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Bike Advocacy in Seattle

by Lang Reynolds

It may come as no surprise that an avid cyclist such as myself believes getting more people on bikes in the US could address many of the most pressing problems facing this country today. It’s even less surprising if you know I first started riding more seriously when I began commuting to middle school and kept it up throughout high school, trying to convince my friends to ride with me, organizing a bike- to- school event at local middle schools, and otherwise spreading the bike gospel.

When I started racing, though, I became… well… rather lazy, and didn’t participate in or contribute much at all to the more utilitarian aspects of cycling. It’s a strange contradiction that while having in common the use of a bike, racing is often far removed from or in direct opposition to the meliorative effects of cycling. After four-plus hours of hard training, the last thing I wanted to do was get back on a bike to ride to work or the grocery store, and driving or flying hundreds of miles many weekends throughout the season burned more gas than I would care to calculate. While many racers do a great job of commuting and otherwise being good “bike citizens,” if you’re like me and would like to get more involved in promoting cycling here in Seattle, I’ve put together below some good organizations, resources and initiatives which could benefit greatly from more voices of support from the racing and recreational cycling communities.

Why should we care? First off, increasing cycling participation and infrastructure greatly improves the safety of cycling, an obvious benefit to anybody that rides a lot. Just this week another professional cyclist was killed by a car in Spain, and closer to home just about everybody has been or knows someone who has been injured in a car/bike accident. Recent data out of Philadelphia confirm other studies which show increases in the number of cyclists on city streets leads to a decrease in traffic accidents involving cyclists. Additionally, there are of course the long-touted benefits of reduced pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and gasoline use. There are also many less-well-publicized yet very significant economic benefits of cycling which can bolster local economies while reducing energy use and congestion. Data from across the US show that people who bike to shops and restaurants spend more than those who drive, building cycling infrastructure creates more jobs per dollars spent than car-oriented projects, and substituting bike trips for car trips saves consumers a lot of money, some of which finds its way back into the local economy.

There are many local organizations working hard on behalf of cycling throughout Washington – you may already be aware of Cascade Bicycle Club and Bicycle Alliance of Washington’s excellent advocacy efforts. Cascade’s Major Taylor Program, run by former Cycle U coach Ed Ewing, is one of the coolest local bike efforts. Every year Major Taylor gets hundreds of kids out on bikes who might otherwise not have that opportunity. Major Taylor is a great place to donate that bike you haven’t used in a while. Another fantastic program for getting kids on bikes is Bike Works.

In addition to local organizations, there are many projects which need your support. Strong support from cyclists who will use the improvements is necessary to overcome gaps in funding and the unfortunately loud volume of small, localized opposition to many of these projects despite their overwhelming benefits for the community. These include projects such as the recently-postponed Ballard Greenway, the proposed (but under threat) 520 Portage Bay Bike/Ped trail, the 65th Street NE cycle track, and Safe Routes to Schools.

Here at Cycle U we’re lucky enough to work with people throughout the cycling experience spectrum, from absolute beginners just starting out to hardened veterans. There is nothing quite like the unadulterated joy when someone first discovers the freedom of riding a bike or a new level of competence in adulthood after a hiatus away from bikes. At the end of the day it is this joy and the transcendental nature of riding a bike which is perhaps the best reason we work to bring cycling to as many people as we can. Over the past few years I let some complacency get in the way of things I could have done to help grow cycling here in Seattle beyond the narrow confines of serious enthusiasts. I’m looking forward to putting in more work on this in the future, and I hope you’ll join me.

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Racing Dispatch – California Dreaming

by Lang Reynolds

This spring while preparing for the San Dimas and Redlands Classic Stage Races in California, I raced the Madera Stage race in Northern Cal with a few of my teammates. The race consisted of not one but TWO time trials in less than 24hrs, an industrial park crit, and one tough “road” race.

