Progressively wound coil spring is engineered to perform with modern suspension kinematics( Photos: 8 )
Training with data is more popular and accessible than ever. Using a heart rate monitor or power meter allows riders to track training sessions, analyse fitness improvements, and pace efforts on race day — but what are the pros and cons of training with heart rate versus training with power, and what’s the best option for you? A heart rate monitor is one of the most widely used training tools in cycling because of its simplicity, ease of use and low relative cost, offering riders an affordable route into training with data. However, with power meters becoming cheaper than ever and an increasingly common sight aboard the bikes of non-professional cyclists, it’s logical to ask whether it’s better to train with a heart rate monitor or a power meter. After all, it’s not always clear exactly what a power meter offers that a heart rate monitor doesn’t, or whether you should abandon heart rate training entirely if you decide to upgrade to a power meter. To get some answers, let’s take a look into how each tool works, their respective pros and cons, as well as some tips on combining the two for the best results in training. Training with data is more popular and accessible than ever. Robert Smith/Immediate Media How heart rate monitors and power meters work Most heart rate monitors work by measuring the electrical signals generated by your heart as it beats. A simple chest strap sends that signal to a connected device like a computer head unit or wrist watch. Some wrist watch heart rate monitors use a different method, which involves shining light into the skin and optically measuring the amount of light reflected back, which is affected by the blood flow within the arteries. This measurement is taken at the wrist and therefore doesn’t require a chest strap. In comparison, a power meter is a component on the bike itself (e.g. rear hub, pedals, cranks etc) with a number of strain gauges, which measure the force applied when pedalling. Using measurements of both the torque applied and angular velocity, it’s possible to then calculate power output (measured in watts). It’s quite clear, then, that although both tools are used for similar purposes — that is, to provide data to guide your training and racing — they’re actually measuring two very different things. Heart rate monitors are extremely simple to use. Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com Why train using a heart rate monitor? Starting with a heart rate monitor, its greatest strength is cost effectiveness. A reliable heart rate monitor can be picked up for under £100, and if you already have an existing head unit from the likes of Garmin, Wahoo, Polar, a compatible chest strap may be all that’s needed. Using a heart rate monitor is very straightforward — another string to its bow. Pairing your chest strap with a head unit, or recording with your smartwatch, is quick and simple, and by performing some very basic testing, you can quickly establish the training intensity zones you need to work within to provide some structure to your training. Heart rate monitors work well in situations where the riding intensity is kept relatively stable, such as longer, lower intensity endurance rides. In addition, they can be very useful in recovery workouts to ensure your effort level is kept low enough to not induce any further fatigue. Can heart rate training help you hit your summer goals? Immediate Media Where heart rate training is limited, however, is in the lag associated with the heart’s response to changes in exercise intensity, as well as the many external factors that can affect that response. When riding in a very stochastic or punchy way, the heart rate response lags behind these sudden changes in effort and, therefore, can’t provide reliable real-time feedback of how hard you’re pushing on the pedals. Practically speaking, this makes pacing short intervals very difficult indeed, nor can a heart rate monitor tell you exactly how hard you’re riding during these short efforts, as your heart is playing catch-up. What’s more, factors like your hydration level, air temperature, the amount of sleep you’ve had, levels of caffeine in your system and altitude can drastically change the heart rate at a given intensity, further negatively influencing the reliability and consistency of the data you’ll use to train with and analyse after your ride. Heart rate monitor training for cyclists: how to find your training zones Pros and cons of training with heart rate Pros Affordable Easy to use Easy to understand basic data & establish training zones Good for pacing long efforts Can be an indicator of fatigue, illness or overtraining Cons Susceptible to heart-rate lag Can be affected by a wide range of external factors Why train with a power meter? Unlike heart rate data, which represents a subjective (and delayed) measure of your input, a power meter is an objective, real-time measure of your output, i.e. what your effort is actually amounting to in the real world. The key benefits of power are the instantaneous feedback it provides and the lack of external influences that would otherwise undermine the data, while a power meter also allows for the objective measurement of fitness progression over time. Most power meters sample the forces applied during pedalling many times per second, giving very quick feedback that’s extremely useful when it comes to pacing both longer and shorter efforts. The precision and real-time feedback of a power meter also allows you to target specific training adaptations easier than with a heart rate monitor. Power meters are significantly more expensive than heart rate monitors, but offer a wealth of training data. Russell Burton Some more expensive units can even relay each leg’s contribution to the power production, which can help indicate any left-right imbalances. In addition, performing either basic field testing or using a power meter in combination with lactate and/or VO2 Max measurements in a lab, it’s possible to gain a wealth of understanding on where your individual strengths and weaknesses are. This will help you decide what to focus on improving in training and which cycling discipline may suit you the best. The accuracy of power also demonstrates the benefit of the latest smart turbo trainers, which can automatically control the resistance to ensure you’re hitting the exact power numbers required to get the greatest benefit out of your session. The drawbacks of power meters are mostly centred around their cost and the greater knowledge base needed to get the most out of them during training and when performing your post-ride analysis. Do you know your watts from your BPM? Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com Wattage does jump around a lot more than heart rate when riding, and this can take some getting used to, particularly if you are tasked with riding to a specific wattage for a training session. Some power meters also need to be calibrated on a regular basis to ensure the wattages are accurate, although this is normally a simple task. The wealth of metrics available in software like TrainingPeaks, Golden Cheetah and WKO also mean that it’s not immediately obvious what the data is telling you and what you should do with it right away. With a bit of reading and/or by working with a knowledgeable coach, many of these so-called weaknesses become less and less of a problem and the data turns into an asset you can use to improve your fitness and performance. 5 tips for finding the right cycling coach Pros and cons of training with power Pros Accurate, real-time reflection of output Can target specific training zones & adaptations Huge range of data Easier to track fitness progression Cons More expensive Amount of data can be overwhelming Some power meters require calibration How to train with heart rate and power together The best way to get the most value from heart rate and power-based training is to use both simultaneously, where you’ll then have an input and an output measure to work with. Not only will that give you objective wattage data to track improvements in power, but it will also give you heart rate data to better understand your body’s response to training. By understanding and monitoring the relationship between the two, you’ll be able to draw far better conclusions from your data and make more informed decisions about how you should plan your training going forward. So, what will training with both power and heart rate data allow you to do? Here are a few of the most useful ways to use the two tools together. Smart turbo trainers are equipped with built-in power meters. Simon Bromley/Immediate Media Testing and setting zones By performing a simple maximum heart rate or functional threshold heart rate test, as well as using power profile or FTP testing protocols, you’re able to set benchmarks for comparison against later down the line, but also establish your training intensity zones for each respective tool. These heart rate and power intensity zones don’t need to line up perfectly with each other since each is measuring a different thing; what’s most important is to know how the two relate to each other for you as an individual. How to create a winter training plan | 5 steps to make this your best winter yet Monitoring fitness progression There are numerous ways that having both heart rate and power data at your disposal can help you assess how well your fitness is progressing and whether your training plan is producing the desired effects. One such way is by looking at the ‘rate of decoupling’ within a workout. This is a measure of how much divergence there is between your heart rate and power during the course of a steady ride. If heart rate goes up for a steady power output, we can say that some ‘level decoupling’ has occurred, meaning your efficiency has reduced over the course of the ride. While this could be related to a number of the influencing factors mentioned earlier, it can help you to understand how aerobically fit you are and whether your endurance is sufficient for the duration and demands of what you’re preparing for. Of course, it’s still possible to assess fitness progression if you only have access to either heart rate or power data. Where only heart rate data is available, try riding a real-world or virtual segment such as a climb at a steady heart rate and see if your time for the segment improves. Just ensure the conditions and other factors are kept as similar as possible as you perform repeat tests. With power, you can repeat the power profile test or FTP test to get a good gauge on whether you’re seeing improvements in the right areas of your fitness by comparing the results to the original benchmark testing. Training with a heart rate monitor and power meter together allows you to better understand your limits. Robert Smith/Immediate Media Knowing your limits Is overtraining still possible when using heart rate and power together? The short answer is yes, but if you build up an understanding of your data over time, and pay attention to the numbers, it can easily be avoided. By training with both heart rate and power data together in most of your workouts, you’ll very quickly establish a picture of what’s a normal heart rate to see for a given power output or vice versa. When you see the relationship between these numbers change dramatically, you can make decisions about what may have caused it and whether the change is a positive or a negative one. Having an awareness of your limits can also help you pace efforts, both within training sessions and in competition. Power is ideal as a pacing tool with its instant feedback, but you can also pace yourself during steadier hard efforts like a TT or longer road or MTB race with heart rate. Use your own rating of perceived exertion in combination with the heart rate data, to help judge shorter efforts where heart rate data alone is less reliable. Combine this with your knowledge of previous training sessions and races to inform how hard to push and for how long when you’re seeing certain heart rates.
Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is one of the key performance metrics for cyclists who want to train and race with power. It is generally defined as the maximum average power, measured in watts, that a cyclist can sustain for an hour. While this has applications in its own right – if you race 25-mile time trials in the UK, for example, it’s a very useful figure to know if you’re racing with a power meter – it’s more commonly used to set training zones and for measuring improvements (or deteriorations) in fitness. FTP is also one of the key figures used to determine all manner of things on Zwift, such as training zones and race categories. Don’t worry if this is all Greek to you though, because you can check out our full guide to FTP and why it matters for the full run-down. Here we’re going to focus on how to use Zwift to complete an FTP test. While you can complete an FTP test on the open road, it can be difficult to find a suitable stretch of tarmac, free of interruptions such as junctions, traffic lights, road works and congestion. Given how downright unpleasant an FTP can be, there’s nothing worse than having to stop your effort after 15 minutes. Using the turbo trainer removes those variables and allows you to focus on producing your best performance. What is Zwift? Your complete guide Zwift is the ideal platform to test your FTP and for power-based training. Zwift Why should I take an FTP test? Before you embark on any kind of training plan, like those available on Zwift, it’s worth setting a baseline FTP figure for a couple of reasons. Matt Rowe, of Rowe and King Cycle Coaching and host of the Zwift Power Up Cycling Podcast, says that having an accurate figure for your FTP is vital because it’s used to set you power zones. “If your power zones aren’t accurate, you’ll be training in the wrong zones, and not targeting what you’re intending to,” says Rowe. Having a baseline figure from the very beginning of your training plan will also allow you to know how much progress you’re making throughout the plan. “Get a couple of weeks under you belt, then get stuck in,” he says. “You’re not going to get a great score, but it helps establish where you’re at.” It’s particularly relevant at this time of the season, Rowe adds – particularly if you’re just coming back to training after a break. “You might be a long way off where you want to be but, at this time of year, that’s where you should be,” says Rowe. “Setting an FTP now will help you to evidence your improvements later on.” Best smart trainer 2020: top-rated turbo trainers tried and tested Why should I use Zwift for an FTP test? One of the main reasons to use Zwift is that it makes it all very simple – the test protocols are well signposted and easy to follow. This also means it’s very repeatable, so you can be sure that your results are comparable every time. If you have a smart trainer, then Zwift can also use ERG mode to control the resistance of the trainer to ensure you hit the specific power levels required in a ramp test, or in the warm-up for a 20-minute time-trial test. We’ve cover those options in more detail below. Once you’ve set your FTP, Zwift can then adjust all of the workouts and training plans to your specific level of fitness. You’ll also then know which race category you fit into, based on your current fitness level, because these are decided according to FTP in watts per kilogram (w/kg). There are three FTP tests on Zwift: two classic tests, which involve a 20-minute max effort, and a ramp test. Zwift FTP test options Outside of simply riding as hard as you can for an hour (which is very hard to pace correctly and can also be pretty dull), there are two main ways to test FTP, both of which are available on Zwift. First, there’s the traditional 20-minute time-trial test. After a warm-up, you perform a 20-minute interval at maximum effort. Record your average power and then subtract 5 per cent to determine your FTP (Zwift will do this automatically for you). The second way to calculate FTP is to perform a ramp test. As the name suggests, the ramp test involves performing intervals at ever increasing power levels until failure. Zwift then calculates your FTP based on 75 per cent of the maximum power interval that you reach. How to test your FTP on Zwift If you’re new to Zwift but you already know what your FTP is, you can manually enter it on your profile page or on the workout page – it displays your FTP on the bottom right of the window, and to change it you simply need to click it. Alternatively, Zwift will calculate your FTP from general riding in the game or from racing. Zwift will automatically calculate your FTP on every ride, using the maximum 20-minute average power you record on each ride, but will only notify you if it detects an increase over your current score. However, the best way is to perform one of the three specific FTP workouts available in the training page on Zwift. Classic FTP tests The first workout, which is simply called ‘FTP Test’, is Zwift’s standard protocol. It starts with a long, easy warm-up, followed by a few ramps and a 5-minute effort. After that, you get a rest period, before performing the 20-minute maximum effort test interval. Zwift will then subtract 5 per cent from your average power during that test interval to extrapolate it out to an hour. For example, if you average 300 watts for the 20-minute test interval, you FTP would be 285 watts. The shorter FTP test simply ahortens up the warm-up – the 20-minute max effort test interval is still just as long. Zwift The second FTP test on Zwift is called the ‘FTP Test (shorter)’. It’s simply a compressed version of the first test. The 20-minute maximum effort test interval is the same, so it’s not any easier, the only difference is that the initial warm-up is shortened to save time. This test has the advantage of being a reasonably long interval, so it tests your aerobic capacity very well and can give accurate results. However, Rowe says it can be a daunting task for many people, because it’s always going to be a very hard test and is difficult to pace properly, especially for beginners. With that in mind, Zwift has recently introduced a different kind of test; the ramp test. The ramp test is intended to be a more manageable way to test your FTP. Zwift The ramp test As the name suggests, the ramp test involves performing intervals at ever-increasing power levels until you can’t ride any further. Rowe says the ramp test is more manageable than the 20-minute test, so people repeat it more often and therefore have more accurate zones as their training progresses. Another benefit of the ramp test is that the result depends less on pacing – you simply keep going as long as you can. On Zwift, after a brief warm-up, the ramp test begins at 100 watts, then increases by 20 watts each minute. At first, it should feel easy, but it will eventually get very hard (how long that takes will depend on how strong you are – the test continues as long you can keep holding the power). Zwift will then take 75 per cent of the maximum power you reach on the test as your FTP. No matter which workout you do, Zwift recommends staying seated for the duration of the test effort, because this helps to keep your effort and technique consistent throughout the intervals. How often should you retest your FTP? In terms of how often you should be retesting your FTP, Rowe recommends doing so once every six to ten weeks, or at the end of each training block – preferably after an easier few days so that you’re well rested. You might think it would be useful to test more often, to keep your zones as accurate as possible, but Rowe says that any more often than that and you risk getting bogged down with testing rather than training. At the end of the test, Zwift will notify you of your score. Hopefully you will have improved, but don’t fret if not – sign up for one of Zwift’s training plans and kick-start your winter riding. Zwift FTP testing tips 1 Make sure your setup is sorted before you start Once you hit the test part of the session, you don’t want to pause or take any sort of breaks, because doing so will spoil the data. With that in mind, it’s vital to ensure your indoor training setup is running as efficiently as possible: make sure you’ve fuelled correctly, have a full water bottle to hand, a fan to keep you cool, and you’ve got some suitably motivational music lined up to last the full duration of the test. 2 “Maybe” is the correct answer to pacing When pacing an effort such as a 20-minute power test, it’s very easy to go out too hard and end up finishing with a whimper or vice versa. What you really want to do is ride right on the limit of what you’re capable of for the entire duration of the test – which might leave you wondering how you are supposed to know where that limit is? British cycling legend Chris Boardman once suggested a method whereby you simply ask yourself, “Is this current effort sustainable for the remaining duration?”. If your answer is ‘yes’, then you’re going too easy, if it’s ‘no’, then you’re going too hard. What you’re looking for is ‘maybe’. 3 Don’t fret if you’re unhappy with your score Although hitting huge numbers in the lab/shed/spare room can be exhilarating – and hats off to all those who do it – the final figure isn’t the be all and end all of cycling. An FTP test isn’t a race – there aren’t any prizes for getting a ‘great’ score, and getting a ‘low’ score doesn’t mean you’ve lost anything either – it’s simply a personal performance benchmark and everyone is different. Sign up for one of the many training plans available on Zwift and try to focus on the process of self-improvement, rather than the specifics of the raw data. Unless you’re a professional, having fun is what matters, after all. The numbers are just that — numbers.
