On Development

About a week ago, I mentioned that it was “really cool to see myself develop”.  I wanted to expand on that a little.

There are a few ways I can see myself developing:

  1. Heart Rate and RPE for a certain speed - This is the most unreliable metric for development.  Essentially, and this is what I was referring to in the Strava title, if I’m going faster while maintaining a lower heart rate and not feeling as much physical exertion (RPE = Rating of Perceived Exertion), presumably I’m getting stronger.  Last Friday, I was holding 19 mph at 120bpm without much exertion (12/20, moderate exertion).  I know it’s not due to wind b/c I was able to ride at that speed southbound and northbound.  Last year, I wasn’t able to get on my bike without going above 145bpm.  A 19mph effort would have made my heart beat at about 170 bpm.  Like I said, however, this is unreliable.  Maybe my perception of wind was wrong.  I’ve upgraded my equipment since last year significantly.  My position on the bike is different as well.  For more, see the arguments for power meter reliability.
  2. Group Ride Comfort/Success - Again, not super reliable.  As was pointed out by a friend from the team, you never know when others are trying super hard or holding back a little.  However, I’m definitely more capable of riding with fast rides.  For me, that’s Wed/Fri/Sat, if I go.  Last year, I was just hanging on over the hills on the Wed/Fri route (Usually 178+).  This year, even in the springtime, fast rides have only gotten up to 165bpm while sitting in the bunch and pulling through as normal (i.e. no attacking).
  3. Seeing Parallels and Advancing – Last year, I rode our Saturday “B” ride and was an animator in that.  One of my goals that I looked forward to was riding the “A” ride, which is significantly faster.  Now, I’m an animator in the “A” ride.  There are two rides in the area that I want to do: the Waterfall Glen Wed Night ride and the Cafe Ride out of St. Charles.  Those are supposed to be really fast and I’ll hopefully see the same development that I’ve seen in Tower’s Saturday rides.

One thing I hope I don’t get sucked into is the “OK Plateau.”  I’m by no means dominating any of the rides I go on, but I’m definitely sticking in each one, including all of my races this year (except the Memorial Day Races).  The “OK Plateau” is a phenomenon where people don’t improve although they continue to practice/train.  I’ve read up on it and found strategies to combat this, so hopefully I’ll be all right.

Here’s to growth, for you and me.
~Zach

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Breakfast of Champions; Creamy Oatmeal +

Cyclist’s Oatmeal

Ingredients Needed:

  1. Real oats (I use Quaker Old Fashioned Oats; NOT the individual packets)
  2. Water
  3. Peanut Butter
  4. Honey
  5. Whatever else you want

Directions:

  1. Cook the oats as normal (if you don’t have oatmeal a lot, the directions are on the box).  Consistency doesn’t matter, although I’d err on the watery side vs. thick
  2. Use the spoon you’re going to eat with to put about a tablespoon/0.5 cup oats of peanut butter into the oatmeal.  If you do this right away, the peanut butter will melt off your spoon as you stir and gradually blend into the oatmeal.  Using your spoon eliminates mess.
  3. Add a healthy squirt of honey from the bottle to the oatmeal.  Mix thoroughly.  After the peanut butter, the oatmeal will be pretty thick; the honey will smooth it out.
  4. Add your additives (I’m adding raisins and sunflower seeds right now, but any good additives like banana, nuts, granola, etc will work great!  Also, try substituting maple syrup for honey and Nutella for Peanut Butter at times.)

The effect of this recipe is a fantastic oatmeal that is really creamy.  The peanut butter melts into the oatmeal making a smooth, tasty meal.  Peanut butter also adds some protein to the meal, making it a full meal: complex carbs (oats), simple carbs (honey), protein (peanut butter), and some fats as well.  If you add nuts or granola or raisins, you’ll also get some great texture into the oatmeal as well, which always makes it fun to eat.

One note: This oatmeal can be really rich (I’m particularly adverse to rich food), so eating the oatmeal while drinking chocolate soy or almond milk will make it a lot better.  Also, chocolate+peanut butter, am I right?

Enjoy!

 

Top secret tip (TST): The bigger the peanut butter jar, the more peanut butter you end up scooping b/c it’s easier to scoop more.  Be careful (or take advantage of it!)

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Power Testing Results

I did 5 second, 1 minute, 5 minute, and 20 minute power tests last week.  But you’d know that already if you follow me on Strava.

My current weight is 147 lbs, or 66.7 kg.

For 5 seconds: 1043W or 15.64 W/kg
For 1 minute: 528W or 7.92 W/kg
For 5 minutes: 293W or 4.39 W/kg
For 20 minutes: 242W or 3.63 W/kg

According to this chart from CyclingTips (I think it’s actually from Hunter Allen’s book), that puts me at the top of the Category 4 expected power (in W/kg).  Which is good.

