December 18, 2014

45North Nicotine Studded Tire Review

26er 2.35 Ice Spiker Pro on top, 29er 2.35 Nicotine on bottom
Note that both are about the same width, the 29er is closer to the lens

The king is dead, long live the king? A made in Canada comparison.  Got a set of Nicotines for the 29er. Are they are the best studded mountain biking tire I am aware of? The former king was the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro but the Nicotine is the new challenger. Here is the scorecard:
  • Tubeless capable - Nicotines are very loose when mounted. I haven't tried but they won't work without building up the rim quite a bit. It would be a project to get them to work tubeless without burping and farting. Schwalbe's are capable (in the 26er size I have) but the 29er is not listed as "TL Easy" like the 26ers so likely the same issue - not readily tubeless capable. Tie
  • Weight - both are folding tires. 870 (measured) for 29x2.35 Nicotine, 29x2.25 Ice Spiker Pros listed at 890 on Schwalbe website. Basically a Tie. Regular Ice Spikers have wire beads and are much heavier but we aren't discussing those.
  • Width/Float - Nicotines win-  are actually 2.5 wide, 2.25 Ice Spikers are not and that is the widest size in 29er. My 26er 2.35 were about 2.5 as well.
  • Best Studs - Nicotine's cratered tips are fancier than the Ice Spiker's pointy tips. But both grip very well on ice and both are carbide, so really a tie when it comes to performance.
  • Performance in the snow - I can't tell the difference, both are very good. Probably depends on snow consistency which is infinitely variable of course and I haven't had time to check all those infinite conditions. Tie.
  • Rolling resistance - Nicotines easily win. Very nice roll for such a grunty tire. The knobs on the Schwalbes are pretty irregular and rough rolling on hard surfaces. The Nicotine's knobs line up and transition better from one knob to the next when rolling along.
  • Price - both are very expensive but the Nicotines are more so. Schwalbe win.
  • Overall - I have to give the overall kingship to the Nicotines. The greater float on snow and the lower rolling resistance are noticeably better and these are key features for winter performance. After all, it is important to beat the fatbikes on Strava - all of them. A skinny bike with these tires is faster than a fatbike in many snow conditions. That's why you generally aren't allowed to race fatbikes with a 29er (except on Strava). Worth the extra money and cost way less than a fatbike (although I will probably get one of those too). But if I had Schwalbes, I wouldn't rush out to buy the Nicotines (unless I could find some buyer for the Schwalbes).
Hope that helps.

Jan 6, 2015 Update - now that I have a lot more rides on these tires, I have discovered one issue. The rubber is relatively soft which is good for traction. Unfortunately, it isn't as good for retaining studs. I have done a number of rides on icy/rocky descents and several studs have been ripped out on the back tire. They cannot be replaced as the knobs are partially torn off, so new studs would just rip out again. Almost all the lost studs are on the side knobs. No lost studs on the front tire to date though. The back tire does tend to skid on icy/rocky turns and on uphill slopes a rock can grab a side knob. So for durability I would rate these tires as inferior to the Schwalbes whose studs and knobbies last somewhat longer. Same thing happens to Schwalbes, just not as easily looking at my tires and those of people I ride with. The scientific knob-squeeze test clearly shows the Schwalbe knobs are harder than the 45Nrth knobs. So 29er x 2.35 studded tires for Schwalbes would be a good choice for winter trail rides too - except they don't make them. 

April 27, 2014

TSS vs. Suffer Score (or are they are complementary?)

Training Peaks software provides the TSS and Strava provides the Suffer Score as methods of determining how hard your ride was. The TSS uses intensity and duration of your power output (from a time series of the watts you generated during your ride). In addition to the Training Peaks software, Garmin power meters also calculate TSS for your ride. TSS and the resulting statistics in Training Peaks provide a lot of info on whether you need a break or you are slacking off in your training. But you need TSS to plug into the software. In the past I was simply guesstimating.

The Suffer Score uses the intensity and duration of your heart output (from a time series of your heart rate during your ride). You need the premium membership to get the Strava Suffer Score. But you get it for every ride where you wear a heart rate monitor. Downside - your followers get to see how high your heart rate was. Get over it.

