Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 New Year Resolutions Review

The year comes to a close and it is time to see what happened to my New Year Resolutions.

Yoga Everyday

Well, this didn't go so well. Overall I managed about every second day, though I have done most of it in the first half of the year. But it turned into a habit now, so I tend to do it a few times a week.

Cycling Mini Adventures 

I managed to do quite a few and had fun doing them.

Draw something every day

This turned out to be pretty much a failure. While it was going good at the beginning of the year I just gave up after a while. It was just impossible to find the time or inspiration to draw.

Blog once a month

Nearly...this should be number 11 for the year.

12 Books

It was a difficult start, but then I found some easy to read thriller series and space operas and ended up reading 23 books.

Some more goals ... 

During the year I picked up a few more smaller goals and habits where I have been more or less successful.

I had the cycling goal of reach 8000km for the year and achieve all Strava Climbing and Gran Fondo challenges. But an illness in December made this impossible. So I just got 11 of the 12.

I also started to do Vegetarian Mondays with a 64% success rate. I found it difficult when traveling or when there were social events.

I worked on my Spanish with Duolingo for most of the year and finished all the lessons. You have to keep it up though so you don't loose it again.

And I reached my goal weight. The remaining fat has somehow to be replaced by muscles.

Of to the next year...

I haven't quite decided on anything yet, but I definitely take it a lot more easy :-)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Shanghai 144 hour transit visa

Short tip this time, just to confirm to anyone googling for the 144 hour transit visa for Shanghai that it really works.

I have just been to Shanghai using the 144 hour transit visa. My trip was from Barcelona via Dubai to Shanghai and finally Manila.

You can find more information on the net, but this is how it basically works:

  • you can stay only 144 hours (there are some rules on when these begin and end)
  • it has to be transit, you can't just return to your origin after the visit. you have to go to a third country (Hong Kong doesn't count either)
  • you have to use one of the two main airports  in Shanghai, you can't just use any odd border (I think there is a port option too)
  • it doesn't cost anything
  • you have to have a passport from certain countries Europe/Schengen and USA are fine for example  

The main problem of the transit visa is that nobody knows about it. The Chinese consulate here had no idea and the Emirates staff also had not heard about it.

It is best to bring a printout of your flight tickets to Shanghai and continuing to the next country, plus a printout of the the hotel you are using in Shanghai.

When you do the check in at your point of origin the airline staff will ask you for your visa, which obviously you don't have. If you then say transit ticket they might insist that it is only for 24h, you will just have to convince them.

Once you land in Shanghai it is much easier, there is a special queue just for the 144 hour (and 72 hour) transit visa. In my case it was just about ten people, but it still took about an hour to process. Mainly because most of those people didn't full fill the requirement of the visa and were for example travelling back to the country of origin and not a third country.
As I had everything correct and the printouts ready it only took about two minutes and I was in Shanghai.

Leaving is equally quick, no hassle at all. Again for the check in at the airline desk you might want to have the printouts of any following flights, depending on where you are going.

In summary: a very nice visa and a good idea, but it has to be wider published to be really easy to use

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Solo cycling weekend in Ripoll

Amazingly this is the first multiple day cycling trip that I have done alone so far. I had the weekend for myself and decided to use it to explore some new roads in Catalonia.

After asking my cycling friends for some tips I decided on using Ripoll as a base. It is a two hours and €8 train ride from Barcelona and surrounded by nature parks and nice mountains.

I found a reasonably cheap Airbnb, which I booked from Friday evening to Monday.
I had been warned by the host that the stairs are steep, many and without much room to move a bicycle. And she was absolutely right. I still managed though and otherwise the flat was really nice, with a washing machine (!) and fully equipped kitchen. I cooked every day and basically lived on pasta.

I had picked some routes before, but decided on the day which one to pick. The weather turned for the worse and it was a bit colder than I expected. I am not an early riser anyway, but in this case I waited until 10:00 to start each ride so that it could warm up a bit. In the end I only got into the rain once though.
Many thanks have to go to Mauro to helping me with the routes and suggesting the area in the first place.


