My Holy Shit List

So being the weird hybrid geek/marketer type, I’ve been reading Rands in Repose lately, and found it a fascinating source for information on tech, management, etc. He has a post called Your Holy Shit List, which is something I wanted to write about here today. His HSL is about technology/IT, and while that would be an appropriate topic for this blog, today I’m due to write a bike post, per that schedule I never follow, and I’m sticking with it.

Here’s some bike stuff that’s made my Holy Shit List.

  • STI shifters (1991)
  • the welds on a Seven Axiom Ti (1999-2000)
  • the Giro Atmos helmet (year unknown)
  • the HED H3 wheel
  • the “new” Trek Madone (2008)
  • Zero Gravity road brakes (2007)

What’s on your list?

Review: Clif Shot Bloks

shot-bloks

The number of energy foods on the market seems to have been exploding the last few years — ingredients are cheap, marketing’s easy, and the science doesn’t need to be rigorous, so it’s easy to bring your own brand to market. All you need is a gimmick! And that’s either change the ingredients, or change the format.

In the case of Clif Shot Bloks, we’re looking at a change in format. Where you previously had gels, bars, and beans (yes, jellybeans), you now have “bloks” — what amounts to a square gummi bear, laden with flavor. The ingredients haven’t changed significantly from other energy foods and don’t seem to have some goofy “magic ratio” of carbs-to-protein, meaning that Shot Bloks work the same as any other energy food that relies upon the basic understanding that complex carbs are good.

So the Shot Bloks work. But what do they taste like? I snagged the six flavors we had in-stock at the bike shop. One packet of each, with the intent of testing them more for flavor than anything else. On my way home, I decided to double my data points and incorporate my girlfriend in the process.

The Testers
Dan (me!) — has been riding bikes seriously for over two decades. Well-versed in energy foods and their usage, flavor, and reputation.

Kate — not an athlete. May never have eaten a Powerbar. I don’t know. I can’t imagine a non-athlete submitting themselves to such an indignity.

The Process
On Monday night, while watching TV, we nibbled at each of the cubes, analyzing strictly for flavor. We didn’t cleanse our palettes between cubes unless a flavor was particularly nasty.

The Flavors

“Cran-Razz”
Kate: Tastes good — like, uh, something. Not ‘cran-razz’, though.
Dan: Hello, cough syrup!

Strawberry
Kate: Good. Weird aftertaste. It’s got some chemical taste to it.
Dan: Tastes like strawberry with an aftertaste of ass.

Cola
Kate: Bites you. Yuck.
Dan: Tastes like it was stored in the same room as the world’s last can of RC Cola. I had high hopes for this — like the Gummi Coke Bottles. I was saddened.

Orange
Kate: Tastes like orange slices. No chemical aftertaste on this one.
Dan: Reminds me of Pedro’s Orange Peelz degreaser. Complete with the vaguely oily residue.

Margarita
Kate: Ahh. *gagging noises* Too much fake salt!
Kate + 20 Seconds: Ugh. Nasty.
Dan: I would only eat these if I had a bottle of tequila to wash them down with. That’s not conducive to energy or sports!

Mountain Berry
Kate: Alright, but could be more “mountain berry”…
Dan: Do I have to keep eating these things?

The Favorites
Kate: Cran-Razz
Dan: ANYTHING THAT’S NOT THE MARGARITA FLAVOR.

The Verdict
They work like most energy foods. The gimmick is in the format. Kate will never eat these things again and may never even ride a bike again, based on her experiences in this tangent of the sport. Dan will stick with Clif Bar Harvests and Gu.

Frostbike Reviews

The last two years, I’ve attended Frostbike, QBP‘s trade show that they run. In 2008, most of my time was spent attending seminars of the shop operations variety. This year, I missed Saturday due to my housewarming party, and thus missed a lot of the meaty/useful stuff. So Sunday, I opted to really dig into the new products, attending seminars on those and really looking for the interesting stuff on the tradeshow floor.

Two things really caught my interest.

The first is Shimano’s new Di2 system. If you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll give you the short explanation: this is a variant of Shimano’s battle-tested Dura-Ace group, with electronic shifters and derailleurs.

I know, I know. You’re going to tell me exactly what I’ve been saying for the last two years. “But it solves a problem that didn’t exist!”

Call me a nuevo retro-grouch, but I did not see a place in the world for an electronic shifting package; especially after the stupidity of Mavic’s Zap and Mektronic packages.

