Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Review! The Specialized S-works TT

If you follow the blog at all you know I'm a fan of *cool* kit. When I learned that the Mclaren helmet was going to be brought to the masses (albeit a slightly stripped down and revamped version for we non-professionals) I knew I had to have one. So I saddled up to my local Specialized store and put my name down to get one of these bad boys the way God and Henry Ford intended... black.

S-works Xenomorph edition

Alien jokes aside (seriously...) this is not just a fast helmet, but also a pretty luxurious one. Sort of like the BMW M5 of aero helmets. I've been racing in it for a couple of months now, so I think I can give some moderately long term thoughts on it. So without further ado, on to the review (heh... that's kinda catchy...) 


If you're interested in the helmet you have probably read the technical stuff already. A little over a minute (62 seconds) better than a road helmet in a 40k is what the big "S" claims. Of course, that kind of claim doesn't really mean anything to us in a practical sense, what I want to know is... is it faster FOR ME than my other helmet choices. Unfortunately most of us don't have a terribly good way to test a wide range of helmets before we lay down our hard earned cash for them... so we have to guess. The key is to make educated guesses. If you're willing to wade through a lot of posts on sites like Slowtwitch it's easy to figure out what helmets are generally "safe bets" and which ones are much more of a crap shoot. For those of you that are too lazy to do that, let me rehash. 

- Specialized TT
- LG P-09
- Giro A2 / Selector
- Bell Javelin
- Lazer Wasp

Are all pretty universally good/ok. After that, it comes down to who you believe about what. I figured that Specialized had put a good amount of work into the TT, and I thought it looked cool, so that's what I went with. After some aerolab work, I concluded it was faster than both my Selector and my Bambino, so it turns out I guessed pretty well. I had planned to run a visor on whatever helmet I chose and had read from pretty reliable 3rd parties (Erosports) that Specialized's claim of aero neutrality was pretty much spot on. (Most helmets are worse with visors, at least older ones)

At $300, it's certainly not a cheap piece of kit, especially when you consider helmets like the A2 often go on sale for around $50. However, it is certainly "competitively" priced when comparing it to other "superhelmets" out there. Like anything when it comes to cycling and/or triathlon, the definition of "worth it" and "value" is written in very, very light pencil.

C'mon, I look like I'm about chase space marines through a deserted colony, right? 

Heating / Comfort

Often an important component when people buy helmets of any sort is the comfort level and how hot it gets on a sunny day. Just being honest, this is an absolutely terrible category for me to comment on, because I have never noted a big difference in the heat of a helmet and I don't look for comfort as part of my aero helmet purchasing reasoning. Most of the aero helmets I've ever owned have been on the verge of being too small (for less surface area) and pretty tight. That said, the TT is a pretty plush helmet in my opinion. The dial ratchet lets you very easily get the "perfect" fit and the padding is adequate for a lightweight aero lid. (It also comes packaged with more padding for those who need it) As far as the heating element... I *think* it is cooler than my Selector was, but that may just be my imagination. I certainly wouldn't classify it as "hot" despite the sparse ventilation.

In Action

In the end, the value of this helmet (or any of it's competition) is based purely on whether or not is saves seconds vs. whatever else you are using. I can't tell you what you are willing to spend in a $/watt ratio... or even what you would save vs. your current aero lid, so it's difficult to quantify. For me, it was a significant improvement over my Selector and Bambino, which were both pretty fast helmets for me, so I think it was money well spent. As far as the actual "accessories" that come with the helmet you get two visors (clear and smoked... sadly no mirror option is available currently) and considering a new visor for my Bambino was nearly $100 I feel like Specialized hooked buyers up in that regard. (they sell replacement shields for $45) It also includes the soft shell case that Specialized sells for $80, so at least you are getting some goodies with your helmet.


If you are looking for a new lid that looks cool and is frequently fast testing on an array of people, it's hard to not at least have the TT in the discussion. It's easy enough to get on/off for it to work in a Triathlon, and the shortened tail shouldn't punish you very much for not holding a tight position. I will wear the helmet until something faster comes along (the new Giro is interesting) and that is pretty much the way I feel about all my equipment. For now from my own testing, this is my fastest option, and so I am ecstatic to be racing in it!

