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Friday, 27 May 2016

Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ Smart Trainer Review - May 2016




In the last week I've acquired smart trainers from both ends of the pricing spectrum. The TACX Neo Smart (>AU$2000) and the Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ (~AU$500).

I was primed to write about the TACX Neo until I rode the Elite trainer for two hours yesterday. For the price, I was so impressed I had to write this up first. It isn't all roses though. There's a few shortfalls to deal with if you're looking to buy the cheapest smart trainer on the market.

DCRainmaker has covered the specifications of the Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ here. But how does it ride? How does it compare to direct drive trainers? What's the overall experience like on Zwift? Can a trainer 1/4th the price of the Neo provide the same indoor experience?



The Good


The good news is that it works. It works really well. The experience of "oh, did that just... wowa" is there when the road heads up and down on Zwift. The automatic resistance changes are there. On instinct you'll flick down a few gears and stand up out of the saddle on the hills. You'll be immersed. Something I didn't think possible on an entry level smart trainer. Ask anyone who's upgraded from a standard trainer to a smart trainer and they'll tell you it's this immersive experience that brings ergo sessions to life.

If direct drive smart trainers are outside your bike budget, this is a brilliant alternative. At ~AU$400 it's a no brainer purchase. If you can only find the unit at the RRP of AU$650, then hold off and budget a few $100 more for the Wahoo Kickr SNAP, for reasons discussed below. It isn't all about the hardware! 

The power readings from the unit were pretty close to my Quarq from 0-250W. From 250W+ it read 10-20W low for sustained efforts. That's a pretty good ballpark for the price. If you've already got a power meter then you pair that as your Power Source in Zwift and use the Elite trainer as a Controllable Trainer for a cheap and accurate solution.

Quarq for power & cadence - The Elite Qubo providing smart resistance.

The Bad/Interesting


The roller isn't screwed in or locked into the tyre like most other trainers. The design uses the weight of the bike and rider to push back on the roller. The only issue I encountered was when jumping forward on hard hill attacks I was robbed a few watts compared to what the Quarq reported. I put this down to a small amount of tyre slip.

I thought this design would have been a showstopper when sprinting, but it wasn't. Once the roller was spun up to speed the unit worked extremely well in sprints.




Due to the design there is a small amount of forward/back movement of your bike when you ride as the tyre 'bounces' on the roller. Your milage may vary, and it'll depend on how smooth you are on the bike. You'll also need to have the trainer on a grippy surface to stop clocking up real kms into the walls at home.

The noise level isn't too bad, it's no LeMond Revolution neighbourhood blaster. The small 35mm roller and light flywheel give a higher pitch sound than a fluid trainer. I'll do a video comparing my collection of trainers under sustained load and sprints in the near future.

The roller will wear tyres. There's no getting around this on these types of trainers. The best thing you can do is to clean your tyre before every ride if you've been outside. This will keep the roller surface in good condition so it won't chew your rubber.

The Elite trainer range is extensive and the names can be confusing. The Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ is a different product to the Elite Qubo Power Smart B+. Beware when shopping!


The Ugly


The Elite software for firmware updates, calibration, and their own training programs are very ordinary. One EXE to update the firmware, another to get calibration values, another to set them. I had to switch these executables into Windows XP compatibility mode as they crashed under Windows 10 (64bit). And after that, the calibration just doesn't work for me. No major issue as it was already pretty accurate and I'm able to use the Quarq for power source on Zwift.

Elite need to take a leaf from Wahoo and Tacx on this one and allow full unit management (firmware/calibration) from within the mobile app.



Locating the iPhone app isn't easy either. Search for 'MyETraining' is the tip if you want to use it.

Documentation and user support information online is thin. Once you locate an answer it'll likely be for their other similarly named trainers with different features. It's not the same as searching for Wahoo or Tacx and having a goldmine of posts on SlowTwitch appear. Having said that, there are two  Elite Qubo posts on SlowTwitch raising the exact issues I have here.

