Monday, December 29, 2008

FSA's 11-speed road group coming into focus?

When SRAM was making the debut of the Force group a couple years ago, there was nearly equal level talk about Full Speed Ahead bringing its own complete road groupset to market. Of course, SRAM went gangbusters, and FSA, well, the line "it's coming" has been getting long in the tooth.

Then I came across this, at

By the looks of these patent drawings, something is in the pipeline for an 11-speed road shifter. I have contacted FSA and while they don't deny that they're working on something, they are quite mum about any details whether regarding function, dates of release, and what the group is to consist of.

Regarding the shifters, Roues Artisanales makes an interesting note: while conventional shifters sees the cable wind mechanism in the shifter in a perpendicular fashion (since the levers push and pull in that direction, the cable spool on this FSA shifter lay in front-to-back parallel with the cable run. How the shift lever winds the cable in that orientation (since the inboard shifters typically push inward will be interesting to see, as will shift cable placement, which may port directly out the back of the shifter as it does with the brake cable, eliminating the need for under bar shift cable routing, thus making for an even cleaner, potentially easier-operating cable run, with less cable and housing needed.

The rear derailleur, instead of pivoting up and down the cassette via a standard parallelogram, has mechanical pivot on either end of the spanning bar that would normally be a parallelogram.

There is also word that there will be a bar end shifter that will go with this group, and that it may very well depart from standard function—but no further details were provide.

I guess we'll have to wait and see, but I am sure Interbike next year will be an interesting one—if the drama lasts that long. The media—well, at least me—will be harassing FSA at Sea Otter at the very latest.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas...

...and enjoy the wonders of the season (even you guys paralyzed by snow in Seattle)

Cheers, Jay

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Perfect Last-second Gift

If it wasn't for my wife, I would be, as they say, late for my own funeral. If I say I'm gonna be somewhere in 10 minutes, add 20 minutes to that, and that'll be my arrival.

So with days till Christmas, I announce the wickedest holiday gift for a triathlete, the one who has everything. It's not a $12,000 carbon thing. It's not even a $200 carbon thing. It's a jacket. Not just any jacket, mind you. If that was the case, I'd be pimping my wool-lined, corduroy O'Neill jacket that wards off cold, chill and hollow-tip bullets.

No, this one, the T-Zero is better. I used this tri-specific transiton area jacket just before one of notoriously chilliest—and bone-chilling—races in North America: Escape from Alcatraz. It's put together by the guys at True Motion, and took design and feature cues from pro triathlete Jordan Rapp, a guy who is one of the most tech-saavy athletes out there. True Motion sent me one to test, and my first thought is "how do you test a jacket? It zips up, it zips down."

Well, with Rapp's involvement (as well as that of Paul Bashforth of True Motion, a guy I finally got to meet at Ironman Arizona No. 2 a few months ago when he numbered my wife before the race), it goes without saying that the thing will be tech loaded. But the biggest feature for me: two zippers. At Alcatraz—shit, at any cold-ass morning race—the one thing I look forward to least beside the line for the porta-loo is the line for body marking. Because once you make the front, you have a minute of unendurable chill as you take off your hoodie and freeze as the volunteer puts your number on your arms.

The T-Zero solves for it with a simple solution: zippers on the shoulder. No need to take off the jacket, just unzip, number, and zip up. As we waited to board the Hornblower, with the cold air coming off the bay, it was a pleasure to get to "test" this jacket.

But the thing is packed with other stuff. First, it's inside is a nice, warm, brushed twill. But the outside is a nice windblocking outer. Points there. There's a clip inside one pocket, allowing you to lock your keyring to it, so after the race you're not hunting around for your keys that fell out of your jacket.
MP3 pocket with internal cable run and external headphone port, check. Partitioned rear zip pocket, internal mesh pockets for your phone..... there's a place for everything on this one. A long tail, a high collar... there's no way cold is getting in.

It's $130. Not a bad price to pay for a jacket that will keep you focusing on just the porta-loo... and your start. And if you are looking for that last holiday gift for a loved one, just order it direct online at, drop an IOU in their stocking to let 'em know it's coming, and tell them you were late... but that it was my fault. I'll take the hit—I'm used to it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ain's High-tech Sponsorship Search

I remember the first time I saw Ain-Alar Juhanson race, at Ironman Lanzarote. The Estonian, six-foot-three or something, was just grinding his teeth down, riding up to Bjorn Andersson and away from else. Sitting on the back of a moto, I quickly snapped a couple pics and bailed out, for fear he'd bite my head off. Once on the run, I was shocked to see this big, focused guy moving pretty good down the road on the run.

He won the race, like he typically has at Lanzarote, which, with its heat and wind, is largely regarded as the toughest Ironman on the circuit.
But for his gap-toothed grimace on the bike, I expected someone with the charm of a NFL linebacker, a typical cold Eastern European. I found interviewing him he was quite the opposite; he was friendly, comical, an all-around good guy. I had heard he had been on a ferryboat that went down, taking some of his triathlon colleagues with him, and he spoke openly about it—it was clear his motivation was to honor them.

The above shot is from Kona this October; I had been faced down the Queen K awaiting the lead women when I heard "Jay!" from behind—Ain had clicked off the fastest bike of the day (an amazing 4:26:14), and was running out of the Energy Lab and back into town to a great 14th-place finish. If you can go well in Lanzarote, Kona can—can—be an easier prospect.

He recently pinged me on Skype and proved that while our Triathlete mag publisher John Duke is espousing how our sport is so vibrant, that we are not the ones being laid off, we are doing the laying off, it sure ain't recession-proof for the pros. He lost his previous title sponsor, and the hunt was on.

But instead of doing like most pros, sending resumes out, Ain went tech. Posting a YouTube video, he wondered what I thought. If I could figure out how to put a YouTube video up, I'd do so.

But it's just as easy to click HERE to check it out. I thought it was a pretty clever way to seek out a brand that might want to align with a big, smiling monster.

While some thing the life of a pro is a luxurious one, I can attest, it is as close to the poverty line for many of these guys, even Ironman champs like Ain. Hopefully it's just a blip in his program. Because while there's lots of good guys in this sport, there are few like Ain, who can win with a massive, gap-toothed smile.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


The race season is finally over, at least over here in North America. I've just attended and covered the last race of the season. I love covering the trips international, but it's always nice having one in my proverbial backyard, which was the case for Ironman Arizona part deux.

