Week Two of Testing – Day 2

Week Two of Testing – Day 2

Rainy Start
Rainy Start

After yesterday’s rained out session, the team and I were itching to get the bike out on the runway to check the changes that had been made, and really try to give it a good speed test.

 

I didn’t receive any messages so I assumed we were good to go. And after a last minute scramble for food for the day I headed out to the test site.

 

I arrived at the test site and the team was all set and ready to go, but Mother Nature wasn’t. There was a bit of rain in the air and the runway was pretty wet. With time to kill we huddled under the awning with some of the team members making last minute adjustments and others in deep philosophical discussions.

Rainy Prep
Rainy Prep

After numerous checks with the weather forecasts revealing that it was always supposed to have cleared up 5 minutes ago, we finally had our break. In the late morning, the rain stopped and we got just enough sun to dry out the runway to a nice traditional British “damp”. Given that I was going to have full weather protection inside the shell, I was ready to go and so was the team.

 

Good fortune was on us and we made a number of test runs, both checking out the bike and the rider. In order to keep aerodynamics optimised as much as possible, clearances are exceptionally tight in many areas so ensuring that everything cleared the shell and openings was critical. Adjustments had been made for my hands, and the team finessed the space for the tyres and they discussed a few other adjustments to make to improve that. That’s the kind of meticulous detail the engineers have been going to.

Arion4 safe from the rain
Arion4 safe from the rain

We had great success finding that the added steering dampeners worked very well and with that, the bike was much more stable. As a result, I managed a number of runs where I achieved some very good speeds. This was the test for me though, in two parts. Part one was proving that I could get the bike up to speed and to show that I wasn’t just talk. Part two was controlling that speed. Fact is, the bike really wants to move, and it really makes you want to pedal hard, but you can’t. To get the speed you want there is much more technique involved than just going all out.

Arion4
Arion4

But, the upshot was that I achieved a respectable top speed, with my best results going into what was estimated to be a 10-15 mph headwind!

 

The downside was that with no depth perception, I got lost. On a straight runway, if you can believe it. I hit my top speed and within a matter of seconds, saw my catch team leap out of the way! Of course, this meant I was at the end of the runway and needed some hard braking ‘cause I was not going to be the one who ran the bike off the road. Thank goodness the team had sent me this a few weeks before:

 

https://youtu.be/74P79Cebmo8

Week Two of Testing – Day 1

Week Two of Testing – Day 1

 

Starting week two of road tests on Arion4:  Day one we were rained out. I got a message late the night before our first test day with instructions to head to Liverpool University as the forecast didn’t look good. The next day I awoke to an overcast day but by the time I was ready to head out it was starting to sprinkle. Then, as the morning progressed, the rain just became heavier and heavier. This wasn’t the start that I or the engineers were looking for.

 

Luckily, we had a lab where the ULVTeam had built a test cradle and with a turbo trainer set up so we could go over the changed the team had been working on for the last week or two. After the first week of testing there were a number of things that the team wanted to revisit and tweak, some were fit and some were mechanical, and even through it all, the team threw in some cosmetic improvements as well.

New Decor
New Decor

Judging by the late night message I received, it was clear that the team were putting in some very long hours but their hard work paid off and there were a number of improvements both to mechanical systems and fit. The steering looked like it was going to be more stable and the seat was shaped for a better fit.

Steering dampener and my favourite part of the forks
Steering dampener and my favourite part of the forks

Amongst all this we discussed a number of other changes and additions that had been discussed and weight out a few, in the end deciding that some weren’t necessary, thus saving weight and labour. As we worked on these matters we kept waiting for the rain to stop and for the forecast to improve but it never did.

 

So, with rain pelting down, Stephen and I headed over to the computer lab to crunch some numbers and look at the race technique. Early in my own research, this was one of the first critical features I looked at, knowing how having the right approach could make or break the attempt. Seeing the more advance calculation that the team have done factoring in very fine detail shows that it is indeed a very fine balance, and I was hoping we’d come up with a rough idea that I could test in the next two days if the rain ever stopped.

Stephen: intrepid stunt double
Stephen: intrepid stunt double

While the ULVTeam were working feverishly on refinements to the bike, I was working feverishly on refinements to my performance. In the gym I was meeting up with Bob running 3 sessions per week doing near max efforts. Feeling like I was pushing the limits and risking getting sick from over training, we took the option to back of slightly on the weigh, but compensate on the reps to keep up  effective, but not overtaxing sessions. On the bike, Davie has continued to have me run session with the parking brake on for added resistance. Here, I’ve been working on max effort sprints and simulated race day ramp sequences. Essentially it’s pushing me to take things to the limit, and then see how much further I can push it.

