Environmental Wind Modeling

What if I told you that on a given race, I could predict an area where you would have a 25% reduction in drag that only you would know about in advance–where you could throw down a surprise attack and make a break?  Or conversely, if I told you that I could predict an area where there would be a 25% increase in drag that only you would know about in advance–where you could duck into a group and make someone else take the pull?

Right now, bike companies are spending untold piles of cash trying to squeeze 1% better aerodynamics out of their bikes–or even a fraction of a percent.  What if they’re leaving easy advantages on the table?

Next time you’re on a ride, pay attention to the wind as you go around obstacles.  On Wednesday, on the group ride, we had a cornering tailwind coming into town; the wind was from the Northwest, and we were headed due East.  We came into an area with a farm on the left side of the road with a grove of trees.  As we approached that impediment, I knew what the wind would do…it would wrap around the trees and farmstead, and we would have a brief ~1,000 foot headwind.  Similarly, in other conditions you may be riding into a headwind when the terrain gives a partial shield that disrupts the wind and gives you either a temporary break or a temporary tailwind.

What I’m starting to notice is that the wind does this in a predictable fashion.  If you pay attention to the route and the wind, you start to see areas where the impact of the terrain on the wind can be predicted–and modeled.  Heading towards that farmstead on Wednesday, I knew what the wind would do, and it played into how I rode that section.

Teams spend a lot of time scouting routes in major tours.  If you listed to Stage 6 of the Tour de France, you heard the commentators talking about how much time the major teams spent scouting the cobbles included in that stage.  What if they started looking at conditions other than just elevation, road condition, turns and terrain?  What if they started driving the routes in varying wind conditions with anemometers, wind vanes and sophisticated barometers–and started doing environmental wind modeling of how the terrain and structures impact conditions on the road.  What if you knew that as you rounded a particular bend with a Southeast wind, that you would get a disproportionately strong tailwind for a period of a thousand feet?  It could be a significant tactical advantage if only some had the information.

Food for thought.

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Just Di2 It.

I consider myself to be pretty well-experienced with Di2 at this point.  I’m running 11 speed Ultegra Di2 on the Madone, and 11 speed hydro-braked Ultegra Di2 (with Dura-Ace bits) on the Moots.

Where am I at on it?

When first I rode Di2, I wasn’t overwhelmed.  It shifted fantastic, looked great, and felt great to the hand, but I didn’t see a real advantage over mechanical.  I was pretty happy with SRAM Red, and having previously ridden Shimano mechanical drivetrains, I wasn’t in a big rush to go back to Shimano.  (My biggest dislike of Shimano mechanical is the way the brake lever moves to shift–so if you go to grab the brake in a hurry, with wet hands, it sometimes wants to move away from your hand).  Truth be told, it was only the massive recall of SRAM hydro brakes that caused me to really question things.  While SRAM handled the recall appropriately, I lost some faith in their products (and started to understand all of the anti-SRAM folks out there who alleged that SRAM was using first-yen product purchasers as quality-control employees).

So I started to contemplate how to redo the Moots (my first priority, as it was lacking brakes after the SRAM recall).  I ended up looking at Shimano hydros, which were tasty feeling, and then came to the logical conclusion that if I was going Shimano hydro, I should look at Di2.  After a brief time with Di2 on the Moots, I realized that I wanted it on the road bike as well.

What are the benefits of Di2?

  • It shifts.  Always.  Predictably.  One gear per tap.  Under any conditions.
  • It shifts flawlessly–never over or under.  Never needs adjustment.  Never has cable stretch.
  • If you hold the button, it will keep shifting (even better than Campy).
  • It looks great, and the ergonomics of the brifters are fantastic for both mechanical and hydro brakes.
  • It shifts just as fast, if not faster than, mechanical.
  • Front derailleur shifts are undeniably better than with any mechanical I’ve ever ridden.
  • It always works the same.

Di2, day in and day out, works as well as or better than a perfectly-tuned mechanical system.  I don’t have to adjust it.  I don’t have to chase cable tension.  I don’t have to think about it.

I had concerns about downsides, and to date, there are none.  Here were a few of my concerns (now erased):

  • It functions perfectly in wet conditions–inclusive of riding through running water, unbelievable downpours, hail, etc.
  • There have been no wiring issues, loose connections, or electrical component failures.
  • Battery life is a non-issue.

