Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why Testing is important - The Outliers

Another theory blog? It looks like it. Seems like lately I've just had a lot of heavy stuff coming down on top of me that needs put into words. (Heavy for bike related stuff, not real life stuff)

If you like to nerd out on bike stuff (and, if you are still reading this blog I assume that has to be at least relatively true) then I'd say there is a very, very good chance you have either googled, posted on a forum or asked a friend / competitor "what is the best xxxx." Whether xxxx is helmet, shoes, bike, wheels, tires... whatever. And you almost certainly got an answer... more likely if you asked on a forum you got a LOT of answers, and a lot of contradictory ones as well.  Now, the overwhelming majority of those answers will come from a place of "I use/like this so I recommend it" or, slightly better they have read and regurgitated that x piece of equipment regularly tests better than y. Very few have actually done testing, of those even fewer have tested on a sample size other than themselves, and none have tested that piece of equipment on YOU.

So, you will find yourself at a crossroads with three possible paths to take.

  1. Just pick the one you like the best. This one requires the absolute least work on your part... and nonetheless, this is often a suggestion even I give people, because when it boils down to it if you are spending your hard earned money on this or that piece of kit, you have to like it. Buying a much faster aero helmet won't do you any good if you don't pick it up to use it in races because of whatever reason that "really" boils down to you not liking it.
  2. You do some research and pick the one that seems to be "best" on the most people. This is really just playing the odds and hoping that you are NOT an outlier. It requires a bit of effort on your part as you need to dig through quite a bit of information to find these kinds of things. A good example is aero helmets... most of the modern Giro helmets test very well on a wide variety of people, so it's a safe recommendation if you are in the market for an aero helmet to just pick up the one you can afford (A2's run under $100, Selectors a slight bit more and Aeroheads in the mid $200's) and bank on the "it's good for more people than it's bad for" odds. You obviously don't "know" you fit into that category, but it's probably the best you can do for a guess.
  3. Personal testing. There are many methods of individual testing, and when it boils down to it, most of them are relatively effective at giving a clear answer as to whether A or B is better. These methods each have their own benefits and negatives and can wildly vary in cost and accuracy. The "gold standard" is of course the wind tunnel, where you'll spend a couple of hundred dollars per hour but will get an accurate number with the minimal amount of heavy lifting required by you. There is velodrome testing that ERO and Aerocoach have made popular as an alternative to tunnel testing, generally a bit cheaper but with slightly more variables. Then there is the "at home" testing, the (currently) best of which is the Chung method. This will require at least a little work by you to figure out how to actually sort through the data, and you'll need a (accurate) power meter, something most of the semi serious athletes will already have access to. Seemingly the hardest part of Chung testing is actually convincing someone to take the time to go out and do it. If a power meter isn't in the budget, there is always the old fashioned rolldown test... which doesn't take any "extra" equipment other than a friend, a stopwatch and a hill... and the patience to do many, many repeats to try and eliminate botched data. Some of the old school guys used to take pictures from the front then cut out their silhouette and weigh it to measure frontal area (now much easier with something like photoshop) although frontal area is limited in what it tells. 

Personal testing is great for everyone, but it's especially important if you are the outlier. (See the circle of life coming together here? How do you know you are the outlier...) For most people, I think the Rudy Wing 57 is not a terribly great choice for an aero lid. Nonetheless, Rudy 50% discount codes abound and it's a very popular helmet. Most of the people I help with their testing find that the Wing57 is not great for them. On the flip side, the Aerohead is consistently the #1 helmet for folks. So it's my go to suggestion when people blind ask "what helmet." Nonetheless, an athlete just this weekend tested them head to head... the winner? The Wing57. In this case, If she had went with option 1 or 3 (which she did) she'd have gotten the best helmet. If she'd listened to me (option 2) she'd have picked a slower helmet. So you can see the dangers in randomness and in taking someone's (even good) judgment as truth.

