Thursday, October 30, 2008

Let there be light...while riding at night

As the time change starts to approach us over this first weekend in November; it becomes a stark realization for many that their training time on the bike starts to shorten due to the lack of light. Now as much as I recommend taking a break and start focusing on off season training; its also important to get out on the bike and do some spinning as well. Offroad riding under the lights gives me back the peace of mind I've lost during the day.

Getting on the bike and riding in the early morning or evening requires some form of additional light or lights. So what is the biggest limiting factor in getting a light; well price for one; check out the lighting systems out there from NiteRider, Light & Motion, Ay Up, or Lupine; and one may just give up riding during the week based on initial reaction to cost. What I have found out though is based on your riding requirements; you really don't need to spend as much as you initially think.

Having purchased along with tested a number of lighting systems for 24hr endurance races; I can say that I look for the following; illumination, how light is system in terms of weight, and of course cost. Depending on the terrain and length of ride; I will ride with either one or two lighting system on the handlebar and another attached to the top of helmet. The light on the helmet makes the biggest difference to me; since I typically ride off road; since it doesn't bounce and is more stable then the lights on the handlebar; also riding on steep inclines/declines I get a better sense of whats in store for me.

These lighting systems have advanced greatly over the last couple of years; and you will start to see more systems that are LED (diode emitting) versus HID (gas emitting). Until recently HID was the choice; based on the brightness of the light emitted; LED has caught up in terms of brightness; and has advantages in terms of weight, dimming, life of the bulbs and durability. Battery wise; if its not Li-Ion based; its not worth it; Nimh is an old technology that will loses memory (charge) over time and doesn't do well in extreme conditions. As for disposable battery powered lights; I keep those to my short commute rides.

Right now in terms of cost and output (Lumens) NiteRider is producing the MiNewt Mini-USB that is lightweight (175 grams), can be mounted to helmet or handlebar, runs for 3 hours, and can be charged via a USB cable. For around 100 dollars; this system is worth a try; if I were doing trail riding with it; I would probably ride with two (helmet and handlebar)

As for high end; take a look at Ay Up; out of Austrailia; they offer three packages; road, mtb, endurance. The kits start at 260.00 US for the road version and run up around 600.00 for the endurance; and come with multiple mount systems, batteries, chargers, and lightsets. From my tests; Ay Up is durable, high powered LED's, long burntime up to 6 hours, and durable I've crashed with the lightsets attached to both helmet and handlebar and I didn't have any issues.

I will say I ride with a different system on the road then mountain due to the light and traffic around me. I tend to use a softer single light on the road so I don't blind other riders or drivers; plus I typically don't need anymore then 2 hours. On the mountain; I have lights on the handlebars; sometimes dual systems; one on the helmet; and a flasher on the back. This is more due to the terrain, not so visable corners, and the inclines/declines.

Don't let the lack of light stop you from riding; it not only extends your riding time but also is also provides safety on the road. Offroad; once you've ridden under the lights on a warm summer night; you will never want to ride in the light again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Learning along the way...of a trail

I've mentioned in previous postings that I'm currently training to compete in the Northface 50 mile endurance run in early December. With about a month and 1/2 left; its had its ups and downs literally; with certain training runs having me go up and down the hills of the Marin Headlands along with the steep streets of San Francisco.

The one benefit I do have is easy access to the route that will be run; I live maybe a two miles away from the Marin Headlands and it is a short 20 minute drive to the trails. I've been able to get to know the trails and routes and the nuances to expect come December; except for the one factor how wet will the trails be come December? For those who know the Bay Area; it isn't a surprise that with late Fall and Winter comes the rains; last year I remember it being cold; but not overally wet; this year who knows; but it will bring an added dimension to a few of the spots on the route.

What I have been working on is some routine that balances out endurance, building speed, along with strength; and maybe a day of rest in there as well. My diet has definitely been affected; as I've really cut out all forms of meat and seafood and have been running light on whole grains, vegetables, peanut butter, yogurt, and my main source of protein in coming in some form of a soy product. Mixing it up to keep it at least enjoyable and interesting; I need to something to bring joy after a 22 mile trail run that has left me numb from the shoulders down. Simple things like knowing there is a peanut butter sandwich waiting for me back at my truck brings a smile to the face.

With the run I bring a water bottle; sometimes with a electrolyte supplement; I like HEED; its worked for me when riding. Depending on the length I will pack a couple GU packs as well.

My training routine I've been both running and riding; mostly on the Mountain bike to build endurance on the hills. With the input from my sis; who is an accomplished ultra endurance runner; here is what I've come up with;

Mon - 1/2 stretch, 1 hour core workout, light run/ride 1 hour (late day)
Tue - 45 min - 1 hour fast pace run (under 7 miles); working on my VO2max capacity
Wed - 1 - 2 hours moderate pace (ride/trail run) 12 - 15 miles
Thur - 30 - 45 min easy pace; 7:30 - 8 min mile
Fri - stretch 1/2 hour; 1 hour easy pace ride 8 miles
Sat - Long run; building up from 4 hours to 8 hours; moderate pace; no real distance; more for agility and building capacity on the trail
Sun - short long run; take my Saturday run cut in half; may either be on the pavement or trail. All depends on how the legs feel.

Trying to keep to this schedule; again it depends on how the legs feel and that thing called life that comes up from time to time. Have found a couple good running partners who also ride; so have some encouragement/competition around.

I can say that after a long run nothing feels better then a bag of frozen vegetables on the knees or better yet a dip into cold water. Stretching has become a standard routine first thing in the morning along with after a run/ride; I think as the weather does cool down it will help in avoiding injury.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A shoe above the rest

Lately I have been spending much more time wearing either a cycling or running shoe; which has led me to become a little more particular of what goes on my feet.

I've worn and ridden many miles wearing what would be considered the two big names in cycling; Shimano and Sidi. Over the last couple of years I've seen more progress in design, performance and comfort from Shimano at a reasonable price. Though there are a number of improvements I would like to see with the Shimano MTB shoes on my wishlist. Sidi; well what can I say that's nice; nothing actually. Sidi has been good at raising their price; with little to no enhancements to their shoes; and for everyone that raves about the fact they provide replacement parts; you know why they supply those parts; ride a few miles in their shoes you'll find out.

About a year ago; I was asked to try and test the Lake MTB race shoe; a carbon sole; heat moldable to the rider's foot; and has the boa lacing system versus the traditional latch and velco straps on most shoes. The model in particular was the MX400; which is considered the high end of Lake's offerings; and is built for the cross country/endurance rider; who needs a light shoe with added durability. I find the boa to provide better support and prevents heal lift; giving me better performance on my rides.

My first encounter with the MX400 was less then positive; a problem with the adhesive used to attach the back heal to the carbon sole took flight on a ride; leaving me wondering if the shoe was built for the rigors of mountain biking. Lake figured it out and started to use rivets on the back heal to hold it together; and even provided me with a fix to my shoe.

During this repair time I gave the MX170 a try; what is considered a entry level model in the Lake MTB Race offering; I find to be one of the best training shoes I've worn. The sole is a hard rubber that can take high volume use on a variety of terrains. The boa itself is located on the heal; and provides good support along the ankle. I've had the shoes now for about four months and probably put around 600 miles on them; very little wear on the bottoms; and the leather holds up. I'm thinking that these may work really well as a cyclocross shoe; and will probably give them a race try; there is enough traction along with mud studs that work really well on slippery terrains. Lake lists them at 400 grams for those who are weight weenies.

This is all leading up to the anticipated release most likely in late October/early November for the new MX401 version of the shoe. For all the things good about the MX400; there was some issues with the rubber on the sole as mentioned above. All of this has been fixed along with better support on the heal and additional red zone along the inside edge of the shoe for durability. With the heat formable; fit to wear concept; along with these improvements; Lake is probably the best upgrade I can think making this offseason.

I ride with the Time ATAC pedals on both my mountain and cyclocross bike and find the shoe and pedal to be compatible with no issues snapping in or out.

For those looking for the shoe; the best local bike store to work with in the Bay Area is Bikenut; they have a good relationship with Lake and ride with the shoe on both mountain and road as well.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fit to ride

After long rides I regularly hear my fellow riders complain of lower back pain, fatigue in the shoulders, elbows, or worse the knees. First question I always ask; when you bought your bike did the shop fit you on it; followed by; have you been refitted since?

Most of the time the answer is "no" followed by another "no"; usually with they didn't offer or I it was to much money...and a number of other excuses.

First; when planning on buying a bike; budget for a fitting; even the basic fitting; you will be happier and your rides will start off on a good note. In the past year; I've been fitted and have had the bike readjusted four times on both my road and mountain bike; due to physical changes in my body's flexibility and conditioning.

My responsiveness and performance improved immediately; rides have been pain free; and I can tell or more so my body can tell when the bike needs to be readjusted.

You don't need to be spending a lot on a bike for this to pay off. I recommend that when buying a bike; ask the sales person if they offer fittings and whether the person who does it has been trained.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Synergy between cycling and design

I am a cyclist; I ride to compete; for fitness, and being in the Bay Area the outdoors the sport weaves into the culture.

I've owned many bikes over the last fifteen plus years of my life; ridden on steel, aluminum, carbon, and titanium. Each having advantages over the other; though most of your frames being produced today the material of choice is carbon. Along with the choice of material; I have had bikes built to fit; built from the frame up; selecting the components off the shelf.

As I start to shop around though for a cyclocross bike; I'm starting to see a trend towards hand built bikes. Maybe its the cyclocross culture; but I hope its a trend/movement that makes its way into the other cycling cultures as well.

The mecca of custom built bikes looks to be the Pacific Northwest centering in the Portland area; which should be no surprise to anyone who has biked or visited the city. The cycling culture really defines the city; so much that it was the site of the handcrafted bicycle show last year; and this coming weekend Oct 10-11 the Oregon Manifest is taking place there highlighting many of the local builders as well as many social events and a cyclocross race. For those who get the chance please take it in; just to hear the stories of these various individuals and what they bring to designing and building bikes is enough of a reason to attend.

Read more and make plans to attend;

As I've been shopping around and test riding; a few designers have really caught my eye; Ira Ryan, Chuck Ibis, Lynksey (original family behind Litespeed), and Vertigo. Out of these four; many would say that Ibis really isn't part of the hand built movement; which is correct; but Chuck has played a huge role in uniquess and a push for creativity in this community. I personally have a thing for titanium which is Lynkey's and Vertigo's speciality and will probably tilt this way when selecting my new bike; though Ibis has a new release of the "hakkalugi" coming out for '09 and I've seen and heard many good things.

Links to these various designers

I've become hooked on simplicity; and recently picked up John Maeda's book "The Laws of Simplicity"; which talks about an approach to product design Relate-Translate-Suprise. Which to me is basic principle each of these designers have put into building bikes; they are all cyclists; and have produced a product that they know well. This also relates to cycling clothing; there are plenty of makers/labels out on the market today. One that stands out is Rapha; a London based maker who does performance clothing for cyclists. Their support for the hand built industry will in my words bring more exposure and hopefully drives the movement. They are a sponsor of the Oregon Manifest and will be one of the exhibitors.

I have invested; yes invested; Rapha is not inexpensive; in a few items of clothing from them; and I'm impressed. Its comfortable; its simple; the style and colors don't look like you just came from the circus. It has some great pieces of casual clothing as well. Pink is part of the signature color in many pieces; but its subtle and actually looks pretty damn cool.

Check out the website; even if you don't buy; I recommend for those who cycle to subscribe to the newsletter; Rapha sponsors rides at various sites in the US through out the year and its a great time.