Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Final look back on 2016

2016 is closing up. I hope everyone had an exceptional Christmas / Holidays, and I hope you all have a safe and fun New Years. We kind of got hosed this year, as both fall on the weekend, so no extra days off... what a bummer.

I got all I wanted for Christmas (which was basically just to survive it!) and my lovely wife even got me a sweet viking ale horn and a GCN hoodie!!

working on my Ragnar

What a keeper!

So, as I usually do, I thought I'd rustle back through my year and reflect on how things have gone.

First and foremost, I got hitched, something for most of my life I was pretty sure would never happen. As we close in on our first anniversary I am happy to say I am glad I was wrong. I would guess one of my biggest changes for the better this season came from my wife always being in my corner.

That said, the season has been rocky from a results standpoint. I made little secret that I wanted to primarily focus on the State TT in 2016. I had just built my Speed Concept and was very slowly making the transition from being a coached triathlete to a self coached cyclist. My first "knock the bugs out" tune up race was a fairly frosty Taco Mama TT in Alabama. I will say, for the first 5 minutes of that race I felt really good. Unfortunately disaster struck and I ended up spending about an hour or so on the side of the road with a flat. A long drive for a couple minutes action and some frostbite for sure.

The Knoxvelo TT training series was my next outing to test my fitness. I was experimenting with a 1x setup on my Cervelo, but a 44T big ring turned out to be too small for the rolling terrain and I was left floundering for the right setup. I was still hopeful of good things and I had my Trek tuned and ready for big results.

My next debacle was in May at the Three Rivers Rumble TT. A 2'ish mile TT, the course suited me pretty well, as being aero and short bursts were going to reward the rider. There I was, putting on my skinsuit in a leisurely fashion when I heard my name being shouted. I totally missed my start. I still managed a fair time, but what a disappointment. Worse than that, in the excitement I had forgot to turn on my Powertap... leaving me once again with no meaningful data to examine as States was fast approaching.

As far as preparing for a race goes... I feel like my preparation  for States was among the best I've ever had going into a race. All except for my actual training. Looking back at my logs, I see how much the "fear" of overtraining again and being a slave to my HRV rating really sabotaged my race. I was willing to invest incredible amounts of time to squeaking out every minute advantage, but wasn't willing to stick my body back on the line and do the kind of training that is required to really have a successful 40k. It's almost laughable that I was tapering from a weekly TSS that's about 1/3 what my current week in week out TSS is. That's a classic example of letting fear rule you.

Nonetheless, the perfect storm of turning the race into a trainwreck didn't happen until the night before. It was then that I learned I was starting 30" down on Matt, who I knew was the strongest guy there. It made my pacing strategy completely pointless. Just go fast enough to keep Matt in your sights and you'll win. Simple, but not easy by any stretch.

The day of the race was blisteringly hot, and everyone was pretty miserable. I followed my race "plan" in that I tried to keep Matt in my sights. It worked out fairly well the first half of the race, although every time I looked at my computer I knew I was going to start fading... my hope was so would everyone due to the temperatures. At the turnaround I hit the wall, hard. Later, after downloading my data and analyzing it you could see a textbook application of going out way too hard. The first 20 minutes I was doing great, the second 20 minutes I was fading, but only slightly below my target, and the third 20 minutes I was pretty much soft pedaling back home. Looking back, had just paced myself and raced my own race, I would have likely snagged a podium spot. Instead I finished deep in the field, being passed by many guys who I hadn't seen since the first couple of miles. I don't regret my choice... I knew what I had to do to win and went for it. It didn't work out, but that doesn't make it a foolish decision. Beating Matt would have required a special day no matter what. It really boiled down to the fact that I hadn't put in the hard miles to put out the watts required for a fast time.

After that race I took a break and did some soul searching. I was probably the closest I've ever come to hanging up my racing bibs. I had gotten through my battle with OTS, but I hadn't bounced back like I had expected to, and so I had to decide whether to take steps towards improvement or whether my competitive racing was behind me. It was around then I had my blood work done and that helped to ensure me that I wasn't made of cheap glass, and that I could do some real training once more.

