Saturday, April 25, 2015
Facebook did something interesting for me today. It pointed out that I'd posted the above photograph 3 years ago today in the album "Reasons For Cycling In Malaysia".
That means it's 3 years since I had my epiphany with cycling that started a journey which brought me to where I am now. In that 3 years I have set up a cycling touring operation, run a lot of tours and excursions, ridden bikes a lot, spent hours every day setting up new adventures, poring over routes and hotel options etc, I've gone through a lot of tubes, tyres, chains, cassettes, saddles, shoes and other bits of bicycles and all the related gear that wears out fairly quickly when you're riding this much.
I have also shifted the focus of my energies massively, which has been tough in many ways, but that's the only way to make such a seismic shift happen: put all your eggs into one basket!
We're still nowhere near a point where I could sit back and enjoy my achievements. However, this poignant little reminder from Facebook prompted some reflections on the journey so far.
Around 3 years back I started taking photographs during my rides around Kuala Lumpur as I rediscovered the joy in being alive in such beautiful surroundings, with the fitness and freedom to propel myself anywhere I wanted. I felt I had to share this stuff with others - that it was too good to keep to myself - and so i started posting the pictures on Facebook. Many people reacted. Even many living in the area had never seen these roads and hillsides. I felt that we had as much to celebrate, as cyclists in our humble little environment here in Malaysia, as the cycling residents of the Alpine and Pyrenean regions did, albeit in a completely different climate - and with no winter! From there ideas formed that would lead me to where I am now.
At the core of my epiphany, of course, is the humble bicycle, and my relationship with it. So here are some reflections on what I believe are the universal underpinnings of a passion for 2-wheeled self-propulsion.
CYCLING - A TRIBUTE
To love cycling is to relish the act of self propelled travel, to find expression in the giddy speed of the downhill, and to extract meaning from surmounting the obstacle of the uphill.
Maybe an essential part of it, is in the early discovery. As a child, a bike meant freedom. It was a ticket to the wide outdoors. I think for those of us who continue into adulthood with our fascination for cycling still intact, despite the fact that we may now have a wide array of easier, motorized options, that sense of freedom never really leaves us. The next adventure is at the mercy of our next whim, with our strength and motivation being the only required forces to get us wherever we want to go.
There is joy too in the knowledge that overcoming everything that challenges us makes us stronger. Thanks to our physiological inheritance, the more stress we throw at our bodies, the better they adapt to deal with it next time. It's a kind of poetic justice.
The solo cyclist is a lone traveler in intimate communion with the natural environment. An inquisitive child of the earth, a Don Quixote in search of a worthy opponent. Like all really worthy things in life, there’s a certain madness to it. In a group we become part of a fraternity of challenge, where the social and competitive agenda can elicit effort from us beyond our expectations.
We are fiercely competitive beings in our essence. We should embrace these instincts with good humour and tolerance. I think it’s only when we develop issues with this that things start to get ugly. Too much intellectual interference. If we deny our base instincts with misguided aspirations to lofty ideals, we usually end up amplifying the worst of them (think of our experiments with communism!).
Racing is still the ultimate expression of this competitive instinct, and provides a healthy focus to our training, giving us peaks to strive for, which are then followed by natural moments of respite for recovery and reflection. These days however, I don't meet many cyclists who join races. Many seem to find their entire ethos in the new order of GPS-tracker-cum-social-network programs like Strava that open every aspect of your rides to public scrutiny. and have created a constant-achievement-agenda that seems to have imprisoned a large contingent of roadies into a kind of mental hamster wheel.
I’m a happy Strava user myself. It’s a very useful monitor of training volume and progress, with many features that other training systems would do well to copy, but I know that if I fall into the trap of feeling like I have something to prove on every ride it will seriously undermine A) my ability to improve as a cyclist, and B) my enjoyment. These 2 facets may seem mutually exclusive, but they coexist quite happily on most of my rides. However, I'd say that my rides generally fall into one or the other: I'm either following some structured plan (training), or I'm going with the flow (group or longer solo rides).
