Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder

June 2022

Flat Pedals

What makes a good flat pedal?
There are hundreds of flat pedals out there. Some brands offer many more than one option. How to pick? What to look for? What to avoid?
The more aggressive the bike and the riding that will be taking place, the more aggressive the pedal should also be. Harmony works. That means a DH bike requires a more aggressive pedal than the bike you want to ride on the neighbourhood singletrack with your kids.
Metal pedals are more difficult to damage than nylon ones, but cost more, weigh more and are still susceptible to ruin from a single rock. When mountain biking, most people don't get a chance to wear out their pedals. More likely, they are beaten into submission by continuous impact with rocks, roots and the ground.
I hit a pedal into the face of a jump when a prior incident meant I was one-footed. I didn't consider just how much the suspension compresses under the load of a jump face. I was ejected from the bike and the pedal was twisted into a new shape.
So nylon pedals can be a good choice. Loads of colours; and the colour runs through the entire pedal (so scratches don't show). A big impact will tear/fracture the nylon, but that same impact might just have bent the metal pedal out of shape anyway.
I don't like grub screw pins. Their traction isn't the best, regardless of length. They are easily damaged on the upper surface, and that makes them more difficult to remove. I'd also argue they aren't aesthetically pleasing, but that is a minor complaint.
Most bottom loading pins are a better option. The pointy end can break off or bend yet it still can be removed via the head under the pedal.
Some top loading pins are also OK. I have two pairs of old E*13 LG1+ pedals. They use top loading pins that are threaded in from the opposite side of the pedal - the Allen key runs fully through the pedal body to engage the pin. This permits a big shoulder supporting the pins against the pedal body while also making the remnants easy to remove because the threaded part is never damaged.
Pedal shape can be concave, convex or flat. And this can be further modified by the pins heights across the pedal. Long pins are more vulnerable than short pins so I'm not a fan of too-long pins. Making a flat pedal concave by long pins at the front and rear edges isn't as robust as properly concave pedal bodies.
Concave pedals make your foot feel attached to the pedal. Convex pedals force your shoe to wrap around the pedal body. Flat pedals fall in between.
Pedal size should vary with shoe size somewhat. Crank Brothers has it right with two sizes of flats to suit most adult feet. Some pedals are extra large or extra small - don't stray too far from the average without a reason.
Pedals can run on bearings, bushings or a combo of both. Bushings work pretty well, until they wear a little and then the pedal has loads of play in it. Bearings maintain their form longer than a bushing in terms of wear, but the bearing itself can wear faster than a bushing (depending on bushing type, and protection from contamination).
Bearings tend to be bigger in diameter than bushings. Many pedals have a large bearing up close to the crank arm that creates a bump on the inner edge of the pedal. This bump usually interferes with shoe placement. Beware the bump, but don't avoid completely (many great pedals have the bump).
Axles are usually steel, unless you pay a lot and get titanium. Ti can be accompanied by a magnesium pedal body. The combo is very light and very expensive - also quite fragile. Mg doesn't hold up as well as Al. Ti is 2/3 the weight of steel in the same dimensions, but not as strong. Ti axles usually have a weight limit.
The thinner the pedal body, the better it feels under foot. How thin they can be depends on the shape (convex/concave) and the bearing style (bushings tend to be smaller than ball bearings).
The Spank Oozy and Straitline AMP are very similar to each other and close to my ideal pedal. Thin with a good chamfered leading edge to not get hung up on rocks, slightly concave, enough meaty pins to make traction great while not succumbing to every rock and decent bushings without a massive lump on the inside. Straitline has given up (no more MTB products from them) while Spank has slightly redesigned the Oozy (haven't tried the new one) - but you get the idea.

