THE 30CM EXPERIMENT

12/12/2017

“THERE ARE TINY RIDERS AND THERE ARE ENORMOUS RIDERS AND YET ALMOST ALL RIDERS USE EQUIPMENT THAT VARIES BY JUST TINY INCREMENTS...”

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When it comes to the cycling industry, ‘conventional’ is a word that applies to almost everything that we do. 

The bikes we ride are all built to meet stringent standards and regulations.  Frame sizing is based on generic top tube/seat tube lengths. The cranks we ride, range in length by about 10mm and stem lengths vary by about 4cm. The list goes on.

Is it just me, or does this baffle you too? Human beings differ greatly in size. There are tiny riders and there are enormous riders and yet almost all riders use equipment that varies by just tiny increments. Why??

‘Conventional’ is a term best described as, ‘being based on, or in accordance with what is generally done or believed.’

A rider who is 6’6 is some 46cm taller than a rider who is 5’0 foot and yet they use cranks that are almost identical in size. It doesn’t add up.

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I spend long hours on the bike, day after day and I am obsessive about comfort and mechanical efficiencies. If you look to the pro peloton, riders will make drastic changes to their position to save just hundredths of a second over a four-hour stage.  Why then, do riders who are partaking in ultra-events that last upwards of three weeks, not look to make changes to their position that will also increase efficiencies?

We all have our favourite position on the bars. For some it’s the hoods, others the drops and for others it’s the flats.  There’s no right or wrong position.  I personally spend a lot of time in the drops and in the hoods, if I’m riding at a more relaxed pace.  What I started to notice when riding for long periods of time is that I was longing for a ‘narrower’ position on the bars.  A position that would allow my upper body weight (the portion that tilts forward and grasps the bars) to be channelled directly in front of me as opposed to ‘at angles’ to my body.

For the last four years, I have been riding handlebars that are either 42cm or 44cm in width (Centre to Centre C-C at the hoods).  The width has generally been dictated by the bars that came on the bike when new, and I’ve never thought to alter this.  42cm seems like a reasonably ‘conventional,’ middle of the line width bar, so why would I want anything different? 

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About 6 months ago I switched to 36cm bars, and immediately felt a sense of relief.  Relief, not because I was ever in pain, but because I never quite felt compact and secure.  The switch to 36cm bars was a lightbulb moment in my cycling career. My comfort on the bike increased, I could spend longer periods of time in the drops, in an aggressive position and my power also increased as I now adopted a more streamlined position on the bike.  I felt great.

It’s common knowledge to most, that I suffer from an obsessive personality.  The 36cm bars felt so good, that I began to fanaticise with the idea of even narrower bars…

Whilst up in Japan completing my North to South crossing in October this year, I became adamant that I would find 34cm bars in one of the local stores. The Japanese / Asian population is generally smaller in stature to European’s and so If I was going to find ‘narrow’ bars, this would be the place. I searched long and hard, but had no luck? The narrowest bar that I could find was 36cm. How could this be? At 6’2 and relatively broad across the chest I was already using the narrowest bar available, how was this possible? 

This started my search.  I spent hours researching online, looking for bars designed for children and small women, but I could find nothing.  I came across a children’s bike manufacturer in the UK who produced 34cm bars, but they would only sell them as part of a complete bike.  I certainly wasn’t going to spend 750 pounds on a children’s bike just so that I could test the 34cm alloy bars…

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I tracked down a set of cracked carbon bars online (42cm 3T Ergonova) and took them into John Ilett, a carbon specialist with a small workshop just South of Perth. We decided to experiment and chop out a 12cm length of the bar to create a 30cm wide handlebar (C-C at the hoods.)  In order to create enough structural integrity, John used a portion of the carbon that he had cut from the bar to create an internal ‘rib.’  You can see from the images where the rib is inserted and although this doesn’t match the original aesthetics of the UD Carbon, it is hidden below bar tape, away from the eye.

