Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tech and Gadgets

If there is one thing that I really love about the sport of cycling, it's the continual need for industry to keep pushing itself further in to new realms of advanced technology and lightweight materials. Manufacturers and consumer alike will never be satisfied with what is currently available which means that the arms race will keep going and going and going, who knows what will be released next week, next month or next year. These advances in technology have opened amazing new doors for cyclist of all types, we can cycle further thanks to 5 panel, multi density, anti-bacterial, contoured bib shorts, we can shave seconds off of our 25 mile PB thanks to sub 1000g full carbon 58mm deep section wheel. Most importantly for coaches however is the ability to quantify and accurately monitor acute and progressive training load whilst having the ability to train without the influence of external factors and uncontrollable variables thanks to the advancements and developments in the very competitive world of on board power measuring devices, this is the thing that really gets my blood flowing and always looking forward to the next update from the newest power measuring company on the block. It really has turned in to a race to see who can develop the most accurate, reliable, repeatable, user friendly, lightweight and indestructible power meter on the market and now it's really hotting up.

Now I could make this entire post in to a full historic run down of the development of the power meter but this ground has already been covered numerous times can be searched for on the web at any time. Instead, I want to give you an account of my experience with powermeteres and how using the technology has advanced the way in which I train and ride my bike in general.

Like many, when I first started training with a serious attitude, all I had available to use was my trusty polar heart rate monitor. Don't get me wrong, this proved to be an invaluable tool and allowed me to train with much more accuracy, I don't intent for this to become a power vs. HR debate so wont provoke one. However, I soon learned about the newest training tool on the block and was now being used and endorsed by many of the sport top cycling teams, power meters were now moving in to the eyes of the public and soon everybody wanted one. SRM's the company that most people knew about and although they mass produced units for the consumer market, they were still hideously expensive and out of most peoples reach.
Soon, other companies were getting involved and more affordable power meters were being produced. US company SARIS produced the powertap hub which was less than half the cost of the SRM system, at the time I had been looking in to how power meters worked and what they could do to enhance your training. I pretty much knew the basics as I had been using a TACX I-Magic turbo which has a power function and can provide a fairly decent power training experience, soon the temptation began to over whelm me and I knew that I had to get the real thing and I had to get it soon.
Luckily, at this point I had been working at my local bike shop which had a few nice perks, namely getting things at a trade + VAT price. One of our main stockists were Trek and Bontager and Bontrager had recently released a powertap hub option for their Race X Lite Aero wheels, a wheel set which I already owned, so this was the most obvious choice for me and I pounced on it. It would be carless for me to say how much the 2.4 wireless powertap wheel cost me but let's just say that trade saved me a fair bit!
After fitting the wheel and setting up the head unit at work, I rode the mile back home looking at my power on the road for the first time and the first thing I did when I got home was panic! In the 2 minutes it took to ride home I was sure my power meter was broken, the power being displayed was so jumpy and unstable compared to what I had experienced with my TACX I was adamant something wasn't right. Newbie Statement no. 1: Power on the road is highly "stochastic" or variable, every pedal revolution produces a slightly different amount of power which is continually displayed and updated on the head unit. Tis can make it very strange and quite difficult to adjust to at first, especially when trying to ride with in a narrow range of power but persevere with it and this is where you will begin to see your first performance improvement; efficiency and suppleness. I found that after a few weeks of trying to hold my power more steady whilst riding on the road, my overall pedalling style changed completely, I was much smoother and my cadence increased which allowed me a more controlled application of power. I learned not to stab the pedals but to evenly drift my foot through the pedal stroke. Friends began to notice the difference in the way I rode commenting that I pedalled like a continental pro or looked like a rider who had been cycling since the day he was born, how kind!!

I brought the powertap in 2008 and used it through the next few seasons, it ever left my bike, I used it every time I rode my bike just like Hunter Allen suggested you should in his book "Racing and training with a power meter"; this was my bible and still is today. I continually learned how to use my power meter more effectively and with the addition of TrainingPeaks WKO+ analysis software to my armoury, I was really getting to know myself as a rider in much more detail. The software not only allows you to review your ride data but compare all of your training data to date and also quantify your training and plan for peak performances in the future. I'm still learning new things today which show just how deep this stuff can go. Newbie Statement No. 2; Download and analyse your ride, a power meter is nothing if you don't understand the information I provides and is the whole idea behind training with one. If you aren't bothered about reviewing your training and racing performances then don't waste your money on a power meter!

