Michael Hanslip Coaching

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

November 2022

Tyre Tech

Sometimes it seems as if there is only one school of thought in MTB tyre design...
While you might think I am going to talk about tread patterns, I'm not. Sure many tyres "look like a Minion", but that isn't what's on my mind today.
Maxxis is probably the tyre of choice in Australia (at least here on the East Coast - perhaps everywhere). They do produce a tyre for every purpose, which helps them to be popular. My main grumble about Maxxis tyres is that most (if not all) of the modern tyres (read that as anything that comes in a 29" size) have a dual compound knob on the tyre. To get chemical grip, they use a soft rubber that is capable of high grip on hard surfaces; but to get mechanical grip they form most of the knob out of a harder rubber that resists deformation under load. On day 1 this is great, but as soon as the soft rubber is worn away from the underlying support rubber, the tyre is done. Sure you can keep riding it, but it has poor chemical grip at this point (if it has any at all, that hard rubber can be pretty slick on some types of surfaces) and probably it didn't wear evenly, resulting in less than stellar mechanical grip too.
About three years ago, Pirelli entered the MTB tyre scene with a new range produced by a partner (Vittoria I believe - in Thailand) using Pirelli rubber compounds. One of the distinguishing traits of these new (XC only initially) tyres was the single compound through each knob. In a tyre like the XC-R (rear specific), the cornering knobs start out looking a bit worn, so they don't really change much through their lifespan. And they do provide very good chemical and mechanical grip.
Pirelli hired Fabian Barel, ex-World Champ at DH and renowned engineer for fast bikes on dirt, to help develop a DH tyre for Pirelli. After a couple of years of running prototypes under some fast racers, Pirelli has announced their new DH and second-generation Enduro tyres. And - queue unhappy noises from me - to get the characteristics the fast racers wanted they had to resort to dual compound knobs. Soft over hard, like Maxxis. The Enduro tyres on my Slash are single compound and have a tread pattern quite different to these new (now made in Italy by Pirelli too) MTB tyres.
I've run several sets of tyres on my Slash in the time I've had it. It came with Bontrager SE4s, front and back. At some point Trek added the SE5 to their lineup, and I've been running an SE5/SE4 combo for the last year or so. With little fanfare, Trek has introduced a revised SE tyre line, including the new SE6 (if an SE4 is like a Minion DHF, and an SE5 is like a Minion DHR2, then the SE6 is like an Assegai). One feature of the new line is soft over hard rubber to make the tyres more suited to race use in the EWS by their fastest Enduro team riders. This replaces single compound knobs (the SE tyres were softer on the outside and harder in the centre, but any individual knob was a single compound).
This probably cuts a tyres useable life in half.
If they were half the price then it would just be the inconvenience of purchasing them, mounting them and getting them sealed.
But dual compound knobs are harder, not easier, so if anything, the price of the tyres has gone up.
Now there is less incentive to reach for a Pirelli or Bontrager tyre next time I need new rubber on the rims.

