Category: reviews

Four Fitness Apps for Cycling – a Quick Review

With almost 6000 miles on the road this year and countless miles and hours in years past I’ve tried a few different apps, some with hardware, some without. My experience yesterday with a new feature on my Garmin Fenix gave me the idea for this post.

Let’s take a look at Garmin Connect, Strava, Trainingpeaks and Wahoo Fitness. For each I’ve added a screenshot from the website (hyperlinked for your convenience 😉 ) as well as an image from its mobile app.

  • Price = Free (with hardware)
  • Key Features = Track exercise, sleep, water intake and more
  • Coolest Feature = Add or Remove Gear. Let’s you keep track of miles you put on your bikes, shoes, seats, etc.
  • Ease of Use = Fairly intuitive and easy to set up. Syncs automatically with your hardware (most of the time)
  • New feature = Suggested workouts. Yesterday my watch prompted me to do some anaerobic work. Was a good workout with visual and audio prompts.
  • Price = $15.00 per month or $5.00 per month if billed annually
  • Key features = Follow other riders and vice-versa (think Facebook for athletes), explore (aka find) segments or rides, take on challenges and sometimes earn prizes or discounts on schwag
  • Coolest feature = Segment results so you can see how you’re doing compared to others. KOMs/QOMs, cups for top 10s and other bragging rights
  • Ease of Use = Easy to set up and syncs with multiple apps (Zwift, FulGaz, Garmin, etc.).
  • Price = Several, flexible plans including a free option. Monthly ($19.95), quarterly ($16.33) or annual ($9.92) plans as well
  • Key features = Robust and detailed graphs, peaks (e.g. 5s power, 20 min. HR, etc.), daily metrics (sleep, soreness, overall health, etc.)
  • Coolest feature = Fatigue, Fitness and Form info.
  • Ease of Use = Steeper learning curve than the others for sure but you can really slice and dice your data.
  • Price = Free (have to buy the hardware though, like Garmin)
  • Key Features = Workouts, History (with ability to share .fit files anytime), routes, planned workouts
  • Coolest Feature = Ability to adjust settings (e.g. auto-pause, auto-lap, etc.) on your head unit (Bolt or Roam) from the app.
  • Ease of Use = Intuitive and automatic. Set up was easy, too. Just download the app. and follow the bouncing cursor, as I like to say.

As you may know, I published a post earlier this year about data and whether it’s worth having access to so much of it. I believe it is but it’s certainly a matter of personal preference. I get that many of you don’t want to be bogged down with all of that info. You just want to ride.

For me, though, these apps have helped me take things to another level.

Strava, with its social nature, makes things more fun and allows you to compete with your friends. Garmin Connect does this as well but it’s not as popular, at least as far as I can tell.

Admittedly, I haven’t tried any of the Wahoo workouts but with FulGaz, Zwift and the great outdoors I’m content with that. My recent discovery of Garmin’s suggested workouts wasn’t a showstopper either.

Trainingpeaks, I believe, is the most helpful if you’re trying to dive deeper into those whys and hows of performance. Coincidentally, before I bought the app I purchased “Training + Racing with a Power Meter” by Hunter Allen, Andrew Coggan, and Stephen McGregor. As I read more and more it seemed to me that the book is somewhat of a companion to the app and in fact, Joe Friel, Co-Founder of Trainingpeaks, wrote the forward for the book.

So you pick. Or not.

If, however, you’re like me and want to better understand why you perform the way you do on a given day and also would like to glean some other valuable insight, take the leap and try one of these apps. Editors note: I did check Strava’s and Trainingpeaks’ websites for pricing today so they are current (for now).

I’m happy to provide more data points; just shoot me an email or give me a jingle!

In Cycling it’s All About the Data – or is It?

Garmin, Wahoo, FitBit, Apple Watch, Lintelek (haven’t heard of that one until today), you name it, most us of have one, or more, so we can track our rides, runs, hikes, sleep, Vo2 max., oxygen saturation, heart rate, caloric intake and on and on and on.

Is it worth the hassle?

Well after yakking with my BFF (and CA Alps Cycling member #3) Scott yesterday about the issues he was having getting his new Wahoo Elemnt Roam to upload to Strava I asked myself that very question.

My answer = YES.