It seems like the whole mountain bike world has been swept up in the Enduro craze over the past few years. These days, I find myself almost exclusively aboard bikes with 150 mm of travel or more. As long-travel enduro bikes have become both comfortable and efficient on long climbs, yet weigh about the same as mid-travel bikes, I rarely find an occasion to want to grab “less bike”. That said, the fun factor of riding a short travel bike near its limit is not at all lost on me. Recently we’ve seen several light weight trail machines hit the market with geometry and component specs that cater to aggressive riders who prefer a less is more approach to suspension travel. Some resemble mini enduro machines while others are barely more than long-legged XC racers. When Orbea launched an all new Oiz earlier this year and included a 120 mm “TR” version of it’s 100 mm XC race weapon, it really caught my attention. Rather than another near 30 lb short travel bike, Orbea took their ultra light XC race machine and added just a little extra cushion and control. On paper, it seemed to make all kinds of sense and so I twisted Orbea’s arm to send me one for a closer look. Oh, and in-case you’re wondering, Oiz is pronounced “Oheeth” (the z is pronounced as “th”). Words: Toni Walbridge Photos: Misti Walbridge Oiz Geometry Details THE BUILD Orbea sent over an M-LTD spec Oiz TR which means, they sent a fully optioned machine. Highlights include a full carbon frame, including the suspension link, a complete XX1 Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level Ultimate carbon brakes, Fox Factory suspension, and Mavic Crossmax carbon wheels. The Oiz, being at its heart, an XC racer, includes remotely operated front and rear suspension lockouts via a single bar mounted lever. Every component, from the Selle Italia saddle to the Fox 34 Step-Cast fork is top of the line on the M-LTD model. This is a dream machine by anyone’s standards and is priced accordingly at $8299 USD. The rear suspension of the Oiz is new from the ground up. The old model featured just 95 mm travel and was designed to run very little sag. It was what I would describe as “soft-tail” with just enough suspension to take the edge off trail . The new bike works well with a little more sag and comes in 100 mm and 120 mm variants. Orbea is able to use the same size shock in different stroke configurations to achieve the two travel numbers which minimizes changes to the geometry. After a little tinkering, I found the 190 x 45 mm Fox DPS shock worked best at about 22% sag. This resulted in spirited acceleration, even pedaling hard with the shock in open mode, and more traction than I ever expected out of this short travel machine. Orbea smartly spec’d the Fox 34 Step Cast fork on the trail version of the Oiz over the 32 mm chassis employed on the XC version. The Step-Cast version of the 34 employs a “step” or cut-out in the casting of the lowers which reduces weight by a half pound over the standard 34. Fox claims the Step-Cast version of the 34 is just as stiff as the regular. Travel is set at 120 mm which relaxes the head angle from 69 to 68 degrees. The Fox 34 SC comes spec’d with the FIT4 damper which, unique to the Oiz, is controlled by a bar mounted remote. Due to the remote, the 34 is limited to just 2 damper positions (open and firm). Moving up to the cockpit, the left side of the bars is a little busy with controls. The remote on the bottom of the bars controls the damper position of both the front and rear suspension. Press the longer lever to move both dampers to “open” position for descending or press the short lever to place the dampers in climb mode. The remote on top of the bars controls the dropper post. For 2019 Orbea offered just a 125 mm dropper post option which didn’t make much sense to me considering the Oiz is designed with a properly modern short seat tube. Thankfully, for 2020, Orbea is offering the option of a 125 or 150 mm dropper post. After a couple rides on the 125 mm, I swapped in a 160 mm Bike Yoke Revive to better attack downhill trails. For a bike without a front derailleur, there are a whole lot of cables wrapped around the Oiz’s head tube thanks to those shock remotes. Speaking of the head tube, Orbea went with the increasingly popular integrated headset option. The up side is that there are no cups to press into the head tube, just drop the bearings in and go. The down side is that there’s no possibility of head angle or reach adjusting headsets. Fortunately, the Oiz sits with great geo right out of the box. Chainguide and flat pedals on a sub 25 lb trail rocket? You betcha. The pedals were my choice but the chain guide is stock. The guide is a really nice touch and a nod towards just how rowdy the Oiz is capable of getting. I’m sure some will cry foul at the sight of flat pedals on a bike like this but as we get into the ride review, I think it will all make sense. The XX1 cranks measure up at 175 mm and the chainring counts 34 teeth which I found surprisingly easy to turn thanks to the Oiz’s light weight. Our test bike was an M-LTD spec which means full XX1 drivetrain. Orbea spec’s the extra loud gold version so that all your friends know how awesome your bike is. I haven’t found XX1 to perform any different than X01 and only marginally better than GX but it sure is pretty. Speaking of pretty, the Oiz rear triangle oozes refinement. Eliminating the concentric rear axle pivot saves weight and cleans up the lines. Now becoming de rigueur, a nice rubber molded protector keeps the drive side chainstay quiet and safe from damaging chain slap. I usually end up adding a strip of mastic tape to further quiet chain-slap but left this bike stock and noted that it ran reasonably quiet. MINOR MODIFICATIONS For the purposes of reviews, I do try to keep stock review bikes stock, but there were a few things about the stock build that I just couldn’t work with, so let’s get that out of the way before we delve deeper. First up, the bar/stem combo delivered on the Trail version of the Oiz is straight off the full XC racer version. The stock stem was in the neighborhood of 90 mm and the stock bars measured around 680 mm. I ditched all that for Race Face SIXC bars at 25 mm rise and 785 mm width mated to a 35 mm Race Face Atlas stem. I also threw on a set of Ergon GE-1 grips to keep my hands comfy. As I mentioned earlier, I swapped out the stock 125 mm dropper for a 160 Bike Yoke revive for a little confidence boost while descending. While making that change, I also re-organized the remote situation. I found going back to a top-mount dropper remote was rather awful and at the same time, I seldom used the suspension remote, so I moved the suspension remote inboard and installed an under-bar remote for my Revive. Lastly, after one ride, I swapped out the stock tires for a 2.3 Maxxis DHF / Aggressor combo to better suit the steep and loose PNW terrain I conducted this test on. To be clear, if I lived in an XC friendly town like Park City, UT, I would have left the stock tires but on the often wet, rocky and rooty trails of the PNW, they felt a little out of place. RIDE REPORT As you might expect, this bike is a rocket uphill. If you’re not the first one to the top of a climb, I guarantee you, it’s not the bike’s fault. Even with the suspension set up to maximize traction and with the damper remote in the open position, the Oiz transfers nearly all of your pedaling effort into forward motion. I’m not a consistent enough user of Strava to be able to provide quantifiable evidence of the speed of the Oiz but generally, I found myself arriving several minutes faster to the top of climbs that I frequent on Enduro rigs. At 5’8” on a size Large, the cockpit was spacious, even