Ripoll - Olot - Oix - Beget - Camprodon - Ripoll  relive movie

I decided to this ride first, because it was relatively flat and I was expecting rain. It started to reain just after Olot and continued for another two hours. I was glad that I had bought some of the gear that kept me warm (see below).
A very nice ride on mostly quiet roads, lot of nature and nice climbs. In Olot I also climbed the volcano, which has a little church on top.


Ripoll - Montgrony - Castellar de n'Hug - La Molina - Toses - Planoles - Ribes de Freser - Ripoll
relive movie

It warmed up a bit so I went a bit higher and to the west. The main goal was La Molina, but the highlight was Montgrony, with basically no cars and great views. The climb was also nice and the only place where I saw some other cyclists.
In Catellar de n'Hug they do gigantic croissants, but they were a bit big for just one person. Maybe a nice snack in a group.
The return via Toses was equally nice, small single lane road winding down back to Ripoll.


Ripoll - Santa Maria de Besora - Vidra - Ciuret - Olot - Banyoles - Girona relive movie

I packed up and made myself on the way to Girona to take the train from there. I expected it to get a lot warmer, the forecast was 28C for Girona, while it was only 10C in Ripoll in the morning.
I picked a tiny agricultural road that winded its way to Olot. I had checked some of it on Streetview before, just to make sure it was really a road. It was quite rough, most of it was concrete and not asphalt, which made it slow.
But the nature was nice, lots of cows, sheep, horses and birds of prey. No traffic at all.
I had to stop for water in Vidra, which was the first fountain I saw.
There might be a nicer way from Olot to Girona, but this was OK and for a Monday the cars were not too annoying.

I might be imagining it, but the drivers around this area seem to be especially nice to cyclists. And they are already pretty nice in the Barcelona countryside. In Girona they are as bad as in all the cities though.


I kind of went the bike-packing route again. I used a large waterproof Ortlieb saddle bag, a small Decathlon 13€ handlebar bag and a small sports bag on my back.
I had a set of cheap clothes for walking around in town that I disposed of in Ripoll (Our cycling group calls it "Decathlon gift bag"). With all the other things that I used up on the trip, like energy food and sun screen I was able to also leave the sports bag.
For the first two days I used my small saddle bag, which I had brought in the Ortlieb one. And on the last day going to Girona just saddle and handlebar bag. I can't stand cycling longer distances with something on my back.


For this trip I also used some new gear, which turned out to be great.

Oakley Radar EV Path Photochromic - my first photocromatic glasses. I mainly bought them for the autumn and spring where I tend to cycle to work in the sun and home in the sunset or night. Until now I had another pair of Oakleys with a few sets of lenses and I swapped them during the day. This is obviously not ideal.
This pair also only has a half frame, which helps with ventilation and makes it easier to look down, for example at the GPS.
I still have to get used to how light they are, sometimes they feel like they are slipping up because there is not enough weight on my nose.

Sportful Fiandre Light NoRain Arm Warmers - arm warmers, you can't really go wrong, they are all more or less the same. These ones are in neon yellow, windproof and a bit rain resistant.

Castelli Perfetto Light Short Sleeve Jersey - I have been looking for something like this for ages. A jersey you can wear directly on the skin, with the usual back pockets, usable in warm conditions, windproof and reasonable water resistant. 
The most know option is the Castelli Gabba, but from what people say it is really for colder weather and when it is really cold I wear a long sleeve anyway. 
The Perfetto worked perfectly. I used in in temperatures between 10C and 25C, in the dry and in torrential rain. It did keep me dry all the time, it didn't feel to warm and on the long and cold descents it kept me comfortable. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What is in my bag. Part 1: Small Saddlebag

I wanted to this for a while, but it came up again recently, so here it goes.

This is my small saddle bag, that I use daily and in group rides. For sportives or Gran Fondos I use a slightly bigger bag, which I will come to in a different post.

