Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wheel test

When I carried the boxes up the stairs, I honestly contemplated that they might be empty. Of course, they weren't. It's just that these wheels are sicko light. Cycling Technology's Mt Washington wheels, assembled by Nico Toutenhoofd, checked in at an insane 776 grams for the pair. This is 5 grams lighter than the claimed mass for the super-pricey (okay, still cheaper than my wheels) Mavic R-Sys Premium, the rear wheel alone. Yet as impressive as the number is, it's nothing compared to the impression one gets from lifting the thing. Even with my Red 11-23 cassette, the glued-on Veloflex Record Carbon tire, and valve extenders, these wheels tip the scale at 1390 grams, just 30 grams less than the R-Sys without tires, tubes, or cassette. Sick. And that's going generous with the glue.

Combined with my Lightning SL crankset (170mm, 110mm BCD, 129 gram SRAM Rival/Force chainrings, 9.7 gram Shimano chainring bolts, 580.8 grams total with bearings), when things settled down after I loaded my bike, including Speedplay X/1 pedals and a Ti bottle cage, the LCD was reading a svelte 5360 grams. Sure, hardly competitive with Gunther Mai's 2970 gram work of weight weenie genius, but still close to a kilo and a half below the UCI limit. And my bike is designed to go fast, reliably, at a price competitive with top-end stock bikes, not chase the grams-at-any-cost mission of true weight weenies. Don't race what you're unwilling to crash. Okay, at more than $2k, I'm not excited about the idea of crashing these wheels. But still they're well under the $5k+ for a pair of top-end Lightweights or Lews, let alone the $15k custom Lightweights on Gunther's Spin. Less then the wheels I saw a junior girl riding at a recent 'cross race.

Fuji SL1 with Mt Washington wheels
The Fuji SL/1 with new Mt Washington wheels and Lightning crankset

Obviously, when the last of my four coats of glue had dried (three on the rims, one on the tire), I was excited to give 'em a shake-down spin. So flaunting Murphy, I rode the bike to Caltrain to load on the bike car for my commute from San Francisco to Palo Alto. Luck was on my side: nobody jammed their pedal into my spokes.

A few early hic-cups. There seemed to initially be an issue with the palls on the freehub of the Extralite rear hub engaging, but these settled down. then I was getting a weird pinging sound, until I finally realized the KCNC skewer on my front wheel needed to be tightened (these skewers need to be tightened down a bit more than typical skewers). Everything was fine, then. The wheels just scream "climb fast", especially when combined with the super-low rolling resistance (measured by Al Morrison) Veloflex Record tires.

Of course, I know better. Even a pound saved off the bike, wheels or anywhere else, isn't worth more than 10 seconds out of close to 20 minutes up Old La Honda Road. Day to day variations in wind are a bigger factor. So many things can yield 10 second differences. This sort of advantage, while significant, is imperceptible. Indeed, I assert I could hide a full kilogram in your bottom bracket and, if it fit, you wouldn't notice until you lifted the bike. Weight reduction is a game of advantages seen only by the stopwatch. Yet in racing, small advantages can result in big differences a small number of times. And we who lack in talent need to take advantage of every chance we get.

Back to the ride: the Monday Noon Ride has only modest climbing, as the pack rides around Portola Valley and Woodside. The wind was blowing, and I immediately noticed in cross-winds that front wheel felt jittery. At under 55 kg, I get blown around fairly easily. Gutter-fests aren't my cup. This was a bit annoying, but not a real safety concern. In cross-winds, these aren't the wheels of choice anyway, since it's repeatedly been shown in wind-tunnel testing that deeper dish wheels have the greatest advantage at non-zero yaw angle (for example, see Hed's data). Yaw equals cross-wind.

Ironically, on this Noon Ride I was dropped on the main climb, up Sand Hill road. Someone up ahead let a gap open, and I was stuck in a laughing group. Snooze = lose. Bike racing, or faux racing like the Nooner, is like that...

Rear wheel close-up
Close-up of the rear wheel. Note the semi-triangular rim profile.

