John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

BWC 2012

Last Sunday I went to Blenheim Palace for the Brompton World Championship. I did this last year, and I was keen to improve my time this year. There were also more events this year: as well as the 13km race, there was a 300m sprint and a 42km marathon route. I signed up for the sprint but I gave the marathon a miss; that's partly because my back starts to ache if I do more than 20km on a Brompton but mainly because I didn't want to wear myself out before the other races. I'd prefer to see the marathon on the Saturday, so that people have a chance to recover in between.

In brief, the event went well and I encountered enough "random acts of kindness" to renew my faith in human nature.

Last year I predicted that it would take me 30-40 minutes, so I left in the 4th wave, and it took me 30m23s. I overtook several slower riders, so this year I predicted a faster time in the hope that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don't remember what the options were, but maybe I chose "25-30 minutes"? I got a lower race number (#301 rather than #382) and I was assigned to the 3rd wave. I rode my own bike this year, which is about 2kg heavier than the superlight model I borrowed last year. However, I'm now about 14kg lighter (80kg vs 94kg), so that should balance out in my favour.

The official dress code for the main race said that everyone should wear a collared shirt, a tie, and a jacket. They're a bit more flexible about legwear: you can wear trousers, shorts, or something in between (e.g. plus 4s) but you can't wear visible lycra. It was a very warm weekend, so I initially intended to wear my khaki shorts but I don't have a matching jacket so I stuck to black trousers. When I arrived on Sunday morning, they announced that they'd waived the requirement for jackets in view of the heat. That was welcome news, but it's a pity I didn't know about it in advance. Still, it could be worse: one rider arrived the previous day, realised that he'd left his jacket at home, and made a 50 mile round trip to collect it!

The official video has an aerial view of everyone waiting near the grid, and this came from a remote controlled helicopter rather than a crane. Basically, they had a frame which appeared to be built out of Meccano, with 8 rotor blades arranged in a circle on top and a video camera bolted into the frame underneath. That was quite clever; apparently it was designed for the military, and I wonder whether we'll see the police using those for crowd surveillance in the future.

I left my front pannier and jacket in a "cloakroom" tent, but this meant that I didn't have any way to carry water with me. While I was waiting for the race to start, one of the other riders had a 2L bottle with him, and he passed it around for the rest of us to share because he didn't want to carry it with him. That was kind of him, and it does show that this is a friendly competition.

As I mentioned, there were separate waves for a staggered start. I started my heart rate monitor running while I was waiting, and I was already in zone 2 (>= 60% of maximum) just by standing there, either due to the heat or the anticipation. When the klaxon went, the first group of riders ran to their bikes. Also, one person ran off from the second wave. He got to his bike, then glanced back and realised that nobody else in his field had moved, so he trudged back to the start line a bit sheepishly. Soon it was our turn, so we set off. Each race number had a timing chip on the back, so my individual time started when I crossed the start line (not when the klaxon blew).

On my 1st lap, I passed a couple of people who were really struggling with the hills; they'd set off ahead of me, so I think they were a bit optimistic about their predicted time. (Speaking to someone else later, he said that he saw some people walking up the hills.) Unfortunately, I then noticed that I was having a bit of trouble with my gears. My Brompton uses hub gears rather than derailleurs, so there's a little chain that goes into the hub of the rear wheel. Every so often I found that I can't "stick" in 1st gear (i.e. it feels like 2nd gear) so I have to tighten that chain. Normally that's not a major problem, but any ad-hoc repairs would delay me so I just decided to press on. The gears got worse as I progressed, so I effectively went up one hill in 3rd gear: I made it, but I think I would have been faster in 2nd. After that, I glanced down and saw that the gear indicator chain had separated completely, so I knew that I'd have to stop. I waited until I was at the top of a hill so that I wouldn't have to sacrifice too much momentum (or do a hill start) then pulled onto the grass verge and frantically screwed it back together. While I was stopped, I could really feel the heat of the sun on my legs, more so than when I was riding. I probably lost about a minute by doing that, then I set off again.

