Sunday, November 29, 2009

Contemplating Upgrades...

We've had a great streak of weather this winter, however it's coming near the end at this point so the bike will likely have to be switched over to the trainer soon. I'll be bringing it into the shop to have it tuned up and the rear tire and skewer switched over, and that has got me thinking about potential upgrades that I want to look into over the winter. I'm still riding on a mostly stock configuration of my bike, but as I'm looking at getting into some proper races next season it's likely worth considering a few additions to suit where I want to go with the bike.


The one major change that I'm looking into at this point is adding some aerobars onto the bike to better optimize it for what I'm going to be doing. As it stands, I'm currently riding on a conventional road configuration - using drop bars and a 73 degree seat tube angle. This is ideal for group rides and races where you have the benefit of a draft as it provides more responsive controls. In these scenarios, aerodynamics isn't a huge consideration as you are protected from the wind for large portions of the race/ride. In most Triathlons, however, drafting is not permitted so that balance changes a bit.

Without the protective sheath of the peloton, the aerodynamic drag of the rider and bike is the primary force that a rider's energy is fighting. At my normal flat ground cruising speed (~32km/h), for instance, approximately 78.5% of the power that I am producing is expended to cut through the air. Thanks to this, the market is flush with all kinds of expensive accessories to help improve the aerodynamics of the bike itself - deep dish wheels, wing shaped handlebars, water bottles, etc.

These can be useful tools, however the biggest contribution to drag by far is the rider sitting on top of all of that fancy equipment. As such, anything that can be done to get one's body into a more aerodynamic possition will often have much more effect than anything else you can do to the bike. Thanks to this, for events such as Triathlon, the addition of aerobars has the potential to provide a lot more bang for the buck than any other upgrade. The loss of responsiveness is also less of an issue, as the anti-drafting rules force riders to spread out allowing riders more time to react.

The tricky thing is that there are a wide variety of different designs out there, so selecting the appropriate equipment can be tricky for someone like myself that has no experience using them. Adding to the complexity is that I don't have the luxury of a second road bike, so the aerobars have to be configured in such a way that the bike can still be used in the road configuration when necessary (group rides, hilly courses, etc.). I can naturally defer to my bike shop to help me with the details of how to configure these components, however figuring out which parts to buy is something that I'd rather do on my own (as they're likely to push what they carry over other products which may better meet my needs).

On the other end of the equation, one thing that I do have going for me is that my particular bike model was explicitly designed to function well in both road and TT configurations. The seatpost head can be flipped into a different possition that allows it to provide either a 73 or 76 degree seat angle (partially thanks to a bottom bracket located slightly behind the centreline of the seat post), so by purchasing another head and saddle I can switch back and forth between both geometries. That allows me to use full length clip-on aerobars and get my body into a position that is difficult to achieve with most conventional road bike designs.

Either way, I still have a lot more research that I have to do in order to figure out what I'll have to move around to achieve what I'd like to do here. Simple factors like whether the aerobars are mounted above or below the handlebars make a significant difference in how everything is configured, and with competing parameters (eg getting enough drop for the aerobars while not pushing the normal handlebars too low) it's a complex equation. I will naturally have a fitter work out the details once I buy all of the bits, but I'm still a good deal away from that point.

The other, more indirect, benefit to adding aerobars to the bike is that it makes hydration a little easier in a race scenario. Reaching down or back to frame or saddle mounted bottles requires the rider to move out of their normal riding position, slowing down the bike. On a training ride that's not a huge deal, but during a race one has to think twice about when they want to do this and it can ultimately lead to taking in less fluid than one should. With aerobars, however, there are hydration systems (eg Aerodrink) that can mount directly on the cockpit so that the rider can drink without having to move out of position.


I've posted a few times on this topic in the past and have been going back and forth with my choices for a while now, but it's getting to the point where I need to make a decission one way or the other. The tricky thing has been that each of the options has bits that I want, and all of them are missing somewhat critical pieces that another unit has. I had hoped for some new offerings from the vendors over the last year or so that would resolve that, but unfortunately there hasn't been a whole lot on that front.

Polar's CS600X has long been my favorite design amongst the group, however it has one critical flaw that is difficult to overlook. While Garmin's ANT+ protocol has seen wide adoption from third party power meter vendors, Polar's WIND protocol isn't supported outside of their own set of products. The more that I read about power training, the more and more important it seems to be so this is a major consideration on which computer I intend to go with. As ANT+ devices like Garmin and iBike offer a wide range of different choices on this front (Vector, Quarq, Powertap, SRM, etc.) that is a pretty significant edge.

Polar does have their own power meter, and while a novel solution its indirect measurement technique means that accuracy is sensitive to how it is installed. Without any local vendors that have experience installing the product, I'm concerned about how well they'll be able to set it up (and hence the validity of the information that it provides). I've also seen some degree of concern about its reliability, as the wires connecting the main sensor unit to the battery pod appear to come loose periodically.

As such, it's largely down to the Garmin Edge 705 and the newer Edge 500 models at this point in the game. The former has a colour screen and full navigation capabilities which are tempting, but the latter offers all of the core functionality for about half of the price (saving more money for an eventual power meter purchase). The 500 also has the advantage of a more modern design, such as accurate calorie computations (the 705 uses an older algorithm that is horrendously inaccurate) and a better heart rate strap (soft textile vs. hard plastic). It also has longer battery life and comes in a much smaller package. Further, judging by Garmin's behavour in the past it's also more likely to see substansive firmware upgrades in the future.

The iBike Aero is still on my radar, but it is significantly more expensive than the other options and has a bit of a kludgy design (limited UI, short life batteries, offboard wireless radio, etc.). I still love the idea of having air speed data, but I'm not sure that that's enough to offset the disadvantages of the design. iBike is rumored to have a new model coming down the pike in the spring that may resolve these issues, but without specific evidence that it addresses my concerns I've already waited far too long to make this decision.

I'll likely head over to some local shops to check out the two models once the Edge 500 starts coming into stock and make a decision at that point, however after thinking about this for nearly a year I really have to make a move ;) Naturally, if I'm going to get some aerobars mounted it's a good opportunity for them to install the new cyclocomputer and its sensors.

Naturally, I will want to add a power meter to the equation at some point in the future but that doesn't appear to be realistic at this juncture. The Metrigear Vector has the potential to open the door to that, however even at it's expected price it'll still likely take a while to save up the money to add that into the mix. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, as it'll give the new product some time for a shake down in the market before I buy into it.

Either way, I'll be looking into more detail on these topics over the coming weeks and figure out which way I want to go but I wanted to get my thoughts in here in case anyone has any suggestions on either front. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist with these things, and that means I waste a lot of time digging for every shred of information I can find on all of my options. That helps to avoid making mistakes, but it also means that it can take me forever to come to a decision ;)

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