Madone SLR

On the eve of the release of the newest Madone for the '22 Tour, I thought I'd put up a short review of what is my best bike ever - Madone SLR Disc.
Having been through many generations of design, the recent few have been full-on aero race bikes. This sacrifices some weight for being slick in the air. To maximise this, they use truncated air foils. Not only does this make them UCI legal, but road bike practical. The flat back of the downtube is convenient for a bottle cage, for example.
Disc brakes are something I never thought I wanted on a road bike. Sure, I've used them for years on the MTB, but rim brakes work fine on the road. And then I rode them!
As an added bonus, carbon rims don't need to be brake friendly. This makes the rim's life easier, lighter and more aero.
Mine is the first Madone with IsoSpeed. A means of pivoting the seatpost on the frame so it can move slightly in response to bumps - it takes the sting out of potholes. On the Madone it is adjustable. I have never tinkered with mine because I like how it came and thought it aligned well with the response of the non-adjustable one on the Checkpoint. So no reason to mess with it.
After 30 years of carbon frames, Trek has enough experience to make the Madone really stiff while hitting all their other targets. Never does the chain rub on the front derailleur. NEVER! The bike feels super solid.
So: the bike is aero, the brakes are good, the ride is good and it is sufficiently stiff for a big guy like me. These traits all come together most often when I hit a decent hill at speed and realise I am pushing it up the slope at crazy speeds. This much power should flex the frame. It should not go quite this fast. And such a deep-tubed frame should have a rougher ride.
Couple that with my Project One pick of metallic Emerald paint and the superb Record drivetrain and I've got a fantastic bicycle. One I love to ride. My best one ever.

Crank Length

Go back more than fifty years and road bike geometry was a bit different from what it has been in the period since. Bikes got taller with increasing sizes, but they barely got any longer – instead this seemed to be left up to the longer stem. Even with stems up to 14 (or more) centimetres long, big guys often look pretty squashed in older race images. I guess it proves you can adapt to many things.
Currently one would be shopping smartly if one looked for a new bike based on top tube length (or reach). The gap between sizes for most companies is consistent for both the frame’s height and length. That is, each size is 2 cm taller for each size up (in traditional sizing at least) and each size is a consistent X mm longer (with X being model dependent around 15 mm) for each size up.
One thing that didn’t change in the old days was crank length. Occasionally I see a non-170 mm crank on an old gear website, but that seemed to be the size that most things came in. My first good bike was a 60 cm frame with 170 mm cranks. My second bike was a 61 cm frame with 170 mm cranks.
And then one day someone decided that crank length mattered. But only for those in the middle of the size distribution. Check out the size range offered by most manufacturers. It amounts to three sizes: 170, 172.5 and 175 mm only. Move up to the current 12-spd Shimano Dura Ace and you can go both shorter and longer – but not by much (160 or 165 mm and 177.5 mm are your choices). On the Campagnolo side of things, only the basic three lengths are available regardless of price (Super Record is super expensive but has three choices). This wasn’t always the case. I have had numerous 180 mm Dura Ace cranks over the years (from 8-spd, 9-spd and 10-spd models) and I currently have two Campagnolo 11-spd cranks in 180 mm (one Record and one Super Record).
If you require short cranks, there are numerous choices for children that function fine for height challenged adults. If long is what you want, then you are in trouble. As much because off-the-shelf frame won’t work with cranks much longer than 180 mm as because of the difficulty in getting anything longer than 180. Lennard Zinn has you covered if you are really tall and want a suitable bike because he can make both for you – cranks up to 230 mm long (I think) and commensurately higher bottom brackets to avoid driving those cranks into the ground when pedalling.
I cannot understand how anyone can think “My company needs to make cranks in different lengths because legs come in different lengths” but we aren’t going to make crank lengths representative of leg lengths. Where adult leg lengths cover about a 25% range, the cranks cover around a 2.5% range. There is no explanation that makes that sensible for me. Except that the range is SO small and 3 sizes is so few that it is possible to stock 3 SKUs and fit them on any bike. The bike industry runs afraid from discussions of biomorphology and optimal crank length.
