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Cycling the Silk Road: we chat to the teens about to embark on a 10,000km ride

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Two teenagers from the UK are about to embark on a 10,000km cycling challenge completed by fewer people than have climbed Mount Everest.The Silk Road route, which stretches from Beijing to Tehran, is considered to be the longest, hardest, hottest and coldest in the world.

We caught up with Charles Stevens and Will Hsu before they boarded their flight to China to find out how they have prepared for the expedition and how they’re feeling about the epic journey.

The pair are cycling to raise funds for A Child Unheard. Donations are being collected via the pair’s official JustGiving page and 100% of funds raised will go directly to the charity. So far, they have raised more than £12,000 towards their goal of £25,000.

Cycling the Silk Road
The route commences in Beijing and ends in Tehran, via Mongolia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

What prompted you to choose the Silk Road route out of all the courses you could have taken?

There are so many places I want to travel but Silk Road is definitely one of the most fascinating. Not only is it steeped in history and culture but it has become so foreign and unknown to all of us in Europe. We rarely hear about Central Asia and visit these countries even less. So it will be a chance to visit, places, cultures and peoples which are so detached from our own.

We also both share interests in history and economics, and this route will be fascinating with regards to the history of the Silk Road, previously the centre of civilisation up until the 16th Century, as well as its recent economic development through China’s New Silk Road Policy where they are investing in connecting Central Asia with Europe and China. The cultural atavism of the region will not survive forever and we want to see it before it disappears.

How have you been training for the expedition? When did you start training?

We started serious training at the beginning of the year and it has gradually increased in intensity. Training has consisted of a mixture of indoors gym-based work – spin sessions, core and strength training – along with plenty of hours in the saddle on long cycles and interval training rides. But also nutrition has been important, making sure we’re eating lower fat and higher carb diets to get us in good shape for the challenge. We have also been taking amino acid based energy drinks and zinc, magnesium and potassium supplements to help with muscle fatigue.

What bikes will you be riding along the Silk Road? Tell us about them.

Charles has chosen a Condor Disc Heritage, a real classic for British tourers, whereas Will has chosen the Surly Disc Trucker from America, an equally respected brand amongst cycle tourists, and there has been much debate between the two of us on who has made the better choice, the jury is still out on this one.

Cycling the Silk Road
Charles and his classic custom-built Condor Disc Heritage.

We both had our bike’s custom built for the ride and we’ve tried to use the same parts as each other where possible so we can share parts. For example, we’ve both gone for 27C rims, and a set of 28″ tyres for roads and 35″ for off road sections. We also both chose disc brakes as we think they’re more durable than rim brakes and also perform better.

Cycling the Silk Road
Will has opted for the Disc Trucker from American cycle brand Surly for the ride.

What support will you have along the Silk Road route, if any? Have you been brushing up your bike maintenance knowledge?

We do have basic support, where we are met every evening and have the luxury of a hot meal provided and things like that. It’s quite similar to the way the Marathon Des Sables works, where you’re self-reliant during the day with regards to navigation and any minor problems, but you have the safety net of knowing you won’t be left stranded in the Gobi Desert if you end up passing out (but hopefully nothing worse). So we do have to have some bike maintenance knowledge, which I was severely lacking in before this trip. But we’ve been brushing up, so we know how to change tyres, fix punctures, clean and change chains and brake pads.

What kit will you be taking on the Silk Road challenge? What brands/favourite items do you rely on for comfort and performance in the saddle?

Space is at premium on a trip like this, so the kit list is quite minimalist. My favourite kit that I’ve used are my Assos bib and leg warmers. Although Assos kit is pricey, I’ve been glad to have really good cycle shorts (lots of padding). The best shorts I’ve used at a more sensible price are from First Ascent, which is actually a South African brand I would also recommend.

The saddle is so important when your sitting on it for the amount of time we will be and I can’t speak highly enough of my Brooks leather saddle for comfort. However, when I have had any chafing Lucas’ Papaw ointment has saved me more than once!

