Monday 31 March 2014

Review - Bont Riot Road Shoes

After much deliberation, scouring various Internet forums and the like, I decided to invest in some Bont Riot shoes. The main reason for this was the superior spec, such as a full carbon sole, compared to other shoes around my £100 budget. Additionally, the Bont size guide is a lot clearer than other brands, which seem to vary a lot from my research. I would, of course, have preferred to try and buy them in person, however, the several local shops stock only Shimano and Specialized shoes, which upon trying just didn't feel right.

General advice when buying cycling shoes is to go half to a full size up, due to swelling of feet on a warm/long ride. The Bont website helped in this area, with an online 'Size Wizard'. One simply enters the length and width (illustrated guide on the site), and it produces a recommended size, in my case 45. I then set out to find the best price, which being relatively new was £89.99, £10 of the RRP.

Bont Riot shoes, mesmerising monochrome
First impressions of the shoes were good, the carbon sole looked great, and the black and white palette complimented it. The material looked a little plastic, but for the price I wasn't expecting kangaroo leather, sail cloth or any other exotic material found on other road shoes. Fit wise the Size Wizard seemed to have worked it's magic, with a little space for the toe, but not so much as to allow slippage, and ample width for foot expansion. The straps weren't the most secure, but the ratchet stopped any unwelcome forward movement. Immediately I could feel a difference just walking in the shoes, the stiff carbon sole feeling completely different to the nylon one on my 7 year old Decathlon ones.

The plastic ratchet feels a little brittle when tightening

After a couple of minutes in the shoes, I took them off to fit my cleats, at which point I started to notice a few quality issues with the shoes. The ratchet is made of what seemed pretty cheap plastic, bending easily, and it actually took a bit of fiddling to release the strap. I was slightly worried I was going to snap it. On to fitting the cleats, the shoe has lines in order to gauge the fore/aft and sideways positioning of the cleats, an improvement over my previous shoes. After moving the cleats around a little, I noticed the white lines were starting to wear. Not such a good sign if the shoes are going to be in use for a while. I also started to notice other imperfections, such as loose stitching where the sole meets the upper, and on the straps.

Stitching of the upper panels isn't brilliant

Cleat placement guide starting to wear off already

Anyway, on to riding. I've had a couple of rides in the shoes so far, admittedly no more than an hour, but intense riding nonetheless. I find it a little difficult to get the forefoot particularly snug with the Z strap, no matter how tight I pull it. Whilst this is mitigated to some extent by the ratchet strap, the ratchet itself feels so fragile, I am a little hesitant to really put force into tightening it. Another slight niggle is that the straps on the left shoe line up with the Velcro, but those on the right shoe are slightly misaligned. Likewise the ratchet strap come to think about it, though that may be due to foot shape. Overall, I can get them tight enough for sprinting or climbing, but it's not smooth like conventional Velcro straps or a BOA system.

Full carbon sole with arch support, efficient power tranfer
Starting to pedal in the shoes was a strange sensation at first, but this soon fades. What replaces it is a grin, as you can genuinely feel the increase in power transferred to the pedals compared to lesser shoes. I'm really impressed with the feel, they are a marked improvement over their predecessors. The Riot's are well ventilated, which was noticeable during Saturday's surprise 16C temperatures for the MK Bowl race! They claim to have more arch support than other shoes, which is evident by looking at the curvature of the sole. I couldn't feel it hugely when riding, but they do feel a little more dynamic than those with none. If you use a footbed, I would probably recommend still using it, but personal preference will dictate this.

The construction of the shoes is a little different to many, with a 'tub' sole, meaning the carbon fibre extends approx. 10mm into the upper, like an elongated U shape. This makes the shoes feels sturdier, but after riding for a while, there is an evident quality issue once again with the edge of the 'tub' being rough, which I found dug into my little toe/end of the 5th metatarsal. Almost like a stone in the shoe, annoying. Another surprise at this point is the ability to heat mould the shoes to your foot shape but heating for 20mins at 70C in the oven and then wearing them. Whilst I haven't tried this yet, and I'm not sure about the effectiveness/risk, I am tempted to try and rid them of this sharp edge. They can be moulded multiple times, which I suppose makes it less risky. I'll update if I choose to do so.

Reading the above, I may give the impression that the shoes are poor and not worth buying. Conversely, I would in fact recommend these, albeit with certain caveats. If you are used to spending a couple of hundred ponds on high end Shimano, SIDI, Specialized, etc. shoes, then I would hesitate in buying these, as sadly it's not a case of getting the same level of quality for substantially less money. If this does apply to you, it may be worth trying the Bont Vaypor shoes, their higher tier model.

