Victoria Bowskill

Victoria Bowskill

Cycle ClothingWomen's Cycling

MEAME London offer: 25% off last minute Christmas purchases for Vamper.cc readers

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Boutique urban cycling brand MEAME London is offering a 25% discount to our readers for last minute Christmas purchases.

MEAME London cycling jacket
MEAME London apparel features clever reflective detailing concealed in elegant, tailored garments for city cyclists.

Vamper.cc readers can order clothing and accessories with the discount xmas2015 until Christmas Day. Last orders for guaranteed Christmas delivery must be received no later than 11.30am on Monday, 21st December.

We recently attended MEAME’s festive event at the East London Design Store where we chatted with founder Megan Aylott over mince pies and prosecco: we love the brand’s pared down aesthetic and impeccable tailoring. Watch this space for a forthcoming review.

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Cycling TipsReviewsSportivesWomen's Cycling

The Prudential RideLondon – Surrey 100: 10 things we wish we’d known

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With around 25,000 participants and covering 100 miles, the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey sportive is a daunting prospect for many cyclists. This year we took part for the first time and we wanted to share our top tips for the event – and the things we wish we’d known beforehand.

The Ballot

When entering the ballot, be realistic but not pessimistic about the time you expect to finish in; we both overestimated by a long way (two hours!) which put us in much later starting groups. An earlier start will probably mean a faster ride with less congestion.

Disappointed that you didn’t get a place in the Prudential RideLondon ballot? Don’t worry – get a charity spot instead and raise money for a good cause. There are a huge number of charities with guaranteed places, all vying for cyclists to ride for them. They’ll typically ask you to raise a minimum of £500 – £750, which is pretty achievable for such a physical challenge!

100 miles is a long way. It makes a huge difference to flagging spirits and tired legs when the communities of Surrey turn out in droves to cheer you on.

Are you sitting comfortably?

On the run up to the Prudental RideLondon event, make sure you are completely comfortable on your bike. I was caught out with the wrong saddle which could have been rectified had I arranged a saddle mapping session in good time, but if you’re in the London area, these things book up fast ahead of such a major event. Be comfortable on your bike and don’t try anything new on the day!

If possible, stay locally the night before the event to reduce stress – it’s an early start! Local hotels – including the major chains – are really accommodating to cyclists. We stayed at the Radisson Blu New Providence Wharf and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful: a handwritten note in our room wished us luck, we were able to keep our bikes in the room with us, and an extra early breakfast was laid on to ensure riders had something to eat before setting off. Much easier than a long journey at an ungodly hour.

Remembering registration

You must register for Prudential RideLondon the day before the event, and we would recommend allowing plenty of time for this exercise. This year’s registration was at Excel – allow lots of time to get there, because it is vast. We wouldn’t want to be parking 15 minutes before registration closes – it might take you half an hour to reach the hall from the car park! (Also, parking is £15 – and that’s a flat rate. Ouch.)

Diversion due diligence

The morning of the ride, bear in mind that the closed roads make reaching Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park something of a challenge. We stayed locally the night before and cycled – if you do the same, ensure that you allow plenty of time to get there because you might not be able to take the most direct route depending on diversions. Reaching the park was a little bit more stressful than we had anticipated!

It’s a rare opportunity to experience Central London and the Surrey Hills free of traffic, in the company of other cyclists. Relax and enjoy it!

BFF finding

If you plan to ride Prudential RideLondon with a friend, be aware that you will most likely be allocated different start time and different zones. You can’t do anything about this, but don’t worry: provided you’re not setting off hours apart, it is easy to meet up just a few miles into the ride. We chose to meet just after St Paul’s church in Shadwell where it was easy to pull off the main road and wait.

It can be nerve wracking to set off ‘alone’ – or, at least, without your buddy. Don’t be afraid to make conversation with other cyclists in your wave – remember that everyone’s in the same boat and plenty of people are feeling nervous. A chat will calm your nerves! And don’t be afraid to ask for help from fellow riders –  and someone will help you, like the wonderful guys who helped me when my chain suddenly dropped off 90 seconds before my wave was due to depart…

Hub hubbub

The feed stations and hubs are fantastic and a great opportunity to replenish your water (and energy powder) supplies. We wished, though, that we had packed a greater variety of snacks in our pockets; Clif Bars are decent fuel but get very boring (not to mention dry) on such a long day.

Rather than telling our supporters to watch us from Kingston bridge, we wish we had realised that the hub at Hampton Court would have been the ideal spot with the opportunity to stop and say hello. Indeed, if you can meet someone at a hub, they can even supply a range of snacks – we envied the guy we saw tucking into a tupperware of pasta provided by a friend!

