Power meters, what’s the point?

You may be forgiven for thinking that power meters are just another toy that some people add to their cycling arsenal so they have something else to brag about at the coffee shop…

While this may be true for some, power meters do serve a training purpose and may be just what you need to take your cycling to the next level.

In simple terms, a power meter is a device which measures the power output of a cyclist. There are a number of different types of power meter that use different means of measurement and some are better than others, but that’s a subject for a different post.

So what do they actually measure? Power meters measure the force that moves the bike forward multiplied by the velocity. So, the point of a power meter is to provide an objective measurement of real output, allowing training intensity and progress to be measured accurately.

But, how does a power meter improve your performance? Let’s start at the beginning and work our way up.

echowell-echo-u4w-bicycle-computerA lot of new cyclists are flying blind – they either use a basic computer that measures their speed or they use nothing. Consequently, they have no idea what their body is doing other than propelling their bike forward at x speed, and as speed is influenced by so many factors (terrain, wind conditions, other cyclists) it’s almost useless as a measure of performance.

The next step is to start using a cycling computer that measures heart rate, speed and cadence. So now we have an input measurement – heart rate – and output measurements – speed and cadence. Put together these measurements form the basis of Cyclo505-10heart rate based training and are the first step in improving cycling performance. As fitness improves, you can pedal at higher cadences, achieve greater speed and your heart rate recovers more quickly. These measurements can be used to guide training, improving fitness and speed.

Introducing a power meter is the next step. Your body is the engine that drives your bike; improving engine performance improves overall performance.

Because a power meter allows you to focus on muscle performance, combining power measurement and heart rate measurement removes the guesswork and allows you to focus your training on improving overall engine performance. Once your training intensity can be accurately measured you can optimise your training and work on the areas that need improvement.

While a power meter may not be much use to you when you’re starting out, as your performance improves and your cycling goals change, power meters become more relevant.

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European Cycling – An Italian Experience (Part 2)

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Finish line

19th Bianchi Felice Gimondi Gran Fondo – 10 May 2015

Unlike the mass participation rides we’re used to in Australia, a gran fondo is actually a race, which some people take more seriously than others (more of that later). For a full definition & description of gran fondo racing click here.  This type of ride originated in Italy so what better place to try the gran fondo out?

There was the usual wait at the start line, with riders divided into groups according to their registration number.  In the best Australian traditions our contingent all rode together despite some of us being entitled to start further forward – egalitarianism at its best. It was exciting to see familiar faces in the crowds as most of the Bianchi crew started in our group although it was interesting to note how few women were competing.  The general consensus in Australia seems to be that there aren’t enough women riding but in comparison with Europe we seem to be doing pretty well.

Start line

Roll out was a little slow as you’d expect with so many people (3800 registered) but once we got into the main thoroughfare it was on for young and old. This was definitely a race, very male dominated and very full on. As is usual in a mass participation ride there were lots of slower riders on the hills but so many faster riders it was difficult to get past the slower ones.  Again, in a marked difference to Australia, it was amazing how many people were there only to do the short route (90km).  They, in turn seemed pretty amazed that they were doing the ride at all and totally amazed that we had travelled all the way from Australia to do the ride and were doing the middle or long distances.

Fortunately we had already done a recce of many of the climbs so we knew what we were in for as compared to so many of the people that we met along the way. The feed stops were well patronised and had great snacks – slabs of chocolate were particularly welcome as was the Italian soft drink as we got further into the ride. As the turn off for the short distance loomed, numbers started to thin out – another interesting as in our Adelaide ride groups it’s more usual for everyone to ride the longest distances not the shorter ones, but then we don’t have too many mountains on our rides!

Gran Fondo Collage

Highlights – gorgeous scenery, just wished we had time for photographs to prove it but think of the stuff we only see in fairy tales – mountain villages, snow-capped peaks and you’ve pretty much got it; fantastic climbs that were hard but not so hard they were unenjoyable; lovely friendly people.

Low lights – some scary descents, very tight corners which took a lot of attention to navigate, and the unfortunate accident involving a pedestrian and a cyclist which stopped Gillian from doing the long ride

Overall, it was a fantastic experience, which I would happily repeat, hopefully next year!

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European Cycling – an Italian experience (Part 1)

The opportunity of a lifetime – an invitation to participate in the 19th Felice Gimondi-Bianchi Gran Fondo celebrating the 50th anniversary of Felice Gimondi’s 1965 Tour de France win and Bianchi’s 130 Anniversary, who would pass that up?