Reality suggests that a 50 cm frame should have 165 mm cranks – possibly a bit shorter. And that 62 cm frame should have 190 mm cranks (possibly a bit longer). What we get instead is each frame size up receives a slacker seat tube angle. This moves the riders pelvis backwards in relation to the pedals so that the riders legs sit behind the pedals similarly for each bike size without the desired extra crank length. Basically, it is a cheat. All sizes of riders should be on the same seat angle, but have ever-higher bottom brackets to go with ever-longer cranks as the size increments up.
When I got my Trek Checkpoint, I had a full Record group to hang on it. Only the cranks didn’t fit. The frame was designed around Shimano cranks only. The offset in Shimano cranks is all at the axle. In SRAM cranks, the offset is in the middle of the crank in a gentle curve. For Campagnolo, the offset is near the pedal after the crank runs straight out of the axle. The bulge in the offside chainstay hit the Record crank. I was able to use the Record cranks on my old Madone (the one that lives in the trainer) and bought some new-old-stock SRAM Red GXP cranks for the Checkpoint in the longest size SRAM makes – 177.5 mm. It is only a single size, a tiny difference, but I never liked the 177.5 cranks. They always felt a bit wrong.
Then they broke. I was simply going to replace them, except a year later and SRAM hasn’t been able to come up with a solution. They were going to send me some Quarq cranks in 177.5 mm length with the old GXP axle and old 3-bolt interface for the spider. But they didn’t have a matching spider. So my bike shop found a spider. When the cranks finally arrived, they were 8-bolt interface. The spider won’t fit. They sent the cranks back but got stuck with the spider. A part they don’t need and might never sell. SRAM is all about the DUB axle these days and that 29 mm axle won’t fit in a Trek BB90.
What about other options? Rotor once made 180 mm cranks, but it appears not to have done so for many years. At least one generation. I didn’t go with Shimano in the first place because there is a general sentiment that Shimano and Campagnolo do not mix. Now with the 12-spd new generation of Shimano parts, there is no 180 mm crank in the parts list. SRAM still makes 177.5 mm, but I know I don’t really like that length and non-DUB axles are harder to find. Campagnolo abandoned anything longer than 175 mm when they went to 4-bolt spiders about 2015. Miche, an Italian brand that makes a lot of bike parts, only makes the 3 lengths from 170 to 175 in their racing models (and shorter for kids).
Lightning, in Los Angeles California, makes some very fancy carbon cranks with a bolt on spider and a 30 mm axle stub on each arm. Like Campagnolo cranks, each half-axle stub bolts together inside the bottom bracket. They have a Trek BB90 solution that involves very tiny bearings. I have read many stories of premature bearing failure and constant creaking from these very expensive cranks. At least they produce cranks from 150 mm up to 190 mm, which is a vastly superior range to most brands.
In the past 5 years all my mountain bike cranks have gotten shorter for better ground clearance as bottom brackets have gotten lower for handling. I had a trail bike until 2017 that ran 180 mm cranks. They were great for pedalling up open fire roads and the like, but I got so many pedal strikes on singletrack. The Slash I got in 2018 came with 175 mm cranks, but the shop arranged for me to get 170 mm cranks. A change made by 2019 for all Slash models. Then I replaced the short travel bike in 2020 with 170 mm cranks; partly so they’d be the same as the Slash, partly to ensure better ground clearance. My personal corollary on crank length is my new hardtail, which came with 175 mm cranks. I get more pedal strikes than I would like and think that I should replace the cranks with some 170 mm variants. As is typical of DH bikes, my new DH bike came with 165 mm cranks for even more ground clearance. This is the same as my old DH bike, but because I haven’t ridden that since about 2015, it is long out of my head.
My latest thinking, then, about the Checkpoint cranks is to run with 170 mm. Maybe that is the compromise that has to happen because there just aren’t sufficient choices in 180 mm cranks. I’d be happier if I could swap all three road bikes over but maybe it won’t matter? I’m considering something inexpensive (like Shimano 105) in case I don’t like the 170 mm length on the road bike.