For me though, the real joy surfaces when I’m on a quiet road in the hills, with nothing but the sound of my breathing and the conversation of nature around me. When I am in no hurry to get anywhere in particular, nor to return home. This sense of oneness with the world is my mantra, where the rhythm of my legs spinning is a meditation on the meaning of life; a prayer to the forces of nature that combined to put me here on this piece of precision engineering among these gigantic geological protrusions from the earth.
Friday, April 24, 2015
I actually first came upon the idea of trying out Rotor cranks when investigating the options for a crank-based power meter a couple of years back. I had whittled my search down to the German company power2max's offerings which they pair with a selection of crank options, and within their range the Rotor 3D+ seemed to have good reports and an unusual look, and was designed for the BB30 bottom bracket of my new frame.
As I documented in my account of the bike build, my initial responses were positive. The cranks felt stiff. Rotor machines them from aluminium using their "trinity" drilling process in which three holes are drilled out along the length of the cranks in order to shed weight without reducing stiffness. Since I was dealing with quite a bit more weight in the power meter unit, I couldn't really compare them weight-wise to my previous Dura Ace crankset.
I had opted to just switch the chainrings from my other crankset, in part because I wanted to get a better idea of comparative merits without too many variations, so I had opted against the more radical change of fitting Rotor's iconic Q Rings. I had also selected the 130BCD version of the power2max, a choice that I would come to regret only a couple of months into riding my new set up when faced with the gradients of Northern Thailand.
After grinding my way up the monster of Doi Inthanon, narrowly escaping destroying my lower back on the last 5km to the 2600m peak at gradients above 20%, I became a sudden, immediate, convert to the compact crankset. Unfortunately the 130BCD dimensions of my power2max allowed nothing more compact than what I had. Major dilemma. If I'd had no intention of riding hills much, the choice was perhaps forgivable, but given that my immediate and long-term future was increasingly gradient-orientated, the choice seemed ridiculously short-sighted. Especially when I found out that for a 110BCD spider, Rotor now make chainrings up to a 55 - thereby eliminating entirely the need for the larger BCD format.
By chance, one of the bicycle shops near where I was staying in Chiang Mai was a Rotor dealer. Having had a couple of conversations with the owner about the local hills and my set up, I decided to see if the conversion of my chainrings to the elliptical Q Rings would make a difference. The claim is that the shape of the Q Rings takes you through the dead spot in your pedal stroke faster, so that your maximum engagement of power coincides with the wider point on the chainring. This should translate to a better application of your power when pushing hard.
I can actually see myself as having been in quite a fortunate position now. A lot of reviewers of the Q Rings are unable to be really certain of the advantage offered by the technology, whereas I, doing monster gradients on back-to-back days, could immediately feel the advantage the Q Rings afforded me even though the chainrings had the same number of teeth. I wasn't spinning exactly, but there was a smoothness to the grind that really made a difference on those 20%+ gradients.
There are often worries with chains slipping off elliptical rings during shifts at the front derailleur as highlighted by some of the pros losing their chains at crucial points in races. Though this has happened to me a couple of times, it is always due to the FD not being properly set up. The variation in distance of the chainring to the FD cage within the cycle is not that great, and as long as you have both rings set up in the same configuration, and well adjusted, there's no more chance of losing the chain than normal.
THE NEW ORDER
Next step was to get myself a compact set. I wasn't prepared to fork out for another power meter crankset, but since my older frame had a BSA threaded bottom bracket I decided to give the original Rotor 3D (BSA specific) cranks a try. This time with the 110BCD and a set of 50/34-tooth Q Rings. This is the basic "compact" chainring combination used often now by climbers.
As I've chronicled before, the transition was seamless. I immediately loved the compact set up and found myself increasingly less inclined to use the bike with the standard chainrings, using it mostly only when I want to know my power output for specific training or testing purposes.
The 3D cranks are apparently a little heavier than the 3D+, but irrelevant in my case as, with the Rotor spider instead of the power meter, they are definitely lighter. I can feel very little difference between the two models.
