Saturday, June 28, 2008

An Epic Ride

What makes an epic ride? Today, I had many of the things occur which would make it an epic ride. I rode about 150 miles total, climbed over 14,000ft, rode in 90+ temps most the day with very high humidity, got stung by some sort of critter two times, got caught in three thunderstorms in the afternoon at various times, and did I mention the climbing? O, yeah, I guess I did.

Today was a brutal ride. I actually cheated and cut it about 40 miles short by taking a Metro North train back to the city. I was that beat. The climbing coupled with the heat really did a number on me. I went through nearly 8 liters of water.

I was a zombie on the train. My lungs were aggravated from hammering the last 10 miles so I would not miss the train and be stuck waiting another hour for the next one. I considered making a public announcement to the car I was in. I seriously thought about standing up and asking, begging, offering to buy anyone's sweet, sugary drink and any food that was NOT a protein bar or the liquid diet crap I had been sustaining myself on for the past 10 hours. There was a woman drinking Welch's grape juice a few rows down. I eyed it enviously.

The ride started out great in the morning. I quickly met up with a threesome that were hammering and doing the drafting rotation. I squeezed my way in and rode with them all the way to Bear Mountain. It turns out they were all ex-professional racers from Europe. They were all in their early to late 40s. They thought I was crazy. I thought they were crazy. They took me on some roads I had never seen before and it should be noted they were gluttons for punishment like me. They seemed to squeeze every foot of elevation gain out of the roads they could find. With them, I tacked on an extra 6 miles to bear mountain and also a few thousand feet of extra climbing. FUN!

After the 4.5 mile Bear Mtn. climb we parted ways and I headed off north to my parents house. A brutal ~50 miles consisting of nearly all climbing. The heat started to drive in to my head. Do weird things. Telling me to stop riding. Take it easy, bro, why don't you just stay at your parents house and have some nice cold ones and some good food. Finish the ride tomorrow. No! I made it to their place, to their surprise, and basically did a pit stop. Wolfed down a burger, drank all their orange juice, and high tailed it outta there with the goal of making it to a train station to get back to NYC.

And that puts us back up to the previous paragraphs. An epic ride.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Specialized Toupe 143mm vs Fi'zik Aliante Carbon vs Fi'zik Arione vs Brooks Team Professional

Wow, lots of saddles. I bought around 132 saddles off of ebay over the past few weeks and have been slapping them on the mighty Redline 925 for commuting and morning training rides to see how they compare or fare with hopes of replacing the Team Professional titanium I currently have mounted on my road bike. WHY?? The weight, even with the titanium, still bothers me. Yeah, shut up already! Ok, so what truly bothers me is the leather. I really don't like having to drag around a seat cover to protect the little baby from the water. Road spray, rain, whatever. It's all bad. This liability has bugged me since day one. It's a truly comfortable saddle. Significantly better than anything I've used to date. It disappears.

So, can any of these fancy saddles replace it? Who's going to be the next saddle under my tush? Or will the Brooks triumph and remain atop the glorious road bike?

Specialized Toupe 143mm

I think this saddle sucks. Ha! Ok, you'd probably like to know why I think it stinks? Ok, I'll tell you why. It simply does not work for my rear end. I really don't like how it forces me on my sit bones, and nothing but my sitbones. It DOES feel like it perhaps lets more blood flow around, but to be honest, I've never had any issue before with ANY other saddle in this area so don't try to sell me with fancy advertising making it seem like all other saddles are evil and yours is THE ONE. So, let me have less blood to critical areas for more comfort. It was okay for the first five minutes. After that I didn't truly hate it, I just didn't like it. I felt the edges dropped off dramatically creating a pinching feeling in my inner thighs. I also don't like the faux carbon accents on the corners. Why? why? Wasteful. If on the sides, yeah, OK, it keeps the saddle from being scratched when leaning on your favorite tree or wall, but these are on the rear and you'd have to be pretty creative to lean them against anything. Maybe I needed the 130mm or the 155mm. I'll never know.

