Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Double chainrings finally practical for fast bents? 12s, XD drive, and super-compact 2x.

Of all the bikes out there, fast recumbents need the widest gear range of all. We go faster on flats and downhills than any other platform, but we can not stand on climbs, and we and our bikes are generally heavier. More than anyone out there we need wide range triple chainring drivetrains. Right?Right!

But there are problems with this. No one ever made a triple (3x) drivetrain with the range we need. the rear derailleurs can not handle all the extra chain in the small small combinations. I have a 54/39/27 crank and a 11-32 11s cassette. In the 27t chainring, almost half of the cassette leaves the chain slack! I can still use the gears, so it's not a big problem, but that's not ideal.

Lately things have been getting worse. Triples are going away in favor of all manner of doubles (2x), and, shudder, 1x! My set up leaves me with a gear range of 130.2-22.4 gear inches. I have calculated that to duplicate my current range of gears with 1x requires a 50t chainring, and a 10-60t cassette! To get the nice steps between gears it would need to be a 17s cassette too! That is well over a decade out, if ever. To make matters worse, you cannot entertain the thought of electronic shifting with a triple.

I have considered a compact double a few times in the past, but with 11s or even 12s I would want a 52/34, and would need an 11-40t cassette. The gaps between the small cogs would be too big so I would need a separate 11-32t or smaller cassette for flat rides and races. The great thing about my current 3x setup is that I can do everything with one cassette, so I don't want to give that up. Plus a 52/34 is not something any front derailleur will officially shift, let alone an electric one.

So what has changed? 4 things.
  1. SRAM is going to 12s for road groups. 
  2. The SRAM XD drive freehub bodies are gaining popularity. They allow the use of a 10t small cog on the cassette. SRAM is expected expand use of this from MTB to road with their new 12s road groups. It will be called XDR. The R is for road. 
  3. Super-compact 2x cranksets are now a thing, with 46/30t rings. There are even 46/30t rings being made to fit on some current compact 2x cranksets! Thank you gravel market!
  4. I have decided I can give up the 54/11 gear (130.2 gear inches). I am running fatter tires every year, which helps mitigate this a bit. I am getting older too. 
How does this all work together to give you the range and the reasonable gear spacing you need? 
  1. 12s just gives you one more gear range while maintaining reasonable gaps between gears. For me a 11-28t cassette has reasonable gaps in 10s, and an 11-32t is good in 11s. So it makes sense that an 11-36 is good in 12s. 
  2. XD drive means I can actually go to a 10-36t cassette. 
  3. Super compact rings mean that while we still see a 16t max gap between the 2 rings, as we get smaller in ring size, 16t gives a greater percentage gear difference. The difference between a 52 and 36 is 44%, but a 46/30t is over 53%. So in smaller chainrings a 16t gap, which works with most 2x front derailleurs, gives us more range. 
Behold the comparison (thanks to Sheldon Brown). New double on the left, old triple on the right. This is for a 700x28 tire. I give up less than one gear on top, dropping from 130 to 122 gear inches. My low gear drops a hair from 22.4 to 22.1 gear inches. As far as reasonable gaps between gears, I go from a range of 7.1-15.8% to 7.7-16.7%. Tolerable. In the critical area for riding hard on flat ground (roughly 80-110 gear inches for me) I still have 4 gears. Instead of using the 54t with the 13, 14, 15 and 17, I will be in the 46t ring and the 11, 12, 13, and 14t cogs. I spend a lot of time in the 54/14 combination in training rides/races, now it will be the 46/12. 

This chart shows you can get almost the same gears with a 26" or 650c wheel with a 50/34 chainring combination.

This chart shows you can get almost the same gears with a 24" (520mm) wheel with a 55/38 chainring combination. Now the gap between the rings is starting to exceed 16t, which may not work as well with a double front derailleur. You may want a 56t as well. 

  1. Lighter for sure. 
  2. Simple front shifts.
  3. Simplified shifting in general.
  4. Electronic capable. 
  5. Less boom flex in the small ring, because it's bigger than the inner ring on the triple was. 
  6. No chain slack?
  7. Triples are getting harder to find. 
  1. Slightly faster cog/ring wear. 
  2. Slightly more drivetrain rumble from the small cogs. 
  3. More boom flex in the big ring, since its now smaller than what the triple had.  
  4. As with most steps to more cogs on the cassette, chains get narrower, and the tolerances in the parts doing the shifting need to be tightened up, which costs money. 
  5. Not much available in oval chainrings yet. Absolute Black makes some, but they are not adjustable to a recumbent position like Rotor's Q-rings. 
  1. Yes, the 10-36t cassette I show is fiction. I made it up. I bet a 10-32 will exist shortly. Not sure about a 36. Lets hope the gravel market continues to drive innovation. 
  2. Even if it does exist, it may only be intended for a 1x system, and a rear derailleur capable of shifting a 10-36t may not exist in a road group. Hopefully SRAM keeps with their history of making road shifters work with and 10s MTB rear derailleurs, and that 10s rear derailleurs will work on 12s+, unlike Shimano. Or use a JTek Shiftmate 9
The future: 
  1. When/if monotube recumbent frames get stiffer the boom flex issue in the big ring will diminish. 
  2. If at the same time they are also available to fit riders better, the ability to climb at lower speeds will improve, so there may be a desire for one or 2 more low gears say a 40 or 42t cog. By the time that happens I may accept a compact plus 42/26 or 40/24 2x combination for the chainrings instead. 
Crank/chainring/spider options:
  1. Super-compact cranksets:  
  2. More super-compacts and smaller!
  3. Engin cycles makes a super compact spider for SRAM cranks, but its not on their site: Picture:
  4. You can even just remove the outer ring from your triple and install a 46t ring in the middle spot. Leave the outer position empty or get a chain guard. Since no one makes a 12s compatible triple, ring spacing may be an issue. Dana at did set up a bike like this years ago.
Why chainring size affects boom flex.

