Finishing Kit List for Transcontinental 2014 – What worked and what didn’t | Part I – Bike

The feeling in our hands and feet is slowly coming back and the thought of getting back on a bike is looking more appealing, so a review of the kit that got us through Europe to Istanbul seems appropriate…

BIKE

Charge Bikes – Plug 5

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First things first, it got there. That surely has to be the biggest compliment to it. Many other riders and racers had to abandon as their kit failed around them and they were plagued with mundane, avoidable mechanical issues which really should not have occurred, as well as some rather spectacular mechanical failures.

The bike was run as it would straight out of the factory or shop with only a few small changes to allow us to ride further and longer. The stock bike retails for £1599.00

The front hub was swopped out to an Exposure Revo Dynamo system to power the lights and Supernova Plug III usb charger.

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The original rim from the Plug was used and built into a 32h wheel. The only downside to this was that the rim was quite heavy. It did however, make a very strong wheel which was faultless for the entire trip, no need to retrue or tighten any spokes.

IMG_6321The lighting system was incredible and one of the highlights of the kit that we used. 1000 Lumins out front meant that we could see everything we needed with no issues. It projected a wide beam that was powerful enough to see any holes or glass on the road even when descending at around 50km/h.

An Exposure Joystick was used as a headlight for rummaging around in bags at night, once again, brilliant and once charged, lasted for the whole trip.

Strange to say, but we looked forward to night riding, as the temperatures were cooler and the dawn and dusk views were breathtaking. The only downsides were many shops were closed so it was difficult to get food and water if we ran out and the dogs in Eastern Europe were a little more ‘lively’ at night!

The rear ‘red eye‘ light provided enough to be seen and still functioned, albeit dimmed, after 2 hours of inactivity. This meant that we sometimes would sleep and wake up with the lights still on.

The Alpkit luggage worked very well. The frame bag behind the headtube held spare innertubes (2), zip ties, electrical tape, multitool, chain links, spare brake and gear cable and 1 set of brake pads. Of all the kit that we took, this bag was opened the least, thankfully.

The bag above the top tube held essentials, such as chargers, maps, sweets and painkillers, all easily accessible whilst riding. It also held a iPhone well, even when unzipped, so we could listen to music when riding. A great boost when tired or hungry to get to the next target town.

The rear saddle bag held all the bulk of clothing and spares that we needed to access daily. The bag did have a tendency to swing around when very full but it never rubbed on legs or alter the balance of the bike so was no real issue. It wasn’t as waterproof as you may expect, so clothes did get wet inside if riding in the wet. A different material, similar to the front bag would make a big difference. Some reflective trim or more visible material around it would also help be seen by drivers at night.

The front dry bag held our sleeping kit, although after Italy, we ended up binning this as we wanted to shed some weight from the bikes and this was the easiest way. The position of the dry bags also meant that the only hand position available was on the hoods. Not an issue on the first day, but after the aches and pains started, being able to change hand positions would have made a big difference.

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The Supernova PLUG III could be wired into the Exposure hub to charge any usb units. It worked well, although could not be used in conjunction with the lights and would only charge above 15km/h which meant that you had to be on the flat or descending.

One downside to this unit was the Garmin Touring Plus that was used would automatically power down if the item was charging, then power removed. I.e. if the speed dropped below 15km/h. This became very frustrating as even at corners or junctions the unit would power off and sometimes take a long time to power back up and find our route again.

One solution that we found to this was to use a small power pack to charge the Garmin and leave the dynamo to solely charge the lights.

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This did work well and provided around 4 full chargers until the battery was empty. This could only be charged from a power supply though and after day 4 both our wall chargers broke leaving us without any way of topping up battery levels at restaurants or hotels.

The rear wheel was also changed to an Easton EA90 Cyclocross disc wheel. This was far lighter than the stock wheel and was totally faultless during the whole race. Fewer spokes, but they all stayed tight and true, a sign of quality.

The tyres were changed to Continental GP 4 Seasons (25c on front and 28c on back) from the stock Kenda tread. These were faster rolling and lighter. They both had around 1000km of training rides in them before we set off and still have loads of life left. Brilliant tyres and very strongly recommend for this style of event. We were confident in their puncture resistance even when we did stray off the roads at times…

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In Switzerland we ended up on trails and cycle paths like these for around 60km. At the time, these were a nightmare as we felt they weren’t fast enough for us, but looking back, they were a welcome brake from the traffic.

