Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Full Beal's, With the Point

Just back from a nice ride up to Beal`s Point at Folsom Lake. I took the camera and left the Garmin at home, so I have some nice pics, but no telemetry to fret over. It was a nice change to just go have fun and endulge in some speed, damned the HR and fatigue. Although I think I was just using a strong moment in the ride, I don't really know, don't really cared, and enjoyed the freedom to not worry about it, but just enjoy the cold dense air in my lungs, wind in my face and pavement flashing by.

A note on that. Your pancreas doesn't make insulin at the same rate all the time, even when you are going flat out. It makes insulin on a 6-minute cycle. My take on this is your body pings, somewhat like a submarine. It pumps out a lot of insulin, floods your blood with the stuff, and then monitors how fast it gets used up, and/or how much blood glucose is left at the end of 6 minutes. It then adjusts the quantity in the next 6-minute dose accordingly.

Since insulin is a hormone which dramatically increases the rate at which your muscles (and adipose tissue if at rest) can absorb glucose, you get little spurts and sags when you ride. One of the very real advantages of riding in groups is you can make good use of individual rider's surges to pull others in sag mode.

Time to fetch my baked potato out of the microwave, mash it up with canola oil and sour cream, and get some glucose into those hungry muscles so they don't start chewing on themselves. With a glycemic index of 105 potatoes are the bees knees for recovery carbs. I like mine with 32 oz of skim milk. Really hits the spot!

I hope you enjoy the pics. They almost do the scenery justice. The snow in the Sierras in the background will be water in the lake by May or June.

Footwarmer Feedback

Well, as usually happens, I dragged a toe riding last week, so I got out the duct tape and 'armored' the toe box area of the shoe. About 5-6" wrapped across the toe area, applied so the tape tapered downward towards the sole at both ends, worked quite well. I snipped some slits in the tape at 1" intervals on the bottom side so it would wrap/fold around the toe nicely, and the effect is very pleasing. This basically mimics the rubber reinforcement in the toe box area of any tennis shoe.

I rode with this some 40 miles to my HammerinWheels birthday party on Saturday and got a lot of feedback. Some seem to think it looks 'dorky', so if that's your take, just buy some cheap Lycra shoe covers to make it all look pretty. You will give up the high viz property of the outer reflective surface, but that may be a good trade-off to some.

The reflective side that matters is the side that faces inward, and it will be just as wind and waterproof as ever, so no issues. The versatility of this system is one of its great strengths. If it were thicker or heavier, that wouldn't be true, but as it is, it can be the perfect base layer for those riding in really COLD weather.

I checked, and you can buy Thinsulate in small quantities online. I will find a link and post it when I get time. Btw, if you want to save gas, and make your car heater and AC much more effective, put this stuff between the door panel and door gasket. It also kills a ton of road noise. Time to head out the door and 'get some' right now.

Merry Christmas to you all, and thank you for all the wonderful feedback over the last year. All the best to you and yours.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

World's Cheapest, Lightest, Best Foot Warmer

This is so effective it's just stupid. Almost weightless, costless and super-tough, it works well alone or under booties. In thinking about materials used in booties I have to say, they are very poorly chosen. Neoprene? Are you kidding me? Very heavy, not very windproof, and because of the density of rubber, a poor insulator.

Once wet, neoprene is as cold as cotton. Worse, it stays wet and conducts, evaporates and convects your feet into icicles. (It takes at least 8hrs to dry a 7mm wetsuit on a warm day) It has an R value ~ 0.5 per inch of thickness. Thinsulate under this stuff would be pretty good, which is why it's the material of choice for SCUBA dry-suits.

Here's a table I found for the R value of Thinsulate Ultra. As you can see, it would take over 5 inches of neoprene to match Ultra 200's R value. Need I say more about how poorly the industry is being served by its product designers? (the correct thickness of US150 is .64")

I would recommend a good wool knee-sock to wick the moisture up out of the shoe. There is plenty of airflow, even under tights, to accomplish this. They also do a great job of keeping your calves warm - especially the snowboarding kind with extra padding in the back for heel-side pressures.

PS: I was very surprised that a Google search for 'R-Value' turned up this blog post first and foremost. Given this I was a little uncomfortable with my source for this info, so took it upon myself to do a few hours of research. I found two sources I found credible,  cited at the bottom of this Excel spreadsheet. The first was from an educational physics page, and the second was a Wikipedia page on R-Values. As you can see, I looked for materials the two tables had in common and then tried to come up with a conversion factor.

