Monday, December 9, 2013


This fall I've been lucky enough to have friends get upgrades, giving me the opportunity to get some used components to upgrade my bicycle.  As such, I was able to replace the OEM equipment that came with my Scott S40 (which was mostly Shimano Sora-level equipment) with a SRAM Force/Rival groupset, along with a set of OEM brakes from Pinnerello.  While it would seem like the new groupset would be the bigger focus, the brake really made a big difference in how the bike handles downhill.  I didn't realize just how poor the braking power was on that bike until I had new brakes on the exact same bicycle.  

That isn't to say that the SRAM drivetrain didn't change the feel of the bike.  Much of the feel that I got from the SRAM ride experience in late October has come through quite clearly even without a frame update.  It may be psychosematic, but the bike seems to feel better overall since the change.  It's taken several rides to get used to using double-tap for shifting instead of the thumb-shifting on the Sora, but the transition has been very smooth.  The biggest issue for me so far has been accidentally shifting to a smaller cog when I'm at the top of the cassette.  The new crank is VERY slightly longer (175mm vs 172.5mm), and after a few rides I've gotten used to the changes there as well.  

Earlier in the year I had signed up for a contest sponsored by Retül, and as a part of it I received a coupon to get a fitting.  After getting the new groupset, and realizing that it had been 18 months plus more than 6,000miles since my last bike fit, I figured now would be a good time to make sure the bike was properly adjusted to my fitness.  Bad form on the bike can relate to injuries in the long term.  Injuries that you cannot recover from with a little bit of rest.  I made an appointment to go in to Greenville Cycling Center and get a Retül fit.  It was worth every penny spent.

Even though the weather was a little bit poor, I decided to just ride down to GCC, as it is only about 3miles from work on the Swamp Rabbit Trail to their offices.  I got there a little early, so I had a little time to relax and be amazed by the CompuTrainer setup.  I made sure to wear one of my sleeveless base layers, as I was told.  

Jason and Jim started out by putting my bike onto the trainer they had set up for fittings, making sure that the bike was level.  The Retül system looked at a very basic level like a really big XBOX Kinnect sensor.  You could see multiple cameras facing the bike at a set distance, and they had the data set up on a big TV at one side of the trainer for review.  The trainer was on a platform and had a Kurt Kinetic fluid trainer and a Retül device coyly named a Levül to help make sure the bike sat level.  They replaced my rear skewer with a trainer skewer that had a knob on the end to give a spot to mount a level to make sure that the bike was on level before doing any adjustments.

They asked me the standard battery of questions (height, weight, cycling goals), and then took my measurements (outseam, arms, wingspan, etc).   From there they set up a table for me to lie down on to test my flexibility and core strength (definitely not my strong suit).  Jim went through several stretches and exercises ranging from arching my back to push-ups to one legged squats.  It definitely brought home the work that I needed to focus on during the off-season, as my core definitely needs work (that plus doing push ups on a padded table isn't a whole lot of fun).  Jim also noted that my hip flexibility, especially inward, was very poor.  Time for more stretching!

After completing my fitness evaluation, it was on to getting the bike adjusted!  They started by noting the current measurements on the bike.  The saddle was (once again) pointing nose up, along with slightly left.  The nose up part was definitely an issue, and they corrected it (once again) back to level.  We chatted for a bit about a new seat post, as this one has had the "nose up" issue a bunch this year.  It's definitely a future investment on my radar.  The next step was for me to get several velcro dots applied at my joints so that the Retül camera could track my motions.  

Once dotted up and having the sensors applied, I had to ride at approximately 90rpm for 30s while the camera recorded the motion on my right side.  They then spun me around and had me spin again at 90rpm for 30s to capture the motion on my left side.  This allowed them to not just look at how the bike fit me, but also how I was tracking while pedaling without just "eyeballing it".  They found 2 issues that they wanted to correct immediately:  First was that I was sitting too low, and thus not fully extending my leg at the bottom of my stroke.  The second is that my knee wasn't tracking straight;  noteably the upstroke was curving slightly outward.  They also noted that my hips shift such that my right side is pushed slightly forward.  The hip shift didn't concern them, but the knee motion did.

The first adjustment was to raise my saddle by 10mm!  This doesn't sound major, but in bicycle fit terms, small amounts are huge adjustments.  The second was to attempt to fix the knee track by adding in spacers on my pedals.  After making the adjustments I ran the test again (30s @ 90rpm for each side) to see if the tracking was better.  The saddle height fixed most things, but the pedal spacers didn't help the knee motion

For the second adjustment they removed the pedal spacers and placed shims in my shoes.  Without seeing my street shoes, Jim could tell that I underpronate while standing;  That is to say that I walk/stand on the outside of my foot.  This is of note because even going into running stores it takes the fitters a few iterations of measurements and triple-checking the wear pattern on my shoes for them to really believe I underpronate because it is so uncommon.  He also was hopeful that the shims would also help my knee to track more evenly.  After another 30s @ 90rpm for each side (anyone else feeling like this is cooking instructions yet?) my knee tracking was slightly better on the left side, but not magically better.  Everything else was dialed in almost perfectly, so we are hopeful that if I focus on core and stretching that my knee will start tracking in where it should be.  

The end of the appointment was spent going over the report generated by the Retül software.  The detail in the report was incredible, and it really made me comfortable that my fit was really dialed in.  I was still a little concerned over my hips being shifted, along with the difference in crank length between my original OEM equipment and the new Rival crank I had just installed.  I was assured that the neither was an issue.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

SRAM Ride Experience

On October 25, Greenville Cycling Center and SRAM hosted a Road Ride Experience.  This was the first time that I've really had a chance to ride a bike that wasn't my trusty Scott S40 since I seriously started riding, and I really didn't have a good idea of what expectations to have on the differences between various components.  Ride Experiences like this are designed to get you interested in the manufacture's equipment, and give you a chance to try everything out.  While it was a rather chilly lunchtime ride, I was excited to give it a shot.