Despite being the last race, it didn't fail to disappoint. I got to see a few things I think few have picked up on, including a prototype Bontrager/Hed wheelset aboard Chris Lieto's ride... which is above. I'll be doing a blog update soon on a recent trip with Steve Hed to the San Diego wind tunnel, the day before he provided councel to Lance Armstrong. With Bjorn Andersson there, and lots of prototype work going on (some of which I'll be permitted to show you), you can be sure Steve is pushing Zipp to be top brand in the market.

I also saw this guy. I think maybe he was confused that it was the new Ironman Sahara. We saw no sand dunes (or coyotes, roadrunners or rattlesnakes on the Tempe course for that matter), so I think we can be sure his grill stayed grit-free. I ran into Fletch Newland from Cervelo roadside on the race course, who did a bike count at Ironman Arizona, and he said he saw a BMX bike in the racks at Ironman Arizona... right down to the race number plate on the front of his bars, held by a gooseneck. Not a stem, a gooseneck.

He said he talked to the guy and he was not only an Ironman first-timer, he was a first-time triathlete. Talk about trial by fire. We saw him cruise by out on the Beeline Highway, and as I marveled, I should have tried to catch up and have him pop a wheelie and do a tabletop off some berm.

I observed several other things. First, the race was the deepest* pro of the year outside Hawaii, with nearly 90 pro men and women. Note the asterik—for pros, there was some pack fill. But as always, the cream rises to the top. My wife Donna, who did the swim and bike and passed on the run due to a calf tear, knew that "depth," particularly on the mens side, would off the ratio of the seven available Kona slots. With about 60 pro men, five spots went to the men, two to the women. It wasn't surprising when she came out ahead of many of the pro men. But when she found she was passing several "pro" men on the bike, that spoke to the fact that of the 60-something pro guys, maybe 10 were real contenders. The rest? I just wonder how they got a pro card.

I think Jordan Rapp is on the creep-up. He raced in Tempe both times it was on this year, and had solid podium results against solid fields. For as skinny as he is, he's unbelievably strong. I think Joanna Zeiger will be sticking to 70.3s for a while—she admitted as much that as much as she loves them, Ironmans aren't her bag.

I think people are pathetic. Kona was awesome, with drafters getting pinged. I think we all heard Clearwater was a challenge. But with the multi-lap format on the bike, I saw lots of good, but wham, I saw three instances of pack riding that was abysmal. Jimmy Riccitello is doing a good job, and I know some courses, like Arizona, make it hard to put multiple motos out there—one wobbling rider caused a rider behind to swerve into the path of a course moto, ending the athlete's day and breaking the front cowling off the moto. It's tight out there.

I'm sure there's those who are cheating for that elusive Kona slot. But these mid-pack guys (and girls mixed in) have nothing to gain. I think the four-minute penalty is too slack. For many, it's just a nice rest, with little effect on their day on the whole. Eight minutes would be a proper first offence. 10 minutes would be brilliant. When people get caught now, they figure it into the minutes they saved being in the pack—it's a net-zero loss, a wash. If the rules could change, if officials would err on the side of being too harsh, well, the world would be a better place. And less people would be capable of cheating... themselves. Honestly, I wonder how they can smile as they sleep, knowing their new PR was the result of cheating. I couldn't do it.

I think the rockstar award for the day in Tempe goes to Kieran Doe. Everyone has their reasons for finishing a race. But from mile one, he was experiencing foot pain and decided to pull off his race flats and did the entire run in just a pair of socks. For those that don't know the Arizona course, half is on cement path, and the other half is on crushed rock. Either way, it was painful.

He said he did it for friends and family, he had to finish for them, tearing up a bit as he told me. Clearly, it was more that being that simple. Whatever the reason, it was an impressive show; being first out of the water, leading most of the bike alone, then soldiering through the run. He'll have more Ironman wins than his first in Canada a year ago, but this year, Arizona wasn't in the cards for him.

The last thing I noticed was German Andreas Raelert. This guy is like so many that have segued from ITU racing, and found out they have a natural affinity to distance racing. He was an Olympian in Sydney and Athens, and quite honestly, I only remembered him by name from short-course, because the sport is so.... so not our sport, as competitors.

But he made a bit of a name for himself by almost running down Terenzo Bozonne in Clearwater at 70.3 Worlds. Then he firmly made a name for himself with a balanced, dominant race in Tempe. In the finish chute at Ironman Arizona, representatives from different brands were approaching him—I'm sure to congratulate him, but also to pass their cards and interest in sponsoring him. As a journalist I found him to be a great personality, excited about this new chapter in his sport, with the same excitement that we heard from Andy Potts about racing Kona. He nearly earned it by winning in Clearwater, but he removed any technical doubt in Arizona. This guy is a rising star.

Now it's on to winter (which has already seen snow with a trip to Halifax to see family), will be tempered by several projects, and which is also the perfect time to play with the new positons I found in the wind tunnel, as well as tweak and adjust to changes with Donna's setup. Granted, Ironman Western OZ is on soon, as will Ironman New Zealand, Pucon and the rest of races going on Down Under. But soon enough, the season will start again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blue Carolina: A company's quest to make you—literally you—faster

I’ve returned from my East Coast swing to A2 Wind Tunnel. Chance Regina of Blue Competition Cycles hosted me on the trip to Charlotte, N.C. The goal: experience just what the Blue Triad buyer will: an hour of time in the wind tunnel.

That is, a free hour of time in the wind tunnel. To do whatever I wanted. Get fit, play with parts, whatever. Or pretend I was Jimmy Riccitello and break wind, which he found comes back around and gets you, right in the grille.

The last time I had been tunnel fit tested was about six years ago. Then, I was given a VHS tape of my runs. That’s like Betamax and regardless, I’ve evolved my fit so much in those six years that it would have been moot anyway. It was time for a new fit. Beyond that, I wanted to try some different equipment and positions.