I don't really like to have too much stuff in the jersey pockets. On the usual rides I just carry my phone, cash, credit card and keys and maybe one gel. When it is colder or changing also a wind jacket.
  • mini tool
  • chain tool
  • the silver tools, where I have no idea what they are for
  • tire levers
  • CO2 cartridge and valve
  • spare tube, this is a pretty big and robust one for 28mm tires 
  • chain pins
  • tube valve extenders, in case I have to borrow a tube
  • tube valve tool
  • presta adapter, to use petrol station compressors
  • patches
  • spare contact lens

All of this fits into a Lezyne Roll Caddy, which looks nice and fits to the saddle easily. 

In case you are wondering where my pump is: it is a small Topeak pump fitted to one of the bottle holders.

Use the comments for any tips or questions.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

La Ruta Minera

Mauro talked me into taking part in the La Ruta Minera sportive, conveniently he broke his collarbone before and didn't join.

On paper this looked like a lot of fun. It is a bit shorter than Gran Fondo La Mussara and a "bit" more climbing.

The event starts and finishes in Berga, which is an hour away with the car. There is no good rail connection, so I rented a car for the long weekend.
I booked a hotel through the sportive organisation from Friday to Sunday, with the race being on Sunday. The Hotel HCC Ciutat de Berga was nothing special, but the front desk was very friendly and he did the sportive last year. He even checked out my gears to make sure I was not trying with a 11-25 cassette. They allowed bikes in the rooms for this weekend and also provided extra early breakfast and late checkout on Sunday.

Saturday was for relaxing and sight seeing. The old town of Berga is pretty and for the nerds they have the only Free Software Street in the world.

Sunday the race. I felt good. I had stuffed myself with pasta the previous days. I had water and gels. The bicycle was mostly OK (some problems with the bearings in the front wheel). All systems go.

Maybe the uphill start should have given me a clue, but the temperature was nice and so was the landscape. The first climb was easy to manage around 600m of climbing. But the second one already took most out of me, 1000m of climbing with one ramp of 23% gradient.
Distance wise this was only the halfway point and lots of climbing remained.

Before the next big climb the temperature went up to 37C with nearly no tree coverage. On the last hill the heat took everything out of me. I stopped a few times in the shadow just to cool down again.

The finish line obviously was also a climb. Overall there were only two sections that were flat and allowed me to slipstream a bit.
That my descending sucks also didn't really help.

But ... I did finish and it is a beautiful area of Catalunya. The organisation was also lovely, it felt like a big family. There were less than 600 cyclists taking part, which is a lot less than my previous sportives.

I am probably not going to try this again, but will visit the area when it is a bit cooler :-)

Some more photos in my google photo album.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Half Time for New Year Resolutions

Half a year is over and it is time to see how my New Year Resolutions are going.

Yoga Everyday

Pretty well I would say. Since I started tracking it with HabitBull I have done it in three of four days. I found it harder when traveling or with days where I have work and evening events. But I am happy with this so far.

Cycling Mini Adventures 

I didn't put a number on this, but I was imagining something like about once a month. I had to cancel the Velothon Berlin because of work. But I did some other stuff.

This month a trip to Andorra and Berga.

Draw something every day

90% success in drawing something, the number for recognizable things is lower.

Blog once a month

If you count this one for last month I am fine.

12 Books

This was ambitious, it it got worse before it got better.

  • The Girl on the Train - very nice, I read this very fast
  • Remote - rubbish, a string of fortune cookie texts
  • Ordinary Thunderstorms, good start - bad middle - no end
  • Seveneves - I gave up, this must be the most boring book in the world. It is like watching the paint dry, where you already know which part drys first.
  • The Expanse 1-5 - I found this through goodreads, it is a very simple space opera with some nice ideas and characters. Now I have to wait until the author writes more books.

So I am doing good so far, it can only get worse...

Monday, May 23, 2016

Gran Fondo La Mussara 2016 Report

Last year I attended the the Gran Fondo La Mussara, it is a great event, well organized and with a beautiful route.
Sadly I was not able to finish it. I had to give up after 110 of the 189 km. I was not properly prepared due to various injuries and illnesses in the beginning of the year. And I got another injury during the ride.
But I decided to give it another try this year, so I registered early as this event sells out pretty fast.

