Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder

Riding

Clipless pedals revisited

When I bought my first DH bike almost 15 years ago, I put clipless pedals on it. I couldn't imagine riding a DH bike as it is meant to be ridden (as much as that is possible without the talent and skills of a World Cup rider) on flats. Back then, I couldn't really imagine riding any bike on flats!
Fast forward through years of riding flats for everything from XC (but not racing) to trail and Enduro racing and never having had clips on my current DH bike - my recent day visit to Thredbo involved throwing the Crank Brothers Mallet DH Race pedals on the Sender and pulling the old Shimano DH cleated shoes out of the closet. It was an interesting day out. I had zero issues with clipping in (I'd hope not after all those years of being clipped) and having my feet locked to the pedal was fine (I didn't find it more reassuring in rough terrain as I assumed I would - perhaps never blowing a foot off my aggressive flats has something to do with that?). The Shimano shoes permit the cleat to go back quite far. But probably not quite far enough to mimic the location my foot sits on my flats. Obviously I didn't have to change my approach to jumps and drops, but I found that I was doing it differently until really late in the day when I'd made some adjustments.
The Mallet pedals are great. I can understand why so many DH racers use them. Easy in. Easy out. Good retention.
The Shimano shoes are very comfortable and provide decent foot protection too. So no problems there.
But I won't be keeping the clippy pedals on my Sender for the next visit. I want my flats back. Feet loose on pedals is the only way I can judge the amount of downward pressure I've applied through my feet: enough pressure means my feet stay locked on the pedals (and not-quite-enough pressure means my feet get skatey on the pedals).
Across numerous Enduro races and 1 DH race, I've never felt like flats were making me slower. Perhaps If I put in many days on the clippy pedals I could get a feeling of confidence and control superior to flats, but I do doubt it.

I'm sticking with my flats for the big bikes (Enduro and DH). I'll keep the clips on the hardtail, and swap them in and out on the trail bike as the ride demands.

Braking bumps

What a difference a couple of weeks can make!
I spent a week at Thredbo ending just a few days prior to Christmas Day. There were zero braking bumps and very little trail damage of any sort. It was very pleasant really.
And then I returned on January 7. Braking bumps were everywhere, even in places where no one needs to be braking. Big holes on the trails in weird spots. There is this really fast descent off the Gunbarrel chair that was very rough before the holiday season and was completely, hand-hammeringly rough by the first week of January. Luckily it ends on a fire trail which is a great place to shake the hands out before heading into the next bit of singletrack. And this was on my DH bike, which is markedly more gentle on the hands than my Enduro bike (I really noticed it by riding them on consecutive days).

Braking bumps form on dirt due to the way a tyre under braking has a resonant frequency; the tyre is excited by a bump and hammers back into the ground immediately (creating a low spot) which leads to the next high spot, and so on. I noticed when everyone was on 26" DH bikes that riding a 29" Enduro bike on those trails that the big wheels would not "fit" in the braking bumps, so it was quite smooth. Now that almost everyone's front wheel is 29", all the tyres fit all the bumps. The solution is to either pick a line to the side of the braking bump line, or to hit the bumps fast enough to skip over the tops of the sequence. Neither is an option on some lines, but most of them permit one or the other.

Unfortunately, braking bumps are self-reinforcing. You see them, you ride into them, they are so rough you grab a handful of brake, and you then contribute to making them bigger and longer. Or you try to ride beside them with a handful of brake and you contribute to them getting wider. The only solution is no brakes. Which is admittedly very difficult in certain places.

The other thing I noticed in January was the many large holes high up in the berms. I think these are caused by the sheer volume of tyres running under high force up there, breaking the hard dirt surface layer and leaving behind a softer hole that can erode more quickly. Some of them are pretty bad but I was able to either go just above them or, thanks to the DH bike, right through them.

Shoes impact your suspension…

Wait.

What?

How?

I can remember reading at the time when World Cup DH racers were all changing to clipping in that they sit more central in the bike and therefore distribute the load more evenly across the front and rear suspension. Compare that to the same person riding flats who will drop their heels more, pushing their weight further back and loading the rear suspension more and the front less.
I had visible evidence of this after my recent trip to Thredbo on the Sender DH bike with Mallet pedals attached. At the end of the day the fork o-ring was right up at the full travel mark while the shock o-ring was nowhere near the full travel mark. Usually I see the reverse and leave that extra air pressure in the fork for "contingency" issues.
This was despite making a concerted mental shift on every run to attempt to ride just as if I had flat pedals under my feet. Over the day I never achieved that "same" feeling.

A bicycle is more than the sum of its parts. Choices have impacts in the least expected way sometimes.

Metabolic efficiency

The traditional way to start training for the season was long slow distance. Ride a lot, slowly. More recently, this has been replaced with stuff that seemed more scientific. More structured. Turns out the old idea was a good idea.
 
Most readers will be familiar with the concept of aerobic fitness and possibly anaerobic fitness. Literally meaning "in the presence of oxygen" and "in the absence of oxygen", it can apply to bacteria too (anaerobic bacteria die in the presence of oxygen, having adapted to non-oxygen environments). Aerobic in fitness terms is working at levels low enough that the requirements of the muscles are met by the blood (and hence oxygen) supply from the cardiovascular system. Anaerobic happens at higher levels of performance when oxygen is limited.
 
Incidentally, this is why drugs like EPO are so effective for endurance athletes - EPO stimulates more red blood cell production which provides more oxygen carrying capacity which lifts the maximum aerobic activity point. This is important - in the presence or absence of illegal performance enhancing drugs - because anaerobic activities can only run over a short time period before their resources are exhausted. Without making this a lesson in physiology, suffice to say efforts between 10 seconds and 5 minutes are mixed products of both. Pure anaerobic is limited by the energy supplies in the cells themselves to around 10 seconds. Over 5 minutes and it is going to be an aerobic effort.
The reality is that there are no hard lines, but this is a convenient manner to think about things.
 
This rule - no hard lines - also applies to heart rate zones. Some people have 4 zones, others 6. I've seen more, and fewer. No magical transformation occurs at a given heart rate. Which is why too many zones is not helpful. I'd be quite comfortable with 3 zones: low, medium and high. Low is the level a person can go for hours without feeling stressed. Medium is the level at which the accumulation of lactic acid in the blood starts to make things stressful. And high is that really top-end stuff that you can't do for more than a few minutes at a stretch.
Low could also be called recovery. Medium could be called aerobic. High is hard work - I don't have a nice name for that. In power terms, high is anything from around the MAP and up (Maximal Aerobic Power is the power one can produce for a 5-minute stetch).
 
Back to metabolic efficiency. The coaches I read are all concerned about metabolic fitness these days. This is a measure of efficiency in the cells. It isn't solely down to the number of mitochondria, but roughly equivalent to. More metabolic fitness returns many good things to the endurance athlete and also the human being. A high level shifts the lactate curve to the right on the graph. That means for any given effort (in Watts on the power meter or bpm on the heart rate monitor) the lactate level will be lower. The apparent effort will be lower. The "head room" in that person's system is greater. More capability for the machinery of the body to propel one faster longer.
Higher metabolic fitness is also associated with a healthier, longer life.
 
One of the easiest ways to increase metabolic fitness is through the long slow distance of old. There are some cool ways to tweak it a little here and there, but you want the results, you have to put in the time.
 
In the running sphere this is good news for runners who get injured from trying to run fast too often. In any sport it is good news for those who dislike the hard work of a mostly HIIT program. Injury potential is low all around. Less soreness too. In a time-limited lifestyle there can be issues with getting in enough but that is a separate issue.

Recovery and technology

For anyone racing their bike 50 years ago, about the only means available for measuring recovery would have been a finger to the neck feeling a pulse while looking at the second hand on a watch counting time – all before getting out of bed. A low(ish) HR suggested things were going OK. A high(ish) HR suggested that perhaps an easy day was in order. Not definitive. Frequently stuffed up by getting out of bed before remembering to measure HR. For the dedicated only.
Then Polar introduced a portable heart rate monitor. Suddenly it was possible to monitor on and off bike heart rates without paying attention. They were very expensive at first, and not terribly robust. But they opened up sports science a lot. By the time I came into cycling, the Polar patent was about to expire and the range of Polar watches was extensive. Prices were way better than they had been years earlier.
Incidentally, when the patent did expire and the market was flooded with copycat technology, all of the models that I saw were basically rubbish. Polar still had the upper hand. The end of Polar as market leader and trend setter roughly equates to the time they first moved production out of Finland.
There was a very high-end Polar that did a morning heart rate test. It required as much dedication and memory as the above-mentioned finger test – it had to be done before you got out of bed (and my athletes forgot as much as they remembered). Slip on the chest strap, get the watch into the correct mode, start recording, lie still for 1 minute, stand and repeat the 1 min. Repeat for 30 days and only then the watch could tell you how tired it thought you were. It worked, but the human weak link made it less successful than I’d hoped.
With a power meter one can calculate TSS – the training stress score. This metric allows characterisation of all rides to a standardised scale. How does an afternoon of sprint training at the velodrome (TSS=80) compare to a leisurely longer ride (TSS=80)? Answer in this example is that they are identical in physiological impact. With TSS the training plan can be measured and recovery allowed for – but only in a predicted sort of way, not in an actual way. By this I mean that, on average, this athlete will be fine with this load so we can keep going. But what if they’re not?
Now most wrist devices can measure heart rate variability as part of their regular routine. A built-in optical heart rate monitor not only measures HR with great accuracy, but it can pick up on the interval between the two peaks in a normal heart rhythm. This interval changes depending on the demands of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Routine monitoring of this gap allows it to be characterised as HRV – heart rate variability. The value is suppressed in tired (unrecovered) persons. It is also low if one is overly rested and lethargic.
Unlike the prior analyses, HRV doesn’t require one to do anything – just wear the watch and check in with the results now and again. And it is accurate right now because it is based on real measurements of fatigue. Done a hard week and handling the load; HRV will remain steady. Done a recovery week and got sick but symptoms haven’t appeared yet; HRV will be depressed.
With HRV you should be able to measure how long is long enough for your personal sleep needs. It’s a cool insight into how the body works, and it is an accurate reflection of how you’re tracking.