GETTING IT RIGHT
More recently I have built up another bike. This one is specifically a climber, and once again I've opted for the 3D+. This time it's the new 2015 model which aesthetically varies from the older one with a more subtle and understated logo. It's also a 110BCD of course, with the 50/34 Q Rings again. I don't currently have a power meter on this bike, but my intention is to add the Rotor InPower crank-spindle-based meter when it becomes available later this year.
Obviously on a brand new bike, the newness of everything devalues judgement of the performance of individual components of the bike, but I'd say that the new 3D+ feel even stiffer than the old ones. The weight difference is also now tangible, though I opted for the new MAS (Micro Adjust Spider) which adds a little more mass, and so a tiny bit of weight. However, when I get the InPower fitted, there is a proprietary software that can track your pedal stroke and give you a reading on exactly where you should micro-adjust the spider to the Q Rings to maximize the power application in your own pedal stroke.
So I guess you can assume from this that I am rather a devotee of Rotor's products across the board. I haven't yet tried the Q Ring XL which ovalizes the ring even further. I would be interested to try them of course, but not so interested that I'd go out of my way to find them - which i would need to.
Since you can tell I go by the maxim "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", it will probably have to wait until something else comes along to rattle my cage before I make a significant change (to my current hamster wheel!), but Rotor are consistently making stuff that works for me, so as far as their scope of expertise goes, and for the moment at least, I'm a happy end-user.
I will update once I have the new InPower meter and have optimized my set up even further.
Sunday, April 19, 2015
FUEL FOR HUMANS
A continuation of my investigations into the modern diet disorder (see posts 1 & 2).
The reason I'm now calling this Nutrition rather than Low-Carb-High-Fat Nutrition is basically because I no longer regard this as a novel idea for eating well, losing weight, and preventing disease, rather a reversion to the fuel the human body evolved to digest and absorb over the past 2 millennia.
Some have suggested that I must be living a very sad life of self-denial, but it's actually the opposite: I feel liberated to eat stuff I've always loved, most of which continues to be wrongly demonized as it has been for my whole adult life. All I have to leave out is the fluff. I look at people eating bread or rice or noodles with a similar sense of pity that I have for smokers. Sure I once used to enjoy the sensation of satisfying my cravings for an addiction to that stuff, but I'm thankfully rid of it now, and I've never felt better.
DIET - THE HISTORICAL DEVIATION
We've been eating this way for the 2 million years of our evolution from pre-chimp to what we are now. Only around 10,000 years ago (that's the most recent .05% of our history) we made a practical decision that would have dire consequences. Grain.
I've been reading a lot of history. It's well documented that the whole shift to living in settled communities - the birth of "civilization" - caused us to look for an alternate food source that was easy to produce in large enough quantities to feed a community of people that could then be freed of the need to hunt and forage, and dedicate themselves to other tasks that benefited the community/landlord. The development of bread and noodles and other products followed, and it kind of worked, because it filled you up. The problem was, that it wasn't very nutritious. Not something immediately apparent perhaps, but it wasn't long before the double whammy of living with each other's dirt, and eating nutritionally poor food started to impact human health and cause all kinds of new ailments and diseases. Enter the plagues of the middle ages.
Still obesity wasn't a big problem, basically because people were too poor to eat enough to make them fat, and the insulin reaction that accompanies our modern consumption of fluff, was low partly through this minimal diet, and partly because the grains were still not refined, so the carbohydrate absorption was slowed by the fibrous elements in the grain. This changed with the Industrial Revolution.
As technology evolved, and industrialization combined with food production to create more effective ways of processing stuff, the whole agenda of producing food in the industrialized West morphed into a fight for corporate supremacy of the mass producers of stuff that could be easily cultivated by machines and stored. Grain and sugar. This provoked new ideas in boosting growth, fighting pests, prolonging shelf-life, adding flavour enhancers, and increasing speed of absorption that have created food addicts out of most humans, who equate the craving for sugar and refined carbohydrate with a healthy appetite. It also created the need for vitamin and mineral supplements and all sorts of therapies and treatments - hey, big business!
