Thursday, 29 October 2015

The climbs are done - bring on the rest

Yes - the climbs have been done and described - apart from Draycott. I've branched out into other matters 'road cycling'. If you're interested have a look...

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

PacTri Amstel Gold Super Bun Ride

The Amstel Gold Super-Bun

One of my favourite races is the ‘modern classic’, the Amstel Gold Race. It’s a route designed to be televised, plenty for the fans to see and many places from which an attack can be launched – which comes down to a route crossing many short hills. This year's race had over 30 'significant' climbs on it

 To celebrate the Amstel Gold we (PacTri) rode an ‘Amstel Gold Super-Bun’ It ’t have 30+ hills; just 11.  They’re not big hills and, despite the 11 separate hills, the total ascent isn’t that big either – the Garmin activity log suggests about 1200m all-in-all.

The route is mapped from the car park behind the Woodborough public house in Winscombe(this is a public, free and unlimited time car-park). The pub is opposite the Co-op in the middle of the village, the car park is reached by going past the pub on either of the roads that runs to it’s immediate left and right. The route seeks out the smaller ridges of the Banwell, Wedmore, Cheddar area with links across some flat and fairly bits of moor. All this can be seen on the map…

A coffee stop can be taken at Sweets at approx. 45km (28 miles) into the 72.5 km (45 mile) route, so nearly 2/3 of the way round.

 All the ‘bergs’ (short hills) on the Amstel Gold should have a name so, purely in fun, I propose the following…

Route feature
Route feature
SMALL Bleadonberg
SMALL Draycottberg

 The two ‘bergs’ labeled 'small' are so annotated as to prevent confusion with their big brothers. We aren’t going up Bleadon Hill (the Small Bleadonberg is the road out towards Cross) and definitely not up Draycott Steep (evidence says I can’t get up that anyway). The ‘bergs’, which are all climbs of about 50m can be seen on the cross section on the Garmin link… The route even has its own windmill - about 36km in.

For the record – the Shuteshelfberg is by far the longest hill (but it's really pretty easy apart from the initial steep bit out of Axbridge), the Rhodyateberg (17%) feels steep, though the Oldmixonberg is steeper (20%). The Small Draycottberg is the steepest, maximum 25% right at the top (best done with a foot unclipped in case you need to stop for traffic where it comes out abruptly onto the A road that links Cheddar to Wells.  All the noted bergs apart from Panborough have hardest sections that are 13% or steeper.

For a link to the Amstel Gold Race proper follow

…though you may need to hit the translate into English bit on Google – depending on how good your Dutch is..!

We found it a great ride. No one was crowned Kwiatkowski - but then we did it the day before the 2015 race.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

No climbs - The North Somerset Strada Bianche...

Initally for PacTri: The PacTri Strada Bianche Super-Bun Course

The Strada Bianche has to go down as a real 'back to riding a bike as a kid' kind of a race. Let's face it - kids ride where they need to (well I did). If the best way from A to B was via the canal tow path then that's where I went. This is the type of mentality that makes the Strada Bianche great - it throws away the resurfaced roads of the Tour and gets back to biking on what ever you need to bike on. You may gather that I'm a fan.

This route has been put together to give a flavor of the Italian great in Somerset. Mike (my son) and I have ridden all of the course and, although Mike did get a puncture on a road section in Kingston Seymour, the course proved to be fine for riding on road bikes – in Mike’s case on his brand new road bike!

The route can be found on the following link - The lump at 46km doesn’t exist – the ride takes the tunnel under this one but Garmin doesn’t know about tunnels it seems! The end lump is optional – see the end of these notes.

The course consists of sections of ordinary road and some sectors. It’s pretty flat as the sectors replace the hills in terms of providing the difficulties. We all know that riding super-smooth road is far easier than riding rough road. The idea of the Strada Bianche (Italian for ‘White Roads, which in Italy means gravel tracks) is that you get sectors of surfaces which take more energy out of you to get across. The nature of the sectors is designated by a number but, where-as with hills a low number means hard, on the Strada Bianche a low number is easy. The meanings for the ratings on this course are as follows.

