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Category Archives: Gear and Tools

Music to my Ears: Aftershokz Trekz Titanium Bluetooth Headphones

Aftershokz Logo

Logo courtesy of Aftershokz

Wearing earphones and listening to music while riding is one of those topics, like wearing a helmet, or the correct length for socks, that divides the cycling community.

The main argument against is that earphones block out surrounding sounds, so cyclists are less aware of aural cues like traffic noise, spoken or shouted warnings of hazards, and so on.

Proponents of listening to music whilst riding say that it can boost their ability to ride harder, faster and with more enjoyment.  Others simply enjoy the escapism and motivation that listening to music can bring to a solo ride or training session.

I enjoy listening to music while I ride.  I used a pair of Jaybird Bluebuds X in-ear Bluetooth headphones, until the inline controller failed.

I replaced them with Aftershokz Trekz Titanium Bluetooth headphones, which address the problem of earbuds blocking the ear canal by positioning transducers in front of your ears, rather than in the ear canal.

Using bone conduction technology, sound vibrations are transmitted directly to the inner ears via the cheekbones, bypassing the eardrums completely.

IMG_0617

Graphic courtesy of Aftershokz

The Trekz Titaniums have been a revelation.  I rate headphones for use while cycling on five criteria:

  1. Fit / comfort
  2. Battery life
  3. Sound quality
  4. Ease of use
  5. Durability

My primary requirement for headphones is that they fit well, and are comfortable for many hours.  The Trekz Titaniums do fit well.  The wraparound headband, or more accurately, neckband, is flexible, and the headphones are light (36g / 1.27oz).

I wear the headphones as shown in the photograph below.  I find that fitting the arms holding the transducers over the stems of my glasses helps with long-term comfort.  That way, the transducers do not press so hard on your cheekbones.

Some reviewers complained that these headphones are slightly uncomfortable after prolonged use.  To them I say riding a bicycle gets slightly uncomfortable after a prolonged time, unless you change hand positions, move around on the saddle and so on every now and then.  Take the Trekz Titaniums off whenever you stop for a break, and discomfort will not be an issue.

IMG_0615

Photograph courtesy of engaget.com

My second requirement for headphones is battery life.  The Trek Titaniums have a claimed battery life of six hours.  I have exceeded that estimate on a number of occasions.

Sound quality is my third assessment criteria.  The Trekz Titaniums have enough fidelity to suit my needs.  The sound quality is not brilliant, but if I wanted to enjoy the full range, definition, and subtle nuances in my music, I wouldn’t be listening to it while riding a bike.

More importantly, the bone conduction technology works as advertised.  I can hear what is going on around me, and hold conversations, while these headphones are pushing music to my inner ears.

The controls for these headphones are easy to use.  On the right arm are a volume up button that also serves as a power button, and a volume down button.  Next to these sit a Micro USB port for charging the headphones.

Aftershokz Controls

Photograph courtesy of trustedreviews.com

On the outside of the right hand transducer is a multi-function button. Pressing this button once allows you to play and pause tracks, answer and reject calls, and activate Siri or Google Now voice commands.

You can also double-press it to skip forward to the next track in your playlist.  Oddly, there is no capability to move backwards through your playlist, so repeating a favourite song is not an option.

Aftershokz Controls 2

Photograph courtesy of trustedreviews.com

As for durability, these headphones are well-built.  The controls work reliably.  Bluetooth connectivity is fast and consistent, with a range of 10 meters / 33 feet.  More importantly, sweat, of which I produce a lot, and rain have not had an adverse effect.  A nanotechnology coating and watertight rubber gaskets repel sweat and moisture.

The Aftershokz Trekz Titanium headphones are available in four colours, and two sizes.  The Mini comes with a headband which is 4.7cm / 2ins shorter than the standard headband.