Fi'zik Arione

I think this saddle is pretty good. If you like a Brooks Team Professional, just maybe, maybe you'll like this saddle. I'm going to keep it for awhile on the fixed gear commuter and play with the angles some more to see how well it works out. I like the long, flat top. It has just enough cushion. It's a saddle. Not much else to say. It's narrower than what I thought would work for me.

Fi'zik Aliante Carbon

The bling of all saddle bling. This saddle is stupid expensive. I'm glad I did not pay retail for the brand new black version. Ebay!!! This saddle has it all. Kevlar weave in the middle that is very flexible...kinda like the Brooks (hint hint) True Carbon wings...none of that plastic blend stuff. Really nice leather atop. Carbon braided raills. What else could you ask for? O yeah, comfort. And does this baby deliver! I think it's even better than the Brooks. I love this saddle. And it's only 160 grams according to my scale. DING DING. We have a winner. This shall remain on the race bike. If I were really wealthy I'd put it on every bike, but I'm not.

So, give the Fi'zik saddles a try. The two saddles are VERY different, yet both are very comfortable. I think the Aliante is a lot better for my butt, but I'm going to give the Arione some time.

Redline 925 Review

I have a decent chunk of miles on the Redline now, mostly commuting, but I've also used it for a few training rides so I think it's time to share some thoughts on this rusty colored beast.

Thus far, I've only used the bike in fixed gear mode. It's very simple to flip the wheel around and run it as a single speed with freewheel so you can coast to your hearts content. It comes stock with a 15T fixed cog and a 16T freewheel. The chain ring up front is a 42T. I find the 42-15 ratio to work very well for my needs. Yes, I'm mashing up hills, but on the flats I rarely spin out over 90-100 cadence unless I have a strong tail wind.

Fixed gear is fun.

It's really fun. I love flying down the hills spinning at 180 cadence at over 30mph zipping here and there dodging all those nasty potholes which would send me flying off the road down in to the woods, or maybe the Hudson river if I'm lucky.

I'm pretty sure riding the fixed gear is good for my training. It forces me to pedal the entire time, and also forces me to mash more than I would typically do on the geared bike both riding in to the wind and going up hills. My knees feel better already. Seriously.

O yeah, back to the Redline. It's heavy, fat, ugly, don't buy it.

I'm guessing this beast weighs in at a hefty 25lb's. Quite a bit considering it does not have much going on, or hanging on it. It comes stock with some pretty swanky black plastic Planet Bike fenders with...drum roll...mud flaps! They do their job admirably and I haven't been sprayed once by the nasty NYC muck on the streets.

The frame is double butted 4130 chromoly steel. The fork is straight bladed steel, and tapers nicely from top to bottom. It's a pretty stiff ride, but not terribly so. Compared to my race bike it's STIFF. The carbon frame and fork do wonders. I did not appreciate this until going back and forth between the two bikes on the same day. Huge difference in ride quality...but the Titus FRAME costs nearly $1000 more than the entire Redline bike.

The paint job is really nice. It definitely draws attention. I've had more people comment on what a sweet ride I have, this $525 dollar single speed, than on my significantly more expensive race bike. I...feel offended. The paint job sparkles in the sun and has a decidedly retro appearance with the sexy cream panels on the down and seat tubes. It's tasteful, but loud enough to scream LOOK AT ME. Most people that see it and learn a bit more about it generally say they are going to go get one, too.

It's fun passing geared roadies on the steep climbs with my steel, full fenders fixed gear bike. Stroke thy ego.

The wheels seem very solid. 32H with some thick stainless spokes. Redline badged hubs. The bearings are very smooth on both wheels. I think the wheelset is more than adequate - better than most at this price point. They aren't even terribly heavy. The tires that came on the bike are Kenda Cosmos. Were, I should say. They were 28c with some light tread with grooves for water removal, etc. I got a flat on the second day so instead of bothering with them and risking another flat I put on my 28c Specialized Armadillos. The Armadillos were noticeably larger upon mounting. They are also slightly heavier but WAY more durable and much better feeling when riding, which is a pretty huge insult to the Kenda if anyone knows how poor the Armadillo rides...certainly no gp4000 by Continental!

