Monday, 4 August 2014

Lego Technic 42030 Volvo L350F Wheel Loader, flagship set review

I only use this blog mainly for posting about my cycling exploits and stuff to do with my leg, but I'm going to start writing about other things I'm interested in too. Here, Lego. I'm an unashamed AFOL (Adult Fan Of Lego), and have been since I was 25, since 8448 :) I will probably write another post about that, but here, I'll reproduce and expand a bit upon a review I wrote of the new Lego Technic flagship set for - it's a licensed model of a Volvo L350F Wheel Loader, so follows in line from the famous Mercedes-Benz Unimog model of 2 years ago. Last year's flagship was the Mobile Crane MkII, an incredible model, so this one has something to live up to...

The beginning of August is special for Lego fans - it's when the 2H (2nd half) of the year sets are released. In particular, it's when the year's Technic flagship set comes out. When I saw online what this year's set was, probably sometime back in March, I have to admit I wasn't filled full of excitement. After the lovely surprise of the Cargo Plane, another construction vehicle. And one that we have a previous (reasonably recent) version of too, 8265. And I will now have a hundred million yellow beams. Pfff.

Still, sometimes looks can be deceiving, and as I have said in a previous review about Technic flagships, I was pretty much always going to get this set. It's expensive - I winced slightly as I parted with 170 pounds (OK, 161.50 with VIP discount) at the Discovery Store in Manchester on Saturday. The pleasant shop assistant made me feel better though by asking "is this for you?" - "yes :)" I replied, smile included. There are few better arguments, it seems to me, for getting an education and a good job than being able to buy the biggest Lego sets....

In-keeping with the price, the box is big, much deeper than the usual boxes. When you open it of course it is not full, but there are lots of bags in there, some big tyres and that enormous bucket, which I think I read is the biggest element Technic has ever had. Wow, it is big - put it next to a minifigure! You also have a whole bunch of power functions stuff: battery box; one each of the four different motors; two remote controls and two IR receivers. There are three linear actuators. I dare say that those parts I just listed account for most of the cost of the set. You get tons of yellow beams, surprisingly few gears, lots of axles, and the portal axle assemblies too. At 1600-something pieces, this set is a lot smaller in piece count than last year's flagship, but when you have all the pieces out on your desk, you do still feel like you have bought a lot of pieces, and piece count isn't everything anyway, as we all know.

The box emptied.
That's one big bucket.
And big tyres too!
All the PF stuff.
There is also of course the sticker sheet, which I won't use, as usual. The instruction book (yes, singular, book) is one of the ones with lots of pages and a spine - can't remember the last time we got one of those, a welcome sight rather than the 3 or so thinner books we've had recently. And I really love that Lego now put the books in bags with a cardboard sheet. I used to despair at the book and sticker sheet being all mangled in the box! Thank heaven those days are over.

Nice manual with a spine, not 3 flimsy separate books.

On to the build then: it's great. Not as long as some of the other flagship sets, but strangely I liked this. It's still a good 4 or 5 hours including unboxing and everything. There are no really tricky bits, and no particularly complicated steps which I suppose is a shame. The build is also slightly weighted towards form rather than function, meaning that there are a lot of steps that make the model look nice as opposed to simply working. You can take that both ways though - sometimes it's nice to put some effort into having it look right. It's very satisfying seeing how the motors fit into the model - they're not all mounted in the way you might expect, and there's stuff too to get your head around that makes the model work. All the way through you are struck by how solid this model is - I guess it has to be to cope with the forces needed to move a good fraction of the weight of the model with the servo motor for steering. Probably it will be hard on the fingers to take to pieces but that's worth it, always.
I like the green engine blocks - usually I find building the engine the worst bit of these models, but because of the new colour it seemed altogether new, like I hadn't actually put one of these engines together a thousand times and could almost do it in my sleep ;) I am also now pretty much convinced that Lego have tried hard to avoid being too tedious with symmetrical builds. This model has a few bits where you are building the 'other side' but it doesn't feel like you're repeating something. I like that a lot.

Here's all the bits, before starting to build - note green engine blocks on right.
Well into the build here, motors and receivers mounted, engine done.
Very near the end, bucket just mounted.

