Fitness Improvement

I’ve been trying to convince my buddy Al that he needs to start bike training with power. You see, Al foolishly signed up for next year’s GranFondo, which is essentially a 120km bike race. Not only that, but Al loves gadgets and technology. He’s an Early Adopter. A lot of times he goes for rides for the sole purpose of collecting data from his bike computer (which is a Garmin Edge 705). Anyways, he doesn’t have a power meter and he needs one. Badly. Al naively asked me why he needs one and I said that it will make him go faster. And now I have proof from my own use of measuring power.

I did a baseline power test on my Kurt Kinetic trainer back in August. The general idea was to determine my Functional Threshold Power, or ftp for short. ftp is essentially the power that a person can maintain while doing a 40km individual time trial. The trick is to not actually do a 40km ITT to determine this number because a 40km ITT is hard, it hurts and is generally uncomfortable. It turns out there are a couple of substitutes. A person can do a 20min test, and the power result of that is approximately 95% of ftp. Or a person can do a MAP test. I prefer the MAP test, I find the 20min test a bit harder because of the mental concentration required.

Back to August though. My results showed that I had an ftp of 220W, and estimate VO2max of 44.5. Now after 6 weeks of training my ftp is 255W and VO2max is 50. As well, I managed to drop almost 2kg of body mass. Almost all of my workouts during this time have been what Hunter Allen refers to as “sweet spot training.” I think the idea here is that the workout is hard enough to induce a reasonable amount of physiological stress while being “easy” enough to concentrate on cardiovascular endurance. The purpose of SST workouts is to increase a person’s ftp.

I suppose I could have gotten similar results by using perceived effort and not power. Monitoring power allows a person to focus on the purpose of training as best as possible though, and gives feedback as to whether the training is effective and working.

I fully expect Al to have an iBike or PowerTap by spring of 2011. If he doesn’t, he risks being shelled by sluggo and left for dead on highway 99 during the GrandFondo. And nobody wants that. Except maybe sluggo.

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Bikes at MEC, is this a Good Thing?

I was speaking with some staff at a bike shop a few days ago and noticed that there was a petition regarding a provincial sales tax that bike shops have to pay. I didn’t spend much time discussing the details. As far as I can tell, MEC in BC may have two advantages over other local bike shops. First, I was told that the bike shops in BC have to pay a sales tax, and these monies are earmarked for cycling infrastructure in the city. Since MEC is a cooperative, they supposedly do not have to pay this tax. Secondly, because MEC is a cooperative they get patronage dividends, and this supposedly helps their bottom line.

There is a real worry that the local bike shops will lose business to MEC, and that this is unfair primarily because of the provincial tax break. I can only imagine how The Bike Doctor is being affected by MEC’s new bike retailing. MEC’s bikes are directly competing with what I see as the new core business model of bike shops in the lower mainland. Their target market is the commuter and casual but interested cyclist wanting a decent bike in the $600 to $1500 range. I believe this is the strongest market group in North America now. My opinion is that MEC is not actually offering anything that is not readily available at other bike shops. I recently compared two bike models, an internal geared hub commuter and a cyclocross, with other offerings in the city. Contrary to what a person might think, I did not see any price advantage or design advantage in the MEC bikes. In fact, I identified models from local bike shops that were better deals. However, it is easy to see and understand that MEC will still retain a large portion of the market because of their size and popularity. I’ve read that MEC wants to provide bikes that aren’t readily available to the public, but this is simply not the case in the lower mainland. I’ve read A LOT on the web where people are already saying they will buy their next bike at MEC because they don’t want to overpay for something that is inferior! Call me sentimental, but I hate to think that a local bike shop will lose a sale to MEC on a bike that is 10% more expensive and slightly lower in quality.

For an idea on who might be affected by MEC’s bike sales, click this link.

There seems to be a good discussion on Cycling in Ottawa about MEC’s bike business. Much of the discussion mentions the patronage dividend, but I think the more important issue in BC is the sales tax.

