Monday, March 16, 2009

Toronto International Bicycle Show

As I mentioned in my weekly update, I headed down to the bike show last Friday to see some new equipment as well as to pick up some bits that I needed. I went to the fall edition of this show last year, and got a few good deals on cycling clothing. With the new season rapidly approaching, there were a few things that I still needed so I elected to head down when I went to get my race kit for the Achilles 5K.

Unlike the fall show, however, the spring version is also a trade show so many of the manufacturers had booths showing off their wares. Unfortunately, none of the electronics vendors I was looking at (Polar, Suunto and Garmin) had a booth, but there was still a lot of interesting stuff on display that I figured that I should do a quick write up about.

Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 & Di2

One particularly interesting piece of kit that was being shown off was Shimano's new electronic groupset. Rather than using complex mechanical ratchets to pull shifting cables, the new system uses electronic switches, wiring and servo motors to control the derailleurs. Among other advantages, this system has the potential to allow cyclists to have shifting controls available both on the brake levers and the ends of the aerobars. It also allows the derailleurs to perform more sophisticated maneuvers such as trimming the front derailleur slightly to optimally work with varied chain angles as the rear gears are changed. Lastly, as there are no cables to stretch out over time there should be significantly reduced need to fiddle with manual trim adjustments. If trim does need to be adjusted, however, this can be done on-the-fly by pressing a simple button and then using the shifting levers to get things back in line.

Playing around with it, the shifting levers for the new system need a lot less travel (as they're just switches, and don't actually have to apply any force) and shifts are much faster and nearly dead silent. Navigating through the rear cassette can be done pretty much as quickly as you can move your fingers, and the system can handle rapid shifts without any hesitation. The front derailleur was especially impressive, as it was able to shift smoothly no matter how hard I was pedaling. Further, the new brake hood design (shared with the mechanical Dura-Ace 7900 system) are also a significant improvement - aside from being more comfortable, they also shed the cables sticking out of the side to come in-line with Campagnolo and SRAM's offerings.

The big downside to this system, however, is that the estimated price for the groupset at this point is about $5,000 which is way out of my league at this point ;) That will naturally come down over time, and hopefully this technology will work it's way into their lower-end lines. For now, however, this is more of a curiosity than anything else. There is naturally some resistance to electronic systems in this market, but as I'm an electrical engineer this type of design is very attractive to me.

As for the mechanical Dura-Ace system, the new levers are definitely quite attractive but as they changed the amount of cable pull for the front derailleur and brakes one has to upgrade quite a few parts to change over. My current bike has an Ultegra setup, and my original hope was to upgrade it piece by piece, but with the new system it's looking like I'll have to do things in larger chunks. Fortunately, a new Ultegra system will likely be following the 7900 groupset so that might offer me some options when it comes around ;)


The other booth that I found quite useful was a small shop in Milton (IMFit) that I've been looking at to get a VO2Max test done. As I've mentioned in the past, heart rate training is an important aspect of my regime but at this point I'm working on estimates of exactly where my zones are located. Given measurements during races, my maximum heart rate is substantially higher than the age-based formulae predict. Right now I use the highest rate that I've recorded to calculate this, but a formal lab test such as this would yield much more accurate results.

The tricky part of this is that it's been difficult to find places that actually do the tests. While I did find a few places in Toronto, most of them only offer it as part of a coaching program and that's a lot more than I want to spend. IMFit came up a couple of times in cycling-related fora, however as they're out in Milton I haven't had the chance to check them out until now. I talked with the owner of the shop for a few minutes, and was quite impressed with their setup so I'll likely be looking more seriously into this.

Right now is not really the best time given my knee, but after I do Around the Bay I'll likely look at heading out there to get the test done. One of my concerns about the test was that the maximal nature of the protocol means it can be disruptive to training. After talking with them, however, it doesn't seem like that would be a huge issue. They only require one day of rest before the test, and the protocol doesn't really require them to push the athlete all the way to failure so recovery wouldn't necessarily be a big problem. The test itself only takes about 16 minutes or so, and only the final phases are really strenuous. Further, the cost is only $160CDN and followup tests only cost about $100 which is quite reasonable given the price of heart rate monitoring equipment.

The other interesting thing that they were showing off was a sophisticated computerized bicycle fitting system called Retül. Using a motion capture system, the computer is able to model the dynamics of the rider in order to provide a much more fine grained fit than the eyeball approach that most shops use. As this allows them to see small problems that may not be obvious to a fitter, it has the potential to avoid a lot of problems that can add up down the road. The downside is that this fitting costs $250, so for basic requirements it's certainly overkill. If I do end up adding aerobars, however, it might be worth it as the complexity of getting a proper fit that will work well for both road and TT configurations is trickier than simpler configurations.


Like the fall show, there was a large section of the floor devoted to the various shops in the Toronto area. As this was the first day, there were still a number of good deals to be had and I took the opportunity to pick up another pair of bib shorts and a pair of cycling gloves. I also found a great deal on a bike that fit my father's needs, so I called him down and he picked one up for himself. He still needs to go back to the store to get fitted for it (as they weren't set up to do that at the show), but hopefully when the weather gets better we'll get some chances to go out together.

The other tempting option was that the bike shop I normally do business with had a bunch of Cervelo P2SLs (last year's equivalent to the current P1) on sale for a pretty good price. As I'm looking at doing Triathlons down the road, I'm likely going to be adding aerobars down the road. Between the bars themselves, a new saddle and seatpost (so I can switch back and forth quickly), the cost adds up quickly. Getting a dedicated TT bike like this is certainly more expensive, however the geometry of the frame is better suited to the aero position and not having to fiddle with switching pieces back and forth would be a huge asset. I eventually elected against doing so as buying a second bike within a few months is a little crazy, but I was thinking about it :oP

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