Let's cross our fingers!!

PS. Just came across the 3T 11s 9-32 Bailout cassette!! So if we take the above principle one step further.....

...and this cassette might exist!! See that as the rings get smaller, a 16t tooth gap is now 61.5%. That's how we get enough range out of a double.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Road tubeless has arrived!!!

That's right! In fact it arrived over a year ago. At first the big plus to road tubeless was that it got a lot of folks to use sealant. With sealant, you only have to stop and repair half your flats, or less. The rest take care of themselves. Have a look here to pick a good sealant.

But now the data from Jarno Bierman at Bicycle Rolling Resistance shows us much more. Jarno has been doing independent rolling resistance tests for a few years now, and not just on road tires. Unlike others who have done this work, notably Tom Anhalt and Al Morrison, Jarno has been doing puncture tests too. This way you get a more complete picture of each tire.

Now, click here and have a real close look at the data. We all expect that as tires go down the list from fast to slow, that puncture resistance will tend to increase. Generally for road tires, fragile means fast, and heavy means slow. So look down the list in the puncture resistance column. One good way to pick a fast tire is to decide how much puncture resistance you need, and look for the tires nearest the top of the chart that have enough. If you do this, you will see what I see. At almost every step up in puncture resistance, at tubeless tire is the fastest! Have a look down the Puncture Test column:
  • 8/5 Vittoria Corsa Speed G+ , the fastest road clincher, period.
  • 9/5 Hutchinson Fusion  Galactik TL, first tire to hit 9 on the tread.
  • 11/6 Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless, first tire to 11 on the tread and to 6 on the sidewall. 
  • 12/8 Schwalbe One Tubeless, first tire to 12 and to 8, and its a few years old. 
  • 13/8 Schwalbe Ironman Tubeless, first tire to 13 on the tread, older and hard to find though. 
  • 16/9 Panaracer Race A Evo 3, the only tire to hit 9 on the sidewalls!
  • 20/7 Pirelli Cinturato Velo TLR, first and only tire on the list to hit 20 on the tread!
You can see that at both the fast end and the most puncture resistant and of the chart, tubeless dominates. Between each of these tires are almost all tubed tires that are slower and easier to puncture. So at a lot of puncture resistance levels, these tubeless tires are the best choice.

The tubeless advantage is actually even bigger though. His puncture test involves trying to push a 1mm drill bit through the tire, at the tread and the sidewall. He adds weight until it goes through. In other words, this test does not involve holes being sealed by sealant. This is purely a test of the tires toughness, with both tubed and tubeless being judged evenly. A 1mm hole is easily sealed by sealant. A tire without sealant will go flat. So his puncture test does not favor tires with sealant in them. Another way to look at this is that if you run sealant, you can effectively add a few points to his puncture resistance scores!

The Continental Grand Prix 4000S2 has long been favored for its superb combination of speed and puncture resistance. Its a very popular tire. The Schwalbe Pro One and One are both faster and more puncture resistant. These 2 tires have had teething pains, but stellar warranty support, and my last set of both have been solid. The new Pirelli breaks new ground as it blows the old Gatorskin away, and in 35c would top the tour tire category as well. I am hopeful the new GP5000 TL will slot in ahead of the Pro One in both rolling resistance and puncture proofness, setting a new mark. 

With tubeless and sealant, you will have many fewer ride stoppages due to flats. The only downside is that if the sealant cannot seal it, it will be a mess to fix. Bring a tube, just like when you used tubed tires. Just don't plan on needing it nearly as much! Sealant can make a mess, but its a lot easier to clean off then chain lube or grease!

Some of these tires are fast and tough enough that even if you don't have tubeless compatible rims, or just are not ready to try tubeless yet, they are the best choice with tubes as well! There are sealants that work well in both butyl and latex tubes too. 

If you ride bikes with nonstandard tire sizes, you still don't have an excuse, as the Pro One and One come in almost all sizes from 406mm (20") to 584mm (650B/27.5") too.  The new Continental GP5000 will also be out in both 650B and 700C. 

Why are these tires all so good? Perhaps the design changes needed to make a tire tubeless compatible make it more durable.  Perhaps these manufacturers are putting most of their development budget into tubeless, and not tubed tires. 

So it comes down to this. If you want to deal with fewer flats on the road, you want sealant. If you are going to run sealant, it works better in latex or tubeless tires than it does in butyl tubes. Why run an expensive latex tube when you can run tubeless with tires that are faster than what you have now? 