I call it a “road” race because half the course was on pavement so bad you could barely call it a road. Imagine a road subjected to a fortnight of carpet bombing followed by several hundred years of Metro bus service and you’ll have a rough idea of how bad this road was. Most of the dirt roads I’ve ridden were in better shape than this road.  Of course, bike racers love “epic” courses and anything that resembles the storied Paris-Roubaix so the race is a reasonably popular one in NorCal.

The race started fast, and on the first time through the pave I could tell I was going to be in trouble. I’ll blame my lack of bodyweight for my troubles on the rough pavement, but there was also a stiff crosswind which made things hard if you weren’t at the very front of the pack. My teammate Kennett had beaten me to the punch and made it into the early break of the day, so luckily all we had to do was patrol the front and watch the GC leader’s team set tempo.

While the situation was tactically simple, I was still getting destroyed every time through the pave. The penultimate time, the race exploded at the front and before I knew it we were guttered out in the crosswind riding through two-foot-deep potholes. Guttering (when the race splits into echelons) is pretty rare in Washington road racing, but it happens when you get a strong cross-tailwind and motivated riders at the front of the pack.

These riders form a front echelon and everybody else is left fighting on the last possible inch of pavement (i.e. the GUTTER) in an attempt to salvage a tiny bit of draft from the rider in front and not get dropped. Experienced riders will recognize the situation and forma second echelon as soon as possible, limiting losses of time and pride.

Before I knew it, I was in the gutter and getting dropped, despite giving it everything I had. I tried to get a second echelon going but nobody was interested or capable of thinking straight enough to do so. After a few more minutes I was definitely dropped, riding in the carnage off the back of the pack.

I thought briefly about throwing in the towel and just riding easy to the finish, but decided to keep riding hard for a bit. I linked up with a few other guys who had been dropped and we started working well together. When we got off rough stuff and back on to the pavement, I could see we were making up time on the peloton.

After another few miles we were back in the pack. I could see that some attacks were going so I waited for a lull and then went right to the front and covered an attack. In addition to having Kennett up the road, we also had a teammate in 2nd place overall, so I wasn’t obligated to work and sat on the move.

My companions yelled at me a lot for sitting on, but with a teammate up the road and our GC guy in the pack, I had no reason to work. It certainly killed me inside to not work in the move, since it’s not my style to sit on, but I had to think of the team situation and wait for the move to play out a bit more before I could do anything else.

In the end, my group almost caught Kennett, who was sprinting for the win out of his small group. Out of respect, I didnt sprint the group I was with when we came to the line, but still finished in the top 10 on the day and both Kennett and I moved into the top 10 on the overall GC.

One of the (many) great things about road racing is that just about anything can happen, and this race was a great example of that. You can go from suffering and being dropped one minute to off the front chasing the win the next minute. As long as you keep riding hard and never give up, good things will happen. In some ways, it’s a metaphor for life itself.

Keep riding hard!

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2011 Power Meter and Head Unit Review – Part I: Power Meters

A lot has happened in the power meter marketplace since my last review a few years ago. The advent of the ANT+ wireless transmission standard has opened a whole new world of possibilities in head unit selection and some exciting new power meters are on the horizon. Other products have failed and been taken off the market, which is mostly a good thing in those cases.

Power meters are still expensive, but they are also still the most effective tool you can add to your arsenal if you’re looking to improve performance. By providing a complete record of your effort on every ride, you can measure your fitness level in the different physiological systems, determine your strengths and weaknesses in races, and track your overall training stress over longer periods of time. Power meters can also be used prescriptively, to ensure a precise workout and harness correct pacing in time trial and solo efforts.

When shopping for a power meter, it’s best to start by determining your budget. Then, consider the equipment you have – how many and what type of bikes do you want to use with your PM, and what kinds of wheels do you have? No matter which PM you choose, you will have to make sacrifices in equipment choice. Getting a PowerTap locks you into using that wheel (although you can move it between bikes) while getting an SRM lets you use any wheels, but locks you into one bike. Unless PM prices fall dramatically there is just no way around these compromises. So after determining how much money you have to spend, take a little time to decide which equipment sacrifices you are willing to make. Just remember, the data from a power meter (when analyzed correctly) are far more valuable in improving performance than a few grams of weight or some carbon wheel.