On Wednesdays, the Noon Crew climbs classic Old La Honda Road. I couldn't resist the temptation to deliver the wheels to their element. I was still under the weather from recent illness, plus substantially training-deprived with barely any extended climbing during the preceding 5 weeks (only a single day in Laos), so I knew I had to pace myself carefully. Luck was on my side on the day, as the truly ballistic climbers were absent or taking it easy, and I managed to be the first to the top, with a decent but not exceptional time of 18:36. Only a minute off my Noon Ride best for last year (still a long way from my 17:03 from 2002). So yeah, the wheels climbed well.

Okay, so a bigger factor was between running and my Laos trip my body weight is lower than it has been in years: body weight can fluctuate a lot more than bike weight can. But every little bit helps. My goal of sub-17 is still looking very, very possible.

But what goes up (usually) must come down. Again there was a bit of a breeze, and rounding the corners on Highway 84, I was more tentative than I should have been due to handling feel. Why were these rims, with only 24 mm depth, behaving so squirrelly? Rim shape? A subtle effect of the Sapin bladed spokes? Narrow 20mm tires? User incompetence? Well, this particular user has never demonstrated great competence on descents, but I suspected something else was at play.

Rim shape is rather unusual on these wheels. The Edge rims are semi-triangular, less rounded than typical "aero" rims. Could this help explain the cross-wind effect? I don't know.

Mac, as always, is unimpressed. He's rather be eating, or maybe getting to know a fuzzy sweater.

Anyway, these wheels are built for climbing, plain and simple. If I am doing a lot of descending, a personal weakness of mine both due to my relative lightness and a general lack of cojones, I want the extra aerodynamic advantage of my Reynolds MV-32 tubular with the superior handling of their Veloflex Carbon tubulars. So I'm not sweating the cross-wind thing. The wheels are great. They even brake okay, with only a bit of modulation from the carbon seam. Not a big deal. The Mount Washingtons are designed for a specific purpose, and designed very well for that purpose. You'll have a hard time coming close to them for less than twice the price.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Light'ning my bike

After first noticing it in the Pez coverage of Interbike 2007, I've really been attracted by the Lightning Crankset. Mass competitive with the 580 gram Zipp Vuma Quad but with conventional 5-bolt chainrings.

Chainring compatibility is a big deal: I really like the flexibility of 110 mm BCD "compact" chainrings, but Vuma only supports the 34-50 combo: a 47% jump which when combined with the 103% range of an 11-23 rear results in a relatively small big ring-little ring overlap which can require a lot of front shifts to avoid running up against the cross-chained gears. Except for extremely steep climbs, 36-50 is the better choice, with a reduced 39% jump in the front, improving shifting performance as well as reducing the cross-chaining problem.

Additionally, the Lightning has a replaceable spider. This adds flexibility: it can be converted to 130 mm or 96 mm BCD cheaply and easily. But additionally it promises future compatibility with the Quarq power meter.

A key attraction of these cranks was, despite their newness, that the core design is already proven. Tim, the real brains behind Lightning Cycle Dynamics (best known for their excellent recumbents) patented his two-piece "Hirth" crank design in 2002. The design was then adopted by Specialized for their S-Works BB30 crankset. The S-Works crankset has been criticized for its chainrings, but these were improved last year, and this year are being used by the Saxo Bank team.

There's an ongoing debate about which is the better choice for cranks: metal or carbon? The data are frankly mixed, and I don't think there's a clear answer. For example, Fairwheel Bikes did an excellent review of lightweight cranks, comparing stiffness and weight as well as qualitative factors. I analyzed some data from that test in the following plot (warning: I think there's a scale factor error on the y-axis, and my gnuplot skills are too limited to go back and fix it, but that's unimportant):

It's easy to see that the #1 factor affecting stiffness/mass of a crank is the spindle diameter. None of these tested cranks are BB30, requiring the wider diameter bottom bracket shells standardized by Cannondale and later embraced by Specialized and others. Instead all are for BB26, the prevailing standard. A key feature of the cranks with the best stiffness/mass ratio is that they conspire to fit the widest possible diameter spindle into the BB26 bottom bracket shell.

