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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bangalore's Race Against The Clock!! BBCH Individual Time Trial - 2016

Bangalore's Race of Truth!
Time trial. The race against the clock. It is a race that can be bloody hard both mentally and physically. In my view it is more demanding mentally. It is just you and your thoughts against the clock and the elements. If your thoughts work with you, encourage you, or just let you be and let you focus, you have a better chance of doing well. Otherwise, it's not just the elements you are fighting but your thoughts as well and that is not an easy fight.  

No drafting. No tactics. Just you, your legs, your bike, your thoughts. Against, the wind, the terrain, the elements. That is why the time trial is often referred to as the race of truth.
Women's champion, Vicki Nicholson, on her ITT effort! Pic: Veloscope
A record number of 121 participants lined up for their own race of truth at the Bangalore Bicycling Championships Individual Time Trial for 2016 season on Sunday, 17th April. The atmosphere was very festive with hundreds of riders lined up at Emerald Isle, Hoskote, from where the race started. 

The organizers have done a fabulous job of assigning race start timings for all the participants and published that a day in advance so that they can time their warm up, nutrition etc instead of endlessly waiting and wondering when they are going to start. 

I have used this to get my nutrition, hydration and warm up right. With my start time scheduled at 8:05 am, I had a good breakfast at 6 am before starting to ride to the venue. Then started my warm up at 7:40 am for about 15 mins. Then hydrated with the pre-workout drink from FastAndUp, Activate. Just as I approached the start line, I took a FastAndUp energy gel and saved one for the half way mark. May be that much was not needed for a 33.5km TT but I wanted to be sure I was not low on energy and am experimenting on what works for me and what doesn't. 

The course is the same 33.5 km course that we have been using for the last 3 years for these time trials. Having a constant course allows us to gauge our performances over the years.

A Stormy-Calm Start!
I was the second last person to start. The count down began..5,4,3,2,1, Go! I push forward with my right leg clipped in, clip in the left and try to sprint up to speed. The right leg came off the pedal. Dang! Luckily, I could balance and stay on the bike. I always seem to have trouble starting out. Thankfully, I manage to clip in immediately without panicking. After ensuring I clipped in properly, I sprinted up to speed and settled into the saddle. "This is going to be a long one. Calm down", I told myself.

I reminded myself of the golden rule of time trial pacing. Don't start out too hard. It is very easy to get carried away at the start with the adrenaline flowing and go into red quickly. So, I kept giving my power numbers a quick glance to ensure that I stick to my pacing at least for the first five minutes.

The first 4 km has a couple of gentle uphills that can get you pushing too hard. I made a conscious effort not to push too much on the uphills which could result in me not being able to put in a proper effort on flats and downhills. I was just above the planned wattage at the end of the 5 minutes but within an acceptable range(less than 5% over).

The pacing notes I made to myself were to go slightly above the threshold on the uphills, stick to threshold on the flats and go slightly easier but not too relaxed on the downhills. I have also decided to go a bit harder on the way out and see how it goes on the way back. 

I was not looking at the average speed and didn't wear heart rate strap having decided not to rely too much on data and go by the feel. But I kept peeking a glance at power once in a while just to calibrate against the feel. I kept shifting gears up or down based on the feel in the legs and the occasional glance at the cadence field on my Garmin. At 10 mins and 15 mins into the race, I seemed to be in a far better position on the course than during any of my previous rides on this course. I figured there must have been a good amount of tail wind on the way out.

Midway Through - Cat And Mouse!
I went past a couple of riders but none in my category(just like last year, I've signed up to compete in elite instead of in Master's category this year at BBCh). As I approached the half way mark at Confident Amoon Resort, I turned back to see if there is any traffic coming before I took the U-turn. I noticed, Naveen Raj, a former U-23 national road race champion, was fast approaching me. He started one minute after me and was the last guy to start. Just then the current National MTB ITT champion, Kiran Kumar Raju(KKR), who started 1 min ahead of me took the U-turn and was on the other side of the road. As I took the U-turn, Naveen Raj went past me. He put in more than a min half way through the race and by the looks of it, I seemed to have gained about 30-40 seconds on KKR. That meant I wasn't doing too shabbily. I just need to consolidate my position and keep going as hard as I could.
Aero or not, this was my best TT effort till date!  Pic: Veloscope
I decided to take a couple of seconds to have the FastAndUp Energy gel and a couple of sips of the Reload(electrolyte) drink. After taking the gel and electrolytes, I started afresh mentally on the 16.7km journey back to the finish line. I could immediately feel the headwind after the U-turn. 