Dressing for Winter

If it is really cold (or really warm) then clothing selection is quite simple. When it is not so clear-cut in temperature, or the morning and evening commutes are very different, then the clothing choice becomes difficult.
I've been failing at this a lot recently. You'd think after years of choosing clothing I could get it right...
The initial shock of leaving the building into the chill wintery air should never be accommodated because as soon as the rider warms up, they'll be greatly overdressed if they worry about being warm in those initial ten minutes. And still, you don't want to get too cold. Sometimes a starting layer pays off - something that can be unzipped or even removed early in the ride.
Chill comes from the ambient air temperature, is affected by the humidity, and then there is the wind. Even on a perfectly still day, if you ride along at 30 kmh you are in a 30 kmh wind. On days like the other day, when I was riding along at 20-something kmh into a 30-something kmh headwind, then we've got some serious chill-factor to deal with.
Thus, in winter, you almost always want to be wind-proof. The waterproof breathable fabrics are all wind-proof. But they also lead to overheating pretty quickly by the amount of warm air they retain inside. (I haven't tried Gore ShakeDry fabric, but even with its excellent breathability it still retains warm air inside and therefore could lend itself to overheating.)
Wind-proof can be a single layer. This week I have been wearing a light shell jacket over the top. It keeps the wind out, but by itself would be insufficient for adequate warmth.
Accompanying the wind-proof layer needs to be an insulating layer. In cool temps that might be a long-sleeve summer jersey. In colder temps that would be a long-sleeved winter jersey. In coldest temps that would be a winter jacket.
I have two winter jackets that are also wind-proof. They're great, but if you get warm there is nowhere to go. You can't shed the whole jacket so you're stuck with the wind-proof and insulating layers together. I stopped part-way to work this morning to lose my wind-proof layer and continue with only the insulating one. Can't do that if they're one and the same.
On coldest days you might want the winter jersey under the winter jacket, but it seldom gets that cold in Canberra for me.
Extremities can get chilled pretty fast so something for the hands and feet are important. I bought some "Lobster" gloves from Pearl Izumi many years ago. I was never able to wear them in Canberra on even the coldest mornings because it has to be below -10 for me to feel comfortable in them (I got one chance to wear them in Canada on a Christmas visit at -20, where they were perfect). Lately I wear some Campagnolo brand gloves with a high-tech fabric that is water resistant and wind-proof plus insulating. And yes, they are often too hot. I used to commute in some Castelli winter gloves that were very thin - they had the wind-proof part going on but virtually nothing in terms of insulation. And that was perfect many days. No glove lasts forever and they have worn out.
On my feet, my favourite is a set of Lycra overshoes with wind-proof material at the toes. No insulation. Simply keep the wind out. That's enough for all but the coldest rides. I have some fleecy shoe covers that are also good for most rides. Because they let wind through, they aren't so good for longer cold rides - eventually the toes get cold.
One thing that never works is thick wool socks. Cycling shoes are pretty low volume. There is no space inside for a thick sock. If you do go that route, then it cuts off circulation and your feet get cold. Guaranteed.
I also tried some GoreTex shoes. They were great for keeping the rain out (as long as you didn't let it run down your ankle, because then the shoe filled up like a plastic bag and the water couldn't go anywhere). But I didn't like the actual shoe. So they got zero use for a few years and then I gave them away.
Ears can also get cold. Mostly in the commuting department I am fine. The ride is always less than 40 minutes and my ears don't get cold on most 40-minute rides. If it is frosty out, I have a thin beanie I can wear under my helmet which keeps my ears warm. It almost always has to come off after 20 minutes. I've been using the same beanie for 25+ years. It doesn't get a lot of use so it has lasted forever. I had a wind-proof ear loop (a band that goes around the head, covering the ears in the process) but it cut off a lot of hearing and ears are important on the road. It kept my ears comfortable but affected my perception of the world around me.
Once it starts to rain, then you need a different approach. The air can't be below zero, else it would be snowing. Rain means relative warmth.
Now you want water-proof. That means a membrane fabric like GoreTex, eVent or the like. Usually the water-proof layer is close to enough by itself due to the humidity (high when it is raining) and higher temps. I've often commuted wearing water-proof pants and jacket over a long-sleeved jersey (the inside of the rain jacket sleeves can be very cold when wet) and been fine.
I bought some Fox Ranger H2O pants (fully water-proof and seam sealed). I actually bought them with British Columbia in mind - there are days when I've ridden in shorts and gotten pretty wet and then cold. But with the pandemic, I haven't been to BC in 3 years and so I've used these pants for the odd wet commute. Where they've worked well. (Not sure I could ride with actual knee pads under these quite snug and non-stretchy pants anyway.)
I occasionally consider that I have too many choices. Having cycle commuted the entire time I have lived in Canberra, I have collected several winter jackets, winter jerseys, rain coats, undershirts and tights/pants. Some days I dress too warmly. Other days I never quite feel warm enough. Yet I've seen colleagues ride in the same jacket and tights from mid-Autumn until mid-Spring and endure.
Given how much their jacket stinks by Spring, I definitely prefer to be able to launder my stuff regularly and not have to try to dry it out for the next commute. Caught in the rain last week (when it wasn't supposed to rain at all) I tossed everything I was wearing in the wash on getting home and wore something else to work the next day.
Adapting clothing to temperature takes practice and an eye to how long and how hard the ride will be. If you're too warm, back off on the pedals to generate less heat. Or, if chilly, pedal harder to generate more heat. I cruise to work at about 300W. But the human body is about 25% efficient. So I'm generating about 900W of heat. That's enough to warm a bedroom. No wonder I get hot!

