Kirkstone Pass and The Struggle

Being from Cumbria and the Lake District you may expect that I have cycled many, if not all, of the Lake District passes.

Given that I started cycling a year or so before I moved away means that, unfortunately, I have not. I am keen to do all of them, if I can; as I have a base up there thanks to my Parents living up there. So I will be ticking them (slowly) off.

This June, when I was visiting the Parents, I took the bike up and decided to do a loop from Penrith over to Windermere and Ambleside. This meant I would be taking in Kirkstone Pass (which I have done before), down the A592 to Troutbeck Bridge, round to Ambleside, up The Struggle to Kirkstone again and then back down around the lake.

The Struggle
The Struggle

The route started out in Penrith and twisted along banks of Lake Ullswater through Pooley Bridge to Glenridding. The views along the lake road are stunning and it is relatively flat. It is better to head out earlier due to the tourist traffic but the views reward it.

Once you are through Glenridding you hit Patterdale and then Hartsop. Hartsop is where the climb begins properly with Brotherswater on your right. As you follow the road snaking along the valley Kirkstone Pass suddenly comes into view; in all of it’s glory.

When you look up Kirkstone, two things strike you:

  1. This looks steep and long.
  2. If we were on the continent this would have multiple hair pins instead of being a road that literally goes straight up.
Kirkstone Pass
The road that doesn’t have hairpins.

The road signs as you begin the climb of Kirkstone show 20% to be the gradient when ascending but I think that is a touch optimistic as the Garmin didn’t go above 16%. Either way though…that’s still steep; as you can see from the pic above. The pic was taken mid-descent after being held up by a car. Definitely worth it for the picture though!

I like the climb from Hartsop to the top of Kirkstone for a couple of reasons:

The first being that it is the best side of the climb to take in the magnificent views. The climb is quite open and there are excellent views of Brotherswater at the bottom, the beck that feeds Brotherswater to the right of the climb and the scree filled fells either side.

The second reason would be that the end game is always visible. There are no nasty little surprises around corners waiting. I find that this really helps with pacing the effort.

Having said that the hardest part of the climb is towards the end, particularly the section from Red Screes car park to the summit, so make sure that you keep something in reserve.

As you crest the top of the climb there are views available out towards Lake Windermere and the Kirkstone Pass Inn on the left.

Lake Windermere in the distance...behind the bike
Lake Windermere in the distance…behind the bike

I then decided to descend via the Windermere road rather than The Struggle, as I would be attempting that later in the day. The descent via the A592 is a nice bit of respite after Kirkstone but the road isn’t in the greatest condition so there is a lot of road buzz. The descent is pretty safe and not technical so it is possible to work up a good speed when descending it. Using it as the ascent to Kirkstone Pass rather than the The Struggle is the easier option too as the gradients are relatively shallow. I also prefer the views from this ascent when comparing it to the The Struggle.

Arriving at the bottom of the descent, it is then a case of following the lake road round to Ambleside. Ambleside is a very bustling little tourist town, nestled on the edge of Lake Windermere. There are plenty of nice cafes to drop; but most importantly: Ambleside is where the ascent of The Struggle up to Kirkstone begins.

Waterhead, Ambleside
Waterhead, Ambleside

The Struggle begins properly at the round about on Smithy Brow, which then merges with Kirkstone Road. I must admit, I wasn’t 100% certain what to expect with the climb. Being born and bred in Penrith I knew what The Struggle was and how steep it is from when I have driven it; but nothing ever prepares you for when you actually tackle a climb on a bike.

Leaving Ambleside and it is immediately steep. At this point, I was thinking “what am I doing?”. However, once I settled in it became easier.

The climb itself is full of peaks and troughs (the widget for the segment is below):

The Struggle

As you can see there are three(ish) troughs and 4 peaks so the key to the climb is take the first part steady and then plug away. When I reached the top of the third peak I thought I was pretty much there but then I saw the final peak, which led to the main road and pub.

The final stretch of the climb is possibly the steepest, it certainly felt that way anyway! It is a real slog to get up to to the summit; and to top it all off there is a double switch back at around 14% or 15% just to remind you who’s boss.