I really got this reinforced into my head at the wind tunnel this past trip. I had a custom Nopinz supersuit that I had ordered last year that I had been wearing in my A-races. The thing was very difficult to get into, so I never took it out to my loop and field tested it, I just assumed it was a great suit. When I took it to the tunnel... I was giving up about 10 watts vs. my "backup" Castelli Bodypaint 2.0.  I was shocked. So every time it really mattered in a race I was penalizing myself 10 watts. Even the pastor needs the gospel reinforced to him every now and then.

Thank you guys for reading! I really appreciate it! Now go test!

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Triathletes and Reach

This week, I'm just going to ramble off into some musings about stuff I've noticed... Let this be your disclaimer that I'm not a certified fitter, professional, expert, guru or anything else you might attach some fancy title to... I'm just an athlete that pays attention and likes to go faster. Take any "wisdom" from this post at your own risk.

As I have made a transition into the world where staying UCI legal pertains to me, it has given me a new appreciation for how much I really liked a "long" bike. Primarily because now I have a limit on it.

It's something difficult to convey in pictures, especially my own because even now I attempt to "scam" the system by riding very far back on my saddle rails, which effectively "stretches" the reach once more. Here's a few pictures of my position over the years.
Circa 2012/13 still very much a triathlete Saddle is slammed as far forward as possible on a P3 w/ a long cockpit to keep a pretty good amount of reach

Much later (2016) my hands are still way over limit and my I'm still a few cm in front of the bb with a long front end.
Current. Saddle 8cm behind the bb extensions just a little behind the 80cm line.

 Like I said, the progression of my own is kind of masked by how much farther I end up traveling backwards to "emulate" the same stretching out. It's a little more obvious between pictures 2 & 3 above, as you can see just how much further (on the same saddle) I am sitting on my Fuji. (not to mention how much further back on the rails it is)

I'm limited as to what I can do now. It's go backwards or get more compact. Why go backwards to accommodate such a stretched front end? To go faster of course. In my own experience, reach is an excellent way to shift/remove two very big cylinders (your upper arms) from hitting the air head on. But if that's true, why are so many folks that have no "guidelines" to follow so compact. Specifically triathletes, who can ride pretty much anything / way they want. I'm not suggesting for the general population to go full on superman... but they literally aren't restricted from it. The position above is nothing new, the "deep/down diver" has been around long before I was ever turning cranks. Here is one fellow who knew a bit about going fast

What a beast, right?

So if guys are trying to stretch out under the watchful eyes of "big brother" and doing some extreme stuff to get there, why aren't the guys that have no rules?

I've been helping some athletes the last few weeks to get faster... that is, more aero on the bike. One common theme I have is that the guys/gals that want to do races where they *might* have to pass a jig are ALWAYS beyond the 80cm length limit. (These athletes, as a disclaimer, are already very, very fast and have almost to a rule come to lengthen their cockpit on their own before ever talking to me)  This usually ends up with us moving them backwards on the saddle and in some cases going the more extreme/costly route of putting them on di2/etap to get them a couple more cm. (Don't get me started on how you measure mechanical shifters...:rolleyes:)

What I've found very interesting is that most of my triathletes are very near meeting the 80cm rule without any prodding. (or necessity) Look at a state level TT'er, arms are very obtuse (like Obree's / mine) look at a triathlete, that same angle is almost always 90° on the dot (or within a couple degree)

I'm not going to throw anyone under the bus (even some random off of google search) by posting "look at this position, isn't it meh!" but you can do a search of your own "triathlete bike position" into google will bring you hundreds of examples. You'll see some outliers, but you are also going to see a whole lot of "90°/115°/150°" folks out there as well.  I suppose it makes sense, as there are so many fit "systems" that basically revolve around this, and as no surprise, almost all of them are focused towards triathletes.

