Wireless Electronic Brakes!

This post is about hydraulic electronic brakes.

Yup, you read that right.

Wireless electronic brakes.  Don’t need to worry about road hydraulics anymore…

Because what the world truly needs is additional bike e-gadgetry.  Don’t worry…the system will include “mathematical calculations to check such systems automatically.”  I hear the whole thing runs on a computer running Windows Me.  The proponents of the technology also point out that they can integrate anti-lock braking and traction control…and frankly, with my massive power output, it would be helpful to have a computer deciding how much wattage I can throw down, so I can stop burning through rear tires so quickly.

I believe version 1.2 of the technology will include a wireless controller that is held by a safety monitor who follows you around on a gas scooter…so the safety monitor can apply your brakes safely in the event that you ride too quickly.  It will also permit automatic enforcement of speed limits on multi-use trails–so if you exceed 10mph, the brakes will automatically bring you to a stop and hold you until park police arrive.  And finally, the brakes will have a feature where Starbucks can stop passing cyclists at will, forcing you to come in for a $7 cup of coffee (price increase due to the technology they have to purchase to enable forcible stops).

When I think about how incredibly reliable wireless networks and cellular communications are, the first thing that comes to mind is: ‘Man, I wish there was a way that my ability to stop a bike depended on this wireless network.’  I’m envisioning something along the lines of:

RATG riding along.  Applies brakes to avoid obstacle.

Braking Computer:  “DNS Error.  Please renew your wireless host by unplugging brakes for 30 seconds.”

RATG crashes into obstacle.

The good news is that your wireless brakes will integrate with both your electronic drivetrain and the electric motor concealed in your seattube.


Inigo Montoya Update

No…not really.  But I’ll take any excuse to post some pics of hotty-boombotty titanium bikes, to rekindle the Inigo Montoya thread.

There’s a good build thread going on MTBR right now, about a Ti El Mar buildup with some  reasonable components.  Apparently, a Large ti frame weighs in at 1884 grams, or a shade over 4 pounds.

There’s something oh-so-nice about the Salsa logo on a titanium head tube.

Photos credit of AOK, author of the MTBR post.

And I’m still taunted by the lefty ti el mar build that keeps popping up on MTBR.

Again, photo credit to the bike’s owner.

Also intriguing are the recent pics posted of a steel El Mar built up single speed, rigid.

That’s from the El Mariachi thread…which I highly recommend against following.  It’s addictive.

Mental challenge: combine the single speed aesthetic and simplicity of the steel El Mar with the titanium frame.  I’ve been doing some searching, and haven’t yet found someone who has done a complete weight-weenie build on a single speed Ti El Mar with a suspension fork.  Think that’s too narrow of a niche?  Come awn, Google!



Supernatural Snowbike Adventure Epic.

This morning, I mounted up on the Mukluk and headed into the great, untamed wilderness to take advantage of Illinois’ second real snowfall of the season.  I’ve never been so excited about 4 inches of snowfall in my life.  The ride started out with ChadQuest climbing mountains on his Mighty Muk…

And with the plow pile conquered, we headed into the wilds.  I had brought with a fair amount of survival gear based upon the dangerous territory that we headed into, being prepared for potentially dangerous winter moments like this creek crossing:

That’s Tobie from North Central Cyclery, putting his Pugsley through the paces, and risking life and limb on thin ice.  I was ready at the creek bank with a rope and emergency blanket, in case he fell through.  After seeing that he was going to be able to safely cross, I looked up to the mountains in the distance and took a moment to thank God that I live in scenic Illinois.

Full disclosure time: those aren’t mountains.  I know, I know.  They look like mountains…but they’re not.  It’s actually the back of a retail store.  In DeKalb.

I had posted a while ago that adventure is where you find it.  Rides like this morning continue to convince me of the truth of that statement.  It was a great group–Tobie, Chad, Nevdal (the origin of the verb, ‘to Nevdal ™’, as used here), Mattias and myself.  We were all on fat bikes (Chad’s custom frankenMuk, my Schweet Muk, Tobie’s Barney Pugs, and Mattias’ snow-blind Pugs) other than Nevdal, who was sporting his seriously beautiful, new Ti Salsa El Mariachi custom build (mechanical BB7 brakes and 1×9 drivetrain for simplicity, White Brothers carbon rigid fork, etc.).  We didn’t climb any mountains or set any records, but we went out and rode on a day when sleeping in seemed like a better idea, and we had a great time.

We had some nice, wooded single track:

I looped around on my Big Fat Larry’s:

We rolled some creek banks:

Including some kinda-hinky off-camber action:

And even conquered the power line trails between here and there.