Once at the top there is just the descent from Kirkstone to Ullswater to go. This affords great views of Lake Ullswater and Brotherswater again. I’ve never managed to get a clear run on this descent, there’s always been a car/caravan or LGV tootling down. As it happens I stopped due to the traffic to take in the scenery and grab a picture.

Down Kirkstone Towards Ullswater
Down Kirkstone Towards Ullswater

I was lucky with the weather as it was nice and warm with very little wind. Almost ideal conditions. I’m looking forward to getting back up in 2019 to take advantage and do the ride again; along with a few other passes.

Carnac Notus Evo Road Helmet

I have been using this helmet since the beginning of April (I think) so it has been put through it’s paces; as much as a helmet can be.

My previous helmet was a Kask Rapido and it is still in good nick but I fancied a change to something more…aero.

What with all the marketing lingo and jargon about “aero”…I finally fell for the marketing and bit the bullet. I consulted the internet and looked at the Kask Protone, Specialized Evade, Giro Vanquish (minus the plastic goggles) and the Met Rivale.

I then stumbled across the Carnac Notus on Planet X available at the following link: https://www.planetx.co.uk/i/q/HECANOTEVO/carnac-notus-evo-road-helmet . When I found this I (and my wallet) felt duty bound to purchase and review it.

The Notus, as I’ll now refer to it, was purchased from Planet X and I paid £24.99 for it. I believe on their website it has been seen for £50 or even £75. However, for as long as I’ve noticed it I can’t recall it being above £24.99.

Carnac Helmets
Many different colours!

It arrived as expected and as you can see from the picture it has a matte finish. I went for the red and black with white ascents. It is also available in black, green and black, Holdsworth orange, an Astana looking blue and white. From the frontal view, below, there are 5 vents on the front of the helmet and then 4 smaller air intakes on the roof of the helmet.

cof
Unboxed

The Notus also has three vents at the rear to act as exhausts allowing the air to be channelled through the the helmet and out of the exhausts. It aims to do this in the most efficient way possible to reduce the drag that the air flow creates.

In terms of weight the Notus is listed as 300g for the 58cm – 61cm size (large). I purchased the 56cm – 58cm and the weight of that is 277g according to the electronic weighing scales (of truth). Within the helmet it did list a weight of 255g (+/-10g) so it is a touch over the claimed weight. To put that in context; I think the Kask Rapido is around 245g. In real terms that is a negligible weight difference and in all honesty I couldn’t tell the difference when I actually was wearing the helmet.

I used the Notus all through the British Summer, which was surprisingly toasty this year. I found the ventilation to be more than adequate during those balmy 25 – 30 degree C days and wasn’t craving the extra vents that the Rapido has.

The adjustment on the Notus is also very good with an adjustment dial on the rear of the helmet like most major brands and models. This offers around 100mm of travel which should be ample adjustment for just about anyone. The Notus also has anti-bacterial pads as all helmets do these days.

Safety rating wise, the Notus conforms to CE EN 1078 CPSC; which is the standard within the EU I believe. It does not have MIPS as some higher end model helmets do have. However, given the price I would not expect it to come equipped with MIPS and I’m happy with the safety standards it adheres. Given that the UK is still within the EU it could not conform to that standard.

The only negative points I can give is that I like to wear the helmet quite tightly and unlike the Kask Rapido, it can leave a “V” on my forehead due to the pressure exuded on the anti bacterial pads in the front of the helmet. This subsides after about 15 minutes but you would look a little silly if you removed it at a cafe and you appeared with these marks on your head when ordering from the Waiter/Waitress.

As you may notice from the pictures above; the Carnac Notus Evo bears a striking resemblance  to the Specialized Evade helmet. It is almost identical. As we all know, imitation is best form of flattery but I can’t imagine that Specialized will have been overly pleased that their design has been so closely replicated.

As has been widely reported the Evade is very aerodynamic. Planet X doesn’t offer any concrete claims of how aerodynamic the Notus is. I also do not have a wind tunnel so cannot test against the Kask Rapido I have. I think it would perhaps be best to err on the side of caution regarding how many watts it may save you. I feel that it is more aerodynamic than the Rapido but could not say with any amount of confidence that it “would save me “x” amount of watts”.