AGAINST THE GRAIN
It's hard. It's anti-social. If we insist on eating real food and telling others how they can be healthy and not need to pop pills, or carry any excess weight, just by avoiding all that fun-but-empty stuff that they're obsessed with, we come across as grumpy prophets of doom. Carbohydrate has been hard-wired into most cultures, so that the arrival of the mass-producing, mass-marketing sugar- and grain-selling giants on the doorsteps of every nation on the planet, with their super-refined fluff and messages of wholesome well-fed happy families was greeted as the second coming of whoever their prophet happened to be. Now, globally, all of the messages we receive from the media reinforce our right to satisfy our cravings for comfort.
EAT TO LIVE
But food is not about comfort. Food is fuel for growth and activity. If we get rid of our addiction to carbohydrate, we will eat only when our level of growth or activity demands fuel. We will no longer live to eat, but eat to live. We don't need half as much as we think we do.
If you're reading this without background on the real science of the modern eating disorder, then you may want to check out my previous 2 posts where I cover the basics and which are linked at the foot of this article.
THE EXPERIMENT CONTINUES
And so on to my updates on how this is all working for me in my quest to fuel myself while training for sport (see previous articles). I've been eating like this now for more than 5 months and I can now really keep going on a bike for hours - in fact I've not had to test the limits of my endurance yet. I get very hungry, usually the day after long sessions, but I never get weak with hunger or experience a significant drop in energy. I know my body is running on a very high percentage of fat. I have stabilized at 72kg, which is about 5kg lighter than my previous, fittest, best, and at almost 57 I'm full of energy.
At the moment, though there are those who differ in opinion, I see that there has to be an element of carbohydrate in the diet of the athlete. The timing is the crucial element. Basically, though your body will synthesize glycogen for your muscles from protein if denied carbohydrate, the process is of course much faster with carbohydrate. This is a crucial consideration if you are training daily, as it is clear that maintaining optimum glycogen stores will promote the best energy for training, which in turn maximizes the training effect. You have a 2-hour window after training that your body is in replenish-and-recover mode, and there's no way you will provoke an insulin reaction regardless of what you eat at this point.
However, as I discussed before, and as Finnish triathlete Sami Inkinen has outlined clearly in his excellent blog, you will need to minimize the intake of carbohydrate in your diet on a general basis in order to teach your body to metabolize fat most efficiently for a maximum range of intensities of activity. Sami suggests a reduction to 15% calories from carbohydrate, which is more than the 5% suggested by Tim Noakes and the Real Meal Revolution diet, but it has definitely worked for him.
There is no hard-and-fast rule on the relative quantities of one macronutrient against another, especially for fit athletes who have little problem maintaining weight. Different approaches suggest slightly different ratios. What is clear is that sugar, starches and refined carbohydrates of any kind can not be considered part of a healthy diet. Anything high in the glycemic index is out for any point during your day when your body is, or has been, at rest. We must maintain the homeostasis at all times to be functioning optimally. That would account for the whole of the average day for the majority of humanity with our sedentary lifestyles.
Multisport coaching guru Joe Friel has collaborated with the author of the Paleo Diet books, Dr Loren Cordain, in producing the Paleo Diet For Athletes. In it they suggest that a meal directly after anything over 1hr of strenuous exercise should contain high glycemic carbohydrates - better in liquid form like a fruit juice, and that the subsequent meal a couple of hours after exercise can also contain a fair amount of carbohydrate. The reasoning being that your body needs to replenish glycogen stores and so will have plenty of uses for the sugar, and that it will not create an insulin reaction to your raised blood sugar.
In my own experience I would say that, while it is probably the only time when you can take on the higher GI carbs, if the intention is to train your body to learn to better metabolize fat, then it should be a fairly minimal dose of carbohydrate. Your storage capacity for glycogen is small.
