Creaky Drivetrain ….contd

https://karthik3685.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/diy-bike-mechanic-creaky-drive-train/

So, I tried fixing my bicycle drivetrain to fix the creaking noise I was hearing. From my previous post,

My drivetrain is creaky – producing a grinding noise! I’ve been trying to isolate the noise, but it’s hard. It also appears only under load, making me think it is the bottom bracket. You’d think the Bottom Bracket and the Cranks are all standardized, and quite simple. You’d be wrong!

I also made sure to test all the usual suspects –

  • In the process found my outer chainring to be slightly loose, but nothing that was causing the noise.

  • My bottle cages had come loose and were rattling – fixed it. Didn’t fix the creaky drivetrain obviously.

  • I’ve checked my seat,

  • my pedals and

  • my chain and

  • cassette – they all look fine.

  • The bottom bracket itself doesn’t have any play in it, and rotates freely when not under load. I give it a spin, and can manage to make it turn 6-8 times freely without any binding.

I went ahead and replaced the bottom bracket first. In the process, I found the grease on the drive side had become dark inside the BB shell, while on the non-drive side it was still fresh. I thought this was evidence of corrosion. Ordered a new BB for $36, made sure to clean the BB shell really well, applied grease to it, installed the new BB.

  • Went out for a ride – the noise hadn’t gone away!

Dang it. I then changes out the chain – I cut it to the same length as the previous chain, made sure it’s the right 10-speed chain and replaced it. The chain length is slightly off, causing slight issues with shifting, but nothing major. This is something I anticipated.

I also chained out the rear Quick Release skewer, because, hey why not – I have a spare lying around, and I wanted to throw everything at it.

  • Went out for a ride – the noise still hasn’t gone away.

I’m having to rewatch this video.

At this point, my guess is really either the pedal or the crank itself. I earlier replaced the pedals, and hadn’t seen any improvement. So, I’m skeptical if it’s that. If it happens to be the crank itself, I have no idea how to find out or fix it. I’m going to have to go to the bike shop. Dang it!

Onto more detective work then.

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Velocomp Powerpod Unboxing and Review

You can find the company website here

And you can find a Kickstarter page (no longer active, but has a nice intro video. Since posting this, the intro video is also available on Youtube.) here

So, I ordered a Powerpod from Velocomp Thursday (May the 4th), and this afternoon I received an email from the company saying the package was out for delivery! Whoa! That’s pretty fast Amazon Prime-esque delivery times. Actually maybe even faster considering it was delivered < 48 hours after I placed the order. I walk up to my mailbox and the USPS person handed the package to me. Really impressive.

This is what the box looks like from the outside,

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The packaging is very minimalistic – which I actually like. Also for a small company starting out, this is to be expected.

Now, I was considering a Pioneer power meter, and I wasn’t discouraged by the price so much as the fact that I owned two bicycles – and one of them is a Campy Athena Crank. So, I was really undecided on (A) Which bike to get the power meter for, and (B) How do I get power data if I ride the other bike ? Anytime I have to make a decision that involves more than a simple yes or no, I just put off the decision making way into the future. 🙂 Enter the Powerpod, and the fact that it can be used on multiple bikes easily, and I was immediately sold.

How I chanced upon the Powerpod was, I was reading an article that Apple might be working on a patent for power generation based on a wind sensor, and someone in the comment section pointed out that someone already had a fully baked product out there that did the exact same thing. I google the company’s name, and voila, DC Rainmaker has an article on it. Now, I was kinda introduced to the Wahoo ecosystem by reading DC Rainmaker’s posts as well, and that has worked out marvelously for me. I love all of the Wahoo items I have. I love the heart rate sensors, the speed and cadence sensors, the Wahoo Elemnt. I even briefly owned a Kickr snap, but did not enjoy riding on a trainer.

Back to the Powerpod, I am unboxing the product as I type this post. First things first – I am slightly disappointed that the usb port does not have a rubber cover to it. I am wondering now if this is going to be waterproof. I remember reading in DCR’s article that he it can be ridden in the rain without issues. I might have to fashion some kind of rubber washer for it, or maybe just stick some black electric tape over the usb port.  {Since writing this post, I contacted Velocomp, and they assured me that the USB port and the wind port are both waterproof. In fact, I did earlier read in the comments section that you just rinse them out if they ever get dust on them. I feel more confident now that this will work in rain and such without problems. } However, they did have a picture showing which way the connector needed to go. Considering established companies like Gopro can’t get this right, (not for the USB cable itself, but for the battery and SD Card) I guess, you need to give them points for it. The usb is also micro-USB which is what most electronics products come with. They could move to USB-C and that would take the hassle out of the connector not being reversible, but not a big deal, considering this is for charging and not data transfer. I meant to say not massive amounts of data transfer like video from a camera, but I have been corrected that the USB port is indeed used for data transfer, when you hook it up to your computer to get advanced raw data analysis. 

