Friday, May 31, 2013

Cycling in Malaysia Part 2: Cameron Highlands

The most extensive hill station in Malaysia, Cameron Highlands offers the cyclist some of the best challenges in the region with climbs up to and beyond 1600m above sea level.

There are 4 approaches that offer different cycling experiences and scenery. The most well-frequented is the road from Tapah - if you're coming from the main Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh road, this is the default route. It's a nice ride, though busy at the weekends with holiday traffic. A 40km rise at a fairly gradual 3-4%, mostly shaded, with a popular waterfall stop in the middle where you can grab some fruit, drinks, or a meal. It'll bring you up to the main Cameron plateau at Ringlet. If you keep going you'll get another nice 12k of climbing at some much meatier gradients up to Tanah Rata.

Another well frequented road is the much faster and smoother - a lot of it dual carriageway - route up from Ipoh on the road that eventually takes you through to Gua Musang in Kelantan if you kept going. You don't. You turn right into the Cameron area and then you have a nice arduous 8km climb, a lot of it between 9-12%, up to Brinchang at 1600m before heading down through the town and on to Tanah Rata - approaching the opposite way from the above route.

Much less frequented - in fact almost desolate at times - is the road from Sungai Koyan. About 100km out from Ringlet this one climbs through some of the most scenic bits - vast, wide lanscapes but without much tree cover so it can be hot if you choose your time wrong.

The last (but not least) one is the monster route from Gua Musang. This route will have you climbing more that 3000m before it spits you out in Brinchang after 120km. The profile is like a saw tooth and a lot of the gradients are an unrelenting 10-12%.

Considered the toughest route in Malaysia, Equipe Nomad have included this in a couple of our ride packages including the 7-day tour through Cameron, but also part of our Extreme Cameron Weekend. It is extreme!

We also do some easier ones of course, and if you're looking for a good-but-not-life-changing challenge, then try our Cameron Weekend Ride that approaches through Tapah for an overnight at Tanah Rata., then next day down westwards through the scenic grandeur of the descent to Sungai Koyan.

Cameron Highlands have a great infrastructure of hotels, shops, restaurants etc. We like to stay at Tanah Rata where they have a lot of good restaurants and you can even get a good massage. Just what you need after long hours grinding up hills! Brinchang is an even bigger commercial centre, but for us a bit too big. Tanah Rata has more of a relaxed, holiday feel.

The temperature and (lack of) humidity are also a draw, and once you're above a certain altitude, everything cools down a little. Never too cold during the day (unless you hit some really bad weather), but at night it can get quite chilly at times. As with everywhere else in this part of the world, you usually won't hit rain if you aim to get your rides done before mid-afternoon - but not always....

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Triathlon Training (for Lapsed Triathletes)

OK -  I know I'm going to get some stick for this.

When I was really into doing triathlons and training up to Ironman distances, it was fairly clear to me that the pros did the bulk of their endurance work on the bike. Since they can train 10 hours in a day or more, that would still leave a good chunk for the other stuff.

The rest of us muddle through trying to improve in all 3 disciplines as best we can with the time available. However, it's a fact that you can improve your 180km bike split by hours if you put the right training in, whereas with a well-structured swim program you might shave off only a few minutes, despite putting in a couple of hours in the pool daily. With the run too, once you have a steady cruise pace dialled in, you might improve your marathon time by 15-20 minutes, or a 10k time by 5-8min with a high volume of systematic training but mostly you're talking a massive time scale for minute improvements.

So it should be clear that to improve your overall triathlon time, it's the bike where you should put in the most hours.

These days I've somehow lost the tri bug to a certain extent. I started riding pure road bikes about 10 years back, and now focus virtually all my training time and energy on the bike, riding pretty much every day following a loosely-structured training plan. Yet I still enjoy doing triathlon races and usually plan a couple of short course events into my year as a test for my fitness. I'm just not that into running or swimming at the moment.

However, never one to accept the usual norms, I'm coming up with my own triathlon training plan for those who can swim and run, but just don't enjoy training it that much.

