Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Zwift (beta) - Next Level Awesome.

I've been feed flooding my Instagram account for a few weeks with screen shots of Zwift and the shenanigans I've been up to on the virtual island. This has prompted a number of questions from people asking what it is all about. There are a few reviews of Zwift already floating around but I thought I'd put it into my own words... and describe my new indoor training addiction.

I've owned a Wahoo Kickr for almost two years now, and was recently close to selling it. I only held onto it because I knew the potential of the unit was huge. The applications I have used with it to date were bit of a let down.... until now.

What is Zwift?

"Massive, multiplayer video game technology meets the indoor cycling community."

Zwift is an indoor training application/game that plays on all my weaknesses. Indoor cycle training, real-time statistics, real-world opponents, and goals to achieve. Zwift is what the Wahoo Kickr needed from launch.

To get involved you'll need a power meter or a compatible trainer, a computer with enough grunt to run the application (Mac/Windows), a USB2 ANT+ stick, and at the moment an invite to the beta testing pool.

Zwift cover this in a lot more detail here:

Getting Up and Riding...

It is straight forward to get it up and running. Load the app, pair your devices, ride on!

While you can use Zwift with a number of different indoor trainers, it comes into its own when paired up with a Kickr (or other electronically controlled resistance units).

The realisation of just how good this is with a Kicker was on a ride outside last week. As I rolled down a hill and started pedalling faster with less resistance. My first thought was "this fells like I'm on Zwift island". When was the last time riding outside reminded you of an indoor ergo session?

With a good set of headphones you can notice the level of detail they've gone to in making this virtual world very realistic. The faster you go the more wind noise you'll hear. It is only subtle, but you'll almost subconsciously know when your speed has dropped. The visual representation of gradients, corners, and speed are also nicely done. 

The triple jersey!

Trainer X has done this for a while...

Just as there were touch-screen phones before Apple came along and did it right, there is similar software and set-ups that do similar-ish things to Zwift. And like Apple, Zwift have nailed it, and they're still only in beta! (*replace Apple with Android if you're that way inclined) :)

Zwift Island....

The Island itself is a real place (Jarvis Island). When you upload your ride to Strava it has a real location, elevation, and all your stats. You can even use tools like Strava Labs Flyby to see who else you were riding with at the time. The Strava KOMs are there, and somewhat messy, the real KOMs are transient on the Island within Zwift where they all expire after 60 minutes.

The Potholes...

Like most things, it isn't all roses. There are very simple ways to cheat the system that can ruin a jersey chasing session. The developers are well aware of this and have a massive pool of equipment data to work with, I expect cheating will be at a minimum soon.

A 6:38 lap is around 420W at my current weight (72kgs). 5.83k/kg. A 5:32 lap, taking into account the virtual wind resistance would be pushing boundaries never seen in the pro peloton.

A lot of ergo workouts are focused on specific efforts that may be difficult to replicate within the Zwift world, for now. A standard 5x5min at FTP is interrupted by that damn hill, every time. Once more roads and options are paved in the application, I expect there will be more than enough terrain to use for any kind of training.

The Potential...

Is mind-blowing. Real-time races, Gran Fondos, replication of classic climbs, races, you name it. Zwift-Roubaix with virtual cobbles? 21 virtual switchbacks on Alpe d'Zwiftez? They could even mix it up with muddy virtual CX races or single-track MTB routes.

Imagine paring a Sufferfest workout with the Zwift world to create a parcours that visually matched the workout. Sprint signs, hills, virtual pro riders popping up on course to chase, and/or other riders completing and competing in the same workout in-real time.

Maybe they could replicate a classic stage of the Tour with a virtual peloton of pro riders you could mix it up with.... I'm sure we'd all love to sit on Floyd's wheel on Stage 17, 2006.. then teaching him a lesson by rolling him at the end.

For now... Get on it (request a beta invite) and get riding! 


Thursday, 26 February 2015

Bike Cameras - Free Data Overlay with Garmin VIRB Edit

My reaction to seeing an on-bike video of a local race with GPS and ANT+ data overlaid on the screen was "Oh this cool". I believe it was a video by James Dunn of the Kew criterium.

The video itself wasn't anything new, people had been sneaking sports cameras on bikes for a while, it was the data overlay that brought it to life. With info on the screen showing speed, power, cadence, elevation, heart rate, the viewing becomes immersive. You're no longer on the sidelines or flying above the pack, you become the rider.

Add in live streaming, this is the future of how we'll watch cycling. The UCI are on board, and an approval process for cameras on bikes has been implemented by Cycling Victoria. Excellent progress.

Now, how to bring raw footage to life with data overlay....

When I first looked into how to add data overlays to videos, and it wasn't easy, or free. That's changed. Garmin VIRB Edit (PC and Mac) is free, and pretty easy to master. VIRB Edit is designed for combing video footage from their VIRB action camera with data from a compatible Garmin device, a bonus being you can use footage from anything that uses the MP4 video format. I've been using a GoPro Hero 3 and combing the data from my Garmin 800 head unit.