It’s a long process; I’ve got a lot of miles, tests, pedaling, and WORK to go.  Reminder: My Double Power in 7 Years goal.

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Quad Cities Criterium Race Report

Category 5 Quad Cities Criterium 2014 Race Report

The old Quad Cities Criterium was a mile-long, eight-turn affair, dead flat, and almost invariably a sprint.  After crawling up the 25% grades of Snake Alley and bunny-hopping the Melon City speed-bump at 36 MPH, I was looking forward to a flat course.  Not how I said the old course was flat.  This year’s course was not.

Under the direction of a new race promoter, someone from the same company that runs ToAD and the Prairie State Cycling Series, a new course was drawn up, located in downtown East Davenport.  The course featured narrow roads, a 2-block 4% climb into a 1-block 11% climb, a screaming but straight descent into two narrow, super fast corners.  Normally, this would have been a really cool course.  After Snake Alley and Melon City, it wasn’t a race I was looking forwards too.

Luckily, my dad and I were staying overnight just outside Davenport so we headed over to the course the night before to preride and check out the climb and lines through the corners.  As soon as I saw the course, I groaned – although wide, the climb was really steep and even going up it easy was difficult.  The descent is super-fast.  I reached 38/39 mph each time down.  The best tactic, especially on junior gears, is just to tuck and fly down – spinning out your gears will only waste energy and won’t make up any ground.  The descent comes down at pretty much the same grade and spits you out of the trees onto a long straight, probably about 400m long.  Along the straight, you’ll still be going 32/33 mph so pedaling can be efficient, but still probably not worth it.  The corners are tight and over sealed brick – the kind of faux-brick pathway that turns banana-peel slippery in the rain.  If it’s a rainy day, have caution going through the corners.

After pre-riding the course and discussing with my father, I decided not to race the juniors race.  I knew it would be really fast and going down the descent and into those two corners at the end of the back straight would be dangerous and I didn’t think I would be able to be safe with such an aggressive, more advanced field.  Bike racing isn’t exactly about safety, but you have to know your limits and when you’re taking unnecessary risk.  If I had three more years of experience and Cat 2 fitness and could think clearly the entire race, I probably would have stayed in.  First year racing, it wasn’t worth it.  As it was, my first lap, I overcooked the first corner and almost locked the rear wheel up, which would have been pretty bad.  Even then, for the rest of the laps, the last corner was always super fast (b/w the two corners, it’s downhill).

Lining up for Cat 5, it was hot and muggy.  85 degrees but more humid than a dog’s breath.  I warmed up on a great bike path along the Mississippi, jersey unzipped, trying to stay cool.  Strategy going into the race was to go into the last two corners second, ideally, or first with a gap.  From the last corner to the finish was probably 350m, making it better to be second wheel, but I figured the speed coming out of the corner would be so high that any farther back and it’d be too many people to come around.  First or second into the last two corners meant some sort of attack, probably onto the climb as it was almost impossible to pass people on the descent and flat (spinning out).  I could attack into the corners, but that’s sort of a jerk move and not entirely necessary to win.

30 people lined up at the start but I sorely overestimated how competitive the field was.  After the first lap, there were only eight of us in the front group.  Huh.

Anyways, second lap, the eventual winner of the race attacked on the climb and dangled about 20 seconds off the front for 3 laps.  It turns out he had won Snake Alley and Melon City the two days before.  When he attacked, I didn’t follow because I didn’t think it would get away.  I should have known that, with a group of only seven, no one would chase him down.  After about 4 laps, the eventual second place racer got a small gap over the top of the climb inadvertently, looked back, figured it was better to be off the front than on the front and held his gap to the finish line.  By that time, there were only 4 others left and the next time up the climb, it was just me and one other racer.

I’d like to tell a story about how we went back and forth, tossing attacks at each other, each time clawing back the time advantage to the chaser.  But alas, it wasn’t to be.  I pretty much sat on his wheel while he led the remaining 5 laps.  He tried to accelerate a few times, on the 4% or the 11% grades, but he didn’t have a lot of pop and I was able to stay with him.  Also, it was hot, hard, and humid, so that probably contributed to it to.  Last lap, I tried to attack at the bottom of the climb and was giving it everything, but when I looked back, he was only a few seconds off my wheel and I knew he would catch on the descent, so I sat up.

Here’s when the race was won (for third): On the descent, he came around me.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I had conditioned him to be in front.  Regardless, I immediately got on his wheel and stayed there until about 180m to the finish.  He started the sprint and I came around him and took third by about 2/3 a bike.

I’m really happy that I finally got a good result.  Like I said on Strava, I’ve felt like I’ve had the fitness to grab a good result, but I just… haven’t.  Getting on the podium also gives me confidence for my 4 upgrade.  I’m excited to race Glencoe Cat 5s with my teammate, Tommy Will, next week and also excited to see real power numbers the week after that.

