Pilgrims Progress

I’ve been panicking about the limited training time left before TCRno4 (only 13 weekends left!!) and whether my training is on track – probably driven by my first ever audax DNF and an under-reading powermeter denting my pride/confidence. On the face of it, I’m getting around the long distances quickly, recovering easily and still going fast as ever during in the week… but my power curve looks anaemic, my CTL is stagnating and I keep finding myself bailing out of riding both days of the weekend.

While I wait for my replacement powermeter to arrive and alleviate some of these concerns, I’ve decided to concentrate on thinking about my kit – evaluating what’s working, what might need to be changed and what still needs to be bought. If I can’t get my training in order, I can at least plan the heck out of everything else!

First – the new bike has been a really pleasant surprise. My last aluminium bike was a Carrera that rode atrociously and transferred endless road buzz through the saddle and bars… I was really concerned that the Bowman Pilgrims would similarly reduce my comfort, add further weight and put me in a higher position, decreasing my aerodynamic efficiency. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the look of the bike, the ‘road plus’ ethos behind it and definitely felt it was the best off the peg option available to me, but I was very worried about ‘downgrading’ my comfortable, fast carbon road bike for a heavier aluminium ‘road plus’ bike.

However, from the moment the box arrived, it was clear my fears were unfounded – this is a seriously premium product. The actual build was laughably easy – normally internal routing and Di2 means hours of fishing around and endless frustration, but the cable routing on the Pilgrims is astoundingly well thought out and the giant bottom bracket shell provides really easy access. Running a full outer through the frame for the rear brake also means I’ve (perhaps embarrassingly) realised the rear brake on the RTD was severely hampered by tight angles in the cable run – I actually kept locking the rear wheel up on my first ride because I was so used to having to really heave on the anchors.

During the build I’d noticed a couple of minor imperfections that had me a touch nervous and resulted in reaching out to Bowman for reassurance (normally I’m pretty laid back unless something looks really buggered, but with the TCR quickly approaching I’m being hyper-vigilant). I was very pleasantly surprised when the owner, Neil got straight in touch and offered a call to talk everything through and put me at ease. The following day we had a long phone call where we agreed everything looked good and he even offered to meet up in the coming weeks to check everything over in person… seriously impressed. You often see impressive customer charters like Bowman’s, but it’s rare that a company follows through and offers such a high level of service.

From the first ride, it was clear that the extra weight, slightly more upright position and longer wheelbase has not made this any less of a road bike. It retains that sense of urgency and composition you get with a good road bike and it’s easy to forget the ‘road plus’ credentials (whereas my CX bike always very much feels like a CX bike, no matter how it’s set up or being ridden). I put some bridleways in my route for the first ride (you kind of have to when you buy a bike like this, right?) and was pleasantly surprised to find that, despite the pitch black and deep mud, it continued to handle just like a road bike and flew along the less than ideal surface with no drama or fuss. I ended up abandoning the ride after about 120km as I was feeling rough, but feel confident that the Pilgrims will be almost as comfortable over long distances as the RTD. I intend to test this over the Severn Across this weekend and a ‘road plus’ route of my own devising, following the Pilgrims Way to Cantebury in coming weeks.

During the week, I’ve been really thrashing the Pilgrims on my commute… part new toy excitement and part wanting to find its limits… I’ve yet to phase it – stamp on the pedals and it flies, throw it hard into a corner under late braking and it simply carves a tight line… sit up to catch your breath and it hums along nicely. Bowman have definitely got the ratio of ‘road’ and ‘plus’ right. This is a road bike with a bit added, not a cross country bike with a bit taken away. It’s a real pleasure to ride and I can honestly say that if I was only allowed one bike that had to do everything and anything, this would be the top contender.

In fairness, part of the ride quality probably boils down to my wheels and tyres. I splurged on a set of Hunt Aero Light Disc wheels at the beginning of the year and have been blown away with the quality – low spoke count for a wheelset I intend to abuse, but they’re incredibly light, stiff and you do get a faint hint of the deep section wind chopping noise off them that you’d expect off a properly deep wheel. After thousands of miles, I’ve finally had to very slightly true them and I suspect the rear wheel will need a couple of bearings switching out before TCR. I’m also considering switching the front out for a hand built dynamo with very similar specifications… I’ve found parts that meet my requirements and someone happy to build them up for a cost I price I consider good value and the peace of mind from having a dynamo is increasingly striking me as important (not to mention allowing me to stay on the bike longer). I’ll take a decision around late May / early June.

I’m still experimenting with which tubeless tyres will get invited to the ball, but the main contenders are Hutchinson Sector 28s and Schwalbe S-Ones. I intend to ride a pair of each to death and see which is in the best state after 3800km and, if both survive the full distance, which was fastest/most comfortable. Both receive rave reviews, although the Hutchinsons are slightly easier to get hold of. I’ll take a pair of spare innertubes and a repair kit on TCR, but am hopeful that the right tubeless tyres will result in a completely drama free race.

My saddle is another big choice that affects comfort and I’ve been lucky in that one of my favourite saddles has proven itself entirely up to the job. I normally ride a Regale on the road and an Aspide for TT (my god it took a long time and a lot of saddles to get there…) and the Aspide has proven comfortable over long distances and multiple days. There’s no real padding, but it has quite a flexy base and I think the shape has become so ingrained on my under carriage that it just works. I haven’t used chamois cream in years and haven’t suffered any saddle sores or pain. I’ve seen so many riders struggling with saddle choice that it’s a real relief to have this sorted way ahead of time… I’m sure by day 4 or 5, my arse will be black and blue, but I’m pretty confident I’m on the most comfortable and suitable saddle for me.

My luggage is also now finalised – I intend to take very little and the bulk of my kit will be my Bivvy, silk liner, padded gilet and wind/waterproof. With that in mind, I’m going to try to fit everything in my Revelate Designs full frame bag. The less baggage I can have flapping about and positioned in the wind, the better. The frame bag has proven itself over months of testing, with no knee rub, no adverse affects on handling and plenty of space for kit, food and water. I’ll be wearing most of my kit and arm warmers, knee warmers and other lightweight kit can easily find its way into my jersey pockets if space is tight.

If I do go with the dynamo I’m considering, I’ll run a B&M light (with USB charger) up front, otherwise it’s my trusty Exposure Strada – definitely the best battery powered light for road use that money can buy. I’ve not completely decided which rear light will be going, but the two I have in mind are pretty equally specced and I’m just trying to reliably test which has the longer battery life under real world conditions.

Shoes will be Giro Empire SLX… with a slightly odd lacing pattern I found on t’internet that seems to be doing a great job of eliminating hot foot and keeping me comfortable. Gearing will be 52/36 & 11-32 and I’ll be running a Rotor powermeter. I’m planning on using a wrist-based vibrating alarm to guarantee no oversleeping and I’ll have an AA powered personal radio to rely on to keep me awake when energy levels dip. Everything else will be my standard riding kit and a few provisions for rough/wet weather.

As I’ll be navigating with a Garmin 510 (/phone in emergencies), there’s a lot of space on my cockpit and between the aero bars. I’ll be thinking long and hard about the best way to store some easy access food there – perhaps some mesh or bungee cords.

I’ll do a full kit list with photos nearer the date, but it’s handy to get the thinking down on paper and run through everything. It’s not proven so easy to get the training thinking down… every time I plan something, life gets in the way or I get lazy and take a day off the bike!




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