So, more out of curiosity about the new Dura-Ace 7900 family than anything else, I attended the seminar. I figured that if anything at all came out of this, I’d have a chance to be a bit of a rabble-rouser and ask the one question that had been on my mind since I first heard about Di2, which was maybe two years ago. “DEAR GOD, WHY?!”

I sat in the second row — you should at least show respect if you’re going to start gunning for a tech rep who has little public speaking ability. As it turned out, however, I spent a majority of my time listening and watching, and becoming more and more of a convert.

After sitting through the presentation, unable to find anything to truly bash Di2 about, I hung around to take a look at the bike in the stand. I ran it through the gears and was incredibly pleased to see that it does function as-advertised. Shifting was crisp and neat, and watching the front derailleur auto-trim itself to prevent chain rub made me think that there might be something to this.

Being an Apple fanboy, however, I try to avoid version 1.0 of any new hardware. Other Apple fanboys will understand. I don’t like being a large company’s R&D department and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to provide product testing. So, without a ride on it, I went ahead and asked the one question I could think of. “Has anyone tested Di2 under cyclocross conditions?”

The answer, as it turns out is “yes” and from what the rep said, it held up just fine. The auto-adjustment of gearing helps a great deal when your system is caked with mud. Obviously, I’d like to talk to a ‘cross rider that’s actually beat on the shit for a season, and the mechanic who had to keep the bike in working order (since I am both the rider and the mechanic for my personal fleet).

I figured, okay, novel experience, but without any real time on it, I couldn’t speak to it.

Then I went back to the show floor, and had a chance to spin it on a stationary trainer. My verdict is this: if Shimano isn’t stupid about supporting this product for long enough the concept to catch on and for it to start winning over the conservative rider, then they’ve just developed the future of high-performance shifting.

On the trainer, I ran it through the range and noodled around a bit. Then I did the evil — I dropped it into the 39-tooth in front and the 12 in the back, and started cranking up the cadence. I got out of the seat, leaned forward and started to crank. Then I upshifted the front.

And I had the moment of enlightenment. The heavens opened up, the light of angels shined down, and turned an atheist into a devout believer. At least where electronic shifting is concerned.

The chain jumped right to the big ring without complaint, stuttering or hesitation. It did not miss the shift. And right in that moment, I wanted this component group.

Not that I can afford it, mind you. I’d have to do a lot of work to switch to it, and I don’t have that sort of money right now. Call me after I hit the lottery on Wednesday night. (Pfft. Right.)

I walked away from that with a huge-assed Shimano sticker to put on my toolbox, a guide to the parts, and a set of Shimano-specific magnetic poetry words. I’ll mix the magnetic poetry with the more saucy stuff we have, so the side of the refrigerator will say things like, “I want to grind against your Di2 bike.”

It’s that good.

Now, the experience with Edge Composites was not as in-depth. They had a small booth, and by the time I talked to them on Sunday, they were out of printed material and schwag. But I took a look at their stuff and walked away with a bad case of gear lust.

These guys make carbon rims, among other things. And I couldn’t help but want a pair for the 29’er clincher rims for the Gunnar Ruffian I’m putting together — they’d look really good laced to the Chris King singlespeed hubs. The rims — across the line — are gorgeously crafted, insanely light, and some of them, like their low-profile tubular road rim will make you giggle with amazement. You could put together climbing wheels with those that would make Marco Pantani roll over in his grave.

Now, I haven’t actually ridden these rims, mind you, but I’ve spent enough time around bikes to know a well-researched, well-built product when I handle it. Edge Composites has produced a product that is truly lust-worthy.

If I can find money in my budget (doubtful) or if they can send me some rims to build up (even more doubtful), I’ll post a more-lengthy review of them here.

Revelations from the Bike Swap

Here in Minneapolis on Sunday, we had the annual “bike swap” at the velodrome. I went, of course, and was looking for one of two things, primarily — an inexpensive track frame, or an inexpensive singlespeed 29’er frame. Neither really happened.

The only track frame I was able to locate in my size was a Bianchi Pista Concept with a fairly dented top tube, and I wasn’t really willing to risk a damaged aluminum frame. I did also spot a Redline Monocog frame for a 29’er, in my size…only it was $200 and the color was painfully hideous.

The end result was that I left with my full complement of cash and put it back into the bank account. I did see a few things that I was interested in, but they were either overpriced, or common sense dictated that I didn’t really need them.

You heard right: [quote]common sense dictated that I didn’t need some parts/accessories.[/quote]

Whether this is because my bike room is small and I already have a ton of crap, or because I am getting better with money, I don’t know. It’s probably both. The end result was that I left empty-handed and felt pretty good about it. The only costs? Gas and the $5 entry fee.