Some further notes on HRV
HRV can be measured continuously by a wrist device. That's not sensible because every activity will impact on it in a way that doesn't help interpretation of the value. It should be taken just prior to waking every day. I think - not 100% sure here - that you can set some Garmin's to measure only during sleep. That's better than all the time. The really useful measurement is just at the end of sleep.
I have been comparing the figure that different people get and it is highly variable. In a paper on HRV I saw a range listed from high 20s to over 100. In my own exploration of individual's values, I've seen mid-40s and low-100s. The point of this is that all that really matters is the consistency of your own score. At least to some extent. If you make a lifestyle change and the value increases, that is a positive change in your life.
HRV is really a miniature version of the variation in HR seen across different activities. For example at rest a pro cyclist might have HR of 40. In the middle of the bunch it might increase to 100. And climbing a 17% gradient in a break-away might push it up to 200. So too does HRV respond to the demands of the body. Inhalation and exhalation change the delays in the system. Digestion. Healing. Immune system working hard with an infection. All of these boost or suppress one side of the sympathetic : parasympathetic balance.

Digital shifting thoughts

The Red Axe gear on my commuting bike still tempts me into riding too hard. I want to cruise to work in a reasonable manner. Actually I want to try out about 6 months of hours-per-day Zone 2 training on the same bike - which means not going to work (so that isn't going to happen) - but in lieu of all that fantasy, I want to ride to work at a brisk but not breakneck pace.

Red doesn't seem to permit. This morning I averaged 135 - about 20 bpm higher than usual - just because the sun was out and I felt like pedalling.

I can't put my finger on what part of the Red group goads me into pushing harder. I find if I watch my HR on the Garmin screen, then I am OK. If my screen is set to something else, then I blow through my ceiling.

Incidentally, I got about 800 km on the first charge for the rear derailleur. I charged the front too, but it didn't require it quite yet. While 800 km isn't going to cut it for Paris-Brest-Paris in one go on one battery, probably, it is more than enough for my needs.

Red is attractive. The shifting is flawless. Now that the bike has some use, it is also silent. It took a few rides to get some of the noises to settle down. And the rear brake was rubbing but it has finally been centred and remained for more than one ride (ten days in fact).

It rained a bit in the past week. My bike is now quite dirty. I plan to wash it on the weekend if it is sunny out. It is mostly adhered plant matter from the pathway surface that got splashed up onto the frame and dried out in place. Easy wash.

I've hooked up the Garmin to the shifter so it can display both the gearing I have selected and the battery status of each of the four batteries in the system. On Monday night when the rear derailleur crossed the low battery threshold, the battery indicator on the Garmin went red, and there was a beep. Hard to miss both signals.

I got back on my AXS MTB after a brief hiatus last weekend, too. It's odd, but I really like the ease of adjusting the saddle height with the wireless dropper post. It isn't hard to do on the other bikes, but it is SO easy on this one. I just love the soft lever action.

AXS is addictive. Don't succumb if you don't want to get hooked.

The Potential Pitfalls of YouTube Skills

This entry comes out of a conversation I had at work recently. We were discussing how you can get so much contradictory advice from different YouTube presenters on any skill you care to investigate. That can be anything, but in this case we were discussing jumping a mountain bike.
Some presenters offer partial advice, which might seem in conflict with other partial advice - when the reality is they might both be offering advice with limited utility. To put it another way, they can both be right and seemingly in conflict. My favourite example of conflicting advice comes from the very professional and "they should know better" people at GMBN (Global Mountain Bike Network). There are several videos where the advice offered is to "make sure you get back sufficiently" and then in the demonstration they remain nicely centred on their bike throughout. I've not been able to figure out if they feel like they are moving back relative to their usual position, or if they believe they move back when they don't (and you shouldn't!). As former pro cyclists and obviously more-than-competent riders they know better than to get so far back that they unweight their front wheel and lose steering control, yet there are numerous videos where they offer this advice. I just don't get it.
Back to jumping. One guy (I think he is The Loam Ranger) offers "stand up to the jump" which is advice that is really good, if you can follow it. What does that mean? First it means don't let the jump push you around and make you into a passenger. Always be the driver, never be the passenger. Second it also means literally, stand up when you jump. Pushing down through your feet is the single most essential part of jumping and it naturally leads one to be standing up straight in mid jump. How do you "stand up to the jump"? By standing up when you jump. The hard part of this advice is how do you follow it if you can't follow it? He gives some examples of standing up and not standing up, but not a lot of advice for fixing problems preventing you from standing up straight.
Lee McCormack (
leelikesbikes - author and YouTube guy as well as in-person teacher to many pros) is so invested in his rowing methodology that he developed and sells a device called the RipRow that not only teaches you to hip hinge properly, but strengthens the move through adjustable resistance while doing it. (It is a set of handlebars on a vertical bar hinged to a base plate that you stand on and connected by a hydraulic strut that resists your push and pull motions - if that makes no sense then look it up for video.) For me, all the years of working with PMBI and doing jumps trails finally worked much better (no one would accuse me of being an amazing jumper, but at least now I can do most of the ones I ride on at trail speed without fear) when I tried Lee's rowing motion. It allowed me to coordinate everything I was doing with better timing for the lip of the jump, regardless of jump size or slope. So thanks Lee. But that rowing analogy doesn't work for everyone.
Some people talk about bunnyhopping off the face of the jump, and certainly that is what some people do - particularly to get extra height - but accentuating a bunnyhop involves moving hips backwards to get more pop and I'd heavily discourage anyone from trying this out on a jump face until first they are really good at jumping and bunnyhopping separately. It is a recipe for making it onto Friday Fails (a
Pinkbike recurring video of people crashing).

The short of it is, be very wary of whose advice you pick on YouTube because there are no credentials to be a presenter there. All you need is a camera and an opinion. At least with an in-real-life teacher you can form an opinion of their teaching skills as you work with them. The good ones will make your riding easier, flowier and more confident very quickly.

Optimal cadence

TL:DR - faster is always better, except when it isn't

When you spot a cyclist who is struggling along in too big a gear, pedalling at an ultra-slow cadence, what do you think? I always think how much easier it would be if they would shift to a smaller gear and pedal faster. For most people, that impression probably only applies at numerically low cadences, such as 40 or 50 rpm. As a coach, I still feel that way sometimes at 90 rpm.
If there is one lesson I try to impart onto every cyclist I coach, it is an ability to pedal quickly. If you are a track cyclist, the only way to go faster is to pedal faster (only one gear on a track bike). Your top speed is usually governed by how fast you can pedal rather than pure power limitations. So, to be more competitive, you need more leg speed - more top end cadence.
Most of us aren't track racers. Yet it still applies that an ability to pedal smoothly to a higher cadence limit gives a rider more flexibility in their riding. Everyone can stop pedalling and just coast when it gets too hard to pedal faster. Usually you can shift up to a larger gear and continue to pedal. But for a short time the best option is to just pedal faster.

It is true that cadence opposes efficiency. It takes extra oxygen to move legs faster - more than the increase in power would demand. Thus the efficiency is decreased. Yet most good cyclists will instinctively up the cadence when they up the pace.
The Lance Armstrong years are way behind us now. One thing he changed about competitive cycling was use of cadence. (Oversimplified but essentially true) A low rate puts the demands on the muscles of the legs. They get tired. A high rate, however much more inefficient it might be physiologically, moves at least a portion of the demand to the cardiovascular system. By spreading demands across systems the rider can go faster for longer. If the CV is up to the challenge. And Lance was on the best drugs available, ensuring his CV was up to the challenge.

My cadence strategy for any race is to start out as fast as possible and slow down as you get tired through the event. Use aerobic fitness for as much and as long as possible. Rely on leg strength at the end when necessary. The problem with trying to do the reverse is that tired legs don't respond to the cardiovascular but can continue without it - the order must go that way.

I've seen many clients for years of training. They have all improved their default cadence upwards, expanded their range of possible pedalling speed and therefore gotten faster for longer. By pushing the boundaries of what is possible on any given day to achieve just a couple more rpm. There are numerous muscles in the legs that coordinate to pedal. This requires neurological training. A new bike rider cannot pedal comfortably and with souplesse at a high rate nor for that long because their nerves aren't trained for the motion. That takes hours to develop. And years to perfect.
Pro cyclists mostly make it look easy because their office is their bike and they spend every day at their "desk".

No matter if you are pedalling an e-enduro bike, a light XC hardtail, a touring bike laden with panniers or a sleek time trial bike; they all go better if you are smooth and relaxed in pedalling and better again if you have a wide range of cadence to select from.