My idea is: since I spend a lot of time training power and endurance on my bike, that I've developed a high level of cardiovascular fitness already, and all I need to do for the swim and run is work on maintaining good form.

With a triathlon run the main thing is to be able to get a good cruise speed together and to be able to run off the bike effectively. My approach puts forward that with cardiovascular endurance, leg speed and power built on the bike, keeping your weight down and working on good form and a good cruise pace will get you through a short-course run nicely. For longer distances I would add core strength exercises.

Even in my hardest riding weeks I try to run a couple of times a week to keep my basic form together. Instead of trying to do a basic endurance run of 30 minutes or so, I do what amounts to relatively easy cruise intervals of 4 minutes keeping good form followed by 1 minute walking, repeated 6 times. The intervals don't have to be hard, but then they don't have to be super easy either. It's just about form. I don't even usually wear a heart rate monitor. The idea is that I get the biomechanical conditioning without the loss of form. Plus it's more fun, so easier to motivate myself to do it. If I'm aiming to do an Olympic distance race I'll just build up until I'm running maybe 12 of these a couple of times a week, and do a couple of "brick" runs off the bike of 3-5k to get my legs used to doing that again. No sweat...:p

Same with the swim. When I get in the pool these days I'll do a short warm up, followed by some drills, and then a couple of fastish cruise 50 meters keeping the form as good as possible, then an easy 100 to loosen up. Never much more than 6-800m overall. I might build these cruise 50s up to the point where I'm doing over 1000m overall, but not much more than that. My goal is to enjoy the swim in the race, rather than to do a great time.

Of course, I've worked a great deal on my swim and run form in the past, so it's not hard to get those coordinates punched into the system, but working on form is not massively tiring - just boring, so it could still work were I at a more basic stage.

I haven't tried this preparation method on anything longer yet, but I'm planning to take it up to half-ironman distance later this year.

The more I train like this, the more I feel that it could be a model for triathlon training at any level - with modifications of course.

It's a work in progress. Anyone have anything to offer?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fulcrum Racing 3 Wheelset

I've had these wheels for around 7 years now. Bought them to go with my Felt F3 (which is another love story I'll write about elsewhere), and haven't cared to ride much else since - especially in the hilly rides which make up 100% of my riding when in Malaysia.

Not the top of the Fulcrum range, and already getting long in the tooth, I can't find anything that would replace them in my life...except maybe another pair. Good news since they are relatively inexpensive.

I love these wheels. They are super strong and, at just over 1.5kg, reasonably light. For me there has to be a trade-off between these 2 factors. I'm suspicious of wheels where the manufacturer puts a rider weight limit, Not that I'm particularly heavy, just that how can a wheel that won't take a 90kg guy pretend to be able to take the kind of torque anyone will put into it going up a 15% climb without flexing? Or from braking hard coming down the same hill? I'm still open to persuasion but please show me the wheelset lighter than this one that does what this one does.

They roll better than any other wheel I've ridden - by far. The sweet sound of a Campag freewheel buzzes away on fast descents that feel like I'm on rails - even on a relatively twitchy frame. I have never had to true them once, nor replace the bearings - which I've put a fair amount of mileage into.

I have never had a wheelset that plummets downhill with such gusto. I'm not sure what it is that does it. They say that mechanical drag is second only to aero drag when it comes to impeding speed - well these must have way less mechanical drag than most other wheels because they're not very aero. If I use the front one with my powertap 32-spoke wheel, it feels good and stable, but if I use both...woohoo!....literally on another level!

I've talked to several real wheel-geeks about these wheels and apparently the balance of weight rim-to-hub is perfect, which might help explain why they feel so good. I am also informed that they outshine all other wheels in the Fulcrum range for the above reason - but I haven't ridden the others so can't comment.

Of course I'm always looking around for something that can do it all: light, aero, stable, bomb-proof, great braking surface, but so far I haven't found anything that convinces me. The only thing these wheels lack is the aero aspect and perhaps a few grams knocked off somehow. Aero usually means carbon, which usually means problems in braking: reduced effectivity and/or overheating. Lighter usually means weaker.