After a morning of churning snow, we were all a bit hungry, so we headed to a small, locally owned grocer and picked up some provisions for a late-morning snack.  While the parking lot was pretty full, we managed to find a spot to park:

And we picked up some chicken sausage, corn tortillas, a dozen eggs, and some related provisions.  But how to transport such delicate items back to NCC to cook?  Ahh yes…my Porcelain Rocket-made booster rocket seat pack.  As I’ve said in the past, I’ve been using it as my go-to bag for the Muk…because I can carry a huge fatbike spare tube, a pump, some CO2 and tools, spare warmer packs, an extra hat/gloves, snacks, and whatever else.  Or, I can carry some groceries.

Yup, that’s how we roll.

This may well be the last ‘real’ snowstorm of the season–and that’s depressing, because it really wasn’t a real snowstorm.  On a brighter front, even after the snow melts, the Muk will still be pressed into regular service for rides of all sorts.  It will also be pressed into service in the fatbike category at the upcoming Barry Roubaix ride in a few weeks.  We’ll see how well my training this winter has served me…and how well I can manage nutrition on the road.

Fun ride.  Not because of great scenery, or epic conditions…but because of great bikes and even better friends.

10,000 (+) Views

I’ve been monitoring the stats, and had meant to put up a ‘thank you’ post when I hit 10,000 unique views.  As it turned out, I played hooky yesterday and went to the Shedd Aquarium with my better half and mini-me (better 2/3?), and missed it.  As of this morning, we’re well on the way to 10,500 unique views.  Since my Mom doesn’t really know about the blog, I’m pretty sure that most of those are other people.  So it appears as though I occasionally write about things that others find interesting.

The top topics have been reviews of Gore bike clothing (Brendan, you out there?), reviews of the Salsa Mukluk, Vaya and Spearfish, and the Sedona School of Spearfish series.  I’ll keep talking about products that I use and love, and products that I hope to someday use because I think I will love them.  And I’ll keep talking about trips and rides that inspire me–because I read about so many other riders out there…Vik, Dummy Diva, Jason, Chad, Jay, Ted…the list goes on–whose rides inspire me.

Thanks for reading.

The Official Vehicle of RATG.

A short, non-bicycle post…

Illinois had its second ‘real’ snowfall of the year last evening–ongoing as we speak.  That likely means fatbike pics tomorrow with something other than mud on the tires.  (Which is good…nothing cleans fatbike tires like riding in the snow).  It also means that my commute to work today involved driving unplowed, country roads in the dark, at 5am.  What I found on my drive this morning was typical: people driving as if they had never seen snow before, and plowed roads that were in worse shape than unplowed roads.

Unplowed roads had a consistent 4-5″ of snow, with drifts of 12-20″, in the country.  The snow was heavy and wet.  Driving in snow that deep is relatively easy, given the right tool.  The car wants to go straight, and is very predictable.  Driving on roads that have been plowed, then snowed again, then driven on…that creates ruts and tracks that are hard to drive in.  So on my way in this morning, I chose back roads (predominantly gravel) that were covered in untracked, white bliss.

I’ve always liked driving in snow, and like it even more with the current official vehicle of RATG (shown here in a previous snowstorm):

(shown here, this morning:)

That’s my diesel X5.  Previous vehicles have included a host of full-size pickups, full-size and midsize SUVs, a 1977 CJ5 on 35″ mud tires, and other 4wds.  The X5 is, hands down, the best winter vehicle I’ve ever driven, bar none.  I never thought I’d own a BMW, but when my previous car (a Toyota Highlander Hybrid) was totaled courtesy of another driver crossing into my lane of traffic, I fell into the X5, used, for a deal that was too good to pass up.

For winter driving, it rolls on a set of 255/55R18 Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60s.  You can see the tread in the first picture above.  Couple that with BMW’s incredible xDrive all-wheel-drive system, and she’s a tank on tires.  I had previously thought that part-time 4wd, coupled with aggressive all-terrain tires, was the primo setup for cruising through deep snow.  I’ve changed my opinion.  The X5 uses a brake-based traction control system and electro-mechanically controlled differentials to apportion power to all 4 wheels.  Coupled with a 6 speed automatic and the 425 lb/ft of torque that the creamy straight-six turbodiesel puts out, she’s a snow monster.  On ice, frozen snow, slush, and other crud, the Blizzaks do an amazing job of holding the road.  In deep snow, the X5 really comes into its own.

