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Best Bike Products for the Power-Full Person: the 2009 Review

September 11, 2009

I may not have had the best racing year in 2009, but it’s been a great learning experience nonetheless. I worked hard training through periodization, and in spite of a rocky start managed to make some gains in my speed and power. In order to do this, I did what I always do to advance my knowledge base: I read. I’ve discovered some great books this year which helped me tremendously as an athlete, and I think will make me a better coach. I’ve admired and used Coach Joe Friel’s methods for quite a few years, but I’ve added to this, a mix of well written easy to follow books which I’m reviewing today, for your enjoyment.Here now, are my impressions of the iBike, the books I used, and a few bike related products that helped turn me into a Power – full person.

iBikeAero

iBike Aero Power Meter

This is the first year I used power as my gauge rather than heart rate training, and I agree with many other coaches, it makes a great difference. This meant that I had to buy a power meter for the first time, something that I didn’t think I was going to able to afford, but I’m here to tell you that is I indeed possible to do power training on a budget. I also read accompanying books which helped me to understand how to use the power meter in the most efficient way. I chose is an iBike Aero for my power meter, because it was the lightest and most affordable way to enter into the world of Power, that is, using watts/kg as my gauge. Unlike many other power meters, this cool little unit uses air flow through the head of the unit, combined with cadence and wheel speed to measure power. And since I’d been using a Garmin 305 for the past few years, I didn’t even have to change sensors, since the iBike can read data from the Garmin sensors (bravo, iBike; way to compliment, rather than compete with those wonderful Garmin GPS units).

I chose the iBike unit because I didn’t want to pay “double the price” for “triple the weight” units such as the CycleOps PowerTap. Though PowerTap is the professional’s “meter du jour” (and for good reason), I simply could not afford it, nor did I want to have to use a special hub (which is FAR heavier than mine), just for data. And, since the sensors for the Garmin were already on my bike, seemed the logical and frugal way to go. I chose the top of the line AERO, because it provides wind data relative to the ground or rider, and that’s important if you live in a windy area. This unit cost $800, but iBike make several units that cost a fraction of this, starting with a $200 unit. But even at $800 for the top of the line Aero, it’s still half to a third of the price of most other power meters.
Set up for the iBike was easy, and with the help of their youtube video, I was on my way to power analysis, in a few minutes. The first month of gathering data was interesting, and it truly showed me that my method for “base training” was flawed without power analysis. I was going out too hard, working on too many hills too soon, and burning out a bit, even before my season got started. On days where I thought “it’s just me, I’m just tired” and would normally have just pushed harder (NOT the thing to do in Base), but still kept within the same “heart-rate zone”. But I was able to see clearly with the iBike Aero that it was the wind pushing me hard, and that I needed to ease up in order to get the true Base workout that I needed. Because of this, I had my best base training year, EVER. The “proof of the pudding” was that my speed improved, this year, and as someone who’s  been a bike hack for a while (20+ years), that’s tremendous. If I had to pick out the one piece of equipment that made the biggest difference in my training this year, it would be the iBike Aero.

N.B. the iBike Power Meter is just that, a power meter, NOT a GPS unit. If you want a great GPS unit, consider the Garmin 705, the next generation up from my 305. The 705 can even sense the iBike data, and combine it with the GPS data to give you a full picture of your workouts. This is particularly useful if you using Training Peaks your data analysis, an EXCELLENT athletic data analysis website. I DO NOT recommend the Garmin Connect website. Garmin used to have a great association with MotionBased.com which gave you the full spectrum of data, but this year they decided to go it on their own, and dropped important data analysis tools which left their customers well, a bit high and dry (I can’t even retrieve my old data in full). If they ever improve their website, I’ll be the first in line to use it, but until then, I choose to pay a pretty penny for Training Peaks, rather than get half data.

Books

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Training and Racing with a Power Meter
by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan
Let’s make this simple: I could not have improved my speed this year using a power meter, if I had not read this book. Allen and Coggan have written a nearly flawless book that has everything you need to get started and train with a power meter. Their methods are clear, and the language is easy enough for most people to understand. The chapter “Using Power to Change your Workouts”, changed the way I think as both a coach and rider. If you have a Power meter of any kind, you owe it to yourself to get this book (or at least make your coach read it 😉 ).

