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Week at Battle Mountain #3

With the adventure of the travels out of the way, we finally get onto a bit of riding action.

 

Saturday. It’s hot, darn hot. I’ve been off the bike for three days which, at this point feels like ages, and I’m getting twitchy. I meet up with Karen and she has the generous suggestion of letting me use her bike to do my training sessions until mine arrives. I head over to Karen’s hotel and amongst a friendly chat, I set about adjusting Karen’s bike to fit me. Having adjusted the forks to raise the cranks I hop on the bike and I’m excited to finally be able to get riding again… apart from one issue… the cranks won’t clear my abs!

 

I knew I’d carried a bit of extra weight over as every time I tried to cut back on my diet during training I lost a lot of power and strength, so it was a bit of a trade-off. But come on, I was essentially too fat to fit on a bike! Sadly, it doesn’t take that much extra girth to create a tight fit on a handbike. Plus, the battery in my abdomen is located right where the cranks pass and there was no getting around the cranks slamming into a big block of titanium on every revolution. But this wasn’t the only time it would be an issue.

 

Alas, this meant that riding was still out and the best I could do for prep was using elastic bands for some resistance work. That’d just have to do. Luckily, there was a local coffee shop that had iced blended protein mochas that I could sooth my soul with. It was hot, I’m an athlete, so iced protein would be ideal, right?

 

The rest of the day was really just about getting used to the heat and the altitude. Not only was it hot, but it’s much higher in altitude than I was used to, 4,511 ft (1,375 m). I’d worked out in advance that this meant there was about a 12% reduction in oxygen levels which would certainly have an impact on my performance. Two days to get used to it though; that should be enough, maybe.

 

The weekend was also a nice treat as my father and his wife had arrived, having driven all the way from Washington just to watch the races. Happily, they brought a big stockpile of food for me. This was particularly handy as I have so many food allergies that I did wonder how I was going to fuel myself in a town of 3500 people with one small grocery store that I guessed (correctly) wouldn’t have much in the way of “specialist” food.

 

Now, Sunday rolls round and here’s where the action starts to pick up. After a leisurely breakfast the team got together with a plan for the day. Early on, the engineers had already been fiddling with the bike, making sure it made the journey in-tact (another teams bike did not), and getting it prepped. Today is testing day.

Two handcyclists sitting next to handcycle
Road Testing setup – Photo courtesy of C. Kostelec & R. Talbot

Having had a leisurely morning and knowing that we had a pre-race briefing in the evening, unfortunately the only time to do the road testing is near the middle of the day. This was going to be my first test of how hot it was actually got in to be in the bike. But more importantly, we were testing two new features added to the bike: long cranks and new shell braces.

 

Throughout the testing phases back the UK, we’d discovered an aspect of the bike that that I wanted to the engineers to finesse; this was the cranks. If you know anything about the bikes that race at Battle Mountain it’s that the bikes are cramped and the riders are packed in like sardines. Arion4 though, had other issues to contend with. Unfortunately the part of a handcycle that needs the most clearance, the cranks, is not only the part that moves the most (for pedalling and steering) but it’s also the part that will result in the rider shredding their hands  when they scrape the inside of the shell. So, we needed room, but with an expensive and elaborately designed carbon fibre shell already in place there was only so much that could be done.

Handcyclist sits next to handcycle
Road Testing setup – Photo courtesy of C. Kostelec & R. Talbot

Probably much to the annoyance of the engineers, when they asked me during testing how the bike was I pointed out that it was generally great but it needed longer cranks. Each time we talked about changes, longer cranks was the one thing I asked for as I knew that we’d need them to be longer to get the needed power. I’ll be the engineers thought I was just nagging.  But, given that there was a massive shell in the way that was designed to be as small as possible; this was going to be a challenge.

 

Here’s that amazing dedication of the Liverpool Engineers; not only did they just create longer cranks, but they created adjustable cranks that were narrower so that we could take advantage of the limited space inside the shell, and they did this during the last week before heading out. They also managed to put in some reinforcing struts to enhance the rigidity of the shell in order to optimise the application of power.

