine combination of kit, if not exactly in line with my tastes. However, you have to ask – why the blue and orange colour scheme? Dark red, white panels and black lettering, surely?

Jacket image: All About the Bike by Robert Penn.