It’s kinda handy that I developed an interest in gravel racing right before Red Hook Crit announced there would be no races in 2019. It’s meant I’ve been able to properly explore a new discipline and thoroughly get to know the Specialized Diverge that I’ve been riding this season.
In Enduro races, generally you’re timed only on special segments but have as much time as you need to make your way between them, the winner being the person with the quickest combined time across all stages. It’s a perfect way to inject some competition into a day out with friends, in fact it’s not that far removed to trying to beat your mates up significant climbs – you just get official times at the end of the event. I really like the format because it allows you to enjoy the scenery and ride with slower/faster partners or pals for the majority of the day, but it’s still a race. And I love to race!
I’ve not ridden much in Wales, aside from visits to several of my favourite mountain bike parks such as Bike Park Wales and Black Mountains Centre (and that one trip up to Red Bull Fox Hunt) so I was keen to see more of the country. It’s strange that I live relatively close (at least to some of it) yet I know little about the place. I know of Snowdon and I’ve heard great things about Pembrokeshire but that’s it. That has to change!
The event took place near Llandovery so I really enjoyed part of the journey as it took me through and around the Brecon Beacons. The road wound it’s way past castles and enticing looking hills, the market towns looking so appealing in the sunshine As people gathered outside pubs and walked along rivers I was so tempted to stop the car and break up the journey but I forced myself to continue as I’d left Devon five hours earlier and needed to get to the campsite (note to self: avoid the M5 on a Friday in summer).
When I arrived at Gritfest HQ I was very happy, and not just because I’d bought a punnet of raspberries and some Welsh Cakes on the way. Nestled in a beautiful little valley, the campsite was in full sun and I was able to see the hills (big ones!) we’d be riding up the next day. I had no idea what I’d see once I was up there but I couldn’t wait to find out.
Camping really adds to an event like this – I enjoy being outside the entire time, sitting quietly with a pot on the stove and relaxing on my new camp chair in the evening sun. I find it really soothing and calming, which is just what you need before a race. So though an air mattress and a sleeping bag isn’t always as comfortable as a bed, camping makes up for it in other ways.
I won’t go on much more about the weekend as I cover what happens on race day in my video. Suffice to say, the area is absolutely incredible for gravel riding, maybe one of the best spots in the UK (along with the other best spots I’ve already named – the Peak District and the New Forest. There’s a real abundance of gravel roads that slice right through some vast, wild expanses of moorland, some forest tracks, steeps climbs and descents, reservoirs, rivers… you name it. Obviously we caught it at its absolute finest – I heard from one regular he’d not actually seen the full extent of the landscape on his previous ten visits as it was never usually entirely clear up there.
Please enjoy watching this as much as I enjoyed making it!
I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I hate washing my bike. It just takes so bloody long, there’s all that faffing about, it makes my back ache from all the bending down and I’d just rather have a cup of tea after a ride rather than tackle a muddy bike. And after spending all that time poking rags into chainrings and trying to access my hub with a brush, it never even looks that good.
I ride a lot. I do spend a fair bit of time indoors on my Wattbike, simply because I’m sometimes unable to get out, but over winter I still take my lovely road bike down the lanes, where it gets so covered in mud that it looks like I’ve been on the trails. I also ride off-road a lot, which means yet more bikes to clean, whether it’s my Gravel bike, Cross-country or Enduro bike that needs attention. I’m of the school of thought that bikes aren’t ornaments and are there to be ridden; you just have to be sure you look after them if you’re going to do so in bad weather.
Which brings me back to the bike washing conundrum. Resigned to the fact that I just have to keep my bike clean I decided to try and find the best pressure washer for cleaning bikes, hoping it might speed things up or just make the chore a little more bearable.
I went for the Mobi V-17 Portable Bike Pressure Washer from Chain Reaction, partly as that’s the one that most people recommended when I asked for advice on social media. It originally cost £149.99 but I see that they’re currently being offered for nearly half of that.
The other reason I chose it is because I don’t have an outdoor tap so I wanted something I could fill up in the kitchen sink and carry to the garden. Plus, I figured it would be nice to take it in my van to rides and races so that I could hose my bike down before the mud dried.
How hard does it spray?
This bike washer has a variable pressure of 43.5 – 130 psi, easily adjusted by twisting a nozzle on the spray gun. In practice, I tended to just use the highest pressure, which still isn’t anything like as powerful as a car jet wash. But that’s arguably a good thing.
There are many people that believe that pressure washing bikes is bad for them – it blasts grease out of your bearing and stuff like that. I seem to remember GCN did a video dispelling that myth, but either way, I prefer not to spray water directly (or from close quarters) into the bottom bracket, shock or other vulnerable areas.
The pressure is adequate for washing wet mud from the frame and works really well for an initial hosing down. Despite my hopes that the bike washes would mean I wouldn’t need to scrub my bike, unfortunately that’s not the case. However it makes the task much quick and easier. Rinsing only takes a minute or so.
What’s good about it?
Easy to use – just charge, fill, connect the hose and spray.
It has a 17 litre capacity – plenty for hosing down a couple of bikes quickly trailside or one bike property at home.
It’s entirely portable so you can use it at home or out and about.
The water unit is sealed so you can fill it up and transport it without spillage.
It’s on wheels so you can drag it around if you find it a bit heavy, though of course you still need to be able to lift it out of the sink.