 

So, Sunday was the day we got to test the bike in final race mode: reinforced rigid frame and longer cranks. We set off for a nearby back road to try out these new features alongside the French team who were testing their own bike.

Handcyclists sits in the shade of a van
Huddling in the shade – Photo courtesy of C. Kostelec & R. Talbot

It must have been about two or three in the afternoon when we got out to the test road and good grief was it hot. While I was huddled in the shade behind our van draped in an ice pack that someone on the team had secured, Karen got prepped in the bike to take the first run. Having made it out and back with no problems it was my turn. Immediately, I could tell that the new improvements were going to be hugely helpful. The bike was much more rigid and as the shell top was lowered down I got a feel for the pedal and crank position and it was fantastic. They were definitely long enough to get some good power and the width gave me a generous one, maybe even two mm’s of clearance from my knuckle to the shell. As long as I didn’t have a death grip in the pedals, it was going to be great.

 

The test ride went very well, the bike was smooth and easy to control. The visual systems were clear and the adjustments to the data feeds (custom and independent for Karen and I) had been adjusted so I had a good balance of data and forward vision. Plus the new cranks were really superb for generating power. The only problem with the test ride, it seems, was a conversation I heard had occurred between two nameless people that went something like this:

 

“He certainly doesn’t do things in half measures, does he?”

 

“He never has.”

Handcycle riding on road towards catch team
Road Test – Photo courtesy of C. Kostelec & R. Talbot

Apparently the team and I had a different interpretation of what “test ride” meant. They thought it meant “make sure that everything is functioning, the fit is good, and find any last minute adjustments that need to be made”. I thought it meant: See how fast you can get it to go in the half mile you have and if you break anything, the team still has 12 hours to fix it. Honestly though, the bike just wanted to run!

 

With two successful tests, the bike was ready for racing and we all knew it was going to be fast, but how fast? With the bike packed up we headed back to the hotel to cool off and get ready for the pre-race briefing and dinner.

 

The pre-race briefing…

 

He we get an introduction to all the people who have volunteered and given up time to make sure these races happen. From the organisers, to those monitoring the timing equipment, those monitoring wind speeds, people directing traffic, chase cars and observers, paramedics… there were A LOT of very generous locals and visitors that made this all come together.

Start time display board at Battle Mountain 2018
Start Board – Photo courtesy of C. Kostelec & R. Talbot

After a review of all the race procedures and policies, we picked our start times for Monday morning’s qualifying race. Though this race is on the short course of 2.5 miles, it’s critical as, not only are some of us actually going to try to break records if we can, but more importantly it’s a test of the bikes stability and the rider’s control of it. If you don’t finish this race with solid control of your bike, you may not be racing during the week. Ride fast, but more importantly, ride controlled. I believe that’s what the team told me.

 

The official start of the racing is only 12 hours away and the reality and pressure of it is finally kicking in, but so too is the excitement. This is where I realised that two very key psychological components were about to kick in. In a much earlier post I believe I mentioned that when I went to do some simulated race testing at Cardiff Metropolitan University with Paul Smith and JP Nevin of Help for Heroes. On this day, in the second of two tests I completely bombed as, once I got to the point I had to put in my max effort the pressure of people watching and encouraging me became a distraction. I think it might have made Paul and JP wonder if I was up to the task (as it did me) but I’m glad it happened for two reasons…

 

At the briefing, I was told that there were a few races that people were really watching as they though records were going to be broken. These were the women’s, the youth, and in particular… the handcycles. So, it wasn’t just the Liverpool team (including a vastly skilled Paralympic handcyclist), family, and me watching and expecting that I would do well, it was everyone: including teams for all over the world. No pressure then, right?