The disc brakes, in my humble opinion, were a necessity on this race and they performed superbly. Descending the Stelvio, at 7am, in -7degrees with cold hands and loaded bikes was no major issue with discs. A real plus point for the bike.

IMG_6323The Fabric Scoop saddle was far more comfortable than it’s racy image would let you believe. Day 4/5 were pretty uncomfortable as we had spent close to 70 hours on the bikes so far, but either my bum start to fit the saddle more or the shape finally ‘broke’ in, but it was totally pain free after than for the following 2000km. Very strongly recommended. There are three shapes available; flat, shallow and radius. I was using the shallow.

My one gripe about the bike was that when tired, the Sram gears felt very heavy to shift due to the doubletap action, especially on the front. A huge effort was often required to change gear and some serious thought was put in if it was necessary. This may have had something to do with achilles tendon issues as I was frequently standing up on the pedals to climb to avoid changing gear.

Two punctures and a worn out bottom bracket. That is all that went wrong on a 12 day, 3600km adventure. Not worrying about the bike is such a huge relief when there are so many other things that need thinking about; navigating, eating, sleeping, drinking, riding, enjoying ourselves….

A brilliant, versatile, reliable, efficient bike…I would happily use it again for this style of event.

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We Finished Transcontinental 2014!

Gaby and I completed The Transcontinental 2014 and totally surprised not only ourselves, but seemingly the whole of the rest of the field and everyone we know by finishing in 12days 10hours securing me 18th Place overall and Gabs 2nd Female.

It was the hardest bike race I have ever done but without doubt one of the most memorable.

We are both totally blown away by the support and encouragement that we have received from friends, family, acquaintance and strangers over the past 2 weeks. It has been a truly unforgettable experience and there are many stories and pictures to come out of it over the next few weeks once our hands and fingers have some more feeling back in them.

Charge Bikes, who have been supporting us through this whole adventure have been fantastic and we were so happy to have been working with them and using their bikes.

A full write up of kit and bikes will follow, but surely the biggest praise is that they made it there. Apart from 2 punctures and a worn out bottom bracket the bikes were totally faultless! What more can you ask for?

Alex Rankin has put together a little trailer for the soon to be released video of our adventures…

 

We have also just uploaded around 90% of the race onto Strava. The Garmins would occasionally run out of batteries and would be switched off so a few chunks are missing.

We find it a useful training tool to see how much climbing, we did, pacing and hours in the saddle and are then able to analyse which were strong days and which could have been improved. You can see the rides HERE.

 

More coming soon…

The Amateur World Championship Qualifications – Trento, Italy

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After a summer of racing in the local French events, Ben and I decided to head over to Italy to compete in the qualifier event for the Amateur world champs. The UWCT which is the governing body for amateur road cycling hold a world tour each year made up of events in 12 different countries with the top 25% of athletes going through to compete for rainbow stripes in World Finals. For us living in the French Alps, our nearest qualifiers we either La Look in Nevers France or La Leggendaria Charley Gaul in Trento Italy. The French event is held early in the season – May so we decided to head over the boarder and try our luck in Italy.

The event is awesome and so well organised, spread over 3 days with a Friday evening time trial followed by a rest day then the Road race on the Sunday. When you arrive, there are signpost through the town directing you to a big sports centre where you collect your race numbers and timing chip. You are also given a big bag full of water bottles, pasta, energy bars, jam, fruit and all the information you need about the event. They also run a bike expo from the centre where you can test ride a range of bikes.

Whilst in Trento we camped at a Agrotourism, which is a rural farm which provides cheap accommodation and amazing home-made local food and produce. It was perfect 5km from Trento which meant we could pedal in on the morning of the road race.

The first part of the event – The time trial was held in a town called Cavedine just outside of Trento which is in the lake valley. The course was a 24km loop it started with a small climb before descending down to the lake, climbing back up then finishing on a long open (windy) flat.

