New affordable 7 gram AX-Lightness seat cover

7 grams of AX love

7 grams of AX love

AX-Lightness Premium AX1000 saddle & "cover" on scale

AX-Lightness Premium AX1000 saddle & "cover" on scale

A big box just arrived from AX-Lightness today, and we always enjoy opening the box to fondle the goods. But while I expected to see the meticulously crafted, carefully bubble-wrapped, signature AX-Lightness carbon parts, what caught my eye instead was the new 7 gram AX-Lightness “seat cover of love”.

Is AX-Lightness branching out of the lust-worthy bike part business and going directly into the lust business?

Out of interest I measured the regular Phoenix saddle (3k carbon weave) against the Premium Phoenix saddle (1k carbon weave) and the Premium, with the new seat cover included (see photo at right) came in at the same weight as the non-premium saddle sans sexy cover! So the difference between the two saddles is 80 Euros ($110 USD)  and 7 grams. This particular 7 grams can in some cases mean the difference between a “casual fun ride” and a “serious consequences ride”.

We have two of these in stock but I can’t bring myself to post them on our website… I have no idea what the MSRP should be. Suggestions welcome…

And if you haven’t figured this out already, this is indeed a condom… A few readers have asked me if this is really a seat cover or not :-)

World’s most aero UCI legal bars?

John Cobb’s new wind tunnel optimized position for me has my arm rests 5cm lower than my 3T Ventus LTD bars, and has my elbows much closer to each other. My choice was to either buy a new Cervelo P4 with a shorter head tube, or to use a crazy dropped stem with some non-integrated bars, or to have some bars custom made. You know where this is going…

I also want to have UCI legal bars, which means not exceeding the 3:1 aspect ratio. The most aero commercially available bars I could find were the Tula Aero Bars, which are 17mm thick and 50mm deep. They come in a narrow version that’s 38cm wide. Al Morrison’s “rule of thumb” says that:
0.001 square meters of frontal aera is equivalent to 1 watt, which is ~ 4 sec in a 40 km TT.

This had me tempted to do the aero-or-die position as it would be removing the entire frontal area of the wing section of the bars. But there are two issues with using aero-or-die bars. The first issue is that the UCI could very easily make this illegal; there’s a rule that says something like “bicycle handle bars must supply sufficient control to safely steer the bicycle”. So far it doesn’t seem that anyone has been banned for using aero-or-die bars, but quite a few people say it’s only a matter of time, and I’d hate to be that guy at Nationals who gets told that his bike isn’t legal in the starting gate. My friend Matt Johnson, who is the president of the Garmin-Transition Professional Cycling Team laughed at me when I told him about aero-or-die bars, and said “I’m sure they wouldn’t allow those in the Tour”. The second reason for not going with the aero-or-die bars is that I have a wife and two young kids, and the “die” part of that name was inserted for a reason.

The frontal area of the Tula bars is 380mm (the width) times 17mm (the thickness) which comes to .006460 square meters. To lower that number there were two things I could do — I could make the bars narrower and I could use thinner tubes. The thinnest aero tubing I could find that would still be structurally sound for making bars came from the wonderful frame builder Dave Tiemeyer who recently made a custom TT Tandem for me. It’s the tubing he uses for his seat stays. It is 13mm x 38mm, meaning it’s UCI legal, and it’s thinner than the 17mm thick carbon wings on the Tula bars. Then I decided that I’d make the bars as narrow as possible. I came up with 28cm as the right number, pretty much by experimenting with holding my hands on the tops of my regular road bars. I can’t yet tell you whether this is sufficient as I haven’t ridden these new custom bars yet, but it sure looks safer than the aero-or-die bars.

Back to the math… The frontal area of my new bars is 280mm wide times 13mm thick which comes to .003640 square meters. That’s about .003 square meters less than the narrow Tula bars. According to Al Morrison’s rule of thumb, this should save me 3 watts or 12 seconds in a 40k. The Tula bars do have the inline brake levers, and I opted for traditional brake levers on my custom bars, so I have to add back a little frontal area. My lazy math says that I might give up 2 of those 12 seconds by using some really thin 3T time trial levers, so now we’re down to a 10 second savings. That’s 10 seconds over the Tula bars — not 10 seconds over my now illegal 3T Ventus bars. Once these bars are done I’ll do some frontal area calculations and see if I’m really back to where I started. The 3T Ventus bars have remarkably thin wings and very little frontal area.