Snow over a foot deep starts hitting the bottom of the front air dam…and with really heavy snow, if it gets over 2′ deep, you risk either breaking the air dam or running out of traction. But for snow less than that deep, I’ve yet to find something that will stop the X5.  Equally as amusing, for me, is the 3 mode “Dynamic Traction Control” system that the X5 has.  The 3 modes are:

1.  Cruising/Wife Mode:  This is the standard mode, where it uses the brakes and differential control to seemingly defy the laws of physics.  Turn the wheels and dive into a corner, and it will brake the inside tires and pivot the car around the corner, seemingly regardless of the traction underfoot.  For highway cruising in the snow, and for general bombing around, it is incredibly stable.  For those times when you’re cruising along and hit an unexpected slick patch, it does an excellent job of helping keep the handling predictable.  It does put a damper on wheelspin and drifting, using the traction control (and reducing engine power) to keep the handling very conservative.

2.  DTC Activated / Fun Mode:  The second stage is the Dynamic Traction Control mode.  This allows more wheelspin and greater yaw angles/drifting.  In this mode, it’s easy to pitch the X5 into a corner and use the throttle to rotate the car around the apex.  DTC doesn’t reduce engine power, but again uses braking and the differential control to vector power around…it’s kind of like having a really experienced driver who is manually controlling the brakes and power, independently, at all 4 wheels.  DTC maintains a safety net that if things get too crazy (too great of yaw angle, too much body roll, too much slip), it will step in and pull back the power and apply brakes to keep enthusiastic drivers from putting the X5 on its panoramic sunroof.

3.  DTC Off / Ken Block Mode:  This is full-on drift mode.  No engine power reduction (ever).  Brakes and differential control solely for vehicle rotation in corners.  Unmodulated, unadulterated wheelspin.  No safety net.

On public roads and at all times in the presence of other people or vehicles, I drive in accordance with all legal requirements.  On private property when enjoying the X5 in deep snow, I typically like Mode 2 (DTC), because of the very high limits it allows, with a safety net in the event I get in over my head.  In super-deep snow and off-road, Mode 3 (Ken Block mode) is re-donk-ulous.

The X5 seats 4 adults in great comfort (or 5 with 2 in great comfort, 2 in good comfort and 1 in regular comfort).  It fits 4 bikes on my rear rack, and you could put 4 more on the roof (I’ve run with up to 4 on the back and 2 on the roof.  Note: bikes on roof adversely affect mileage).  It gets 28mpg in the summer (about 10% worse than that on winter fuel)–that means 500 miles on a tank of fuel is easy, with a 70-100 mile cushion.  It sports 425 lb/ft of stump-pulling grunt (nearly all of it available just off idle).  And it’s very, very pretty to look at.  As Ferris would say, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

(And again, I wouldn’t ever think of dropping the price that they ask for, new, on a depreciating asset like a car.  But if you look, some shockingly good deals are out there on used X5s, simply because so many buyers apparently buy new, drive for a year or two (lease?) and turn the cars in.  There’s so much turnover that used deals can be found, if you’re willing to look).

So I’m probably not going to get to ride tonight…but driving the X5…that’s an acceptable consolation prize.

Watt Do You Think?

I’m greatly intrigued by wattage and power meters used in connection with biking.  2012 happens to be a very exciting year in this area.  There continue to be power hubs that can be laced into wheels:

There are expanding options for power meter cranks that can be installed in the BB and used with any wheels:

And we’re also venturing into the world of pedals with power meters built into them, such as the forthcoming (or shall we say allegedly forthcoming) Garmin Vector pedals:

Power meter pedals have the advantage of being able to be swapped among multiple bikes, and to be used with any wheels or drivetrain combination.  They also have the potential to show wattage generated by each leg, and wattage generated during each portion of the pedal stroke, for greater detail and analysis.

The ability to switch between bikes is the real benefit to power meters in pedals, from my perspective.  I could swap between the Ridley and the Vaytanium, depending on what I wanted to ride.

Detail and analysis is the point of this post.  When I started riding “seriously”, I was using a Garmin Edge 800 + heart rate monitor + cadence/wheelspeed monitor for some seriously intense record keeping.  While riding, I’d watch my percentage of maximum heart rate (MHR), to see how hard I was training.  I’d watch calorie burn, speed and average speed, cadence and average cadence, and get a ton of instant feedback.  After rides, I’d download the data, and examine it studiously.

On one particular road ride, I realized that I was riding really well, and looked down at the Garmin to see that my MHR was at 99%.  Just in seeing that objective result, I suddenly felt tired.  I started psyching myself out with “if you’re at 99%, you’re pushing too hard…you’re going to wipeout…you need to slow down…this isn’t sustainable.”

