cycling in the wet

cycling in the wet -precautions to take

I had my first wet ride of 2014 today and it got me thinking: Riding in the wet is very different to riding in the dry. I am aware a lot of people have trouble with this and I myself have had my fair share of issues with it.

vision in the wet

You can’t see the road surface so well in the wet, be water on the road, or on your glasses or in your eyes. Things might be hidden. In the Tour de San Luis in 2012 we got tremendous hail right on the first day. With about an inch of water on the road, which was in fact a motorway I couldn’t see there was a little step between the hard shoulder and the main carriage way, this and the fact that this step was covered in that smooth tarmac they lay over cracks and joints meant I slipped an fell. I’d suggest never removing your glasses, mucky glasses beats wheel spray in eyes any day. I’d suggest getting to know the way a particular road system is before racing on it too… If you can, reconnoitre the course.

tour de san luis
Tour de San Luis 2012

cycling caps -get one for the cold and wet

The cycling cap is very useful, even when worn under a helmet. It keeps you a good bit warmer, even in the wet. Also some people find (I’m not one of them) the the bill on the front of the cap helps keep water off their eyes.

road surface, oil

Here in the Algarve we have a problem: The roads are very smooth. This is great in the dry of course, but in the wet they’re lethal, and no time is worse that after a prolonged dry spell. During a dry spell, oil and grease for cars, trees and the tarmac itself accumulates on the road surface. This isn’t an issue in the dry, except in the wet it comes loose and become slick as ice.

painted surfaces

Those bumpy, gritty, heavily cambered roads in the UK might not be comfortable for cycling, but they’re far safer. However at junctions (and cycle paths ironically) the roads are sometimes painted and that paint is super slippery in the wet. The lines on a road or pedestrian crossings are very slippery!

cobbles

Cobbles tend to be more slippery than tarmac, and their edges can cause the tire to slip provoking a fall. Watch out for ‘polished’ stone cobbles, these are hard to walk on while wet, yet alone cycle on. Here they’re used as the white in pedestrian crossing. It takes longer to slow down on cobbles.

traffic and stopping distance

Bikes aren’t as quick at slowing down as cars, and this can cause problems in the wet. Also if your rims are wet you will need at least an extra 2 m to stop as you need the first pass of the wheel to clear the water of the rim and allow the breaks to bite.

lean angle

I’m not sure if there’s been any study on this, but obviously your lean angle counter the centrifugal force while cornering. The friction between the tire and the ground is reduced in the vertical plane and increased in the horizontal plane. So that, added to the already reduced friction can make it difficult to stay up right. Many cyclist believe trying to keep the bike vertical works… But I suspect this doesn’t result in more speed through the corner. Changing trajectory on the other hand, so that you’re leaning as little as possible works. Wider is safer.

tire pressure

In theory this isn’t a factor as the coefficient of friction remains the same, it’s a constant in both cases (high pressure or low pressure), as the force acting against the surface is the same… It’s a hard one to believe.

From experience I’d say to run the tire at the stated pressure no matter what. Run the pressure in the upper range if your heavy >70kg, or lower range if you’re light. No trick here I’m afraid, despite being one of those cyclists that would be taking air out of the tires on a rainy day.

tread

I used to race on excellent Vitoria Corsa tubular tires. The problem with these is that they were lethal in the wet. They were pumped up to the max to prevent punctures. These were absolute rubbish in the wet and I think this was due to have a no tread on the sides, so if you leant in a lot they’d give. Tread helps in the wet.

The second half of the Volta a Portugal -cycling tips from the road

Volta a Portugal -cycling tips from the road

The second half of the Volta a Portugal went badly for me. I was let down by several factors, mostly health problems. Aggravating factors were a high workload and of course tough psychological factors associated with a sudden drop in form. Yet there are lessons to take away and that you can use when things don’t quite go according to plan…

As such this post deals -mostly- with psychological aspects of racing and doing sport when things aren’t  going well.

Keep positive

There’s are certain things which are out of our control as athletes. Bad luck, health and the actions of other people are out of our control. We can deal with the rest and attenuate the possible ill effects of the factor out of our control. This is possible with thorough preparation. The more you prepare, the more details you take care of, the less likely things are to go wrong. ‘Bad luck’ is unavoidable, but you can certainly affect how much damage it does.

It’s important to keep a positive outlook for as long as possible during an event as -some times- opportunity shows itself when you less expect it and sudden recoveries do happen. It’s better to tough it out a bit and realize that your mind plays tricks on you.