Elevation reconnaissance 

We live in Surrey and we thought we were fairly familiar with the route. However, Box Hill – though famous – is not the challenge on this course. We wished we’d done all the hills before the event so that we knew exactly what to expect. Newlands Corner is not the most well known hill on the course, but it’s a tough climb; try and have a go beforehand to familiarise yourself. (The descent does make it worthwhile, though. We promise.)

Rapturous reception

100 miles is a long way. It makes a huge difference to flagging spirits and tired legs when the communities of Surrey turn out in droves to cheer you on, so engage with them – a wave and a smile will let them know you appreciate their support, and will help keep your spirits up.

Post-ride fatigue

At the end of the ride, we wished we had arranged transport for our bikes, either back to Excel or even back home. We were very tired, I was very saddle sore, and the traffic was daunting after a day of riding closed roads. If you haven’t arranged transport, bear in mind that you can always get a cab to take you and your bike where you need to go – but it will be very busy and you might have a long wait…

The Prudential RideLondon is a day to remember

Finally, go with the flow! There might be hold ups along the way due to accidents, or overcrowding – don’t fret about your finishing time, just soak it all up. The Prudential RideLondon event is not a race – it’s a rare opportunity to experience Central London and the Surrey Hills free of traffic, in the company of other cyclists. Relax and enjoy it!

Prudential RideLondon

FeaturedReviewsSportivesWomen's Cycling

Macmillan Cycletta Surrey: Vamper.cc rides and reviews this women’s sportive

Ready for offAn encouraging turn out at Loseley Park - women's cycling is gaining traction, in part thanks to events like the Macmillan Cycletta.
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Sunday morning, 06:50. The alarm clock is sounding. Crumbs. The day of the Macmillan Cycletta has arrived.

After a week of torrential downpours and grey skies, I opened my eyes to bright sunshine peeking through the blinds. My heart soared: the Humanrace Macmillan Cycletta Surrey event would be beautiful on a crisp, bright September morning – it was worth getting out of bed. (Not words I often mutter.)

Team Vamper has nailed these early Sunday starts now: rucksack ready by the door packed with Torq Gels (Raspberry Ripple), Clif bars (Choc Almond Fudge), track pump, toolkit, waterproofs… Bike cleaned and checked, front wheel already off to load in the back of the car…

We’re like a well-oiled machine on cycling days. It’s a shame it doesn’t extend to any other day of the week…

Arriving at Loseley Park it was thoroughly exciting to see so many women readying themselves for a morning of cycling. We’re still so outnumbered in the cycling world that when so many keen female cyclists converge in one place it’s something of an eye opener. The non-threatening atmosphere which allows women to enjoy riding free of testosterone-fuelled bravado is one of the best things about the Macmillan Cycletta events: I opted for the 50km classic route, but I can well imagine that the 20km beginners’ course would be a fun and gentle introduction to sportives for new riders.

Macmillan Cycletta
A crisp, clear start for the sportive riders at Loseley Park. Women’s cycling is gaining traction thanks to events like this.

The classic route took in some beautiful Surrey countryside in its loop around Shackleford, Puttenham, Rushmoor and Elstead. The elevation was enjoyably challenging in places; I wasn’t in the mood for climbing a lot of tough hills, but I certainly didn’t want an easy ride. The only thing that let the route down were the terrible road surfaces: for a county which prides itself on its cycling credentials, Surrey needs to give serious consideration to the terrible state of many of its roads.

Macmillan Cycletta
The Classic 52km route took in some of Surrey’s prettiest countryside (and worst road surfaces…)

I was keen to average 15mph on the hilly course and hoped to complete the route in around two hours fifteen minutes, so I was very pleased to finish with a moving time of 2:14:28 and average speed of 15.1mph. I’m working on building stamina and speed on climbs but at the moment, they really slow me down; I do too much cycling in flat southwest London…

Overall I finished 8th out of about 150 on the Classic route. Next year I’m aiming for 1st! I was highly impressed with the speed at which riders’ results were announced: by the time I was back in the car, I had received a text message with my finishing time and a link to the complete results from Results Base. For someone as competitive as I am, that’s a great feature of any event. (The event photographers SportCam deserve a shout out, too – great pictures!)

Macmillan Cycletta
Vamper’s Victoria taking in the sights along the route.