I got to the ride tents around noon, when the event started, and while they transfered my pedals over to the test bike I had a chance to talk to the local SRAM sales representatives and the techs that were there.  Once they had the test bike set up, they gave me a quick overview of the components that I would be riding as a part of the experience.  I was going to be trying out the SRAM Force22 group set, along with Zipp 404 Firebrand wheels and a complete Zipp carbon cockpit (stem, handlebars and seat post).  After a few minutes of training on how SRAM double-tap functions, and a chance to try it out on a pair of shifters, they had me do a quick loop and make sure everything was set okay on the bike.  

The drive train is the real reason that I was interested in the Ride Experience - I've done the homework on SRAM, from how double-tap works to weight and function of the derailleurs, and I was really interested in trying it out.  The 22-series is designed to give a wide number of gears with a limited number of overlapping selections.  One of the features that they showed me was how the front derailleur has a trim function to allow for a wider distance from chain ring to cog, allowing for less chain rub than a traditional setup.  I had a 11-32 cassette on the rear, and a compact (50-34) crankset.  The shifting on SRAM is also unique, as they use a single lever design for shifting each derailleur.  A single slight throw moves the rear derailleur to a smaller cog, and varying longer throws move the rear derailleur between 1 and 3 cogs larger.  

The representatives at the booth also gave me a complete rundown on the Zipp 404 wheel set that I was going to be riding on.  I was honestly a little nervous about riding on carbon wheels, as my size typically puts me at the top end of the usual weight scales.  The other added worry is that because of my size I put a lot of stress on brakes as I attempt to slow down.  I was assured that these wheels were rated to 240lbs, which should have no issues handling me at a measly 205lbs.  They also educated me on the material and shape of the rims, and how they had spent the time to develop the rim such that it wouldn't overheat while braking, and that cross winds would not cause steering issues even given the deeper nature of the rim.  Given that it was a rather blustery day, I was sure to test out if they were accurate with the rim shape!

The last thing that they talked to me before I headed out was minor, but I really wish they had it.  SRAM earlier this year released bar mounts for the Edge 500, 510, 800 and 810 series cycling computers.  The test bike was equipped with a mount on it that I could have placed my Garmin on, if I didn't have an Edge 305 right now (which uses a different mounting system).  The SRAM guys told me about an adapter they released recently that allows my Edge 305 (or a 605 or 705) to connect to their bar mount!  Alas, they didn't have any of the adapters on them and I just placed my garmin into my jersey pocket before I headed out.  I will definitely be visiting Bike Street to get one VERY soon.

In order to give it a real shake down, I decided to ride up the Swamp Rabbit Trail and give a go on Paris Mountain.  I do this climb fairly often, so it would give me a good chance to see how the bike acted and how the shifting worked.  On the way up to Paris Mountain, I never had a reason to leave the small chainring (34 tooth).  The selection of gears that I had available to me was quite sufficient to have plenty of speed (the top speed on SRT is 20mph) with a good feeling of cadence. The shifting, while quite different from the thumb shift of my Shimano Sora shifters, was quite natural.  There were a few times where I'd accidentally shift gears the wrong direction, mostly when I was playing around in being in the largest cog and attempting to downshift further.  

Once on Paris Mountain, I wasn't attempting to necessarily get a personal record up the climb, but I wanted to see how everything worked together.  Having a super light bike, light wheels, and a high end drive train should mean that I would have little issues with climbing, right?  Well, that really isn't the whole story, but I'll say that I found that no matter where I was on the climb I always had access to a gear ratio that allowed me to climb without having to put out extra effort.  In fact, up until the last grunt, I felt more inclined to climb in the saddle than be standing and really putting power into the crank.  I attribute some of this to bike fit, but a lot of it was that I was comfortable enough in the saddle and could keep a cadence that didn't make me feel like I had to stand to keep going.   When I finally got to the top, I still had a energy to spare, meaning that I could have put more into the climb than I did, but not being completely drained when I got done was quite nice.  I noticed the power of the brakes as I attempted to turn around, making me hop a couple of times because of the angle of the road where I chose to make my U Turn.  

Descending Paris Mountain was going to end up giving me a real feel for how the Zipp 404 really handled.  The wind was blustery on the north side of the mountain, giving a good cross wind to the descent.  Also I've already been working on attempting to not bomb downhill, but rather keep control, so I'd be testing out the heating of the wheels and the feathering of the brakes.  Several times during the descent I got a good solid wind gust hit me, and I could feel the bike being pushed around.  Even during those pushes I never felt like the steering was impacted, or that I had anything but 100% control of the bike.  While I didn't attempt to go super slow on the way down, I did keep my speed in check.  A couple of times I could hear the brakes start to get noisy, but at no time did I feel like the wheels were overheating or that I was losing braking power.  Even at the stop sign at the bottom of the hill I had plenty of braking power to not be using a "Kung Fu Grip" to get the bike to stop.  The ride back to the start point was very uneventful, but I did spend more time playing around with the shifting on the way back.

After returning to the event booth and getting my pedals put back on my bike, I rode back over to work, my lunch break being over.  The last part of the experience was for me to get back on my trusted steed after being on such a high end machine.  I now had a tactile way to understand what I'd get if I upgraded to a new high-end bike.  The only way that I can explain it to non-riders would be to say it's like the differences in a Camry and a Lexus.   My Scott is very functional, shifts when I want it to (mostly) and takes just about everything I throw at it from day to day.  Getting onto the test bike I could feel that it was significantly lighter and more responsive, and that shifting was much more crisp.  It never hesitated to react when I gave it power, and overall it had a very muted and comfortable ride compared to my Sportster.  From a comfort perspective the cockpit was much easier to keep my hands in a comfortable position, and I felt that shifting was always very easy to reach no matter where my hands were on the hoods or drops.  Braking was powerful and snappy as well. 