Self sufficiency

I worked in a bike shop for a number of years. I never understood the number of customers who brought their bike into the shop to have a puncture repaired.
Now this is actually a very vital activity for bike shops all over the world. Fixing flats keeps the doors open in some cases. But it isn't very difficult and it is extremely annoying to have to prematurely end a ride just because a tube was punctured.
That doesn't even begin to cover the issues on the mountain bike side of things. There was a guy at Whistler, far enough from the top that he didn't want to walk back up to download, but so far from the bottom that he would take ages to walk down as well. He offered me at least 20 bucks for a tube for his bike. Loads of people ride bike parks without any spares or tools. I get it. But you will get a flat (or less likely a mechanical) and you'll lose that run, and probably some others (due to the time element) just getting to the bottom to repair it. It is particularly precarious at Whistler if you're up the top of the Garbanzo zone (or Top of the World) because it is 30 minutes at race pace for world-class riders to get down to the village from the summit. That's several hours walking with a dead bike.
I no longer carry a tube off road (but always carry at least one on road). Since all of my mountain bikes have foam inserts, there is nowhere to put the insert and I probably can't easily get the tyre open on the trailside anyway. Instead, I always carry my tyre plug tool. I use Dynaplug, but there are numerous effective brands on the market. If the damage is small, the plug fills the hole instantly sealing it airtight. The tyre can usually be used for the remainder of its service life with the plug in there. Tiny, thorn-sized, holes will seal with the sealant. Moderate holes can be plugged with the tool. For any big holes, I am relying on the ability to ride slowly on the foam insert to get off the trails.
But a small hole can let a lot of air out of the tyre prior to my sealing it. So I also always carry a pump. I used to need the pump a lot to refill a burped tyre, but since Cush Core I haven't burped a tyre once. My pump hardly ever sees use these days. I like it that way.
The third thing I usually carry is a multi-tool. A few common Allen keys, screwdrivers, chain tool and so on. Being super compact, they are far less easy to use than individual workshop tools, but the number of times that one has allowed me to fix the problem is high.
One of my coached riders also carries these tools (because I told her to?) even though she doesn't know how to use them. On one race she broke her chain mid-lap and someone stopped to assist her. He was able to get her going again with her own tools because he knew how to use them, but didn't carry them himself.
Most of the time I will deny carrying anything because I don't really want people to rely on others out on the trails. I was in front of the Brumby distillery on my way to Thredbo when I got a puncture off something sharp on the shoulder of the road. Some guy with a car covered in bicycles stopped to lend me his floor pump. How nice! I was just starting with my mini-pump so the floor pump got me filled with air quickly. He jumped back in his car and drove on. Then my tube exploded out of the unseen large hole in the tyre that caused the original puncture. I ate my snack and used the wrapper as a tyre boot with my one remaining tube. This time I pumped it with the mini-pump. And I turned around and rode back to Jindabyne as any more punctures would see me stranded. In Jindabyne I bought another tyre and grabbed two more tubes from my collection, threw the bike on the car and drove out to where the puncture happened. From there I rode out to Dead Horse Gap and back. In the end I got my full intended ride completed.
The tool that most people seem to want for on the road or trailside is the pump. Not so long ago I had a puncture about halfway home from work. I changed the tube and started pumping it back up when the head broke off the pump and let all the air out of the tyre before I could react to stop it. It was an old pump and the joint between the metal pump body and the quite robust plastic pump head was a pretty delicate looking piece of plastic that must have gone brittle with age. The air pressure as I neared full was sufficient to blow the pump body off the head. I had to get an Uber to get home that day.
On my commuting bike I have gone through several pumps. After the pump broke, I returned to the "frame fit" pump. Only no pump fits a modern carbon frame as there are no sharp corners where the tubes meet to lock the pump into. I had a super-short Zéfal frame pump (size 1 - the smallest) in my spares collection. It happened to fit perfectly between the seat stay:seat tube junction and the through axle lever. Back in the day, lots of people carried a pump between the QR skewer and that same tube junction so they could have 2 bottle cages. That was great until I had a puncture and I must not have returned it to position quite right. I got to work and home a couple of times before one night, in the dark, I heard a noise. I didn't realise that noise was the pump jumping ship until I got home and saw the pump was missing. I looked where it had fallen off the next morning, but some lucky rider had already taken it I guess. Now I am using a mini-floor pump. It doesn't really sit on a frame well. So it lives in my pannier, with a mini tool and some tubes. I've also got one of those tool bottles on the bike with two tubes and some tyre levers inside. If I was really forgetful and didn't take my pannier or a separate pump, I'd still have a supply of tubes and then maybe I could borrow a pump (I know, it's hypocritical of me to not lend my pump but plan to borrow someone else's).
My new Slash has in-the-down-tube storage like so many carbon mountain bikes these days. The opening is not large enough to get a pump of any description that I own inside. There is room in the frame bag to put a pump, but without bending it (pumps don't bend!) it won't actually go in the hole. Tubes do bend - and CO2 cartridges are short: those are what Trek expect me to put in the frame bag. Imminently as I write this I am expecting my warranty replacement Checkpoint frame. The new one has storage in the frame. I believe all the Trek bikes use the same door on the portal. Meaning no pump will go inside of this bike either. Which is kind of sad because it would be so cool to have a pump and a tube always hidden inside the frame.

Take a simple mechanics bike course. Learn how to change a tube, brake pads, adjust rear derailleur, join a chain, tighten a seatpost - simple things that can interfere mid-ride. Then carry the tools to fix those simple things. I'd rather carry them unneeded for years than be without them even once when they're required.

MTB tyre pressure

I was reading an article about CushCore the other day and it suggested that a number of pro enduro riders actually use the XC version of the insert over the more aggressive Pro version because they primarily use it to prevent burping.
Interesting idea. I have 2 bikes with the XC inserts and 2 with the Pro inserts. Since going CushCore I have not burped a tyre once. I used to do it quite regularly back in the days of skinny rims not necessarily designed to be tubeless, with moderately fat tyres and the lowest air pressure I could get away with (mid-20s). Land a drop a little bit sideways - burp. Slide into a corner and the tyre suddenly finds traction - burp. There were numerous initiating factors, but always the result was losing 10+ psi and having to stop and pump it up. Sometimes much of the sealant came out with the rush of air too.

Taking a step backwards, there are three roles an insert can play.
Many, but not all, sit between the tyre beads and prevent them moving inwards. Thus no burping.
All of them occupy some volume of air in the tyre and act like a fork air chamber spacer (eg, a RockShox token) to reduce the volume of air in the tyre and "ramp up" the pressure rise more quickly on hitting a bump. This is the pathway that led to the development of both CushCore and the original tyre insert, the Schwalbe/Syntace ProCore. I've read an interview with the Syntace guy who wanted to better couple the movement of the tyres with the movement of the suspension. That it also helped the other two traits I'm discussing here is just a bonus. Regardless of the sophistication of the suspension mechanisms on a bike, the tyre is a large and uncontrolled suspension element (as in Formula 1 cars). In the Syntace experiments, they found that the tyre moved completely before the fork moved at all - but ProCore coupled the two together more closely. Which was better for control and therefore traction.
The third is the primary reason many people go to inserts, and that is for rim protection when you hit something really hard. ProCore is essentially running a road tyre inside your MTB tyre. The MTB tyre is tubeless, but the road tyre uses a tube at around 80 psi. That much pressure pushing inwards on the upper rim floor became much more pressure in a bottom-out situation. Enough pressure to crack a carbon rim not designed to have such loads on the normally unloaded upper floor surface. Hence the recommendation not to use ProCore with carbon rims. Any insert that sits down in the rim well can transfer too much load to that upper rim floor and crack a carbon rim - even if the foam ones don't do it very often. My DH bike runs DT Swiss aluminium rims, so no issue there. And my enduro bike runs Zipp 3Zero Moto rims, so no upper floor to worry about (they are built like cheap metal rims without a hollow structure in the middle - part of the reason they are so different to other rims).

On my 26" wheeled DH bike I use to run DH tyres and pretty high air pressure and still put big dents in the rim every season. The Sender has had CushCore Pro in the 29" DH tyres since day 1, and there are zero marks on the rims from impacts, despite running very low pressure. The benefit of the low air pressure is amazing grip (the tyre can conform to everything so it hangs on much better) and lower rolling resistance (on rough terrain, high air pressure uses energy that lower air pressure does not - by lifting the bike up and over more obstacles that would not happen if the tyre deformed over the object instead).

I titled this article "tyre pressure" because I actually wanted to talk about the effects of tyre pressures on MTB riding. But I had to discuss the impact (pun intended) of inserts first.
On my old 26" wheeled DH bike, the Santa Cruz V10.4, I tried running some non-DH tyres for a while. I had to run about 36 psi in the rear tyre to even hope to make it down a single run without a pinch flat. Even at that high pressure, I would get a flat every third day. This was with tubes. Once I dinged up the rims a lot, I replaced them with Stan's Flow rims and ran tubeless. I still had to run around 34 psi in the rear to protect the rim, which got dents in it regularly. Mid-30s tyres do not grip optimally.

I remember a group skills class I was running about 10 years ago. One student liked to run the max sidewall pressure on his tyres. That was 65 psi. He literally had zero grip. His plan of action was to aim the front tyre at ridges and rocks that the tyre could bounce off. I like to get students to experiment with tyre pressure so they can feel what different pressures do for them. Then - pre inserts - I was running mid or high 20s psi in my XC bike tyres. He was incredulous that this could work. (How would he have felt about my 16 psi front tyre pressure with insert?) In the end he relented, did some experimenting, and settled on 45 psi. If he's out there, and reads this, I'd hope he'd do the experiment again and get down into the 20s where traction starts to get really good.

So, as I wrote in the prior paragraph, I can go down as low as 16 psi in the front tyre (I've even run this on the DH bike but usually use a touch more there - 19-20 psi). Lower and it moves around laterally too much for good "feel". On the rear I can get away with about 21 psi without bottoming out the tyre and feeling it regularly. But in higher speed corners, this low pressure squirms too much. It feels imprecise and also disconcerting (like something is broken or loose). I run 25 psi out back to avoid that feeling.

While running less pressure on rough terrain lowers rolling resistance, it does not turn a Maxxis Assegai into a Maxxis Ikon. Reinforced, chunky and heavy tyres still roll with greater effort than delicate, small knob and light tyres. XC racers run at the edge of puncturing (and frequently do) to maximise performance. I feel like I could do anything with a DH double-wall tyre and not damage it, but fast racers are proof that this isn't true. Regardless of the tyre's construction, minimising its rolling resistance requires minimising its pressure.
Incidentally, this applies to road tyres too. Hence the recent move towards wide rims and even wider tyres on race bikes from club level to World Tour level.

St Helens

Blue Derby has ten years of history and three (or more?) Enduro World events behind it. St Helens is only 50 km away on the east coast of Tasmania and has put in a big effort to create a trail network in the past few years. I couldn't go all the way to Derby and not spend a couple of days at St Helens.
What a contrast to Derby! It was sunny, dry and rocky rather than sodden and grey. The views from the trails almost always include the ocean - love it. If I had to characterise the whole network in Canberra terms, it is like a gigantic Bruce Ridge. Nothing really steep, everything a little meandering, and the character of the soil and trail depends exactly where on the hill you are.
St Helens might be the only place I've been that puts gap jumps on the side of green trails, and blind TTFs with consequences on blue trails - in BC these things would be marked or push the trail to black. You're 100% fine if you stick to the main trail line. But as soon as you start partaking of the optional extras to the side, you can easily get caught out on a first go. Right at the bottom is a jump over a big tree stump that favours a line into the trees - and those trees are very scarred making me think many have taken the preferred line. One blue trail had numerous rollover features, but suddenly they throw in one that has a tree stump in the run off or make it a gap jump rather than a rollover. These are all fine if you know - but blue trails aren't meant to have things that require that knowledge.
Worse than Derby is the tendency for trails to go up and down. Even the jumps trails have some big ups in them. Every descent trail becomes a jump track - we chose to ride the black trail Icarus because the description said it was a technical trail. It started out with some nice technical challenges and then it was jumps. The trail that most people seem to ride is Send Helens and it is the main jumps trail of the network - I didn't bother to try it. On the advice of one of the professional trail maintenance guys, my first descent was Old Salty Dog. It runs down a ridge, which is actually super fun and the views are great, but then it goes into the wet valley below the ridgeline and does a couple of big climbs to finish off. It's just a weird choice for me to put some big climbs at the end.

While St Helens is a proper town (restaurants, grocery stores and services galore) compared to Derby, it isn't (yet?) a big MTB destination so the shuttles only operate if you can get 4 people together for the bus to run, or you show up during a weekend or holiday. None of the above applied to me, so I was pedalling up every time. The elevation gain is similar to Stromlo, but with all the climbing and then descending and then climbing some more, it ends up being double the metres gained and 3 times the duration. Which is fine if an XC ride is what you want.
Like at Buller, the trails are connected loops. You can grow your own adventure this way by continuously connecting to the next loop until you've had enough and then come back on the other side of the loops. Again, I think they built this network on the assumption everyone would shuttle up and not ride up. The proper climbing trail, Garn Up, takes the better part of an hour to access due to the combination of distance and climbing before it. And it is by no means direct.
At the end of a week of riding my legs only felt up to one summit ascent. The second day we stopped at the top of Icarus (under the cellphone tower, which you can see poking through the trees from the trailhead - and interestingly only a few metres shy of the actual summit in elevation terms despite there being loads of pedalling in between the two).