That last one is critical.  Who wants to have to “charge their bike” before they ride it?  I certainly don’t.  In the time that I’ve had the Moots, I charged it once.  It has thousands of miles on it–enough that I’ve had to replace the (brand new when purchased) rear tire because it was a slick.  I did run the battery on the Madone down to ‘safe mode’, where it stops shifting the front derailleur, one time.  When that happened, I thought to myself, “when did I last charge this bike?”, and realized that I had never charged it.  Between the two bikes, I’ve got several thousand miles of trouble-free operation.  Sure, I’ll probably charge the Moots before the Ten Thousand, but I probably wouldn’t have to.

Admittedly–you never get a dead battery with mechanical shifting.  But frankly, I don’t see the battery as being an issue…battery life is so good, that the only issue might be forgetting to charge it ever, as I did.

In retrospect, would I Di2 it again?  Absolutely.  I have no reservations, compunctions, qualms or disclaimers on that opinion.  Di2 is the best shifting, best performing drivetrain on the market right now between anything offered by SRAM or Shimano (and I exclude Campy as I haven’t ridden the newest generation of their products, nor have I experienced EPS).  I would also say that Di2 is a worthy upgrade for an existing bike–it makes a big enough difference to warrant a retrofit.

I know that around the corner, there will be wireless drivetrains, with a battery for the rear derailleur (and no wiring harness).  Frankly, I have spent enough time in my life working with bluetooth, wireless routers, and even wireless cadence sensors such that I have no interest in a wireless drivetrain.  The Di2 wiring is small and slick, and completely unobtrusive.  Even if wireless comes out, I’m sticking with wired, and one battery.

Di2 is great.  Perhaps even perfect.  I can’t say enough good things about it.

Brompton Bike Review Update.

Last year, I picked up a Brompton, with the original review here, and an update here.  I’m still putting miles on the little guy.  Being that it’s the 4th of July, why not write about a British bike?

It sees quite a few rides with other bikes with equally small wheels, like this one:

Why?  Because it’s so fun to ride slowly, and because the center of gravity is so low, you can ride at a pace that’s ridiculously slow.

It also sees other uses.  Unfortunately, my commute is not such that I can use the Brompton for regular commutes (although if you were dedicated enough, you could use it for just about anything).  Many of my uses tend to be times when I have to drive somewhere, but have the opportunity to hit a few stops after parking somewhere.  In other circumstances, you might have to go back to the car, drive a bit, repark, and repeat.  With the Brompton, you can throw it in the back of the car, park once, and have a  much more fun day.

It’s the kind of bike that puts a smile on your face.  I haven’t had a bad ride on it ever.  You get it out, ride it a bit, and kind of chuckle at how much fun it is.

The only downside is that I don’t get to ride it as much as I’d like to.  I had envisioned it being more integrated into my life, but as busy as I am, I don’t get to pull it out every day.  At work, I’m often in too big of a hurry to be able to convert a drive into a ride…and when I can, the weather doesn’t always cooperate.  In any event, it’s still a really fun bike to ride, and it enables riding in conditions when otherwise I wouldn’t be able to.  How much more can you ask from a bike?

Fizik Antares VS Saddle Update

I’ve been riding the Fizik Antares for 2 years now, with the original review from July of 2012.  In that time, it has lived on the Ridley, and now on the Madone, and has accumulated thousands of miles.  I feel pretty good about my ability to review it at this point.

I’ve changed a lot of things on the Madone…drivetrain, bars, etc., but I’m not changing the saddle.  It’s perfect.

From a wear perspective, if I took the saddle off (and if you couldn’t see the mounting scuffs on the rails), you wouldn’t know it wasn’t new.  It has held up amazingly well.  The ‘patent leather’ looking sides of the saddle have done an amazing job of not showing wear or scuffs.  The foam and shell have not broken down at all, notwithstanding some hard use.  Even the printing on the saddle still looks like new.

I typically like saddles that are pretty flat, but the Antares VS has some curve to it.  Nonetheless, I find it amazingly comfortable, even for long days in the saddle.  It’s had 4 century rides, and a ton of 40-70 mile rides, and I’ve never had a complaint about it.

As I mentioned the other day, shifting forward or back an inch can have a huge impact on how the saddle feels, and I appreciate that it gives me some placement flexibility on the bike.  I find the saddle comfortable for long, steady rides, and also for high-power sprintathons.  What more can you ask for?

So:

Comfort has been great.

Durability has been amazing (better than I could have hoped for).

Aesthetics are still fantastic.

Responsiveness in different conditions has been perfect.

The saddle is lightweight and has an appropriate balance of rigidity and flexibility.

