Where Do I Start, Where Do I Begin?

There’s a thread on a well-known internet forum congratulating the Drag2Zero boys on their astonishing start to the season, with particular emphasis on the violent destruction of the National 25 Mile Time Trial Competition record last weekend. It needed a 30mph+ ride from each of the 3 counters, and then some.

Drag2Zero are a racing team; a hand-picked group of extraordinarily committed and fast cyclists. This year they added both Jeff Jones and Matt Bottrill to their roster. Behind the team is Simon Smart who used to work in formula one. He is a scientist with a specialism in aerodynamics; an expert at reducing drag through the use of a wind tunnel. Here’s Simon in full flow:

He’s a very nice chap. I met him at a 10 last year. My instinct was to ask him what equipment gives you the biggest gains for the smallest amount of money, or what helmet I should use, but it’s a useless question because the dynamics involved mean it’s different for the individual.

The thread congratulates the team on their results, and also gives a lot of credence to the notion of wind-tunnel testing. Personally, i think it’s the thin end of a very thick wedge; one which starts with a phenemonal amount of hard work and a strict, unyeilding training regime, before going through the right equipment, and the getting of a coach, then finally ending up with the tunnel as one of the last areas to achieve gains. I’ve seen the level of work put in by riders like Jeff, and it is staggering. He’s been riding for years in the colours of Chippenham and District, making progress year on year until last season where he won both the BBAR and broke the 12 hour national record.

I train hard and i have some fairly decent equipment. Occasionally i have ridden set distances relatively quickly. I am fairly fast for a club cyclist. However, i don’t have a powermeter, or a coach, and most of my really spangly bike-porn is second hand. My disc wheel is a case in point, it came in at around £300 – not a small sum, but minuscule in comparison to the price of a new zipp sub-9 with a powertap. The cost of a wind tunnel session is £900. For most people who have reached the point where they have considered, or even taken part in tunnel-testing, it’s likely to have been at the thin end, and they are often athletes with a genuine sporting pedigree, despite their status in a predominantly amateur sport.

At some point you have to draw the line, but where that line sits is very difficult to ascertain. It’s clearly linked to how much disposable income you have, and how much you are prepared to ‘buy time’ in pursuit of an amateur sport or all-consuming hobby. I think it also always comes back to one thing; prior to making any expensive investment of this nature it’s probably best to ensure you’ve fine-tuned the inexpensive things first: namely your personal fitness.

R25/3L: Not a Fast Day (although quick enough)

Today involved a schlep over to Glynneath to ride the superfast Welsh course. Fingers were crossed for a float day, but it didn’t materialise. Conditions were certainly better than earlier in the week, a bit chilly possibly, but the sun was out and it wasn’t blowing a gale. Small mercies. My wounds have also healed, just about, and generally I felt ready to ride.

There were a number of BSCC riders on the startsheet; Allen Janes, Dan Kempe, George Keene, Andy Legge, Yan Keene and me. On paper we had a strong 3 rider team and there was some gentle talk earlier in the week of challenging for the club record. I was quite eager to give it a go, not having managed to get any club records as yet. I think Andy also liked the idea of getting his name up on the honours board alongside his dad. Equally, I didn’t want to curse it by admitting it might be on the cards. The target was 2 hours 43 minutes and 49 seconds which roughly works out as three 54 minute rides.

There were also another outfit on the day, the Drag2Zero fastboys, who were looking to bag a record. Their target was a slightly quicker 2 hours 28 minutes and 33 seconds for the National Competition Record. They had 4 possible riders, such are the riches available to Simon Smart’s crack team of aerodynamicists.

Racing out to the turn was a complete blast; i topped out at 46mph on the slight downhill at the beginning and averaged 32mph for about 12 miles. This is a full three and half minutes quicker than the same section when i last raced on this course. I sensed the gentle push of a kindly tailwind and gamely crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t come back to slap me in the face after the turn. At one point i looked down and saw i was doing 36mph. On the flat. Without too much bother and nowhere near max heart rate. I remember thinking ‘this must be sort of slightly what it’s like to be Bradley Wiggins’. Of course, if Bradley Wiggins was riding he’d probably be doing 46mph at that point, so i was a bit wide of the mark, but you can see my point.

I went round the convoluted turn and back down onto the main road, at which point the wind immediately began to molest me and do anything and everything it could to hinder my progress. The average speed dropped slowly and painfully in tiny increments, and with it my hopes of various achievements slipped through my fingers. First to disappear was the club record of 50.53, although i may have been being a bit optimistic to think i could grab it anyway. Then i realised a 51 might also not be on the cards which meant i only had two things left: a PB and the counter for the team prize. Right at the last the PB disappeared out of reach; i missed it by 6 seconds. I’ll be honest here, as i crossed the line i didn’t shout out my number, i just swore, loudly, in a surly and unpleasant manner. This is the trouble with chasing times – when you don’t get them there’s not often a whole lot else to be thrilled about.

By the time i got back to the HQ i felt better. It was still a 28.6mph average and times in general weren’t that quick. However, the other BSCC riders had turned in some cracking rides. Andy managed a PB by over a minute, a 53.41, and Dan turned in a very tidy 56.20. With my time of 52.20 we had nailed the club record by over a minute. It’s a really great result that etches our names into the club’s history. Meanwhile, the aeronauts managed to dial in a 2.24.46. Matt Bottrill managed a frightening 46.47 for a 32mph average. I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of time he averaged out to the turn, but i’m guessing it had to be up near a 40mph average. He’s a postman; he wasn’t riding his work bike though.

In personal terms, it feels good to be riding fast and to be part of a team that has achieved something lasting. We might even have another crack at it later in the year…

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