OK, so I'm going to run you through an idea of my daily diet, not because I believe I'm onto anything more significant than anyone else following these principles, but just so those who wish to try it out can see that it probably isn't that hard. This is not about quantity. If you don't sabotage your system with crap fuel, your body will tell you how much to eat. Forget counting calories.
Coffee - straight black, filtered coffee. Latte or similar is great. Obviously no sweeteners.
A bowl of: lots of Greek yoghurt with fruits (blueberries, strawberries, maybe a little apple), flax or chia seeds, guji berries, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, coconut oil.
Same as above with added options of avocados, boiled eggs (without the yoghurt if you can't take dairy), or with sour cream.
Post training recovery:
1/2 litre full cream milk
or Avocado/fruit smoothie with milk
This would be adequate for a workout of 1-2 hours. Longer than that I'd probably follow it very quickly with:
Omelette with bacon and cheese
Full English breakfast
Salad nicoise /greek salad
Any combination of:
Roast meat or fish
Caulifower with cheese
Various salads with cheese/eggs/meat/fish and coconut/olive oil dressing
I'm of course advantaged here by the fact that I have no intolerance to dairy products. Since fat is the main fuel, this is pretty crucial. I can eat plenty of cheese, cream and butter. If I were lactose intolerant I'd have to be a bit more prepared - ie cooking eggs, meat and fish in advance, and I'd spend more on nuts, coconut and nut oils etc.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
DO I REALLY NEED A POWER METER?
At the risk of repeating myself I'm going to revisit the arguments for using a power meter in training. I still find myself needing to explain the advantages quite often, which is astounding really considering the amount of information available on training now, and the simplicity of the logic. No modern cycling coach would even entertain the idea of coaching you if you didn't have one.
The numbers that matter in training for cycling are quite simple, and thanks to the mechanics of cycling, it's one of the easiest sports to get an accurate and clear indicator of athletic output since everything boils down ultimately to what you put through the pedals. Once we have the technology to measure the torque that produces, and with a couple of other simple measurements, you get a very clear set of numbers to work with that will also provide an unequivocal monitor of our improvement.
The 3 numbers that matter are:
- Power output - measured in watts
- Heart rate - measured in beats-per-minute
- Cadence - measured in pedal strokes per minute
The most important single representation of your ability as a rider is power output. This is unaffected by wind direction, aerodynamic advantage or even whether your brakes are rubbing for the whole ride! It is an absolute measure of your physical output as a rider. With heart rate together, it will indicate how much power you are able to generate relative to your maximum intensity. With cadence added to the equation it will indicate at which RPM you have the highest output for the least effort, and consequently your maximum efficiency.
With this in mind, it should be obvious that the most important addition to your basic bicycle setup if you wish to improve as a cyclist will be a power meter.
Heart rate on it's own can only indicate how hard your body is working, and much of this can be assessed by feel or RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion). So it's usefulness as a monitor is limited, especially as it is relatively slow to respond to changes in exertion. Most effectively it could be used to make sure you don't go too hard on training units that are determined as recovery or long endurance.
Cadence again, while being a useful number to work with on it's own to some extent (generally the faster you can get your legs to pedal comfortably, the more efficiently your muscles resist fatigue), it is only when coupled with a power meter that one can accurately see at which cadence one produces the most power, which is pretty vital information, and will vary from rider to rider.
THE GADGETS OF CHOICE
OK. Now onto the business of the gadgets that will get you this information. I previously did a review of the Powertap G3 power meter paired with the Garmin Edge 500. In the interim I've moved on, first to the power2max crank-based power meter, and more recently I've started using the Garmin Edge 810. Together these devices give me just about the best available feedback on which to base my training.
CRANK BASED POWER
Moving from a rear-wheel-based power meter to the crank-based one, you obviously have the advantage of having the freedom of any choice of wheelset, so you can switch from your training wheels to your racing ones and still have all the same feedback. The obvious loss is that it is now fitted to your frame, so you can no longer have a power reading on other bikes by just changing the back wheel. That aside, the crank-based power meter is giving direct readings from your pressure on the pedals and so theoretically should be more accurate. It can also measure left-right variances better, and give you an accurate cadence reading.