Thanks for reading! I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review! The Obree Way

An interesting look into the mind of a champion

It's certainly no secret to those who know me that I have long been a fan of Graeme Obree. Even moreso than Boardman I feel I have always identified with "the flying scotsman." (Not the absolute worst movie I've ever watched either for what that's worth.) So when I came across this book I was quick to shell out my cash and give it a read. Granted, the book has been out for three years, so I'm late to the party, but fortunately books don't expire. (and neither do reviews...I hope)

I wasn't quite sure what I expected to find inside the book, and I suppose I was not disappointed, as I'm still not quite sure what it was. A training manual is what is advertised, and I suppose in the abstract that is as good of a description as any, although I'm not sure that if you saw it as only that you would find it a very helpful one. The parts that were most interesting (to me) were his thoughts on preparation and the outlook at the training or race ahead.

The "Egg" position that set some seriously blazing fast records.

The Good
In the chapters that spoke about the mindset, both the race mentality and ruthlessness (his words) of it, and in training and what is required to exceed the normal limitations and limiters that we place upon ourselves (he goes so far as to say that only after we accept that this effort "may" result in our death that we can push past those limits) I found the value in this book. During these times you get a true look into the mind of a man who was truly "all in" on what he desired. The chapter on obtaining sponsorships was also very interesting, and while he was speaking on a considerably grander scale than most people who read the book will be looking for, it is nonetheless a chapter that some lessons can be taken from. I enjoyed some of the chapters on technique and equipment selection, however neither are what I would consider absolute truths.

The Bad
Unfortunately these brilliant sparks in the book are mired down by the actual "training manual" which makes up the majority of the book. It's billed exactly as that (A training manual for cyclists) so it may seem strange to call that out as the bad part of the book... but it simply lacks any of the flair that made the chapters about the mental stand out. It almost that it is too "safe" and cookie cutter to be worth the price of admission. Basically every chapter dedicated to training/nutrition/etc is the same thing you can learn in a 15 minute google search on cyclist training. Most of this seemed to be written for the true neophyte... of which I'm sure there are some who picked up this book. However I suspect most people who sought this book out specifically already know that eating tons of salt and sugar or processed foods isn't the best way to fuel or that specific training for the even you are preparing for is good. The one caveat to the above is his emphasis on recovery. It seems that Obree wrecked himself on his hard rides, trying to squeak the very minimum of improvement compared to his last ride, and then gave his body as much time as it needed to recover from the effort before trying again. For me specifically I was interested in his thoughts on this and it was a shame it wasn't expanded a little more.

The Ugly
There were a few parts that despite my fanboyism had even me shaking my head and mouthing "wow..." I am a bit confused at his seeming hatred for technology. He goes to some very extreme lengths in the book to describe how to set a magnetic trainer up so that it will measure very minute changes in fitness accurately... but I could not come up with a good reason why an accurately calibrated power meter was not just demonstrably better. I understand that wasn't an option (or at least not a cheap one) in the late 80's and 90's, but seeing as this book was published in the 2010's... it seems that time has moved on.

Likewise, the part on a focused breathing pattern just doesn't line up with how the human body actually work, and specifically what is our physical limiter. I'm a good sport though, so I did give it a fair college try. What I can say is that I do "feel" like I'm getting more air, mainly because I'm focused on it I'm sure. It is something I doubt I could ever practice enough to make a subconscious effort, and perhaps that is the "secret" of it. Not that you are getting more oxygen, but that you are having to direct your attention away from the pain so that you don't screw up your next breath.  I will say a perceived benefit is often just as useful as a real benefit. My power numbers nor my HR seemed effected in any noticeable way when using this technique as opposed to my normal breathing, but I did get through some sets a little easier (again, where my focus was drawn to) so perhaps it has some benefit much in the way many people do hard math in their head to draw their attention away from pain.

It was an entertaining read. It's short (I read it in a day) and for the most part gets to the point he is trying to make pretty quickly (something I should probably take lessons in) but the book does not have many secrets to share with experienced cyclists. There are certainly a few hidden gems and the occasional "deep" insights scattered in the book were very enjoyable (for me at least) but it seemed too much of the book was written so it could be marketed to the masses and too little on the uniqueness of the writer himself. I had really expected a little insight into things like his unique position and equipment choices in his career, but there were none to be found, which was very disappointing for me.  Worth a read if you are a fan of Mr. Obree, but as a training manual there are far superior options available.