Personally, I’ve been becoming more and more disillusioned with MEC in recent years. I clearly remember why I thought MEC was the cat’s meow back in 1990. Back then I could purchase a goretex jacket, a backpack and bike panniers for less than 50% of what I’d pay at other shops. The reason I could do this is because MEC was making their own stuff or getting stuff from Serratus, and the gear was cheaper than expensive brand-name boutique stuff that was available in other shops. It was a win-win. I didn’t need fancy gear and I didn’t have much money. Since then I’ve seen that MEC is carrying less and less of the no-name gear and more and more of the boutique gear (think Patagonia). I don’t think this is any real fault of MEC, it is likely a by-product of China’s dominance in manufacturing and how most gear manufacturers are getting their goods made in China. In other words, the playing field has leveled.

In terms of bikes, I don’t buy MEC’s mantra of ethical purchasing. As I understand it, there are about 4 manufacturers of bike frames in the world. Everyone gets their bikes made in one of these four factories, including MEC. If MEC really wanted to be ethical, they would get DeKerf to make frames for them! I doubt that MEC gets to survey the bike manufacturers, it’s my understanding that they are locked up tighter than Fort Knox.

Anyways, these are just some of the issues involved with MEC selling bikes, as I understand it. I welcome any corrections or comments on this topic!

New Commuting Setup

This winter I spent some effort getting a more comfortable commuting setup for riding my bike to work. Since I no longer have a scooter, my only other viable method for getting to work is to drive our van and I’m really not that keen to do that. It chews up a fair bit of gas and money, and more importantly I would like to reduce my personal pollution as much as possible.

I had decided a bit before Christmas that I was ready to bike to work again. My leg and overall fitness were doing well, and I was finally comfortable enough with my shoulder to ride my bike on the streets. However, I didn’t want to wear a backpack and I was tired of being cold and wet on soggy winter commutes. I decided to switch to pannier system for the commute and get a decent gortex cycling jacket since I needed a new outdoors waterproof jacket anyways. As well, my accident chewed up my rainproof pants so I opted to get some waterproof/breathable cycling pants. I asked Santa (my wife) for some new panniers for xmas. I’ve always had panniers from MEC Read the rest of this entry »

The Lance Era

This post is sort of a follow up to another post and comments about Lance Armstrong and doping in cycling. It’s a topic that has been discussed to death but even the dead can still be interesting.

First of all, I can say that I haven’t been much of a Lance fan in the past. It wasn’t whether or not he doped but more about how I perceived his approach to racing. As a cycling fan, his approach approach didn’t strike a chord with me. Lance boiled racing done to just one race a year and was precise and mechanical in how he went about it. I suppose those same methods could be equally revered as they can be dismissed. More than just his approach, I didn’t like how Lance’s teams were structured. Consider some of the most important Read the rest of this entry »

LA Goes “Grrrr”

Here’s a wizbang video clip of Lance Armstrong giving it to Paul Kimmage.
Check it out here

Lance makes Kimmage look like a fool. Having said that, it seems that Lance’s campaign against cancer exists partly in order to feed his ego. That doesn’t take away from the importance (nobility?) of the campaign though.

Power Testing

As part of my rehabilitation from my scooter accident I decided to improve my heart and leg fitness by doing indoor bike training. Both my GP and physiotherapist recommended this and because of my background in cycling I thought it was a great idea.

My bike setup is pretty basic but it also provides me with not only good training equipment but also valuable technical feedback for monitoring my fitness. I have a Kurt Kinetic Pro Trainer, which comes calibrated for power. What this means is that if I know the speed of the rear wheel I can compute the power that I’m producing. To track the speed I have a “bike pod” (ie a speedometer) that works with my Suunto t6 heart rate monitor, and I can download all of this data to my PC. As well, the trainer came with a cheap bike computer which shows the wheel speed and the power (the Suunto simply shows the speed).
To get all the data into the PC I download my heart rate and speed. I then use a Read the rest of this entry »

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