Tuesday, March 22, 2022

First Ride of 2022

 With the warmish weather upon us, it was time to dust off the mt. bike and hit the trails for an early season introduction ride. Something easy to dust off the cobwebs-get my sea legs back.

I wasn't worried about stamina or distance; I've been crushing it on the trainer all winter. I was concerned about not doing anything too technical; trainers cannot simulate rocks or trees...

The ride to the trails is a short, flat stretch of road from my house. As I headed down the road I noticed a slight breeze and then realized my legs felt like they were working way harder than they should on flat terrain... Apparently trainers do not account for wind or the actual weight of a bike or the rolling resistance of chunky 29" trail tires.

Anyway I was still warming up. Once I got into the groove things would feel good.

When I made the turn onto the trail, I nearly locked up the brakes and sent myself tumbling into a tree. The trail is a narrow gently sloping turn that leads into the woods that I have ridden hundreds of times, but initial reaction was panic about smashing into one of the trees. It took a good bit of mental effort to will my hands to stay off the breaks and my feet to keep pedaling.

This was the ride for at least the next mile or so. See feature that you've ridden hundreds of times, panic, force panic down so reflexes can do their job, and repeat. Most of the time the force panic down part was successful and I got through. A few times I did end up walking a feature and then berating myself for being a scaredy cat and vowing that I'd crush it the next time while knowing that there was always a chance that the panic would win again.

Fortunately, the panic becomes background noise after awhile. The cadence of the peddles, the quiet of the woods, the successfully getting over features makes the panic smaller and smaller. It is like putting on noise cancelling headphones, I can still hear the panic but it is so muffled it doesn't intrude.

Once the panic faded and the muscles warmed up it was a great ride. I stuck to mainly flat, single track trails. There were a few technical sections with a lot of roots, sharp turns, rocks, and logs covering the trail. Things came back pretty quickly when it came to shifting and body position to keep moving forward and upright.

On the last section of trails I felt the backend get that swishy feeling that means you need to put air in the tire. Sure enough, it was flat.

My first thought was just to pump enough air into the tire to get home - I was technically at lunch - as quick as possible. I whipped out my handy micro pump and went to town. Except I couldn't get any air into the stupid tire. I was convinced it was either me being a rock head or the pump because I couldn't seem to get a good seal on the valve. It was either too loose the air would seep out or it was jammed and the air wouldn't go in. After about ten minutes, I was ready to give up and accept the fact that I was going to have to carry the stupid bike a mile plus back through the woods...

Then my brain stopped being trapped in "you're an idiot and life sucks" mode and I wondered if I had a spare tube. Maybe the problem was that I had popped the tire or ruined the valve on the one on the bike. I did have a spare tube because I usually don't suck too much.

Now all I had to do was remember how to get the back tire off the bike without destroying the derailer. Is it put the chain on the biggest ring or the smallest ring? 50-50 chance so I pick the big ring - WRONG. I tried, then cussed myself out for being stupid, but was not stupid enough to really force anything. Once I got the tire reseated, I shifted the chain into the smallest ring and things went much better.

Five minutes later I was back on the trail and, despite the little hick up, still feeling like I'm in the groove.

There was one nasty clump of rocks I walked, but it was a rational decision. It was just after I got back on the bike and didn't really have enough speed to glide over or enough time to shift into a gear where I could plough through.

It wasn't until after I decided that my lunch cover was already blown and that I could extend my ride a bit that I realized the flat had turned off the noise canceling headphones that kept the panic quiet.

There is a nice rock wall that crosses the trail and is usually very fun to barrel over. It is just after some really tight windy single track but with plenty of room between the last turn and the wall to get up a good head of steam. It is also just enough room for the panic to grow louder. I ignored it until I was just at the wall and then my hands went for the brakes... I'm not sure what happened, but my body took over in a nick of time. My hands opened up and my legs drove the pedals in a huge surge of power.

Once I was in the clearing after the wall I just stopped and gasped air. I was happy to not be a heap on the ground, but pissed at myself for nearly putting me in a heap on the ground. It took a few minutes to catch my breath and stop yelling at myself. I had made it over and was OK. Now I just needed to finish off the next two miles of the ride without that happening again....

I was able to find my groove again and quiet the panic. The rest of the ride was a nice way to finish off the day.

I am hopeful that now that I've gotten the first ride out of the way, it will be easier and easier to quiet the panic and get a break from it.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Tacx Flow Smart Trainer

My old indoor trainer, a Cycleworks Magneto, was getting long in the tooth and the local bike shop was having a good sale on new trainers. I also was getting a little bored with the linear resistance thing, so was jonesing for a “smart” trainer.

What I wasn’t looking to do was drop $1000 on a bike trainer that I would only use for a couple of months a year or one that required a ton of work to set up. That ruled out most of the smart trainers. They all seem to be wheel off set ups that require buying a trainer and a rear cassette. That does allow for more accurate power adjustment, simulating road feel, and quieter use. It also looked like it allows for greater “true” power ranges.

I was excited to see that the bike shop offered one wheel on smart trainer option and that it was not crazy expensive. The Tacx Flow was only $350 and allows me to pop the bike into it with a simple click. One the bike is on the trainer, you should do a quick calibration to make sure the resistance and power readings are accurate.

Time to get bike on trainer and calibrated is under five minutes. It makes it is easy for those days when I want to ride but the rain gets in the way.

The Flow easily connects to several apps like Tacx’s own app and Strava. Getting the Tacx app connected to the trainer was a snap. It comes with a free month trail period, so it was a good way to get started. The app has a wide variety of rides. Some have nice videos and others are just GPS tracks, but they cover the gamut of rides. There are nice easy rides through the countryside or along the shore and there are long brutal climbs. The did experience a few hiccups where the videos would buffer, but the bike is far away from the hotspot and I have a tween who lives on TikTok. The other odd thing about the app was that if it connected to my bike’s cadence sensor, it would not record cadence data. I’m not sure how the trainer figures out cadence better than a sensor stuck on my pedal. I decided to pony up for the $100 yearly subscription without trying any other apps. I don’t know any Strava heads and liked the movies.

The trainer can also be driven by my fenix watch which can be loaded up with GPS courses from Garmin Connect. In some ways this a better way to use the trainer as the data integrates better with my other Garmin data and I can train on rides that I actually take instead of dreaming of far off lands.

In either case, the trainer gives me a better workout than the linear resistance of a non-smart trainer. It is more fun to have to deal with simulated climbs or to run a workout where the resistance changes to simulate sprints.

I also like the fact that I get power readings from the trainer. Power is not a metric I would pay $1000 dollars to add to my bike, but for $350 it is a nice to have. I might miss it once I am back on the roads and trails.

Is the Flow a great smart trainer? No. It is not a great trainer. It doesn’t simulate road feel and can really only simulate up to a 5 percent grade with any accuracy. It also requires regular calibration to make sure the bike’s tire and the trainer are properly connected.

It is however a great trainer for my needs. It didn’t break the bank. It is easy to set up and use all year long. When properly calibrated it can programmatically fake more than a 5 percent grade and really most of the places I ride don’t have very steep hills.

For a recreational rider in his 50’s with moderate needs. It is more than enough.

I would rather spend the extra money on upgrading my mountain bike to full suspension or enjoying fancy ciders after a long ride.