Keep positive
keeping positive can be difficult when our form fails us.

Preparation.

Preparation for an event goes beyond training. I mentioned in the previous paragraph that bad luck could be attenuated and an example of that is getting sick. You get sick because you contract an illness. Commonly a cold or something. You can minimize the likelihood of this happening with basic hygiene, avoiding places like school or public spaces where there’s a higher likelihood of picking something up. Avoiding going too deep in training -you want to go as fast as possible in the race, not in training just before it. You don’t need to train to the limit, you need to perform at the limit… There are many things to get right in the run up to an event.

Things to consider are:

diet:

health:


Training:

rest:

The pyramid of performance.

A good performance in sport is based on a solid base that includes many factors:

When you’re free to focus your energy freely on your sport and training complement you’ll lifestyle you’ll have the conditions to perform optimally.

Final Note

When an event doesn’t go as planned, it’s important to look at it pragmatically. For example if you’re sick, is it a good idea to continue? Is it worth taking certain risks? These questions and many others have to be answered with a cold mind. Factors such as effort and time invested just have to be ignored.

When analysing a performance in an event or even an entire season, give it a lot of time. You’ll never be able to be objective in assessing your performance in the heat of the moment.

road racing cycling tips right from the Volta a Portugal

Volta a Portugal -road racing cycling tips

A quick intro to the Volta

I’m riding the Volta a Portugal for the third time. This is a special race, it’s called a ‘Grandíssima’ by the Spanish and Portuguese riders. It’s also called the ‘Hell of the south’ by the occasional northern European that strays this way. It’s 1000 miles, a prologue, a time trial a rest day and nine road stages covering the harsh, mountainous center of the north and cetre of Portugal. Temperatures can soar well above 40ºC at certain points. It’s regarded by some as a good staging ground for the grand tours, with teams like Garmin often attending to train up riders like Dan Martin into GC riders. Outside of the grand tours (Tour, Giro & Vuelta a España), it’s considered the hardest race on the international calendar. I hope you find some of my road racing cycling tips ueful!

Anxiety & complacency

The week before the race is important and a lot of mistakes can be made. Complacency is the usual cause. You’ve trained well, your fit, slim and everything is okay. You begin to ease of a bit. It’s important to ease of a bit, but you’re used to ‘living hard’ and begin to worry about stupid things. While it’s important not to let loose, it’s also important to relax. The best way to relax before an event (if you have the opportunity) is to do something constructive such as recointer the event course, study your opponents, plan a coping strategy. Avoid negative influences, such as nervous, negative people. Plan a training holiday or training camp.

Coping strategy

Most people used to high stress environments develop coping strategies. These can be simple, such as a countdown calendar. Habitual, such as eating times, peculiar and somewhat obsessive compulsive behaviour, such as how you’re bag is organised. Bullying; some people unfortunately project their angst onto others negatively, thankfully not on my team! Playing; an important aspect of a healthy team environment.

Personally I have divide the race into various blocks according to the type of stress I’ll experience. For example, the first few days where no real riding is done (TV interviews, prologue, travel), I know there will be a lot of people suddenly crowding round and causing stress. The first stage or two I know there are a lot of nervous riders in the peloton and things are stressful. And so on. So I’m prepared for the extra stresses, and allowed to concentrate on the race while I’m racing.

Realistic goals

My role in the race has been as a roulleur in the past two editions of the race and I’ve had a lot of success just ‘doing my job’. This year I think I’ll be let loose more often to go in break aways, so things could develop differently. It’s important not to get ahead of myself at this point and think of GC, or even stage victories, because frankly, there are many unknowns. I’ve got a specific role within the team that at least in this race, might leave the possibility of stage victories, but not GC since there are better climbers on the team that in principle have better chances.

This means accepting -for right or for wrong- the decisions of the manager. This mentality and way of working has kept me in the job for six years and made my team extremely successful.

It’s a typical mistake of inexperienced people to think they’re ‘superman’ or stronger than they actually are. The problem is a tough race like the Volta puts each in his place!

When to attack?

This is a tricky one. I attacked on stage 1 as I was free to do so. It was 50km from the end, which with the head wind at the time made the effort very difficult. Also I expected to be given the benefit of the doubt by the pursuing teams, because they had previously let several breaks get big leads. The effort earnt me the combativity prize, so reward/effort was balanced.