with the short stem I ran, making for a comfortable all-day climbing position. The only real knock against climbing aboard the Oiz is that the seat tube is a bit slack and combined with the short chain stays, makes it a challenge to keep the front end down on the steepest climbs. I did slam the saddle as far forward on the rails as possible and that helped some but I was never able to fully tame that wheel lift. To be fair, this was only an issue in the absolute steepest technical terrain. On more approachable grades, including any modern climbing trail, the Oiz flies up hill and makes quick work of techy switchbacks. The only time I engaged the lock-out was during out of the saddle climbing on dirt or asphalt roads, otherwise, there’s just no need. If this were my personal bike, I’d probably remove the suspension remotes and never miss them. Now to the fun part. Trail riding the Oiz makes boring trails fun and hard trails down right exciting. It’s firm suspension results in an absurdly playful demeanor. If you’re a willing pilot, the Oiz will take you airborne off of every little trail feature. On more committing terrain, the Oiz feels almost like a full suspension dirt jumper. It thrives on boosty jumps and it’s light weight makes it effortless to flick sideways. If you’re a pure XC rider, the 68º head angle might feel relaxed. For the enduro crowd where 65º and slacker is the norm, the front end of the Oiz does require a bit more attention. That quick steering, combined with short, 435 mm chainstays and sub 25 lb weight had me changing up lines and jibbing every little trail feature. All out descending speed is not really the Oiz’s strength but then Orbea makes the Rallon to cover that need. Just the same, I put the Oiz down some fast trail and through some good sized gaps and other than having to pay a little closer attention than I would on a big bike, it was all smiles. On a few bigger jumps to flat, I was surprised at how well the rear suspension soaked up the big compressions without bottoming harshly. I got full travel but rarely did the rear end lose composure. If fact, I struggled to get the Fox 34 SC fork to keep up with the rear end. I wound up running 100 PSI and 2 air volume spacers to keep the front end up but the FIT4 damper always felt out-gunned by the pace the rear Oiz was comfortable with. As all of this downhill speed must come to a stop eventually, the SRAM Level Ultimate brakes got a real workout. They’re noticeably less powerful than any other brake that I commonly use for fast descending but the upside is there’s tons of modulation. With skinny 2.3 tires and a fast rolling Aggressor out back, it was easy to scrub speed without breaking traction. DURABILITY I spent the entire summer with the Oiz at my disposal and the more I rode it, the more I pushed the boundaries of what a trail bike built on an ultra-light frame should be expected to take. By the time I boxed up the Oiz to return home, it had survived all kinds of torture. From hucks to flat, hard cases on gap jumps gone wrong, and stupid hard g-outs, I put this bike through the wringer. And not once did the Oiz flinch. I checked the pivots regularly but never found them loose and once or twice I felt compelled to check the frame for cracks but never found any. There were a couple hard landings over the summer where I found myself shaking my head in disbelief that the frame wasn’t damaged. Even the feather weight carbon Mavic Crossmax wheels held for the duration of the test. When all was said and done, I had smoked a set of brake pads and turned the brake rotors a light shade of blue from overheating, but that’s it. If this bike had broken, I wouldn’t have blamed Orbea because I rode it like a rental. It didn’t and that’s awesome. WRAPPING IT UP Overall, I really enjoyed my time on the Oiz. There are a few component choices that I took issue with, including the long stem and narrow bars that, while appropriate on the XC version, feel out of place on the trail version of the Oiz. Through Orbea’s MYO customization program, you can specify a stem as short as 70 mm but still not short enough for my tastes and you’ll have to work with your LBS to swap out those bars. For 2020, Orbea added an option for a 150 mm dropper post which deals with my only other major component complaint. The Oiz TR is a confident descender once that saddle is out of the way. Beyond those minor and easily addressed issues I didn’t find much to complain about. The fit and finish is impeccable, durability proved to be top notch and the bike is dead sexy. I think the Oiz is going to be a really good fit for casual XC racers and endurance trail riders looking for something light and efficient but not so unforgiving as a dedicated XC race bike. Riders like myself that are primarily enduro focused and looking for a second bike for fast and playful trail rides will be equally delighted. The fact that the Oiz has the potential to appeal to such a broad range of riders is a true accomplishment. Appealing as it may be, the entry price for an M-LTD spec Oiz sits at $8299, possibly placing it a bit out of reach for the average consumer. If that’s you, the Oiz is available in two lower trims, including the M-Team and M10 TR which are different only in component specifications and retail at $7499 and $5299 respectively. If you’re shopping for a fast, light trail bike, it would be well worth your time to take a look at the Oiz TR. Specs Model: Oiz M-LTD MSRP: $8,299 USD Sizes: Small 27.9, Small 29, Medium, Large (tested), XL Frame: Orbea Oiz Carbon OMR FiberLink Boost PF Taper UFO2 I-Line Fork: Fox 34 SC Fit4 w/remote lockout Headset: Acros Alloy 1-1/8 – 1-1/2″ Integrated Post: Race Face Affect 125 mm Saddle: Selle Italia X-LR Kit Carbonio L Bars: FSA K-Force Flat 760mm Di2 compatible Stem: FSA K-Force (90 mm) Shifters: SRAM XX1 Eagle Brakes: SRAM Level Ultimate Carbon Cassette: SRAM XX1 XG-1299 Eagle 10-50t 12-Speed Rear Der: SRAM XX1 Eagle Chain: SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed Wheels: Mavic Crossmax Carbon Fr Tire: Maxxis Ikon 2.20″ FB 120 TPI 3C Exo TR Rr Tire: Maxxis Ardent 2.2″ FB Dual Exo TR
Winter is a tough time for cyclists given the reduced daylight hours, colder weather and component-destroying conditions. Even so, it’s still possible to get around these limitations by putting together a well thought out, purposeful and time-efficient training programme specifically designed for this part of the year. Here are five steps to creating a winter training plan for cyclists looking to build a solid foundation of fitness for the coming year. While a lab test will provide the most accurate results, you can also measure your fitness on the road or turbo trainer. Simon Bromley 1 Do some testing The first step in creating any plan is to understand where it is you’re starting from. By conducting some simple testing using the training tools you have available, whether that’s a heart rate monitor, power meter or smart trainer, you’re able to get a clear picture of where your fitness is right now. Good testing options include functional threshold heart rate (FTP) and maximum heart rate tests if you’re training with a heart rate monitor; a power profile test (where you would typically perform a maximal effort at 5 second, 1 minute, 5 minute and 20 minute durations over a series of days) if you have a power meter on hand; or even looking into blood lactate analysis and/or VO2 Max testing, if you want to take a more scientific approach. Testing your current fitness will mean you’re able to establish appropriate training intensity zones for your current capabilities, as well as set benchmarks to measure against later on. Best smart trainer 2020: top-rated turbo trainers 2 