As always, thanks for reading my race report/blog.  The best way to keep up is to follow me on Strava.  Second best would be to follow this blog (in the sidebar).

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Snake Alley Criterium and Melon City Criterium Race Reports (+Extras)

This was one of two A-race weekends this year (Glencoe Grand Prix, May 31st being the other – I dropped out of Galena due to SATII Testing).  The purpose of this weekend was to get experience racing against the top juniors in the  Midwest.  As I explained, the Memorial Day Criteriums are all part of USA Cycling’s Road Development Race Series.  RDRS is meant to find talented juniors in the United States for the National Development Program.  The product of this is that juniors come from all over to race.  There were people from Kentucky (440 mi from Burlington, IA to Louisville), Ohio (440 mi to Cinci), Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, etc.  Probably the biggest news was that Hincapie Development sent four riders, David Lombardo, Richard Rainville, Simon Jones, and Gavin Haley.  I don’t know much about the others, but David Lombardo is from Crystal Lake, IL and has gone to the Junior Cyclocross World Championships.  So he’s pretty fast.  He won both days.

Snake Alley Criterium Race Report (Juniors 15-18)

Link to Strava File

The hallmark of Snake Alley is Snake Alley, a twisting street in Burlington that, according to Strava, has an average 20% grade, peaking at 26-29%.  The rest of the course is a fast, 3-corner descent, with about a half mile of flat until a short, 1-block, 10% kicker before the Snake.  Although the corners were wide and kept clean of gravel or dirt by a great team of volunteers, the corners were still super fast.  If you could corner, they were a good place to make up time or catch up to a group.  Because of the hill, I figured the race would just blow up into a brutal time trial.

That’s essentially what happened.  Racers are lined up by pre-registration order.  I was third row and came into the first corner (into the 10% kicker) in about 25th position.  I entered the Snake, first lap, in 25th as well.  The Snake, because it’s so short, ends up being just a power climb, albeit one complicated by lots of racers in a narrow road and on a steep gradient.  (Luckily, in none of the laps, I had to dismount, although it was certainly tight)  It’s sort of a climb where you just have to bear through the pain for 30 seconds and then try to recover on the descent and flat… and then do that 9 more times.

I shot up the climb and passed a few kids the first time up, exiting the alley probably in 20th.  When I got to the top, the race was already strung out, racers already descending down the backstretch.  From there, it turned into a time trial as I thought, descending, TTing on the flat, and then busting it up Snake Alley again.  One nice thing was that, because the whole thing was just a TT and the flat part was short relative to the descent and climb(s), people weren’t looking for you to take pulls.  So, if I caught up to someone, I was able to sit on their wheel on the flats and draft.

In general, each lap I would lose time on the climb and then catch up on the descent, sit on someone’s wheel trying to recover, and then repeat.  I guess I need to get better at climbing or anaerobic endurance.  It might even just be a mental thing, sticking it out when the legs are hurting a lot.  For sure in the middle of the race, I tried to take it easier, tried to limit the burn of the lactic acid accumulating in my legs.

I ended up coming in 26th out of 34 (37 starters)

Extra #1: Check your Ish before you race

I failed rollout like an idiot at Snake Alley.  I thought I was running a 44/34 in the front and a 12-25 rear cassette, making the max gear 44-12 and expected rollout of 7.67 meters (7.93 is the limit).  Ended up I was running an 11-25 in the rear and rolled out to 8.37 meters in front of everyone like an idiot and should have been DQ’d.  My fault.  Lesson: Check before the race, at home, etc.

Extra #2: Dan Hollywood Holloway is a boss

We stuck around the whole day for the pro race and got to watch Dan Holloway (Athlete Octane Cycling) break away with Alexander Ray (Hincapie Elite Development Team) and win for like the 8th time in a row.  If you don’t know, he swept Speed Week in Georgia (no one has won more than two in a row), then went to Dana Point and promptly beat UHC, SmartStop, etc.

But what’s more impressive is how good he is for his sponsors.  Every time he wins, he highlights the front of his jersey, thanks his sponsors, welcomes fans to talk to him, thanks the crowd for coming out, compliments the race organizers and volunteers, etc etc etc.

Melon City Criterium Race Report (Juniors 15-18)

Link to Strava File

Melon City was Sunday’s race, a 1-mile lap of “Weed Park” in Muscatine, Iowa.  It features a 530m climb that starts out at 8% and ends with a false flat that really sucks the legs.  The 8% part isn’t that hard because the descent goes right into the base of the climb so you can carry speed into it, despite the best efforts of the park staff: There’s the infamous speed bump at the bottom, although it’s overhyped.  It’s definitely ridable with a bit of caution, although certainly nerve-racking.  Strategy on the descent is to just tuck.  With junior gears (this time corrected by blocking out the 11t) spinning out at 33ish, it’s better to get aero to save energy.