A2 is adjacent to AeroDyn Wind Tunnel. If you’ve listened to me before, you’ll know AeroDyn does all the aerodynamics testing for the NASCAR teams, with the tunnel rented out by the big teams on a literal 24/7 basis. With that business locked down for the next year and a half, tunnel owners decided to build a second, smaller tunnel next door, catering to the rest of the industry outside cars. And, says A2 engineer Mike Giraud, about 80 percent of his business now is bike-related, whether it’s athlete fitting or manufacturers coming in to test prototype gear.

What’s great about Giraud, is that in his other life, he was a triathlete and a fitter. He spent several years as the team mechanic on the Saturn road team, then wrenching and fitting for the Timex Triathlon Team. The guy knows bikes and fit. To the right is Regina on the left, and Giraud on the right, both setting up my test bike.

So if you do the Blue Triad deal, the value is apparent; wind tunnel time at tunnels around the nation ranges from $700 to $1800 per hour. They will pump out numbers you have to decipher yourself. After you get yourself to Carolina for your tunnel test, you could bring your own coach or fitter with you to break down your numbers, but barring that, Giraud has the capabilities. I’ve been around enough fitters to know he knows his stuff.

So what’d I find? I thought my aero position was pretty damn good… but I wasn’t that good. Giraud was able to determine that because I have long forearms, I tend to prop up on them and crawl across my aerobar, perching on about the front two inches of my saddle.

My test bike for the baseline was the one any Blue buyer will be aboard: the Triad. It’s the same bike I’ve been testing with for the last few months for a Triathlete magazine Bike of the Month review in San Diego, so I had lots of quality time on it in my baseline position. It’s set with a three-position seatpost, allowing a seat angle as shallow of 74 degrees and steep as 80 degrees. A2 also has any variety of wheels, aerobars, aero bottles to swap and try if you so desire. I ran my tests with the spec Aerus aerobar with s-bend extensions, and the spec Zipp 808 rear/404 front clincher set.

My notes:

• I tested two helmets I was most interested in; the Specialized TT2, and the Giro Advantage II. While the Specialized helmet is not available to the market, at least not yet, the nice cats at Specialized set me up for one to test. Between the two, the Specialized was most aero for me. And I say for me, because as Giraud reminded, every athlete’s flexibility and aero position will dictate what helmet will fit best and flow wind off it and onto a rider’s back.
• Aero helmets are not the end-all, be-all. Craig Alexander did an aero versus road helmet test at A2 earlier this year, doing a fit working with biomechanics expert Todd Carver of Retul fitting. For Crowie, it wasn’t about what was the faster helmet; he knew the aero helmet would be faster. He wanted to know by how much, and use that data to determine if it was worth the potential heat buildup an aero helmet brings about racing in Kona. The gains being too negligible, he opted for the vented helmet, Smart choice; he won Kona. So did Chrissie Wellington. It seems to me that TeamTBB coach Brett Sutton didn’t need to visit a wind tunnel to know that aero helmets won’t win the race—but they can certainly lose you one.
• The Praying Landis position didn’t necessarily work for me. It was the one thing that got me to duck my head (trying to replicate the images in my head of Levi Leipheimer shoving his face into his hands), but flexibility and just general comfort limited me.
• Ducking the head can yield massive, massive drag savings. Giraud noted that no matter how my bars dropped or extend, my head rise was seemingly locked into place for every run. It wasn’t until I attempted the Landis position that I consciously made an effort to dive my head down. Suddenly was taken out of the wind for a significant drop in drag.
• I also got a chance to test the new Vision aerobar hydration system. While it had a drag coefficient of 2.891 ft squared in a zero-yaw test, those numbers dropped to 2.571 when I was kicked over to a 15-degree yaw—a realistic crosswind situation. Just like Zipp’s test finding in the Sub 9 that the disc’s numbers dropped all the way to positive drag at a certain yaw angle, The increased surface area on the Vision unit meant more opportunity for laminar air flow, and thus lower numbers.

Bottom line, and need to practice tucking my head, and I can go lower in front. If I do that, I could manage to get my baseline drag coefficient of 2.792 ft squared down to 2.667. At least I ruled out a bunch of arm and aerobar positions that saw my coefficient rise to as much as 2.807. I have all winter to practice. Even for a guy who has access to coaches and fitters left and right, nothing can substitute or replicate the data you get when wind tunnel testing—what a valuable experience.

So you have to ask yourself, how valuable is it to drop massive drag watts through your position, or to buy a wheel that will get you maybe an extra six watts versus your existing race wheelset? Until now, the best a company could do to sweeten the pot of their bike sale is to bump up a spec. Or throw you a water bottle.

Blue has -gone one better—way better; they realize that the bike is a part of the equation, but the largest part of it is the rider. Optimize the fit, and aerodynamics, and you optimize the results in the race—which optimizes your experience. You can buy speed, and like many brands, Blue has that in the Triad with a tunnel-designed, engineered scythe of a ride. But Blue is throwing more speed—the opportunity to find your best position, to play with different options, whatever you want—to you for free.

Beyond that, Blue, along with Zipp and SRAM, is soon doing a giveaway, run in Triathlete magazine through March of next year: a draw for what they call the “Pro Treatment,” which they did for their sponsored pros Heather and Trevor Wurtele and Brent McMahon earlier this year. One person will win a Triad, and get a paid flight to North Carolina for two free hours of fit time at A2 Wind Tunnel. Someone’s gonna get lucky.

After the testing, Regina, having gotten wind of my affinity for NASCAR, pulled some strings. A drive through from A2 to an undisclosed location led us to Joe Gibbs Racing. For those that don’t follow sports, let me explain: Joe Gibbs is the legendary coach of the Washington Redskins from 1981 to 1993, earning three Super Bowl rings.

After the NFL came NASCAR team ownership, with Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin racing under his flag. In ’09, youngster Joey Logano will be driving the Home Depot car as Tony Stewart starts his own team.
And all those cars are headquartered in Huntersville, North Carolina. Eric Groen was just off the plane from the race in Phoenix for Tony Stewart as one of his over-the-wall wheel changers. Groen took Chance and I around the facility.

And the facility was gorgeous. The main garage floor was pristine, with several of the cars lined up meticulously along the walls. Eric pointed out Stewart’s car that won Talladega a month ago. As we walked down the row, I saw one of Denny Hamlin’s cars, crunched to bits. “Is that….”