One of the biggest challenges on long multi-day rides is saddle discomfort. What is your strategy for staying comfortable on your bike over the course of the Silk Road?

People always say prevention is better than cure. So investing in a good pair of cycling shorts and using chamois cream will hopefully do the trick. But having a good saddle really helps reduce my concerns about discomfort.

What speed are you aiming for? Will you be taking it easy, or do you have a schedule you plan to stick to?

We do have a schedule but we’re not trying to kill ourselves by racing from Beijing to Tehran; we really want to be able to enjoy the experience and have time to interact with our surroundings. So our average daily distance is between 100-130km but we do have longer days, as well as rest days. Our longest day is over 200km. Our speed will be really dependent on roads and climb for the day. For instance, when we’re climbing the Pamir Mountains up to 4,600m it will be slow going but as long as we finish the day’s riding before dark we’ll be happy.

With only a week to go before embarking on the Silk Road adventure, how do you feel?

It’s really a mixture of nerves and excitement. I can’t wait to set off and start exploring but I don’t think it has completely sunk in: the idea of being on a bike for the next 4 months. It’s still quite surreal to find something that we’ve been planning and dreaming about for so long finally becoming reality. But we definitely feel ready and we’ve had the time to deal with any minor setbacks and injuries. Our concern now is staying motivated and focused during the trip as we know it isn’t going to be easy to adapt to our newly chosen lifestyle of cycling, wild camping, and living more basically.

You can learn more about Charles and Will’s challenge at www.beijingtotehran.com. You can also follow their progress on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Featured

Weekend bike project: spraying a saddle to match your bike

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I had no intention, really, of getting into road cycling. But when I was roped into signing up for the Prudential 100, one thing lead to another and before I knew it, I was accepting delivery of a good entry-level carbon road bike from Sheffield-based Planet X. I didn’t want anything garish and heavily branded, and the low-key decals and black frame seemed suitably restrained. I was content with my choice and I wasn’t particularly interested in any road bike customisation. But after experiencing some serious saddle pain, I took myself down to Cyclefit in Holborn for a pressure mapping session. I came away with a fantastic Bontrager Ajna saddle, but unfortunately, at the time, Cyclefit only had the white version in stock. To their credit, they were happy for me to go back when the black version was in stock to swap it; but work was so busy that I just couldn’t get back into central London. So I left it, and settled for white. But it’s been bugging me since August. With nothing else white on the bike, it just seemed to stick out like a sore thumb. Comfortable, yes. But aesthetically pleasing? No.

Road bike customisation
Before: bright pink accents on a black bike. All good! Oh… Apart from the white saddle, which DOES NOT MATCH AT ALL.

And then I had a flash of inspiration.

Fabric dye.

I did a bit of research, and discovered TRG Super Color Spray, for use on leathers and synthetic leathers. £7.24 from Amazon. I bought a can. And, finally, we have outdoor space at our new house, and we had a bright, dry, breezy day. I took the plunge. I removed the whole stem, complete with saddle, and drove it into the grass. I carefully draped an old cloth through the rails, and stood back, and sprayed, and marvelled as my comfortable-but-not-aesthetically-pleasing saddle developed a glossy jet black lustre. I was anxious in case it didn’t work, wouldn’t dry and would cost me a whole new saddle… But it did dry, and it looks superb, and finally, my bike looks the way I want it to. WIN.

Road bike customisation
After: everything matches! It looks so much more slick…
Road bike customisation
Finally, it looks just the way I want it to…
FeaturedSportivesWomen's Cycling

Vamper’s #NewYearRevolutions – our 2016 cycling resolutions

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Regular readers will no doubt have noticed our absence over the past few weeks.

We promise, it isn’t that we don’t care.

Unfortunately, as any amateur cyclist will understand, life has an unwelcome habit of obstructing one’s hobbies sometimes.

