Monday, July 21, 2014

Bike Comparison and Sizing

On 07/17/2014 03:56 PM, David Bloxom [tcsd] wrote:
Hi all,

I'm looking at a few used Tri bikes. I ride a 56cm Scott carbon frame road bike, which I have fitted with aero bars, and have been fitted for that set up. I've been told the sizing is right for me.

My question is, in general, should I be looking at 56cm Tri bikes or smaller / larger. I realize the "right answer" is to fit the bike to me and not the other way around. But when looking to but used, that doesn't appear to be the best option.

Hi Dave,

The number "56" is a completely bogus way to compare bikes, even different models from the same manufacturer, much less from different manufacturers.  This number fails to take any of the rest of the bike geometry into account.

The only way I'm aware of to compare any two bike frames is by "stack & reach", so you first need to find the stack and reach for each bike you want to compare.  Here's the Slowtwitch stack&reach database:  Some bike shops and manufacturer websites have additional information, so be sure to check.

But that's only part of the story: There's more to comparing bikes than just the stack and reach: You also need to take cockpit differences into account (unless the same stem, spacers and bars are on both bikes), as well as the relative position of the saddle.

Finally, (well, actually **FIRST**), is to have numeric data for your bike fit, so you can see if any given bike is compatible with your "fit numbers".  After my fit at Moment I was given a printout with not only my fit numbers, but also a drawing showing their geometric relationship to the bike.

I keep my fit numbers in my phone.  When I was demoing bikes, I brought along a small a tape measure, and would adjust each bike to my fit in a few minutes, which permitted me to demo different bikes with the SAME FIT!  Apples to apples.  It would also be immediately clear if a bike couldn't be adjusted to match my fit.  Sometimes, a quick stem and spacer change could turn an "almost but not quite" bike into one that could match my fit.

There are some additional details to take into account before making a final choice, but the above should make it easy (well, straightforward) to eliminate the "no way" bikes.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Hiccup Hell

Keeping with the theme of hellish medical posts (which explains the lack of posts here - I haven't had other medical issues that start with 'H'), here's another.

Almost two weeks ago I started having hiccups.  Not a problem, right?

They lased overnight, ruining any hope of a full night's sleep.  Well, that's unusual, but I can get by missing one night's sleep, right?

Not really.  Hiccups at night can't be stifled, so they tear into your throat when you do manage to get a moment's sleep.  After a night of this, you wake with a shredded throat and no voice.

I started missing work after that first ruined night. By the second night I had delirious moments from the lack of continuous sleep.

Non-stop hiccups are tiring, fatiguing, and exhausting.  For the first day or two, that can be partially fought with sugar and caffeine.

I searched online for every hiccup home remedy.  The highest rated ones fall into two categories:
  1. Distract the autonomic nervous system.
  2. Stimulate the Vagus nerve.
The first group generally involves increasing the blood CO2 levels by any of a variety of means: Holding your breath, breathing into a paper bag, drinking water slowly, and so on.  The plan here is to make the body worry about getting rid of CO2, and thus weaken the hiccup feedback loop.

The Vagus nerve, among other things, carries sensation from the stomach to the brain.  So the second group involves eating food with strong "stomach reactions", the two most common of which are sweet (sugar, honey) and hot spices.

For me, the first group did absolutely nothing. The second group could give a few minutes of relief, but the hiccups always returned.

There was a third group I found on my own: Activity.  Climbing a flight of stairs could yield 20 minutes hiccup-free.  But I was too unsteady to risk running or riding a bike, and walking didn't quite do the job. 

And I was getting more tired with each passing day.  By the third day, it became sheer torture.  My diaphragm was so tired that it was increasingly difficult to stifle each hiccup.

On the morning of the fourth day (after the third sleepless night), I decided to go to Urgent Care.  The moment they opened.

I learned there is only ONE drug that is FDA-approved for treating chronic hiccups: Thorazine.  Yup, the drug that 20 years ago was THE front-line anti-psychotic.  Turns out that. while it is seldom if ever used today as an anti-psychotic, it enjoys continued use for a surprising variety of other uses.  Go figure.

What hasn't changed is Thorazine's side-effects, though I was mercifully on the lighter end of the scale, primarily having to deal with sleepiness and dizziness, but not much else.   And it does NOT mix with alcohol or other depressants such as sleep-aids, though I wasn't in the mood for alcohol and had no need for sleep aids (they can't stop hiccups).

Like many drugs that affect the nervous system, it takes time for Thorazine to attain its beneficial effects, which for me started happening last Thursday, 4 days after starting.  Friday saw a 50% decrease in hiccups, though I still had terrible sleep Friday night, and still woke with a shredded throat.  Saturday night was far better, and I felt I was back to normal Sunday night. 

I took my last dose this morning, and this evening I can tell it is rapidly leaving my system.

The cause of the chronic hiccups was till a mystery to me, until I talked with my Mom.  She told me that my cousin had a prolonged bout of hiccups a few days after his prostate surgery. 