One thing that cannot be compromised, however, is accuracy. I hear a lot of people say (regarding certain cheaper PMs that are not accurate) “well, even if it’s not accurate, as long as it is consistent it should be fine.” First of all, absolute accuracy is very important because it allows you to make comparisons across individuals, and also within an individual’s data set over time. If you buy one PM today and another one two years down the road, you need to be able to compare your data from your first PM with that of your new one.

Secondly, and more importantly, these PMs that are not accurate are also not consistent. This is very important because changes in fitness over the course of a season can sometimes be very small, on the order of just a few percent or sometimes even less than that. If your power meter is not sufficiently accurate, it is impossible to determine whether the changes you are seeing in the data are due to changes in your fitness, or just the capriciousness of your PM. If you don’t have confidence in your data, then the PM is not an effective tool because you have no concrete connection between the training stress you’ve applied and the changes in fitness you are attempting to measuring. An inaccurate PM, therefore, is a useless PM. PMs are not like race wheels or bike frames, where you can buy a less expensive product that delivers a large percentage of the performance of the higher-end model for a fraction of the cost. In the world of PMs, there is an accuracy threshold below which the products are not worth buying. Unlike a lot of other publications in the cycling industry, I’ve actually performed my own extensive testing on many of the products in the marketplace, and I’m not afraid to point out the ones which have failed these tests.

Without further ado, here is a rundown of the PMs now available:

 

PowerTap

PowerTap is still the industry leader in PMs as they continue to provide the best combination of accuracy, affordability, reliability, ease of use, and user serviceability. At +/-1.5%, PowerTaps remain the most accurate factory-rated PM on the market. CycleOps hasn’t changed too much about the PowerTap line since I last wrote, but they have updated all of their wireless models to the ANT+ standard for use with the next generation of head units such as Garmin GPS computers. They’ve made their top of the line hub lighter and added ceramic bearings, and they’ve also introduced more affordable low- and mid-range models. At $600, the wired Comp model is the most affordable PM on the market and the go-to choice for the cyclist on the budget.

Featureing great realiability, PowerTaps also have user-serviceable batteries; both hub and head unit batteries can be changed in minutes for a cost of about $5.

PowerTap hubs are available in road, track and MTB configuration. Here’s a quick breakdown of all the PowerTap models and the differences between them (Prices are for hub only):

ANT+ Wireless Hubs:

SLC+ $1849, 15mm Alloy Axle + Freehub Body, Carbon Hub Shell, Ceramic Bearings 402g

SL+ $1349, 15mm Alloy Axle + Freehub Body, Carbon Hub Shell, 412g

Pro+ $949 , 15mm Alloy Axle + Freehub Body, Alloy Hub Shell, 466g <— Best Wireless Value

Elite+ $849, 15mm Steel Axle + Freehub Body, Alloy Hub Shell, 583g

Wired:

Comp $599, 15mm Steel Axle + Freehub Body, Carbon Hub Shell, 576g <— Best Overall Value

Equipment tradeoffs: The PowerTap locks you into one wheel, but by getting a PowerTap laced to a rim strong enough for training but light enough for racing, such as a carbon clincher, you can have a wheel that does it all and won’t hold you back on race day. Add a WheelBuilder.com wheel cover and you also have a disc wheel for TTs that tests faster in the wind tunnel than many disc wheels .

Buy a PowerTap if: You want to use a PM on multiple different bikes.

 

SRM

Since our last edition, SRM has also gone wireless with their crank-based power meter, joining the ranks of ANT+ transmitted PMs. The most expensive PM on the market, SRM is in the same class of accuracy as the PowerTap, rated at +/-2%. With ANT+ data transmission, you can use any ANT+ head unit including SRM’s own PowerControl 7 or third-party units such as a Garmin or even the CycleOps Joule 2.0.