IMG_0616

Photograph courtesy of pushys.com.au

The Aftershokz Treks Titanium Bluetooth headphones are an essential part of my cycling kit, like a helmet and spare tube.  I recommend them to all my cycling buddies.
Aftershokz Rating

Where Are Those Cables?

e Cycling USB Port

As I recharged various devices after the Genting Sempah night ride, I was struck by how “e” cycling has become.

It wasn’t that long ago that bike lights were powered by AA or AAA batteries, and cycling computers were powered by coin batteries.  These days lights and cycling computers are rechargeable.  As are an increasing number of other cycling gadgets.

It is not unlikely that today’s cyclist will have six or more devices to recharge after a long ride:

  1. Cycling computer
  2. Sport watch
  3. Front light
  4. Rear light
  5. Camera
  6. Electronic drivetrain
  7. Power meter
  8. Headphones
  9. Mobile phone

We are becoming increasingly e-dependent.  The most important items to pack for a weekend cycling trip might just be some USB cables and a multiport USB power adapter.

e Cycling USB Adapter.png

How to Carry a Mobile Phone, Cash, etc. on a Ride?

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Case What to Carry theweightlosscyclist

Graphic courtesy of theweightlosscyclist

The list of items one should carry on a bike ride, in addition to water, and perhaps food, is quite extensive.  A spare tube, tire levers, patches, multi-tool, hand pump and / or CO2 canister and inflator, mobile phone, cash, credit card, ATM card, identification card, and insurance card.

Having decided what needs to come with you on a bike ride, you need to figure out how to carry it all.

If you are a purist and / or anal, you might refer to The Rules, as enumerated by those cycling disciples of the highest order, the Velominati.  In particular:

Rule #29:  No European Posterior Man-Satchels (known by mere mortals as saddle bags)
Rule #30:  No frame-mounted pumps
Rule #31:  Spare tubes, multi-tools and repair kits should be stored in jersey pockets

The Velominati rules currently number 95.  The first of which is Obey The Rules.

Rule #29  Regular readers have seen many photographs of my bikes, all showing a saddle bag or seat roll attached.
Rule #30  Two years ago I wrote a post about the pump I use.  I still carry a Lezyne Pressure Drive, attached to a bracket fixed to the frame.
Rule #31  I carry a spare tube, tire levers, patches, and multi-tool in my current favorite seat roll, the Silca Seat Roll Premio.

So much for the Velominati rules then.

Not having the items needed to fix a flat tire in my jersey pockets means that they are available to carry the rest of the stuff in the list at the top of this post.  These are all small items that require a case to keep them together and secure.

For a couple of years I have used a Rapha Essentials Case.

Case Rapha Essentials

Photograph courtesy of rapha.cc

The case fits my iPhone 6.  There is an inner sleeve pocket for cards and cash, and on the opposite side there a zippered pocket for coins.  I put my car keys in that zippered pocket too.

At 155mm x 100mm, and about 30mm thick when filled with my stuff, the Essentials Case fits nicely into the center pocket of my jersey, without making me look like a camel.

Rapha says you can get an inner tube and multi tool in there too.  I haven’t tried.  That extra stuff would make the case too bulky for my liking.

Last Christmas the Essentials Case was augmented by the Bellroy x MAAP All-Conditions Phone Pocket.  This is a most excellent present from my son Arif.

Case Bellroy MAAP All Conditions Phone Pocket

Photograph courtesy of silodrome.com

The Bellroy x MAAP case, at 156mm x 92mm, is slightly narrower than the Rapha case.  Still roomy enough for the iPhone 6.  The All-Conditions Phone Pocket has two internal pockets for cards and cash.

The Bellroy website says that the inner pockets can hold coins and keys as well.  Just note that those pockets do not have zips, so heavier objects like coins and keys can fall out unexpectedly.

The All-Conditions Phone Pocket is my prefered case.  Mostly because the case looks great sitting on a table during café stops.