I had had a scheduled colonoscopy on April 2nd which included light anesthesia, and the hiccups started on the 8th.   A bit longer delay of my onset, but could it be the key factor? 

My earlier searches failed to turn this up as a possible cause, but with a better search, there are tons of links.  That's my best guess so far.

Tomorrow I start (gradually) resuming my training load!  Yay!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hemorrhoid Hell!

It wasn't easy deciding if, or even what, I should share about my history with hemorrhoids, but given that they aren't exactly rare, especially among athletes, and most especially among older athletes, I decided to tell my tale.

To minimize the grossness, I'll give links rather than write disturbingly detailed descriptions here.   So you should be able to read this even if you are a bit squeamish.  Follow the links at your own risk: Each is informative, but some are quite graphic.

First, some anatomy: Hemorrhoids occur in the anal canal, the lower part of the rectum.  Next, a basic definition, courtesy of Wikipedia, and a great overview of causes, courtesy of WebMD.  What is not hemorrhoids is the soreness due to too-frequent wiping, or using coarse toilet paper: That's just normal skin irritation.  However, prolonged irritation can and will make any hemorrhoids worse.

The most important take-away is that there are two basic forms of hemorrhoids: Internal and external.  Each presents different symptoms and responds to different treatments, though there is some overlap.  Some internal hemorrhoids can exist for many years without ever being an issue, so it is important to note that, while hemorrhoids are never desirable, not all hemorrhoids present problems or symptoms.

My hemorrhoids started to appear about six years ago, shortly after I turned 50.  One interesting fact is that as my reward for surviving to 50, I got "scoped" all the way to my cecum, and the doctor's report mentioned the presence of only "small and inconsequential" hemorrhoids.  Nothing to worry about.

The conditions that led to my hemorrhoids started well over a decade ago: I blame mine on cubicle farms and weight training.  (There can also be hereditary factors, but I have no family history of chronic hemorrhoids.)

Thanks to cube farms and their incessant noise, I started spending more time on the commode, as that became the only quiet place at work where I could think ("throne thinking").  Never had a problem in the gold old days, back when I had an office.  If only headphones and music worked for me, instead of adding to the distraction.  Things got worse when I added a smartphone into the mix.

The very first new word you learn in weight training is "valsalva".  Do it right, and you get a safe increase in lifting power.  Do it wrong and you still lift more, but you also radically increase pressure "down there".  The key difference is exhaling: Too often, I would hold my breath during my largest lifts, which is Not the Right Way.

Combine the two for years on end, and I was on a railroad to hemorrhoids.

My first hemorrhoids would "pop out" during heavy lifts, and were easily "put back" via subtle hand pressure.  (Look around in a gym for that "subtle hand pressure": After you see it once, you'll see it near every weight station.  Try not to laugh out loud.)  Once in a while one would refuse to go back in, after which it would dry out and get irritated: A few days of Preparation H worked wonders.  (Sniff in a gym and you'll smell it: Again, please try not to laugh.)

Then the fateful day came when I found blood in the toilet bowl with my stool, as well as on the toilet paper.  It is important to note that this was blood separate from the stool, not part of the stool itself (which is an indicator for an entirely different set of serious medical issues).  In this case, it indicated the "leaking" or rupture of an internal hemorrhoid.  Another indicator is the presence of small farts that have a metallic or smoky scent: That's the iron in the blood being oxidized in the rectum.  I also had those, but they only made me wonder about my diet.

Now, if you followed the links above, you'll know that hemorrhoids are really just rectal tissue that has become swollen with excess blood.  Most often the weakened tissue will heal on its own, and the excess blood will be reabsorbed by the body.  But this process has failed to happen in hemorrhoids that become problems, especially in those that leak.

At this point, there are two basic choices: Remove the blood, or remove the tissue (which also removes the blood).

The most direct way to remove the blood is to shut it off at its source, to tie-off the vessel supplying the blood, which is called a ligature (latin for "knot").  The process of applying a ligature is called a "ligation".  And for leaking internal hemorrhoids, the easiest way to apply a ligation is to put a rubber band around the hemorrhoid, a "rubber-band ligation".  Which also removes the tissue.

When I saw that blood in my toilet, I immediately got a referral to a lower-GI specialist, who then performed a series of rubber-band ligations.  It turned out there are around six blood vessels that feed the lower rectum, and I had a hemorrhoid over each of them.  So I needed a total of six rubber-bands, each of which was about the size of those used in kids braces.  We did 1-2 on each subsequent appointment.

The procedure itself is quite painless, with no anesthesia required.  As the rubber-band does its job during the following days, the tissue will start to complain, and some pinching or cramp-like sensations will likely occur.  Eventually the tissue will die and fall off, unnoticed, during a bowel movement.

After my last rubber-band ligation, I was hemorrhoid-free for almost 2 years.  During this time I also stopped doing heavy lifts, focusing more on building muscle density and strength rather than bulk.

Then I started getting "pop-outs" again, which soon were happening with each bowel movement.  Every. Single. One.  But they always went back in, and stayed in, and they weren't leaking, so I monitored them, but didn't worry about them.