I have a powermeter for my road bike, but I don't have one for my mountain bike. I could spend a bunch of money to buy one, but I thought I would determine if there is a relationship between TSS and Suffer Score and use that instead. So I fired up Excel, typed in both scores for a bunch of recent road rides and voila! A pretty tight relationship.

The relationship does spread a bit at higher Suffer Scores, but that isn't unexpected. The scores for those rides are a combination of long lower intensity rides and shorter higher intensity rides. Or a combination of both in the same ride. There are recovery rides, sufferfest trainer intervals, outdoor intervals, everything really. The biggest outlier is for storming up Mount Lemmon for 2 hours and then coasting down, stopping for photos, etc. on the way down. There is also a 100 miler in the mix which really had no hard efforts longer than a few minutes. And there are rides from 40 minutes to 6 hours in duration. All in all, given the diversity of rides, I think that is a pretty good relationship (the Suffer Score explains 89% of the variation in TSS). For my mountain bike rides I can now simply obtain the Suffer Score from Strava and use the formula shown on the graph to calculate TSS for my mountain bike. Yay and a real money saver. Y is TSS and X is the Suffer Score by the way.

This relationship will vary from person to person as your heart rate versus power output will also vary. So sad to say, you or a spreadsheet-savvy friend will have to determine your personalized relationship (between TSS and Suffer Score) for best results.

But wait, there's more! Even for an individual, as you get in better and better (or worse and worse) shape, the relationship will change. Some might see that change in the relationship as a problem, but it is really an opportunity to assess how your training (or lack thereof) is going. I plotted the same graph using different series for different time periods and voila!

More colorful for sure, but that's not the point. Sure you can masochistically do fitness tests periodically and see if your fitness is improving. But that's really hard and it assumes that each test is done when the old body is equally rested and capable. Why bother when you can simply plot your everyday rides and find out the same thing? Well maybe to reset your training zones, but really do they change that much? Mine don't change enough to change my targets any. I try to get well into a target zone and not just barely beat the zone boundaries. Don't forget its all one continuum of effort, not compartments. With this method you can use any time periods for comparison, whether you did an FTP test or not. And the comparison allows you to look at the complete range of rides and efforts you do at once - recovery to intervals to endurance. Nice. Perhaps even a training metrics revolution of sorts?

Check out that relationship for April. Suffer Score explains over 96% of the variation in TSS. Almost all other previous rides in 2014 fall below the regression line for April. In April I am getting higher power intensity and duration (TSS score) on average for the same heart rate intensity and duration (Suffer Score). February was the worst and March was intermediate (ignore the Mount Lemmon outlier). So pretty happy about that. This jives with my perception of my fitness sitting in the saddle. It would be interesting to compare years as well, but I'm not curious enough to do that yet. Sometime maybe.

Hopefully this gives you one more (free!) reason to go for a ride. And use the bikes that don't have powermeters too as you now have an accurate handle on the TSS for your training log.

Note to Strava - Suffer score proves to be every bit as useful as TSS. It would be easy for Strava to also mimic the other concepts in Training Peaks and show people how their fitness and freshness are doing....

May 15, 2014 Update - After using this system for a while, I have found that the relationship changes at very high intensities - races and race pace workouts. Like the Mount Lemmon example, the Suffer Score is higher than the TSS relative to normal training rides. The farther to the right of the regression you get, the harder the workout. Note that these have to be really hard efforts at the limit for relatively long periods of time. The kinds of rides you normally cannot achieve in training because you feel so sorry for yourself. So far it is the longer races (2-5 hours) that show this characteristic. But I have yet to see what a 20 min time trial does for example. Soon.

January 26, 2014

Bont Zero Cycling Shoes Review - Long-Term Use

Wiggins' feet inside Bont Zeros
Back when he was on top of the world
I was fortunate to find these shoes on sale in the fall of 2012 for almost half price. Little did I know that the reason for this was the new model coming out with the boa laces replacing the old shoe lace version. But nonetheless, I took the plunge.

