Challenge accepted: The Daang Reyna individual time trial

Sometime in November 2017, my VPx teammate Ariel Dumlao thought of creating a little challenge in order to inspire our teammates to become active again. He had our mutual friend Mario Ramos take care of the prizes, while he talked to me to write up a set of rules. What he had in mind was basically a couple of individual time trials, one in Daang Reyna, and another further south in Nuvali.

The idea struck my fancy. I’ve been riding a lot on the turbo trainer; except for a couple instances, all of my December riding was indoors. After all that time in the pain cave, I wanted to see how much I had improved.

But first, let’s look at the mechanics of the challenge.

Most cyclists would know about Strava by now – the website and app that lets them track their riding, route data, and various other statistics. One functionality peculiar to it is “segments,” which are highlighted routes in particular areas, and are subject to competition. Each segment has its own leaderboard, and the titles “King of the Mountain” and “Queen of the Mountain” reserved for the fastest male and female riders out of all participants for that segment.

For the VPx challenge, participants will be performing an individual time trial (ITT) of five laps along the Daang Reyna loop – a 20.7 km effort all in all, and already conveniently possessing a segment under its name.

It was only on January 7th, the first Sunday of 2018, that I was able to get on the saddle for a proper long ride. As usual, I would be riding the 25 km from my house to Palazzo Verde, near the end of Daang Reyna fronting the irregular rotunda leading to MCX. In preparation for the time trial effort, I took it easy, but still at a pretty brisk 22 km/h average pace. I would wait for my other VPx teammates there, then set off.

After spinning a light gear while sitting on the wheels of the VPx paceline, I upped the pace and started the ITT effort after the U-turn at Palazzo Verde. The challenge rules discouraged drafting off other riders, and I intended to respect that, so I acted as a solo breakaway.

The outbound leg of Daang Reyna leads to a small rotunda nicknamed the “Lollipop,” which branches off to roads leading to San Pedro in Laguna. This outbound leg is also a “false flat,” set slightly uphill. Push too hard here and you sacrifice performance on the faster downhill inbound leg, so I used to restrict myself to a 25 km/h limit.

Today, though, I would not be having any of that. Outbound, I kept a pace of at least 28 km/h, spinning a light gear at very high cadence in order to avoid prematurely burning out my legs.

Lou Mendoza of VPx on the inbound leg of the Daang Reyna loop.

Once the Lollipop approached and I leaned over for the U-turn, I put down the power as steadily as I could, and gradually built up speed for the inbound leg while keeping as low and aero as possible. A crescendo to 40 km/h within the final 500 meters before the Palazzo Verde U-turn was my target…where I had to do my strategy for the outbound leg once more, and repeat the whole cycle for five laps.

The Palazzo Verde U-turn is the main uncontrollable factor along Daang Reyna. While it is part of the segment, sometimes stopping here is inevitable while waiting for crossing traffic to clear, so this area will have an effect on the segment time.

On the saddle, I felt surprisingly strong. Keeping this blistering pace before would have seen me give out after two laps. Yet here I was, putting the hammer down even harder, and I had a lot in reserve, although I felt the familiar burn of built-up lactic acid beginning in my thighs.

With subsequent laps, I seized my moments and raised my speed to 29-30 km/h toward the Lollipop before looping back. By the fifth lap, though, I was starting to fade slightly. I went one cog easier to avoid succumbing to side stitches and calf cramping, but summoned what I had left to muscle my way inbound at 41 km/h.

After the U-turn at Palazzo Verde, I was spent. I limped along and spun very easy gears at 18 km/h as I completed my cool-down lap back to the Palazzo Verde parking lot to recover. I still had at least 25 km to ride going home, and another 8 km to ride for an errand.

So, what was the result?

I posted a new personal best, beating my previous effort by almost two minutes.

A few VPx teammates sat on my wheel for the first two laps of my ITT, but peeled off. They told me I had become stronger as a rider.

I’m four minutes down on teammate Patok Dormiendo, who is VPx’s current leader around the segment and a powerful rider in his own right. I don’t mind, though. My “fast bike commuter” mindset was always a little different compared to the VPx folks, who are generally more interested in training for cycling events, duathlons, and triathlons.

