Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rural Girl Owns Lake Placid!

Hearty congrats go out to our teammate, Rural Girl, who just annihilated the Ironman Lake Placid course!

UPDATE: Rural-Girl is Kona bound!!!

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Transition Pro Review

By: Sweet

For the 2010 season, Team Evotri announced a new partnership with Specialized Bicycles. Specialized has long been a major player in the road and mountain bike markets, but it wasn’t until the 2008 introduction of the carbon Transition that they made serious inroads into the booming triathlon market. I am planning a two-part review here. This initial review will just focus on the Specialized frame and I will follow that up with a review of the wheels and components. Given that Specialized is a team sponsor the savvy reader probably expects nothing short of a glowing review which concludes with “buying this frame will cut a half hour off your Ironman bike split!” I built up my own frame as well as my teammate Stu’s, so I have a good working knowledge of how these frames are built and how well everything works together. As I have done in the past I won’t hold back any punches in these reviews. I will tell you what I like and what I don’t like. More than that, I will tell Specialized and the other sponsors what works and what doesn’t in the hopes that this feedback will result in even better products down the line.

Stu's new Transition Pro

There are actually 7 variations of the Transition currently available from Specialized. The bottom of the heap is an aluminum frame with low-end components. The top-of-the-line S-Works carbon frame and all the gee-whiz components is about 5 times the price of the entry model. Most of the EvoTri team is on the Transition Pro frame, which is a small step down from the S-Works. The first thing that confuses me about this line-up is that Specialized doesn’t really differentiate between the S-Works and the Transition Pro. The S-Works uses a higher quality carbon that is supposedly lighter and stiffer. From a consumer standpoint, if you want customers to buy your top-of-the-line frame I would try to quantify these differences. Is an S-Works frame 100 grams lighter? 10% stiffer? Why should I ante up $1300 more for the S-Works frame? You do get a really nice looking Specialized integrated BB30 crankset with the S-Works, which is a good chunk of the cost difference. As I see it, the real value in the Specialized lineup is the variations of the carbon Transition frame: the Comp, Expert and Pro. If you are a beginner, the $1450 Aluminum Transition A1 Elite is also going to be hard to beat.

Let’s dissect the Transition Pro frameset a bit. The frame is built with FACT 7 carbon (a small step down from the FACT 9 used by the S-Works). I didn’t weigh it, but I found another review claiming a weight of 1690 grams, which is tolerable –but certainly not industry leading- for an aero tri frame. The frame has all the standards that you would expect from a triathlon frame in this price point: aero tubing, horizontal dropouts, aero seatpost.

So how does the Transition differentiate itself from the competition? In quite a few ways as it turns out. First off, the aerodynamic tube shapes don’t conform to the industry-standard NACA profiles which were designed for aircraft, not bikes. Specialized designed more blunt tube shapes that they claim are better suited to the lower speeds of cycling. Another striking visual element is the sharp inward bend of the chain stays and seat stays near the rear wheel. This is another aerodynamic tweak that I have heard some people have had clearance problems with. It hasn’t been a problem with the wheelsets that I have tried so far.

The second more noticeable feature is the integrated brakes which are included with the frame. Both brakes are a custom center-pull design. This is primarily done for aerodynamic reasons up front- the cable sits directly in front of the head tube, rather than hanging out to the side. For the rear brake this design serves both functional and aerodynamic purposes. The centerpull design allows the somewhat unique rear brake mounting beneath the bottom bracket. This keeps the brake out of the wind and improves aerodynamics. As someone who grew up riding mountain bikes before V-brakes existed and way before disc brakes, the cantilever system is quite familiar. For the average rider the system may be unnecessarily complicated. There are two very tiny pinch bolts that hold the cable in place. These seem to do a fine job, but I would like to see them built to a heavier spec.

There is a general trend among bike manufacturers towards proprietary parts that I am not a huge fan of. For those of us who travel often to important races a common scenario is that the airline somehow manages to damage your well-packed frame, or something winds up missing. If it is a proprietary part that gets damaged or goes missing, like a brake or seatpost clamp, the local bike shop might not have any repair parts in stock. Proprietary parts also limit component choice. Your current brake options for the Transition are the stock brakes and that is it. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the performance of the brakes. Set-up correctly they feel almost as solid as a Dura Ace or SRAM Red brakeset. One of my biggest pet peeves about the frame is adjusting the rear brake. Specialized realized that access to the brake was going to be difficult, so they include a nut on the drive-side brake pad so that it can be adjusted with a wrench instead of an allen wrench. What cannot be easily accessed though, is the spring tension screw used to center the brake pads. With most cranks, you need to remove the entire crank to get to the tiny screw. I may be able to make a really short allen wrench, but this is one adjustment that you want to get right the first time.

Next up is cable routing. I’ve built or rebuilt 4 tri bikes in the last few weeks and manufacturers could certainly stand to think a little more about cable routing. On the Transition the rear brake cable and two derailleur cables all enter the frame directly behind the stem. Internal cabling is standard these days, but how it is achieved differs greatly. At first, I thought the system on the Specialized would be a real pain to set up and then would bind when used. In reality the three cables entering behind the stem is not only aero, but it does not bind at all when you turn the bars- a pleasant surprise! Getting cable housing lengths correct was a real PIA, though. Rather than using cable stops, the housing runs all the way through the frame. This actually adds a somewhat significant amount of weight and complicates the building process a little. Specialized included a 4th hole for running a cable to an SRM Power Meter. Since everything is going wireless, this is somewhat obsolete. I filled the hole with silicone since I end up racing in the rain way more often than I would like.