Base Building for Cyclists
by Thomas Chapple
As someone who hates “base training” but understands the need for it, I really appreciated this book. I must admit that sometimes I felt the book title should have been “Nothin’ but Base”, because Chapple labels what I would have called the “build” period as “late base” but I suppose that’s my own “base” prejudice. There were times when I thought, “oh c’mon ANOTHER week of base?” but still held true to his principles, and became a faster rider for it. Truly this was an invaluable book for me this year, and generally, a good read for any racer, or rider who has a goal of doing longer, faster rides. It won’t teach you how to ride, but it will teach you how to train smarter, and that’s exactly what it’s suppose to do.

Nutrient Timing
by John Ivy Ph.D and Robert Portman Ph.D
I WISH I had known about this book in the beginning of the season! This year I made an unsuccessful attempt to gain some muscle mass: I thought that if just gained some weight, it didn’t matter if it was fat weight or muscle weight, because eventually it would all turn to muscle since I workout /ride so much.  OMG, wrong wrong wrong!!!! Although I paid attention to my nutritional needs, just like a comedian TIMING is EVERYTHING. This book is now my go-to book for when to eat, what to eat, and how to think about nutrition. I suspect that, with this book in my quiver, next year I will be a force to be reckoned with, even if there’s less of me (again).

And, if you really want to geek out, and get all the force and momentum cycling equations (without working through pages of equation on your own), then Bicycling Science by David Gordon Wilson is the book for you. I warn you, it’s a dry read, but if you’re truly a a science nerd, you’ll be used to it.

Bike Related Products

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KT Kinesiology Tape (aka ‘lil’ pink spiders for you and me).
I am THRILLED to have discovered KT Tape this year. Ever since my snowboarding accident in 2003, I have been plagued by a number of injuries that still haunt me today. Enter KT Tape. Just before I went out on the RAAM as crew, my shoulder began hurting again. I’d been turned onto KT TAPE by one of my Twitter friends, Hilary from Outside Media (aka @outsidehilary on twitter) and thought I’d give it a try, but really didn’t expect it to make much difference. After all, it’s “just tape”, right? WRONG. KT Tape held my shoulder down and back, and allowed the flare up to heal, even though I was hauling heavy items, then sitting still in the van for many days (normally that’s a brutal combination for this injury). When mounted properly, the tape lasted 4-5 days, and performed better and longer than the tape I was given in Physical Therapy, back in 2003. Janet Christiansen, solo rider for the RAAM (who I was crewing for), also tried some on her knee and was also quite impressed. When I got home, I used KT TAPE on my knee and calf, and found that the weakness in that knee was, well, just gone.  KT TAPE is one of those products that, while I hope I never need it, do not ever want to be without it again; it will always be in my medicine cabinet, just in case.

Compression garments, for long distance riding
My first experience with compression garments came when I decided to try Etxe Ondo’s Sbaren bibs. As much as I have loved this brand, I balked at trying anything compression because I could never get passed that first impression “that can’t be comfortable”. But then I realized that if I was going to try an ultra-distance race, then it was high time I took the advice of Ultra veterans and try compression. Well, it works; it reduces vibration in the muscles, it’s comfortable, and most importantly makes a BIG difference in recovery the next day. I tried a few weeks of compression, and now I love it! Janet also tried compression this year, in the form of socks, and it helped her quite a bit in helping to prevent edema in her calves.

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Action Wipes
Saddle sores suxOr, and they can stop a good training regimen cold, and take you off your bike for days, and sometimes, weeks. But saddles sores are preventable if you know the key element that causes them: bacteria. And what can save you from bacteria? Action Wipes!!! When you can’t get to a shower immediately after a ride, use an Action Wipe for a thorough aromatic cleaning, and it will be happy trails all the way. Plus Action Wipes are washable and reusable, which is awesome for the environment.