Not me, so here’s the story of my Italian cycling experience…

SciConFirst things first, how to get the bike to Italy? Turns out travelling with a bike is pretty easy – let the airline know that you will be travelling with a bike, pack it in a bag, turn up at the airport with the bike, leave it at the oversize baggage reception, done!  What bag?  We’ve used the SciCon Aerocomfort Plus for years because it’s easy to use, requires very little bike disassembly and allows plenty of room to pack the rest of your kit.  It seems that baggage handlers are more gentle with a soft bike bag than a hard case and bag and bike both made it to Italy and back in one piece.

The next distraction was the whole ‘riding on the wrong side of the road’ experience.  As it turns out this is nowhere near as scary as anticipated.  Reverse the give way to the right rule and you’re pretty much there.  European drivers are also far more tolerant of cyclists than Australian drivers (in 6 days we only encountered two unpleasant drivers) and if you get lost there always seems to be someone on the side of the road to point you in the right direction or a friendly cyclist to tell you the best places to ride.

On to the actual cycling;  Bergamo, where we were based, is 40km northeast of Milan, and very easily accessible.  The foothills of the Bergamo Alps are just to the north of the town so there are plenty of climbs to experience.  For our first ride we decided to head to Citta Alta (the upper city) which seemed to be a popular ride for locals – it had the added bonus of some beautiful piazzas with wonderful restaurants.

Citta Alta Climb view

The view from the top of the Citta Alta climb

Top of Citta Alta climb

The house at the top of the Citta Alta climb

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Care for your Kit

So you’ve had your bike serviced ready for the summer but what about the rest of your kit?

Helmet
That thing that protects your head in an accident… yes, it probably needs a bit of TLC.

If it looks like this, you need to replace it

If it looks like this, you need to replace it

First things first, you sweat in it so make sure the pads get a wash every now and then (it will improve your comfort and prolong their life). You can either pull them out and give them a rinse, or give your whole helmet a rinse under the tap (lukewarm water is best) and then air dry it. Next, make sure it’s still going to protect your head – straps still work, the outer shell hasn’t received any ill-treatment and everything is still where it should be. UV exposure degrades the lightweight materials that helmets are constructed from so if it’s showing signs of wear you should replace it. Most manufacturers recommend replacement at least every 3 years, some more often. The major rule however is that if your helmet has had any impact at all, replace it.
Check out our Which Helmet? Blog for tips on the right helmet for you.

Glasses
Sunglasses, apart from topping off your ‘look’ have their own purposes – protecting your eyes from glare and from foreign objects and allowing you unobstructed vision. Obviously if the lenses are scratched you’ll have difficulty seeing out of them but also the UV protection will be compromised and therefore less protective. How about giving them a clean as well – you can use a proper lens cleaning solution or again run them under a lukewarm tap. Make sure when you dry them off you use a lens specific cloth so you protect the lenses from damage.

Northwave gloves

Gloves
YES, gloves are designed to be washed so if you haven’t been washing yours hop to it. Again, washing will prolong their life (as long as you adhere to the washing instructions) and they’ll be more comfortable if you get rid of all that sweat, sticky energy drinks and any other substances they may have come in contact with. Stick them in a wash bag to protect your other gear from velcro fasteners.

Shoes
As your major connection with your bike, maintaining your shoes is super important. We don’t mean that you should be getting out your nugget and brushes and giving them a shine, but we do recommend that you ensure that the closures are working properly, whether they are Velcro straps, ratchet buckles or laces; check your cleats and make sure they are free from obstructions that could prevent your from clipping in or unclipping, that they are firmly attached to your shoes (in the right position), and are in good working order, make sure your heel pads are still there and aren’t too worn and while you’re at it why not give your shoes a wipe down so you continue to look the part?
Get the lowdown on how shoes maketh the cyclist.

Bibs/Nicks

Lycra needs special attention when washing and is susceptible to degradation from UV exposure so make sure you follow the washing instructions.  Look after them and they will look after you.  Saggy worn nicks not only look bad, but they’re uncomfortable and not doing their job of protecting your delicate nether regions from chafing and ensuring you get the best ride. Replace them!

Essential JerseyJersey

Jerseys protect you from UV exposure, wick away your sweat and provide you with a place to keep your phone, coffee money, spare tube, etc.  You’ve probably got heaps of old ones that you don’t even wear because they don’t fit or they’re ugly…  For the ones that you do wear, make sure your jersey is a good fit so it will wick moisture away from your skin, make sure if provides UV protection and that it’s comfortable.

Happy, comfortable and safe cycling!

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La Vuelta a España – A Rough Guide

On 29 April 1935 50 riders left Madrid to travel 3 425 kilometres over 14 stages in what became the first Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain). The last of the grand tours for the season, 2014 marks the 69th edition of the race. The Vuelta generally incorporates 3 time trials and numerous mountain stages; 13 of them in the 2014 edition.

