Monthly Archives: June 2013

Learning to ride slow

When I first started riding seriously, I had two speeds – “fast” and “flat out”. This was OK if I was only riding once or twice a week, but push it past the 3 times a week mark and I was finding myself suffering from fatigue, restlessness, and poor mood. After a couple of weeks this would lead to illness, in one case it lead to a bad case of the flu, punctuated with a mild case of pneumonia.

So, the whole point of getting out on the bike is to have fun. Sure, it’s real fun to ride fast, but it’s not much fun to do it all the time. It took me a while to learn this. Just google “overtraining” and you’ll find a wealth of information on the topic, and one thing mentioned is “recovery rides”. I only recently learned what a “recovery ride” meant, and it was not from the Internet or any of my training books.

Regardless of what your riding mates might think, a recovery ride isn’t spent at 40km/h instead of 50km/h on the straights, nor is it about going a couple of minutes below your average on the local 4km climb. A recovery ride is, as I have once heard it been said by a well respected coach, “a ride at a walking effort”, thus if you feel like you’re running or dying, it’s not a recovery ride.

The best way of learning what recovery pace is, is to go for a 30 minute walk to somewhere and back along the same route with a heart rate monitor attached, record the walk using your garmin or whatever speedo you have, and then see what the average heart rate is. For me, it sat at around 105bpm, which some people say is high, it is considering that my resting heart rate is around 60bpm.

From that point, you can set the heart rate alarm in your speedo to go off at 10bpm above this limit so you know when you are pushing it.

Otherwise, if you don’t have a speedo, focus on your stress level, this is basically made up of three things: your speed, your breathing, and your heartbeat. If you can notice any of them, you’re probably pushing yourself too hard.

How to tell if you’ve been pushing yourself too hard during the week? If you can find your pulse and have an alarm clock next to bed, count the number of beats between the changing of the minutes on your clock. This should be constant every morning – if it goes up at all, you’re probably heading towards your limit. Google “overtraining in cyclists” and you’ll find a wealth of information.


Michelin Pro4 Service Course Bicycle Tyres

Michelin have had their pro range of tyres around for quite a while and it seems that (at least according to reputation) that they get better with every iteration. The Pro4 is the first tyre I’ve tried from their range, but I know many riders who run on the Pro3’s with no complaints.

I wasn’t expecting much, as I’ve been very happy with the Continental GP4000s’s, these were purchased on a whim, as these were on sale at the time and I was looking for something that would add a bit of colour to the ride.

The quality is great – the tread runs straight, the markings are clean and clear. There doesn’t appear to be any irregularities throughout the length of the tyre.

The colour is in the right place. Many other brands have the coloured section of the tyre contacting the road, which means it gets dirty in no time. The colour on the Pro4’s is restricted to the sidewalls. However this does not mean they won’t get dirty – it will just take longer. The colour is on the inside too – this was real helpful in finding punctures.

The inside ofn the Michelin Pro4 - Note that the colour makes it easier to find punctures
The inside of the Michelin Pro4 – Note that the colour makes it easier to find punctures

The grip is excellent. Around corners, and especially on rough, coarse, and loose surfaces it is predictable – no skipping or hopping like the Conti’s did. I think this is related to the profile of the tyre. Most tyres, including the continentals, and pretty even in tread distribution, so that the final profile when inflated is rounded. The Pro4’s however, place more rubber in the middle of the tyre, so that the profile is more diamond shaped – this means that it is flatter on the sides, which equals more rubber on the road around corners.

The rubber compound is also something worth mentioning. Whilst it does contain silica it feels similar to the black chilli compound on the GP4000s, perhaps a bit more sticky. And they seem much more predictable in the wet, especially on painted surfaces, where the GP4000s felt like you were riding on ice, these give a bit more feedback.

The construction of the tyre is top class – 3 layers of rubber, , and from what I can tell, a nylon carcass. The sturdy construction means you won’t expect (m)any punctures in the first 1500km or so, however as the tyre wears it will start to pick up fragments of glass, metal fragments, flints etc from the road, mainly due to the sticky compound. In 4 weeks I had 9 punctures and I found all of them were from items that became deeply embedded in the tyres and worked their way through to the inner tube.

From a wear perspective, you could expect about 3,000km from a tyre, which is pretty much the same as any other tyre you could purchase at that level.  The weight is comparable to top tyres, being around the 300 gram mark they are pretty impressive.

Overall, they look great, have the right rubber in the right places, and offer excellent grip. As a racing or training tyre I think these are excellent, as an all-purpose tyre they are perhaps too sticky so punctures could be a problem.

Time Trials

Time TrialsIt just came out of the blue – someone mentioned to me that the club time trials were “this Sunday” and I thought, “why not” – it’s the only race where you don’t have to worry about all the other idiots on the track. The only race where you are in full control* of the end result. And it’s a great way to compare your abilities to the other riders in your group.

So off I went on Thursday to the bike shop, got myself a pair of clip-on time trial extensions, installed them at work and started my TT practice on the way home, starting off with a relatively light pace to get settled into the position, and then making some minor tweaks along the way. In the end the setup that they came in out of the box was adequate – every adjustment just made things worse.