Left to our own devices, we would have gladly spent much of our Christmas break cycling – but our Christmas was spent driving around the country, from our home in Surrey up to the flooded land of Yorkshire, across to Cheshire, down to Devon and back up to The Cotswolds for a whirlwind of festive family activities. With a car already full of apparel to suit every eventuality, from dinner parties and country walks to husky driving in the rain (we kid you not), it dawned on us that trying to add bikes and kit to the mix for a possible ride out if the rain were ever to let up was probably not a worthwhile exercise. We’re happy to say that it was, actually, the right call: we struggled to drive along the flooded roads in Yorkshire and nothing would have made us risk our lives on bikes in those conditions.

Unfortunately, as any amateur cyclist will understand, life has an unwelcome habit of obstructing one’s hobbies sometimes.

The moment Christmas was over, we dove headfirst into completing the purchase of our first home – the new Vamper.cc HQ. Another fortnight of bike-free life, with evenings spent packing, and then unpacking, and finally, passing out with exhaustion.

A month after our last real bike ride, we’re happy to say that we’re all travelled out and settled in our new home. The bike room is up and running (bigger and better than ever!) and we’re now getting very excited about what the year holds for our two-wheeled adventures.

So, without further ado, here are our 2016 cycling resolutions… Share yours with us on Twitter with #NewYearRevolutions.

  1. Turbo charge our lives with Zwift: we have set up a dedicated bike room in our new home complete with turbo trainer and huge screen for indoor workouts. As I lack the attention span to ride indoors on my own, we’ll be adding a second turbo trainer so that we can train together. You’ll find us on Zwift as Matt – Vamper.cc and Victoria – Vamper.cc. Look out for us!
  2. Complete a Time Trial event: I signed up for The Tour of Cambridgeshire Chrono TT in June, which is going to require some serious practice and determination.
  3. Improve on last year’s Prudential 100 RideLondon times: ok, last year was our first try – not to mention my first sportive. We were proud to get round in one piece. But this year, we want to improve our times dramatically. We’re aiming for five hours.
  4. Incremental upgrades: Yes, we’d both love new bikes. Show us a cyclist who doesn’t hanker after a new ride and we’ll show you a pig fluttering through the sky. But we’ve just bought our first house, so we’re going to add incremental upgrades to the bikes we already own. Matt is planning a groupset upgrade to SRAM Red, and I’m planning a new wheelset purchase…
  5. Join the French Revolution: We will be undertaking the Granfondo Les Deux Alpes in the Ecrins National Park, which takes a superb route along unspoiled roads between Oisans and Valbonnais. We’ll take in climbs including Alpe d’Huez and Col de la Croix de Fer as well as exploring the area made famous by the Tour de France, Marmotte and Etape. Time to brush up our Français!

Is there anything you would like us to get involved with or come along to? Please feel free to contact us at matt@vamper.cc or victoria@vamper.cc.

The new bike room at Vamper.cc is coming together - we'll be adding a second turbo trainer shortly!
The new bike room at Vamper.cc is coming together – we’ll be adding a second turbo trainer shortly! No excuse to miss a ride because of the weather now…
Cycling Tips

Lessons learned: Five things I’ll take from cycling in 2015

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  1. You will get faster. Two years ago the idea of a sub-twenty minute lap of Richmond Park was unthinkable: now, it’s normal. You might think that your current average speed is about as good as it gets – but trust me, you’ll look back at your old Strava times and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

  2. Don’t fixate on a single training strategy. To become a better rider, you need to alternate: sometimes you should focus on speed, but sometimes it’s about pushing yourself to ride further. Distance and endurance are vital building blocks on which to increase your strength and therefore build speed – while practising those sprints on shorter rides will boost your power for long outings.

  3. It’s no use waiting for the mood to take you. No matter how much you love cycling, you won’t always feel like riding. Yes, you’ll be tired; hungover; the weather won’t be ideal… but you have to ride. If you wait for ideal conditions you’ll never get any better. What’s more, you’ll be amazed by how often your best rides will be those you didn’t much fancy.