At that point I had to find a coach. I was simply too invested and in my own head to have a rational, disconnected look at what kind of training load I could and couldn't handle. After a thorough search, I finally made my choice with Derek Dalzell of Mind Right Endurance. I chose Derek because he had a couple of things I was looking for in a coach... a technical, data driven outlook, experience with cyclists (and not just triathletes) and perhaps most importantly to me, he seemed hungry to do big things with his clients, and didn't seem satisfied to just load in trainingpeaks workouts every week and just let things fall where they may.

My final road race was the Oak Ridge Velo RR and TT. Neither result was very exciting, but they were both races that I felt like I was making progress in. I finished 5th in the TT, and felt like it was probably the best executed race I've ever done.

Since then, I've tried a lot of new things and really opened up my eyes and excitement towards cycling. I truly feel like a kid every time I step onto a velodrome, something I hadn't felt in years. Cyclocross has been hit or miss as far as racing goes, but I have really enjoyed taking a bike (with drop bars) off road.

Perhaps most importantly, I'm ending this year feeling good. Refreshed and excited for what 2017 will have in store. I am still a work in progress, but I am again finding satisfaction in ticking off the menial boxes... a finished workout today, a long ride in the books this weekend... something I had lost in the last few years. That isn't to say there are no big goals on the horizon, quite the opposite, but I have grown as a person enough to realize that it's best not to hinge all the satisfaction on the end results, but take some joy just from the trip to get to the start line.

Sermon is over. I'll see you all in 2017! Stay safe, have fun. Until next time! Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Holiday's have arrived

Merry Christmas!!!

A toast to you, loyal reader!

Only 4 more days until Santa Claus slides on down the chimney and packs the stockings full of coal!

Seriously though, Happy Holidays to all of my viewers, whether loyal or just blousing browsing

whew, it's warm in here isn't it...
I did good this year, I got almost all of my shopping done BEFORE Black Friday. Every year I seem to do just a little better at getting stuff done... I remember (back in my day, before we had all this Cyber Monday and week long Black Friday's starting on Thanksgiving Eve) I used to still be scrambling around on Christmas Eve trying to find the final things to get everyone. Now it's just point and click (the dangerous thing is that my wife tells me I can order by voice on our Amazon Echo... that's a whole new level of lazy shopping) and I love it.

So, I'll keep this week short and sweet. Let me wish all of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, whatever. I really appreciate all the support, even if it's as simple as just taking a couple minutes of your day to check in and think "what an idiot."  Enjoy the time you get to spend with your families, friends or whoever. Drink some Eggnog (spike it for me!) and break your diet a couple of times... tis the season!

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

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Aerodynamics for everyone!

Originally written for Mind Right Endurance, who I'll be partnering with this upcoming year to try to help with making everyone faster on the bike! 

First, thanks to Mind Right Endurance for reaching out to me to do this!

(I'll try to keep this as beginner friendly as I possibly can.)

   So you want to go faster, but you aren't quite sure where to start. Maybe you've started, but you're mired down in the seemingly endless amount of white papers, drag savings, yaw angles and other information out there. Or maybe you're just looking to squeeze out that last little bit of "free" speed.

   First, for this discussion you need to know the context. I will be talking about a triathlon or TT bike, not a road bike. It's just easier when we draw the line somewhere and that's as good of a place as any. That's not to say aero positions can't be achieved / improved on road bikes, just that it opens up more doors than this discussion will have scope to deal with. The other disclaimer I'd like to put out there is that these things are VERY personal. What works for me, your coach, your neighbor, Bradley Wiggins or 99% of the people that go through a wind tunnel does not necessarily mean it will work for you. Of course if you aren't able to test for yourself it is best to pick the things that test well over a broad spectrum of people and hope that you are in that majority. It's always best to test for yourself however. Therefore, We (Mind Right Endurance and myself) are starting an Aerodynamic Consulting Service to personalize your equipment for your fastest results yet. If this interests you, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions!

Things most age groupers can do to gain free speed.
   This discussion will be primarily about equipment choices. However, I wouldn't feel right without mentioning exactly how important position on your bike is. It is the single most important thing to make you go faster. My advice is to either find a bike fitter who understands the unique needs of an athlete looking to go faster, or be willing to dedicate a lot of time making tweaks yourself.

