Monday, March 17, 2014

Compact Convert

I can't think what took me so long. I finally got myself what's commonly known as a "compact" crankset and my life is transformed!

Well my excuse was usually that for the type of riding that's largely available in the areas where I cycle most frequently, the standard configuration of a 53/39 on the front and a 11-28 on the back covered most of it...or seemed to at the time.... it's just another case of hanging on to what you know. I would find myself grinding only on long climbs of over 10%, of which there are not that many on my schedule.

My main fear was (and I think this accounts for a lot of the resistance to changing to a compact) that through always having an "easier" gear I would lose maximum strength.

Having spent years turning myself into a true spinner (one with a natural cadence of over 90rpm) it may have seemed an obvious choice to get myself a gearing configuration that would ensure I was always able to keep the cadence high. It took my experiences in Northern Thailand last November to bring the point home to me. We're a conservative bunch, us cyclists!

zig-zag :)

Climbing Doi Inthanon with my above-mentioned standard setup convinced me. Without really having the top fitness I should have needed at that point, I was definitely guilty of underestimating the 2600-meter-high beast and it's notorious long sections around 20%. By the time I got to within 5km of the peak, my lower back was giving me so much grief I needed a rest. The grinding had taken it's toll. I did make it to the top, but it was not a noteworthy performance, and I needed some good  physiotherapy.

After that experience I realised that there was a lot of riding I wanted to be doing that would hit gradients for which my current gearing was far from ideal, and so after some serious investigation I finally settled on a set of Rotor cranks with Q Rings at a 50/34 configuration. The Q Rings are elliptical chainrings which ensure a consistent application of power to the pedal stroke by passing quickly through the dead spot in the cycle - but I will expound more on that choice elsewhere. I was already using the Q Rings on the standard setup anyway, so I knew they worked.

I had heard many riders saying they had not been able to get used to riding a compact. Others mentioned that it took a long period of acclimatisation. I experienced no such trauma. I was sold from the first ride.

What I notice immediately is that I now use all the gears. I do much more of my riding in the big chain ring, staying in it through some rolling terrain which used to be back and forth between the big and small. I'm using a 10-speed 11-28 cassette on the back and in the 34 chainring I can now spend much more time in the smaller cogs below 17 which are more gradual increments and mean that I'm much more able to keep my cadence optimum.

Of course a big thing is that I now am able to keep an almost Froome-like spin going up much steeper gradients, which is the more expected result. I may now spin out out on the faster descents but, though I'm unlikely to stick a compact on my TT bike, I think for most other purposes the compact setup works perfectly. I honestly am 100% sold!

But then I'm not stuck permanently with the same gearing. An additional attraction with the Rotors is that for the smaller 110mm BCD spider needed to fit chainrings as small as a 34-tooth, you can now actually get chainrings up to the full standard configuration as well, so if I want to ride a standard setup on the same bike at any point, all I need to do is switch out the chainrings. There is also a "semi-compact" configuration of 52/36 which - I am told - is popular.

Ok - on to the science.


According to this great gear calculator site ( if I'm spinning in my 34x28 at a cadence of 80rpm - theoretically at the lower end of my ideal cadence range - I'd be progressing at a speed of 12kmh, whereas on the 39x11 I'd still have to be doing 14kmh to be at this cadence.

Or looked at another way: let's assume for the sake of argument that on a steady 15% I can just about hold 12kmh. My cadence on a 34x28 would be 79rpm whereas on a 39x28 it would be 69rpm. That's the difference of a spin to a grind for me.

At the other end of the gears, in a 53x11 gearing I will spin out at above 72kmh - that's assuming I can still deliver some force at a cadence of 120rpm. On a 50x11 I'd be spinning out at above 69kmh. Not a big deal.


The main argument for keeping a high cadence is that it helps flush lactic acid away from the working muscles. As we all know, it's the accumulation of lactic acid in a muscle as it works at a borderline intensity at which the body is able to supply enough oxygen (aerobic threshold) that will determine it's point of absolute fatigue. So if we are aiming to keep our threshold efforts going for as long as possible, it would seem a no-brainer that we prolong the time we can spend at that effort by keeping the muscles working optimally. No?

On long climbs this would mean using a compact crankset. Discuss :)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Project Orca - Episode 6 - Failure!

