25 Nov 2011

“the picture of Sam Jones in mid-crash tells the story of his broken pride, far better than I can”

This weekend, the group was made up of Sam Bennett, Sam Jones, John Summerton and John Eaton from RAF Coningsby, with Andy Harrison from RAF Scampton. The drive over was concerning to say the least. We forged our way through thick fog which showed no chance of clearing. Parking up in Hope, we set off for the first climb of the day. Passing through Castleton, we climbed up the old A625. This piece of road is famous for scaling the flanks of Mam Tor "The Shivering Mountain" which is prone to landslip especially after periods of heavy rain. The road previously wound its way up the south face of the hill but was in constant need of repair due to landslide damage. This makes for some interesting little obstacles that break up the climb. A steady slog eventually put us off-road onto Rushup Edge where we were afforded superb views into the Edale and Hope Valleys, looking down onto the rolling mist below it reminded me of a massive layer of cotton wool.

We then proceeded to descend down past Lords Seat onto nice ‘techy’ double-track before heading north onto the Mount Famine track. This classic route roller-coasters in-and-out of cloughs which have suffered from varying degrees of erosion from 4x4 vehicles and motor-cross bikes. This makes for a better ride, placing challenges in the way both on climbs and descents. The steep grassy drop slithered its way down to the foot of Coldwell Clough. A long steep climb, initially on tarmac then led to a technical rocky ascent all the way to Edale Cross. We took a breather here, again taking in the amazing view into Edale valley, still lined with a fluffy white bank of mist.

We battled our way against the flow of ramblers walking up Jacobs Ladder where we bounced a way through drainage bars that threatened us with snake-bite punctures. After a regroup at the foot of Jacobs Ladder, we rolled along the Pennine Way towards Edale. The long road slog back up to the top of Mam Tor gave us a sweet piece of single-track that led us to Hollins Cross. Here we dropped again, taking the opportunity to session a drop-off. It was all going well until John got his camera out. The picture of Sam Jones in mid-crash tells the story of his broken pride, far better than I can. A bonus climb put us back onto Mam Tor, where we then dropped down Windy Knoll, past Rowter Farm over the Limestone Way. It was then a very fast and loose drop on Dirtlow Rake before popping into Pindale. This particular gorge has an interesting mix of rocks, the size of babies’ heads – just the right size for putting you over the bars.

Finishing in a disused quarry, John had an opportunity to take part in his other favorite pastime of photographing abandoned shoes – don’t ask!

A great days riding with another new face - Cheers all.

9 Nov 2011

"first lap saw Dan Lewis take a tumble as he led into the arena"

GWR Floodlit Series
Submarine Rugby Club Swindon 25 October 2011
Finally the weather has turned to what cyclo-cross racing is all about in the winter as with a heavy down pour just 30 minutes before the race the dry course was turned very muddy and sticky in places to test the riders and bikes to the limit.
A reduced line up of 32 still consisted of a very strong field of riders with Matt Woods, winner of the Wessex League race in reading, and Luke Cowely, winner of a round of last year’s series, present. The race was run off in the usual darkness but with very little wind it was still very warm and the track was hard packed.
The first lap saw Dan Lewis take a tumble as he led into the arena as the grassy banks had turned very slippy due to the rain. This allowed Paul Lloyd to put some pressure on early and ride on his own a few seconds ahead of the chasing pack of Dan Lewis, Scot Easter, George Bate and Luke Cowely. The second group was made up of Matt Woods, Dan Smith, and Deacon Cutterham.
Midway through the race Lloyd was still leading and his gap was starting to increase as Easter and Lewis were struggling in the muddy conditions. The race behind was an every changing as both Bate and Cowely were suffering in the muddy conditions and dropped out of contention while Smith and Brown moved up into the top five.
In the final lap Lloyd was holding his advantage over his chaser which he held to the line, Easter in solid second place and Lewis came in for the final podium spot for third. Fourth place went to Steve Brown who took the first place for veteran rider. Joe Griffiths was first junior and Samantha Jones was first lady.
The race for the overall sees Lloyd in control but with Lewis eight points behind and a significant 62 point gap to Smith who is still in third. Lloyd will look to defend his lead at round nine to be held on the 1 November.