However, if you, like me, are buying your second pair of road shoes, your first 'serious' pair, and/or have a £100 budget, I can wholeheartedly recommend them. There are few, if any, other shoes that deliver a full carbon sole for this price, and for me that provides a measurable upgrade. With regards to the 'flaws', I wouldn't be especially surprised if similar quality issues were found with the majority of sub-£100 shoes. My opinion might change if they start to fall apart, but I'm willing to give the Bont Riot's the benefit of the doubt for now.

Overall, they deliver exactly what they profess, a taste of top end road shoe technology, with necessary limitations to make them accessibly priced for many.

Another great review, especially on the support aspects of  the shoe from a physiotherapist, can be found at
Review - Bont Riot Road Shoes
Review - Bont Riot Road Shoes
Review - Bont Riot Road Shoes
Review - Bont Riot Road Shoes
Review - Bont Riot Road Shoes
Review - Bont Riot Road Shoes

Sunday 30 March 2014

Punctured: Tyre, but not Enthusiasm...First Race, MK Bowl 4th Cat.

After trying a few time trials, I decided to have a go at regular racing. Fortunately, the MK Bowl is but a 10/15 minute drive away, and has regular races, this being the final Spring season race. Yes, I am useless at this resting the knee lark!

I woke up nice and early this week, making sure breakfast had enough time to digest this time! The strange yellow light shining through the window would provide excellent conditions I thought, but guessed it would also mean many racers. The race started at 9.30, so I got there at about 8.30 to make sure I got a place. As I was getting ready in the car park, I bumped into fellow LBRCC'ers Tom and Simon, who had both raced before. I got a few tips from them, and a few things to watch out for, and my nervousness started to turn to excitement! 

We rode to the track and did about 5 laps to warm up, which definitely helped both to learn the corners and get the legs going after quite a tough week of squash, with 4 hard matches! Feeling good, I stripped some layers as it was now about 13c and getting warmer, and wolfed down a banana and bottle of water. I had elected not to ride with a drink, as I'm not that confident of drinking on the go at the best of times, nevermind in a race. I worked out I'd be OK, it wouldn't be more than an hour, and my body seems to function OK with lack of water, probably adaptation through squash.

A quick plea from the organiser not to crash, and we were off! The first couple of laps were quick, as I had been warned, hitting 44km/h for the lap! It wasn't a problem in a bunch though, and everyone slowed on the (very slight!) uphill, obviously not used to Pennines! It took me a couple of laps to get comfortable, not having ridden in a group so much, but the advice of 'pick a back side and follow it' worked fine, focusing on that made me think less about the corners I think.

As I got more comfortable riding in the pack, and reacting to slight movements by others, I started to push up a little every so often, although I seemed to gravitate towards the edges come the corners. I was starting to feel great by about lap 10, tempted to have a little fun an attempt a doomed break, but less than halfway in I thought better of it, I didn't want to be dropped in a state of exhaustion! As we approached halfway, I felt to be taking the corners better, staying in the bunch and avoiding having to waste energy getting a wheel afterwards, so I started plotting how I would launch an (Ill fated but passionate) attack.

However, next thing I knew I felt a slight slip round a corner, followed by the horrific feel of a rim under an airless tyre. I couldn't believe it, my first race and I was the first to drop out with a puncture! I managed to get most of the way round before it was pancaked, but the final hundred metres were one of my least favourite walks! The organiser asked if I wanted to rejoin, but it seemed futile after taking X minutes to fix a puncture. He did tell me about his first race though, how he got no.13 and punctured on lap 3! Could be worse!

Annoyed, I lay (threw...) my bike unceremoniously against a hedge and sat down to contemplate life (sulk...). One positive was that it was so sunny I got to work on my tan lines (Re: Rule #7!)...but that's clutching at straws for optimism! Shortly after, I was joined by team mate Simon, struggling with a child-borne cold, and a Team MK rider who had suffered the same fate as me. He retrieved a pin of some sort from his wheel. And having picked it up in the same area as me, I suspect it was also my downfall.

Looking at it optimistically, it was good to see the end of the race, where several individual and one pair unsuccessfully broke away for a lap or two, and finally a sprint finish. At least I know what to expect when I finish. There was one crash involving a couple of riders, from sprinting in the main pack I believe, garnering criticism from several veterans. The race was won by a St Ives CC rider I think, with Tom placing mid-pack.