SRMs are accurate and reliable, but they are also the most expensive PMs on the market and have a few small drawbacks. One annoying fact is that most of them come from the factory calibrated with the wrong slope value, and must be user-calibrated after installation to give truly accurate readings. The slope value must also be re-calibrated when changing the chaingrings. They are also not user-serviceable and must be sent back to the SRM Service Center in Colorado when the batteries die, for a hefty servicing fee of $100+.

The SRM is also available in Road (Standard or Compact), Track and MTB configurations. For road cranks, it is available built into a variety of popular crank choices (SRAM, FSA, Shimano, Cannondale and Specialized) and ranges from $1895-$2945 for the crank only

Equipment Tradeoffs: As a crank-based PM, the SRM locks you into using just one bike, unless you are sufficiently mechanically competent and confident to switch cranks between bikes frequently. For some crank varieties (such as Cannondale) this is easier than others.

Buy an SRM if: You have plenty of money to spend and only one bike you want to use your PM with, or if you are comfortable enough mechanically to frequently switch cranks between bikes.

 

Quarq

One of the newer PMs on the marketplace, Quarq is a crank-based unit like the SRM, but is much less expensive. With ANT+ wireless transmission, the Quarq is also compatible with all ANT+ head units. While factory rated with +/-2% accuracy my own research has shown multiple Quarq units to have accuracy no better than 5%, which is not sufficient for use as a PM. Quarq has insisted it has remedied the accuracy issue but I have not been able to re-test any units since the improvements were announced. Additionally, because the Quarq auto-zeroes its torque reading when the crank is pedaled backward, some of our clients have had issues with their Quarqs auto-zeroing while in the start house for a TT, leading to inaccurate power readings during the TT.

While it is a promising product, until Quarq adequately resolves these accuracy issues I do not recommend purchasing one.

 

Garmin “Vector” Pedal-based PM

Announced to much fanfare in late 2009, the then-MetriGear Vector was to be the first pedal-based power meter. This product created a lot of buzz because, if sufficiently affordable, a pedal-based PM could potentially avoid many of the equipment compromises demanded by other PMs currently on the market. However, publicized release dates of Q1` and Q2 2010 came and went without so much as a public working prototype and despite being purchased by Garmin in late 2010, the Vector is still vaporware. While its purchase by Garmin suggests a viable product is actually in the works, the length of time the Vector has been in production and the lack of any pre-release prototypes has convinced me that the Vector is at least a year from reaching the marketplace, if not more.

Additionally given the track record of numerous bugs in the first batches of other PMs, even if the Vector is released in the next year I wouldn’t recommend buying one until after the first production run has been in the marketplace for a period of time. Therefore, my advice to those waiting on the Vector is: stop waiting. Buy an SRM or a PowerTap now, start reaping the benefits of using a PM, and in two years when the Vector has been out for a while and all the kinks have been worked out, THEN think about getting one.

 

Polar Pedal-Based PM

Basically the same thing goes for the Polar pedal-based PM as for the Vector. This thing is a long way from the market and it does not make sense to wait for it when there are solid products already on the market. I hope to be writing about this product in a couple years’ time after it comes out, but until then get a real PM that already exists.

 

iBike

The iBike calculates power by measuring all of the forces acting against the motion of a cyclist: aerodynamic drag, gravity, and rolling resistance. Unfortunately there are so many measurements necessary to make these calculations that the iBike is not accurate enough (except on hills) to be considered a true power meter. Additionally the calibrations necessary before initially using the iBike, and those necessary before each ride are so numerous and cumbersome that they make using one an exercise in frustration. Lastly, the user-interface is extremely non-intuitive and very difficult to use.