There was nothing at St Helens that called for an Enduro bike, and everything that proclaimed bring a small bike. We got caught by a guy on a ten+ year old MTB (very short, very steep geometry - very fast up) and never saw him again. We plodded up the climbs carrying travel we didn't need to go down.

These trails are really fun. But get "climbing" and "descending" out of your head before you arrive. It's an intermix of both all the time. Stop to take in the views. Some are really special. Appreciate the great trailhead facilities (picnic tables, parking, toilets and showers, coffee shop that wasn't open when we were there) and amazing signage - you never lack for knowledge of where you are, where you're going or where you'll end up.
They also built a trail called Town Link. It runs from the centre of town to the trailhead. It runs along the ocean and through the forest. Once you leave the beach and head into the trees it is a gentle climb all the way to the trailhead. What becomes very clear is that this is a really fun, but quite gentle, descent. The only one of the day without any climbs tossed in. And if you pedal, you can go very fast down the Town Link. Luckily we weren't taking it when it was busy as it is the only bidirectional trail in the network. And it is quite narrow in places. You couldn't go fast at midday on a weekend I suspect. We met a nice local who rides his e-bike out to the trailhead and back every day for some exercise. He wasn't in a rush and I'd hate to come around a blind corner when he's coming the other way.

Oh, and the seafood in this fishing port was amazing. Highly recommend St Helens for a visit/ride.

Blue Derby

They've done an amazing job of building a mountain biking attraction in the literal middle of nowhere at Derby. There is a great network of trails draped across the hills surrounding the village. But I really found there is a gap in the network - most of the trails are very XC oriented, and then there are the Enduro tracks that are very gravity oriented and I didn't find anything in between. Take "Trouty" as an example. This trail is on the edge of the network and is visible from the highway - they've painted a gigantic trout on the fish-shaped cliff above the trail and is clearly seen by everyone driving into Derby from the East. It is a pretty amazing and fun trail. But to get to it you have to ride Krushka's, which is up and down, up and down, and even the real descending part of Krushka's would be best done on a trail or XC bike. But then you get to the chunky rock section of Trouty and you need an Enduro bike to ride it properly.
Roxanne is the trail that made the highlights show of the most recent Enduro World Cup event at Blue Derby as the pros tried to figure out the boulder field in pouring rain (note they did it WAY better than I managed in similar wet conditions!). To get to Roxanne requires a climb from the shuttle drop-off point similar to the climb of Mt Stromlo from the parking lot. And that's assuming you get a shuttle in the first place.

We arrived at the trailhead intending to climb up under our own steam, only to find that it was closed for maintenance for the day. Unfortunately, Derby is all about the shuttle and only has one climbing trail from the parking lot (Axehead) - climbing seems a problematic side-effect of being on a hill. The four+ shuttle companies suggests I am in the minority on wanting to go up pedalling. Conveniently, the shuttle pick up is about 10 metres from the trail closed sign and the Up Down and Around van pulled up just then. A ten-ride pass was purchased and we spent the whole of our four days using their shuttles. But the shuttle is more the beginning than the end. Snig Track becomes a necessity with multiple trails sprouting off the top of that climb.

On advice, I took my Enduro bike. On reflection, I should have taken my trail bike. Yes I would have been "under biked" for a couple of sections of Roxanne and Trouty, but I would have been appropriately biked for everything else.

There is a small body of water - the one with the floating sauna in it - that has a gentle green bike path around it. There is also a run little blue trail over there called Watchya Upta. The climb was a mud-fest and not only impossible to ride up but also almost impossible to walk up. So slick. Once past the mud, the rest of the track was good. If it were dry, it would probably be a real blast.
Long sections of track revealed that they were based on plastic lattice tiles. I suggest a few of those on the climb of Watchya Upta would go far to making it weatherproof.

On the Saturday we caught a shuttle up to "First 13" which is the first 13 kilometres of the track that runs from above Derby down to St Helens on the east coast. The first 13 is primarily descending. The trail head is a lovely place, even first thing in the morning when it was still pretty cold in May. Loads of room for the drop-off shuttles, toilets, maps, grass - just a really attractive place to begin. The trail was good fun too. It seemed to take about 10 minutes, but was actually close to an hour. And like almost all the trails we rode, handled being completely wet very well (it was lovely and sunny on the Saturday, but it had rained a lot and there were puddles everywhere. Mud was minimal (but sketchy when it did occur).
Then the shuttle grabbed us and hauled us to lunch. Why do shuttles always have a lunch stop? I just want to ride.
After the pub lunch (most of the guys had at least one beer - not great for the riding to follow), we hauled off again to the top of Atlas. Atlas runs about 8 km into the Derby network at the top (on Dambusters). As I rode all of Dambusters (very XC) the day before, I knew exactly where we'd join in and what my options were for the rest. Atlas, despite being shuttled to the top of a big hill, doesn't have a lot of descending. It is generally down, but not a descent.

All of the trails seem to have a common theme. The descents have climbing and the climbing trails have descending. And as I'll write about later, the St Helens trails where I went next have this same trait. This is a decision of the trail designer to change the direction of flow mid-trail. The Mt Fromme trails in North Vancouver either go up, or go down.

So, I really enjoyed going to Derby. The place we stayed was awesome, just above the trailhead and a couple of blocks from our morning coffee source. The trails are really well built. The vast majority of the tracks ride well wet. The rock sections ride better wet - no dust, dirt of mud on the rock if it is washing them clean with the rain. And it is super-grippy in the wet. But I don't think I get the trail ethos here. Glad I saw almost all the trails and have seen the beautiful place that Derby is, but I won't be rushing back. It is also fairly difficult to get to - nearly 12 hours from door to door (taxi to CBR, fly to MEL and then LST, get hire car, load hire car, drive to Scottsdale for groceries (you can't get ANYTHING in Derby) and then onto Derby).

First ride back

After almost 12 weeks - 11 weeks and 3 days - I got back on my bike outside for the first time. It was a nice day and I just had to go for a roll around on the road.
I grabbed my new monochrome commuting clothing - in future it will be mostly reserved for the ride to work. I grabbed my Madone which only had very low pressure remaining in the tubes since the last time I took it off the wall (latex tubes are dead flat after maybe four weeks).
My HR strap was showing low battery. I replaced the battery with a new one. And then the strap didn't work at all. D'oh!!! The one I purchased to use with the smart trainer (the whole smart trainer system uses Bluetooth and not ANT+, so I needed a Bluetooth HR strap) works fine so I used that one.
Despite starting the process of putting cleats on my new road shoes months ago, I still haven't completed that task. Thus I needed my shoes from the "pain cave". I could have worn my commuting shoes, but I chose not to.
Finally I grabbed my flashing taillight that is bright enough for all-day use. It hasn't seen any use since prior to my fracture, and it was flat. This is what happens when you don't ride for a while.
 
While in some ways this seemed like a momentous occasion, really it was just a pedal around the neighbourhood. Regardless, it was really enjoyable. I love riding. Indoor riding might be good for the legs but it is the outdoor riding that is good for the soul.
I checked out the completed-since-last-time-I-was-over-there bike path joining the Stromlo criterium circuit with Opperman Avenue - Uriarra Road intersection. It is impressively smooth and very wide. The far end also joins up with what is left of Uriarra Road between what is now Swallowtail Road and what is still Uriarra Road. A piece of bitumen still in good condition. It would be nice to see a bike-sized hole in the fence at Swallowtail Road permitting bikes to duck onto the road and ride straight through to the race circuit without using another roadway.
Eventually I rode up to the Stromlo Observatory. That was slow. I think indoor riding can provide great base fitness and is probably peak for high intensity work, but it just never seems to work for ascending ability.
 
In the end, legs felt good, bike worked great and I did a lot of smiling.
 
Next ride will be on the MTB and then back to commuting once more.

Zwift vs RGT

My journey into virtual cycling really began with a group trainer test I did the summer of 16/17. I spent a lot of that summer in the heat of the backyard riding virtual trainers for many hours so I could write with conviction about their differences and traits. Most (all but 1 or 2) worked with Zwift, so I used that for a portion of my testing.
Zwift was something I'd heard of, but never seen in person back then.
I've written about all this very recently so I won't go over it any more again.
 
After 2 months on Zwift, I cancelled my subscription and went back to Wahoo. I like the System training exercises, but I really do notice that going hard inside leaves me with a sore lower back. This has been the case for 25 years - possibly forever - so I can't blame getting old or anything else for this. It is simply that sitting and griding out power while not moving is different than doing it on the open road with the bike free to move underneath me. On Zwift I was doing a lot of Zone 2 stuff, with occasional efforts above that.
 
After a number of rides across a variety of locations (almost all of those available, including the latest Scotland roads in anticipation of this year's world champs) I have a very good feeling for Zwift. So it was very telling to jump back to RGT only a day later. They have many things in common. There are equipment choices and customising ones avatar to reflect how you look or how you want to look. There is drafting behind other riders. The scenery is pretty nice in both. Hills and their gradients seem to feel the same.
Zwift definitely wins for crowd size. I dropped into several paced rides (as opposed to organised group rides, which I never tried) with more than 50 other human riders. My last ride on RGT, up the Stelvio, had 2 other human riders present anywhere on the course (and about 100 bots each riding at a set Watts per kilogram).
Zwift wins for graphic efficiency. RGT is running on my AppleTv device. I had to set it at the lowest possible graphical quality. And it still will not run smoothly through corners or when other riders (computer and real riders) are in my view. And running it on the AppleTv was a response to trying to run it on my portable computer, where it didn't work at all sometimes. Zwift just works (on the AppleTV or the computer).
RGT wins for realism. As you approach a corner on a descent, the software applies virtual brakes and slows you down to a speed at which you could actually make it around the corner. In Zwift you rail round corners at 88 kmh like it is a rollercoaster ride.
RGT added audio comms between riders. I read that it hasn't been so successful, especially for female riders who can get harassed by male riders.
RGT added steering just recently. Zwift added it a while ago. I haven't tried it in either, but I have a screen in the phone companion app dedicated to steering in RGT. I think one of the wheel riser/steering input devices I've seen is the way to go with either as it ups the realism. Nearly 20 years ago I was using a CatEye accessory for PlayStation that used just such a device to add steering input. This wasn't cycling specific - one could play any game (auto racing was best) where acceleration was provided by pedalling input, braking was a button on the handlebars and steering was done with by steering the bike. It was brutal for most car races as you wanted to accelerate out of corners quickly so you spun up the pedals hard - everyone got tired quickly. Anyway, nothing is new under the sun.
RGT has about as many locations as Zwift, but within a Zwift location there are numerous route options and RGT seems to have only one per location. 
RGT and Zwift both have racing and group rides - I haven't tried them anywhere. Both have set workouts as well (which I haven't used because if I want a set workout I have the full System resources to work with), and I know I set up custom Zwift workouts for a client once - don't think you can do that in RGT.
 