It’s easy to assemble and use.
It charges via a UK mains plug or your car cigarette lighter – handy if you’re out and about.
You can vary the pressure to suit your needs by twisting the nozzle on the spray gun.
It’s not particularly noisy.
The battery lasts a decent amount of time.
It’s well made and of good quality.
The hose is 3 metres long.
And not so good:
You still have to scrub your bike to really get it properly clean.
It’s not powerful enough to blast off dry or caked on dirt – you’ll need to soak it first, apply some bike cleaner then spray/scrub some more.
In conclusion, I’ve found the MOBI to be a good addition to my bike kit. It saves the hassle of going backwards and forwards with buckets of water, which always end up filthy and full of mud from my sponge. If you use some proper bike cleaning brushes, you’ll find the task even easier – why did I take so long to upgrade from old washing up brushes? The pressure is adequate, battery decent and the unit is reliable and easy to use. Yes, you still have to do some work but it makes the task more enjoyable.
I was sent the Mobi V-17 by Chain Reaction for review. All thoughts are my own!
Now that I’ve done a few bikepacking trips, I’ve really got the bug. Unfortunately, getting said bug is pretty bad timing seeing as I’m now a mother and can’t exactly just disappear all the time to camp out with my bike. I’ve a couple of short trips planned for later in the year but until I figure out how I can combine family and cycle touring I’m gonna leave it at that for 2019. If you’ve any tips or advice for a families with small children who’d like to try bikepacking, please do leave them in the comments below as honestly, I’m not sure where to start!
Solo bikepacking, I now feel very comfortable with. I’ve ridden through various parts of the world carrying a tent in my bag, not knowing where I’m going to sleep or when I can replenish food and drink supplies. It’s fun. It also really quickly shows you exactly how much stuff you really need, which is very little. Because of that, it’s vital (if you want a comfortable trip) that the few things you take are really fit for purpose.
Whilst away with some extremely experienced bike packers in California, I picked up a lot of tips about what works and what doesn’t, which I thought I’d share with you, dear readers. I also discovered that several items that I’d formerly considers ‘luxuries’ are very much worth carrying. I now takes these as a matter of course.
Here’s what I consider the essential kit list for lightweight bikepacking.
I’m very happy with the Apidura bags I’ve been using – they’re incredible lightweight and very robust so well worth the investment. Experiment with different set ups depending on your needs. I always use a saddle bag and a small top tube bag (for my camera or phone). Then I add a handlebar bag and/or a long top tube bag. Check out the full range here.
A sleeping mat
We’ve got two – the Alpkit Cloudbase and the Thermarest Neoair XLite. The former, at £50 is much cheaper than the latter and actually packs down very slightly smaller. The Thermarest is slightly more comfortable and warmer but it’s more than double the price.
A really good sleeping bag
I like Rab’s sleeping bags best. They don’t make the one I use anymore (it’s a hand-me-down) but I’d recommend anything from their Neutrino range. You might scream when you see the price so only invest if you’re sure you’re serious about doing a lot of camping!
A very small, lightweight tent
I know a lot of people are into bivying. It sounds romantic, but it’s essentially just sleeping in a bag. I sleep badly enough as it is and the thought of diminishing the amount of sleep I’ll get by doing that is not a fun thought. Unless you are a serious racer, a little tent is worth its weight in gold – you’ll be warmer, more comfortable and sleep a whole load better. On my last trip, only one guy slept in a bivy under a tarp and he got wet every night.
I used the Terra Nova Starlite 1 on my last trip. It packs down very small, weighs less than a kilo and is quick to put up. Just be careful with it as it’s fragile.
Best Tiny Lightweight tent for bikepacking? - YouTube
Yes, it’s bikepacking but don’t you want to sleep? My Exped Air Pillow (size M) is worth its weight in gold.
I initially thought I’d just eat sandwiches and cold food for a few days on my last trip. I’m so happy I was talked out of that. Sitting around the campfire watching everyone eat and drink coffee would have been torture. I really enjoy cooking and heating water on a fire but that’s not always possible. I’ve been using the tiny MSR Pocket Rocket for a few years now and it has never let me down.
A sleep mask
Essential if you don’t want to wake up at 4am.
A head torch
I didn’t take one last time and it was really hard to find my way back to the tent at the end of the evening. And I worried about going to the toilet in the dark in case I stung my bottom or something. Just take one.
A metal cup
Useful for eating and drinking but also for heating water. Just make sure you don’t touch the handle with your fingers if it’s been on the fire.
For making food, obviously.
A pot scraper
This was a new one to me. It’s a small piece of plastic with rubber on one side that you used for cleaning all the stuck on food out of your cooking pot. It might sound a little unnecessary and sure, you could live without it but it saves a lot of hassle and makes washing up easier.
Merino’s antibacterial properties mean it stays fresh for longer than other fabrics. It remains warm even when wet and is a good thermo-regulator, meaning it’s useful in both cool and warm conditions.
For hangout out and sleeping in.
This is useful if you don’t have a handle/clamp/thing for picking up hot cooking pots. Just stick it round your neck and it will come in useful.
A coffee making thing
People took various different kinds of coffee making devices on my last trip and they all work in one way or another. My personal preference is the MSR Mugmate. It’s just a filter that you put inside your cup with coffee grounds inside.
