When coffee, cycling, and a club meet on a Sunday morning

While I’ve used my Sunday morning long rides to test my fitness gains, such as hammering out a personal-best individual time trial effort around the Daang Reyna road loop, I’ve also learned there are instances where it’s nice to kick back and take it a little slower, for a change.

One chilly mid-January morning, I rode out to Bonifacio Global City (BGC) on an invitation from JP Cariño, he of Gruppo Veloce Sportivo, and an old pal from my car club days. He invited me to join the January 2018 roundup ride of the Manila Coffee Cycling Club after having seen me ride around his area while I ran an errand.

Caravan Black Coffee serves a pretty good flat white.

This was the first time I’d be joining them. Given that cycling and coffee tend to historically go hand-in-hand, and I’ve got a cursory knowledge of coffee drinks (I like a hot cafe americano, and take flat whites wherever they’re available)…this seemed interesting.

Photo courtesy JP Cariño/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

I arrived at Caravan Black Coffee half an hour early, even accounting for the three laps around the block I took trying to find the cafe, as it’s actually sandwiched between Ascott BGC and the Net Plaza building. Fifteen minutes later, I got joined by a few other invitees as we rode around a few more laps around the same block to warm up.

Riding around with the Manila Coffee Cycling Club. Photo courtesy JP Cariño.

JP arrived on the hour. After assembling our little group, we rode laps around Uptown Mall and the International Schools road loop at a relaxed pace, while trying to work around the road closures due to a footrace that went on at the same time. Most of the guys were chatting away while riding, but I kept quiet for most of the actual ride. It was a combination of shyness and trying to make sure we were moving safely on the road. That’s just the bike commuter survival instinct in me, I guess.

Photo courtesy of Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

Attendees of the January 2018 roundup. Photo courtesy JP Cariño/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

We returned to Caravan Black, dismounted from our bikes, and ordered up some coffee and chow. Due to conflicts with other events – the PruLife Ride PH 100 km fondo in Subic, most prominently – this roundup was a little small, but that was fine by me. Our motley group was composed of road cycling enthusiasts, a couple of bike shop owners (Glenn of Primo Cycles and Leroy of The Brick Multisport), cyclists in active competition, and blokes like me who were simply there for the ride.

Leroy’s silver Festka overlooking fresh coffee beans left out to dry in Amadeo, Cavite. Photo courtesy of Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

There we were, eating cake and pastries while talking shop about the UCI pro peloton and the local road cycling scene, discussing potential local fondo events and Chris Froome’s salbutamol overdose controversy. True to the club’s coffee theme, some of them had ridden to the town of Amadeo in Cavite the previous day, the so-called coffee capital of the Philippines, and they narrated just how windy the descent was. This was the kind of sharing and deeply informed conversation I enjoyed having.

Our bikes parked while we sip coffee. Out front is Lito Vicencio’s Colnago C60 with Mapei livery, equipped with Campagnolo.

Toys for big boys. Quite a number of us rode vintage steel this morning, here headed by Brian Sy’s resto-modded Schwinn Paramount. Photo courtesy of JP Cariño/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

Gone vintage: Glenn Colendrino’s Pinarello Treviso. Photo courtesy JP Cariño/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

I thank JP for inviting me and all my new friends for the warm welcome, and I look forward to joining future roundups over hot cups of joe.

Rolling along 5th Avenue. Photo courtesy JP Cariño/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

Waiting for a green light at St. Luke’s Medical Center BGC. Photo courtesy Farouk Ibrahim/Manila Coffee Cycling Club.

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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.

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.