Registering early including an hotel turned out to be a problem. The hotel forgot all registrations and notified the organizers with one week to spare. Luckily I found another hotel, which turned out to be a bit more expensive, but much better. It is just one kilometre from the start, has really big rooms, you are allowed to take your bike to the room and they organized a special early breakfast for the riders. So if you are in the area I can highly recommend Brea's Hotel, maybe not for a romantic weekend, but for riding or doing anything at the Fira it works out brilliantly.

Another fun bit this year was the panic about disc brakes at sportives in Spain. Luckily this got sorted out beforehand and doesn't affect my events this year. But I won't be registering for any others until this is settled for good.

The Gran Fondo is a very well organized event. The start and finish line is at the Fira Reus. This is also where you pick up your race pack, jersey and the pasta party after the event is held.
The race pack contains your start number with timer chip, a booklet with all kind of information about the race, one very useful sticker for your top bar with the food stop locations, one sticker with the height profile and some energy food.

The jersey was the one let-down. I generally don't like to be forced to use the jerseys provided by the sportive, and this time it really showed why. It was much too small for everyone and the quality was really bad. The zip didn't work well and got stuck all the time. As this was probably the cheapest version of Santini jerseys it also only had three smallish pockets. I can't see anyone of the 5000 participants buying from Santini in the future.

The problems I identified last year were:
  • injuries before the race
  • injuries during the race
  • running out of energy early (bonking)
  • and then overeating at the food stops  
I avoided injuries before the race this time and whenever something did hurt I made sure I rested enough and left the bike at home.
My strategy for avoiding the bonk in this year was to start with enough energy. This meant mainly eating lots of pasta in the three days before the event. Maybe twice as much as would typically eat. 
For food during the race I packed 10 of my preferred energy gel and four packs of power for energy drinks to avoid the food station food. I only stopped to stock up on water. 
I also set the alarm on my Garmin to 20 minutes and 300 kcal to remind me to eat and drinks.
To avoid injuries during the race I stayed in the saddle most of the time, which is easier on the knees and tendons and I set a heart rate maximum alarm on the Garmin too. 
All of this worked out pretty well. I arrived at the finish line with energy left and without pain. Very tired though.

After the race I had my protein shakes prepared and in the evening I was fit enough to check out Reus and have dinner there.

We spend the night in Reus and went back late Sunday, after checking out a village food and wine fair that I noticed them setting up on the day before. Very typical Spanish with a monster Paella dish.

I am probably not doing this Gran Fondo again, as the route seems to be the same every year. But I can highly recommend it. Even the small one with 89 km is a very nice route and gives you most of the experience without killing yourself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Gran Fondo Barcelona 2016 Review

race number
This year I took part in the second Gran Fondo Barcelona. A Gran Fondo or Sportive is basically a large group ride with a given route, which shouldn't be competitive. The advantage is that you are often travelling on closed roads and there is some support in form of food stops and mechanical support.

I already took part in the 2015 edition, so I knew a lot of the things that were expecting me.

Registration was a lot better this time. It was situated on the top of Montjuic, not far from the Olympic stadium. This time it was held outdoors in a big tent, so it would have been possible to come with your bike. The whole process took only ten minutes or so.
A minor problem was the availability of jerseys, my large version was too large and there were no more mediums available. But they are sorting this out now, so I will have my jersey to remember the ride with a good fit.
As you were required to wear the official jersey on the day I just used the too large version. I don't think requiring these is a good idea. Cyclists are picky about their equipment and I probably would have chosen something a bit warmer. It also makes it impossible to recognise any friends you are riding with. Or yourself on the photos.
Anyway - I got my race pack, which includes the jersey, arm warmers, some energy food and for some reason a pack of beef stock.

This time I tried to prepare a bit better than the last time. On the night before I had a massive portion of spaghetti, more than I can usually fit in my belly.

