Michael Hanslip Coaching

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

April 2023

Unblemished alloy rims...

As a taller, heavier rider - one who doesn't take the smoothest line - I am well used to putting dings in my MTB rims. As a result, all my XC/trail bikes for the past while have had carbon rims. You can't ding it (though you can smash it/break it).
I've had two DH bikes. The V10 for several years and for the past 3 years, a Sender CFR from Canyon. The current bike has DT Swiss DH wheels on it consisting of 240 hubs, the wider of the two DH rim options and some DT spokes. (There is even a QR code on them for "more information" about the wheel, but it leads to an "unknown" type error. Leading me to suspect there are some special Canyon-only wheels that are somehow special.)
Normally, on the basis of both the experiences with the V10 and even the XC bikes, I would put at least one ding in a rim in a season of lift-serviced riding. To go three years without a mark is unprecedented for me. While the alloy used in rims has improved over the years, not so much that the rims by themselves get all the credit. The majority of the credit goes to the CushCore Pro foam inserts in the rims from day 1.
Yes I used proper (Maxxis in this case) DH tyres. But for the most part I did that on the V10 too. And given that the V10 had tubes inside for most of the seasons of action, I had to keep enough air pressure in them to prevent pinch flatting - something I did quite a lot when using tyres with too-soft a sidewall.
CushCore has allowed an amazing transformation of my expectations on the MTB. My hardtail and short-travel bikes have the smaller, lighter version of CushCore (an intermediate choice was just released this month so it doesn't come into play for me) while my Enduro and DH bikes have the Pro version. It means I can run as low as 16 psi in the front for excellent traction and low rolling resistance on irregular terrain while still getting adequate support in corners. I haven't been able to go quite so low in the rear without feeling a bit loose - I suspect I sit a lot of weight at the back of the bike much of the time. Still, I can routinely run 24 psi in the rear without feeling like the back end is moving too much.
The evidence that the foam is doing its job is the number of permanent marks in it where some edge has trapped the foam against the rim edge. Many of them on the Enduro bike (the first bike of mine to get CushCore and also the one that gets the most riding on rugged terrain) at the rear wheel - almost zero up front. I swapped them around when I replaced the tyres so the rear gets what is effectively a new insert and the front won't tax the insert the same way.

But the inserts are about more than protecting the rim and more than running low pressures safely. The inserts occupy roughly half the air volume of the tyres, causing them to ramp up in pressure more quickly than they would otherwise - much like a volume spacer in a fork or shock. The whole "insert" thing stems originally from attempts to more closely couple the movement of the tyre (soft, undamped, precedes any suspension movement) with movement of the suspension (well damped, trails the tyre compression - leading to an out-of-control phase at the edge of performance). Syntace and Schwalbe released ProCore (a road tyre inside your MTB tyre in essence) to force the suspension to activate earlier in the overall travel range with the unexpected benefit of tyre retention and rim protection.
Inserts like the Huck Norris occupy so little of the tyre volume that they are a good choice for those who do not want to alter the characteristics of their tyres.

I've written about CushCore before. I'm such a big fan. They've improved my tyre grip. Stopped the frequent burping of my tubeless setup. Prevented rim dings. Better coupled the tyre and the suspension (which I believe can be felt in certain situations). And I've even become quite good at changing tyres with a foam insert inside. The extra mass can be felt, but it's a small price to pay for the rest, and I think the mass can help with the grounded feeling of the bike too.

Inserts are the way to go.

3D printed saddle - part 2

My Fizik printed saddle has taken a lot longer to reach 30 hours than I would have predicted due to breaking my collarbone - I took 13 weeks off the bike commuting thing. But now that I am approaching that milestone I am really thinking that I don't like it.
One of the benefits of 3D printing is that the padding can be soft in one spot and firm immediately adjacent to that spot. There is a very firm spot where ones sit bones are meant to rest. And most of the rest is quite soft. But the saddle is too wide, even in its narrowest option, to suit my sit bones. Normally one can sit further forwards on the saddle and be fine. But when I move forwards, I slide into the soft space that doesn't support well. When I sit on the firm and supportive place, the sides of the saddle rub on my inner thighs and irritate them.