I've been using the power2max now for well over a year, and it has so far proven to be super reliable and consistent. My initial choice was based on recommendations, reviews, the fact that it was significantly cheaper than the SRM and most other crank-based systems, and the fact that I trust German technology (!) It has no issues with transmission and is picked up by all my Garmin units immediately. I occasionally re-calibrate it, but it never really seems to make much difference. It does take a rather unusual battery, but I seem to get a good 6+ months of life from one battery.
The fact that I have little more to say about it, is really a recommendation. It does exactly what it's supposed to, and has never given me the slightest problem. If there was one thing I would wish for it would be slightly less weight - it's definitely heavier than just the spider - but then the new version of this meter is about 100 grams lighter.
THE HEAD UNIT
It pairs well with my Garmin Edge 500, and I would probably never have switched to the more expensive 810 had it not been for my need to have a map function. The only other added function worthy of mention with the new unit is the phone link-up which gives you a "live-tracking" capability so people can see where you are. However, since you will need to be within a mobile coverage area for this function to work, it doesn't work much differently from a mobile app on your phone, and doesn't give me the desired trackability in the wildernesses that we sometime cross in our tours.
The 810 is definitely an improvement in functionality on the 500. Easy to switch between pages with the swipe of a finger, in either direction, it's easy to be quickly on exactly the page you need. Once you decide on the parameters that are important to you for reference while you're riding, it's much easier than the 500 to set these up. The software I've found more logical and user-friendly, and easy to find the functions you want once you get to know the thing a little.
I'm not so happy with the map function. I decided on the 810 as opposed to the larger 1000 specifically because of size - the 1000 is the size of a small smart-phone (consequently has a shorter battery life), and just becomes too much furniture on the handlebars. But the downside of downsize is that I find myself having difficulty reading what's on the tiny screen when it comes to following the maps. In fact in some situations it's downright dangerous to be trying to see what the gadget is trying to tell me. The instructions and warnings usually pop up in a font that's just a bit too small to be read clearly by my old eyes, so unless you have perfect vision that would be a note of warning.
OK, not the end of the world for most of what I'll use it for admittedly. The 4 screens/pages I have set up are perfect for what I need most, and have been selected to cater for specific situations. These are easy to read, and the less sections per page you choose, the larger the numbers are.
Page 1. For general ride information - 7 sections (from top down l-r): power, heart rate, cadence, speed, distance, gradient, elapsed time.
Page 2. For intervals - 6 sections: lap time, lap average power, heart rate, lap cadence, lap speed, lap distance.
Page 3. General ride info for bikes with no power meter or cadence - 5 sections: heart rate, speed, distance, gradient, elapsed time.
Page 4. Other useful info - 7 sections: total ascent, average heart rate, riding time, compass heading, average speed, elevation, time of day.
The next page scrolling to the right is the map. This will show you where you are currently, and if you download a route, you have the option of following the cursor and instructions to stay on the route you've chosen. Then there's a page where you can set up a target speed and see how far ahead or behind that you are during the ride.
Battery life is nothing like as good as the 500 which I could keep using for a week without charging, and because of the Garmin Connect phone app function (which uploads your ride as soon as you end it), and the fact that you don't really need to plug the unit into you computer at all, you need to remember to charge it every other day or so.
Carbon is a great material for building bicycle frames and forks. It's strength-to-weight ratio is awesome, which is why all top-level pro bikes are made from it. The problems arise, for all of the rest of us who actually have to pay for the things we ride ourselves, in that manufacturers get away with charging ridiculous amounts for us to mimic our heroes, and then, in shaving as much weight off as possible, the frames are built only to specifically resist the stresses they encounter in normal cycling use. If the frame is stressed in a way that's not normally expected of a bicycle, the material is quite fragile and can crack.