As you can tell, I adore my power meters and don't think I could live without one but don't get me wrong, I have experienced the down side to owning this amazing piece of tech. The first thing that you will find after using a PM for a while is how addictive the numbers can be and I soon found that every time I went out I wanted and expected to hit bigger numbers, a few times this lead me down dangerous paths towards overtraining and I really had to think about what I was doing and look at the bigger picture, all I wanted to do was make the graphs and the numbers go up and I wouldn't stop until they did. Newbie statement No. 3; don't get hung up on the number. Even with a PM you can still have bad day and like always you must respect this and know when to ease off. Don't expect to get a new 5 minute power PB every time you do a max 5 min effort, it just doesn't work like that and if you think like that you will end up mentally and physically destroying yourself. Remember, "all's you can do is all's you can do!"
Another pain of owning a power meter is possibility that it will need some kind of maintenance or repair during the time that you own it; this can cause some riders real grief. I had to send my powertap back for a service once or twice, once to have the bearings replace and once to have new, updated internals fitted. The first time was a real nightmare as I was about to start a hard training block so decided to get it done so I would have it back before I started, as it was I ended up being without it for 5 weeks due to various complications and I found the whole thing utterly devastating. I had come to rely on my PM so much I was getting serious withdrawal symptoms and almost becoming depressed. Going back to the old ways of training is horrible after using a PM and not one that am prepared to do again.

This is why a few months ago I decided to try another brand of PM and splashed out on a Quarq SRAM chainset. Expensive but well worth it. I got the new power meter for a few reasons, one being due to having a spare for clients and just in case one goes wrong and the other reason is because a crank based system is better for on my racing bike due to being able to use my race wheels and not having to worry about chucking my PT wheel in to the follow car if I happen to get a puncture in a race.
My initial impression of the Quarq is one of marvel; its lightness is the thing that impressed me the most with it only adding a few grams to the existing chainset. Set is simple, as simple as putting on any other chainset; bearing in, greased up, chainset popped through the frame, other crank arm on, torqued up, job done. The only extra thing that you have to do with this chain set is to fit the cadence magnets to the bottom bracket area, this is what triggers the reed switch and wakes up the power meter. There are 2 options for this with the first being the easiest; the cranks come with a bottom bracket mount with a magnet attached, simple put this behind your external BB before tightening it up. The second requires a bit more creativity and is the option I had to use due to owning a Trek which used push fit bearing. For this they give you a poxy which you use to stick the magnet to the frame but would also suggest the use of super glue and gaffer tape just to make sure it is nice a safe.

The Quarq claims to be very weather proof which it looks as though it is after various washes and rides in rain, it is also very owner friendly with a battery that can be replaced in about 5 seconds flat and not real maintenance issues. There have been some initial concerns over some of the Quarq that have been sold recently with some customers complaining about inaccurate power figures and inconsistent readings. It turns out that due to the unexpected popularity with the Quarq, the manufactures had to send some of the units to an external factory to have the soldered, this meant that quality control could not be maintained and some of the units went out with various internal faults. Thankfully, Quarq now say that all of the manufacturing has been moved back in house and the power meters undergo various quality control checks before leaving the factory. Good stuff.

Comparing the Quarq and the PT is a hard thing to do as they are both great pieces of kit and both have their pros and cons. The PT has been very reliable and is pretty user friendly and easy to set up, it's also the most affordable option out there at the moment with the most basic hub costing around £500. However, its biggest flaw is the terrible bearings that Powertap keep putting in to their wheels. Your first set will last you around 6 months before needing to be sent off to be replaced as it's not something that you can do yourself due to the fragile internals of the hub, this means that you will be without your wheel at some point. The other obvious down fall is only being able to use that wheel which means you have to decide whether you get it laced it to a nice expensive carbon race wheel or a mile crunching training wheel. Pretty hard choice when it comes to crunch time.