For the cranks with 30mm spindles (labeled on the x-axis as 900 mm2) the best stiffness/mass ratio is exhibited by an EE prototype which doesn't have a shred of carbon fiber in it. The EE crank, however, has an advantage of a bit more beef than the others with 30mm spindles, checking in at 669 grams versus the lighter Vuma, Storck, and THM cranks, and at some point when you push the limits of low mass you start to affect the stiffness/mass ratio as well as just stiffness. Considering other spindle diameters as well, neither metal nor carbon fiber demonstrates a clear advantage in anything except cost, where metal wins.

None of these 30mm-spindle cranks are noodles, though, and I honestly doubt that crank deflection on any of them has any significant affect on drivetrain efficiency for someone with my power and mass (this is potentially a long discussion). I admit to preferring metal on components which are the only thing separating my body from surgery. Call me silly that way. But I think that despite their failure to demonstrate a tangible advantage versus metal, carbon cranks have sufficiently proven themselves over the years. Lightning also uses a 30mm spindle, and it will be interesting to see where it ranks when Fairwheel publishes the next round of their test data, including the Lightning.

Unfortunately Tim's success in prototyping was tempered by frustration in going to manufacturing. Month after month ticked by, the crankset perpetually promised for "next month". Eventually it was time for Interbike 2008, a year later. Yet still it was unavailable. But clearly progress had been made. I hadn't given up, despite the warnings of many skeptics.

Tim finally came through, and this month, a year after I'd first hoped, I got one thanks to the help of a friend from the Low-Key Hillclimbs. The first thing which happens with any new component is it goes on the scale! The numbers here:

drive-side assembly
215.7 g
non-drive-side assembly
147.6 g
89.2 g
SRAM 36 ring
29.1 g
SRAM 50 ring
Shimano chainring bolts
9.7 g
580.8 g

So there it is. Right at the claimed mass for the Vuma Quad. I could go lighter by switching to Extralite chainrings, verified at 106 grams for rings + bolts (but available only in 34-50), compared to 128.5 grams for the SRAM rings with Shimano bolts. I'd only consider switching the big ring, as I want the 36 inner.

Installation was easy and the instructions were very clear. Here's the result:

Lightning crankset
installed crank. Nice! Please ignore the hand.

So there it is. I look forward to giving them a spin when I finish gluing my new wheels. Of course, before I ride it, my reassembled bike goes on my Ultimate digital scale. I know I'll like what I see there. That's the important thing, isn't it? The actual riding of the thing seems almost irrelevant. After a protracted post-travel illness, I've got to get my energy back first, in any case. So for now equipment has to satisfy my cycling fix.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

on the road again

Yesterday I did the Noon Ride. Turn-out was quite poor: the slightest hint of rain and these guys confine themselves to the refuge of their cubicles (at least those lucky enough to still have cubicles... it's tough out there). Of those of us who showed, only two opted for the climb of Old La Honda Road: for me the light rain we were encountering at that point made the prospect of a slippery cold descent of Highway 84 unattractive. So we stayed in the low-lands. The no-frills Noon Loop. With the small group, basically a "leg-opener".

My focus was to ride efficiently in the group (my first real group ride in over a month), stay relaxed (especially my shoulders), and stay in the drops (a major focus is on keeping a more aerodynamically favorable position when I ride: I tend to drift too upright, in part because of my tendency towards shoulder tension). I accomplished these, but towards the end of the ride a headache and nausea become increasingly prominent. It's been too long since I've been out there.... almost three weeks without a single training ride, far longer since I've done a real group ride. My 02 Jan riding into Vientiane, basically solo, seems so very long ago. 18 days!!! I never spend 18 days off the bike. Ever. I've gotten some runs in during that time, but these have at best only slowed the rate of aerobic decline. Race fitness this year is going to be late March at the earliest.

Still, it feels so good to have gotten out there. Getting that first ride in after a forced (in this case sickness-induced) layoff breaks through the crust of staleness, fear, and even laziness which accumulates when one becomes accustomed to feeling perpetually crappy. It really helps kick-start the final stage of recovery, and indeed today I'm feeling better than I have in over a month, seemingly forever.

