Wednesday, October 28, 2015

3x125 Is The Future of Inline Skating

When I first saw a 3x125 setup, I think I had the same feelings as nearly everyone else. I wasn’t ready to change. I loved my 4x110 setup — the way it looked, the way it skated, the vast number of options I have for wheels based on any course conditions I would dream of encountering. I knew what characteristics I liked in the feel of a 4x110 setup, and could knew which wheels and frames fit my criteria best. 

I had questions about the 3x125. The main question, of course, is whether or not 3x125 is faster than 4x110. Yeah, the wheels are bigger, but would having one less touch point on the ground impact the amount of power I could produce from each stroke? And if they are faster, how come more pro skaters in Europe aren’t on them? Even the ones sponsored by companies who made the 3x125 frames weren’t on them. 

I had other questions too, like how would it feel? Would it be a radical change? Will it take weeks of training on the 125s just to be able to match the speed I had on the 125s? Would my ankles get destroyed because of the extra height? Will it be easier to get on my edges or harder? Will I be able to turn a corner at speed? What will the length feel like? Will this be a short lived fad that I shouldn’t bother spending a single dollar on, or is this going to be the “new normal” over the course of the next few years?

Well, after Duluth I decided to answer as many questions as I could first hand.

Before I get to that, I should mention that another question I typed above has really been answered already this year — the question about European and American pros racing on them. Bart and Joey proved at Duluth that the 3x125s weren’t slow. Bart’s performances at both Duluth and Berlin on these wheels have got to be some of the most impressive wins I’ve ever seen. Yes, the majority of that has got to be because Bart is one of the best skaters there ever has been, but perhaps his equipment had something to do with those performances as well. More and more pro skaters in the european pack seem to be switching over to the 125s. Perhaps they are doing it out of sponsor obligations, I’m not sure. But, they’ve surely proven that 125s are not slow. 

Now that I’ve skated on 3x125s a handful of times, I’d love to answer some of the questions that I’ve frequently heard, and also have had myself. First of all, how do they feel? In short, not as different from 4x110s as I expected. Really, I think that the difference in feel between two wheel companies like Matter and MPC is greater than the difference in feel between 4x110 and 3x125. I don’t feel any higher. My ankles don’t feel like they are working any harder to balance me. In general, the balance is exactly the same. If you can skate well on 4x110 (or even 4x100), you are going to skate well on 3x125. 

Skating on them isn’t EXACTLY the same as 4x110. I do feel a few differences. The skate feels lighter, and I mean that in two different ways. For one, it feels like it weighs less. I haven’t weighed the frames and wheels yet to confirm, but I’m quite certain it is true. Second, the 3x125s feel “light” in that they are easier to push with. I’m not sure if this is the result of the size of the wheel, the fact there are 3 wheels instead of 4, or just the wheel itself. Other than some noise issues, I think that Matter hit a home run with these 125 wheels. Have you ever noticed that some wheels just feel like they take a lot of power to push and you they make you have a lower turnover rate vs other wheels that are easy to turn over and seem to reward a high cadence? To me, these fall into the second camp. 

My first time skating on these wheels, I drafted off Alex while he was on his bike. We don’t do this very often. We usually either both skate or are both on bikes. Anyway, i was amazed at the immediate performance I felt. We were always going a few mph faster than I thought we were going. Drafting behind the bike at 24mph couldn’t have been easier. If Alex wasn’t so winded from having to hold 24mph for miles on his road bike, i could have easily had a conversation with him at that pace. These wheels just roll and roll. I’m not sure how they sprint yet, but the cruising speed is very high. Higher than 4x110 at the same effort level, in my opinion. Since they are so easy to turn over, my legs never felt remotely tired. 

When Alex skated on the 3x125 by himself, he tied his fastest solo lap ever the very first time he ever skated on them. His second lap on them was his 3rd fastest solo lap ever. 