These initial prototype bars are being built by my great friend, master frame builder JP Boylan of James Frames here in Boulder. Thanks JP!

If you’re interested in having some custom bars made, let me know. I’d consider making more, depending on how well these work. These are not adjustable at all, and are probably best for people who have done wind tunnel testing and know exactly what they want.

John, maybe you can send us some customer’s measurements and we can make them some bars?

AX-Lightness weights

A big box arrived today, which cost a fortune to ship from Germany, but not because of how much it weighed… The very large box felt empty. If I had more time I’d weigh more pieces, but seeing as I’m tight on time, I decided to pull out four things that I was most interested in.

Wind Tunnel Test Results

In my previous blog post I described my experience at the Texas A&M wind tunnel with John Cobb. Drum roll please… The results are in. Nathan Lesniewski, who was working with John Cobb for my testing session, sent me two files via email today:

Nico’s Report (MS Excel)

Nico’s Raw Data (PDF)

In the Excel Report there are three lines in the top section under “Comparison”. The “3T” line is my original position and my original equipment. (Pretty good…) The “Base Look” is my original position but with the Look Ergo stem and the ugly duckling bars. (Significantly worse) The “Final Look” is my new position, but with the Look Ergo stem and the ugly duckling bars. So by comparing the “Base Look” with the “Final Look” it appears that I could save 250 to 300 grams of drag by going with the new position and new helmet.

So the questions are:

  1. If I could get my 3T Ventus bars in the same position as the ugly duckling bars, would I save the 250-300 grams of drag from my baseline 3T numbers?
  2. Will I lose power by riding in this new position, hence negating the aero benefits?
  3. How much time does 300 grams of drag, at 30 MPH equal in terms of time saved over 40k? (I produce about 350 watts at sea level for 40k)

As for #2 above, I plan to do some riding with my PowerTap and see if I can produce good power in that position. My instincts say I can, as it felt pretty comfortable, and I’m flexible. But if I can’t, then raising my bars might be the way to go. A good amount of the drag reduction was due to the helmet and the narrowing of my arms, so I could decide to go with the higher position and narrower arms. I don’t feel like the narrower arm position would affect my power or breathing as I’ve raced like that before.

Any other feedback would be welcomed.

Wind tunnel testing with John Cobb at Texas A&M

As I was driving to Denver International Airport yesterday I was talking to my wife, Sarah, on my cell phone, and telling her that I was going to miss a day of riding while I was doing my wind tunnel testing at the Texas A&M wind tunnel with John Cobb. I didn’t realize that I’d be doing 4 hours of five-minute intervals. I’m pretty sure I did 17 five-minute intervals inside that tunnel, and some of those were in pretty uncomfortable positions. Near the end of the testing session I asked that they lower the resistance, which they did by putting me in a lower gear. (I couldn’t shift into a lower gear myself because I didn’t have cables on the bike.) I should have asked for that sooner, but live and learn.

My overall impression of this wind tunnel testing was that it was much better than my first testing session in Ft. Collins with Colorado Premier Training. In Ft. Collins, while the staff (Mark Cote in particular, who now works for Specialized) were quite knowledgeable and experienced, I felt like the equipment was duct taped together, the tunnel was “blustery”, and the results weren’t repeatable. In Ft. Collins they only tested me straight-on (zero degrees of yaw) and they asked me not to pedal. Each run lasted about 30 seconds. With John Cobb, at the Texas A&M tunnel, each run lasted about 5 minutes, they had me pedaling pretty hard the entire time, and they rotated me through a range of yaw angles that went from zero to 20-degrees. And I was very happy to see that the numbers were repeatable. Two or three times during the four-hour testing session they switched me back to a previous setup (same equipment and same position) to see if they got the same drag numbers as before. I was quite pleased, and I gained confidence in the testing methodology, because repeated tests were pretty much spot on with the numbers from before. In defense of the Ft. Collins testing program, I was one of the first riders tested there and it’s quite probable that the equipment and the testing methodology have improved since I was there. For example, they did have a rotating platter to test various yaw angels, but it was broken on my testing day so we didn’t use it. I’m assuming that it’s working now and that they do test multiple wind yaw angles.