The ANT+ speed/cadence sensor the unit broadcasts hasn't been compatible with my Garmin 520 either. Apparently I clocked up 250km for a 2hr ergo session. Not sure what's going on there.... even Zwift doesn't agree with the numbers it's cooking up.


I've sent Elite a list of queries regarding my concerns here. I'll update this post with the answers if it'll help others.


Conclusion


The good thing is that out of the box this unit just works with third-party apps over ANT+ FEC or Bluetooth, so my gripes with their software are of no major concern. I hope they're addressed in the next few updates (both firmware and mobile apps).

I'll be loaning this trainer to anyone who wants to experience Zwift with a smart trainer before committing to a purchase of their own - so that's still a big thumbs up from me.



Sunday, 15 May 2016

Winter is Coming - Upgrade Your Bike Cave!



Here's the rundown on the equipment used at the May 2016 Zwift Australian event nights, plus additional items I use in my own indoor bike cave. Hopefully there's one or two things here you'll spot that will make your indoor sessions more enjoyable.

Let me know if you'd like more info about any of the content below and I'll do my best to get back to you and update this post with the information.



Flooring


Starting from the ground up. Wahoo Kickr Trainer Floormats were used on the hard flooring at Rapha CC in Sydney and at Bilia Volvo in Melbourne. The solution I use at home is custom cut rubber backed marine flooring from Clark Rubber. Thicker floor mats dampen vibration and trainer noise which is always a good thing in close quarters. Yoga mats are a cheaper alternative if you're looking for a cost effective solution.




Items:

Wahoo Kickr Trainer Floormats ~AU$100
Clark Rubber ~AU$35/m
Yoga Mats ~AU$5-$100+



TV Screen Tripods


Having a large screen at the right height in front of you really helps with the immersion into whatever you're watching on the screen. The Allcam TR940 were the tripods of choice for screens ~40inches in size that we used. They're an expensive solution to by locally in Australia as they're shipped from the UK. Let me know in the comments section if there's something similar locally people have seen.



Item:

Allcam TR940 AU$350 (much cheaper from the UK direct!)



Side Table


Somewhere for your keyboard, remote controls, additional drinks, food. I use a conductor stand from a music shop, along with a bar stool from Ikea for any extras.



Items:

On Stage SM7211 Conductor Stand AU$60
Ikea Stools AU$x



Fans - Move that air!


Anything that moves air is good in this department. I've used a number of different fans over the years, my #1 is now the Sunair 30cm High Velocity Turbo Fan. These are brilliant for a number of reasons: They're cheap, small, quiet, and move a TON of air.


Item:

Sunair 30cm High Velocity Turbo Fan ~$AU30-40



Computing


Dell Alienware Alpia i3 - These are mid-range computers with beefed up mobile components to keep the unit size down. I run one of these units at home with a few hardware modifications. They're compact Windows 10 machines so they're great for other everyday use, or multitasking while on the ergo for YouTube playlists, Spotify, etc.

Note: The i5 and i7 versions of these units will run Zwift at exactly the same frame rates as the i3, so the cheaper i3 model is the best choice.



Items:

Dell Alienware Alpha ~AU$799
i3 Alpha Custom Upgrade Guide (with GPU overclock info!)



Keyboard/Mouse Combo


Logitech K400R, available at Officeworks. We've had 6 working in the same room with a lot of other wireless signals flying around.



Item:

Logitech K400R ~AU$39



Headphones


Over-ear noise cancelling headphones are fine for indoor work as long as you've got enough air moving around. I use a wired Audio Technica set that I take everywhere with me. They're great for air travel too. They don't fill up with sweat, and they're wiped down with baby wipes (see below) after every use.



Item:

Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 ~AU$229



USB ANT+ Sticks / USB extension cables.


Required kit for your computer to talk to your ANT devices (smart trainers, power meters, heart rate monitors, etc). As ANT is low power it is susceptible to interference. An extension cable is a really good idea to ensure 100% signal from your sensors to your computer. Cheaper USB extension cables can be hit and miss, stick with premium known brands for best performance.