What more could you ask for in a road saddle?  (If I was doing it again, I might get carbon rails just for the uff-dah factor, but the K:ium rails have worked perfectly thus far.)  The Fizik Antares VS gets two cheeks up.

Kask Vertigo Helmet Review

I’ve got just a couple weeks on this Kask Vertigo helmet, but thus far, I love it.  I used to ride with a Lazer Helium.  I upgraded to the Kask for a few reasons.

  • The Kask is lighter (by nearly 80 grams, which is a lot on your head).
  • The Kask has better ventilation.
  • The chin strap on the Kask is leather–super comfy.  The side straps that go around your ears are: 1) easier to adjust; and, 2) spaced further apart, which makes it easier to avoid your ears.  Honestly, I had thought that the leather chinstrap was a gimmick…until I wore it for a full day.  It’s pretty awesome.
  • The Kask has a better cut for me.  With the Lazer, I had problems getting the front low enough across my forehead.  The Kask is far better fitting, getting to a safer position across my forehead.
  • The adjustment bands on the Lazer (little cables) came out of their guides from day one.  The adjustment on the Kask doesn’t use cables or guides, and seems far more secure.  Also, the adjustment band at the rear of the Kask is angle-adjustable, so you can position it below the back of your head, in a position where it more securely holds the helmet on.  With the Lazer, the adjustment band went across the back of my head–and only the chin strap ‘held it on’ in the event of a crash (unless you had the back strap cinched to headache-tightness levels).  With the Kask, the back strap can be fit low enough that it goes under where your head starts to round back to your neck, to help hold the helmet on.  Pics below, to explain this better.
  • The Kask has ‘next generation’ design for crash absorption, using a combination of the helmet shell and different foam densities to be more effective for those times when you need a helmet.
  • The Kask has a coolmax liner, that helps keep your head cooler in hot conditions.

Note: I’ve flirted with different types of review pictures, including both staged and properly lighted shots, crappy i-phone shots, and ‘in-use’ shots.  I’m going to try to focus on in-use shots prospectively, to show things as I use them.

If you look here, you can see how low it fits over the forehead, even with a cap underneath.

Top view.  This is the Axletree edition.  Note the great ventilation.

Side view.

In the preceding picture, note how low the back strap is–down at a point where it helps hold the helmet down on your head.  Also note the great ear clearance, even for big German ears like mine.

In this picture, you can see that the adjustment is all in the band–no cables, no cable guides.

You can also see Becik dealing with a flat.

Back to the helmet–so far, I’m very, very satisfied with it.  It’s the most comfortable helmet I’ve had–and probably the lightest and safest as well.  I highly recommend it–it’s an upgrade over any Lazer I’ve tried (including their top of the line Helium, which I’ve spent the better part of 2 years in).  It’s also better fitting (for me) than any of the Bontragers or Specialized helmets that I’ve tried.  So far, no complaints, and all good news.

The Myth of “Self-Supported” Rides.

Yeah, I know.  I just wrote about the 10,000, which Axletree is bringing you in just a couple of weeks.  Here’s the counter-argument.

There are a host of rides out there which are described as “self-supported”.  The 10,000 is a new addition to the club, which includes rides such as the Trans-Iowa.  However, here’s the beef: they’re not self-supported.  When they say “self-supported”, they mean “eat and drink whatever you can carry on your bike and whatever you can buy at a Casey’s.”  It’s that latter half that is problematic.

If self-supported meant ‘carry what you can carry’, then I’ve got it.  Anyone can compete in that circumstance.  But when it means “eat what you can buy at a Casey’s”, then it basically takes a rider like me and renders us unable to compete on a level field.  When most riders go into a Casey’s (or equivalent), they’re buying pizza, sandwiches, and a whole host of ‘real food.’  At a Casey’s, for me, I can drink beverages, and can eat nuts and (plain) potato chips.  Maybe some jerky (if they have natural-ish jerky, which isn’t guaranteed).  Try finding a food that doesn’t have gluten, dairy or oats in it, at a Casey’s.

So saying that a ride is “self-supported” in what is now the accepted definition of that term in the gravel scene means that it’s self supported, except that you can eat pizza, hot dogs, sandwiches, ice-cream sandwiches, or whatever else you can shovel in while stopped, if you’re a person fortunate enough to have a traditional diet.  It’s like saying that you can only eat what you can carry, or what Pizza Hut serves.  Telling me that I can only ride with what I can carry on the bike (that won’t spoil when it’s hot out), plus nuts and chips…it’s just not the same.  And you cannot sustain a ride indefinitely without real food.