Equipment choices

   We'll start with the one that comes back to "you." More importantly, what you are wearing. The problem is skin is slow, so if you can cover it with an aerodynamic material, you'll go faster. The tricky part is that as slow as skin is, wrinkles in fabric are usually worse. That means you want clothing that absolutely looks like it's painted on you. It is fairly easy for time trialists, you find a skinsuit (the Castelli Body Paint has been a competitively priced option that tests well) that doesn't have a lot of wrinkles when you are in aero. For triathletes it becomes quite a bit more complex, as you need to be able to swim and run in the suit as well. Recent rule changes have allowed covered shoulders in triathlon, but many still constrictive to swim in an aero suit. Your individual body will make a lot of difference, but often this one comes down to whether or not the tradeoff's are profitable (say you'll be slower swimming, or in transition, compared to how much faster you'll be on the bike split...) The one piece of advice I'd give to most serious age groupers... at the very least get a one piece kit. The split in a two piece kit when bent over in aero is almost always bad for aerodynamics.

   Your actual whip will be another important choice you make. While my go to answer to any questions on "which bike should I buy" is "the one that fits" there are a couple of other questions to answer before pulling the trigger. I classify bikes in three categories... superbikes, (Trek Speed Concept, Cervelo P5, Canyon Speedmax) proven bikes (Cervelo P2/P3, Specialized Shiv/Transition, Trek Equinox) and unproven bikes. (Planet X, Most "Chinarello" frames, Falco V bike) Of those, I would always suggest going with one of the first two categories unless price is the absolute determining factor. Even then, I'd prefer a used P2/Equinox/etc to an open mould frame. In my mind the primary thing that separates Superbikes from proven bikes is integration, particularly in the front end and cabling. Superbikes are made for people that have mechanics on hand to work on them and keep them running. If you aren't a handy mechanic yourself, you need to weigh the pros and cons of having a bike that you may not be able to work on / adjust / fix in a moments notice. As far as the aerodynamics go, most of the "big" brands have put some effort into making their bikes pretty fast. Most of the offerings nowadays should be on par with a P2 or P3, which was long the benchmark of aerodynamic frames. (And for what it's worth is still an excellent choice)

   If you aren't restricted by bar choice (having a superbike for example) then I think having something adjustable but still slippery is often an excellent idea, especially if you haven't absolutely nailed down your pad stack and reach. My go to suggestion is the Profile Design Svet series for a base bar and the excellent Zipp Alumina clip on bars. This will give you a pretty fast setup with lots of adjustment possibilities while still allowing you to use any stem. If you do have your position nailed down and are looking for the fastest bars out there, there are many good options these days. The Tririg Alpha bars and the 3T Ventus are some of the slipperiest options out there so long as you don't have to conform to any UCI rules. (Triathletes do not, nor do most time trialists) Good UCI legal bars include the 3T Brezza Nano's and the USE Tula / R1 aero bars. For someone on a tighter budget, the old HED aero bars (they did not have a catchy name) and some of Vision's older offerings are fast and widely available.

   While the helmet can be very personal with regards to your own riding style, there are some clear options out there if you are just buying one without personal testing. There are also some helmets that are often stinkers. Helmets that often test very well on a wide range of people are the Bell Javelin, the Giro Advantage2 / Selector, (also likely the new Aerohead) the Specialized TT and the POC Cerebel. Helmets that often test poorly on a wide array of people include the Lazer Tardiz, the Rudy Wingspan and the Kask Bambino. So if you aren't sure what helmet to get, I tend to think it's hard to go wrong with the Advantage or the Javelin, as they can be had for under $100 all over the internet, so if you decide it's not the best for you you'll not be out a fortune.