The going against the wind wasn't easy and having Naveen Raj a few meters in front threw my rhythm off a bit. I didn't want to be close to him and find myself in his draft which is illegal. I didn't have enough juice to go past him and play cat and mouse with him. After remaining steady for a couple of kilometers, the distance between us kept steadily increasing and he slowly got out of sight. That actually helped me as I could focus back on my pacing. I was going a bit under threshold but I kept going counting down each passing kilometer. KKR was no where to be seen. That meant he was gaining on me on the return leg. I made a mental calculation if I could keep going at the same effort which was slightly lower than that on the onward leg, and try to bump the effort up for the last 5km, I could still manage to keep a slender lead on him.

The Flourishing Finish!?
As I approached 5km mark, I saw Muralidharan on his Cervelo P2 in the distance ahead of me. I crested the last hill and on the downhill, I went past Murali. I had the weight advantage over him on the downhills and I put it to good use there. I tried to go as hard as I could on the downhill but I could see that the headwind was a big factor. Thanks to the downhill section the 1km to go mark approached quickly enough.

I saw the distinct black jersey of Sarvesh Sangarya a few meters ahead of me as I approached the finish line but this time, on the uphill finish, the young man put his weight advantage to good use and I couldn't go past him although I put all the effort that I could. The finish line seemed to have moved a few meters as I remember the previous finish line to be a bit before. Those extra couple of seconds felt like an eternity but I was happy with my effort as I crossed the line.

I was exhausted but was also elated that I after goofing up in the last couple of years during this event, I could finally give everything I could give. It was one of those rare days where the mind was calmer and let the body do it's job and the body was up for the challenge. Focusing on the process of pacing instead of worrying about the result also helped.

After spinning a couple of kilometers in cool down, we rolled back to finish line which had nice tents installed by BBCH to protect the riders from the blazing sun as we waited for the results to be announced. 

In the Elite category Naveen Raj finished way ahead of everyone with an average of 44.5kmph. I came in second with an average of 42.3kmph while KKR finished just 14 seconds behind me with an average of 42.1kmph. 

What was a big surprise for me was that I finished almost 1min 30secs ahead of the strong riders in the master's category. From having massive doubts about my readiness to race to having finished the second fastest on the day with 121 starters, it was one hell of a roller coaster day for me. Thanks to my teammate, Vandit Kalia, for loaning me his TT spare bike and my skipper, Arvind Bhateja for lending his aero helmet. I couldn't have done well without the support of my team, Spectrum Racing!
Elite Category podium! Pic: Veloscope
In Master's category, Vivek Radhakrishnan, Ronny Schrijvers and Craig Rhynes finished first, second and third in that order. They were all within a few seconds of each other. 

Results! From
In Amateur category, Vinesh Chawla of Ministri Racing finished first followed by Leander of Team Crankmeister and Pramod Anantha at second and third respectively.
Amatuer Category Podium! Pic from Ministri FB Page
In Women's category, Vicki Nicholson of Spectrum Racing finished a couple of minutes ahead of Tim Tim Sharma who was second. Kshama Muralidhar of Team Cadence90 finished third.
Women's podium! Vicki who was first had to leave early.. Pic from: Cadence90 page
In Under-18, Niranjan finished at top followed by Rishabh. It is heartening to see youngsters participate in these races but we need to see more of them come and participate.  

Winners got gift vouchers from Adidas and Nomadic destinations along with BBCh certificates and medals.