On paper, then, they seem pretty comparable. But the bottom line for me is that I could go back to Zwift regularly. As their own ads say "fun is fast and fast is fun". Zwift is both fast and fun. RGT just lacks something that makes it fun. If it didn't come as part of my System subscription I would never pay for it on its own.

A Zwift intermission

I've told the beginning of this story before. When I reviewed a group of smart trainers for Bicycling Australia (2017 I think) I spent a summer of hot days in my back yard riding half a dozen different smart trainers so that I could write about their differences. To put them on an equal footing for part of my test, I subscribed to Zwift and rode them all in that virtual riding environment. After the test was published, I got an email from someone at Sufferfest asking if I'd like to try out their virtual cycling space. They offered me six months free if I was willing to provide some feedback.
 
I spent six months suffering through the difficult training exercises of Sufferfest. I liked it a lot. I provided a lot of feedback about where I saw opportunities for different training options. I can't be sure how much of it is due to me, but they have implemented all of my recommendations. Sufferfest was purchased by Wahoo and is now called Wahoo System. Wahoo has freshened up the lead in and lead out sequence of the videos and removed all of the references to "suffering" and the mythical nation of Sufferlandria, except where they are contained inside the workout and not so easily removed. Most of the videos ended with "IWKMATSICKYT", or something very similar which was the first letter of the Sufferfest saying
I will kick my ass today so I can kick yours tomorrow (I'm 100% sure that isn't quite right, but the sentiment is correct).
All gone in the new corporate Wahoo style guide.
The System, as it is now known, has some excellent components. There is a bunch of yoga, mostly 15 minute practices that target one body area. Hard to not do yoga when it is only 15 minutes. Strength training is another component. And within the cycling things, they already had the best fitness testing I've seen. They call it 4DP (which I'm sure stands for something that I can't be bothered to look up right now). It consists of a 10 second maximal sprint effort, a 5 minute steady state effort, a 20 minute time trial effort and finally a brutal 60 second "whatever's left" effort. It looks at how they interact and not only does this help the program set your target power for various future efforts, but it also characterises each rider to a type (sprinter, rouleur, climber, etc). That helps one either train their strengths or weaknesses. Then they added a slightly less brutal fitness test, the ramp test. This one is unique in the System's repertoire because it uses how you went in the first part to set your target power for the second part. I wish they would do this more often, since clearly it can be done. You do this ramp test until failure, and it uses your failure point to determine your target power for the effort to come. On the basis of those two steps it can calculate FTP and VO2. Brilliant.
Sufferfest lacked recovery rides. What's suffering about a gentle recovery ride anyway? Except it is an important part of a program. They have numerous easier rides now.
 
Then Wahoo purchased another app called RGT. This one has virtual spaces like Zwift, but lacked the numerous route options. You can ride the set route in the set direction or go somewhere else. RGT has some quite fancy graphics, and allows a user to select any of the dozen or so locations at any time (in Zwift, you used to get one rotating location and now it is 3). RGT is not nearly as "gamified" as Zwift. No power-ups. No equipment to earn with levels (no levels either). But they share sprint segments and racing as well as organised social rides. RGT recently added live audio communications, where most people in Zwift seem to use group chat (private chat does exist, I've never used it).
Zwift can offer the l'Alpe d'Huez climb from the Tour de France (called Alp du Zwift) where RGT can offer the Stelvio pass from the Giro d'Italia.
 
In January I was doing about 99% of my riding outside. There was the odd wet day where I'd hit RGT for a look at one of the riding zones. But I broke my collarbone and had to get on the trainer every day, or stop riding. Serendipitously, Zwift offered me a free re-trial to lure me back to the platform. "A lot has changed since you left", they said. "Come and try the new stuff..." So I signed up again. As they promised, all my old equipment and experience points were still there where I'd left them.
Riding for a month or two testing smart trainers I achieved the beginning of Level 7. I was tempted to stick at it for a bit longer because I was drawn by the Alp du Zwift, but you require Level 12 to gain access (hence wanting to try a bit longer). With a useless left arm I started Zwifting again, and riding 40-60 minutes per day the XP rack up pretty quickly. I finally achieved Level 12 and the very next day I tried the climb. It was also only a few days later that my subscription was due for another month, so I cancelled it. Two months of riding Zwift every day was fun, but I've got an annual subscription to The System/RGT and I think it's time to add some structure to my training. Plus I've only got 2ish more weeks until I'm allowed outside.
I think the Stelvio climb is harder than d'Huez. I'm not sure how much of that is platform and how much of that is climb. They're both pretty big hills.
So my hope is, that once I get out on the road again for real, my legs will be doing OK. They haven't had any real time off. We will see. Cycle commuting again very soon. Can't wait! (Wednesday 12 April looks like the first commuting day, which is almost 13 weeks after the fall, but with Easter being a four-day weekend, that's the date.)

A summer missed

I haven't been active lately contributing new entries to my blog. That's because back in January, I fell off my bike on the way to a ride. I broke my collarbone and have been off the bike since. Not riding means I'm not thinking about things the same as I usually do, and I've avoided writing new posts.
I was on a wide grassy area when I crashed, not far from Mt Stromlo. I landed hard enough to knock 2 hours of memory out of my head too, so I have zero recollection of the accident (or the ambulance ride). Interestingly, I didn't hit my head on the ground. My Fox Speedframe Pro not only has dual density foam to deal with both low and high energy impacts, but a delicate exterior finish that reveals most contact with any rough surface. No dents, no scratches - nothing in the finish or lining to show it touched the grass. All my clothing and bike were both grassy and dusty, but not the helmet. Must have been quite an interesting impact.
I've missed out on a couple of planned days at Thredbo. I've missed out on a couple of planned races. I've missed out on a lot of on and off road activities involving bikes. I've also had to stop stretching and weight sessions because I couldn't do much of anything with my left arm.
On the positive side, I renewed my Zwift membership and rode most days on a smart trainer. My goal since they added the climb five years ago was to get to Level 12 and attempt the climb up l'Alpe d'Huez (called Alp du Zwift in Zwift). I finally achieved that and had a pleasant and low key 70 minute ascent. As I write this, my 2 months of membership on Zwift are over. I'm going back to Sufferfest (sorry, now called Wahoo System) now that I'm able to undertake structured workouts again. The free reign of just riding in Zwift and the change of virtual scenery was what I needed but I'm ready to get a bit intense with my indoor riding.
It could have been worse. A mate broke his humerus and missed almost a year of riding. And still isn't fully back. I'm at 10 weeks recovery and have full range of motion in my shoulder, but still cannot do overhead lifts and push-up type movements with more than a few kilograms. That gets better every day.
In case it helps anyone, I dug into the medical literature about clavicle fractures and found a number of quality meta-analyses on surgery versus non-surgical recovery. When any bone is surgically repaired, the muscles have to be removed from the bone to make access for the plate and screws. The "union" rate is somewhat higher for clavicles post-surgery, but full recovery is longer and there are numerous possible complications from the surgery. I had a robust discussion with an orthopaedic surgeon at The Fracture Clinic at Canberra Hospital and we came to a mutual agreement that there was no need for surgery in my case.
I'm still happy with that decision.
Yes I have a pretty big "bump" where the broken end of the collarbone sticks up. In the surgeon's words, I could have traded that bump for a surgical lump. Some breaks result in a length change in the bone as it heals. Shorter can be the result if the two pieces overlap and then heal in that position. Any change requires the muscles, ligaments and tendons of the shoulder to adjust to the new dimensions.
 
Everything points to 12 weeks post-fracture as the reasonable time to get back on the bike. I am going to wait two more weeks and then see how it feels. My indoor riding went from left arm in a sling, to left arm resting on the bars, to a little weight on left arm, to left arm doing pretty much half the support for my upper body in the drops. All in a couple of weeks. But then I tried to compress the suspension on a mountain bike and it really hurt all the soft tissues in my left shoulder. Definitely not ready at that point. That was 2 weeks ago. I tried to do a push-up this week and knew from the feeling that: A-one downward half was enough and B-I wasn't going to make it back up.
I'm doing daily exercises for both strength and mobility I got from my physiotherapist. They're helping, but it's a long journey back to normal.
 
Last year Camille Balanche broke her collarbone at one round of the UCI World Cup, and about 3 weeks later she was back at the final round to defend her lead in the overall. She was successful. I cannot imagine how she did it based on this experience. Yes she is younger and had great medical care, but it must have hurt so much. Bravo to Camille for wanting it so much that she was prepared to go through the pain. On the other hand, maybe this is not a good precedent? Do we need our sporting elite to be so aggressive in coming back to racing? Were it me, I think I'd follow Camille's path and at least try, so there's that.
 
I've been racing a bike since I was 14 years old. I've had quite a number of unintended dismounts from the bike in that time (otherwise known as crashes). This is the first time I've broken a bone. I'm too old for this! I hope I can avoid ever doing it again.

A bad period for riding

Some days you have to accept that riding is just not going to happen.

I haven't had an entry in the blog for a while because i've been out of action. After work on Thursday the 12th of January, I never quite made it to an after-work social ride. Instead, while riding down the grassy verge beside Eucumbene Drive, I crashed.
Hard.
Hard enough that I lost around 2 hours of the day - yet my helmet never touched the ground. I must have gone down instantly onto my left shoulder, breaking my collarbone and shaking my head hard enough to cause serious mental confusion.
The trauma team at Canberra Hospital were concerned enough to do a full upper body scan and keep me around for 24 hours. The surgical team talked about putting a plate in my collarbone, but 6 weeks later I am mostly healed and there was no surgery.

I wish I knew why I crashed. But I will never know. The period between rolling out of my driveway and being in the hospital is completely gone from my recollection. No waiting for the ambulance. No ambulance ride. No firies carrying me to the ambulance. Nothing.

Then there were 2 weeks scheduled off the bike when I went to visit my sister. I brought a nasty case of Covid-19 back with me - timing suggests it was most likely on the 15 hour plane ride I caught that. As I type this I am recovered, but that took a whole week and I'm still feeling quite delicate. Seems every person's Covid experience is unique. Mine was bad and a week long.