It's raining today. It could rain for the next two months, one never knows in the SF Bay area. But even if I'm confined to the trainer, it's way better than not riding at all. Running is great, but at my heart I'm still a cyclist. It's an addiction, but one I wouldn't give up for almost anything.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

++n == 44

Today I caught the 10:12 train from 22nd Street. It's the first time I've had the energy to take the train to work since returning from Southeast Asia almost two weeks ago, which is a relief, but significant is that it was such a late train. Why the dilly-dally? Of course, I watched the inauguration.

oathWow! I am still wrapping my head around the fact that we elected an intelligent, articulate President of the United States. In this nation known for its lack of interest in national and foreign affairs, of its low standards of education, of its rampant antiintellectualism, it took a remarkable alignment of the fates to give us someone who can express ideas as effectively, directly, and coherently as Barack Hussein Obama. As Obama gave the oath of office, thrown only momentarily by the Justice Roberts' blunder, subsequently corrected, I was thinking ahead with anticipation to the speech which would follow. A feel-good, inspire-the-troops, don't rock any boats performance would be the usual thing. Leave policy and politics for tomorrow. But no -- Barack didn't deliver the canonical stream of vacuity. He came out and set the tone for what promises to be the sort of Presidency nobody of my generation or later has ever seen.

That he wasn't going to pull punches was hinted at a few minutes earlier. The oath was administered to Barack Hussein Obama. The message was clear: this age of racist fear-mongering was over as of 12:05 EST. As of now, a man or woman can embrace with confidence their heritage, whether it's black or Muslim or anything else. And his speech supported this. He referred to America as a nation not just of Christians, who so many view as the only rightful citizens, but also of Muslims and Hindus and even non-believers. Non-believers? I'd earlier said to Cara I thought it was remarkable a black man had been elected president. More remarkable would be a woman, more remarkable than that a gay man, more remarkable than that an atheist. Even the Obamas brought the symbols of the Christian Nation to the inauguration, from the mandatory morning church attendance, to Michelle's clutched bible, to the invocation's call to Jesus Christ by several of his names. Perhaps the Obamas embrace of Christianity is sincere and not just expedient. Perhaps I'm too cynical. But the words, and the sincerity they carried, were hard to ignore. It's hard to not hope for a bit more acceptance and open-mindedness, if nothing else from the youngest of our society, to replace the xenophobia of the older generations as the older generations die off.

Further, he was unambiguous about the need for our nation to reduce its use of resources. Less consumption. This is a radical change in the past where consumption has been associated with economic strength. By definition, less consumption means less GDP, the primary measure of well-being. People could be dying in the streets and if real per-capita GDP was on the upswing, George "W" Bush would be declaring victory from the White House. Is it possible, are we finally willing to acknowledge there's more to life, to our earth, than the dollar-equivalent-value of how much we destroy? I dare not hope for too much: consumerism is so heavily entrenched, from our lifetimes of exposure to daily marketing, from a fanatical adherence to the religion of self-absorption and property rights, that change can only come slowly. Is slow change enough? Well, I'll take any change versus the last eight, sixteen, twenty-eight years. Not since Carter has a President called for us to reduce our rate of resource consumption.

The power in this nation, in the end, is with the people. Rally the public, and your cause will prevail. No amount of money and influence can overrule the people's will: rather it's the power of the money and influence to sway that will, or more commonly to distract it and fragment it with trivial issues or fears. Yet if anyone can hold the public's attention, it's Obama. The man is inspiring to any except the most hardened cynic. I hope he has the strength and determination and integrity to follow through. If he does, we're getting so much more than we deserve.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I admit it. I cracked. Cracked under the pressure. It's so easy. Click. Click. Click. What? Me? Oh, nothing, I'm just clicking my mouse. Playing. Just adding them to my cart. Oh, just adding my address info. Just to pass the time. Now my credit card. Goofing around is all! Now my mouse pointer is hovering over the "acknowledge" widget. But I'm not going to actually hit it.


But my, you've gotta be really impressed with these wheels...

Mt Washington wheelset
The hand-built Mt Washington wheels, produced from stock components by Nico Toutenhoofd's shop Cycling Technology. Super-impressive at a hard to believe 778 grams for the pair.

