Archives for June 2014

Giro Air Attack Review

Giro_air-attack-helmet-black-blue_2013

I always like to offer something that could be better on a helmet and with the Giro Air Attack I struggle to find anything that stands out as needing improvement

Last year I raced in triathlons and time trials using my Giro Selector full aero helmet. It was a year or so old, but I had never been impressed with it. Sure it was aero if you could hold the tuck, but the build quality looked poor when examined closely, the fit was far from comfortable and it also gave me a headache after about twenty minutes. Recently we have the trend for making normal cycling helmets more aerodynamic with helmets like the Giro Air Attack and Kask Bambino being prime examples. You can see them in use in all manner of cycling events which just goes to show their versatility. I decided that it was time to sell my Giro Selector and try something new. Personally there were three helmets that I was deciding between:

  • Kask Bambino – £260
  • Giro Air Attack – £130
  • Casco Speedster – £99

I considered going for the Air Attack Shield or the Casco Speedster visor, but to be honest I am happy riding with my sunglasses and, in my experience with the Selector, a built-in visor isn’t flexible enough to necessarily fit the way you want it to. In my Giro Selector the visor seemed to guide the airflow straight into my eyeballs at a half decent speed. Far from ideal!

The Bambino priced itself out of the competition and the Casco looked a little too conventional for my liking. The Giro Air Attack seemed to offer the best compromise between aero and price, so I placed my order with Wiggle Online Cycle Shop and waited for my EN1078 certified Giro Air Attack in large to arrive.

As usual with Wiggle the delivery was prompt and I couldn’t wait to try on my new helmet. Sure it looks a bit like a pudding bowl when you first see it, but once you put it on it actually looks pretty good and I have received several positive comments from people. The fit is extremely comfortable thanks to the easily adjustable Roc Loc Air system. It is easily adjusted by the small dial at the back and it works for a wide array of head shapes. This system allows plenty of room for air flow, so while the helmet doesn’t feature many vents I haven’t found it to be too warm, even on the hottest days that the UK summer has so far thrown at us. If anything I prefer it as the lack of vents means that less sunlight can shine through to hit the top of your head. This is probably the more important the thinner your hair is, and mine is getting a bit thinner than I would like in a few places! There are also fewer holes for bugs to fly into…

One thing that totally surprised me was just how quite the Giro Air Attack is. There is virtually no wind noise, certainly compared to my old S-Works Prevail which had a distinct whoosh which got quite loud as you pedaled faster. The lack of wind noise combined with the comfort mean that I barely know it is there when using it. I cycled over forty hilly miles in the UK summer sunshine yesterday on my TT bike while wearing the Air Attack and I don’t have a bad thing to say about it. The smooth shape meant that I didn’t have to keep my head in the perfect aero position, and I also didn’t feel out-of-place riding in it at a steady pace. I bet most of the people reading this have been out on their TT bike in full aero helmets while training and felt a bit daft, especially when a keen sportive rider goes past… With the Giro Air Attack I felt a lot less like a visual spectacle, could be more comfortable on the bike and be safe in the knowledge that I was still aerodynamic.

I always like to offer something that could be better on a helmet and with the Giro Air Attack I struggle to find anything that stands out as needing improvement. Perhaps a bit more styling, but that is being extremely fussy. I think it is a great bit of kit and would happily ride it on whatever bike I decide to take out from my hybrid to my mountain bike to my TT bike. I will certainly be using it this year during the Roadford middle distance triathlon, the Ocean Lave 70.3 event in Wales and also in Ironman Wales. It is one of the best bits of equipment in my substantial array of cycling gear.

A Wattbike Review – Back to the dark ages

Wattbike Air Brake

A few months ago I spent what seemed like a small fortune on a running machine. Interest free credit is an evil thing and I suddenly realised that I had just spent three times as much on a running machine as I had on any turbo trainer that I had owned up to that point. I started to look around and I heard nothing but good things about Wattbike trainers. A few questions on forums and everyone said that they were great. Good enough for me I thought. I discovered a triathlon England offer that enabled me to get the bike on interest free credit and I signed up after a small amount of deliberation. The Wattbike comes in the Trainer or  Pro models and the advice that Wattbike gives is that if you weigh over 75kg get the Pro and if you weigh less get the Trainer. I weigh in at 75 Kg…. I opted for the Trainer as it would then be something that my wife could use whereas she would struggle to even turn the pedals on the Pro. As a triathlete with a running bias I thought that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Wattbike

I passed the credit checks and stumped up the £60 delivery fee. Wattbike gave me a delivery window in a couple of days time and I sat back and waited. On the appointed day I took the afternoon off of work and sat in waiting for my delivery. At the end of the delivery window I phoned the courier and I phoned Wattbike as it hadn’t arrived. They had managed to lose my Wattbike. We are talking a large 60kg parcel, not exactly something that you can easily lose. After lots of hassle it turned up about a week later and after a bit more hassle Wattbike refunded my delivery, but it was all much harder than it should have been. My new love affair was off to a bad start, could the Wattbike redeem itself?