The Essentials Case still gets the nod when I need to carry car keys.  The thinner, more flexible leather, and the zippered inner pocket, accomodate keys and a fob that the All-Conditions Phone Pocket cannot.

So I roll with a pump on the frame, puncture repair items in a seat roll, and mobile phone, cash, cards, and keys when necessary, in a case.

Infinitely preferable to this alternative.

Case Stuffed Pockets

Photograph courtesy of cyclingtips.com

The Bearings We All Forget

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Bearings

Bicycles run on bearings.  Starting from the front of the bicycle, there are bearings in the front wheel hub, which allow the wheel to spin on its axle.  There are bearings in the headset, which is the assembly that connects the front fork to the frame, and permits the fork to turn for steering and balancing.  There are bearings in the bottom bracket, which allow the crankset spindle to rotate freely.  There are bearings in the rear wheel hub and the freewheel attached to it.  There are bearings in the two rear derailleur pulleys.

Bearings Bicycle.png

Cyclists pay lots of attention to the bearings in wheels and drivetrains.  These are the bearings which help the bicycle’s forward progress.  Any reduction in friction (loss of watts, in cyclist’s parlance) is highly sought after.  These bearings are regularly serviced. Steel bearings are often replaced with ceramic bearings, which have a lower rolling resistance.

Headset bearings get less love.  Bike mechanics should check headset adjustment when servicing bikes.  Occasionally a headset needs tightening.  It is usually only after the rider feels roughness, notchiness, or uneven drag while steering, that headset bearing get serviced or replaced.

And the bearings we all forget?  The ones in our pedals.  Cyclists notice when their cleats need replacing.  The wear is visible, and that wear is often made tangible by clipping in and out of the pedals requiring either too much or too little force.

Pedals just seem to go on and on doing their job with no fuss or bother.  That adage about the squeaky wheel is certainly true where pedals are concerned.

I bought my Alchemy Eros, and the Speedplay pedals that I specified for the bike, in June 2015.  I had given my pedals little or no thought since then.

A week ago the bike developed an irritating click.  Lim, the mechanic at The Bike Artisans, thought that my pedals could be the source of the noise.  The pedals were spinning too freely on their spindles, which is a sign that they needed regreasing.  He didn’t have a needle-type grease injector gun, so couldn’t do the quick and easy pedal maintenance via the grease port hole built into the pedal bodies.

When I got home I consulted the Speedplay website.  Speedplay recommends that the pedal bearings be regreased at least every 3,200 km / 2000 mi, or every two months.

Bearings What

That means my pedals should have been regreased between five and twelve times by now.

I found online instructions to disassemble my pedals.  The Spindle Screw was held in place by some Loctite Threadlocker Blue, but I got the screw to turn without having to heat it, as mentioned in some posts.  The fiddliest step was removing the retaining ring.

It is possible to replace the bearings – Speedplay sells a pedal rebuild kit for USD100 which replaces everything but the spindles.  I just cleaned all the parts, flushed out what grease was left in the bearings, flooded the pedal body with fresh grease, and reassembled the pedals.

Bearings Pedal Disassembly

Diagram courtesy of forum.slowtwitch.com

So far so good.  The pedals are turning smoothly and quietly.

Unfortunately that irritating click is still there.

Bearings Irritated

Postscript

I have found the source of the click.  It was coming from the rear dropouts.  A touch of lubrication between the QR faces and the dropouts, and silence was restored.

Thank you Uffe Lindhardt for the link to Keep It Quiet!  Jim Langley’s wide-ranging bicycle blog is an excellent resource.

Hmmmm. That Seems High.

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Heart Rate Line

I usually ride with a heart rate monitor.  I have a screen on my Garmin that shows, among other things, my heart rate.

I know the disadvantages of using a heart rate monitor.  Such as heart rate being affected by ambient temperature, your emotional state, whether you are tired, or whether you are over-trained.  The monitor itself can generate spurious data.