Anyways, the pace out of the gate was really fast.  The strong teams/riders kept throwing attacks, trying to get away and, since I was at the back (what a surprise, right?  I should work on that) I was feeling the accordion a lot.  Everything got chased down by the field, although I failed to chase down the field and got dropped with 3 or 4 to go.  Sucks when the moto passes you.  Anyways, I finished strong, going all out to the finish and came in 26th again, this time out of 38 (maybe b/c there weren’t any DNFs).

Tip if you’re in contention to win: In my not-in-contention-to-win, the winning line is on the inside the entire course.  The cuts down the distance you have to pedal by at least a couple-ten meters each lap and, going into the sprint, it’s definitely the line b/c you’ll have a shorter path up the hill and you’ll come around the last corner wide and carrying speed, instead of having to break and then accelerate.  Also, you’ll have the inside of the small bend in the finish and, when sprints are won by tire widths, any advantage you can get you should take.


Overall, the results so far have been good, I think.  The competition is much higher than anything I’ve raced in and, at least according to the USAC points system (the lower number the more competitive), I’ve done the best I’ve ever done.  I’ve been beating a lot of Cat 4s and even some 3s, so that’s pretty good.  I’m certainly riding faster than last year and earlier this year and I’ll be doing power testing after Glencoe, next week.  It’s also great to be able to race in this super-competitive fields with Cat 1s and 2s.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Next is Quad Cities Criterium which, although traditionally flat, now has a 9% hill in it.  Cool, thanks race promoter.

As always, if you’ve gotten this far, thanks a lot for reading.  If you want to connect with me, hit me up on Strava (strava.com/athletes/zachryanwong) or e-mail me.  If you do happen to see me or race with me (I’m looking at you Diego Arana – I saw your dad by the Mississippi River), come say hi or something.  That’d be cool.  Learn about me at (guess where) the About Me page.

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Monsters of the Midway Cat 4/5 and Cat 5 Race Report

The intention going into Monsters was to use it as training and for experience.  I haven’t raced much and I want as much experience racing as possible.  Also, it would be good training and would contribute to my Cat 4 license.  Also, it was close – just 40 minutes away by car, in downtown Chicago.  The race was raced on the University of Chicago Midway and was put on by the University of Chicago Velo Club.  The course consisted of a 1.8 KM rectangle with wide corners, long side running West-East.  Street conditions were pretty poor – the streets are usually used for parking so the sides of the street were cut up and there were three huge potholes in the back stretch.  It would be nice for the race promoters to mark the holes w/ spray paint or something like that as it was hard, if not impossible, to know when they were coming.  Generally, I would coast when I knew I was approaching one (using trees/buildings on the side for reference), which would put me at the back of the group.  Wind conditions were out of the West at 13 KM/H, consistent the whole time.

Since the finishing straight was about 400m to the finish line out of the last corner, the strategy was to enter the last corner in about 6th position and follow wheels to 150m, where I would jump.

Category 4/5 Monsters of the Midway Race Report:

Link to Strava File

I went in feeling really good.  I had been doing really great on the Tower rides and had been riding consistently and strongly.  I started the race in the third row but didn’t try to get up to the front immediately.  That put me in about 25th position, where I stayed for the first of 10 laps (30 mins).  The chances of a break getting away on such a simple course were very slim, especially with the crosswind sections being 140m long, each, which ended up being more of a long U-turn than two separate corners.

The main problem I had during the race was that I kept ending up at the back.  I would move up to top 10 or so in the tailwind stretch (800m), corner and maybe move up a few spaces (either people in the lower categories aren’t very good at cornering or I don’t know how much the accordion affect comes into play – although even when I was third/fourth wheel at times, I still had to brake significantly in order to stay behind the person in front of me.  As mentioned, the corners were wide – you didn’t have to brake at all) through the turn.  However, on the long headwind stretch, people would be constantly moving up on the left and right and I would find myself in the back half.  I was never tailgunning but I still had to move up every time on the tailwind stretch.  That wasted a lot of energy, I think.  I need to, in the future, make sure that I’m constantly moving up so that I don’t end up at the back.  Maybe that means being more aggressive in moving into trains.

Despite this, with 1 lap to go I was sitting 2nd wheel.  About 200m before turn 3, three XXX guys moved up to the front and I jumped on that, thinking it would be a train to the finish.  Unfortunately, the first guy blew in between turns 3 and 4 and the second guy blew going through Start/Finish.  Instead of getting stuck on the front, the last XXX guy jumped, trying to bridge up to a break of 4 up the road.  I should have been ready but wasn’t, getting caught out and having to pedal into a 3 meter gap.  I couldn’t bring the XXX rider back and was off, solo, in front of the decimated field behind.  I thought it would be smarter to sit up, try to recover, and then try to do something in the field sprint but I couldn’t recover quickly enough and limped in last of the pack, 34th overall (out of 60 or so).  Maybe I should have put my head down and TT’d, but I was already at 200bpm and I don’t think I could have summoned the watts to stay out in front.