So many gimmick wheels have come on the market. These date back to the old Mavic Heliums. Mavic, the worst of the offenders, has continued the game with the Ksyrium series, and more recently the R-Sys which was just recalled. All of these wheels are designed as much to look novel as to meet some tangible goal of performance. This hit its pinnacle with the R-Sys wheels, whose bloated large-diameter spokes seemed designed to slow the wheel as much as possible. Indeed, the Mavics have a history of being expensive, having exceptionally high aerodynamic drag, being challenging to repair, being fitted with unreliable freehub bearings, and exhibiting at best mid-range lightness.

On the other hand companies such as Lightweight and Lew Composites have produced some really incredible wheels at $5k to $15k per pair: a combination of lightness and aerodynamics which is compelling for overall use. And of these, at least the Lightweights are considered to be of the highest quality, attracting the investment of a large number of professional riders in Europe over the years, guys paying for wheels when they have high-quality wheels already available free from sponsors. Yet a price is paid for the Lightweights' and the Lews' optimization: these wheels are unserviceable. It's just really hard to dump $5k or more on wheels which could easily be broken any day you put your body and equipment on the line at a race. So for road racing, my wheels of choice are my Reynolds MV-35's with Velomax Carbon sew-ups. Total = 1176 grams without tires, 514 more grams for the tires. A hard-core weight weenie would cringe at the sight of these, but handling and aerodynamics and affordability got more emphasis than impressing at the gram scale.

So onto the Mount Washingtons: nothing fancy about these wheels. Just straightforward engineering. Edge 1.24 rims: the best lightweight carbon fiber rims available today (if not next week... there's a 1.26 coming soon). These rims, originally designed at a 180 grams or less, were reportedly beefed up for production to 203 grams. Still, that's less than the mass of a light clincher tire. Pillar 1422 Ti bladed spokes with Pillar Al nipples (hidden in the rim): light without flaunting aerodynamics. Ti parts have been really driven up in price by all of the demand created by the financial toiled bowl known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. Whoops, no politics today.... Al nippled strip easily, but these are internal and the the Reynolds spoke wrench grabs the nipple on all four faces instead of the conventional two only, so stripping shouldn't be a problem. And the UNI/DIN-certified (200lb rider) Extralite SX Ultra hubset: excellent engineering from arguably the world's best provider of lightweight components.

Select the best parts, assemble them in a way consistent with sound mechanical principles established for decades, and as a result you get a quality product which beats all the gimmick wheels on the gram scale, for reliability, and price. Top end through-and-though, yet well less than half the tag of the best from Lightning or Lew. How do these ride? I'll find out soon, but I've plenty of confidence in them. They just look right.

With the hidden npples, the holes in the rim are a lot smaller than they would be were it necessary to fit the spokes through, so I'm confident in the rim strength. But lateral stiffness is another issue. Fortunately I'm checking in at around 54 kg and change at the moment, so I don't stress equipment as much as many. And given that these wheels are obviously climbing-specific due to their reduced emphasis on aerodynamics (without flaunting it), a bit of a compromise on lateral stiffness and therefore on cornering performance is acceptable.

With this in mind, I went with the Velomax Record tubulars, narrower and lighter than the Carbons. Again, a compromise of handling for lower rolling resistance and lower mass. When the smoke cleared from the spreadsheet it was reading an amazing 554 grams saved relative to my trusted Reynolds MV-35's. 554 grams! That's a serious chunk of change. Close to 9 seconds off Old La Honda times, not counting an unknown but small correction for increased wind drag: maybe 2-3 seconds based on data on similar wheels published in Roues Artisanales.