 

With day one of week two finished, our fingers were crossed that the weather was going to hold out for the two remaining test days, after all, I needed some time to try out my cool new team jersey!

ULVTeam Jersey
ULVTeam Jersey

The Breakdown

The Breakdown

 

Testing, Day 3:

Corn
Corn

As I approached the usual secret testing location outside Manchester, I was struck by the ominous sight of the vast fields of corn. On this day I half expected a re-enactment of that classic 80’s film that popped into my head. Of course, I’m fit and I’m always up for a good chase scene so I thought, “why not, let’s go for it!”

ULVTeam and I finished day three of testing with some good success. From the previous days, the team worked feverishly to make adjustments here and there to improve the performance and fit. We managed to get in a number of runs both with the top shell off and on.

Setup
Setup

 

Critical factors we were looking at were the clearances between my hand and the shell. It’s an incredibly tight fit in that area, more so than anywhere else. It’s such a tight fit that I did manage to hit my hands on the inside of the shell and had to alter my pedalling position to prevent it from getting worse. Luckily the team took some notes and went back to make some revisions.

Tight fit
Tight fit

Along with the fit, we also tested out the camera system. As you can see there are no windows so the only view I have to the outside world is through this system. As you can see, my view is through a small monitor, with a backup monitor being added later. It’s quite different from the normal handcycling viewpoint in that I have no depth perception so judging speed is quite default as is judging the stopping point. The catch team appear to go from ants to giants in half a second even when I’m slowing. In reality it’s also much darker than the picture indicates. I can see nothing except what’s on that screen.

Early shell
Early shell

 

Camera
Camera
View inside
View inside

The Return to Training

 

This sight should be familiar to most people who have ridden a handcycle. And as anyone who rides a handcycle will know, inevitably you’ll wind up riding with this on wondering why you’re so slow and out of shape. Of course I was riding with this on for other reasons.

 

For the last few weeks my coach has been having me ride with the parking brake on to add extra resistance both to sustained high power outputs as well as sprints. This makes for quite the challenge as not only do I have the extra resistance, I also lose one of my cooling fans as it’s needed to keep the rim from overheating and blowing out my tyre. In the end that’s a god thing though as Arion4 gets hot, very hot, as I found out today. Day 1 of the 2nd week of road testing. But that’s a story for another day.

The extra resistance on the bike, combined with the max weight lifts in the gym have proven to be quite taxing and have kept me on the edge of my game. I’m still seeing some improvements in max power levels as well as longer durations on sprints, but sometimes that can take a toll. On these last week’s I’ve been doing sustained ramp efforts combined with sprints to simulate on of the techniques we might use on the race day. On Tuesday I felt good and strong and all the power levels were just where I needed them to be.  But two days later, on the exact same ride, I could find no power and no endurance. This close to the event, that was devastating. But, rather than let that slow me down, I worked with Coach Davie to come up with a recovery plan to make sure that everything was in order, from rest to diet and making sure I was fit for this week’s series of road tests.

 

Last but not least, I’m always keen to get everyone I can to at least try a handbike. Getting all the team members out on my bike has been part of the fun of these road tests. The added bonus is getting the Staff advisors out as well. Though I may need to watch that as some of them seem to have an issue bringing the bike back!!

Joyriding
Joyriding

2nd Day of Road Testing

2nd Day of Road Testing

Setting sun 1
Setting Sun

Spent the morning in the lab tweaking and adjusting the bike then back to Manchester for some tests.

 

Successfully got in a number of runs and managed some good speeds. Left the team to make a few more adjustments as the sun was setting on a cool blustery evening.

 

About to head back this morning for another full day of road testing. POWER UP!!

 

 

Preparing the bike
Preparing the Bike
A little Ambiance
A little Ambiance

First Day of Road Testing

First Day of Road Testing

After many weeks of waiting and discussions with the team about parts, and even popping down to dry fit the seat and forks, I was finally able to ride the bike today.

I met the team out at a top secret airfield deep in the heart of Manchester early this morning. Having seen the rainstorms that infiltrated the North, I was concerned as the morning skies were grey and foreboding. On my final approach, it even started to sprinkle, potentially putting the test at risk.

As I got closer, to the testing site, I came across a rather stern gate keeper. Despite my explanations of the situation, time and time he refused to let me pass his hut, saying “it’s closed, it’s closed”. Fearing I would never get through I tried one last ditch appeal; trying to break his resolve with compassion of the deepest kind I asked, “Do you mind if I try anyway?”

“Nah, go on lad.”

Seriously? That easy?

And soon after I was met by Liverpool’s intrepid team leader, bounding across the pothole strewn road to guide me to the test area, for as close as I was, I couldn’t see it, that’s how shrouded the testing was. With Stephen hitching a ride, he guided me to a small village where in an area of great prominence, there lay a large seemingly magical egg, for all to behold!