Plan your goals and objectives The next step is to decide on your goals and objectives for the winter period, in order to plan your training effectively. These goals can be fitness related, performance-based, or a mixture of the two. A fitness-based objective such as achieving a particular threshold power or VO2 Max value, or even a more performance-based objective such as a time on a virtual segment, work particularly well. Using the popular S.M.A.R.T approach to make them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound can be really helpful when setting meaningful goals. Alongside these goals, you’ll also want to set appropriate objectives to measure your progress along the way. These will help to ensure you’re constantly heading in the right direction towards where you ultimately want to end up. These objectives could be a target threshold power improvement by the halfway stage of your training if you’re building towards a hilly event, or perhaps a VO2 Max improvement of 5 per cent after an eight-week training period to improve your fat burning capabilities and overall aerobic endurance for longer or multi-day rides/races. Long-term goals and short-term objectives will help you plan your training effectively. Robert Smith/Immediate Media 3 Understand the purpose As we’ve just alluded to, the adaptations you’ll want to see over the winter will depend on what your goals are and the demands of the events you’re preparing for, but most cyclists will want to focus on improving their aerobic capacity as a priority. As an endurance athlete, you want to have as strong an aerobic energy system as possible. This will allow you to ride at higher power outputs for longer without the anaerobic energy system (used for shorter, more explosive efforts) causing fatigue. It also offers greater potential for you to raise other key performance indicators such as your anaerobic threshold, i.e. the point at which lactate begins to accumulate in the muscles and blood. What’s more, you’ll also have a stronger foundation to build on top of if and when it’s appropriate to focus on improving your anaerobic energy production too, which will be necessary for shorter, higher intensity efforts such as sprinting and making attacks. Building your aerobic capacity with lower intensity rides around zone two (using heart rate or power), longer ‘muscular endurance’ blocks of perhaps 15 to 20 minutes each at lower cadences of around 60 to 80RPM, as well as interval training close to intensities that work on VO2 Max (e.g. the popular 30 seconds on/15 seconds off workout) will be ideal for the task. 6 hardcore training sessions to take your cycling to the next level 4 Schedule your workouts The next step in creating your plan is to work backwards and schedule the training sessions that will inch you forward towards your goals. What you’re looking for here is a wide variety of workouts that fulfil the purpose outlined above. This will keep training interesting, motivating and result in greater adaptations since the body responds better when it’s challenged in different ways. For the more structured workouts in your programme, indoor training apps such as Zwift are ideal for getting high-quality sessions done in a very time-efficient manner. Using ERG mode on a smart trainer, where the power is set at a prescribed output for your session (or the intervals within it), and avoiding interruptions from traffic can really help with hitting the numbers necessary to achieve the desired improvements. At the same time, one great tip is to have a dedicated winter training bike that you’re happy to ride outdoors in bad conditions. Having the right equipment — including a cost-effective bike with mudguards and puncture-resistant tyres — can go a long way to keeping your motivation intact through winter. After all, you’re far more likely to get out onto the road or trail if you’re not too worried about wearing out expensive parts or having to meticulously clean the bike after your ride. Winter training can be tough, but a sensible and realistic plan will help you get the most out of the cold, dark months. Wouter Roosenboom 5 Feedback and adjustments Finally, it’s important to constantly adjust your plan as you go based on how you’re responding to the workouts and how much time and energy you realistically have available. Making tweaks and iterations will help ensure you’re not leaving any fitness on the table – or worse, risk overtraining and burnout. Busy riders often underestimate the impact of stress external to training (such as work and family pressures) and the extent to which they can negatively affect athletic performance, so always stay on the conservative side and don’t be too wedded to what you originally planned at the outset. In addition, leaving feedback on your key workouts, whether in a diary or as comments on your Strava file, will help you to avoid making the same mistakes in the future and guide you towards the right training approach to take further down the line.
Black Friday 2019 is just days away and sales, offers and deals are ramping up rapidly. Whether you’re looking to upgrade, refresh or update, a fresh groupset can breathe new life into your bike, and we’ve collated the best deals we can find for mountain and road bike groupsets on the web. Campagnolo Record 12-speed disc groupset – £1,799.99 £1,424.99 Get some bling for your bike with the 12-speed Campagnolo Record disc groupset. Robin Wilmott / Immediate Media Campagnolo Record 12-speed first ride review Campagnolo’s Record groupset is absolutely drool-worthy – a 12-speed cassette, disc brakes and a handsome overall look combine to create blingtastic jewellery for your bike. It doesn’t just look good though, our first ride impressions were very positive about its form matching function with the groupset providing a very reliable ride. If you want an exotic upgrade for your bike, look no further. Buy the Campagnolo Record 12-speed disc groupset with up to a 20% discount from Wiggle SRAM Red eTap AXS hydraulic groupset – £1,800 £1,099 You can have SRAM’s latest groupset with significant savings this Black Friday. Beardy McBeard / SRAM Why not go 12-speed and wireless with SRAM’s newest range-topping Red AXS groupset this Black Friday? The innovations don’t stop at the extra sprocket though; with a 10-tooth smallest cog, Red AXS uses smaller chainrings to save weight. The cassette options, up to 33 teeth, also mean that you can stay on the large ring over more terrain. The AXS smartphone app lets you tune your shifting to match your riding style as well. The single ring option is priced at ‘just’ £1,049. Buy SRAM Red eTap AXS hydraulic groupset for £1,099 from Sigma Sports Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 groupset – £1,874.99 £1,039.99 Shimano’s Dura-Ace R9100 groupset. Russell Burton / Immediate Media Read our Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 review While SRAM still dominates in the mountain bike sector, we’d argue that Shimano still has the upper hand when it comes to road builds. For the ultimate in bling, performance and quality why not treat yourself to the very tasty pro-level Shimano Dura-Ace groupset. It’s currently available at a stupendous discount and you’ll be the envy of all your riding buddies. Buy the Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 groupset with a 44% discount from Wiggle Shimano Ultegra R8000 groupset – £1,099.99 £549.99 The new Ultegra R8000 is a true five-star effort. Jack Luke / Immediate Media Read our Shimano Ultegra R8000 groupset review Another option is Shimano Ultegra, with the most recent groupset one of the best the company has ever made (we gave it a rare five stars), and right now it is available with a