The tires are a bit more expensive, but you don't need hardly as many tubes. Using tubeless rim tape on your wheels is a good idea anyway as it makes mounting tubed tires easier too, and its less likely to move like some other tapes can. Its time to go tubeless on the road!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

2018 Cheesehead-Roubiax ride report. Gravel in Wisconsin!!!

So I am on a road trip and had the sense to bring 2 sets of wheels for my Bacchetta CA3. On one set of Flo30s is a pair of 28mm Continental GP4000S2s. On the other set is a Panaracer Gravel King in 700x32c in front (almost exactly the same size as a 28mm Continental), and a a 700x32c Vittoria Voyager Hyper in back. These are about the biggest tires you can fit in a CA2/3 with X-eyed brakes. Why did I do this? Wheels take up space in a small car.

Gravel!!! I have done a few gravel roads over the years in Florida, and other places. I like it! Less traffic, and you have to pay attention more to the surface you are on, so it keeps you focussed.

So being in Wisconsin for a while, I was bummed to miss the Dairy-Roubaix. I did however have time for the Cheesehead-Roubaix! Its a 63 mile ride with about 10 miles of gravel. They rate the gravel sections just like the cobbled sectors of Paris-Roubaix, one through five stars, five being the hardest. I used google street view to get an idea of that I was in for. Sure enough, the 4 star and less sections looked just like pea gravel and hard pack. Rough texture but pretty well groomed. The first section was the only five star, Lovers Lane. This was a mile of washed out jeep trail, with sections of deeper loose gravel, big drop offs in the washed out areas, and a serious grassy crown between the deeper wheel ruts. Its mostly uphill too with 2 steeper sections. Here is what it looked like in the rain last year.

Tuesday before the ride I drove out with the CA3 and my MTB to scout the worst section. I rode in on the MTB first. Easy. Only issues I needed to worry about were: having enough speed to steer well on the bumps next to the washed out sections so I did not fall into them, picking the best line through the ruts, staying clear of the deep gravel, and of course not pinch flatting on anything. So I got back the car and switched bikes. It was all pretty uneventful on the CA3, except the top where it was hard to find firm ground next to the deep gravel in the tire ruts. I settled on the far left edge and made it without putting a foot down. Alright then. If I have the choice of riding 63 miles with 53 miles of road on the bent vs the MTB, the bent is way faster. I figure I can deal with the gravel.

Event day!! Now here is the really cool thing about a lot of gravel rides. Many are not sanctioned by any governing bodies, so ride the bike you want! Yeah, I got some looks at the start. Many have no entry fee, but donations are accepted (and really recommended if you want to support the event). Turns out there were 300 riders, so they decided to start in 2 groups. I was ready to discuss or accept any assignment directed at me specifically due to the bike, but there were none. Instead, all USAC category 1-3 riders where asked to go to the front group, so I did that. My plan was to try to get to Lovers Lane in front of the front group, or at least in a small group. I wanted to have line choice, and impede as few others as possible if I did not. Well, I tried to get away, but with all the little climbs, and a group of 80 or so chasing, that did not happen. As I recognized that we were close, I slowed and motioned all the group by me. As we turned right onto the gravel I suddenly realized that I was not in the right spot here either. I was already passing people again! On the double track I was just rut hopping from one side to the other to keep advancing. About half way up I had passed about 12 and was riding on the crown to avoid some rocks when a DF rider 2 bikes in front of me crashes and flips his bike sideways in the road. I dive for his bar and get by the guy in front of me, and the bars, or so I though. My bike magically shifted into the 11t cog! I get off and realize that something must have hooked my rear derailleur cable housing and pulled it out of the chainstay stop. It took a minute to get going again. Well, not as bad as a flat. I had to walk the gravel on the last pitch too, as the 80 riders in front of me had scattered it all over, and there was no smooth line. Maybe I should have stayed at the front of the group, or the middle?  Here is a sequence of me before the crash:

So, time to chase. I was now farther back then I should have been. I got groups together a few times, took long pulls on the flats, then they would all launch past me on the climbs, doubling or tripling their power outputs. 5 minutes later I would be riding past the strongest one of them. My pulls were appreciated though. I did this a few times, and had a nice group of 5 together when we passed the rest stop. Lots of riders there. I was all set with 3 bottles, so I kept at it, alone. I was making progress on a group of 8 or so in the distance. I turned onto a sector of gravel and watched them crest a hill. I crested the hill, and they were no where to be seen. In the distance, I saw a rider stopped. So I went all the way too him. He did not know the course either. Just as we were laughing about this, we see the next group of 20 or so make a turn North just past the crest of the hill! We back track and chase. Its hard to paint turn arrows on dirt I guess, and there was no sign. My Garmin was not being much help either. I missed a few more turns, passed a few single riders and smaller groups and eventually got caught by 2 if the 5 guys I was with before the rest stop. They wanted to know how I made it through Lovers Lane. I still had an arm covered with cockleburs to show for my efforts. I told them that they were seriously messing with my aero, and that all I had. We had fun for the next 10 miles to the finish.

At the fire house, the crew had lots of options, brats being the most important in Wisconsin. Everyone was just throwing them 10s and 20s instead of the prices. This led to a good donation amount. I came to the food line just in time to hear the 4 guys in front of me asking did you see what happened to "that guy" to each other? Yep, "that guy" was me. We had a fun talk. I was talking to another few guys later, about tire choices. Nice talk. As I am riding away I hear one of them say,"That guy is nuts!" Nuts, but I sure had a fun ride! I think I finished in the top 15% or so. Not bad considering my fitness and the challenges.