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I already have a K-edge Wahoo/Gopro combo mount on one of my bikes, and noticed the Powerpod comes with another mount. Considering my Campy bike is EPS and has very less cabling in the front, I think I’ll use the regular adapter with this.

Instructions:

  1. There is installation instructions stuck to the inside of the box.
  2. The rest of the instructions are printed out on paper and included in the box.

Btw, I put the Powerpod on charge just a while back, and looks like it is fully charged and ready to go.

You can find the instructions here

I skipped two pages of advanced instructions for now. I’ll get to that at a later point in time.

Pairing to Speed and Cadence Sensors:

I own Wahoo speed and cadence sensors – so I’m going to proceed to pairing the powerpod with them. Ok, so I brought the sensors alive, pressed on the button for 4 seconds, and it blinked green, followed by solid green, followed by orangish blinking ?? Did I actually pair it ? I’m going to try again.

Ok, it seemed to do the same thing again. Blinking green followed by solid green, followed by blinking amber/orange. I guess it’s paired. We’ll figure it out. Took all of 5 minutes really. The sensors did pair correctly, so, there was no cause for concern there really.

Folks over at Velocomp tell me that,

  1. Blinking Green – Searching for sensors
  2. Solid Green – Speed sensor paired.
  3. Orange 3 flashes – Cadence and or heart rate strap paired.

Ah, so that’s what it was – I tried pairing the Speed and Cadence sensor at the same time. So, the Solid Green was the Speed sensor getting paired, the 3 Orange flashes was the Cadence sensor getting paired. 

Apparently, pairing a heart rate sensor is also supported, and is valuable in gathering useful data. I’m going to check this out as well.

Pairing to my Wahoo Elemnt bike computer:

You’re supposed to do this from the Elemnt. Ok, I was able to go the menu, Sensors, Add Sensor, and it took less than 30 seconds to pair to the Elemnt. It’s now added to the Elemnt. The Powerpod has a Solid Yellow light on, indicating that it is now ready to be calibrated.

At this point, I need to take a break to clean my bicycle 🙂 It’s the weekend you know. I think once I have it spotless and lubed, I’ll attach the Powerpod to it, and go ahead with Calibration after that.

Ok, here’s an odd thing – while I have shut down my bike computer, and wandered off into corners of the internet, the Powerpod’s LED is still solid amber. Looks like it needs to be calibrated 🙂 How do I shut this thing off ? Ok, apparently if I go about wandering the internet, it should power off in 20 minutes. …. And it did shut itself off – no worries there.

… … …

Calibration:

So, I attached the Powerpod to the K-edge mount a day after I started with the process, and turned the power button on, and started my Wahoo Elemnt up. I initially did not see any indication of anything going on, but as soon as I started riding, the Watts started going from 0-100, which was basically the calibration completion process.

One of the issues is with my particular bike is even with the K-edge mount, a couple of cables still end up touching the power meter. Considering this is a 105 bike, and does not have cables in front of the hoods (like Tiagra, Sora …etc), I am a little annoyed by this. I am also a little worried about if this will affect actual power numbers. I haven’t tried the provided mount yet – that might actually be better in terms of nothing contacting it.

Folks over at Velocomp were kind enough to suggest that I either use a zip-tie or actually trim the cables – which to be honest, is a very reasonable suggestion. My bike does have unnecessarily long cables!

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Test Ride:

So, as the caibration was going on, this was my test ride 0. When I see the ride on Strava, it has power numbers. You’ll see “Weighted Avg Power” instead of “Estimated Avg power” and also Avg and Max power numbers. Fig below shows a workout with power numbers, and another for comparison without the power numbers.

Endomondo showed no power data whatsoever. Apparently, there is no support as you will find in their forums. Bummer. Now, both my Strava and Endomondo account are not Premium. I am sure with a Premium Strava account, you’d be able to see Power charts and such.

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 10.25.13 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 10.27.08 PM.png

The Wahoo Elemnt App did a nicer job of giving more details for free.It has, Power Zones, Power Metrics, Power Curve (which for this ride is bogus), and Avg and Max Power per Lap.

I am interested in it recording the power numbers with both my Wahoo Elemnt, and possibly also my iPhone. I’ll see how the data from the two compare. (Ironically the only app that will let me record view the power numbers on my iPhone will also have to be a Wahoo app, since I do not have a premium subscription to Strava.)

More after a few more rides, and collecting some meaningful data…

 

The SF 1st Half Marathon – July 2015

So, I ran my 5th half marathon (4th technically, considering one of them was a DNF thanks to the organizers not calculating the distance correctly.), and managed to improve my previous time by quite a bit – roughly 6 minutes I think. And considering there was more elevation involved than my previous runs, I think I had a fairly decent run. The last two miles could have been better, but that’s always a pain point.

