Eliza Dolittle says . . .
“The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain . . .
. . . but the wind in France blows mostly in yer face!”
I went for a ride out on Sunday up into the edge of the hills to the North on Gabian & Roujan - a short “mad dogs & Englishmen” trip out at midday for an hour. Some interesting roads, but potentially more, further up.
Which is exactly where we all went a few hours later, in the car, to visit a local goat farm’s open day (daughter very impressed, and had to be frisked on the way out . . . just in case!).
I was really keen on doing the route that we’d taken in the car, but Monday proved just too windy for safe cycling - really, really strong gusts, bringing down branches, roof tiles, power lines, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as keen as the next guy, but my health & safety crew (wife) wouldn’t sign the paperwork . .
So yesterday morning I got out of bed at a non-holiday time, got dressed & fuelled, and went off to find some hills. It was still a bit blowy, but not too bad for a wannabe super hero. I’ve recorded the route on Gmaps Pedometer, which was surprisingly shorter than it had seemed in the car.
Doing the descent from the route’s high point at Montesquieu (roughly miles 8.5-10.25 on the map), I was a little nervy after my stoopid fall in the Stratford Tri. Nothing really to be worried about though - the road surface was good and dry, and with a quick succession of hairpin bends, the speed was actually kept fairly low, barely getting above 25 mph in this section.
As I was coming down, I was thinking about the article about bike handling in this month’s 220 Triathlon magazine. As well as stuff about keeping the cadence up so as to rely on oxygen-fed slow-twitch muscles on climbs, this also had stuff about breaking points on bends & descents. They’d gone for a somewhat simplistic approach - break before you corner, and keep your inside pedal up on the corner.
OK as far as it goes, but there’s more to this. I read another article in New Scientist about ten years ago about the physics of cornering in a racing car. They’d tracked Jackie Stewart through a series of bends on a track in different cars, and found that he adjusted his line and break / accelleration points depending on the vehicle. Cars which breaked better than they accelerated would have a profile hugging the outside of the bend, with a late turn into the apex, to provide a longer, straighter exit line. Cars with better acceleration than breaking (few and far between!), would have a long smoothe turn into the apex under breaking, and a shorter exit run.
What does this mean on a bike? On a steep descent, the breaking and accelleration will be closer matched than on the flat, so you follow the classic edge-t0-edge line. On the flat, the breaking potential far outstrips the acceleration, so you break late, take a somewhat sharper turn, and then get upright and pedalling to accelerate out of the bend.
We can also learn from rally drivers. As I come into a turn on a steep descent, the weight transfer to the front wheel is accentuated, making the rear wheel more likely to lock up. For the break-in-a-straight-line folks, this isn’t such a big deal. But I’m breaking right into the first part of the turn, so locking up is potentially a Bad Thing, leading to another accusation of laying down on the job. To counteract this, I keep the pedals turning - not enough to undo my breaking efforts, but enough to prevent a skid . . . a bit like the heel & toe break & gas technique that the Finnish drivers pioneered in the ’80s.
But why all this effort to go faster through the bends? Will the extra speed really win me any places? Probably not in direct terms, but it will mean that it takes me less effort to keep the bike at it’s straight line pace - fewer accelerations from all-but-a-standstill using those hungry fast twitch muscles. Which means that when I get to the run, I’m fresher, and better positioned to hold the places that I have taken from others while on the bike. That’s why I do it!