 

The icing on the cake came next. After each rider is launched, they are followed by a chase car in case there’s a crash or other emergency, and to carry a race observer to ensure that all the race rules are being followed and they are sticklers with these rules. Now, the gentleman that was my chase official… I heard he had specifically asked to observe me. This seemed slightly unusual to me until I found out that it was Mike Sova, the designer of, at the time, the current record holding handcycle. So, the man partially responsible for the current record that’s on the line is watching everything we do, with no doubt, a detailed eye. Rest assured that all our i’s were dotted, and our t’s crossed in the most immaculate way. The designer of the current record holding bike possibly holding my fate in his hands, following and watching every move I make on the race course… no, no pressure at all.

 

And with those light thoughts in the back of my mind it was off for a late dinner then bed to get ready for a 4 am start! Good thing I’m used to sleep deprivation. Monday was going to come fast, and I was going to have to be ready to race, and race hard.

 

 

Week at Battle Mountain #2

Having arrived in San Francisco, and sorted my bags I was now massively delayed and didn’t know if my meet-up with the team and the connections were going to happen. But, after all the travel chaos and issues with my baggage I just wanted to get to my hotel and let the stress go so I can focus on the racing ahead.

Luckily the airline baggage rep was kind enough to help me out to the hotel shuttle busses, but of course I knew there was a good chance that the busses wouldn’t be wheelchair friendly but I figured things couldn’t get too much worse and I could always roll to my hotel as a warm-up. Luckily just at that moment Kieran from Liverpool comes rushing in the door looking a little worse for wear, just how I was feeling.

He’d been just as concerned about missing me as I was significantly late getting out of the airport, but thank goodness his timing was impeccable. Clearly panic and stress are the theme for the day. But I just tried to calm things down,

“Don’t worry Kieran, I was just chilling here with my kind airline assistant/ Sherpa. I’m in no hurry and was just about to call you and see if you were free for a casual drive.”

Though, I might have actually said something to the effect of,

“Jeez, what a @#£&* fiasco, luggage broken and bike stuck in London so I won’t be able to do my prep training and couldn’t figure out how to get to the hotel.”

I’m sure I thought one and said the other. But at least I’d able to get settled into my hotel and have a rest before the all-day drive to Battle Mountain. After settling in I went for a wander and I’m amazed at how spacious America is. It’s been a while since I’ve been back there but I’d forgotten just how big and open things are, and how smooth the pavements and sidewalks are. It was so refreshing just to be able to zoom around and not worry about crashing on some dislodged slate paver. But, there are drawbacks to the vast openness of America, I popped out for a milkshake and fries (a rare treat amongst all my proper training nutrition) and I swear it took me three weeks to cross the street. Mind, I was also tempted just to do big loops in the road since there was so much room! But, rest was needed for the long drive.

Friday morning came and I had a chance to meet up with fellow racer Karen, and her coach, John over breakfast. I think we’re all just ready to get out to Battle Mountain and get on with the racing. After a short meet-up with the team we divide up into groups and hit the road and it’s an odd little convoy… a moving van , two gigantic pimp-mobile SUV’s and a soccer mom van. I can’t complain, the image might not be great but the soccer-mom van was incredibly spacious. John, thankfully, did all the driving which was incredibly kind of him to cover all of about eight to 10 hours himself. So many times I wanted to offer to take over for a bit before I realised I couldn’t. Plus, he shuttled two wheel chairs around every time we stopped, so an extra thanks to John for all his work.

John helping with wheelchairs outside of Denny's restaurant
John helping and a classic American dining experience

What a great drive it was though from San Francisco to Battle Mountain. We travelled from the edge of the Pacific Ocean though lush evergreen forests, past vast swathes of farmland, up through high barren passes onward into the vast desert that would become our home and racetrack for the week. Just as the size and openness had amazed me in San Francisco, so too was I reminded about all the amazing scenery and the all the variations in sights and surroundings that America has to offer.