Bottom line for climbing wheels for me is how confident I am in the fast and/or technical descents. With this wheel I can go full-gas down the scariest slopes, fully confident that they won't give out on me, and that I can control the speed if needed. For that I'll happily sacrifice a bit of free-aero-speed and a handicap of a gram or 2 in the ascent.

Road Test - Wheels

Cycling In Malaysia

When I first came to this part of the world 20 years back, the thing that attracted me most about living here was the constant warm weather. Though I was born in the UK, I have never liked the cold, and the wet, drizzly gloom of a British winter is really something I would be happy to never experience again.

For a cyclist/triathlete this also means no off season - no downtime. Awesome!

Now that I have to spend chunks of my time away from Malaysia, I appreciate even more what it has to offer - especially to a cyclist.

There is an amazing abundance of wild nature around us here, yet the roads are pretty good. The road system covers the whole peninsula with access to most of the hilly areas, and drivers are generally courteous and careful - outside of the urban areas. The food, which is some of the best and most varied in the world, is cheap and abundant, yet sanitation is excellent and it's also safe to eat most road-side offerings. Infrastructure is good. Petrol station kiosks sell isotonic drinks, and mobile networks cover most areas, with good internet connectivity and online information on pretty much everything. And English is widely spoken, which is very welcoming to visitors.

But really, the cycling is just awesome! We can put together routes as long, hard, scenic as you like, and even just your average out-and-back routes from urban hubs like Kuala Lumpur are mind-numbingy gorgeous.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Rough Ride by Paul Kimmage

Great book!

What makes this book stand out for me from all the other behind-the-scenes books on life in the peloton is mostly Kimmage's account of own inner turmoil and the completely frank and honest way that he relates his story. Nowhere else in the latest crop of confessions did I get such a clear presentation of the real options facing a professional bike racer, and the stark reality of the pressure on riders to come up with results or lose their job.

He talks of his own tough choices in a completely open way, and of his disillusionment and a growing frustration with the sport and it's management. From starry-eyed newcomer to jaded, battle weary domestique, we are spared no detail in the downward spiral. But what comes out of the pages more than anything else is a deep love for the sport and a yearning for the values he first discovered through his father as a boy.

Kimmage talks of the victims with great compassion. He sees much of the self destructive behaviour as a result of the choices made and the gradual erosion of self-respect. His scathing dismissal of the villains in his story is matched by the obvious affection he holds for both those who stood fast and those who crumbled - they all became victims in the end - and his sense of loss for the friendships that were cut short by his choice to tell the whole story.

This is the book that upset the apple-cart when it was first published, because the openness with which he talked of the use of drugs in the sport was considered a breach of the code of silence. The book turned the whole cycling world, including many of his closest friends against him.

In the recent edition I have, the last chapters are written years after the book was first published and talk about the books effect on the cycling world, and how it turned first it's fury towards him, and then it's back on him. These last chapters are now an essential part of the story since they document his journey back to a fragile but tangible belief in the sport's potential salvation.

But the best recommendation, as with all good books, is that I didn't want it to end.

Crank Length

Does anyone have anything to offer here?

I've been using 175mm cranks for a long time now. I even have a pair of 177.5mm on my TT bike. The science behind the longer crank length is leverage: the longer the lever, the more torque you can apply. However, a longer crank also means a longer dead spot in the pedal cycle, as well as a higher knee on the top part of the cycle which can reduce your ability to get a low position in the drops.

I'm trying to work on a lower position these days as I find my current position too upright, but with my current setup I feel I have less power when in the drops as my breathing is somewhat restricted. I'm on a fairly small frame for my size, so part of it should be addressed by lengthening my saddle-to-bars distance so that I'm more stretched out, but I'm also thinking of trying a 172.5 crank length to see if it helps alleviate the problem - I'll be higher up by 2.5mm, and my knee at the top of the cycle will relatively be 5mm lower. But will I lose power?

Experimenting in crank length means you have to consider forking out for the cost of a decent crankset that might not work for you anyway, so it's not that straightforward a thing to experiment with.

One decent article I've come across has a lot of interesting points but in the end I'm no closer to being able to decide.