All four in the photo do exactly the same job. All four are difference prices. If you want an in-depth review of these devices, I wrote this last year: Garmin USB2 ANT Stick In-Depth Review

Items: (only ANT stick one required per machine)

Garmin USB ANT+ Stick ~AU$59
Generic ANT+ Mobile Stick ~AU$42
ANSELF USB ANT+ Stick Cheap! (Watch this space. Shipping is slow. I've ordered a ton!)



Internet


Good quality Internet in the bike cave is critical. ISP supplied modem/routers are usually sufficient, but if you're looking at getting the most out of your connection go for the best wifi modem/router your budget will allow. The Billion range are brilliant and allow for some back end tinkering if that's your thing.

If your bike cave is tucked away in your back shed, you might need to go with upgraded wifi antenna or wifi range extenders.

Tip: There have been reports of users encountering a Bermuda Triangle of dropped ANT signals if their wifi is using channels 9-12. If you're having issues, switch over to channels 1-6 and see if that resolves the issue.




Misc (everything else)


QuadLock Phone mount - Quick and easy access to phone with waterproof case. My review of the iPhone6 Bike Kit. AU$70 (30% off with "zwiftlama" discount code!)



Baby Wipes - Great for keeping things like headphones, heart rate straps, and bikes clean after an ergo session. AU$2.50/pack






Putting it all together

 




Friday, 29 April 2016

A Weekend With The Maven (and our girls). ANZAC Long Weekend 2016

With the never ending dramas high up in the stratosphere of professional cycling, it's always good to see the sport at our level being championed by people who are doing it different. People carving their own path with nothing more than the intent of sharing their love of cycling with others.


Mark 'Cycling Maven' Ferguson is doing just this. His rapid rise in popularity via YouTube proves that if you're passionate about something, and have a platform to share that passion, people will jump on board for the ride.

I've known Mark for a few years now, back to before his five year cross-fit adventure (don't hold that against him), and recently via his Cycling Maven YouTube channel. His channel covers everything from race tips, cycling adventures, interviews, and everything in between. Each video gets people more and more invested in his story. People are adopting 'The Maven' as their friend. That might sound bizarre, but if you're a regular subscriber to YouTube vlogs, you'll understand.

     A cycling tragic sharing my love, knowledge and opinions on the sport. Among other things depending on my mood. - Cycling Maven YouTube channel description. April 2016.

I believe this philosophy of sharing the experience above all else resonates well within the cycling community. The Internet is the world's best bullsh*t filter. If you're trying to sell people something that doesn't work, or pushing out over produced polished content then you're at risk distancing yourself or your brand from your audience by trying to place yourself high up in that stratosphere mentioned above. No matter how much time Mark spends editing his videos for the perfect shot, it's the rawness and honesty that makes his work a welcome departure from the norm.

Anyhow, that's enough of my polished introduction. ;) Here's a few behind the scenes stories, photos, and videos of our recent trip to Bright, Victoria with Mark, his better half, Hannah, and my wife Von.



Day 1 - Mt Buffalo (The Horn on sunset) 

I'd promised to take the crew the best place I could think of to see the sunset on Saturday night. My confidence remained high while we made our way up Dingo Dell, past the Mt Buffalo ski field, and up the windy dirt road. Truth be told, I had serious doubts if it would be a good location or not. It was years since I'd been up there. Turns out it was a good location to place my bets on. It was amazing!

Preparing for launch... DJI Phantom 4. 
The drone master in action, and Hannah 'gramming. 
Get that shot!  

No selfie stick? No worries. The Maven takes care of the shot.



And the final production....




Day 2 - Mt Buffalo (sunrise) then onto Mt Hotham 

While scoping out the view for the sunrise we'd been paparazzi'd by Instagram user IngGa (we only found it a few days later by chance)

Photo: IngGa (Instagram)
The next morning we returned to the mountain hoping it was a clear morning.... it was.