View from car through the mountains
Mountains on the way to Battle Mountain

I’d also forgotten how hot it gets in California and Nevada. I’m not that great in hot weather and having been in Scotland for so long, I had become accustomed to a “hot” day being about 25 deg C / 77 F , if you’re lucky, and that only lasting for a day. But California was far, far hotter. In the end, I learned that Battle Mountain was over 40 deg C / 104 F while we were there. Thank goodness it was dry and that I didn’t know that in advance. But, if you’re now thinking, “That’s hot and you were sealed in a carbon fibre shell with no airflow and you were expected to pedal harder than you ever have before?!” Yes, yes indeed!
View of mountains in the distance on a freeway
More mountains on the way to Battle Mountain

Along the way I got to know Karen and John a bit which was a treat, after all, Karen is a Paralympian and that’s some high performance riding talent and coaching right there. Turns out they’re both downright just nice people and great company. Along the way we had a bit of fun trying to figure out we’re we were since there was little phone reception in and the highlight was when we got excited about being at the Bonneville salt flats before it clicked that we were the wrong state! It sure looked like the real thing; vast, empty, white ground ready for taking the van out for a speed challenge of its own. Then there were the voiceovers for Karen’s blog, such fun.

View of some barren land from a roadway
Not quite Bonneville Salt Flats

Just after the sun set we pulled into Battle Mountain and I think we were all ready for a rest and to stop moving. We made our way to the hotel that I and the engineers were staying at and caught up with them. Friday’s journey by road sure beat Thursdays journey by air by a long shot but the highlight for me was finding a package waiting for me!

View of roadsign to Battle Mountain from a passing car
Close enough to Battle Mountain to see the road signs

If you remember one of my earlier posts you’ll recall that Pete from SportCrafters had been one of the people, early in my planning, who had been critical in helping me work out some of the factors regarding handcycle power and resistance. With his help, I was able to do some of the calculations that led me to work out what my power targets would be and whether breaking the record was possible. But Pete didn’t stop there, to help Karen and I with our travels and the vast amount of stuff we were carrying, Pete sent to Battle Mountain a couple sets of handcycling rollers for us to borrow so that Karen and I could do our prep riding and warmups. This proved to be unbelievably helpful to us both as we were able to train in air conditioned rooms and warmup in the shaded area in the dusty car park that was our staging area at the race start.

Thankful that I could do my riding prep once my bike arrived, fingers crossed that it would, and knowing that I didn’t have to travel for a while, I got some rest and to get ready for a day of acclimatising on Saturday and pre-race testing on Sunday.

Next, we finally get into some of the riding action…

Week at Battle Mountain #1

Momentum, it’s a powerful thing. It’s particularly critical on a handbike as you approach a climb. If you haven’t carried enough speed you can get bogged down resulting in needing to work through a slow, torturous grind to keep the climb going. But that’s OK; you can often still find the power within yourself to do that. But, have you ever had those days when you didn’t carry your momentum, and you forgot to change to a lower gear, and on that climb you came to a screeching halt? That, on a handbike is a drag as you likely cannot just get out and walk you’ve got.

 

Life is a lot like riding a bike, if you don’t carry the momentum and something stops you from changing gears it’s easy to come to a complete stop. How then, do you get going again?

 

Life happened to me recently. After claiming I was going to follow up with the events of Battle Mountain I got locked out of my Facebook account for a few weeks got caught up in a few other cycling developments, and lost my momentum. But, that’s been resolved now and I need to finish up the story of that amazing week of racing.

 

Now, you may be asking yourself why it’s taken me so long… well, after I get back from Battle Mountain I ended up with a rotator cuff injury, likely the result of the sudden change from the intense training to the two weeks I took of recovery. Right at the end of those two weeks of recovery my shoulder just decided it wasn’t going to work properly. Not only could I not ride my bike but I could barely get around in my chair and that sort of pain on top of CRPS pain is a lot to take. But then just as I was starting to recover from that I got a bad bout of the flu which knocked me out for three weeks…. ahh life.

 

Here goes…

 

You cannot start and adventure without a bit of adventure, can you? Departing my home town proved to be a relatively painless experience. A good friend of mine stopped by in the early hours and helped me get by bike, wheels, and two bags down to the street where I met my taxi. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this was the start of the most terrifying part of the journey… I’m not a taxi person and I’ve never felt that my life hasn’t been on the line in one. Maybe I’ve been unlucky, I’m sure not all taxi rides are terrifying. Luckily, I made it to the airport and the taxi driver proved to be friendly and helpful once we got to the airport to help me connect with the services for people in wheelchairs.