A spork and knife
You’ll need a knife for preparing food and fixing stuff and there’s something nice about having a decent one. My favourite was a present from Marin Bikes. My other favourite, a lovely Victorinox is currently missing. The spork is for eating… obviously.
Sunscreen and lip balm
Never skimp on protecting yourself from the sun. And lip balm is a godsend when you’re miles from anywhere and have been roughing it.
Whilst it’s nice getting away from it all, I like to have a powerbank in case I need to charge my phone in an emergency. On my last trip, it came in very handy when my bike computer ran out.
A full toolkit
In this video, I go into what tools you’ll need for a bikepacking trip but I’ll just write them here in case you can’t be bothered to watch it:
Spare tubes, puncture repair kit, tubeless repair kit and sealant (if you’re tubeless), Co2 cartridges and attachment (again, good if you’re tubeless and need to reseat your tyre), multitool with chain breaker and THE CORRECT SIZE allen/hex keys, spare chain, spare derailleur, zip ties, lube, pump.
Long Distance Gravel Ride Prep & Pack - YouTube
These are my essentials for bikepacking, the things I would be upset to leave behind. Food is another topic for another day, one I’m looking forward to talking about as evenings around a campfire, eating food straight from the pan are one of my favourite times. Do you think I’ve neglected to add anything to this list? Let me know!
If you’d like to buy any of the items, I’ve put an affiliate link in the text or you can check out my Amazon store here.
As we near the end of May, my travel and race plans are stepping up a notch. Summer is always the busiest time of year for me but this year I’ve had to be very selective about which events to attend as I don’t want to spend too much time away from my family.
At the end of the week we are all off to Tuscany where I’ll race Tuscany Trail before joining my family for a holiday quite unlike any I’ve been on in years. We plan to splash about in the pool every day, lounge around on the beach, eat in Pizzerias and spend time simply hanging out and enjoying each other’s company. I’m not doing any work on the side, I’m not training and Dave isn’t taking a bike. It’s going to be amazing and historic – our first foreign holiday with our daughter. I can’t wait. And knowing they’re at the end of Tuscany Trail is going to be such a lovely thought to carry with me whilst I ride.
I’ve several more short races planned in the two months that follow (more on those another time) then at the start of August I will fulfil a dream I’ve held for a while now – cycling in Norway.
I’m be attending my first ever Haute Route event, something I’m really excited about. The first ever Haute Route was a seven day event in the Alps, a formidably challenging hybrid of a race and a Sportive that was designed to test you to your limits whilst giving you something akin to the support you’d get at a professional level.
There are team cars, masseurs, nutrition, briefing and videos at the end of the day plus rankings and timed segments so you can try and beat yourself or fellow riders, depending on your competitive spirit. Some people undoubtedly come along with the sole aim of completing the event, whilst others are very much there to win, seeing Haute Route as a straight up race.
The brand has now expanded to a global level and they’ve added not just events in America and Asia, but also three-day trips, which make it easier for people (such as myself) to attend. The impeccable service and challenging routes remain the same across the board.
Haute Route Norway takes place in and around Stavenger, a stunning part of Norway that’s all fjords, mountains and wild, rocky scenery. The video below shows an overview of the roads we’ll be riding as well as giving an idea of just what a dramatic landscape we’ll be riding through. We have to get ferries to there start; how cool is that?
Haute Route Norway 2019 Original Course Overview - YouTube
Are you sold on what a great event this is going to be? I have a free entry to Haute Route Norway to give away to a follower, so if you’d like to come and join me in the land of the vikings, head over to my competition page and fill in your details. Good luck!
In the interests of full disclosure, I’m going on this trip courtesy of Haute Route. However, I’m not being paid to promote this competition, I just thought it might be something you would like to join me on.
Now that the dust has settled and I’ve finally had time to edit my photos and upload my videos I’m enjoying reminiscing about my time in California last month. I’ve long been a fan of the sunshine State, indeed in the past I sometimes wondered whether I’d end up moving there, not-so-secretly hoping I’d find an American husband and get a green card. Of course, I’m happy I met my Englishman Dave and I love our life in the South West of England; no regrets there! But visiting California remains a true joy.
On my last trip, before I participated in Nova Eroica and Eroica California I took the opportunity to join a uniquely fun, creative, generous and kind crew of people on a bikepacking trip of a lifetime. Our plan, assembled via a lengthy chain of emails pinging back and forth across the Atlantic was to ride from Monterey on the coast, up into Los Padres National Forest (a huge area of wilderness with no shops or habitation) then descend down to the Pacific Coast Highway and make our way to Cambria.
Those present included Sami Sauri, Gus Morton, Sarah Swallow (who joined us halfway through), Chas Christiansen, Ultraromance, Nam, Mattia (Legor Cicli), Franka Ramia (MAAD), Brad Hammonds, Matt (Crust Bikes), Patrick (Ultratradition) and Bregan Koenigseker (Crank Communication).
Benedict (aka Ultraromance) had come up with a route that would take us about four days at a leisurely pace, the idea being we’d be fairly heavily loaded with supplies, and more simply that we just saw no point in rushing. Coming in at around 150 miles all in, there was a lot of climbing on gravel roads and dirt paths once we got into Los Padres, which was sure to slow us right down. Our modest target didn’t seem unreasonable, in fact it had been stated on our email chain that the ride was going to be ‘tough.’