Similar to my first testing session, I got to witness the wind tunnel test before mine, and the guy “came out 2 minutes faster” than he went in. That really means that “the guy” was way too high to begin with, and John Cobb lowered his bars by about 10 cm. I’m not exaggerating, it really was something in that range. I mentioned to the testing staff that given my Ft. Collins testing session, where they couldn’t make my position any faster than when I came in, that I wouldn’t be surprised if John Cobb and his team also couldn’t get me any more aero. To bolster this fear, when I came out of the tunnel after my baseline tests, several people in the computer filled room said things like “wow, you’re one hell of an aero kid” or “you’re the most aero person we’ve seen so far. It’s no wonder that you can go fast.” These are not the words you want to hear. You’d much rather they say “Holy cow! Your position is like a parachute….” They also tested my 2009 Cervelo P4 alone and said it was measurably faster than the three Cervelo P4s they tested earlier in the week. They attributed it to my soon-to-be-illegal 3T Ventus LTD bars, and my Zipp VumaChrono cranks, and my one-of-a-kind center pull brake. The bike is also fairly small at 54 cm.

After the initial baseline tests they swapped out my non-adjustable, sleek and beautiful 3T bars with a very ugly, not-so-sleek, set of uber-adjustable bars. These bars consisted of a Look Ergo Stem (courtesy of Al Morrison, best know for his tire rolling resistance research) and basically two base bars. It’s hard to describe why it was essentially two base bars, but there was a real base bar, and then the clip on Profile bars extended not only forward, as you would expect, but they also went horizontally pretty far, in effect creating a double-decker base bar. The ugly duckling setup also had rather large, and squarish, clamps on the bottom and were literally the antithesis of my 3T bars. John Cobb and his team then adjusted the elbow pads and the extensions to match my initial position with the 3T bars and ran a test again. I was significantly less aero with this setup, which was due to the far from ideal bar setup. It surprised me how much less aero I was with the same position, but with really ugly bars. I guess equipment does matter.

The bulk of the afternoon was spent trying to reduce my drag by changing my position on the bike. They lowered me 5 cm and noticed a slight improvement. Then they lowered me another 2 cm and got the opposite effect — more drag. So they raised me back up those 2 cm and called that my ideal drop. Then they tried moving my arms closer together and this is actually where they found the most improvement with my position. I have fairly flexible shoulders and in the end they had me riding with my forearms touching each other. Then then tried angling my forearms up, in a slight Floyd Landis “Praying Mantis” style position, and with my body type this was worse than a level extension. I guess that’s good as the Mantis position is no longer legal, either. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget that we did try some crazy positions, including a few where I wore my prism glasses and kept my head entirely down. The prisms change your angle of view by 90 degrees and allow you to look forward with your nose pointing directly down. It turned out that I was indeed pretty aero in this position, especially with my borrowed short-tailed retro Bell Vortex aero helmet (courtesy of Kevin Nicol) but the difference was too small to make it worth the risk of driving a bike at 30 MPH while looking through little mirrors. I also have a suspicion that in a real race those little mirrors would get covered with sweat in about 10 minutes and become useless. Nevertheless, it was a fun experiment. Anyone want to buy a set of prism glasses at a bargain?