Wahoo Kickr

When I'm riding inside I use a Kickr. I thought I'd briefly run through why.
My first stationary training device was a set of Belgian rollers. Three plastic drums in a steel frame were great for developing balance and spin, but not so good for strength because there is no real resistance in traditional rollers. The alternative was a wind trainer. They are very loud. Very.
After the wind trainer came the mag trainer. This was a foreshadowing of the smart trainer (as most smart trainers use electro-magnetic resistance not too dissimilar to mag trainer resistance) but definitely not smart. They weren't even as good as wind trainers, but far quieter. And quiet wins in many households. I never liked any mag trainer I tried because the flywheel was too light and there was no momentum.
And then came the smart trainer. I don't know if the Kickr was first, but it was among the early options. And it has continued to progress to keep abreast of industry developments. The latest version is #6, which offers only tiny changes from version #5 - though one is really good when you require it. When you stop pedalling it can be impossible to get back on top of the gear as the trainer tries to force you to put out the rated power, which at a low cadence is a very large load. Now it takes a few seconds to ramp up to the set load when restarting. If you never stop in mid-ride then you'd never notice.
Kickr is unique in the Headwind (a Bluetooth paired fan that speeds up based on power, velocity, heart rate or a simple manual setting). And in the Climb (a companion to the Kickr that moves the front of the bike up and down in response to slope in the virtual world. I have a Headwind and would love to have a Climb.
My Gen 1 Kickr (technically I'm minding it for a mate who wore it out with tens of thousands of kilometres and replaced it with a Tacx Neo; and I purchased the spare part to make it work again and am now keeping it safe for him by using it once a week) is not Climb compatible. The rear "axle" doesn't freely rotate in the housing to permit free rotation of the bike through simulated hill slopes.
I did a group test of smart trainers including Tacx, Elite, Wahoo, JetBlack and more. We bought the Gen 3 Kickr from the test pool for my partner's use.
The Kickr has good folding legs (stable when open, small when closed). It has a good handle. It is quiet. It is fast to respond to power changes from any controlling app. That power is consistent and stable. The Saris Hammer was also good, but just more awkward to use. The JetBlack was cool in that it generated its own power from use - no plug-in required. I don't know if the current model shares this with that older model, but this new one has become the Zwift Hub - Zwift's first foray into hardware. I guess if Wahoo can buy in two apps to go with their hardware then the app makers can buy in hardware to go with their software.
The market has progressed enough that Wahoo and Tacx both do a "bike". A hybrid between their trainer and a studio bike, they easily reconfigure in order to fit most riders. The Wahoo bike has the Climb's tilt function built in. The Tacx bike has something like the Headwind built in - with 2 fans on the bars.
Tacx also makes a mega-treadmill that is large enough to accommodate a full road bike. That one would be my choice based on the real-ness of riding on a moving belt over fully stationary trainers. But the size (big) and price (over 8000 Euros) are very unfriendly. And apparently not in Australia at all.
I have a good bike on my Kickr. Which is why I would not choose the smart bike. But would choose the Magnum treadmill. My seat. My bars. My position. And only my position.
Smart trainers open up the prospect of indoor, remote racing. Indoor, remote bunch riding. And simulated riding just about anywhere in the world. Zwift has multiple real and imaginary roads contained inside the app. RGT has "magic roads" that let you upload a GPS file and re-ride the road in a simulated environment (RGT doesn't attempt to mimic the scenery of your road, just the slope).
Virtual riding is only going to get better from here.

Slash pre-ride impressions

After 12 months of waiting, my Slash has finally arrived – early! My first observation is that paint is more complex than I expected. It is not only hue-changing paint but there are two paints. The top is dark and mostly purple.  The bottom is bright and mostly blue. Somehow they’ve been able to paint it with a “grain” so that the writing behaves exactly opposite the background in how it reacts to light. What makes one bright, makes the other dark. Very cool. I’m also sad that most of the blue paint gets covered by the chainstay protector and the downtube protector. Yes that protection is essential. But it hides the cool blueness to a great extent.
Second impression is that the new Slash is much more of a beast than the previous version (which I now have for sale). Longer, lower and slacker. The Zeb fork is much beefier than the 36. Both ends are primed for one size larger disc rotors (200/180 rather than 180/160). I ran 200/200 rotors on the old Slash and will run 200/200 on the new Slash. It ships in low position where the old Slash shipped in high position (which I never rode once).
The gearing is lower. That makes sense after my time on the other Slash as top gear is too big for most trails, but I occasionally wanted a lower gear on long climbs up a mountain. Both a smaller chainring and a larger big sprocket on the cassette means the low gear is quite a bit lower. Ten per cent lower in fact.
And finally: It still looks like a Slash. The Trek family lines are there.