Category 5 Monsters of the Midway Race Report:

Strategy was the same as above.  I lined up sort of out of it all b/c of the efforts of the 4/5.  That probably wasn’t the best idea because I ended up losing focus and pulling some dangerous moves in the field.  I’ll have to work on that.  Anyways, the race was definitely slower than last time and I learned from the 4/5 race by following moves up the sides in the headwind straight.  I was in the top-20 w/ 3 to go but was sort of mentally out of it.  Even if I had stayed in, I don’t think I would have had the winning mentality to pull off a pack win.  I ended up flatting out after hitting a huge pothole (RACE PROMOTERS!) and blowing the rear wheel.  Oh well.


Overall, this was definitely a good thing to have done.  I know I learned a lot about crit racing and definitely benefited from the workout (hitting 200bpm can’t be… bad for you, can it?  I mean, isn’t it healthy and natural to have your heart beat that fast?).  Takeaways from this race include:

  1. Always be in the process of moving up to the front of the race
  2. People don’t corner very fast – either be on the front and split the field in a technical course like Homewood or do something else (haven’t figured out how to approach it b/c even top 5 I had to slow down).
  3. My sprint power is pretty good.  The lifting over the winter (max back squat of 235lbs, 1 rep) has definitely made my force out of corners and in accelerations much stronger than last year.

My next race is the Quad Cities Memorial Day Weekend (Snake Alley, Melon City, Quad Cities crits).  Thanks for taking the time to read my report.  Connect with me by following this blog via WordPress (footer), subscribe via e-mail (right sidebar), e-mail me (link here), or follow me on Strava.  Thanks again!

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Bontrager Node 1.1 – Nice but not quite there.

Bontrager Node 1.1 Review

This article is the first of my Practical Reviews.  Practical Reviews focuses on how well the product works and my personal experiences with the product.  Practical Reviews tries to rise above the poetic nature of many bike review sites and instead give real-person thoughts.  One caveat of this is that I’m not a professional reviewer – I don’t have access to a wind tunnel to test four different types of brake calipers.  I don’t go 100% through every feature of every product (although DC Rainmaker does and his reviews are great too), but rather focus on what I’ve used.  If you have any questions, feel free to comment or email me at zachryanwong@gmail.com.

The product today is the Bontrager Node 1.1 (or Model #09586, as Bontrager seems intent on stressing) and corresponding handlebar mount.  Cleverly named and minimastically styled, it’s a small, compact bike computer that has a few features that made me buy it in the first place:

1.)   It’s Ant+ compatible.
2.)   It’s cheap.  70 + 20 bucks (mount) through the Bontrager/Node store.

White top, black body.  But then again, if you're blind, why are you looking for a bike computer anyways?

The product photography will improve, trust me.

I was in the market for a new bike computer after I got my 2014 Felt AR5.  I had been using a haphazard combination of a Nashbar HRM watch wrapped sideways around my stem and a Blackburn Delphi 3 mounted on my handlebars.  I didn’t like having two computers and I didn’t like the long cadence wire that wrapped around my top tube and seat tube.  I was going to make the switch to Ant+ eventually, when I got my power meter, so I decided to move up the computer purchase.  For reference, I paired the Node 1.1 with the Garmin GSC-10 (Speed/Cadence) and the Motorola MOTOACTV HRM, both of which are great and haven’t given me any problems.  I also got the Wahoo Fitness Ant+ key, so I could use metrics with Strava.

Neat packaging, everything has its place.

Well done, gentlemen, well done.

I’m not one to go over small details like packaging, but the design of the Node’s box is actually really cool.  As you can see, everything is placed in its own section of the box.  The quick start guide fits snugly behind the accessories pack.  A small detail, but still cool.  The Node itself is plastic, with a plastic LCD lacking a backlight.  That’s fine, I don’t ride in the dark anyways.

The Node 1.1 has a plastic mount bracket that the computer slides into.  There are plastic shims included that allow you to mount the Node to different diameter handlebars.  A stem mount, mounted with zipties (not rubber bands) is included.  This is important b/c it means that the mount is more or less permanent (and hard to remove if you want to).

The Bontrager mount that I bought is aluminum.  It holds the plastic mount bracket with a screw and the Node slides into the bracket with a solid snap.  No worries of anything falling off at all.  I found the screws on the mount to be troublesome, as they were all quite tight (hard to tighten or untighten the screws, not just at first).

The all aluminum mount attaches to the plastic bracket.

The all aluminum mount attaches to the plastic bracket.

Underside, Secure clip in front

Underside, Secure clip in front

The Node mount goes around the handlebars.  It has a very small footprint, which I appreciate.  And, bonus (!), it matches the black/white of my Felt.  When in doubt, go black or white.  Or just black.  The only problem with the mount is that it doesn’t extend far enough.  As you can see in the picture, it slams right against the stem bolts.  If I wanted to tilt the computer up, I wouldn’t be able to.  This really needs to be fixed because with non-standard stems like the Zipp SL Sprint, it’ll be impossible to use.