So in the end, I had a fantastic time trying out the various pieces of SRAM equipment, and I gained some very valuable insight into these components and what to expect from SRAM when I get new components.  While a major bike upgrade for me is more than likely more than a year away, knowing what I like and how various components act and feel is going to be vital in making my next bike purchases wise ones.  I wish I had an opportunity to try out disc brakes, and maybe a power meter, what I tested was definitely in line with what I'd like to get in the nearer future.  At this point I'd put Zipp cockpit and drive train upgrades pretty high on my wish list of components, although I have to say I'm still in love with my Boyd Wheels, and riding the 404's really didn't change my opinion of that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Two Years

September 2011 was a time of rather large changes for me.  I took a new job which meant moving, and at least for the first couple of months it meant being away from my family for an extended period of time.  I had lived in Orlando, FL for 17 years, so moving to Greenville, SC was a big change in atmosphere (and altitude), and it was time for some fresh beginnings.  One of my friends that had moved to the area years before had been telling me about the cycling scene, but I didn't really have a frame of reference on what that would really mean for me.  After my first day of work, he took me out on a bike ride, letting me borrow his mountain bike to ride in the area around where he lived.

This was the start of something new and fun.  It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed the ride.  The second night he introduced me to the Donaldson Center scene.  I borrowed a road bike from another friend of his, and we rode around the loop that the racers ride.  He also let me borrow a heart rate monitor so I could see how much effort I was exerting.  While I don't have the HR data, I do remember something about seeing 200 as being a bad thing...

That was all it took to get hooked.  That weekend I went to the local bike shop and bought my first road bike, a Scott S40.  In the 24 months that have passed I have ridden 8,693.0mi while finding a hobby that has brought me into better fitness and health.

My family has since moved up to the area, and we all are leading healthier lifestyles.  Our "new normal" has brought about changes for all of us, and for me it saw my weight go from a peak of 262lbs in 2011 down to a low of 204lbs this year.

September 2011 - seems like a lifetime ago
Assault on the Carolinas 2013

I have managed to tackle new challenges both on and off the bike, but the challenges on the bike are more quantifiable.  My first challenge was just traveling the swamp rabbit trail.  I used Strava segments to quantify my improvements.  From there I set my goals to complete the Stars and Stripes Challenge, which was a cancer fundraiser that was held as a part of the US Pro Cycling Road Championships when they were hosted in Greenville, SC.  In order to complete that challenge I had to be able to make it to the top of Paris Mountain, which was the featured climb of the route.

Notice "you made it!!!" behind me

At this point I had been selected to be a part of a local radio show weight loss competition known as "Rob's Big Losers".  Having focus on my cycling goals, as well as the competition, allowed me to set sights on lower my weight and getting my overall fitness improved on a grand scale.  In the 12 weeks of the competition I lost over 40 lbs, climbed local route known as "the watershed" and completed my first 5k.

Without a doubt, I was hooked.  Since then I've completed my first metric century (2012 Wheels for Meals), completed the Stars and Stripes Challenge, climbed Ceaser's Head Mountain, Green River Cove, Skyuka Mountain Road, Hogback Mountain, and Mt Mitchell.  I completed my first century as a part of the 2013 Assault on Mount Mitchell.  I've continually set new challenges in front of me to spur me on to reach new heights.  

Looking back at the last 2 years, I started out the ride yesterday to follow the same route that I took around Donaldson Center in September of 2011.  It was windy, and a bit chilly, but it was amazing to think back and realize how far you can go with a lot of faith and determination.

I've climbed the segment known as "the last little hill at Donaldson" 29 times prior to last night, but this ended up being a personal record, beyond efforts I've done while in a group.  Being able to look back gives me a lot of pride in how far I've come, but it also makes me realize that I'm not done yet.  There are so many other challenges out there, and so many things I hope to share with my family as we continue on our journey together.  While none of them have quite gotten bitten with the cycling bug the way I have, I hope to one day see their faces when they scale Paris Mountain.

My current goals are to continue to see fitness improvements, and get better as a climber.  I'd love to see my time on the steep side segment of Paris Mountain at about 15 minutes, and to be able to complete the Hincapie Gran Fondo route (also known as the Marquis de Sade by locals) in under 6 hours.  I have also verbally committed to riding in the 2014 Ride to Remember for Alzheimer's awareness.  This would be my first "multi-day tour", as the route spans over 250 miles from Greenville to Charleston.  I'm also hoping that I can start budgeting for more events further from home.  My long term goals are to get strong enough to be "bucket list certified" such that I could do the CTS challenge in front of the Tour of California.  All of these new challenges are cumulative  and build on the efforts I've already put out.  They won't happen overnight, but having goals, and a sport that I truly enjoy, is what keeps me going out on the road.

Monday, September 16, 2013

2nd Annual Preservation Ride

Saturday September 14th was the 2nd Annual Preservation Ride to benefit Upstate Forever.  Upstate Forever is a non-profit organization that is focused on keeping areas of the Carolinas pristine for future generations.  They have worked on projects to protect land areas, helping to establish the Greenspace at Fairview, to being one of the backers of the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail.  Last year I had the pleasure to ride the 75-mile route as a part of the inaugural event, and I have been looking forward to riding again this year.  Due to unforeseen circumstances I wasn't able to ride the long route and take on Skyuka Mountain Road again, which is definitely one of the most challenging climbs I've done in my short cycling career, I was able to get in the 40 mile route.  This turns out to be no cake run, either, but the views are just about second to none.  

