The way the pandemic situation is working out in my neck of the woods, riding outside is either merely more inconvenient than it should be, or being actively discouraged, to my disappointment. I had been hoping to finally sneak in some tame outdoor rides to cap off the year, but because of highly questionable government regulations, the indoor trainer still seems to be the least punitive riding option for the foreseeable future.
That said, instead of ruminating and ranting yet again about the current situation, I decided to borrow a page off CyclingTips’ annual playbook and write about the things that made what little of a riding life I had in 2020 that much bearable.
WAHOO KICKR SNAP SMART TRAINER
One of the bigger ones for me was getting on the smart trainer bandwagon with the KICKR SNAP. I still think smart trainers cost a little too much money for what they are, brand-new, with the KICKR SNAP sneaking just within the psychological limit of my budget. Fortunately, buying second-hand shaves a meaningful bit off the price.
The included power meter, accurate to +/-3%, helps eliminate a lot of the guesswork with how hard I’m pushing in training, and despite being driven off the rear tire, the resistance unit does its business in relative quiet, with a minimum of rear tire slippage as long as it’s tightened two and a half turns from contact. Wahoo’s own app is a pretty useful training aid as well, especially when paired with CTXC’s lung-busting workout videos. The KICKR SNAP is at its best, however, when paired with…
The scrappy black horse to Zwift’s juggernaut, RGT Cycling boasts a much more realistic, less game-like atmosphere, with a good library of real-world cycling routes and an ever expanding library of user-submitted Magic Roads. It’s been transformative in my indoor training, which is especially important as cycling outside without encumbrances isn’t really possible.
Honestly, my experience with the app has not been all roses and sunshine, with quite a few instances where I had to miss my planned ride due to sloppy connectivity and instances where the smartphone app and screen app don’t talk to each other. These issues and others that pop up are addressed, however, by a responsive team of developers and their engagement with a very active user community.
Oh, and have I mentioned their service has a free tier? Even their subscription service, which unlocks Magic Roads and training, is priced quite a bit friendlier than Zwift’s.
To help pass the time while in the pain cave, my usual strategy is to load up episodes of my favorite podcasts. For the uninitiated, podcasts in their modern-day form are basically the Internet’s equivalent of talk radio – and there are options out there depending on your interests.
My favorites in the cycling realm are the three that CyclingTips make: The CyclingTips Podcast, which acts as a central “mother” show; Nerd Alert, which focuses on bicycle tech; and Freewheeling, which looks at cycling through a female perspective. BikeRadar’s The BikeRadar Podcast is an honorable mention, and tends to alternate between road bikes and mountain bikes in its content more so than CyclingTips does.
Outside of cycling, Matt Farah and Zack Klapman of The Smoking Tire Podcast have been a staple of my podcast library since 2013, as they talk about cars, the car industry, and a behind-the-scenes look of what it takes to run a YouTube channel. They’ve also got very interesting guests. James Pumphrey and the crew of Donut Media also host Past Gas, which tends to talk about automotive history and how it shaped today. Finally, with 2020 reigniting my inner geek, I’ve started following computer hardware trends, and Linus Sebastian’s The WAN Show is a good successor to the much-missed MaximumPC No BS Podcast with Gordon Mah Ung at the helm.
SELLE SMP DRAKON SADDLE
My second SMP saddle has seen a lot of use despite my pedaling nowhere for most of the year. It’s now gotten wear scuffs from my thighs rubbing against its leather underside.
I went with the Drakon as I wanted to return to SMP’s saddle shape, but wanted better build quality over the cheaper Hell/Well. While the Drakon is still going strong after roughly the same length of time I spent on the Hell when it succumbed to cover cracks (and it should, as it’s quite a bit more expensive), I find it isn’t quite as ultimately comfortable. The Hell/Well shape seems to stave off genital numbness a little better.