Here’s what Benedict had to say,
“We start on a quiet paved rd from Carmel up and over a 2000 ft pass. Then we turn into Los Padres and creep our way into Indians road down a small trail. Indians road is amazing and legendary. Not many folks get to see it cuz you can really only make it a through road on a bike. This road snakes through the heart of Big Sur before dumping us out in a really weird inland zone with a 400 year old Spanish mission we can visit.
Then we climb up the paved back side of Nacamiento Furgusen road (a world class coast climb). At the top we hit dirt again and traverse one of the most scenic ridge lines in all of California. Spanning views of the coast on one side, and the Ventana wilderness on the other. This is a difficult route, but can still be done on the bikes y’all will have. I would just do something about your gearing!”
Before the ride, I’d taken the time to try out various different tyres and set ups, one of my main concerns being the fact we’d been told to take 4 litres of water along, plus food for at least three days. Coming from Europe where you don’t go long without seeing a shop or a bar, I’ve never actually had to content with being away from everything for any extended period of time and spent far too long worrying about how to transport the water and what food to take.
In the end, I went for the worst possible solution, carrying a hydration pack (which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone) so it was great to learn about better ways of doing things from people like Nam and Patrick, who have extensive experience of bikepacking and were happy to give tips. I now know that dates and nut butter make the best snack, that tortillas travel well and that I get jealous of people with avocado and cheese. I also found out you should always carry coffee, a pot scraper and a headtorch. Other than that, I didn’t do too badly with my packing.
I’m planning on doing a separate post about what gear I took, the best tents, sleeping mat and bags for lightweight bikepacking, what kind of food to take and how to transport water, so stay tuned for that one.
The trip was absolutely fantastic, truly one of the best I’ve ever been on. If you’d like to see what we got up to, check out my video. And if you’d like to see the route, it’s over on my Strava in daily segments so have a look at April 2019’s rides.
Californian Gravel Bikepacking | Los Padres & Big Sur - YouTube
There are few things I love more than cycling, holidays, being outdoors and spending time with my family so when an opportunity arose for us all to go to the New Forest to ride bikes and camp out in our new tent, I was packed and ready before you could say ‘go!’
I love to travel but not just abroad; I’ve long spoken of my love of the UK, both here on Bikes n’ Stuff and over on my Instagram account because I think all too frequently people have a ‘grass is always greener’ mentality and neglect to see what’s right in front of their faces.
Our very own island is a paradise of green rolling hills, fog-shrouded crags, gently sloping pebble beaches, peaceful woodland and attractive waterways that makes exploring close to home an absolute pleasure. I love our robins, wild ponies, kestrels, cowslips, voles and ducks, all the creatures, fauna and flora that we’d be so sad to see gone, yet sometimes fail to really appreciate.
I’ve recently become a little more mindful of my carbon footprint – I do travel abroad to race and ride several times a year (due to the nature of what I do, it’s unavoidable) but I’m trying to chooser closer, greener options when I can. So, camping in the UK fits the bill very nicely.
Camping In The Forest manage 15 woodland campsites in the UK, many of which are in the New Forest – a place I remember fondly from my childhood when I’d visit my Grandma and gaze adoringly at herds of ponies grazing next to the road. Keen to create more memories with my husband and daughter we chose to camp at Roundhill, a sizeable site with a pond, open heathland, secluded spots and trees to pitch under. Plus, of course, showers and everything else you’d expect from a decent campsite.
We managed to erect our new tent in the 15-minutes Coleman had advertised, quite a surprise given I’m used to dealing with small Bikepacking sized tents rather than the multi-roomed home I’d invested in.
I love the ritual of cooking outdoors and The Little One was fascinated by our meal prep, stirring coconut milk into lentils then tearing big handfuls of kale into bite sized pieces. Whilst our meal simmered on our tiny Bikepacking stove (might have to upgrade that!) she rode rings around the tent on her balance bike, a smile emblazoned on her adorable face. She is only two and we have a really small garden so it was lovely to see her enjoy a bit of freedom and space, safe and away from any traffic.
Sleeping with a toddler in your tent is pretty hilarious. We’d decided to leave books and stuff at home so at bedtime (a late one for her but still an early one for us) we clambered into our sleeping bags for some storytelling. Whilst Dave came up with ever inventive tales, The Little One grew more and more excited, jumping up and down on us and giggling whilst we (as in the Grown Ups) had nips from a hipflask. A couple of hours later we were all sufficiently tired to fall asleep, The Little One by this point nestled in my bag with me – a tight squeeze but a lovely one.
The Bike Trails
The following morning it was time to ride my very own bike trail! As part of my collaboration with Camping In The Forest’s Map My Adventure, I’m promoting an amazing route, one of the most scenic in the area. Accessible to all and largely traffic free, save the odd road crossing, I couldn’t wait to get rolling. Check it out here.
The National Park has over 100 miles of waymarked routes, many of which are ideal if you’re looking for a short, gentle ride but equally, they could be strung together to create something challenging that would certainly require plenty of cake from the local tearooms.
My route, at around 15km was designed to be enjoyable for all kinds of cyclists with plenty of flat, easy going riding, a couple of hills and mixed surfaces to keep you on your toes.