Personally I’m just glad to see that I did make some gains after all. On the ride back home, even badly surfaced concrete roads couldn’t stop me from cruising 3 km/h faster than normal. I may have gained some weight, but I can feel a significant portion of it was muscle.

I actually goofed with the segment; I just recently learned its start/end point is actually at the Lollipop and not at the Palazzo Verde U-turn. All the more reason to try the five-lap ITT again and see how much better I can do.

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Fabric on your handlebars?

As a brand, Fabric is no stranger to this blog. In the years since launching with their saddle lineup, they’ve diversified into many other interesting products, among them a ratcheting multitool, a cageless water bottle, and a couple varieties of handlebar tape. With Hyro’s recent total cable replacement, I decided to call time on my double-wrapped handlebar experiment and start fresh.

I’ve seen Fabric’s “knurl tape” hanging from the walls of local bike shops for a while now. Curiosity got the better of me: how will these compare to my benchmark, Fizik’s 3 mm bar tape?

Most bar-end plugs are the kind you press into a handlebar with either hand force or taps of a rubber mallet, and they stay in there purely by friction against the excess bar tape you stuff into the end.

By contrast, Fabric springs a surprise as you open the box, and uses expanding bar-end plugs. As normal, you stuff the excess bar tape and push the bar plug in, but here you take a 3 mm hex key and tighten the bolt on the plug. This drives a wedge that expands the fingers of the end plug against the inside of the handlebar and provides better security. Prior to this, the only expanding bar-end plugs I’ve seen were expensive metal items from Nitto and similar premiere marques, costing upwards of PhP1000 a pair. Granted, Fabric’s plugs are still plastic, but nobody else I know makes the expanding type and bundles them with bar tape. These look about as reusable as Fizik’s plugs, too, which is not something I can say about most brands of bar tape.

The “knurl” on Fabric’s bar tape is finely cut into it in a diamond pattern.

Something else I like about the Fabric bar tape is how stretchy it is. One of my few complaints with Fizik’s leather-like microfiber material is its relative resistance to tension, which is an improvement over cheaper synthetic cork bar tapes, but takes a bit of getting used to if you wrap your own bars. Over time, if you wrap your bars in a figure-eight manner like I do, it may lead to gaps forming around where the control levers’ clamp bands meet the handlebars. Fabric’s tape material is a happy medium between the two, and helps provide better coverage that resists walking up or down the bars.

The “knurl” in the name is evident in the texture. Knurling, for the uninitiated, is additional repeating texture added to a surface to improve grip; you see it on the control dials of cameras and the grips of pistols. Most knurling is a fine diamond-cut pattern and it’s the same here. It improves grip over equivalent Fizik bar tape, whose leathery texture is nice to hold, but a little more slippery.

The real win, though, is how Fabric’s bar tape material provides better cushioning over Fizik’s, despite retaining roughly 2 mm of thickness and doing away with foam backing. The rubbery material dampens vibration quite well without bulking up. If you can get over the loss of handlebar thickness, you might even get along with the Fabric tape as a replacement for Fizik’s cushy 3 mm stuff.

Which leads me to Fabric’s final argument: the price. Currently, a box of knurl tape is just under PhP800. I used to buy Fizik 3 mm tape at that price, but nowadays you’re more likely to find it for PhP1100 to PhP1300 a box, with PhP800 getting you the 2 mm variety. If you’ve got the money, Fizik 3 mm is still top of the bar tape heap. Between the 2 mm options, though, I know which one I’m going with.

Review: Park Tool IR-1 internal cable routing kit

Longtime readers will know that with Hyro, my 2014 Giant TCX SLR 2, I had a couple of trepidations. First, it was designed around press-fit bottom bracket bearings, and second, it routes all but one of its cables internally. After two sets of cranks and bottom brackets, my fears of the former were allayed…but I did not know what to expect from the latter.

