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Kilometer by Kilometer

Last Sunday’s easy ride was not a true indication of my physical conditioning.  I couldn’t have expected anything different.  The result of three months of idleness is that my heart rate races from the effort of clipping in to my pedals, let alone from trying to hold my spot in a pace line.  My three rides so far just confirmed I have a long road ahead of me to regain the fitness I had in June.

Today’s test was a ride with nine other Flipsiders.  We rode from D’Bayu in Bukit Jelutong to Ijok for breakfast, and then looped through Bestari Jaya to Batu Arang, and returned to the Guthrie Corridor Expressway for the ride back to Bukit Jelutong.

Ijok Route

Fortunately for me the group made frequent stops.  This is a regular one, at the point where we leave the Expressway to get onto Jalan Kuala Selangor.

Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

We got to the wanton noodles shop in Ijok 35 kms into the ride.  We stacked our bikes against a wall and piled into the shop.  There is an Alchemy bicycle somewhere in there.

Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

Photograph courtesy of Marco Lai

The rest of the guys settled down to their noodles while Shahfiq and I went to see why there was a crowd around a roadside stall a hundred meters away.

On sale was nasi lemak, fried chicken, a variety of curries, fried eggs . . . . and freshly made apam balik.  Peanut pancakes for breakfast for me please!

Ijok Apam Balik

I needed all those calories once we got to Bestari Jaya.  The road from Ijok to Bestari Jaya (right to left in the graphic below) was pancake flat.  As soon as we made the right turn toward Batu Arang the road got very lumpy.  That was my cue to fall behind the others yet again as my lack of power and endurance showed on the climbs.

3D Profile courtesy of VeloViewer

3D Profile courtesy of VeloViewer

And again the guys helped me out by stopping until I caught up.  This was one of the few flat sections on the way to Batu Arang.

Ijok Road

The next stop was only 5 kms down the road in Batu Arang.  There is a small roadside stall selling fresh sugarcane juice.  Really fresh sugarcane juice.

Ijok Air Tebu

The canes go through the crusher three times.  The juice is strained into a pitcher before being poured into ice-filled glasses.  Those cold drinks were most welcome.  The sun had been beating down on us since we left Ijok, and the heat was leaving its mark on us all.

I was in survival mode for the remainder of the ride.  My average heart rate for the entire ride was 135 bpm.  My average heart rate for the final 40 kms was 140 bpm.  Despite my efforts to spin in as light a gear as possible to keep my heart rate down.

We made our regular final stop at the Elmina R&R for a cold drink from the shop there.  We got back to D’Bayu at Bukit Jelutong with a couple of kilometers less than a metric century on our cycling computers.  I can be as competitive as the next person when the mood strikes me.  If the guys were going to do a 2 kilometer loop to make it a century ride, then so was I.

Every kilometer helps.

“Hey, I Put Some New Wheels On, And Suddenly Everything Is Right” **

Ride regularly with a large enough group and you can count on seeing something new on a weekly basis.  A pristine pair of shoes, a shiny helmet, sometimes a new bike (I’m looking at you Chris).

Lately it has been new wheels.  First Mark showed up with a pair of 50mm deep Sonic carbon wheels.  Admittedly a borrowed pair, but still.  Then Marco bought a pair of 38mm Sonic carbon wheels.  A week or two later Shahfiq rolled up on a set of carbon Sonics.  Ken was next.  It seems that the group has managed to buy up the entire stock of Sonic carbon clinchers in Kuala Lumpur.

Our conversations became centered on the difference that those Sonics made.  Rides became “effortless.”  “Sonic boom” entered our shared vocabulary as a way to describe the impact the new wheels had on average speeds.

I have only ever ridden on Easton EA90 SLX wheels.  My steel Alchemy came with those wheels.  I like them.  So I stuck with them for my other bikes.

The appearance of all those new wheel sets on my friends’ bikes made me think about getting some new wheels too.  I wanted to stay with alloy wheels.  I’ve seen a number of broken carbon wheels but have yet to see a broken alloy wheel.  I was keen to get something that was more aerodynamic that the Eastons.  And I was sold on the advantages of running 25 mm wide tires on a wider rim rather than the 23 mm tires I was using with the Eastons.