We rolled down to the ranger office to pick up a copy of the route with detailed directions, some local information and route highlights and there was my photograph on the map, much to everyone’s amusement. Go grab a copy if you visit the New Forest or download your own here.
Astride my gravel bike, from the minute I left the campsite I felt so relaxed and free – it’s liberating having your route already chosen, planned and easy to follow, no traffic to contend with and the whole day stretching out in front of you.
After a pleasant few kilometres enjoying (unexpected) sunshine and spotting deer I came to Denny Wood where I paused to admire the ancient woodland and eat a snack perched on a fallen tree. It was a lovely spot for a proper picnic but I only had a bar and some water so nibbled and sipped my basic rations. Next time I’ll bring proper supplies in my bags because I LOVE picnics.
Dave and The Little One went on their way whilst I filmed some stuff for Camping In The Forest then I took a moment to enjoy total peace and quiet, relax and do nothing. As someone who frequently hammers it really hard on rides or does fifty million things at once, this felt nothing short of amazing. It was probably only about five minutes but memorable nonetheless. Ever heard of Forest Bathing? It’s therapeutic.
Juliet Elliott’s Cycling Adventure Trail with Camping in the Forest - YouTube
I continued to Beaulieu Airfield, now disused and the site of numerous enticing looking gravel tracks and our route back to Roundhill Campsite. With coconut smelling gorse in full yellow bloom and shiny, chestnut ponies nibbling lazily in small groups, it was nice to see a place formerly associated with war and attrition enjoying a new life as a place of pleasure and wild beauty.
A Weekend Well Spent
Back at the campsite, The Little One wasted no time in jumping on her balance bike and showing us how very much she thought she needed an upgrade to the pedal kind, inspired by the families she had seen riding together on my route.
It was time for tea, so I fired up the stove, pulled up the chair and got a brew on. A packet of Wagon Wheels was all we needed to make a good day a great one and they were dispatched in about 30 seconds, even before the kettle boiled. Then it was time to discuss the route and all the New Forest has to offer cyclists and families; in a nutshell, easy-going adventures, accessible bike trails, traffic-free riding, fantastic tea rooms and Roundhill Campsite. There’s potentially some of the best gravel riding in the UK too – I think I really need to visit again to fully investigate.
Please check out my route and the Map My Adventure page here.
If you’d like to download my route, please click here.
And for more information on Camping in the Forest click here.
This blogpost is sponsored by Camping In The Forest who invited me to create a route and experience a weekend at Roundhill Campsite.
Since becoming a mother last year I’ve received lots of questions about how to combine training with work and family life. So, I figured it was about time I sat down and shared my secrets to ‘doing it all.’
Raising children, working and fitting in around 12 hours of bike riding per week is challenging and exhausting. Thankfully, this kind of life is satisfying and rewarding as well. I’m fortunate in that I love my job, love working out and riding my bike and adore my daughter more than life itself. So, I’m willing to make sacrifices and compromises in all areas to make everything work as well as it can. That way we can all enjoy a life that’s balanced and happy.
I’m also fortunate in that my husband and I are on the same page. We’ve made decisions that enable us to do what we do and live a life of our choosing. We are not motivated my money; we live somewhere cheap and we are not extravagant. We didn’t get the maximum mortgage we could have. We shop at Lidl… You get the picture? As a result of these choices, we have more time to do the things we love and more time to spend with our daughter.
So how do I manage? Well in brief, I schedule what I can, seize opportunities as they present themselves, ditch stuff that doesn’t matter and try not to sweat when things don’t work out. Over the course of the last year or so, I’ve picked up some habits, routines and tips for fitting in riding and training, so if you’re keen on getting back into cycling after having a baby or becoming a parent, read on.
Plan your week in advance
I sit down on a Sunday evening with my husband, my weekly planner and training calendar and plot out the week. Each day is broken into segments – for instance, morning, nap time (my daughter’s, rather than mine!), afternoon, bed/bath, evening. This approach can be helpful for finding pockets of time and making the best use of them.
Choose some key sessions, prioritise them and make them regular habits.
The foundations around which I build my week are 1 x long ride and 1 x race/chaingang/interval session so I get these in the diary as a priority. I like to do these the same time every week just for a bit of stability/familiarity and to take the stress out of all that diary planning. Then I add in the other rides, being a little more flexible so that it works for the whole family.
Get an indoor trainer
If you can’t get out of the house or your kid doesn’t attend nursery, an indoor trainer is your saviour. If you have performance/fitness goals, training indoors is one of the most efficient ways to use your time, particularly if you can leave your bike set up (or have a Wattbike). I can be on and off my indoor trainer in an hour, completing a really beneficial and satisfying workout in that time. All my daughter, fast asleep next door, is none the wiser.
Ride with your children
Ok, so going for a ride with a tidy child pootling along on their balance bike next to you isn’t going to give you the workout you need, fun though it is. When I need to actually put my legs through some stress, I pop my daughter on the back of my (heavy!) bike and ride with her to a café. She loves it, I get a workout and we both get cake: win!
Recognise that anything is better than nothing.
When you become a parent, you kinda have to realise that not everything is going to be perfect and get used to be content with making do. Whilst I do like to stick to my training programme where possible, being a slave to it adds stress that I can do without. To that end, any sort of ride is worth doing, even if it’s not the one you had planned. For example, in the past I’d think, I’m not going to bother foam-rollering because I haven’t got time to do a proper 20-minute session with some stretching. I now prefer to think, ‘5 minutes is better than no minutes and those 5 minutes sessions all add up.’