Last night, I did a solo lap around our 10 mile lake, just to see how close I could come to our record. Our previous record skating together was 25:20, and I remember that being a perfect day. Last night, weather conditions were pretty much ideal and the trail wasn’t very crowded, but I had to slow down quite a bit at two intersections to let traffic pass. I figured it probably cost me about 10 seconds or so. Otherwise, I knew it was a pretty fast lap. When I finished, I was expecting to see about 25:45, but would have been excited with anything under 26:00. I was pretty astonished to see 24:50. That’s 30 seconds faster than I’ve EVER skated around our training loop before. I’ve skated thousands of laps around this lake, and I’m not even in great race shape right now. This 3x125 setup is definitely faster than anything I’ve ever skated on. 

It’s not ALL positive though. It might be mental, but I’m still a bit nervous taking very sharp turns at high speed. I felt like I knew the limit of my 4x110s. I haven’t discovered the limit of these 125s yet, so I’ve been taking corners a tad bit more conservative. They seem more slick than my 4x110s on water or sandy asphalt. I was expecting the bigger wheels to roll over any obstacles in their path. 4x100 felt like it rolled over cracks and sticks WAY better than 5x84 or 5x80, so 3x125 should, in my mind, roll over cracks and sticks like a monster truck would. To my surprise, they don’t feel that much different than the smaller wheels over cracks, sticks, rocks, etc. I’ve even had a few close calls when I accidentally stepped into some deep cracks or divots in the asphalt. 

So if you skipped to the bottom get get my final opinion, here it is. 3x125 is the future of the sport. Our sport is about going fast, and I firmly believe that 3x125 is faster than 4x110. They aren’t so fast that guys on 4x110 can’t keep up, but I would say that skaters on 3x125s have an advantage. Again, I don’t really know how they sprint yet. So far I think it would be pretty good. The top speed feels good to me. I can tell you for sure that my cruising speed at a given effort is faster than I was on 4x110. In our sport, races are often decided by very small margins, so having the fastest wheels could be the difference between being on the podium and being the guy/gal taking a picture of the podium. Which one do you want to be?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Day 31 - Learning New Things

I love that in cycling you are constantly learning now things. You learn about race tactics, equipment, your strengths, your weaknesses, your team’s strengths, your team’s weakneses, hydration, nutrition, how hard you can go, what workouts are best for you, how much training load you can handle before burnout, what to wear, etc.

Our team is at training camp right now. It's great to be able to swap stories and experiences with teammates. You never know what little details you'll pick up if you just listen. Its a great environment because our cat 4 and 5 guys can learn from our 1s, 2s, and 3s; and vice versa. The learning doesn't just flow down, it flows up too.

No matter how experienced you are, you will still learn new things, as long as you pay attention. Its easy to put on blinders and repeat the same mistakes over and over, or train exactly the same year after year and not get the results you want. It's easy to believe that you have it all figured out, but never try anything new because you think the way you're doing it is always better. It's easy to be overdressed or underdressed on your ride because you never pay attention to what works and what doesn't. If you are willing to pay attention, you can learn so much.

I hope that I helped you learn something this month from reading this, even if it's just that pop tarts are the king of ride food. I heard a couple people say they want to do their own version of my 31 day idea, and I hope you do. I think the spread of. Knowledge in our local cycling community can really benefit from it.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Day 30 - trifuel and brl products

This is another post by a guest writer. Thanks Bob,  for writing this for me. This is my second season on trifuel. I love the stuff.