Nevertheless, my heart rate monitor gives me some data to quantify my level of effort, and more importantly, it tells me when I need to back off, or run the risk of blowing up.  Over time I have learnt that 160bpm is when I need to back off.

I could use a power meter instead.  Power output is a more precise way to gauge performance than heart rate is.  However a power meter is too expensive, despite where prices have fallen to, given the non-competitive riding that I do.

Heart Rate Maximum chiro-doctor com

Graphic courtesy of chiro-doctor.com

I got to 157bpm last weekend, for the first time in ages.  It was at the end of a 500 meter, 7.1% average gradient climb.  That climb came after 110km / 68mi of riding at about 32kph / 20mph.  Faster than I normally ride, so cardiac drift had already pushed my average heart rate to about 140bpm.

The highest I got to the the six weeks prior was 155bpm, during the 141km / 88mi CIMB Cycle @ Seri Menanti event.  That ride had 1,100 meters / 3,600 feet of climbing.

Soon after the CIMB ride I went on holiday for a fortnight or so.  I ate a lot, and did minimal exercise.  It was a holiday after all.  But I was still very surprised when my Garmin showed 160bpm on my first ride after that holiday.

Heart Rate High medlicker com

Graphic courtesy of medlicker.com

Six days later I did another ride, and I hit 164bpm.  My maximum heart rate during those two rides was about 20bpm higher than is usual for me.  What was going on?

For better or for worse, I went to Google for answers.  Google didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.  Fatigue, overreaching, overtraining, too much caffeine, or a hot day could all be reasons why my heart rate rose above what I normally see.

I didn’t have any of the symptoms which would set off alarm bells, such as lightheadedness, nausea, or pressure, pain or discomfort in my chest, arm, neck or jaw.  Still, I wondered.

Heart Rate Good to Go wglt org

Graphic courtesy of wglt.org

I needn’t have worried.  I went on a 70km / 43.5mi ride the next day, and my maximum heart rate was 125bpm.  Since then I have maxed out at an average of 147bpm, including last weekend’s outlier.

So what caused that two ride blip?  I’m not sure.  Probably a combination of jet lag and low blood sugar.

It is time for my annual physical exam.  Just to be on the safe side.

 

New BB for the Alchemy Eros

Bottom Bracket (BB):  The bottom bracket connects the crankset (chainset) to the bicycle and allows the crankset to rotate freely.  It contains a spindle or axle that the crankset attaches to, and the bearings that allow the spindle and cranks to rotate.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In my post about my broken saddle, I mentioned that I was told about the snapped rail after I sent the Alchemy Eros to Meng Thai Cycle for servicing.  The bike needed a service because the BB was clicking sporadically.

The bike came with a Chris King BB.  After the crankset had been removed, the mechanic discovered that the BB bearing on one side of the BB shell was almost frozen.  As the BB bearings came out of the BB shell, a gush of water followed.

The Eros frame does not have a drain hole in the BB shell, or in the chain stays.  So the water that found its way into the frame, most likely by wicking down the seat post, accumulated in the BB shell.

This is what a new Chris King Press Fit 30 BB looks like.

Chris King PF 30

Photograph courtesy of Chris King

This is what came out of my frame.

IMG_5798

Clearly, the water in the BB shell had not done the bearings any good.  The damage was so bad that the BB had to be replaced.

Chris King BBs are hard to find in Kuala Lumpur.  Meng Thai Cycle had a compatible Tripeak Twist Fit BB on hand.

Tripeak Logo

Logo courtesy of tripeakbearing.com

I had read about twist fit BBs in the past.  They were touted as an elegant solution for creaking press fit BBs.  In April 2015 BikeRadar published a piece about Legit Engineering’s twist fit BB.  Seventeen months later, road.cc published an article about the similar Token thread fit BB.

Both versions feature bearing cups wrapped in a plastic and fibreglass composite material.  This prevents metal-to-metal contact between the bearing cups and the frame, thus eliminating creaks.