I would love to be able to continue saying good things about this bike. I did really enjoy riding it. But something happened to my dream machine that has put my faith in the bike - and even more so in the manufacturer - in the dog house.

Read about the build.

The sad twist to the story begins on a rather wet training ride in January this year during a momentary loss of balance on a slippery surface at around 15kph coming onto a bike path in the northeast of Singapore.

As I lost traction, I shifted my weight backwards against the saddle to counterbalance, miraculously managing to stay upright and rolling forwards, but the maneuver was greeted by a loud "crack!". My immediate thoughts were that I'd cracked the seat post, but on closer inspection the post was still intact. Then I noticed a serious rupture in the top of the top tube about 10cm in front of the junction with the seat tube. Bizarre!

Bearing in mind that at least 70% of my rides involve descending at speed through often hair-raising and technical sections, the fact that the failure occurred on some relatively quiet, flat Singapore backstreets was perhaps even more bizarre - and extremely fortuitous!

As the bike still seemed rideable I immediately diverted to the Orbea shop at Changi Road (it's origin) and explained what had happened. They took the bike off me and promised to sort it out with the manufacturer, all of us assuming at this point that it was a straightforward "lemon" scenario. They took detailed photos of the crack and sent them off to the Orbea head office. I waited, assuming my only obstacle to be the long-windedness of cumbersome corporate bureaucracy.

To my surprise I was called by the shop a week or so later with the news that Orbea were contesting the claim on warranty as they were suggesting the fracture was made by external impact. I quickly wrote to them assuring them that nothing had touched the frame, and that the only "impact" was my right buttock against the nose of the saddle - both of which had fared much better than their frame!

Orbea have refused to honour the warranty, insisting that there must have been some impact to cause the failure. I was on my own. I have no witnesses. It's my word against theirs. They suggest that the frame might have been put under some kind of pressure which weakened the structure previously.

I have tried to point out that the frame had never been subjected to any kind of mistreatment, and was set up and worked on only by the expert mechanics in their own outlet in Singapore. I have also pointed out that, regardless of what the fracture looks like, as the customer I should be given the benefit of the doubt (the actual production cost of another frame is only a matter of a couple of hundred dollars at most). They say I can send the frame to them for further analysis, but that if they still don't accept warranty cover, then I will have to pay all shipping charges - to Spain and back!

I have pushed this with the company as far as I can and they still won't budge. I'm a survivor. My instinct is to move on.

I paid more than I consider sensible to own this bike. I don't intend to have to buy another frame anytime soon, and I want to get the other components (especially power meter/cranks) back on the road, so I am working the assumption that it was a freak glitch in carbon layering or something, and getting it fixed in Singapore with a company called The Rebound Centre that specialise in carbon repairs. It won't be as pretty as a new frame, but they assure me that the repaired section will be strong. It won't be hurtling down hills with me and I'll probably retire it to shopping duties as soon as I can find a new mount for the good bits. I may paint over the name in the meantime though....

Those around me, however, insist that I should not let this go. That I have a right to demand compensation for having my life put at risk by dodgy equipment. The fact that the top-end frame you produce breaks under normal riding conditions is already forgivable only if you insist that it was a freak specimen. To then not be willing to cover it by warranty implies that this is normal or expected! I'd say this is borderline pathological behaviour by any company.

Unless of course you just squirm out of it by insisting that I broke the frame myself. Sorry but I was there at the time and I know that nothing came into contact with the frame. I can also make sure a lot of other people know it. Who do you think they are going to believe?

So I am writing this account as I consider it a duty to inform others to be wary of these frames. This is their flagship Orca Gold, as ridden to Olympic gold by Samuel Sanchez in Beijing. It doesn't come cheap, and if it can't even stand the pace with a duffer like me, I wouldn't rate it's chances with even a cat 3 rider. You'd stand at least an equal chance with a Chinarello!

This has been made extremely difficult, and my outspokenness has been tempered greatly, by the fact that I have a long and happy relationship with the bike shop in question, who just happen to be the main SEA distributors for Orbea. The shop themselves have always been exemplary in their standard of service and support, and they themselves feel enormously let-down by the company.

So I'm sorry if my exuberant blogging and bike-porn postings have led any of you to get one of these frames, and I can only hope that the same thing doesn't happen to you. The rest of the stuff involved in the build I still stand by - for the moment :p

The snake year was a pretty dismal year for me overall.

It can only get better though.....