During this time I had started triathlon, and was getting ready to step up from sprints to the Olympic distance.  Which meant I needed to run a 10K, something I hadn't done in at least two decades.  As I increased the distance of my training runs, the oddest thing started to happen: My "pop-outs" would occur after about 3 miles.  If I didn't stop and put them back immediately, I knew they would get irritated, so it made doing continuous longer runs a bit of a problem.

Rather than deal with the hemorrhoids, I instead decided that my anus wasn't doing its job, and was weakening under the pounding of the longer runs, so I started doing Kegels.  (Yes, they work for men too!)  But in my case, they didn't do much to prevent the pop-outs, mainly just postponed them for another mile or so.

I finally did my my first Olympic race, and to my surprise, I had no pop-outs during the run!  The difference, of course, was that I was wearing a tri-suit during the race, while I normally trained in running shorts.  Clearly, compression is also useful for preventing pop-outs!

So, I still had my pop-outs with every poop, though they always went back in nicely.  And I did my long runs in my tri-shorts, which kept them in.  The problem wasn't "solved", but it wasn't really a problem any more.

Then I decided I wanted to step up to the half-iron distance.  And a 13 mile run.  Since none of my prior runs were ever longer than 6.2 miles, I started planning to increase my run distance during last winter (2012-2013).  But before my plan started, I injured my foot during the Tri Classic, and didn't return to running until less than a month ago.  With tri-shorts on, I had a pop-out after the first mile.  I did Kegels for a couple days, but it happened again on my next run.

Finally, I accepted the simple truth that it was time for my hemorrhoids to get repaired.  Since it was already clear to me that this wasn't a case for more rubber-band ligations, I got a referral to a surgeon.  The scheduling worked out perfectly, and I had an appointment the next day.

If you ever want to make a lower-GI surgeon happy, just show up with hemorrhoids like mine!  She asked me to "push them out", and when I did, her eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning.  She asked me if I had seen them, and I said no, I generally went by feel back there.  So she ran off to find a medical book, and returned to show me some truly surprising photos, to which she added, "Yours are like these, only better!".

You know, you just have to love people who really love their jobs.

She next told me I was an ideal candidate for a new procedure called THD, or "Transanal Hemorrhoidal Dearterialization".  That "dearterialization"?  It's just a kind of ligation.  And "transanal" means they don't need to cut their way in.  The best part of all is that it is surgery that doesn't involve a scalpel: Only very careful stitching is required.

This looked like an obvious winner to me, since even if it went poorly, it left open all the more traditional (and more invasive) surgical procedures.  We immediately scheduled my pre-op appointment and the surgery, and I had my procedure last Friday, March 22nd.

I won't go into the details of the procedure (which is cool) or my recovery (which has had its ups and downs), other than to say:
  1. Coming out of general anesthesia was the best chemically-induced feeling I've had since the '70's.
  2. I was immediately up and about, the main limitation being an inability to sit for very long (which improves every day).
  3. The tissue swelling that occurs makes it feel like you always need to "go".   So you try, get a little leakage, and wipe.  Over 20 times a day.  Which produces extreme irritation if you  forget to PAT instead of wipe!

I'll add to this story as my recover completes and I return to work and running.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

About Lance

During the recent history of doping in cycling, and in professional athletics in general, I've been trying to find a way to reconcile my genuine admiration for so many of the individual athletes involved against the backdrop of what their sports represent, and how doping affects those sports.  In particular, my thoughts have centered on Lance Armstrong, cycling, and my own sport, triathlon.

I choose to remain a Lance Armstrong fan, and I want him to continue to publicly participate in sports for as long as he has the desire to do so.

Why?  Simply because I like watching him do what he does so well.

And that's what professional sports are all about: Watching.  They are a form of entertainment, where sponsors pay money to become affiliated with a sport in return for getting their name out there and building an association between the attributes of the brand and the attributes of the sport.  That relationship bears its greatest fruit only when there is Winning, simply because the sponsors want to be associated with triumph and other "second-to-none" attributes.  Those who win the most tend get the most money.  It's true for athletes, teams, and companies.

I've come to realize that the biggest drug in sports isn't a pharmaceutical, it's money.

Money provides access to many performance-enhancing benefits.  With money, you can give up your day job, hire a coach, train in exotic locations year-round, use the best equipment, get the best medical attention to maximize recovery and minimize down-time, all of which in turn lets you enter more races and win more of them, getting not only the purses, but also the ability to attract more sponsors and demand more money from them.

And, yes, money does provide access to cutting-edge performance-enhancing drugs.  Many of us already rely on legal performance-enhancing drugs, chief among them being caffeine, second being prescribed steroids and beta agonists (vital to millions of amateur endurance athletes with exercise-induced asthma).  The difference between legal and illegal performance-enhancing drugs isn't a sharp line.  It isn't even a line at all, but rather a blurry mess filled with seemingly arbitrary decisions and regulations.