A Leaky tyre

A couple of weeks ago I entered a fun enduro at Mt Stromlo. I planned to use my Enduro bike but had to swap to the Trail bike because the new rear tyre on the Slash wouldn't stay full of air for more than an hour or so. This is a quick tale of a leaky tyre and a race run on the wrong bike.
I think the tyre on the Slash rear wheel was the first tyre I had installed on that rim (about 2 years ago). I swapped wheels on this bike and - thanks to the pandemic and the purchase of a proper DH bike - the new ones haven't had as much use as I might have anticipated. When I changed the tyre I assumed the quick deflation was due to damage to the rim tape. So, I re-taped it. With no impact whatsoever.
When I eventually got around to sticking the wheel in a bucket of water, I discovered air leaking from everywhere in the entire sidewall. It was like they forgot to line the tyre with the tubeless-ready lining. It wasn't much air from any point, and there was zero sealant leaking with it, but hundreds of micro-bubble streams means a flat tyre in no time.
After several emails back and forth with the shop that sold me the tyre, they got agreement with the importer to replace it for me (as soon as I provide video evidence that I destroyed the leaky tyre).
Between the realisation that I had a still-leaking tyre before the race and the discovery of the bubbling sidewalls, I had the actual race. When I put my Trail bike together, I made a deliberate decision to make the wheels swappable for just such occasions. With the front wheel of the Slash in the fork, I took my 120mm bike to the Enduro. It was probably the faster bike on one stage, but definitely the slower bike on two stages (and I'm not sure about the fourth stage). It was really fun to try to ride as fast as possible with a little bit less bike than I desired. Perhaps the weakest link was the fairly worn semi-slick on the back. The rougher sections of the DH track were fine, if slightly slow, on the small bike.
My biggest memory of the event was going off course! I came up to an obstacle and turned left when I should have gone straight ahead over the obstacle. Left sent me to a shoulder-high vertical ledge that I rode off of fine. The safety person monitoring that road crossing came running - I guess she thought I'd gone splat. I pushed back up the hill and tried again. I don't know why I turned left... but I did. The second go was much better, and way faster with no deviations.
Overall it was a fun day and I was slower than anticipated.
In a week or so, I'll have a new tyre on the Slash and look forward to riding it while it holds air...

Cooma MTB tracks

One day, on my way back from a fun day on the lifts at Thredbo, I stopped in the middle of Cooma to use the toilet and saw a decent-sized map pointing out some tracks not far up the road at the southern edge of Cooma. Deciding I had to come back to try them out, it was only a few weekends before the opportunity presented itself. Really, it takes about 40 minutes to get to Sparrow Hill and I have gone through periods of riding there every weekend. It takes about an hour to get to Cooma, so why shouldn't these trails be considered?
There is a small parking lot at the base of the trails and not much else by way of facilities. The dirt road looks like it runs all the way up, making shuttles an option for the gravitationally challenged. There are a couple of climbing trails too, for the non-shuttling types.
I plotted out a three-lap adventure using
Trailforks but we've never used the Garmin for following a course offroad before and it wasn't behaving as expected (if you stop at a trail junction it is supposed to identify the options facing you - and that is without any programming). Sometimes we would ride up a trail only to be told to turn around and go back. After a while this gets old and you just keep riding... I think in the end we did two laps plus a little extra bit rather than the three full laps planned.
The hill is really a good one for trails. It has both decent elevation gain and a variety of slopes from mild to steeper. That means the trails can range from quite easy to quite difficult. The soil is typical dry and dusty Australian dirt. On the climbing side of things the main climb track is a pretty normal XC climbing track without any hard or technical challenges, but some long and flowy lines that are fun to ride. The descending trails are generally on the easier end of the spectrum, feature a lot of jumps, were a lot of fun and didn't need a lot of travel to make them work (I was on my hardtail). I did see some guys shuttling on DH bikes, but they appeared to be riding the same descent as me so either they were seriously over-biked or bent on going super fast. I enjoyed my couple of hours there enough to want to go back and try again.
If this cold and wet winter weather yields to milder and drier days, I'd go back right away. Next time I think I will take the trail bike as much for the gearing choices as for the rear suspension.