To conclude then, I think the Carnac Notus Evo helmet is great value from Planet X. It conforms to the relevant EU safety standards and there will be some aero gains to be gleaned from using it over a conventional helmet; no matter how small they may be. If you feel you want an alternative to the Evade due to cost then this would be my go to helmet.

 

2018 so far…

2018 is motoring on by! (Excuse the pun, motor doping reference there). We are now in July and that means we are more than halfway through the year and Le Tour will soon be beginning.

Firstly a quick round up of my year: I did have a VeloViewer account to track my up miles on a week to week basis versus the previous year. However, this became rather addictive and sucked the fun out of my cycling as I felt this kind of guilt (in a weird way) for having a day of chill and falling behind the mileage. Therefore, I let that membership expire! Anyway; as of writing I have ridden 2038 miles. I aim to do 4000 miles or more a year so I think I am on target for that.

My big year goal was The Struggle.

Let’s just say that it didn’t go quite to plan.

The run up and the training went quite well but with 3 weeks to go: the dreaded common cold hits. This means that 2 weeks off the bike ensue as all energy is sapped. This put an end to the training and I was due to do a 70 mile ride on the first weekend of illness and then an 85 mile ride on the second weekend of illness with a nice taper for the following week until the event on the following Sunday.

Now, as I’m not the most patient person in the world I tried to work on through the cold to begin with but this just ended up digging a bigger hole for myself. I began to feel even worse and come the week of the event I decided to do a midweek ride after work. I think the guilt of not doing anything kicked in. Suffice to say; I felt shit the next day and was still coughing stuff up. The Saturday of the event (The Struggle being the next day) it was a case of getting the bike cleaned and setup. I took it on a short test ride of 20 miles to check that nothing needed adjusting and to open the legs.

I am glad to report that everything on the bike was A+. The legs and lungs however: C – and that was being generous.

Hopes weren’t overly high for the next day and my Fiancé thought that I should abort before I started. She was away though and getting back after lunch on the Sunday so I wasn’t listening to that advice.

The alarm was set for 5am and I got up feeling not so bad. I went down to the start area for 7.15am and started at 7.30am. It was quite a hot day but importantly there was no rain and the forecast looked clear for the day.

Struggle Start 2018
Struggle Start 2018

Off we go…

Struggle 2018
My ride and early finish.

 

Unfortunately, as you can see I managed 60 miles before my lungs and head said no more. The heart and the legs were still keen but I was coughing up plenty of gunk still and, although I was was taking on plenty of fluids/food, I had a cracking headache. It got to the point where I was coughing up so much stuff and had a cracking headache, despite the fluids and food, with 50 miles to go that I thought it was erring on the side of stupid to carry on in the heat whilst feeling like that.

I felt pretty good up to the top of Malham Cove and, although there wasn’t a great deal of PR’s on Strava, I was riding sensibly and within myself. As you can see, the average speed was 14.6mph which wasn’t too bad as once you get to the top of Park Rash there is a nice long descent…unfortunately I didn’t get that lovely descent as I turned back to get picked up when I was about 3 quarters of the way up Park Rash.

Going up Park Rash
Going up Park Rash

From my previous Struggle post; when I completed it, you can see the savageness of the climbs as they are all set out in that blog post (https://thefairlyaveragecyclist.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/the-struggle-2016/) so check them out there.

Park Rash pain
Face of pain

I was running a Semi Compact (52/36) chainset but I changed it to a compact (50/34) prior to The Struggle and I am very glad I did as I would not have got as far as I did had I not changed it. It’s amazing how much a 2 tooth difference can make as I was sceptical having used a semi compact for the previous 18 months on both my summer and winter bikes that I wouldn’t feel the benefit. When doing a ride like this though, you really can feel the difference, for the better.

On this ride, barring the first 5 miles I was pretty much on my own. I managed to get chatting to a lady on the descent from Greenhow until Grassington and she was seriously quick. I think she may be doing the women’s National RR this weekend so good luck to her. She was from the Barrow Wheelers in Cumbria.

So yes; it was not to be this year and it’s always hard aiming for something and hoping to attain it; having done all the training that you can but falling short. It’s a kick in the gut not to complete it and as I am somebody whom is very competitive I am harder on myself when I fail then anyone else. However, I will be back to attempt it again and hopefully complete it in under 7 hours!

