Friday, 9 January 2015

2015 Giant TCX Advanced 2 – Short term review.

At the end of September, after a summer of riding a Giant Defy Composite 2, it was time to choose a new bike. All the usual questions arose; do I get another road bike, or perhaps that first full suspension mountain bike??  Given that winter was coming, and most of my riding would be the daily commute I settled on the most sensible choice, a Cyclocross bike. Lightweight, nimble and ideal for canal path riding and road use alike. 

With All Terrain being one of the main sponsors of the New Years Day Cyclocross Race at Ripley Castle, this seemed to be a good choice to enter the Go Cross event on too, but more on that later.

Having settled on a TCX, it was down to two models, the ALUXX framed TCX SLR 1 or the Advanced Carbon framed TCX Advanced 2. Knowing how good Giant are at making frames, and how good their carbon is, it was a really easy choice. Full carbon frame and fork please. TCX Advanced 2 it was.  Even better news for me was that the bikes were in stock in my size, Medium/Large for a 6ft ish rider, and would be with me earlier than any of the other models too.  

The next couple of weeks were spent eagerly awaiting delivery of the bike. Like all cyclists, I waited patiently and didn’t get like a small child at Christmas once it arrived.

With the bike built and ready to ride, the first thing I noticed was the weight. I don’t know quite what I was expecting but it was a bit heavier than I thought it would be. Looking into the specs of the bike I couldn’t find any fault. Shimano 105 11speed shifters and derailleurs, FSA Cyclocross chain set, TRP Spyre cable pull disc brakes and Giant’s own brand wheels. The “extra” weight was in the frame.

 After a moment’s thought, I realized this would be because the frame needs to be stronger than on a road bike, therefore heavier than one too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a heavy bike by anybodies standards, just a bit heavier than I was expecting.
Having set the saddle height, fitted my Shimano M530 SPD pedals and Hope light, I was ready for that all important first ride.  Looking out of the workshop window, it was a typical late September Yorkshire evening – cold, wet and windy. Perfect weather to test a new CX bike. Canal towpath ride it was then!! Let’s do this!!
45 minutes later I get home, with a grin plastered across my face, along with about an inch of mud. 

As a first ride goes, that was well above my expectations. The TCX carried speed so easily and was so well planted that even though I’d never ridden one before, I set a few PB’s on Strava on that first ride. There are sections along my route home that are smooth, and then there are sections that aren’t. The TCX rolled easily over all of it. 

The only places it really struggled (or was it me??) were the rutted bumpy path alongside a lock, and the soggy gloopy muddy puddles. To be honest though, I find those bits a bit interesting on my Orange Crush too.

The next few rides were spent fine tuning my ride position and getting used to riding clipped in off-road again. Once my ride position was sorted, the bike felt even better. Getting used to a CX specific gearing would take a bit longer though. Having ridden a compact chain set on the Defy, with a 30T on the rear, it made short work of the hills. The TCX has a 46/36T chain set, with an 11-28T cassette. A bit of a surprise on the first few hills, and even a bit of pushing up them too. 

Maybe I’m not quite as fit as I thought. After a few weeks though, the ratios are making sense, and I’m not pushing up as many hills as before, just a couple in my local woods when the ground is wet/loose.

With us now coming out of winter, the nights will get lighter and the rides will get longer. I’ll be able to put the bike through a bit more of a test, and myself too. So far, so good though.  At this point, I’d recommend everyone to consider a Cyclocross bike for their winter/commute bike. 

It still puts a smile on my face each time I ride it.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

So, that's 2014 done and dusted for me, finishing it in style laid up in bed with a virus, time to reflect.....

The year started well, I had 2 goals, going sub 8 hours on my local sportive The Etape du Dales and having a bash at a 300 miler. I also decided to train, actually properly train using a structured programme, something I'd never done before. I decided on  Chris Carmichael's time-pressed cyclist plan for no other reason than my mate had the book. I suppose his fame is morally questionable these days, but his plan did fit nicely around my shift work. I was due to start the programme at the beginning of March, it being a 12 week plan, which would take me to a pinnacle of my cycling prowess for the EdD (positive mental attitude and all that).

Then it all went pear-shaped, well, Ford Fiesta shaped. On a ride out around Longridge Fell I was hit square on by a Ford Fiesta pulling out of a junction.

 Lots of blue lights, a very apologetic young driver and a trip to Preston Hospital on a spine board. All very exciting and bloody annoying, although whilst strapped to the spine board and being told my bike was in several pieces I did start to ponder about a shiny new bike.....

Scans showed nothing more than soft tissue damage so I was booted out into the A and E waiting area in soggy lycra with a very suspicious looking brown stain on my lower back where a chocolate gel had exploded. Several weeks of physio saw me fit to ride again but without a bike. I'd decided on a Giant Defy Advanced but it was a victim of it's own success and was near as dammit impossible to get hold of one, so the budget was blown and I ordered a Kinesis Gran Fondo Ti frame to be built up with Ultegra and some very nice Swiss Side Gotthard wheels.

The training programme worked a treat. On a borrowed bike (cheers Andy) I managed the Etape du Dales in 7hrs 40 which I was really chuffed with. A month later I did the Open Adventure Coast to Coast In A Day sportive, a cracking event giving 150 miles of pretty challenging riding through beautiful scenery and well orgnaised too. I managed that one in 10hrs but I had an underlying problem with stomach pains, something which had niggled me on the EdD too. I'd find that after 7hrs of riding I just couldn't eat or drink, feeling very bloated and throwing up. I tried not using gels or sugary stuff (on a spin round the Fred Whitton route which ended in me bonking) but I still felt rough, in the mean time my Kinesis arrived and was built up, I decided to christen it with a 200 miler (bit ambitious), I managed the distance but had to get rescued 2 miles from home having not eaten or drunk any fluids in 6 hours, bloody guts! The answer eventaully lay in Michael Hutchinson's book "Faster" when he talked about Team Sky's nutritionist giving the team pro-biotics and sorting out their gut bacteria. A course of pills and a tentative 8hr ride, then a 12 hr ride and things were looking good, happy days!

On a whim I decided on trying my 300 miler in October, I knew I needed relatively decent weather and was running out of time if I wanted a bash at it in 2014. I picked as flat a route as possible through the Ribble Valley, The Fylde then up the Lune into the Eden Valley and then north. I evtuually turned around at Moffat and headed back south, following the Settle-Carlisle railway. After 4 punctures and 11,000ft of climbing I finally got to Kirkby Stephen with 320 miles under my wheels. The train was my way home and after 27hrs on the bike was very welcoming!

So that was the lows and highs of 2014, other gems were Great Dun Fell in a gale, hitting 101kph descending Fleet Moss and 4000+ other miles around the Dales.

Stand out bits of kit? Ultegra 11 speed is awesome, the 11-32 cassette is great for lardies like me on the Hardknott and Coal Road. The Kinesis Ti is a beautiful ride and looks the biz too. 2k+ and the Swiss Side Gotthards are flawless, running smooth and true. My Exposure Blaze rear light is retina-searingly brilliant and great for ultra long rides.

2015 goals? The Etape again, hopefully a race around Iceland is on the cards, another 300 miler hopefully  24hrs,  maybe some Audax rides and the odd TT too. The big news is I'm officially riding for Team All Terrain, so a huge thanks to Tony for what will hopefully be another good year.