Friday, March 19, 2010

On New Bikes and Bike Fit: Resistance is Futile

Ever since my return to triathlon, I've been resubmerged in that thing I refer to as "bike culture." And I don't mean Harley Davidson. Unlike "runners," triathletes are gadget lovers, and I've often noted in my observations that they characteristically have gobs of disposable income. It's a bike seller's dream, especially with continuous advancements in materials and aerodynamic technology.

In 2003, buying an [expensive] tri bike had not been part of my plan, until my road bike (with me on it) met the front of a Ford truck. Shortly thereafter, my racing career would spiral into oblivion, but my oh-so-brief comeback that year would be on the Cannodale Ironman 5000, one of the official branded bikes of Ironman. It was aluminum with an aerodynamic frame, Shimano Dura-Ace components, and a proprietary Cannondale crank that required a special tool to tighten. Cost-wise, it didn't compare to titanium or carbon fiber, but for aluminum, it was state-of-the-art. Cannondale tri bikes were common.

Fast forward to 2008 when the triathlon spark reignited itself. It never occurred to me that my bike, not my body, would be the outdated commodity. Five years is a lot of time in the bike frame world. Thank heavens race wheel technology had not also taken leaps and bounds and my Zipp 404s would still do. By 2008, I rarely saw a single Cannondale from that bygone "era." To be fair, I'll note that Chrissie Wellington won the 2009 Ironman Hawaii title on a Cannondale Slice, but it is well out of my price range.

What's a monetarily-challenged triathlete to do in this situation? I went to my tried-and-true bike shop, Bike Authority in Broadview Heights, Ohio. Owner Sherman McKee gave me the scoop on bikes and prices, and much to my surprise, carbon fiber bikes did NOT have to cost $10,000, or even $5000. I may be able to get out the door for $2500. Sherman did assure me that the geometries HAVE changed, and, if I were interested in a new bike, it would be worth going through the fitting process once again. Bike Authority carries four different brands of tri (or TT, i.e., Time Trial) bikes -- Felt, Cervelo, Cannodale and Trek. I was told these four frames cover most of the geometry bases. Depending on a person's body geometry, there are likely two bike brands to choose between.

With a generous monetary gift from my mother, I decided to start the purchase process from scratch. This is where Bike Authority excels at customer service. Included as part of your bike purchase, you get an exclusive one-on-one fitting with one of their experts. My first appointment was with bike-fitting guru Mike Vanucci -- a two-hour question-and-answer session that included body measurements and a quick-and-dirty set-up on two of their in-stock bikes. I can't say enough about the folks at Bike Authority for being patient with me asking the same questions over and over again. One interesting question is about the bike brands I've recently seen at races -- Orbea, Guru, Ceepo, Kuota, etc. -- what's the deal? Both Mike and Sherman will tell you they base their lines on research and experience -- i.e., scientific data counts more than hype. Does anyone remember Softride? I rest my case. Vanucci will quote you stats and research data, and he's even met the engineers who design the bikes. Bike Authority's staff is not just winging it -- they believe in their products.

You probably want to know my decision: I chose the Cervelo P3 (Ultegra version). Yes, it's more expensive than the best-selling P2, but after about an hour of phone calls to my husband, conversation with Mike and Sherman, and walking around in circles, my bottom line was based on the following:
  • Cervelo bikes felt "right" almost instantly, and Mike backed that up by saying my aero position was almost perfect.
  • The P3 frame is obviously more aerodynamic than the P2 -- even to a non-engineer (which I am not). This fact may not matter to someone in a short race or someone who just wants to do an Ironman, but in longer races and at my level, the difference between 20 and 21 mph could mean the difference between an age group slot for Kona.
  • The P3 frame has more wind tunnel data to back it up and it doesn't look like the frame style will be outdated anytime soon.
  • The compact crank (50/34) looks like a better choice for riding hills (most of my rides and my upcoming race)
The bike is on layaway (another customer incentive!) -- I'll pick it up in a few weeks and then I'll talk more about the next part of my fitting process: getting my new bike set up to get the most power out of my position. It should be interesting.