Fabian's Bike

Something I came across in my investigations into bike position - and particularly crank length.

I'd thought of Cancellara as possibly a rider that I could at least aspire to emulate - given that he's also not what you would call slightly built, and that he's good at everything I'd like to be good at except climbing long hills, and in that respect we're both limited by the same thing: weight.

It didn't help that much really since he's 3cm taller than me and weighs a few kg more, but it's great to have details of what he actually uses.

Fabian's Bike

Training Fundamentals

OK - This is my offering to the many cyclists I come across - especially since I started leading cycling tours - who haven't gone into the science of their sport in any depth, and need to get a basic picture of how thay can train to become better cyclists.

I am immensely indebted to the many experts from whom I have learned to love the science of sport training including: Mark Evans, Tudor Bompa, Joe Friel, Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Edmund Burke, Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan and many others.

This is a distillation of all of the stuff I picked up from these masters. I'm obsessed with whittling things down to the nitty gritty. It may come, at least in part, from a life spent as a jazz improviser: I need a set of fundamental principles upon which I can base all my meanderings - or it may be the other way around: I ended up in this profession because I hate to do things the same way twice.

Either way, this is my attempt to distill the art of training the human body to be better at cycling so that we can construct training plans based on these principles that work progressively towards personal goals.

This is very much an over-simplification, and doesn't take into full consideration the aspect of endurance for example, but some of the finer details are sacrificed in order to give a very clear picture of the major building blocks of cycling fitness. Feedback is most welcome!

The bottom line:


FORM can be also referred to as Technique. However, for a cyclist to have good technique they must first have an efficient position. This efficient position will allow the cyclist to get the most out of their body with unimpeded biomechanics, maximum comfort, and cardiovascular efficiency so that the power transferred to the pedals is always optimized. Finding your best position on a suitable bike is such a personal quest, and an informed process of trial and error is the only real way, though a basic range of measurements can be calculated. The more hours you spend riding, the closer you get to your ideal. Keep a cadence of above 90rpm as this allows for better muscular efficiency and helps inhibit the build-up of lactic acid.

POWER is a result of FORCE + SPEED.

FORCE refers to the muscular force with which you move the pedals. SPEED is your cadence. You should work on both independently once you have enough hours of spinning logged.
FORCE WORKOUTS: The simplest way of thinking of workouts that develop force is like weight training on a bike. Choose a high gear and push as hard as possible against it. Start with 20 second intervals every 4-5 minutes and build up to longer intervals with less recovery.
CADENCE: Initially, the effect of boosting your cadence will have a negative effect on your heart rate. Your body can be taught to work at a much higher cadence with no increase in heart rate, but a period of anatomical adaptation is required. You can work on this by including high cadence drills at the start of your workouts. Start with 3x: 1 minute on, 1 minute off, spinning at a cadence above 110, with the rest interval at a comfortable cadence. Even if you do the rest of the ride at a cadence that feels normal, you will find that the body adapts gradually to using a faster cadence naturally.
SPRINTS: The other side of the coin of speed is to work on the shortest intervals at maximal levels of both power and speed. During the early season these workouts serve to transfer the benefits of force workouts to the more efficient application of this force at a higher cadence. This will help build the bridge between FORCE and SPEED!


POWER: Workouts that develop the application of force at an optimum cadence are power workouts. Once the elements of force and speed are well established, power workouts at different intervals should make up the bulk of your structured training sessions.
Different riders need different types of power depending on the racing style or discipline for which they are training. A typical basic power workout would require holding maximum power for that interval while maintaining an optimal cadence.
INTERVAL DURATION: For intervals working on power at short duration, the rest interval (RI) should last 2-3x as long as the effiort. For intervals above 2 but below 5 minutes, the RI is generally equal to the hard effort - eg 3minutes on, 3 minutes off. Above that, the RI is between 5-10 minutes, or enough to give sufficient recovery to do the same effort again. For developing power over durations more than 10 minutes, cruise intervals can be useful - these allow a brief respite of around 1 minute every 5-10 mintues which helps keep you focused for the duration required, especially working on durations up to - and over - the hour.  It should be clear that a power meter will be extremely useful at this point.


