Sunday, 20 November 2016

El Teide Tenerife - Tips for Road Cyclists

El Teide in the Distance
Cited as 'Europes longest continuous climb' - the volcano El Teide on the island of Tenerife is on the bucket list of many a keen road cyclist.  Standing some 3,718M tall, its imposing figure dominates the skyline of the Canarian island.

Returning to Tenerife to ride up the East side route recently, I thought it worth noting some tips about the climb if you're planning to head up that way on an upcoming cycle holiday to Tenerife or just taking a day out from the family to shoot up there and tick it off the list.

Each way up offers a different ascent and length profile.  So if you plan to ride El Teide you should study the different routes up.  

Road Cycling Tour Guides - Club Activo

I rode with an organised ride, booked through Club Activo cycling.  Club Activo is a fairly new business, formed around a cycle cafe and hub up in San Miguel.  I'd discovered them by accident whilst riding up to San Miguel from Las Americas (a lovely 10 mile steady climb at around 6%).  

With a friendly welcome, good English speaking staff, a bike rack outside and obligatory espresso machine, they had all the ingredients of a place I'd be going back to time after time on my holiday.

Cost was €55 to join the tour, including the transfer, bananas, water, energy bars and a rather nice two course meal when we returned to the cafe after the descent.  If you want to hire a bike too, it's around €80.00. 

Our guides for the day were Estonian - Anti - (a body double for Peter Sagan) and Lorenzo, assisted by Edward in the mini-bus (who was a good laugh).  The guides were very competent cyclists, who rode at the front and back of the group enabling everyone to ride at their own speed.  Group size was around 15 people all of varying capability.

Setting Off

We set off from a point up on the TF-24 road where the junction of the TF-523 meets it in the forestThe mini-bus groaned as Edward went up and down the minibus gearbox to cope with the gradient which undulates between 6-11% on the way up.

I climbed up this part (the bit we drove) last year from a place called Cosme on the TF-523, it is a real tough climb of switchbacks and steep ramps. The route that I took last year you can find here on Strava.  Was 11.3 miles with 3,930 feet of climbing, roughly 347ft per mile which is a tough first leg

Arriving in the forest you are already at around 5,500 feet in terms of altitude.  It was cold and we were all soon shivering and putting layers on keen to get off.  A cold mist enveloped the area.


As we rolled, you could notice straight away that the thinner air disrupted your normal breathing pattern.  My heart rate was running around 3-5bpm higher than normal.  I'd already determined that I was going to sit around 152-156bpm on the climb, so I was keen to find a tempo/rhythm as soon as possible.

The road is a pretty steady 6% gradient for most of the way (27.6 miles).  Interestingly there are a couple of quick descents within the ascent.  They are potential flashpoints as the shade hides some pretty nasty road conditions until you are right on top of them at 40mph, it's very much a case of hang on!! 
One of the descents on the way
As you come out the forest and out of the low cloud, you get this magnificent viewAs you look over the edges you realise just how high you really are.  You need to stay focused as you could quite easily ride off the side if you lose your concentration.

Looking back to the Clouds
Temperature wise, you're now beginning to strip off all the layers you put on before as your work rate collides with the warm weather. As we climbed up it was around 23 degrees, which was absolutely lovely.  It was a clear day and you could see for miles.  As you look ahead you see El Teide in the distance (see photo at top of blog).

Keeping a steady tempo was definitely easier given the temperature and altitude.  Around half way up I took a quick pic of the Garmin screen (see below).


Garmin Data after the 12 mile climb - took 1 Hour
After passing the top of the Volcano on our right (you can't ride to the absolute top) your not far from reaching the top of the road where you'll eventually get to see this sign indicating that you've done it. At this point, you'll have covered 27.6 miles and 3,750ft of elevation (135ft of elevation per mile). You can see the climb here on Strava.

At the Top of El Teide
After all that climbing, of course you get to go descend and what a thrill that is.  Just shy of 14 miles of twisting roads where you're generally doing 40-45mph on the straight bits, slowing down for the bends and switchbacks.  

My average on this stretch was 29.7mph and it was brilliant fun.  You may need to take a gilet with you if the conditions are cooler as it can get cold.  At 23 degrees we were OK on the day.  

Eventually we reached the cafe at San Miguel, racked the bikes and tucked into a two course lunch of soup and salad with bread, then some grilled chicken (washed down with a well earned beer), followed by coffee.
Post Ride Lunch in the Cafe
Conclusion

It's a stunning climb, I'd recommend anyone to do it.  If you climb up from Cosme (adding on the bit that I did the previous year), then it will around 39 miles of climbing with circa 7.7K of ascent (roughly 197ft per mile). I'll be back next year to do that.

Thanks to the guys at Club Activo cycling for a well organised tour and some great grub when we got back. Would definitely recommend them if you're considering a ride up El Teide or one of their other tours around the island of Tenerife.