A couple photos of the process -- these guys KNOW what they're doing:
  1. It all starts with an extensive questionnaire about your riding style, needs, and body flexibility -- this is not a a yes-no process and it gives the fitter a good idea of where to start.

  2. Measuring height and inseam - yep, there's an app for that, but it's analog, not digital:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nutrition Lessons after Season's First Outdoor Long Ride

Regular followers of my blog are probably aware of my ongoing search for the perfect race nutrition and dietary supplementation. Yesterday's long ride gave me a new data point in the nutrition grid -- all in typical Disaster Magnet style.

The disaster aversion began Friday when I realized I was out of Accelerade, the endurance drink I've been using on my indoor training rides. When riding indoors, I pay less attention to nutrition because any problems can be solved by getting off the bike and going downstairs to raid the refrigerator. But yesterday, I had to face the facts -- riding outside meant that all my nutrition had to be ON me and/or the bike. Being out of Accelerade brought up the possibility of using Hammer Perpetuem, which works ok but at times during rides, I get lightheaded for no apparent reason. A second option was to come up with some other nutrition plan like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or power bars (I could probably scrounge up some age-old energy bars hidden somewhere). Solid food is only ok if I don't run afterward. Not liking either option, I desperately searched the house for a third. Wanting to test the theory that I need more protein in my race nutrition, I came up with a new idea: devise something that mimicked Accelerade's 4:1 carb:protein ratio. I found an old can of Extran -- anyone remember that stuff? it's almost pure glucose with B1 added. I mixed up 1150 calories (going for 250 calories/hour for 4.5 hours) -- 290 g carbs -- and then added 70 g of soy protein (in a powder) to get the 4:1 ratio. In retrospect, that added about 275 total calories that I didn't account for. Then I added 4 Hammer Endurolytes to the mix, water, and shook it up and poured it over ice in a water bottle.

I grabbed two bottles of water (knowing I would refill them) and set out. The ride was not what I had hoped. Although I've been doing lots of drills for fast turnover, I feel like I've sacrificed speed while riding my trainer this winter. But I did feel really strong on the hills (and there are a lot of them). I also spent half the ride into a headwind which might have caused some of the slowdown. Nutrition-wise, it was almost uneventful. From start to finish, I felt no light-headedness or lack of energy. The temperature was between 55 and 60 degrees F, I sweat very little and drank just over 3 24-oz bottles of water. The distance was just over 76 miles, total time was 4:22 -- i.e., average speed was 17.4 mph. My nutrition conclusions would obviously be that I need more protein on my endurance rides, and perhaps 250 calories/hour is not quite enough. Training-wise: duh! I will need more speed work.

After reading blogs and discussions about Ironman fueling, I've decided that my next data point in the nutrition study will include the EFS products by First Endurance. (EFS Energy Drink and Liquid Shot contain "free form amino acids" which First Endurance claims are both equivalent and easier to digest than complete proteins containing branched chain amino acids.) And a quick update on my dietary supplementation: I've been taking EnerPrime capsules for a few weeks now and I have noticed no difference in my energy levels from Hammer Premium Insurance Caps. Thus, I will probably go back to Hammer PIC's, which are significantly less expensive, and find a way to add the ingredients recently removed (the amino acid profile), with a product such as this one from Fitness Nutrition.

Last of all, the disaster report:
  • Potential nutrition disaster -- averted.
  • 2010 riding disaster #1: pothole. As my first outdoor ride of the season in Cleveland, I was out of practice and tried to ride a little strip of flatness between two potholes, ending up rotating my aerobars down and launching all my water bottles from the bike. I don't know what was funnier, me running out into the road waving to motorists to avoid running over my precious plastic bottles, or getting back on the bike to realize I was facing down when I gripped the handlebars. But seriously, it could have been much worse -- but my teeth and wrists were still intact, the wheel rims were unharmed, and an allen wrench was all I needed to fix the handlebars.