And behold it I did.

Then I realised it was the bike and it was surrounded by tents from their camping. So keen were the team to be ready to start bright and early, they actually risked the rain and camped out at the site.

It was rather exciting to finally be able to get on the bike and take it for a spin, and what a ride it is! Some of the topics we had discussed in an earlier visit had been implemented and we made a few final adjustments to optimise the fit, and soon we too to the runway.

Alongside the film crew from Renishaw Engineering, we took a few runs down the runway getting a feel for the bike, testing and adjusting as the day went on.

I’ll say it’s a rather unusual feeling to be sealed in a shell and viewing the world through a tiny monitor when travelling at speed. It really changes your perspective on the world. But it did make me wonder why, on a couple of occasions, when I came onto the catch zone, some of the catchers kept running away.

All in all it was a great day. I have to say I’m really impressed with the development and design of the bike. The team have clearly been working exceptionally hard, particularly in the last couple of weeks. Tomorrow we are back at the University for some additional fitting, and then hopefully back to the test track for another workout.

 

 

Quiz: Stages of the Tour de France or the hazy glow of mountains in the distance?

Quiz: Stages of the Tour de France or the hazy glow of mountains in the distance?

 

Training Peaks Stages

It’s now less than a month before the first race and everything is coming together. The team at Liverpool are making great progress on the bike and my power targets are right at the estimates. Training has been exhausting but now that I have some time, and after a surprisingly abysmal training ride today, it’s time to look back and see the progress that I’ve made and remind myself that one day of poor performance is nothing against all that’s been built up.

 

Today marks the 127th training session I’ve had with Davie Lines of Espresso Cycle Coaching. I’ve also had 72 Strength sessions with Bob Clark at #BOBSGARAGE amongst the roughly 41 weeks I’ve dedicated to training for the World Human Powered Speed Challenge.

 

I’ve had the occasional off day before but with less than a month to go, they feel so much more significant. Combined with the workload of the last few weeks which has left me utterly exhausted an off day seems to have so much more of an impact.

 

Plus, I haven’t been able to keep up on the blog and ramble about the developments in the bike, the trip to Liverpool the other week, the trip this week, some of the training techniques and strategies… blah blah blah.

 

So to kick off getting things updated, and reminding myself about how far I’ve come and how close I am to hitting the targets that I’ve been aiming for, let’s have a look at some of my achievements over the last few months.

 

The weight sessions look the most impressive, but that’s mainly because Bob has me do the sensible thing and work up in weights, quite contrary to what I probably would’ve done had I managed them on my own. But, after 72 sessions I’ve seen the following improvements in weights:

 

Floor press                         700%

Chest Supported Row      700%

OH DB Press                       125%

Lat Pulldown                      300%

Biceps                                 50%

 

That’s not the full extent of the lifts that I’ve been doing but it’s what I could match up with my starting point, some of which I wasn’t even lifting actual weights. Beyond this, I have managed to lift my body weight which is a bit tricky as the more I lift the more muscle mass I gain and the more difficult that becomes. But, it’s a great thing to be able to do as mid-lift one day I realised… If I slipped and was hanging on the edge of a cliff and there was no one around to help me, I’d have to lift my body weight on my own or die. It’s a pretty useful skill we should all have, really.

On the bike, after 127 sessions I’ve seen the following improvements:

 

5 sec Power        40%

10 sec Power      44%

12 sec Power      53%

20 sec Power      61%

30 sec Power      66%

1 min Power       42%

 

Of course these don’t look quite as impressive since the baseline I had to take these from was 2 ½ months into my training when I’d already made substantial improvements, so these are more about the specifically targeted power levels for Battle Mountain. It’s also why I’ve not gone beyond the one minute range, for Battle Mountain, endurance is of little consequence, yet I’ve still made good improvements in the longer durations.

 

Of course my FTP has improved as well but like endurance, that’s largely irrelevant. For those that don’t know, FTP is the theoretical maximum power one should be able to sustain in an hour of riding.

 

To achieve this, I’ve managed to clock over 3600 miles on the bike since I started the dedicated training programme.

So, one bad day out of all that is pretty insignificant when I look at how far I’ve come. Over the last few months I’ve achieved and exceeded the targets that I estimated I’d need in order break the speed record. I’ve changed my riding style to get the most out of my body, and I’ve discovered how critical it is that my mind and body be completely focused on one goal, and one goal alone.

 

So, there’s nothing like an off day to remind you of where you came from and what you can achieve.

 

And the answer to the quiz question; it’s neither. That’s been my training profile over the last 8 months or so. All the ups and down.