RAFCA Member Martin Jones trials Strava

When looking to track and monitor your cycling progress it is quite easy to quickly become overwhelmed by the vast array of options that are out there. Let me introduce you to Strava.


Strava at its core is another website/app that enables you to track your ride and relating data. You sign up for a free account (premium option available), download the app to your smartphone or garmin device and head out for a ride, uploading the data on your return. But, this is where Strava starts to come into its own. Firstly, it focuses on the most important elements, the data. With a netural colour scheme and a well laid out user interface it is a joy to analyse your data. The route is displayed in a map (similar to google maps) with your start and finish locations marked out. A gradient profile is displayed beneath with the option to overimpose speed, power and heart rate data.
Another interesting feature is Strava's ability to use an algorithm using a mixture of weight, speed and gradient to estimate power output. Although its accuracy pales in comparison to a dedicated unit due to its inability to factor in wind, it is still a fun feature that can be used to monitor rough gains and improvements. This power data can also be viewed in a 'Best Efforts' graph and table giving in depth analysis of power output over varying times. If, however, you are one of those lucky people who can afford a powermeter, you will be able to upload this data along with your ride, whilst still having access to the power analysis options Strava provides.

Most of the other contenders in this field offer similar features and, other than Strava being more user friendly, this alone would not deserve such a strong recommendation. Where Strava really begins to move away from the competition is the social element. You can follow other users, view their rides and even compare yourself against them on leaderboards. Climbs are automatically detected if they qualify for categorisation and a leaderboard is generated including all rides from all users that complete it. This inspires a degree of competition. You may find yourself targeting a certain climb with the intention of gaining the KOM award and feeling elated when you suceed or furious when Sally from Exeter pips you to the top.

Another interesting feature is the ability to view a climb as a second by second timeline and note where the strong guys start to pull away. Couple this with the latest feature 'Segment Explorer, allowing you to find the top 10 climbs in a specified radius, and you have a powerful tool for individual motivation and competition.

Most importantly, Strava has an effective support system in place with a strong suggestions community upon which they genuinly follow up. Resources are constantly being poured into the application by the owners to make improvements and ensure that future customers have an even more refined and useful product. There are occassional bugs to be found but regular updates ensure these do not become too frustrating.

The main problem with Strava is that, due to its social nature, its main strength lies in the friendly competition it creates. This, however, requires users. The more users the more complete the product. Currently the american share is much greater and offers an exciting insight into the potential of the product. Hopefully over the next year or so the UK market will blossom to match.

I believe it has the potential to improve the RAFCA presence internally. Enabling members to see what each other are getting up to, what training is taking place and even seeing who's around the local area. A RAFCA club is currently available on Strava to make this easier and just like the application itself will benefit greatest from a strong, enthusiastic uptake. There is nothing more motivating than seeing your colleagues training harder

8 Nov 2011

"My speedo touched 27 mph, Mel Sears was still happily in the wheels"

Read about how a small team of friends from RAF Benson enjoyed cycling in the Chilterns

The Build up
Paul Bucknall, the team leader took care of all pre-ride administration which involved liaising with RAF Benson Physical Education Flight and booking suitable accommodation along the route. We (the riders) had to have the correct fitness level to complete the ride of some 180 miles over two days.
The Route