Sure, you can search for "TT bike fit" or even "track bike fit" but the interesting thing is that in either of those searches you will come up with a lot less info. In fact, TT bike fit will almost certainly just bring you results for a tri bike fit, as the two are so often lumped together despite being truely different disciplines. For track fit... well you'll basically get a couple of tips on slightly adjusting your road bike / tt (tri) bike fit...maybe.

Am I going to put a tri fit system (I won't pick any out in particular, as most follow very similar guidelines) on blast. Absolutely not.  I think some very good, efficient fits come out of them, whether it's FIST, Guru, BG, about 1000 websites, whatever. They have excellent broad guidelines to get pretty much everyone into a "decent" position that is relatively sustainable. Unfortunately, that's often where the fit ends for the majority of people. Instead of a tool, it's often used as a crutch by the person doing the fit, which is why you see so many athletes in cookie cutter positions. Certainly, as I've said before, you shouldn't necessarily have a long distance triathlete and a 25mi TT'er in the same position, but neither should be limited by a system that isn't taking them specifically into consideration.  I know 90° supposedly is the easiest way to support your upper body skeletally... but in practice it's often not any more difficult for somebody to support themselves at a much more obtuse angle. The key is to experiment and not be a slave to a system or the accepted common knowledge.

Andrew Coggan said this many years ago, and I still believe it's one of the quickest ways to get into a "fast" position with minimal input.

 If my goal were to set myself up
in an aero position with minimal drag and I didn't have access to a wind
tunnel, I'd just drop the elbow pads far enough down below the saddle
that my shoulders (acromion process) were within a couple of inches of
being level with my hips (head of greater trochanter), move the elbow
pads in to where my arms were as narrow or perhaps narrower than my
thighs when viewed from the front, tilt the aero bars up
ever-so-slightly, and keep my head down. I'd then go out and ride the
bike - hard - in that position and see how far foward (and thus up) I
needed to move the saddle to where my thigh-torso angle was similar to
the "working position" on my road bike. I'd then ride the TT bike for at
least one hour - hard! - each week for at least 6 weeks before any race.
Sounds crude, I know, but for a flat TT this neanderthal approach will
probably get you to within about 1 km/h of your maximal speed.

That's pretty much what I did above. I'm of the impression that this works well for just about everyone, with enough time to adapt to it. Don't take that as me saying "use this, not this" system. I'm just sharing ways people have been doing it for many years, but the vast majority of athletes do not know.

My whole point of this post (if there is one) is that we spend tons of income on go fast goodies that we hope will make us faster. Helmets, cranks, bearings, chain lube, etc (all great things) but for those of us without "limits" (again, speaking of UCI) - basically all triathletes and *most* non-elite level time trialists - maybe we should start looking at how we can make our bodies the big improvement. Don't be afraid to experiment... take measurements of where your position you are comfortable with is RIGHT NOW, then experiment slowly with changes. Maybe you'll hate it, in which case you can go back to your original setup... but maybe you'll like it. Maybe it'll make you slower... maybe faster. Never settle... continue exploring and looking for something better!

Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Tunnel Fun

And so I've returned from A2 with some new insight and some slightly alleviated fears, along with one or two issues to work out. There is much to discuss but unfortunately not nearly as much that I can share currently (for a couple of very different reasons) so I apologize in advance.

The first thing I have to lament is that before leaving home I decided it was time to cut off my Peter Sagan - like locks. My hope is that it did not have a Samson-like effect...

Just a picture of the first leg shave of the year...

I drove down to Rock Hill on Thursday morning to do some pre-testing on the track. These numbers would be very helpful in validation since we don't actually ride in a wind tunnel and there is always some fear that what we find "inside" doesn't translate as well to the real world. There is more to the story about testing on Thursday, but it's not for me to expand upon at this time... let's just say it was a learning experience and that there are some very exciting things just around the corner for aero nerds.