Lots of online product reviews and some e-mail conversations with Boyd Johnson later, I placed an order for a set of Boyd Vitesse alloy clinchers.  The Vitesse wheels met the requirements I was interested in.  Additionally they are hand-built, and come at a reasonable price.  I ordered the version with 24 spokes on the front and 28 spokes on the rear.  The standard spoke count of 20 front / 24 rear is recommended for riders below 81 kg / 180 lb.  I hover right around 81 kg, so I took Boyd Johnson’s advice to go with the more durable higher spoke count.

On the day I placed my order, Nicole Johnson confirmed that the order had shipped, and gave me a shipment tracking number.  Greenville, North Carolina, the home of Boyd Cycling, is 15,800 km / 9,800 mi from Kuala Lumpur.  So I was a bit nervous about how well my wheels would stand up to the trip.  The United States Postal Service did a good job.  The carton arrived in very good shape.  Just a crease on one corner to show for the journey from Greenville to Miami, Florida and onward to Kuala Lumpur.


The contents were safely cradled within braces inside the carton.  The wheels arrived undamaged and as true as the day they left the Boyd facility.

Photograph courtesy of Boyd Cycling

Photograph courtesy of Boyd Cycling

I tried the Vitesse wheels out with new 700 x 23 Michelin Pro4 Service Course tires on a ride to the Chamang waterfall.  The wheels rolled smoothly and silently (more to come on the sound of the freewheel).  There were no creaks or pings from the spokes.  One sign of a well-trued, well-tensioned and well-stress relieved wheel set.

These wheels felt stiffer and seemed to hold their speed better than my Eastons.  However I needed more than 75 km / 47 mi on the Boyds before I could form a definitive view on stiffness and speed.

What I can say is that I under-inflated the Pro4 tires.  The 23 mm wide rim meant that the tires have a lower profile than they do on the narrower Easton rims.  So they are even more prone to pinch flats if under-inflated.  I had two pinch flats on my maiden ride on the Vitesse wheels.

The next outing on the Boyd Vitesse wheels was on the Samila Century.  I wanted to try the wheels with a wider tire.  I had a pair of rarely-used 700 x 25 Bontrager Race All Weather tires that I bought in 2011 for a ride on the cobbles of Flanders.

The wire-beaded Bontragers aren’t the lightest tires at 400 grams each, but they were the only 25 mm tires I had.  As it turned out they were a good tire to have for a very very wet Samila Century.  The wheels felt just as stiff, and were just as silent.  The ride quality on the 25 mm tires was much improved over that on the 23 mm Pro4s.  There was a lot less harsh road surface feedback with the wider tires.

I am tempted to say that it took less effort to get the Boyd Vitesse wheels up to speed, and then to hold that speed.   I did after all get up to and exceed 60 kph / 37 mph for 8 km / 5 mi or so, albeit drafting behind a lorry.  It may be just wishful thinking, but these wheels did feel ‘faster’ that my Eastons over the 145 km / 90 mi course.

Since the Samila Century I have taken delivery of a new pair of tires.  My wheels are now shod with 700 x 25 Michelin Pro Optimum tires.  I rode the 74 km / 46 mi Shimano Challenge on the Pro Optimums.  These Michelins are considerably lighter than the Bontragers, at 215 grams on the front and 240 grams on the rear.

“Effortless” may be pushing it, but the Boyd Vitesse wheels do seem to take less effort while climbing.  They continue to impress me with their stiffness.  Somewhat surprisingly for wheels that are 28 mm deep, they feel less twitchy at speed than the 25 mm deep Easton EA90 SLX wheels do.

Now about the sound of the freewheel.  Some reviewers feel that the Boyd freewheel is too loud.  The 2013 Boyd hubs have four oversized pawls, versus three pawls in my Easton hubs.  Perhaps that is why the Boyd freewheel is louder than the Easton freewheel.  Not excessively so in my view.  Experience with my Easton hubs tells me that putting some grease in the hub will quieten it if necessary.  I will leave my Boyd hub alone.  I like the sound it makes.

Photograph courtesy of Boyd Cycling

Photograph courtesy of Boyd Cycling

I also like the look of these wheels.  The black Sapim CX Ray spokes make a nice change from silver spokes.  To my eye the single-color logos are an understated touch.





The full view.


I give the Boyd Vitesse alloy clincher wheels a “Thumbs Up” rating.  My customer experience with Boyd Cycling was outstanding.  I would buy from Boyd Cycling again, and I would certainly recommend Boyd Cycling to my friends.