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I’ve been riding the 30cm bars for two weeks now and can confirm it’s been another ‘lightbulb moment.’  My connection with the bars feels so compact and so powerful, that I can’t fathom how I ever rode anything wider.  When I switch across to my second bike and the 36cm bars that provide the steering, I feel as though I’m riding bullhorns. Furthermore, when I swap across to a mates bike, typically with ‘conventional’ 42cm bar and allow them to ‘joy ride’ on my setup, I feel as though I’m operating a parachute! The wind captured by my chest proving to be an obvious disadvantage.

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Track riders have been using narrow bars for some time now, the likes of Chirs Hoy riding bars as narrow as 22cm in instances. Some will argue that the ‘closed off’ chest position has the ability to reduce  oxygen intake into the lungs and decrease performance.  I haven’t noticed any disadvantages to date.  One thing worth noting is that when I first started riding more challenging terrain (gravel/sand) on the narrow bars, it required more concentration. The bars are certainly a little more ‘fidgety.’  I’ve had to increase the length of my stem by 20mm to a 150mm stem so as to achieve the same reach, but aside from this, I am now fully adjusted to my new position and won't be making the change back.  

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What’s the story behind this little experiment?  Don’t settle for what is ‘conventional.’ Just because components such as handlebars, cranks and stems only come in ‘normal’ sizes, doesn’t necessarily mean that ‘normal’ is right for you.  Look outside of the box when it comes to your bike fit and perhaps you will stumble across a lightbulb moment too.

Note: The problem with my obsessive disorder and always having to optimise things is that I’m now toying with the idea of even narrower bars…who knows where this will end up!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARRESTED IN CENTRAL CHINA

1/12/2017

“THE BOXES WERE FULL OF ILLEGAL DRUGS AND I WAS GOING TO BE STAGED AS A DRUG TRAFFICKER...”

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Knowing I had a long day ahead, not kilometre wise, but in terms of elevation, some 6,200m, I decided to set off early.  I had been told by locals that my target destination, an Ancient City in the middle of remote central China had fantastic night markets and I was adamant that I wanted to explore upon arrival.

A longish day on the bike, some 10.5hrs later I arrived at around 4pm.  I hunted long and hard for a hotel and eventually found a beauty at the top end of town, close to the markets and the bustling nightlife I had been promised.

Upon arrival at the Lobby, I was instructed that I must check in at the Police Station so that the Chinese Authorities knew of my whereabouts.  One thing that became more apparent as I explored further south and deeper into the remote Chinese Mountains, was that my ‘whereabouts,’ from a local authority perspective, was of more importance.  Looking back, this is fantastic, and in terms of my safety, useful information given the significant number of earthquakes in the area just days before my arrival.  At the time however, I remember being nervous that I was at risk of being extradited from the Country.

I boarded the pillion seat of a local scooter en route to the police station, weaving in and around the small roads with my passport, visa and divers license clasped tightly between my palms.  I hadn’t yet eaten since finishing for the day and so was concerned about my recovery and the following day’s ride.  I should have been focused on the task at hand and presenting well to the police, but I was more concerned about where I was going to find a Bubble Tea (my go to Asian recovery drink.)

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On arriving at the Police Headquarters, I was whisked away by a handful of policemen.  I wasn’t sure what to expect looking back at it, but I recall thinking that it was far more serious than it should have been.  I hadn’t broken any laws (to my knowledge) and I had a visa allowing me to travel around China.  Why did things suddenly feel so grave?

I was taken into a small concrete room, one dim yellow bulb hanging in the centre of the ceiling providing light.  It was just like what you’d expect to see in an interrogation cell.  A man walked in casually dressed, a suit jacket, jeans and loafers.  It turns out that this was the Police Chief. The Chief started speaking in Chinese…speaking no Chinese myself, It was difficult to communicate.  A quick phone call to the Chief’s wife (who happened to be an English teacher in a nearby city) and we were in business.

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As it turns out, I wasn’t in trouble at all, the Chinese were going through their due-diligence and registering that I had arrived in town.  They wanted to know my previous location and my plans for the coming day. In the event of an emergency, I could then be quickly located by the Australian embassy.  On a slightly more serious note, given I was close to the Tibetan border (forbidden land) there was some concern that I may be a spy looking to venture across into Tibet.  The penalties for this can be huge…

Feeling cheeky, and still eager for bubble tea, I typed into my translation app, ‘Where can I get bubble tea?’ I showed the Chief.  The Chief laughed out loud and typed back into his phone, ‘do you want to have dinner with me?’  This was the last thing I was expecting and it caught me a little of guard.  One thing I’ve learnt about my adventures is to go with the flow, and as such I responded ‘Of course.’