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How to choose a good saddle for yourself – girl’s version

December 11, 2008

Finding the perfect saddle for yourself can be a daunting task, particularly for those of us who are sensitive in the nether regions, aka, girls. I don’t know how boys feel in the saddle, because I don’t have those parts. I have girly bits with double the nerve endings, pointing in exactly the wrong direction when it comes to a bicycle saddle. BUT, thank our lucky stars, technology has caught up with our bits. The shapes and varieties that are available for women were great in 2008, but will be even better in 2009. Oh no, more variety, more choices; how the heck do you choose?

Well, here ya’ go. This is all the information I can muster, along with a few recommendations for brands and models.

If you are sitting on a saddle that fits, you should feel the majority of your weight on your sit bones, and you should feel supported around the sit bones and through the labia. There should be no weight at all on the clitoris or urethra. So you should feel weight on the sit bones and only support everywhere else on the saddle.sits-bones

1. Find some way of measuring distance between your ischial tuberosities.

Your Ischial Tuberosities are your Sit Bones. This is the place where you want the majority of your weight. The more upright you are on your bike, the more weight is on your saddle, therefore sit bones. So start your perfect saddle search by answering these three questions:

  • How upright is your spine on this bike?
Specialized Jett Saddle

Specialized Jett – Best Saddle Redesign

  • What kind of riding will you do with this bike?
  • Will you be wearing some kind of chamois on this bike (or what kind of clothes will you wear)?

The more weight you have on your sit bones, the more padding you need at that point on the saddle. Not a lot more, just enough. A good example of getting this design right for women, is the Specialized Jett (pictured). They’ve redesigned the Jett this year, to include more padding directly under the sit bones, and have also taken away excess volume on the side to reduce thigh rub. They also got rid of the annoying seams that used to encircle the sit bone pads, which used to rub and wear out clothing, and felt quite uncomfortable without chamois. This is an excellent update for this particular saddle, and shows that Specialized is willing to listen when they find out something is wrong with a part of their design. For such a large company, I’m well impressed. This saddle is excellent for road riding, mountain biking, track, and touring. It comes in three sizes, so get your sit bone width measured at a Specialized dealer, to find out your size. For commuting, which is very upright, choose something with a bit more cush, all around.

2. If you’re a girl, admit that you are a girl and get yourself a split saddle.

I’ve had a survey up for a while, and it is clear from the answers that those who lean on their clitoris because they do not have a split in their saddle WILL in some way experience discomfort. Maybe not for a while, but eventually your body will shift sitting position off of the clitoris to avoid leaning on nerve endings. This subtle shift in bike position can cause a HUGE host of problems that seem to have nothing to do with your saddle, such as numbness in the toes and fingers, pain in the front of the shoulders, and lower back issues. Of course saddle related problems also occur, like thigh rub, sit bone pain, pain or aching in the labia and surrounding tissues. For these reasons, (and because I’ve fit enough women successfully), I’ve become convinced that a split saddle is the way to go for women.  The exception to the rule is commuters, who might be so upright and in such inappropriate clothes that the split in the saddle would not make a difference. For such women, my premier choice is a Brooks saddle, from England. These saddles also come in varying widths (do NOT assume you will fit a women’s saddle) so you can definitely find the saddle for you. The thing that distinguishes the Brooks saddle is it’s fine leather, which you can think of as forming a hammock for your buttocks. The leather can be tensioned to be more or less supportive, and after a while the leather breaks in and comforms to you buttocks, giving you an extremely comfortable ride. Just keep in mind that these saddle don’t work as well if you lean forward while riding (as that will put pressure on the clitoris). If you sometimes lean forward, but like the idea and comfort of leather you might try a Selle Anatomica (pictured).

Selle Anatomica
Selle Anatomica

3. Make sure that the cut out and shape of the saddle fits you.

Saddle brands have different shapes to their cut outs, so you’ll just have to look around to find what really suits you. Most saddle companies and bike shops these days have saddle demo programs, so that you can try their shape and style. An example of an unusual cut out is the 2009 Selle Italia Lady. Pictured below, it’s easy to see the differences in the cutout, between the 2008 model, pictured first, followed by the redesigned 2009 model.