** Thank you Paolo Nutini for the slightly amended lyric to “New Shoes.”

Saddle Up

A rider touches a bicycle at three points.  At the pedals, the saddle, and the handlebar.  When I got my first road bike the components at these three contact points were chosen for me by James Flatman, the bike builder.  Thank goodness, because the choices of pedals, saddles and handlebars are seemingly endless.

My steel Alchemy came with Speedplay Zero pedals, a Selle Italia SL Flow saddle, and a Ritchey Comp Road Logic handlebar.  I was happy with all those contact points, so a year later when I got my next road bike I was happy to stick with what I was used to.

Welcome to the concept of product updates in the cycling components world.

My titanium Alchemy came with Speedplay Zero pedals, a Selle Italia SLR Flow saddle (the SL Flow having been discontinued), and a Ritchey WCS Carbon Evolution handlebar (the Road Logic having been discontinued).  The saddle and handlebars were not very different from the models which they had replaced, but they were different enough for the change to be noticeable.

So it was that I contracted that affliction that affects so many cyclists.  The desire to fiddle.  In my case with saddles.

Fortunately the itch to fiddle has not extended to my pedals and handlebars.  The scope for mucking around with my pedals is limited anyway.  I like the dual-sided entry of the Speedplays.  Other makes of road pedals are single-sided.  So my only option is getting lighter Speedplays; chrome-moly or titanium.  I haven’t yet been cursed with the ultimate cyclist’s affliction, the desire for the lightest components on earth.  So my stainless steel Speedplays remain my pedals of choice.

I must admit that I like the Carbon Evolution handlebar more than I like the Comp Road Logic handlebar.  The Carbon Evolution has an oval top with a 4 degree sweep, which makes it more comfortable  than the Comp Road Logic.  So about a year ago I put a Carbon Evolution handlebar on the steel Alchemy.

Back to fiddling with saddles.  Of the three contact points I notice the saddle the most while I am riding.  Not that the SL Flow or the SLR Flow are uncomfortable saddles.  They both have a central cutout, which I like.  This is the SL Flow.

Selle Italia SL Flow

This is the SLR Flow.

Selle Italia SLR Flow

The SLR Flow has a slightly larger cutout than the SL Flow, but they are essentially the same saddle.  Equally comfortable.  But as I learned more about saddle shapes and the different materials used to make them, I kept wondering if there may be a more comfortable saddle out there for me.

Then in the latter half of 2011 I read about the Fi’zi:k Kurve range of saddles.

Fizik Kurve

There was enough new technology in the Kurve saddles to appeal to the geek in me.  Spine Concept designs, Re:flex construction, a Tuner interchangeable tension system, a Moebius one-piece saddle rail.  Add positive reviews about outstanding comfort to the mix, and I wanted one.

The Fi’zi:k Kurves appeared in a few London bike shops some time before they turned up in Dutch bike shops.  At the very first opportunity I popped into Condor Cycles in London.  I had every intention of leaving with either a Kurve Snake or a Kurve Chameleon saddle, depending upon what a Spine Concept test showed I was best suited to.

The sales person asked me if I had any problems or discomfort with the Selle Italia saddles.  I said “no.”

I left empty-handed.  She refused to sell me a saddle.  She told me not to try to fix something that wasn’t broken.

That cured my saddle fiddling itch.

That is until I started seeing Michelle again.  Michelle is a Rolf Method Structural Integration Practitioner.   She does myofascial release therapy.  In plain language, she manipulates deep tissue to correct postural imbalances and restrictions.   I saw her regularly in the years before I moved to Houston.  As soon as I got back to Kuala Lumpur I signed up for a course of therapy.  I had lots of things that needed fixing.  Some brought on by cycling.

After Michele had worked on my hip muscles: adductors, glutes, illiopsoas, piriformis, sartorius, etc., my saddles felt less comfortable.  They felt too narrow.

I had learned that bicycle saddles come in different widths.  Perhaps Michelle had loosened up my pelvis such that my sit bones had moved further apart. So I went to a Specialized Concept store to have my sit bones measured.  The resulting number showed that my 130mm wide Selle Italia saddles were indeed to narrow for my sit bones.

Specialized makes saddles in three widths: 130mm, 143mm, and 155mm.  My sit bone measurement showed that I needed a saddle wider than 143mm.  So I left the shop with a 155mm wide Romin Comp Gel saddle under my arm.

