Back in the saddle – sitting further forwards

The past 3 weekends have not been easy to fit in a ride. I’ve put on 2.5kg as a result.  My first ride in 3 weeks was going to be a bit hard, I thought, especially since I was riding with my colleague Ed who has a few KOM on Strava to his name.  The cold morning and forecast high temperature was a challenge too.  Fingerless gloves seemed a good idea but the temperature didn’t rise despite the bright sunshine.

I arrived 20 minutes early to the rendezvous and the prospect of getting sitting still and chilling wasn’t appealing  I rode a lap of Northbourne Ave and returned at 0700 not much warmer.  A nice climb to the Sutton Turn-off and back to Dickson for breakfast.  A moderate ride with plenty of PRs for me  I’d put many of the PRs down to maintaining a steady pace and high cadence.

A bicycle, a few months ago
A bicycle, a few months ago

Mountain bike seating position

I was professionally fitted for my road bike but my mountain bike was just the biggest one they had.  This year I’ve made little adjustments every few weeks and mostly realised benefits almost immediately.  But it was a mystery why my saddle was all of the way back.  I easily mono-ed up several steps on a long climb, nonchalantly riding in the saddle and lifting the front wheel with ease.  When I got home I noticed the position of the seat and the obvious leverage it would have given me.

But I was struggling with flat turns and berms and never seemed to keep the right line.  Either the front tyre would have low grip or I’d steer too much and have constantly correct.  I would often put a foot down to keep upright.

A colleague who happens to be a level 2 cycling coach said that I had to get more weight onto the front tyre to get the grip.  It seems sensible but at the same time frightening.

So I prepped the bike for this morning’s ride by putting the saddle in the middle of its rails, about 30mm forward.

I instantly found grip on the corners that I had been washing out on during previous rides.  Even the very dry and dusty conditions weren’t affecting my grip.  I could hit every flat turn and berm with confidence and a certain impunity, gliding through corners with a bit of speed.

Make small adjustments and leave time to adjust to them; that’s always been my watchword

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Sunday ride – pedals, saddle and finding Mount Majura

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I carried it most of the way up here, so why stop now

0900 start for a Sunday ride was just achievable after a Saturday night dinner party.  I spent some of the time removing the spacers from the pedal studs for an extra few mm of grip ready for the early start.

Not off to a great start

A 10km ride to Dickson and I wasn’t feeling great.  Kneecaps tingling, legs just OK, not quite with it.  I had a female rider behind me who flew past on Phillip Avenue and was 250m ahead in no time.  I wasn’t warming up like I had hoped.  Today was going to be a struggle.  Amandeep had suffered on the previous day too, so we would probably have to be satisfied with a reasonably long but gentle ride.

For some reason I shifted my body forward on the saddle and pedalled.  Immediately, the pain in my kneecaps was gone.  Maybe I had found another magic position change.

Saddle position?

I met Amandeep in Dickson at 0900.  Before the ride proper I shifted my saddle forward about 15 mm; it had been almost fully back on the rails.  I think this originated with my first road bike when I discovered that the head and seat tube angles were 77° and I put the seat back to try to get some room.  When I got my mountain bike I put the saddle up to road height and felt very top-heavy and unbalanced.  As we can see, I’m starting to put these bike position mistakes right.

The first 1.5km was flat but I could already notice a difference.  At the 2.5km point we entered the Mount Ainslie Reserve and chose a first lap clockwise from Hancocks Rd.  From the beginning of that long climb the extra power was obvious.  I was a bit sore from Saturday, but my legs moved really well.  The Telecoms Track descent was a bit trickier with the number of walkers (never like this at noon) and the rolling hills to follow were dispatched with relative ease.  Maybe Amandeep’s suggestion of a second lap as we started the first was not so far-fetched or unattainable after all.

Mount Majura, where art it?

I few weeks ago I didn’t reach Mount Majura.  Twice.  My first heroic attempt got 3/4 up a very steep hill and I am proud of that.  The peak at 730m seemed a little unspectacular but I took a panorama series of photos anyway.

The second attempt was from Majura Drive and the access road.  The locked gate had no facility to crawl through and the big signs warned me not to trespass the civil aviation site.

By the start of our second lap I was feeling good enough to try to find the route to Mount Majura again.  Clever dicks who are currently asking “But it’s the highest peak, so why didn’t you just look up?” are invited to try to find a peak when standing at the bottom of a eucalypt forest.