I ended up favoring foam board as reference materials, as they too are purposely designed to insulate. Of interest, felt, though heavier, would be a good alternative to Thinsulate. Please note, the table R-Values are for 1" thicknesses, while the R-Value for Thinsulate is for the material's stated thickness. At the end of the day, it looks like it would take 3-6" of neoprene to match the insulation provided by the best Thinsulate. (A layer of US100 and one of  US150 is ~ 1" and R 3.32)

The materials` weights are wildly out of proportion to each other. It should also be noted that these values are for conduction losses only, which assumes they are in an air-tight environment and all radiant losses have been eliminated. (both good assumptions under SpaceBlanket, but uncovered, far, far from bicycle shoe cover conditions)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sneaking in a Ride

I finally got out the door today, after taping some SpaceBlanket stuff over my shoes to keep the wind out and the heat in, gathering up all of my cold-weather gear, long-fingered gloves and such, and finding my Gatorade back. It was mostly cloudy, but not that all-day bone-chilling cold kind of day. In fact, it felt pretty warm, around 50 I think, and when the sun shone through it was gorgeous. My feet were toasty warm, and being warm and comfortable is a sure way to find the joy in a sunny day.

It wasn't a long ride. I didn't want to get caught too far from home if the sky opened up, and it was the first time out on a real ride with my new back wheel, so I wanted to be a bit cautious. About that. I have a very serious suggestion for anyone contemplating buying a new bike. Buy some good custom-built wheels for your old ride first - or if not that, put your old wheels on any new bike you are thinking of buying and go for a ride. Most of the difference in ride quality between a $2,000 msrp bike and a $5,000 bike is the wheels. Really. No bull. It's just amazing.

The difference in ride quality between my old and new rear wheel is more than the change from my steel bike to my carbon one. I can't even feel the roughness of the road now except for my POS radially spoked front wheel. It's going to get replaced as soon as I get through Christmas. If the hub were better quality I would just re-lace the wheel with DT Revolution spokes and ride on, but with only 20 spoke drillings, there just isn't much that can be done with them.

The rear wheel performed better than even I had expected on the return home today. There is a sharp left turn at the bottom of a hill where the asphalt is really torn up and wrinkled. I normally have to slow down to 10-12 mph to take the turn, and then add a lot of power to climb back up the hill to the left. I was a bit cautious today, but I carried 15-18 mph into the turn and knew immediately I could have carried far more speed into it if the front wheel had been more compliant. I cannot feel any harshness at all coming from the rear wheel. Only the front.

The freewheel hub's ratchet is almost silent. No one will ever know when I am tired and coasting. I'm the stealth rider now! The bluish tint on the Ultegra hub is very nice in outdoor light too. I am just chomping at the bit to get the front one ordered now. I will get it with the Mavic's CD treatment to reduce rim wear on the braking surface up front, as the front wheel takes 4-5X the braking wear as the rear. The micro machining on the new rear rim was very sticky, completely homogeneous, and that was in wet, sandy conditions. Very impressive.

I only wish I had bought custom wheels this spring. It would have made the training miles so much easier.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pretty New Wheel

Mavic Open Pro black rims with double eyelets for maximum strength
DT Swiss Revolution 14/17 super-butted stainless spokes
Lightweight silver alloy nipples
Ultegra 6700 rear hub with annular contact bearings, labyrinth seals, and steel freehub body
Handmade in Colorado by Santa's mountain-top elves

The final effect. A very handsome wheel that is ~ 5 times as durable. The hub is a bit under-par relative to the rest of the wheel, but the steel freewheel hub is bomb-proof and the new seals and bearings are excellent. The freehub ratchet is nearly silent, and extremely smooth. The color is gunmetal grey - a kind of pale bluish tint grey. Very nice on a blue bike!

Invisible butting on the DT Swiss Revolution, as compared with the abrupt butting on my mtn bike wheels. Note too the ratty and ripped rim joint on my mtn bike wheel. None of that on the Mavic Open Pros.

Note how the 3-cross pattern has the spokes bending across each other for mutual lateral support. The super-butted 14/17 spokes are 17 gauge everywhere but the first 10mm at the hub, and the last 10mm at the threads. They are about half the weight of a straight 14 gauge spoke, and support high spoke tensions without breaking for a super-responsive, resilient wheel, with a buttery ride. They cheat the wind like a bladed spoke, but without the cross-wind problems.