Kit List

One of the upsides of booking through an organised tour provider was having a support van where you could chuck a bag in.  On the day I wore, bib shorts, base layer and short sleeved top.  I did however take a cap and arm warmers, plus a gilet due to the cold conditions setting up and also in case of need for the descent.  I also had a rain cape as it can be known to suddenly heavy rain given the height you are at, didn't need it though.

The support van had plenty of water.  I took some Zero tablets with me and ensured I had regular fluids as we went up, keeping the electrolytes going.

Bike

I hired a bike from Bike Point Tenerife in Las Americas.  This is the second time I've used them.  They have a nice range of bikes which are well set-up in a well stocked shop which has everything you need if you've forgotten to bring it.  I hired this Focus Izalco which was very well set-up.   

 

Gears were tight, rubber was new and brakes very sharp.  I took my own saddle out with me.  Gear ratio was 52/36 on the front with a 32 tooth cassette on the rear.  Hoops were nice with DT swiss hubs which rolled very well.  Overall the bike was superb, ideal for climbing and very predictable on the descents.

Pedals I hired too plus helmet.  They supply a saddle bag with inner tube and levers.  If you let them have your measurements in advance, they'll get the bike set up to your dimensions too, which is very handy.  

If you do a tour with Club Activo, they have a fleet of Ridley bikes which you can hire for €25 or so a day. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Manchester BikeFit Review




I've long been a big supporter of the idea of getting your bike fit right.  Before you invest money in upgrades, it's best to invest in getting your position absolutely right on the bike.  A bit like sorting your swing before buying an expensive set of golf clubs.

Having got back into riding in a big way since 2008, it's become evident to me that the quickest ways to go faster on your bike as an amateur are generally: -

1. Losing some weight.
2. Upgrading your wheels.
3. Getting your bike fit right.
4. Employing a coach.  

Buying a carbon bike isn't the be all and end all of going fast as a amateur.  I'm able to put in average speeds within 0.5Mmph on my aluminum winter bike equipped with Mavic Ksyrium wheels.  

So, if you've done (1), spent on (2), then (3) +(4) should definitely be on your list of things to do if you've plateaued as a rider and don't seem to be able to shift your average speed.

Getting Fit and Fitted

The build up to deciding to go for a full on pro fit was driven by recurring tight hamstrings post ride.  Since employing a coach in August year, my volume and load had gone up considerably from 400 or so miles a month to 800+ including turbo interval sessions each evening.  We were both puzzled as to why the hamstring issue was occurring all of a sudden so a process of ruling things in/out ensued.  

First stop was a visit to Foot and Insole in Whalley (great place, review here) whereupon I'd had some custom insoles made to correct a supination issue (not standing straight basically).  Insoles are now worn in all my footwear aswell as cycling shoes and they've helped considerably.

Long story short, after several small tweaks to the on bike position without much luck, I ended up having an MRI scan which diagnosed a degenerating disc in my back.  The hamstring tightness being a related secondary issue due to the volume/load.  

The orthopedic consultant (himself a cyclist) suggested I source a place where all aspects of my on bike position, pedal stroke, cleat positioning, saddle etc could be reviewed to get things absolutely spot on and millimeter perfect.

Cyclefit Manchester

Whilst driving through the Northern Quarter of Manchester, I came across Cyclefit who had recently opened up a studio providing exactly what I needed.  They offer a range of services including a full professional fitting service with camera analysis, saddle pressure mapping, cleat set-up adjustment, physio assessment, the lot.  The main benefit being that you can be reviewed holistically, from feet upwards.  They already fit a number of professional cycling teams and professional riders from World Tour teams to Pro-Continental so they know their stuff.




Behind the Business

The business was started by Julian Wall and Phil Cavell.  You can read more about how and why it started here.  Bottom line was they were both injured, had investigated all sorts of medical interventions to get back on the straight and narrow, then had the epiphany that their on bike positions were critical to their recovery and - spotting a gap in the market in 1996, the rest is history.  

I got to meet both of the owners over a couple of visits and their passion for ensuring that your bike fit is as best as it can be came shining through.  Both highly knowledgeable guys, drilling down into all aspects of my own medical history within seconds of meeting them with eyes going up and down at the same time, sizing you up!

The Fit Itself

I went for the full professional fit with saddle pressure mapping (£225) and shoe/cleat positioning (£95).  Given the issue with my disc, I wanted to be 100% confident that - moving forward - I do everything possible to ensure comfort, performance and that my on bike position doesn't aggravate the situation

Arriving at the studio 

Greeted by fitter - Matt Hallam - we went into the studio where everything is set-up.  You're greeted by a bike rig, cameras, a big screen and all sorts of technical measuring equipment which is put into use during your session.  It's like a lab, full of tech and wizadry, just what you want.