The day started out early, and as if on queue the weather was perfect.  The 40-mile route didn't start until 9am, but a few of us got there early to take a quick warm up lap around Strawberry Hill USA, just outside of Chesnee SC.  There was still a bit of chill in the air, and getting warmed up took a bit of effort.

After completing the loop, it was just about time for the mass start of the 40mi folks.  The start and finish line for the Preservation ride is the main cafe at Strawberry Hill USA.  As we got together to ride out, we got instructions from Steve Baker about the route, and then we were on our way.  

The thing that is unique about this ride, is that you spend so much time enjoying the scenery instead of spending time getting to someplace interesting.  The sky was so crystal clear, and we were out in the country literally 200 feet after we started.  Miles just melted past, and we had a chance to chat with various riders as we went along.  In the first 15 miles there were only a handful of moderately steep hills to contend with, and it felt like we were going downhill most of the time.

At about the 18 mile mark we reached the first rest stop, and learned that they had added a ~3mile loop inside of Greenspace at Fairview to make sure that the ride got closer to the 40 mile mark after some changes in the route from last year.  This area is a reserved area that Upstate Forever worked with the home owners in the area to create, making an easement where the natural beauty of the area will be preserved for future generations.  There was a lot of open countryside, with horse stables (including several folks taking their horses out for walks) and natural woodland spaces.  We decided to take the loop before making a stop, enjoying the scenery the entire way.  We spent most of this time gazing at the mountains off in the distance, tempting us to continue the journey, like sirens calling out to be explored.

The rest area was bustling when we got there, as folks were stopping either before or after they had completed the loop. After getting a chance to rest our legs and refill out water bottles, we decided that we wanted to ride the loop another time before we started the bottom half of the ride. Instead of just riding the route as marked, though, we decided it would be more fun if we went the other direction around the loop. We were not disappointed, as the ride in reverse gave us more fantastic views of the mountains, and gave us a chance to see more of the countryside as we went around. I would highly recommend to folks doing this ride next year that they take on doing the loop twice to get closer to 40 miles and get just a little more time to enjoy the area.

The second half of the ride brought us more challenges as we dealt with returning back into more populated areas as well as experiences several longer rolling hills.  We made our way over Lake Bowen and through the countryside around Boiling Springs, SC.  The only high traffic area of the ride was while we were on Highway 9 for about a mile.  While there was an established bicycle lane, it was overgrown and had a fair amount of trash that was in it, making it a bit dangerous to stay out of the way of the vehicles.  Thankfully this was an extremely short section of the ride, and we were back out into the country.  As we rode back towards the start/finish point, the rolling hills just continued to challenge us.  As we'd crest one hill we'd be presented with a decent and another climb yet to come.  One of the folks I was riding with exclaimed "they just keep coming!".  

We passed several photographers along the way, taking pictures of the riders.  For a couple of them I decided to ham it up and act like I was sprinting for all I was worth, but for the most part I took the time to sit up and wave, as I was enjoying the ride more than anything else at this point.  I felt like I could have just kept riding for hours longer, taking in the day and the beauty around us.  

We took our final left hand turn, and the strikingly red roof of the cafe at Strawberry Hill USA came into view at the top of the next climb.  Just before this point I had made a comment to Mark that last year I had made a promise to sprint out the last leg of the ride.  Much like last year, the final climb of the ride took its toll on my legs, and I used the last bit of energy I had left to make a good showing as we went by the corn maze.  My family was there to greet us, and we were greeted to a fantastic lunch.  Unlike most rides, the lunch was served on actual plates, with cloth napkins and real silverware.  This left the waste to be minimal.

Of all the rides I've experienced in the past 2 years, this has to be one of my favorites.  From the organization that it supports to the views that you can experience, it's one of the best in the area.  The routes are well marked and well supported, and it definitely is as challenging of an experience as you make it.  Having now done both the 40 and 75 mile routes, neither disappoint.  I find it challenging to ask folks to help fund raise for many of the cycling events out there, but Upstate Forever does directly for the area that I have less of a heartache with it.  I look forward to when the 2014 edition of this ride is announced, and getting a chance to challenge Skyuka Mountain road again.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Winter is coming

It's hard to make this statement in the middle of September, but the honest fact is that the short days of winter are approaching.  I've been lucky this year and have managed to ride almost as much as I wish to without being forced to resort to the enemy of all outdoor cyclists - the dreaded trainer.  These torture devices make a routine that seems barely worth putting on the bibs to go do into an ordeal of epic proportions.  You can ride 8 hours on the road, but 45 minutes on the trainer and you feel like you've been kicked by a mule.

Cold Days are ahead

For preparation for the winter, I've been trying to put together a better training plan for 2014.  Going into 2013, I had the primary goal of completing the Assault on Mt Mitchell, and as a biproduct of that I had placed goals to increase my base mileage on the bike from ~4,000mi in 2012 to 5,200mi+ in 2013.  This equates to averaging 100mi a week.  I'm definitely ahead of schedule to meet the challenge, but the problem with this type of challenge for me is that I focus too much on the numbers, and not enough on enjoying the experiences. Beyond that, I don't believe just having an ever increasing base mile number as my primary cycling goal will get me to a place where I'll be happy with my own fitness or cycling ability.

For 2014 my planning right now is to focus more on performance and less on pure mileage.  Without having concrete plans written down, I want to feel like I can continue to improve my form and overall fitness without feeling like I have to put in a monstrous number of base miles.  Having a few focused plans to work on key areas of my development is going to be a big part of that.  I already have a few workouts that I bought last year in preparation for the 2012 Gran Fondo Hincapie that I'd like to make a dedicated effort to complete, and I'd like to take the time to get in an 8-week CompuTrainer class from Greenville Cycling Center.  These types of workouts should help me to continue to quantify my current fitness, and give me more concrete numbers to understand where I am as far as cycling fitness.