This involved us joining the cycle way just outside RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. We then followed it in a clockwise direction with pre-arranged rendezvous points where we could meet the support driver, stock up on fluids etc. The route was challenging with plenty of short steep gradients to test the riders fitness followed by many technical descents. The majority of the route was based on quiet single track roads surrounded by the stunning backdrop of the Chiltern countryside.
The aim
Was to give road cyclists from RAF Benson the opportunity to ride and compete whilst being covered with by on duty status. The funding came from RAF Benson’s own cycling club budget and proved to be a great success, it was not only a great opportunity to make friends and enjoy the Chilterns, but has laid down foundations for more long distance events in the future.
Day one
We met at RAF Benson ready for an 09:00 depart. The weather was perfect, a clear morning with a subtle tail wind easing us out.
Armed with just his trusty map Paul Bucknall led the way, the short sharp climbs synonymous with the Chilterns started immediately causing the group to split up before the regroup at the top.
Twenty miles in we approached White Leaf hill climb which is well known locally and was much talked about amongst the group. Dan Toole was struggling with a knee injury and was advised to try a slightly easier ascent. The rest of us approached the climb following Jonny Heaton’s wheel, the difficulty of the climb was obvious to see, as Jonny began to swerve back and forth across the road while spinning a small gear up the climb. All riders were glad to make it to the top without any walking and were happy with the news that the hardest climb of the day over.
At midday we stopped at a café in Wendover for a quick cake break, with thirty miles behind us our next stop would be at sixty miles, there we would enjoy a more lengthy food stop.
The route remained challenging, it was either going up or down all the way until lunch which didn’t seem to be impressing Dan Toole. PTI Melonie Sears (Former GB road cyclist) was showing her calibre as she sat comfortably at the front for most of the afternoon.
The lunch stop was a pleasing sight for all and the weather was fine enough to sit outside and enjoy the sun, not bad for October.
“Twenty five miles to go,” was the brief from Paul Bucknall as we set out on the last leg of the day. The course actually passed our accommodation where we were to stay that evening with a soul destroying twenty miles to go, fortunately the last part was the flattest. We were able to coast home with no difficulties, apart for the cyclocross style track to the finish – job done.
Day two
Refreshed from a good night sleep the group were back on the road and once again the glorious Buckinghamshire weather was on our side. The first twenty miles saw us sweep quietly through country lanes at a respectable 15 – 20 mph. At this point we decided we had done enough to earn our breakfast so a quick café stop was called, morale was high and everyone seemed to really be enjoying just being out on their bikes “much better than being in work,” I thought.
We were back on the road again and making good progress before a pot hole put an end to my front wheel; cue the support driver, It was very frustrating for everyone as we had to wait at the train station in Amersham for around thirty minutes for the driver to arrive with a spare wheel.
Behind on schedule, we had time to make up, we lifted the pace and covered the next thirty miles in steady time. Now back on schedule we approached the Hughendone Valley which produced probably the hardest climbs of the day. The sun had come out by this time and spirits were high once again, one more food stop in High Wycombe before the last section of the route.
The last section saw us hit the highest speed of the ride with good through and off’s at the front. My speedo touched 27 mph, Mel Sears was still happily sat in the wheels, I suppose you never really lose it.
As the sun began to go down, we rolled back into RAF Benson happy with our two days training. I think everyone got what they wanted from the ride, for me it was just a good start to those winter base miles we all hate; my hope is to run another two day event in the spring.
The RAF through its many stations runs various cycling trips and outing, if you would like to get involved visit your local gym, ask for the details of your cycling point of contact or visit RAF Cycling www.rafcycling.org.uk

2 Nov 2011

Turner 5 Spot review by Sam Bennet

So the bike. It is a DW link, Turner 5 Spot with 5.5” of travel on the rear, coupled with a set of 150 mm travel, Rock Shox Sektor Coil U-Turn forks. She rolls on a pair of Hope Hoops Pro 2 Evo Hubs laced onto No Tubes Flow Rims. I have made my own tubeless kit by sealing the rim with aluminium airframe repair tape, cutting a Presta valve out of an old inner tube leaving a bit of rubber on and winding them into the rims with the knurled lock ring. I have made my own sealant from 1 part art latex, 1 part glycol anti-freeze, 2 parts water and a small dose of Slime to help it seal larger holes quicker. More on tubeless in another blog. I run a Maxxis Minion DH on the rear and a Maxxis Larsen on the front. The rear tyre grips well under power and braking on all but the most slimey surfaces, where as the front rolls smoothly giving plenty of controllable drift on the front. Stopping power comes from a set of Hope V2s 203 mm on the front and 180 mm on the rear. The chainset is an X-Type Middleburn RS8 through Hope external BB shells, 22 inner, 34 middle and a bash guard on the outer. groupset-wise, I use Shimano XT shifters and front mech with a durable medium caged SLX rear mech. The stem and bars are from Hope and FSA respectively with the seat post and Saddle being from Thompson and SDG. Finally, Ergon grips give great control whilst reducing fatigue on the wrists on the longer days out.