Nothing sus... looking for 240V. (See the VLOG for what's going on here) :) 
I'm not sure about those pilot pants..... 

After lunch it was off to Mt Hotham on the bikes!







The Maven giving me "Lance eyes" before attacking! 
King of the kids again at the top!





The daily VLOG.....





Day 3 - ANZAC Day. Bright Canyon Walk

We attended the 6am dawn service at Bright. The number of people at the service surprised us all. 3/4 of us went back to bed following the ceremony, with Mark staying up to edit footage for the next vlog. A few hours later we headed back into Bright for breakfast and to the little known Canyon Walk that starts right in town. 




Reflections - As seen though my polarised Foakleys. (yes, I got a pair too)
Tourist guide Von!



Daily VLOG....




A story I didn't tell Mark was that while he was filming with the drone along the river on our last day, someone threw a large rock at it from the bushes. At first I thought it was a fish splashing near it, then out popped some grumpy bastard from the bushes mumbling about video privacy and telling us to delete the footage. He didn't know we were close by and thought he'd have a shot at taking the drone down. Had he actually taken it down, I might have given him the same fate, with a similar rock. He wasn't a good human. We agreed not to put any of 'his footage' online, that kept old mate happy. A minute later and were met by the lovely lady who's in the vlog saying she wants to see and share the footage. She was a good human. See the video for our chat with her.

Regarding the above - I can see how people might think drones are obnoxious. Going by our experience on the weekend, 99.9% of people were fascinated by it and wanted to see the footage. Mark welcomed anyone and everyone to look over his shoulder as he flew it around for a few minutes. All while answering questions about it, and generally being a good human. The novelty of drones is still there for people, I guess if every man and his dog had a drone it could become annoying. For now, it brings the crowds and entertains the kid in all of us.


A few quick observations as this post is getting long.....

I realised on the weekend was that there's simply not enough hours in a day to do everything. I have a real appreciation of what goes into a 10-12 minute video, and it's a lot more than 24hrs.

Mark might be the one with the cameras, doing most of the talking, and telling the stories. However like in most relationships, the level headed sounding board / creative genius / sub editor is the other person. Hannah is AWESOME! Even I can't wait for the couples Q&A people have been asking for. Someone please ask her about her rabbit. ;)

Making a difference. The comments on Mark's vlogs are pure gold. There are literally 1000s of people loving his work, loving the stories, and soaking up the energy he puts into his work. This is inspiring people all over the world. This is the difference that makes the work all worth the time and effort. 'The Maven' is firmly at ground level with the rest of us, true grass-roots, with the only thing in the stratosphere being a little drone, looking down capturing the moment. 


Friday, 1 April 2016

Titanicing - Because everyone has Everested by now.





So you rode up a hill for 8,848m of elevation gain, it was the hardest thing you've ever done since giving birth to twins, and you're a dude. Then the bar went to 10,000m, the equivalent to birthing twins and a Lego set for them to play with. Then along came double Everesting, a challenge for those with a true disconnect between reality, pain, and elevation gain.

Now what next? You've ticked all the boxes going up right? Well. How about going DOWN? (not that type of going down, the other one, on your bike!).

Introducing TITANICING - The Search for Sinking!

Titanicing, like the real thing, is where you let the berg do all the work and you're just in for the ride. Too easy right? No so fast. There are rules.


  • You must descend a total of 3,800m (12,000 feet), the depth of the Titanic.
  • Rides can be of any length, and on any hill or mountain, or elevator on an ergo (vTitanicing)
  • You may decide to push on past 3,800m to get to 4,000m, in which case your ride will also qualify for inclusion in the Deep Sh*t Society.
  • The descents must be completed on a bicycle. Attempts using submarines won't be allowed.
  • Ascents back to your starting point elevation can be completed any way you like. Yes, even in a car for the truly committed lazy bastard in us all. Remember, Titanicing is about the DOWN, not the up.
  • If you're using a music player during the attempt, Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On must be played on repeat until you're memorised the entire song. If you're not using a personal music player, the song must be on blast somewhere along your route to warn/inform others of your activity in progress.