The Cycletta village was excellent: well equipped with plenty of loos, several food stalls, a Liv mechanical support tent and information desk. I was, however, a little dismayed by the tannoy announcements before the ride which seemed to assume participants wouldn’t have had the gumption to check their bikes for problems beforehand. I was also a little disappointed that the same announcer explained that the emergency telephone number provided could be used, not only in the case of emergency or mechanical fault, but if anyone felt a bit tired… Which doesn’t really seem like the right attitude. Yes, the ride should be fun; but cyclists should be encouraged to prepare thoroughly and stick it out, and I don’t think lack of preparation or sticking power should be assumed – it does a bit of a disservice to the cyclists. I’d like to see a move away from the soft approach to women’s cycling; do women really need tweeness and cake and reassurance that someone else will check their tyres for them? I don’t think they do. But that’s a minor gripe: what Cycletta events do well is provide an unthreatening and encouraging environment to ease women into sportives – and for that they should be applauded.

Macmillan Cycletta
The Cycletta village – well equipped and friendly.

Macmillan Cycletta Cheshire is still accepting entries for the Sunday 27th September; if you think it sounds like fun, sign up here. I’ll definitely be putting my name down for next year’s events.

News

Spin Factory brings WattBike Time Trial Challenge to Manchester

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Manchester’s Spin Factory, the biggest indoor spin cycling facility in Europe, is setting a new standard of speed in the North West.

Spin Factory is bringing the ultimate Watt Bike Time Trial to cyclists across the city on its peloton of Wattbikes. The challenge has been set to uncover the best individual male, female and team effort with £500 of Wattbike training up for grabs in this exciting digital TT course.

Spin Factory

The Wattbike Time Trials are taking place at both the Spin Factory in Manchester City Centre and Pro Spin at Manchester Airport to challenge spinners and cyclists both physically and mentally.

In the Wattbike Studio riders can focus purely on speed with no adverse weather conditions, traffic jams or potholes to hamper their performance.

For cyclists looking to benchmark their performance, the Ten Mile Time Trial is the ideal fitness test. The concept is this: cyclists set a personal best time across a 10-mile sprint, before honing power, technique and cardiovascular fitness with the opportunity to retake the challenge – hopefully improving their own time, and competing against others.

Teams are invited to participate with up to eight Wattbikes available at a time to allow group scores in a thrilling race.

The Spin Factory is the biggest spin facility of its kind in Europe, with more than 60 bikes and 18 Wattbikes.

The City Centre location is situated under the railway arches opposite Salford Central station, just a stone’s throw from Spinningfields. Pro Spin, the Manchester Airport site, will also be hosting the Time Trials and results from the two studios will be collated before the winners are decided at the end of winter.

The Spin Factory’s Master Trainer Ross Sommers said of the Wattbike Time Trial, “These sessions are tough, but there is plenty of data from the Wattbike that riders can use to monitor their improvements. There are prizes for leaderboard winners in 3 categories – top male, female and team. We have individuals storming up the leader-board as well as rugby teams coming in to take the challenge against each other.

It’s brilliant to see the dedication, and also the improvement as people retake the trial.”

To book a session, download the Spin Factory app on the App Store. 10 Mile Time Trial sessions are £10.

Spin Factory
Spin Factory’s WattBike Ten Mile Time Trials – the ideal fitness test allowing riders to focus purely on speed.

 

Cycling AccessoriesReviewsWomen's Cycling

Cyclefit pressure mapping puts an end to saddle pain

Pressure mapping Victoria
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It’s really quite difficult to have a good conversation about saddle soreness while tiptoeing around some anatomical minefield. So I’m not going to tiptoe around, because I think female cyclists – hell, all cyclists – need to be able to have much more frank discussions about what goes on downstairs while you’re on a bike. Enough of the coyness.

I only took up road cycling this year and I did not know what saddle soreness meant.

A year ago, I was happily pottering about London on my single speed, never going further than ten miles at a gentle pace. I had a Selle Italia Gel Flow saddle on my bike which was perfectly comfortable for short distances (and that was wearing jeans, or dresses – not padded bib shorts.)

So, when I began feeling a bit sore on my road bike using the standard-issue saddle it came with, I immediately ordered another Selle Italia Gel Flow, which comes highly recommended by a lot of female cyclists. For rides to work, a distance of around 9 miles? All ok. Perfectly comfortable. I made the right choice! Or, so I thought.

A few weeks later, I went out on a 65 mile weekend ride.

Suddenly, that cushioning seemed less helpful. At the end of the ride, I was thoroughly sore: I had small lesions in my soft tissue, which were deeply uncomfortable.

Hmm, I thought. This is unexpected.

So, I read up online and it sounded as though chamois cream would be the answer to my prayers.

Boy, how people seem to love chamois cream! Apparently, no matter what you’re riding and in any old bib shorts, if you’ve embrocated thoroughly you’ll be assured of a comfortable ride.