healthy discount. Buy the Shimano Ultegra R8000 groupset with a 50% discount from Chain Reaction Cycles We’ve also found deals for the electronic Di2 brake version of the groupset. Buy the Shimano Ultegra R8020 hydraulic disc groupset with a 30% discount from Wiggle Shimano 105 R7000 groupset — £575 £399.95 Shimano 105 R7000 looks great and is sure to perform well too. Laura Dow / LauraDow.com Read our Shimano 105 R7000 groupset overview Ahh, good ol’ 105 – the blue-collar hero of groupsets. Taking many of its styling cues from the higher-end Ultegra, R7000 promises improved performance across the board, all while remaining at a competitive price point. Buy the Shimano 105 R7000 groupset with a 30% discount from Merlin Campagnolo Potenza hydraulic disc groupset — £1,444.99 £849.99 Potenza is becoming increasingly common as OEM spec. Wiggle Read our Campagnolo Potenza groupset review Campagnolo Potenza is best thought of as Chorus cast in alloy and is becoming increasingly common spec on a number of bikes. It sits at roughly the same level as Ultegra, so if you want to go Italian, then this might just be a great choice. Buy the Campagnolo Potenza hydraulic disc groupset with a 41% discount from Wiggle SRAM X01 Eagle groupset – £1,057.99 £749.99 X01 is a slightly tougher and more durable version of XX1. Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media Read our SRAM X01 Eagle first ride review SRAM X01 is a top-tier groupset that is pitched as a hardier and more durable version of the racier XX1. That makes it perfect for the rigours of everything from trail riding to enduro. It’s usually an expensive proposition, but this discount might help sweeten the deal. Buy the SRAM X01 Eagle groupset with a 29% discount from Wiggle Shimano XT M8000 1×11 groupset — £499.99 £349.99 XT M8000 is still a great option. Josh Patterson / Immediate Media Read our Shimano XT M8000 groupset review Build up your drivetrain around Shimano’s groupsets and you won’t have a potentially costly upgrade to a SRAM XD Freehub body, or Shimano’s own new Microspline freehub that was introduced with its new XTR M9100, XT 8100 and SLX M7100 groupsets. You still get a decent range, but only 11 gears. However, you get proven Shimano reliability and a great performing drivetrain at an even more reasonable price. Buy the Shimano XT M8000 groupset with up to a 30% discount from Wiggle
The Mondraker Crafty Carbon is all-new for 2020 with a no-compromise frame designed to get the weight sub-20kg. Mondraker claims that it’s the lightest full-power, full-feature, enduro-ready e-mountain bike on the market, and it may well be right. The carbon-framed bike, with a fourth-generation Bosch Performance CX motor, has three different models, with the top RR SL getting a spec that’s designed to perform but get weight as low as possible. The two other models, the RR and R, are still highly weight-competitive but arguably have a more trail-competitive spec. Does weight really matter? BikeRadar‘s Tech Talk Podcast work’s it all out Best mountain bike forks for 2020 Bosch’s Kiox display is easy to read and understand… once it’s been changed from Spanish to English! Tom Marvin / Immediate Media Mondraker says that it’s built the bike very much with performance in mind, wanting it to become the benchmark bike out there. This means great on-trail performance with that low weight. The Mondraker Crafty Carbon frame The bikes come with a familiar Mondraker silhouette, but there are some subtle differences to the previous Crafty because Mondraker has re-worked the Zero Suspension linkage to better work for e-MTBs. This has resulted in the shock sitting a touch further forward in the frame instead of splitting the seat tube. There’s also beefy 17mm thru-axle bolts for the main pivot, as well as a re-worked lower rotating link that’s much bigger than before and a carbon upper link to shed more weight. The suspension has been given a more stable feel, with more support and a slightly firmer feel. It also has less chain-growth through its stroke. The idea is to give it a more controlled feeling, both up and down hill. An increased leverage ratio on the shock is also said to give a more progressive stroke while still being more supple earlier on, for smaller hits. Mondraker’s Zero Suspension lay out. Tom Marvin / Immediate Media As expected, Mondraker keeps its Forward Geometry concept, which has been around since 2012, for long reaches, short stems and slack head angles. While it used to stand out, other brands have caught on to the long, low, slack theme, and I’d say that the Crafty is no longer an outlier in its geometry. The large does have a roomy 490mm reach and well-proportioned 455mm chainstays, but the 65.5-degree head angle couldn’t be regarded as ‘super’-slack these days, and the bottom bracket (BB) has been raised to 350mm for better crank clearance on technical climbs. It is, however, still a very up-to-date bike in terms of its shape, and I don’t feel it’s going to hold you back, nor feel dated in a few years time. Key Mondraker Crafty Carbon geometry specs (size large) Reach: 490mm Stack: 640mm Seat tube length: 450mm BB height: 350mm BB drop: 25mm Chainstay length: 455mm Wheelbase: 1,270mm Head angle: 65.5 degrees Effective seat angle: 76 degrees Fork offset: 44mm Head tube length: 130mm Mondraker has used its Stealth Air Carbon for the frame, the first time on an e-MTB. It’s incorporated a number of interesting features into it too. The down tube holds the battery, but it’s not removable. Tom Marvin / Immediate Media Though we’ve seen Merida also do this, Mondraker is one of only a few to take steps to avoid the battery overheating, with cooling ‘gills’ at the top of the down tube and an exhaust port to let warm air escape above the motor. It’s also worked with Acros to produce a 1.5in head tube and headset arrangement into which the brake, and (on non-SRAM AXS-equipped bikes) gear and dropper cables enter under the stem for an incredibly tidy looking cockpit. One of the challenges with reducing weight is the required bulk of the down tube, so Mondraker has eschewed a removable battery for the Crafty Carbon and the battery has to be charged while located in the bike with no option to carry a supplementary battery on longer rides. The underside of the top tube gives host to the bottle cage bosses, meaning the down tube can be as slimline as possible – you don’t want your bottle boss bolts piercing the battery! All the bikes come with a 625Wh battery, and the RR SL has an optional 500Wh battery if you really want the bike to hit the claimed 19.3kg, but the 625Wh RR SL is still a claimed 19.9kg, which is also very impressive. ‘Gills’ at the top of the down tube help keep the battery from overheating. Tom Marvin / Immediate Media Finally, there’s a full-carbon upper rocker link, a speed sensor by the rear pivot and a chainstay protector built from soft rubber to deaden sound. Mondraker Crafty Carbon suspension One of the first things I noticed on the bike was the lack of a piggyback shock, as would be expected on an enduro-focussed bike. Piggybacks give extra oil volume, which in turn helps keep the shock cooler on long descents. This means a more consistent feel during a long descent. The 150mm bikes are fitted with a Fox DPS shock, rather than either a DPX2 or Float X2, as might be expected, though Mondraker says larger-bodied shocks, including coil, can be fitted. Fox’s DPS shock impressed Mondraker in testing. Tom Marvin / Immediate Media Mondraker claims that the DPS shock has a better feel than the DPX2. The shock, it believes, has less of a platform feel and thus is more supple – the design of the Zero Suspension System is less reliant on a shock’s pedal platform than