1 Nov 2011

“The singletrack across Derwent Edge is a treat”

I am a great fan of the Dark Peak District. No matter what the weather it always rides well. Also, I like the fact you can start from one location and pick and mix many different climbs and descents, all coming back within a few km of the start enabling plenty of ‘bang out’ options. You can also string out some massive loops for that endless ride feeling when the days are longer and the weather more inspiring. Saturday had a group of six of us embarking on a nice little loop, setting off from Hope and heading into the Hope Valley for a couple of km before getting off road. We were made up of Sam Jones, John Summerton and myself from RAF Coningsby, Andy Harrison from RAF Scampton, Dave Hunt from Marham and my nephew Matt. For the first climb, we headed up what I have always called the Roman Road. It isn’t actually, but after a couple of km lumpy climbing it does put you onto one just under Win Hill. We followed this until Hope Cross before dropping down the wet and rutted descent into Blackley Clough. Here, we took just another small climb before winding out our forks to full travel ready for the fun to begin.
Up to this point, the beautifully tuned DW link had proven itself well. The Pro Pedal on the RP23 High Volume is redundant on this frame. There truly is no pedal induced bob – it just puts all the energy into turning the wheel. That said, it is still so plush that it gobbles up the square edged steps and small cobbles alike. With the saddle dropped, you feel like you are sitting in the Spot rather than on it. This inspires massive confidence when you point it back down hill. The descent down Blackley Hey went in a blur as I rocketed towards the A623. This is an old favourite of mine. At the bottom, whilst waiting for the rest of the gang, I had time not only to get the camera out, but also to reminisce when I first rode this back in 1993 on my old Giant Cadex with canti brakes and no suspension. I remember my eyes actually aching from the vibration and the sickening feeling of un-peeling my fingers from the brake levers and bars – who else remembers that?
The climb up past Rowlee Farm is steep. V steep. I was super-impressed watching John win the Polka Dots with his 1x9 gear set up winding his way up there. But, on the super fast descent to the Derwent Reservoir via Lockerbrook Farm, I won the
prize of op ening the gate for everyone at the bottom – again, having time to get the camera out. You see, this is the thing with this Turner – it’s no lightweight, especially with the durability build I have opted for. But it climbs so well on the techy stuff, it makes it fun. And descending, it truly is the best bike I have ever ridden. It floats and feels like it is never running out of travel, even when at the bottom, the o-ring on the shock tells a different story.

A tarmac transit around the Ladybower Reservoir put us at the foot of an awesome little challenge. The cobbled climb up to the National Trust mill under Derwent Edge is a killer. It starts off fine, but I always like to use it as my fitness benchmark, especially the last few metres which are punctuated with drainage bars, just as the gradient reaches near impossible. Again, the Turner lapped this up – I believe, the only bike to be pedalled the entire way to the first gate. No doubt though, had John had the granny ring, he would have done it, especially seeing the way he honked past me giving him enough time to dismount, walk the last few metres and open that gate for me just as I arrived, nearly bringing up a lung or two.

The singletrack across Derwent edge is a treat. Not fast, but distupted with mystery puddles that sometimes contain an unhappy ending – putting riders over bars and nice little drop-offs where you can practice your manuals and power wheelies in
preparation for the next bit. With a tail wind we booted it down Whinstone Lee Tor.
An amazing descent, with multiple line choices. You can go smooth or pick any of the many obstacles and use them to bounce from one to the next, clearing ruts, clumps of heather and tufts of grass. Again, the Spot showed just how adaptable it is, flicking from one line to the next, and getting me out of trouble on several occasions where I set myself up for a bee-line through a boulder field. After a short traverse, the descent to the Ladybower House at Ashopton provided another photo opportunity, although the group seemed to be moving so fast at this point, none of my photos were usable.

