TP-RIDE01: Manila

Photo courtesy TempleProject.cc.

In addition to the monthly ride hosted by Manila Coffee Cycling Club on every second Sunday, July brought a second ride a week earlier than usual. Leroy and Miguel of The Brick Multisport collaborated with one of their retail partners, Indonesian cycling kit brand TempleProject.cc, for a ride around Manila.

Photo credit TempleProject.cc.

After weeks of grinding away on the turbo trainer, this was my first long Sunday ride in a while; it had been long enough that I actually forgot to put on sunscreen before heading out the door. Apart from Brian of TempleProject, I was the first guy at the meetup point, The Brick Multisport’s shop at McKinley Hill. The plan was to gather everyone for a 6:30 am departure and to ride to Rizal Park, where we would continue on to Binondo before doubling back around Quirino Grandstand and spinning to our coffee stop, Toby’s Estate BGC.

Photo credit: TempleProject.cc.

As an activity meant to foster good will and boost his brand’s presence, as part of the “TP-RIDE” series, Brian had with him a small crew of photographers aboard a chase car and a motorcycle, which followed us around as we rode. His girlfriend Elle wasn’t able to borrow a bike to join us on the ride, so she became part of the coverage crew.

Photo credit: TempleProject.cc.

Having arrived so early, I was able to chat with Brian himself, and found out he is Filipino-American, living in the country for a few years before moving out. He used to be an active racer, but moved on to more adventure-oriented long-distance riding such as audax events.

Photo credit: TempleProject.cc.

Due to the vagaries of my schedule until recently, I had been absent from Manila Coffee Cycling Club’s rides for a while. This was the first time I’ve seen participants show up on mountain bikes, perhaps best represented by Pao Moreto’s cross-country hardtail bike, sporting a wicked -25 degree Ritchey WCS stem slammed on its headset and powerful legs to match. Joshua Lambojo also rode a mountain bike, but used three-bolt cleats and pedals.

Photo credit: TempleProject.cc.

Our group cut through an unusually busy Gil Puyat Avenue, the Taft Avenue junction especially crowded by buses that crawled in all directions. By the time we got to Roxas Boulevard, the urban jungle had calmed down considerably, but it was still tight going in places.

Photo credit: TempleProject.cc.

Eventually we did reach Rizal Park and had the obligatory photo session. The rest of the ride went well, and in usual Manila Coffee Cycling Club fashion, the group went all-out motoring along Ayala Avenue and McKinley Road on the way to our coffee stop.

Photo credit: TempleProject.cc.

I am grateful for the many new faces I met this day. Now that my work shift has changed to something a little more workable for Sunday morning rides, I hope to attend more rides like this in future.

Do try to check out TempleProject.cc’s jerseys, bib shorts, and complete kit on The Brick’s online store; their designs are quite neat. Also, check out their Instagram account for your dose of their really rather awesome photography.

Brian whooping it up for the camera. Photo credit: TempleProject.cc.

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The argument against top-tier components

Shimano’s Dura-Ace 7400-series “25th Anniversary” groupset, on display at Shimano Cycling World in Singapore. Note the headset and seatpost at the far right, as well as the Seiko wristwatch.

Shimano Dura-Ace. SRAM Red. Campagnolo Super Record. All of these three groupsets are the pinnacle of what each of the three big bicycle component manufacturers offer, and can confidently be considered the state of the art.

And yet, today I’m going to tell you a few reasons why you may not want them on your bike.

“THAT COSTS HOW MUCH?!” – HIGH ACQUISITION COST

As with many things, becoming a technological showcase is going to cost you a pretty big coin. As simple as a bicycle may look, a top-tier groupset mainly exists to present to the world just how much it can improve in terms of performance, many of them frequently being refinements or marginal gains over the previous generation, as was the case with Dura-Ace 7900 over 7800.

This is why I believe top-tier components are really meant for sponsored professional athletes, who will appreciate these marginal gains more – not amateur enthusiasts like many of you reading this decidedly amateur publication.

I feel this is most onerous with Campagnolo Super Record. Campagnolo already isn’t cheap to begin with, at any level; for some people, the exorbitant purchase price of Super Record over even Shimano Dura-Ace or SRAM Red just adds insult to injury.

