Have you ever returned to a mountain biking trail and found things were not like they used to be? Yesterday I went to a circuit, which on the app. Strava is called Birkacre Race Route. In the bone dry conditions it was bound to ride well and I know that a couple of small obstructions have been removed so it should have been faster than ever, but it wasn’t. In January I set this circuit as one of my annual challenges, wanting to achieve a “King of the Mountains” title for the fastest lap ever. In previous years I’ve exchanged the crown with my rival “O” but last year he set a fastest time then had a road riding accident. This prevented him from riding for a short period and it didn’t seem fair to steal the honour back whist he was out of action. so I haven’t tried a fast lap until yesterday.
I set off on a day where we were given our first ever Extreme Heat warning, though in the morning temperatures were only in the mid 20s Celcius, so it was fine for riding. Interestingly, even the TV news were showing the temperatures from Weather.com, not the actual recorded temperatures. At the peak of the heat between 4 and 5 pm we were told that the temperature was 33 C but I recorded a not especially unusual 28 C. I suppose it wouldn’t be news if they didn’t exaggerate. I didn’t set off with the intention of necessarily trying to ride the circuit as fast as possible but thought that I should ride 2 circuits, the first to check conditions and the second to lap more quickly.
Typically, as soon as the flag dropped I started to speed up. I could have saved a few seconds with a bigger effort early on but as the surface turned rougher and rockier I was pushing the pace, maintaining my speed for the rest of the circuit. Gravel has been laid along a dirt road and as “O” pointed out later in a message on Strava, it may have robbed me of speed. I later found that I completed this section, then rode across an open downhill track, faster than ever before. My effort at 1 minute 21 was the 4th fastest ever and only 4 seconds slower than the KOM time. Into a country park area I was barely delayed and began the first steep climb on a gravel surface. I was quick on the next downhill but worked hard on the final long climb and sprint to the finish to no avail. My time was 15 minutes 10 seconds whereas my fastest time on Strava is 14 minutes 32. Last year I also completed 4 laps, where Strava had failed to record, in lap times around 14 minutes 30. I immediately wondered why I’d lost so much speed on the climbs.
My fitness varies little, since I never take time off from riding, but I suspect another reason for my relatively slow lap. Recently I fitted a new rear tyre which is far more heavily treaded than it’s predecessor. It also weighs almost a kilogram more that the tyre which it replaced so I’m thinking that the much greater drag on the climbs has cost me perhaps as much as 90 seconds on the lap. I completed another circuit and contemplated how I could speed things up. I could refit a Continental Trail King in place of the new tyre but I think I’d rather try to prove the worth of a bike from 2004. My Whyte JW4 is light with narrower 26″ tyres which will provide far less drag. If this doesn’t work I may have to admit that age has got the better of me. (Never!)