The main problem is that no specific drug is illegal until it becomes known, and until a reliable test for it has been devised.  There is always a lag between creating a new drug and the test for it.  If a new drug is developed in secret, is it automatically legal or illegal?  It is now the case that it is automatically illegal, but it wasn't always that way.

Sports regulations always lag advances in technology.  Of all athletic sports, perhaps cycling has benefited the most from technology.  Early cycling used solid rubber tires, and was revolutionized by the introduction of pneumatic tires. Many wanted derailleur technology outlawed when it first appeared, back when bikes had at most two gears, and you had to flip your rear wheel to use the other one.  The "Superman" riding position wasn't illegal until it was first used and was then promptly declared to be illegal.  Aerobars were a gray area until they were specifically allowed in time trials, but nowhere else.  The introduction of ultra-light-weight frames and unconventional geometries caused the UCI to impose a minimum weight requirement on bicycles along with the requirement for a triangular frame.  Clip-in pedals and electronic shifting are other examples of recent cycling technologies.

It can't be a surprise, given that so much technology has been applied to equipment, that a similar level of technology wouldn't be applied to the athletes.  Advances in training, coaching, and nutrition have come fast and furious, as have advances in medication.  This should not be a surprise to anyone, especially to cycling fans.

Let's take a small detour and talk about Oscar Pistorious.  His Ossur "Cheeta" running leg is most certainly a wonderful technological innovation, one that was outlawed from Olympic competition until this year.  What few realize is that Oscar was granted an individual exemption: His leg is still barred by current Olympic rules.  I believe the event organizers knew Oscar had no real shot at a medal, and wanted to test the waters before committing to a rule change.

How is a mechanical performance-enhancing technology different from a pharmaceutical one?  What if it turns out that Usain Bolt had his leg bones removed and replaced with carbon fiber?

I am completely unable to make a judgement in this area.  It's just too messy, both factually and philosophically.  Are we going to start outlawing specific genes at some point?  I believe sport has to find better ways to exist in a world that includes technological advances that are at least temporarily undetectable.

There is one sport that has faced the doping issue head-on: Amateur Weightlifting.  It has three categories: No Limits (no drug testing), Some Drugs, and Natural/Raw.   Athletes choose the category in which they wish to compete.  You can switch to a higher-drug category any time you want, but going drug-free takes time and testing.  Record holders in the Natural/Raw category are literally half the size and lift half as much as those in the No Limits category, but are treated no less as champions.

But what about professional sports?  I doubt any sane company would intentionally sponsor anything other than Natural athletes.  No national sport would ever permit anything else.  Yet they still impose insane pressures to Win.  To me, this is a no-win situation for the athletes, who must win to survive.  If one athlete crosses the line and gets away with it, it is hard to see how the entire sport won't go in that direction.  Recent history is filled with abundant proof that this has indeed happened multiple times, and on a large scale.

Do I want professional sports to become "clean"?  Absolutely!  But I also refuse to blame only the athletes for the failures of an entire sports system, from sponsors to media to fans.

I also don't want to see athletes forced to squirm under interrogation, like Bill Clinton asking for a very specific definition of "sex" (one that would hopefully be limited to intercourse).  While a "mea culpa" from Lance would soothe feelings, I see no real reason why it should be expected from him.  I see no way it can really help anything one way or the other.  So I refuse to ask him for one.

I do not know how professional sports can best cope with and remedy the situation going forward.  Professional sports is primarily an entertainment business, and we don't outlaw actors who take drugs, do we?  Quite the opposite: Don't even get me started on reality TV shows like "Celebrity Rehab" (but not for the reasons you may think).

One thing I do know is that professional sports must make a clean break with its past in order to change going forward, and that includes a change of personnel at all levels, including sponsors, organizers, staff and, yes, athletes.  So excluding Lance from cycling may be necessary, independent of his innocence or guilt.

That said, I do know what I choose to think about the athletes whose careers have been affected:  I will not blame individual athletes for pursuing and achieving what their sport, sponsors and fans have demanded of them.  This is not amnesty: Turnover is needed.  But what should come next for these athletes?

I want Lance, and all athletes affected by this upheaval, to be free to compete in other sports.  While cycling may be closed to him (a messy decision I would not revisit), I would very much like to see him be permitted to participate at all levels of his original championship sport: Triathlon.

Go Lance!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

THIS is why we buy the best we can afford from TCSD sponsors!

Those of you who have gone swimming with me have undoubtedly heard, many times, how much I love my De Soto T1 wetsuit.  I've had it for 4 years now, always treated it carefully, without a single nail-dig or gouge or rip or tear.  It is the only wetsuit I've ever raced in.

Then, while leading the Swim Buddies at the Solana BeachTriathlon , I ripped the left leg of my bib-john, just below the knee.  I was putting it on standing up (which I never do), started to lose my balance, then pushed my foot down without bending to bring my hands down too: The suit ripped at my hand, just below the knee.

The rip started at a few inches long, but after three times around the swim course, with three entries and exits, the rip had made the complete circle.