Seeing how the LifeCycle mechanics used to wince when I sent Hyro in for replacement of a frayed and broken rear shift cable…I went through the process of discovery in a rather tentative manner. The LifeCycle guys never even touched Hyro’s cable housings, and they stayed in place for almost four years, with only the inner cables being swapped out. I found out for myself the aggravation of swapping Hyro’s rear shift cable for the first time as it ran through the drive-side chainstay. Subsequent inner cable swaps went smoother, but when horror stories abound about how it takes many professional bike shop mechanics at least 45 minutes fishing a cable out of a frame’s routing holes, I was dreading the prospect of having to perform a full cable replacement a little.

While looking for anything to help my odds of a successful DIY cable replacement operation, I came across the Park Tool IR-1, which was launched at the 2014 Eurobike trade show…and I just knew I had to get it for myself someday.

FEATURES

  • Three guide cables, each 250 cm long, all with magnets at one end
    • Threaded barb adapter
    • Rubber sleeve adapter
    • Bare guide cable
  • One guide magnet
  • Plastic carrying case

IMPRESSIONS

The IR-1 is the logical extension of bike mechanics’ tips and hacks when dealing with running cables through a bike frame with internal cable routing: tying cotton thread to an inner cable and using that to pull the cable through, or taking a more direct approach with a strong rare-earth magnet. What Park Tool did is to incorporate these tricks and build them into a dedicated tool.

All the guide cables have a magnet at one end. At the other end awaits either a rubber sleeve, a threaded barb, or nothing at all (just the bare guide cable). You can use the rubber sleeve to grip electronic shift wire or cable housing from outside, or screw the threaded barb into the cable housing’s inner lining and grip it that way, which is my preferred method. These should also work with hydraulic brake hose. The adapter-less guide cable is meant for use in places where the cable routing holes are just too small for anything else to work.

The threaded barb guide cable found the most use with me.

The fourth item is an anodized blue handheld “guide magnet” about 5 cm long…and this thing is pretty strong. The way it attracts itself to anything made of iron or steel, I’d guess it’s made out of some rare-earth metal such as neodymium – traditionally used for applications that require strong magnetic attraction properties.

Generally, Park Tool recommends the IR-1’s guide magnet to do most of the work of routing and navigating either the guide cables or bare inner cable through the frame. Best results involve a push-pull motion, pulling with the guide magnet while feeding the guide cable in. Once that’s through, any cable housing attached to the guide cable can follow suit.

The guide cables are all strong enough under tension. While pulling cable housings through the routing holes of a frame, they were in no danger of snapping…even when you’re negotiating stubborn compressionless brake housing out of a tight cable routing hole.

Using the manual guide magnet to pull the magnet end of the guide cable through the non-drive side chainstay.

Routing the guide cable through the non-drive side chainstay.

This is the tightest cable routing hole on the whole bike. It’s made even more complicated by the general reluctance of compressionless brake housing to bend.

When I replaced all of Hyro’s cables by myself for the first time, it took me about three and a half hours for the whole job – and this is with the IR-1 helping me out. Imagine how much longer it might have taken me had I not had this tool at my side. Six cable routing holes, three sections of cable housing, 45 minutes spent fishing housing from each hole…you can do the math. Had I not had this tool, I may have been permanently put off from performing DIY cable replacement altogether. I can only imagine how much of an investment this tool can be if part of your everyday job requires that you re-cable other people’s bikes with internal routing.

The video below is the final persuasion I needed to buy the IR-1, as the second demonstration bike featured is a 2014 TCX SLR 1 – an identical frameset to Hyro in everything save for the 15 mm through-axle fork.

VERDICT

As Park Tool themselves will tell you, you can’t actually buy the original IR-1 brand-new any more. They’ve replaced it with the IR-1.2, adding a fourth guide cable that they say is better meant for the wires of either a Shimano Di2 or Campagnolo EPS electric-shifting groupset. It also adds around US$10 to the original US$60 price. Frankly, I’m not sure it needed the upgrade, as the IR-1 was already capable of dragging Di2 or EPS wiring through a frame.

If it’s not already obvious, I highly recommend this tool if you’ve got a bike frame with any internal cable routing at all. If you run a local bike shop, and you believe that time is money, not availing of a couple IR-1s is the equivalent of leaving money on the table. I liken the IR-1 to a torque wrench: it can feel expensive at the outset, but it’s so essential at what it does and has very little in competition that it’s easily worth its price.