There is a SuperFlow on this weekend. I've attended pretty much every Superflow at Stromlo that has been offered. Not this one!
I am hoping to get back on a bike really soon - even for a gentle pedal.

Consistency is key

I think there may have once been some wiggle room in this space, but the physiology does not lie and there is no ambiguity whatsoever on the subject. When training for aerobic performance (such as pretty much anything bike related, possibly aside from pure track sprinting) consistency in training is so important. The other day I saw a graph of cellular mitochondrial numbers (I’d attribute this if I could find it again…). The drop off in numbers after one week of inactivity took three weeks to repair. One week off the bike means a four week setback to progress in training.
Four weeks!
Imagine you’re preparing for your big event. Doesn’t matter if that event is the Olympics or the next club race – big for you is all that matters. There is a finite amount of time to address your fitness prior to the start line. Being forced to take a week off is equal to a one month hold on your progress. That’s huge when most people are at least a little bit behind on the run in. And let’s be honest, you could almost always be better. It might not matter materially if you are one month better (maybe you need to be six months better to make a big difference), but we could all imagine a state of being better. Though Julian Alaphillipe at his best – I’d be hard pressed to imagine being better than that!
Aim for consistency in your training to be your best.

I only ride park

That's plainly not true, in fact I rarely ride park. But it is the title of a recurring theme in Matt Dennison's repertoire. If Matt and the title mean nothing to you, you're missing out. Go to YouTube and check out the gems from IFHT (their new channel is called Mahalo My Dudes). So I don't only ride park, but I really enjoy riding park. Which is a segue into what I am writing about today.
From 2011 to 2019 I went to BC to ride every year. Then Covid hit. Didn't go in 2020. Didn't go in 2021. Could possibly have gone in 2022, but travel was hard and expensive this year. Plus timing wasn't good with work stuff, and the whole newer Creekside zone at Whistler was closed all summer due to lift works on that side of the hill. Sounds like there's going to be more closures next summer as they put in yet another lift (which is sub-optimal, but not avoidance worthy).
 
To make up for the long absence, it was proposed that maybe we should visit all the good places we have been and the few places we haven't been in prior visits. Minimum stay under this scenario is 62 days (allowing for a couple of days on each bike park's trails and transit between parks).
 
The trails at SilverStar are superb for trail bikes. The trails at Sun Peaks and Kicking Horse are best for DH bikes. Whistler delivers trails for both types really well. I've been with only a trail bike and with only a DH bike. Both leave you wanting for the other. The best visits have had both types of bike - choice is prime.
Whistler in particular benefits from having a trail bike because there are way more good trails out of the bike park than inside it. As good as the park is; Howler, Dark Crystal and Lord of the Squirrels are only three of the many amazing trails on offer if you can pedal up.
 
The proposed itinerary looks something like this:
SilverStar > Big White > Sun Peaks > Retallack Lodge > Fernie > Panorama > Kicking Horse > Revelstoke > Whistler > North Shore.
 
I haven't been to Mt Washington on the island. It seemed to be open a bit this year so there is hope. And the Nanaimo area trails were tons of fun (Cumberland and Tzouhalem are the two I think we hit up last time). So maybe?
 
In less than a month, Thredbo opens for summer. I've got my season pass. I made it up for ten days each of the last two seasons. I'm hoping this rain doesn't ruin what could be a really fun summer of MTB. My stoke is high knowing that the Gunbarrel lift will have double the capacity of last year (two bikes per chair now after taking the racks from the Kosciuszko chair). Which means the main chair gets new bike carriers too (more capacity? When I spoke to lift services they weren't sure yet). Merrits Gondola remains two bikes per car. But at the summit of the gondola will be a new chair for bikes continuing straight up in the same direction (apparently with 2 bike capacity as well). Three new trails off that lift means that Sidewinder now runs the full length of that hill, plus there are a blue flow and a blue technical trail up there as well.
As long as the upper traverse trail is open (closed for too much of last season) then much of the hill is accessible from the main lift. That trail runs past the top of Gunbarrel, taking in everything it offers, and then past the top of the gondola too. The only trails that it won't touch are the three new ones. They'll be holiday/weekend only tracks I guess. Kosciuszko runs 7 days but Gunbarrel/Merrits and the new Cruiser lifts are holiday/weekend only.
The first time I went to Thredbo was summer 1997. There was only the one trail - the Cannonball DH track. The day we were there the main lift was closed for servicing so we had to take an old and slow lift (which I think must be gone because I remember it being immediately next to the Kosciuszko) that stopped short of the summit. We had to do "dirt school" where they showed us how to "safely" carry our bikes in our laps on the chair (there was never anything safe about it). The bike guy showed us some of the Cannonball DH trail, but it was closed except for race days. Which meant we had a boring run down the firetrail back to the lift. After a couple of those we called it a day.
When Thredbo started taking MTB seriously, they added the Flow trail to open the hill to modest skill level riders. The All Mountain is even better because it can be quite challenging if you go fast and take the optional side lines it offers, or it can be merely a bit more difficult than the Flow.
The grommets seem to love the Merrits lift and Sidewinder. It's short, so fitness isn't an issue (the main lift is pretty long). And Sidewinder is fun for all (from beginner to pro there is something to enjoy on the trail).
I digress in my enthusiasm for the coming summer season.
 
The only other ski resort in Australia where one could ride park was Mt Buller in Victoria. Unfortunately it had a very short season. Day one was Boxing Day and the final day was January 31 for the regular season, and then for a dozen years they had the Buller Bike Festival closer to Easter that opened the lifts for another week. Worksafe ruled that carrying your bike in your lap was not, in fact, safe (see my comments on Thredbo's former similar situation above) cancelling the 2020 Buller Bike Festival for good. There is now a shuttle service that runs weekends and holidays from December to April, plus full time the same periods as the lifts used to run (Boxing Day to February and Easter).
With long, long summers in Australia, and short, short winters I don't understand why Perisher (with over 30 lifts), or Falls Creek (with a dozen lifts) or any other ski area in Australia hasn't gone down the MTB pathway yet.
In BC, riding park is possibly a way of life. In Australia, not so much.

Top Ganna

Just a week after Ganna set the Hour Record, he was back on the track on his expensive Pinarello for the track Worlds. Not only did he win but he beat the world record, previously set at altitude, in the process.
I remember when the team pursuit record went under 4 minutes, and now it's the individual pursuiters' turn to go so fast.

When you're fast: you're fast!!!!

Andiamo Ganna.

The Hour Record

Near the end of the 19th century, the first man established the “hour record” at around 35 km in 60 minutes (the women’s hours record came MUCH later and isn’t the topic of conversation for today). Now, the hour record is a cool cycling thing based on how far you can ride on a velodrome in one hour – that’s it: ride for 60 minutes and see how far you went.
When, in 1972, Merckx set the record at 49 km, it was out of reach for a long while. Ten years later, Moser was able to take that up to 50 km by using newly developed disc wheels and a lo-pro frame to gain an aero-advantage over the Merckx set-up. In 1992 it got bumped up again. First by Obree and then by (then) recent Barcelona Olympic Individual Pursuit gold medallist Boardman at 52 km.
Obree, Indurain, Rominger, Rominger and Boardman kept pushing the distance upwards in five steps to well over 56 km (56.3). Then the UCI stepped in and threw out 25 years of progress by telling everyone that Merckx was once again the record holder. From that day forwards, all record attempts had to be done on a 1970’s style bike. There were a few attempts, a couple of successes, getting the record up to 51 km. But the main problem was it didn’t appeal to anyone. At least the 90’s flurry of activity was based around the then-current Individual Pursuit regulations and any decent time trial rider would feel at home on a pursuit bike.
Then the UCI leadership changed and they opened up the hour to current pursuit bike rules again. The last decade has seen another whirlwind of records upping the distance from both strong GC riders and time trial specialists. They collectively pushed the record up to nearly 55 km (still not equal to Boardman’s 1996 record of 56).
In September an unlikely holder emerged at the end of one hour with a 55 km distance: an engineer from a pro road team, who is apparently a pretty handy cyclist himself, put all of the marginal gains he knew about into his personal attempt with fantastic success. That was just the prelude to the main event. On the same team was double world champion Ganna. Early on the morning of October 9
th (8th where he was) Ganna took his fancy Individual Pursuit equipment and crushed all the records with a 56.7 km record.
That is far enough that it might be some time before anyone can better it.

The Solo Racing Mindset

On the track you have the Individual Pursuit and the Time Trial (the kilo). On the road there is the Individual Time Trial. In mountain biking it is the Enduro and DH disciplines. What these all have in common is not knowing how fast your opposition is travelling, regardless of whether they went before you or behind you.
A common mantra for the road and track side of things is repeatedly quizzing oneself if it is possible to pedal any harder
right now. It is quite easy to slide off the pace just one increment. Over a typical 40 km ITT that can easily drop 30 seconds off your time. It is a rare event that 30 seconds is unimportant to your final placing. At nationals one year, I tied with another guy for second place – they went back to the timing system to sort out who might have been second because they hate ties, but that is close (it was me!).
One of the ultimate tests of this whole approach is the hour record. For nearly 150 years, the hour record has been a pinnacle event for the road or track cyclist looking to prove their ability. Around a velodrome for 60 minutes, distance over that period is your result. When there was a flurry of records in the 90s (after only one new record in 20 years) amongst four riders: Boardman, Obree, Rominger and Indurain (twice each except for Indurain), they were active roadies who seemed to only have ridden some practice 20-minute sessions in the lead up.
The current record holder isn’t even a “cyclist”. He is a support team member for the INEOS pro road team. In contrast to the usual, he apparently rode at least 40 full hour sessions on his record bike in order to get used to the length of the ride, the position of the ride and to achieve his speed desires. It worked well because he added a decent distance to the record.
Having had one crack at the Master’s Hour myself, I can say that perhaps I would have benefitted from having ridden a few. Although it was unpleasant and maybe after a few trials I wouldn’t have continued to have interest in the record? I was sick on the day and had to pull out after around 35 minutes of riding well off my chosen pace.
Things are even more complex on the dirt. With much of the velocity provided by gravity, speed is a function of
not-braking. Thus, one must identify sections of the track where it would be OK to get off the brakes completely. The resultant speed of doing this can be quite scary. Paradoxically, the mountain bike works best off the brakes so it might be the best way through some sections to be off the brakes and going fast. Speed is your friend too, going over certain kinds of bumps – then the tyres only bounce across the top of the peaks (lacking time to fall into the holes in between them).
Every obstacle on the course presents a question about speed. I’ve ridden a long straight and relatively smooth piece of firetrail letting the bike rip – over 70 kmh was the result. That is fine. But bumps, jumps, drops and corners all require a level of control. The top racers are so close that it comes down to how well executed the plan is, and sometimes to even finer details like who selected the faster line through a section. On a five-minute course, sometimes the separation between first and second is fractions of a second.
Whenever racing against the clock, it takes a special mindset to maximise the results (whether that is first or twenty-first) because it is so easy to go slower. The best way to develop that mindset is to use it – practice! Fun races. Club races. Enter as many as you can to work on your personal going fast.
 