Ordering the Bonts online from Bont directly was a bit of an exercise. Measure and measure again. Then look at the website and play a bit of what-if. What if I had feet a little bigger than I measured - how does that change the size recommendation? A little smaller? Eventually, I was satisfied and picked a size. It worked out OK.

Initially, I had pressure points on the outside of the ball of my feet. Of course the shoes are heat moldable in your kitchen oven. The problem is my kitchen oven doesn't record temperature low enough to match the requirements for the shoes. So initially, I was very conservative in how long I left them in there. Basically I heated the oven up to its minimum operating temperature. Then I turned it off and inserted the shoes. Every time you heat mold the shoes is a bit of a pain. You have to remove the laces, remove the insoles, and remove the cleats. Then when you take out the hot shoe, you have to put the insoles and laces back in, and lace it back to your feet to allow it to take your foot's shape. Don't forget to remove the insole! I did once and it shrivelled up to child size. Not a big loss though as the insole was crap for me. The bottom of my feet did not like it, going somewhat numb on 2 hour or longer rides. I replaced the Bont insoles with Giro insoles and that has been much better.

What I did learn with the heat molding was that it took more heat than I thought. I was having trouble getting rid of the pressure points until I cooked the shoes longer. Getting the black "bathtub" portion mouldable takes more heat for sure. But if you lack a properly precise oven like me, go easy and just ramp up the heat exposure time gradually like I did. Takes longer but you won't wreck your shoes. You can remold these shoes over and over. I did.  I think the shoes gradually conform to your foot over time as well, as mine seem to be getting more comfortable. They are quite reasonable now on long rides.

The shoes are definitely extremely light and very stiff on the bike. Walking around, which I do very little of in these shoes, does feel like the sole is flexing at the cleat. But on the bike you can't feel a thing through the sole. Of course, these shoes aren't made for walking are they?

How do they work? Well they won the Tour didn't they? There is no doubt that I feel much better connnected to the bike and I feel like I have more power. Essentially, the whole bike feels stiffer and more responsive to power input. Strava says they are faster than my Sidis too. I have no doubt they are faster.

As for the newer model switching to boa lacing, that is a good thing. Although conventional shoe laces are very adjustable, they are not adjustable while riding a race. I find I have re-tie the laces between my warm up and the race to get just the right pressure. Then I have to live with whatever the tightness is for the race. It hasn't been a huge issue, you just have to plan ahead a little bit. Same issue as putting on your shoe covers for a time trial or a cold road race. You are committed.

Imagine how much lace you have left
when you pull these tight - a lot
By the way, the laces Bont supplied were very nice and way too long. They obviously were taken from a skate or something and were ridiculous for the shoe. I ended up buying some shoe laces that were the right size. Remember, you will be lacing and unlacing these shoes a lot during heat molding, so the right size laces with those nice plastic tips on them are a necessity.

Bottom line? I like them, they are fast and light and actually seem to be pretty aero with the cover over the laces. But take note of the few finicky issues above. And they are way too expensive at regular price.

January 22, 2014

Pearl Izumi Barrier Cycling Cap Review - and a bit of cap history

Wind barrier in the front (business),
breathable panels sides, top and back (party)
I have had a number of cycling caps over the years. Originally, they were my only head protection. Then it became necessary to wear a helmet if you wanted to race (does this date me?) and the cycling cap became a lot less popular. Originally, the cap functioned to keep rain and sun out of your eyes. They had a small brim relative to your standard baseball cap to avoid flying off in the wind generated by the high speeds of cycling some are capable of. It was easy to adjust the brim to your line of sight by merely tipping the cap back a bit or flipping the brim up when you were in the drops. When there was no rain or sun in your eyes, you often flipped the brim up for completely unrestricted vision. If you were really working against the wind, you turned the hat around backwards, not for style points like today, but for the aero benefits. Maybe the brim at the back was the first aero helmet?