There is no question I have become a better cyclist but the climbs are still as tough. You just go up them quicker; so for the rest of this year I shall be adding to the miles and enjoying the summer.

Greenhow
Summer miles are underway

Review – Rapha Core Jersey Short Sleeve £55.00 (Sale Price)

As I have mentioned in my previous reviews: I buy all of my own kit.

Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone reading this review that this is my first piece of Rapha apparel that I am reviewing.

Put simply this is down to cost; not through any brand snobbery.

I actually purchased this jersey (Link: https://www.rapha.cc/gb/en/shop/core-jersey/product/COR01XXYEL) just after Christmas 2017 as my Brother and his partner gave me a Rapha voucher which was very kind and appreciated. I had always wanted to purchase some Rapha kit to see what all the hype was about but with buying a house and saving for the wedding I always had to look at the more financially sensible options.

If you haven’t clicked the link above the jersey is the Rapha Core Jersey in their “chartreuse” colour; which to you and me is Hi-Vis Yellow. At the time of purchase the jersey was on-sale for £55 + shipping. This was reduced from £75 owing to the Christmas sales. As I had a £50 Rapha voucher; this was the lucky garment that was purchased.

Rapha Core Action

Shipping, as you would imagine from a company like Rapha, was flawless and it appeared on the right date. Within the parcel there was obviously the jersey and also the shipping instructions. The shipping instructions and receipt came enclosed within an envelope. So far, so very highbrow compared to Wiggle, CRC, Decathlon, Merlin and Sigma Sports.

Unpacking the jersey and it feels very soft and stretchy. There is very nice detailing on the Rapha logo and the band on the left hand sleeve. This band is actually quite subtle, as is all of the Rapha branding on the jersey. I am a fan of subtle branding as oppose to in your face branding. The seams on the pockets and the zipper on the valuables pocket are all expertly stitched, as you would expect. There were also no frayed edges or frayed stitches.

In terms of the sizing I ordered a medium and it came out just right. The arm length and also the torso length of the jersey were excellent. Rapha market this jersey, along with the Brevet range, as utilising the “Regular Fit” as oppose to the “Race Fit” in their more performance orientated apparel. I find this to be quite roomy when in the riding position, hunched over the bars and this means that there is a bit of spare fabric that can ride up slightly.

Rapha Fit

The pocket sizes are very reasonable and quite deep. However, their positioning is just plain wrong. Yes, they are on the back (which is obviously where they should be), however they are too far up the back which means that it is not easy to get things in the pockets when packing before a ride if you are wearing the jersey. If you struggle to get things in when packing the pockets pre-ride; then I can atest that it is just as difficult to get things out of the pockets if you are on the bike and reaching for a gel, for instance. If you are stopped and off the bike then it is easier but I don’t want to be stopping everytime I want to get something out of a jersey pocket. The valuables pocket is a useful pocket. However, it is a squeeze to get my Huawei P9 in it but for keys, credit cards and coins it’s fine.

So now for the not so good: as mentioned; the pockets. Not a fan at all due to the ridiculous placement of them. I am not double jointed in my shoulders or elbows; maybe if I was I’d find them easier to access. Along with that though the front hem doesn’t have a gripper which means that the jersey rides up at the front so I need to pull it when going from the drops to the “hands on the flats for climbing” position. Coupled with that; when you try to zip the jersey back up, if it has been unzipped for ventilation, then the jersey rides up as there is nothing for it grip when pulling the zip up. This can be quite an annoyance.

Conclusion:

This is a quality garment in terms of workmanship and materials. The breathability is good and the fit is excellent. If ever so slightly coming up on the larger side. However, it is let down by a number of small yet essential details such as the pocket placement and lack of front hem gripper. As this is the case I don’t think I would be happy to pay the full retail price of £75. To be honest, had I not had the voucher I don’t think I would have been happy to pay the £55 sale price.

In short…probably a 6.5/10 (no voucher and sale price) or a 7/10 (with voucher and sale price)

Review: Lifeline Heart Rate Transmitter

Training.

No matter which way way you look at it you need something to be able to measure your efforts against. Be that cadence, heart rate or power.