The Wattbike was easy enough to build and I liked the computer on the handlebars. I managed to sync it with my existing ant+ heart rate monitor and also used a USB stick for my user profile. This enabled me to transfer the data onto PC, using the USB stick, for analysis and upload to Training Peaks and Strava. The build quality seemed ok, but it was hard to tell really as the innards are all concealed behind the shiny black plastic which attracts dust like a cat wearing a woolly jumper that has been sellotaped to a balloon. Just in case you were wondering the bottle that comes with the Wattbike bearing the Wattbike logo is of the super cheap variety with pop off plastic lid and narrow opening. At this stage I was still excited though and didn’t really notice.

I put my own pedals onto the Wattbike and started to transfer my professional triathlon bike fit onto it. The marketing blurb states “On the Wattbike you can easily replicate the exact riding position that you use on your regular bike.” It turns out that is only true for sportive bikes and not for triathlon or TT bikes. It wasn’t made with those in mind despite the aero bar shaped handlebars and arm rest optional extras. You could probably do it if you are a lot shorter than me (I am 6′ tall) and don’t have a really nice aerodynamic position. I managed to arrange it into a compromise, but it was a bit awkward and I never felt truly comfortable on it. I even stumped up the extra £25 plus delivery for the arm pads to allow me to get more comfy in the aero position. The love affair was faltering and I hadn’t turned a pedal yet.

Wattbike Magnetic Brake

My first turbo session felt ok, but I was rather bewildered at the controls. The computer was on the handlebars relaying all of your stats, but you control the magnet and air brakes separately. The magnet brake in particular didn’t really do much until it was almost full on with all the resistance coming in only during the top two settings. When I finished the session I found out that I was slightly biased towards my right leg, with it generating 1 to 2 % more power than the left and that my functional threshold power was exactly the same as what my previous £300 trainer had told me it was. I was beginning to wonder why I had spent over £2000 on this thing.

I struggled on with the Wattbike for a few months, but found it very clunky. There was no way of linking the air and magnet brakes into a workout and you had to adjust the settings yourself manually on the fly. Compared to computer linked turbo trainers that have been around for years this was a distinct backwards step for me. Eventually I had enough and I sent Wattbike an email which you can read below.

I bought my Wattbike off of you a while ago but have some concerns about it and I wanted to check if this is normal for a Wattbike or whether I have an issue.
My first problem is with the magnetic resistance. The progression is far from linear and between settings 1 and 4 it doesn’t do anything. It starts to come in at about 5 and applies a small amount of resistance, but then when you get to the 7 it suddenly ramps up. This makes it really hard to be consistent in my training blocks when I am trying to follow a program. I just end up guessing and often moving the dial a fraction of a mm to get the resistance where I want it. This is key during high resistance low cadence sessions when the airbrake is not applicable.
The second concern is the lack of linearity on the aero brake. If I keep my cadence uniform the resistance is more or less linear through to about 7, but through 8, 9 and 10 there is barely any increase in resistance as I open it up, and as it is a trainer and not the pro that is the area where I would use it most.
I find myself hoping that there is a fault as otherwise it means that my £300 TACX Flow VR trainer was actually easier to use when following a training programme as I could reliably set the resistance to specific values on it very easily and know that I could find them again the next time, thereby allowing me to increase the resistance steadily as I became stronger.
I look forward to your response. If you would rather talk than email then my number is 1234567890.
I do review the gear that I use online on my blog at http://www.bikerunswim.co.uk/ , but I want to hold off on the review until I am sure that my Wattbike is functioning normally.

Within twenty four hours of sending the email I got a call back. We had an interesting chat but I was left utterly bemused. Wattbike didn’t really care. They told me that the magnet brake “features” were normal and were caused by the way magnets work, and the same applied to the air brake. When I mentioned that I couldn’t replicate my aero position they sounded genuinely surprised and said that they would take this on board as the Wattbike wasn’t designed with Time Triallists or Triathletes in mind.

I put my Wattbike up for sale immediately and decided to put the whole thing behind me. I lost a few hundred pounds, but it was worth it to get a machine that I could work with.

Conclusion

The Wattbike is a machine that I would have found impressive about ten years ago, but to claim that such an archaic piece of over priced machinery is an “affordable indoor bike for training and testing that is suitable for everyone from school children to Olympic Gold Medallists” is utter hogwash. For the amount that I paid for the Wattbike I could have purchased an entry level time trial bike, a top of the range turbo trainer and had several hundred pounds in change.