No cap, backwards, and frontwards brim up.
Most of the choices in headgear available at the time.
But that all changed with the helmet and the caps became far less popular for a time. But the cycling cap is still a useful piece of clothing, and not just a fashion accessory for those with intentionally deformed ears. It still can keep the rain and sun out of your eyes. And it provides a bit of warmth on cooler or wet days. But being under the helmet limits what you can do with it on the fly. You can't really turn it backwards mid-ride unless you are on a social ride and who bothers with that? More importantly, the helmet interferes with the position of the cap in terms of vertical position. It's hard to move the cap up for more visibility or down for more protection. And if the cap is too far back relative to the helmet, you can't flip up the brim. So you try to find the sweet spot where the brim is at the perfect angle to allow forward visibility in the drops while shielding your eyes from the sun/rain in the drops or on the levers and ideally with a flippable brim. It's hard to get that sweet spot. The problem is that the historical brim design is too big to work with a helmet. You need a smaller than traditional brim. The only cap I have found that works is one of the Pace caps. But beware, the other Pace caps have brims that are too big and don't work very well on road bikes.

Pearl Izumi won't stretch over these non-aero ears.
Extremely poor choice for Canadian winter.
Now as for the Pearl Izumi Barrier Cap, it is a very useful design. The front panel is windproof, preventing the dreaded freeze brain. The rest of the panels are more breathable stretch fleece so you can vent where the wind isn't really a factor. The design is useful in that you can wear it as a conventional cap or you can stretch it over your ears like a skullcap - at least most of us can. With a built-in brim! Nearly perfect execution of the design with the exception of the brim. It is too big and gets in your way when you are in the drops, like almost all cycling caps. To see properly you have to crank your neck to an unnatural angle I find difficult to maintain for any length of time. The cap is much better for riding the levers, cross biking, or for mountain biking due to the more upright position. Because I also wanted road bike functionality, I decided to modify mine and carefully cut the brim threads, trimmed the plastic brim holder-upper to my specifications, and resewed the brim. Bit of a Frankenstein, but voila - a properly designed cap for road biking. I trimmed mine back to the bottom of the "P" in the logo on the brim.

So a good cap for mountain biking in winter, and good for road biking if you modify it a bit. A bit on the expensive side though. You could just buy the Pace cycling cap and pair it with any old skull cap for less money and less fiddling around. I do that too and it works pretty well. Plus you can dump one or the other if it warms up during your ride. Layers - they're not just for your body anymore.

Overall rating, buy it if it works for you. Quality is good. Nice and stretchy so it fits big heads better than the Pace cap.

January 19, 2014

Camelback Podium Water Bottle Review

I have lots of water bottles, but they are the old school ones. If you leave water in them for a day, it tastes like plastic. I read a review that says these bottles and some others like it, don't flavour your water, even over long time periods. Nice, because I sometimes get out on a ride and realize the only water I have is from some time ago. It tastes like plastic crap, but I drink it anyways. If it was harmful, they wouldn't be allowed to use it right? Riigghhtt.... This one also has the fancy dancy mouthpiece that works better than the old mouthpiece I hear.

Anyways, walking through the store, I saw they had these in stock and the price was reasonable. So I bought a couple. They work as advertised. Just last week (which made me think of this post) I took out my beater bike for a winter ride. While riding I realized I hadn't filled the bottle first and it was almost 3 months old now. I was thirsty so I drank it anyways and surprise! It didn't have any plastic taste at all. Which was great because the bottle was almost full.

I haven't tried it with electrolyte stuff. I typically don't use electrolytes in my water bottle as then I don't have to clean my water bottles. How lazy is that? And interestingly, it doesn't seem to affect my performance at all, even on long hot rides. Of course I live in Canada so how hot can it be?

The valve is nice. It does tend to keep the water in there, even when in the open position. In the closed position it is pretty water tight. One interesting fact. If you bring a bottle in from the cold, it starts to make a systematic little high pitched "peep" about every half second or so. It is just the air expanding in the bottle as it warms, burping past the valve seal. But the first time you hear it and you don't realize it is from the bottle, you think you have some electric problem or something. What the? Is my phone in here? Is my car breaking down? Where is that coming from? Very confusing.

The only negative I can think of is the bottle is a little bit stiffer than I am used to. Not a big deal except at near freezing temps. You have to squeeze harder. Actually, not really a big deal at all. Nice water bottle and an improvement over the old school versions for sure.

