Friday, May 18, 2007

On to New Challenges

To say that it has been a while since my last post is an understatement. For a while there I think I slide off of the face of the earth. I actually wasn't sure if I was ever going to blog again. You see the first 4 months of this year were more about detraining than training. I was often sick with several nasty infections that my preschool age daughter brought home with her during the winter and then when I finally felt better it seemed that I could only get in a few days of training before some other crisis would occur and whip out another week of training. I was constantly starting my training and never building. I became so frustrated that I started to think that perhaps triathlon, and all three of its sports are perhaps too much for me to handle at this point in my life and that I should perhaps just focus on one or two.

The problem with this strategy is which sports to choose. As I got closer and closer to Wildflower my frustration built and I guess as a protection mechanism I decided to just not doWildflower. I needed a new goal. Something different and something realistic with the time I have available. So lately I have been focusing on cycling. My goal is to climb Mt. Wilson by the end of the year. Here is a nice 3D image of the over 5000ft climb.

(image courtesy of CalTech Velo)
And here is the elevation profile. Definitely an epic climb, but no extreme grades.

(image courtesy of CalTech Velo)

So far I have made it to about 3000ft. Other members of my tri club have been going up this route too, but I usually don't ride with them because I have to be back home at a reasonable hour (I couldn't keep up with them anyways), so I leave the house at five or six in the morning. The triple crankset on my Trek 1220 has been a life saver. I don't think I could move my 250lb body up this climb without a triple. I am usually in my lowest or next to lowest gear the entire way up. No standing, just spinning.

While I appreciate the triple I still am not happy with this bike. All this cycling has made me more sensitive to the fact that my bike just doesn't fit right. It is a 50cm frame which is the second to smallest frame they make and I am six feet tall. I bought a new seat post and toyed with the idea of a new stem and even a new fork, but in the end that would just be putting more money into a bike that will never be 100% right for me. This was hard to admit because I wanted my next bike to be a tribike. I also wanted to have a road bike in the stable, and at my level of skill a road bike is going to be more important than a tribike, because I am simply not fast enough to take full advantage of the aero position available on a tribike. So I started to look for a new road bike and pushed the idea of getting a tribike back for a few years. Who knows. Maybe I wouldn't be doing triathlons in a few years, but still cycling. Then I would really appreciate the choice of a new road bike. If I still am doing triathlons by then, then I know I have earned the tribike. At least that is what I keep telling myself. . .

So what to get. There are so many more options with road bikes than in tribikes, and I combed the magazines and internet for options. I was becoming obsessed. The problem is that no matter what bike you look at there is another "better" bike for a little more money. That is just the way it is. I did not want to regret that I could have gotten something better if I had just spent a little more money, and yet I have to cut it off somewhere. After struggling with the issue for a while I came up with a system. At the risk of revealing to everyone I am an incredible nerd I am going to share with you my system in case you have to make such a decision yourself.

First I selected the features that I cared most about, and ranked the factors. I then awarded each bike points based on how well they satisfied each factor. For me, I cared most about ride quality, because my Trek 1220 is just bone-crushingly stiff. The second factor was that I wanted a decent component group. I am a big guy so I need something that will work well and have good durability. The third factor was weight. It is not that important since I am rather heavy already, but for some illogical reason it mattered to me. The last was the brand name. I guess this makes me shallow, but the name Cervelo, Pinarello or Orbea it is worth something to me. Certainly less important than the other factors, but still worth something. I would be dishonest in my analysis if I left it out.

Now you may notice that I left fit out of the equation. Fit is really a do or die issue. Either it fits or it doesn't. Obviously I can't buy a bike that doesn't fit. But what I am doing here with a point system is really trying to establish a baseline of value, or at least the value to me of each model of bike. Then I go try them out.

So I ranked each factor and gave more points to higher ranked factors. 10 points available for factor one, 8 points available for factor two and so on. If the bike exceeded my requirements it got full points. If it met my requirements it got half points, and if it was deficient it got no points. For example, for ride quality I based it mostly on materials. Carbon, Scandium and Lightweight Steel bikes got full points, other steel bikes and lightweight aluminium got half points and regular aluminum bikes got none. Ultegra or Dura-Ace was full points, 105 was half and Sora or Tiagra no points. For weight, bike less than 18 pounds got full points, less than 20 half and greater than 20 nothing. Etc.

After adding up all the points I then divided each point total by the price of the bike. This gives me a value quotient or value for the money. Certain bikes came up as good values right way, particularly Felt, Jamis and Raleigh. They seemed to offer the best value for the money. But did I get any of them? Nope. This is what I got.

I found a great deal (40% off) at a local shop for a 2006 Bianchi 928 Carbon. It fits very well particularly because the size is 55cm which is actually a rare size. I have short legs relative to my height, and so I need the largest bike I can get while still having a tolerable standover. 55cm is the largest I can go with my legs. Most other brands offer a 54cm or a 56cm. A 56cm is too tall for me to standover comfortably and a 54cm will have a cockpit that is too short. Some compact geometry frames would also work, but they often have headtubes that are too tall, so this bike worked out perfectly.
The full carbon frame allows the ride to be really smooth. The component group is Campagnolo Veloce, which from all my research is very reliable and strong. I gather that the general concesus is that Veloce is between 105 and Ultegra in terms of quality, but that with Campy the lower end components share more in comon with the high end stuff than with Shimano, so it is difficult to compare the two. Really the only difference between component groups for Campy is weight so Veloce should be very durable. I was skeptical of the Campy system at first because I wasn't familiar with it, but after trying it out I like it much better than Shimano. The brifters fit my large hands better, and I like having two separate levers instead of one. I find that I can't mishift like I sometimes do on Shimano, and the cabling is much cleaner.
The bike is also just at 18 pounds. And the name . . . got to love it. I admit I go a little crazy over Italian stuff. It's not rational, I know. The bike was handmade in Bianchi's factory in Italy with Italian components and even Italian wheels. By the way, this is not true of most Bianchis, which are often made in Taiwan with Taimanese components. The bike got full points in every category and because of the closeout price, it was by far the best value of any other bike I considered. The only problem with the bike is that it doesn't have a triple like my Trek so going up Mt. Wilson my not be possible for me. It does have a compact crankset so I may be able to get the gearing I need by swapping out a cog or two in the cassette, so I am still considering what I want to do about that.
Now I have been riding this piece of art for a few weeks, and I am in cycling heaven. Now on mornings when I'm scheduled to ride I wake before my alarm goes off, and I haven't missed a single ride.

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Blogger Prince Roy said...

glad to see you're back posting again. I was very impressed with the gains you made and hope you're still on track.

4:55 AM  

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