Bullshit.

For my first recreational, group ride I slathered on the chamois cream and thought, right! Here we go. The pinching and the bruising and the lesions will be gone with some lubrication. Well, 20 miles into the ride and there was nothing I could do to find comfort on my bike. By the end of the 38 miles, I could barely sit down. I was in so much pain. Chamois cream was not the answer to my prayers.

By this point I was pretty sure that I’d made the wrong decision with my saddle purchase. I read around the subject, not finding much guidance at all, and thought, ok – if the combination of padding and the cut out section is not working, perhaps something firmer and without a cut out would be a good move.

I attempted to book a bike fitting session at a local, well-known store in South West London. No response. So I went into the store, and had a conversation that went something like this:

“Hello. I’m struggling with my Selle Italia Gel Flow. It’s really uncomfortable – can you recommend an alternative?”

“Err. There are a few women’s saddles. You might want to try a different one.”

“Yes, I thought so too. I was hoping you might be able to advise me… I’ve been wondering if a bike fitting would be useful.”

“Err. Let me get the guy in charge of bike fittings. He might know more.”

(Enter new guy)

“Hi. I’m struggling with my Selle Italia Gel Flow. It’s really uncomfortable – can you recommend an alternative?”

“I sell loads of the Gel Flow. Every woman who’s bought it loves it. Your saddle is too high.”

“Errm – I don’t think it is….”

“It is. Everyone puts their saddle higher than they need it. That’s causing the pain. It’s a great saddle, you shouldn’t be having any problems with it.”

“Right. Well, let’s just say that I am. Could you recommend an alternative for me to try?”

“Well, I could, but there would be no point because what you need is a bike fitting.”

“Ok. In that case, may I book one?”

“We’re booked up until the end of August.”

“Ahh. That’s a shame. I actually emailed to try to get an appointment a couple of weeks ago but didn’t hear anything…”

“Really? Well, I never saw the email.”

“Ok…. So, you can’t fit me in for a bike fitting, and you won’t recommend an alternative saddle…”

“No, there’s no point because it won’t be right and you’ll just come back for another. You need a bike fitting.”

“Right, but you can’t give me one. I think we’re done here. “

I left the shop in a huff. Being unequivocally told that because this particular saddle suits some other women, it will be comfortable for me is utterly ridiculous advice. We’re all built differently. One woman’s sit bones are not the same as another’s.

Left to my own devices, I read up some more online, and saw that the Fabric Scoop is really popular with a lot of riders, male and female. A nifty little calculator on the Fabric site tells you which saddle you should go for based on your body type and riding position. Aha! I thought; perhaps this will do it!

The saddle duly arrived, and it looked so smart, and I put it on my bike, and I rode to work. Not bad. Not amazing, but no worse than the Selle Italia, that’s for sure. It was a little bit hard, but nothing was pinching or chafing, and that was a definite improvement. So – foolishly!– after a day of commuting on it, I decided that this was what I would use to ride the Prudential 100.

(I know, I know. But I was stuck between a rock and a hard place at this point, with only 48 hours to go until the event).

The day of the Prudential arrives. I lube up with my trusty chamois cream and pull on my most comfortable bib shorts.

By mile 40, I’m wincing.

60 miles in, I feel like I’ve been kicked, hard, in the crotch.

80 miles in, I fear I may never sit down again.

100 miles, holy cow, my entire undercarriage is in agony. Bruised and aching and just wretchedly sore. (However, still no lesions!)

So, what now?

Well, as luck would have it (though, if luck really had it, I would’ve found all this out a month before the Pru…) a fantastic article appeared on The Guardian’s bike blog by Helen Pidd, recommending the saddle mapping sessions on offer at Cyclefit. The author had been encountering similar difficulties with the Selle Italia Gel Flow and had been given a new lease of cycling life at Cyclefit – which gave me hope.

Cyclefit has centres in Manchester and London so I immediately went online and booked a session at the London centre, near Holborn.

A Cyclefit session ain’t cheap: the two-hour saddle mapping costs £150. But before we go any further, believe me when I say that this is money well spent.

My session was with Jimmy. He popped my bike on a turbo trainer and placed a saddle pressure mapping cover on my existing saddle (the Fabric Scoop) which sent images of the pressure distribution to a computer screen. He set me to work pedaling steadily so that he could see where the pressure was causing a problem.

It was immediately apparent that the saddle was so completely wrong for me that there could be no hope for it. No amount of angling would make it comfortable.

Cyclefit

The image on the left shows the pressure on the existing saddle: my sit bones, which should be bearing the brunt of it, were barely making contact. Meanwhile, my soft tissue was taking all the weight: no wonder I was in so much pain.