It was at that moment that I realized just how silly this was.  I was riding strong, feeling good, and was not winded…chest was not pounding…legs weren’t quivering.  It was at that moment that I took the Garmin off my handlebars, and stashed it in my jersey pocket, where it remained for the rest of that ride.

That was the last time I rode with a heartrate monitor.  I find that I do better not having that kind of instant feedback in heartrate.  Based on rate of perceived exertion (RPE), I know that as I’ve become a stronger rider, my heartrate and exertion is lowering to ride a given ride at a given speed…or conversely, I can ride raster at the same exertion level.  So I have some concerns about riding with objective data on how my body is reacting to a given ride…especially where the data is heart rate, which can be influenced by so many things (caffeine, hydration level, temperature, state of relaxation, etc.)

On the other hand, I love having objective data about things other than my heart rate.  For example, I still love riding with the Garmin and monitoring speed and cadence–which have become my primary training tools along with RPE.  I’m fortunate enough to ride with a group of riders who are stronger than me…so in group rides, I push hard to keep up.  When riding by myself, I try to throw in the powerline sprints and other interval work to build on my sprinting ability (which is currently my greatest weakness in road biking).  In that interval training, I rely on RPE to train by…and I use the speed data from the Garmin as an objective metric to confirm that I am pushing hard enough.  If I go out for a road ride and find that I’m only averaging XXmph, I know that I’m really dogging for some reason, and need to push harder.

Wattage really intrigues me, though.  With the Indoor Nationals that I blogged about a couple of  weeks ago, I ride by wattage.  Frankly, I have no idea how fast I should be riding on a 10% grade with a standard 53/39 crank and an 11-28 cassette…speed is totally irrelevant.  As hard as I’m pushing, I shudder to think what my heartrate might be.  But wattage is a great metric.  When I first rode the Bushido trainer a few months ago, I thought 200 watts for an hour was an insane effort.  I’m now able to average right around 230 watts for an hour ride, covering grades from downhill to 17% inclines.  And as I ride, I use wattage as my effort meter…if I strive to maintain 235 or 240 watts, I end the ride completely dead, totally drained, legs shot, ready to keel over…at 229-232 watts average for the course.  It keeps me on track on the flats, on the downhills, and on the climbs.

With the Bushido, I’m seeing the only advantage to steadily declining weight: improved weight:wattage calculation.  But as crappy as I’ve been feeling, I’d take a worse power ratio and a little bit more weight any day.  I did decide to accept reality and adjust my weight in the program…and with daily weight monitoring that I’m now supposed to do, I suppose I’ll keep adjusting it each time I ride.  (According to my driver’s license, I should be about 40 pounds heavier right now).

Watt I’m curious about is how this wattage data would translate to the real world.  If I were riding with a power meter, would it change my training?  Would it be more like heartrate monitoring that psyches me out, or more like speed monitoring that is just an objective result?  (I tend to think the latter).  I’m also curious about undertaking some of the training programs that are wattage based, and seeing if they make any substantial change in my cycling growth (as compared to my less scientific, RPE-based program currently being utilized).

Watt I’m also curious about is how my wattage compares to other riders in the real world.  My maximum wattage output, according to the Bushido, is right at 1000 watts.  I generate maximum wattage in too high of a gear, standing, mashing on the pedals.  That is very, very temporary, peak wattage (and I suspect there may be a wattage spike as the Bushido tries to react to sprint efforts).  My maximum threshold effort, at the moment, is 232 watts average for 1:06:31.  That was at 147 pounds of weight, or 66.67 kilograms.  So basically, my threshold output for an hour effort is 3.5 watts/kg.  According to most of the online data I can find, that puts me squarely into Category 4 territory…and probably at about 40-50% of what professional riders do.  Looking at TdF results from last year, those guys are doing 250 watts for 5 hours, and riders like Andy Schleck are close to (if not over) 6 watts/kg.

I do think it would be interesting to see how Bushido wattage compares with real world results.  In the real world, I don’t think I could push as hard as I do on the Bushido…  Like I said above, at the end of my 232 watt ride, I was shot.  I had to sit for a few minutes and compose myself before I could take my bike out of the trainer.  In the real world, I couldn’t push that hard without risking a crash or worse.

I plan on continuing to monitor my wattage–maybe some periodic Bushido rides throughout the year–to see how it is impacted by continuing efforts at cycling training (and hopefully, to see how it is impacted by improved health, if/when that comes).  And I’ll look with interest as new power meters come out and become more readily available, to try to evaluate whether it makes sense to incorporate one into my routine.