26 August, 2013

Product Review: Lezyne Steel Drive Floor Pump

Regular readers will know - I'm a sucker for beautifully manufactured gear. My Abel fly reels are machined masterpieces. My Giant Defy road bike frame is a thing of beauty. And I find the unsanded blanks of my Scott A4 series fly rods unique in a sea of sameness. I lust for the Kingpin centerpin because my Kingpin Spey is such a perfect reel.

A couple of years back, I discovered the bike tools and components of Lezyne. Wow. Impressive. The kind of stunning machining, just-right heft, and rugged but elegant style that I go for. Thus far, I'd never run across a need for their gear. Until recently when I decided I needed a new tire pump. My Serfas pump has become increasingly inconsistent, so I hopped in the Interwebs to check out Lezyne. Sure enough, they have one. Wood handle. Steel body. machined solid brass chuck. Now you're talking!

So, I've added a Lezyne Steel Drive Floor Pump to my quiver. Of course the aesthetics are marvelous. The machine brass chuck feels hefty in-hand and turns butter smooth. The wooden handle makes plastic-handled pumps seem so -- well -- wrong. But how does it work?

Much like the classic Silca pumps of old, the Lezyne has a thread-on chuck. No more of this "depress the chuck, flip the lever, hope it seals..." as with so-called "modern" pumps. The Lezyne is precise and powerful. But best of all, this chuck design makes you slow down. It makes you appreciate the experience and live in the moment. Kind of cool in today's wired-24/7 world. If you don't go slow, it doesn't work.

The pump stroke is absolute genius. Smooth, consistent, and controlled. The first stroke pressurizes the gauge system and then each adds 2-3 psi per stroke. Like everything else on this fine piece of gear, it just works. In a way that suggests that this was exactly like a pump was intended to feel.

 So, if you appreciate fine craftsmanship over the latest whiz-bang features, check this one out. You'll likely dig it as much as I do!


22 August, 2013

Product Review: Garmin 810 Cycling Computer

As my Garmin Edge 305 was limping along on it's last legs, my wife was kind enough to give me a new Garmin Edge 810 cycling computer as a gift. This was an incredibly pleasant (and generous) surprise! The 305 had started randomly losing satellite signals, disconnecting from the speed/cadence sensor, and other curious weird acts that are the telltale signs of imminent failure.

The 810 is Garmin's latest generation, top of the line cycling computer. I think this thing could likely control the Mars Rover. But the coolest feature may well be Garmin's online Garmin Connect data collection and analysis tool. With Connect you can review a wealth of data about your ride, compare to other rides, download routes, and much more. I also have the app on my iPad and iPhone 5 and this is where it gets cool. The 810 comes with built-in Bluetooth. Finish a ride, hit save, and SKIDOOSH! your rid is uploaded to Garmin Connect via the smartphone. This is freakin' sweet.

The user interface is a giant leap forward over the 305. Initially I didn't think I cared much about having a touch screen, but it makes on-the-road use so much simpler. Want to see where you are on a map? A few quick swipes and you're there. But where I find it really shines is in customizability. I have a standard "dashboard" (sorry buzzword stolen from my day job in marketing) of data that I like to have on display during a ride. With the 810 I was even able to add a couple of elements to it. Currently, my "home" screen includes:
  • Elapsed time
  • Distance
  • Time of day
  • Speed
  • Average speed
  • Heart rate
  • Pedaling cadence
I've found that, for me, shooting for a 75 rpm cadence seems optimal to ensure a solid pace, without wearing me out on longer rides. I might spin a bit faster on hills, or slow down on a flat windless road. But having a target really helpls! Average speed is also something I've recently added. This is a metric that I've been using this season to gauge overall fitness.

During the recent Susan G. Komen "Ride for the Cure" metric century, I discovered another awesome feature - the ability to download routes! How cool to have turn-by-turn navigation and not have to worry about missing a turn? Kudos both to Garmin for this feature, and to Komen for putting downloadable routes on their web site!

Complaints? Really only two. First, the battery life seems short of the claimed 15 hours. Although I've not fully discharged it. I have noticed that it loses the first 40% of its charge pretty quickly, then slows down. I will be monitoring this for any issues while it remains within warranty. Second, it randomly loses the Bluetooth connection to my phone, for no apparent reason. A minor annoyance at most.

Need a new computer with a full complement of feature and a great UI? The Garmin 810 is worth every cent.


13 August, 2013

Jack of All Trades?

Had an interesting revelation as I was struggling against a stiff wind on Saturday while trying to keep up with a group of faster, fitter riders than myself. I'm a little bit good at a lot of things.
  • I can ride my bike 60 miles in under 4 hours.
  • I can tie a number of fly patterns.
  • I'm a competentent, capable skier.
  • I hit a reasonably high percentage of sporting clays.
  • I catch fish. Sometimes large ones.
  • I can row a drift boat.
  • My shooting skills are reasonably good.
  • I'm reasonably quick on a mountain bike.
But I'm likely not expert at any one thing. I suppose part of it is that I have friends who are really good in their respective disciplines. I have professional fishing guide friends who can row a river in the dark, blindfolded, with only one oar. I shoot with a buddy who hits clays I haven't even SEEN yet.