The seatpost features a two-position head, allowing for a variety of positions. I am a firm believer that tri bikes should be ridden steep for most competitive riders, so I use the forward position. The seatpost is held in place by another proprietary wedge-style clamp. Every manufacturer has a different take on the aero seatpost clamp. Specialized’s design seems to hold things in place without stressing the frame. One thing to note about the Transition Pro is that it is an aggressive frame that is meant to be raced. Given the amount of drop from the saddle to the handlebars a really relaxed, upright position is not possible. A comfortable long-course position with a reasonable amount of drop is not a problem.

Overall Impressions
I set this bike up to almost exactly the same fit specs as my previous frame. This attention to detail allowed me to feel at home right away on the new frame. You feel like you are sitting up higher on this bike because of the sloping top tube that is found on all frames utilizing compact geometry. If the frame is stiff enough for Fabian Cancellara (he won a Tour of California TT on this frame) it is surely stiff enough for me. Handling is predictable and not twitchy (for a tri bike anyway). The bike really shines when you step on the pedals- I feel like there is no wasted energy, everything I put into the pedals translates into forward momentum. For such a stiff frame, the ride quality is also better than I expected. The carbon does a nice job of damping road vibrations. Since finishing the bike build, I won the elite wave of a local tri and have gone 4 for 4 on overall wins at our local Tuesday Night Time Trial series. So it is fair to say that aside from the few design tweaks and peeves mentioned above, I am digging this new ride and looking forward to throwing down some fast bike splits the rest of the season!

Stay tuned for a detailed review of all the fancy bits and pieces on my Transition Pro.

Up the mountain at Triple-T!

Down the mountain at Triple-T!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Snake Bite #2, in the Bag!

By: TriCajun

The second Snake Bite Triathlon took place last weekend in Morgan City, Louisiana. You think racing in a triathlon is a challenge? Try being a race director! Yep, this father's day totally rocked and completely flew by like no other day. We woke up our entire household at 3:45 am to head out to the race transition area (flashlights and bug spray in tow)- talking nonstop the entire ride about all the details that must be considered. We were blessed to have the field of 200 very cool people sign up for this deal - all sold out weeks prior to the event!

We moved the swim course this year to deeper water and were stoked to have sponsors that built a telescoping aluminum staircase for the exit. Transition was closeby and Lisa secured plenty of carpet for all the tender feet. Everything was roped off and the volunteers in their positions - the sound system blared the national anthem and my shirt was completely soaked with sweat, literally dripping because as a race director you run around from one point to another coordinating police officers, bike and run courses, ice/water stations, volunteers, questions from participants - you know the drill - a million people needing your attention. Anyway, as I looked across the lake at the rising sun and the masses of people, I couldn't believe the race was about to happen - the 2nd Snake Bite Triathlon.

Over the past few months we had 3 swim practices for folks to get used to open water swimming. For new triathletes, the swim is usually the most intimidating part. These workouts were great confidence builders, learning situations for athletes and volunteers, and just good ole comradery. People talked openly about things that work and don't work, what times they train, and swim techniques. This is the good stuff. We are all about getting together with other people to train - it motivates and commits you.

We had about 20 volunteers on the swim course and the athletes did a fantastic job of following our directions and working hard to finish - btw, every single person that started this bad boy finished it! The water was warm and not much chop - truly ideal conditions for a first timer.
There were 3 wave starts - the first was males 30-39, then all other males, followed by the chicks. This format separated the groups evenly and let the tough guys clear out all the snakes for the rest of the gang!

Transition was set up as a big rectangle with one end being "in" and one being "out" - transitions always have to have circular flow in and out so that everyone has to do the same distance during the event. Several volunteers stayed inside of transition to keep people oriented as to where they went next.

The bike course was super fast - flat and very straight - just an easy out and back (13 miles). Traffic was not closed, so we had to have volunteers on the course, as well as police at every major intersection and at the turn-round. We also had an aid station with water/Gatorade at the half way point.

The run course led participants through the carillion tower park which is a raised gravel path through the swamp where large bells played music (2 miles). Our volunteers said that one of the last runners saw 2 snakes - just makes you run faster!

One little detail: during the race it was so hot (94 degrees 105 heat index) that our original order of 34 cases of water and 14 cases of Gatorade got demolished. We ended up making 3 additional runs for more water and ice. Once folks got through the finish shoot they were treated to tons of fresh fruit, ice bags, and fluids. Then over to the judge's stand for shrimp stew, jambalaya, door prizes and an awards ceremony.

We took down all of the tents, barricades, and bike racks, loaded ice chests, signs, parking cones, and food. It was amazing that at 1pm everyone was gone. All of the months of planning pinnacled into about 4 hours of actual contact with the athletes - it was such a huge relief to have the final goal achieved - another safe, fun race with people amazed at their own will and power! In the end we had lots of newbies who rode the first time high for a few weeks - it was fun to get up in the morning to check emails and listen to our home answering machine to hear all the comments about the race.

Many thanks to our great photographers - Mel Bourgeois, Bob Bourgeois, and Sarah Langlois - for working so hard in the heat to get all these great shots.

A lot of work, but a great event! If you think doing a triathlon is a great feeling, consider volunteering for one, especially a local, grass-roots one where you can really help and be close to the athletes on the course. You will not find a better feeling in triathlon! Many thanks to all of our volunteers this year - these events would not be possible without you!