   There is so much data on wheels on the internet it's hard to know where to begin or end. My biggest issue is with no-name off brand ebay wheels (or re branded ones, which is now common.) The problem with them is although the price point is enticing, there is almost never any aerodynamic research put into them. That means you are often getting a wheel that looks very fast, but may not be much (if any) better than your training wheels. As a bang for the buck buyer, it's hard not to look at FLO cycling and think it's the best deal on a new set of wheels out there. Real data, well made and reasonably costed. Of course HED and Zipp make well tested and very nice products, as well as quite a few other companies at varying price points, and the used market is alive and thriving. Wheelbuilder and a couple of other companies also offer disc wheel covers for your spoked wheel, which can be had for under a Benjamin. Personally, I almost always suggest somebody takes their budget for wheels, buys a Powertap (considering they don't have a power meter of some other sort already) and a wheel cover, then buys a moderately deep front wheel.

   Wheels (in the context of going faster) should never be mentioned without giving credit to tires. I won't go into tire selection for racing too deeply, but there are plenty of free resources (Biketechreview and Tom Anhalts blog to name a few) that measure rolling resistance in tires... there is little point in buying a fancy set of aero wheels only to run them on Armadillo tires.

   For time trialists there are not a lot of options. You are fairly limited to whether you want a bottle on the down tube or the seat tube, and then whether to use a round bottle or an aero bottle, or no bottle at all. All of those options are viable depending on the distance of your race and your specific frame. For triathletes it's much more important and complex, both because you aren't limited by hydration options and also because your time on the bike (and racing in general) is going to be longer. My main advice in the hydration category is to be realistic and honest with your abilities. Saving a few watts with a slick bottle placement won't be worth much if it causes you to under hydrate because you don't use it. That said, an excellent go-to choice is the "torpedo" bottle placement. It tests generally neutral and sometimes positively for most people and it places the bottle right in front of you, making it hard to forget about. Another good choice is something like the Torhans system, which again is right in front of you to remind you to drink, and is also often very fast testing. (Some reports even hinted thant the Aero 30 was faster than no bottle on some Superbike front ends if set up very close to the head tube) The good thing about both of these options is that you can re-fill at aid stations. Bottles behind the saddle are sort of hit or miss, often requiring very tight placement to keep them out of the wind. Frame bottles come in varying sizes and shapes, and again, whether you use round bottles or a dedicated aero bottle should depend on the distance and your comfort. The one thing to always remember is straws sticking up are generally not good. Torhans address it with a fairing, and other companies often include a magnet to keep it held down... I think all of that is fine, just don't have a round shape out in the middle of the area in front of your face.

The little things
   The Xunzi speaks on the death by a thousand cuts... and while not quite as torturous, sweating a lot of small details can often lead to big gains. These are things like smart cable routing on non-integrated frames/bars, number placement, aero brakes and chainrings, smooth shoes (Pro triathlete Thomas Gerlach has lately been advocating modified Giro Empires as very fast shoes) and even shaving. 

   While I don't quite believe that shaving your legs can gain you 20+ watts, I do think there is likely some benefit there. Cables out in the wind and poorly routed can often be costing you precious seconds, and will both make the bike cleaner, more efficient and faster. I've had excellent success in the past making very slick non-integrated cable routing using cable systems like Nokon's links. Shoes are certainly something that can make a big difference, large buckles and straps (and even boa dials) sticking out in the wind is surely not as good as a cleanly profiled narrow shoe... however again you need to figure out if the speed you will gain by swapping shoes will be negated because of increased difficulty getting into them. Time trialists have it easier, as we can use shoe covers. (Velotoze are cheap and usually good) The days of poor stopping, rare aero brakes (price an old Hooker brake some time) are thankfully behind us. Tririg is leading the charge with the excellent Omega series, and for a non-integrated front end it's high on the list of recommended upgrades. Aero cranksets/chainrings don't have a lot of definitive data on benefits, but they likely help a bit and of course, they look cool. (which is very important as well)

   There is of course so much more... wheel and tire interaction, where and how you hold your hands and head, saddle height, cockpit height, bar angle... more than you can feasibly put into a post like this! Maybe next time. Hopefully you found this post at the very least a little entertaining, and who knows, maybe you will pick up a little free speed!
Check out Mind Right Endurance for more tips, personalized coaching, and help optimizing your bike setup!

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

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

REVIEW: Silca T-Ratchet & Ti-Torque Kit

It seems like all I'm having a chance to review lately is Silca's line of products. And I'm happy with that, because they appeal to both the practical side of me, and the gear snob. As it should be.