6-7 second up Old La Honda? My times vary more than that day-to-day due to a myrid of other factors. So how can I justify a pair of climbing-specific wheels? Hard to say. Sure, as Lance wrote, "every second counts" in races. But there's only a few hillclimbs on the local USA Cycling schedule, and these tend to be relatively "low-key" events. Then there's the Low-Key Hillclimb Series itself. These events by definition are obviously for fun, for training, to raise money for some excellent charities. Not the sort of thing to inspire dropping $2k+ to save a few seconds off ones time. Then there's the purely personal, ego-driven quest to set a PR up Old La Honda, maybe finally crack 17 minutes (my PR=17:03, 2002). But I'm hardly going to use these wheels week-in week-out on the Noon Ride, if at all there. For Old La Honda, these wheels would be restricted to the rare "field test" to assess my climbing ability. But isn't it simply a lie to use equipment to reduce a time in what is designed to be a test of the rider's fitness? On field tests, power matters more than time, making my heavy Powertap rear wheel perhaps the better choice.

So it's hard to justify. But to heck with it: the real motivation is because I really admire the wheels. They're cool, and they're going to get my bike down to close to 5.33 kg if my calculations are correct, close to 1.5 kg below the UCI limit. And that's with a Performance stem and a mid-range Ritchey alloy handlebar. No weight weenie-ism on these parts, which are so critical to sustaining the rider's health... So impressive. And I figure these wheels are good for 5 years. A lot can happen over the course of 5 years.

The wheels shipped yesterday. I'm excited.

My, I need to get back on the bike. Already I got in a pair of solid runs since being sick, but I really, really need a good ride. Hopefully that will cure me of this rare tendency to indulge in "retail therapy"! I can go back to attending to the engine, which every good cyclist knows is way, way more important than equipment mass. Unless you're trying to impress women at the café with how light your bike is. "Hey, babe, pick this up!"

Bicycle, help me before I buy the Extralite stem, or a carbon fiber shell saddle!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

exercise in futility

After hearing the governor's very short and to the point state of the state address stressing the present California budget crisis (referencing the "sword of Conan"1 -- I love it!), I drafted the following letter to my state legislators, Jay Leno (senate) and Tom Ammiano (assembly).

Please support an increase in the state gas tax. Gasoline prices have fallen substantially in the past months. The increase in support for mass transit, alternative energy, and energy conservation which came with $4/gallon gas is dissipating. The state is in a budget super-crisis. The best way, by far, to raise this revenue is with fuel taxes: tax what you want people to use less of, not what you want them to do more of (for example, earn income). Please support a higher gasoline tax.

The Governor delivers his State of the State address.

Of course, it's all pointless. Californians are as addicted to their cars as anyone. They'll never give up the freedom-is-slavery which is driving until the system collapses under its own absurdity.

gas consumption
$1.30/gallon would go a long way to closing the $20B deficit. Of course, there's feedback effects.

1 I think the quote was "I call upon the legislature to pass a balanced budget or I will cleave their puny skulls one by one with Conan's sword." Or something like that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sick of it all

Being sick just sucks. I fall behind in my fitness. I fall behind in work. I fall behind in personal responsibilities. Our society just has zero tolerance for being sick.

It's especially hard since it seems absolutely everyone is training hard right now. In the wintered regions, I read about guys like Christian Vande Velde's trainer sessions. Lance Armstrong's in Australia riding hard (for his rumored $1M appearance fee), Dave Zabriskie is shaving his head (it doesn't get any more serious than that!). Closer to home, we're way ahead of those Euro Pros, as we're already well into the 2009 season. I already missed San Bruno (I was in Laos), then the first Early Bird Crit (I was in Cambodia), then the second Early Bird crit (I was in bed). For this weekend, my teammates are planning for their first training camp (I'll be in New Jersey visiting family, also missing the third Early Bird crit). Hopefully I won't catch something else on the plane. I probably will.

When I can't work out I just feel like my life's falling apart. Invariably I end up thinking about equipment. If the engine's going to hell, you may as well tune up the chassis, right? I should be getting a Lightning Crank sometime soon: that'll shave around 250 grams off my rig. Hopefully the bearings are good! Pretty stupid to gram-shave if it increases drivetrain friction relative to my GPX with Enduro ceramic bearings.

Lightning Crank total weight with Extralite rings

A Lightning crank with Extralite rings. I prefer SRAM 36-50 to the Extralite 34-50. The SRAM rings are actually quite competitive in weight with the more expensive Extralites, the latter not available in a 36, which results in less cross-chaining.