It's happened to me a couple of times, and to a few of my friends. If you're lucky, the crack will not be in a place that undermines the structural integrity of the frame, and you can get it repaired. Either way it's a shock when you've put your hard-earned pennies into having the best bike you can afford, only to find that the most expensive part has just failed. If you're extremely lucky, the manufacturer will accept responsibility and replace the frame, but that hasn't been my experience. I know guys who swear they'll never buy carbon again. I have chosen to take another route.
On the recommendation of a friend, I decided to give the China-based "no-name" frame manufacturers a go. I think we're all aware that 90% of carbon manufacture comes out of China these days. Many of the top bicycle brands have their entire ranges built there. It used to carry a certain stigma, but not any more. The growth of China as a major manufacturing force has meant that they undoubtedly have more experience at building quality products from new-age materials than any other nation.
You'll find many offerings online through eBay and countless online-order sites, some only available in wholesale quantities, while others like Velo Build can customize one single frame from their catalogue for a fraction of the cost of a branded frame. Because of the recommendation, and some online reviews, I decided the risk was worth taking. If it didn't work out, at least I'd only have spent a couple of hundred dollars rather than several thousand. And since buying from a "reputable" international brand counts for nothing in my experience, what the hell!
My selection was for their latest light-weight climbing beast - boasting a weight of 850 grams , DI2-ready, and able to withstand heavier riders, the VB-R-016 sounded just the ticket. I set up an order and was immediately in touch with Chris at Velo Build who (in excellent English) helped me make a choice. Onced ordered, it arrived within 5 days in Singapore, nicely packed and well protected in a strong carton.
My choice was for the UD (uni-directional) carbon finish, which doesn't have the typical weave look of most carbon products, this with a matt lacquer on a 54cm frame with BB30 bottom bracket It all came, with forks and headset included, for US$429 plus a bit more for the shipping.
Since I was retiring my 10-year old cracked frame, I simply moved the Dura Ace groupset and Soul wheels to the new frame, so the only other new elements in the assembly were the 100mm carbon stem, a 31.6mm carbon seatpost, and a set of my now-favourite cranks, the Rotor 3D+.
Having originally entertained the idea of getting the frame custom painted, I wasn't too sure how the whole thing would look in such a bare state, but the matt UD carbon looks great, and with the added touch of some black Easton bar tape, the bike really has a "stealth" look, which is nicely highlighted with the lime green cable housing.
"I f*****g love this bike" were my exact words upon arriving back at the bike shop to cut the steerer after my first real outing on the bike. It still inspires that kind of emotive outburst from me after more than a month of intimacy.
Even with the relatively heavy wheels and components, it's noticeably lightweight. The over-sized bottom bracket really doesn't flex even a fraction, so all of the power you put into the pedals is transferred to forward momentum. It really feels like a quality article.
On the downhills it inspires confidence. The geometry of the front end feels very stable in a way that I didn't expect, and I still find myself a little surprised by how freely it plummets down hills. It's not particularly aero - it's a climber - but it rolls beautifully. Maybe due to an exceptional balance of weight or something. Of course, the uphill is assisted by it's light weight, and perhaps by the new 3D+ crankset which may be even more impressive than the older version I also have. This coupled with the 50/34 Q Rings is really the business on the terrain that I ride most frequently - always either up or down.
As far as comfort goes, it does seem to iron out the worst of the road vibration at the back end, but then I'm comparing it to the other bike I ride on these roads, which is a super-stiff racer and completely unforgiving, so pretty much anything is a sofa by comparison. I don't think it could be called comfortable exactly, but it works for me. I'm running 25mm tyres on it which is just about maxing out the clearance, but then I don't see myself using anything bigger.
Out of the saddle it feels very strong and responsive with an overall distribution of weight that works for me at least, so it gives me a lot of confidence in most riding situations.
So the only thing that can detract from my current state of bliss, is some kind of weakness in the structure that may present itself. I'm watching carefully. For now though, it's the best climbing bike I've ever owned, and the fact that I paid a fraction of the price of the same article with a brand name on it, only makes the ride that little bit sweeter.