Proper nutrition is everything in endurance sports. Without it, nothing else matters. You can be the most trained well prepared athlete on the best equipment in the race but fail on fueling your motor properly and you will lose. I have seen many athletes far superior to myself doing the slow bonk ride back to the start.  I am somewhat amazed at the P1/2 level at how many racers I think sabotage themselves before the race even starts.  You would think people at this level would have it figured out but it seems to be a part of the training process that some are better at than others. I myself have inadvertently failed and experienced the results first hand as recently as last summer. I was doing a gravel 100 mile training race and had a flat in the first few miles. I lost a lot of time and skipped the first feed station at mile 40 to catch the lead pack. There was supposed to be another at mile 60 and 80. It was 100 plus and windy and the 60 mile feed was not there. I remember watching my speed go from 18-20mph to 10-12 mph with nothing I could do about it. I came into the 80 mile check limping.  I downed as much fluids as I could stomach but I never really recovered.  The good news is this is an area that can have the greatest impact and performance gains no matter what level you currently are at.
  Your diet has a very large impact on your performance potential but along with diet specific health supplements and race fuel are also key factors.  I remember my first year as a cat 2 being a very "learning" year. Being a former "fatty" I had no problem with eating good foods. I always thought that regular diet was enough and did not take so much as a multivitamin.  I did not understand the demands and depletion you subject you body to training 20 hours a week. I thought I was ready for my biggest race to date only to fail spectacularly.  What I did not know before the race was that I had become anemic. I fell sick during the race and went home lifeless. I went to the doctor when I got home and found I had a low red blood cell count, low iron, and developed gastritis.  I took a week off the bike and rested but even the next week, I felt weak, dizzy, and nauseous.  I was fortunate that shortly thereafter my current team came across BRL Sports Nutrition. The are the makers of EPO-Boost, TRIFUEL, and InVirgor8 recovery/meal shakes.    I started using EPO-Boost(no banned substances) and began to improve quickly. I went back to get another blood test a few months later and while my RBC was still low, it was above the min. I take the supplement all year two months on, one week off. I made a habit of getting a blood test every spring at the same peak training load time and every year my blood work has improved under the same training load.
  TRIFUEL is my go to race day and training fuel.  Throwing back to my first year cat 2 mistakes I used to only use water in my bottles. I had a hard time drinking with anything in the bottles as I always experienced that "sticky throat" problem and after 40-50 miles found the taste of the products I tried did not agree.  TRIFUEL was a huge factor in my performance improvement on the bike. I have a big motor but am somewhat of a slow starter. I started drinking a bottle of Wild Berry TRIFUEL exactly one hour before every race. It makes a HUGE difference. I actually set an alarm on my phone as my teammates can attest to as they find themselves going to their bottle like Pavlov's dog when they hear it go off. I am now much more physically and mentally prepared when the whistle blows.  I always race with two scoops in each bottle. I have shared many a bottle of TRIFUEL while racing and training and watched a struggling rider come to life in 30 min. I did an ultra endurance race last year called the Dirty Kanza 200. It is a self supported 200 mile point to point off road race in the rugged flint hills of Kansas. TRIFUEL was my only fuel source for the last 130 miles and me and a few others shattered the previous record time.
  Obviously weight is a key component in sports but especially cycling. This has been probably my biggest struggle. I have learned a lot over this winter and will be competing at my lowest weigh ever this season thanks to BRL's InVigor8 shakes. I eat small meals every 2 hours during the week and replace two of them with shakes. The taste great and have amazing nutrition!  They are also the absolute perfect food for post ride/race recovery. I have also found the shakes work great in your bottles for winter training as it is hard to eat in the cold with heavy gloves on. Incorporating these into my routine is going to be key for success in the events I am doing this year. Remember, fuel/hydrate/recover.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Day 29 - Trek Emonda SLR Review

I’ve owned a couple great bikes. Each time I get a new one, I hesitate to think that there couple possibly be anything nicer out there. When I went from an S-Works to a Stork, I was instantly faster…which I realized later was directly because the drive side bearing in my campy crankset was completely seized. Even with vice-grips, I couldn’t budge it. Going from the $$$ Storck to the $ CAAD10, I didn’t notice any difference. The CAAD10 is the king of value. You get all of the performance of a bike 3 or 4 times its value. I wasn’t very excited about getting the Supersix Evo because I didn’t think it would feel any different than the CAAD10. I was wrong. The Evo (I had the non hi-mod) had a beautiful ride on chip and seal compared to other bikes I owned. It’s like you’re running your tires at 10 or 15 psi lower, but you aren’t. It’s a great bike for long rides on Oklahoma roads. 