Going around the course, I kept an eye on my watch. My heart rate was consistently in zone 5 (>= 90% of maximum) except for when I stopped to fix the chain and it dropped to zone 4 (>= 80%). I was also interested in the time, and I could tell that I wasn't going to beat 30 minutes. However, I then realised that the elapsed time included the waiting time before the klaxon went off, so I had an extra few minutes. That meant that I still had a chance to hit my target, but I didn't know exactly how much time I had left, so I just had to keep pedalling and hope for the best. Near the end of the route, I overtook another rider; I can't be sure, but given his size/speed I suspect that he was on the end of his 1st lap, i.e. I lapped him.

I didn't really notice the finish line (a black strip of plastic across the road to detect timing chips) because the course continues around the corner to the right; that may be deliberate, so that people keep riding at a decent pace rather than blocking the incoming riders. Anyway, they had volunteers handing out medals to everyone who finished along with cups of coconut water. That tasted a bit odd compared to normal water, but it definitely had a coconut flavour. It's not something I'd want to glug down in large quantities, but at that stage I wasn't going to be picky.

I didn't actually find out my time until later, but looking at the online results I finished in 28m42s. That's almost 2 minutes faster than last year, and I hit my goal, so I'm happy with that. Unfortunately, I also dropped a few places in the overall rankings: 272/682 overall, 260/561 in my category (male open). There were 3 of us with the same overall time, so it seems to be ranked by the fastest time on the 1st lap. Looking towards the bottom of the list, there were other riders who took about 23 minutes for their 1st lap; if they started after me, it's plausible that I was finishing my second lap at about the same time.

Here's a photo of me from mid-race:
Racing past Blenheim Palace
I wasn't specifically aware of that photo being taken, so I'm glad to see that I was covering my brakes; my habits are improving! That thing on my left arm is my GPS: according to that, my maximum speed was 55.7 km/hour (34.8 mph), which I think is respectable.

I had a bit of time to get my breath back, then I went off to join the Brompton Sprint. I have to say, the main BWC was very well organised, with signs up telling everyone where to go. The Sprint was a bit less organised, although in fairness this was their first time running it so it should go a bit more smoothly next year. The initial timings on the website said that the BWC started at 12:30 and the Sprint started at 13:30. The revised joining instructions said that there would be 3 groups (starting at 13:30, 14:00, and 14:30) and that the group would be printed on my race pack. However, when I registered and picked up my race pack it didn't have this info; the staff on duty said that I'd be in group A. There weren't any signs up to give directions, so I asked various staff to point me in the right direction. It turned out that the sprint was uphill, which came as a bit of a surprise! Actually, that photo of me above basically shows the sprint route in the background: we went in the opposite direction to the main race (after it had finished), starting at the bridge and going up towards the palace.

I chatted to another rider as we walked down the hill towards the start, and mentioned my gear problems from the previous race. He took a look, and showed me an interesting thing. The gear indicator chain has a long solid bit at one end, and there should only be 1mm visible through the nut when the bike is in 2nd gear. That's useful information, and it was quite sporting of him to tell me that when we were about to compete against each other.

The dress code for the sprint was basically "anything goes" so I ditched my trousers. (I hasten to add that I had lycra shorts on underneath.) I also took off my tie, GPS, and medal from the first race, and left a small stockpile in the assembly area. In the briefing, they said that we'd race in groups of 3: we'd put our bikes in a line, semi-folded (i.e. back wheel underneath) then when the klaxon sounded we would run to our bikes, unfold them, and go up the hill as fast as possible. There was a short distance before the actual start line, giving us a chance to pick up speed, but they specifically encouraged us to run the few metres to our bikes rather than walking over.