When you get it finished, you are struck by what a beast of a model this is. It's heavy, and big. That's really satisfying. Looking at it on my desk now, I'm happy I bought it. Last year's Crane MkII is awesome, but this year's is awesome in a different way. It's impressively solid. I love it. The wheels and bucket are massive. Did I say that already? Well, they are :)

The remote control functions are great fun too - having two controls and the fact that the functions are arranged sensibly between them means that you can drive it properly, and when you want, operate the bucket properly, both functions at once. I spent a good while just doing n-point turns on my desk top and trying to scoop things up in the bucket.

This is a big, heavy, impressive model!
Impressive front view.
Next to 8265 there is no contest - this thing is amazing. At some point I will probably build them both and put them side by side like I did with the Mobile Cranes, but I already know what the outcome will be. 42030 is awesome.

I rated this set 4/5 overall even though while writing this review I felt like I wanted to give it 5/5. I think it's expensive, but then you do get all the power functions stuff. There are no really new pieces, but then the exception is the new massive bucket. It's not the most complicated Technic model ever, nor is it particularly difficult or challenging to build, but then it is so heavy and big, and the remote functions and play value are excellent. I'll give it 4.5/5.

The finished model, after a bit of playing with the remote control functions.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Wiggle KiloToGo Flat Out in the Fens 2014

Well, that was the longest ride I've ever done by some way. But it wasn't boring, and it wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be.

I mean, 152 miles was never going to be easy, but I was prepared for a real sufferfest which never happened. Good preparation? Good weather? New aerobars? Eating properly? Probably all of these. The weather I think was kind - I had expected it to be a lot windier, which would have made some of the long straight roads quite an ordeal I'm sure. Apparently last year it was like that, so again I have been lucky with the weather! It was hot and I had plenty of suncream on, especially on my left leg which is essentially now just one big scar below the knee. I need to find out whether it's OK to have it in the sun a lot, or whether there's still some risk I'm running by doing that. Anyway, I put loads of factor 50 on it so should've been OK.

On the start line, at Peterborough Regional Centre.

As I said in my pre-ride musings post from last week, I really had no idea what to expect from this ride time or pain wise. I guess I was preparing myself for the worst. Pretty early on though it became clear that I was going to finish this ride somewhat quicker than I imagined, if I could keep the pedals turning! I was using my average speed to gauge my effort, in the first 30 or so miles up to the first feed station, the average was around 18 mph. Big groups of riders were passing me, something which continued through the day, but I wasn't tempted to join any of them. I know all the stuff about effort in a group etc., but I'm sorry to say I just don't like it very much - I don't like being so close to people and not being able to see the road properly in front of me. One or two people is OK, but more than 5 and I'm getting nervous. Plus, these groups were going at about 21 mph, which even factoring in the saved effort is too fast for me I think. I kept reminding myself that my race was with myself, not with anyone else.

In terms of eating, I decided to stop at all 4 feed stations and make sure I was eating along the way. I think I ate more on this ride than I've ever done before, because I was concerned about the bit between 110 and 152, i.e. the end, and how tired I would be. I didn't want to struggle because I had been stupid and not eaten enough. I also thought that signal permitting I could send tweets and texts to Mum and Rebecca from these points.

The stops were at 29, 67, 95 and 130 miles. At all these points I refilled my two bottles, most times with OTE energy drink from sachets I was carrying. I made sure to eat two of the things on offer at each stop; small size cheese and onion pasties, sausage rolls, sandwiches, cakes, half bananas. This was on top of the 3 Mule Bars, one OTE Duo Bar, one packet of Powerbar Shots, 2 OTE energy gels and 2 OTE caffeine gels I ate on the move. The caffeine gels are awesome - I saved these for near the end and had one at 110 miles and the other at 140. They give you a nice boost.

It was the first time I've ridden with aerobars. I got them specially for this ride because of all the long, flat, straight roads. They're brilliant. Apart from anything they give you another position to be in, to be able to keep shifting around every now and again and stay loose. On top of that I think they give about an extra 1-2 mph. This ride was great because I was able to think about and test that during the day. I won't use them all the time, but on rides like this, and the one I'll do with Tijl in Belgium next month, I think they'll be really useful. They're Profile T3 Plus bars from Wiggle, in case you're interested.