What came next, signalled the internal alarm bells.  As we exited the dark cell, a new officer appeared from another room along the passage way.  The officer was carrying two small boxes (picture 2 tissue boxes taped together and that’s the approximate size of each box.)  The boxes were stacked on top of one another, each encased in brown cardboard and taped heavily with brown tape.  My immediate thought was that the boxes were full of illegal drugs and that I was going to be staged as a drug trafficker.  My heart rate increased and my palms became sweaty.  What made matters worse is that I couldn’t simply ask what the boxes contained.  In any other circumstance, I would have jokingly made a remark about the boxes in order to obtain a feel for what was inside. In this instance, I was out of luck.

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Before I could type a question into my translation app, an SUV appeared at the front of the Police Station, the Chief signalled that I get into the rear of the car. He jumped into the front seat and ‘the boxes’ were placed carefully into the back of the car, right next to me... I was now in the back seat of a heavily tinted SUV with the Police Chief of an ancient Chinese City and what appeared to be a substantial quantity of illegal drugs. I did not like where this was headed.   

We weaved in and around the busy streets for about 15 minutes and eventually ended up down a small alley at a bright red door.  I figured that my fate was about to be decided and so took a deep breath.  The Chief hopped out of the car, went straight to the rear of the vehicle and signalled for me to collect the boxes.  Still convinced that the boxes contained illegal drugs, I made the decision not to touch them.  The last thing I wanted was for my finger prints to be on the box. I jumped out of the car, pretending I hadn’t noticed the Chief's gestures and walked up towards the red door. I opened the red door and we walked up a long, tight, flight of stairs.  The carpet was old and smelt rotten, I can remember it vividly.  At this point in time I recall questioning why I hadn’t checked into another hotel…None of this would have happened.

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At the top of the stairs I was surprised to see another glass door, behind, which was a table of local Chinese, in what appeared to be a fancy restaurant.  Confusion struck.  We entered and were greeted by the locals at the table. 

What I remember next, was the sound of the Chief ripping the brown tape off the boxes to reveal what was inside.  Time slowed, the Chief looked at me and smiled as he tore away the tape and cardboard encasing the package.  Deep down, I was convinced that a cloud of white dust was about to be revealed.  But I was wrong…there was no white powder.  What came next was a complete shock.  Out from within the boxes came six packs of Belgian Beers, Chimay believe it or not!?  My heart almost stopped…

The Chief reached into his pocket and grabbed his phone, he typed into his app, ‘I import the Belgian beers because I prefer the taste.’  My worry immediately turned to joy.  I hadn’t had a beer in a few weeks, let alone an authentic Belgian beer and I was no longer at risk of being locked up as a drug mule.  Success!

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The night proceeded to turn into an absolute laugh. One beer turned into about seven beers and we drank late into the night.  I didn’t speak any Chinese and my dinner compatriots spoke no English, yet we drank and ate dinner together like we were old friends.  Admittedly things got out of hand and we began sculling the beers out of the restaurant dinner bowls, chanting encouragement to see who could finish their drink first.  Having ridden for 10+ hours earlier that day, I was affected heavily by the beers and soon found that I was incredibly pissed. 

Following dinner, the Chief and his mates gave me a short tour of the Ancient City and we capped things off with a few rounds of Karaoke. Unfortunately, the only English tune on offer was ‘Diamonds’ by Rihanna, so I gave the Chinese a fantastic rendition…or so they thought!

What did I take from all of this?  When you’re in China and the Police Chief in an ancient city offers to take you out for dinner with his mates.  Say YES!

