One year in Tasmania!

How time flies! I mean REALLY flies! I can’t believe it was a year ago I packed up my trusty Bike Box Alan along with the rest of my possessions and moved from England all the way to Tasmania, Australia. It was a big move for April and I to leave the life we had built there over the previous decade, but the time was right.

It’s been quite the sea change! :-) 

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Will taking time off from training make me slow?

A change is as good as a rest, but can a rest be good? Will taking some time off from training ruin your hard earned fitness?

Recently I had to take some time off the bike. Nine straight days of no cycling plus a further 5 days away from my road bike. In total I had a break of 14 days from training and my much loved road bikes. Two whole weeks of no training! I was a little concerned about losing all my hard earned fitness, but couldn’t really complain as it was a two week holiday in Vietnam! #firstworldproblems

Don’t mind me, I’ll just wait here and put my feet up for a while…

April and I tend to do a lot of walking on our breaks, seeing the sights and exploring by foot away from the tourist traps, plus we were mostly eating healthy and delicious Vietnamese food so it’s not like I was overindulging on sugary cocktails while lazing in a deck chair. For the final five days I had access to a hotel shopper bike – complete with cane basket – so did a few rides on that for fun.

So after two weeks away from training did I lose much fitness?

On my first road ride back I felt great! Refreshed and ready. Even though it was only a cafe ride I still managed some high Strava segment results and my legs felt strong. Back on Zwift I smashed my virtual Box Hill time by 30 seconds, adding 15 watts to my 8-minute power PB. My average power tracked similar to before the break too, so it’s safe to say the time off didn’t negatively impact my fitness much, if at all. :-)

Don’t worry, be happy. You’ll come back stronger than ever!

If you’re worried about taking a break from cycling and losing fitness, worry not my friends. Enjoy that holiday or time away from two wheels. Use it to recover, unwind, spend time with friends and family. Relax. After all, you’ve probably earned it!

Cycling Vietnam: Same same, but different!

Same same, but different. It’s a saying the Vietnamese use to describe the way they do things, how they live, what they’re selling, almost anything. It boils down to how their way of life is essentially the same as Westerners, but actually very, very different!

Same same, but different: The Vietnamese way VS the Western way.

Such is my experience of cycling in Vietnam. I had booked the wife and I into a new hotel on the beach in Hoi An that boasted free bikes for guest use. So in essence a main course of romantic getaway with a cheeky side of cycling. On arrival and seeing the fleet I knew this was going to be a challenge. I may have been riding a bike, but it was going to be very different to what I was used to!

A quick photo opportunity and break from the heat by the river.

No carbon, drop bars or fancy electric derailleurs here, just a solid 30kg of steel single speed utility bike. Same same, but different! But hey, all miles are good miles, right?

If you’ve ever been to Vietnam you’ll know that it’s hot. I mean already 30 degrees Celsius by 8am hot. Most mornings I’d be out the hotel door before 6am for a pre-breakfast ride in order to beat the heat. Our hotel “bike boy” who’s job it was to note down your room number and pump up the tyres was usually still fast asleep next to the bikes, so I’d quietly wheel one down the ramp and slip away onto the crazy Vietnamese streets for a blast. I’d get an hour’s ride along the beach road or looping through the Ancient City, racing school kids on eBikes and dodging scooter traffic before returning drenched in sweat and re-racking the bike to the surprised expression of all the staff. What a way to build an appetite for a hearty Vietnamese breakfast!

Along with these morning solo jaunts I also did quite a few hours of extra wheel time with the wife sat on the rear rack. I covered many more miles exploring the ancient town and local roads, wife perched happily behind me. Most people at the hotel took the free shuttle bus  but I preferred to pedal everywhere. 

Mid-ride coffee stop. Drip filtered onto condensed milk!

The hotel staff were amazed that we only ever took one bike between us. I am more confident negotiating the sometimes crazy and seemingly rule-devoid Vietnamese traffic. Hauling an extra 50kg up any slight incline may have been hard work (read: good training) but using  the one bike as opposed to April on her own bike is actually faster and also made a few women we passed on the way a little envious.

Even when pedalling into town with April on the back, if I saw another bicycle up the road I’d instinctively give chase. I guess I just can’t shake my roadie attitude! Once I was cheekily drafting a scooter loaded with an entire family. The mother got a little annoyed and waved me off, so I promptly dug deep and overtook them. I can’t help it!

At the local cycling cafe for more ride fuel (same same, but different!)

On one of my early morning rides I decided to throw in a cheeky Vietnamese 10 mile time trial. After a short warm-up I stomped on the pedals. Forearms resting on the bars, hands gripping basket for extra aero points I panted away in the 35+ degree morning heat. I chased down kids riding to school on their eBikes and the occasional scooter. A couple of locals on a moped pulled up alongside me and cheered, yelling “faster, faster!” in their best broken English. I obliged by putting the hammer down, legs spinning madly on the single speed. “35k!” He shouted, then “40k!” Bring it!

Judging what I thought was half way I pulled a u-turn and accelerated that Titanic hunk of iron back up to speed. Back past the hotel and a little extra for good measure. Checking the stats afterwards I’d managed the 10-mile section at a 17.5mph average speed. Fairly respectable on the rusty shopper!