The Preparation:

Preparation is always a problem. With busy schedules, and outside weather, it can become difficult to stick to a nice regimen where you feel confident with each passing day. After running the Austin Half Marathon in February, (on Valentines Day, no less 😉 ) my activity levels dropped to like sub-zero levels, thanks mostly to a maddening work schedule. It wasn’t till mid May that I felt I had enough time to start running again, and by then I felt both sluggish and the constant left knee pain. By now my plan was to substitute runs for bike rides to get the cardio in, but keep the knee from getting over-strained. I enjoy biking anyway, so it isn’t such a bad trade-off.

By end of June, I was feeling pretty good about myself, when thanks to either my posture at work or my sleeping posture, or my stupid mattress which is supposed to be “Extra Firm” but is anything but that, I developed a very bad lower back pain. I do not like seeking medical help for minor issues especially if I feel those will go away with rest. Initially I tried biking and running with it, and it seemed ok – the pain did not get exacerbated. Then one nice run, the pain was intense and shooting pains along the lower back lead me to take it easy and stop all forms of physical activity with 2 weeks to go for the event – not good. I was hoping I’d be able to at least complete the race by walking instead of running in the worst case. While I was trying to manage the pain, running again was pretty much out of the question.

I did try a couple of practice walks the week before the event, and those went ok. So going into the event, I hadn’t really run in two weeks. Yikes!

Pre Race Day:

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Race Day:

Me, a friend (Shyam) and a friend of his, went late to the event. I was supposed to be in wave 4 and he was in wave 7, and by the time we got to the start line, everyone but the last Full Marathon wave was gone. To make matters worse, I didn’t fill my bottles with water, and now had no way of doing it before beginning the run. Considering the SF Marathon organizers screwed up the aid stations last year, this was not comforting.

We started the run behind almost everyone, and the initial couple of miles, my back was singing to me – I was being cautious and didn’t want to overdo it, so was trying to pace myself to 10 min/mile. Miles 1-5 were pretty alright, with me stopping once for water/electrolytes. At this point, I was roughly averaging roughly 10 min a mile.

Mile 6 is a 200ft climb, and I managed a 12:20 mile.

By mile 7 when I was on Golden Gate, I was beginning to get hungry – I had eaten nothing in the morning and had drank half a bottle of Naked juice. I generally eat a bagel or a banana before starting a run. Golden gate is pretty packed with runners and finding opportunities to get past slower runners can be slightly annoying.

Mile 8 was again slightly slow owing to the water stop, and eating the gu gel while walking at a comfortable pace, so that I didn’t choke on it. I also took the opportunity to fill one of my bottles.

Miles 9,10 and 11 were also pretty neatly done in spite of some more climbs and down slopes – you cannot go as fast on the down slopes as you’d like because your knees get pounded pretty bad.

The last 2 miles was roughly another 200ft climb, and this was pretty killer. I hadn’t really prepared for this – I hadn’t looked at the elevation map, and tried planning my run based on that because I figured it is what it is. At the end of mile 11, I was 1:55:15. I figured with 2 miles to go, and not feeling all that weary, I’d make 2:15:00, which is a personal goal for me. But if you factor in the 200 ft climb, that pretty much kills you. Also considering my left knee was beginning to act up by now, I was a little doubtful. I think I held out till 12.5 miles – finishing mile 12 in 2:06:26 (ok, 8:30 last mile was going to be hard even on a flat) and doing 12.5 miles in 2:11:40. The last 0.6 miles took me , well, 8 minutes and 20 seconds – you guessed it – pretty much walking pace. Roughly a 100 ft climb in the 0.6 miles is pretty sucky! By then I had run out of steam, and didn’t care. My left knee was also beginning to let me know it wasn’t happy. I did manage to finish in 2:20:07, which is ok, considering the elevation, but a 2:15 would have been nice nevertheless. I did run conservatively for the most part, and even after the event wasn’t all that tired except for the left knee giving me a lot of pain, and my back also beginning to chime in.

To be fair, I think running with someone also gave me some extra impetus to do slightly better. Whenever I saw Shyam ahead of me, I’d at least slowly try to catch up, and he was right there with me till about mile 8 after which I lost him.

https://www.endomondo.com/embed/workouts?w=rx1dvT1CWHk&width=580&height=600&width=950&height=600

Post Race:

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Next Steps:

I’d like to do a 2:15 then a 2:10, then a 2:05 and finally break sub 2:00 – hopefully before the end of the year. 🙂 I also don’t think I’m going to be running any more paid half marathons for now. I don’t much care for the finisher medals, and I am not fast enough to consider it racing. Maybe when I am close to a 1:30 finish, I will pay to run again. I might based on my timing run one more in India if I happen to visit later this year.