Next year, I think I’ll buy a table at the show and use it to sell a large portion of the unused stuff I have lying around. Might be able to finally offload that stupid BMX frame and some of the other stuff that’s taking up space.

A Quick Series of Things

As my workload at home and the office has increased, I have found myself gradually updating this page less and less. Hell, I’ve even gotten spotty with my Twitter updates.

So things that are worth noting:

  • Kate and I are still very much in love and I can’t remember being more comfortable or happy to be with someone else. Last night, we decided to move in together, with a target date of December 1st. This means I’ll be paying double rent in December (the last month in my old place), but that’s a small price to pay. When we made the decision, I got butterflies in my stomach — nervous, excited, and happy, all at once. She’s the one. And I’ve never been more sure of anything.
     
  • Swimming lessons are going…swimmingly. Okay, it might be a little too early for a pun like that, but tonight is the second of my fifteen lessons. By the end of this, I should be swimming on my own. I’m going to take further lessons to work on improving my stroke and efficiency, of course. For now, though, I am very excited. I’m doing something I’ve meant to do for a long time now, and hitting one of my New Year’s Resolutions (“take classes, learn more stuff”).
     
  • I shelved my weird adventure novel in favor of a more obtuse idea, which is going to be more interesting to write. Indirect first contact with an alien species dubbed “the CEOs”, post-humans, and all sorts of other weirdness tied together. Should be a fun time.
     
  • I have two simultaneous bike projects underway — a singlespeed 29’er mountain bike and (finally) my track bike. The MTB is the priority because over the winter, I’ll be able to use it. Both are going to go slowly, as when Kate and I move in, we’re going to need to buy stuff like more bookshelves, and one of those fancy-schmancy Sleep Number Bed Mattress Things.
     
  • I’ve got an Ubuntu box on my desk now, running alongside the Mac. It’s working (more or less), but anyone who tells me that Linux is a desktop-ready solution for an operating system is going to get bitchslapped. Near future upgrades will include a new wifi card with a compatible chipset (so that I can get rid of the 50-foot ethernet cable running across the living room), and a second SATA drive with a WinXP Home install.
     
  • Shut up! It’s so I can run productivity software. Like Civilization 3 and 4.
     
  • In the same vein, I need to reorganize my LAN — no more DHCP. Going to have to assign IPs to the Mac, Linux/Winbox, Wii, PS3, and iPhone. (My network seems less crowded without the Vonage box between the Airport and Internet, and without the TiVo.)
     
  • More later.

Wintel…Really?

For a DanBailey.net Post...
Photo from some e-commerce website, so it’s probably just a promo photo from the manufacturer.

So I’m making my first stab at building up a Wintel hardware box in over a decade, and wow. Interesting experience. The featureless black box above is the case I’m using, and I already have it and the power supply in my grubby little paws. Today, I just ordered a huge batch of parts — everything but the actual processor and the wifi card, and I’ll be picking those up next Friday after work.

Those of you that know me have known of my preference for Mac hardware for a long time now. I’ve been a Mac user since the days of System 7.1, have stuck with the company through thick and thin. So you might be wondering about my new hardware purchase.

The thing is, I am in need of a lightweight server space — it doesn’t need a shit-ton of horsepower or hard drive space. It’s going to run headless and be something I can administer via Remote Desktop on my Mac. So, what’s the purpose? Apache, ruby on rails, MySQL, and some other lightweight stuff. Nothing fancy.

I’m sure you’ll tell me that I could get something similar by buying a Mac Mini, and while that’s all good in theory, I’m not willing to pay the extra money for the aesthetics and super-compact size of the Mini. Now, if Apple could make an el-cheapo $300 box on a MicroATX board, that fit the above description, I’d consider buying one.

So when this thing’s done, it’ll be “sandbox” on my internal network and it’ll be running Ubuntu. (Yes, I know CentOS would be lighter and more applicable, but I enjoy command line interfaces like I enjoy being kicked in the balls.)

Big ups to my friend Dan, who helped point me in the right directions on this one.

Oh, the Geekery

Last night, at poker, it was determined that there should be a new hand: the “prime straight.” This would be A-2-3-5-7 or 2-3-5-7-A (whomever was smart enough to claim the ace as an 11 would win the apparent tie). There would also be the “prime straight flush”, of course.