I was heartbroken.  I went to the De Soto HQ the next day, and turned the pieces of my suit over to Steve Haslett, who told me it would be ready in under two weeks.  I begged and pleaded, since I had no backup wetsuit, and I really wanted to race the Aquathalon on the next Thursday.  Those of you who saw me at that race also saw my wetsuit with its practically invisible repair.

The bill for the massive repair, on a rush schedule?  Nada.  Zilch. Zero.  Totally free.  100% covered by the De Soto Lifetime Warranty.

I don't know if there are any wetsuits more expensive than a De Soto (before the generous TCSD discount, of course), but my own experience tells me there is no greater quality and no better value.  I've always loved it for its comfort and performance, and the quality materials and construction.  De Soto knows their suits will get frequent use for many years, and they back them, and their owners, completely.

I added it up, and I figure I have at least 400 hours in the water with this wetsuit, probably 500.  I asked Steve what the realistic lifetime is for wetsuit material that is well cared for and has minimal sun exposure.  While there are no hard and fast numbers, we figured I was getting near the limit.

I'm going to take extra-special care of my repaired bib-john, but I'll also start saving for my next bib-john: When another repair is needed, this bib-john will become my backup, and I'll start the process all over again with a new one!

Thanks, De Soto!  For making a great product, backing it unconditionally, and most of all, for being a TCSD Sponsor.

P.S.:  I've been asked why I bought a top-of-the-line wetsuit as my first wetsuit, before I even knew how to swim!  During the first weeks of my exposure to triathlon four years ago, I asked an elite-level athlete (whose name I have forgotten - sorry!) what the most important things are for a newbie to know when buying triathlon equipment.  His answer surprised me: "Comfort.  Anything that touches your body must be comfortable.  Spend whatever time and money it takes to make it happen: You will be a better and happier triathlete for it."

I took that advice to heart, starting with my De Soto wetsuit, my De Soto trisuit, and my ISM Adamo Road bike saddle.  Over the past 4 years I've tried everything else I could get my hands on, including several pairs of shoes.  But the gear I still wear the most is the top-quality and comfortable gear I bought first.

Save money wherever you need to, but don't compromise on the things that touch your body.  Buy quality used gear before buying a lesser new product.  The best place to find quality used gear?  The TCSD Classifieds, of course!

Friday, June 29, 2012

How to Apply a Wetsuit

A fellow triathlete recently asked for a better idea than messy wetsuit glue for fixing fingernail tears.

The "better idea" is to never let fingernails anywhere near the outside of a wetsuit!  This is extremely easy to accomplish, and we teach it to every first-timer at the Thursday Open Water Bay Swim clinics.

The first thing to remember is that there is no race to put on a wetsuit!  Take your time, and focus on proper handling of the wetsuit.  The exterior of a wetsuit is quite delicate, but the inside has a fabric lining and is very rugged.  The key concept is to touch the inside as much as possible, and avoid touching the outside.

1. We normally dry our wetsuits inside-out, so the first step is to turn it right-side-out.

2. Next, peel down the top until the openings for both legs are visible.

3. Sit down.  Trying to put a wetsuit on standing up is asking for trouble.

4. Grabbing on each side of a leg hole, insert one leg until it hits firm resistance.  When doing this, do NOT pull hard on the leg of the wetsuit.  A firm tug should be all that's needed.

Tip: New wetsuits can be very stiff, and it takes hours of use for the elasticity to increase.  This means it can be quite difficult to get the foot out the bottom of the leg hole.  One way to ease this is to spray the foot and ankle with lots of expensive Tri-Slide.  Another way is to use a free plastic shopping bag: Fast and easy, and it's something I never run out of and never have to buy.

5. Push the other foot in the other leg hole until it also hits resistance.  At this point, you'll have both legs in the wetsuit, with perhaps ten inches of wetsuit leg extending beyond the foot.  This is why sitting down is important.

6. On each leg, roll the wetsuit leg down while pulling the foot up (along with the wetsuit).  If the foot slides free, give another tug to set it snugly.  Keep rolling each leg down until you are about six inches away from your foot.

7.  Grab the rolled edge and pull until the foot pops out the end hole.  Then roll it down further and pull more until the leg hole rides over your ankle and some way up your calf.  (This extra pull is important - I'll explain why later.)  Repeat for the other leg.

At this point, you are sitting down with both feet through the leg holes, but with lots of wetsuit around and over your legs and feet.  Looking down, the part of the wetsuit closest to you should be the rolls you were tugging on to get your foot through the leg holes.  If it isn't this way, in the words of Picard, "Make it so!"

8.  On one leg, reach about 2-3 inches below the roll on each side of your leg, pinch the loose wetsuit material, and pull just those few inches up your leg.  It should be very easy.  Repeat on the other leg.

9.  Go back and forth between each of your the legs, pulling 2-3 inches on each leg, until it either becomes awkward to grab the roll and pull, or your feet become visible.