Gunmetal grey hub with steel freehub body. Mavic Open Pros come with a halographic decal indicating very clearly the spoke count, so you don't have to count. In adidtion, Colorado Cyclist puts a special decal on their hand-built wheels. These are nice touches you expect when paying for custom wheels. Oddly, the total price was only ~ $200. Very reasonable for what you get.

Notice how the eyelets support the pull of the spokes on both the surfaces of the rim? These are called double eyelets, and the Open Pro is one of very few rims to offer this. It makes the spokes almost impossible to pull out. With the high-elasticity of 14/17 butted spokes, and 32 of them, I'm assured these never will. The rim is super-light too. Only 425 grams. Riders over 200 lbs should opt for 36 spokes, while riders under 150 lbs should use 28.

 A final glamor shot
 Update 1/10/2010
It appears that the Mavic website is very misleading about the color of the CD and Ceramic rims. The Open Pro CD is a bit heavier, but the trade-off is the braking surface is thicker and anodized to make it harder, and therefore, longer lasting. While this is not a big deal, given the small amount of wear the rear braking surface gets relative to the front wheel's, I'm now faced with an awkward choice between getting a more durable braking surface for the front wheel, or having the two wheels match. I would recommend getting Open Pro CD rims front and back for maximum durability.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

R&R - ing a Gear Cassette

I have been meaning to put this how-to up as a video for some time, but never wanted to take the hour or so it takes to get 4-5 takes down when doing this chore. I am usually rushing to get the cassette cleaned for a ride the next morning and it's late at night.

This time I was moving the cassette to a new wheel, so I took the time to do it a few times while recording. Sorry about the mumbling under my breath while my thoughts try to tunnel their way to the surface. You wouldn't believe how many things were competing to be said as I was wrenching away.

If you want to change your gearing, just buy a cassette and then follow these two procedures to remove your old cassette and mount the new one. I would recommend that you clean these periodically, and before storage, in a 50:50 solution of distilled water and Simple Green. A good, flat bristle toothbrush can be a big help with a dirty cassette. When storing, rub dry with a clean and dry terry rag, then oil lightly with Pedro's chain lube.

Use a short piece of PVC pipe and some zip ties to hold the pieces together in order and place the assembled cassette in a zip-lock bag in a box with all of your other cassettes. It is GREAT to have your whole quiver of arrows ready at hand when the need arises for special gearing.


Taking it apart...

Putting it back together.

This is a picture of an alloy freewheel hub where large steel cogs, which were pinned together, but without an actual spider, nearly tore through their splines. This is my old wheel, and this damage was all done on a single climb in one afternoon.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Colorado Cyclist

I just got an email notification from UPS that my CUSTOM BUILT wheel has shipped from Colorado Cyclist already! This came only 26 hours after they received my order. Now THAT's what I'm talking about when I say "customer service".

 This message was sent to you at the request of COLORADO CYCLIST to notify you that the electronic shipment information below has been transmitted to UPS. The physical package(s) may or may not have actually been tendered to UPS for shipment. To verify the actual transit status of your shipment, click on the tracking link below or contact COLORADO CYCLIST directly.

Wow, these guys are starting out strong. What a huge contrast to Cambria. I'm a little worried that the DT Swiss Revolution spokes need a lot of TLC (think time) to build with, but maybe they build them in batches and had a few left? I will reserve judgment until I get them here safe and sound, but this is a very impressive start.

I also want to give a big shout out to a new book "Fixed" I was sent through the Vines program to review. I was asked to join Vines because my reviews there were highly rated. It's kind of a cool program where you get to pick stuff they send you to keep. You just have to review it. I get a lot of 'beta' books where I feel I am doing the job of an editor somewhere in NY, NY, so I have been put off a bit with the whole program, but this book is excellent, and makes up for all those nights and weekends slogging through amateurish crap.

The book is written by a graphic designer and a professional writer, both of whom are avid cyclists. The pictures are plentiful and, in many cases, rare. The text is very well written and comprises a treasure trove of cycling history. I hope these guys come out with a follow-up book called "Geared" so that the two books will comprise an excellent history of the sport in two beautifully illustrated books.

This is the perfect Christmas gift for anyone who owns a pair of cycling shoes - or an impressionable mind that you hope someday will. It was reading a book exactly like this that first got me interested in bike racing as a sport.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cambria Blows It Again

I called Cambria's Pasa Robles store yesterday and asked if they had the Aksium wheels I was looking for, as I am planning a trip to Barstow this weekend or next and thought it a short detour - shorter than a drive to Santa Rosa. I also emailed them, and heard nothing at all from them by either medium.