Unfortunately I am not lucky enough to have a Power Meter so I measure by heart rate (zones) and cadence. I find this method, although not precise, gives me enough scope to train by.

As this is the case it is essential I have a heart rate monitor; so after my Garmin HRM died after 4 years of impeccable service I decided to purchase the Lifeline HRM from Chain Reaction Cycles.

Links for HRM:

http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/lifeline-heart-rate-transmitter/rp-prod155469 

http://www.wiggle.co.uk/lifeline-heart-rate-transmitter/ 

There was 3 considerations for this purchase when looking at Heart Rate Monitors:

  1. Cost
  2. ANT+ compatibility (for the Garmin head unit)
  3. Cost (again)

With those strict criterion I plumped for the Lifeline Heart Transmitter. The service was top notch once again from Chain Reaction Cycles so here’s a short review of the Heart Rate Monitor itself.

IMG_20170724_095638_990
The Garmin Team in Paris. What HRM’s do we think they use?

 

The Heart Rate Monitor is a soft strap with 2 pads on the inside that you dampen with water before putting on. The strap is soft and stretchy as you would expect. One of the main annoyances of the strap is there is no “L” or “R” on the pads on the inside. For most people this wouldn’t be annoying. However, for me this was not ideal…mainly for troubleshooting (more on that later).

Pairing with the Garmin (I had a 500 when I started using the strap last July and got a 520 in the New Year sales) was very straight forward and it was always picked up as soon as it was put on the body and the Garmin was switched on.

During the rides the heart rate was transmitted without fault and never dropped out. The strap was comfortable on the skin also and could be adjusted to get the perfect fit.

HRM Strap

So far, so good…

Now for the not so brilliant:

Having used this strap since July 2017 (very almost August) I have gone through two. The first one failed towards the end of November. Chain Reaction swapped this out, which was good of them. The second one failed again this last week. Around the 3/4/2018.

So; in around 8 months I have had two die on me in this period with the same issue. The issue was that the clips that the HRM Transmitter clips on to the strap. The metal corroded and rusted on both causing it to stop working. (Picture below minus the corrosion). In trying the trouble shoot I switched batteries, switched the strap around and changed the orientation of the of Transmitter on the strap (hence no “L” or “R” lettering made this confusing) and then tried to reset the transmitter by unravelling a paperclip and placing it on the metal nodes.

None of these worked so the unit was well and truly dead.

hrm.jpg

I have now decided to bite the bullet and buy a Garmin Heart Rate Monitor to replace this. Chain Reaction gave a full refund but the hassle of contacting Customer Services and then waiting for a new one to be dispatched is not worth it.

I paid £24 for the Lifeline HRM and I would have to say that due to the issues I have had I would steer clear and pay the extra for a Garmin/Wahoo/Polar (delete as applicable) heart rate strap as I believe that these will last longer. The last Garmin HRM I had lasted 4 years and was corrosion free.

Hope you found this useful and it helps some people.

 

 

 

 

Team Garmin photo and article header photo are mine.

 

What happened to the Blog, Man?

So; what happened to the Blog, Man?

What a long story that would turn out to be! So I’ll keep it short.

Around July 2017 there was a big change within my Family and since then things have escalated, twisted, turned and got crazy. Whilst this was going on I did try to upload the odd post here and there. I think there was a couple after July.

However, cycling became my escape. This gave me a chance to make sure I wasn’t going crazy under the stress and the pressure of what was happening externally and the forces that were being placed upon my shoulders. It never got a point where it was depression but it was certainly very draining both mentally and physically.

It all started in July(ish) and everything came to a head a few days before Christmas 2017.

As such, I just cycled and enjoyed cycling for the freedom it gave me between July and Christmas.

Thirlmere

I did no events last year. Which is unheard of for me. I try to do at least one big event as it is a focus; but, as mentioned my cycling was escapism. I didn’t structure it and try to train.

I just cycled (and took the occasional picture).

Sunset near Norwood

Last year was not all bad though…In April myself and my Girlfriend bought our first house and in July (at the TdF) my Girlfriend became my Fiance.

Paris

Hopefully there will be more blog posts, events, review posts and a wedding this year too!

IMG_20170813_155301_523

 

All photos are my own.