 

How convenient it was to be able to get out of the taxi and right there was a phone to get the assistance I needed. But alas, after calling and advising the services where I was and that I’d booked their assistance, I still had to wait in a parking garage for half an hour before calling again. A further 15 minutes later someone did arrive only to exclaim something to the effect of, “oh, those are big bags, I can’t possibly carry them.” This, despite me having advised them In advance that I had a seven foot long bag with a wheelchair in it, a large wheel case, and two other bags. Lesson learned: Take fewer bags and show up extra early for a flight… days if you can.

 

Eventually, with a second helper we did get into the airport and set up at the check in desk. All went well for the most part until came the great conversation with the airline duty manager:

 

Airline: You have too many bags; we’ll have to charge you for them.

 

Me: It’s a wheelchair, it’s exempt. I checked weeks ago after the tickets were booked.

 

Airline: You have too many bags; we’ll have to charge you for them.

 

Me: It’s a wheelchair, it’s exempt. I checked weeks ago after the tickets were booked.

 

Airline: You have too many bags; we’ll have to charge you for them.

 

Me: It’s a wheelchair, it’s exempt. I checked weeks ago after the tickets were booked.

 

The real conversation went on for longer but I think you can detect the theme. Now, I’ve seen some of these airline shows on telly where people throw tantrums because their flight is late, or they didn’t bring ID and, having worked for an airline before, I know what it’s like to be on that side. So, I wasn’t about to throw a tantrum but I was going to hold my ground on the facts of what the airline had told me… that a wheelchair is exempt from excess baggage fees. Eventually reason was seen, thank goodness.

British Airways plane at terminal gate
British Airways Flight

But, checked in, I get out to the gate feeling good. There was a lot of pressure to make sure I had just what I needed once I got to the states as I had a structured plan for how to prepare for the racing and make up for a few days off the bike and all the effects of the air travel. At least I knew I was set and all I needed to do was make my connection in London and meet up with the team in San Francisco. No problem, we were leaving time and there was plenty of time to connect at Heathrow. Or was there?

 

Arriving at Heathrow all the passengers leave the plane and the flight attendants are about to head off past me when they realise I’m still waiting for an aisle chair to get off the plane. A couple of quick calls and I’m out of the plane being rushed to my connection. I make it to the plane mid-boarding but confident that with all the time that’s passed, everything is fine with my luggage and life is in order, and then settle in for a long flight.

 

And here’s the reminder that sometimes when you think life is in order, it just cracks you upside the head and reminds you where you stand…

 

After an uneventful flight I get out of the plane and onto the jetway where I’m greeted by name.

 

“What a friendly city, San Francisco is,” I’m thinking when the airline agent asks, “You checked two oversized bags, right?”

 

I’m awash with sudden hope that they’re confirming that the bags have arrived, yet also with dread that something bad has happened.

 

“Yes, I did.”

 

“Sorry, but they didn’t make the connection at Heathrow.”

 

BAM, cracked upside the head. So, the equipment I need to do my pre-race training over the weekend and pre-run warmups is halfway around the world and I need to leave for Battle Mountain tomorrow. OK, that fine, I know how airlines work, surely it’ll arrive on a plane later today and they’ll get it to my hotel ready for tomorrow’s drive.

 

I’m directed to the baggage department to collect the one checked bag that did make the connection and get the situation sorted (and at least I was smart enough to pack my riding gear and helmet in my carry-on (the only bag that made it unscathed) so that, worst case scenario, I could still race)). But first, I discover, upon collecting my bag that the airline has broken a bracket on it that attaches it to my wheelchair so I can’t carry it. Well, 1 out of 4 that’s… good?

 

I will say that the agent at the baggage assistance counter was incredibly helpful. Not just this day, but the next day as well when she called on her way to the FedEx office. Why did she have to do that, you ask?