Tight against the stem.

Tight against the stem.

Now about the computer itself… This review could be summarized with a single fact: I returned the Node 1.1.  It’s poorly designed, at least for my uses.  The Node 1.1 has a bigger brother, the Node 2.1 and it seems like Trek pulled the standard scam, putting necessary features in the more expensive offering to force people to buy that one.

I’ll explain: For me, a bike computer, especially one that is Ant+ compatible, should show be able to show the four standard metrics without a hitch: power (preferably with smoothing), heart rate, cadence, and speed.  The Node 1.1 displays speed without a problem – it’s the central number, taking up about half of the screen.  However, when it gets to heart rate, cadence, and power, it gets sketchy.  The only customizable part of the Node is the bottom part (highlighted in red).  It can cycle through various settings like distance, cadence, heart rate, time, etc.  It also has a feature called Dual View.  That allows the user to view two things at once… kind of.  For the Node 1.1, users cannot view heart rate in dual view.  Below is the table of which functions can be shown in Dual View.

Capitalism... Sigh.

Capitalism… Sigh.

Green and Blue cannot be customized, Red is very limited.

Green and Blue cannot be customized, Red is very limited.

As you can see, the Node 2.1 (extra 70 bucks) can show heart rate and grade, but the 1.1 cannot.  That’s sad to see.

However, even if this was a Node 2.1 review, I wouldn’t be able to view heart rate, cadence, power, and speed all at the same time – I could only view three of four and would have to see speed at all time.  I don’t know why the designers didn’t think of this, or why they didn’t just implement it.  How hard could it be to have all fields customizable?  I like having a clock (green), but ride time (blue) really isn’t important to me at all.

Overall, then, the Node seems like it could be a really good computer.  Build quality isn’t anything outstanding, but it’s styling, compact footprint, and low price could make it a great buy.  However, it’s held up by (as is typical with a lot of products, not just Bontrager) a lack of customization and practicality.  And for Practical Reviews, that just won’t do.

TL;DR: Small footprint, good aesthetics.  But can’t see HRM, Cad, PWR, and SPD all at once.

Final Verdict: Poor.

Final Verdict: Poor.

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Announcement: I’m a Skratch Labs Taste Agent

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve been selected to represent Skratch Labs this year as a Skratch Labs taste agent.  Skratch Labs is a company that sells energy drink mix and cookbooks, but mainly promotes all-natural training.  That means 100% #realfood and real ingredients.  If you can’t pronounce it or you wouldn’t get it from a farm, then it’s not in their drink mix nor their cookbooks.

I found Skratch Labs through their video on how to make Sea Salt and Chocolate sticky bites (just one of the awesome recipes in their cookbooks).   In general, their recipes have an emphasis on high water content, so that they’re easy to digest (reportedly.  I just need the extra water because I drink A LOT.  I guess I have a drinking problem) and taste (and they do taste good).  I just made PB&J rice cakes.  Yeah.  PB&J.  And rice.

Anyways, it might sound like I’m mindlessly plugging sponsors, but I actually use and love Skratch Labs.  They’re humor, they’re food, and they’re real food philosophy.  It helps that everything tastes good, too.

Throughout the year, I’ll post videos and blog posts about the various recipes I’m making and protips from what I learn.

A really cool logo!

And they use minimalist design… not that I would know anything about that…

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Polar Dash Race Report

Polar Dash 2014 Race Report and Review

Strava File, Official Results

Polar Dash 2014 took place on January 11th, 2014.  It was a 14 mile out-and-back along LSD (Lake Shore Drive).  I signed up to run because I wanted to do something with all the running (cross-training) I did during the winter.  It was about 35 degrees, which was really nice because the week previous it had been ~7 degrees Fahrenheit, pretty cold.  However, it was rainy, which I’ll talk about later.  My goal for the course was an 8:00 pace, which would be a 1:45:00 half-marathon.

I don’t have much to say on the event.  It was $60, including a fleece and a knit hat.  I would have liked to have an option not to get the geat, but they made you buy it.  It was all outdoors, which was kind of a bummer, especially b/c there were winds of 20 MPH+.  No tents, even.  Sufficient number of porta-potties (which is important).  Bagels, chocolate, water, hot chocolate, and bananas after the race.  Timing wasn’t an issue for me.  Pacers at 30 second-split intervals. (i.e. 6:30 pace, 7:00 pace, 7:30 pace, etc.)

Going into the race, my strategy was to just try to stay with the 8:00 group.  I didn’t want to or think I could go faster.  I had stopped training in the weeks prior due to super-cold weather (I know, I know) and final exams.  Mostly the weather, though.  Also, mock trial.