We also discussed the A11 Offense, a new scheme in football which puts a center and two tight ends in front of two quarterbacks in the shotgun, and six wide receivers. From the website:

The A-11 features up to all eleven players wearing an eligible receiver jersey number, either 1-49 or 80- 99, with two quarterbacks in the shotgun formation at 7 yards, and with nobody under center – thereby meeting the criteria for a scrimmage kick formation. In “base” sets, the A-11 Offense has a center, and a tight end on each side, and three wide receivers to the right, and left respectively. By spreading the potentially eligible receivers across the entire field, it forces the defense to account for every possible receiver on each play. Of course, on any given play, only six of those players can go downfield to catch a pass, and the five “covered” players remain ineligible to catch a downfield pass on that particular play.

Pretty nifty stuff, really. I’m hoping that it’ll be a possible addition to the next version of Madden, and I’d love to see some NFL team play some A11 this year or next.

In other geekitude, I’m building a new Wintel machine. Continue reading Oh, the Geekery

Review: Cervelo P2C (Ultegra)

IMG_1453.JPG
The author’s P2C, with non-stock Zipp 404 wheels and XLab SonicWing.

Based on two experiences surrounding this bike, I decided to purchase one via Cervélo’s shop employee-purchase program. The first experience was getting eyeballs and hands on the Dura-Ace equipped model in our shop. The second was the thorough review written by the crew at Bikesport Michigan. This is my take on the bike, written from the POV of a mechanic and a rider.

Unboxing & Assembly

This is important to bike mechanics, but it’s equally important to those riders that maintain their own gear. While that’s a smaller percentage of the population, it’s important to be aware of what you’re in for.

Unboxing the P2C was pretty much like unboxing any other high-end road bike. The bike inside is far less assembled than a lower-end (think $279-$600) hybrid or mountain bike, and is going to require some time to build.

Having watched our (former) service manager struggle through part of the P2C assembly, I can say that the one part that will slow you down is running the cable guides. In fact, getting the derailleur cables run was a process that required some serious McGyver tactics, and has sparked me to write a HOWTO guide, which I’ll be posting later today.

The only other issue was securing the bike in a workstand. Trek makes an adapter for its aero seatposts that allows you to clamp the bike into a standard workstand clamp. This is not an option on the P2C, due to the sheer size of the post. Whether or not Cervélo manufactures a solution for this is unknown to me, and I didn’t think to ask. I merely resorted to turning the workstand clamp horizontal, resting the top tube on it, and not closing the clamp, for fear of damaging the carbon.

The only other issue I encountered during the build process was the need to cut down the seatpost slightly. I Googled around and was able to find discussions on Cervélo’s forums regarding doing this to a P3C seatpost (the same post, as far as I know), and nothing was posted by Cervélo contradicting the advice. Thus, I approached the problem like I did with the carbon steerer tube on my Salsa — a dremel tool with a diamond blade, a facemask to prevent a short-term future of black mucus, and a bit of trepidation.

All in all, the build process was trivial, with the exception of the running of the shifter cables through the frame. I’m sure it would be a slight hit in frame weight, but I’d really like to see Cervélo add internal guides to future versions so that I, as a mechanic, don’t need to spend more than four hours struggling to accomplish what would be a two-second job on other non-internally routed bikes.

General Impressions

Once I had the P2C unboxed, out of the stand, with the basic parts on it, I stopped to admire the thing. Looking straight at the front of the bike, my first impression was, “Damn, this thing is skinny!”

And it is — look at the bike from the front, and it seems to disappear. This, I’m sure, is due in part to the shaping of the head tube and the narrowness of the Wolf CL TT fork. But front-on, wow. Even with a 1 1/8″ steerer tube in there, this bike gives the impression of being more skinny than an ancient steel frame with a 1″ steerer.

From the side on, you get an idea of where the stiffness of the bike comes from. While the sleek/narrow appearance continues around the top tube and back to where it meets the seat tube, following the down tube’s line to the bottom bracket cluster reveals a figurative blossoming of material. The bottom bracket, and chainstays, like on other Cervélos, can be described, politely mind you, as beefy. And yet, the bike doesn’t end up looking awkward or goofy — the parts of the bike are designed they way they need to be — a stiff lower half for power transmission, with careful attention to aerodynamics in the head tube, seat tube, and down tube — all the points where the bike meets wind. And even with these disparate parts, the P2C doesn’t look like a mad science project. It looks organic — evolved, even — like something born for speed. Huge, huge kudos should go to to Cervélo’s engineers for their work, as it brings art and functional together perfectly.

The Ride

I can sum this up in a word: wow.

It’s been a long time since I last owned an all-carbon bike. And I’m amazed at the combination of comfort and absolute, unyielding lateral stiffness of the bike. You turn the pedals, and she just goes. Road vibrations vanish into the frame and don’t make it to the rest of your body.