Volunteers and organisation:
BBCh delivered yet another flawless race with brilliant execution. The start time and order allotment well in advance that they started last year continued this year too and is very good. The breakfast sandwich was yummy and the arrangement of tent at the finish line to offer shade to the exhausted cyclists is well thought out. The start and finish were on time and the results were out on time. We could look at speeding up the presentation ceremony a bit although it is difficult to do with so many categories to be covered as well as so many sponsors and volunteers to thank for. Thanks to all the volunteers and BBCh committee for all the hard work put in to deliver another great race. Thanks to Team Crankmeister who took the responsibility of the race and helped team BBCh for this race. Next race is the 100km road race on Mangalore-Hassan highway with Manchanabale Macha's sharing the responsibility along with BBCh. Looking forward to it.

Thanks to the awesome folks at Veloscope who covered the race with brilliant photography and also provided free downloads of high resolution pics for all the participants of BBCh.  


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bike Review: Astr Sidewinder! An Indian Brand Bike With A Wow Factor!

Fixie Love!
Ever since I saw a friend riding a fixie around the time I started cycling in 2008, I was enamored with the idea of riding a fixed gear bike. I finally bought my fixed gear bike, a Redline 925(2008 model), on 1st May 2010. I christened it ‘The Bulldog’. It became an inseparable part of my cycling life since then. I rode thousands of miles on it including my first Tour of Nilgiris in 2011. Since I got my road bike in 2012, I have ridden less mileage on it but have been riding more often since I commute on it every day.

I just love that bike. The chromoly steel goodness that just eats up all the road buzz and gives a smooth ride. Despite the horrendous traffic that I face every day during the 15km long(each way) commute every day, the bike makes me look forward to the commute.

When I got a call from Gokul of TBA from Hyderabad asking if I am interested in riding the new fixed gear bike that they have launched recently and provide feedback, I readily agreed. Of course, how can I say no to riding a new bike?

A brand new Astr Sidewinder in sparkling chrome color arrived at Crankmiester Bicycle Works. They have set up the bike for me and I rode it home leaving my Bulldog at the shop.
Picking up the Sidewinder from Crankmeister for test riding!
The First Impressions:
The first impressions of the bike were quite good. The stunning chrome finish was hard not to like. The classic looks made an immediate impression on the sucker for all things classic and steel in me. The nice lean angled chromoly fork is attached to the bike with a classic threaded headset and a shiny alloy quill stem holds the handle bars in place elegantly.

There are no bosses anywhere on the frame except for the brake calipers. To the utter horror of a  traditional fixed gear rider, if you decide to install a rear brake and not just the front brake, l like I have done, you will need use zip ties to guide the brake cable as there are no cable guides on the frame.  Simple straight lines of the neatly hand welded chromoly 4130 tubes make up the beautiful track frame.
On one of my commutes crossing railway tracks at KR Puram!
A Rare Combination:

What I noticed immediately was the difference in geometry when compared with my own bike. The Sidewinder has a slightly aggressive track geometry with shorter top tube and straighter seat tube angle. The wheelbase is also slightly shorter(~4cm) than that of my own fixed gear bike. All this makes it a nimble and a very responsive bike.

Steeper aggressive angles would usually mean a harsher ride along with being responsive. But, the Sidewinder frame is surprisingly forgiving and soaks up the road buzz beautifully. It seems to offer that rare combination of a responsive and soft ride which is a major plus for this bike in my opinion.

The bottom bracket is a couple of cm higher than that on the Bulldog. That is also something I really liked about the bike. Over the years, I had quite a few pedal hits on the speed bumps etc., on the Bulldog. That is not a nice feeling. But with a higher bottom bracket, that nagging feeling of expecting a pedal hit any time, is taken out of the equation.

A Nimble And Sweet Ride: Zipping Through The Traffic:

The default setup came with a straight/raiser handle bars. It had a 42 chain ring and an 18 tooth fixed cog to go with. I know that it is way easier than the 15 cog I’m used to along with a 42 chain ring on my Bulldog. However, I decided to give the default setup a try for a few days before experimenting with the setup.

The first ride felt a little weird as I tried to get used to the geometry and the straight handle bars. The commute to office on day two was quite nice. However, it is by the third and fourth ride that I really started to have fun on the bike. The narrow straight handle bars and the geometry makes the bike so easy to handle in the crazy traffic during my commutes. I never felt so at ease while commuting as I was with this bike. Although the 18 cog was forcing me to use the brakes often on down hills as I quickly spin out, I felt that it was perfect for the stop and go traffic as it was so easy to get going again after stopping. On many occasions, I didn’t even need to stop as I could easily balance and ride ever so slowly(almost a track stand but not quite) with the snail paced/stand still traffic and get going when it began to move again. The narrow handle bars literally open new avenues in traffic as you can easily squeeze through narrowest of the gaps(quite safely with proper judgment, of course).

