Saturday, December 19, 2015

Road cycling for Mountain biking endurance

If you want to become a stronger mountain biker then you should consider spending a little time on the road. The road offers the ability to fully dial in your training to what you need to improve rather than going out and ripping through the trails, and the road is more practical in terms of time efficiency. You can train your systems in less time due to the increased specificity of your effort. In 1 to 1.5 hours you can train your lactate threshold, anaerobic endurance and/or strength systems. For example during a mountain bike event if you’re on a very long climb and your legs are frying and need the additional sudden power to push through loose steep sections or clear various obstacles it's those higher end efforts developed on the road that can push you through. Mountain biking is a very on-off the throttle type of racing and training exclusively this way can limit your endurance and power. Additionally, if you raise your lactate threshold or functional threshold power the higher your max number, the higher your 70 to 80% effort will be as well. Training a little more on the road is simply just fast tracking your physical performance.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Cycling and wind

Windy days can be annoying, but in regards to training they can be the best days for endurance training. If you’re on a longer ride and experiencing a lot of head winds you need to maintain a consistent smooth high cadence with no coasting or soft pedaling. Keep your elbows tucked body low and tap into your cardio system. You'll last longer and have stronger legs longer into your ride if you’re not mashing a big gear trying to fight it. There's always other days for big gear training. Mother nature can through some crazy things at you but use them to your benefit and learn. Focus and use this opportunity to be mentally tough and you'll come out stronger.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

2016 Giant TCR photos by Doug Mathewson

When Doug Mathewson offered to take some studio photos of the new Giant TCR Advanced SL I jumped at the chance. I've know Doug for quite some time and consider his work some of the best I've seen. No matter what he's shooting, whether it's nature, action, portait, studio etc I'm always amazing by his images. Just click on the photo for a larger shot. I've also included some links to Doug's work here....

Monday, September 28, 2015

2016 Giant TCR Advanced SL 2

After reading all the positive reviews on the new for 2016 Giant TCR advanced line I decided it was time for a road upgrade. Currently my road machine is a 2010 Giant TCR Advanced SL which I purchased in late 09 and kept it for 6 years because it's such a great bike. The generation of TCRs after mine (2012 through 2015) in my opinion wasn’t enough of an upgrade to warrant a purchase. It certainly had positive tweaks in its design and some newer tech but the improvements weren't dramatic. Giant redesigned the TCR for 2016 and really nailed it. They shaved off 181 grams from the previous generation while maintaining the same stiffness. The frame is more slender and a little more aero but their intent was not to make this an aero bike, the Propel takes care of that, but an all-around balanced race bike. The down tube is still massive for incredible stiffness, the headset bearing is moved up slightly to better align it with the downtube making the front just a tad more stable.

Giant stated anyone can make a light bike or a stiff bike but to produce a light stiff bike is the challenge. Giant states this frame has the best weight to stiffness ratio of any bike they tested against. I went for the SL model because of the ISP or integrated seat post, love it or hate it the amount of engineering that goes into the ISP is much higher than non ISP's. The vertical flex of the ISP is quite amazing and adds lots of ride comfort while I can't detect any lateral flex what so ever. The proper flex is engineered into the carbon construction and not by some gimmick like some other manufactures utilize. For such a stiff bike the ride is quite good, unexpectedly comfortable for a full on race frame.

The saddle is the new Giant SL forward, while I’m sure it's great I just love my Sella SMP Stratos and I really need to stick with what works for me. I don't want to go through the hassle of fooling with saddles again. The bike came with Giant's new carbon wheel system. There are 2 versions that are offered on the Advanced SL line the SLR 0 which is a light 1331 grams and mine which is the SLR 1 which is 1425 grams, still pretty light. Both wheels are 30mm deep and the only difference is the hub and spokes, the actual rim is identical. I'll test them in another blog post as I haven't used them yet, though very anxious to try them. I decided to use a new set of Mavic Cosmic 40's which weight 1545 and switch wheelsets back and forth. Shifting is Ultegra mechanical with 52 x 36 front rings and of course 11 speed with 11 x 28 cassette. I love Shimano's electronic Di2 but I certainly don't have to have it and Shimano's mechanical shifting is phenomenal these days. Shifting is effortless. Enjoy the pics.
Lines of the frame have been smoothed out
compared to the previous generation.
Giant says the frame is 181 grams lighter than the
last generation TCR.

All Advanced SL frames use the T800 carbon
and have the Integrated seat post.

Internal cable route is very neatly done.
Frame is Di2 ready if you want to convert it over.