Surpise win for the combativity prize
‘Coach’ having won the combativity prize :-p

Attacking is based on your own strengths, opportunity and how the race is going, generally it’s not wise to attack when the race is going faster than you can sustain by yourself -kinda obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people miss this point!

More to come on the rest day!

descending technique road cycling -how to improve

suggestions to improve your descending technique for road cycling

This past Tour de France we saw the hopes of the Thibaut Pinot come to and end due to a fear of descending read about it on cycling news. We also saw Bradley Wiggins have trouble descending in the Giro, read about it on the Telegraph. Anyone who says they don’t get scared at some time racing a road bike is lying. The sport is fraught with very real danger and only only keeping a cool head, and having experience can one actually avoid incident.

One key point though: A bicycle, is as safe as you ‘drive’ it. Racing bikes have good stopping power (when you know how) and can corner excellently, so much so that in races the support cars can’t really keep up on the descents. You need to trust the bike and keep in good order

descending technique road cycling
even the best get scared

It’s possible with of course to minimize risks on descents to such an extent that crashes become only freak incidents.

I started cycling at 19 while at Loughborough University. I used to do Duathlon and had a lot of success (big engine) and zero bike skills. In Duathlon it was easy to get away with having minimal cycling skills, but in road racing you need to be excellent at riding a bike.

The first training camp -link camps I did with my first cycling team was in January 2006. It was my one and only year as an under-23 and the training camp was joint with the professional team of the same club.

braking

Something no one had told me till that day was to favour the front brake over the rear. I used to brake with the rear brake, because I was scared of ‘going of the handle bars’. That, in and of itself was one of the most useful bits of advice anyone ever told me. If you look at a car or motorbike, you’ll see the front brakes are bigger than the rear. In cycling the front brake produces 70% of the braking force and is key to controlling the bike.

braking in corners

Braking into corners is quite important, it momentarily shifts the centre of mass over the front wheel while you turn, increasing stability.

There a myth that ‘you can’t brake mid corner’ this isn’t quite true, you can, you just have to alter your line (trajectory) through the corner as you change velocity. This allows you to ‘scrub’ speed off where necessary. In the wet, be careful with this trick…

Caring as much speed as possible is important.

trajectories

Trajectories in cycling follow pretty much the same logic as in motor sport. diagram however When riding in a peloton it’s not possible to take an optimal line and so getting accustomed to going round corners wide, or cutting in is essential. Reading other peoples trajectories is important too. Generally covering one side of the road or another is important, so that you don’t have to deal with riders unexpectedly cutting your line. These edge can also provide opportunities to move forward as you can carry more speed than people towards the middle and outside of the curve.

cornering trajectories
good/bad trajectories -lack braking points (I’ll try and cover this later; subscribe)

centre of mass

Keep balanced on the bike with everything aligned, don’t try and hang of the side (bicycles aren’t motorbikes), or keep the bike straight, lean in with the bike.

center of mass
keep your centre of mass in line with the bike

the limits of grip

In normal dry conditions, it’s very, very hard to over come the grip provided by the tires. However, water, oil, dusk significantly reduce the friction between the tire and the road. In normal conditions it’s not something you need to think about much.

eyes up the road

‘The body follows the eyes’, look ahead, read the road as far as possible. This is hard for beginners who focus on what’s around them.

reflexes

Your reflexes can take can of what’s happening right around you, like avoid pot holes and other cyclists. Conscious thought will throw a spanner in the work though and as soon as higher consciousness gets involved, mistakes get made. Just avoid, don’t think how to avoid. This is very hard to learn and as far as I’m aware, only possible to learn with practice.

don’t be stupid

Of course bravado and plain stupidity are a sure way to find yourself in trouble on a descent. Even on closed road in a road race, margin of error must be given when entering a corner. The only time you can take it straight to the limit is when you know the road and know there is no traffic, or you’ve seen a bike/car go round the corner okay just before you.

Never ‘race’ down descents on open roads, keep safe.

keep you’re equipment in excellent condition

Check:

fear and expectation

I’m no psychologist, but in cycling keeping a cool head and calm seems to be the solution to not crash. Simples ;-).

final note

If you’re looking to get started improving descending, get mountain biking, learn to ‘bunny hop’, play with your bike and try to find a club with a cycling school, set up little obstacle courses, round cones, pick things of the ground, all while cycling… You’ll get a lot better.