Part of doing any structured workout routine is managing how to get in the workout on the wet/cold days, when leaving the house just isn't a good idea.  I recently got a second hand trainer from one of my friends, so I now have some options.  I took my spare wheel and I've set it up to use on the trainer with an older tire and my old cassette. This way I'm not putting undo stress on my good rear wheel, nor excessive trainer mileage on my tires.

Once I had the basic hardware worked out, I started trying to figure out the software.  While poking around, I had run into both Cycleops VirtualTraining and  Both of these have the promise of allowing you to ride along a pre-established venue on your computer, while mystically using your speed/cadence sensor to estimate your power and adjust your time on the course accordingly.  They even show virtual cyclists racing with you and attempting to steal your KOM!  These looked fantastic, and I thought they would be a great option for keeping the time on the bike interesting, as well as allowing me to virtually work on some of my rides while indoors as a change of pace.  The first problem is that to even see how well these programs work, I'd have to plunk down between $10 and $15 for a subscription to their service.  I am always nervous about "buy before you try", and in this case it was probably warranted.  I went so far as to install the base software for Cycleops to try out their demo routes, but I ran into technical snags getting my PC to connect to the speed sensor using their software.

The problem, after much searching I found out, is that the USB ANT+ stick that came with my wife's Garmin watch, is a "1.0" varient.  This means that it can only read 4 different ANT+ sources at a time.  The Cycleops software was originally designed to be used with their higher end trainers, and as such required more than 4 sensors to work properly.  Thus Cycleops requires you to use an "ANT+ 2.0" adapter.  This is a road block to me, as I didn't feel that I needed to rush out and spend $50 for a new USB adapter so I could spend money on a monthly service to ride indoors.  It looked like the holy grail of affordable computer-based training would be elusive.

While searching out solutions to my USB adapter issue, what I did find was reference to an open-source training option known as Golden Cheetah.  While the software is not as wiz-bang as the pay for play options, it does have a lot of really nice features and supports older "1.0" ANT+ adapters.  I was easily able to input the make and model of my trainer, and pair up my heart rate and speed sensors to the software to try out a workout with estimated power.  I was able to export the workout to a TCX file and upload it to Strava manually, as the hooks in the software to upload it automatically were having some problems with my Strava account.  I was able to upload the workout directly from GC into TrainingPeaks, though.

The Import of Data into Strava

There do seem to be several features that the pay-for-play software guys have an advantage, though.  For example, while it will play a video while you are riding, it really doesn't have a way to have your telemetry data show up as a HUD on top of the video (that I can tell so far).  I'm also not sure if it will let you simulate riding famous courses (or even a GPS route you upload) at this point, either.   I've only gotten a small amount of time between the trainer and the software, but there is promise that I can get some solid structured workouts set up.  The documentation in general is a little bit sparse as well.  Going through the user's guide there are several sections, especially in regards to live data, that had empty entries.  The wiki was likewise slightly sparse.

As the software started out as a way to gather data from the seldom-standard power meters 6 years ago to analyse and upload to various training software, what it does as an open source product is quite amazing.  I'm intending to spend more time with it during the upcoming months as the weather turns cooler, and hopefully I can post updates as well as tips and tricks.  The idea of riding on a trainer still doesn't instill a lot of joy in me, but having a distraction and data to play with definitely will help move it along.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Broken Spokes

August seemed to be the month where I had to deal with bike issues.  It's the first time that I've had to deal with a broken spoke, and before the month was out I'd have to deal with 2.  Of all of the things I've had happen to me to prematurely end a ride, I have to say that a broken spoke has to be the most disheartening.  Both times I've had it happen when I was in a groove, and feeling like I could put out a really good effort, just to hear a strange metallic "ping", and the feeling that something was off.  Unlike a puncture or some other mechanical issues, there really isn't anything you can do to fix a broken spoke, either. That said, these experiences have given me a chance to review a few things on my own form as well as reaffirm my decision to get Boyd wheels instead of a high end warehouse brand.  

Broken at the J bend

Not a sight you want to see
There's your problem, right there...

From a personal performance point of view, I have to re-evaluate how I ride.  One of the big stressors on wheels is compression, specifically from hitting pot holes and other road hazards.  Because of my larger size, I put a lot of instant stress on my wheels when I go over these hazards at speed than a typical ~150lb rider.  In general I have taken the attitude of being more willing to "eat" a pothole in order to stay stable and not wreck than to attempt to avoid hazards at the last moment.  I need to adjust this and pay better attention to road conditions.  On routes that I know fairly well, I know where to look for these hazards and make sure I'm in a proper place to avoid them.  Beyond that I need to make sure I'm looking far enough ahead to avoid issues when at all possible as well.  Swerving at the last minute isn't an issue, but I shouldn't need to swerve to avoid road hazards as much as just make sure I'm looking for them.

In the cases where I cannot avoid a hazard, I need to make sure I'm not sitting with the majority of my weight on my back wheel.  This put a lot of unneeded sharp stress on those spokes, which can in turn cause weak spots to form.  Ideally I should get out of the saddle to handle the hazard, but just evening out my weight should go a long way to helping relieve just a little of that pressure.  

I also need to start making a much more concerted effort to document when I've had hazard hits and verifying that the wheels stay true and inspect the spokes.  If I can determine that a spoke has formed a weak spot before it breaks, it should mean less time hobbling back to get my wheel fixed.  I'm already working on spending more time doing general bike maintenance, and I'm going to be making an effort to start having a regular monthly deep clean and review of the bike to look for issues.  I can definitely add a more thorough wheel review as needed.  Something as small as making sure that the rear derailuer is working properly, and isn't throwing the chain into the spokes at all could mean the difference between no issues and almost constant repair.  I can definitely improve in this area.