A peaceful transit on the road, over the Ladybower dam and then down through Thornhill to Shatton, left us with the biggest climb of the day. Starting with a log tarmac ramp onto Shatton Moor, the gradient eased as the surface became loose again. Behind the comms mast, it levelled out shortly ofter Matt, still getting used to SPDs had a moment and fell into the ditch still clipped in. Rolling round the head of Shatton Edge to Robin Hoods Cross gave us a chance to flush as much lactic out of our quads before it was again time for saddles down. The final drop was epic. It starts with fast double track which propels you into an awesome berm. Then, the gradient steepens and you are forced to control your speed as you work your way over marbles, babies heads, sand and slabby drop offs – all within 1.5 km. Simply great!
After an adrenaline fuelled debrief at the bottom, we took the off-road option from Bradwell, behind Castleton Cement works before dropping back into Hope for tea, cake and medals at the Woodbine Cafe. A great day, with some new faces, some great weather and a terrific bike. Thanks all!

Happy trails - Sam Bennett Exped & Touring Secretary

“I came in second after a horrendous tactical decision!”

SAC Tim Robinson aka ‘Greatshepini’ targets the National Masters Track Championships, the Scottish Track Championships and the National Sprinters League with a ride in the World Masters Track Championships just for experience, with a view to having a proper go next year. Unfortunately for me the only true opponent this year was the weather! The sprinters races I entered this year were either rained off before the event or spent sitting in the rain staring at the track.
The National Masters Track Championships took place in the first week of July at Newport Velodrome. The sprint competition on the Friday began with a 200m TT qualifier in which I posted the fourth fastest time of 11.7 seconds. My first race was a three rider affair, always difficult, this time I came in second after a horrendous tactical decision! The next race was a four rider event, one of the others decided to go from the start, so it basically turned into a Keirin, by the bell his legs were dead. I popped out of his slipstream from the back of the group and blasted past for the win. The day then progressed into the evening and I finished up in the ride off for the bronze medal. Once again, my ‘ring rusty’ tactics shone through, seeing me edged out and into fourth place. I was reasonably happy with my speed, but I had a lot to do before the Scottish Championships in a months time, my lack of racing had taken its toll.
August this year saw me travel down to Meadowbank in Edinburgh for the Scottish Track Championships. I wasn’t racing until the Saturday but I went down to the track on the Friday to watch the mens kilo race and the womens 500TT. This was a great night of racing in which Bruce Croall; came only two thousandths of a second off of Chris Hoy’s record kilo time.
The following day was a sprint competition accompanied by the threat of rain. With only the top eight riders from qualifying going through to the quarter finals, things were going to be tough against a field of quality riders. I qualified fifth which I was happy with; though felt I could’ve gone quicker.
Having progressed to the quarter finals I came up against Kevin Stewart, Science in Sport for the best of three rides. He was my opponent is the Scottish team sprint ‘man 1’, so I decided on the tactic of trying to get him to lead me out. He must have had the same idea, as race one and two turned into very slow and cagey affairs; testing one another’s track standing abilities to the limit, I tried to get the other rider in the front. I was unfortunately edged out in both rides; but I was happy with how the races went from a tactical point of view, simply, he was just too powerful! Traditional for the year, rain came with the forecast being the same all weekend, sadly the rest of the championships were abandoned. The results were declared some weeks later and I was given a fifth place.
The World Masters Track Championships took place this year at Manchester and was contested by over four hundred riders. The atmosphere and racing was very intense and the first couple of days saw Manchester Accident & Emergency visited several times. Day four was the 35-39 sprint competition and started with the usual 200m TT qualifying in which I posted the 11th fastest time out of twenty-four riders. Times were really close with only one hundredths between most riders and racing was going to be tight. Racing wise I was dumped out of the first round, although this wasn’t one of my main goals for the season, I was very disappointed.
All in all, quite a good year...