 

 

 

 

 

SCOTT ROAD RC LACE SHOE - REVIEW

27/11/2017

“ULTRA-LIGHTWEIGHT DANCING SHOE BUILT TO WITHSTAND HOURS UPON HOURS ON THE PEDALS”

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As an ultra-distance rider with a wider than normal foot, finding a shoe that accommodates my orthotic, conforms to my foot and doesn’t put pressure around the widened metatarsal of my small toe (bunionette caused from wearing shoes that are too tight) is incredibly difficult.  In the past I’ve purchased shoes that are a designated wide fit and up to two sizes too big, just to accommodate the greater volume of my feet during hot days on the bike when they swell.  Not only does this look ridiculous (clown feet,) the shoes haven’t supported my feet as they should (surely this explains my lack of watts…?)

That is until now.  I won’t mention what shoes I’ve come from, but what I will say is that they’re a top tier racing shoe and although as stiff as anything, which provided fantastic power transfer, they ‘accommodated’ my feet, they did not ‘fit.’

As such, my quest for the past few years  has been to find the perfect shoe.  Luckily, just one week prior to my departure for Japan and another few thousand kilometres on two wheels, I found what, in my eyes, is close to the PERFECT shoe.

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Low and behold, the Scott Road RC Lace.  At 245g (US8.5) the RC lace is up there with some of the lightest shoes currently on the market.  The HMX Carbon Sole is awarded a Stiffness Index of 9, while their top tier, RC SL Shoe is awarded a 10.  In my eyes, unless you're one of the worlds sprinting greats, guys like Sagan, Kittel or Cavendish, I’m confident that the RC Lace is going to be plenty stiff enough for you.

The 3 bolt cleat holes allow for plenty of adjustment and the sole markings make it incredibly simple to set up your cleats.  I am anal when it comes to cleat setup, but since setting my cleat’s on the RC Lace, haven’t touched/adjusted them once.  For those that know me, this is unheard of…

Given the nature of riding I partake in, at the end of a two week adventure, my hands are as dexterous as a pair of boxing gloves.  As such, I’ve always been wary of laces.  Another worry with laces has been the inability to adjust the tightness of my shoes on the fly.  I’ve been wearing the RC Lace for two months now and have logged close to 9,000km on the pedals.  I’m pleased to report that it took just one ride to sort out how tight I needed the laces.  Like walking and running shoes, once you find that sweet spot, it’s easy to replicate day after day.

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At my local Scott dealership I also tried Scott’s Road RC Shoe, a very similar shoe that utilises a double boa closure system.  As mentioned above, a little sceptical of the laces, I was keen for the Boa version to fit, however was pleasantly surprised that the Lace up version had a slightly more supple upper and as such, conformed to the shape of my foot much better. If you are blessed with a set of ‘normal’ feet, then I’m confident that either shoe will fit well.

Out on the road, the RC Lace is an absolute work horse.  To be honest, for a shoe to prove itself, I almost have to forget that I’m wearing it.  The RC Lace ticks this box.  At no point have I found myself with hot spots or pressure points.  Whether I’m out beating myself up over 10min efforts or in the hills dancing up the climbs (at 80kg I don’t dance up climbs, but heck, in these shoes it feels as though I am) I really do forget that I’m wearing shoes at all.  Power transfer is brilliant and like ‘new bike syndrome’ I honestly do feel as though I’ve bought myself a few extra watts.

Scott currently offer the Road RC Lace in a matt/gloss black with fluoro yellow laces and sizes range from 38US to 48US (no half sizes.) The fluoro laces weren’t for me so I’ve swapped them out with the spare black laces that were supplied in the box.  I can’t comment on the innersoles as I am a big advocate for orthotics, but in terms of appearance and structure, they are up there with the best.  Scott also provides adjustable arch support inserts and so for those that don’t currently use orthotics, the arch support as provided in the box may provide the additional support that is required.

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The RC Lace retails for $289 (AUD), and at this price point offers incredible value.  In my experience, shoes of this quality often retail for close to twice the price.

My one tiny niggle with this shoe is the lack of colour options.  Black is fantastic in winter, and I do actually like the contrast of black shoes against white socks, but I would love to see the RC Lace offered in white.  When it comes to summer, nothing quite beats a fresh pair of white slippers and matching white socks. 

VERDICT

I have longed for the perfect road shoe for close to two years.  I can confidently say that I think I have found it in the Scott RC Lace. A serious set of road slippers that function flawlessly, look good and won’t break the bank.

9.5/10