My Experience

I’ve run an Apple Watch (it’s been awhile) and found it wasn’t rugged enough. At one point I used it for work and my Fenix (Garmin) for play. It became too much to manage both systems and I also found in the frequent switches that I would have “button-confusion” (the process whereby you push one button on one watch thinking it was the other button on the other watch and therefore not get the data you were looking for). I just made that up but I think it works. Hello Merriam-Webster! Next edition perhaps?

Image courtesy of Know Your Meme

Finally I decided to simplify my life and I sold the Apple Watch and went with the Fenix. Since then I’ve upgraded a few times to newer Fenix models and I absolutely LOVE this watch (Fenix 6 Pro) and with just a couple of exceptions (I’ll let you guess) it never comes off.

This watch gives me the tools and feedback to monitor and improve my health and fitness. Among other things it’s helped me lose 20 pounds this year and increase my Vo2 max and FTP. It also lets me keep an eye on my pulse ox and resting heart rate – two key indicators that can tell me if something’s awry in the ol’ bod.

What about on the bike?

But…the watch doesn’t work on the bike, at least for me. While I do wear it while I ride, and use it as a back up — which, you’re correct, adds another layer of data complexity and management — I prefer a larger, bicycle specific computer on the two-wheeler, or wheelers. The larger fonts help me see the data that matta betta.

In the saddle I’ve used a Garmin most of the time (1030 is my current model) and a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt some of the time. Recently though, just before Scotty did as it turns out, I purchased a Wahoo Elemnt Roam. Why?

I was tired of the resets and screen freezes on the 1030 and I happened to notice on Strava that Levi Leipheimer was running a Roam. I had also just watched a FulGaz “How to film amazing bike videos” clip on YouTube and it suggested that the Wahoo was the best computer to use to record your rides.

I must give credit where credit is due though: Garmin support has been awesome and they have sent me two replacements. As I think about it, Wahoo support has been great too – I had problems with my original Kickr awhile back and they too sent a new unit my way and knock on wood, no further issues. Maybe I’m just too hard on shit? Or is it just that shit happens? I’m going with the latter.

Talking about confusing data…A cow with horns and an udder?

The downside(s)

Of course being the data-nerd that I am, I had to compare the difference between the Fenix and the Roam. After pairing the same speed sensor to both off I went for a ride up to Raymond Meadow Creek (northern side of Hwy. 4/Ebbetts Pass).

Guess what? The Roam “said” I was faster but the Fenix gave me more credit for elevation gain. Seriously? I have to pick? C’mon man!

As I alluded to in the beginning of the post, there can be upload or download issues, too. While the 1030 uploads seamlessly, even when not on wifi, as does the Fenix, I’ve had challenges with the Roam (but not the Bolt – go figure) uploading when not on wifi. Wahoo support gave Scott some guidance this a.m. though (they also said that a patch was forthcoming) and so we’ll continue to compare notes. Perhaps we’re the exception, Scott and I, as Charlie, CAC member #6, has had no problems uploading via cellular.

Ignoring the data

Part of the feature-set for the Garmin models that I run is the post-ride feedback, e.g. Productive, Unproductive, Maintaining and Peaking. But I’ve had conversations like this with my watch: “What do you mean I’m unproductive (as it displayed yesterday)? How can you say that if my Vo2 max is up and I rested yesterday?” I’ve even been known to give it the finger when I don’t like what it displays.

It’s a similar dynamic that I sometimes experience when using GPS to navigate in my car. What, that’s not the correct street! I shouldn’t turn that direction. I’m going this way!

So are these things worth the trouble?

To me the key is finding the balance and realizing, as I read recently, that these data points are just that – the data helps us make decisions or gives us insight that perhaps we don’t have or couldn’t get. Note to selves: That doesn’t mean though, that we have to pay attention to our various devices like they were oracles!

In spite of all the data and equipment management, upload and download challenges and button confusion, however, I still believe these “widgets” are worthwhile.

How about you? Do you have similar challenges? Perhaps you don’t even run a bike computer (like a friend of mine here in town). Do you have some recommendations? Funny stories?

Please…I need more data!

What’s a Good Saddle for Riding in the California Alps?

I am talking about this type of saddle:

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Not this type:

Although they are pretty nice, and do have some features that may translate well on the bike ;-).

As it turns out, here in Markleeville, and surrounds — we’ve got mountain cattle that graze in the meadows near town and just down the road in the Carson Valley you can get some of the best grass-fed beef around — you’re likely to see both saddle types!