Bullhorns are the bars that come stock. I don't particularly like these. They put too much pressure on my hands and force them in to an uncomfortable angle unless I angle the bars up a lot then I have too much pressure on the hands. They are also a touch too wide. Good for climbing, bad for everything else. I haven't measured them but I'd guess they are around 46cm wide. I'm awaiting some standard road brake levers and shall put on a drop bar I have kicking around.

The brakes are no name dual-pivot brakes. They work. They are quiet. They are not as strong as my Cane Creek SL on my road bike, but more than adequate.

I can't comment on the saddle. I took it off before leaving the store and had my Brooks Team Professional put on.

For a little over $500, I think this is the "GO TO" for commuters that don't mind having only one gear. Believe me, I did a lot of research, essentially checking every manufacturer out there, for the ideal single speed road bike. Cheap, versatile, fenders a plus, durable for long distance riders like me. It's a very solid bike and will last for years to come. It's looks defy the price tag, which may not be a good thing depending on where you wish to leave it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Back to the basics

Yesterday I picked up a new ride for commuting. I've always been slightly nervous parking my road bike in a public accessible albeit relatively secure Manhattan city street. So, yesterday I got a Redline 925. I searched nearly every company out there to find the 'ideal' bike for what I needed. Single speed, cheap, solid, versatile. The 925 trumped every other company. It came stock with fenders, fixed/free wheel, and had good parts all geared towards being sturdy and strong for commuting. It weighs roughly 25 pounds.

I was surprised when I went to pick it up. The paint job was nicer than I had expected as were the welds. The guys at the bike shop were drooling over it after they learned the cost. They thought it looked far better than the offerings they had in stock by Specialized and Bianchi to name a few.

I rode it home yesterday and hammered the entire way. It was perfect from the start. No funky noises, everything simply worked. I even felt like my speed was very similar to the geared bike. Once home, I removed all the extraneous garb like reflectors and chain guards. Now the 925 is ready to roll. What better way to break it in than a nice century ride the next day?

Saturday am, I roll out of bed and the wife wants to get stuff in the city. We ride all around NYC, roughly 25 miles, then head home. I dropped all the crap off then headed back out the door. To bear mountain I pedal!

This bike is fast. I still don't know what the gearing is, but it's perfectly fine as is. I was able to climb everything without struggling too much, but could easily hang with geared bikes on the flats. In fact, I passed most roadies like I do on the geared bike. Hmm..

Bear mountain comes around, 44.5 miles later, and I check the timer on my watch. Five minutes LESS than my fastest time on the geared bike. This, I must admit, was stunning. I definitely did not expect this. I love riding single speed bikes, so what the hell do I need all those gears for? Immediately the mind starts spinning thinking of how I can quickly ditch the gears and make the road bike a single speed as well. Easy. Game, set, match.

Predictable? If you know me, yes, if not, well now you know. I'm a single speeder at heart. Always will be. 12 pound single speed road bike, the Titus is, yes, and it shall be. fast, climbing machine, long, long hours with grueling grinds up the mountains. bliss.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Grueling Ride

First off, I'm still feeling way off, so I hope this all comes out being reasonably readable!

Today, I went for my weekly long ride around 7am this morning. Temps were supposed to reach the mid to high 80s and be sunny most the day with some thunderstorms later in the afternoon. The last sentence turned out to have about 50% accuracy. Yes, I did get hammered by some big thunderstorms (two of them), but no, the temperature was actually closer to 95-100F with high humidity. Cheers. 6L of water and 7.5 hours later, I crawled in to my apartment. I dumped the bike against the wall, leaned against the same wall so I didnt fall down while I took off my shoes. I stripped down naked leaving the clothes scatttered about on the floor to deal with later and plopped down in front of the air conditioner, closed my eyes, and tried not to puke all over the sofa. I was numb feeling, my head was spinning, and my stomach was not feeling like wolfing down the typical large quantities of food after such a ride. Breathe deep. After about 30 minutes of this I decided to be brave and crawl for some fruit juice. 15 minutes after this I started feeling slightly recovered. Time for a beer! Wait, better guzzle down some water first. Ok, now, time for the 90 minute IPA.