January 16, 2014

Tacx Trainer Tire Review Revisited - Long, Long Term Review

So I originally recommended this tire June 1 2010 as below:

So here is a Tacx item I can heartily recommend (unlike the Fortius Trainer). I have been using my tire for a couple of years and it has many hours on it, especially this year because the weather sucks so bad (it snowed 3 inches on May 29!). Probably 100-200 hours or so. After all that, I haven't even worn off the seam in the center of the tire. My tire looks just like the photo, except dirtier. Really a pretty amazing tire in that no matter how hard I go, it never gets warm at all. I don't know what they make these babies out of, but it works. And you don't get that smell of rubber from a hot tire. Well worth the price.

Apparently, they suck outside. Don't know, haven't tried. Actually, I can't imagine why someone would. Perhaps they found the color irresistible.

Ha ha, I kill me. Anyways, almost 4 years later the tire has died on me. Earlier this winter I noticed a little bump that I thought was my cheap Neuvation wheel riding rough - bearings going or something. But after my last visit to Sufferlandia, the wheel was really acting up. So I took an actual look and holy smokes! The tire was all rippled and bumpy over about 30 cm (12 in). I think the belts are giving way. When I took it off, the inside is rippled to match the outside of the tire. Doesn't look like much, but it really grinds on the trainer. The Neuvation's bearings are still silky smooth by the way. Of course that wheel has never been let out of the house.

Now I suppose 6 years or so isn't too bad for a tire. But this tire only goes from point A to point A and never left my climate controlled basement. And it only rolls on a perfectly smooth metal roller that never even gets very warm. There is no real wear on the rubber which is probably what gets me. Oh well. They are pretty cheap - I shouldn't complain. Of course Tacx isn't exactly known for it's tires.

Anyways, I'm putting on a Vittoria trainer tire that I used last year when I had two bikes going - for the two bikers in the house. Vittoria is known for their tires so I expect it will last. One year and counting anyway.

January 13, 2014

Maxxis Beaver 29er Tire Review - Canadian, eh?

It takes 1000+ beaver pelts
to buy a beaver tire
Well, the Maxxis Beaver isn't actually Canadian, but the beaver definitely is and we have the nickel to prove it. I didn't actually buy the tire because of the name, but it helped. I bought the tire because of the reviews - I was looking for a good tire for wet and snowy conditions last fall as my Maxxis Ikons were terrible in those conditions (and aren't all that great overall).

So the reviews were good overall and I decided to buy the 120 tpi EXC version for 65$ each. When I got the tires I found they were a bit difficult to mount tubeless. They fit rather loosely, so it took some doing to get a decent seal. I eventually did get there however. I did have one burping episode when I was running the tires a bit low on air. But no issues running them at about 24 psi for my 155 lbs. That's the bad news - not all that bad is it?

Now for the good news. The tires are narrow (2.0) and the rubber compound is noticeably sticky. That and the siping in the tread blocks makes for excellent traction and the ability to dig through the mud to firmer ground underneath. I did run them on some really soupy mud uphill and on that day, in that place, I was the only one able to ride through the mud. Everyone else stalled out.

The tires are also quite good on snow as well, as long as the snow isn't deep. These are not fat tires after all. But when you have a thin layer of snow, or suitably packed snow, they grip really well. You can ride on ice, but don't expect much benefit from the tires. They are definitely not like studded tires, but what rubber bike tire is? On mixed snow and ice they get the job done and I had fun riding those conditions last fall until the snow got too deep in my usual haunt.

The tires aren't only good for mud, roots and snow, they are nice light tires that give great grip in all dirt conditions. Mine were 500-something grams, I forget exactly. But I do remember they were light for 29ers. They may lose something in rolling resistance on hard surfaces, but really I couldn't feel much difference on the trail. Except on downhills where these tires really give you confidence. They really grip the turns and I was able to out-Strava myself on all my usual mountain descents. Because they grip so well on roots and soft dirt, and are nice and light, they also performed extremely well on climbs too.This more than made up for any small amount of rolling resistance and my late fall overall Strava times on an 18 km loop with 600+ m of climbing kicked my own butt on these tires. Actually, I shocked myself a bit, exceeding my expectations. Conditions were moist, but only a few mud spots.