“Yep, that’s Denny’s car from Talladega,” Groen said. At that race, Goodyear was having a tread compound problem with its tires, and no matter the camber they set up on the cars, the tires were going right down to the cords—and blowing up. Denny’s was one that saw the front passenger quarter panel explode like a bomb had gone off. It's over there on the right.

After watching all the bump-drafting, I walked around for a look at Denny’s bumper, which was as scuffed and scratched as I thought it would be.

Eric took us through the fabrication room, where they build the cars from flat squares of sheet metal. Saw the TRD engines, and a room full of CNC machines cutting parts that any bike engineer would only be able to dream of having at their disposal. Saw the transport trucks, rows of Goodyears, and crankshafts in the engine room so beautifully polished, so sexy, I wanted one for my coffee table. Not only could I not have one as a souvenir, I couldn’t take pictures of it. Ah well.

Eric said that the guys working on engines would basically spend the day in a locked room for six hours, concentrating on just assembling that one engine. And for an engine room, it was, again, pristine. The solvent basins were without a spot of dirt.

Another interesting element; you know how the UCI has a frame measurement gauge that it uses at races to makes sure TT bike saddles and aerobar extesions don't go to beyond its regulations for legality?

NASCAR has the same gauge. Except it's massive, and they call it the claw. They drop this thing, *which you see below above Tony Stewart's car) onto the cars at races.

It has to be within an eighth of a centimeter, Groen said, at each of the points when it is winched down onto a car's body, for the car to be legal. If extends out, or flares in, the car can't go out for practice until it is spot-on, and the team has to hammer in or pull out the sheet metal to get it compliant. "Any little thing like that can be a big aerodynamic advantage for the car at the speeds they're going," Groen said.

So I left now knowing what a pro motorsports operation looks like and now its time to go back to work. Having been in two wind tunnels in the same week (I was at the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel last week with Steve Hed and was there the following day during the Lance Armstrong test) I’m back to the grill. Got a cool wind tunnel story to write.


Oh, one more thing I forgot to put in this story, which is on the homepage: being a wicked mechanic, Giraud is a clever one. I've included two things he did; one was a little "pigtail" which he put on the rear derailleur to keep it in one gear, allowing him to change out bars during our test.

Another was a wicked-cool Craftsman compressor gun that he rigged with a hash pipe. Voila, the ultimate, portable, no-effort pump for your garage or the races. It even has a digital gauge on it, showing readings in tenths of PSI, until it reaches 100, where it goes in individual PSI. Show up to your local Ironman and it'll be like a guy walking through a sorority with a puppy: you'll be the most popular person in transition, guaranteed.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What's a wind tunnel fit worth?

Just done with another wonderful SoCal ride, and barely survived an attack at a light. As a couple cars cruised through a light in wonderment as a mad swarm headed along with them, I was yelling at them to light a fire under their asses. Because while they were safe in their cars, I was in the path of the swarm, and had nowhere to go. When the last car moved through the intersection, I busted through, but just barely. If anyone saw the allergic reaction my head underwent when I was stung on the head (bee in helmet vent) earlier this summer, you’ll know how much I didn’t want anything to do with these bees.

I know the cold is coming (I know, I heard the Midwest already received its first blizzard of the year, and I’m sure my wife and I will get a good dose as we head to see her family in Halifax for Thanksgiving in a few weeks). But I guess that this sweet weather is the reward for the financially meager life my wife and live in Encinitas, Calif.

I headed out with Donna and former pro star Todd Jacobs and Donna’s swim partner/buddy Doug Compere. On the way back I did efforts on a Suplicy test tri bike, and in between I screwed with my iPhone. I wondered, what happens when you take a picture of your wheel while it’s spinning, with the phone? Did it freeze action like my Canon pro cameras? The result?
Cool as hell… it’s like the freeze frame photo finish shots from the Tour. I guess that means if I stand at a race finish line, I can be the official timing company of the local crit.

Well, Donna’s still out riding, so while she’s out, I figured I’d update my blog.

While I missed covering and seeing 70.3 Worlds (I had planned on going but the trip was scuttled), I am really, really excited about my next trip, which starts tomorrow: a trip to North Carolina again!

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel, thanks to an invite from Steve Hed. I got to watch Steve do some amazing prototype work, as well as Trek engineers who were doing some tire testing, each of which I’ll soon chronicle here.

Tomorrow, I’m boarding a plane for Charlotte. I made a recent trip to the A2 Wind Tunnel, and am going back again, this time at the invite of Blue Competiton Cycles. Blue has been doing tri bikes for a handful of years, but 2008 marked a major surge for the brand when they debuted the Triad, a tunnel-designed weapon against the wind.

Blue, however is adding a unique twist to the whole thing. You buy a bike from most folks, and you get a great bike, then have to figure out the whole fit thing on your own. Maybe you’re lucky and your local shop has a certified fit… which you’ll pay for to have done. Maybe you’ll pay to go to a wind tunnel camp. Maybe you bought the bike, and you’re done paying… and have to figure out the fit yourself, using Slowtwitch forum members to dissect your fit and the wallpaper and shag carpet in the background of your living room.
The folks from Blue have a different tack: you buy the bike, you get the fit for free. Not just a fit, but a wind tunnel fit. A fast bike is not fast when you have a bad fit. Blue knows this, and paired with A2 Wind Tunnel in Mooresville, N.C., to offer a wind tunnel fit, included with the bike. You have to get to Carolina on your own, but really, you have to make an effort to get to a wind tunnel anyway if you were paying, yes? And A2 is one of the newest tunnels out there coming out with great accurate data. Craig Alexander did his tunnel testing at A2 this year, trying to see value between wearing an aero helmet versus a vented road helmet. You saw his results in Kona... in a road helmet. It seemed in his case heat management trumped aerodynamics. But that was all secondary to to his bike fit.

What does “free wind tunnel fit” mean? I’m going to find out. I’m headed to the land of NASCAR (yeah, I know, I talk about it ad nauseum… there’s two race left in the season, so bear with me) to experience just what you get when you buy a Triad, and how much that can impact your experience with the bike. I haven’t had a wind tunnel fit in about six years and I’ve literally let my fit devolve to a fit based on feel, so this will be a genuine, from the ground fit to determine my baseline, an optimized mix of aerodynamics and power. You can do the power thing anywhere, but to get your true drag numbers, you can’t do it anywhere but in a tunnel. Blue and A2 are offering a killer deal. What’s it worth? Well, you can buy a Triad with an Ultegra SL group for $4,400. What’s a wind tunnel session worth on its own? I’ll find out.

