How to ride a circuit faster!

It’s a while since I’ve ridden repeated laps of the same circuit so today I thought I’d go to Birkacre for it’s excellent little loop. A lap starts at a high point and drops through various twists, turns and straight sections right to the bottom of the area before climbing to another high point. A shorter descent is full of corners before a shorter climb back to the start. There must be 15 or more corners on each lap where you need to monitor your speed or face a slide to the ground and I would ride 5 laps. It takes around 15 minutes to reach the circuit by a mainly off road and entertaining route which rises and falls in height.

Before my laps I took the opportunity to test conditions on a section of 3 corners which have kept me entertained since 1992! It’s a descent into a right hander flowing into a left then a sharper right which climbs on it’s exit. Going too fast into the first corner will have you drifting too far to the left on the exit which makes the left hander which follows seem much tighter. Linking the corners together correctly will give you the highest exit speed which is important to provide momentum for the start of the climb which follows. The ground is hard packed but has a layer of grit mixed with leaf mould on top which soon has you finding the limit of grip.

I was soon at the start point and clicked my stopwatch. I’d stop at the end of each lap to check my time. On the first lap I obviously felt fresh and it’s easy to use up too much of your energy perusing speed. I slithered around but tried to give thought to technique and pacing as I rode. I completed the lap in 6 minutes 52 seconds, turned around and started lap 2. The ideal way would be to keep the lap times identical and gradually increase breathing and heart rate until reaching the end of the final lap exhausted. On a mountain bike this is even more difficult than it would be on the roads. The steep climbs, mud, rocks and vegetation often force you to increase the effort rather than keeping things constant. Lap 2 was slightly slower at 6 minutes 56. Before lap 3 I waited for 2 walkers to pass me since they’d already stepped aside twice for me to pass. I don’t know if this short break broke my rhythm but I lapped slower at 7 minutes 14. I’d also had a couple of slides which had scrubbed some speed off and on the 3 corner combination I made a mistake. I must have turned into the first corner too early and so exited too early which sent me to the far left of the track when I really wanted to be further to the right to make the following left hander less tight. I was completely wrong for the final right and had to brake hard before I took the corner. This robbed me of my speed at the start of the climb. I deliberately increased my effort on lap 4 to give a time of 6 minutes 57, so back to consistency. For the final lap I knew I may as well drain the tank and make a really big effort. I made sure I was turning the pedals in a big circle on the climbs. It’s important not just to push the pedals down but to put the work in round the whole circle of the pedals. This is why I use “SPDs”. These are pedals which attach to cleats on the sole of my shoe so that I can pull up as well as push down. The best way, though, is not to think about pulling the pedals up but just making strong, consistent circuits of the pedals. I did my final lap in 6 minutes 43, so it was my fastest by a small margin which I was pleased about.

I realised that my slower third lap took longer because I didn’t give the effort on the pedals enough thought. The slides I had would only have lost me a few seconds at most, not the 20 second margin which I lost. To lap quickly it’s really all about consistency. A constant pace whilst gradually increasing the effort you make. Using the best line through corners and linking them together smoothly so you don’t have to panic brake to lose speed. Finally smooth, powerful circles of the pedal rather than just pushing down. Perhaps the best thing about today’s ride, though, was that I loved slithering around the many corners and by timing laps I gave the ride a real purpose. I cruised home over the hilly route and felt that glow you get as you reach the limit of your energy.

Please feel free to like my post or leave a comment. Andrew.

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