I am no longer able to see the Drakon listed for the much lower price I got it for on Amazon. It may be worth getting a Well as a potential replacement when the Drakon gives out – also to see if things have improved in terms of the Well’s quality.
REVELATE DESIGNS MAG-TANK TOP TUBE BAG
Fueling for the long, steep climbs that RGT Cycling offers is no joke. I find that three bars and three bidons is my minimum if I were to tackle the virtual ascent of, say, the Passo dello Stelvio or Mont Ventoux. Especially with jerseys that have very tall pocket openings, it can be tough for me to reach back and grab a bar while grinding away at the pedals.
This ingenious top tube bag is a godsend. Essentially a yawning cavity for four or five bars covered by a single flap, the magic here is in its self-aligning magnetic catch, which means opening and closing it requires nowhere near the amount of thought and effort needed to fiddle with a zipper. I still have not yet been able to take it out on the road for a proper field test, but I can already see this thing becoming a permanent fixture on Hyro.
ASUS ROG ZEPHYRUS G14 (GA401IV)
This serves as a sort of early Christmas present to myself.
My personal laptop is a Samsung NP550C, running a dual-core Intel Core i5-3210M from around 2013. It was not state-of-the-art back then, and with modern software, it’s struggled to do most tasks with expediency, even after adding more memory and solid-state storage. So when it came time to upgrade, I decided to go big, to better fight off the inevitable tide of obsolescence for longer.
The ROG Zephyrus G14 is the machine I used to only dream about: an ultra-portable gaming laptop, with enough oomph for productivity and programming, and enough endurance to go the distance. It’s also discreet, nowhere near as garish as gaming laptops of old. An eight-core AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU and an Nvidia RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU ensure it does not lack for muscle, and it comes in a dapper magnesium chassis sporting the single best touchpad I’ve ever had on a laptop.
It hasn’t been perfect. It takes a lot of tweaking and discharge rate monitoring to get close to the advertised 10 hours or so of battery life, and I’m still getting used to not having Page Up, Page Down, Home, and End keys. Given the amount of power on tap, though, these are forgivable, and the overall package is easy to recommend. This little thing can run RGT Cycling at Ultra settings at 60 frames per second all day.
“THE MEN, THE MISSION, AND ME” BY PETE BLABER
Blaber shares the insights he learned during his time as a commanding officer in the United States Army’s elite Delta Force unit, with tours of duty in Iran and in Europe. The best thing about this book is it’s written in an easy-to-understand way, and illustrated by a lot of practical examples.
If you see yourself leading any number of people in a team, this is a good book to read. Worth ordering from Amazon – or learning how to do so if you haven’t tried yet.
SPECIALIZED COMP SHORT-REACH ALUMINUM DROP HANDLEBARS
Hyro’s reach has been a little off since installing the Shimano ST-RS685 control levers. The lever bodies or hoods themselves are quite a bit longer than the Shimano 105 ST-5700 units they replaced, and this extra space is needed to house the brake master cylinders. Reluctant to switch out my Redshift Sports ShockStop stem, I went with drop bars with a shorter reach instead – and it’s corrected all my bike fit issues.
These drop bars from Specialized also feature an on-trend compact drop, reducing the drop height by around ten millimeters from the stock Giant/Satori ergonomic drop bars. It doesn’t hurt that they were cheap, too, at just PhP1,500.
CICLOVATION BAR TAPE
Bar tape that looks good, feels good, and is a cinch to wrap and re-wrap bars with. Long-lasting, too. Worth the slightly higher price, I think…although best to maximize it on outdoor rides.
For some reason, more and more people have been visiting this site – the most traffic I’ve seen since I first started it in 2015. The numbers have peaked, tapered off, and gradually fallen since then, but I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of you readers for dropping by or sticking around. I am humbled that the site has been a big help for as many people as it has, despite (or perhaps because of) my adherence to the format.
With the pandemic situation still in effect, but with hope on the horizon, I wish to spend more of 2021 actually riding outdoors. See you then, I hope.