I was a little nervous about buying the Emonda, but now I’m glad I did. It’s the best bike I’ve owned. Honestly, it’s not about the bike. Aside from an uphill TT, this bike may never get me different results than I would have had on the CAAD10; but I can still say this is a better bike. It’s crazy light. I only know of one frame (The Cervelo RCA) that weighs less. The cable routing isn’t quite as tidy as an aero-focused road bike, but it’s way more clean than the evo. It’s really the little things that much this bike a step above the rest.

The dual mount brakes are amazing. I had SRAM Red brakes on the evo. These Bontrager Speed Stop direct mount brakes are so strong. I can’t imagine wanting anything stronger. Plus, they are very light and should be quite aero. They don’t have arms sticking out in the wind like typical SRAM and Shimano brakes. 

The fork, chain stays, and brakes give you plenty of room for wide tires. On my evo, I had issues with 25s rubbing (my back wheel wasn’t very stiff. With a stiffer wheel this may not have been an issue). I have tons of clearance with 25s on this bike, and I think 28s would fit too. 

The bottom bracket on this bike looks enormous. I’m guessing Trek designed it this way to keep the bike as light as possible without having flex where it matters. I’m not one that can feel BB flex in frames anyway, but it seems like this one is pretty stiff. It doesn’t have the creak-prone BB30 BB standard. 

The ride characteristics are good. They have a seat mast that is supposed to tune out some road vibration. It doesn’t seem as effective as Cannondales SAVE system, but I wouldn’t call this bike harsh at all. On chip and seal, I can feel a little more vibration than the Evo, but not enough to complain about. The wheelbase is short on this bike. I haven’t gotten to race a crit on it yet, but it seems to have a great crit racing geometry that you’d really be able to throw into a turn. I’m beyond excited to take it through some of the twisty roads in the Arbuckle Mountains this weekend. 

Trek gives you two geometries to choose from. One (H2) seems a bit more “standard” and the other (H1) has a longer top tube and short head tube, resulting in a shorter stack and longer reach. Since I have a long torso and like to ride steep, the H1 is very good for me. It’s nice to be able to have a choice, especially for a team bike. Not everyone is built the same, so having two different geometries allows the bike to fit nearly everyone. 

I built mine with SRAM Force. Red is a little lighter, but I couldn’t justify the expense. The Force 22 shifts clean and crisp. In a blind test, I’m 100% sure I couldn’t differentiate Force and Red. Ultegra DI2 would have been a nice splurge, but I’m really happy with Force 22 so far. No regrets. 

I also switched up my pedals a bit…Well kind of. I bought Shimano 105 pedals, which is what I’ve been using for years. I like Shimano pedals, but I LOVE Shimano cleats. Shimano pedals have always been heavier than the Look pedals at the same cost, but shimano changed up their 105 pedals quite a bit this year. Now they are carbon (composite) instead of all metal. I didn’t do a direct weight comparison to Look, but I know that the weight is a lot closer now. The shape and feel is as good as it ever has been, but now you get some weight reduction too…and still a great price. 

I also tried a new saddle: Bontrager Serrano. I like it a lot so far. It’s as comfortable as my Fizik Antares, but less slippery. It's a saddle that has many comfortable positions. Its just as nice riding it on the nose as it is with your butt scooted way back.  Saddles are super individual, so this may not work for you; but I think it’s going to work really well for me. I did back-to-back centuries last weekend on this saddle with no complaints. 