But the practice and adjustment paid off, Friday I used them to and from work and was starting to feel very comfortable in them. So confident that I was no longer worried about the position. So I took it easy for the rest of Friday, just so I don’t burn myself out before Sunday.

Sunday morning came around and off I went to Penrith, the car said it was a chilly 5 degrees at the meeting point, and at least for the first few minutes my body was going into convulsions just trying to keep itself warm. However as the sun rose so did the temperature. So, time to sign-in, do a few warm up laps, and then just hang around until the starting time. During that we all compared bikes, racing strategies, and I mentioned that the tubulars will probably work against me and I hope I don’t get another flat – after all it seems all I get from tubulars are flats.

Race time comes along and it’s time to get to the starting line. A few minutes later I’m at the front and it’s time to go. The nerves went and then it came to the countdown, 30, 20, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and I was off. The first lap went well, starting off with a few turns and a small rise followed by a small depression opening to a straight flat for a couple of kilometres, a couple of left turns and then back to the start. I started to get a good rhythm going.

My heartrate rose up to the 90% mark and my speed stabilised at around 39km/h. No chance of sustaining the 40+km/h mark, at least not in my mind.  Two more laps came in quick succession, and then at the start of the fourth lap things felt a bit loose going through the first few corners. I look down and realise – my rear tyre is flat! I start to slow down, looking for a safe place to pull over and then think about it – I’ve come this far, why not keep going, after all the tubulars are well glued on and they’re not going anywhere.

So I get my speed back up.. Couldn’t really get back to 39km/h but 36 should do. The heart rate started pushing towards the limit, then comes the two lefties at the end of the straight, I had no choice but to slow down to a very mellow pace, gingerly take the corners and then push as hard as I can through the straight. Up comes the finish line, and thankfully I’m over in one piece and probably only lost a minute or two..

I check out the wheels and they’re immaculate, even the tyre was still well stuck to them and still holding some air. Whilst I cannot be more upset that my ride was thwarted once again by punctures, I was glad I was able to finish, and I doubt that I would have gotten far on the clinchers if I had a puncture. In fact it would probably be very dangerous to do so. And if anything I only lost a minute or so and still managed to get a decent finishing time of 32:05 over 20km.

If anything, it just makes me more confident I’ll be able to beat my time next year and maybe I’m going to reconsider using tubulars, even though they were safer to ride flat, the puncture protection just isn’t there compared to a good pair of clinchers.

* except flats

Continental GP4000s Bicycle Tyres

The GP4000s’s are a staple amongst road cyclists, mainly due to the affordable price range, great puncture protection, and light weight. They are also rated as the best by tour magazine, though this magazine is renowned for preferring German brands anyway.

And on that note, this tyre is still made in Germany, unlike many other european brands, which have moved their manufacturing to Asia. The quality of the tyre is generally good, though I personally have had one tyre fail on me after about 500km.

GP4000s damage showing tyre construction
The tyre is touted by Continental as advantageous to its competitors for two reasons, their “black chilli” rubber compound, and the low resistance construction.

First of all, the “black chilli” compound is a good compound, but it’s not great. The advantages are that it is rubber-based, not silicone, so it sticks to the road pretty well in the dry and doesn’t pick up every single piece of road debris. The disadvantages are that it wears pretty quickly, I only get about 2000km out of a tyre, and doesn’t grip too well on some surfaces when wet.

Secondly, the low resistance construction. They don’t provide a lot of information on this, but from seeing how the tyre is made, there is a layer of rubber on the outside, then a layer of silk (real or synthetic, I don’t know), then the breaker and finally the casing. This layer of silk, I think, spreads the amount of deformation to the outer layer of rubber, instead of deforming the entire tyre casing and all, which I think uses less energy, leading to lower resistance.

However, many feel that the tyre has a “dead” feeling. I think this is probably related to the construction, in that if only part of the tyre is deforming, there is possibly less absorption of road surface vibration, bumps, etc.

The tyre has a few other advantages not touted so much by the manufacturer.

Firstly, the puncture protection is excellent – I’ve had wear some tyres out on me without even bearing a puncture, and that’s with everyday commuting, training rides, and the occasional race.

The second is the light weight – they’re not the lightest, but at under 300g, with puncture protection, a good amount of rubber and so forth, it’s a lot of bang for your buck.

They also look pretty good, with the pseudo tread pattern along the sides and silver lettering. And they sound good, especially on a well sealed road they just hum along, they make a nice little ‘tssssss’ sound.

I’ve found that they don’t feel much different at 120psi then they do at 100psi, so just run them at 120psi or get a different tyre if you’re looking for something more comfortable, as noted above they do not soak up much of the road vibration.

This is a tyre that you could use for racing, training, and (given you can afford to replace them every 3 months or so) commuting. However, wet weather grip can be an issue, and the ride may not be as smooth cas some other tyres. But, for the weight and the price, you cannot do much better.