Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ticking off the boxes

Last week was big for me. The results from yet another round of blood tests returned and I re-tested my lactate threshold at Provision.  The results of both were a huge weight off of my shoulders, and I was fortunate enough to get the total green light that my body has "fixed" itself. Other than a bit high Cholesterol (which I have had since I was in pre-school) all of my tests looked like what they should... a healthy 32 year old athlete. The results of my lactate threshold were also enlightening... looking at the curve of my results last time and the results this time was like night and day.

And now... what?

I move towards the next evolution, but what is that. I'm a triathlete that hasn't ran or been in a pool in nearly two years... which sounds an awful lot like "I'm a triathlete cyclist." What does that mean? I'm not sure, and I am running out of time to make up my mind, at least as far as 2016 is concerned.  My tenuous plan so far is to at least return to the pool with some regularity and feel confident I can complete an aquabike, even if running is not in the cards. Otherwise, I honestly have nothing but hunger for time trials at this moment. There are a lot things I feel like I have to prove, to myself most of all. But packing on watts to the FTP and running go at odds... so at least until the State Championship I feel I am dedicated to bike training, and raising my power while holding a solid TT position... here's where the fun begins. Let's hold this for 50-60 minutes!

Trainer time... I'm going to need a neck brace...

Should be a fun and painful experience.

As always, thanks for reading and keeping up with my muddled mind. I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Idiot's Guide to Latex

Latex tubes. They're one of the "mystic" arts around cycling and triathlon, feared by many, used by some, understood by few. Most of the people I talk to about them dismiss them immediately. "Too much work," "I can't install them," "I don't want to get a flat" or just the classic "They're expensive" are some of the most common immediate responses I get.

Slightly erotic imagery?

So first, the why. Why should you be running latex?
First, the easiest answer for most of the people reading this... they are faster. Tests have proven (more than one, but BTR is a good safe one) that you are looking at somewhere around 4-5 watts for free just from running latex as opposed to butyl. That's about a half second per km. There are a lot of Time trials out there that finish the podium within 20 seconds of each other. Over something longer it's in the minutes of time saved... for tubes!

There are other reasons as well, although less sexy admittedly. For many years the argument of using tubulars over clinchers was how much better they "felt." Well... when you cut open a tubular guess what's inside? (Admittedly not ALL tubulars, but almost all the ones that you would be gluing) That's right...latex. That's where your "magic" feel and robustness came from, not glue, or heaven forbid tape.

Another benefit is actually flat protection! What's that you say, you heard latex was more likely to flat. Simply not true when properly installed. In fact, I challenge you to find a case where latex tubes flatted due to "snake bites" (when you run too low air pressure in your tube and it bottoms out, causing the famed snake fang style holes in your now useless rubber) which are one of the more common types of flats.

The astute among you may point out that I flatted on latex last weekend. Indeed. However, that can be pinned on some user error (along with bad luck and a very old tire) which is, as I'll get into later on, the primary cause of flats using latex. That's my second flat since I started using latex in 2011 ... not a bad record (especially considering I'm lazy and often run latex in my tires when I'm not racing) fwiw the other time I flatted I ran through a broken beer bottle at Rev3 Knoxville. I'm pretty certain that would have flatted a gatorskin ;)

All that said, latex isn't all roses. They leak air, pretty constantly. You don't get to "set and forget," and if you do, you're going to be asking for trouble. It gets more annoying if you don't understand the right way to install valve core extenders on your deep section rims, as you may well find it nearly impossible to keep a steady, relatively high amount of pressure in your tube. You also can't just completely get rid of butyl. If you flat, trying to replace a latex tube with another latex tube on the side of the road is just asking for trouble... you'll need to keep a good old fashioned butyl in your spare kit at least.

Also, before we go any further, let's get the "they are expensive" thing out of the way. You better be showing up on your 80's model Nishiki you bought on craigslist for $25 before you start that. 5 watts for $20 and they're too expensive? Excuse me, your Aero helmet cost how much? What about those Zipps? Hell, ceramic bearings can cost hundreds of dollars and they *can* *maybe* save you a fraction of a watt... but people think that stuff is gold. Without any doubt or argument, latex tubes are the best bang for your buck for going faster out there.