Shortly after having the second spoke break in the month, I started getting down about my wheel decision.  I had gone through a lot of research when picking out these wheels, and I felt that I had make a good decision when I picked up these wheels.  With 2 breakdowns so close together, I had started second guessing if I had made a good decision.  Personally I put a lot of stock in dependability and confidence, especially on my bike.  After I have any sort of breakdown or change it takes me several rides to get confidence back that I'm not going to have another issue that could cause me to damage myself or the bike.  Not having confidence in the machine that I am using definitely puts a major crimp in what I feel willing to do.  I start having doubts about longer rides.  I don't want to get stranded.  After reviewing how I can take better care of my ride, I think I have places where I can improve and see improvements on the longevity of my investment, both in myself and my bike.  It's just going to take a few good rides to get the confidence level back up.

Through all of this, the most phenomenal thing for me has been the service that I've gotten from Boyd's.  I've heard horror stories of people having to ship their wheels back to the manufacturer to have warranty work done on them, and having to deal with loaner wheels or even worse being unable to ride for weeks at a time.  Since I live in Greenville, where Boyd's puts together every wheel by hand, I have to luxury of bringing the wheel back and having them take a look at it easily.  Beyond that, the courteous nature of the staff and the confidence that I have when I get the wheel back that everything is okay is exceptional.  Instead of just repairing the broken spoke, they took the time to inspect the wheel and even replaced a few that I had somehow damaged without noticing it (more than likely from chain issues).  They also take the time to make sure to build it back up, instead of just putting in the new spoke.  In the end this gives me confidence that when I get the wheel back I'm not having continued issues, but I should have a wheel I can rely on.  

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Boyd wheels to anyone, even with the recent issues.  My current wheels should last well beyond the life of my bicycle, and serve me well.  If they do happen to have any more issues, I also have the confidence that I can get them taken care of properly and professional, by folks that know not just how to repair a simple issue, but know how to build a wheel the right way.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Getting Lost

One thing that's going to be a given while out riding in a new area is that you are sure to make a wrong turn.  Even on an established ride, that is reasonably well marked, a missed turn is bound to happen.  I had it happen to me recently, and it got me to thinking of how to be better prepared, especially when leading a group.

The ride was simple, and one that I had done previously.  Leave from a well established start point, and ride ~60mi up to the top of Ceaser's Head Mountain.  My wife and kids had gotten extra water and some snacks to bring, I made up a gallon of home made drink mix that I'm experimenting with, and I met a few friends for the ride.  Everything went well until I missed the turn off the well established "Wheels for Meals" route to head up to Ceaser's Head.  It took several miles for me to realize we were off course and heading to Calahan Mountain instead.  We took a break and I pulled out my phone to get my bearings, and we adjusted the route to get back on track.  We then made it to the top without incident.  We knew we were dealing with shifting weather, and the rain clouds peaked the mountain just as we were leaving.  The trip back was going to be dicey, and we needed to be quick if we wanted to remain somewhat dry.

At the top, with clouds coming over quick

The route back was a different story.  I missed the turn to put us back onto the return route (it's the same road I missed on the way out, btw).  By the time we realized it we were prety far off course.  We decided to follow a busier than we'd prefer road back, set our course and went.  We then found the original route back, and decided to change course.  We did okay with that, until the final "major" turn, where we once again missed the marker and headed right back up towards Ceaser's Head.  We tacked on another ~5 miles before we realized where we were, and at this point we were going to get rained on no matter what.  I was tired, upset, concerned, and mostly emotionally drained.  I actually called my wife to have her come pick us up, but she was already pretty far back towards home.  

I consulted my phone's mapping program, and selected the route that I thought may get us back safely, while in the meantime working to set up a place to intercept my wife just in case.  I made the decision to keep the route my phone had set up and not deviate even if we got into familiar territory.  It added a few extra miles once we were back closer to the start point, but they were definitely easier miles than the "direct route".  We got rained on, although it wasn't as bad as it could have been.  It seems that the storm was at it's worst where we had started our journey, and since it blew over us along the way we dealt with the results more than the storm.  As we rode back on the Swamp Rabbit Trail for the last couple of miles, we encountered a lot of water and saw several down limbs.  By the time we made it back to the cars the rain had mostly passed as well.  

This event left my confidence more than shaken, and I am still determined to improve on knowing my routes and determining the best way to make sure I'm on track.  I always have my Garmin GPS with me when I ride, but the mapping features on the Edge 305 are very rudimentary.  The mapping feature is a "bread crumb" style map, with no streets or directions overlaying the map.  I need to spend more time to get used to how it displays routes, and it doesn't adjust automatically very easily.  An obvious solution would be to upgrade to the new Edge 810 that Garmin released late last year.  It has full mapping and turn by turn navigation, as well as connectivity to your phone so that your friends can know where you are.   At a retail price of $499, it's an expensive upgrade for me to justify at this point, though.

The other options are things that I can definitely do better on personally, without the need to spend a lot of money.  First is to know the route that I'm leading people on.  This means spending more time on the roads personally, without having others on the road.  After reviewing the Ceaser's Head trip, I knew that the area around Dacusville was where we had the biggest issues, and it's an area that I can ride to after work pretty easily.  I crafted a route, and decided to go up and explore.

I did manage to miss a turn, but I corrected for it and spend a lot more time getting a feel for the area.  This is going to be the biggest gain for me as I'm looking to lead out groups:  If I know the area, I can tailor the ride to accommodate the group better.  The original route back is challenging, as the climb back into Traveler's Rest is a lot of climbing.  After riding for 50 miles, having a few hard climbs left in your legs is often times rough.  As I'm learning this area near Dacusville, I'm finding new roads that may be more appropriate for this leg of the journey.