Anyways, let's dig right in.

The T-Ratchet and Ti-Torque were a Kickstarter project (eventually reaching over 1200%) I became aware of shortly after it was announced. I'm not much of a Kickstarter kind of guy honestly, but I felt like this was a tool that should exist, and Silca has a big enough name behind it that I felt pretty safe in backing it.

I received mine in the first shipment and have had a chance to put it to the test, and I have to say overall I'm very happy with the money I spent on it. It's not a perfect tool kit, but aiming for the moon and landing in the stars is still something to boast about.

First, let's look at what comes in the package. We'll be talking about the (currently on Silca's website) $98.00 kit. The ratchet can be bought separately, but I think you are missing out if you don't get the torque wrench as well.

Everything neatly (and compactly) held in the carry case.

Included is the fancy canvas/nylon carrying case (something that's always appreciated to help keep up with things on the go) The T-Ratchet itself (which is actually 3 separate pieces that come together like Voltron to form what you need at the moment) the Ti-Torque extension, and 10 hardened steel bits (2,2.5,3,4,5,6 MM hex heads, a #2 Phillips, and T10, T20 and T25 Torx heads)

So, let's talk about the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good
There is a lot of good in this package.  As with all of Silca's recent offerings, there is a blend of utilitarian, well made parts mixed with a healthy dose of opulence. The ratchet itself is one of the nicest ratchets, mini or otherwise that I have ever used. With a 72t mech, it feels exactly like what it is, a well made high end ratchet. It functions equally well as a T-handle or as an extended wrench, the magnets hold each piece together firmly, and you are left confident that it's not just going to fall apart as soon as you take your hand off of it.

Nurse Ratchet

Transformer! (wait I already called it Voltron, dangit how many 80's cartoons will one post take)

The hardened steel bits are obviously high quality. There are few things worse to a mechanic than feeling the head of a cheap bit rounding off. If these bits are anything close to how the HX-one was built, then I feel confident that they will last a very long time. I normally use WIHA bits for my torque wrenches, and while if you put a gun to my head I'd probably give a slight nod to the German's (made in Germany so you know it's good) I think these bits are very close. Being close to what I think is the best (and full disclosure, a 5-7 piece WIHA bit set costs about 1/3 of what this whole package does) is very, very good. The red band that runs across all the bits is something that wasn't necessary, but is quite striking. It's also something you will be thankful for the first time you drop a bit onto your similarly colored garage floor.


The carry case is nice and durable. It looks classic, in the red and black style the Silca has been sporting recently. In my mind there are only a couple of things I ask of my carry case. I want it to be compact, which this case does well. I want it to securely hold what I'm storing in it, which the Silca case takes to almost an extreme (you won't accidentally pull an extra piece out when you reach for something.) and finally I want it to be durable. Choosing black to make up the primary color is a smart move, since greasy hands are often going to be fumbling around opening it. The canvas/nylon combo feels sturdy and the stitching is heavy. Even the small magnets are powerful enough to convince me it's not going to start flopping around if I hit a bump or toss it to a friend.

Finally there is the Ti-Torque. Let me preface it by saying it's not what I WISH it was. That doesn't mean what it is is not excellent, it just means that in Magical Christmasland I would have wanted it slightly different. Getting a torque range from 2-8nm into the small Ti-Torque had to be a challenge, especially if you wanted it to be accurate, and so it a very traditional style of torque wrench in that as you apply pressure to it, it turns around the collar (where there is a small line to measure against the shaft and it's lines of applied torque) until you hit the desired amount. No clicks, no settings, just a reading. Which absolutely gets the job done, but does it with none of the "in your face flash" that stands out on the rest of the kit.

Ti-Torque ready to go!

There is something more important than that "flash" though, especially when talking about a torque wrench. One question that is much more important than any other. Is it accurate?
Yes it is.

I was skeptical. Torque wrenches are notorious for being "too good to be true." Trusting one is a matter of care, calibration and vigilance. Having a torque wrench that isn't accurate is far more dangerous than just going by feel to tighten a bolt. So the real test came to pit the Silca against my current "small" torque wrench, the CDI Torqcontrol and also against my larger (recently calibrated) Snap-on  1/4 wrench.