The route was not boring. There really are some super straight roads in the Fens though - one of the stretches was, I think, nearly 7 miles straight as an arrow. Wow. The sky is big round there and there were also lots of villages on the way. Lots of interesting water management works too, engineering stuff that reminded me a lot of the Netherlands. Probably the best stretch I can recall without thought was the bit along the River Great Ouse up to Downham Market.

Time-wise I could see after about 50 miles that I was going to do quite well compared to my expectation. I had it worked out by that point that I would have to have a major problem not to end up with a Silver time for this ride, a bit surprising since on the other KiloToGo rides this year I've not even managed Bronze. I think the weather must have been a factor, but having said that I did feel good most of the way, so maybe the training has helped :)

I got a few comments about my Holme Moss jersey, which I wore on purpose as a sign that I'm from a place with big hills. Some guys from Wakefield passed me and let on.

At the end I was able to have a sit down and reflect on the previous 9 hours and 15 minutes. Lots of easy miles was my conclusion, just that there was 152 of them! I wasn't expecting to feel like this, but I think I might do this one again! There was something very different about it, but also very good. You are able to get completely in the zone, it is very relaxing. This is going to sound very silly, but at a couple of points I was actually fleetingly worried about falling asleep.

Resting at the end. Aerobars are brilliant.
Afterwards I had a rest, ate a flapjack, and drove back to the hotel, The Bell Inn in Stilton for a shower. The day ended with a few beers, some phone calls, internet and strava updating and a big juicy burger with stilton on it and chips. Mmmm. I checked my justgiving donation page - link to the right of this page - and it was up to about 450 pounds raised for the North West Air Ambulance. That's great!

Later, back at the hotel, a well-earned beer. Oakham Ales' Bishop's Farewell.

Here's my strava entry for the ride. I was very interested to hear what my friend Tijl would say after he saw this - "absolutely brilliant performance!" was his verdict, and who am I to argue? I won't be being hard on myself this time. My moving time was 8h 33m.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

4 years on, KiloToGo Flat Out in the Fens pre-race thoughts

It's a special weekend this coming one. I'm off to the Fens, east from Peterborough, to ride the Wiggle KiloToGo Flat Out in the Fens sportive. I'm doing the 152 mile option, which will make this by some stretch the furthest I've ever ridden in a day, assuming I complete it of course :)

But it's special because it marks the 4th anniversary of my appointment with destiny, June 21, 2010. The World Cup has been reminding me of it too - I know I watched some of the last one from a hospital bed in Preston but I can't say I remember a right lot of it. Although as an England fan that may be a good thing ;) 

4 years on

Over the 4 years since several factors have returned me to the point where I can consider doing the kinds of rides I used to do, and even go beyond. In the first place there's the NHS, who saved me and put me back together, rebuilt my leg and followed up with me until just recently, to make sure I was as good as they could get me, for free. I suspect that most people in this country have no idea how lucky they are that we have the healthcare system we do. Long may it continue to be so. 

The encouragement of friends and family has been important. None of them have ever 'managed my expectations' which would have been a valid thing for them to try to do, but I guess they know me well enough to know it's not what I wanted. If I haven't already, I'd like to thank them all again for their support - knowing when not to speak as well as when to - and also to apologise again for putting them all through this in the first place.

Finally, and in a rare departure from my usual modest self, I know my attitude has been one of the most important factors. I have tried to stay as positive as I could throughout the whole episode, and for the most part I've succeeded. Last week some people who really didn't have to paid me a massive compliment by describing me as 'amazingly positive' and 'a shining light'. These were the guys from the insurance company, a matter which I'm pleased to say, 4 years on, is now behind me.

It's unlikely I'll ever run again, which crosses off all sorts of things as possible, but I can live with that, and you never know, right? I'll never go a day again without pain in my leg and ankle, but it's the price of being alive. I will probably have another operation in the next couple of years, to break my ankle a few times and hopefully make this pain more manageable, and walking a bit easier. I might have a few more operations to make my leg look nicer, but there's probably not a lot of point is there? The days of me being a leg model are over ;)

There have been moments where I've been really sad and have struggled - I still have flashes of it and there are some persistent and annoying symptoms of post-traumatic stress, but it was worst was when I couldn't ride. In the 895 days I couldn't ride my bike, sometimes it looked a long way off, but the truth is I never genuinely doubted - I knew I'd turn the pedals again eventually and I knew I wouldn't just turn them, I'd push.

And here we are.

Flat Out in the Fens

The furthest I've ever ridden in a day before was 108 miles in 2009 in Wales. Since then I've ridden 100 miles a bunch of times. What are the issues with this ride then? OK well it's flat. I did more climbing within 4 miles of my house the other day than I will do in the whole ride on Sunday. So that makes this one different. Flat brings two potential problems to my mind: first, you have to pedal pretty much the whole time. On a more normal ride you at least get to freewheel down hills if you want a rest, etc. Second, wind. There will be no protection from potentially strong winds. There may be many, many miles riding into a headwind. I don't like that at the best of times, but after 100+ miles that could be a killer.

Got my number and timing chip, and some new OTE bottles and smart bottle cages for the occasion.

Anything else? Well, yes. Eating and drinking. Of course there's the well-stocked feed stations as usual with KiloToGo rides, but availability of food is never my problem - it's eating it. This time I will have to be really disciplined and eat regularly. This is too far to push through I think. Sometimes by 90 miles I'm thinking - I'm hungry and aching a bit but only 10 miles to go... this time it will be 60. Yikes. It's a long way. I will aim to carry enough food with me for the whole ride as usual, and only use the feed stations as top up and to get water. I'll probably adopt my usual strategy of missing the first one altogether. If it's super hot I will need water, but that should be quick.

What else? Fundraising. This time I'm going to ride for the North West Air Ambulance. I didn't need them, but people involved in similar accidents to mine regularly do and regularly get saved by them. I think they're an extremely worthy cause and will for sure help people like me, so they count. I hope to raise a significant amount this time, even though I know people may be getting tired of sponsoring me now - I have to think about that for the future. As usual, you can donate by clicking the JustGiving link on the right hand side of this page.

My other thoughts at the moment to do with the ride are slight worries about pain in my ankle, my contact points (hands and bottom) and lower back. I'm not sure what state I will finish this one in! I'll probably take some Ibuprofen and Paracetamol with me and hope not to need it. Also we can hope that the weather will play ball again - no rain and no wind would be best!  Finally, I have no idea what time to expect or to aim for on this one. As I said, it'll be pedalling pretty much all the time which is not what I'm used to. I was thinking if I finish in 9 hours I'll be happy, but really I don't know if that's realistic or not. I guess we'll find out won't we!

My itinerary for the weekend is to leave on Friday lunchtime - on Friday night I'm staying with friends in Cambridge, who I haven't seen for a long time so that should be fun! Saturday and Sunday night I'm booked into The Bell Inn in Stilton - as in the cheese - that will be lovely I'm sure. On Saturday during the day I will go and find some pretty village to look around or something equally relaxing. When I get to the hotel I might ride for half an hour if the weather is appropriate. It's an early start on Sunday morning - I'm aiming for 7am on the start line - so I decided to stay Sunday night too, didn't fancy driving for 3 hours after this one! So I'll come back on Monday.

I'm sure it'll be a great weekend whatever happens on the ride. I will see another part of the country I've never really seen before and I hope that I can raise some money for a good cause at the same time. I will try my best to write a proper ride report as soon as possible afterwards. I know I'm not always very good at that!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

KiloToGo Cornwall Tor 2014 results as spreadsheet

Here's my spreadsheet of the results from the 2014 edition of KiloToGo's Cornwall Tor ride. With this you can order stuff to your heart's content. I added columns for route option (42,64,95) and gender (M,F).

Hope it's useful to someone!

Friday, 25 April 2014

KiloToGo Cornwall Tor preparations

Tomorrow morning we're going down to Bodmin so I can take part in the KiloToGo Cornwall Tor ride on Sunday. The route looks fantastic - 95 miles out east from Bodmin to the south coast at Looe, then weaving back west and north to the north Cornish coast then back to Bodmin. Should be a fab day in the saddle.

Here's the route.

There's also loads to do round there so we're staying Sunday night too. I'd like to go and see Tintagel, and Rebecca might go to the Eden Project while I'm out on the ride.

On this ride I'm raising money again for the NHS, and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals in particular. I owe them more than I can ever possibly repay. Donate by clicking the link on the right of the page, if you want.