Neither Ben or I have ever done a trial trial course like this before, it was longer than anything we had ever done and much more varied. We both just went for it full pelt from the go and I think both suffered a bit on the climb, I didn’t know if it was possible to hit the wall on such a short distance but I think I came pretty close. We still have a lot to learn about time trialing. We rode our normal road bikes in our usual cycling kit, looking around and chatting to people was great we both want to do more time trialing so maybe at some point some more specific kit would be beneficial. Having said that we were both pleased with our results Ben came in 8th and I managed to get up of the second step of the Podium which I was super happy with! You have to wail for an e-mail invitation to the finals but if you get on the podium its a guaranteed qualification so I as through to the next round and we headed in to town for a beer to celebrate.

The next day was a rest day so we used the time to scope out part of the road race course, stretch our legs with a short pedal and go swimming in the lake. We had a chilled evening and cooked some dinner at our Agrotouism then headed to our tent for an early night.

Sunday morning was an early start 5am alarm, breakfast, dressed and pedal into Trento to the main square for the 8am mass start. 2500 people take part in the Charley Gaul. The start feels epic. There are 6 start pens one for pro’s and VIPS, then the elite men’s pen where you need to have some previous good results to get in, this is where Ben started, an all women’s pen which I was in then 3 more depending on when you signed up. There was a host of lead out motorbikes, music blaring and a helicopter hovering overhead. The atmosphere was buzzing, they do a countdown then start opening the pens and you are off – full speed weaving out of the town, the whole event is closed road and everyone is going for it trying to get up front and into the fast groups. People are going round both sides of roundabouts, bunny hopping curbs, over and undertaking. The whole race was fantastic and massively varied with something for everyone. It was 141km with 4000m of vertical assent with flat sections linking the climbs, narrow cobbled roads through small villages and even a section though a series of alleyways. The finish line was at the top of Mt Bandone on the Vason side, with a height of 1.650 meters an the same exact point that Gaul crossed in 1956. Ben made it over the line in 5hours 34 minuets coming 55th in his category and I wasn’t far behind with 5hours 48 coming 6th. It was a tough course with the final climb feeling gruelling to say the least. I was really looking forward to seeing Ben at the top so I think that’s what motivated me to keep on pushing up to the line. When I got there I was able to quickly find Ben, he was in the pasta party tent sitting with a tray packed full of food. We both sat and ate before descending back down the 38 bends which Mt Bandone is famous for and straight into a an ice cream shop.

Italian Time Trials, Gran Fondos and Pasta Parties

The chance to ride at a world class F1 and moto GP circuit is not something that happens very often, let alone one in Italy and with friends.

The first ever Over The Hill Gran Fondo, held in the Imola GP circuit was being held at the same time we were in the region just north of Tuscany and with a good friend Stefano from @saddledrunk offering to look after us in his family’s nearby home, it was an opportunity that was far too good to pass up. It also seemed like the perfect end to our month long cycling trip where all the training, riding and touring could be out to the test to see how we were really doing.

We signed up online a few days before the event to ensure that we got a space on the GF and along with the option of 102 or 162km event there was also a Time Trial option. Neither Gaby or myself had ever entered a TT before and though it might be a fun if painful 30minutes of bombing around an infamous circuit (making braap noises).

We did have one slight issue though, Gaby’s carbon bike had broken and she wasn’t able to use it. Our Charge touring bikes are built for massive mile munching and are perfect for that, but for a 15km TT they weren’t suitable so we went on the hunt for a bike to borrow!

Almost instantly we stumbled across a company called Kemo who were demoing their top end race bikes and kindly lent us 2 to have a wiz round the circuit on!

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To say Gabs was ‘off like a rocket’ was a bit of an understatement. Riding her loaded touring bike for 150km a day for the past month had clearly helped as she shot around the course with me desperately trying up keep up and putting my heart rate through the ceiling.

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After returning to the demo arena with huge smiles, panting and explaining how impressed we were with the bike, the mechanics and owner (with a little persuasion) offered to lend Gabs the bike to compete in the TT.

Numbers were hastily attached to the bike and jersey and off we went to the start line to eye up the competition!

We were defiantly the odd ones out with ‘typically’ cycling clothing and helmets…no aero ‘sperm’ lids or over socks for us and certainly no TT bars or Disc wheels.