So what did I learn? I don't know that it would have helped much on Lovers Lane, but on the other sections I would have been faster on even fatter tires, with less air. I had to back off the power several times due to fishtailing, or my front wheel bouncing around too much. I had mine at 60f/55r. Now knowing that the pinch flat hazard was not big, I could have gone lower with the air. I really want to get up to about a 40mm tire. Word is that is the fast size for Dirty Kanza/DKXL and a few other events. That is not going to fit my CA3 without voiding the warranty by removing the whole area around the rear brake bolt, and a different fork that is going to elevate the front of the bike a bit. I am still convinced that if its dry, tread on the tires is not required. Hoping to try some 36c Challenge Strada Bianca's or something bigger soon. Here is a review of them and the front tire I was using. I'll be looking for something as fast as a Compass Pass tire, but more puncture proof. For a frame and fork, if I want to keep running 700c tires, and I want to because they will roll better, I need to look beyond Bacchetta.

Addendum 5/25/18: Just realized that BelgianWerkx who puts on this ride is also a sponsor of the JBVCoaching CX team! Yes, I am a bit disconnected, from CX.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

High performance U-bars, stem and riser for recumbents.

Let me make a few prefaces first. If you are looking for handlebars that are adjustable in length and width and grip flare angle, consider Schlitter J-bars as seen on the Schlitter Encore, available from Jacquie and John Schitter at Schlitter Bike. These bars a very easily folded for a travel bike too. Do keep in mind that grip flare angle will be a function of width. If you just want bars with adjustable length, consider Rans 3Way Bars, available from Jerrell Nichols and team at RANS. Both these bars make great sizing tools to figure out what size custom bar you need too. You can even use the RANS bar with my suggested stem and riser below. If you are very concerned with weight, both bars are pretty light. both are easier to shop for and set up as well. I believe many riders would enjoy their riding more with a focus on bike fit and handling though. 

The above are simpler to set up than what I describe below. But keep in mind, you can have a shop do this for you too. 

This configuration has a range of applicability with regards to boom length. If you have a boom of 12.5" (current Medium Bacchetta), you can also use the current Bacchetta 3 Piece Riser with a 120-140mm off the shelf stem to get your bars maximally low. It will not be adjustable for reach, only height, but it will weigh less. The cost will be the same or more depending on how much you spend on the off the shelf stem. If your boom is even shorter, just use a shorter off the shelf stem. On the other end of the spectrum the stem angle of +35 degrees means that as the boom get longer than about 17", and the frame deviates from a stick, you may not be able to get the bars low enough with this set up. I think a Pelso Brevet L will work. If you are choosing a geometry for a new Carbent, this is something to keep in mind as well. Reducing effective tiller is always good, until you need a $1000 stem to locate your bars!

This will not work on Metabikes, as there is too much effective S in the frame, and the boom is too long. 

If you have great visibility over the bars, your arms are relaxed when you can reach the brake and shift levers, your hands are in line with your shoulder, your bars and short and stiff enough, and you are happy with your seat recline, this is not something that will make a big improvement to your riding experience. In fact, if you are more upright, you may not want maximally low bars, as it will put your hands well below your shoulders. 

This combination of parts suggested below will achieve significantly greater rigidity than the bars currently used on many recumbents, including the options above, and allow you to recline as far as you wish and still have relaxed arms, and allow you to get the bars maximally low for the best forward vision without hitting your feet. The key is using 31.8mm tubing rather than 22.2mm for the bars, and an adjustable length stem. Many riders are looking through their bars, and reaching too far to hold onto them as they recline more. Sadly to recline more you have to use a shorter stem, which means the bars go higher! I have seen many recumbent riders challenged by flex between the hand and the front wheel. On many bikes this flexibility is in the bars, but some stems and forks and frames can be contributors too. This flex causes hand shake at higher speeds and power levels, lack of control during hard cornering, and a general lack of oneness and ease when riding. This becomes a bigger factor on rough roads (or worse yet gravel), technical descents, fast group rides, and even hard solo efforts on smooth ground for some riders. Even the most relaxed and skilled riders can be affected by this. Whats to follow fixes all that, and more. 

Here we go with the pieces!!

First you need a Control Tech Stoker Stem. This will allow you to adjust both the height and the fore-aft position of your bars for maximum forward visibility and without hitting your feet. This stem is not light. It is rigid, and very reliable. It comes in several clamp diameters at both ends. You need the 31.6mm seat post diameter (that goes on your riser), and either the 25.4mm bar clamp diameter (if you are using Bacchetta stock bars or most others), or 31.8mm bar clamp (If you go with custom Power On Cycling bar that I recommend). If you only want to buy this stem once, go for the 31.8 bar clamp as you can shim a 25.4mm bar with Wheels Manufacturing Handlebar Shims. The 31.8mm bar allows you to put your cables inside the bar.  A big shout out to Mark Power, as without his custom bars, we would be a lot more limited! He can make U-bars for Lowracers too.