Roberto Herras holds the record for the most wins (5), while Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali have won all three grand tours. Tony Rominger won the race three times, consecutively from 1992 to 1994 and in 1995 Laurent Jalabert became the first, and only, rider to win all of the classifications. In recent years the race has been won by Chris Horner (2013), Alberto Contador (2012) Juan Jose Cobo (2011) and Vincenzo Nibali (2010).

Jerseys

La Vuelta JerseysRed Jersey – just as the Giro d’Italia has its Maglia Rosa and the Tour de France its Malliot Jaune, this is the jersey awarded to the rider who leads the General Classification (it has been yellow, orange and white; red was introduced in 2010)

Green Jersey– awarded to the rider who leads the Points Classification.  Laurent Jalabert and Sean Kelly share the record for victories in this competition with 4 each.

Polka Dot Jersey as per the Tour de France Polka Dot jersey this one is for the leader of the King of the Mountains Classification, although in Spain the polka dots are blue

White Jersey – is for the leader of the Combined Classification, basically it’s the consistency prize

 

2014 Stage Highlights

Stage 1 is the only Team Time-Trial for the Vuelta and is a snappy, but technical 12.6 km route through Cadiz.

Stage 3  is noteworthy because it leaves from a ship of the Spanish Armada, if you can believe it…

Stage 6 provides the first big challenge of the Tour with the 5km climb to Cumbres Verdes.

Stage 14 is one of the harder ones with the final 3 kilometres featuring climbs of up to 24%

Stage 20 provides the last Mountain showdown before the final stage – 2 Cat 3, 1 Cat 2, 1 Cat 1 and 1 Hors Category climbs; this one could be decisive

Stage 21 is the final stage of the tour and will see the tired riders complete a 10 km individual time trial in the arrival city of Santiago de Compostela

Contenders

Nairo Quintana may have thought he had this one in the bag, but with so many of the big names withdrawing from the Tour de France the battle for Vuelta victory will be hard-fought.  Contador and Froome have both signalled their intention of riding the Vuelta and with other big names such as Bradley Wiggins set to contest it, there are more late nights ahead for cycling fans.

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Which helmet?

There are different helmets for different types of riding and numerous options within each category.  In this blog we’ll break down the options and specify some key ingredients to help simplify your decision-making process.

The major thing to remember is that a helmet is there to protect your head if you come off your bike. You need to make sure that the helmet you buy is Australian Standards Approved – if it’s not don’t buy it because your helmet may not fulfill its primary purpose of protecting your head, you won’t be covered by insurance if you have an accident and you won’t be allowed to race in it.

In Australia it’s compulsory to wear a helmet when riding a bike and has been since the early 1990s, so not wearing one is only an option if you’re rich enough to keep paying the fines.

With so many options to choose from, which is the best helmet for you?

Urban/Street

Key ingredients – safety, style, comfort

Lazer Street Deluxe Helmet

Lazer Street Deluxe Helmet

This is what the cool kids wear… They look good, meet Australian standards and keep you out of trouble with officers of the law. These helmets have minimal ventilation which can make them less comfortable in warmer weather and they’re often heavier than others as well. So, the things to look for when buying an urban helmet, apart from style, are that the helmet has plenty of sizing options so you can get the right fit, that it has adequate ventilation for your climate and that it’s as light as possible so you don’t end up centimetres shorter from wearing it.

Road

Key ingredients – safety, ventilation, weight, style

Lazer Z1 Road Helmet

Lazer Z1 Road Helmet

All road helmets are not created equal.  As with most helmets, the basic rule of thumb is the more you pay the less you get. Sounds counter intuitive but what we mean here is that the helmets with the best ventilation and aerodynamics are more expensive than basic helmets because the technology and materials required to produce them to Australian standards are expensive.

So, if you’re looking for a helmet to wear for those long hours in the saddle, you need the lightest, best ventilated and most protective road helmet you can find.

Retention systems really come into play with a road helmet – how many people have you seen at the coffee shop with telltale red dots on their forehead when they take off their helmet?  A retention system that fits to your whole head, without creating pressure points, and is easy to adjust in the saddle is a ‘must have’ for any road helmet.

And a word on ventilation; it doesn’t just mean the helmet with the most holes.  A well ventilated helmet will draw cool air in at the front, channel it over your head and allow the warm air to exit through specially placed exhaust vents at the back.

Here’s the lowdown on one of our favourites the Lazer Z1

Time Trial

Lazer Wasp

Lazer Wasp

Key ingredients: aerodynamics, performance, comfort

Beyond the safety element, the primary purpose of a TT helmet is to improve your aerodynamics, thus improving your performance.  The key here is to find a helmet that will protect your head during a ride, make you more aerodynamic and, more importantly keep you cool.  Trust us, there are plenty of aero helmets out there that make your head feel like it’s in a sauna!