I haven’t solved this one yet.

The 10,000 is Coming.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, click on over and check out the 10,000 site.  Me, I checked out the 10,000 route.  In just 2 weeks, we’ll be lighting out, for somewhere between 75 and 125 miles of mixed surface suffering.  On Thursday, a few of us took a rare respite from work, and headed out to Freeport to preview the route.  I’ve ridden Almanzo.  I’ve ridden the Gravel Metric in a tornado.  I’ve done a century on a fatbike when it’s 12 degrees out.  How hard can be 75 miles of gravel be?

Hard.

We started under a rainstorm that quickly passed.

This is the picture of Tobie that I get every time I take a picture of him.

I’d like to say that this was an artistic picture of the Axletree jersey, but I was trying to take a picture of the group behind me.

Better.

The early roads were nice.  Smooth.  Little rollers.

On the ride day, there will be a decision point around mile 40, where you decide if you’re going long or short.  Let me tell you, the first 35 miles do not accurately represent the course.  It gets harder.  Relentlessly harder.  We rode with a few hours of fog and clouds, and cool temps.  If it’s hot and sunny, people are going to really suffer.

ENVE—–>FTW.

The hills started.

And the flats.

E-gads, it’s beautiful.

And relentless.

And then there’s Hanoi Road.

Bring bug spray–I got a tick.  Also, bring boots.

It gets worse.

The roads are often named after their conditions.  There’s Slick Road, Hairpin Road, Yougonnadieonthisclimb Road, and so on.  There are so many false flats, hidden second and third climbs, and heartbreaking ‘ride around a corner and only then see the second half of the climb’ climbs that it’s a pretty dispiriting ride at times.  SRSLY.  Come with the right mentality.

We averaged 15mph for 75 miles, with 6,200 feet of climbing.  That was all I could do.  That was with 4 other strong riders, with pretty perfect weather.  If I’m doing the longer ride, the pace is coming down.  Frankly, I’m a bit concerned about the route.  If the weather’s hot, like I said above, people are gonna suffer.  Bad.  There’s nothing out there.  There’s no shade, no respite, no water, no relief.  Make the ‘short or long’ decision wisely.  I’m still thinking through how I’m going to decide.  Seriously.

Seriously.

Seriously.

How hard was it?  Hard enough that Becik spontaneously grew cornrows.

But when you get to be on a bike, on a day like this, how bad can it be?

ENVE SES Smart Handlebar Review / Update

I previously wrote about the ENVE SES Smart Handlebar a few months ago, when they were newly installed.  They’re pretty purty.

It’s road bike season, and they’ve been getting a lot of use.  Normally, if I was reviewing an ENVE product, I’d be tripping all over myself to bask in the glory that is their carbony-wonder.  Here, not so much.

They’re pretty.  They’re undoubtedly aero.  The flats are amazingly comfortable to the hand.  But if I had it to do over again, I would not have purchased these bars.  Instead, I would have run a set of the ENVE road drop bars, in compact.

Here are my beefs:

  1. They are amazingly stiff.  Punishingly stiff.  The first ‘real’ road bike I had was a carbon Scattante with an oversized aluminum handlebar and a super-stiff carbon fork.  It was harsh.  This bar takes me back to those days.  Believe me, on a high-modulus carbon frame/fork combo and 23c tires, you can tell the difference between handlebars with compliance and those without.  These bars are about as stiff as it gets.  That may be great if you’re a super-muscley sprinter who rides on glass-smooth roads.  In the real world, it’s annoying.  The ENVE compact carbon bars have the best blend of stiffness and compliance that I’ve yet found, after riding a lot of different bars.  The ENVE Smart bars are just harsh.  Running these on anything other than a road bike would be a terrible idea.
  2. The drops are too short.  If you have the flats aligned properly for ‘max aero’ position, the drops are too short.  If I had another inch, or even half of an inch, it would be soooo much better.  Don’t get me wrong…I love the flare out on the drops.  It’s just that they’re too short.

That’s it.  Pretty short list of beefs, but they’re critical faults.  A good drop bar should be a good blend of stiffness and compliance, and should have a perfect shape.  It should also do basic things like not fall apart when you use it, and steer where you point it.  The ENVE Smart bars do the basic things, but they’re all stiffness and no compliance…and the shape is just not quite right.  Again, they may have their applications (track sprinters who want aero + super stiffness?) but they’re not right for a general purpose road bike, and they would be a terrible idea for any kind of multi-surface or gravel bike.  As I don’t do track sprinting, I can’t say that these are recommended.