Anyways, race started off good.  Adrenaline was going crazy.  My HRM said 198 but I was at an RPE of maybe 9 (of 20).  Looking back at the Strava file, it shows that the first mile was 9:00 pace.  We got stuck behind a lot of people who didn’t estimate their pace well at all (although shout-out to the St. Charles West girls – was fun to run with you guys!).

Anyways, pace started to settle in after we got onto LSD.  Thanks to the pacers (didn’t get their name, although they were chatting away, sigh) for helping us.  There were two other people in my group.  A cross-country runner whose coach had signed her up and who was running her 50th mile in, like, three days.  She was hardly breathing.  And another guy who was huffing and puffing even more than me.  It’s a shame I didn’t stay with them (oops, spoiler!) b/c I should have told myself that he was suffering just as much as me and if he could, I could.

I felt good for the first 5ish miles.  I was carrying just a tube of gel (2 wet tbsp honey, 1 dry tbsp maltodextrin) and ate some before every water station (which was about every two miles).  Water stations were disappointing.  There were 3 (?) total and the volunteers were not spread out at all, which meant I could grab two cups max.  I’m a heavy drinker, so that’s disappointing.

I stuck with the group until about a mile after the turnaround.  I began to fall off the pace a few minutes after we hit the turnaround due to cramps.  I stopped and gulped air and walked for a little.  The way I recover from cramps is by bending over and taking huge breaths.  I’m pretty sure I worried a few people…

Anyways, it was hard after that.  I began to run with other people who were passing me, assuming they knew how to pace if they were pretty close to my group (8:00).  I kept falling off, though, either b/c of something mental or b/c of cramps.

About mile 9/10, it got really hard b/c there wasn’t anyone near me at all and my muscles were really hurting.  At that point, it was my muscles that made running difficult.  Every step hurt a little bit.  And my feet were hurting too.  I ran through puddles and then they kind of numbed up.  Then they felt like cinder blocks.  Dunno if that was a good idea.

I’m not one to wax on the pain and glory of it all, so let’s skip ahead to about mile 11.  At that point, I was determined to finish the half marathon ASAP.  I can’t fathom why the race was a 14-miler.  Their reasoning was “You can not only set a half-marathon PR but a 14-mile PR as well!”  Anyways, it was about 1:40 and I was trying to get as close to 1:45 as possible.  I ended up running 1:52:44.  That’s fine with me.  I hadn’t trained much, if at all in the weeks prior.

Anyways, running into the finish, I tried to latch onto the 8:30 guy, who was “a little bit off, like 5 minutes, because I fell.”  Anyways, lost his wheel/foot and ended up finishing at 2:01:32.

Overall, I’m glad I ran the half marathon.  I think it’s a good experience and I always welcome new experiences.  I would have liked to hit my goals, but I realized I didn’t put in the prep necessary.  I’m probably not going to run the Chicago marathon b/c this wasn’t very ‘fun’ and I can’t imagine how hard 26.2 miles would be, but we’ll see.

Thanks for reading the report.  I’ll leave you with this picture and its caption that I tried to use for the #stravaproveit of the day.  (And if you don’t follow me on Instagram, you totally should!)

Me w/ my medal

Proving that even in the rain, snow, and wind, even through puddles, snow banks, and ice patches, even through pain, suffering, and mental I-Can’ts, at the end of the day, WE ALL CAN. #stravaproveit #polardash2014

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Nashbar Jail Brake Review

The cleverly-named Nashbar Jail Brake calipers are a budget pair of road calipers that won’t break the bank (see what I did there?).  For just $35/pair, they are targeted at riders who want an upgrade over stock brakes but don’t want to reach deep into their wallets.

With aluminum arms and a steel spring, the calipers weigh a reported 173 grams per caliper (346 grams total), including hardware.  The might not be boutique TRP R970 SLs, but they aren’t 600 dollars, either.

This review consists of two parts: An unboxing and my initial impressions and a long-term review after I’ve put at least 400 miles on them.  I have not posted the long-term review yet (as of January 1st) and have 0 miles on them. If you want a short summary of the pros, cons, and bottom line, skip to the bottom of the review.

Product shots:

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The brakes come in a small, brown box with a small, albeit very detailed instruction manual.  The manual includes thorough instructions on installing and adjusting the brakes that are easy to follow.  Manual includes proper torques for all bolts.

The brakes themselves are plain but sleek, a semi-glossy black throughout with silver brake cartridges and hardware and a small, off-center Nashbar logo on the bevel.  If you’re building a ‘stealth’ or minimalist bike, as seems to be popular these days, these calipers will fit right in.

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Although certain calipers, like the golden Planet X CNC Calipers can add a major bling factor to your road machine, brakes are generally not the place to add visual flair (although it can show attention to detail).  Small and out of the way (and almost always black) it’s usually a better idea to save colorful touches for other places like bars, saddle, or wheels.