Now I’m salivating a bit thinking about a nice rib-eye so let me get down to business on this gear review thing before a puddle forms.

Okay, okay..if you’re truly needing a saddle-saddle, here’s the link to Natural Horsemans Saddles (especially for you and your lovely wife, Chris). Okay, onward…

Fi’zi:k or Specialized?

Of course you’ve got many more choices than just those two (2) brands but this was the question I had to answer. I’ve been a loyal Fi’zi:k saddle user for many years. I really like the Aliante R3 Open (for snake – good back flexibility) and have the same saddle on both my Emonda and my Domane. Today however, I can say (er, write), “used to have the same saddle…”

I recently switched to the Specialized Power saddle and I’m really happy I did. Here’s why:

  1. There is a lot less pressure on my “taint,” especially when I’m in the drops.
  2. I get no numbness at all, even when riding on the trainer for long periods of time.
  3. When I sit back down after standing and pedaling, my butt feels like it’s docking on that friggin’ thing! Talk about a perfect fit…
  4. For descending (tons of up means lots of down) it’s a lot more comfortable in the drops and it just feels more natural.
  5. When climbing, or riding on flat roads, not having that standard nose length also works. I thought I might notice “no there, there” but not so; it just feels RIGHT.
  6. Did I tell you that it’s amazingly comfortable?

Here’s some specific details as to what I put on which bike, and the rides I’ve done.

Emonda = S-Works Power 143mm. Carbon Rails.

I did need to order oval ears for the seatmast because the rails on this saddle are oval, not round. Keep that in mind if you decide to get this, or a similar, model.

Red ears add a nice touch, especially on a red bike.

I first used it on March 29th and have done a total of four (4) rides, all outside, including a 1/2 century ride on April 2nd, adding up to about 128 miles. Again, no issues. No chafing, no numbness and oh so comfy in the drops.

Domane = Power Pro Elaston 143mm. Ti rails.

Didn’t snap a photo of this one…There were standard rails on this saddle so no need to change out the existing seatmast ears. I use the Domane on my trainer and as my gravel bike so I opted for a bit more padding for this saddle, and I read something recently (Velonews? Bicycling? Can’t remember…) that suggested the Elaston for gravel riding. Now I haven’t done a gravel ride with it yet but yesterday I road the Alpe d’Huez Finale on FulGaz (first ride on the Elaston). 1:43:02 total on the bike – mostly seated. Again, no issues and most importantly I didn’t notice that sore spot I used to hit on my right sit-bone when I went back to a seated position. You might say (I did say) the Pro’s wings made things much more bearable.

Integrated/Attachable Seat Pack

The Fi’zi:k Aliante does come with such a thing but it’s a pain in the arse to get on and off (in and out of?) the saddle: you’ve got to hold up the clip to slide it in the slot and sometimes I need a tool of some sort to do that. Same for out; kind of a hassle.

The Power also comes with a mount. Specialized calls it “SWAT compatible” and it’s much more user friendly than Fi’zi:k’s; just attach a bracket to the seat with the provided bolts and the pack itself (I went with the small Stormproof Seat Pack) then slides in and out of the bracket. A really good design!

The Verdict

I feel like I have to get some more miles in before I’m totally sold (had over 8000 miles on the R3 that was on the Domane) but in all my years of cycling and mountain biking, and recently, gravel riding, I’ve NEVER installed a saddle that didn’t need tweaking and that didn’t cause any minor problems early on. Until now, that is. Now I’ve got two (2) of ’em! So, even after a relatively short test period I would highly recommend the Power or Power Pro. If you haven’t gone short, you’ve got to check it out!

And, if you want to do a bit more research, here’s a couple more resources: First, a good post by Outdoor Gear Lab; I found it helpful and it touches on some of the finer points of this saddle that I didn’t. And here’s another from road.cc, again with some additional data that matta.

Let’s Kick Some Passes Asses!

So, whether it’s with a new saddle, an existing saddle, on a bike or on a horse. Or perhaps none of the above (maybe you’re a runner, or a hiker, or a snowshoer or a skier) let’s get out there! With the proper distancing, of course. And hand-washing. And masks if necessary. Whatever it takes, right?

Whenever and however you go, though, please be safe and stay healthy!

Jumping on the Gravel Train

I’ve taken my road bike off-road before but only for some “sectors” here and there, not for anything of decent length. So, this was my first true gravel ride experience and I was excited (and admittedly, a bit anxious). I’m blessed to be able to live, work and ride in the California Alps yet I also realize that I need to break things up a bit. Here was my gravelly opportunity to do just that!