Ascent Fliud Trainer

As soon as I bought my new bike, the weather God’s decided I must not ride, so the temperatures went plummeting down to sub-zero, and I was left sad. Considering weather can be too cold or too hot for at least 3-4 months a year, where I currently live, I thought it might not be a bad idea to get a Fluid trainer. I mean for the price you pay for some of these, it might end up costing you less than winter weather clothes.

The other reason I went ahead and bought it was, most bike stands seemed to cost ridiculous sums of money. Now, I either wanted a stand that can double up as a repair/maintenance stand, or this. Guess, I found more utility in this.

http://www.performancebike.com/reviews/performance/power/pwr/product-reviews/Indoor-Training/Indoor-Cycling-Trainers/Resistance-Trainers/ASCENT/p/40__3940-Ascent-Fluid-Trainer.html
http://www.nashbar.com/bikes/Product_10053_10052_556272_-1
http://www.amazon.com/Ascent-Fluid-Trainer/dp/B00BMRNU4I

Mine came from Nashbar directly. (I could have bought through Amazon, but just stuck to Nashbar’s site – maybe I shouldn’t have.)

I did some reading online about the different types of trainers, and which might be best. I still feel trainers should be used sparingly – I think the forces on the bike when it is held by the rear axle (although the contact point is the quick release skewer), is very different from when you ride it on the road – your weight is being partly supported by the front tire, the rear tire and then the quick release skewer and the place where it contacts the frame. Also, since the frame is not rigid, and cannot move side to side, there would be some forces associated with that as well. (Especially, if you decide to stand up and go at it hard.) There’s a bike Nashbar one (which is slightly more expensive, but) which might be better, since it has a quick release kind of lever for tightening the qr on your rear wheel.

Initial Impressions:

I gave it a whirl, and so far it seems to be doing pretty ok. I’ll add more details along the way.

 

Diamondback Century 2 – 2014 – Bicycle Review

I bought myself a new bike – yippe! My intention is to write a review here. For now, I’ll just add pictures.

==========================================
-1th Day Review: (Expectations and Impressions so far)
==========================================

I just ordered the bike on Amazon, and am yet to receive it. Why would anyone write a review even before having received and ridden the bicycle ? Well, I’ll tell you why.

I have been researching bikes for more than a year now. All along, I had a cheap Walmart bike (which I bought to get me across campus at University, so don’t judge me.) – a GMC Denali, which was a road bik-ish bike. It had the geometry of a road bike, 700*32 tires, and although it had it’s pain points, for < $200, I don’t see how anyone can complain. Chief among the issues was that the bike did not have integrated shifters – it had twist shifters to keep the cost down. But the frame was pretty decent, (Aluminum), and I didn’t have complaints about the bike in terms of weight and such. (Although if others had such concerns/complaints, they are justified in having them.) I have done some 1000+ miles on the bike, and though I haven’t done a 50mile ride or a century yet (the best I managed was some 44 miles.), I feel I can do it on a day with good weather. 🙂

Now back to the researching, I have been on the lookout for bikes for a long time now, though never in a hurry to buy one. I took time to read about the different frames, race vs endurance, different component groups …etc. I also read a couple of bicycling magazines regularly. I think from everything I read there, Specialized Allez, Trek 1.X, Giant Defy, Cannondale Synapse were some of the models the reviewers suggested for someone looking for a bike < $1000. While, all these bikes are good, you will find that for a $1000 equivalent, you will get Sora components.

Now, I moved recently from Tempe, AZ to Austin,TX and sold my Walmart bike in the process. After moving, all my known canal paths were no more available, and generally, from what I see of Austin, (and this may depend on where I live -South Austin.) not as many roads have bicycle lanes. I am yet to explore canal path equivalents. So, I was thinking, I’ll get a better bike than my last bike, but maybe in the $300 ish range. I checked and found some Schwinn bikes, Vilano, Giodarno …etc. Although, if you wanted integrated shifters – it cost you $600-$700. And with those models, you got either 2300/2400 or Sora components.

(There are other brands like Orbea, Fuji, Jamis …etc, but not all stores carry these bikes.)

I almost decided on a Vilano Forza 1.0, and then I saw this bike on sale on Amazon for $750, and when I saw 105 components on it, my eyes lit up like Christmas tree lights! (The Vilano Forza 1.0 for comparison has a no-name crank, 105 rear derailleur only, and Tiagra shifters, front derailleur …etc.) I then took time to read several reviews, and saw that stores like REI carried it. Well, I was floored! The only thing I don’t like about the bike so far is the white hood! I’m a little surprised mainstream magazines and websites haven’t started noticing Diamondback bikes yet. For the kind of prices, these bikes are a steal. Even for the full price of $1200, you’ll be hard pressed to find other bike brands with the same components.

