Tag Archives: gear

Review: “A Very Dark Place” Training Video by The Sufferfest

30 Sep

Sure, we’d all prefer to ride outside all the time, but life doesn’t work that way. Whether for time, child care, or rained-out practices due to venue preservation concerns, I find myself on the indoor trainer during the fall cyclocross season almost as much as in the winter, if not more.

The key becomes finding ways to stay motivated and interested. Last year, I came across workout videos by The Sufferfest, which combine footage from pro and elite amateur races, on-screen interval prompts (and taunts), and great soundtracks. I actually found them a bit too intense for early-season base training, but for the top-end work you need to replace a rained-out ‘cross practice, they were ideal.

The kind (?) folks at The Sufferfest were kind enough to send a copy of their latest video for review. “A Very Dark Place”fits neatly within an hour, so you get your quality work in a small amount of time.  The focus is on VO2 max-style intervals, going nearly all-out for 4:00 each.  But these aren’t just put-your-head-down-and-gut-it-out efforts, as the workout combines on-screen prompts and carefully chosen race footage to throw in surges and simulations of attacks and steep, grinding climbs.

Sufferfest videos mix race footage and on-screen workout prompts.

In fact, if I have a significant quibble with this workout over my other Sufferfest favorites (I’m a huge fan of “Fight Club” and “Revolver”) it’s that the intervals are complicated enough that it’s hard at times to follow the prompts.  By the third interval, you’re gasping for air as you try to follow Gilbert and the Schlecks in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and squinting through sweat, tears and snot to read a new prompt on sitting/standing/cadence every 10 seconds is a bit much.  It’s a sequence that seems more suited to a spin class or group workout, where an instructor can call out directions.

Some of the prompts get a bit complicated.

My other whine is really just the fact that I’m getting old and don’t warm up as quickly as I used to.  Five minutes (ok, seven with the intro screens at the beginning) plus a couple of :30 sprints just doesn’t do it for me.  The sprints are good and help get things started, but for me, at least, I need closer to 15 minutes of warmup before I can get the most out of the first interval.  That’s easily remedied, however, with a few minutes more spinning before I hit “play.”

On-screen prompts tell you what's coming.

The rest of the workout is quality — good balance of work and rest intervals, with a mix of high- and low-cadence efforts.  The final, climbing-focused interval feels like a bit of a slog, but there’s a fair chance that my lack of sleep and poor training lately are as much to blame there.

The race footage is gorgeous and well-chosen (segments with a great solo win in Paris-Nice and following Cancellara in Paris-Roubaix show a particularly good editing touch) and the soundtrack is appropriately intense.  Some great indie rock bands on the playlist, and although I’m coming to prefer electronica more for workouts (I blame VeloBeats), these are definitely some bands I want to check out now.

Sufferfest videos have a great flair for motivational taunts on screen, and “A Very Dark Place” is no different, with no less than Philippe Gilbert calling you out.  That’ll get you going, if it doesn’t make you just curl up in the corner and weep.

This isn’t my favorite Sufferfest video, but it’s very good.  If you need a hard workout that fits into an hour — I’m reminded of my team’s weekly hill ride — this will do the trick, and entertain you a bit at the same time.


Gear Review: Specialized Sub Zero Gloves

30 Jan

I’ve been a Pearl Izumi fan for gloves since college when I dropped the then-princely sum of $45 on a pair of their AmFib gloves.  Wore the heck out of those things and replaced them with two more pairs of the same.

Our team shop doesn’t carry Pearl Izumi, so upon burning through the latest pair earlier this winter I went with Specialized’s cold-weather offering, the Sub Zero. Mostly a mitten, the Sub Zero takes the lobster claw split-finger style and converts it into a two-layer mitten with separate “trigger finger.” The outer cover is windproof and waterproof and has a large gauntlet cuff with a drawstring and cordlock for a tight seal.