I think the tech is great. The basics of the saddle seem fine. The specifics for me - not quite right.

I'm not quite sure where to next for me in the saddle game. I have tried a number that I don't like recently, and none that I do like.

Flying with bikes

Starting back in the 90s, I really only travelled with a road bike. I had a Tri-All-3 hard case. It was very protective of the bike, but the box itself often got damaged by airline handling. Because it used a quick-release font axle device to hold the bike securely centred in the box, it would only work with a standard 100mm QR front fork. And even a mountain bike with such a wheel could be a problem due to the wheelbase being too long for the box. It was also relatively difficult to pack the bike into, a bit like an advanced Tetris level; you were never quite sure where to put the next couple of pieces.

For my first trip to Whistler in 2011, I purchased an Evoc soft bike bag that easily swallowed my Extra-Large size Santa Cruz V10 DH bike. Unfortunately, mountain bikes kept evolving and 29" wheels were too large for the wheel pockets on that original Evoc bag. I purchased a second generation bag that had 29" friendly wheel pockets. And mountain bikes kept evolving.
The longest wheelbase that Evoc suggests will fit in the bag is 125 cm. The length of my recently-sold Trek Slash. It only just fit. Now I have a new Slash with a 131 cm wheelbase. There is no way I can see to get this bike in that bag. Looks like I am buying a third bike bag for my upcoming week in Tassie.
Evoc now makes an XL bag with extra-large wheel pockets (think fat bikes) but they only increased the wheelbase capacity of the bag by 1 cm to 126. That is no use to me at all. Enter Australian bag maker Albek. Their Atlas sports a 136 cm capacity. There are bikes longer than that, but my two long wheelbase bikes are shorter than this by a little bit (the Canyon Sender CFR is 133 cm).

I was thinking, initially, of taking the trail bike to Derby. Loads of their trails are XC oriented and the Ripley is perfect for that. But if you've paid attention you know that there have been 3 Enduro world rounds in Derby and they have some really gnarly trails to ride. I'm also going to St Helens and it sounds like they have less gnarly terrain than Derby, but still some good rough stuff to play on, and some jumps tracks. It really has to be the Slash that I take. It will be a little bit extra work on the ascents, but
a lot more fun and security on the descents.
And so I need an Atlas bag.

You can count on a review after my trip…

Flight Attendant

Now that I am back riding it is time to catch up on some of my new technology. Today I'm writing about the Flight Attendant system on my Slash. In case you don't know and don't want to look it up, Flight Attendant is Rock Shox's AXS integrated intelligent suspension adjustment system. It is the SRAM equivalent to Fox's Live Valve system, but aimed at gravity riders rather than XC riders.
At release there were about 7 bikes available with Flight Attendant. The Slash being Trek's entry to the game. Using the same batteries as an AXS rear derailleur or a Reverb AXS post, and the same motor, the damping in the shock and fork can be adjusted between open, medium and locked almost instantly.
Not only is it adjustable to rider preference across a spectrum of locked-preferred to open-preferred, but the left lever can also over-ride the system (to a pre-selected option of locked or open). I particularly like the split settings where the fork is open and the shock is in medium - this is selected quite often in the more open end end of the adjustment spectrum (where I have settled for the moment).

What's it like on the trail?
Almost invisible. Though a bit noisy. You can easily hear the adjustments happening. And the mode is reflected in the lights on top of the fork crown (they can be turned off in the settings). Mostly while you are pedalling, the suspension is locked. The instant you stop pedalling it swaps to open. If you are pedalling on bumpy trails, it will firm up rather than lock up.
Basically it is a transparent almost-always-right system that makes the plush descending bike pedal up bob-free. It is fast enough that if you get air, it is always full soft for the landing.
It doesn't transform the Slash into an XC bike, but it does make it pedal like my old Slash with the locks on fork and shock, but I can't forget to turn them off at the top because the smart system does it for me.

TL;DR: Flight Attendant is a smart system that almost always adjusts the three-way adjustments on the fork and shock across the fully open, platform and fully closed settings to the one you would pick just now if you could easily pick these settings while you ride along.

Flight Attendant doesn't make the Slash lighter, but it does make it completely bob-free.

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.)