But it's worse than that. I actually found myself looking longingly at the Extralite stem. 78 grams, baby, for only $200!!! My $30 Performance Forte weighs in at 125.1. Figure maybe 85 grams for the 10cm stem, that's 40 grams saved for $200: $5/gram. Cheap compared to the Trek black->red series carbon upgrade, which is around $13/gram, yet which so many are willing to swallow, but still over my $3.50 limit. But my, it is gorgeous...

Drool baby, drool!

Better, actually, to invest in metrology. My PowerTap computer gave up the ghost last summer. Since then, Cara got a Powertap, so I could use her computer. But she's going to be using it, so I should get the PT back up and running. I admit I loved running off the power grid for awhile, but the benefits of power training can't be denied. I really should get back with the program. One option is to get another one of the Powertap computers, but I really hate the user interface.

However, since Powertap came out with an Ant+ Sport upgrade for their hubs, Powertaps can now be used with Garmin Edge 705 or with the iBike Gen III Aero. I've heard only problems with the Garmins. It's like a GPS unit with cycle computer functions kludged on, power kludged on top of that.

The iBikes, on the other hand, are designed with only bikes in mind, and I'm very impressed with their engineering. Who can deny the attraction of all that extra data, as well? Altitude, road grade (independent of altitude, not its derivative, at least on small length scales), wind speed, and (in conjunction with the powertap) real-time CdA extraction. Dan Smith says I tend to ride too upright. "That's 35 watts right there!" he shouted at me when I assumed a lower position. Having numeric feedback of my aerodynamic efficiency would be a nice thing to have. Cool... I was getting really close to pulling the trigger on that iBike.

iBike Aero (any relationship to the iPod is a coincidence)

But more research: the iBikes are a calibration nightmare. Ready to ride? Normally I'm lucky if I check my tire pressure and remember my keys. With the iBike, first you need to weigh yourself with your bike and everything which is going on the ride. Enter the data. Then make sure the computer is in thermal equilibrium with the ambient. At this temperature, isolate it from all wind. Then set the wind offset. Then do a short out-and-back ride. Make sure the average wind is zero. Then do a coast-down calibration of Crr and CdA. Luckily you no longer need to do a tilt offset calculation: it does it automatically by making sure the integral of gradient over distance agrees with the change in altitude.

For someone coming off a period where I embraced the simplicity of zero metrology, eschewing even the simple cycling computer, it's all overwheling, even if I have a physics degree.. Boyd Johnson assures me it isn't that bad, though.

It also eats batteries. Like every 25-50 hours of riding. Not very green there.

Bike NutOne more thing: recently I was in Bike Nüt and saw their shop kit. Very nice. All black with white logo, or all white with black logo. I could use a new kit as most of my useful stuff is Webcor/Alto Velo, and I'm no longer there. It'll be awhile before I have my Roaring Mouse stuff. Rumor is Cara's going to get it for me as a late Christmas present.

BTW, I just put in a bid on a used Powertap head unit on E-Bay. Getting cold feet on that iBike...

So anyway, enough ranting. What I really need is to get back on the bike. Get in some solid runs. And I'll feel better. I may still be behind in personal stuff like dealing with finances. But at least I'll be happier.

The immediate goal is to get better in time for that flight to New Jersey. And not get sick again.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

sickness kills Austin

I formally pulled the plug on plans for the Austin Marathon. I told my coach, Dan Smith, that being sick three times in the past month (I'm clearly coming down with a cold as I write this) combined with two doses of serious jet lag (traveling to and from Bangkok, a 9 hour difference) has just put too big a dent in this, the critical month for marathon preparation. Really, for a marathon everything needs to be in place four weeks before. That's 17 Jan, one week from today. I'm just not going to be there. Not even close. Time to refocus on getting well, finding a more modest next running goal, then refocus on cycling after that.

I spent hours staring at the ceiling at the Golden Banana guest house in Siem Reap.

I don't set goals lightly. Yet to show up in Austin with the goal of simply making it to the finish without damaging myself is of no interest to me. If I go, it's to qualify for Boston. If I can't do that, I don't go.