At first, this sort of bothered me. I haven an internal competitive streak that, though I mask it well, is definitely there. I don't like being outpaced in anything.

After some reflection I realized that this is OK. I have a personality that needs diversity. And that's OK. No matter what time of year it is, there's always something fun I can go do. My buddy who hits all the sporting clays can't cast a dry fly to save his life. And I have a friend who shoots quite well, but a long bike ride is 15 miles for him. Sometimes, being a generalist is OK.


11 August, 2013

Exhausted but Exhilarated

I did my first real 100%, no fudging, I know it Metric Century ride today. Last weekend's Komen Ride for the Cure fell a little short of 60 (by my GPS) and I'm not sure I could count the rid to and from my house as 2.5 miles. But today, we did 62.6 legit miles.

And it was brutal. I rode with people who are faster than I am, and fitter than I am (some both). But I persevered. The ride out was into a solid, gusty wind. And at a pace a good bit faster than I'm accustomed to (see earlier faster, fitter comment).

But the day was extra-special. Relatively new riding buddy Chris' does a ride each year to celebrate his birthday and does a ride equaling the distance to his age. Chris turned 60 on Thursday. Pretty damn cool.

The route friend and ride mastermind Josh cooked up was solid with some beautiful scenery, some great roads, and some brutish hills. I'm no climber, but I held my own today. And I'm damn proud of it. Last year I barely rode 200 miles. This year I've had a few times when I got in over 150 miles in a week.

Has it sucked? At times. Has it been disheartening to get dropped like a hot rock on some group rides early in the season? Yup. But today made it all worthwhile. I held my own with a solid group of riders.

Damn, I'm tired. And tomorrow, I'm going to be sore. But it will be the happy soreness the only comes from earning it. It was a good day.


07 August, 2013

Initial Product Review: Giant Defy Advanced Frameset

Last week I made a quantum leap in cycling - a move from my trust aluminum Giant OCR frameset to a trick Giant Defy Advanced carbon frame.

With my Shimano Ultegra grupo, this makes my ride roughly the equivalent of a Defy Advanced 1. My wheelset is a bit heavier, but far more bombproof for a 200# guy.

Though it would be easy to assume that I made the move to carbon purely for weight reduction, that really wasn't the primary driver. Michigan roads suck. Our brutal freeze-thaw cycles during Winter wreak havoc on our roads. And flat-broke municipalities simply can't keep up with all the maintenance that needs to be done. Aluminum's greatest strength is it's key downfall - it's rigid. This rigidity translates into effective power transfer and solid handling. Unfortunately, it's relentless on the cyclist - transmitting every imperfection straight to your body.

In an unexpected turn of events, I scored a gently used frameset on eBay, which was quickly shipped. Then the guys at Aberdeen Bike & Fitness offered to do a 24-hour turnaround build-up. The net result was that I had my new ride the week before my first Metric Century. Sweet!

A defective front tire blew my first attempted ride, but my second was a rousing success. I have a regular weeknight training ride that I like that's just under 30 miles. Right away, I notice two key things:
  1. Moving up a half-size from the Medium to the Medium/Large was the right thing to do. I can just get a lot more comfortable with just a little bit of extra room.
  2. This thing is FAST and SMOOTH!
I picked up over 2mph in my average on my first outing. A steady 17mph was easy peasy. I think this was due both to improved power transfer, and the ability to handle rough pavement.

I'd been warned, "Carbon feels different..." by a number of people. And, it definitely does. Carbon frames can be tuned by altering the layup, material, and reinforcements to have certain area perform differently. On the Defy Advanced, the rear triangle was clearly design to be rigid laterally -- for excellent cornering, while compliant vertically -- to soak up road vibration. Initially, this was an adjustment. At times the rear almost feels like I'm starting toward a flat tire. But it's just the carbon doing what it does best. Yet you can lay it down in the curves and at tracks like it's on rails.

The oversized bottom bracket is a very noticeable change. The lateral stiffness is incredible. This is noticeable in cornering stability, as well as acceleration responsiveness. I'm sure the oversize head tube is part of this as well.

A side benefit of this upgrade is that I can now use standard reach brakes! This means my sweet Ultregra brakes could finally be installed. This upgrade is SWEET! After years of crappy proprietary Giant long-reach brakes, the Ultegras are amazing. Considerably stronger, better modulation, and a generally more high-end feel.

All of this was put to the test on Saturday - with my first ever Metric Century (100km) in the Komen Ride for the Cure event. There's no way of knowing how the OCR would have fared, but on the Defy I felt GREAT! Even the notoriously hilly Unadilla-Hell-Pinckney region really wasn't an issue. And the ability to stretch out a bit made a long day in the saddle no problem. I finished 60 miles in well under 4 hours at a nearly 16mph pace. I've got another 60 on the calendar for this Sunday, so I'm eager to see if the results are consistent.

Bottom line -- comfortable, responsive, and surprisingly high-performance. We'll see how it feels as I get a few hundred miles on it, but early impressions are rock-solid!