Whatever it is, it’s a unique, and valuable freebie any way you slice it. This will be an interesting trip, one I've been looking forward to. Will update here shortly...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Back on the Grid

So the race is over, obviously. Chrissie simply killed it, and Crowie proved me wrong. The women's race was the strongest race I'd seen in a long, long time. In the time from then to now I got to watch my wife finish in Kona for the first time, which was pretty damn rewarding for both of us.

Post race, was a blast. Even with a downpour drenching the awards banquet and the post-race party at Huggos on the Rocks, there was no stopping the fun. Before the rain came, Oakley opened its rolling O-Lab, which was actually quite interesting beyond the music bumping from it every time I walked by.

After the race, a bunch of the Oakley athletes were on hand as Chrissie Wellington auctioned off her race day glasses, with the proceeds going to breast cancer charity. I ran into Torbjorn Sindballe with Marc Andre Perron, Thunderbear's man at Argon 18. He was bummed about the fact that the mercury was just a tick above what his threshhold was for race day. And just a tick over meant that the boilerroom was ready for shutdown. Which was what ultimately happened to him. Hopefully he'll have a cooler day (and great draft marshalling) at Clearwater 70.3 Worlds next weekend.

So the O-Lab showed just how wicked the optics are. Greg Welch put a couple of tech guys on myself, Thomas Hellriegel and Stephan Vuckovic as they showed us about optic curvature and impact resistance. It was really impressive.

And reassuring. Welchy noted that Kenny Souza's crash years ago on Mount Palomar left some nasty scars under his eye, and that his glasses, which stayed intact, likely saved his eye. Below, Thomas checks out a lens that they fired a BB at.

Well, gonna keep this short, got some Halloween trick or treating to do with my nephew, then a three-hour ride tomorrow. Still loving the Santa Anas here in So Cal... winter's not here yet!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Night Lights (Out): Everyone Underground, and Chrissie's Sunday Sunnies Auction

Twas' the night before Ironman...

Friday is always the eeriest day of Ironman week. You see nary a peep. Sure, early morning you have a few folks doing sprint efforts along Alii, trying to milk in that last hard workout.

This morning, I joined Donna on a short, easy 20-minute run along Alii, then a little swim at the pool. There, we ran into her TeamTBB teammate Chrissie Wellington. She asked me a favor to get the word out about a little something:

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Chrissie would be wearing a pair of pink Oakley Enduring sunglasses, a limited-edition version with funds that benefit breast cancer awareness. Oakley is donating $20 of the $165 price to the Young Survivalists Coalition, a group dedicated to improving the quality of life to young breast cancer victims. You can order them online at

Chrissie wanted to do more. So for those in Kona Sunday after the race, you'll have a chance to win Chrissie's sunnies. Chrissie will be on hand (with many other Oakley-sponsored athletes) with her race glasses at 1 p.m. at the Oakley Rolling O-Lab. (If you've been in town near the expo, it's hard to miss the MASSIVE truck and trailer booming reggae and rap. That will be the place to be.

Then her glasses go up on the auction block.

Want what could potentially be the race-winning glasses? Be on hand and bring your checkbook.

I forgot to mention yesterday that I ran into Terenzo Bozonne, who is in town with Specialized. Two nights ago I was invited to the Specialized House to join Macca, Terenzo, Peter Reid, at a Specialized Riders Club event. Good food, good beer, good company, good time.

Specialized also gave me a binder with their white paper findings of the Transition versus the benchmark Cervelo P3. It was interesting. I believe these have been posted at Slowtwitch, but as soon as I can get a digital version, I want to post this.

Anyway, Terenzo was signing autographs at the Saucony booth, and had a wrap on his right hand. And that hand was swollen and scratched. What gives, I asked?

Well, seems that a ride to breakfast saw him hit a pothole and go over the bars. He thinks he broke a few bones, but said there's not much he can do about it anyway, "I just gotta get on with it."

Meantime, he had to used that tattered hand to sign autographs. He insisted pulling me into his shot—with that bad hand. With Clearwater coming up on his radar, I hope his worst fears aren't realized, that it's just badly bruised hand better heal up fast.

Time to shut down... today I'm taking photos of the pros bikes as they check in their bikes. Tomorrow I'll be on the back of a moto shooting the race, sticking mainly with the women's race.

My picks: Could go a few ways in the men's side. If it's windy as hell on the bike and the packs disintigrate a bit, I like Normann. He looks soooo cool at the pro press conference. He said "I feel like the old guy, like Jurgen Zack here." No way. It's all the same guys as years past, and he's beaten them all.

If it's like last year, it is gonna be another battle between Macca and Crowie.... with the mental edge to Macca.

Women? Chrissie, hands down. It'll be a battle for second, where I like her teammate, Erika Csomor. After that, a scramble.

And I look to Donna to simply enjoy the first race, have fun, and do her race. Whatever place that put her is fine with me. She's done unbelievable work training with the strongest team in the sport and she goes well in the heat. If she goes like she did in China, just does her race and keeps it steady, it'll be a rewarding day. She ran into Michellie Jones this morning, and that was her advice: do your own race, don't worry about anyone else around you. Good advice from a champ.

A last bit: after my test of the Cervelo P4 yesterday, I saw Zipp designer Dave Ripley at the Zipp booth across the way, and spied two sets of Sub 9 disc, littered with autographs. Click on the image and you'll see Emma Snowsill, Andy Potts, Belinda Granger, Desiree Ficker, Terenzo Bozonne... a ton of sponsored athletes. I believe one will be for the office walls at Zipp HQ in Speedway, Indiana, but with the other, they're going to be doing a fundraising draw. This would be a very nice wheel that you'd never want to ride!

Before checking out for the bike check-in, I want to wish all those racing the best of luck and best of experiences tomorrow.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thursday in Kona

Well, the final preps are being made; I'm making some of 'em. Strapping race numbers. Helping sort nutrition. checking tires, wheels, spare tube bag, all that minutae.