“THAT COSTS HOW MUCH?!!” – HIGH REPLACEMENT COSTS

Much like used supercars and luxury sedans may appear like bargains up front, the high costs of a top-tier groupset do not stop with the initial purchase. You still have the maintenance aspect to look at. As the parts wear away with time and usage, when the time comes that a chain, cassette, or chainring requires replacement, the sticker price may be a source of unwelcome financial “aftershocks.”

Why is this the case? Like it or not, part of the technological advancement brought on by a top-tier groupset is down to the use of unconventional materials, such as carbon fiber or titanium. One example is the titanium cogs on a typical Dura-Ace cassette. These materials are chosen mainly to save weight, longevity be damned. When hub manufacturer Chris King moves away from titanium as a material for its R45 rear hubs’ ratchet mechanisms, one should already suspect that something is up with the material. Titanium is great for making bicycle frames, but plays a distant second or third fiddle to good ol’ steel for wear items.

Exploded view of a SRAM Red 10-speed PowerDome cassette. Photo credit: Glory Cycles/SRAM

Apart from unconventional materials, sometimes it is the manufacturing methods themselves that are unconventional and lead to the greater expense. SRAM is the poster child for this, its trademark PowerDome cassettes CNC-machined from a single, solid steel billet. This feat of engineering is expensive to replicate, and so replacing a worn PowerDome cassette like-for-like is also going to mean at least a US$279 hit to your wallet.

QUESTIONABLE CONSTRUCTION METHODS…?

Somewhere along the way of searching for marginal gains and shaving every last gram possible from a component, bad news starts to happen. Worryingly, this isn’t restricted to just top-tier stuff – sometimes even second-tier components have problems, too.

A cut-away Ultegra 6800 crank arm, showing off the construction that makes it hollow. Photo credit: Shimano Cycling World/Hands On Bike.

A few years ago, Shimano started to hype the lightweight construction of its Dura-Ace 9000 and Ultegra 6800 crank arms. These are made hollow by forging them in two pieces, which are then bonded together. This is in contrast to the one-piece solid forging technology used on Shimano’s cheaper or lower-tier cranksets.

For comparison, the non-series Shimano FC-R565 crankset uses heavier solid-forged arms, hollowed out from behind for some weight savings.

While this newfangled construction should be all well and good from a stiffness standpoint, numerous reports of Ultegra 6800 crank arm failure have also come in. And they’re not pretty.

Photo credit: Carlin the Cyclist.

As you can see above, this particular Ultegra FC-6800 crankset cracked just above the pedal thread area, then totally came apart precisely where the two crank arm halves were bonded together. John Carlin’s experience isn’t the only one, either. This has been a worryingly common issue with Ultegra 6800 cranks – one that I hope Shimano have addressed with its R8000 successor. While the problem isn’t as widespread with the contemporary Dura-Ace FC-9000 cranksets, it has also happened to a few riders using these top-tier cranks.

A little worrying for me is that this “Hollowtech Crank Arm” technology has trickled its way down to third-tier Shimano 105 level. That said, trickle-down technology usually means it’s been proven at higher tiers, and that same technology is made more reliable and more inexpensively in order to reach a larger audience, so we’ll just have to bet that the manufacturers have indeed done their homework. At the very least, I haven’t yet heard of any 105 FC-5800 hollow crank arms separating from each other…

CONCLUSION

At the end of the day, people are going to buy what they want. I have no illusions of making people change their minds, nor was my intention to scare people off. However, my only request is to know what you’re getting into, and not be immediately dazzled by the new tech on offer. Compare and contrast, and study the pros and cons. When it’s your money on the line, you might as well make it so that you maximize what you get.

Indoor training, part 7: YouTube in the pain cave

Many who take indoor cycling seriously have gone toward Zwift. I don’t blame them; it’s a pretty good service that makes a competitive game out of the drudgery of indoor training. Unfortunately, a good Zwift training setup costs more than what I would like to shell out.

Due to one reason or another, I’ve had to put in my saddle time indoors more frequently. At home, my setup simply revolves around a smart TV or a PlayStation 3 with the YouTube client app installed, and it’s surprising how much the video-sharing service has in store for indoor cycling.