Import Other.... not just for VIRB cameras!

Choose your data sources / gauges / customise them. 

GPS sync can be tricky to begin with, nothing a bit of trial and error won't resolve.

That's pretty much it. Add titles, tunes, export the video, and you're done. Now there is no excuse for posting raw #forverbutt videos from your Fly6, Fly16, GoPro, Garmin VIRB, Shimano Sport Action cam (once the video is converted to MP4). 

Other Tips

iMovie on the Mac is handy for joining/chopping/converting raw footage from cameras. It has a number of edit options, and basic stabilisation.

Stabilisation - A necessity for the roads we're on. ProDrenalin looks to be the best and easiest to use, although it isn't free. It can also remove some of the fish-eye effect that is common with sports cameras.

My Step by Step Process: 

- Capture raw footage on camera (720/1080).
- Record ride with Garmin 800.
- Import movie file(s) into iMovie, trimming start/end points, export to a single MP4.
- If required, stabilise raw video with ProDrenalin, export to MP4.
- Load Garmin VIRB Edit, load stabilised video, adding overlay template, then match up GPS/data sync.
- Export final video to MP4, upload to YouTube. Done!

You might be able to skip the iMovie step and import direct into VIRB Edit, leave a comment and let me know if this works fine, or any other ideas for getting the job done.


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Bobridge Hour Attempt - Round One

Bobridge's credentials to date have already established him as a champion. That can't be debated, and barring any catastrophic incidents in the future, he will always be a champion. With that said, let's not talk about how his attempt at the hour was a success. It wasn't. He failed. Failing is ok. Without the risk of failure, there is nothing to celebrate in success.

He's a professional athlete in a sport where the majority of the time you don't succeed. This is his job. It requires sacrifice, compromise, and pain. But show me a job worth doing that doesn't.

As for the effort itself - We've all seen the graphs comparing his hour effort to the other two recent ones:

Voigt holding pace and lifting at 35km with a super human effort we've come to expect from old Jensie. Brändle went out holding a slightly higher pace, then fading at the same point Voigt lifted. Brändle had enough in the bank at the 36-37km mark that even with the drop in speed, he still took the record. Two different pacing strategies, both which succeeded.

After Voight effectively set the 'new rules' hour record, the goal posts moved. They'll continue to move as riders set new records. This means the every single box has to be ticked for anyone attempting the hour.

There isn't a lot published about the technical side of Bobridge's attempt. I think they gambled on a the weather being a lot warmer for the attempt. DISC is only 60m or so above sea level, so they needed all the atmospheric and environmental advantages they could get. They lucked out on a uncharacteristically cold summer week in Melbourne, and an even colder day. Pumping the velodrome full of hot air in the hours prior would have helped, but not as much as having everything nicely slow roasted up to a warmer temperature in the days prior.

The skinsuit he was wearing was also said to be custom made for the attempt. It looks like they borrowed some fabric tech from Rapha/Sky looking close up. It is hard to tell without handling it. A marketing shortfall here is not using (or offering) a skinsuit that people could purchase from Tineli themselves. Is their standard offering not fast enough? Does making a 'fast suit' cost too much? There are significant aerodynamic differences in skinsuits and materials used. If Tineli offered a 'BobbersSuit' I'm sure people would be all over it. Although since he failed at this attempt the marketing spin would be a little tougher.

What about the helmet he used? It was different to the one he set the Pursuit world record in. Was the Kask a sponsor requirement? Did they test a number of helmets with his somewhat more relaxed than normal aero position to determine what was optimal? I would assume so, but wind tunnel time is VERY expensive. Regression testing at a velodrome can be mildly expensive and time consuming. I didn't see any wind tunnel time promos or believe they would have had enough time between Nationals and Tour Down Under to collect data from the velodrome. Maybe they did....  I don't know. 

The loop thing hanging out his nose? There is no independent / peer reviewed studies showing these devices work, so that has zero to do with sports performance. I assume it is there to pay the bills. This hour attempt costs money. Much like how professional tennis players reach for their wrist watches for any post game interview. Endorsements pay the bills. Unfortunately for Rhinomed, the attempt didn't work out.

Finally back to his pacing. His coach and mentor, Tim Decker, is undoubtedly THE BEST person to be standing trackside for Boberidge on the day. A champion in his own right, with more experience and mental toughness than we could imagine. With pacing/timing tape markers planted trackside and Decker watching him like a hawk, there was no reason to deviate from the plan.

"The first 20 minutes I was riding to what we wanted to do", Jack Bobridge.

So what we're seeing in the graph was the plan. Bobridge used the same approach as Brändle to bank a lead and hold on. Unfortunately it didn't pay off. At 10km he had a clear lead, but from then on he was unable to dig deep into those special physiological characteristics that separates him from the rest of us and set a new record.

The Science of Sport summed it up perfectly, "Physiology is a reliable 'debt collector'!"

Would he have succeeded with a different pacing strategy? We will never really know. What will be interesting is to see what changes are made if he has another attempt at it. He has our support, and a lot of data collected from his first attempt to work with. Fingers crossed we get to support him again for round two! 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Thank you Kosdown - We've done alright.