1.      A road that hasn’t been well looked after. The tarmac may well be a bit broken. You need to pick your route a bit to miss the bumps.

2.      A road that, as well as being a bit broken, has accumulated a top surface of loose material such as grit from old tarmac.

3.      Not a road – a bike path or surfaced track. The top surface will be in pretty good condition. By surfaced, that will normally mean a gravel top. I actually found these some of the easiest bits when we did the test rides.

4.      Like 3, but not in such good condition. Bike paths tend to accumulate bits of loose vegetation, there will be some. Again, we had no nasty encounters with sharp bits on the test rides.

5.      An unsurfaced track that is, none-the-less, sufficiently solid on top that a road bike can reasonably be ridden over it. These obviously take some bike handling skill but it all adds to the fun… The amount of this has been severely restricted with the only lengthy bits (about 500m in each case) being avoidable if people choose.

In keeping with Strada Bianche tradition the sectors numbers start big and finish at 1. Sector 14 is the first sector you get to ride; sector 1 the last.

A list of the sectors on the course: -

Sector Number
Sector Name
When it comes up
How long is it?
Sector rating
Far South Promenade, Clevedon
3 (sort of ‘cobbled tarmac’).
Blind Yeo north bank track
5 – all but 200m is avoidable via a path if preferred (rating 2).
Strawberry Line
Yatton – Congresbury
Mostly 3, but with a short section (approx. 100m) of 5 (the ‘3’ is classic SB track). I was suspicious of this but it’s OK.
Brinsea Lane
Strawberry Line
Thatcher’s Orchard
5 – all avoidable by doing the other 2 sides of the square on road.
Strawberry Line
Sandford – Ilex Lane
Shipham Lane
1 – the only uphill sector – but only a 50m climb.
Axbridge Cobbles – well OK, ‘speed limiting tiles’.
Hellier’s Lane – Hythe Lane
Strawberry Line
Cheddar – Axbridge
Mostly 3 – but with about 150m of easy 5 at the start and 100m of 4 at the end.
Lay-by drop down
4 and a bit downhill – the technically tricky bit.
Strawberry Line
A38 – Winscombe
Mixed 3 and 4. This sector includes Winscombe tunnel – lights essential.
Strawberry Line
Sandford – Congresbury
3 with about 200m of 5 to get onto it from the road.
Whitehouse Lane

The 18.6km of ‘Bianche’ are deliberately spread out across the route as much as I could achieve. The idea is to give sectors followed by road for a while. As much of the best ‘Bianche’ is around Winscombe, Axbridge and Cheddar there is a concentration there.

If you want a bun stop then the cafĂ© in Winscombe after completing sector 3 makes a good one. If you feel we need a break earlier you can always stop in Axbridge or Cheddar.

Whilst Mike and I got round without picking up punctures on the sectors there is obviously an enhanced possibility compared with riding smooth tarmac. Mike and I did find that when riding the ‘4’ rated sectors it was worth giving the person in front a bit more space than normal so that we could react to anything that looked like it should be avoided.

Finally this was FUN. Frankly they were the most fun I’ve had on a bike in ages. It’s different, it’s engaging and it’s all in honour of what is, in my opinion, the best one day race in cycling. For anyone who really wants to ‘do it properly’ there’s always the option to finish with a sprint up Chapel Hill!

Dave Pye

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Who Cares about Segment Times?

It seems I do. Garn. When Mike started using Strava I understood why. At (as he was then) 18 it was natural to be competitive. I was happy to help him with the odd lead out, content to let him go on some sections and meet him further up the road when he'd done that bit and was waiting for me and frankly unable to stay anywhere near him when he set the (then) Strava record for the descent of Shipham Road - glad to see that Strava seem to have deleted that one as too dangerous. But I wasn't competing. I told myself that it wasn't what I cycled for...