Secondly is that I can trust my instincts more.  Way too often I get to a place and I start wondering if I've missed a turn.  Things look almost right, but I have a sense that I'm not where I should be.  I second guess that instinct and just believe that I've not remembered the route properly, or that I've just zoned out some and I'm not clear on where I am exactly.  Whether this is pride or insecurity, I need to make a better point of making sure I'm confident on where I am and that we are on the proper course.  If that means a couple of extra water breaks, I don't think this is a bad thing.  Also, having the breadcrumb map on the Garmin at this point would help confirm where we were on the route without having to pull out my phone.  

Lastly, and as a big part of the other points, is to be more prepared.  While I typically work out the route on Garmin Connect, I need to make sure that I craft up route sheets more, so I can mentally work out all of the turns, and have them clearly marked.  Even if I don't use the bread crumb map on my Garmin, I should have it uploaded to use as a reference.

The ultimate goal is for me to become more confident and more capable as a ride leader.  Being able to keep my cool and overcome issues without losing confidence in myself, or causing others to lose confidence, is going to be a big key in this.  The more I can utilize tools that I have available today, as well as keep on the lookout for new tools in the future, to improve my experiences, the better off I will be.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Riding throughout the summer

Each year it seems that I'm learning a lot about what I didn't know about the previous year in regards to cycling.   This is not unexpected, but at some point I have to take a step back and look at where I am versus where I was previously and take stock of the changes.

During 2012 my whole goal was to get stronger.  I completed my first big event (Wheels for Meals 2012), and was in the middle of my first big fundraising situation for an event (Stars and Stripes 2012).  By the summer I was into full mode of experiencing cycling from a group ride point of view, and trying to get stronger.  My routine was 3-4 group rides per week:  Donaldson/SCTAC on Tuesday, Bike Shop rides on Thursdays and Saturdays, and a local church ride on Sunday afternoons.   I'd go out with as fast as I thought I could keep up with at the front, working as hard as I could to stay with the group, getting dropped somewhere along the way, and working on my own back to the start point.  By the end of the season I was adding in additional days on my own training for the Hincapie Gran Fondo, but the routine was pretty much the same.

Over the winter and into Spring 2013 my routine changed a lot.  I was still going out 3 or 4 days a week, but the focus was all of the sudden on the Assault on Mt Mitchell.  I was working on base miles.  I was climbing Paris Mountain as much as possible to gain climbing strength.  I would go out for the training rides with the Freewheelers.  I had laser focus with a goal in mind.  By the time that the normal group rides started up in earnest I was already well into my established routines, and I really didn't enjoy going out as much.  I found myself in a strange location of wanting to ride with just specific folks, and not dealing with the group ride atmosphere.  The last month or so I've been riding mostly with friends and on my own, working on personal goals and needs, and just enjoying going out and riding.  I've found new routes out into the country north of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and used older routes I have riden in the past to get in my miles for my goals.  The times that I've gone out on group rides, I've found them to be challenging effort wise, but not all that enjoyable because of the banter.  Instead of pushing myself into more group rides, I've been finding that place where I can ride a group ride when I want, but I get my workouts in when I need to.  

As the summer winds down, and many of the evening group rides fade off, the challenge of keeping up miles will continue.  By finding ways to keep my rides fresh, and new challenges to put myself through without relying on a ride leader to figure out a route each week, I think I can better meet my own personal goals, and be more prepared for a fantastic 2014 in the process.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Changes in Latitude.

Summer is a time for vacations, and my family is no different than any other.  Typically we take some time and visit our Family in Florida.  For the second year in a row, I've had a chance to bring my bike with me, and get out for a ride with a local bike shop near where we stay, as well as visit the other bike shops in the area.  What I've found is that location really makes a marked difference on your perspective, especially in an endurance sport like cycling.  While I can't say packing up and haul my bike gear 600 miles for a chance or two to ride by getting up extra early, especially on vacation, is a lot to pack in, I do enjoy the opportunities to ride outside of my comfort zone.

up at Sunrise for a group ride?

Cycling in the upstate of South Carolina is extremely varied, and in many cases challenging.  On any given day I can find a group ride of at least 30 miles with several challenging climbs thrown in.  Often times I have to make decisions on which ride I'd rather do (solo/small group/large group, pace, challenge, etc).  I work near enough to the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail that unless the weather is truly horrid I can always jump on the bike during lunch or after work and get in 20+ miles of riding.  There are massive amounts of country roads where you can just simply get lost and enjoy riding.

What I've found while planning my vacations in Florida is that the landscape is wildly different.  The number of "country roads" is more limited, as the nature of the environment is less accomodating to a larger infrastructure.  Lakes and swamplands determine where lanes can be created, and cars use many of them extensively.  While there are several neighborhood roads available, they are full of traffic hazards that need to be accounted for.  Where I have a comfort level with the drivers around my neighborhood at this point, I'm also more wary of attempting to go out on a self-made route in a new area.  

The other big difference to handle is the difference in ride type.  I'm used to rides that have at least "rolling hills" in them, such that you get an interval workout almost by default.  You get some rest/recovery on the downhill to prepare for the next uphill.  Wind is a factor, but seldom the defining factor of the ride.  While out with the LBS in Florida, the pace line really makes the difference, as the roads are mostly flat.  If you drop off the back, you are just doing your best to catch up at the next stop.  There is one decent climb that they feature in the ride (others that I know ride out there claim it to be "the hill in Brevard county") which is a little challenging, but short.  The sprints and overall pace really make the difference.

One of the big things I do like about riding away from home, though, is that it gives you a real marker for your progress.  Since it had been a year since I rode this route with the Revolutions folks, I got to really get a taste for how much stronger I had gotten.  Even in the Strava segments where I didn't set Personal Best's, my guestimated power and heart rate data showed that I wasn't working as hard. 