I’m licking my lips in anticipation of getting the bike. I know I can assemble it – I have fixed broken spokes, fixed multiple flats, and tightened cables on my previous bike. I have also put together bikes for friends (although cheap college bikes – nothing fancy.) I am not sure how well, I’ll end up tuning it, but that’s why you have your LBS, multiple internet videos, how-to’s and books.

================================
0th Day Review: (Unboxing and Assembly)
================================

I took pains to write an update here, but that mysteriously disappeared. (Bummer!)

Delivery:
======
The box was left my UPS at my door. My apartment office does not take boxes larger than a certain size, so I guess that left the UPS delivery person with few options. Still, I would have liked for it not to be left unattended outside my door – considering it’s a $1200 bicycle. (Although I paid only $800+ for it.) Another thing I was slightly peeved about was that there was a spanner sticking out the hole in the box which is generally for lifting the box. (Photos attached.) The small parts box inside is meant for this, and I am not sure why it wasn’t inside that.

Packaging:
========
Coming to the packing itself, it was packed extremely well, with attention paid to detail. Every part that could be dinged was wrapped nicely in packing material, and there were plastic end-caps for the wheels, the fork …etc. Pretty impressive. The handlebar, the front tire and the seat-post are detached, but everything else is in place. After watching a video on youtube, I guess I understand that this is pretty much the standard way of packing good and expensive bikes. (The video haid a more expensive cervelo bike in it, and it was marginally better packed – i.e., the fork didn’t hit the bottom of the box, and most components were not assembled. But that’s the price you pay for semi-assembled.)

Parts:
=====

These are the parts the bike came as,

1. Frame with rear wheel, rear casette, derailleur, bottom bracket, crank arm, both gearing cables, rear brake cables, rear brake already assembled.
2. Seat/saddle. This is a decent Diamondback saddle.
3. Front wheel. (The picture doesn’t do justice to the wheels – they are DB Equation, but seem to be pretty good.)
4. Front brake caliper. (This needs to be mounted, and then you run the brake cable through and adjust it.)
5. Pedals! – Yes, the bike came with Wellgo pedals. Now, these won’t work with cleats/biking shoes, but are pretty decent otherwise. I bought another set of Wellgo pedals as I wasn’t sure if this came with it or not. Those will work with cleats.
6. Manuals – User Manual, Assembly Guide (which is pretty useless compared to the Diamondback website.) and individual sheets for the derailleurs, crankset ..etc.
7. Tool set – The spanner, that barely made it, and a set of Allen wrenches for assembly. (One of them was a Philips screwdriver I think.) I used my own tools, and didn’t bother using this or the ones in my multi-tool. (Those are for emergencies, you know.)
8. Extra spokes, and wire-end crimping thingy. (I don’t know what they are called – they look similar to the spoke nipples, except they are to keep your cable ends from fraying.)

The handlebar was separate, i.e., not connected.

Assembly:
========
Assembly is fairly easy, if you’ve done this before, use the DB website instructions, and have a decent set of tools. I only had to connect the seat post, tighten that, fit the handlebar, fit the front wheel. (with a quick release skewer), fit the brake caliper, and then connect the front brake cable through the caliper.

I did fine tune the brakes to make sure the contact was optimal on the rim.

Cutting the front brake cable with my cheap pliers that came with my tool box (not supplied with the bike) was a struggle. I knew it would be so, and tried cutting it 2.5in instead of 1.5 – 2in. (so that I would have room to work with if it went bad.) It did go bad, and horribly, and the end started fraying!! I then had to go rush and buy a better quality $10 pliers, to cut the cable, and put the crimping thing, on it. There is a special tool available for cutting the wire and crimping it, but I think at $30+, those are aimed at bike shops and not one time users. I didn’t buy it because I didn’t think I’d need it.

Accessories:
==========
I put 2 lights on the handlebars – 1 to focus on the road and remain always on, and the other to make me visible to road motorists, by keeping it on the blinking mode. On the seat post, I mounted my Topeak wedge pack, put in my CrankBrothers multi-tool, a spare tube, tire levers, patch kit, emergency contact information, and some cash + bandaids. I also mounted a red reflector and a red light on the seat post. I attached two Ibera bottle cages I bought on Amazon next – and under one of them went the portable pump (Topeak pocket rocket) and it’s mount. I bought Aluminum colored ones, but maybe white would have gone better with the bike. I am still waiting for my Sigma cadence wired computer to be delivered, and that will be next to go on the bike. I also used some 3M reflective stickers to make myself and the bike more visible at night. (done tastefully, and not garishly.)