The Quarq again has similar things going for it; easy to set up, user friendly and currently the cheapest crank based option there is with the basic model costing around £1000. However, keep in mind that the Quarq does not come with a head unit so you will have to factor this in to the price as well but even if you brought a Garmin which is around £300, you are still looking at a quality set up for an awful lot less than an SRM. Also as I have mentioned this is the better option for race day as it means you can use whatever wheels take your fancy and it won't add much weight to your bike unlike the PT. The actual downsides to the Quarq are quite hard to come by, there is nothing drastic that comes to mind that would put you off buying one. Switching t from bike to bike is a bit of a longer process than the PT but still possible and only if you happen to get one of the badly manufactured batches will you suffer any real problems; this will eventually be resolved as soon there will be none left in circulation. The only thing I can see being an issue at the moment is the fact that Quarq will be continually updating the firmware in the cranks as they develop and they can only update existing Quarq at their factory in the US which means that non US residents will have to box up there cranks and ship them off, however the updates are free and I should imaging service centre will across Europe will soon be able to do this in due time.

So overall, I am very happy with my new purchase and look forward to using it during the racing season. If you were looking to get a power meter then my suggestions would be to do you research and ask around for varying opinions, even test some if you can. It's a big investment and one that you want to get right. In my opinion I would say go with a PT if you are on a tight budget and are mainly looking for something to use for training and not fussed about wheel choice for races. However, if you can afford it my top choice would be the Quarq as it's a solid piece of kit that will last its user an awful long time.

In the last year the biggest power meter advancement to date has been in development, the battle to produce the first pedal based PM.
Garmin and metrigear have teamed up and Polar and look have also paired and both are working on their own designs which apparently will be available in quarter 4 of this year. I for one will be keeping up to date with the developments of these amazing pieces of technology and may even have to begin saving up for one very soon!

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Reliably Good Ride!

Stratford CC Reliability Ride, 6th February 2011
Headquarters – FISSC, Tiddington, Stratford upon Avon
Route – 54 miles around a hilly loop through the Cotswold's
Conditions – Extremely windy but dry, 12 degrees

January, February and march are 3 months that sit quite oddly in the cycling calendar, riders are still deep in winter training in the earlier part yet the racing season is pretty much in full swing by the later part and many riders are unsure what they should be doing, whether they should be going hard or whether they should be keeping a lid on it. It’s also that time of year when many riders have been pushing themselves to keep up the training trough the cold months and motivation is now becoming harder to sustain knowing there could still be a few months of poor weather ahead. Thankfully, cycling came up with the answer to this a long time ago, Reliability Rides. When and where they started……I have no idea but what I do know is that they are an integral part of many riders’ annual plans and will be for a long time.
The concept of the reliability ride is simple; a club organises there ride by planning a route, usually around 60 miles, promote via word of mouth and online forums and rent out a HQ.  Simple. Riders turn up choose a group to go in depending  on how fast they think they can do the route, grab a map and set off with the aim of completing the ride within there chosen time band. As these rides attract a whole variety of riders from complete novices all the way up to elite road riders, the groups always split and most participants do the ride a lot faster than originally intended and the faster groups pretty much become an informal road race, this can make them great pre-season events for racers to test their legs and perform some unstructured yet very specific training.

RPC’s local club, Stratford CC, have been running there February reliability ride for as long as the club has been going and is always run over the same route. Every year it seems to achieve a bigger turn out which is great seeing as how all profits go to the Warwickshire Air Ambulance Service and this year was no exception with an estimated 150 riders turning out to tackle the 54 mile loop. This was also great for us as this was a great chance to hand out some of our new leaflets and promote RPC at some local events.
The route itself is a great mix of short punchy climbs, long drags and fast descents while taking in some stunning Cotswold's scenery. The first half is the toughest as it climbs from Stratford all the way to the half-way point which is situated at the highest village in the Cotswold's, Stow on the Wold. After this point the ride becomes more undulating as it meanders its way back to Stratford through quaint villages and smaller roads. The route contains around 3000ft of climbing most of which is in the first 20 miles and can be considered a pretty ride on any day, but today is was made an awful lot harder due to the Gail force winds that have been sweeping across the county in the past few days but it looked as if the rain might just hold off.