 

Well, it turns out that my two oversize bags weren’t going to arrive until the same time the next day, when I was going to be halfway to Battle Mountain in a car. I was advised though that, surprisingly, the airline was going to courier my bags out to Battle Mountain the next day though. Yea! It’s going to be OK.

 

But wait, how does FedEx come into play? Enroute to Battle Mountain I get a call to let me know that the airline’s courier wasn’t able to drive as far as Battle Mountain as he’d had a recent medical limitation placed on his driving so the airline decided to FedEx my bags out for delivery on Saturday “OK, there’s still hope,” I’m thinking on this Friday drive from San Francisco to Battle Mountain.

 

Now as you might have noticed by now I tend to ramble and be long-winded at times so I’m going to sum this up with…

 

Either FedEx didn’t mention this or the airline didn’t understand or ask but… FedEx doesn’t deliver to Battle Mountain on Saturday. They’ll deliver to Reno or Salt Lake City, but they don’t stop in between. So, for Saturday, Sunday and at least part of Monday my bike ended up sitting in a shipping depot in Reno.

 

Racing starts bright and early on Monday morning, 7 am, so there goes all my pre-race prep after all. Nothing like taking your shot at a world record after travelling halfway around the world then taking five days off training and not getting to warm up…

 

Life, it’s a hoot sometimes!

Comparisons

Comparisons

 

Just as I’m about to got to Battle Mountain I’ve been looking back at all my training and making some interesting comparisons with some other truly amazing cycling feats. It’s rather interesting.

 

So I’ve been looking at my miles total and since I started my training programme dedicated to Battle Mountain I’ve ridden over 3792 miles. Of course this doesn’t’ tell the whole story as how I’ve ridden makes a big difference as well. But, in 307 days I’ve covered over 3792 miles.

 

I’ve had the privilege of working with Paul Smith and JP Nevin who have both worked closely with the Race Across America teams in 2012 and 2017. Here are their stats:

 

In 2012 the team completed the 3051 miles race in 7 d 8 hr 38 min with 4 uprights and 4 handbikes.

 

In 2017 the team was made up of 4 uprights, 3 handbikes and a recumbent cyclist – their distance was ~3,160 miles and they completed the race in 6 d 12 hr 36 min – maintaining an average speed of just under 20 mph.

 

And the other week I had the good fortune to meet Mark Beaumont after a presentation about his round the world cycle where he covered 18,000 miles in 78 days, 14 hrs, 40 mins

 

So, 3792 miles in 307 days covered in order to try to achieve 46-52 mph on a 5 mile course

Vs

3160 miles across America covered as quickly as 6 d 12 hr 36 min

Vs

18,000 miles around the world covered in 78 days, 14 hrs, 40 mins

 

Can you compare?

 

Yes, they are all very different types of cycling and entirely difference feats so they can’t really be compared directly. But all in all, I think you can say that it’s pretty amazing what you can achieve on a bike with a little bit of effort.

 

Tomorrow I arrive in Battle Mountain. Let’s see what the ultimate comparison is. I’m feeling healthy and strong, and I know the team in Liverpool have given it everything they’ve got, and are probably still working on a few tiny details. Let’s break some records!

Calculations and Math

Calculations and Math

 

When I started my journey to Battle Mountain I sat down and did some math. No, not maths, just math. I needed to find out how feasible it was going to be to break the world speed record. Amongst all the other helpful people I’ve met along the way, Pete helped here.

 

As I have a background in aviation, the concepts of aerodynamic drag were not unfamiliar to me. In fact, many years ago I was working on some ideas for developing a human powered helicopter as well as some watercraft. So, I went back to those ideals and started working out figures for power and aerodynamic drag, and came up with a rough target of the coefficient of drag that a record setting bike would need to have.

 

Then I factored in elements of bicycle road and mechanical drag, adapting and estimating from tests that had been done on upright bikes previously. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of information available about handcycle drag and aerodynamics so much of the calculations had to be adapted and estimated. But this is only useful to a point when you’re trying to break records.

 

Luckily, quite early on, I’d spoken with Pete form SportCrafters and we had many chats back and forth about drag, resistance, and the measurement and design practices that were applied to their handcycle rollers, which I was training on.