Bottom bracket is massive and stiff

Ant + ride sense

Finish on the frame is excellent. A flat finish that more or less
changes color in different light.

Like them or not but the ISP provides for an amazing ride.

New Giant SLR 1 carbon wheelset. They weigh in a 1425 grams.
They have some interesting new tech in the construction.
I'll do a ride report in the near future.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

2016 Giant TCX SLR Cross bike

This year I've decided to dabble into Cyclocross, nothing overly serious just train and get accustomed to the in's and outs of Cross riding and maybe compete next year. I'm the kind of person that likes to fully understand my equipment and how to use it before moving on to the next level. I just took delivery of a 2016 Giant TCX SLR 2 cross bike from Sean at Brookfield Bicycle in Brookfield Connecticut (Great store, fantastic people). Giant only makes 3 models of cross bikes for the US market, 2 carbon and 1 alloy, interestingly they don't make any entry level cross bikes as all the bikes are equipped pretty well. I'm a big fan of Carbon but this time I decided to go with the Aluminum model to keep the costs reasonable. Giant uses the ALUXX SLR for the frame which is their lightest state of the art alloy, fork is carbon and the steerer is the overdrive tapered headset. The frame also has asymmetrical chainstays to add stiffness. Cables are internally routed which is a great feature on a cross bike. Seatpost is carbon and is referred to as D-Fuse whereas the back is flat so they can build some flex into the seatpost, it's also easy to align your seat strait due to the shape of the post. Nice system.

Shifting is Shimano 105 11 speed, 11 x 28 cassette, Crank is FSA Omega 36/46. The disc brakes are TRP Spyre-C, Mechanical disc not hydraulic. The TRP's are considered one of the best in cable disc brakes as both pads move together to contact the rotor where some other systems one pad moves and actually bends the rotor to make contact with the secondary pad. They do feel quite responsive though not quite as crisp as hydraulics. Tires are Maxxis Mud Wrestler 700x33, a pretty good all-around cross tire. The wheelset is Giant's SX-2 which is on the heavy side and anytime you purchase a cross bike under 3000 dollars you generally get heavier OEM wheels. In all fairness I had a set of Giant SX wheels on a 29er mountain bike and while heavy they really took a beating and held up well. But still the first upgrade will be a tubeless lightweight wheel system. With a lighter wheel upgrade this is a real quality package and should be pretty competitive.

Then, hopefully next week my main course should arrive, 2016 Giant TCR Advanced SL 2 road bike. Full review to follow.

Nice paint layout for 2016

Bar tape is very thick and padded

FSA Omega crank with 36/46 chainrings

D-Fuse seat post. D shaped and flat in the back so flex can be
built in. Nice clamping system also. 

Frame has internal cable routing, neatly done. Makes cleaning mud
on a cross machine easier. 

TRP  Spyre-C cable disc is considered one of the better cable disc
systems on the market

Maxxis Mud Wrestler, good all around tire. Giant puts a marker
on their wheelsets to find the valve hole a little quicker,
nice touch

SX -2 Wheelset is a little heavy but pretty durable, Upgrade
will be a tubless carbon system.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

Athletes and cell health

Most athletes have never heard the word "telomeres", but as you age and want to stay completive telomeres become a very important term behind the scenes in human performance. Telemores are protective caps on the ends of your DNA strands and have an effect on how rapidly cells age. As we age the telomeres shorten, structurally they weaken, and cells age and die faster. Shorter telomeres are now associated with many forms of health issues including cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes etc.

There is a German study (reported in the New York Times) as well as others that showed that highly active runners over 50 had maintained telomere length close to highly active runners in their 20s. When compared to the sedentary population over 50 the sedentary crowd has shortened telomere length by about 16% suggesting that endurance training had kept the cells in excellent condition. In some Euro countries that think out of the box with regards to maintaining good health (unlike America) there's a serious push for Telomere testing. Unfortunately many people seem to gravitate to slower and less stressful activity levels over time as if we’ve somehow earned it, hopefully over time this mentality will change. Here's a link to an excellent article by Joel Friel as he explains in depth the relationship with exercise and Telomere health.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Schwalbe Thunder Burt 1st ride