Late this afternoon I called the Santa Rosa store back and they still had a record of my order, had my contact info, but still no product. There was one change though, the price on the rear wheel was $140, not $110 like the front. Bottom line, they are no cheaper than TotalCycles, and that's before shipping and tax.

Pondering my dilemma, I started looking for a different solution. There were a few things that haunted me. In no particular order, they were as follows...

  • When I rebuilt my old bike for Aaron, I noticed that the wheels had a LOT of spokes, 36, laced 3 crossed in the back, and 32 in the front laced 2 crossed, and with double-butted spokes. These wheels I had custom built by Performance Bike Shop in NC back in the mid-80's and I loved their soft supple ride and bombproof performance. I had them built after splitting a 6" section out of my back wheel spanning 3 spoke holes while touring. I hate to repeat the mistakes of my own history.
  • My friend, and bike mechanic, Bruce, gave me a good tutorial on bike wheels when I first detected my broken wheel. There were 2 things he stressed. At my weight, using at least 32 spokes and a rim with double eyelets that allow the spokes to pull on both the inside surface (where all rims support spoke pressure) and on the mid-channel cross-member that resists the clamping force of braking
  • Reviews of the Aksium, and many other low spoke-count wheels seemed to fall into two distinct categories, love them or hate them, with nothing in-between. The deciding factor seemed to be rider weight. I'm on the 'hate-em" side of that equation. 
  • My current rear wheel has 24 spokes, the same spoke count as the Aksium. That seems like a warning shot across the bow, right? 
  • My old hub is too cheesy to rebuild, so no point rebuilding the current wheel with a great rim and spokes. Too much like building an apple around a worm.
  • My front wheel is in good condition, and since I ride so much of the time in aerobars, (which DO put a lot more weight on the front wheel) resting my elbows in nice thick pads that are torsioned with a  3" lever arm twisting against a 1" thin-walled aluminum tube that is clamped to handlebars attached to a 120mm stem and a carbon fork with Zerts silicon dampers, it's pretty hard to take a sharp blow to the front wheel. There's just way too much give in the system, even if I don't get down to the hoods or drops before the really rough stuff rolls under me.
  • My Roubaix is a plush bike, and those are all made to put the rider in an upright position (which I have done everything to remedy) due to frame geometry, which puts an inordinate amount of weight on the rear wheel. 
A lot to chew on, I know.

I spent most of the afternoon online looking for answers and options. I am really frustrated that Cambria are such clueless idiots on the phone - about products, customer support, pricing, etc. You just have zero confidence you aren't talking to some clueless kid breathless from little league hanging out waiting for his dad to come pick him up from his after-school bike shop gig.

At a minimum they can't get their story straight on price, and I have wasted 10 days sitting around with my thumb up my butt while they may or may not have done anything to satisfy their customer. I had a very similar experience with Cambria when ordering parts for my mtn bike rebuild early this spring. The last straw was calling their online store about a "Hot Deals" special on some Easton wheels only to be told they don't have any left, so sorry, scheduled for deletion real-soon-now, blah, blah, blah, ad-naseum. I think it's time to write these bozos off my contact list and move on.

I am currently looking at replacing just the rear wheel with a custom-built wheel from either Excel or Colorado Cyclist. Both builds feature Shimano Ultegra hubs, 32 double-butted Swiss DT spokes, and Mavic Open Pro CD rims.

The CD treatment is a process for hardening the braking surface for longer life - something I hope to make use of with these wheels. It seems to be somewhat controversial. My decision will come down to price, tax, and Ultegra 6700 vs Ultegra 6600 hubs. The cost will be $200- $225, depending on options. Next spring I will reevaluate my wheels with the intent of getting a matching front wheel using the same technology.

No road trip, and still too sick to make one anyway, but I am well enough to lift my plastic out of my wallet and MagicJack my way through some pointed questions before placing an order. Mostly these will be about the Ultegra hubs, freewheel bodies, new DT Swiss Revolution spokes, and the CD treatment on the Open Pro rims.

If you're getting the feeling I'm not an impulse buyer, you're right. Soak time is always an aid in making a high quality decision. I like my new approach - focusing exclusively on the broken wheel - better. Maybe Cambria's ineptness will end up being for the best. Stay tuned. I have learned a TON about wheels, and will try to share some of that with my readers.