After a week of riding in the default setup, I decided to try a bigger gear with a 16 cog and change the setup to bullhorn bars. The 16 cog made the down hills easy to spin on without having to apply brakes often like it was the case with an 18 cog. It was still an easy enough gear for the uphills. The bike looks much better with a bullhorn setup maybe because I am used to that setup on my Bulldog. However, I liked the handling of the bike with straight handle bars better in traffic. That could be because of the way it was setup taking the center of gravity way forward. Raising the handle bars a little helped balance it and the handling was much better. I like the narrow bars(~40cm) so much that I have decided to move to narrow bars from the 44cm wide bull horn bars on my Bulldog.
Astr Sidewinder with bullhorn/pursuit bars! A classic beauty!

Can Get Even Better:
If there is one thing that I would like to be improved on the bike, it is the old style brake calipers that were used to go with the classic looks of the bike. I have heard that they were not too easy to set up according to, Riyaz of Crankmeister, who set up the bike for me. Even after struggling with them, the brake pads were not touching the rims symmetrically after applying brakes. I noticed that too. However, I found that the stopping power was quite adequate during my rides. The sudden stops in the traffic was not a problem at all. I know that the Fixed gear purists will scoff at the referral to brake calipers on the bike and their stopping power. But still, they may need to look at including better brake calipers for people like me who never ride a fixed gear bike without brakes.

They can also work on the looks department with the logos and branding to match the great ride quality that the bike offers.

Summary: It Is A Go!
Overall I really liked the bike and it’s handling in the city traffic. The smooth ride it gave on the potholed roads during my commute was amazing. The wheels look solid and bomb proof. I really attacked the potholes and all the bad sections to check for the ride quality etc during the three weeks that I rode the bike and they stayed true despite the abuse. The tires seem to be of good quality and roll well and handled the sandy areas on the shoulders of the road on my commute quite well. The bike weighed in at 10.4 kgs with pedals when I weighed it. Without brakes or with a single front brake installed, it might just manage to go under 10kgs which is quite light for a steel/Chromoly bike.
I rode the Sidewinder for a week and rode the Bulldog for a week in between before going back to the Sidewinder for another couple of weeks. After this, I happened to borrow and ride another fixed gear bike, Pixel from Fixation in the same price range(~35k INR) for a couple of weeks. Riding three different bikes in a short period of time for varying lengths of time gave me a feel for even the minor differences between them. In my experience, the Sidewinder offered as smooth a ride as my Bulldog while being way more responsive. In my opinion, although Pixel is a nice bike in itself, I think the Sidewinder was better both in terms of ride smoothness and responsiveness. I think it has to do with the fact that Pixel's rear triangle is tensile steel while the Sidewinder's entire frame is Chromoly and also the geometries of the bikes are slightly different.
Among all the fancy colors on offer, I think I like the all black Sidewinder the best! :) Pic: From Astr website
Note: The bike was sent to me to be ridden for a few weeks and provide feedback which I am doing through this review. After 3 weeks of almost daily riding, I have returned the bike to Crankmeister from where I picked it up. I think it is available there for test rides if someone wants to try. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Trainer Review: Kurt Kinetic Road Machine!