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The girls were up first and after 10 had set off with 1 minute intervals it was time for gofastergaby to show what she was made of. 3 Laps of the 5km circuit as fast as possible. We estimated that finishing in 30minutes would be a solid time. 30kph.

After a flat out first lap and having over taken 2 people, Gabs looked in no way like slowing down, even taking time out to wave at the crowd and ‘ciao’ a few photographers on the way round. Well I suppose happy miles are fast miles after all!

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We still need to confirm the exact time but around the 25minute mark was her effort…and good enough to bag 3rd place. It also turns out that this event was a rather prestigious one as the winners received the Italian national jersey for their efforts! Next time Gabs…no waving and I wonder how she would do?

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Her prize for 3rd place…a huge Ham! Now if only more races rewarded success with charcuterie cycling would be the most popular sport in the world!

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Even though I didn’t get on the podium I was very happy with my efforts. I managed to beat 30 people with funny helmets and big carbon wheels and got a time of 22minutes over the hilly course.

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Gabs loved it, and understandably as she performed fantastically…I wasn’t so sure as felt like I was going to be sick with exertion for 20minutes, didn’t see anyone on course as I was keeping the same distance between the 2 in front and behind me and then collapsed…

…still a good day out, especially after pasta and Peronis!

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Mansell

New Versatile Adventure Racing Kit

We were lucky enough to be invited down last week to sunny Somerset to meet up with the guys at Charge Bikes. They have been kind enough to supply us with our long distance bikes we will be using for the Transcontinental Race.

The bikes they had lined up for us were the fantastic Plug 5 that are their top of the pile ‘on road adventure’ bike. Lightweight but strong steel frames, compact gearing, super strong wheels and very importantly disc brakes!

We thought that these would be important due to the extra carrying weight of our kit and the issues that can arise with the rims wearing down and failing and also their performance gains in the wet.

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The only additions that we made, were to switch the stock sram hydro brakes with some cable ones as if there were issues we could easily fix them ourselves, whereas those that use hydraulic brakes know, problems can seldom be ‘bodged’ at the side of the road or trail and require specialist kit that we simply won’t be carrying. The only other alteration that will be made, will be to put a 30t or 32t rear cassette on instead of the stock 28t. Dragging our sorry bodies up the stelvio pass to check point 2 will be hard enough on its own, without a weeks solid riding under our belts and touring kit. Every little helps to keep the cadence and speed up!

We were also offered a selection of their brand new line of saddles. Three in the range, all with a polycarbonate base offering support yet a small amount of flex and different fits to suit different shapes and riding styles. The hardest choice was which colour?

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We can’t wait to get riding some big days on them and will keep updated with a 100km and 1000km review as soon as they’re done!

As well as Charge helping out enormously with the bikes, Oakley and Giro have supplied all our cycling kit. We couldn’t be happier working with these brands.

The Giro shoes and clothing that arrived for us looked fantastic. They have really stepped up recently and made some fantastic garments. We received a massive mix of items from undershirts to shorts and jerseys.

Gaby’s favorite item so far is her Primaloft Gilet. Super light weight, it packs up to be the size of an apple (great for stowing in a back pocket) and is warm abs windprood. She’s barely taken it off.

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The long sleeved windproof hoody has also been a favorite, providing warmth whilst pedaling but still looking great when off it.

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I’ve been using oakleys to ride with all my life so being supplied with all our eye wear from them was a dream. The colour orange has popped up a fair bit so we thought it might be an appropriate theme for some of our clothing since the bikes are totally stealth, a little tangerine burst might look great, as well as adding a safety aspect for riding at dawn and dusk.

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Without doubt my two favorite items. Giro Empire lace up shoes with Oakley Radar Locks with Polarized Fire Iridium Lens. I never used to be too fused about colour…all that has changed. The photos do not do justice to these two! The orange is a mix between fluro and the sun. Intense.

The shoes are simply stunning, incredibly light and with the lace ups (a feature very rarely seen on road shoes, let alone performance ones) means that they fit like a glove. The sole also offers a massive amount of support as it’s made from Easton’s EC90 carbon, their top stuff.

Plenty more photos and write ups of the kit will be coming up, but for now keep up to date with our adventures, photos and locations via

Twitter: @benalpinetweet
Instagram: @mansell85

These will both be updated as regularly as possible.

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