While we were waiting for the timing officials to arrive, I spoke up and generally asked the people nearby: "Does anyone need an extra person to make a 3?" A couple of people said yes, then we agreed that we'd like to go first, so we got our bikes and started moving along the back of the group so that we could get towards the starting line. While we were en route, the starter asked whether there were any volunteers to go first: we all called out, so he agreed to that, even though we weren't closest. Fortune favours the prepared!

We got into position, and I put my bike on the right. I don't do much running nowadays, so when the klaxon blew I could feel that my legs were a bit weaker than they should have been. It's easiest to "unpark" the bike from the right, but I normally mount the bike standing on the left; I can do it from the right, but it's not optimal, so I need to practice that. I finished 2nd in my group of 3, but the guy who came 3rd had done the Treble (all 3 Brompton events) so he had a decent excuse for being a bit slower than me. There's a photo of our trio here, although it's pretty blurry of me so I didn't buy a copy.

Again, I didn't get the results until later, but my time was 34.84 seconds and I came 73rd out of 81. The guy who won my wave (rider #689) finished in 31.66 seconds (56th place), so there's less of a gap than you might think from the photo. He also beat me in the BWC, finishing in 27m54s (i.e. 48 seconds faster). The fastest rider in the sprint took 24.63 seconds, so I now have a better idea of what the competition is like. Next year, I'd like to get my time under 30 seconds.

After I'd finished the race, the volunteers on duty gave me another medal. I then had to go back down the hill to fetch the clothing I'd left behind, and climb back up again afterwards, so I got to know it quite well!

I left my heart rate monitor running for 3 hours altogether, until my resting heart rate dropped below 50% of maximum. During those 3 hours, I spent 29m25s in zone 5 (>= 90%), and my total racing time was 29m16s. So, I think it's objectively fair to say that I did my best in both races, given my current level of fitness. I would have benefitted from more training (possibly under "race conditions" i.e. wearing a suit and tie), but I achieved what I set out to do and I'm satisfied with that.

There are a few things I'd like to do differently next year. I missed the "quickest [un]fold" stall again, and Calhoun Cycle mentioned a "hoopla" stand (throwing inner tubes over frame components). I'd like to ride in a team, but so far I haven't been able to enlist any of the other Bromptoneers I know.

There were some other companies showing their wares at the event. In particular, Quest 88 do a range of cycles for people with disabilities, e.g. a wheelchair tandem. I also saw some similar bikes that said "DaVinci" on the side, but I can't find a website for them.

When I submitted feedback for the event, I recommended that they should set up some standpipes for people to refill water bottles. (If they're already doing that, I didn't spot them.) In the meantime, I wandered around the "special water" stands to scrounge some free samples. One of these was H2Pro Hydrate, the idea being that you do a sweat test to work out what electrolytes you specifically need to replenish after exercising. That's an interesting idea, but I wasn't willing to pay £75 for it (normal price £90), so I think I'll just stick to a bag of crisps to get my salt levels back up. Their tubes looked vastly overpriced, but they aren't (quite) as expensive as they look: you're just paying for tablets that you mix with your own water, rather than a pre-mixed solution.

As I mentioned above, I picked up 2 medals this year, and I have another 1 from last year. Just to clarify, these are all simply for participating rather than winning. I also have some medals from volunteering at events, e.g. the London Marathon.
Brompton medals Other medals

I'm less attached to the latter set, but for now I've just shoved them all into a drawer. Realistically, the only chance I get to wear them is for about an hour after each race, unless I want to take the Mr T approach and wear them all at once! However, is there any point in keeping them if I'm never going to look at them? Looking online, one approach is to put them in a wall frame; there are a few companies that specialise in this, e.g. WeFrame, Medal Frames, and Mercia Framing. Having your race photo on display next to the corresponding medal is an interesting idea, although it would take up extra space, so I think I'd prefer a simpler design with the medals lined up in rows. I could include the volunteering medals for now, then gradually replace them with the ones I've "earned" properly. If I decide to get rid of my volunteering medals (now or later), one option is Medals 4 Mettle: they collect old medals to give to children in hospitals, although they only accept certain types.