The bike did not come with a chain stay protector, and I have ordered one on Amazon. My previous bike took some hits to the chain stay, and I think having one is generally beneficial.

Stand:
=====
I didn’t want to install a kick-stand , and I wasn’t even sure if I could on this bike. I looked up some bicycle stands, and they all seemed expensive for what they were doing. Generally $30 or more. I finally decided to get a Fluid Trainer from another website to also double as a stand. The weather is pretty cold this time of the year, so I figured a trainer would be useful.

Sizing:
=====
I am 5’11” and after looking at some fit web-sites, and looking at the sizing guide itself, I decided to get the 58cm instead of the 56cm. I am glad to report that the standover height is > 1inch, and the bike fits me very well. (The previous bike I had was a 57cm, but the frame geometry might have been quite different. so it’s hard to compare with just one number.)

Couple of pain points – they stuck a couple of stickers on the bike that I wouldn’t have wanted – I’ll just need to find a way of removing them without causing any issues with the paint.

=====================
1st Day Review: (First Ride)
=====================

I got to have my first ride yesterday – it was a short one. It was 35 degrees outside, so I just wanted to take a quick ride within my apartment complex, and see how the shifting works, and if the brakes were ok, if my riding stance was comfortable …etc. Full marks on all fronts – the bike fits just perfectly. My saddle height adjustment seemed to be just right. Shifting was nice and smooth. (It took me a while to figure out that the smaller lever was for a smaller cog, and not an easier gear (on the rear casette.) 🙂 On the front crank, the smaller lever takes you to an easier gear. ) Brakes were pretty good, and the bike feels comfortable while being plenty fast. Once I get in a couple of longer rides, I’ll find out how much better this bike is than my previous bike.

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xxx mile Review:
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When I get to it.

In search of the perfect Wrist-Wearable

You have two wrists – (well, one or none in some cases – see I don’t generalize.) and there are a lot of corporations out there, who seem to be vying for the real estate on them. I have no interest in comparing the offerings, or suggesting what might or might not work for you. I just like to think about what I might like, and think out aloud sometimes – that way, like minded people can resonate with me and there is this cosmic resonance… (ok, that’s a lot of bull, so I’ll cut it.) Anyhoo, here are my thoughts,

  • What do I need and what don’t I need ?

This is a difficult one – let’s see what I would actually want.

  • An ABC watch with Solar charging, and Atomic time syncing. It should be able to measure changes in altitude, temperature, barometric pressure and record the same, and be able to export it into fitness apps …etc. Currently my Casio Protrek, comes pretty close, although it has no way of showing a trend graph, (except for the small barometric change graph it displays) or exporting the data. It also has a compass and temperature sensor. This should never have to be charged, and the protrek series is indeed like that, not to mention it looks brilliant. The compass might be useful if you are into trekking. (But I’ll be honest and admit, I don’t know how to get my bearings 😀 (pun intended) )
  • To this, add a triathlon watch (like many Garmin offerings, or the Suunto offerings) – GPS, ability to sync to a tracking website – can differentiate between cycling, swimming and running. (or, you have to explicitly choose a mode) Also, has a HR strap, (or a wrist based HR tracker if it is sufficiently accurate) a foot dongle (or whatever else you call it) and cadence sensors for the bicycle with which it can sync. There are watches like these – and they are getting better, although a common complaint seems to be – they don’t last an entire triathlon with GPS on. Maybe with the tracking granularity turned way down, they do. Did I mention “to this add” – meaning, I want only a single device that can do ABC + this, and more. See a GPS takes care of the altitude information at least. so that becomes redundant in an ABC. I am not too sure about the digital compass. I would assume this device needs to be charged before every serious workout.
  • An activity tracker that can track my activity throughout the day and track my sleep if it claims so. I wouldn’t mind a heart rate tracking sensor in there either. I have read the heart rate sensors in activity trackers are tuned to normal activity and don’t do well in extreme conditions i.e., when you are actually exercising. That’s ok – we have the heart rate monitor strap from (ii) remember. This device should also be able to sync it’s data wirelessly and hold charge at least for a week. Water proofing is always good – especially, if I don’t have to take it off in the shower. The aim of this is, to perform the function of a pedometer, when my phone is not on my pocket – for instance in office my phone is almost never in my pocket – at home, my phone is almost never in my pocket – it’s always on a desk somewhere. Also, sleep tracking is a nice feature I’d like to try out. One thing I am kind of worried is double counting – i.e., if I track a run with my GPS watch, and sync that to a site, I don’t want this double counting my steps for that workout. I’d then  have to take it off when performing actual runs, or at least turn it off. (considering the HR data will be junk anyway, who cares.) Of course, if a single device has things integrated, I’d assume it would automatically complement the run data with this step counting, and not double count things.