Final side note (probably) - Pick good tires to go with them! Another bit of low hanging fruit is smart tire selection. I won't go into it here, but seriously, Tom A (Bikeblather and a much better blog than this one - although I assume that's because he goes for quality over quantity.) has taken up the charge of doing this from BTR, and there is a ton of info to help you make smarter, faster choices. Gatorskins are not race tires!

Alright, so I've convinced you that latex is the way of the future, (and present, and past) great, so now you say... how do I install them without destroying a $10+ dollar tube and scaring the crap out of myself (blow one up at about 90psi and you'll understand what a heart attack probably feels like.) Fear not, I've got you a crash course in latex installation!

(Of course let me preface that my way isn't the only way. Lots of guys have success with other methods, this is mine that I feel is cheap, readily available and not too much hassle.)

Cover + 404 = Disc!

Here's what we are starting with... my older Zipp 404 (narrow rim) disc cover installed. You'll notice on the stool I have some packing tape. Yep, nothing special, just packing tape. And here is one of the major things that will determine if you have a successful installation with latex.

- YOU MUST have a smooth surface rim bed that doesn't allow the tube to "sneak" into a spoke eyelet or slightly jagged part of the rim (usually where the rim is bonded) Regular rim strips are good enough for butyl tubes because they are much less likely to blow if you get it slightly off. Latex WILL blow if it sneaks into an eyelet. So, how do you fix that. There are a few solutions, but the ones I use are packing tape and (on my H3 - which btw doesn't have spoke holes) electrical tape. I've also seen many people use STANS rim strips (the tubeless setup kind) with success. Anyways, packing tape is cheap and most people have it in the house already so that's what we'll use.
*worth noting I leave my rim strip on, it won't hurt anything (it might make seating the tire a little tougher is all) and can help.

So, start right past the valve stem and start running the tape around the rim bed. It doesn't need to be perfect, just get a good cover over the bed. I line one side of the packing tape up where I want it to be and let the other side run off (see picture below) we'll get rid of that later.

When you get back to the valve stem opening you should end up with something like the above. Notice the overhang of tape. Obviously we need to get rid of that. Enter the scalpel (or whatever sharp knife you have handy.)

My method is pretty simple here. I start right on the inside of the brake track and just follow it all the way around with the point of the knife. There should be a straight cut all the way through at this point.

Now it's really just as simple as peeling the excess off the rim. It should easily separate and leave you with something resembling an ugly brown rim strip. It's fine if it's not pretty, and you'll undoubtedly have some air pockets and folds, but as long as you get coverage you are all good.

Now your rim should be sufficiently sealed to protect you from snares that would come from the rim itself. The reason you cover the rim strip again is because of the potential for the strip to move when installing the tube, something you can't really see to account for. Note that I don't recommend Velox despite the fact that it sticks to the rim bed because over time latex tubes will "seep" into the fibers of the tape, which will make it impossible to uninstall without damaging. Velox also has a bad habit of getting pinched and moving when using tire levers in my experience.

Regardless, if you used another method to seal the rim (Stans, etc) or just skipped it because...YOLO... we're ready to move on to the next important thing.

Baby Powder.
Most latex tubes come with some small amount of talc powder already on them, but not nearly enough. You want that thing to look like a 1985 Yuppie's nose on a Saturday night! I keep a small bowl (with lid) with a little baby powder in it and then just throw the tube in and shake. That gets a liberal, even coating without making *too much* of a mess. This will make the tube unbelievably easier to get seated under the tire later on. Skipping this step will lead to some headache down the road, I promise you.

So, finally we are ready for the install process. I start by adding just a tad of air to the tube (one pump or a good blow of the mouth if you don't mind tasting baby powder.) and installing it like a normal butyl tube. Next, get your tire on but stop before inflating the tire.


This is where probably 99% of people screw up their latex tube installation, especially people new to installing them.