Gravel i.e. sand, dirt and rocks, on Sierra Vista Lane. That’s the Carson Range to the right.

What Gravel Riding Isn’t

Coincidentally, I had just read the March/April issue of VeloNews and in it was an article entitled “Harder than Robaix,” by Andrew Hood (the article’s about the Strade Bianche). He writes: “Gravel racing has deep roots in Europe. In its earliest iteration, nearly all bike racing that wasn’t on a velodrome was held across gravel or cobblestone roads, simply because paved roads were a luxury at the turn of the last century.” Luxury, indeed. I realized immediately that I wasn’t in Kansas any longer.

Note to self: Gravel riding isn’t riding on nicely graded roads covered in decomposed granite. Yup, I was pretty naive but I had this picture in my head that this was not mountain bike riding on a road bike but was instead something much more civilized. That isn’t the case! At least not on this particular ride.

Jobs Peak and Jobs Sister, and other peaks of the Carson Range, as seen from Sunrise Pass Rd.

Setting Up the Bike

My faithful steed, Roscoe (named after an Italian Gentlemen – Roscoe Fanucci, because my Domane thinks he’s Italian) has been with me for many years and we’ve put in thousands of miles together. But, after getting an Emonda last year, I decided to convert Roscoe to a gravel bike. Really wouldn’t be too hard I thought. Not going to change out the fork or do anything too drastically complicated, so it’s really just about new tires and pedals, right?

Tubeless and Platform

Tubeless I thought for the former (my wheels were tubeless-ready after all) and as for the latter, my braddah suggested pedals that are clip-in on one side and platform on the other. Found a nice set of pedals at REI that fit the bill – Shimano EH500 SPD Sport Road Pedals. As for the tires, I’m thinkin’ hey, I run tubeless on my Fuel so I know what I’m doing. I’ve got Stan’s NoTubes and that injector thingy. I’ve done this before.

Not that Easy – the Tubeless Part That Is

So I ordered the stems and some Panaracer Gravel Kings. I should mention that the Domane is not a true gravel bike so my clearance is limited to 32mm in back and 35mm in front, which is what I set out to mount on my trusty stallion. The wheels had the right rim-tape on them and I put in the stems and got the tires on. As for the “tubeless but holding air part” I looked at the instructions and did what I could to interpret the petroglyphs, arrows and “cross-out, no you dufus” icons. I failed in the translation. I could not for the life of me get a seal on those tires! And, I reminded myself, I hadn’t done this before. I’ve added sealant to tires that the shop set up but I’ve never actually installed tubeless tires from scratch. So, after a couple tries I decided to cut my losses and I filled the tubes with Stan’s; I’ll seek expert advice from Jay at Big Daddy’s, or via YouTube.

Roscoe on the left and Chris’ steed (with Chris) on the right.
Photo taken at Riverview Park in Carson City, NV

Ready to Roll

Chris, our fearless leader, and I went with the hydration pack approach since we weren’t sure what to expect. Good call since we were out there for about five (5) hours. I also carried a couple bottles with Skratch’s Sport Hydration Mix (that stuff is awesome!). We packed some sandwiches and the obligatory gels and bars, too. We met at Riverview Park at about 10:00 a.m. (not too cold but not too hot either, we figured) and after the typical pre-ride prep. (that’s where Chris waits for me to get my shit together), off we went.

Definitely not a flat ride!

Gravel Riding is Challenging

But oh so fun. I giggled like a crazy-man while fish-tailing and sliding around in that sand. I was stoked that I was able to stay upright and power through, having never ridden in sand that deep, for so many miles. That all changed about two-thirds of the way through the ride, though. I became an uber-whiner (Chris was much more stoic and bore the pain silently). The terrain had become very challenging with some big ol’ rocks (some loose, some not), sand, mud, steep climbs and creek crossings. — Great suggestion on the pedals, by the way Scotty! — My lower back and glutes were screaming and I was kinda pissed off at myself that I hadn’t set my expectations properly; this was TRULY challenging. I am a strong cyclist after, all. This ca-ca, though, is different – mountain biking with a twist. Now I understand why cyclocross riders are true bad-asses! Roscoe, by the way, wasn’t challenged at all. He handled everything that was thrown at him. And those tires…I was blown away by their traction and durability!