Finally mounted the Thunder Burt’s and headed out for a spin. Sizing is 29 x 2.10 in snakeskin form, weight 515 grams compared to standard sidewall Racing Ralphs weighting in at 495 grams in the same size. In dry single track conditions I really couldn't see any difference compared to the Racing Ralphs as far as traction goes. Cornering in very tight loose trails is very similar between the two tires. The center lugs on these tires are so small you'd think they'd be awlfuI. I was only running the Burt's on back and stuck with the Ralphs on front which I find is common practice and with the small lugs on the Burt’s I'd rather not take the chance of the front pushing out. The one item I did feel was the slightly lower rolling resistance with the Burt's and that was to be expected with the lug design. Make no mistake this is a fast tire. I haven't had the opportunity to experiment in wet conditions and that's where I'm sure I'll see the difference. The Burt's are not suited for muddy conditions and most likely will be a hindrance in those conditions but that's for another day. Mounting them in tubeless form was painless and "popped" into the bead easily with the air compressor. Initially I have to say I'm pretty impressed with the overall performance, wet weather to come.
Thunder Burt's on left Racing Ralph's on right. Dry weather traction
is surprisingly similar. Both in size  29 x 2.10

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Anterior knee pain in cycling

While anterior knee pain can be caused by more than one issue, most cyclists ignore some common muscular imbalances brought on by a repetitive single plane motion sport. Many of these issues can be corrected by strengthening and stretching especially in the off season. A common weakness in a cyclist’s knee or runner for that matter is the VMO (Vastus Medialis oblique) which is located on the inside of the patella (kneecap). In cycling we seldom complete the last 35 degrees of knee extension which is controlled by the VMO. Over a long period of time the muscles along the lateral side of the leg or knee become stronger and sometimes tighter than the under engaged (VMO) medial muscles. This causes the patella to track improperly and cause irritation to the tissue under it. Sitting at a desk all day can just aggravate the issue as the knee is rarely extended engaging the VMO. Bike specific issues to be aware of that can contribute to this is a saddle that's too low or too far forward, pushing big gears or cranks that are too long.

Treating this issue involves stretching and rolling the lateral side structures (outside of the leg) and strengthen the VMO muscles. A few VMO exercises would be short arc single leg press and wall squats while compressing a ball between your knees. The process of correcting this issue is sometimes slow so patience is a must. Taping the knee properly by a PT can help relieve some pain and shorten the rehab period.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Altitude training and nutrition

The basic theory regarding altitude training is simple: when exposing an athlete to an environment that is low in oxygen the body will slowly adapt to the stress by getting more efficient at transporting and utilizing oxygen (Higher red blood cell count, and a stronger respiratory system). Lots have been written regarding this but what about nutrition and hydration when training at higher elevations?

Extra fluid intake is essential. Training at altitude means that breathing is shallower and more frequent meaning fluid loss through increased ventilation is higher. Additionally, sweat evaporates quickly due to dryer air so you are less inclined to drink adequately.

Your appetite can become suppressed by hypoxia so make certain you keep up with your calorie intake. There also seems to be a shift in calorie utilization with the reliance on carbs as opposed to fat stores. Carbs also attract water so increase your carb intake slightly over what you would do at sea level.

Iron is required to build hemoglobin so make sure you have sufficient ferritin levels prior to altitude training (ferritin is a protein used to store iron, it's concentration level gives a baseline of the bodies iron stores). Increasing your protein intake is essential in getting the iron that's required to manufacture hemoglobin as well as preventing illness and infections. Any Iron deficiency will negatively affect any altitude training.

It's important to be patient when beginning altitude training, pay attention to your body and don’t expect to feel great in the first few days and possibly up to two weeks.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Core conditioning affects

You might not relate the two together but strength in regards to your core can have a direct impact on your breathing and vice versa. I do recall a study on endurance athletes from 2007 that found by fatiguing the core during racing affected performance by causing more labored breathing. The diaphragm, which is the largest respiratory muscle act as both a stabilizing and respiratory muscle. If your core is weak you'll overtax the diaphragm forcing it pick up some of the slack affecting breathing efficiency or simply making breathing a llittle more difficult. So by strengthening the core you can actually affect a performance gain by breathing more efficiently.

A strong stable core provides more than just breathing performance, during cycling it helps a cyclist apply power from the center of the body providing a strong pillar so the athlete doesn’t have to rely primarily on the quads. It gives a stable platform or launch pad from which the quads can apply power more directly. When a cyclist's core is under conditioned and becomes fatigued they start a lateral rock that can affect the movement of the knees that can lead to injury. This rocking or twisting can also lead to back pain or discomfort as well as a loss of wattage. Toward the end of a long event when fatigue sets in is when all this stability work really pays off.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Your Brain on exercise

Up until recently, scientists thought a 20-year-old's brain was fixed and would never grow again. From then on, it went through a slow, inevitable decay, losing powers of decision making, memory, and multitasking, until an 80-year-old was left with a shadow of the original. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

People have been slow to grasp that exercise can affect cognition, just as it affects the heart and muscles. Scientists are proving just that by using biochemistry, and brain scanning tools. When our muscles contract certain chemicals are released including a compound called IGF-1. IGF-1 then sends signals to elevate other compounds that affect the brain including one called “brain derived neurotrophic factor” or BDNF. This compound builds up its levels with exercise and allows the brains nerve cells to branch out and communicate with each other. The higher the levels of BDNF and the brain appears to have a higher capacity for learning. If the brain’s capacity of BDNF is low it seems to shut itself off to new information says UCLA neuroscientist Fernando Gomez Pinilla.