The time triallist typically will work towards optimizing Functional Threshold Power (FTP). This is the maximum power that can be maintained for around an hour. Of course Ironman triathletes and those working towards longer events will also need to work beyond that time span, but FTP is still the most basic focus of a TT rider. If you're working towards a shorter event like a prologue you will need to work on your 30min, 20min and even 10min power depending on the event and personal weaknesses. Power-to-weight ratio is not at its most crucial for a TT rider.
The classics rider will need to maintain a high output over a long period of time, but will also be required to be able to increase the power output for periods of 3-5 minutes or more to deal with short sharp climbs, and bridging gaps to attacks or breaks in the group. This rider will need to maximize FTP and also at power intervas from 3min to 8mins. Power-to-weight is also less crucial than sheer power.
The climber refers to the specialist for long climbs with varying and sometimes extreme gradients, and must be able to cover attacks and constant changes in rhythm. FTP is very important, but work must be done at all intervals above 90seconds, with extra focus on ability to sustain out-of-the-saddle intervals for up to 5 minutes. Power-to-weight is at it's most crucial for the climber.
The sprinter does not need much else other than maximal output of power for a period of 20-30 seconds. Of course they will also be required to keep up with the whole group up until the point at which launched to the finish, but this will develop naturally as a benefit of the fitness required to be pushing yourself to the extremes of human power output.


If you test yourself for power output at 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and FTP (one hour), you will get a pretty good idea of where your strengths and weaknesses are. If you're not sure where your talents lie - or you're a committed all-rounder - you'll want to address weakness in any of them, but even if you intend to specialize you will find crossover benefits from working on developing power at most intervals, especially at the start of your program.

Of course this is an over-simplification by design. Much more can be studied to give detail to your workouts and structure to your periodisation, building as specifically as you desire towards your goals. However, the essential building blocks are here and you will be on the right track if you keep these principles in mind and apply them in a progressive way.

Some useful links:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Genting Sempah

The ride up to Genting Sempah from Gombak on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. One of my favourite cycling routes - in fact pretty much my default ride. It involves around 15km of climbing at an average between 3-4% which means you can do quite a lot with it: spin up it, do cruise intervals or something harder, time-trial it, etc etc.

It's also a gateway through to Bentong, Bukit Tinggi or Janda Baik and, if you can get past the guards, Gohtong Jaya or Genting. All kinds of gradients on offer!

This video is shot by my wife June riding support for one of our cycling tours. It features a good friend, the flying Finn Jarno Lamsa. The rest of us are somewhere behind :) Music courtesy of the Dave Holland Big Band, which just happened to be playing in the car when she shot the film on my phone.

For more info on our rides check us out at Equipe Nomad


Welcome to my new blog.

The idea behind Rider's Cafe is a place to hang out with friends and like-minded cycling loonies anywhere on the planet. Somewhere we can share information on great rides, riders, frames, wheels, videos, books, races, training methods, gadgets, food, drinks, and pretty much anything that gets a cyclist's pulse going...

I intend to share my ideas and offer what I've learned in the hope that it can help others, and also in the hope that through feedback on these ideas my understanding and awareness will also grow. I offer my humble opinion not as a fixed position, but as a point of view open for discussion.

In the past 3 decades I've been involved in training my body to adapt to the stresses of competitive sport, first as a triathlete and then, as my passion for cycling outgrew the other 2 disciplines, a road cyclist. Though I've amassed a fair amount of ideas and information along the way, what I've learned through good old trial-and-error has given me a fairly good take on how my own mind and body can most efficiently be cajoled into going faster for longer.

Nowadays I still train in the belief that I can improve on what I have achieved in the past, even though I should actually probably be happy with not slowing down too much as I reach my mid 50s! I'm always looking for a way to train smarter. I always question established ideas on the subject, and I am aware that there is very little information available on research done on the athletic human body beyond 40 years. I know of some pretty remarkable individuals in cycling and triathlon who defy the ageing process by still being world-class competitors in their 40s and 50s.

So there it is - my first post - not much to argue about yet, but I'm working on it!