These are the best tires I have tried for moist and wet conditions, period.

December 20, 2014 Update - Tires still work as advertised in the wet. Have good grip on snow, but are too narrow for all but very shallow or very hard packed snow. Like all non-studded tires, they don't work on ice unless it's level and you don't turn. Sidewalls are weak and if you run them in the rocks, they won't last very long. That's the usual tradeoff - light and weak sidewalls, or heavy and durable. These are the former. You can't use them where there are many sharp rocks.

January 07, 2014

Castelli Sanremo 2.0 Speedsuit Review

Yes, I bought this stupidly expensive skinsuit over the holidays, but I did get it for half price. I already have a few team skinsuits - cross, TT and a crit? version. But I did want some new shorts and I thought a shorts/jersey combo of this quality for 175$ was a decent deal. So I pulled the trigger.

How is it you ask? Well, not exactly as advertised in the photo at right. Very high quality and the latest aero tech, no doubt. Unlike the photo, the top is quite transparent. Sort of wet t-shirt transparent. Should be great for cooling, but you may need sunscreen under it. I'm pretty sure you can tan/burn through this material. In all fairness, my crit? (that's what they call it) skinsuit lets me get a strange tan too. HR monitor and back pockets create interesting tan lines to confuse onlookers at the beach.

If you have a third nipple, this may not be for you,
depending on location of said nipple
Fortunately the shorts component has conventional material. Therefore not as revealing as the new Sky kit so I won't feel quite as cheap and sleazy. Presumeably, I will get the same aero benefits, almost.

Suit fits a little bit small overall, but not too bad. Get a bit of bunching on the belly when in the drops. Maybe the MAMIL cut? But again, not too bad, if a bit disappointing aerodynamically. The only glitch was a little strip of sewn in material where the top joins the shorts at the bottom. That material had a rough edge at each end that was quite itchy. I did take some scissors and cut off a tiny strip to remove the melted ends of the material while carefully avoiding any stitching and after one wash I no longer feel the itch.

Offending material that required trimming at each end
I have only worn this suit on the trainer a few times as it is winter and the snow is a foot or two deep now. But it was quite comfortable temperature wise - more comfortable than wearing no jersey for some reason. And the shorts were very good on a 2 hour ride on the rollers. The suit is definitely not worth full price. But if you can get it for 175-200$, it seems reasonable, given the high quality of the body paint shorts. And you can strut your stuff if you are a bit of an exhibitionist.

Feb 7 Update: Word of warning, the red bleeds into the white on the legs after you wash them. I ain't handwashing anything, so that's the way it goes. Looks a tad sloppy though.

January 04, 2014

Stan's ZTR Crest Wheelset Review - 2013 Version

So in my quest to become a half-decent mountain biker, I bought these wheels for
my Gary Fisher HiFi Pro 26er. I was facing a tough choice at the time - do I buy a new mountain bike or do I just cheap out and buy some nice wheels? I decided to double cheap out and bought some nice, but cheap wheels.

These wheels are nice and light (and cheap) and because they are Stan's, going tubeless seemed to work very well for some Racing Ralphs. And did I mention the wheels are light?
  • Front - 660 g
  • Back 770 g 
  • both without skewers or rotors but with valve stem and tubeless tape
  • the bearings are smooth when spun in the hand 
Not carbon in weight or price, but quite agreeable weight-wise and price-wise. Riding the wheels I found them to perform well, primarily due to the light weight. I didn't notice any flex, but then I'm purely XC and I couldn't shred a downhill if my life depended on it. I weigh about 155 lbs. I know these rims are light and I expect they won't do the job for all mountain and definitely not downhill riders - or significantly heavier riders. Lots of horror stories on the web, but for me they worked great. Not much else to say except I did really like the wheels. They took everything I dished out (which is pretty mild I admit) and I never had to true them over a couple of months of riding.

Unfortunately, I ended up cracking my 6 year old frame about mid-summer which was too bad because I had that baby dialed. So I bought a Santa Cruz Tallboy to console myself. The wheels have since been passed down. But overall, I think they were a very good buy for the money. Although I did buy cheap Chinese carbon wheels for my Tallboy 29er. No verdict on those yet.