Early rise on the day, shower a large muesli and packing energy bars and wind-stopper. It was pretty cold in the morning.

Short ride up to the starting line on Montjuic. I guess there were maybe 600 riders all together. They had the usually horrible euro-techno sound-system and for some reason cheerleaders (!)

From Montjuic we went along the coast to Sitges, where the first food stop was. I skipped that one to keep going a bit faster, but after a kilometre or so we all got stopped by the lead car and basically waited until everyone caught up. This would be a theme that would continue for most of the race. And when we were not stopping the car in front would drive so slow that everyone was riding in one big peloton. This made riding some narrow roads quite tricky.

another stop
I am not a fast rider, but for 120km I was able to see the "leader" in front of me and I even arrived just ten minutes behind him at the finish line. When they said "non-competitive" they really meant it. There was a mention of a minimum speed of 24km/h, but apparently they also enforced a maximum top speed of 30km/h.
At some point we also lost the police escort for further delays.

In the end I only used one food stop to refill my water, with the energy bars I had with me it was enough.

I got away without a puncture too.

But I managed to finish. The finish line is extra special with this Gran Fondo, because it is 10km away from the start, the medal and the pasta party. I heard from some people who didn't know this and so either were surprised by the additional climb or never picked up their medal.

My average over the 138km was 28.88km/h

I would really suggest to move start and finish to the same place. It doesn't have to be in the centre of Barcelona either, which probably would make it easier with space and permits.

Overall I enjoyed myself, but I am not sure I would do it again next year. Compared with Gran Fondo Mussara, which I am doing in May it is just not as well organized. And most of the roads I am riding all the time anyway. It will be more for people who come from other cities and want to also enjoy Barcelona.

In summary, the good parts:

  • the route
  • registration 
  • food stops
  • police escort (they where very nice, skilled and helpful)
  • the jersey (and replacing it with the correct size)
  • food stops
  • beef stock
the bad:
  • distance between finish line and pasta party + medal
  • the medal is a bit boring
  • "official" and "VIP" cars, they were in the way quite a bit
  • slowing down the whole ride, so that really fast riders were probably bored
  • random stops

As I said: next sportive is Gran Fondo Mussara mid May near Reus, which will be much harder. Last year I gave up after 120km of 189km. This time I will be hopefully better prepared.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Track Everything

I like to track stuff. I think it has always been like this. 

But later I realized that this can also be useful to achieve goals and discover problems. Because we are very bad at noticing patterns over longer periods of time. 

We might step on the weight scale every morning and see that it varies up and down a kilogram, at least if we can remember what it said yesterday. But this is not how your weight changes, it changes very slowly over a long period of time and unless you write it down you won't notice.
Writing it down is one thing, but you really only see what is going on if you visualize it with some kind of graph. 
As I am not only into tracking stuff, but also pretty lazy, keeping log of all kind of values would never work without the support of gadgets, mobile and web applications. So today I will list some that I am using at the moment.

Firstly HabitBull, this is the newest app I am using. It is basically a check-list of your goals or habits, that you can check off every day. It will give you some graphs and tells you if you break the chain

I use it to track my new year resolutions, but also some other habits I am trying to acquire like "use duolingo to learn Spanish every day". Duolingo has its own reminders, tracking and graphs, but it is nice to have it all in one app and to keep an overview this way. 

The nice feature of this app compared to others is that you can track events that should happen every day, or a number of times every month. This is what I use for blog posts and books: require one per month.
You can also track habits which require a certain number per day, for example to track your weight or a number of pull-ups.

I am paying for the premium version, because that one allows syncing to the cloud. It doesn't work well, but it is good enough for backups.

The biggest problem with Habitbull is that it is region restricted on the Google Play Store, and they don't allow users in Spain. Luckily I was able to use my work account to download and pay for it. But I wonder why companies take these kind of rubbish decisions.

resting heart rate

Next: fitbit, this is probably the most known and used tracking app. I bought a fitbit Charge HR specifically to track my resting heart rate. Currently I don't have enough data for comparison, but it the future it should give me an indication when I am sick or generally exhausted. 