The box is bare aside from the two calipers, secured by small zip ties.  The brakes include all hardware necessary for the caliper itself, although it would have been nice if cable ends had been included (if you’re replacing brakes, you’ll need two crimp-on cable ends).  The mounting stud on the rear caliper is shorter than the mounting stud on the front caliper, for mounting purposes.

Pre-installed in the brake cartridges are stock Nashbar pads.  You can buy Nashbar replacements, although I’d recommend getting the Shimano replacements, which are proven to be quality and are only five dollars more.  Interestingly enough, the brakes are designed so that the front of the brake pad engages before the back.  I’m guessing that this is how the brake provides for modulation.  There are a few things to note about this approach:

  • First, there will be more wear at the front of the brake pad.  For small engagements, the pads will only contact the rim in the front.
  • Braking modulation will increase along an exponential curve.  That means that squeezing the lever two mm at first will result in much less stopping power than when squeezing the lever two mm when the brake is already almost fully-engaged.
  • Brakes may wear faster in the front, but the rear of the brake will not wear very much at all.  After a few months, or upon replacement, expect to see the pads worn in a slant.

No pre-installation maintenance needs to be done to the calipers, although the brake pads come folded into the brake arms, to compress the calipers into the box.  Just use a 4mm Allen key to put the pads perpendicular to the arm, in preparation for installation.

For installation you will need:

  1. 4mm Allen key (pad adjustment)
  2. 5mm Allen key (cable stop and mounting stud)
  3. Small Philllips-head (pivot adjustment)

You may also need a 2mm Allen key if you wish to swap brake pads.

Installation is standard.  Simply take the silver nut that is threaded on the mounting stud, pushing the mounting stud of the correct brake through the hole, and secure the stud on the other side with the nut.  Make sure that the brake and its pads face the right way.  To do this, locate the rear/front brake based on the stud size (see above) then adjust or rotate the pads so that the ‘forward’ lettering and arrow point towards the front wheel.

From there, thread the brake cable through the cable-adjusting barrel, securing the housing in the barrel, pinch the brake arms together until they are 1 mm away from the rim on both sides, and secure the cable in the cable pinch mechanism.

You’ll next need to center the brakes.  Make sure your wheel is centered in the dropouts first.  The easiest way to center the caliper is to twist it with your hand.  Rotate the brake with your hand until the pads are aligned.  Don’t worry; the brake mounting nut will not unscrew.  If you still need further adjustment, tighten or loosen the Phillips’ head screw on top.  Tightening the screw (turning clockwise) will move the pads, looking at the caliper’s logo, to the right.  Loosening the screw will, of course, do the opposite.

Bike Nashbar now recommends that you squeeze the lever tightly ten times.  Presumably, this stretches the cable and makes simulates initial wear.  You may need to re-tension the cable after doing this.

During installation, I ran into a few problems.  Most prominent was that the included nut was too short for the front brake.  I had to use the nut from my old brakes to secure the caliper to my fork.  This may or may not be specific to my frame, but it’s still disappointing to see that all necessary materials were not included.

There are also some accessibility issues that clearly weren’t thought out.  For instance, once installed, you can’t see the ‘forward’ lettering on the back brake, to check the correct alignment.  Also, the quick release of both calipers blocks the adjustment of that side’s brake pad.  I had to open the quick release then adjust the pad, then close the quick release.  These small mistakes are almost to be expected.  These brakes are probably re-branded OEM brakes.  It’s very, very doubtful that Nashbar designed and manufactured them themselves.  These are the drawbacks of buying budget cycling componentry.

My first impressions aren’t only negative, though.  As far as I can tell, there’s no flex in either of the brake arms, even when I pull the lever all the way.  The cable pinch bolt holds the cable tight and the arms do not flex.  Also, all bolts and adjustments (including the pivot adjustment bolt) work as intended.  There are no problems so far.

Comparable Products:

Product

Price

Weight (pair)

Nashbar Jail Brake

$35.00

346g

Shimano Tiagra

$54.88

375g

SRAM Apex

$61.79

306g

Campagnolo Centaur

$70.95

315g

Tektro R540

$79.99

328g

Shimano 105

$83.98

306g

*The difference between the lightest set and the heaviest set is 69g, which is the weight equivalent of drinking4 tablespoons of water before riding.  Price difference is about 22 dollars

Overall, these brakes seem to be promising.  Extremely cheap, seemingly well made, we’ll have to see how they turn out.  I’m going to put 400 miles on the brakes and then I’ll post my long-term review.  As of now (12/30/2013), I have 0 miles on the brakes.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • No perceivable flex under full power

Cons:

  • Included mounting nut was too short.  Installation would have been impossible without my old nut.
  • Some usability issues when installing

Bottom Line:
I can’t make a conclusion yet, as I haven’t ridden the brakes.

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