10.  If you used plastic shopping bags, reach down and pull them off your feet.

11.  Now stand up, being sure not to stand on the top or arms of your wetsuit.

12.  Keep doing alternating short roll-pulls on each leg until you run out of leg.

Note: As you pull the wetsuit upward, pulling may become unexpectedly difficult.  No, it's not a comment on the tightness of the wetsuit or the shape of your body: It simply means the outer wetsuit is rubbing against and sticking to the inner wetsuit.  Create some slack by pulling up the outer portion.

Tip: One of the most important factors in putting on a wetsuit (and selecting one that fits) is to have it fit snug in the crotch without being either too tight or too loose.  While too tight will certainly announce itself, you may not notice too loose until you are swimming in cold water, and realize your wetsuit isn't keeping you warm.  This is due to the loose crotch material acting as a reservoir and serving as a pump, forcing the warm water from your wetsuit and exchanging it with cold, something that will happen due to incidental leg motion even if you don't kick while swimming.

13. At this point, you should be able to see if you have too little material available for the crotch of the wetsuit to fit snugly.  If this is the case, peel the wetsuit down each leg and repeat all the above steps starting at Step  7.  (This is why that extra tug during Step 7 can be important!)

Now it is time to get the wetsuit over the hips, something that can be a challenge for all but the skinniest of us.  Again, this gets easier as a new wetsuit gains elasticity and conforms to your body.

14.  Keep doing the same pinch-and-pull operation just below the edge of the roll.  Some may be able to make progress pinching on each side of the hips, but others will need to use both hands on each side, alternating back and forth, and maybe adding some Body-English.

15. It can sometimes be difficult to get the suit over the butt.  Worry not, there's a trick for that!  Put both hands  behind your back and grab the wetsuit roll.  Then squat down and pull HARD as you stand back up.  I've never seen that technique fail to get the job done.

16. Keep going until the wetsuit is near the middle of the ribs, or until you can't pull it any higher.

Before we start on the arms, take a moment to check the snugness of the crotch.  It will either be just right, or there will be some extra material gathered there.  To move the extra down toward the ankles, just push your palms against each side of each leg, and smooth the excess down to your ankles.  No pulling or fingernails are required, and this is the only time it should be necessary to touch the outside of your wetsuit.

17.  The arms can go much like the legs, but if you are lucky, a plastic bag on each hand will permit it to go completely through on the first try.  If not, you'll need to do a one-handed pinch-and-pull on each side of your arm until the wetsuit is up to the elbow on each side.  If there is someone nearby who knows this technique, they can help you get the arms up much more quickly.

18.  Getting the shoulder into the wetsuit comes next, and there are a few ways to do this.  The lucky folks just extend both arms straight up in the air, and everything just pops into place.  Other folks will need to roll the collar down, then grab above the shoulder and pull it over.  Then there will be a few who need assistance, where a helper reaches between the wetsuit and your arm to stretch it slightly, then will pull it up over your shoulder.  And some will need to do all the above, in whatever order works  best.

As with the crotch, it is important to get the wetsuit snug against the armpit, without having folds of material there when you arms are at your side.  If you can't get snugness without folds, then add a minimal amount of gap by smoothing the wetsuit down your arm (like you may have done with the legs) until the folds go away.

19. Next comes the zipper.  While some folks can do this on their own, don't even consider it until your wetsuit has lots of hours on it (and elasticity): Pulling too hard on the zipper is the #1 cause of wetsuit damage.  Pinch your shoulders backward, and get a bystander to pull the zipper up.

20. Finally, the collar.  If it is too loose, it will permit cold water to flow into your wetsuit.  If it is too tight, it will be acutely uncomfortable.  The best is to have it barely tight enough to keep the water out.  It may take a few test swims and adjustments to find where this point is.  And if you are new to swimming with a wetsuit, it will always feel too tight for your first several swims.  Don't worry: You will adapt, and the right collar adjustment will eventually feel right as well.

I know this sounds like it is a very long procedure, but believe me, it gets faster and faster with practice, and as the wetsuit gains elasticity.

Eventually, you will be in a situation where you will need to put on a wet wetsuit.  Most will tell you this is simply not possible, or is more hassle than it is worth.  But they'd b e wrong!  The above technique even works when the wetsuit is soaked!  It may take slightly more time, but if you are patient, it will work even then.

It is very likely that the above verbal description has left some you absolutely confused.  If you'd like to help me either take some photos to add here, or even to make a video, please let me know!

Friday, June 1, 2012

TitanFlex Di2 & Bike Math

I did another 30 mile ride on my TitanFlex Ultegra Di2, and with better preparation I saw better performance.  I still rode hard and fatigued myself, but there was no bonking this time.   I rode up that last rise into Del Mar at an average of 11 mph, almost a 50% improvement, and finished only 3 minutes behind the group leaders.  (Many thanks to the stop signs and lights that slowed them down to closer to my speed.)

My goal for this ride (aside from finishing with less embarrassment) was to see how best to take full advantage of the Di2 capabilities.  I leaned one Big Thing, and one Little Thing.