some other designs. It also says that the DPS has a larger range of rebound adjustment. A faster rebound is ideal for its suspension because, it claims, there’s more control over the compression circuit, with three main compression positions (from open to locked), as well as a further three in its Open Mode Adjust dial. Finally, the DPS is lighter than the DPX2, but the decision to run the smaller shock was performance-driven. The Zero Suspension linkage has been optimised for e-MTBs on this bike. Tom Marvin / Immediate Media It’s a similar story with the forks, and the Fit4 damped 36 is fitted on the top two models, rather than a GRIP2 fork, which many would see as the premium option. This, again, was apparently performance-driven, with the Fit4 fork being better suited to the majority of riders who don’t necessarily need the firmer-damped, but more adjustable, GRIP2 damped 36. Mondraker Crafty Carbon models E13 carbon cranks help keep weight in check. Tom Marvin / Immediate Media Mondraker Crafty Carbon RR SL price and details £10,799 / €11,999 (available December 2019) Stealth Air Carbon frame 4th Generation Bosch Performance CX motor, 625Wh or 500Wh battery Fox Factory Float 36 Fit4 fork, 160mm Fox Factory Float DPS shock SRAM AXS X01 drivetrain Shimano XTR Trail brakes, 203mm rotor front and rear DT Swiss HXC1200 Carbon Spline wheelset Maxxis Rekon 29 x 2.6in EXO Plus 3c tyres RockShox AXS Reverb Mondraker Onoff carbon cockpit Fizik Antares R1 saddle Claimed 19.3kg (500Wh) or 19.9kg (625Wh) Mondraker Crafty Carbon RR price and details The Mondraker Crafty Carbon RR. Tom Marvin / Immediate Media £8,999 / €8,999 (available December 2019) Stealth Air Carbon frame 4th Generation Bosch Performance CX motor, 625Wh battery Fox Factory Float 36 Fit4 fork, 160mm Fox Factory Float DPS shock Shimano XT 12-speed drivetrain Shimano XT Trail brakes, 203mm rotor front and rear DT Swiss HX1501 Spline wheelset Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II 29 x 2.6in EXO Plus 3c tyres Onoff Pija dropper post Mondraker Onoff carbon cockpit Fizik Antares R7 saddle Claimed 21.3kg (625Wh) Mondraker Crafty Carbon R price and details Bosch’s latest motor is excellent. Tom Marvin / Immediate Media £7,199 / €7,499 (available March 2020) Stealth Air Carbon frame 4th Generation Bosch Performance CX motor, 625Wh battery Fox Float 36 Performance GRIP fork, 160mm Fox Float DPS Performance shock SRAM GX/NX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain SRAM G2 RSC brakes, 200mm rotor front and rear DT Swiss HX1900 Spline wheelset Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II 29 x 2.6in EXO Plus 3c tyres Onoff Pija dropper post Mondraker Onoff Krypton alloy cockpit Fizik Antares R7 saddle Claimed 21.8kg (625Wh)
Sportful has announced the latest update to its Fiandre Pro collection – its range of kit inspired by the Flandrien spring classics and designed to perform in all weather conditions – with the bold claim that the Polartec fabric that’s used is “the world’s most breathable waterproof fabric”. Called NeoShell, Polartec says that the fabric “provides the stretch and durability of a weather protective fabric” while its “sub-micron membrane structure releases heat and perspiration without the need for high pressure build-up.” PolarTec claims its NeoShell fabric is ‘the world’s most breathable waterproof fabric’. Sportful Most waterproof fabrics rely on the differences in pressure between the inside and outside of a fabric, meaning that hot air and perspiration will only diffuse through the fabric when there is a difference in pressure between the two environments. For example, as you cycle, hot, humid air builds up inside your jacket and creates a pressure difference. This leads to diffusion across the membrane to the lower area pressure outside, thus keeping you, theoretically, dry. This is why waterproof jackets feel less breathable in humid conditions. Polartec appears to be claiming that, thanks to “optimal pore size and placement in the membrane” to improve breathability, the NeoShell fabric requires less pressure to build up before the humid air will diffuse across the membrane. The Fiandre Pro collection was designed in collaboration with Sportful’s sponsored professional riders, including Daniel Oss. Obviously, these sorts of claims are very hard to test objectively, but we’ve previously tested Sportful’s Fiandre Extreme jacket, which also uses this fabric, and found it to be a good performer, especially when riding hard. The update encompasses three jackets for men, two for women and a unisex glove. Designed in collaboration with Sportful’s sponsored professional riders, including Peter Sagan, we expect the cuts to be fairly close-fitting. For 2020, Sportful has updated the colourways and added a host of new details to the garments in the collection, but it remains to be seen if the performance of the fabric has improved. The Sportful Fiandre Glove uses PolarTec’s NeoShell fabric on the outside to keep the rain out. Sportful Fiandre Pro collection Fiandre Pro Jacket (men and women’s versions available): £210 / $300 / €230 Fiandre Pro Jacket Short-Sleeved (men): £190 / $260 / €210 Fiandre Pro Medium Jacket (men and women’s versions available): £170 / $250 / €190 Fiandre Glove: £85 / $90 / €95 Fiandre Pro Jacket Sportful says the Fiandre Pro Jacket is the one its pro riders choose when they’re competing in cold and wet races. Sportful says this is the jacket its pro riders choose when they’re competing in cold and wet races. It uses the NeoShell fabric throughout, which, according to Sportful, means it will provide the most protection from the elements of all the jackets in the range. It also has fully taped seams, a waterproof zipper, three external rear pockets and reflective transfers on the back for added visibility. It’s available now in four different colours for men and three for women. Fiandre Pro Jacket Short-Sleeved The Fiandre Pro Jacket Short-Sleeved is Sportful’s answer to the Jerket craze. Sportful’s answer to the ‘jerket’ craze, which the Castelli Gabba started back in 2013, the Fiandre Pro Jacket Short-Sleeved offers the same level of protection as the Fiandre Pro Jacket but in a short-sleeve version (as you may have guessed). Like the long-sleeved jacket, it uses the Polartec NeoShell fabric throughout, with taped seams and a waterproof zipper. There are also three external pockets and a reflective transfer on the rear of the jacket. It is available now in four colours for men only. Fiandre Pro Medium Jacket The Fiandre Pro Medium Jacket has a large panel of Sportful’s NoRain fabric on the back to increase breathability. By using Sportful’s lighter NoRain fabric on the back – as used in its arm and knee warmers – Sportful claims the Fiandre Pro Medium Jacket offers even more breathability than the standard Fiandre Pro Jacket. That aside, the construction is similar to the heavier Pro jackets, with fully taped seams, a waterproof zipper and three external rear pockets with reflective detailing. The Fiandre Pro Medium Jacket is available now in four different colours for men and three for women. Fiandre Glove Sportful says the Fiandre Glove is its best glove for bad weather. Said to be Sportful’s best glove for bad weather, the Fiandre Glove is claimed to keep the rain out and the warmth in by using NeoShell fabric on the outside and a fleece lining inside. Like the jackets, the seams are said to be fully taped, while Sportful says a neoprene cuff provides a tight seal against the wrists to keep water and the cold out. Silicone strips have also been strategically placed on the palm to aid grip and the glove is pre-shaped to improve fit while gripping handlebars. The Sportful Fiandre Glove is available now.