When Life Comes In The Way of Cycling:
As they say, life sometimes looks to come in the way of cycling. Mine did too. With time, like everybody, my kids grew up as well. When I’ve put my elder son in school 2013 and I opted not to use prohibitively costly school transport for the 2km home to school commute, I had to take up the duty to drop him to school every morning. Dropping him at school at 8 am meant that I needed to be back from my morning rides by 7:30am. To get a 2hr ride in, I’d have to start at 5:30am. The early start and finish would not be a problem during summer but in Bangalore winters, it would be dark and cold. Even if I didn’t care for the darkness and cold and made provisions to take care of them by adding lights and dressing in layers, there is always a chance of delay due to flats etc. So, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and buy an indoor trainer to ride at home during weekdays.
I did some research on the net and took feedback from friends who were already using trainers for a long time. The conclusion was to go for a fluid trainer. Two fluid trainers topped the list in terms of affordability and functionality. Kurt Kinetic Road Machine and Cyclops. When I was in the market, Happy Earth Enterprises just began distributing the Kurt Kinetic trainers and they were available for about 24k through retailers like Crankmeister (Now about 29k, thanks to increased customs etc). Cyclops wasn’t being distributed locally at that time and also online research rated Kurt’s fluid resistance unit a little higher than the Cyclops fluid resistance unit when it came to leakage incidents etc.
So, I began saving up for a new trainer and kept an eye out for any second hand units too. One fine day I happened to see a Kurt Kinetic Road machine for sale on Bikeszone and contacted the seller. It was in Chennai and I was sure I could get some friend to bring it along for me if I finalize the deal. Before I talked to the seller I called Arvind Ganesh(AG) of Happy Earth Enterprises to take his opinion on what could go wrong in an used trainer and if it is worth it at the price quoted etc. Although I was not going to buy from him, he was so confident of the trainer that he assured me that nothing could go wrong with that trainer which is built like a tank, to last for a very long time. Although he could not give any assurances towards the life time warranty that all the Kurt units have, he promised to help with any small parts if I ever needed any. The price was also pretty good for a trainer that was hardly used. From AG’s feedback I got a feeling that nothing could go wrong even if it is used extensively. That gave me a lot of confidence and I went ahead and bought the trainer.
A kind friend, Udaya Napa, lugged it for me from Chennai to Bangalore. 
My first trainer workout setup on 19th June 2013! Nearly 3 years later it is still rock solid!
The Set Up:
The trainer comes with a frame that is built like a tank. It is heavy and rock solid. The front arms fold to enable easy storage when not in use. The fluid resistance unit is attached to the frame of the trainer with a small nut and bolt. The hardened plastic(composite?) attachment sits snugly in the iron slot in the frame and the bolt goes through to attach them together. I have put that together some 30 months ago and haven't taken it apart. 

There is an L-bend bolt with a spring that goes through a slot in the resistance unit and attaches to a knob on the other side. This knob and spring mechanism is what determines the resistance of the unit once you put the bike on the trainer. It is pretty intuitive and easy to set up.
The knob that determines the resistance! A couple of turns after the tire touches the roller drum, you're good to go!
Once you place the bike on the trainer, the non-drive side knob and lock ring allows you to set and center the bike on the trainer roller drum. The drive side knob and screw lock allow you to lock the bike in place. Once in place the knob at the back of the resistance unit needs to be tightened to move the resistance unit forward so that it touches the bike tire. Once the tire touches the roller drum, turn the knob two complete rotations and that should be good enough.
The assembled trainer!
The resistance there after depends on the speed. No adjustment is needed. The faster you go the harder it becomes. 
No wires to control the resistance etc. It is a really simple and a very robust setup. If you want to warm up by spinning easy, just spin in an easier gear. When you are ready for harder effort, just shift a few gears up to ride hard. Much like what you would do on road. No buttons to toggle to increase or decrease the resistance. The heavy flywheel(~3kgs) offers a realistic coast down and a road like feel.
Noise Levels:
The noise levels are quite low. Low enough so that my kids sleeping in the next room don't get woken up. That is a good enough for me. If I have to watch something on the laptop to pass time while riding, I use a bluetooth headset. That ensures that no dialogues are drowned although the laptop is quite a bit away from the trainer. 

High Intensity Workouts:
As mentioned earlier, you don't need to adjust any tension etc to increase resistance. The faster you try to go, the more difficult it becomes to ride, just like on the road. I prefer to do all my intervals indoors not just because I can't go out and ride during weekdays but also for safety reasons. The noise levels during very high intensity intervals can get a little bit high(compared to the relative calmness of the trainer otherwise) but not so much as to trouble the household if you're setup behind closed doors.