So you have your tire on, next step is to inflate it, right? WRONG.

This is the biggest difference between latex and butyl. A latex tube must not be caught under the rim of the tire or it will pop when inflated. A butyl tube will almost always push itself back under when inflated before it gets to the point where it explodes, but latex will not. So, slowly and methodically you need to "push back" the tire and look for the latex tube peaking out. (See below for example) It can help to slightly inflate the tube (again, like a pump or two) to get it underneath. This is where you will be glad latex tubes come in bright colors and not just black. It will be very easy to spot.

The pink you see in the picture above is tube caught under the sidewall of the tire. This is bad. So, how do you get it back under the tire? The main method is called "flicking" the tire. This is accomplished by pushing the tire opposite of the side that latex is caught under (same as picture above) and letting it go. It'll make that "flick" sound... repeat until tube disappears. Again, it can help immensely to have a small amount of air in the tube and to have used a liberal amount of baby powder. Go around both sides of the wheel until you are satisfied that the tube is completely seated and not caught under the tire.

Now inflate to desired PSI. You'll know at about 80-100psi whether you got it right or not.

Congratulations, you successfully installed latex tubes! (or you screwed it up and scared the crap out of yourself when it exploded... sorry, you almost certainly got tube caught under the tire)

Some side things to consider when it comes to latex

- Removable valve cores. This is something you should look for when buying latex even if you don't plan to have valve extenders installed on them, and is essential if you are. They are also required to run sealant. The difference between screwing an extender on top of a valve normally and just leaving it open and removing the valve core and then replacing it at the top of the extension (warning when buying valve extenders... not all, including ZIPP ones, have threads that will accept a valve core... choose wisely. Silca and Enve are safe choices) is huge. You will find things much easier (and your tires stay inflated longer!) when you install the cores at the end of the extenders.

- Sealant.
Greg Kopecky did an excellent write up about this on Slowtwitch, which you can read here. (There is also a part 2) I'll not rehash everything in this post, but the takeaway is that you can run sealant in your latex tube and have an added level of flat protection, all while slightly helping your rolling resistance.  Considering most bottles of sealant are very cheap, there is very little reason NOT to be using it.

So, here is the first post of this type. I hope to make this kind of thing a regular part of the blog, so fingers crossed!

Until next time, thanks so much for reading, I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A very short, very cold Race Report.

Saturday was the Taco Mama Time Trial in New Market Alabama. Not a race I had really planned on, but Jimmy offered to drive and I didn't have a good excuse NOT to get out there and give the Speed Concept a maiden race voyage. It was going to be cold and only serious TTer's were going to show up, so I figured it would be a good test of my fitness.

The week of the race did not go as I had hoped. Between building Jimmy's Speed Concept, fitting Emil (as best I could to his Transition with it's overly short seatpost) and having to re-cable the brake of my own SC, I did not get much time in the saddle. I also didn't get a test ride on the SC until Friday night at about 9p.m. and then for about 10 minutes. Good enough, right? I went over my checklist and didn't *think* I had forgot anything.

He's low due to his short seatpost, but it didn't stop him from dominating

Saturday morning it was up early for the 45 minute drive to Jimmy's house. He was having problems with his Garmin Vectors so we worked on them for a few minutes and then decided just to load up and go and try to fix it on site. We made it with plenty of time to spare and took a quick drive of the course, noting that it was a little hillier than expected. This made me a bit nervous as I hadn't tested out the 1x setup on climbs.  I was 99% sure it wouldn't be an issue, but nonetheless conjured images of walking up one of those hills.

Then it was get set up and start the warmup ritual. I got dressed and it warmed up to the point (high 30's) that I felt my long sleeve skinsuit (+ aero booties & gloves) would be more than sufficient to keep me warm. Jimmy couldn't get his Vector's fixed and was forced to race on feeling. I got in a good warmup but timed it a little off and ended up getting fairly cool before my start.