My very first impression of the bike was “this is the best bike I’ve ever owned, but is it worth the money?” That’s a really tough question. I guess it depends on how much money you have and how much you like beautiful bikes. This is a very beautiful bike. I could stare at it for an hour. I was a little stuck feeling that the CAAD10 or Evo were better bang for the buck, but then Daniel Mesa reminded me that Trek also makes an Emonda SL. It’s just as beautiful as the SLR. It costs thousands less than the SLR, but you are still getting a 15.0 pound bike (with SRAM Red). Even the 105 Emonda SL5 is a heck of a bike, and its $2730 retail. The Emonda is a great bike, and there’s so many options to choose from, based on your budget. If you have a lot of money to spend, the Emonda SLR is amazing. There’s a reason VeloNews called it their bike of the year for 2015. On a budget, The Emonda SL will give you nearly the same performance with only slightly more weight at a much more reasonable cost. It’s a close call between the Evo and the Emonda SL, but for my money the Emonda SL would be a better purchase (if they made it in the H1 geometry, which they don’t). If you want a great bike for the money, the Emonda SL is it. If you want the best bike, the SLR is the way to go. 

I finally found one negative about the SLR. It’s not a good bike for the skate park. Too much toe overlap. :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Day 28 - Smooth Legs

First off, there's nothing un-manly about shaving your legs. It doesn't change your sexual orientation. It doesn't make you less of a man. Male cyclists and speed skaters make up lots of reasons why they shave. We say stuff like "it's better for massage" (I haven't had a massage in over a year), "it keeps hair out of your road rash when you crash (possibly true), or "it's more aerodynamic/faster" (which it is, according to the Specialized Win Tunnel). Maybe all of that is true, but I think most of us just like the way it looks and feels, but we're too afraid to actually admit that.

I get pretty lazy in the winter time and rarely shave my legs. Most of the time my legs are covered with tights or knee warmers, so the extra few minutes of shower time isn't really worth it. Every couple weeks I'll just trim them down with electronic clippers and call it good.

Race season is just around the corner, so it's time to get smooth. If you're like me and have some longish hair now, do yourself a favor and trim it down with clippers with no guard (0) to get most of the hair off first. Then, take a hot shower to get open your pores. This will help prevent against irritation and it leaves your skin smooth. Then, apply some sort of shaving cream. I use Cremo Cream. It's super slick. Even with a dull razor, it feels like you're shaving with a new razor. It smells good, lasts a long time, and you can grab it at Walmart or Target.

I know it's all placebo, but as soon as I shave my legs in the spring I automatically feel like a bike racer again. It's like putting on race wheels. When you look the part, something internal just clicks and you feel the part.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Day 27 - Suffering

I started reading Pro Cycling On $10 A Day last week. It's a book by Phil Gaimon. If you haven't read it, I suggest you do. It's a fun read, and even talks about some guys that we get to race with on a regular basis in our region. In the book, there the author says "Sometimes I think I'm not stronger or more talented than anyone else. Maybe I'm just better at suffering." I like that. 

I'm not a masochist, but there is something about suffering on the bike that I love. I think it's most likely because in the back of my mind I always know that suffering pays off. In cycling, you get back what you put in. If you can really make yourself suffer in training (and then rest, of course), you'll get faster. If you put in garbage miles, then you really shouldn't expect to be very strong on race day.

Some people can suffer more naturally than others, but I do think that the level of suffering that you can handle is something that you can train. When I was 12, I started speed skating. Like cycling, it's a sport that requires you to push it to your limit. I can't count how many times I've wished that my legs would just give out so that I would crash, because crashing would be less painful than the workout I was doing. I had some of the best skaters in the country telling me I couldn't quit. If I tried to get out of the pack, they would literally pull me back in. If I didn't make a pass that they thought I should make, they'd talk smack until I made it. When the drill would be over, I felt good about completing it, and realized that next time I could suffer even more; so I would push harder the next time. And then harder. And then harder. Eventually you find your limit. That's the place where your mind is strong enough to keep pushing, but your body isn't. That limit looks different for everyone. Some people vomit, some people crash, some people look like they are pedaling squares (it's not just a saying...if you ever see it happen, you know exactly how that saying came to be), and some people look like they are in la la land.