For length mine is at about 200mm, so the short one is fine. I am on a L frame (14") boom, and 170 cranks. On an M frame (12.5") boom, I would only use this stem if you are a very toe down peddler, or are running 155mm cranks or shorter, or some combination of those, or you are willing cut some length off both stem pieces to get it down to about 145mm with 170mm cranks. Also, bar width at the front has an effect on how long you can run the stem without bumping your foot on the bar in turns. My U bar has some V to it so I can get my bars the lowest possible, and fit it in my car easier. My bar is about 16" wide in front and 19" where my hands are. This is why an adjustable stem is so cool. No matter what your bars, pedaling style, foot size, or crank length, you can get your bars maximally low. 

Here are the dimensions of my bars, and this is what Mark will ask you for as well. 
  1. Handlebar wall thickness (065" recommended for .875" OD  HB's) 31.8mm, 22.2 grip
  2. Outside of HB width at end of horizontal (~18.5", narrow spec Aero)  19"   
  3. Outside of HB width just after aft bend (~17.5", narrow spec Aero)   16"  
  4. Front center of HB's to center of grip zone bend (horizontal HB reach) 10.5"
  5. Grip zone angle (40 degrees Bacchetta stock) 40 degrees
  6. Grip zone length, end of grip zone to center of bend 7"
  7. Grip zone boring requirement and length (if bar ends are used) reamed for Sram/Shimano bar ends. 

You will need to figure out yours based on what you currently use, how much more you want to recline and how much forward extension your current stem has. This should help if you are on a Bacchetta: Dimensions of all Bacchetta Risers/Stems. On any other bike, just measure from the center of the steering axis to the center of the bars, with the tape measure or ruler parallel to the frame tube. You want the bars to be wide enough that you have enough steering room for steep climbs, and corrections in gravel. An inch between you hands and thighs is enough for most. You can add some V to your bars like I have by making the front narrower than the grip area, but you must have clearance for your calves, and if you are bowlegged at all that will be a factor as well. Keep in mind extra clearance for tights or rain pants if needed. 31.8mm bars are not very bendable, so you want to order them right. As a rough guide, if you are on a Bacchetta L frame, your new stem will have about 165mm of reach once you adjust it. Keep in mind that even if you change to a different boom length frame, as long as recline stays the same, your bars do not change, only your stem. Bar dimensions are only a function of your body and its position on the bike. Also, people hold the grips in different spots to get comfy, so you do not have to be accurate to the tenth of an inch on the length of the bars. 

For the riser tube, you need something with an ID of 1 1/8" (28.6mm) that slides snugly down your steerer tube. The wall thickness needs to be 1/16" so the OD is 1 1/4". You can just use an old one piece Bacchetta riser (either reach), or lower section of a Bacchetta 2 or 3 piece stem, and cut off the top, like I did at first.

..or get a piece of carbon tubing from Dana at Bent Up Cycles (cleanly cut and slotted on a water-cooled saw), or Rock West Composites, which I did later. Chuck your BFT, and put a star fangled nut (for aluminum lined steerer tubes) or an expander nut (for full carbon steerers) down the steerer and add a conventional top cap and bolt for headset adjustment.Headset Cap and Bolt

If you are doing this to a bike with a 1" steerer tube, you need a riser tube with an ID of 1" (25.4mm) and an OD of ~31.8mm. Here is one I found. You will also want a 1" top cap for the headset. Here is one of those.

For the riser clamp to the steerer, I first went with Bacchetta dual bolt clamp, which you can see in the pic above. Bacchetta Double Bolt Riser Clamp
Now I use the single bolt clamp they used on their newer 2 and 3 piece stems. Never had a slippage problem and it's lighter and cleaner looking.

Also, since the 31.6mm stem clamp to the riser is actually 0.2mm too small, its good do have a Cal-Van spreader tool to use, rather than twisting a big screwdriver to spread it. 

I don't not see them on Cal-Vans site, but have seen them in auto parts stores recently. I believe they were designed for R&R of springs in automotive drum brakes.

Having put stiffer bars on several personal bikes (Velokraft Nocoms, Bacchettas, and Carbents), I have noticed that it allows me to now feel the next largest source of flex. In the case of the Nocom, it was the fork, and nothing could be done. On the other 2, I was now much more cognizant of the affect of tire pressure and sidewall flex. It also made me wish for a frame with a tapered steerer and a thru-axle fork, just so I could see if it could be even better. 

The only thing I might have done differently on this bike is to make the bar grips and inch longer and the length of the bars a little less, so my hands would be in line with my shoulders with the bars level. 

Contact me at Jim@JBVCoaching if you have any questions, need a fitting, or a coach!


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Training for Ultra-Cycling Events

I wrote the following article 5 years ago, for, and it was the most widely read article on that site for years. Now its here, and improved! As you read this you will see the acronyms FTP and CTL. You can think of FTP as aerobic power and CTL as fitness, or you can click the links and learn a lot more.  

Friends and clients often ask me if ultra-cycling events are good training for ultra-cycling events. The answer is yes, and no. It depends on your experience level, confidence, and your speed. In discussing training here I will address 2 aspects. The first is physiological adaptation. See this article for an explanation of the physiological adaptations that occur in humans from various intensities of work (training). These adaptations will increase a riders FTP and CTL. One thing should stand out immediately from Table 2. There is a lot more benefit from riding in zones 3-5 than riding in zones 1-2. The second aspect of training is not about your body, its about your mind. Its about gaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities it takes to ride an ultra. Much of this is experiential learning, meaning you have to ride long at some point to learn some things. 