First the Little Thing: It is so fast and easy to pick up or drop lots of gears with Di2!  I practiced simultaneous shifts, and never came close to a bad shift.  I clicked the buttons as fast as possible to select the front and rear gears without waiting for the shift to complete, then relieved pedal pressure for a moment until the derailleurs became quiet.  I can press buttons far faster than I can twist a lever, and the time to shift was amazingly short, significantly faster than I had expected, or even hoped for.  I'd estimate multi-gear shifts happen nearly twice as fast as before.

Now the Big Thing: Front shifts are now the same as rear shifts!  This means there is absolutely no need to stay on the current chainring and use a gear ratio that's "close enough" if there's a slightly better gear ratio available on the other chainring.  This means that it is now well-worth knowing the order of the gear ratios across all chainring/sprocket combinations, and knowing how to get from one to the next. 

And that leads us to the Bike Math portion of this post.  Let's look at what one pedal stroke does:  One rotation of the crank causes the chain to pass through the number of teeth on the current chainring.  Since the chain isn't elastic, that means the same number of teeth must pass over the currently selected sprocket in the rear cassette, which in turn causes the rear wheel to rotate.

Let's take the example of my granny gear: 34 teeth in front, and 28 in the rear.  How many times will the rear wheel rotate due to one full pedal stroke (one full crank revolution)?  We know that the chain will have been pulled forward by 34 teeth after one revolution of the crank.  When the chain moves 34 links forward, the first 28 links will cause one rear wheel revolution, and the remaining 6 links will cause just under 1/4 of a revolution of the rear wheel.  The precise number of revolutions is 34/28 = 1.21 revolutions.

And that's our formula to convert front strokes to rear wheel revolutions: Divide the number of teeth in the front chainring by the number of teeth in the rear sprocket.  This number is called the gear ratio.

But how far will that one full turn of the crank make us move?  We know that each full rear wheel rotation moves us forward by an amount equal to the circumference of the rear wheel.  But what is the circumference of our rear wheel?

Don't worry: There's no need to measure the diameter of the rear wheel then use trigonometry or equations with Pi in them!  Every tire has its "ISO size" on it, which consists of 2 numbers separated by a dash, or it may be written as a fraction.  My tires have an ISO size of "23/622".  And the ISO specification gives the circumference for each size, which in my case is 214 cm, or 2.14 meters, which is a hair over 7 feet.  I got this number from one of Sheldon Brown's excellent web pages.

So how far forward do I go for one turn of the crank in my granny gear?  We know the rear wheel rotated 1.21 revolutions, which means I moved forward 7 x 1.21 = 8.47 feet.  (It sure didn't feel like that much on that last hill into Del Mar!)

And that's another formula:  Distance forward per crank rotation is the gear ratio times the tire circumference.

That's all fine and everything, but what I really want to know is: How fast was I going?  I know I was pedaling with a cadence of about 90 RPM, which means my crank turned 90 times every minute, which means that during that minute the rear wheel turned 90 multiplied by the gear ratio times the wheel circumference of 7 feet to give us our forward motion.  So our speed was 90 crank revolutions per minute x 1.21 rear wheel revolutions per crank revolution x 7 feet per rear wheel revolution.

This is getting too hard to say in words!  Let's try using an equation to restate all the above in a more condensed form:

Well, a value of 762.3 feet/minute is what comes out of the equation, given the units we've been using.  Let's convert it to the more familiar units of miles per hour:

A speed of 8.66 miles per hour is very close to what my Garmin reports, so it seems the math actually works!  We can't expect an exact match, since things like tire wear and inflation pressure affect the effective circumference of the tire.  But this value is certainly useful as-is.

Now that we've calculated the speed we expect to see for a given cadence when using a specific chainring and sprocket, what about the other gear ratios associated with all possible combinations of front chainrings and rear sprockets?  With 2 in the front and 10 in the rear, that's 20 total combinations.  Let's figure them all out!

I have a compact crankset that has front chainrings with 34 and 50 teeth. My rear cassette is an 11-28, which contains 10 sprockets with the following tooth counts: 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17 19, 21, 24 and 28.  The speeds listed assume a 90 cadence.

Chainring    Sprocket    Ratio    Speed
   50           11        4.55    32.54
   50           12        4.17    29.83
   50           13        3.85    27.53
   50           14        3.57    25.57
   50           15        3.33    23.86
   50           17        2.94    21.06
   50           19        2.63    18.84
   50           21        2.38    17.05
   50           24        2.08    14.91
   50           28        1.79    12.78

   34           11        3.09    22.13
   34           12        2.83    20.28
   34           13        2.62    18.72
   34           14        2.43    17.39
   34           15        2.28    16.23
   34           17        2.00    14.32
   34           19        1.79    12.81
   34           21        1.62    11.59
   34           24        1.42    10.14
   34           28        1.21     8.66

Hmmm...  It seems that there is some redundancy in my system of gears!  The combinations of 34/19 and 50/28 have nearly the same ratio, and the combinations of 34/13 and 50/19 have ratios differing by half a percent.  That means that out of our 20 gear combinations, only 18 of them are truly unique.