 

Pete’s background with this proved to be very helpful as an addition to the other calculations that I’d done to determine how feasible it would be to break the record. Pete was immensely supportive and detailed turning what was a seemingly simple question into a detailed analysis.

 

Amongst all the people I’ve met on my journey to Battle Mountain, Pete was one of the first who helped me work out how possible it was. My hat’s off to Pete for taking the time to help me with such detailed answers. Without that, I might not have seen how possible it would be to break the record.

 

And the good news is; after all the calculations and all the training…

All the numbers match. I think this bodes well!

 

Training Equipment

Training Equipment

 

What may surprise many people is that the vast majority of my riding has been indoors on rollers. I’ve been using my SportCrafters rollers with the Overdrive drum which has progressive resistance to simulate road conditions.

 

There’s no way that free spinning rollers would’ve provided me with the necessary resistance needed to achieve the high power levels I need during my training but the Overdrive rollers work very well. Of course, some people say there is no substitute for riding on the road and while I will agree with that to a degree, there are also some massive benefits to using the rollers.

Rollers
Rollers

As a bit of background, I’d gotten in touch with SportCrafters early on when I was planning my training and began many long discussions with Pete. I wanted to find out if the rollers would be effective, especially in comparison to a turbo trainer, to hit my targets. As Pete explained to me, that the resistance of the rollers was calibrated in comparison to power measurements taken from a handcycle so that they would be reasonably accurate.

 

With this information, I converted my regular set of rollers the Overdrive configuration and tried it out. In comparison it did feel much like riding on the road and the gear and speed combinations I was used to one the road were similar to what I could achieve on the rollers. Though it’s not exact, it is a very good substitute, and the comparisons with road tests later in my training yielded similar results. So, over all I’ve been exceptionally pleased with the resistance and how it’s shaped my training.

 

But as to the usefulness of rollers vs the road…

 

First and foremost, I have two more days of training on the bike before I fly out to Battle Mountain. Presently, it is pouring rain outside, despite having been quite nice yesterday. It’s so bad that I wouldn’t ride outside as, if you’ve ridden a handbike in the rain you’ll know how horrible it can be. Plus, I don’t have to risk getting wet and cold and possibly getting sick at the last minute. So, with the rollers, I get to continue my training regardless of the weather.

 

How useful are they to build strength? This has to be somewhat anecdotal but I’m going to say they are quite effective. One main factor is that, in things such as hard sprints, the rollers don’t give you the ability to take advantage or momentum or to coast. Every second you want to keep moving you have to keep putting in power, and the harder the sprint, the more you have to keep trying. Even between sprints during the recovery times, there is no opportunity to slack off and relax, you have to keep working. As much as this is a physical requirement, it’s also mental, and it’s very important. Some say that one of the biggest keys to being a successful athlete is the ability to keep going and keep pushing even when your body tells you it can’t. Realistically it probably can, but your mind has

to get past that and the rollers help me to dig deeper and keep going.

 

Consistency of power. Battle Mountain is a straight flat course, so too are the rollers. The rollers provide a nice consistent baseline from which to determine power and speed associations. Hills, even small ones can have a noticeable impact on the power outlay on a handbike so having a flat consistent surface or route is ideal. Additionally, it’s efficient. If I’ve been given a series of sprints, I know that I’ll be able to do those without external influences. I don’t have to worry that I might be approaching a decent that might alter the results or have to extend a recovery period to get to a suitable place to do an interval, or even cut one short due to a lack of good roadway.

Rollers from above
Rollers from above

Straight line power. The big target for Battle Mountain is the need to achieve very high power levels. On the rollers I can do that because I never have to worry about steering. And it’s particularly fine for Battle Mountain as Arion 4 only has about two degrees of steering, I believe, so turning is a moot point anyway.

 

Traffic.  I don’t have to worry about traffic getting in my way or causing an accident that might make me unable to ride in Battle Mountain. Some might argue that there’s less of a chance that I’d crash as well. No idea where they’ve gotten that idea from.