Warmup on a cold morning

Then, it was time. 10 countdown and I was off.  This year my main goal is to pace myself better than I have in the past, and so my first couple of seconds/minutes did not involve a massive sprint spike of power. I hit my target watts and settled in. Before the first turn I had caught my 30" man, and I took that corner so hot I almost overshot it into the ditch. Pfftt... who needs brakes.  The short rollers began and I hit my minute man and shortly after my 1:30 man... that felt dang good considering I was still within the first 5 miles of the race. Shortly after catching my 1:30 I start down a roller when disaster strikes! One second I'm tucked for the downhill and then all of a sudden I'm riding a bucking bronco. FLAT!!! And on the front no less! I make it up onto the bullhorns and don't panic, doing my braking with the rear I'm able to come to a fairly successful stop without rolling the front tire off the rim. Race over...bummer. Unfortunately in my preparation/rush for the event, the one thing I didn't really pay much attention to was my front tire/tubes condition. Later I would find that my tire was actually dry rotted (what I get for stocking NOS bonty aerowings.) and that had caused a small puncture in the tube.

The real annoyance was that it was preventable in so many ways. The tube was a Michelin (without a removable valve core) so I didn't have any sealant in it, which almost certainly would have prevented a flat. Checking the tire of course would have also been a good idea, but sometimes you forget things. I guess I'm now ordering 20mm Supersonics. Oh well, live and learn.

Unfortunately my story doesn't end there. I figure I have a short wait until the sweep, so I start cheering on my fellow competitors. I see Jimmy come around on his second lap and he looks to be right at the front which is exciting, but also disheartening as it let's me know there is not a SAG wagon behind the last starter of the CAT4's.  Ut oh. I do some math in my mind and figure I'm about 5 miles from the start, quite a ways to walk in socks.  Surely somebody is coming. So I wait.
And wait.
And wait.
Then I see riders coming again. The next group has started.
By now it's been well over 20 minutes. The body heat I had built up riding has faded, and I'm acutely aware that Castelli's Bodypaint skinsuit is not insulated. I chuckle, but as the overcast hides the sun and the wind picks up again, I start to get a little concerned. I'm literally shivering at this point.
I see Emil go by, the master's have started. I cheer him on meekly, as at this point I'm hunched down in the ditch on the side of the road trying to stay warm. I figure Jimmy has probably finished at this point and hopefully he'll be in mind to realize it was me on the side of the road. Otherwise, I'm going to be a freeze pop.

After another unknown amount of time, a mustang (the first car I've seen) pulls off the side of the road and I'm saved. SAG has arrived. I hunker into his car and turn the heat on full blast, teeth chattering at this point. When we make it back to the start line I thank him for saving me and find Jimmy and Mike (who was about to pull out to come save me) and more importantly the car and all those warm clothes inside.

Jimmy of course won the CAT 4's by a commanding amount.

Hard not to expect it from the state champ!

The real story of the day however was Emil, who absolutely dominated for his first TT in 12 years. He finished second with a time that would have won most of the categories (these old fella's are fast!) and that was with a too short seatpost and a slipping armrest pad.

Hard to keep a good racer down! That thermal suit though! I needed that!

So, a pretty big success all around. Sure, I'm disappointed... I know to take the time to check and re-check my stuff... I didn't and paid the price. I'd have liked to have had a measure to see where my fitness looked compared to my primary competition (Which I suppose is Jimmy hah) but I felt like I had a small hand in my friends accomplishments, so I'll be happy with that for now.

Of course, the fire has been re-kindled as well. Now I'm ready for race season. It's going to be a good one!

Thanks for reading! Next week we'll start a little tech how-to section (one I should have read before this week) so stay tuned!

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Putting mechanic skills to the test!

This past week I've been putting my claimed skills as a mechanic to the test. Two of my friends (and teammates, oh and also both TN State TT champions) were going to be riding new TT bikes this year, and they both needed to get them set up! So I got my (short) ride in Saturday morning and started an all day (and night... and two more days) bike work binge.