Unfortunately my wife had to stay in TN and work (somebody has to be responsible while the rest of us play) which left me pretty much stuck around the hotel and surrounding area for the rest of the day. I took the opportunity to catch up on some of my recovery and basically just sat around watching Youtube video's and checking Slowtwitch every hour or so until bedtime. Unfortunately the one thing I couldn't do was fall asleep... so I tossed and turned on and off until I thought it was "reasonable" to get up and start trying to turn hotel instant coffee into something drinkable. I was not terribly successful, but it did tide me over until the real coffee was brought out to enjoy.

Friday I spent the majority of the morning just wrenching everything on the bike and making sure that I had not forgotten anything important for the tunnel visit. The drive from Rock Hill to A2 was estimated to be about an hour, so in my typical anxious fashion I left with plenty of time to arrive at my scheduled time of 12:30... I left around 9:30

Needless to say I had plenty of time to kill in Mooresville when I arrived. I explored a nearby Starbucks (the same as every other Starbucks I'm afraid) and then found a deserted (literally... I was there almost an hour and was the only person/vehicle/lifeform around) park that I walked the perimeter of in a thinly veiled attempt at passing the time.

When I arrived at A2 I was greeted by Heath and Geoff. We walked through a basic outline of what I wanted to test and then started unloading my car of all the junk I had brought with me. For the course of the weekend (including some training) I had a disc rear, ghetto disc (cover) front, 5 spoke, 3 spoke, training tubulars front and rear, 3 aero helmets (Aerohead, Spec TT, Kask Bambino) two aerobars (USE Tula and 3T Brezza Nano) and some skinsuits (team short sleeve castelli, Bodypaint, Nopinz Supersuit) along with two boxes of tools/spare parts and my drop bars. Whew... There was not much room in the car!

I tested at low yaw (0 and 2.5°) for all my runs, with the sweeps only on the controls, as I was looking for track data. I won't bore you all with every run and how many watts it changed (most of my changes were very small.) but I will mention a couple of things that ended up surprising me.

Run #1

- A trispoke, 5 spoke and (again, rigged up) front disc were all very close at 0 (and 2.5) with the disc slightly edging the other two out. What was very impressive was that my 5 spoke is a no-name Chinese knock off wheel, although one everyone who has looked at it has been impressed with. It also measured pretty narrow (~20mm at the rim) and with a 19mm Evo Pista tire on it one would assume it'd be pretty good at low yaw. Actually, at 0 yaw I would have expected the disc to possibly do the worst simply because it had a 23mm GP4ksII on it (compared to the 19mm Evo on the 5 spoke and a 20mm SuSo on the H3) I guess there is truly no replacement for depth.

- All the (fast) helmets I tested were pretty close, with the majority of them being within about 5w of each other (I tested the Specialized TT in small and medium, the aerohead - best, Poc Cerebral, Catlike long tail, and the Bambino, with the medium Spec TT being the worst and the small being second best) I expected a larger delta in the bambino honestly as I've heard it's often pretty bad. I went in expecting the Spec TT to be best, but it seems what we've been told about the aerohead being great is pretty true.

- UCI legal bars that are supposed to be fast (Tula's, 3T Nano's) were very, very close to one another. Within the margin of error I'd think. Maybe finding some narrower Tula's would be slightly faster still, or perhaps having better plugs (they had small cable holes in them) for the 3T's would have pushed it in favor of one or the other.

- Skinsuits were somewhat surprising. I truly expected my very nice Nopinz skinsuit to come out on top, but it was nearly 10 watts worse than my Body Paint, and around the same as my short sleeve Castelli (really a CX skinsuit w/pockets) and worse than the Cuore suit Heath let me borrow. In defense of the Nopinz, I didn't have two numbers pinned/glued to the other skinsuits, so it's possible that delta would be different on the road. Also of note is that my Supersuit was custom sized for me at 150ish lbs. At 165ish lbs it was a very, very tight squeeze. (it fit snug at lower weight) it was constricting in the core when bent over, and it's possible that had some effect. Long story short though, the off the shelf Body Paint suit is a slippery bit of kit.