In a final bid of insult to injury, I only had a regular length stemmed tube, which I was unable to inflate, needing a long valve stem for my wheels, leading to a walk of shame back to the car park. Overall, not the worst day, but could be better! Average speed of 40km/h certainly looks good!

No riding for me the next couple of weeks, as next weekend is Intercounty Squash weekend, so I'll be playing for Bedfordshire against Worcestershire and Avon, in Bromsgrove. After that I'll be heading to Cyprus on the 9th, finally forcing me to rest my injured knee! I'll hopefully post some reviews in that time, possibly of the Bont Riot shoes, and Michael Hutchinson's new book 'Faster: the obsession, science and luck behind the world's fastest cyclists'.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Local Bike Shop Vs. Online Retailer

The general feeling between cyclists is always support you local bike shop (LBS), in fact it is Rule #58. Whether the majority of cyclists actually do this is another matter, but the principle stands. Whilst there are a number of arguments for and against, they can be generally summarised as follows:
  • LBS - More expensive, but made up for by the customer service and local support.
  • Online - Cheaper due to greater buying power, but faceless and lacking in after sale support and customer service.

I have been fortunate in the past week or so to have encountered two instances of fantastic customer service. The first of these was from the LBS, whereby they stripped and cleaned out my freehub on a wheel I bought from the approx. 4 months ago, free of charge. Whilst after 3 months of riding, you wouldn't necessarily expect to need to strip a hub down, they weren't obliged to do it for free. Things like this reinforce my views that paying an extra £250 for the bike compared to online was wise.

The second instance was from an online retailer. I bought a pair of Bont Riot shoes (Review to come) and Shimano 105 Carbon pedals last Monday, only to see a tweet on Friday announcing 10% off pedals and shoes. I sent a tweet (humour intended!) Declaring how heartbroken I was, expecting no more than mild entertainment. However, a reply came that something to ease the pain was in the post to me, and lo and behold, this morning a Ribble bidon and £10 gift voucher appeared! It's things like this that make you sway to a retailer if there's a few pounds between products at a few sites. Competition may be fierce between online and LBS, but it must certainly be even fiercer between online retailers competing for rock bottom prices. 

Whilst I can see why it's frowned upon to buy components online and ask a LBS to fit them, it could be argued that you're still paying them for a service. Maybe for a surcharge compared to if you had bought it from them, but no one will argue with that I would imagine. After all, the internet is never going to be able to strip a freehub or bottom bracket, could this be the main role of the future LBS? The debate goes on, and I'm sure it will for a long time yet.

The online retailer was Ribble Cycles, which I highly recommend, both because of this, a wide range of products and legendary bikes, and also next day delivery from £3.99, because we're all impatient for new goodies!

The local bike shop was Roy Pink Cycles in Newport Pagnell, whom I genuinely can't recommend enough. From help choosing a bike to fitting it, and a free initial service, to fixing the above wheel and replacing crap OEM tyres for free with brilliant Conti GP4000s. Oh, and last but not least, good coffee!

Monday 24 March 2014

60 minutes of suffering...Hemel Hempstead CC Hilly 21.5 mile Time Trial

Yesterday (Sunday 23rd March) was my second time trial, Hemel Hempstead CC's Sid Latchford Memorial, a tough hilly 25 mile course up Bison Hill, over the Dunstable Downs and up Ivinghoe Beacon. It was also my first in LBRCC colours, as the kit had conveniently arrived last week.

My preparation for the race hadn't been too great, my one ride in the month before, a recon of the course, ending in abandonment due to ongoing knee issues. Added to this was a 2 hour squash training session Saturday and a late night after a meal out with friends! If that wasn't enough, as a result I then woke up late, ate breakfast too close to the race and didn't have time to set my new cleats and shoes up properly. If ever there was to be a manual of how NOT to prepare for a race, I think I would have ticked all the boxes! 'Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!' comes to mind!

Anyway, despite this I made it to the start with about an hour to go, and got ready to warm up. All of a sudden, the brisk but sunny weather turned, huge globules of freezing rain coming down! Ten minutes of shivering pedal spinning later, I gave up, deciding that being warm took precedent today! Soon it was time to set off, which I did a little more confidently this time with the standing start.

The bottom of Bison Hill...Short lived smile!