Guys that aren't willing to suffer will never find their true limit. I see some people on training rides getting dropped, and I can tell by their face and pedal stroke that they have a lot of untapped energy left. Other people have drool and snot going from their face to their handlebars, and they are still on the front, determined to crack everyone behind them. These guys are the ones increasing their suffer limit. When they get into a race situation, they'll be able to go harder and suffer longer than the other guy. They'll be able to hang on in the gutter during a strong crosswind. They'll be able to dig just a little deeper at the top of the climb where the group splits. When they are bridging the gap to a breakaway, they'll be able to get there, while the guys who can't suffer get stuck in no-mans-land. They'll have that one extra kick in the field sprint when everyone else is fading. 

Don't make excuses like "if this was a race, I would have pushed myself harder." That's just code for saying "I'm lazy." Lazy cyclists don't get fast. Determined cyclists who in training aren't afraid to hurt, who aren't afraid to take chances, who embrace the pain of hard work, who don't mind pulling into a headwind, who don't skip a training day because it's cold, who don't sit in the pack all ride, who are honest with themselves about they need to work on (and work on it) get fast. 

Here's one of my favorite motivational videos, featuring some of the best skaters in the US.

A few quotes from the video:
"Some people dream of success. Others wake up and work hard at it"
"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." - Vince Lombardi
"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond
"If everything is under control, you're going too slow." - Mario Andretti

Monday, January 26, 2015

Day 26 - Wind Vests

When I first started riding, I thought wind vests were stupid. Why would I want to spend money on a sleeveless shirt to keep me warm, when I could buy something with sleeves for the same price? At some point I realized that all of the really good cyclists in the area did the majority of their training in a vest, and decided to buy one myself to see what the advantage was. Now, I wear a vest on almost every single ride I do in the late fall, winter, and early spring. It’s a really versatile piece of clothing.

A vest with arm warmers can cover a much larger range of temperatures than a jacket or long sleeve jersey. Paired with a warm base layer and arm warmers over the top, you can get down to some very low temperatures and still remain comfortable. You can roll the arm warmers down halfway or unzip the vest if you get just a little warm. If you are still warm you can take the arm warmers completely off and leave the vest on.

A wind vest blocks…wait for it… the wind from hitting your core. It’s almost strange how warm a vest can keep you on a cool day, yet you never really seem to overheat because most vests are breathable in the back and out the sleeves. 

A vest and arm warmers is going to be more aerodynamic than a jacket or long sleeve jersey. That makes it great for racing. Often I’ll wear the vest under a jersey so that it doesn’t blow around in the wind as much, but it still keeps the wind off my torso. I’ve done that in the rain too, so that the vest keeps the water off my chest. It works great. It’s also nice to have the vest under your jersey so that you can pin the number on your jersey, rather than your vest. A lot of vets don’t have much real estate on the back for a race number. And, since you aren’t putting pins through your vest it will last you a really long time. The downside is that you can’t easily take your vest off if you get hot. All you can do is unzip, which helps. Even when I wear a jacket, I usually wear a vest underneath it. If I get warm i can unzip the vest under my jacket and that allows a little extra ventilation, but not as much as it would if it was just paired with a jersey.

There’s a lot of different styles of vests. The Sugoi ones that I use (I have 4) have 3 pockets on the back, just like a jersey, and a mesh panel above the pockets to make it breathable. This works out nicely, because it allows you to store everything securely in normal pockets. The DNA team has new vests this year from LG that look pretty neat. The vest is completely open where the pockets would be on a normal vest. This allows you to access your jersey pockets. Wind vests made for runners typically don’t have pockets in the back. They are in the side. I would stay away from this style.