Hancocks to Hacket track and then up the Blue Metal Rd.  Taking the left track towards Majura Pines (instead of the right curve towards the fake Mt Majura) we were at the bottom of a gnarly singletrack going up.  I managed to ride sections of it but the narrow and rocky track was definitely not made for cycling and it wasn’t clear where the track headed.  Maybe it was the sound of children from above us that helped the decision to continue.  We had come this far and decided to walk to the peak.  (I later discovered on MapMyRide that the climb from Blue Metal Road to the peak is 2.85 km long and 197 m up at an average of 6.9%, or a Category 3.)

Soon we stumbled across a vehicular road that must join with Majura Pines.  While it was steeper than the singletrack it was at least wider and offered some hope of being rideable.  We attempted a few times but it was a bit of a scramble.  So we walked.

At the top of that climb was a T-intersection where a family was having a picnic.  Now that was a surprise.  We got quite useful information from the many walkers, such was the peak being 1km away.  However, no-one was able to explain that it was also 110m higher than where we were.  Quite a few sections were rideable, but there was still some pushing.  We set mini goals to ride to a tree or a flat section to break up the mountain into molehills.  And its nice to get encouragement from others, who have expended no small effort to get there themselves, albeit on two legs.

The final push was very steep.  Hikers had made a narrow walking track on banks above the road.  I took the rough and steep road because the idea of falling off the high bank while riding didn’t appeal.  Made it a tiny way up before being passed by a poodle.

At the top of the path is a gate… and then you see the access road.  (So, I can’t ride up the access road, but I can climb the dirt road and then go through the gate.  Right.)  A short, steep climb and we were on the peak at 888m.  The view is spectacular, not least because of the red, rotating radar just below.  Amandeep took his gloves off with little hesitation (good sign) to take my photo.

(BTW, if you look at my 6:11 time and 10.6km/h average on MapMyRide it will appear that I screamed up those hills.  However, the auto-pause setting was overactive.  Even when I was travelling rather quickly the screen showed that auto-pause was active.  The correct time was closer to 20:30 and 3.2km/h.)

Amandeep on Mt Majura.  Trusty bike on background.
Amandeep on Mt Majura. Trusty bike on background.

The downhill was interesting; we passed about 20 hikers and it’s hard to stop when the front brake is a bit squidgy and the rear tyre is scrambling for grip. Instead of taking the steep track to Majura Pines we continued straight down a singletrack with some great little obstacles. It got a little congested with hikers (it is their track, after all) and some of the steps were tricky to negotiate.  Maybe the “no cyclists” sign was supposed to be heeded.  We turned off to the 132kVA track and Blue Metal Rd.

After coffee and a croissant at Good Brother we left separately; Amandeep to his car and bike rack, me to The Cyclery.  The downhill was not fun with a front brake that was very soft at the top of the hill and slightly firmer by the bottom so I looked for a brake bleed kit.  But bought a new chain instead.

I’m not finished

Return trip… hmmm.  I was feeling genki so I headed for the dirt once more: A 20km return instead of the 10km road ride.  Rode the lower Ainslie track, climbed Hancocks (3rd time) to the Hackett Track and descended through Watson to the Federal Highway climb.

But why stop there.  Last week’s ride along Horse Park Drive was not pleasant and since I was feeling quite good I crossed HPD and descended along the fence line of Goorooyaroo.  The entry point is just below the handle where the bike lane crosses the uphill off-ramp.

I’d only ridden back along Goorooyaroo for the first time on Saturday and that was from its peak.  But my legs felt fine (bum a bit sore, though) so I was up for it.  Got quite warm and windy, so I didn’t push too hard.  But just as I reached the gate at Mulligans Flat I ran out of water.  I hoped that I would make it home OK, even if I had to do it under reduced power.  By now it was nearly 1400.  Big thanks to Conservation ACT who gave me some drinking water as they packed up their sausage sizzle.  A big drink was enough to get home.

Post mortem (not literally)

Position on the bike is very important.  Being 195cm tall I know that more than most.  But subtle changes can reap huge benefits.  Paying someone $100 or more to fit you to a bike is not a waste of money at all.  For the first time since I was a student I can feel the whole leg working to move me along.  If I pedaled out of the saddles before my quads would scream.  It appears that it wasn’t using them to cycle and they were suddenly awoken with a rush of blood and lactic acid.

And I no longer have lower back pain, perhaps from the hamstrings pulling the muscles.  I still have tingling fingers and some numbness, so there’s still work to be done.  Apart from a slightly sore and chafed bum and a dark cyclist tan (dark forearms, light hands and watch band, dark knees and outer calves, light thighs) I feel great.  And that’s after over 90km of intense cycling (and climbing) on the weekend.

I have next weekend off the bike for my sister’s visit, ironically because her husband is riding from Sydney to Canberra for Police Legacy.  I doubt that he’ll be in the mood for a dirt lap at the end of his journey… but you never know.