I can't be disappointed with my running experience this year. I went from nothing to having some really solid races. I haven't reached my goal of a 40-minute 10km, but maybe I can still do that now that I've given up on the marathon goal. It all comes down to how I feel, how quickly I get my health back.

Lao kitten. This has nothing to do with this blog entry, but is justified for cuteness.

The Laos trip was interesting, for sure, but it's taken a big cost. Of course, I couldn't anticipate the unprecedented problem with sickness. I've felt healthy and non-jet lagged maybe three days in the last four weeks. Traveling is inherently risky on health, but by any standard I had bad luck here. I had a bad feeling when we showed up on the tour and one of the members was barely able to walk from his cold. It's not fair to hold it against the guy, but emotionally it's hard not to. And then when I let my guard down in Vientiane and drank two street smoothies with ice, from different vendors just to maximize my risk exposure, that turned out to be another nail in the coffin.

So it's regroup, retarget, rebuild. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Laos impressions

Fetal pigs for sale in Luang Prabang

A cycling trip... but the focus wasn't on the bike. The riding was more about working through my head cold on insufficient food. A physical challenge. But the memories are of impressions. Encounters. Sights and sounds. For example, humans and animals.

Pakbeng...Ban Faen...Udonzai...Pak Mong...: chickens, pigs, wander freely onto the road, from house to house, wherever they wish. I ask our guide Ken: how do the owners keep track of which are which? They know, he said. And anyway the chickens know where their home is: they come back there each night to eat and sleep. "And eventually to die," I think as he says this. Chickens everywhere. In the US, it's a rare thing to get away from the sound of cars. In rural Laos, welcome relief from the ubiquitous sound of engines, but the sound of roosters is everywhere. Which would I prefer had I been raised among the chickens?

Ban Faen: a very special dinner with the village elders. Lao Lao (rice whiskey) all around. Food is served. A pig's hoof floats in the soup. I'm vegetarian, yet I at least taste the broth. So much more honest, I think. So much more responsible, respectful of the pig, that everything is used, everything is eaten, even the hooves. In the US, people eat pork, not pigs. In Laos, people eat pigs. Hypocracy helps drive so many people to be vegetarian in the US. It goes beyond food: religion, as well, or holidays. It's Christmas eve this night, which most of us would prefer to forget.

Leaving Kiu Kachan on the road to Vientiane... Chinese Tour buses and cargo trucks speed down the center of the narrow road, barely reducing their speed as they roar through small villages with children, chickens, pigs, cows, dogs, and cats. How are there no collisions?

Riding into Luang Prabang, I hear wimpering ahead. Traffic is parting around a dog. This doesn't look good. Then I see it clearly. A severed dog leg lies nearby, the dog's stump with dangling flesh and exposed bone. Yet little blood. What should I do? The dog needs to move, but it's highly distressed, and may well attack if I approach. But then the he gathers himself and hops off the road on its three remaining legs. From behind me, someone laughs. I am appalled. But that response is based on a sheltered life. I don't directly deal with death on anything larger than a bug. These people have seen it virtually daily their whole lives. What is it that a dog lost its legs? Stupid dog. Yet I am still appalled.

Running out of Tha Heua while waiting for slower riders to arrive to the rest stop. I pass a cow laying on the side of the road. A board is held over the cow, on which two men lay, immobilizing it. Blood flows into a bucket from a large hole in the cow's neck. I've read of cows being "milked" by Hindus in India. This cow is not being so sustained: this will be its only "milking". I avoid staring: what right to I have to stare, with its implied judgments? I continue running, shaken. But I'm not upset. Factory farming upsets me, not this.

Beyond Laos: a market in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Eels swim in a bowl. One escapes onto the floor, but a child deftly scoops it up with a small dish and returns it to the bowl. A woman squats next to a cutting board and a bloody cleaver behind the bowl, waiting for customers. I saw a similar scene in De Lat in 2005. At a nearby stall, inverted turtles struggle to regain their feet. Life and death everywhere.

So many more impressions, so many scenes: I've already described too many. The reality was refreshing. This is not what is destroying the Earth.

Riding to Angkor Wat