...and then my Garmin started reporting segment times and ranks. Initially it was just casual interest that I looked to see how I compared to other people's times through sections. In the main I hadn't known that the segments were there when I was out on the bike, they just appeared in the report when I uploaded what I'd done - Garmin Touring you see - not a gadget that is meant for competitive types. The more I casually looked the more I realised that I was doing pretty well compared to other folk in the 45-55 bracket. I've come to realise that I wasn't interested in the competition when I thought I wasn't in it. But I am, and I am. Today, basically because I ended up riding with two very handy accomplices in the lower and top sections of Cheddar Gorge, I ended up getting onto the top 25 sheet for the section from the bridge in the tourist bit to the white line where the official hill climb finishes. I know I've done it faster in a pre-Garmin segments era but I found, rather oddly, that I was really rather pleased with myself - so much so that I had to phone Mike and tell him!

I guess I knew that I'd got the bug when, out on the road, I met up with a complete stranger on the way back across from Nailsea Wall to Yatton. This was the second time this had occurred in a short space of time, say three weeks. The first time had turned into a paired time trial. We had some fun doing alternate leads and, given that he was a Bristol University team member (so he told me), it ended up pretty quick.  My Garmin report told me that I was sixth on the section for a male of my age, and I was pleased. I was vaguely galled that it didn't put me into the lists as times from Garmin Touring machines weren't included at that point.  But I knew - and I was pleased. And then, the second time, with a different stranger, I told him about the first one and we tried to beat the first time. Poor fellow. We didn't get close and it probably cost him the equivalent effort of cycling 15 miles at his normal pace. Why had we done it; probably because my competitiveness had infected him. Who ever you were - sorry!

So what am I to do. I still tell myself that segment times are not what I go cycling for. I even largely believe it; but I'll still check the segments report every time I get back from a ride. This evening I found myself scheming as to how I could knock a hole in the time I'd set today up the gorge. I may have a problem, and I don't mean in beating the time. Garmin - you got me. If I start putting up pages reporting best time attempts on the climbs in the blog you'll know I got properly addicted. The bad news (for me at least) is that, just at the moment, it seems like a perfectly natural extension to the piece - gives me a reason to go and do them all again. Oh no.


Monday, 26 May 2014

Belmont Hill, Failand

There I was, hunting about for a possible cycling club meet when I came across an article about the Bristol Road Club's hill climbing competition. Well, I had to read it, didn't I? Unsurprisingly they'd had a bash up Cheddar but, there at the bottom of the web page was their bit about Belmont Hill. I'd been intending going close to it anyway on a route round North Somerset so I guess it just was meant to be.

I hit the bottom 30km into the day, about ideal, and with a successful push up Brockley Coombe already under the belt. After that I'd dropped down to Winford and, for a change, turned left as opposed to right. 'Nuff rambling...

Turning right onto the climb you can see from the bottom that it's going to be quite steep. The initial section is easy but there's a rightwards bend onto a steeper bit easily visible. I presume it's the Bristol Road Club that have put the marks on the road, every 100m to start with and every 50m from around a third of the way up. Of course, I didn't know how long the route was so ticking off the 50m intervals only served to raise the question as to what length of climb would be marked off in 50m sections. The answer is 1400m.

As the profile shows, that steep bit at the bottom proves to be the hardest section of the lot but given it's about 20% let's be thankful for that. In truth, this never gets that hard as there are rest sections after all the hard bits and the hill isn't very long anyway. It's marginal as to whether you'd call this top end of grade 4 or right on the base of grade 3 - I'd go 4 but if you hit it 130km in instead of 30 then you'd probably disagree...

It's short, it's steep for a while and it takes you up onto the ridge above Portishead - and there are some really good descents off this ridge. I went down Portbury Lane to Easton in Gordano but, if you've never done Naish Hill, then it's an experience not to be missed - but make sure your brakes are FULLY functional and don't hit the top bend too quick or it gets very exciting. Very...


Monday, 11 November 2013

So, what's the hardest climb round here?

OK that's an easy one. New Road, Draycott or, as it's known to some folk, Draycott Steep. Reasonable name. But what of the rest?
Well, there's Blagdon, that's hard. And Ebbor Gorge, that's pretty tough. Not forgetting Wrington Hill, short but really steep. And Westfield Road. The Wrangle's got a pretty fierce reputation... The debate rages. But now, perhaps, we can put an end to the debate. All thanks to Codifava's index. I discovered this last week. CI is a method of calculating the difficulty of a climb, a calculation...