To be honest, I’ve been a bigger fan of the inner liner than the glove as a whole. The liner is lightly fleeced softshell fabric with rubberized strips on the palm. It’s a great glove for 35-50 degrees and the softshell breathes beautifully while holding up to drizzle and road spray.  With a redesigned cuff to provide a better seal, Specialized could easily sell this glove on its own. It was ideal on a five-hour ride with the team a few weeks ago that began in sub-freezing temps but warmed up to the 40s after an hour or two, when the outer cover could be easily stowed in a jersey pocket.

With the outer cover, you’re set for anything above 20 and possibly a bit lower.  This glove has been great in dry and damp conditions, and even an hour in sleet and freezing rain. The only thing I haven’t tried so far is several hours in the wet, but it would be ungrateful to complain about not having that opportunity this winter.

What I haven’t worked out so far is how to be truly comfortable with the split-finger design. It lends warmth — these are truly toasty gloves — but it’s not a perfect solution to the tradeoff for dexterity. Unlike a lobster claw with the index and middle fingers together, the single finger allows for easier (but not perfect) shifting from the hoods. However, for my hands, at least, braking and shifting from the drops are a challenge, and not one for roads with any level of traffic or challenging curves.

Botom line: great cold-weather glove, if a bit awkward on the drops. If you can’t keep your hands warm in these, you should have your doctor check for circulatory problems. The liner is amazing and will be a mainstay of mine as soon as we emerge from the depths of winter.

In case you’re wondering…

9 Jan

Three-and-a-half hours on the bike at 24 degrees plus 18-25 mph winds equals:

  • Voler team bib shorts
  • MadAlchemy Jeremy Powers embrocation (esp. on knees)
  • SmartWool calf-height ski socks
  • Sugoi MidZero knee warmers
  • Sugoi MidZero tight (key thing here is the fleece back on both the knee warmers and tights)
  • Craft Gore WS short sleeve baselayer (which they seem to have stopped making, but they’re still doing a long sleeve version)
  • Voler team long sleeve jersey (made from their GeoTherm fabric, which has a brushed fleece backing)
  • Giordana Winter Jacket from my Icelandic team
  • Sugoi team custom Windblock Jacket (for extra wind protection and so that I had something in team kit on top)
  • DMT Radial road shoes
  • Chemical air-activated toe warmers
  • Specialized Neoprene shoe covers
  • Specialized Sub-Zero gloves
  • Sugoi tuke under helmet

Result?  Maybe a tad overdressed, but actually pretty comfortable for the whole ride.  Nothing I couldn’t manage with temperature control via zippers.  Dressing for dry cold is fairly easy, though.  It’s cold and wet that always gives me trouble.  Any recommendations for a top-quality rain shell?

I’ll probably be mocked for this

24 Nov

…but I can’t be the only one who gets that “Superman” rush upon looking into my closet and seeing a long sleeve skinsuit hanging there.

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Charm City Cyclocross

16 Oct

So race reports are really only as interesting as they are recent.  A month-old report doesn’t do anyone much good, does it?

With that said, a quick recap of the kickoff to my cyclocross season this year.  Dusty and dry, huge fields, and lots of anticipation — yep, Charm City ‘Cross in Baltimore, this year as a full weekend.  Flying solo as a parent this year, so I convinced the boy that bike racing sounded fun and strapped the baby girl into the Baby Björn on someone else’s chest, and away we went.  Thank the Lord for helpful teammates who like kids, eh?

As for the racing, I lined up with a fourth-row start for the 2/3/4 Killer B’s both days.  Saturday was a bit ugly, with lots of technical bobbles and really crappy cornering.  I lost confidence in my tires (Fangos at less than 28 psi were not the right call for a dusty course) and that did not help things a bit.  Still fought hard and managed a 27th.

Sunday was way better, not least because it was closer to the “traditional” Charm City course I know reasonably well from doing this race in 2005 and 2009.  Lots faster through the corners with nice wide exits, and I switched to a Michelin Mud on the front which hooked up beautifully the whole race.  Had a seesaw battle with the guys around me in the low 20s for the last few laps, mumbling “smooth, smooth” to myself as I’d make up ground in the corners and be gassed every time it straightened out.

That is, until the bell lap when my cross-eyed state had me blasting around the switchbacks like a drunk at a wedding.  If I was the drunk, the course tape was that bridesmaid I kept trying to get to dance with me — there was a lot of “incidental” contact going on there.  I’m lucky that I managed to back it off before one of the course stakes played the role of the angry groomsman.