I continue to look forward to new chances to ride in difference areas of the country.  The experiences are definitely worth the efforts.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bee Buzzin' Bike Tour

I was introduced to this ride by someone that I ride with on Sunday afternoons.  What was described to me was a ride that would be relatively flat, and surprisingly fast.  After completing the 62 mile course in just over 3 hours, I have to say that he was accurate on both accounts.  The event is a part of the South Carolina Festival of Flowers, an annual event held in Greenwood, SC.  It travels out in the country around Greenwood, and has a 25 mile and 62 mile (metric century) course.  

The day started out early, and the weather at the house looked questionable.  We ran through a few storms on the way to Greenwood, but as we got to start point the weather looked good.  The downtown was still decorated for the Festival of Flowers, although many of the events ended the day before.  This year the Bike Tour was moved to Sunday, and it felt like it was the final event for the Festival.  I was a little disappointed that the local businesses were closed for the day.  My family had come down to enjoy the festival as well as cheer on the cyclists.  They got to spend time walking around downtown and taking in the topiaries and other sights, though.

An early morning in downtown Greenwood, SC

I knew that Aaron (from was going to be at this particular ride, as well as a few other folks from the Lexington and Columbia area that I had riden with at other events (including the Assault on the Carolinas and the Assault on Mt Mitchell this year).  We ended up lining up near each other, so I had a chance to ride with them.  This was fortunate, because I prefer to ride with folks I'm familiar with.  It gives me a greater sense of comfort about what is going on around me, and I can get a good idea of the efforts required.

Chatting before the ride start

After going through the instructions, we were given a police and motorcycle lead out.  For this event I had already decided that I would attempt to spend some time in the front group, and I would just see how long I could hang on.  It would be a good test of the last 9 months of training, as I knew the pace would be faster than anything that I was accustomed to.

Heading out

Faster it was!  After we got out of the city, the pace worked itself up to a pretty solid 24-26mph on average, with all the climbing being small grades (1-3%), where the speeds would adjust only slightly.  After a while, the front group, which probably had 50 folks in it total, started to work itself into a rolling pace line.  For those that are not familiar, this is where you work through two lines of cyclists.  In this case the right lane was moving faster, and when you reached the front of the line you'd move over to the left lane and slowly move backwards in the pack.

The goal of this type of pace line is to be able to keep up a higher pace without having the same people up front pulling (and dealing with being the wind break).  I worked my way up to the front a few times, each time trying to work myself further back in the pack to recover more.  One of my big goals for this ride was to make sure I was consuming more on the bike, but at the speeds that I was encountering I wanted to make sure I was paying attention to the road and situations more than eating per se.  Even with that, I was consuming about a bottle an hour of my drink, so I felt I was doing decently with fuel as we went.  I also made a point to have sports beans whenever I could snag them.  I transfer them from the pouches they come in into a tube that is easier to open and close, so snagging a few at a time is relatively easy.  Eating on the bike is going to be a skill that I have to actively work on to improve, so I'm not going to be overly critical of my performances in this regard on a ride by ride basis.

About 26 miles into the ride we came up to a water stop.  Some of the folks I had been riding near in the pack had mentioned that they were planning on stopping to regroup and refuel at this point, leaving the main group.  I decided it was a good place for me to catch my breath, and started to slow down.  Most of the group that planned on stopping missed the stop, so I picked up the pace in an attempt to catch back on, but by then it was just too late.  You can lose the pack in what feels like a blink of an eye, and once you are out of the draft, it's hard to keep the same pace, let alone a hard enough pace to catch back up.
Slowing down for the water stop

The pack is gone!

Once I was dropped, the only thing I could do was just work on catching the next person in front of me.  I caught one cyclist, and we worked together to catch back up with Aaron (who had likewise lost the draft at the stop), and between the 3 of us we were working together for a bit.  Jack, one of the other riders from Lexington SC, had gone back to help pull a few other folks he came to the event with.  After a few minutes we met back up with the lead group, but not in the way that you want to:

This is not how you want to catch the lead group

The danger of rolling pace lines, especially with a group of folks unfamiliar with each other, is that one person not paying attention can be dangerous.  This was the case in the lead group, as two riders ended up having wheel touch (the front wheel of one cyclist met the rear wheel of another).  3 people ended up having their day end at the 31mi mark, but thank God they only had minor injuries.  Road rash is not fun to recover from, but at least they are recovering.

At this point we had about 6 of us working together as we took off from the wreck location.  Without the large pack, our speeds definitely slowed down.  That isn't to say that we meandered our way back to the start/finish line, though.  We worked our way up to the town of Ninety Six, where we reached the final rest stop of the ride.  We took a break here to refill our water bottles and find some shade.  They had bananas cut in half here as well, which was a great snack at this point.

The well stocked refueling station
Finding Shade
Photo op at the rest stop

While we were refueling, one of the other packs of folks rode up, increasing our numbers slightly.  We were all taking turns up front, keeping the pace moving.  The next 15 miles sped by quickly, and we were making the final turn back towards downtown Greenwood.  This is the point where the group broke up some, and it ended up as a sprint to the finish.  We completed the ride in just over 3 hours, in fact my Garmin reported the total ride to be about 3 hours, 9 minutes.  That is an average speed of 20mph during the course, and a moving average of over 21mph.  

Crossing the finish line
While I was disappointed that the Festival didn't have more events for spectators (and cyclists) to do surrounding the event, the ride was very well organized and the route was fantastic.  The course was everything that it was advertised to be, and the rest stops were well stocked and in great locations.  I look forward to doing this event in the future, but I hope they decide to move it back to Saturday, so I can take in the rest of the festival after the ride.