I only ride park

That's plainly not true, in fact I rarely ride park. But it is the title of a recurring theme in Matt Dennison's repertoire. If Matt and the title mean nothing to you, you're missing out. Go to YouTube and check out the gems from IFHT (their new channel is called Mahalo My Dudes). So I don't only ride park, but I really enjoy riding park. Which is a segue into what I am writing about today.
From 2011 to 2019 I went to BC to ride every year. Then Covid hit. Didn't go in 2020. Didn't go in 2021. Could possibly have gone in 2022, but travel was hard and expensive this year. Plus timing wasn't good with work stuff, and the whole newer Creekside zone at Whistler was closed all summer due to lift works on that side of the hill. Sounds like there's going to be more closures next summer as they put in yet another lift (which is sub-optimal, but not avoidance worthy).
To make up for the long absence, it was proposed that maybe we should visit all the good places we have been and the few places we haven't been in prior visits. Minimum stay under this scenario is 62 days (allowing for a couple of days on each bike park's trails and transit between parks).
The trails at SilverStar are superb for trail bikes. The trails at Sun Peaks and Kicking Horse are best for DH bikes. Whistler delivers trails for both types really well. I've been with only a trail bike and with only a DH bike. Both leave you wanting for the other. The best visits have had both types of bike - choice is prime.
Whistler in particular benefits from having a trail bike because there are way more good trails out of the bike park than inside it. As good as the park is; Howler, Dark Crystal and Lord of the Squirrels are only three of the many amazing trails on offer if you can pedal up.
The proposed itinerary looks something like this:
SilverStar > Big White > Sun Peaks > Retallack Lodge > Fernie > Panorama > Kicking Horse > Revelstoke > Whistler > North Shore.
I haven't been to Mt Washington on the island. It seemed to be open a bit this year so there is hope. And the Nanaimo area trails were tons of fun (Cumberland and Tzouhalem are the two I think we hit up last time). So maybe?
In less than a month, Thredbo opens for summer. I've got my season pass. I made it up for ten days each of the last two seasons. I'm hoping this rain doesn't ruin what could be a really fun summer of MTB. My stoke is high knowing that the Gunbarrel lift will have double the capacity of last year (two bikes per chair now after taking the racks from the Kosciuszko chair). Which means the main chair gets new bike carriers too (more capacity? When I spoke to lift services they weren't sure yet). Merrits Gondola remains two bikes per car. But at the summit of the gondola will be a new chair for bikes continuing straight up in the same direction (apparently with 2 bike capacity as well). Three new trails off that lift means that Sidewinder now runs the full length of that hill, plus there are a blue flow and a blue technical trail up there as well.
As long as the upper traverse trail is open (closed for too much of last season) then much of the hill is accessible from the main lift. That trail runs past the top of Gunbarrel, taking in everything it offers, and then past the top of the gondola too. The only trails that it won't touch are the three new ones. They'll be holiday/weekend only tracks I guess. Kosciuszko runs 7 days but Gunbarrel/Merrits and the new Cruiser lifts are holiday/weekend only.
The first time I went to Thredbo was summer 1997. There was only the one trail - the Cannonball DH track. The day we were there the main lift was closed for servicing so we had to take an old and slow lift (which I think must be gone because I remember it being immediately next to the Kosciuszko) that stopped short of the summit. We had to do "dirt school" where they showed us how to "safely" carry our bikes in our laps on the chair (there was never anything safe about it). The bike guy showed us some of the Cannonball DH trail, but it was closed except for race days. Which meant we had a boring run down the firetrail back to the lift. After a couple of those we called it a day.
When Thredbo started taking MTB seriously, they added the Flow trail to open the hill to modest skill level riders. The All Mountain is even better because it can be quite challenging if you go fast and take the optional side lines it offers, or it can be merely a bit more difficult than the Flow.
The grommets seem to love the Merrits lift and Sidewinder. It's short, so fitness isn't an issue (the main lift is pretty long). And Sidewinder is fun for all (from beginner to pro there is something to enjoy on the trail).
I digress in my enthusiasm for the coming summer season.
The only other ski resort in Australia where one could ride park was Mt Buller in Victoria. Unfortunately it had a very short season. Day one was Boxing Day and the final day was January 31 for the regular season, and then for a dozen years they had the Buller Bike Festival closer to Easter that opened the lifts for another week. Worksafe ruled that carrying your bike in your lap was not, in fact, safe (see my comments on Thredbo's former similar situation above) cancelling the 2020 Buller Bike Festival for good. There is now a shuttle service that runs weekends and holidays from December to April, plus full time the same periods as the lifts used to run (Boxing Day to February and Easter).
With long, long summers in Australia, and short, short winters I don't understand why Perisher (with over 30 lifts), or Falls Creek (with a dozen lifts) or any other ski area in Australia hasn't gone down the MTB pathway yet.
In BC, riding park is possibly a way of life. In Australia, not so much.