What the hell happened? Well, hammering at 85% of my heart rate for 7.5 hours in the heat I guess did a number on me. I suspect the Hammer Perpetuem turned a bit rank due to the excessive exposure to sun and heat. The four climbs, which I'll mention in a minute in more detail, certainly didn't help anything. I was dumping sweat all over my bike as I pumped my way up the hills. At least I felt great for most the ride. The last 10 miles were pretty awful though.

Roughly 131 miles with four five mile climbs gaining a little over 2000ft eleveation each time. Right there, that's 20 miles with over 8,000ft of elevation gain. That leaves ~111 miles more to consider and those miles were definitely not flat! The altimeter tells me I climbed over 12,000ft today. I feel it. Korean food, here I come!

The Gore Xenon bibs performed phenomenally well and exceeded my expectations. They are clearly superior to any short I've used to date. They better be for nearly $200. They felt far more comfortable than the hammer and performance bibs, basically like a second skin, and they also felt cooler throughout the day. They kick butt! If anyone needs my address for shipping of size M Xenon bibs in black, just email me!:)

Monday, June 9, 2008

New Bling

My Dura-Ace crankset FINALLY arrived. The crankset hung out in customs for a bit too long to my liking then the mail room at work had a brain fart and lost it for a few days. I should've had them last Monday. Instead, I received them this Monday. 175mm length of shiny, silver bling. It even looks sexier than the FSA K-Force I previously had and also felt lighter in the hand, and, in fact, is lighter (confirmed at the bike shop)

So, who cares how it looks, how does it perform? Well, I thought I had some good gear before with the upgraded Stronglight Teflon chain rings on the top of the line K-Force FSA crankset. The Dura-Ace makes the FSA seem pretty lame in comparison. It was immediately noticeably stiffer in the bottom bracket area. Great and all and I like it when as much as my power as possible is being transferred. But the best part is the shifting. The dura-ace chain rings simply shift significantly better. Immediate response after I flick the trigger. POP on to the big ring. Absolutely no hesitation. This is nice. Really nice. I hope it always shifts like this!

On the way home, I decided to get my "long distance" weekend bib short - something I've been hemming and hawing over for awhile like which brand, etc. What is a long distance weekend bib short you say? One day a week I ride far. Having bib shorts that are extremely comfortable is an obvious very good thing to have and could even make or break the day's ride. The Hammer bibs are great, and I think they are more than adequate, but I feel like there may be a better bib out there for the extreme mileage/hour days. A more expensive bib. A much more expensive bib. The debit card is still crying.

Oops, I jumped ahead. So I peeled off the bike path around 65th ST. on the west side and headed up the hill past the gaudy Trump towers and banged a right on West End Ave and jay walked, etc my way across the street to Toga Bike Shop. A high end bike shop that probably has the best selection of gear for a roadie in NYC. Debatable.

So I browse through the 300 pairs of bibs mostly sorted by size and grab three pairs of high end bibs to try on. Castelli, Gore, and Giordana. $149 to $229. Ouch. I hope the $149 are the best fitting. Ha!

I start with the cheapest first, the Giordana Tenax Carbon, hoping to see a difference as the price increases. They feel great. They are super high tech looking. The chamois does not look as fancy as the ION SL that comes with the Hammer bibs. Overall I could certainly, probably, live with these as a day to day short but I don't think they are "the" high end long distance weekend ride short.

Next up is Gore Xenon Bib short. Super silkly material. Very well made. Great leg grippers - much better than most I've seen. I tried these bad boys on and, wow, they are excellent. They definitely feel better than the Giordana. The chamois is very high end. I think I recall reading somewhere it's the same that Assos uses. The fit is perfect. These just might be the ones. $179. Yikes.

And, finally, the Castelli. Too high end. Too expensive. Fit is perfect. But, I don't think they are better than the Gore. In fact, the Gore may be slightly better. Unfortunately I can't afford both to take home and test. Maybe next year.