When I did my LEJOG attempt last year, I collected stamps for my logbook as I went along. If I'd completed the ride, I'd have been eligible to get an embroidered badge from the CTC, i.e. a patch that I could sew onto a jacket. That may be a more practical option than a medal; it's certainly less ostentatious.

The night before the race, I camped in someone's garden. Last year I used my City Trailer to carry my luggage, but I was running a bit late this year so I just put the tent, sleeping bag, and mat into a big carrier bag. When I went up to Oxford (on the X90) I had my Brompton inside the B bag, my suit inside its own bag, the carrier bag with tent etc., the front pannier with my usual hand luggage (e.g. wallet, book, water) and I wore my helmet. One of the carrier bag's handles tore through, but I was able to carry it for a short distance by just gripping the sides together.

On my return trip, I had a bit more trouble. I got back to London ok, but then I had to go the short distance from the bus stop to Victoria train station. I lost both handles on the carrier bag, and if I tried to carry it without the handles then things would spill out. I wound up slinging my pannier over my shoulder (strap over my head around the opposite shoulder) and then balancing the tent etc. on top of the B bag while I trundled it along. That just about worked, but I wasn't too confident about crossing the road like that. I considered doing it in a relay, but if the lights changed then I'd be stuck on the opposite side of the road from some of my luggage.

Happily, this is when an angel of mercy appeared. A woman was walking past, and offered to help me carry some of this. It turned out that she was going into the station as well, and she very kindly came to my platform so that she could help me load the various things onto my train. I was concerned that she'd get caught out by the ticket barriers, but she had a travelcard so she wouldn't be charged for going in and out when she went back to her platform. She said that she couldn't just walk on past after she'd seen me struggling with all of it; I think that's the type of thing that I'd do (and have done in the past) but it's unusual for me to be on the receiving end. Maybe I don't see the best of people in London because I don't need to, i.e. I can normally handle things on my own? I thought about asking her out, but I was concerned that it would be ungrateful for me to impose further (e.g. by asking for contact details); hopefully I thanked her effusively enough to show my appreciation.

On the train, I transferred some of the items into a bin liner. This held up long enough to get me out of the station over to the next bus stop before it started to tear. When the bus arrived, was just about able to carry/throw everything onboard. One of the other guys on the bus offered to help, but I was ok by that point. When I got off the bus, I just had to go round the corner to my flat, with no roads to cross, but it still took me several minutes to go a short distance. This time I bundled several bags under one arm, but I had to keep stopping to rest; I didn't want to put them down (because they might not stay intact if I picked them up again) so I just used my other arm to support the weight from underneath. While I was doing that, a guy called out "Do you need some help there, brother?" I was happy to accept, so he trundled my bike bag along while I carried the rest of the stuff. He was going in the same direction as me, so he brought the bike all the way to my front door; again, this was a very kind thing for a complete stranger to do. (In the interest of dispelling negative stereotypes, it may be worth mentioning that both men were from ethnic minorities.)

I did a short camping trip in June, which I'll blog about eventually, so I know that I can carry all my camping gear on my touring bike. I wouldn't be able to fit all these bags onto the Brompton directly, but I will try fitting them into my trailer at some point: I think it makes sense to use a single, durable bag that will zip closed, rather than open flimsy carrier bags. I've submitted some feedback about this year's event, and one of the questions was "Would you be interested in camping at Bike Blenheim?" If I could do that, it would certainly be more convenient, and I could easily fit my Brompton and trailer inside my tent (folded up).

More generally, when I was on the coach between London and Oxford I put all my luggage in the external side compartment (under the seats). I used the B bag to protect the bike, since it would probably slide around while the coach was moving. While I was at the bus stop, I noticed that the Oxford Tube now has some dedicated bike storage, so I'll try that next time I'm taking my touring bike out that way.
Tags: bus, camping, cycling, photography

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