Personally, I have completed this route on my own in just over 2.5 hrs.’, however having been feeling pretty ill and very fatigued lately, I opted to go in the second to last group which was aiming for 3.5 hrs. The last group was 3 hrs.’ and the first 2 groups were 4.5 and 4 hrs.’, the 3.5 was a nice compromise as the chances are it would split in to a few faster groups and we would complete the ride a lot faster anyway but it meant that if I felt bad I could sit at the back and chill. Jamie also came in this group as did my dad, his 2 friends and a few mates of my own along with about 50 other riders, this was most likely the biggest group of the day.
The group set out at what for me would usually be a pretty comfortable pace but today it felt pretty brisk, my legs were like led and I felt tired and generally fatigued, mixed in with the cross winds that were blowing across the group at storm force 10, I seriously began to doubt whether I would be able to complete today's ride. All the way through Long Marston the group was lined out in the curb with riders battling for shelter, this was like a road race not a social reliability ride!
After about 12 miles there is a nasty surprise in waiting, the first 2 hard climbs which take riders up towards Broad way tower, I decided to use the old age trick of getting towards the front of the group before the climbs so as to allow myself some slipping room back through the group if I was feeling bad. As it was, we hit the climb and the pace didn’t feel too bad yet around me other riders were really struggling; maybe I was beginning to feel better. The second climb felt the same and I was up towards the front of the group and happy that I was feeling good; my legs were starting work, the first time in about 3 weeks. My confidence in my own ability today began to increase and I was soon taking longs pulls on the front through the lavender field which sit on the top of Broadway, at this point the wind was savage but the pace of our group was high and riders began popping off the back. Jamie found himself off the back after the second climb but it turns out his rear wheel had become badly buckled and was rubbing on his frame so he had his excuse set for the day J

Soon the bunch had whittled down in to a more select group and we continued to work together to keep the pace up. For me this was a nice group as it contained to riders I knew very well, one of which was Mark Heath who I used to race on the same team with and train a lot with on our clubs Tuesday night bash. We ride well together as we can sense when to take a turn and can ride with confidence behind one another. As we began the final series of climbs toward Stow, I was feeling great and soon found that I was riding my group off of my wheel on every climb, although this filled me with glee as it’s something I haven’t felt for a while, I decided to wait each time as I didn’t see the point of riding solo in what I intended to be a social ride.
Once we hit Stow and turned back in the direction of Stratford, the head wind became a tail wind and the fun really began; Fast, fluid riding with no real effort, love it.
Once me and mark had rode off the front of our group in order to get a gap so we could stop for a nature break, we had passed pretty much all of the other groups out on the road and not too far from the village of Halford, me and mark put the hammer down again, this time with the purpose of starting some race like antics. We took one other rider with us and the 3 of us worked together to get away and soon we were long gone. Turning off of the Banbury road towards Loxley, one last hill was up ahead and with a nice tail wind I hit it with some pace and continued over the top, I saw that I had gapped the other 2 with mark in the middle. I began to wait but then decided to put my head down and make him chase for the last few miles, good training and good fun if nothing else. Initially it looked as if mark was closing but soon I began to extend the gap and I rode back in to the HQ on my own but not before extending my ride accidentally by a mile due to taking a wrong turn!

Sitting in the HQ, sipping the dregs out of my bottle, the room began to fill as other riders finished there rides. Cakes and coffee were being shovelled down by exhausted and ecstatic riders as they sat around sharing their own little tales and experiences of there ride. I completed the ride in 2 hrs.’ 54 minutes, a lot slower than I have done it but then I know that I could have gone faster but still 35 minutes than the set pace for our group. Jamie came home in just under 3.5 hrs.’ which is mighty impressive considering the state of his rear wheel by the time he finished and he still had to ride 10 miles back home!!! I stayed and waited for my dad and his friends who came back happy with their rides.

Overall, Stratford CC once again failed to disappoint with another fantastic event which saw a huge turn out and some great rides, well done Stratford. Of course there were most likely a had full of clubs doing exactly the same thing today elsewhere and enjoying the same sort of success and a lot of riders will continue doing reliability rides every weekend until there are no more being run and why not, there a great day out; cheap, fun and  unpredictable. All in all a reliably good experience J

Here are my stats for the day, nothing spectacular but something to look at:
Time – 02:54:21
Distance – 55.34 miles
Ave Speed – 19.1 mph
Ave Power – 192 watts
Norm Power – 221 watts
Ave HR – 142 bpm
Ave cadence – 78 rpm
Energy – 1991 kl
TSS – 185 (IF -0.805)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Exciting New Beginings