Then we moved on to trying different helmets and skinsuits. In a nutshell, the fastest helmet for me was the Bell Meteor II that I’ve been letting Kevin use this past season.And the fastest skinsuit was my Discovery Team Nike Swiftspin skinsuit. My team Excel skinsuit was a very close second, close enough that I’ll continue to use it out of loyalty to my team. And oddly the long-sleeve Garmin-Slipstream speedsuit was the worst. John Cobb thought it looked like a fast suit, and was questioning the data, so we ran a few tests comparing the Garmin-Slipstream speedsuit with the others and it consistently came out significantly worse. This is the skinsuit I let Kevin Nicol use at Moriarty for the National Record Challenge this year and maybe I slowed him down by doing so. Sorry Kevin. Actually, this is probably a good time to mention that John Cobb said, particularly in regards to clothing and helmets, that the optimal equipment choices are super idiosyncratic, and what’s great on one rider might be horrible on another. So in reality the Garmin-Slipstream speedsuit might have been great on Kevin.

Then to wrap things up we went all the way back to my starting position (on the ugly-duckling bars, not the 3T bars) to confirm the overall improvements we’d made. I was happy to see the drag numbers go up, and a bunch of nodding heads indicating some sort of satisfied approval, as the little dots on the computer monitors showed my drag to be back where we started.

The math is complicated. Despite their best efforts to limit what variables change from one test to another, things other than the rider position and equipment do change with every run. As an example, they were shooting  for 30 MPH of wind with me, as that’s the speed I went at Moriarty this year, but the actual speed of the wind appeared to vary maybe a few tenths of a mile per hour from run to run. And the temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure, can all change during the 4 hour testing session, too. So to get really accurate data they need to factor all of those minute changes into the drag calculation equations. It’s possible that John Cobb’s software was factoring those variables into the numbers in real time — I’m not sure. But they were in a hurry to pack things up, and let the Texas A&M staff go home, so our post test debriefing wasn’t very extensive. They said that they would send me the complete report after Thanksgiving, once they had time to compile and review it. As a quick parking lot assessment, they guesstimated that my new position was about 25 seconds faster over 40k than my old position, assuming a good aerobar rather than the ugly duckling.

So was it worth the money and time? Absolutely. There were at least half a dozen races for me this year alone where I either lost a place by a second or beat the guy ahead of me by a second. I had the second fastest time at the Cherry Creek Time Trial, on the final race of the series, by less than one second. Taylor Phinney beat me in one of the 10-mile Lyons to Boulder time trials by 1 second. I got third at Masters Nationals and was only 4 seconds ahead of 4th place. And Kevin Nicol, my great friend and ExcelSports.com teammate, beat me at the National Record Challenge by a scant 3 seconds. So seconds do count.

I’ve spent my testing budget for this year, but eventually I’d like to go test with Kraig Willett of BikeTechReview.com in the San Diego tunnel and see what they can do.

Here are some photos:

1153 gram aluminum clincher wheels

Update: These rims are now available, but they are very limited in supply.

I wish I had more time to blog about these, but I thought at least I could post some photos.

  • C-4 rims (not available to the public yet)
  • M5 flanged front 24-hole
  • ExtraLite SX rear 24-hole
  • Sapim CX-Ray spokes
  • 1153 grams

I haven’t ridden these yet so I can’t give any ride feedback. The rims are very narrow and shallow. They look great, but 24/28 might be the way to go.

Interbike 2009 Vegas Photos

This is sort of fun technology — I’m using an eye-fi SD card in my Panasonic DMC-LX3 which is uploading photos to flickr via my CradlePoint portable router connected to my Verison USB720 EVDO USB Modem. I then used Flickr Slide Show to create a Flash slide show of the images.

So now I can walk around the Interbike 2009 Expo shooting photos and they appear live on this blog almost instantaneously. I’m not sure yet if you’ll have to refresh this page, but you probably will, to see the new images. I’m also not sure if the Flash movie will cache the images and XML making it difficult to see the new ones as they arrive, but we will find out soon enough.

If you’d like me to shoot anything in particular, feel free to send me a text message and I’ll try to accommodate your requests. 303 882-8083


Created with flickr slideshow.

Ritchey Broken-Away Ti/Carbon

I generally ride at 4:30 AM, so when I stared out at 3:00 PM on this sunny June day in Colorado, I figured that maybe I felt off because my body wasn’t used to riding in the heat of the day. I literally felt drunk, or maybe that’s an exaggeration and it was more like I was tipsy, as I started my ride.