Next let’s draw a line, and say that anything that takes you over 6 hours to complete alone is an Ultra Event. For some riders and/or tough courses this makes a metric century an ultra event, for some a double metric, or 200K on a fast course, can take about 6 hours. Notice that I am defining the effort from the rider’s point of view, mentally and physically. To do this you have to accept the premise that your body does not have a GPS or an odometer, it doesn’t know distance. It knows how hard you worked (intensity) for what duration (time). It could be 20 miles up a 10% grade or 100 miles dead flat. If you put out the same power at the same cadence for the same duration, your body did the same work. Even more importantly, it will also be tasked with the same recovery time before you can do it again. If you are rested and pace yourself evenly for 6 hours, by definition, the intensity of your effort will put you squarely in zone 2. As events get longer, your intensity drops into zone 1. 

There is a concept in training known as the Principle of Specificity. That principle says that if you want to excel at riding 200m sprints, ride lots of 200m sprints! If you want to do well at 40k time trials, ride lots of those. Of course the program will include rest and other intensities but the focus will be on the event duration you are targeting. The point I’m making in this article is that, physically, that principle falls apart at around 6 hours worth of work! That means that physiologically speaking, if you want to be a fast 24hr racer you should not do lots of 24h races! The intensity zone you can ride those in results in very little physiological adaptation, and the recovery time needed between them means that even though each one will result in a big increase in CTL, it will drop just as much afterwards, so it retards the rate at which you could be building fitness, if you can build at all. 

Next let’s talk more about the physical side of training. By training we mean periodic and increasing stress, and recovery, that results in increased FTP and CTL. The more the FTP the faster you can ride aerobically. The more your CTL the quicker you can recover for the next intense workout.  From a physiological point of view, I'd put a cap of six hours on your longest training effort. Most rides will be less. The reason for this is that in order to achieve most of these adaptations, you need to ride with some intensity, and fairly regularly. That means 3-4 hard days per week, for multiple weeks at time. The hardest days require a rest, or better yet a short easy ride the following day. Longer events take more recovery time and disrupt that regularity. Longer rides thus prevent you from doing the regular work needed to achieve and maintain the physiological adaptations crucial to success. If the weather is very hot, or you can't/don't fuel yourself on a ride, this increases recovery time, in which case 2-3h maximum ride length makes a lot more sense. 

Looking at longer events, if you are doing something that will require you to sacrifice your sleep schedule, subject your body to a lot of thermal variation, in addition to the caloric debt and dehydration that are normal in these events, then the toll on your body is so high as to not be worth what you might gain from it. Beyond the toll on your body, there is a bigger issue. After such an event, you might not want to even look at your bike for some time. This is a not good in terms of training and fitness. The longer, and less well-supported the event is, the greater the risk of more recovery time and of post-event motivation loss. 

Recovering from your last hard training effort so you can perform the next one is the key to becoming well trained, reaching a high chronic training load. Having a high chronic training load means you are ready to go your hardest and longest and recover the quickest from the effort. Lots of riders can go on a hard ride, but what you need to be able to do them regularly, and that requires rest and recovery. Put simply, the more you do, the more you can do. Rides over 6 hours cost more in recovery time than they gain you in physiological adaptation. Once rides get over approximately 14 hours (assuming you wake up and start riding), they start to interfere with your sleep time. Sleep is a crucial component of recovery.  The balance we have to assess is just how much are you detracting from your ability to train by doing ultra length events due to the extended recovery they entail. Training sessions over 6 hours are detrimental to maintaining a steady training load. Sessions over 15 hours are really detrimental. On average, I have seen riders take 2-3 weeks to fully recover from a 24hr event, and as long as 4-5 weeks from a 40-90 hour event. That’s time you cannot spend training for the next event. Its time you spend losing fitness, and FTP.

The question arises, however, is physiological adaptation the only thing we should try to accomplish in training for ultra cycling events? The answer to that for less experienced riders is no.

Training includes experiential learning. To succeed in events lasting more than 6 hours, you need to really have a good sense of your fueling needs such that you can formulate a plan, and then actually follow that plan. It is amazing what you can get away with in a 4 to 5 hour event that simply will not work as you get into 12h, 24h, or even longer events. You need to be able to recognize the signs from your body and respond correctly, and that implies you need to experience and experiment a bit in ultra events at some point to in order do well in ultra events.

You need to experience the sensations of being low on calories, or low on electrolytes, or getting dehydrated, or of overheating, or getting drowsy. You need to experience and then recognize these feelings in order to devise and then follow a plan to cope with them. Your perception of these sensations will be different after 12 hours on the bike. Your ability to keep focusing and take care of yourself will also be diminished. You need to learn steady pacing. If you are riding self-supported events, you need to learn how to handle your own logistics, and how to coordinate that with your navigation. If you are riding supported events, you need to learn how to take advantage of the benefits a crew can provide, in addition to recruiting a good support crew.

Perhaps the most important experiential attribute you will gain from practicing ultra events is the confidence you will gain once you develop the skill and knowledge to get the most out your body. That confidence will be in both your physical and mental capabilities. Do not underestimate this. Once you have this confidence, you can go into an event not only well trained physically, but knowing that you have done this before, and knowing how you did it. You can go into an event focused on how hard and how steady you can go, not worrying whether or not you can complete it.