A ‘nice to have’ additional feature of the best TT helmets is an integrated visor – more aerodynamic than sunglasses and more comfortable to wear.  Make sure that the visor, like the helmet, has adequate ventilation so you don’t fog up coming into the home straight.

Many aero helmets in the world market do not meet Australian standards so if you intend racing in Australia make sure yours does or you may find yourself disqualified.

Watch the Lazer Wasp YouTube to see what TT helmets are all about.

MTB

Lazer Rox MTB Helmet

Lazer Rox MTB Helmet

Key ingredients: safety, durability, impact dissipation

MTB helmets are far more likely to sustain impact than any other helmet unless you are an extremely cautious or very lucky mountain biker.  So, one of the primary considerations when choosing a MTB helmet is its ability to dissipate the energy of an impact.

As with road helmets you’re going to be wearing this for hours at a time so ventilation and weight are important considerations when making your choice.  Additional features for MTB helmets include an integrated visor to keep the sun and branches out of your eyes, an insect net to help keep the bugs out and a comfortable fit that suits your sunglasses or goggles.

Sport/Kids

Lazer Tempo Sport

Lazer Tempo Sport

Key ingredients: safety, fit, durability

Sport helmets are the option for short commutes or occasional riding.  As with all helmet options, safety is of paramount concern so ensuring that you get a proper fit is essential.  If it’s something you wear every day you want it to be nice and comfortable as well as durable.  Generally this style of helmet will have less bells and whistles and a less sophisticated retention system so its worth taking the time to have it expertly fitted so you know it will stay comfortable, fit your head and protect you when necessary.

Lazer Junior

Lazer Junior

We’ve put kid’s helmets into the sport category because they also generally have less bells and whistles than most adults helmets – again, if you’re protecting your child’s developing brain you want to make sure that the helmet fits well and that they’re going to be comfortable and happy wearing it.  How the helmet looks can often be a big part of this which is why kid’s helmets tend to be more bright and colourful that the adult versions.

For very small children finding a lightweight helmet that fits is absolutely essential.  It is often difficult to fit helmets to very young children but its worth persevering to ensure that they are well protected.

That’s it on helmets, we hope this has helped you work out what type of helmet you need. If you have any questions just drop us a line.

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Shoes maketh the cyclist: a properly fitted cycling shoe increases your power delivery

Hora RedWhile clothes make the man, shoes make the cyclist. If you’re riding in flimsy, uncomfortable shoes, or experiencing foot discomfort which you can’t relieve then keep reading because it’s time for a change. A properly fitted cycling shoe increases your delivery of power and will keep you comfortable over a long day in the saddle.

Remember that you’re going to be wearing these shoes for multiple hours with your foot locked in position and in varying weather conditions so they’ll need to be comfortable.

Let’s start from the top.

A pliable upper with adequate ventilation is the starting point.  You’ll need to be sure that there are Ratchets for blogno pressure points because time spent wearing the shoe will not make this better, it will only get worse.  A well ventilated upper assists your foot in cooling down on warm days when feet tend to swell in your shoes. An adjustable closure system (a ratchet strap or dial) will also allow you to adjust the fit of your shoe in the saddle, relieving any pressure on your foot.  The ability to increase the tension when you want your foot to stay as still as possible like when you climb a hill or lead into a sprint will improve your performance as well as your comfort.

A firm, well-fitting heel cup will help your foot to stay in the right position in your shoe assisting in that all important pedalling technique.  Some manufacturers have incorporated an adjustable heel cup into their shoes, which is a great asset for those of us with narrow feet.

5032-146_WHT01-ALT-SOLE_view1_1000x1000On to the sole – your shoes serve a specific purpose when you’re on the bike;  the transmission of power from your legs to the drive train. Rigidity is the key to ensuring that your power output receives minimal dissipation through interaction between shoe and pedal.  A good quality cycling shoe will have either a carbon sole or a composite sole.  Carbon soles are generally more rigid, thinner and lighter weight than the composite version, but if you’re not strong enough to flex the composite sole then carbon is a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘need to have’.

Crap heel pad

A replaceable heel pad for the inevitable walks from the street to the espresso counter and the (hopefully) not so inevitable walks due to mechanical failure or inability to climb that hill, will prolong the life of your shoe. If you can’t replace the heel pad you may need to replace your shoes more often – a dollar saved now may well be false economy.

All shoes are not created equal and you get what you pay for – considering that your shoes are your connection with your bike, spending a bit extra on your cycling shoes will definitely pay off in terms of performance.  And a final note –  Fashion over function is definitely not the way to go with cycling shoes, comfort is paramount!

high-heel-cycling-shoes-600x450