In a recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that neurogenesis in parts of the brain can be induced easily with exercise. The hippocampus, an area that controls learning and memory is one of the first areas of the brain to erode responds well to BDNF’s effects.  Arthur Kramer, a psychologist from the University of Illinois” says “it’s not just a matter of slowing down the aging process but reversing it”. One of Alzheimer’s first targets is the hippocampus and the population that does exercise on a regular basis appears to have a lower ratio of developing the disease. Pinilla says Americans lazy lifestyles may be contributing to their high rates of the disease.

There are numerous biological changes that occur within the brain resulting from exercise. The blood and energy supply improves, active people have less inflammation in the brain, Serotonin, Dopamine, and epinephrine are all elevated after a bout of activity.
Like maintaining Weight mental fitness has to be maintained as well.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shimano Polymer cables

Since using the Shimano hidden cable system, which is designed to be more aerodynamic and give a generally cleaner look, I’ve had to replace the derailleur cable and housing every 1.5 to 2 years. Due to the sharper bends it causes a little more cable resistance and any breakdown of the cable and housing increases the resistance of shifting to the point it's really a pain to modulate the shift normally. The traditional higher end Shimano cables are PTFE coated which work great initially but eventually the "coating" wears off and accumulates inside the housing and causes increased friction and hard shifting. I guess it kind of balls up. Sean at Brookfield bicycle center recommended Shimano's newer cable and housing system for Ultegra 6800 and Dura ace 9000 that has a polymer coating that will not ball up inside the housing. Shimano also coats the inside of the cable housing with a silicone grease for added "slide". I decided to change only the rear derailleur cable and housing as every else is working well.

Overall summary:
This cable system is honestly amazing, shifting modulation is better now than when the bike came new with Jag wire cables. The polymer coating ensures extremely smooth lever movement. These cables are so slick that If you use these on the braking system it's recommended you scrape off the polymer coating where the cable anchors to the brake caliper fixing bolt as it's so slick it can slide past the fixing bolt, that’s how slick it is.
The Ultegra version of the polymer cables

You can see the actual polymer coating on the cables.
The redish coating can be scraped off where the brake anchor
clamps down as to prevent the cable from slipping loose. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Pacing and VO2max

 The percentage of VO2max that you can sustain for a specific amount of time is predictable.  For example, research has shown that 100% VO2max can be sustained for only about 8 to 10 minutes.  The longer the race, the lower the percent VO2max at which you’ll run it.  Talented, elite runners race a 3-K at about 98 to 100% VO2max, a 5-K at about 90 to 95% VO2max, and a marathon at about 80 to 85% VO2max.  Just like sustaining LT pace, the faster you are, the higher the percentage of your VO2max that you can sustain for a specific distance.  Therefore, the above percentages will be lower for average or below-average runners.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hyper and Hypo conditioning in cycling

The offseason is the perfect time to focus on correcting muscular imbalances as well as flexibility. Cyclists are notorious for isolated hyper conditioning and deconditioning in certain muscle groups due to always performing in a sagittal plane (toward the front). Major areas are hyper development of the quadriceps and glute muscles with chronic under development of the low back and abs as well as varying levels of deconditioning of the abductors and adductors. Abductors and adductors are largely responsible for frontal plane movements (side to side) but add stabilization to the overall lower body and assists in keeping your motion or mechanics correct. They also remove strain from surrounding muscle groups that would have to over compensate for the deconditioned areas. If anyone's fitness routine or sport is continually worked in the sagittal plane the frontal and transverse plane muscles become deconditioned thus affecting the body’s ability to function properly in a triplanar fashion eventually resulting in injury. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Schwalbe Thunder Burt. Initial review