Old Selle Italia Lady
Old 2008 Selle Italia Lady

2009 Selle Italia Lady Redesigned
2009 Selle Italia Lady Redesigned

As you can see, the back of the cutout is more open, which will lead to better airflow. Less volume in the center is probably more comfortable, but I’d be interested to hear how ladies who have been dedicated to the old shape will feel about the new cutout. By the way the shape of the old 2008 Selle Italia Lady, is very similar to the Classic Terry Butterfly. That is, the old SI Lady has a Y shape, like the Butterfly, while the new one has more of a T shape, so like the Specialized Jett, trimmed for less thigh rub. One non-plus thing I noticed about the 2009 model; it has stitching in the thigh area that may prove to be a problem. It may not, but the stitching was definitely raised enough to annoy a “Princess and the Pea” like moi. Ladies, if you get this saddle, please tell us how it is! Kudos to Selle Italia for trying such an innovative and different design.

4. If you love your saddle, don’t change it. But always be open to better design.

I admit that I have a personal preference for the Terry Damselfly, which is a classic performance  saddle for slim sit bone widths. I love it for road, track, and cyclocross (though the nose is a bit long for cross) . For my commuter bike, I use the slightly fluffier men’s Terry Fly Carbon, because the carbon rails make for a dreamy comfortable ride when I’m not wearing chamois. For my mountain bike, I use the Specialized Jett 130, which has a very similar shape to the Damselfly.

Terry Damselfly
Terry Damselfly

Dura Ace Electronic 7900 First Look: Nice but want to be more Impressed

October 3, 2008

I love Shimano componentry; always have. As a person who knows that her bikes will always be around, I have the philosophy of “Buy once, buy right”, which includes a drivetrain that I will really enjoy riding. Enter my favorite, Shimano Dura Ace 7800. After having ridden the 7800 Grupo for a couple of thousand miles, I’m more in love now, than when I first saw them. So when I heard that Shimano’s new 7900 grupo was now electronic shifting, I was intrigued. I had to see it and test it myself. Mind you, I have yet to really ride it, so I have no idea how the brakes respond in a real world circumstance. I’ll reserve full judgement until I get a true test ride.

Much slimmer hood design, better for smaller hands

Much slimmer hood design, better for smaller hands

Index finger is on shifter button.

Index finger is on shifter button.

At the Shimano booth, I see that there is a test bike in a trainer, so I hope on for a ride, to see how it feels. The first thing I noticed was how easy it is to switch to a larger chainring; it was literally the push of a button with no effort at all. Niiice. The front derailleur placement happens automatically, so no more adjusting for trim. No more fussing around at all. Impressive. I was also taken with the design of the hoods, and marvel at how I could fit my small hands on and around the hoods, so much so that I wonder if this is a “women’s version”. No just a more aerodynamic one. There’s no cables under the hoods, so it allowed Shimano to play with the design a bit.

Then come two bombshells:
1. This full version of the electronic 7900 isn’t going to be available until January, when it will cost you a whopping $4000.00, not $2400-$2700 as I’d originally heard. That’s the price of an incomplete version of this grupo coming out sooner (in a few weeks), but you’ll probably want to wait until January, and not change out part of your grupo.
2. Battery life: Are you joking? 500 to 1000 miles between battery changes? Yep. For the many +100 mile/wk enthusiasts this would never do. Forget doing long Charity rides, like the nearly 600 miles, week long charity ride, AIDS LifeCycle. ….And where do I get the battery, and shouldn’t I have my bike mechanic check out the electronic system while he or she is changing the battery, and … WAIT a second, what does my bike mechanic know about electronics anyway?! The answer is most probably darn near nothing, at least not right now. There is the Achilles heel.

To me, that makes the Shimano 7900 grupo is like a Tesla car; sure I want one, but it’s too expensive right now without enough benefit, (or qualified mechanics to fix it).

I do, however, reserve the right to change my mind if improvements are made on the battery life (they should make it rechargeable), and as bike mechanics become more proficient in bicycle electronics.


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