Didn’t manage to gain any places, but didn’t lose any, either, and rolled across for 24th.  Big confidence booster in a huge, strong field.

Small lessons

7 Sep

I may have been hoping for a bit of epiphany out there on the time trial course.  Either during my individual race, or during the two-man-team event I was press-ganged into at the last minute, I was at least subconsciously expecting something profound to occur to me.  Some lactic acid-tinged revelation to change my life or my approach to training or my concept of myself as a rider.

Didn’t really get any of those, but took away a few lesser insights that I’m tossing around.

I’m noticeably better at keeping myself focused than in the last TT I did, two years ago.  This is a good thing.  A little nugget of self-knowledge to tap into at some point when I need to decide whether I’m in the race or off the back.

A short TT becomes an almost ludicrously short TTT.  The focus on a teammate, the worries of drafting, pulling off and getting back on the wheel without stranding yourself or your teammate exposed in the wind, and the pressure of making sure you’re not the weak link all add up to less conscious worry about your own performance.  It’s over before you know it.  I can gain speed by focusing on — by fully inhabiting — my own discomfort.  However, there is equally as much “fast” to be found by devoting myself to some other purpose.  Maybe that’s why I find working for teammates in races so motivating.

As much as I can’t resist maudlin prose about the experience of road racing and the feeling of being thoroughly, completely drained (and oh, how I adore the cliché Euro-pro interview quote, “the sensations, they were good today”), I am just as much of a rube when it comes to attaching numbers to that experience.  PowerTap, you are now something I want.  I’ve been using the power meter that Polar makes for use with its heart rate monitors, but for this race I borrowed some wheels that happened to have a PT hub.  The difference in user experience — and utility — between measured and estimated power is dramatic.  The sensations, they were good.  But having that big ol’ display with the watts number was pretty useful, too.

Bike racing is still fun.  I am sometimes at a loss as to how to answer the Monday-morning question in the office after a race weekend: “Did you win?”  No, I didn’t win.  Far from it, though I exceeded my own low standards sufficiently to think about doing more of these next season.  It’s been over a decade since I crossed a finish line first (though I’ve “won” stuff since then, as the first from my age group in a mixed field or that sort of thing).  But it’s still fun to go out, race hard, feel like you’re going fast — and not just fun in the every-participant-gets-a-medal way.  I rode as hard as I could for 11 miles.  Then 20 minutes later, I did it again.  I still struggle to explain why that’s fun, but it was.  And that’s enough to keep wrestling the hydra of daily life and fit races in between kids, family trips, home improvement, and the myriad other competitors for a middle-aged father’s time.

Or at least that’s what I’m going to say when the neighborhood board starts complaining about our dead front lawn.

Bad mojo

3 Sep

Bad flat mojo, that is.

I’ve been getting flats a lot.  Way more than usual.

Most expensive: an $80 racing tubular, 30 minutes before the start of a crit.

Most inconvenient: Three minutes into a team ride in the lingering wetness of winter becoming spring, when I foolishly thought I was close enough to home to walk back in my road shoes.

Worst streak:  I had three in seven days in Iceland.  Honorable mention:  two (but costing three tubes) on a six-hour ride on a sweltering day with teammates (“Yes, please, stop and wait for me again. Don’t mind the mosquitos.”)

The ‘cross bike has not been immune either: two random rear tire flats, spaced a few months apart, both discovered as I started to ride home from work at the end of the day.

I’ve had pinch flats, glass punctures, improperly mounted tires (on a borrowed bike, he said defensively), spoke nipples poking through worn-out base tape, and a few completely inexplicable ones (defective tubes)?  Even had one on the kids’ baby jogger.

So the other week, when the new kid trying out the Friday team ride got a flat, I leapt into action.  Gave him a tube, mounted his tire, even did most of the pumping.

Yeah, sure, nice of me to help.  Or maybe not.  What I’m really hoping is that he carried the flat mojo off with that spare tube of mine.

Sorry, kid.  One day you’ll understand.