In keeping my Giant Carbon XTC 29er in lightweight XC trim I decided to try the recently released Schwalbe Thunder Burt on the rear. I haven't actually ridden the Thunder Burt yet due to the crappy weather here but I'll give my initial observations and give a ride report as soon as the winter tones down. I've been using the Schwalbe Racing Ralph 29 X 2.10 in standard trim which Schwalbe now calls "lite skin" which weighs in at 495 grams. I find the tread wear is very acceptable but the sidewalls cut very easy. Running tubeless with Slime as a sealant has helped unless the sidewall "slashes" which can be an issue with these lightweight racing tires. The "snake skin" version of the Racing Ralphs weight in at 585 grams which while still light does add 90 grams. The Thunder Burt in lite skin form comes in at a feathery 435 grams and the snake skin at 515 in 29 x 2.10 sizing. With the added protection of the snakeskin and only adding 20 grams compared to the standard Racing Ralphs I definitely went in that direction. Schwalbe also makes a "race guard" version for the Thunder Burt that weights 490 grams but to my understanding it's only added puncture protection is along the center of the tire not the side walls which is what the snake skin is all about. I have yet to puncture badly enough along the tread area so the snake skin was the logical choice. Upon laying my eyes on the Thunder Burt's for the first time and not just a picture I admit I was a bit skeptical as the center tread or lugs are tiny.... I mean really small compared to the Ralphs. My first though was any mud or soft ground and I'm not going anywhere, though in the dry these tires are going to be fast, very fast. I've read a few other ride reviews that said while their tricky in the mud they are surprisingly much better than you'd think. In tubeless form and lower pressures some of this can be offset. I've included a photo comparing the 2 tires next to one another. The Ralph is mounted while the Burt is not but you can get an idea regarding the lug design. When I really did a close inspection and counted the lugs in a 2 inch square area (5 cm) the Ralphs have approximately 19 lugs while the Burt’s have 36. Even though there smaller lugs there are considerably more to offset the grip issue. Ride review to come.
Even though the lugs are much smaller on the
Thunder Burt there are many more lugs per square inch than
the Racing Ralph. Rolling resistance is very low making this
a very fast tire.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Performance in pro cycling

Ever wonder what separates pro endurance athletes from their amateur counterparts? First of all there's of course time to train. Working for a living and training requires the delegate art of balancing time. Beyond that here's the most notable differences in the physiology of top pro endurance athletes when compared to amateurs.

Interestingly, multiple studies show peak VO2max values are not that much different from non pro athletes, then again as I’ve written about in the past VO2max is quite genetic and can only be trained or enhanced about 10%. Seasoned pro's separate themselves during submaximal efforts. Importantly, lactate threshold profiles. Pros can maintain power levels upwards of 90% of their VO2max in comparison to around to 80% for amateurs. Even at these higher levels pros can sustain these levels longer and can still utilize some fat for fuel while nonprofessionals at 80% burn through their carb stores at a higher rate. Amateur's also have a more rapid rise in oxygen consumption at threshold.

The translation of all this means pros have more resistance to fatigue and greater efficiency allowing them to train day to day at higher intensities. All this is more centered around cycling due to
the measuring ability of power meters but the physiology is still the same for any endurance based sport.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Spoke tightening trick

Here's something to remember the next time you need to true your wheel which will make it a little less confusing. First, forget the stupid "righty-tighty/lefty-loosie" technique. Learn the "right-hand rule" for threading. Grab the spoke in your right palm. Orient your thumb in the direction you want to move the nipple. Point your thumb towards the hub to tighten, towards the rim to loosen. Your fingers will then aim in the direction you want to spin the nipple.
My thumb is pointed in the direction for loosening the spoke.
Turn the spoke in the direction my 4 fingers are pointed to loosen
the spoke.

Turn the spoke in the direction of my 4 fingers to
tighten the spoke.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Warm-ups in road cycling vs mountain biking

Too many coaches try to reinvent the warmup into a huge technical ordeal. Warming up prior to a race shouldn't take too much focus which is best saved for the event. For road cycling prior to a short fast race a solid generic warmup is just spin the legs for 5 minutes then go into a progressive 12 to 15 minute ramp up going thru heart rate zones 1 to 5. Afterwards cool down for 5. This should put you in the ballpark for a solid start.

In mountain bike racing try pre riding the course or part of it to engage your technical skills and familiarize yourself with the course. With mountain bike racing after you warm up you'll likely spend a long time on the start line so you'll generally cool way down. If it's a shorter race you'll end up going out pretty hard so it's important in training to practice hard front loaded efforts when cold. Typically in training practice 2 minutes all out followed by 5 minutes at tempo. Set aside an occasional training ride for these efforts and try 3 or 4 of these sets in one training ride. In between sets stand around for 5 minutes or so before attempting the next effort, this should help prepare you for hard race starts.