I headed up our closest switchback climb in Boulder, Colorado — Flagstaff Road. As I was climbing I just felt off balance, not exactly dizzy, but not quite all there. Then about 2 miles into the climb I looked down and noticed my water bottle cage move in relationship to my pedals. I immediately thought about a recent repair I’d done to my bike to resolve one of those bottom bracket creaks that ends up having noting to do with your bottom bracket. (This is the case with 90% of BB creaks, in my experience.) The day before this ride I spent about an hour trying to diagnose a creak, and in the process of elimination I removed the downtube coupler on my Ritchey Break-Away Ti/Carbon frame and cleaned everything, greased it up, and reinstalled it. This didn’t end up solving the creak, but it was one of the dozen-plus things I did to the bike before finding the culprit; the creak was caused by a set of  bolts that go from the rear dropouts up into the seatstays being loose. (If you have one of these frames I recommend checking these bolts periodically. I didn’t even know they existed.)

Anyway, back to my ride. I’ve always had a little fear tucked away in the back of my head about what would happen if that relatively small coupler were to fail while riding, and as I jumped off of my bike I was almost positive that I was experiencing just that — a broken coupler. But to my surprise, the little black clamp was right in place with no obvious sign of damage. So I flipped the bike back upright, put it down on the pavement and pushed on one pedal while holding the seat and the bars; the classic bogus test that strangers do to your bike as they say “Let’s see how stiff this puppy is”. Let’s just say that the puppy didn’t pass this test; the BB shell moved about 5 inches to the side with very little pressure on the pedal.

I can’t believe that I missed the actual damage to the frame when I was initially inspecting the downtube coupler, but I guess I was focused on a small area and not even considering other possible issues. Also I had the bike entirely upside-down and from that vantage the damage was obscured by the BB shell.

Here are a few photos of the frame:

I’m no frame builder, but it looks to me like there was a cold weld on one side of the seattube/BB joint, and that it failed there first, and then migrated around to the other side where it tore the titanium.

Now to the happy ending. I purchased the frame at ExcelSports.com and they took the frame back from me, without even giving me a suspicious look as I said the famous “I was just riding along” words,  and sent the frame to Ritchey. A week later Excel called me and said “Nico, your new frame is here.” I LOVE the bike, and I’m happy to keep riding it. I love the customer service I got from Excel, and from Ritchey, and I’m glad that it wasn’t the little coupler that failed. And I’m really glad it was my bike that was off, and not my brain. (My balance is fine for now…)

Aluminum Campy 11-Speed Cassettes (RECON) Are Here

This makes me think of the movie Spinal Tap… “But this cassette goes up to eleven!”

We just got our first shipment of Campy 11-Speed Aluminum Cassettes from Recon. They are BEAUTIFULLY machined, and quite light. They are not as light as the 10-speed, but I’m sure that’s just due to the additional metal for the 11th cog. I’m not sure if most cassette weights are with the lockring or without, so I’m posting a photo of both. We have the cassettes in 11-23, 11-25 and 11-27. All are silver.

We should be getting 11-speed titanium Recon cassettes in a few weeks.

EDGE Stems have arrived…

We haven’t had time to do anything other than unpack and photograph these stems. They aren’t shipping the long or the short stems yet, but we’ve got 2 of each of the middle range (10cm, 11cm,  12cm). They come in two styles, and I think they both look fabulous. Sorry for the lack of a review, but we will try to get to it soon. They are light, but not crazy light by any means. They look and feel like jems.

The white faced one on the scale (120 gr) is a 10cm, and the black faced one (129 gr) is a 12cm.

The stems are all +/- 6 degrees.

Edge plans to release 3 more sizes: 75mm, 90mm and 130mm. So the full range will be: 75mm, 90mm, 100mm, 110mm, 120mm and 130mm. But they don’t have a release date yet and it might be several month out before we get any. Edge says the stems have been hugely popular and selling like hot cakes, which is great.