Specialized Romin Comp Gel

I replaced the SL Flow saddle on my steel bike with the Romin saddle.   The Romin felt very comfortable at first.  As time went by it felt less and less comfortable.  At the same time the SLR Flow saddle on my titanium bike became increasingly comfortable.  My sit bones must have slowly migrated closer together again.  The Romin saddle started feeling too wide for me.

So when I had to choose a saddle for my Ritchey Breakaway I picked the latest iteration of the Selle Italia SLR saddle.  The SLR Superflow.  A 130mm wide one.

Selle Italia SLR Superflow

The SLR Superflow has a monster cutout.  Which must work as designed because this a very comfortable saddle.

Since April this year I have rotated between the 130mm wide SLR Flow, the 130mm wide SLR Superflow, and the 155mm wide Romin Comp Gel saddles.  The Romin was a mistake.  Certainly in the 155mm width.

Last week I replaced the Romin Comp Gel with another 130mm SLR Superflow.

I think I am done fiddling with my saddles.

But about that handlebar tape . . .

Chain Checkers Do No Good Just Sitting in Your Toolbox

I have not been regularly checking my bicycle chains for wear.  I have no excuse for not doing so.  I have the necessary tool for the job.  Two of them in fact.

Chain Checker

The purist will argue that a steel ruler or steel tape measure is the most accurate tool for measuring chain wear.  Using a ruler can however be error-prone because it is necessary to hold the ruler precisely and measure one end while making sure the other does not slip.  So tools like these ones have been created.  They are not as accurate as a properly-used ruler, but they are an easier and faster way to measure chain wear.

Chain wear is often referred to as chain stretch, but this is a misnomer.  The side plates of a chain do not deform under pedalling forces.  Rather it is wear to the pins, bushes and rollers that causes the distance between the pins to increase, thus giving the illusion of stretch.

This diagram shows A. pin/bushing wear, and C. bushing/roller wear.  B shows an unworn chain.  Note that roller wear does not affect pin spacing.

Illustration courtesy of par at

Illustration courtesy of at

In short, chain wear is indicated by an increase is the spacing between pins.  When I finally put my BBB chain checker to use it showed that the chain on  my titanium Alchemy bike had reached the point where it needed to be replaced.  What I didn’t know was when the chain had reached that point.  Had I been riding for too long on a worn chain, and perhaps damaged the drive train in the process?

Some of my Racun Cycling Gang had recommended Meng Thai Bicycle Centre for bike parts and service.  So I took the bike there to have a new chain installed.  Labor costs are still relatively low here as compared to the Netherlands, so I had less incentive to do it myself.  When I say low I mean a labor charge of  RM 30 / USD 9 to have a new chain installed and to get the bike serviced and tuned up.

My first ride with the new chain was up to Genting Sempah.  It quickly became obvious that I had waited too long to replace the chain.  The chain was skipping on one cog.  It didn’t matter which chain ring I was in.  The chain skipped on that one cog.

At first I couldn’t tell from looking at the cassette that there was anything wrong with it.


A closer look revealed where the problem lay.

Cassette Wear

That shark-tooth profile on the fourth cog is not normal.,  The new chain rides too high up the ramp of the tooth and slips off.  The only solution was a new cassette.  I went with a SRAM PG 1070 cassette at RM 250 / USD 76 rather than replacing this SRAM OG 1090 cassette at RM 650 / USD 198.

The moral of this tale is to regularly check your chain for wear.  I now know, thanks to the late and great Sheldon Brown, that a chain that has just 1% of wear should be replaced.  Anything more than 1% chain wear and the sprockets are probably already damaged.

What is 1% of chain wear?  Ten links of a new chain are 25.4 cm long, measured from pin to pin.  If the last pin in link ten is just past 25.5 cm the chain needs to be replaced.  If the last pin is approaching 25.7 cm away then the most-used sprockets are already damaged.

I got 10,000 km / 6,214 mi out of the cassette.  I wonder how many more kilometers it would have lasted if I had replaced the chain as soon as it showed 1% wear.

I replaced the chain on the steel Alchemy a few days ago.  The cassette on that bike has 13,300 km / 8,265 mi on it so far.  Including 115 km / 71.5 mi with the new chain.

I caught that one in time.  No skips.