- Lowering my position was not better for me. In fact my tallest bar height was best. That was very surprising, and I'd guess has a lot to do with how I hold my head (much higher) on the track.  Being higher helps open up the hip angle, so I'll take it. Likewise, raising my saddle a cm didn't negatively impact the CdA (which I also found surprising) but again, more comfort at the same speed is certainly something I'm interested in.

- Holding my hands higher was a pretty big jump for me. This was Heath's idea and it was a valuable one. Gripping the end of the extension with my pinkie and letting my hands "sit" on top was the second biggest change. Of course, this is VERY difficult to hold on the track... but I've got something in mind to help with that (and put the 3D printer to use!) already in the works.

All of our control runs were very close, and we spent the last bit of my time doing a long control run to see if there was any variation as I went along. All was very neat and close.

Final position/equipment

Later I checked in the data I had taken at the track and compared with the tunnel data. The two days lined up very nicely, which was a great bit of validation that what we had tested in the tunnel would actually translate to the real world.

Thanks very much to Heath and Geoff, they made the experience much better than just data collecting. Both guys you'd drink a beer with, not just listen to prattle off on a forum or an email. Also thanks to the folks at the Giordana Velodrome, who are always excellent folk to be around. And to the other genius out there who I won't name, a special thanks as well. I appreciate your insight more than you know.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Quick catch up before heading to the tunnel

Well, it's time to head back into A2 (on Friday) and nail down some numbers. I had hoped to source a front disc in time but ended up coming up short, so I'll just have to assume "it's better." (at least inside) That's life.

I've already hashed out what I'm hoping to gain from this trip to the tunnel, so I'll save you the repetition and we'll just see how it turned out in a week or so.

As for my 3D printer adventures, I've honestly spent most of the last week just working ON the 3D printer... it's the perfect piece of kit for somebody who loves to just try out different stuff for no real reason. "Does this xxx work perfectly as is? Yes? Then let's take it apart and try to improve it!" Mindset has gotten me into trouble a few times in the past I admit...

Nonetheless, I got a couple of good toys out of it already. Behold the evolution of my 3T risers. I wasn't too keen on paying $80 for a 10mm riser, so I just printed some!

Add caption

The first draft I just tried to make as close to the 3T ones as I could. After a run or two of them I decided that they weren't quite beefy enough to make me feel safe on them. The revision I totally filled in the design instead of leaving it hollow, aside from the two holes for the bolts of course. I also printed them in black.

These turned out much nicer. They are plenty strong to survive the forces put on them and they totally blend in with the bars. I'm not sure if I'd be willing to print very tall risers (definitely not something like 60mm ones)  in PLA/ABS, but I think stacking a few would probably be fine.

Installed (only the forward facing bar) they totally blend in and look stock

There are some interesting and exciting applications to fit with something like this. It would be very easy to print a riser in 12mm of rise, something you couldn't buy from the factory if it dialed in your position. You could also angle the risers to help with a "mantis" like position. All kinds of neat things that *can* be done, if only somebody had enough time to play around with it and make it!

Off to Carolina. See you all next week!

- Christopher Morelock

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Third Dimension

Very quick update this week. Tax time for a used car salesman means it's been a slightly busy week. Anything to feed the addiction, right?

While this toy was purchased primarily for work applications (right, wink wink) I have no doubt I'll be able to get a couple of good results out of it for cycling.

Rise of the machines?

I'm fully out of my element, I took a couple of classes on 3D modeling in college (Is Maya still a thing!?)  and have some very, very basic knowledge of CAD software, but this thing is like a science project on steroids. Time will tell if it is a life changing piece of equipment, or just a toy.

Thanks for checking in on me, I promise we're going to get back on normal content schedule in the near future.

- Christopher Morelock