This morning I made sure that the bike is ready, I put new rear brake blocks on so I have a chance of controlling my speed on fast descents. I gave it a wash too. I hadn't washed it since the Lionheart ride so it was a bit dirty... but now it's all clean and sparkly.

I love my race bike.

As usual the weather is unpredictable so I'll need to take gear for all possibilities. Hopefully it'll be short sleeve weather but the weather forecast doesn't think so.

The stuff that will keep me going... hopefully!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Endura Trek Lionheart 2014 results as spreadsheet

Here is a link to an Excel spreadsheet (.xlsx) of the results from the 2014 edition of the Endura Trek Lionheart ride, which took place on March 23. I made this mainly because I wanted to see the times in order of the hill climb up King Alfred's Tower, so I could figure out that I was 479th fastest (!) and I make the sheet available for others who may want to play with the data in a way that the racetimingsystems site doesn't cater for.

All I did was cut and paste the data from the pages on their web site and reformat it. Not difficult, but saves you some time. The column 'E/B' is the ratio of the time the rider started the King Alfred's Tower climb to their total time for the ride. In principle this number lets you filter out those riders on 100 mile or km route independently of what route they entered (column 'Entered'), e.g. < 0.4 = 100 miles, > 0.4 = 100 km. Dirty, but should work in most cases.

The link:

While you're here, you may want to consider donating money to the NHS, who saved my life and rebuilt my left leg after I was left for dead on a road in 2010. Read the condensed version on the page The Accident & My Leg. Donate by clicking on the justgiving link to the right.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Endura Lionheart 2014

On the start line, Longleat House.
I picked the Endura Lionheart as my first race of the year for several reasons: one, I've never been to this part of the country before (rural Wiltshire, nr. Frome); two, I read about it in the book Classic Cycling Race Routes by Chris Sidwell; three, the event centre is Longleat Safari Park (well, OK, Longleat House) and the start goes past the lion enclosure! Lots of good reasons :)

This is my third event raising money for the NHS who saved my life and rebuilt my leg. You can still donate if you follow the justgiving link to the right of this page.

Rebecca and I drove down on the Saturday and stayed in Frome at the Old Bath Arms Hotel which is very quirky - I seem to know how to pick these places - without realising I'd chosen a pub/hotel which has themed rooms! We were in the Hollywood Room which was lovely. I was quite impressed with this place actually. Frome is a town which seems to be on the border somewhere between a tourist place and real life, if you know what I mean. We found a good Italian restaurant, Castello's, across the street from the hotel and then after a pint it was sleep time for me!

Sunday morning and I was up at the crack of dawn raring to go see the lions. Frome is about 5 miles from Longleat so I had decided to bike to the event centre to avoid the stress of parking and getting everything sorted there. I took my time and got my stuff together in the hotel car park, then set off at about 0725 for the event. Found it no problem, only had to look at the map once to make sure I was going the right way.

First thing on getting there - this is a really really good venue for an event centre. There's lots of space, beautiful grounds, the house itself. Top. The weather was OK but it felt like it might become a bit changeable, and so it proved! Because I'd ridden in I just went straight to the start line and queued up. Got underway about 0815. First stretch is through the estate and past the safari park. No animals to see :( Maybe it was too early for them or maybe they don't come near the fences, I don't know. But getting chased off by lions was only a dream after all.

A few miles in, still looking fresh.

The first part of this route, the first 40 miles or so, is hilly. Not major climbs, but up-down rolling hills and countryside. Well OK, there's one major climb, King Alfred's Tower, which on this ride was a timed section too. The weather over this first half of the ride was very odd. At one point there were ice crystals coming out of the sky so hard that I had to shield my face with my hand so I could carry on seeing where I was going! It only lasted a few minutes, and thank goodness it didn't happen on a fast descent, but it was pretty mental.