I then sat on a strange little clear plastic cushion filled with a substance resembling mayonnaise. This gauged the width of my sit bones. (If I’m honest, I couldn’t actually have told you where my sit bones were before, never mind how wide they might be).

Jimmy fetched a saddle corresponding to that width, set it up on my bike with painstaking precision, and set me pedaling again. There was a big improvement: less movement in my pelvis, less pressure on the soft tissue, and more contact with my sit bones.

Progress.

He fetched the next size up, and suddenly, we were there. Stable pelvis, no contact with soft tissue, and both sit bones in full contact, taking the pressure that bones can withstand so much more effectively than flesh.

Cyclefit
The Bontrager Ajna saddle

Finally, he switched my handlebar stem for one 1cm shorter to reduce my reach.

I found myself in some sort of cycling nirvana.

Finally, I was sitting in comfort, feeling supported, stable, and not constantly shifting to find a (marginally) better position.

The following weekend I tested it for real on a two-hour ride, and it was a revelation. No chamois cream required, no shuffling after ten minutes in the saddle; it was just comfortable.

Interestingly, Jimmy made similar observations about the Selle Italia Gel Flow saddle to Helen Pidd’s technician: the amount of padding is problematic because it doesn’t support, it caves to the pressure. After about six weeks of use, the creases in my Gel Flow saddle already demonstrated the absence of support. It just goes to show that popular opinion is not important where saddles are concerned.

I’m now sitting pretty on a Bontrager Ajna 154mm saddle. It comes in three sizes, and this one is the most appropriate for my sit bones. It might look like a torture implement, but its flat profile and minimal padding serve to reduce pressure on sensitive soft tissue. It’s a winner.

So, if you are struggling to get comfortable in the saddle, do yourself a favour and book a session at Cyclefit. You won’t regret spending the money when you can sit comfortably, I promise.

Cyclefit
Happy bum, happy cyclist: a happy Victoria after the successful pressure mapping.
Cycle ClothingReviewsWomen's Cycling

Vamper.cc finds satisfaction in Morvelo Women’s Timeless Bib Shorts

Morvelo_timeless2
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Tested to the brink on the Prudential with serious saddle discomfort and period pains, these are some of the most comfortable bib shorts on the market.

The world of bibs is vast, isn’t it? By luck rather than by design, in the five months that I’ve been building a cycling wardrobe from scratch I’ve found some winners. The bibs I’ve purchased so far include Castelli Velocissima, Castelli Sorpasso, DHB Aeron Pro Halterneck, RH+ Panther and Morvelo Cacciatore.

I bought the Morvelo Women’s Timeless Bib Shorts for reasons of sheer vanity ahead of the Prudential 100. I already owned Cacciatore, which are my favourite pair – but with Giro d’Italia pink text and a Tricolore trim, they just didn’t coordinate with the jersey and helmet that I really wanted to wear for The Big Ride…

So, down to business: are these bib shorts a good buy?

Yes. And here’s why…

Chamois Comfort

Of all the brands I’ve tried so far, Morvelo chamois pads are the best. And surely the funniest to look at. They are very, very comfortable with soft, smooth fabric and excellent contouring that I find helps alleviate pressure on soft tissue. The pad doesn’t shift and ventilation is good. I’ve only washed these twice so far, but my Morvelo Cacciatore bib shorts are still spot on after more than 30 washes.

 

tremendously effective, and also quite amusing – Morvelo’s suggestively-shaped chamois…

 

Overall Fit

Notes: I’m 5’8” (1.72m) and a curvy UK size 12.

I ordered size Large and they’re a comfortable fit: snug and supportive but not restrictive. I have quite a long body but the straps don’t dig in to my shoulders. The legs are very long which is ok for me, because I’m quite long from hip to knee (with rather short calves). For shorter riders the leg will probably be too long.

The bib straps are comfortable but given the choice, I would much prefer shoulder straps that join the shorts on either side, rather than meeting at my sternum. It’s comfortable to wear, but I like to have my jersey unzipped a little way and the white strap often ends up on show. It’s quite bizarre.


  

Style

Sharp. The monochrome colourway makes these bib shorts versatile – I can wear them with all of my jerseys. The longer length leg looks sleek and smart and the Morvelo logo over the bum means there’s something for the cyclists you leave in your wake to admire…

Value for Money

Worth every penny. Good bib shorts are rarely cheap and it’s one of those essential items that it is worth spending a bit of money on getting right. Morvelo are not the most expensive bib shorts on the market but the quality takes some beating. Highly recommended.