Who can you trust?

There is a slight bit of art to it. The first couple of times using the Silca I'd guess most people will under tighten. After I warmed up to it and got a little more familiar to where the gauge landed translating to the torque on the bolt (odd numbers mainly) I got much closer. Checking it against the other two torque wrenches I'm confident that either it's quite accurate, or all of my wrenches are mis calibrated together!

Torque wrench in action

The Bad
There isn't a lot of bad to talk about, and pretty much all of it hinges on user error.
That said, the way the Ti-Torque works, there is a healthy amount of room. Hitting the right torque reading falls into 3 distinct categories.
- even numbers
- odd numbers
- fractions
The third one I included, but it's not a fair inclusion really, since I can't think of many bike parts that you'll be needing fractions to get the right rating. (Maybe a seatpost clamp? I think my Speed Concept maxes out at 7.2nm, but I might be wrong. Anyways, not much) That said, trying to hit the right fraction is probably as close as you can get to impossible.

Odd numbers are a little tricky, and get a little trickier depending on just how good your eyesight and lighting is. Measuring between two quite small white lines doesn't leave a lot of room for error, and while I'd argue that most parts can handle a little more than they are rated, it's not something I am thrilled to think about.

Even numbers are easy peasy. Line up the two lines and you are good to go. The only thing that might stand in your way is how close the lines run together, it's definitely good practise to measure twice, turn once!

trying to demonstrate the room for operator error

There is also the small problem (inconvenience really) that turning the torque wrench does obviously move the little indicators. I found myself having to adjust it back to where I could read it more than a couple of times while working on stem bolts. It seems like I was always turning it just out of easy sight right as I was hitting the right numbers. Of course with a ratcheting handle the solution is a twist away, but it is slightly annoying.  On the whole, I just wish it could have been an adjustable click type torque wrench. It would have taken all my complaints away and changed this from an outstanding tool to a life changing tool. I understand why it isn't, but I can still wish it was. As it stands, I'll still probably reach for my other torque wrenches when I'm at the house. (Which isn't a fair comparison to a very portable torque wrench, but one I'll make nonetheless)

The Ugly
Nope. Nothing ugly to see here.

Overall thoughts and impressions
I can't stress enough how excellent this kit is. Is it perfect, no... but it's ambitious and it delivers leaps and bounds over what the competition can muster. The closest competitor is the Topeak Nano Torqbar DX. My own personal feelings about Topeak aside, you are looking at ~$70 for their offering, which although does have preset readings, is limited to 4, 5 and 6nm settings. In my mind there is really no comparison there, as you are paying $30 more dollars to have a full range of torque up to 8nm, the bits (the topeak comes with 5 bits of it's own) and the excellent T-Ratchet. (Not to mention the carry case)

T Handle setup 
"normal" setup

Another view, with the extender

Extra length! 

I'm not a pro mechanic (by any stretch) but I work on a good number of bikes (my own and my friends) and I generally carry a fairly extensive amount of tools to local races. That said, I never have a torque wrench with me, as it's tough to carry something like the CDI (that's fairly portable) and just throw it in a tool box.  The Silca has changed that, now I'll always have a pocket sized torque wrench with me, one I can be confident in the readings.  That's a luxury that brings with it some piece of mind for me personally, as now that I've got into track riding changing parts at the venue is much more frequent. The T-Ratchet/Ti-Torque is meant to be a small, easy to take with you kit. That said, I wouldn't (and won't) feel bad using it in the garage frequently. Changing from a regular handle to a T handle on the fly is a nice convenience I'm happy to take advantage of, so I sure wouldn't be shy recommending this to somebody who is looking to pick up a nice "do it all" tool.

At $98 it's certainly not "cheap" but for what you are getting out of the kit it's hard not to call it a deal.  A very nice ratchet, an accurate torque wrench extension, high quality bits and a carry case... try pricing that out and then say it's not a deal, especially if you are looking at high quality tools like the Silca is.  I love tools, and I really like Silca's recent offerings, so perhaps I'm biased. Or perhaps they are just making excellent products. So yeah, thumbs up!

Thanks so much for reading, I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock