June 22, 2010

Look Keo Max 2 Pedal Review

I have been using the Looks in their various versions since I got my first pair way back in the 1980s. They always worked well for me. The early versions really had no float and I was having knee problems. Of course, no float was the norm. Clipless or toe clips, float was not an option. Although I do believe that no float in a clipless pedal held the foot tight in more dimensions than with toe clips. Of course, no one really cares about that argument anymore.

In the 1990s I switched to Speedplays for a while. The knee problems went away, and I realised pedal float was a good thing. But the Speedplays always felt a bit unstable to me and to be honest, my results were not as good with them. I felt like my foot was wobbling all over the place - up, down, side to side. To be fair, Speedplay has revamped their design quite a bit and their success under people like Cancellara is undeniable. I haven't tried the new versions.

And of course, Speedplay pedals are not what I'm reviewing. A few years ago, I bought a pair of Look Keo Carbons. I like the Keo's and have had good success with them. I probably put about 15,000 km on them. The platform is stable side-to-side, yet I still had float. I started with 9 degrees of float, but when those cleats wore out, I switched to 4.5 degrees. (How do you know when your cleats are worn out? You can feel slop or play in the cleat/pedal connection - a clunk, clunk feeling when you move your foot around.) With a little cleat adjustment, the 4.5 degrees also worked very well for me and I think less movement on the pedal translates to more efficiency, provided your knees are OK with that. You can also get 0 degree float (i.e., no float) pedals for the biomechanically perfect cyclist.

Comparing the Keo Max 2 to the Keo Carbon, the Max 2 has a significant improvement. My Keo Carbons essentially wore out. The pedal body had no protection from the cleat and the cleat gradually wore down the pedal body. This didn't seem to be a problem for the clamping surfaces - the pedal didn't get sloppy. Well actually it did, but when I replaced the cleat, it went away. So it wasn't the pedal. But I did begin to worry about some type of failure (premature release) or loss of efficiency as the body wore down. Hence the purchase of the Keo Max 2 pedals.

The Keo Max 2 pedals have a stainless steel plate exactly where I was seeing lots of wear. So my one criticism was addressed nicely with the new design. Other than that important change, the pedals are virtually identical, which is not a bad thing because I liked the old design. I do think the bearings are smoother on the new pedals. Even on day 1, I don't believe the Keo Carbons were as smooth. The other nice thing was the fact that the new Keo pedals use the exact same cleats as the old Keo pedals. So no need to even change cleats, just slap the pedals on the cranks and start ridin'.

The cleats do wear out quickly if you walk on them, so the little cleat positioning tab that Looks offer (position memory) is a great feature, provided your shoes support it with the extra hole in the sole. Basically, you position your cleat, then tighten down the little tab. When you need a new cleat, it is aligned to the original position by the tab that remains behind when you remove your cleat. My Sidis support the Look position memory feature. Yay. Also, cleats are available pretty much everywhere in this neck of the woods, so its easy to find replacements on short order.

Look has two versions of their cleats, one is all plastic. Probably a bit lighter, a bit more slippery for float and very slippery for walking. The other has rubber inserts molded in to make it less slippery for walking. I haven't used the walking versions so I don't know how well they work. I'm guessing they are a lot less slippery, but I am also guessing they don't last long if you walk on them much. To reduce cleat wear, I have the cleat covers that I slap on when I'm not riding. They aren't overly slippery and they last forever while providing 100% cleat protection. Just try to remember to take them off when you jump on the bike. Oops.

I have read about complaints with the release tension being too light for sprinters. It hasn't been an issue for me, although I'm not one of the big boys. I did tighten mine down half way and I find I have to push down quite firmly to engage the cleat which is tighter than my setting was for the Keo Carbons. And I know I never had a problem with my Carbons at my max - about 1200 watts. So I'm certainly not worried and sprint with them as hard as my little legs can carry me.

I didn't opt for the Keo Max 2 Carbons, I just bought the Keo Max 2 pedals. The significantly greater cost wasn't worth the insignificantly lighter pedal weight (70$ for 8 grams). Otherwise the pedals are the same. By the way, I don't like the look of the Keo Blades - I can't imagine those withstanding pedal rub during a crit or a slide-out crash very well. Seems like a faulty design for hard cornering as the carbon blade is too exposed in that position. And too hard to replace. And too expensive.

Bottom line? If you like Look pedals and/or you like a stable pedalling platform while providing customizable float, the Keo Max 2 pedals are a good choice.

June 19, 2010

Cavendish - The King of the Pro Spit?

Wow. This story just keeps getting more interesting.
  • Cavendish takes out Haussler in a sprint in stage of the Tour de Suisse. See this post for Youtube video. Score -2.
  •  That's bad enough. But apparently he spat on Haussler after the crash. Score -5
  • Some of the teams protest his participation in the Tour de Suisse by delaying the start of the next stage. Cavendish responds by spitting in front of them too. Cavendish has lots of phlegm apparently, but he's a bit short on imagination. Score -1.
  • Then Cavendish pulls out of the Tour (de Suisse). Apparently for family reasons. Score +1.
  •  And now everybody is picking on him. Apparently, they are out to destroy him. I think the only one destroying him is himself. Poor misunderstood little guy. I'm sure he just wants to be friends - a future patron of the peloton. Score -2 for whining. I hate whiners. Specially when they get someone to do their whining for them. But I'm guessing Cavendish isn't allowed to talk to the media anymore without scripted statements, duly memorized and repeated.
Net score -9. And counting. I'm sure there is a bit more drama to come on this. It's nice to have some character and to have someone who isn't politically correct all the time. But there is a big difference between a wise-cracker bad boy and someone who totally disrespects his competition, seemingly because they don't just let him win. Cavendish really crossed the line with the whole repeat offender, spitting thing this time. Sprint is not spelled S-P-I-T. You forgot a couple of letters. Although it seems he has a beach named after him - Cavendish Spit. So he still has a few fans.

I guess the drama of the Tour de France won't be all about Lance versus Contador. More entertainment for you and me. Do you think Cervelo will try pretty hard to keep Cavendish out of the green jersey? Do you think they might have some help on that? I wonder who Cavendish will spit on if he doesn't get it?

June 26, 2010 - More Drama Update: Boonen and Haussler are both out of Le Tour. Both crashed thanks to Cavendish. Both were potential sprint competition for Cavendish. Both had nagging injuries before the crash, but Haussler in particular was looking pretty decent. Don't forget Coyot and Mondory who abandoned after the crash with injuries as well. That was a pretty decent day's work Cav - 4 down, ?? to go.

June 16, 2010

Cavendish Wipes Out Haussler at the Tour de Suisse

Too bad that Haussler is the one that got hurt the worst (not counting Ciolek). He was having a great tour. This is a good video - you can see the crash very well. Few interesting things I noticed:
  • Watch Cavendish's wheel bend, then snap back into shape. I'm guessing it's not in great shape after that, but it is impressive how the carbon fiber snaps back. Looks like a Zipp wheel, but who knows. They debadge everything.
  • The crash would have been a lot worse if they hadn't been wearing helmets. Haussler's head really hits the pavement hard.
  • I think the jury made the right call blaming Cavendish, especially when looking from overhead. He veered the most from his line. When looking from the front, it looks like he is trying to cut Haussler off.
  • When it comes to sprints, Boonen never seems to contend anymore. He's there, but not for the win. 
  • Cavendish ain't too popular with the peloton, even with his new smile. Hey Mark, you don't have to be politically correct all the time, but you can show a bit of class. Apologize. Make a lame excuse if it makes you feel better.

June 09, 2010

Team Sky - If They Only Had Proper TT Helmets

So Team Sky did pretty well at the Criterium Du Dauphine 49 km TT today. 4th and 7th for Boasson Hagen and Thomas respectively. But imagine my shock and surprise when I realized they managed this wearing snowboard helmets! I know Sky can afford better gear, so they simply must not know that an aero helmet provides one of the biggest aero time gains for time trials. I bet the rest of the peloten thinks this is pretty dang funny and they aren't telling them. I should send them an email or a tweet or something. They probably would have finished 1, 2. Kinda sad when the new kid tries so hard and falls short like this.

Update July 27, 2012: OK so we all know what happened this year at LeTour. Maybe those helmets are OK. Maybe I want one. But I have another suggestion for Sky. Bradley has to honor the yellow jersey and stop cutting his own hair.

June 06, 2010

HED Stinger Disk Review

I bought the HED Stinger Disk to properly outfit my Cervelo P3 TT bike. Basically, I couldn't justify the cost of a Zipp disk so the HED won out on cost. I also wanted a lenticular disk profile which I believe only Zipp and HED provide. I'm told it's faster in cross winds and we normally have lots of wind here. Although I had never seen a HED disk in person, I have been pretty happy with my Stinger 6s. Also, since some of the pro teams are using HED, they can't be crap. Pro teams seen using HED wheels include Sky and Columbia. I know, wheels are usually sponsored in some way, but pros still won't ride crap - they don't want to lose. And since HED branding is seldom or never seen on HED wheels, sponsoring must be little or nil and the wheels must be pretty decent. Sky is the best funded team in the sport who can afford what they want and they use rebranded HEDs. Columbia may not be renowned for their time trialling, but Sky's Bradley Wiggins is and he rode the Stinger Disk well in the 2010 Giro, winning a stage.
Although the wheel is simply the Stinger 9 with a carbon skin glued on over the spokes, it still makes the satisfying disk wheel roar when you are riding along. But the skin over the spokes design does seem a bit hokey. The skin is not actually attached to the spokes, just to the rim and the hub. It is pretty thin and if you tap on it, you can feel the spokes underneath. (It is also very sharp around the valve hole - ouch, I'm bleeding.) Actually, if you look closely, you can see the spokes underneath the cover where they slightly bulge out the carbon skin.  You can't see this in the wheel on the HED website above, but you can see it a little on Marco Pinotti's bike if you look at the reflection - especially at the bottom of the wheel. I would like it better if it was a smoother lenticular shape, but I'm guessing it doesn't matter a whole lot in the big picture. If you can't stand this feature, you better buy a Zipp wheel or be satisfied with a flat disk. When I put the Stinger on the stand to spin it up, there is essentially no breeze near the disk. So the slight spoke bulges do not seem to affect turbulence much from that small test. There is quite a bit of breeze from the tire though, perhaps from the file tread.

I guess an advantage of the spokes approach is that you can true the wheel if it ever becomes necessary. But my wheel was centered nice and perfectly true when delivered. Also, my 700x23 Vittorias fit very nicely into the wheel well for a fairly smooth transition from rim to tire which should help aerodynamics.

There seems to be a slight extra bit of drag on the freewheel compared to most high quality wheels when coasting on the stand, but there are not too many time trials where freewheeling is a recommended strategy. Perhaps it just needs to break in a bit. The stickers are ugly, but they peel off easily, just as for the Stinger 6s. The wheel didn't come with any stickers to cover the valve hole. So I need to get packing tape or something. It did come with a nice long valve extender, but it is the crappy Zipp-type that requires you to leave your valve open. Throw it away and use these or their equivalent.

Anyways, I got the disk and took it out for a 2 hour tempo/threshold "sweet spot" ride. It was a good day for a test because I had a lot of wind from the side - usually about 15-20 km/hr at 90 degrees to my direction of travel with gusts that were quite a bit higher. And the new wheels kept my motivation up nicely for a strong workout. In those somewhat difficult wind conditions, I had little trouble controlling the stinger disk back and stinger 6 front setup. And that includes when 18-wheelers passed me. Sure there would be a wobble or a lean, but I never had to leave the aero bars to steady myself or back off the power in any way. No question I would race this setup in these conditions. Did it seem fast? Sure it did, even in a crosswind. And there was no issue with wheel rub when standing and accelerating hard. But I need to do a race and see how I compare to the big dogs (who all have disks) to really see if I get a gain relative to the folks I have been racing. That day is coming in 2 weeks.

August 26, 2010 Update: The day came, the day went. And a few more besides. Unfortunately, the day I was eagerly anticipating ended up being a sick day and I missed an entire weekend of fine races and fine weather. A TT, a crit and a Road Race. Dang. But never fear. I did recover and have had the opportunity to test these wheels in the "Show". And I have to say I have been turning in modern era best times this year with this wheel. Yes it does look kind of cheap with the carbon shell conforming to the spokes. But I have also beaten some folks I have never beaten before. And achieved some times I didn't think were in reach. And won a 40 km TT race (in my class). So there you go. For reference, I am not the fastest guy in the province, but I can always crack 40 km/hr average speed. Best for the year was a bit over 43 km/hr in a 20 km TT. So a disk works for the non-elites too. And since everyone I am competitive with also has one, I "need" one too. And I like the sound it makes.

Bottom line? A decent cheap disk option that seems to provide a real benefit.

November 16, 2011 Update: If it's good enough for Tony Martin at Le Tour, then it's good enough for me too, I guess. Apparently it worked OK for him at World's as well.

July 27, 2012 Update: Still seem to work OK for Sky at Letour.

June 03, 2010

Fabian a Doper? Say It Ain't So!

The latest thing in pro-cycling cheating - mechanical doping. By now almost everyone has seen this video - or at least 1.5 million of you have. Yeah, when he powers away, it definitely looks supernatural. But he's been doing that for years.

As for the "suspicious" hand movements, give me a break. Imagine, someone reaching for a shift just before attacking. That never happens does it? If that means someone is cheating, then pretty much everyone I know is cheating.

Is Cancellara cheating? I severely doubt it. But I do believe it is possible for someone to cheat like this. If you could add 100 watts to all your key moves in a race, you would kick arse, wouldn't you? You would only need this extra power for about 5 or 10 minutes a race to make all the difference - bridge to that critical break or attack off the front. This article gives a nice overview of what may be possible, and it is a lot. Better check those Shimano electric shifting bikes extra carefully. Perhaps the UCI should ban them? But Fabian rides SRAM so a Shimano battery might be somewhat obvious.

I also believe this will be a very short-lived phenomenon if it even exists. Unlike doping, the evidence doesn't disappear with time and can't be hidden if someone is looking for it. You cheat, you will be caught. No fancy lab analysis or mechanical passports required. You feel lucky punk? Well do yah?