This leads to a lot of conclusions. If you are new to ultra events, a coach can help a lot. In addition, you can read a lot, and learn from some of the more experienced riders. But, eventually, you have to just do some and experience it on your own. You may fail to finish a few, but the goal is to learn from all of them!

Now the conundrum: Once you have the knowledge and skill to perform well in ultra events, and the faster you want to go, the fewer of them you should do. Pick a few and space them so you can get some good training cycles (5 weeks or more) in between events, allowing as many weeks as you need for recovery from the last event, and also allowing 10-14 days to taper before the next one. If you do really long events, it could be 3 months between events if you are trying to stick to a schedule that has you more trained for each successive event. 

If you are chasing Ultra Cup points, the prior scenario is not really feasible. You will have much less time between events, and full recovery and retraining will not be possible. The best you can do in that case do is come into the season at the highest CTL you can get too, and then do your best to recover between events, training when possible. This means 3-4 months of hard training before the first event of the season if you are starting from scratch. This means hard training in the winter, which is harder even in the best climate. If you go all out in each event, trying to set records, training load will drop, you will lose fitness, and recovery will take longer with each event. If you are only interested in a points total, you can ease this by carefully studying the points structure of the series, and maximize the points you get for your effort as a result. Only go as hard as you need to. Either way its a very tough season to pull off mentally. Much respect to those who can do it well. Its is not often you see someone try to do this type of series two years in a row. 

If you are doing a full brevet series in one year there are other issues. You will likely not have 2-3 months between events. One way to deal with this is to pick which distances you really want to do well in, and target those as your “peak” performances. If you are strong and just focused on a 600k or 1200k, or both, get the shorter ones out of the way as soon as you can, and use all the time allowed riding at an easy pace and sleeping. This will leave you time to train for the important one(s). If you are challenged with completing these under the time limit, space them out as evenly as you can in the year. 

Once you have the skill to complete ultra events you can train for them very successfully on as little as 10-12 hours a week with high intensity work (zones 3-5). This also leaves more time for other parts of life. It also makes it easier to stay active in ultra racing for years without burning out as a result of all that time spent on the bike.

As some proof of this, note how well professional and high level amateur road racers do in ultra events once they have the skill and knowledge. Their training only changes slightly. Less focus on shorter supra-threshold efforts and sprints, and more on the bread and butter of aerobic training: 20-60 minute aerobic threshold work, 2-4 hour tempo rides, and some VOMax intervals to put the frosting on the cake.  

Lastly, no matter how well trained you are physically, and well prepared and schooled you are mentally, to perform at your best involves a desire to push the limits just a little bit. This means coming into an event rested and hungry for the bike. In the last few days before the event, you should really be looking forward to going out and doing it. If your preparation does not leave you feeling like this, one or more ingredients are missing.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My advice on nutrition for Ultra Marathon races, and how to dial in your own liquid mix from Infinit Nutrition.

Lets start with the reason this article is about liquid nutrition. If you eat solid food on an ultra you are signing up for a stop for #2, which costs time. If you have a solid snack as some point, your ability to absorb calories has not changed, meaning you have to lay off your liquid mix for a while, and get your water and electrolytes some other way. If you have a snack with fat, or a lot of protein, you have actually reduced your ability to take in calories for the next few hours. So, if you can come up with a liquid diet that works for you its an advantage. I am very comfortable with liquid only up to at least 30 hours. I know some who have gone to 50. Christoph Strasser does mostly liquid on RAAM as well, and that is about a week.