Codifava's index =  (average gradient squared * length/10) + (4 x average gradient)

Quite how anyone (Codifava presumably) came up with this I don't know. It seems, at first, like a reasonable idea, investigate the average gradient and the length of a climb and it should tell you how hard it is. Except that there's a problem. Some climbs aren't that bad in the main but they have a really steep section that makes them tough. At which point enter the sectioned Codifava index (SCI) which looks at the various sections of a climb, gives each of them a CI and then adds them together to make up the SCI. I think it actually works.  I did the numbers for 30 local climbs, mostly from the blog but including a couple of new ones to see how they came out. I reckon it's a believable rank order - see below.

ClimbSectioned CI
New Road, Draycott3.16
Wrington Hill2.67
Westfield Road, Rodney Stoke2.08
Cheston Combe2.07
Limeburn Hill1.97
Ebbor Lane and Deerleap (Ebbor Gorge)1.86
Shipham Road1.86
Bleadon Hill from Elborough1.84
Blagdon via Two Trees1.77
Highfield Lane, Compton Martin (The Wrangle)1.69
Old Bristol Road, Wells1.67
East Harptree; High Street & Middle Street1.60
Cheddar Gorge1.51
Burrington Coombe1.39
Cleeve Hill (Goblin Combe)1.31
Bristol Road Hill, Wells1.17
Harptree Hill1.16
A38 (Cowslip Green) to Bristol Airport1.14
Dundry Lane1.12
Winscombe to Trott's Corner1.06
Litton Combe and Torhole Bottom1.02
Wrington to Bristol Airport0.93
Litton Combe 0.93
Bath Road Wells0.89
Winscombe Hill0.81
Brockley Combe to Bristol Airport0.79
Langford X-roads to Shipham0.71
Bleadon Hill from Bleadon0.69
Lye Hole to Row of Ashes Farm0.63
Shute Shelve0.47

The system would be wrong if Draycott didn't come out on top of the pile. It does. So far, so good. But what of the rest? Wrington in second seems a bit of a surprise. It's pretty short. But then it's steep. 

There's many a local cyclist says they can't get up it. The nub of this is the short steep section away from the cross-roads. Look closely at the section; it goes up 30m in 120m horizontal, that's 1 in 4! If you look at the whole of the 'real' section of this climb there's 100m of up in 1km. That's 1 in 10 (10%) as an average. Perhaps it could be the second hardest climb hereabouts.

Westfield Road in third. Yes, I found this tough. 190m of up in 2.15km.

With that average gradient of 9% you'd expect this to be well up the list. The toughest section of this may be only 13%, that's the steep rise approaching the 2km point, but that's a tough average. 

It seems to work. There are some things that seem, initially, surprising - Winscombe Hill harder than Brockley Combe... yes, I think so. Brockley is mostly a 'feel good' climb, Winscombe Hill asks questions, especially in that section just past the church. Blagdon only ninth! I did expect it to be higher but then I'm not arguing that anything the SCI places above it is easier. We have some tough hills round here. The Wrangle tenth? Of this I'm not so sure, but that's where the index has a weakness; there's nothing in here about road surface or road width. If The Wrangle were on road of the quality of Cheddar Gorge it would be just another hardish climb. The fact that it isn't, that it's narrow and 10 years from being a mountain bike track, makes it that much harder. The same applies to Dundry, SCI places it  19th but it has to harder than that. Or does it? What would you take out from above it as being easier. To my mind there's only one, Cheddar Gorge. I'm not convinced it's that hard simply because the average gradient is really rather low - but it does have those two very tough corners and I guess they've been forgotten by the time you get up - you've been on easy territory for a while by then.