Use your evenings…. For riding rather than the pub/TV
Have a good, hard think about your priorities. When you’ve spent the whole day running around after a little one whilst frantically trying to clean the house, do a load of laundry and fit in some work, the temptation to just veg out with a glass of wine on the sofa is immense. However, I’ve found the it’s the polar opposite that makes me feel better – getting out for a ride at 7pm or going to the gym. Trust me on this and give it a go for a few weeks.
And on that note, use your morning too
I find getting my stuff ready the night before an early session really helps. I throw on my stuff, eyes still adjusting to the light and before I know it, I’m out. It feels good to squeeze in a short, effective session before breakfast and I feel good for the rest of the day.
Maximise your time
I can get a really effective workout in as little as 40-minutes and these are the ones I like to fit in on early rides when I need to be back before Dave goes to work. 8 flat out 30-second hill repeats with 2.5 minutes recovery in between each is a really effective use of your time.
I hope these tips might be useful to you whether you’re a parent or not – it’s hard for everyone to find enough time for work, rest and leisure so do try not to stress too much about whether you’re riding an optimum amount or not. The thing to remember is that training/cycling/recreation time is meant to be a time to unwind (even if you unwind by doing intervals!), to enjoy yourself, to forget your worries and feel good. It shouldn’t be an additional stress to your life. So, enjoy!
Want to know how we manage race day, with both parents competing? Let me know in the comments below.
I’ve had so many messages about the lovely kit I was wearing whilst bikepacking in California so I thought it was about time I shared some more details with you.
My longterm sponsors ASSOS recently released a their new Trail collection, a selection of lightweight, comfortable, performance driven clothing designed with, you guessed it, trails in mind.
Californian Gravel Bikepacking | Los Padres & Big Sur - YouTube
Based entirely around a desire to ditch buckles, buttons, clips and straps that might rub or impede movement, ASSOS have managed to product clothing that nonetheless fits in all the right places, thanks to clever fabric cutting. At 12 inches long, the shorts are designed to finish just above the knee
The fabric they’ve used for the shorts is ultra-soft, light and able to stretch on either axis. It’s very quick drying and seemingly immune to odours and even dirt – I wore mine for four days in a row in Cali. The waist band is smooth, stretchy and feels soft next to the skin. It doesn’t pinch or dig in, in fact you barely feel like you’re wearing shorts at all.
Incredibly, this lighter-than-air comfort doesn’t come at the cost of durability or abrasion resistance – the shorts are deigned to hold up to the rigours of off-road riding, the fabric having undergone a DWR treatment.
Undershorts (called Trail Liner Shorts) are very lightweight and comfortable with a similar soft, wide, waistband to the one on my favourite UMA GT shorts. Should you want to, you can use 10mm memory foam inserts to protect your hip bones, neatly slotting pads into their very own pockets.
The material uses a very open weave so they’re very cool plus all seams are reversed so they can’t rub. Like all the ASSOS shorts that are designed to be worn next to the skin, the chamois is not stitched on either side of the mid section so that it can move with the body rather than with the shorts. This preventing any chafing. Of course, it’s also made with ASSOS’s legendary 3D waffle foam so you know you’re gonna be comfortable.
Short and long sleeve jerseys are available in both men’s and women’s cuts, both of them keeping a streamlined aesthetic – ideal if you prefer a slim silhouette without extra material flapping or bunching. Again, ASSOS have used their access to advanced material technology to deliver jerseys that are cool, breathable, lightweight and stretchy.
The brand have added added well thought out details such as ultra-vented underarms and a zippered pocket (in the long sleeve version). Areas that are vulnerable to abrasion use of a fabric called ‘DyneRope,’ a high-density woven textile with ripstop weave that’s fifteen times stronger than steel.
As you would expect of ASSOS, the kit is exceptionally well made, stylish and durable so would certainly made a solid investment.
Now I’m a mother, I’m trying to decrease the amount of time I spend travelling, or more accurately, minimise the length of trips that I go on. I’m fortunate in that I have an understanding husband who races bikes himself, but nonetheless, I don’t want to spend more time away than I do in Devon – I love my life here and my little girl.
Saying that, an invite to ride Nova Eroica in California was one I just couldn’t turn down; I’ve always been a big fan of the west coast of America and I’m feeling an ever increasing draw towards gravel racing.
Saying yes to the trip, a week long adventure that would include bikepacking, Nova Eroica itself and vintage ride Eroica California meant I had to wave goodbye to any idea of racing Mission Crit as two visits to the US in one month were out of the question. But honestly, deciding whether to do a 40-minute crit in San Francisco or several days of bikepacking and not one, but two gravel events didn’t take much time.
The bikepacking trip I’ll get around to writing about – it’s kind of a daunting prospect given how epic it was. I have so many ideas for articles to share with you guys but no time to write them. But anyway, back to the topic at hand – Nova.
Photo: John Prolly/ The Radavist
Nova Eroica grew from the original Eroica event in Tuscany, a day-long, fun filled but challenging ride that makes use of the area’s numerous strada bianche (gravel roads), linking multiple fun tracks together with fast rolling tarmac segments. The original event is done on vintage bikes but some clever person had the idea that it would be fun to ride the course on modern gravel bikes too, so Nova Eroica was born. It’s become very successful in its own right, partly due to an increase in people riding gravel but also because the Eroica guys and girls know how to put on a good event and only ever do the rides in exceptionally pretty places.