At speed, the frame tracks straight and true — let go of the bars and sit up, and you needn’t worry about drifting off your line. Not that you’ll be doing that in a tri, but that gives you a strong idea about the level of attention that went to the molding of the P2C’s frame.

As a whole, the Ultegra group performs capably. As time has gone on, Ultegra has gotten closer and closer to Dura-Ace in overall feel and responsiveness. Weight, of course, remains the key differentiation between the two groups. However, that weight difference is negligible, and it’s more cost effective to just lose a pound of fat off your body.

Some of the parts are fairly pedestrian, but for a sub-$3000 time trial bike, that’s to be expected. My only points of contention — the alloy stem (I would have selected a carbon model from FSA to improve ride comfort) and the choice to use a compact crankset — were both put to rest on the first ride. This is not a bike for sprinting or criteriums. It’s a bike for the long haul, and it manages both comfort and high-speed efficiency.

The wheels are what keeps the cost of the bike down — the included Shimano R-500 wheelset will get you through your events if you’re early in your racing hobby and can’t swing the money for a pair of aero wheels. For me, they’ll become a pair of “beater” wheels — something to slap on the P2C or my road bike in the spring for training rides.

Slapping a pair of clincher Zipp 404 wheels on the bike (pictured above) makes an already awesome ride even better. Crosswinds were a little more noticeable, due to the height of the 404 rims. Overall, the ride quality was not impacted negatively by the switch — it merely required a little more attention in a stiff crosswind.

Experience

A huge thanks has to go out to the staff that I worked with at Cervélo — Brett, Ronald and Emma — who were extremely patient, forthright, and quick to answer questions. I made a pest of myself, I’m sure, but I hope that they, and the rest of their team know how much I appreciate the level of customer service I received. And I’m just a shop mechanic who did an e.p. from them. I would be willing to bet that their customer support for Joe Average Customer would be as good, and possibly better.

Final Word

The best bang-for-the-buck in the time trial/triathlon space.

Pros: aerodynamics, ride comfort
Cons: compact crank may turn-off some riders
MSRP: $2500 (US).

Cervelo P2C

Cervelo P2C, Full View

The bike, she is finished. Well, mostly. I need to chop down the seatpost a bit so I can make it fit me properly. But other than that, yeah. It’s done. And I am very pleased by this.

I will be following this post in the near future with a full review, as well as a HOWTO article on moving cables through a carbon frame.

Review: iPhone 3G

I bought a 16-gig White iPhone 3G the Tuesday following their release, and while I was initially wowed by it, the glow has started to wear off, and I’m thinking I have something approaching a lemon.

While I am impressed with the concept, the execution has left me cold, both from a hardware and software standpoint.

From the hardware side, my only complaint thus far is in regards to the cracking issue (more here). I’m infuriated. You’d think that Apple would have learned its lesson after the debacle with the G4 Cube systems. But no. Now I’m stuck with an iPhone that’s going to look progressively more and more shitty as time goes on because someone at Apple either decided that using a cheaper plastic was acceptable, or that they could skip the QA process.

On the software side, I have a laundry list of complaints. Those are:

  • When purchasing from the iTunes store directly to the iPhone, I would frequently lose the song from both the iPhone and iTunes when trying to sync the purchases. I think (but am not 100% sure) that this is due to trying to do the sync while the iPhone is backing itself up.
  • Oh, and here’s another one — why in the name of Christ do I need to sit through a tedious, time-consuming backup every time I dock my iPhone? There ought to be a setting in the config that lets me select my own backup interval, rather than be stuck with someone’s “good idea” as to what constitutes “back up often”.
  • Dear god, has Apple’s coding really gotten so bad that the keyboard lags? Because I, and many others, are seeing that. I even experienced it last night while trying to dial a phone number from the keypad.
  • This thing loses its connection constantly and I mean constantly. I can be walking through the middle of the parking lot at work, and about half the time I have five bars, and the other half I have “No Service”.

Now, let me state explicitly that I have treated this phone with kid gloves — with what I paid for this phone, I’m treating it with kid gloves and am not going to do anything to put it in harm’s way.

So. This was my first iPhone and it might very well be my last. What I expected from Apple would be what I’ve historically gotten from them — rock-solid hardware and software that performs well and is aesthetically pleasing. With what I’ve received, in the case of the iPhone 3G, I’m so beyond disappointed that it’s not even funny.

(Pictures of the cracking in my case to follow.)