So, I ended up getting the Gore Xenon. I'm looking forward to this weekends ride to see how they work out. They are pretty amazing technology wise and seem to be superior to anything I've ever worn before. Better be for nearly $200 after tax.

Signing off...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Three State Century + ride

This weekend I had planned on riding a 400km brevet starting in Westfield, MA to continue the series and finish with the 600km in a few weeks. Due to a bad pedal interface on my right crankarm - the pedal wobbles about in the carbon arm and could break at some point - I decided it would be a bad idea, and somewhat irresponsible, to go on a 250 mile bike ride through the country.

Instead, I came up to Connecticut with my wife to stay at my parents house for the weekend and to do a long ride on Saturday and a shorter ride today, Sunday.

I woke up around 6am, wolfed down some breakfast, then headed out in to a gray mist with hardly any visibility. It was incredibly humid. 99%. The air was so damp it felt like it was raining. I was quickly soaked leaving my parents driveway. At least it was warm. The sun beat it's way through the mist about an hour later and it quickly went from wet, humid to hot, wet, humid. The three H's. Hazy Hot Humid. O, boy, I'm in a for a doozy today! The temperature never let up, nor did the humidity throughout the day. It was over 90F for most of my ride.

On to the ride...The ride was beautiful, and was mostly in CT but also went through NY and MA. See it here. Connecticut never lets me down. I went out with the idea of riding north to Bash Bish Falls. A brutal six mile climb with numerous 18% grades. I had no idea how far it was there but was guessing around 50 or 60 miles. Turns out I guessed correctly. I was on country roads nearly the entire time. Route 7 being the only exception. And it's still beautiful just has a tad heavier traffic - nothing to keep you away though! If you checked the link you probably noticed there was a lot of climbing. Pretty standard CT stuff. Nearly 8,000 feet total ascent! I recall three long climbs with tons of rollers throughout the entire ride - it's basically never flat. The last big hill was on route 45 near the very end of the ride, which is about 4 or 5 miles continuous climbing. 95F, completely exposed in the sun, I pedaled my way up at a pathetic 8mph trying to keep my heart rate below my LT (166) Normally I climb this hill around 11mph but the heat really did a number on me!

Today was my first training ride I started focusing on emulating everything, including nutrition, that I will do during a race. Before I had been eating bars since the rides were not terribly long and I had enough room to carry solid food. But Today, I donned the Camelbak Rogue 2L hydration pack to combat the heat, and filled one bottle with a concentrated Hammer Perpetuem + water and another bottle with just the powder for the 2nd bottle later in the day. Perpetuem kicks butt for long rides. The one bottle, exclusively, fed me for 4 hours of constant pedaling. At noon I stopped to get a 2L bottle of water and refilled the Camelbak plus the 2nd bottle of Hammer. This was the only stop I made off the bike for the entire 112 miles in 90F+ heat. I never felt tired, hungry, or thirsty. I felt very strong the entire way until route 45 and the dreaded climb in the 2pm HHH weather.

Check out the ride if you are ever in the area! It's simply amazing. Lots of high speed descents - my max speed 51mph - and beautiful views nearly the entire time.

Monday, June 2, 2008

An Interesting Commute

Today, I did my normal, daily commute to work under a sunny sky with temps in the mid 70s. Perfect. Nothing to report about the actual riding, but I did come across a very unusual sight around 110th st. on the west side pathway. A sturgeon had either jumped or been carried from the Hudson River and beached itself a foot or so away from the bike path. For those of you unfamiliar with the path, this means it went about 6 to 8 feet out of the water to get where it was resting. It was very dead. But it did not smell, so I'm assuming it had not been there for long. It was baking in the sun and was starting to boil on it's back so I'm sure the stink came very shortly after I left. The thing was huge. About five feet long, it's tail was missing so perhaps it was even closer to six, and it also had a pretty nasty bite or injury of some sort on the side of it's head. What a nasty looking, ugly creature! When I came upon it I thought it was maybe part of a giant snake, or part alligator part fish. A mutant from the glorious Hudson river! Enjoy the pic.