However, because the iBike can now function as an ANT+ head unit for a regular PM, it can act as a very useful training tool. When paired with a regular PM, the iBike’s wind-measuring sensors give it the ability to calculate aerodynamic drag, essentially turning your bike into a portable (and very cheap compared to the real thing) wind tunnel. Using the iBike as a wind tunnel, you can test time trial positions and equipment, and also determine your most aerodynamic position on your road bike.

I owe iBike an apology: when I wrote my first PM review I mentioned some customer service issues one of our clients had with the company. After getting some more information, it’s become apparent that iBike provides some of the best customer service in the industry and is extremely responsive in resolving any issues their customers have.

Buy an iBike if: You already have an ANT+ PM and would like to perform aerodynamic testing

 

Ergomo

Ergomo is now out of business, which is great because their PMs were not accurate, due to the fact that they only measured power from one crankarm. If you come across one of these in the secondary market (i.e. eBay, a friend selling one, etc.) run far away and don’t even think about buying it.

 

 

Stay tuned for Part II: Head Units

 

Questions about Power Meters or Training with Power? Contact Coach Lang at Lang@cycleu.com.

Cycle U has Power Tap wheels for demo or purchase, call or stop on in.

 

-Lang Reynolds

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Product Spotlight: Garmin 500

January 6, 2011

by Coach Lang Reynolds

 

Garmin 500

One of the biggest cycling innovations of 2010 was the expansion of GPS-based cycling computers by industry giant Garmin. After releasing the game-changing Edge 705 in 2007, Garmin upped the ante in 2010 with the release of the Edge 500 and 800 computers, which built on the strengths of the 705 to offer GPS-enabled computers in more compact packages. With the ability to receive ANT+ standard power meter data transmission, Garmin now clearly leads the pack in cycling computer technology.

After six months of using the Edge 500, I can say with confidence that it is hands-down the best cycling computer I’ve ever used. As a power meter head unit, it stands head and shoulders above the other offerings thanks to its (relative) affordability, compact size, functionality, customizability, and ease of use. At $250 MSRP, it comes in much cheaper than other ANT+ head units such as the PowerTap Joule and SRM PowerControl.

While the tradeoff for the Edge 500’s compact size is that it does not display a map of your location or allow you to follow a pre-programmed route like the 705 and 800 (it simply records the GPS data of your route), it does display pretty much all other data you could imagine. With three fully-customizable data screens and up to eight data fields per screen, the user can configure the Edge 500 to show any and all pertinent data, and nothing the user doesn’t want to see. From power metrics to altitude data to the traditional speed, distance, and cadence, the 500 can display anything you want. With climbing data such as current altitude, total climbing altitude, and vertical ascent speed, the 500 is a must-have for any climbing aficionado.

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Most importantly, the Edge 500 is incredibly easy to use. It’s intuitive interface is completely plug and play and I have yet to use the instruction manual. It synchronyzes with your power meter immediately and without a lengthy search or calibration process, and can switch between two different power meters (a PowerTap or an SRM, for example) in a matter of seconds, which makes it especially useful for cyclists with multiple wireless power meters. All of the power meter’s functionality is maintained and the 500 picks up the data with identical accuracy as the stock company’s head unit.

As with any GPS computer, the on-bike functionality barely scratches the surface of the 500’s total functionality. Downloading the files to a computer opens up a whole new universe of possibility in data analysis and training archiving. Garmin offers a free web-based training resource, Garmin Connect, where you can upload and view all your files and keep a full training history. Like everything Garmin does, Garmin Connect is easy to use and incredibly useful. If you want more in-depth analysis you can also view the files in third-party software. Some of these third-party applications, such as web-based Strava, allow riders to upload and compare rides and performances on local climbs, adding a whole new dimension of virtual competition to every training ride.

In short, the Edge 500 is good. Real good. It’s so good, it inspired me to switch back to my PowerTap wheel from the wired SRM I was using earlier this summer, because, being already fully addicted to power data, after getting a taste of the GPS AND power data combined, I just couldn’t go back to plain old power data. Your results may vary.

 

 

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