Now if someone can make a device that does all of the above, and for base minimal functionality – you never have to charge the device, for the activity tracking, you charge it once a week, and for the workout tracking (GPS based), you charge it before every workout, even if it costs $500 – consider me sold. So, in essence even if you device cannot track GPS data, it should still perform ABC functionality based on the battery that is solar charged. I don’t see why the solar charging can’t be efficient enough to also include the activity tracking functionality, but maybe it isn’t yet.

  • Now on to what I don’t need:

I definitely don’t need a device – no matter how fancy, that needs to be charged once a day or once in two days. I find it hard enough to charge my phone once or twice a day. It would be a tremendous pain to keep including devices that run out of charge. Yes, I’m talking about a smart watch. Also, if it needs to sync to my phone and my phone runs out of charge it is redundant anyway. 

I am also wondering if I need the triathlon watch at all. Sure, if I did a lot of swimming- which I don’t – I might. But if I am going to carry my phone, which I do for running and cycling anyway, I’m not sure I need a GPS device inside a watch to do that – considering it drains battery pretty quickly. Plus, I’ll use my phone to listen to music as well. I use a BT headset which I pair with my phone, and it gives me voice feedback when I use apps like Endomondo on it. Now, there are specialized headphones which can play music without the need for a phone (Sony has some offerings – but I’d get bored of listening to the same music over and over again.) There are also other bluetooth headsets that come with a FM radio – which might actually be pretty useful in case you’re not carrying your phone. This is one scenario where you might need a GPS chip in your watch – and can leave your phone at home. Or if you feel you are not used to running professional events with a phone, then you might need GPS in your watch.

I also don’t think I have any use for the smart watch functions – looking at texts on the watch, answer phone calls with the watch, change music tracks on the watch (that might actually be useful on the runs, but I can do it on my headset as well.) Did I mention I don’t want to charge it every day. However, displaying workout related metrics on screen is always nice to get instant feedback while running or cycling.

Now, since no single device exists that can do all I want it to do – not today at least. (maybe not in the near future either), I think from the above, since I already own the Protrek – which I think will soon be going away as a useful device, I think the only other device that makes sense is an activity tracker. Fitbit’s new ones looks like a good one. I’d be interested in both the Charge HR and the Surge – especially if the Surge’s battery can last the same as the Charge HR. (5 days is the claim)

As a footnote, the recently released Microsoft Band is supposed to have a host of sensors, but I don’t know what it does with it anyway. (apart from the HR monitor and the accelerometer that is.) What would you do with a UV sensor and a galvanic skin temperature sensor ? (The ABC watch has a temperature sensor anyway 😉 ) Some people say the UV sensor can tell you the UV index. Well, you should be able to tell that by the place you live in, and how sunny it looks. For instance, in Arizona, that sensor might be stating the obvious. Even otherwise, the most this can probably tell you if you should use sunscreen. In the larger scheme of things, maybe it can be used to study skin cancer in athletes or something like that based on the exposure levels and duration of exposure – now, that would definitely be useful.

There are other activity trackers out there – from Polar, Garmin, Basis, Jawbone and so many more. You should check out the DC Rainmaker website if you haven’t – especially if you are looking for meaningful comparisons and looking at buying something.

Update 11-17-2014

After some consideration and thought, I decided to buy myself a Jawbone Up. (Ver 1.0) I thought I could use the continuous step tracking for the times I don’t have my phone, and don’t want to necessarily track it as an activity. I am pretty meticulous about tracking any outdoor activity or any activity on the treadmill, but this was to get an idea as to how well I was doing otherwise. The band itself is pretty un-obtrusive, and I like the sleep tracking function it has. I also like the idle alert. However, I need all of my data to be exportable, and to be viewed on a computer, and not just on a phone. I love Endomondo for this. I hope Jawbone will come up with a web interface sometime soon. I don’t mind waiting for that. But if they don’t I have no qualms about jumping ship to someone else that does.

As an interesting afterthought, I wonder if having a smartphone in your pocket while cycling gives you pretty decent cadence data compared to wearing something on your wrist. I feel it does, when your leg moves up and down, I think the accelerometer can register it, and count it as a step.

Also, I read about the fact that using it on your dominant vs non-dominant hand is supposed to make a difference. I currently thus use it on my non-dominant hand.

Another big consideration for me is that if a GPS tracker claims to do sport based tracking, it has to handle at least running and cycling, even if not swimming. I almost bought the nike+ watch a few months back, but then read that it doesn’t support a bicycling mode. Bummer! I like the foot pod though – but I guess the wrist based trackers myst be just as accurate if not more.