 

Feet on the floor. For indoor situations, in comparison to a turbo trainer, I can ride with my feet on the bike in a regular riding position. It’s a small thing but I get much better results when I do that vs having my feet on the ground.

 

And some would say that not being outside and experiencing the world is a big loss to riding on the rollers vs the road. To a degree it is, and in the past you never would have found me riding indoors. But over the last ten months I’ve actually found it to be tranquil, and despite all the hard work, almost meditative through that hard work and it’s helped me manage my disability as well. In hindsight the lack of the outside world is, for Battle Mountain ideal as I’ll be locked in a shell, further taped in with the only view of the world from a camera pointing straight ahead. I’ll have little, if any, sense of the outside world while I’m in Arion 4 and, frankly, it’s kind of relaxing. Until you start to ride and then you just want to run!

Week 2 – Day 3 of Road Testing

Week 2 – Day 3 of Road Testing

 

After having been rained out on the first day last week and having had some questionable weather on the 2nd day, day three was relatively superb. Luckily the rain held off and despite the fairly strong winds both Karen and I got a number of runs in as well as some last minute fit corrections to help streamline the change between riders.

Karen, Ken, and the Three Engineers (others missing)
Karen, Ken, and the Three Engineers (others missing)

The bike was working very well after all the changes and adjustments the team had done since out first set of road tests. Thus, the day was more a matter of getting more comfortable with the bike and getting in more back to back runs.

 

Both Karen and I managed some very impressive runs, if I do say so myself, and surprisingly with the best results in to quite strong headwinds. Of course that bodes well if race day is nice and calm as it should be.

Sporting the Team Colours
Sporting the Team Colours

We also had a special guest visit from Alan Grace, pilot of the Slippery Slug at Battle Mountain in 2014. Alan has been tremendously supportive and helpful sharing his experiences with me from quite early on. That’s the amazing thing about the WHPSC, despite all the competition it seems that, for the most part, the competition isn’t against other teams and people, it’s against speed. Nearly everyone who I’ve spoken with who’s had experience at Battle Mountain has been very open and helpful as it seems that no matter who does it, it’s just about going as fast as possible.

Chatting with Karen (not the most flattering picture of me on a bike)
Chatting with Karen (not the most flattering picture of me on a bike)

One of the things that is somewhat disappointing about riding Arion 4 is that I never have been able to see it running fully shelled up. So it was quite a treat to be able to see it from the outside as Karen took to the runway.  And it’s quite a difference going from the darkness inside the bike to seeing how elegant and fast it looks on the track.

Karen in Arion 4
Karen in Arion 4

Luckily Karen took to it like a duck takes to water and she was receptive to me trying to chase her on my handbike to get some footage. Have a look:

 

https://youtu.be/fi-BlWILvfk

 

All in all, with some good speeds achieved at the test centre, and training going to plan with all the targets achieved, things are looking very good for success at Battle Mountain.

Someone’s a little cranky

Someone’s a little cranky

 

Back in week one of testing we were doing one of the preliminary runs with the first set of prototype cranks. I believe it was on the first ride and we were all just getting a general feel for the fit of the bike and the overall layout and function of all the parts.

 

Things were going well and the first round of adaptations and adjustments were following suit. It was a great start to the testing and late in the day I told the team, “I vowed that if something was going to break, it wouldn’t be because of me.” I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

 

About five minutes later, I broke the cranks.

 

Luckily these were just rough prototypes designed for measuring the fit but still…

 

The happy end result is that after a coupe other iterations of cranks, the team have developed a new set that should fit nicely within the tight confines of the shell and still provide the length needed for the riders to get the power down.

 

When I received word of the dimension of the final cranks, I was very pleased indeed!

Cranks
Cranks

Along with the cranks are some of the last final adjustments to the bike and the chainring guard is the 2nd most appreciated one for me. Like many of the WHPSC bikes, Arion 4 is a very tight fit in many areas. Luckily the team has improved the fit for me under the chainrings.

Chain guard
Chain guard

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