It's been a busy week for me, playing media guy on one side, playing sherpa for Donna on the other. And being a sherpa is kicking my ass. Donna's bike needs more service than a Ford. Gotta help her get a creak out of her bottom bracket tomorrow sometime.

I did manage my first swim of the week as Donna and I headed out to see Scott Molina and a good San Diego friend, Kevin Purcell, at the Coffees of Hawaii floating coffee bar. But after that, today was a busy one: had to cover the Roch and Huddle's underwear run, was off to two press conferences, having a rendezvous with Ironman folks about race day protocol, attending the pro race briefing.

One person I saw at the pro meeting: Andy Potts. The Olympian is having his first crack at Kona, and he's bound and determined to have a good time. He told fellow Triathlete editor Brad Culp and I he had a conference with Frenchman Benjamin Sanson.

The reason: The two will conspire to attack the hell out of the swim. He aims at a 46-minute swim. Lars Jorgensen had the fastest one, in 46:41 in '98. If he and Ben pair up, I wouldn't put it past him.

I asked him "do you want to keep that plan on the lo-lo?" He said "No way, I don't care who knows!" Then I said "Are you worried about anyone sitting on your feet?" His reply: They can if they want to, but they'll blow up."

I love his attitude. He'll be fun to watch out there Saturday.

I also got my first ride on the new P4. I cannot go into detail tonite, but it is nothing short of fantastic. I want more miles on it.

Gotta run, got more duties to attend to. Tomorrow should be more chill. I hope. Gotta get that BB sorted first...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Landed in Kona, and Custom Kits: Can you look pro too?

I've finally arrived in Hawaii and have, with my wife:
media registered
athlete registered
done a quick tour of the expo
had the bike tuned
And finally, made the press debut of the new SRAM shifter.

Which was unreal cool. The "trigger" people were thinking was not what I was envisioning—but was every bit as ingenious as I had imagined. Will get to that.

But first, I took Donna to the pool this morning, and ran into Michael Lovato. His training kit was one of the sickest out there; tribal tattoos and well-placed sponsor logos. So pro.

Which begs the question: who will have the sharpest kits in Kona this year? I can bet you one thing: Chrissie Wellington will look a hell of a lot sharper then she did when she came across the finish in first last year. She surprised everyone with that win, and

For most pros, looking after sponsors on your race apparel is paramount. And so is looking professional, with a color and match that shows you know what you’re doing, that you take your job seriously. The rest of us just take what’s available off the shelf.

Well, we don’t necessarily have to anymore.

The handiwork of custom design with many of the pros who will be racing this Saturday in Kona falls to one of the most creative designers in the sport: Kristin Mayer. Kristin and husband Dan live just a block away from my wife and I in Encinitas. So we often see one another at masters. Or we’ll honk at one another from our car as the other is headed out on a run.

Kristin’s an accomplished triathlete, scooping up podiums in her age group on any given weekend around here. But when she’s not training, she’s at home, in front of her computer, doing design work for HerSports magazine. Or, increasingly, with her race apparel design line, Betty Designs.

Which is where Kona comes in. If you see race-day shots of Michael Lovato this weekend (or have seen shots of Heather Fuhr and Michellie Jones, you’ve seen Kristin’s work. It all started in the late ‘90s, when Murphy Reinschreiber, agent to many top talents, wanted to lend a more professional look to his athletes. He wanted to make sure they didn’t look rag-tag, that their sponsors were properly placed for exposure, and that the athlete could add their style to the mix. “I would get to work directly with the athletes and try to come up with colors and motifs that reflected their personalities,” Kristin recent told me. So she went to work doing designs for Fuhr, Lori Bowden and Fernanda Keller. Working with Michellie Jones presented some cool new opportunities as well, designing both the race kit she wore when she won the 2006 Hawaii Ironman world title, but her matching bike motif as well.

“They really understood how to market her as an athlete and create the complete visual package to showcase her sponsors,” Mayer says. “Michellie wanted to support her sponsors, but she also wanted to look great and stand out from the rest of the women on the race course.

And as Murphy will contend, standing out doesn’t mean wearing white compression socks. Just bring up the subject with him and watch him get red.

After doing work for the pros, Kristin decided to broaden her design, making blank palates that anyone could buy. After all, age groupers like to look stylish, too. “In 2002 I began creating my own race gear out of the desire to race in something unique and "cute" and would match my race clothing to my helmet to complete the package,” she told me. “Through the process I found that the unit costs on producing a full custom tri top and short was less than some off-the-shelf (more boring) options out there. While fabrics and constructions are limited, the ability to come up with unique colors, patterns and motifs out-weighed this fact.

So after a few test runs (including doing the design on the super-bright HerSports tri team kit) Mayer launched Betty Designs last year, bringing custom design to teams—and individuals.

I know what you’re saying: most apparel companies do custom too. But not the way Kristin does it. When you see one of Kristin’s kits, you know it. Bright colors on contrast. There’s nothing reserved about her kits. Which is why they pop in photos. Instead of picking some pre-set design, Kristin works with you on what you want your custom race kit to be.

“I feel that I spend more time on a personal level with my clients and they walk away with something that really reflects who they are.

What’s it cost? Because minimums range from six to 10 pieces per item, an athlete/team can expect to pay around $1,200 and up for full custom race gear, all told. Some may blanch, but many will think, “well, I’m already spending on a custom paint job for my bike, or for $1,800 in wheels.” Age groupers that want to look the part, that are on a world stage like they are in Kona, and want to look after their sponsors in a very professional way, can do it, custom, while presenting themselves—and their style—in their best light. All they have to do is get out in it and go fast to back up the looking-fast part.

Kristin put it in perspective: “For athletes who spend thousands on their sport each year the cost is well worth it. After all, if you feel like you look good, you perform better.”

If you’re looking at going custom, you can visit Kristin’s website and check out her work at Meantime, keep an eye out for Lovato this weekend to see her art in motion.

Because Lovato his other apparel choices in the past, including a hot dog Speedo and compression socks at worn at the Underwear Run last year, that was not art in motion. It was far, far from it.

After my swim (or at least for me, watching Donna swim, and running into the who's who of Saturdays' race—including Lovato, Cam Brown, Eneko Llanos, Chrissie Wellington, Paul Amey and Chris McCormack—we bolted for HP to have Donna's bike tweeked and dialed, then to the Royal Kona for the big press debut of the new SRAM shifter.