The first 5km or so entailed a steady incline, maybe 1-2%max, which I was careful not to overcook after last time's overenthusiastic start. I made it about 4km up before being passed, but I wasn't too bothered, with TT bikes having a massive advantage on this stretch, especially with a fair headwind. A right turn at a roundabout and an ever increasing gradient led to a sharp right and the first climb of the day: Bison Hill, an eye watering climb touching 17% gradient in places! I'd reconned the climb last week, and thought it was tough but manageable, however, on the day I felt empty at the bottom, and really struggled up. I decided rather than blow out trying to push, I should spin it up and conserve energy for the several remaining climbs. A cowbell and cheering crowds spurred me on towards the top, no doubt finding my gurning entertaining, and a decent past Whipsnade Zoo followed.

The top...I'd quit cycling 3 times by now!

Going up here the thought of quitting cycling crossed my mind several times! A cross between no warm up and late breakfast were a bad combo, with muesli threatening to make a reappearance several times...(sorry!). As it turned out, despite the horrific feelings, I actually did the climb only 10 seconds or so slower than recon, so I must have done the first bit a little too quickly I imagine.

Anyway...There was a short gentle climb up from Whipsnade up onto the Dunstable Downs, where a tremendous headwind greeted us. Great for the hundreds of people with kites, not so much for a suffering TT'er! It was a head down and drive moment with a slight recovery down a steep gradient into Dunstable. From here there was essentially a valley, a few miles downhill and the same up the other side, with the pleasant (!) addition of a headwind. I was passed a couple of times on the downhill, once again the advantage of TT bikes was evident, but it turned out both ended up in the top 5 overall, so not too disheartening!

The uphill led to the second main climb of the day, Ivinghoe beacon, so with the wind, I held back a little, saving energy. Ivinghoe Beacon is a couple of km long with a fair gradient of 5% or so, which I really enjoyed on my recon. Feeling a little more energised, and safe in the knowledge it was downhill from there, I went for it, catching someone in the process. The last section was tricky, being a little steeper, but overall pretty good. Jenny was waiting at the top, fortunately missing a photo opportunity as I gasped 'It's not a good day at the office today!'.

From there onwards the course was mainly downhill, first a smooth downhill which I mostly used to recover, and then a sharp left turn leading to a steep couple of km over very rough tarmac to the first and last roundabout. A right turn opened up the final stretch downhill back to the finish, which I managed full gas, crossing the line (which was earlier than expected!) in 1:04.50. I would have liked to beat the hour, but given the preparation and how bad I felt, beating 1:05 wasn't too disappointing. I definitely think I could get sub 1 hour, which may seem optimistic, but all things considered, especially the fact I haven't been able to train for 6 weeks, I think it is easily within reach.

At the finish I stocked up on coffee and cake, and bumped into fellow rider Tom, who was somewhere between pleased and heartbroken with his time of 1:00.03! A fantastic ride, but so close to that magical marker! However, after we deduced that sprinting to make up that 3 seconds would almost certainly have lead to a catastrophic death (long story induced by post TT delusion!), he seemed more happy! It was good to meet a fellow team member, as I haven't really had the chance to meet so many yet, having pretty much joined the club and got injured on the same day!

The winning time was a blistering 50.03 by Micheal Broadwith (Arctic Tacx), and we hung around for the presentations. Overall, great organisation by Sam Williamson of Hemel CC, and all of marshalls, photographers, coffee makers and everyone else! Especially for the first time the event has been run.

From this race I have learned many, many, MANY things:
  • Don't have a 2 hour squash training session the day before
  • Don't go for a meal and get back at 1am
  •  If you do go for a meal and get back at 1am, don't wake up and eat breakfats late, it will come back (literally and metaphorically!) to haunt you!
  • Don't set new cleats up on the day
  • Don't use new shoes on the day
  • Don't use new pedals which are completely different for the first time
  • Warm up!
As for my next plans, I really need to sort this knee out. I'm going to get some proper physio , fortunately LBRCC is sponsored by The Brecon Clinic, so I'll try there, and stay off the bike for a few weeks. Fortunately the weather should only get better, so a few weeks now is worth it to be ok for summer. It's a shame I haven't been able to race the MK Bowl circuit, but there will be plenty of opportunity over summer. There's a few weeks of the squash season left, so I'll focus on that rather than the bike, and combined with a week of reltive rest/warm weather training in Cyprus, hopefully my knee can recover!


It was kind of disheartening at first being 15mins behind the winner, but as I was packing away the bike a thought occured to me. This is what the top guys train for all year round, most days. If I look at my level at squash, which I generally spend a couple of hours, 6+ days a week doing, then it's definitely comparable. I can beat full time professionals, some in the world top 200 or so, which when you think of pro riders speeds on TT's, these guys wouldn't be near. I know there's a lot more pro cyclists than squash players, but the performances must be close. A little nugget of positivity to top the day!