To make the Wattbike more applicable to the modern age then Wattbike need to make some massive changes. In my opinion the following would make it interesting and cost effective:

  • Include a suite of extras in the package: A decent water bottle, an ANT+ heart rate monitor, a choice of saddles at time of purchase, arm rests etc. It isn’t complete without these things.
  • Upgrade the magnetic brake. Everyone else moved on to electro magnets years ago which are much more linear and can easily be controlled by computer whether onboard or not.
  • Ditch the air brake for home users, it is extremely noisy and blows small animals/paperwork across the room when opened up
  • The pedal stroke analysis is interesting, but not overly so once you have used it a couple of times. All of the other power features are available to a suitable accuracy for home use on other turbo trainers at much lower prices and are no longer unique selling points.
  • Improve the management software for home users.
  • Create a model with a lower price point that uses a tablet/phone or home computer to drive it. It will give many more features that home users want. Have a separate model for gym usage which is fully integrated and retains the high price point

In other words stop resting on their laurels and making the most of a massive profit margin, do some work and get back in the game.

So what did I do instead?

I pocketed a bunch of money and purchased a Wahoo Kickr for a little over £800. It is a direct drive turbo trainer that is controlled from your phone or PC. I then purchased the relevant dongles for my PC and subscribed to Trainer Road. I can now link my Sufferfest videos directly into the provided training plans so that they sync perfectly and send my workouts wirelessly to Training Peaks and Strava at the push of a button. It also has an extremely precise control and can pump out a resistance of upto 2000 Watts. In this process I feel like I went from the 20th Century with my Tacx Flow and its clunky software into the dark ages with the Wattbike and finally into the 21st century with the Wahoo Kickr. I shant be looking back for a second. Oh, Trainer Road can be used with other trainers too if they transmit wirelessly and your workouts are created using a percentage of your FTP rather than a fixed resistance. This means that as you get fitter and your FTP goes up your workouts automatically progress with you. What a great idea!

If Wattbike want some help in actually making a product that is suitable for modern day cyclists and triathletes then I would happily provide input into that, but I don’t get the feeling that they are going to appreciate this review!

 

Surely you jest? – A race report for the Classic Quarter Ultra Marathon – The Leukaemia Conclusion

Here is my race report for Endurance Life’s Classic Quarter, an epic 44 mile ultra marathon in Cornwall.

I was breaking out in a cold sweat for reasons that had nothing to do with the race. My stomach was unsettled, my eyes bleary and my bowels, well you probably don’t need any more information on those so I will leave that to your imagination. James from Endurance Life announced the start and as everyone pushed forwards I turned around and ran the couple of hundred meters back to the nearest toilets. Not many people start a race running in totally the wrong direction, but then my Mum always told me that I was special.

via Surely you jest? – A race report for the Classic Quarter Ultra Marathon – The Leukaemia Conclusion.

Nun shall pass – A review of the Hope 24 Race

This is another one of my runs for charity. This time I ran in a team of 5 all dressed as nuns in the Hope 24 ultra marathon in Plympton, Devon. It was an amazing event. Check out the excerpt and follow the link to more madness.

Imagine the scene: A blustery and dramatic day in a field in the south of Devon. One moment the sun is out and everyone is baking, the next clouds scud across the sky and rain hammers down in large drops. A man runs past with a grin on his face, he also happens to be wearing fishnet tights, a habit and a wimple. This is no Julie Andrews, she had much more attractive knees. This looks like an escaped convict who has been flushed out of the nunnery that he was hiding in. I’m not sure why he is in fishnets, but I’m sure that there is a good reason. You blink and rub your eyes, are you going mad? Moments later a man wearing a cowboy outfit and the rear half of a horse suit jogs past, also grinning. You give up and go home to take your pills, this can’t be right!

via Nun shall pass – A review of the Hope 24 Race.

The Oner 2014 – A SUPER tale – The Leukaemia Conclusion

I have started putting my charity race reports up on my family’s leukaemia blog. Here is an excerpt from a link to my race report for the 80 mile Oner ultra marathon held on the Dorset coastline in the UK.

I competed in one of the hardest ultra marathons in the UK, the infamous Oner. You have 24 hours to run 80 miles, and if you do the math that sounds easy, ish. Surely you can walk it providing you don’t stop? Well, possibly but it also includes around 4500m of climbing and is all along slippery, slidey and exposed coastal paths from Charmouth to Studland on the south coast of England. Some sections would be walked by even the fittest people while the rest of us simply tried to maintain forward motion as fast as we could. In principle this involves walking the ups and running the flats and the downs, hoping you make up enough time on the runnable sections to prevent your average speed from being dropped too low. If you are late for a checkpoint then it is game over and you are shuttled back to the HQ. This year 70 people entered and 58 turned up at the start line. Only 26 would finish.

via The Oner 2014 – A SUPER tale – The Leukaemia Conclusion.