On the whole, I think I like this Sectioned Codifava Index. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to start using it to analyse climbs before I go and do them. On the other hand, I reckon it gives a pretty good tool for working out if something was really hard or whether I was just off form. On Saturday I discovered what Mike and I christened 'The Barrowberg' just south of Castle Cary. We thought it tough. The SCI for it is only 0.57 so it would hardly make it onto the list. There's not enough of it score higher but with an average gradient of 9% for 550m we noticed it. If it was twice as long it would be really tough and, oh yes, about the same numbers as Wrington Hill. Length matters! Let's face it, with a climb of only 50m it doesn't get anywhere near being admitted to MRBClimbs. Just off form then I guess. Or should I be thinking about how to include maximum gradient in the calculation. I may have some maths to do...


Saturday, 19 October 2013

Checking the Theory

If I'm right about the difference between the height gains on different route mapping programs being down to the size of the mapping grids then the following should both be true: -

1. On a straight-forward climb such as Cheddar Gorge there should be very little disparity between the systems as there are no up and down undulations for the map to consider - only ups of different gradients.

2. On a moderately hilly ride route there should be considerable variation as the undulations are seen on the 10m grid but not on the 100m one.

So here goes - First; a look at Cheddar Gorge

Taking the start point as the bridge over the River Axe at the foot of the gorge and the top point as the split where the B3371 leaves the B3135...

we get the following stats from Bike Route Toaster...

...and from Ride with GPS we get...

...3.3 miles, 829 feet of ascent and 189 feet of descent. Hang on! Where's that descent? Anyone who's ridden this section of Cheddar Gorge will know that there just isn't the best part of 200 feet of descent on here. There also isn't a significant drop after about 0.8 miles - this is right in the heart of the harder section of the climb. In other words - the mapping is wrong!

If we go ahead with the comparison anyway...
829 feet is the equivalent of 255m - and irrelevant. As the drops aren't there so there has to be 189 fewer feet of ascent than this. This suggests a real height gain of 829 - 189 = 640 feet or 197m. This compares with the BRT height gain of 186m. A difference of 11m; or just about 6% of the BRT figure.

Of course, there arises the question as to whether the 'height drop' suggested by RwGPS is just a one off blip. Another local climb that just goes up is Shipham Road, Cheddar.

Taking the start at the junction with the A371 to the top where the road is just about to descend to the western end of Longbottom...

BRT gives...

where as RwGPS gives...

This time there is no mapped in descent so the figure ought to compare. RwGPS gives a height gain of 463 feet which converts to 142m. This compares with the 133m height gain suggested by BRT, a difference of 9m or just under 7% of the BRT figure. There seems to be some consistency in the way the numbers pan out.

So what of a 'ride' over undulating road. I've kept this very short to allow for comparison of a sort to the climb routes. The chosen ride starts at Sidcot/Winscombe traffic lights, goes through Winscombe out down Barton Road to the Webbington Hotel and then returns via Shute Shelve. Apart from the pull over Shute Shelve this is a flattish, but never flat, run. Ideal...

The figures for BRT say...

where as RwGPS has...

The 519 feet of ascent on RwGPS converts to just about 160m. Compare this with the 99m claimed by BRT and we have a difference of 61m or 62% of the BRT figure.

It seems I may be right. The 6 to 7% differences on the climbs aren't great, but it's not a massive issue. The 62% difference on the short ride does indeed suggest that BRT is missing much of the undulation on the ride and therefore coming up with a smaller figure for total ascent. This fits very well with he theory that BRT is mapping on a 100m grid where as RwGPS is using a 10m one. Whether that's right or not, the disparity is real.

I don't think that we can be giving each other indications of how hard routes are via these mapping sites without agreement of what we are using. Using BRT I've worked on the basis that a comfortable day's ride has an average gradient of 1m of ascent per 100m of horizontal travel; a really hard day about 1.6m.  When I've looked at the stats for some of the sportives and seen averages that were in the top end of this or even beyond it I've wondered how anyone (or indeed 1500 anyones) could cope with them. When I've been out on sportives and similar I've found that I cope as well as most, better than many. Those sportives that I've shied away from - were they really that hard, or were their routes just assessed on RwGPS or some equivalent, accentuating their height gains and making them seem excessively hard. Some of each probably. Which leaves me to make one plea...

Will all course setters and reporters, please, indicate which program they have used to assess their route with or, better, provide a course route that we can then plug into our own preferred options so we really know what we're letting ourselves in for.

Rant over!