Here we are folks; entry number one of Rapid performance coaching’s new blog which hopes to be informative, interesting, educational, exciting and humorous all at the same time. Well that’s the plan anyway.
So firstly let me say thank you for your interest in RPC Coaching whether you are just browsing through cycling related blogs, searching general cycling info or looking for professional cycle coaching, we appreciate you scrolling through our pages and browsing our shiny new website, if you haven’t had a look at the website then just click the lick and have a look around, you might find something that you like;

The aim of this blog is to keep you up to date with the latest advances in cycling and coaching techniques and information, as well as giving you an insight in to what we do, who we have been testing and coaching, give you an inside look at some of the events that we attend, supply you with some tips and tricks and also express how our w training and racing is going throughout the season.
This should hopefully be enough to keep these pages updated regularly so will hopefully keep you coming back for more.
If you want to keep up to date with us even more then make sure you follow us on twitter @rpccoaching and also on “like” our Facebook page; Rapid Performance Coaching.

So first things first, let’s give you a bit more info on what we are all about. At RPC our overall goal is to provide a real one to one coaching experience where relationships are built and developed over time in order for us to provide you with training that suits you, your lifestyle and your physical makeup. Everybody is different so everybody’s training should be different, this is basic but there are so many cases where coaches just dish out the same training for various people just because it worked once for one person. One to one coaching doesn’t work in this way so we aim to provide the real deal. For more information on our monthly coaching packages just checkout the website.

Our secondary aim is to educate cyclists about the benefits of training with power. Here at RPC, we are very science and number focused but in a very accessible way which means that we can use all of the technology to give you the best results but explain them in a way so the slightly less technical minded can understand it and utilize it. There will be a lot of talk about power meters in this blog and the main reason for that is because at this present time, power meters are by far the most useful piece of training equipment that Is available to cyclists and will most likely be for some time. We both use power meters and have done for some time and I can tell you from my own experience it have changed my cycling and the way I train forever and I can’t ever see myself riding without a power measuring device for the rest of my career. Yes, they have that much of an impact on you. If you haven’t tried one then now is the time to do it.

In fact, this leads me nicely on to saying that we are very pleased to be partnered with some great company’s and businesses. Keeping with the topic of power meters, we are lucky enough to have link with who are the UK’s biggest supplier of power meters and also one of the very few companies that actually rent them out so you can try before you buy. The also stock a huge range of accessories and can help with any technical questions that you may have with regards to your power meter, this includes repairs and services.  When you enrol on a monthly coaching package with us you will be entitled to various offers and deals that cyclepowermeters will provide, this could prove very useful to you in the future.

Our second partnership that we have recently established is with a business that is very local to us and also very close to us personally as this is the team that I have been racing with for the last season or so. Cult Racing Cycles are a relatively new bike shop that is based in Earlswood, Solihull, however, they have established themselves so well during the short time they have been open you would think they have been there a hundred years. They have set up so much in the past few season such as their own sportive, the Mad March Hare, which will be in its 3rd year in 2011 an sold out in a matter of day, they also sponsored the West Midlands Cyclocross League both this season and the last, they have appeared on the news, on the radio and in the paper, the racing team consists of National Champions, ex-national champions, Olympic development squad riders, British Cycling Academy Riders and they also have the best female Time Trialling Team in the UK! As you can see, they have been fairly busy. Oh, I also forgot to mention that they stock some amazing pieces of kit so check them out if you are passing by.

In the coming months we have some great events that we will be attending and supporting including a bunch of local sportives, Mad March Hare included, various reliability rides throughout the West Midlands as well as local, regional and national competitive cycling events. We will be there, leaflets in hand ready to slap them on your car window screen so be prepared!
Our other big objective that we decided we should pursue when setting up this business was what we could do to help the sport at its grass roots level, the easiest way for us to do this is to develop deep relationships with the local cycling clubs as well as the local shops and event organisers. By doing this, many opportunities should arise for us to help with the development or rider both young and old and help clubs to develop their own racing squads and take part in local competitions.

I could keep writing about all of the things that we are planning to do but it would probably just end up boring you so I will end it there for now but hopefully I have provided you with a nice bit of info about what kind of coaching we provide and what are main principles are. Remember to keep checking back for updates regularly as I hope to keep this very up to date proving I have the time to write it all up. Also, if you have any questions or queries then you can always drop us an email or give us a call and I’m sure we can help you out.
Thanks for taking the time to read through the typical first post and hopefully we will be able to keep you interested for a long time to come.

Train smart, train hard but most of all, train safe!
Happy riding