3D printed saddle - part 1

Following on from the recent post about saddles, I found a Fizik Antares Versus Evo R3 Adaptive (3D printed top, metal rails) on sale. Since mid-last week I've had it on my commuter as a trial.
My first impression was that it was comfortable but after a few rides I'm less certain. I plan to give it 25 hours of ride time (19 commuting days) before I make any definitive decision.

It is obvious that the nose is soft and the back area is firm. Whether these are soft or firm
enough remains to be seen.
For what it's worth, it looks nice.
Compared to the Arione that was on there before, the Antares is essentially missing the rear 4cm. From the nose to the tail it is the same as an Arione, except the Arione has a convex rear shape and the Antares is blunt to slightly concave. I never use that portion to functionally they should be the same.

Track gearing

I recently wrote about road gearing. In the aftermath of Ganna's amazing Hour Record recently, track gearing has been a topic of conversation amongst my cycling friends. So I decided to write about that today.
English speaking cyclists tend to reckon in "gear inches". Which is an arcane measure of how big the front wheel of a Penny Farthing would be if you were riding one! Because they were direct drive, the biggest wheel that could fit between your legs was the size you used (assuming you could afford to commission a brand-new custom bike back 150 years ago). A 700C road bike wheel is roughly 27" in diameter. Of course this depends on the tyre size (a 42mm gravel tyre is MUCH bigger than a 20mm track tyre on the same rim). But this reckoning is strangely tyre independent.
I ran a "fixie" commuting bike for a while. Fixed-wheel bikes demand that you pedal as long as and as fast as you are moving. So a particularly small gear requires lots of leg speed, particularly down a longer hill. Conversely a bigger gear demands leg strength on the way up any hill. For a few weeks my gear selection on the commuter was a ridiculously small 39/17 gear combo: 61". I then tried 52/13, which is a crazy big gear: 108". It was a couple of weeks before I was able to muscle up the hill to my home, but I was happy to finally make it up there.
On a Friday afternoon about 3 km from home I decided I had had enough of commuting on a fixed-wheel bike and resolved to swap back to gears over the weekend (before going to work on Monday). The decision was taken away from me when the light turned green. As I stood to power away from the intersection, the threads on the hub holding that 13T sprocket in place sheared off for good to end my fixie fixation. I scootered home and replaced the drivetrain on the bike with gears.
There are no hills on a velodrome, but acceleration is critically important to racing success. So, a gear in the high 80s would be a typical warm-up gear. Then, a gear in the low 90s would be good for actual racing. At an event like Nationals these tend to go up a little because everyone is riding faster and is fitter, plus the good wheels come out for these occasions; allowing bigger gears. The big change in world level track racing in this century is going to bigger gears and going much faster. I remember when the team pursuit first went under 4:00 for 4000m, but now the individual pursuit has also gone under 4:00. In the 90s, Graeme Obree could often catch national teams in demo events where he raced them solo: his ability to do a sub-4:20 time put him on par with a decent team pursuit team.
For the Hour Record, Ganna used 65/14. That's about 125 inches. Much bigger than anything I've ever used, even in fun. I remember trying out different gearing for club track racing and one night I threw 108" on the bike and managed to get a gap over the field in the final scratch race of the night and no one could catch me thanks to my big gear. On the pursuit side I turned nearly identical times on everything from mid-90s inches up to 110" because the limiting factor was neither strength nor fitness; but power. A Watt is a Watt and it takes more Watts to go faster no matter how fast or slow you turn your legs over.
But if you watch the 5 minute highlight video (or the entire hour replay) for Ganna's record ride, he starts out very slowly. He's young and strong and fit but that gear is still a huge effort to get going. Ganna's speed works out to 15.75 m/s average. Or 945 m/min. Or roughly 450 wheel rpm (obviously tyre size dependent but that won't change too much regardless of what rear tyre he ran-maybe 5%). With his gearing selection that is a very comfortable 105 rpm for his legs. In contrast, on a 90" gear (50/15) that's more like 136 rpm. I can do my FTP output for an hour at 105 rpm. I can do it at 136 rpm for maybe 1 minute before something in my legs tightens up and I have to slow down.
So 125" is a huge gear, no doubt. But it is right in the sweet spot for a good track rider to pedal for 60 minutes. Which suggests if you plan to ride 57 km in 60 minutes you need an amazing combination of fitness and strength permitting use of such a monster gear choice.