Matt showed up with his new ride, a Fuji Norcom Straight. The last Fuji I really looked at in person was the D6, which never really impressed me. The Norcom on the other hand looks like a nicely thought out whip. The only two things that struck me as suspect are the stem and the brakes. The complaint I have with the stem is that it's pretty proprietary... very, very few non-oval 760 stem's will work with it (Andy Coggan seemed to have found an older Thomson stem that worked with his, so other's must exist, but sourcing one may be difficult to say the least.) and while Oval offers 80° to 130° options (by 10° increments) you only get +/- 8° rise, It's not necessarily a deal breaker, but personally I like to be able to use whatever stem I want. (One of my complaints with my own Ventus bars) It also makes fitting the thing interesting, as I doubt many of us have multiple length 760's just sitting around. The other issue is with the TTV TRP aero brakes, specifically the rear one. Personally, I don't hate the direct mount brakes... or at least, I don't hate them any more than I hate most aero brakes (something like the excellent Tririg Omega excluded of course) however, the rear brake cable exit routing is a total bone headed design. Why have the cable exit RIGHT INTO the crank. Here's what I found as a way around the near impossible (if you do it the intended way) to avoid cable to chainring rub.

There are really two (acceptable... at least that I've seen) solutions to the problem. The first is to route the exiting cable back up (away from the second entry hole) at which point you will have a dangling cable but it should be out of the way. The other solution is to use a zip tie to hold it flush against the caliper arm. This is a little "ghetto" but will certainly keep it in place.

We replaced the stock Oval bar (an ugly round base bar) with a sleek Profile Design Ozero, got him on it and started getting a solid look at his bike fit.

looking pro, although the Scott/Fuji combo doesn't work ;)

I think it turned out pretty well. Of course, looming in the background even as we finished setting up Matt's Fuji was Jimmy's box of parts and Speed Concept frame. Don't think I'm going to sugar coat this for you... I dread the original Speed Concepts rear brake setup. It nearly drove me insane getting it right on my own 1st Gen SC, and I wasn't sure I could emotionally handle going through that again! Nonetheless, I signed up for the job, and so I would not be deterred.

Let me clarify, as people seem to think just because I bemoan the SC's rear brake that I don't think it works effectively. That's incorrect... I actually think the SC's rear brake stops pretty well for a bb mounted center pull, when it's set up correctly. That is the issue I have with it. It is simply not a bike that was designed with your average weekend racer in mind, despite that being it's target. I'm fine with having the absolute top end bikes (like the 9 series in this case) being straight from the pro's team bus... you should be able to buy it if you want... but make the "average buyer" bike (the 7 series, as it was most likely the one priced for most recreational triathletes/tt'ers in mind) a little more user friendly when a skilled mechanic isn't going to be at beckon 24/7. That's why the majority of 7 series SC's I see stop very well on the front and barely stop the wheel from free spinning on the back.
/ Rant

And so it begins.

Anyways, it takes a little cussing and a more than a little bit of time, but I got through the setup in about half the time it took to do my own 7 series (although trying to route Nokon liner through the frame ate up most of that extra time) and, after a slight mishap with a derailleur hanger bolt and clipping the chain too short, (woops, I admit I forgot all about the bike having a long cage derailleur on it) it was time for some finishing touches.

Finally, all together and ready to race!

Custom cut aerobar cushions. Is that service or what?

Then we got Jimmy actually on the bike and started moving him around. I'm still a neophyte (at best) when it comes to fitting, but I think we got him set up pretty smooth. Much better than his position on borrowed bikes (Did I mention he won the State TT in a horrible position... he's going to be fast as F* soon.)

And now... I need to finish working on my own bike to be ready for this weekends Taco Mama TT in Alabama. It's 20 miles and my first race this year, so I'm hoping it will go smoothly. It'll also be the first race I do on my own SC. I've still got to get the pads dialed in on mine sometime before Saturday! Also, unlike Jimmy and Matt, I don't put out a billion watts, so I have to be just a little bit more slippery in the wind to make up the difference.

When nobody makes them as narrow as you want... break out the dremel. 

Sponsor dat fork!

Thanks so much for checking out the blog this week! I had a lot of fun making it!
Next week, a race report!

- Christopher Morelock