The technical term for the new shifter is the 1090-R3C aero shift lever. 1090 represents the top-level for all their road componentry.

And R2C? That is an acronym for how this thing works: Return to Center.

So here's how it works: the lever pulls up and pushes down. But instead of staying up or down, the lever physically pops back to its "level" start position. The shift you made, one gear at a time takes place, ratcheting the cable to your effort, but the lever returns to it's start spot.

It looks like you could dump gears just like on a road shifter, with quick, successive clicks.

It means no wrestling, shoving with your thumb or torquing your wrist to pull the lever up. In short: no stress. SRAM staffers said the Astana team doctor, who serves as the team psychologist, said it's a huge mental advantage to the athlete for that don't have to wrestle the bike to get it to do what you want.

While Michellie Jones, Torbjorn Sindballe, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Lieto have been the prototype testers since April, Michellie was on hand at the press conference, and I had a chance to play with the prototype on her bike. It is WICKED. I have loathed the act of literally leveraging your whole body when having to engage a downshift on the rear derailleur, or pull the lever to lift the front ring. Michelle mentioned that they are particularly awesome when its cold out, or immediately out of the water with wet hands. I think we can all attest to how hard it is to shift with numb and/or wet fingers.

To the left are early prototypes.

The front shifter will have two trim positions. While the existing protos are comprised of alloy, the finished product will have a carbon lever, with ti hardware. Other facts that SRAM dropped on us:

  • Their wind tunnel testing of the levers reported an average savings of 10-15 watts at 30mph. I'll have to ask how they tested that.
  • It will be mountable to existing integrated Zipp VukaShift extensions.
  • SRAM's 1:1 actuation ratio of cable pull means it will work with SRAM componentry only.
  • Projected weight for the set is 195 grams.
Saturday, Chris Lieto will be the one man using the prototype R2C levers. SRAM says spring is the date we'll get to use 'em as consumers. No price as yet.

My last salve: something that brought a smile to my face, found in Donna's race registration paperwork. You can click on it in full, but it is a letter that says, in essense, leave your family out of the finishing chute. Let's see if it happens.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Vegas Redux II: Celebrity Sightings

I’m purging Vegas from my system since I’m getting on a plane tomorrow morning for Kona. While much of what was seen is out there, I have to say there were a lot more athletes there than I’ve seen in the past. There were several I didn’t run into (multiple-time Ironman champ Mark Allen and coach Luis Vargas of and some I saw but was too on-the-go to see (like Simon Whitfield).

So after four days in LV, who did I see? Conrad Stoltz, showing off the new AviStoltz trail shoe that he helped design with Avia. Low heel, aggressive tread, a sealed tongue and mesh upper that helps keep sand out.

 founder Dan Empfield (left), with Gerard Vroomen of Cervelo. This was minutes before the debut of the P4. The tension was palpable.

This trio includes three Ironman winners, two from this year: Ironman Canada winner Bryan Rhodes of New Zealand is on left. In center is former Ironman Malaysia winner Marilyn McDonald of Canada and TeamTBB, and on right is Marilyn's husband, Chris McDonald, recent winner of Ironman Wisconsin and fellow TeamTBB team member. While Rhodsey will be in Kona this week, Chris is passing on Hawaii this year to focus on the fall race at Ironman Arizona.

Cervelo's Gerard Vroomen, with Swede bike powerhouse Bjorn Andersson, and the new P4.

Ironman 70.3 specialist Chris Legh of Australia, chatting up Dave Ripley, one of the designers and product managers on aerobars at Zipp Speed Weaponry.

2006 Hawaii Ironman World Champ Michellie Jones and Holly Bennett, the head marketeer at Gu Sports. Holly was a champ to be on her feet at the show in Vegas given that she had just come from racing Ironman 70.3 Cancun and was bruised up from a bad bike crash. Michellie had gone down with her and essentially played the sherpa for Holly. A cool reversal of role from one of the classiest athletes in our sport.

Dan Empfield and VeloNews technical editor Lennard Zinn, discussing the finer points of fine linen that drapes the P4. Lennard will be in Hawaii for the first time to watch the race, and when he heard about SRAM marketing guy Michael Zellman's affinity for open-water swimming in brightly-colored Speedos (see my below post), he said he, too felt repressed for his desire to wander city streets in minimalist attire.

With all the pale Germans and leathery Brazilians that will be traipsing around town eating mahi mahi sandwiches in cafes wearing nothing but Speedos and Crocs, those two will finally feel liberated and fit right in.

Scott Forrestall (left) and Vinu Malik, the brainchild owner of FuelBelt. Vinu and Scott are both fast cats, kicking one anothers' asses in training over in their home base of Rhode Island. Vinu qualified for and is racing this weekend in Kona. I wish I could run business and be as
fast as this guy. Both are great cats, too.

Felt Racing-sponsored pro Tim DeBoom, and namesake Jim Felt. Felt is one of the nicest guys in the sport, and Tim, as historically one of the quietest, most secluded pros, has opened up to the point where he's doing a column in Triathlete about his experiences... which are really, really enlightening. Dealt some bad hands in races, Tim has been a warrior and while he was often dissed for being fleeting with the press, he was always genuine with me and has been one of my favorite pros to deal with.

Rhodesey with Tim Moxey of Nuun Nutrition and Blue Seventy Wetsuits. Tim is often on the other side of the camera, as one of the finest multisport shooters in the game. He's also all-around fun guy to be around with a wit you cannot touch. Rhodesy is the couch-surfingest pro on the Ironman circuit. He's spent time crashing on the air mattress at my old condo before, and has probably spent time rifling through your cereal cupboards, too. Arrrgh, mate! Good guy.

That was just a collection of the peeps I ran into. I also saw a few cool things, three of which I wanted to mention before I sign off of Vegas and onto Hawaii: First was the Pearl Izumi Tri Fly shoe that P.I. made up for Jan Frodeno before he won his Olympic gold, and had on display. It was a very nice one-off, especially for a guy who no one expected to figure into the top five, let alone the win. A nice way for a company to look after its athletes.