Anyway, I digress, King Alfred's Tower. I don't mind admitting that I look these routes up before I do them, and I tend to make a mental note of any bits of road that have an upward chevron on them on the Ordnance Survey map. This ride had two the second of which was the aforementioned road up to the tower. The tower itself is visible from a lot of the first part of the ride, and it sort of looms in your head, you know that after 32 miles you've got this big hill to get up. I'd never ridden it before, so didn't know really what to expect, but the ride brochure described it as a 'killer climb'. Anyway it was pretty tough, as expected. There was also a car just in front of me to take into account with pacing, as well as people getting off and walking. The climb has three main pitches I would say, and after the second one, when the third and final one came into view, two people in front of me decided they'd had enough. Luckily they were far enough ahead not to bother me as they got off, otherwise I would not have been happy. On this last bit I was just thinking "14 operations, 14 operations" and that got me to the top. My heart rate was at absolute maximum on that last bit. In truth though, my climbing legs may have come back. I wasn't scared of being clipped in like I was on the Ride with Brad last year. I guess I somehow knew that I could get to the top, no matter how bad it got. So it was. I also don't mind admitting that my leg situation spurred me on. I wanted to see people get off and go past them. In the opposite sense, one rider blasted past me right at the top making a lot of noise which made me chuckle. Maybe he was one of the fastest up it, I don't know, I didn't get to see his number :)

After King Alfred's Tower, the emotional side of the ride changed as I began to contemplate the second half. At the second feed station (again I hadn't stopped at the first as per my usual strategy) there was a lot of food and drink, including wine tasting which I don't think I've ever seen before at a sportive feed stop! The feed stops on this ride are billed as being amazing and it's true there was a lot of cake and sandwiches etc. and Haribo! which I love and took a big handful of. I didn't stop long though - I still had my eye on the time and wanted to try to get round in 7 hours. It was already looking doubtful but I decided to push on and see what the state of it looked like at the third and final feed stop at 70 miles.

Wine tasting at a feed station after 48 miles? Surely not!
By this point I was cold and wet, the weather didn't know what to do and I didn't have my jacket with me. So I didn't stop long here, just a toilet break and a refuel. Fortunately the weather settled and I didn't see rain again until the finish. The second half of the route, after the split point, is a long gradual descent along the Nadar Valley and then a long gradual ascent back up the Wylye Valley. Both of these were scenic and enjoyable, even after 50 miles already!

After feed stop 3, I knew my 7 hour target was pretty much impossible, and then getting a puncture after about 72 miles put the tin lid on it. I nearly threw my bike in the hedge at that point, I hate getting punctures, and that's two on the last 4 rides. Bah! I have even now got one of those CO2 inflation things but I didn't use it. I just decided to take my time, eat and drink a bit and press on.

This is the part of these 100 mile rides that I find the hardest psychologically, I know that once I get within 10 miles or so of the finish some adrenalin will kick in, but the hour between 70 and 85 miles is usually pretty tough. As it turned out this one wasn't too bad, the weather held out and the route was interesting enough that my mind didn't go anywhere near a dark place :)

My OTE caffeine gel after 85 miles really picked me up - they are amazing those things - until the finish. The last few miles before the run in to Longleat House were a bit of a tease. You go right past the safari park entrance and then do another couple of miles to arrive round at the driveway into Longleat Estate. I have to say this is probably the best run in to a finish of a sportive I've ever done, right down the perfectly straight driveway to the house. Awesome. That made a brilliant end to an excellent route. Happy :)

Here's a video of the run in from my Virb camera:

Collecting my medal off the nice lady at the finish line.

I find myself wondering about these sportives now that have two route options. I'm sure it used to be that more people did the longer option, but now it seems that after you pass the split point on the long route you barely see anyone. It could be that I'm slower now so everyone's in front of me, I guess I can check the results to see if that's true or not. But it could also be that more people are now doing the short option, which is a shame because I think it has led to the following situation: the first part of the ride is more interesting terrain-wise because everyone does it, then the short route zips back to the event centre, while the long route gets a much less varied extra 40 miles bolted on. I'm not really complaining about the run out along the valley and back, but it was definitely less interesting than the first 40 miles. And I think it was the same on the Wiggle Rut in October.

Having said that I would definitely do this ride again, and recommend it. No wonder it's so popular. Next time though I want to take another day and see the animals myself. I'm a bit jealous of Rebecca's day, and I think she's not a bit jealous of mine ;)

At the finish, Longleat House.
Done the ride, got the T-shirt!

Finally, here's my strava track for this ride. The observant will notice that the moving time was exactly 7 hours! That's quite amazing considering it was my target. If only I could do these rides without stopping :)