The base for Cali’s Nova was Cambria, a cute little beach town between San Francisco and Los Angeles with clapper-boarded stores along its kind of arty high street. When I first arrived it seemed so California that I questioned whether it was a real town or the kind of place that only exists to serve tourists. It was almost a pastiche. But this gentle place with its health food store, ice-cream shops, antiques stores and cafes was indeed reality for some lucky people.
We were staying in a large house away from the town centre but fairly close to the beach so stocked up on groceries at the frighteningly expensive organic store the night before. I’m not a crazy fussy eater but I do like to have granola/oatmeal yoghurt and eggs before I do a long ride; it really helps me out if I fuel properly as I seem to burn through food stupidly quickly. You should see how much I eat.
Down at the event village we attached number and whatnot. I was part of a party of riders that included Sami Sauri, Gus Morten, Bike Snob aka Ebem, Brad Hammonds from Far Ride, Chas of Mash fame and frame builders Mattias (Legor Cicli) and Matty (Crust Bikes) so we hatched a vague plan to take it easy and enjoy the food and wine we’d been promised at the checkpoints. But as soon as we started, several of us got rather overexcited and began racing, legs be damned!
As an excitable bike racer myself, I couldn’t resist going with the front group and blasting straight up the hill out of Cambria. Heading towards Morro Bay, I clung on for dear life riding way above threshold, meaning a far higher power output than I can sustain for a long period of time. It was great fun but I realised after a while that I didn’t want the day to go by in a blur of torturous pain; doing well is in itself fun but this wasn’t really a race I had any chance at winning anyway. I’d seen pro racer Alison Tetrick looking at me in the lead peloton, almost as though she was sizing me up but she really needn’t have worried.
The route was a little over 125km long with about 2000m of climbing. After the coast road we headed inland, straight up a hill that gave incredible views of the ocean and a first glimpse of what was to come – sun-kissed roads snaking their way through rolling hills. Following Santa Rita road’s undulations, before long the asphalt ran out and we enjoyed a solid ten mile segment of gravel.
After a fast highway segment (and a rest stop) we hit the first tough gravel climb – Kiler canyon – where we slowly passed a bemused looking local family who’d dragged chairs out of their home to watch us. It was hot and extremely tough, and with several days bikepacking in my legs (and jet lag) I found it really hard going but at the top, all was forgiven.
The next segment was on tarmac but none the worse for it – the road took us past picket fences, majestic looking horses and vineyards offering tasting menus. It was clearly a prosperous part of the area; even the grass looked rich. My legs didn’t like it as much as my eyes did – I tried to go hard up each small rise (and managed it) but it hurt.
After our food stop it was on to Klau Mine road and more dirt then we followed a river through Cypress Mountain Drive. The gravel was hard packed and easy to ride making a ‘gravel bike’ barely necessary though I certainly enjoyed the comfort of the Specialized Diverge I was riding. Unbeknownst to me, there was still a very hard climb to come, Cypress Mountain Drive which felt like the the hardest of the day, though that may have been as I was tired. The view from the top made it worth it though – luscious plump green hills as far as the eye could see.
The gravel descent that followed hugged the hillsides curves and I grinned by way down, trying not to get too overexcited as the Diverge actually has the brakes the wrong way round (for me). We popped out onto a tarmac road draped over yet more ridiculously perfect green hills, continuing our epic descent further, spirits sky high.
The final segment down Santa Rosa creek road was amongst my favourites – bucolic farmland with hills rising either side. Rarely straight, the road was superbly fun to ride, was traffic-free and just ridiculously scenic. Add in the fact we knew beer would soon be hours and our moods elavated yet further!
All in all, Nov dished up one of the best rides I’ve ever been on. If you’d like to see more, check out my video:
Nova Eroica | Californian Gravel - YouTube
What other gravel events and rides should I try to do? Got any recommendations?
I have a pretty awesome job, in fact I’d go so far as saying it’s a dream job. Riding and racing, creating videos, taking photos, writing for magazines and websites and attending photoshoots are all components or a life that I feel very fortunate to live. Having had some horrendous jobs in the past (albeit in between some pretty cool ones) I take nothing for granted and thank my lucky stars daily.
One of my biggest supporters is the Swiss clothing brand ASSOS, with whom I’m been working for several years now. Their clothing sits proudly at the very top of the pile when it comes to technology, style and progression and receiving a package of new garments is always a treat indeed. Attending their photoshoots is another pleasure – they work with the best photographers in knockout locations and always treat me well.
To the Continent!
I just went out to Belgium to shoot some items from the ASSOS’ Laalalaai and UMA GT collections, taking a train to London before hopping on the Eurostar the following morning. My destination, Oudenaarde, at the heart of the Tour of Flanders is peppered with cycling history whichever way you look.
It’s a cyclists dream with quiet roads and a positive and friendly attitude towards cyclists. To those that don’t know it and think that Belgium is flat, hear this: the area is packed with short, sharp cobbled climbs made famous through over a century of racing. The climbs and cobbles test the limits of all who attempt them and are on every cyclist’s bucket list.