It gets worse: The range of ratios on the large chain ring have substantial overlap with the range of ratios on the small chain ring: The upper 7 ratios on the small ring overlap with the lower 5 ratios on the large ring!  With the overlap removed, we are left with no more than 15 non-overlapping gear combinations!

However, this overlap is to be expected, given the wide tooth range on my rear cassette.  A cassette with a minimal tooth range, such as 12-23, is called a "corncob", and will have much less overlap, sometimes none at all, depending on the front chainring selection.

Fortunately, not all the gear combinations in the overlap zone are wasted: Several of the overlap ratios on the large chainring fit nicely between those on the small chainring.  Let's sort the above table by ratio and see how it looks.  I'll also add the sprocket number for later use.

Chainring    Sprocket    Ratio    Speed
   50         11  (1)     4.55    32.54
   50         12  (2)     4.17    29.83
   50         13  (3)     3.85    27.53
   50         14  (4)     3.57    25.57
   50         15  (5)     3.33    23.86
   34         11  (1)     3.09    22.13
   50         17  (6)     2.94    21.06
   34         12  (2)     2.83    20.28
   50         19  (7)     2.63    18.84
   34         13  (3)     2.62    18.72
   34         14  (4)     2.43    17.39
   50         21  (8)     2.38    17.05
   34         15  (5)     2.28    16.23
   50         24  (9)     2.08    14.91
   34         17  (6)     2.00    14.32
   34         19  (7)     1.79    12.81
   50         28 (10)     1.79    12.78 
   34         21  (8)     1.62    11.59
   34         24  (9)     1.42    10.14
   34         28 (10)     1.21     8.66

This list shows why I picked the chainrings and cassette I did: I get to have a great granny gear (34/28) while still having one top-end gear above 30 mph (50/11).  Well, I didn't quite pick them that way: That's just how they turned out, since I picked the widest front and rear tooth-count ranges that the Ultegra Di2 derailleurs can accommodate.  There are wider cassette and chainring ranges available, but they aren't Di2-compatible.

Sorting the list places the redundant ratios next to each other, making their similarity easier to see.  Notice too that, except near the redundant ratios, the overlapped ratios ping-pong back and forth between the front and rear chainrings.

The overlap zone ranges from a speed of 14.91 mph up to 22.13 mph.  This happens to be the speed range I spend the vast majority of my time in. Let's see what it would take to use these gears.

Let's say I'm hammering at nearly 24 mph in gear 50/15.  (Hey, that is hammering for me!)  I'm starting to tire, and I'd like to ease up just a bit. The next lower ratio is 34/11, which is on the other chainring, and 4 rear shifts away.  And if I tire a bit more, the next ratio down has me switching chainrings again, then doing 5 rear shifts.

With a manual shift system, that would certainly be way too much shifting for way too little gain, but with the Di2 it is just a total of 5 button clicks for the first and 6 clicks for the second.  And that's as bad as it gets: The other gears within the overlap are fewer shifts apart.  Let's make a table of the front and rear shifts needed to get through all the ratios in-order,skipping whichever redundant ratio makes for less shifting:

Chainring    Sprocket    Ratio    Speed
   50         11  (1)     4.55    32.54
Shift:   0       1
   50         12  (2)     4.17    29.83
Shift:   0       1
   50         13  (3)     3.85    27.53
Shift:   0       1
   50         14  (4)     3.57    25.57
Shift:   0       1
   50         15  (5)     3.33    23.86
Shift:   1       4
   34         11  (1)     3.09    22.13
Shift:   1       5
   50         17  (6)     2.94    21.06
Shift:   1       4
   34         12  (2)     2.83    20.28
Shift:   0       1
   50         19  (7)     2.63    18.84
   34         13  (3)     2.62    18.72
Shift:   0       1
   34         14  (4)     2.43    17.39
Shift:   1       4
   50         21  (8)     2.38    17.05
Shift:   1       3
   34         15  (5)     2.28    16.23
Shift:   1       4
   50         24  (9)     2.08    14.91
Shift:   1       3
   34         17  (6)     2.00    14.32
Shift:   0       1
   34         19  (7)     1.79    12.81
   50         28 (10)     1.79    12.78
Shift:   0       1
   34         21  (8)     1.62    11.59
Shift:   0       1
   34         24  (9)     1.42    10.14
Shift:   0       1
   34         28 (10)     1.21     8.66

It is interesting to see that minimal shifting is obtained by dropping the redundant ratios on the large chainring.

So, I now have a shift list, and since it looks pretty random and hard to memorize, I'll want to have it with me while riding, which means I'd probably want to tape it to my handlebars or wear it on my wrist.  A small hassle, but certainly do-able.

But there is one other factor to consider:  I always need to know which rear sprocket is in use!  Since there is no gear indicator, that means I'll either have to remember, or more likely I'll have to take a look back before deciding which shift is needed.

I'll give it a try to see if it is worth the effort.