The clever part of this solution is that the bearing cups thread together, tightly sandwiching the BB shell in between the cups to prevent movement.

Tripeak PF30 Twist Fit BB 4

Photograph courtesy of tripeakbearing.com

The Tripeak name was new to me.  It turns out that Legit Engineering has been rebranded as Tripeak.  Click on the link on the URL shown on the Legit Engineering Facebook page and you get taken to the marketing site for Tripeak.   The Legit Engineering Twist Fit BB (upper photograph) and Tripeak Twist Fit are are identical, save for branding.

Legit Twist Fit BB 1

Photograph courtesy of bikeradar.com

Tripeak PF30 Twist Fit BB 3

Photograph courtesy of tripeakbearing.com

After more than 15,000km / 9,300mi on a Chris King PF30 BB, my cranks now turn in a Tripeak Twist Fit BB.  So far so good.

Chris King BBs come with a 5-year built-to-last warranty.  I sent photographs and a description of the problem to Alchemy Bicycle Co.  Alchemy was whom I had “bought” the Chris King BB from when I purchased my fully built-up bike.

Alchemy has submitted those details to Chris King, but have not yet heard back from them.  It is a limited warranty, so it is very likely that damage or failure due to water in the BB shell is not covered.

Which reminds me to take my Alchemy Eros outside, remove the seat post, and turn it upside down.  I have been on some wet rides lately.

N.B.  Taiwanese brands like Tripeak are often hard to find in the United States and Europe.  Wheels Manufacturing now offers a range of threaded BBs to replace press fit BBs.

Mere Millimeters In It

Selle Italia Superflow Saddle Sore 2

A pain in the butt.  Not since I started cycling had riding caused sore buttocks.  Or to be more specific, a sore left buttock,  I suspected a saddle sore, but there wasn’t any evidence of skin abrasion, let alone folliculitis.

There was no denying, however, that whenever I rode, I felt pressure and discomfort where my left sit bone (ischial tuberosity) rested on my saddle.  My first thought was that I needed to replace my well-used bibshorts.  Perhaps the chamois pads had become compressed, and were no longer providing the cushioning that they used to.

I tried some newer, better cushioned bibshorts, but the discomfort persisted. So I began to consider the possibility that I had somehow developed a pelvic tilt to the left.  I started to investigate chiropractic or myofascial treatment to address a structural misalignment in my pelvis.

Selle Italia Superflow Saddle Sore

By that time a few weeks had passed.  At which time I did develop some skin abrasion at the pressure point, which made me reconsider the possibility that I was developing a saddle sore.  Out came the Dettol antiseptic cream.  Perhaps it was the placebo effect, but it did feel as if the discomfort was lessening.  But it never went away completely, and the reason for the pain remained a mystery.

The answer came after I had been riding with a sore butt for about a month.  I had to send my bike for a service at Meng Thai Cycle in Kota Kemuning.  More about why my bike needed a service in a future post.

When I went to collect my bike post-service, Lee asked me if I knew that a rail on my Selle Italia SLR Superflow saddle had broken.  I did not.

The vanox rail under the left side had snapped at the point where it entered the slot at the left rear of the saddle shell.  The rail is crimped at that point, which presumable creates a weak point.  It must have snapped just before I started feeling discomfort on my left side.

Selle Italia Superflow Saddle Arrow

The shell was like a spring, and the broken rail was no longer holding the shell down properly.  The result was that the left rear of the saddle was slightly higher than the right side.  It was only two or three millimeters higher.  Not enough difference for me to notice whenever I looked at my saddle.  But enough of a difference for my butt to notice.

I replaced the broken saddle with the same model off my Ritchey Break Away, and “Hey Presto!”  No more pain in the butt.

I wouldn’t have thought that a few millimeters would have such an impact.  I could put her to shame.

Selle Italia Superflow Saddle Princess Prezi com

Image courtesy of prezi.com