By day three I was getting sick of the poorly maintained fleet. From what I could garner from various staff, the bikes were sourced second hand from China. Add to that the hotel bike maintenance boys’ skills were limited to barely pumping up a tyre and it was safe to say that many of the bikes had seen much better days – some were actually unsafe with bolts missing, brakes not working, child seats hanging off!

Made this one my own personal bike, the “best” of the bunch.

Rusted chains, bent metal, under-inflated tyres, missing bolts, you name it. So with some borrowed tools I fettled away for a couple of hours until I was happy. The job was made much more enjoyable as I was surrounded by beautiful young Vietnamese women (hotel staff) totally enamoured by my pro-level handyman skills! Those pretty young girls kept telling April how lucky she was! And yes, I am still milking that one!

Who is this crazy hotel guest holding a wrench rather than a cocktail?

A few adjustments to stop cranks rubbing on chain guards, 50psi in the tyres, scrape the dry rust off the chain and lube up with motor oil, whatever I could manage with limited resources. I worked my way through around eight of their bikes, after my magic touch they were like a different fleet! Team Sky would have been proud. Sure they were still tanks, but at least they were safe, silent and slightly more efficient tanks. Marginal gains shopper bike style!

By the end of the trip I’d racked up a decent amount of cycling time, seen the sights, spent quality time with the wife, taught the “bike boys” some proper maintenance skills and made great friends with the lovely hotel staff. It may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect relaxing or romantic holiday – or perfect cycling holiday – but I loved my time in Hoi An and will treasure the time I spent there.

Same same, but different!

Tandem Travels!

In almost a polar opposite to my recent power training post, I also absolutely love riding tandem bikes. It’s simply what cycling is all about once you strip away the fast ride politics, the endless number crunching, the Strava files and training plans. Being on a tandem is about getting out there and having fun just enjoying the journey together.

10003662_737741379590434_191494495161767985_oTotally pro…

My wife isn’t a sporting cyclist so riding a tandem allows us to cover much, much more ground than if we were on a bike each. Probably five times as much at least. All with a smile on her face and as you know – happy wife happy life!

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The photo above was taken during a laid back ride through the vineyards and lakes of Hungary a couple of years back. Such a beautiful country. There’s nothing quite like exploring pastures new by bicycle. Plus she can take scenic photos, read maps or guidebooks, pass up glasses of wine, etc. All from the back seat! #winning 

Sometimes though the tandems on offer at the local cycle hire shop are not exactly high tech machines! This particular one below we hired in Slovenia. I had visions of it busting in half with any out-of-the saddle climbs! It did the job though and got us to Croatia and back – even though it was close to 40 degrees C that day. As you can see from the photo I am resting in the shade after some hard graft on one rickety looking contraption…

A hot day for a tandem ride on one strange looking machine.

Sometimes us tandem cyclists even travel in packs! One of my favourite tandem rides was the inaugural Woking CC Tandem Club Ride, where six of us tandem enthusiasts took to the quieter roads of Surrey and Berkshire in search of the finest tea and scones on the county. It was a fantastic day out on two wheels. Needless to say if I had a little more storage space (and Tassie wasn’t so lumpy) I’d buy a tandem tomorrow!

1781515_737741079590464_6114498468907289941_oWoking CC Tandem Club Ride – Outside the cafe stop in Windsor Great Park.

Bike packing like a boss

So you’ve got a fancy road bike, you’ve racked up some training miles and now you want to go explore pastures new. Maybe even tick off a few epic Cols. Well unless you’re hiring out there, you’re going to need to pack your bike!

img_2732In my opinion there’s no substitute for a proper hard case bike box. Sure soft bags are lighter and usually slightly smaller, but if you want the best peace of mind for your (probably quite expensive) road bike then it’s GOT to be a hard case box. Nobody wants to arrive at their destination to find a snapped derailleur or worse, a crushed carbon fibre frame!

My favourite is the Bike Box Alan. It’s got plenty of padding, Velcro straps to hold everything in place, anti-crush pole plus loads of extra space for all your other gear such as helmet, clothes or nutrition. While not the cheapest and at a shade under 11kg not the lightest, in every other way the Bike Box Alan really is a cracker. Mine has protected my bike when flying across the globe and also when moving house.

img_2734Foam protective layer sits between frame and wheels. Note the anti-crush pole.

Yes, I bought a bright pink one! ;-) It’s taken some hard knocks along the way and there’s plenty of scratches to the outer case, but everything inside has always arrived in perfect order exactly how I packed it. You can’t ask more than that.

Reunited with my TT bike!

After three months at sea packed up lovingly in a cardboard box inside a shipping container, my Planet X Stealth time trial bike has finally arrived safe and sound to me in Tasmania! Oh how I’ve been waiting! I put it back together last night, adjusted everything millimetre perfect and then spent an unhealthy amount of time admiring all that beautiful carbon fibre.

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I took it for it’s inaugural Australian spin earlier today. It was great to finally get back down into that TT tuck and purr along the blacktop upon that carbon frame and 60mm deep carbon wheels! I even searched out a few flat roads around Hobart Airport to get those wheels humming.

The legs could do with some work after too much time off, but the smile factor of the ride was certainly off the chart. #happydays