Matt initially took me a through a detailed questionnaire about reasons for the fit, cycling objectives, health issues and general fitness plus flexibility. From there he did a physical assessment including measuring hamstring length, general flexibility, hip and leg length and all the other attributes which determine ultimately how you end up on the bike.  All these are being captured as you go straight into a report which gets e-mailed to you at the end.

Pelvic Measurement
Cyclefit also take all the measurements from your current bike and set up the rig exactly to the same dimensions so as to know the exact start point.  All this is recorded as they go on a record which gets e-mailed to you which explains where all the adjustments have been made and compares old. vs new.

The rig that it used for the fitting process is quite something, around £12K per unit to buy it seems.  The unique thing about it is that adjustments can be made in real time whilst you are riding.  There's no need to keep getting on and off or stop/start, so microscopic adjustments can be made on the fly.

Rig used for Fitting at Cyclefit
On The Rig

When you spin up the rig, all the cameras go on and video is captured of your rotation, front/rear movement, in fact pretty much everything.  Dots are placed on you at key points for the software to trackFrom that, several images are captured and the fitter can then determine the optimum angles.  



It's an iterative process.  The rig itself can be adjusted in real time with you on the bike, including saddle height, reach, so everything is done on the fly with your pedal stroke, hip movements, line of spine and overall position being monitored to ensure optimum position relative to your requirements and also the feedback that you gave in the consultation session.



Saddle Pressure Mapping

Cyclefit have a gadget (costs around £6K) which measures in real time where your pressure is loading on your saddle when cycling.  For me this was another key component - given my lower back situation - to get right.  The tool itself is a pressure mat which goes onto your saddle, with data capture software which then captures what's happening as you pedal to then convert into a heatmap (below).

As you can see , my current saddle and position meant I was totally front loading with hardly anything at the back which would have been aggravating the situation with my back/tendons.
Left Image = Current Saddle; Right Image = New Saddle + Position
Left Data= Current Saddle; Right Data= New Saddle + Position
After spinning up on the rig for five to ten minutes and having the saddle adjusted we got to a position where the conclusion was my current saddle (a Selle Italia gel flow) wasn't right for me.  Although I've always found it comfortable, the general design relative to my hips etc was leading to an imbalance in pressure and position.  

I've ridden Selle Italia Gel flow saddles for years, however analysis showed that a saddle change would be helpful and I changed to a Bontrager Montrose which got fitted in store whilst I was there (cost £89.99). The saddle was taking more of the pressure at the rear (desired outcome) which ultimately engaged the glute muscle group more.  

The chart below indicates where I was (left) to where we ended up (right).



Cleat Positioning

During the session, the fitter is also reviewing all elements of your pedal stroke.  When I visited Foot and Insole, we identified what they call a 'leg length discrepancy' which is very common it seems.  That is one leg is marginally shorter than the other.

As the session continued, various permutations of cleat position and packing were tried until an optimum was found.  All this you can see in real time on the TV screens via the cameras in front of you.  

For me it meant, the cleats were adjusted quite significantly with packing put between the footbed and the cleat to balance out power L/R aswell as an adjustment outwards on either side, pushing them away from the cranks.

I could never have got a cleat fit to this level of accuracy on my own. Having someone fully assess you on the rig, make the change, then see - via the data - what that does to your power and stroke is what you end up with.

Bringing It All Together


Walking away, quite a few changes had been made: -

  1. Saddle went up 13mm
  2. Cleat position was changed with feet pushed out around 10mm either side
  3. Saddle fore/aft was changed and put further back to line up my knees better during the pedal stroke.
  4. Packing was put underneath my shoes between the shoe bed and cleat.  Different levels were put under each side to compensate for a small leg length discrepancy.

 Results
  
The key thing after all this is what happened afterwards.  It's been a couple of weeks since the fit and I'm getting on very well with the new position.
  • Cockpit is comfortable with much more hip support and glute engagement from the new saddle and position.
  • I've done four rides, two flat and two lumpy and on each have come back with around 20 Strava personal records on each, so clearly more power is getting to the cranks.
  • Post-ride recovery seems to be quicker, with less hamstring tightness and a fresher feeling when doing a Sunday ride after a Saturday ride.   
Final Thoughts


There are a lot of bike fitting services available, no doubt.  

Many of them will do a very good job for you in getting the basics right in terms of your position relative to your goals.

If you are the type of person who wants to get their position totally dialled in for an upcoming event like a sportive, etape, triathlon or ironman then Cyclefit is the place for you.  

Equally if you have a medical issue, it's also for you (as in my case).  

If you've just invested in a fancy new bike, then ensure you get your position spot on to enjoy it.  On the basis that a bike can cost you £2,500 to £3,000 then it's about 10% of that cost in terms of investment.


Overall it was a real intuitive and educational experience, where I learnt a lot and can now ride my bike 100% confident that everything relative to my position, long term health and overall performance is now spot on.

A full price list can be found here.  If you do contact them, please let them know you read the review.