Wednesday 5 March 2014

First Time Trial – Rossendale Hilly 11 Bolton-by-Bowland

Last Saturday was my first race, a hilly time trial on the outskirts of the Forest of Bowland. Despite being well and truly in the North, the weather was nothing short of majestic, with base layers being removed left right and centre. As it was my first race, I set out to arrive about and hour before the start, hoping to drive at least part of the course. However, when I got there it was already starting to get busy, and the lanes were even narrower than they had looked when i street-viewed the course on google maps, so I gave it a miss.

By the time I’d collected my number and set the bike up, I had about 40 minutes, time to warm up! Many people were on turbo trainers, which had crossed my mind when packing to drive up North, but space was an issue, and I didn’t know if it would look odd, evidently not! That said, there were a fair few people riding around the local lanes to warm up, which I joined in with. I didn’t want to risk missing my starting spot, so I probably only did 20 mins warm up, some high cadence stuff to get rid of 240 miles of driving, then some general riding with some sprints. Not ideal, but I was feeling pretty good.

I bumped into  friend on the starting line, and after a quick chat 2.25pm was upon us and it was time to start! The sensation of someone holding you up on the bike was odd at first, I had visions of falling, but a firm push of prevented that, and off I went. I knew the course went up for a few km from the off, but there was a steepish kick for a few hundred metres which I hadn’t anticipated, and I hit it a little hard for the beginning, gasping for air as it evened out a little. It wasn’t too bad though, and half a minute later I was fine. Not dissimilar from a tough first rally in a squash match, so nothing I couldn’t handle! I digress.

No TT bike or aero bars, but the race wheels felt great!
The next couple of km went gently uphill at 2% or so, and as I neared the crest I saw my minute-man! Visions of finishing last vanished and I burst forward to catch him. Potentially unwise, but with a downhill section to follow I think it worked out ok. As I had’nt had chance to set the clip-on aero bars up, I got down low on the hoods, using scientific reasoning that the drops widen the frontal area – plus I find I can generate more power. As the first corner loomed, unbelievably I saw my 2 minute man ahead, although this time I resisted sprinting to catch up, and a hilly section followed. It was also at this point I got overtaken, although as we hit the climb I was matching pace, a demonstration of how effective TT bikes are on the flat/downhill.

I caught my 2 minute man on the crest of the last main hill, approx halfway round the course. I put a bit more effort into this climb than I maybe should, but a sharp hairpin requiring slow speed provided respite. The downhill second half of the course proved a little more undulating than I expected, but I think that suited me, using my preferred out of the saddle position every so often. I felt to be pushing on the limit, and despite expecting to be overtaken again, it never came. I was slightly taken by surprise by a nasty 5/6% kick, which sent me really into the red, but I was able to recover quickly for a sprint finish to the finish, which was several hundred metres away.

Riding back to the village, I was gasping for air, unable to speak as I got back to base! Thus, I think I probably rode it well, on the limit without exceeding it or cracking at any point. I aimed to break 30mins, which I was kind of confident I had. The times were soon up in the village hall, and I found out I had in fact done 29:27, an average speed of 34mph. Not quick in the grand scheme of things, but for a first attempt on a hilly course on a road bike, not too bad I don’t think. I reckon knowing the course I could knock possibly 2 minutes off next time at a push, certainly 1-1.5mins.

The winning time was 25:04, so I was less than 4.30 back. It is estimated that a TT position can save approx. 5 mins over a 25mile TT, so subtract 2 minutes and I was only a couple of minuted off the pace. I’m not saying this would necessarily be guaranteed, but science doesn’t lie! In theory anyway! If nothing else, there were some incredibly expensive bikes there, so cost:time wise I think I did OK!
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable ride, compounded by tea and cake in the village hall afterwards! I’ll definitely be signing up for more soon, with better training and a tactical plan to boot.

Things to take away for next time:
-   Take the turbo to warm up, easier to do and no risk of getting lost/puncturing
-   Drive (or ideally ride!) the course before to get a proper idea of the topography
-   Don’t get over excited when catching people!
-   Spend vast amount of money on a sleek TT steed!

Welcome to Today on my bike!

Welcome to Today On My Bike! I’m a little obsessed with cycling, so I decided to join thousands of others and start a blog about it. As the name suggests, the blog will focus on general bike related stuff, from great places to ride, gear reviews, professional cycling and everything in between! Feel free to get in touch if you have any comments or suggestions. Now make yourself at home!