GCN (GLOBAL CYCLING NETWORK)

Famous for its regular stream of road cycling content, as well as its charismatic crew of presenters and guest hosts, GCN also sports a slew of indoor cycling training videos. They don’t publish as many of them, or do so frequently, but what they do have runs an impressive gamut. Many of their sessions revolve around high-intensity intervals, although they also have constant-effort sessions which vary the cadence and power.

What sets their videos apart is the presentation. Effort level is shown via a 10-point scale, where a 10 is the maximum you can put out. GCN scales the effort against time, as well, so they usually reserve 10/10 efforts for all-out sprints. Cadence, on the other hand, is shown via a circular metronome, where two yellow dashes spin around it at the cadence they recommend. This greatly helps people like me who don’t own a cyclocomputer with actual cadence measurement; just match the movement of the yellow dashes with your pedal strokes. Their sound guys have excellent taste in music, too.

GCN’s training videos fall under four general categories. The first of them sees the presenters inside the studio, along with guests, where they have one of the presenters (usually Simon Richardson or Matt Stephens, who left GCN in early 2018) as a leader giving direction via cues.

The second category is largely the same, still in studio and with a similar crew size of six, but with spin bikes and a non-presenter leader providing direction. These spinning sessions are all pretty challenging, and they take advantage of the multiple hand positions of a Spinning stationary bike, which are slightly different from those of a road bike’s drop handlebars.

Due to their tie-up with the Maratona dles Dolomites, a massive annual cyclosportive in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomite Alps of Italy, many of their training videos have onboard footage of presenters Simon Richardson or Daniel Lloyd riding the climbs of the region, such as the Passo Giau and Passo Falzarego. These make up the third category, and these mountain passes also figure in the route of the Maratona.

Lastly, GCN will sometimes tag along with a professional cycling team at a race, and do a training session with them too. Most of these infrequent videos are with Team Sky, but they’ve also teamed up with Team Mitchelton-Scott.

What GCN doesn’t offer is anything that lasts longer than an hour. While Dan and Matt construct very well-structured sessions that offer maximum pain/benefit for a given time, they don’t really believe in the value of sessions longer than 60 minutes. Also frustrating in some of their earlier videos is that the cadence metronome isn’t visible all the time.

CTXC

Outside their YouTube videos, I don’t really know much about CTXC. What I do know is that their training videos are pretty brutal, and they nicely fill in a gap which GCN is all but reluctant to address. In my experience, CTXC’s training videos are awesome for the times you want a workout to last longer than an hour…which is ideal for, say, the times when you wake up too late to join your Sunday morning long ride.

From what I can tell, CTXC is a moderately large cycling club based in Melbourne, Australia. Invariably, their videos are onboard footage of the club peloton, riding at high speed on Melbourne asphalt, while maintaining a rotating double paceline to share the effort. This is the meat and potatoes of CTXC’s workouts: they’re all designed to mimic the kind of fluctuating effort you need to pull off when you’re in a paceline, either wheel-sucking to conserve energy, or surging to take your pull in front. If you’re interested in making your indoor training emulate real-world efforts, their workouts are perfect.

CTXC’s training video library is fairly small, at just a dozen. That said, each one is made to a certain duration in mind, from 20 minutes all the way up to two hours.

Longer sessions exceeding an hour in length usually incorporate a climbing leg in the middle, sandwiched by flat paceline surge efforts at the beginning and end. Many of the climbing intervals encourage you to get out of the saddle and grind away continuously for five or six minutes. Conversely, the flat surges at the end tend to have reduced recovery time in between.

Visuals are more rudimentary compared to GCN’s. There is an effort level meter, but its scale goes up to 6 instead of 10. Warm-up and recovery intervals are rated a 3, while power-on intervals are either a 5 or 6. CTXC’s video editor does manage to nicely match up the power-on intervals with the onboard footage rider’s turn to pull at the front. If you want some form of cadence reference, you’ll just have to watch the peloton’s legs.

While there is no voice-over, there are instructional or inspirational messages that flash from time to time, such as “How’s your heart rate?” or “Keep it smooth.” This makes CTXC’s videos a little better if you want to use your own tunes; you can simply mute the audio and put your own music on, which I tend to do due to musical preference.

Because they are so brutal, I save CTXC’s videos as an occasional treat and a litmus test of my fitness. I would also recommend them for cyclists more experienced with judging effort by feel or with a heart rate monitor, because the prescribed effort level on the videos isn’t as granular or as newbie-friendly.