“I reckon you’re going to get lucky today. It’s been raining here for the last month, but today’s looking good.” Frankly, I’m not sure I was looking at the same sky as my host, Roger, at Ardwyn House B&B, as angry clouds bubbled away in the cauldron up above. Perhaps this is what passes for good weather in Llanwrtyd Wells, or maybe his expectations have shifted after what was a truly rotten early 2019 summer. Maybe we’d get lucky. He says the weather here, in the self-styled smallest town in Britain, on the southern tip of the Cambrian Mountains, is suitably localised; they could get snow in nearby Abergwesyn and not get a flake here. Wales’s secret: the Cambrian Mountains. Joseph Branston Roger’s words were still rattling around my brain when, with a turn of the pedals, drops of rain fell onto my sunglasses. As we turned onto a section of gravel before the first kilometre was out, the sky caved in and bitterly cold rain came tumbling out. Welcome to the summer solstice, mid-Wales style. Set for adventure There’s something less offensive about copping a soaking while bikepacking, as opposed to, say, the Sunday club run. The inevitability that it’s bound to happen? That this is an adventure and that getting wet can be filed in that draw? Or perhaps the biggest saddle bag you’ve ever had makes the best ass saver, shielding you from the muck-spreading that is riding a gravel bike in the wet, or the spare dry clothes stuffed into said bag, should you need them? Whatever the reason, I wasn’t as downbeat as I usually am while riding in the rain. The bones of today’s ride were devised by a local rider I got in touch with in 2016, when gravel riding was beginning to take hold in Britain. The ride never happened for various fails on my part, but I always kept the route in mind and it made sense to do it today, as part of a bikepacking tour, in an altered form. Dependent on terrain, gravel miles are double compared to road miles. Joseph Branston Back then I was still wet behind the ears when it came to the unique demands of gravel riding. The 100-mile route I’d requested – based on what I was used to on the road bike – was met with some words of warning. The 80-mile route we settled on in 2016 was, I’d come to realise, still too demanding as a single day’s ride for me (and photographer Joe, who was hauling around an indecent weight of camera equipment in his rucksack), particularly with the kit we were carrying, so we shrunk it down further to a pint-sized 36 miles. Still, in my growing experience of gravel riding, 36 miles with 1,200m elevation loaded with kit wasn’t insubstantial. Dependent on terrain, gravel miles are double compared to road miles A general rule of thumb – and this is very much dependent on terrain – is that gravel miles count double compared to the road. This new route had a bit of everything: fantastic, extended sections of genuine gravel roads, connected by rural, quiet tarmac roads (including the supremely testing Devil’s Staircase climb, which we’d accidentally stumble upon) and some tougher, but short, sections of more mountain bike terrain. Not a problem for the Scott Addict Gravel 20, which, in the six months I’ve been riding it, has shown itself to be a supremely versatile machine – I’ve ridden it, without modifications, in road gran fondos, gravel rides and now bikepacking trips and it really is a do-all bike. Travelling smart and light is important when bikepacking Joseph Branston Hidden beauty This part of Wales is one that might be easily overlooked, sandwiched as it is between the national parks of the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. In 1965, attempts began to designate it as a national park, though these failed eight years later. Work is ongoing in securing it as an area of outstanding natural beauty. “If you pick up a relief map showing the National Parks and AONBs of England and Wales, you will quickly notice one large upland area that has neither; that’s mid Wales,” says the Cambrian Mountains Society, an action group set up to further the region’s cause. “If you’ve never been there, you might well conclude – and who could blame you? – that mid Wales is some kind of barren, dull wasteland that deserves no protection. But you’d be wrong.” The Devil’s Staircase spits at you, gaining 151m in 1.3km... it’s formidable They’re right, this is spellbinding terrain. Straight out of the gate of Llanwrtyd Wells, the route took us onto the rough stuff, and fast up to around 500m altitude. Not good news for photographer Joe, who, with his camera equipment in a rucksack, was hauling what felt like the equivalent of a small child on his back. He wasn’t moving fast, though this could easily have been the result of the gastrointestinal effect of him eating kippers for breakfast, swiftly followed by a peanut butter nutrition bar, a queasy combination that I felt determined to stay upwind of. This gravel track, and the hundreds of miles of similar tracks in this region, exists because of the huge industry of logging in the area. Not all of the roads are open to cyclists, or the general public. As a general rule, if there’s a sign that explicitly prohibits cyclists, we’d never recommend riding down it, though several locals we spoke to said they do and have never had any issues. One sign we saw said ‘Strictly no mountain bikers, runners or horse riding’ – does that mean we’d get off on a technicality in this new age of gravel riding? The sting in the tail is the aptly-named Devil’s Staircase. Joseph Branston Abergwesyn brought down the curtain on the first section of gravel and onto the tarmac, though this section of road, which stretches 20 miles all the way to Tregaron is so narrow, remote and desolate that you won’t care one jot. Come the Devil’s Staircase, however, and you might: it spits at you, gaining 151m in 1.3km making it a formidable climb on a lithe road bike, let alone a loaded gravel machine – and even more so when your photographer requests repetitions on its steep switchbacks. Just shy of the summit of the steep stuff, you swing a sharp left and get back onto the gravel. A relief for some, not for others, the gradient at least levels out, though you may have to mount a gate, which isn’t easy on the upper body after your wrestle with the Devil. At this point the climbing began to take its toll. While never long, they come thick and fast and such is the concentration and lower speeds needed for gravel descents, you don’t take the momentum into the next climb like you would on a road ride. Momentum was also cut by a never-ending series of cattle-gridded gates, which necessitated ungainly heaves of the Addict above my head and over the gate – all part of the bargain of gravel cycling. Refill stops: there are no shops or cafes on this route. Joseph Branston The sun – and a warm sun at that – was out by now and such was Joe’s thirst he was forced to refill his bottles in a stream. As expected there wasn’t a single cafe or shop to refuel and rehydrate on the whole route, so don’t travel light should you try this route out for yourself. By now we’d arrived at the northern reaches of the Llyn Brianne dam, which regulates flow of water into the River Tywi. We’ve been here before down its eastern tarmac side but today would negotiate down its more circuitous – and gravelly – western side, which strays higher and further away from the water. Construction on it finished in 1972, coming at a time of increasing water shortages in west Wales, and at 91m in height at 280.4m above sea level, it’s the highest dam in Britain. A hydro-electric station was added in 1997 – apparently, it’s a big tourist attraction and the modest sprinkling of cars was pretty much the sum of vehicles we saw during the entirety of our ride. The Llyn Brianne dam in all its glory. Joseph Branston From here to the finish in Llanwrtyd it was more of what had come before – and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We’re lucky to ride our bikes in all of the best places, but some rides still stand out. This was close to impeccable (any ride without a coffee stop doesn’t get 10 out of 10) but that serves us right for not packing a flask, we had the space. The Cambrian Mountains might not be a National Park, or an AONB, but it sure gets the seal of approval. Get the route Adventure Addicts Wales (This tour is private) Adventure Addicts Wales (2days) Grand Tour: guide to smart bikepacking The Scott Addict Gravel 20: “It really is a do-all bike“ Joseph Branston 1. Lighten the load While bikepacking isn’t about speed, travelling as light as possible always makes the ride more enjoyable, particularly on gravel roads. There is now a huge range of bikepacking luggage available, from the likes of Alpkit, Altura and Apidura. I had Specialized’s Burra Burra across the bike, and the Stabiliser Seatpack 10 is a highlight because you barely realise it’s there. Think about exactly what kit you need for your trip – over-packing evening clothing is a common mistake. If you’re camping, this kit will take up the bulk of your space (ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk is worth a look to keep your weight down. Be warned, low weight is generally proportional to high cost!) Staying in B&Bs is the ultimate way to travel light. 2. Plan your route, but stay flexible Sketching your route on apps such as Komoot is a must, but be prepared for unforeseen events on the road that you might not spot on your computer. Given the mixed terrain of bikepacking, your path may end up blocked – a river may be too high to cross, or a gravel road might be prohibited to cyclists. 3. Be prepared for bike emergencies Given the remote terrain that you might encounter on a bikepacking trip, be prepared to be your own mechanic. On a road bike you might be used to getting away with just a mini pump and a spare tube, but out in the wilderness you need the skills and tools to perform your own repairs, to bike and body. Chain tools and first aid kits are essential items. 4. Load your kit correctly Tents and clothing are best in the saddle bag, to give added weight to the rear. A front handle-bar bag is best to keep light, so something that doesn’t weigh too much and isn’t going to rattle around. The frame bag is best for items you need easy access to with water bottles in their usual place in a cage.