What Would You Need Apart From The Trainer?
A high power fan is a must. I use a stand fan from Bajaj but often wish that I invested in an industrial strength heavy duty fan. In the absence of the flowing wind that cools all your body on a continuous basis as you ride outdoors, you tend to sweat bucket loads while riding indoors. So, a sweat catcher of sorts comes in pretty handy if your bike has to stay rust free over a period of time. I use a turkey towel set up like a sweat catcher with the help of a few cloth clips but investing in a sweat catcher or getting one made at a local tailor is not a bad idea.

Once you made arrangements for cooling yourself down and dealing with your sweat, the main thing you need to think about is how to deal with the boredom. Yes, it is incredibly boring to ride indoors. No question. You don't have the varying scenery that keeps your mind occupied as you ride outdoors. You don't have friends to chat with as you make each other suffer or while just riding to the coffee place on that scenic route. All you have is you and your bike on the trainer and the wall to stare at. The boredom is very real.

A very simple way to deal with boredom of indoor workouts is having a specific workout plan. Intervals help you focus on your power, HR or speed for a specific amount of time, usually a small period, and won't give you enough time to get bored. You hit your numbers for the work interval, spin for the rest interval and before you know, it is time to start your next set. You can get through an hour or two worth of trainer time without any issues if you have a specific set of intervals to focus on.

If even intervals can't keep you focused, there are now options like Zwift, Trainer Road and Golden Cheetah that you could use to enjoy your time on the trainer. Zwift is a video game like interface married to your trainer with the help of an ANT+ dongle that makes your trainer session a virtual reality game of sorts. You spin on your trainer and the speed/power etc is picked up by the Zwift software on your laptop and your ride is simulated on screen depending on how much power/speed you are putting out. I have tried it during it's Beta stage and its pretty cool. It has now become a paid subscription based service costing around $10 per month. Not too costly if it could help you get stronger on the trainer. It also added features like providing workouts etc similar to Trainer Road.

Trainer Road is more of a workout platform that has come into existence long before Zwift etc. It is also a subscription service and can be a potent tool for trainer rats. Golden Cheetah is a free open source software that has some of the features of Trainer road in that it has a similar training interface but you have to set up your own workouts etc and do them instead of somebody setting you your workouts for you and it gives features like Virtual power that Trainer Road provides. I will do a separate post on GC at a later point of time.
Virtual Power:
The Road Machine has a well proven and stable power curve. Before I bought a power meter, in the initial days of getting this trainer I have used the virtual power feature in Golden Cheetah to train. All you need to do is Golden Cheetah installed on your computer and use an Ant+ dongle to read speed you are doing on the trainer. Golden Cheetah then shows you the power you are putting out based on the speed and Kinetic's power curve that is already plugged into the software. Kinetic also sells a small device called InRide, that you can place on the frame with a magnet inserted in the roller drum to do a roll down calibration. InRide helps calibrate the power readings by doing a roll down calibration and takes the variance from the knob tension and tire pressure out of the equation. I could not get hold of an InRide and just tried to ensure same number of turns of knob to control the tension and tried to maintain same tire pressure as much as I can. I once borrowed a friend's powertap wheel and compared the power readings from the virtual power to those from the powertap and they tracked pretty consistently with each other. I thought it is a great way to get started training with power. Once I saved up enough to buy a crank based power meter, I stopped using virtual power but that feature got me going for quite a few months and helped me stay motivated during indoor training. I will try and do a separate review of InRide when I manage to get my hands on one. I think it is a pretty economical way of starting out with power training indoors.

I just love this trainer. Over the last 3 years, I have put in hundreds of sweaty training hours on it. Rain or shine, if I wanted to ride, it was there for me and never failed me. I think, I give it a rating of 4.75 out of 5. That .25, I would give it if putting the bike on the trainer and taking off is made even more simpler. It is already very simple but you know how lazy I am. Although I haven't tried many other trainers, this trainer takes care of all my indoor training needs and is built to last a life time. What else could I ask for! I highly recommend it for anyone who is in the market for a solid, reliable, no-nonsense trainer.

PS: If I could give back something in return, I should spend some time cleaning it, I think. Over the last three years, I hardly did any maintenance(as you can notice from the photos above which I took this week). Not that it needed any, but I think an occasional wipe down of sweat and dirt could keep it looking like new. 

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