I was whisked from the train station to a rather lovely café with amazing salads and vegetarian food by photographers Emmie and Phil, who knew both they and I would have a better afternoon fuelled up with quality food. From there, it was straight out on the bike where I was joined by Francie Arthur, a superfast and talented mountain biker whom I’d met previously whilst racing the Southern Enduro Series.
A photographer, translator, producer and writer, Emmie is a world class trail runner (European Champion I believe) who could have gone pro. Fitter than fit, since getting more into cycling (due to various injuries) she’s become a formidable climber, managing to take pretty much all the QOM’s in her home area of Valtellina as well as any near the ASSOS HQ… or anywhere else for that matter. Phil, our other photographer is a former professional cyclist and keen runner himself.
Being athletes themselves, they totally understood when I wrote to them before the shoot, expressing concern about whether we’d get any decent rides in over the three days I was shooting. I was ill for about a month in Feb (I lost my voice for ten whole days with Laryngitis!) and then had struggled to get back on track due to various work, travel and child related duties so I felt nervous about skipping anymore training sessions after such a poor start to the year.
To ensure that I got to ride and they got good shots, Emmie had mapped out a route for us to ride taking in many of the best climbs in the area and some great gravel/dirt/off-road sections too; ideal for the Specialized Diverge Expert I’d brought along. I uploaded it to my bike computer – the plan was they’d just shoot us from the car or drive on ahead and set up shots for when we arrived, so pretty much all we needed to do was pedal.
Someone had organised outstanding weather for us so I bared my legs for the first time of the year, donning one of my favourite kits, the blue paisley inspired Uma Camou jersey and navy UMA cycling shorts, something I wasn’t expecting to do in March in Belgium.
It was my first time riding cobbled climbs and the bike performed well soaking up a fair amount of discomfort with its Future Shock. I’d opted for 37c WTB Nano tyres, the small tread giving decent grip on the loose, dry, gravel sections and some cushioning on the roads. From what I remember, the Paterberg was the first climb we hit and it was shortish and relatively punchy; as long as you kept your momentum the cobbles actually didn’t feel that bad as they were all relatively even and it was over before too long. I actually found a fairly flat but lengthy cobbled section later in our ride much worse – I think the body can only take so many cobbles at once. God only knows how people race this stuff after 200km in the saddle!
After a pleasant few hours riding, shooting and testing our climbing legs, it was definitely time to indulge in one of Belgium’s other pleasures, beer, so we made for Oudenaarde’s main square and a bar with a suitably lengthy menu.
Those of you who know me will know that I really love beer, particularly American style IPAs, German Weissbier and all manner of Belgian Blondes (plus more beside). Finding time to sample them all is never easy as I get drunk just by looking at a beer so I’d never actually tried Ename before. I can now confirm it’s very good!
A post shared by Juliet Elliott (@julietelliott) on Mar 21, 2019 at 1:59pm PDT
Coffee with a legend
To make my Belgian experience just that little bit sweeter, ASSOS delivered a real treat for me the following morning – a visit to local (and international) legend, Freddy Maerten’s home for coffee. For those that don’t know (presumably non-cyclists?) Freddy is a legendary cyclist who won World Championship titles, so many Tour de France stages that I’ve lost count, Classics races and the Vuelta a Espana. Cyclist’s like him don’t come two-a-penny; he was a great all-rounder who raced more than 200 days a year back when team buses and special duvets were unheard of.
A true product of his environment and upbringing, Freddy still lives in Flanders, just around the corner from the owner of team Quikstep Floors as it happens. It was great chatting to him about growing up in Belgium, taking his first steps in racing and why the country has produced such notable talent. It was also great eating the exceptionally nice chocolates his wife Carine had laid out for us. As no one else was touching them felt like I should or we would appear rude. (I’m kidding. They were just really nice and I wanted to eat them).
One of the more amusing stories Freddy told me was about the support, advice and discipline his parents had given him. Whilst a teenager, his Father forbade him from wasting precious time on women so when he said he was going training after school he’d give him the name of a police station somewhere and ask him to get a stamp from the Police Officers within, to prove he’d actually done the ride.
After we’d ogled Freddy’s jerseys, medals and trinkets we shook hands, exchanged business cards and drove off into the sunshine as he and —— waved to us. After so much talk of cycling it was time for us to saddle up so we changed hastily into cycling gear and clambered aboard.
The area around Oudenaarde, aside from having those excellent and rightly famous cobbled climbs, is a real delight to ride as there’s a seemingly endless network of small lanes which see very little traffic. There are also miles and miles of smooth, easy-going bike paths that are well used and enjoyed by all ages. I saw many small farms on our journey, plenty with small lambs, kid goats and miniature ponies in paddocks close to the very well kept houses giving quite the bucolic impression. With sun on our faces we rolled past windmills, through small cobbled villages and up many of the bergs with churches perched on top.
We saved one of the most famous for last. The Mur is a longish (by Belgian standards) climb that winds up the hill from Geraardsbergenwith a tough (steep and irregular) cobbled kick before the last segment.
At the summit we were treated to incredible views and a feeling of breathlessness, hands shaken from the cobbles and legs weakened by our exertion. It was a fitting end to an incredible trip; Belgium had really delivered on climbs, scenery, weather and beer. I’ll be back for sure.
Check out ASSOS’s story on our trip here and ask me any questions below!