  4. Don’t be a lone ranger. Riding with others is a really enjoyable experience, and joining a cycling club will help you improve your technique and road craft. Take the plunge – you might not love the first one you try, but there are plenty around so ride out with a few groups until you find the one that suits you.

  5. It’s not all about the bike. You might tell yourself that you’ll be faster on a better bike – but actually, what will make you a better cyclist is a better you. Losing those excess pounds and taking care of yourself will make you faster, fitter and stronger. (That doesn’t mean you won’t want, or need, another bike as well. But don’t buy it until you deserve it.)

Vamper’s Matt took up road cycling in 2012 but 2015 was the turning point when it went from hobby to lifestyle.
Vamper’s Matt took up road cycling in 2012 but 2015 was the turning point when it went from hobby to lifestyle.
Cycling AccessoriesFeatured

KitBrix builds on core success with launch of winter 2015 accessories range

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Following the successful launch of its military inspired kitbag solution in 2014, British cycle accessories brand KitBrix unveiled its Winter 2015 range of bags and accessories at a packed launch event last week.

Hosted at the very impressive Rocket & Rascals cycle café and shop in Poole, Dorset, the brand showcased a range of accessories designed to complement the flagship product, the KitBrix kitbag.

The event featured guest appearances from British Olympic cyclist Simon Lillistone, (an interview with Simon will feature on Vamper.cc in coming days), the team from road cycling tour specialists Ride25 and representatives from Team Raleigh GAC, with whom KitBrix have signed a partnership deal.

Robert Aldous and Simon Lillestone
KitBrix Founder and Director Robert Aldous with
British Olympic Cyclist Simon Lillestone discuss competitve cycling’s past, present and future

 

KitBrix Winter Accessories 2015 Range

Available to order now, the new range of accessories features:

MiniBrix – A smaller 24 x 17 x 19cm polyester and PVC version of the main KitBrix bag. It features an ID card holder, military inspired reinforced grab handle, webbed outer pockets, water-resistant double lined tarpaulin construction, reflective strips, robust base and insulated double membrane material.

The MiniBrix has a UK RRP of £19.00

DobiPak – A 30 x 2 x 59cm dry bag designed to hold muddy and wet cycle gear in a water resistant roll-down pouch, which then neatly sits inside the KitBrix bag. It features inner water-resistant double membrane fabric, a reversible inner for easy cleaning, military-style instructions, a guide to heart rate zones and a roll down top forming an easy-grab handle with a clip fastening.

The DobiPak has a UK RRP of £14.00

WashPak – The 25 x 9 x 12.5cm WashPak is an easy-to-clean and light toiletries and wash kit solution that carries on the design ethos of the main KitBrix bag, allowing you to find items quickly and easily. It features a leather grab handle, water repellent fabric, a large pull zip, an easy clean double-layered tarpaulin inner and an inner transparent pocket.

The WashPak has a UK RRP of £16.00

MicroDry – The 100 x 150cm microfibre towel is designed to be an essential part of an athlete’s kit, whilst also being ideal for use at the gym or pool. The windproof towel is constructed using natural fibres and is generously sized in comparison to many other microfibre towels.

The MicroDry has a UK RRP of £17.00

The KitBrix Winter Accessories Range
The KitBrix Winter Accessories Range features the MiniBrix, DobiPak, WashPak and the MicroDry

The CitiBrix Coming Soon!

Also announced at the event was the forthcoming introduction of the CitiBrix, a commuter-focused version of the KitBrix which has been designed to provide a solution to those who cycle before or after work and need to transport fitness kit as well as business items on their daily commute. The Citibrix will launch in Q1 2016 with pre-orders already being taken.

Rocket & Rascals Cafe
Rockets & Rascals in Poole can give any cycle cafe/store a run for its money.