It was a chance meeting while racing out at Lancefield in early 2009 that kicked things off. The bunch was being ravaged by a few teams, so I had a chat the rider next to me and we formed an immediate alliance. That rider happened to be Kos Samaras. With a little bit of team work, I ended up winning that race and Kos was on the phone to me the next day with a few ideas about setting up Team Kosdown. This soon developed into Kosdown Performance Cycling - A small privately backed team that offers a development/support pathway to young up and comers in the sport, as well as supporting a number of Elite/Masters riders.

I've clocked up over 150 race wins while representing Kosdown over the last six years. Time trials, road races, criteriums, prologues, track events, from club level to national level Masters/Vets racing, even at an international level if we include the 2014 Tour of Fiji. I've ticked off everything I'd ever hoped to achieve over the years while being supported by KPC and their sub-sponsors.

Although everything we train for is about winning races, that is only a small component of the much bigger picture.

Establishing KPC in 2009 meant over the years it grew with the emergence of social media as a platform to communicate with the cycling community and our supporters. Website updates were overtaken by more time critical and content rich Facebook posts, along with Twitter, Instagram, etc. All of which we've worked pretty hard behind the scenes with our sponsors and our riders to provide value and establish KPC as a known group of hard working, honest, and respected athletes.

I truly believe we've achieved all of the above, and more.

As KPC enters the 7th year, along comes a number of changes in regard to team management and commercial sponsor arrangements. And as I enter my 10th year of competitive cycling with my eyes firmly fixed on the 2016 World Masters ITT Championships in Perth, I will be leaving the KPC ranks.

I depart KPC while it is in a very good place. With plans to run parallel Elite and Masters VRS teams for the 2015 road season, and new sponsorship and support arrangements on the way for the riders. They'll do very well, and I'm proud of what we've created.

This isn't about me hanging up the bike. I've been hitting some of my best pre-season numbers in a long time. Let's just say I've gone off the front.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Praying Mantis TT Position - Is it back?

UCI time trial regulations are one of the most dynamic in the rule book. It seems every six months the UCI publish changes, updates, or clarifications. Things are progressing and becoming easier for commissaires to review bikes and equipment before a race, if they choose to. It is also a mandatory requirement of competitors to be up to date with the rules.... a tough ask when things keep changing!

I've had a lot of riders ask about pushing the limits when it comes to TT bars/lever height to get themselves into a very aero-aggressive TT position. Think Floyd Landis around 2006. That position worked very well for a number of riders. And like Floyd himself, it was also outlawed by the UCI....

The Praying Landis - A positively dope TT position.
The initial checks were to ensure the rider's forearms were horizontal when they were on their bike and in their TT position. This check was invalidated by the new bike check process introduced in 2014:   

....from 2014, only the bicycle will be checked. The bicycle can be presented by a person other than the rider. This will mean that riders are not disturbed in their preparations just before the start of the race. - UCI Update Info Bulletin N°4

To ensure riders were adhering to the rule without being present, a -+10cm rule for the TT bars/extensions was detailed:

"The height differences between, on the one hand, the point of support of the elbows and the highest point of the handlebar extension (including the gear levers) and, on the other hand, point of support of the elbows and the lowest point of the handlebar extensions (including the gear levers) shall each be less than 10 cm in order to guarantee that the forearms are horizontal." - UCI Update Info Bulletin N°4

It appears the most recent update/clarification has no reference to horizontal forearms as bike with a +10cm measurement means the riders forearms won't be horizontal (although they'll be far from being a Praying Landis):

The handlebar extensions plus any accessories (controls, levers, etc. and all their mounting accessories) must be within ±10 cm from the level defined by the elbow/forearm supports. Any moving parts have to be placed in the most vertical position that can remain unsupported through their range of movement. - The Clarification guide of the UCI Technical Regulation - August 2014

The UCI have included some excellent diagrams in their August 2014 Clarification Guide:

To check, rotate the levers to the highest point and allow to rest, and then take the measurement for the +10 cm position. If necessary, rotate the lever to the lowest point and take the measurement for the -10 cm position. The measurements of the upper and lower limits are taken in the front half of the handlebar extensions. - The Clarification guide of the UCI Technical Regulation - August 2014

Subtle but important detail there - Taking the measurement point from the highest point of the lever puts riders with most mechanical levers at a disadvantage if they're after maximal lever height. Chalk that up as a reason to investigate electronic shifting on a TT bike.

So is the praying mantis back? No. It'll be interesting to see if Cycling Australia have a jig that can measure this at the Nationals in a few weeks...

In the mean time, if you're "pushing the limits" pack some spacers or extra chunky arm pads to raise up the measurement point of the armrests.... or adjust your rear limit screw to stop your levers from reaching >10cm. You'll lose 1-2 gears on the rear, but you won't get a DSQ for the event.

"Factory" measurements with DuraAce levers. Hmm!

Sorted - Beanbag arm pads, UCI legal!