Another was the low-key setup by newcomer Feather Brakes. A moto-cross brand, they come into the superlight road aftermarket brake market with not only a pretty product, but one they aim to improve on performance-wise. The CNC'd bodies, with ti bolts and springs weigh 199 grams complete. They have upgrade kits to add anodized color accents (blue, pink, gold, black and red) to your bike. But they have a barrel that attaches to your brake cable and hooks onto the cam lever, making it easy to open the caliper to remove the wheel. We cannot wait to try this one.

Finally, I present MotorTabs. Nothing new save for a new six-pack offering (which is nice for the cash-strapped that wants to buy in small lots). However, this effervescent, drop-in-the-bottle-and-add-water) is THE most underrated nutritional tab on the market. Michellie Jones uses it, but whateverl nutrition is not sold on who's using it; it has to work for the user. I have used a lot of stuff, and when it came to my training for my ultra this spring, this was my go-to hydration. Greg Sellers, owner of the company, told me there have been several big-name riders on major road cycling teams that buy his stuff and use it instead of the sponsor-supplied goods, because it works. Good hydration, good salt, easy on the belly and easy to re-up on the go. They have fruit punch, orange, lemon-lime and a new grape flavor, but for me, lemon-lime is the go. I have heaps of drinks at my disposal, but when I go to the cabinet to do my bottles up for ride morning, I always go for these tabs as a default. This stuff is so good, I gotta recommend it.

I'm out. Next stop: Kona.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Breaking News: SRAM to make big bar-end shifter debut in Kona Wednesday

Well, it seems Interbike wasn’t good enough to do a launch. And triathletes get the benefit of it.

I’ve just gotten word that SRAM is making a major presentation Wednesday in Kona, revolving around its time trial/triathlon shifting system for triathlon. The rumors that have abounded for over a year will be answered at a press conference Wednesday.

The press release says:
“This new SRAM shifter has been in development for over three years, it’s like no other gear changer on the market, and will redefine aerodynamic efficiency and comfort – so please join us to be the first to see it.”

Man, I love being in the media. There’s nothing cooler than getting the first look.

There had been rumor, as far off as a year ago, that a new shifting system was in the works. The new Red group came and went without an update to the carbon shifter that came with the debut of the brand’s first road group, Force. Many, myself included, were beginning to think it was wishful thinking, vaporware.

But this is SRAM, which has been exceptionally progressive. Progressive in not only in presenting three tiers of road groups (top-end Red, mid-tier Force and so-called entry level Rival) but re-designing the two latter groups inside a year’s time. Hell, major Shimano lifer (well, at least until a week or so ago) Lance Armstrong will be rolling his debut on SRAM.
I became a fan of SRAM when they debuted Force the first time. The above shot was from their press launch at Sea Otter a couple years ago…. I’m in the center, with SRAM’s Alex Wassman on my left and respected VeloNews scribe Lennard Zinn to my right. From there, they’ve stepped up the product, functionally and ergonomically. We have a Rival group in our office to test, and while most cases would see me not too jazzed about stripping a bike to put on an entry-level groupset that costs just $919 complete (compared to the $2,099 Red gruppo)

At Sea Otter this spring, SRAM did debut the 500 level alloy shifter and alloy brake levers, in alignment with the Rival group. They were very nice and represented a great value, but there was nothing truly innovative, despite my optimism.

Now, SRAM turns its attention to triathlon, and is making the debut on the world stage in Kona. I’m thinking they won’t trot out a revamp this time.

Now, consider that the bar end shifter was never meant for use on tri bikes. They were created well before Boone Lennon created the first aerobar—Campagnolo had ones with rubber covers in 1953. In the 70s and mid-80s, SunTour created barcon shifters that mounted on the bottom end of drop bars, where bar plugs typically go today.
So basically, while advances in tube shaping, frame materials, water bottle shapes, training, nutrition have evolved over the years, the lowly bar end shifter remained untouched, unevolved and neglected for decades. The most radical thing that happened came three years ago, when SRAM made the lever out of carbon. Sexy, yes. But functionally, it was the same thing.

Then along comes SRAM, which has been one of the most excitable brands in the market today. When you’re pushing the envelope, I guess it’s hard to not get jazzed. SRAM road PR manager Michael Zellmann is a big guy. If you’re in Kona and see a 6’3 dude traipsing around town, that’s your guy. He’s also a time trial powerhouse—think Torbjorn, just without the ability to swim. (Sorry Michael—but you’re welcome to throw on your tangerine Speedo and prove me wrong at Dig Me Beach next week).

Seriously though, being a SRAM marketer aside, as a TT guy I think MZ’s presence in Kona means he has a truly vested interest in delivering this debut. He was here to do the first count of groupsets last year at the pier. I think this year, he'll see a bigger presence in the race.

“We are excited to be launching our third bar-end shifter into the triathlon market in three years at this years Ford Ironman World Championships,” Zellmann told me this past week after sending the press release. “Triathletes have been underserved on drivetrain and shifting options for years.”

If they're on par with what they’ve delivered across the rest of their road range the last three years, I don't think I'm off base in saying we can expect to be wowed.

So what does that mean? Zellmann was mum. The rumor, as far as I have heard, involved something different than a traditional lever that moves up and down, pulling on the cable. Some of the Triathlete mag staff were in Chicago for the Chicago Triathlon this spring and visited the SRAM offices, taking a tour. Ad sales rep Sean Watkins said he was accidentally send into a room where something was on a table that he couldn’t sort out, and he was quickly whisked out.

Further, sponsored pro Michellie Jones has been spotted training in San Diego testing the prototypes. I’ve not seen ‘em. The term “trigger” has been bandied about, but for the last year, and despite my incessant badgering, SRAM has confirmed nor denied any of it.

So after the “how rad and revolutionary is this gonna be” question comes the “will anyone be running it in the race” question. Considering the tech-o-philes that SRAM sponsors, including Chris Lieto, and Normann Stadler, perhaps there’s a chance.

We’ll find out all Wednesday. Michellie is slated to be there to talk about her experience with it, and SRAM and Zipp will have several of their other goods on display, including the new SRAM S40, S60 and S80 wheelsets, and the new Zipp SLSpeed Stem… one of the newest objects d’art from Interbike.

I must say, I’m glad SRAM opted to make Hawaii the debut instead of Vegas. Further proof that SRAM is recognizing the tri market as an entity unto itself.