Running my first Half Marathon – Going the distance – Peoria – 04-19-2014

I graduated from Grad school in the Spring of 2013. The last 6-8 months of courses + internships + job search meant, I had pretty much given up on all physical activity. That coupled with the fact that I was stuffing Subway subs down my face and eating out of vending machines (yum, that dinner consisted of chips and snickers bars) on stressful days, meant that I had become a sloth. I took a much needed vacation for about half of May and the whole of June, and going back home after so long meant I was treated to some excellent food and a lot of rest.

By July, I had joined work, and because July can be scorching in Phoenix. coupled with some Jet Lag after a long vacation back home to India, I was pretty much tired most days, and slept in. August came, and although sill hot, I renewed my commitment to physical activity. I just wasn’t feeling in shape – and that’s a terrible feeling when you have been physically active all your life. So, one fine day in August, I decided to go cycling in Tempe. One thing lead to another, and I found some nice canal paths that I liked riding on, and fueled that interest more. Pretty soon, I was cycling regularly. I kept on till December when it starts to get cold (well, not that cold, but still). Somewhere during this time, I decided to enroll in the Phoenix Half Marathon – you know, so I could have a goal and hopefully train towards it. Also, since December was cold, I had to give up cycling, and run on a treadmill instead. I haven’t run distances since I was in my 8th grade, and so it was nice to have the cycling going before I attempted to run 13.1 miles. While I was doing my undergrad back in India, I had a decent walking routine that took me to a beach and back daily. After that, I guess sports mostly kept me fit. Of course running is painful initially- your body hates it, and forces you to give up. I started slow – running at about 5mph. My goal wasn’t to complete the half in any specific time – which is what most people will tell you their goal was when they ran their first.

The Phoenix half marathon was on March 1st, and I decided to register for it. I thought with a couple of months to go for the event, I should be prepared. I did some running and cycling in December, followed by more running and cycling in Jan’14. I think I got some kind of a training plan online – it was a very simple plan, with breaks two days a week, long distances on weekends, and getting miles in on weekdays.  Training was going pretty well into February, and by 2nd of Feb I had managed a 11 mile run, feeling confident of the race, when I caught a cold and knew I wouldn’t be able to make the race. I requested the organizers to defer my race to which they kindly obliged. I was also bicycling 32 miles to and from work, so ya, the training was definitely not going bad. From 20th of Feb to 14th of March all my workouts were pretty much washed out. (It’s nice to be able to see that kind of data from Endomondo. Of course I recollect I had cold, and didn’t want to risk it.) Taking breaks always sucks when it comes to running, and restarting was again going to be painful – so I again started with hiking, walking and cycling. (well, you know, everything but running. 🙂 )

As soon as I missed the Phoenix half, I was on the lookout for a next race that followed soon afterwards so that all my training (in spite of what I will claim was a fairly busy work schedule.) didn’t go to waste. I found this race in Peoria, and although a drive, it was still something I wanted to do. In hindsight, this was probably a good first race. The participants were limited, the event was well organized, and I wasn’t overwhelmed. March was a bad month with respect to the amount of training I got, but hey I got some. By the first week of April, I was back running and even did a run of 11 miles in ~2:08. Not too shabby. But once again, work struck back, and I had to miss workouts 2 weeks into the event. Somehow managed hikes on weekends, and a few walks and runs here and there.

Race Day:

Anyway, the D-day arrived, I woke up in decent time, and drove to the start point at Rio Vista Community Park. It’s a beautiful if you happen to stay close by and haven’t visited it yet. Google maps did slightly annoy me by making me drive in loops even after I had reached the venue, but that frustration was soon over.

Anyway, here’s the endomondo data of the run,

https://www.endomondo.com/embed/workouts?w=vbMm0RHMpeA&width=580&height=600&width=950&height=600

There was some elevation gain, but not too much. I also had to take a pee break somewhere in there 🙂 yikes – over-hydrating. (somewhere in the middle of Mile 8 as evidenced by the lap time.) The last 2 miles were hard. I had run 11 miles and some schedules advice you to keep the 13 for the day of the race. WORST ADVICE EVER! I would have much preferred having done 13 miles a couple of times before the race. Anyway, I struggled through the last 2 miles, and tried sprinting at the fag end to be within 2:30, but as luck would have it finished a few seconds late. (I don’t remember the official chip time, but it was better than what Endomondo showed.) Not the time I hoped for, but not too bad either. I could have gone faster initially, but wanted to conserve some fuel for later in the race – unfortunately having that fuel didn’t help later in the race. By April, Phoenix was beginning to get warm, and though the weather wasn’t bad at all, it wasn’t ideal.

There were bagels and bananas at the finish line – yay! After I got home, I had bath, treated myself to a nice big lunch and a milk-shake, and slept like a dog while also wincing in pain. I somehow managed to hurt my left knee either during the run or immediately afterwards, and that’s been a niggle for a while now. All in all, a good first race.