Thanks for checking out the blog this week, I really appreciate it! Until next week

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Short Sweet and Direct. Getting Aero.

It's painful. It's not for everyone. But it's fast. I've had more aches in the last month than I have in the past few years combined. Change is always painful. But the key is that it's also fast. What changed? Like most fools, I thought I had a good grip on the way things were... then I started trying new things. (and testing them!) No you can't see the final result (mainly because I don't think I'm there yet) but I'll give away a good hint if you are able to read between the lines.

Probably the most aero you've ever been.

That's all for this week. Lots happening. Adaptation is a b*tch. So is testing. I need to make this my full time job! Too much to learn and not enough time to learn it!

Thanks for reading, I know... cryptic, but I like that kind of thing.

Until next week

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

I found an Ergostem!

Look (see what I did already, now you will have a gauge for how this post is going to go...) and see what I managed to FINALLY (it's been years of on/off looking) snag on ebay.

For some reason it has long been a Unicorn horn for me.

A 31.8 1 1/8" Look Ergostem. Holy geez have I been searching for one of these things for YEARS. What's the big deal you ask... well compare to the stem I have been using

A good stem as well make no mistake.

And you'll see pretty quickly that the amount of available adjustment, especially when it comes to getting lower, is huge with the Look. For me, getting lower is always on my list of things to do, especially now that I moved to a naturally taller bike. (Speed Concept) My saddle to Pad drop is the lowest it's been in probably 5 years, so I was glad to be able to get a little more out of the Look.

Unfortunately I've reached the bottom out point now... my bars are nearly touching my Tririg Omega, which I assume means I'm as low as I can get.

ohhh yeah!

So is there a downside to this thing? Well... there are a few.
First, this thing is heavy. Like a pound. That's pretty beefy for a stem.  Of course I'm no weight weenie, so it doesn't bother me that much.

It's also pretty ugly. It definitely is in line to be painted... as concrete gray isn't the most flattering color on my black and gold Trek.

The stem has a little flex to it as well. It's not "noodly" exactly, but I don't think you'd want to put Cavendish on it for a sprint.

Finally, there is the issue of clamp security. I used my Torque Wrench and hit just below the recommended toque specs for the securing bolts... which is 25nm(!!!) I've read quite a few other's experience that the high torque breaks the small set plates in the stem, although knock on wood mine seem to be holding strong.

All of that aside... it's exactly what I needed to get (closer) to the position I needed. And it's an awesome hard to find piece of kit... and that counts for something doesn't it!

Thanks for checking out the blog this week. I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Looking back at my trip to A2

Nearly 4 years ago (has it really been that long... geez) I loaded up my humble little Planet X Stealth and trekked over to North Carolina to get fast at A2 Wind Tunnel. Being that it's one of my most popular posts, I thought it was about time to have a look back (you know, to pad my post count) and give you my current thoughts about the time I got to spend there. Here's the link to the original thread.

First, let me preface by saying I thought I had done my research before ever laying down my credit card number. I had read as much (although, especially at the time, finding information from guys who had been, and would share anything of it with some guy asking for handouts was not very much) as I could trying to use my time as smartly as I could. I even enlisted John Cobb's (who was kind enough to take the time to help set me in the right direction.) input on what to do and what not to do. I even saved that email and think I can share it.