Instability training

Cycling in general, but MTB riding in particular, benefits from instability training. Bikes are only as stable as the rider can make them, so unstable exercises contribute to better riding outcomes. If you doubt this for a second check out a video of either Nino Schurter or his teammate Kate Courtney to see how much unstable work they do, and how good they are at doing it.
Machine weights are super stable and essentially isolate a single muscle in the exercise. Free weights are far less stable and the stability muscles that control across a joint (knee, hip, etc) have to be included in the process. I use kettlebells for most of my weight work. The one-sided and swinging motions are less stable again than traditional free weights. The final level is actively unstable exercises, such as one-legged squats or any drill on an instability platform (I use BOSU, there are others).
Machine weights are like standing up while touching the wall – eventually muscles will get tired but they are very static while you stand there. Free weights are like standing in the centre of the room – not that much different to machine weights. One-legged drills are challenging even without weight. Try to stand on one foot for as long as you can, it gets tiring quite quickly. Then take that one-legged standing drill onto a BOSU. It takes practice just to do it at all.
But are unstable training sessions right for you? Only if you are proficient at stable training already is the short answer. I remember when I did my Level 2 coaching course. We spent a day with an amazing strength coach from the national track program. He recognised four levels of weight room proficiencies in his cyclists. Level 1 were people who needed close supervision in the gym to address imbalances in the body and technique in lifting. Level 2 were people who were ready to do proper basic exercises (imbalances addressed, technique sound). Level 3 were ready to challenge some aspect of their strength, balance and flexibility in the weight room. Level 4 were the peak athletes who were ready for the most bike-specific drills and explosive moves because they’d mastered their body and were more than ready for this stuff (almost no one made it to L4 ever).
I take a slightly different tack in my weight sessions with coachees. I like to see them doing unstable drills with only body weight from early on to help address balance in motion. Doing some weights and some unstable drills achieves progress on two fronts. Hopefully it isn’t too long before the two come together. Also, since I’m not trying to develop world champion track cyclists there isn’t a lot of weight involved at any point. We do reps rather than kilograms.
How can you incorporate this into your own training? Get off the machines and into the free weights. Get off two legs and onto one. Don’t use a barbell all the time and start using one-sided drills that challenge stability across the body (one dumbbell or kettlebell instead). Finally, consider replacing two-leg drills with one-leg drills.
 

You get what you train for

I see the question a lot online. "How do I get better at X?"
 
The short answer is by doing X.
Steep hills are a problem, train on some steep hills (though some gym work might help with that too). Sustained efforts are a problem, ride with some sustained efforts. Most people who aren't coached ride aimlessly and therefore too slowly. They get good at riding long distances slowly (not exactly called for in any race situation).
 
If you want to gain speed, do intervals.
If you want to climb faster, do hill repeats.
If you want to be able to push a bigger gear, do big gear intervals.
If you get tired too quickly, ride more hours.
 
Most training from a coach is focussed on one thing at a time. It will either be very hard, or very easy.
Most self-guided riding is middle paced. It is not hard enough to promote adaptation, or it is too hard to promote recovery.
 
If we look at some pro riders and the little info that there is about their training we can see some examples of this.
Mona Mitterwallner of Austria LOVES to ride long distances in the Alps. She was fit enough last year in her first year out of juniors to win the XCM World Championships. She gets better the further the race goes because of her big volume training. But this year she moved up to Elite racing and she has been slow off the starts. Part of that is experience as she's never had to deal with such fierce starts before (the U23 category might be quite competitive but it doesn't have the depth or competitiveness of the Open category). Quite a bit of it is the fact that riding at high altitudes for hours at a time doesn't build a powerful start.
Rebecca McConnell won the first three rounds of the UCI World Cup this season (2022), which is unprecedented for her and unusual in World Cup racing too (to win 3 in a row). Bec said in interview that her new coach and she had to negotiate how many intervals she added to her program because she'd never done them before and didn't like doing them. (But obviously they worked in a way that whatever she did before did not...)
 
Some of the people I coach do nothing but intervals thanks to their time challenged schedule. Intervals are your friend when you want speed on a bike.

Feeling slow, Being fast

Until 15 days ago (when we returned to working from home) I was having a good run of commuting time on the bike. Minimal intrusive weather events and lots of days pushing the pace meant my time to work was consistently shorter than what I was used to. I felt like my fitness was progressing. But commuting "work" and training "work" are usually quite different. In duration and impact.
Still, it is regular riding of a decent length and I've proven I'm pretty good at using commute time as training.
However, I've felt pretty slow on the bike - especially the mountain bike - when I'm not commuting.
Given the slightly muddy conditions of late, most of my MTB time has been on the single speed. I got a single speed years ago in part because there are no derailleur gears or expensive drivetrain bits to wear out. I am on my third single speed now because they do run forever with little maintenance and they're a lot of fun.
Last weekend I had two decent rides on that bike. Both felt like I was struggling for speed.
Enter Strava. I got several PBs on both rides. Mostly climbing ones (where fitness matters most). Including one that was set in a race about 8 years ago. While Strava is GPS reliant and therefore not accurate enough for proper race timing, to-the-second results are fine and I don't care about a second here or there anyway. On a 3 minute section, being one second out matters in a race but not in a "how fast did I go?" query.

The coaching lesson from this is one I've seen many times before. How you feel and how you go are two distinct and separate things. The feel slow, but are fast situation is infinitely preferable to the feel fast, am slow situation at the other end of the spectrum. For me personally, the feel fast, am fast situation leads to tactical errors.
If only there was some good racing to really test my fitness on...

Consistent training

While there may be other ways to characterise training approaches, from what I've seen as a coach and rider there are two main groups going on in this space. Consistent training is the description I give to those people who are out almost every day doing something on their bike. Intermittent training is what I'll call those people who, regularly or irregularly, get out and hammer themselves silly whenever they get out (which is irregular by definition).
 
Let me make an analogy. Consistent training is like a long period of gentle rain. It doesn't wash away the dirt. It doesn't damage the flowers. It isn't instantly wetting if you go out in it. But the ground gets wet. Very wet. Deeply wet. This rain soaks down to deep roots. This rain keeps the ground wet for ages after it stops.
Intermittent training is like a big storm. A lot of rain falls in a short period of time. It washes dirt off farmers' fields, it washes dirt out of my front yard; the runoff is high and the effects are obvious and immediate. These big storms knocks leaves out of trees, flowers off of stalks and so on. If you go outside, you get soaked quickly. And, with loads of rain in a short period of time, it does a poor job of actually wetting the soil. It can be dry and dusty only hours later if the sun comes out.
 
Training effects are like the wet soil. We want a deep and lasting effect. To get the best result requires gentle and continuous training. The hammer-fest once a week leaves muscles sore and a feeling of accomplishment, but not much in the way of long-term benefits.
Be like the rain; be gentle and regular rather than episodic and overly vigorous.

Crank Length

Go back more than fifty years and road bike geometry was a bit different from what it has been in the period since. Bikes got taller with increasing sizes, but they barely got any longer – instead this seemed to be left up to the longer stem. Even with stems up to 14 (or more) centimetres long, big guys often look pretty squashed in older race images. I guess it proves you can adapt to many things.
Currently one would be shopping smartly if one looked for a new bike based on top tube length (or reach). The gap between sizes for most companies is consistent for both the frame’s height and length. That is, each size is 2 cm taller for each size up (in traditional sizing at least) and each size is a consistent X mm longer (with X being model dependent around 15 mm) for each size up.
One thing that didn’t change in the old days was crank length. Occasionally I see a non-170 mm crank on an old gear website, but that seemed to be the size that most things came in. My first good bike was a 60 cm frame with 170 mm cranks. My second bike was a 61 cm frame with 170 mm cranks.
And then one day someone decided that crank length mattered. But only for those in the middle of the size distribution. Check out the size range offered by most manufacturers. It amounts to three sizes: 170, 172.5 and 175 mm only. Move up to the current 12-spd Shimano Dura Ace and you can go both shorter and longer – but not by much (160 or 165 mm and 177.5 mm are your choices). On the Campagnolo side of things, only the basic three lengths are available regardless of price (Super Record is super expensive but has three choices). This wasn’t always the case. I have had numerous 180 mm Dura Ace cranks over the years (from 8-spd, 9-spd and 10-spd models) and I currently have two Campagnolo 11-spd cranks in 180 mm (one Record and one Super Record).
If you require short cranks, there are numerous choices for children that function fine for height challenged adults. If long is what you want, then you are in trouble. As much because off-the-shelf frame won’t work with cranks much longer than 180 mm as because of the difficulty in getting anything longer than 180. Lennard Zinn has you covered if you are really tall and want a suitable bike because he can make both for you – cranks up to 230 mm long (I think) and commensurately higher bottom brackets to avoid driving those cranks into the ground when pedalling.
I cannot understand how anyone can think “My company needs to make cranks in different lengths because legs come in different lengths” but we aren’t going to make crank lengths representative of leg lengths. Where adult leg lengths cover about a 25% range, the cranks cover around a 2.5% range. There is no explanation that makes that sensible for me. Except that the range is SO small and 3 sizes is so few that it is possible to stock 3 SKUs and fit them on any bike. The bike industry runs afraid from discussions of biomorphology and optimal crank length.
Reality suggests that a 50 cm frame should have 165 mm cranks – possibly a bit shorter. And that 62 cm frame should have 190 mm cranks (possibly a bit longer). What we get instead is each frame size up receives a slacker seat tube angle. This moves the riders pelvis backwards in relation to the pedals so that the riders legs sit behind the pedals similarly for each bike size without the desired extra crank length. Basically, it is a cheat. All sizes of riders should be on the same seat angle, but have ever-higher bottom brackets to go with ever-longer cranks as the size increments up.
When I got my Trek Checkpoint, I had a full Record group to hang on it. Only the cranks didn’t fit. The frame was designed around Shimano cranks only. The offset in Shimano cranks is all at the axle. In SRAM cranks, the offset is in the middle of the crank in a gentle curve. For Campagnolo, the offset is near the pedal after the crank runs straight out of the axle. The bulge in the offside chainstay hit the Record crank. I was able to use the Record cranks on my old Madone (the one that lives in the trainer) and bought some new-old-stock SRAM Red GXP cranks for the Checkpoint in the longest size SRAM makes – 177.5 mm. It is only a single size, a tiny difference, but I never liked the 177.5 cranks. They always felt a bit wrong.
Then they broke. I was simply going to replace them, except a year later and SRAM hasn’t been able to come up with a solution. They were going to send me some Quarq cranks in 177.5 mm length with the old GXP axle and old 3-bolt interface for the spider. But they didn’t have a matching spider. So my bike shop found a spider. When the cranks finally arrived, they were 8-bolt interface. The spider won’t fit. They sent the cranks back but got stuck with the spider. A part they don’t need and might never sell. SRAM is all about the DUB axle these days and that 29 mm axle won’t fit in a Trek BB90.
What about other options? Rotor once made 180 mm cranks, but it appears not to have done so for many years. At least one generation. I didn’t go with Shimano in the first place because there is a general sentiment that Shimano and Campagnolo do not mix. Now with the 12-spd new generation of Shimano parts, there is no 180 mm crank in the parts list. SRAM still makes 177.5 mm, but I know I don’t really like that length and non-DUB axles are harder to find. Campagnolo abandoned anything longer than 175 mm when they went to 4-bolt spiders about 2015. Miche, an Italian brand that makes a lot of bike parts, only makes the 3 lengths from 170 to 175 in their racing models (and shorter for kids).
Lightning, in Los Angeles California, makes some very fancy carbon cranks with a bolt on spider and a 30 mm axle stub on each arm. Like Campagnolo cranks, each half-axle stub bolts together inside the bottom bracket. They have a Trek BB90 solution that involves very tiny bearings. I have read many stories of premature bearing failure and constant creaking from these very expensive cranks. At least they produce cranks from 150 mm up to 190 mm, which is a vastly superior range to most brands.
In the past 5 years all my mountain bike cranks have gotten shorter for better ground clearance as bottom brackets have gotten lower for handling. I had a trail bike until 2017 that ran 180 mm cranks. They were great for pedalling up open fire roads and the like, but I got so many pedal strikes on singletrack. The Slash I got in 2018 came with 175 mm cranks, but the shop arranged for me to get 170 mm cranks. A change made by 2019 for all Slash models. Then I replaced the short travel bike in 2020 with 170 mm cranks; partly so they’d be the same as the Slash, partly to ensure better ground clearance. My personal corollary on crank length is my new hardtail, which came with 175 mm cranks. I get more pedal strikes than I would like and think that I should replace the cranks with some 170 mm variants. As is typical of DH bikes, my new DH bike came with 165 mm cranks for even more ground clearance. This is the same as my old DH bike, but because I haven’t ridden that since about 2015, it is long out of my head.
My latest thinking, then, about the Checkpoint cranks is to run with 170 mm. Maybe that is the compromise that has to happen because there just aren’t sufficient choices in 180 mm cranks. I’d be happier if I could swap all three road bikes over but maybe it won’t matter? I’m considering something inexpensive (like Shimano 105) in case I don’t like the 170 mm length on the road bike.