The great thing about Infinit Nutrition's custom formulas is the ability to customize a mix through experience and experimentation, and they make it easy for you to keep track of the all the mixes you try too. Infinit can help get you started with their free consultation service as well. My advice is specific to ultra racers and differs a bit from what they told me in January of 2012. So, go here, and follow along.....
  • Flavor: I use lemon lime almost exclusively, so my mix tastes a lot like a salty margarita. You are going to want some salt, so why not. Having bad experiences with other fueling solutions can make you not like their taste, as you associate it with stomach issues, or other maladies. For this reason I started with only about 35% on the flavor slider. Over several years I have upped that to about 70% as I really do like the taste, and have not had any stomach issues at all with it. More flavor goes well with more electrolytes. More of both of those also hide any soapy flavor from the protein or amino acids.
  • Carbs: For ultra endurance events I like this slider full scale, for longer chain, slower burning fuel. That being said the mix still works great for 2-4 hour tempo rides and fast centuries. If you are on a ketogenic diet, this is also your best choice. This also minimizes the osmolality to minimize stomach issues, and makes you less vulnerable if you forget to fuel for too long.
  • Calories: I started at about 280cal per bottle (24oz) and have varied up to as high as 320cal. For over 4 hours I think 280 calories an hour is my limit. The more calories you can take in on an ultra the better, so this is one to experiment with over time and try to maximize. 1.5 calories per pound of lean body mass is a safe place to start. You will always ride better with a mix that is a little too lean than one that is too rich and causes bloating, but over tie you wnat to increase calories as much as you can for best performance. 
  • Electrolytes: A lot of other drinks/systems would have you take a lot of pills to get 500mg+ of Na per hour, this is easy and I finally get enough sodium. The rough range for this in my experience is 300-600mg/hr. I started at 425mg, and am now at 560mg per hour. The less salt in your daily diet the less you need on the bike. Magnesium is a key to preventing cramps, and at this sodium level I must be getting enough, along with calcium and potassium. If you are on a Ketogenic diet, you may need more electrolytes than if you are not. 
  • Protein: I would caution ultra racers to start around 2g of protein an hour. Many cannot handle any more with out stopping up their stomachs on long events. The first symptom of too much whey protein for many is gas, so if you start farting a lot on 2-4 hour rides, you might want to back off the protein for longer events. If you are lactose intolerant, ~2g may be your limit. If you feel the need to eat solid food or just feel hunger, you may want to add more protein. If you are allergic to whey, you could order it without any and add your own (soy, egg, hemp....), as long as it will stay dissolved in the mix, or you shake your bottle every swig. To see how many grams of protein you have, you have to click on the Nutritional Info link. See example at the end of this article.
  • Amino acids: The key ingredient in the amino acid mix is L-glutamine. In larger amounts (2500mg) its common in recovery drinks. If you try to use a recovery mix like that on a ride, your legs will feel very very tight. With just a little, your legs will feel a little tight, but not tight enough to slow you down on a L3 (Tempo) ride. If your legs feel too tight, back of this slider. If you notice no tightness when you use this on L3 rides, try more. I am right were I need to be for L3 rides with this slider at 25% but wonder if I could tolerate more on ultras (L1-2).
  • Caffeine: Personally, it makes me anxious so I do not use it very much. Protein and amino acids, particularity L-glutamine, keep me awake fine. For those less sensitive to stimulants add some caffeine, but beware its a diuretic, so only use as much as you need. Its also a good idea to save it until you need it. Most riders go out too hard or way too hard during ultra distance races, so try not to use any until several hours in, or you can really blow yourself early. Like electrolytes, the less you use in your daily diet, the less you will need on the bike. The more you use the harder it will be to sleep post event as well, if that concerns you. 
Other tips:
  • Drinking all these electrolytes, be sure brush your teeth after all rides with it.
  • If you do hard weeknight rides or races in training, a major challenge is getting to sleep afterwards. Take all the protein/aminos/caffeine out of your ultra mix, or just go with Infinit Speed, and cool down with a bottle of Infinit Nocturne.
  • For those who don't want to deal with a custom mix for ultras, but want to try something safe, just mix Infinit Speed and Infinit Go Far 50/50. Its a good start for a custom ultra mix.
  • For ultra races, set a watch with a repeating count down timer to go off every 10-15 minutes to remind you to drink, as no one can stay on top of that without a reminder once the endorphins and fatigue gang up on you. Also use the alarm as a reminder to ask yourself if you are feeling as good as you can and going as fast as you can, and if not what can you do about it. 
  • Do not eat solid food within 3 hours of the start. If its an early morning start, just get up as late as you can and ride. If you are up 3 hours before the start eat one of your normal meals, but not too much fat. You want to evacuate your bowels by the start. Stay away from caffeine as well.
  • If you eat solid food on an ultra you are signing up for a stop for #2. Stay on the liquids if you can. If you must have a solid snack as some point, keep in mind that your ability to absorb calories has not changed, meaning you have to lay off your liquid mix for a while, and get your water and electrolytes some other way. If you stop for a snack with fat, or a lot of protein, you have actually reduced your ability to take in calories for the next few hours. If the liquid is working for you, don't sabotage yourself with a solid snack.
  • What works for 4 hours may not work for 12 or 24. Although doing an ultra in training may not be beneficial physically, it is a great opportunity to vet a new fuel.
Here is a link to the formula I have arrived at after some tweaking: My Infinit Formula  ...and here is the nutritional info that you cannot see from the community formula link click on it for a more readable size:

Proper on bike nutrition is one of the bigger hurdles for ultra riders, and I hope this helps you find your optimal solution. Feel free to contact me for further discussion of your specific issues.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Solo RAAM recumbent riders average MPH as a function of miles ridden

Solo RAAM recumbent riders average MPH as a function of miles ridden. 6/21/14 10:17:39 RAAM Time (EST)
  • Keep in mind that as you move right on the chart it takes a lot more speed to change your average just a little bit. There are 2 interesting ones to look at in the plot: MPs historic rampage through the women's field after having her follow vehicle and spare bikes destroyed by a texting driver, and BBs decline after the Mississippi.
  • Both DJ and Jac showing the typical overnight dip from sleeping. 
  • DJ still on pace for overall 60+ and bent records, and first US rider, and first rookie. Fighting to regain 6th overall from Stefan. He had a scrum with a resurgent Hoppo, but just put 12 miles on him.  
  • Jac still flirting with time cut offs. The next one is Mount Airy, MD, at 7:43 AM on 6/23. She must be above 9.714803 MPH there. She has to be above 9.7735 at the finish. 
  • Maria's uptick at the end is from the application of a 3 hour time credit from the time lost from having her follow vehicle hit and totaled outside Tuba City (the big downward spike after mile 500). 
  • I wonder what JS and TW were thinking looking at BB's time coming into Kansas. She really slowed towards the end.