How do I record descents?

Mount your Garmin upside down. Easy!




What's the website for more information?

We were thinking of registering titanicing.cc, but being true to our philosophy, it'd always be down. There is no website. Which means no records, which means no worries!


What's the hashtag?

We threw around a number of ideas that were quickly dismissed by the PR department as very inappropriate for our branding. So we're going with #down. There's only 2.1 million 'grams with that tag, we're sure it'll be easy to find.


Are you f*#ing serious about this?

No. Happy April Fools Day. And my utmost respect goes to everyone who's achieved their goal of Everesting (and vEveresting!)




Thursday, 31 March 2016

My Strava Exploded!

Over the last few weeks I've dedicated a lot of my attention to Strava social networking. I've been using Strava for over five years, initially for uploading a few 'fast' rides to now uploading every ride and multi-sport activity I can. I wanted to see if applying the same principals to boost engagement that work with other social working sites would also work with Strava. They did, a lot more than I expected!


"If it's not on Strava, it didn't happen" 


With the introduction of Zwift, my Strava reach grew beyond my hometown of Melbourne, beyond Australia, and to corners of the world I didn't even know about. My use of Strava changed from a personal activity logger to a platform to share activities and locations I've been to, to the world. 

As a competitive cyclist, chasing Personal Bests (PBs) and Segment KOMs is always there, but now the reach is far beyond the competitive side. Uploading activities (with photos!) from Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, country Victoria, tropical islands off the Queensland coast, even Fiji, have all had great responses from the Strava community.

Here's a few tips I've implemented that boosted my Strava reach far beyond what I thought ever possible in a really short period of time: 

1. Interaction 

Hands down the number one tip is interaction with other Strava users. Kudos epic rides, outstanding efforts, or whoever rode your favourite route today. I found as many riders who uploaded their 235km 'Three Peaks' ride and kudos'ed their efforts. Anyone riding that far in a day deserves it. 

As a Zwift fanatic, I've been interacting with people who've been training hard while clocking up the virtual kilometres. Riding indoors requires a certain level of tenacity, and that always deserves a thumbs up.



2. Ride Names

Sure "Morning Ride" is descriptive, "Best Morning Ride EVER!" is better. Anyone who doesn't kudos a ride called "New Bike Day" doesn't have a beating heart. Everyone loves new bike day. Kudos that. And they better have posted a picture of their new bike... 


3. Photos

Link your Strava to your Instagram via the Social Connections setting (How-to here) and always upload a few snaps via the mobile app once you're done. Sun, rain, hail, or snow, photos bring your activity and location to life on Strava. They become part of the story more than just a map and data. If I'm going somewhere new, I'll look at Strava ride/activity photos before any travel guides. 


4. Do Different!

Take a different route. Go for a PR or a KOM on the way to work. If you're only uploading rides, upload your next walk or hike. As mentioned above, name your activity accordingly and add a photo! 

I've uploaded hundreds of my races over the years on Strava..... so what activity has received the most attention at this point in time? My ride and a KOM on a 12kg flat pedal hybrid hire bike on Magnetic Island (North Queensland, right next to the Great Barrier Reef). That was different.




Using the techniques above my modest follower count has sky rocketed. While follower count is interesting, it's the increased interactions with other Strava users that I've loved. On a recent trip to northern Queensland I was invited on no less than four rides in three different cities all  through my Strava connections. Not to mention the numerous invites to visit the USA as we enter the Australian winter. I'll take everyone up on these offers at some point in the future. 

I'll conclude this post by answering why. 

Everyone has the ability to inspire others. 


Strava is a simple way to promote your chosen sport, to promote your unique location(s), and to inspire others to ride, run, swim, and become active. Globally. I believe that ability and that reach is an amazing concept.

One simple kudos click, a comment, or a follow can make someone's day. Make that today. GO!