I would suggest not testing with the rear disc because air breaks off of them at different yaw points, they are not consistent, and it makes it hard to pin point real improvements. Wear what you are going to race in and maybe test one other outfit. Bare skin is always slower than covered skin. test helmets, turtling is OK for TT races but I find it distracting for triathlons. Test several helmets and pay attention to the "feel" of the ventilation compared to the drag. Test your water bottle placement, it is very individual.  Do a few repeat runs during the session, go back to a earlier configuration, just to be sure the tunnel data is consistent. If you have time it might be interesting to test your number location on your race belt, high vs low on your waist.  Elbow width vs comfort for swimming, 2cm can make a big difference. Have some fun, you will leave with a lot more questions as you think about it.  I do not use CdA numbers, I generally only look at drag. I do that because it is nearly impossible to figure surface area on a bike and pedaling rider in a yaw angle. If you test only at A2 then the drag will be consistent, CdA is used for different tunnel comparisons. I haven't found that you can assign a surface area number at "0" and then that be correct at a 15 degree yaw, so I look at drag and follow those trends.  There's tons of wheel data out on the net, don't waste your time testing wheels.  Position setup is a big deal so you can race with a lot of pelvic rotation, work on that but try to be realistic when testing and actually use the real position that you race with. Get somebody to snap a picture of you under power during a race and try to use that back shape, then work from there.  Have fun, learn lot's.
-John Cobb

At the time I thought I had taken his advice pretty well. Looking back, I skipped some of the most important parts, particularly the part about repeat runs. I admit, at the time I was so locked into the zone of "trying to fit it all in" that I didn't consider fitting more in was useless (or at the very least sketchy) if I didn't have repeatable results. I did re-test the final position I left with, which at least gives me a few less nightmares at night, but overall it was a sloppy use of time. John was 100% right, I left with a lot more questions as I have thought (for years) about it.

Was my time useful... absolutely. Was it optimal... not even close.
I did come out with a new, slightly more slippery position than what I arrived with, one I have used (and still use) since leaving the tunnel.

Tunnel time being used in the real world
Raising my hands was indeed a gain for me. Something many of the top fitters and aero testers pretty much universally recommend. However, from my own experiences I wonder if it is really as universally good for people who don't do their own testing as seems to be advertised. I'll share a small piece of my data from A2 to demonstrate what I mean.

Take with a grain of salt this is one man's opinion from n=1 data vs. guys who test a LOT of people, but if mine can be so particular about the exact angle of the tilt, how finicky is it for others? Also notice that at a certain point (30°, the highest I tested as it was the highest the bars would allow) going higher is not better, it's actually much worse. My data does correlate with the idea that raising hands some (from flat) is probably at least "not bad."

So... what's my opinion today, years later about going to the tunnel.

Honestly... it's save your money. You can use the Chung method (and/or Aerolab) to test to your hearts content and get good results. At least good enough to say "this helmet is better than that one." It's going to take a lot more time and work, but it is something you can do when you want without breaking the bank. The exception is if you are a die-hard numbers guy who really wants an A+ experience. I still look at my time fondly, it was a ton of fun. More fun than a week long vacation to the beach, (about the same cost...) ehh... but awesome and fun nonetheless. You are pretty well paying to save some (maybe a lot of) time and get easily repeatable (you know... if you repeat) results.

Inside (and outside) the madness of the tunnel.
Now if you found this post because you are looking to make a trip to a wind tunnel for yourself then you have my envy! Oh to be able to go back. So let me give you my advice (for what it's worth, which isn't a lot admittedly.)

- First thing, do your research. Read everything you can about it... check Slowtwitch, there are quite a few guys who have been and shared what they learned (Haycraft and TomA come to mind.) I wouldn't speak for them, but I think both would give you some good advice to maximize your time.

- Have the majority of your fit dialed in before you ever click on the website. You don't want to be figuring out your fit angles while spending $400+/hr.

- Make a plan. A detailed plan. Figure a run at 0° will take around 3 minutes, a sweep closer to 5-7. Then a few minutes to adjust something before the next run. If you have 1 hour, don't expect to schedule in 20 different runs.

- Test things in a reasonable order. It's pointless to find the best helmet for you, then change your position, because likely it changed when your position does. Imo test helmets last thing.

Don't do it in the reverse order...
- To echo John Cobb, save your time on wheels. It takes a long time to change them out and really... what are you going to learn... that 808's are better at 5° than 404's? If I could go back in time I'd have ran my race wheels in the tunnel instead of my box wheels, but it's not a huge difference.

- Verify your results and do sweeps, especially of the important things. Better to know that the things you did test are accurate and not an anomaly because you moved your head during "x" run.

Here's a link to A2's website to check it out for yourself.

Anyways, hopefully this was a little bit helpful. Always keep learning!

- Christopher Morelock