Cooma MTB tracks

One day, on my way back from a fun day on the lifts at Thredbo, I stopped in the middle of Cooma to use the toilet and saw a decent-sized map pointing out some tracks not far up the road at the southern edge of Cooma. Deciding I had to come back to try them out, it was only a few weekends before the opportunity presented itself. Really, it takes about 40 minutes to get to Sparrow Hill and I have gone through periods of riding there every weekend. It takes about an hour to get to Cooma, so why shouldn't these trails be considered?
There is a small parking lot at the base of the trails and not much else by way of facilities. The dirt road looks like it runs all the way up, making shuttles an option for the gravitationally challenged. There are a couple of climbing trails too, for the non-shuttling types.
I plotted out a three-lap adventure using
Trailforks but we've never used the Garmin for following a course offroad before and it wasn't behaving as expected (if you stop at a trail junction it is supposed to identify the options facing you - and that is without any programming). Sometimes we would ride up a trail only to be told to turn around and go back. After a while this gets old and you just keep riding... I think in the end we did two laps plus a little extra bit rather than the three full laps planned.
The hill is really a good one for trails. It has both decent elevation gain and a variety of slopes from mild to steeper. That means the trails can range from quite easy to quite difficult. The soil is typical dry and dusty Australian dirt. On the climbing side of things the main climb track is a pretty normal XC climbing track without any hard or technical challenges, but some long and flowy lines that are fun to ride. The descending trails are generally on the easier end of the spectrum, feature a lot of jumps, were a lot of fun and didn't need a lot of travel to make them work (I was on my hardtail). I did see some guys shuttling on DH bikes, but they appeared to be riding the same descent as me so either they were seriously over-biked or bent on going super fast. I enjoyed my couple of hours there enough to want to go back and try again.
If this cold and wet winter weather yields to milder and drier days, I'd go back right away. Next time I think I will take the trail bike as much for the gearing choices as for the rear suspension.

A jumping epiphany

I have been really working on my jumping ability for a decade. I've ridden with some very good riders who have offered tips and tricks for getting airborne. The closest I came was riding with Rhys (now of Maydena Bike Park in Tassie, but then living out of a van near Whistler BC) and somehow feeling imbued with a sliver of his jumping prowess (he does no-handers and backflips with the ease I ride off a curb). But two days later I had lost the mojo.
Then I ran into a video on YouTube from Lee McCormack (of LeeLikesBikes fame, purveyor of Cycling Kung Fu, teacher of many skill-deficient professional MTB racers, and co-author of MTB skills books with Brian Lopes). Lee talked about rowing up the face of the jump, and for me that was the epiphany. I suspect it didn't change very much of what I was already doing, but the rowing action demands that you remain centred on the bike (you cannot do it out of position). And voila, I could consistently clear smaller jumps. My main issue with bigger jumps is risk. Falling hurts a lot. And can take months to recover from. I don't want that time off the bike, or the rehab, so I'm cautious.

As a person's jumping experience grows, they can "know" the appropriate speed window for a new jump they haven't done before. But that is hard-won experience. There has to be a first jumper, but if that's the jump builder, they should know exactly what they had in mind... Everyone else can learn a jump by following someone who has done it previously.
I was all set to get towed into some jumps at Thredbo this summer by a young guy I'd been riding with a bit - but then he got a jump wrong and smashed his humerus to pieces. I knew I could do those Thredbo jumps so I tried two of them, and was able to do them easily on several occasions. Phew! Woohoo!! I left two more untested for next season (I was cautious!).

I realise how visual I am with jumps from my recent experience with a small one on Trebuchet at Stromlo. Just before the over/under intersection of the DH tracks and Trebuchet, there is a small rock lip on the right. It was surrounded by weeds that grew up in Spring nearly obscuring the rock. I couldn't easily hit it. As soon as Iconic Trails cleared the weeds away, it was trival to take off. Small change, big impact on my head.

I have taught a fair number of people to use better jumping technique in their riding, but what was working for others wasn't producing the consistency I was looking for in myself. Lee's rowing thing did the trick. Incidentally, he also teaches rowing and anti-rowing for pump track progression, but I can't get the un-row down. My own method works pretty well so I just go with that.

You might want to check out Lee on YouTube, or hit me up for a lesson if your own jumping isn't up to scratch.

Sufferfest & SYSTM

Several years ago now I spent much of my summer riding time on a smart trainer in my (hot) backyard testing a half-dozen or so smart trainers in prep for an autumn buyer's guide on smart trainers. I tried them all in Zwift - which was the main program for use with a smart trainer that I knew of at the time. After the article was published I got an email from someone at The Sufferfest. I had seen a Sufferfest DVD. I didn't know they had migrated into online smart training. They wanted to know why I had used Zwift and they offered me 6 months free Suffering if I would provide some coaching feedback on what I experienced.
Unlike Zwift, Sufferfest had pre-programmed drills developed by an experienced coach, set to pro racing cinema as a back drop. There was a whole mythology built around Sufferfest - riders from Sufferlandria and Couchlandria, laser-eyed goats that picked off slow riders at the back of the bunch, and so on. It was quite funny and promoted suffering for one's "art". Having Zwifted for a while, I paid for a subscription to Sufferfest (which is now 2+ years ago).
Progress was slow. One new video was cause for celebration. I found the videos to be of high production values - and getting higher. When they added the ramp test for a quick fitness test (to go with the longer and harder full test they have had for some years) it used very clever programming that used results from earlier in the drill to program power levels later on (a first for Sufferfest).
In reply to that free period of use, I sent Sufferfest many pages of feedback. Some general, like they should have some recovery rides on offer (it isn't all about suffering) and some specific, like I suggested a specific drill based on the work of Dr Tabata and thought they should have something similar on offer. All my suggestions are now incorporated in their product - glad to see they listened!
Then Wahoo purchased the company. Wahoo makes my smart trainer - the KICKR (they love capital letters and dislike vowels). And a pandemic hit. Loads of people must have signed up to Sufferfest, encouraging development. Scores of new videos and new video styles appeared. There are now 300 exercises for riders. The name became SYSTM. With new investment and new subscribers came loads more videos. Some were delivered without a video so it would be available for riding and eventually the video backdrop would follow (just an expediency to get them out there in the wild).
SYSTM immediately downplayed the whole suffering thing.
At the end of each Sufferfest video was the Sufferlandrian flag and motto (IWBMATTKYT - I think - stands for I Will Beat My Ass Today To Kick Yours Tomorrow) appeared with the copyright notice. These were changed to SYSTM ones. No references to Sufferlandria or suffering were made in new videos. I know the whole suffering thing dissuaded a friend from subscribing because he thinks of cycling as an enjoyable activity. I find it a bit bland.

Can't argue with a good product however.

And as of the end of April, RGT was added to the Wahoo family and made available to subscribers as part of Wahoo X. RGT is much like Zwift, without all the human traffic (When I tried Zwift it had one active world at any given time - though you could force change the world in play - and hundreds of humans riding in that world regardless of time of day) because it hasn't got the popularity of Zwift. RGT uses real places. As far as I can tell, they are accurately modelled in the digital realm too. Instead of screaming down a hill at 90 kmh and railing corners like a game, RGT tries to make it more realistic but I still zoomed around corners at 55 kmh that probably couldn't be ridden at that speed by anyone. It is trying. It does apply brakes. RGT also offers fixed power output "bots" anyone can use to pace themselves with. With only (approx) 10 riding locations and the locations typically short (10-20 km) Wahoo is going to have to build more worlds to keep my interest. For now it is an unexpected bonus.

My Wahoo X subscription expires in the Spring. I am definitely going to consider my options before I renew my account. It is good. It isn't perfect.