I also use the device to track my sleep, which is not so important at the moment. But last year I had a phase where I was very tired for a long time and it turned out that I averaged only five hours sleep a night. 

And finally I also use it to track general steps and energy output when not doing sports. I try to do 12000 steps on the days when I don't use the bicycle. 

Nutrition: Macros

Nutrition: Calories
Myfitnesspal I just started using and it is probably just temporary.

It is probably the best app to do food logging. Which always will be annoying as you have more or less guess the amounts and sizes of the food you are eating,, unless you just eat ready-meals, which you shouldn't.

The main things I learned so far are:
- snacks make 30% of my calories intake (!)
- most of my calories come from carbohydrates

Myfitnesspal is also very good to integrate all kind of other applications like fitbit, Strava, Withings, Google Fit, ...
My current plan is to use it maybe two more months and hope to have reduced my snacking by then.

To track my general weight I use a fitbit wifi scale, so I don't have to enter the values manually. As I mentioned above: tracking weight can be very difficult if you don't have good visualization.
The graphs from fitbit are pretty bad as they don't have a average or trend line.
Much better is trendweight, which is a free website supporting the fitbit and withings wifi scales. It has very nice graphs and tries to make predictions like "You will reach your goal weight in June 2018".

The graph is only part of my history, but you can see that something happened in January 2015 (I broke my collarbone) and that 2015 generally was not very successful.

These are the apps I use for general daily tracking, but there are some more specific to sports, app usage and to-do lists.
But this should be enough for today.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


As I have mentioned in my New Year Resolutions 2016 post I have started doing yoga.

The main reasons for this are:

The meditation part
Some of the sessions are so relaxed that you fall asleep and even if your mind is racing at the beginning of a practice, after a few minutes you get distracted by doing stuff. In that aspect it is like cycling for me, getting out of your head and into your body. Breathing exercises are a big part of this.

The stretching bit
Yoga is mostly about getting into positions your body doesn't want to be in. At least my body doesn't want to be twisted like that.
Sitting on my desk most of the day and then sitting on the bicycle a bit more has resulted in myself being very inflexible. The result of this is a bad back and problems with all kind of joints.
I did some physiotherapy for my back a long time ago and when I broke my collarbone. The exercises are very similar to some yoga poses. So I am just going to pretend that they work.

The workout stuff
This I just discovered after a few practices. Apparently I should have some muscles I didn't know about. I am mostly talking about the mystical core one hears about so much.

Disclaimer: I am the first to admit that I was not a big fan of yoga. I saw it as something people do that don't want to do a proper sport and can be done lying down. And it isn't about yoga, you can have the same result with other sports. But the Kata style helps, it gives you a pattern to adhere to.

So how did I start? On YouTube obviously. Because I am not quite up to embarrassing myself in front of a group of pros.

One of the cycling channels I am subscribed to had some Yoga For Cyclists videos and it is a good starting point.
It also helps that it shows a few inflexible guys in sweatpants trying to keep up with a yoga teacher.

This got me going and after a few other videos I got myself a mat and practised once in a while.

For the New Year Resolutions I picked a video series which is very easy and very chilled (at times too chilled), that provided a video for every day of January. I haven't managed to keep up, I am on 22 of 30 now. There are bits with mantras and affirmation I choose to ignore.


I am already noticing a slight improvement in flexibility and the position of my shoulders when on the road bike.

But it is early days and lets see if I can keep it up.

Monday, January 04, 2016

New Year Resolutions 2016

It's that time of the year, when everyone makes empty promises to themselves. And I don't want to skip this important tradition. The last one I did was in 2012, which seems like a long time ago.

Usually these are along the lines of sporty stuff or loosing weight. I have already stopped drinking alcohol and coffee end of last year and I am doing two hours of activity (as tracked by google fit) already. And nobody will stop me cycling too much anyway.

There are also some things I promise I won't do this year: going vegan, stop gluten intake or low-carb.

Still, some of these might be unexpected.