The Light at the End of the Gravel

The sand was a kick (and meant that coasting was not an option); the climbs were made more difficult by that constant sucking feeling (I swear I heard sucking sounds), the rocks were scary but at the same time exhilarating when I cleared them, the creek-crossings (sorry, too tired to take pix at that point) were disconcerting, BUT IN THE END, it was a great day. Cycling (and gravel riding) is pain, right? If so, lots of weakness left my body. Seriously, though, I will do it again; especially now that I know what to expect, and what to bring: more GRIT, or dare I say…True Grit?)

All smiles AFTER our epic ride. Cold cervezas await.

Epilogue – How Do They Know That?

As it turns out, five days after the ride. I received an email from Bicycling. Subject line: Are you ready for gravel? Okay, that’s just too weird. From the email: “Thing is, gravel can also be hell, especially if you hit terrain you’re not expecting. To crush it, you not only need special equipment, but also a different kind of fitness, fueling, finesse, gear, and grit.”

Grit? If grit means stoically taking the pain and quietly dealing with all that’s thrown at you, I didn’t have that. Chris did. But, if grit is persevering, even if vocalizing a little (okay, a lot), then I DID HAVE THAT. Perhaps I need some more of that, I decided. I ordered the book. Should be here this week. Stay tuned for a review.

Here and There in the California Alps – Part Deaux

Lots of things to talk about in this post: The Christmas Faire is coming; Grover Hot Springs has a new boardwalk; we’ve got some serious birding energy here including a first-time sighting; an amazing sushi bar in South Lake Tahoe; a patriotic visit with Snowshoe Thompson; a little bit of snow earlier in the week and a Deathride resurgence. Let’s get to it!

The Magical Markleeville Christmas Faire is this weekend!

A yearly tradition here in Markleeville but with an added twist this year: the Faire will be in the County Administration building so we all don’t freeze our hineys off like we have in the past. Things start with a pancake breakfast and there’ll be crafters, cookie decorating for the kids and Santa will be making an appearance too. Check out the Faire’s Facebook page for more information.

Grover Hot Spring’s New Boardwalk

I got out for a hike last week and did part of the Charity Valley Trail (from Hot Springs Road to Grover Hot Springs State Park), trekked around the park’s meadow and then took the boardwalk back the way I came. The park is always a great place to visit, especially the hot springs and now with the new boardwalk there’s one more thing to check out!

Birds, birds and more birds

It all started with the sighting of a rare bird in these parts – the Yellow Browed Warbler. Our little town of Markleeville was invaded by birders from throughout the state – they were hoping to add the bird to their lists. The Record Courier (Minden, Gardnerville and Carson City, NV) did a little write up. Click here to take a look.

A few weeks ago, we spotted an Osprey here at HQ (click here to read that post) and there have been visits from other birds since, including the Evening Grosbeak. Having been here three (3) years this was the first time we had seen these happy birds – a flock of about 20-30 tweeted their way across the meadow, perhaps enjoying the morning sun. And our regular herd of turkeys is back, too.

It’s not [always] about the beer

That’s not to say I didn’t have any when my wife and I visited The Naked Fish in South Lake but the beer definitely WAS NOT the highlight of the meal. Yes, beer can be a meal but I often like it as an accompaniment to food – food. In this case, some of the best, most unique sushi we’ve had. The hamachi was glorious (so buttery) and the uni was briny, kelpy, rich-flavored goodness. And that poke bowl…I’m salivating now as I recall how good that was! The way they prepare the sushi, though, is perhaps the real highlight – works of art that you almost don’t want to eat.

Flags (er, flag) flying at the ‘Shoe’s place

As many of you loyal readers and Strava followers know, Diamond Valley is one of my favorite places to ride. I did what I call the Diamond Valley Ewes (not the sheep, no, but two half-loops – but how does one write two yous, as in the letter?) which took me past Snowshoe’s place twice. The second time around I stopped to visit, as I usually do.

First snow (kinda…we had a little in Sept) of the season

It wasn’t much but it was enough to close Ebbett’s, Monitor, Sonora and Tioga Passes here in the California Alps. According to the CalTrans QuickMap app just now, they are all still closed with the exception of Monitor. It’s pretty darn cold here so it appears winter is on the way. We’d appreciate it, though, Ma Nature, if you’d give us a break or two before the big snow starts.

Deathride resurgence

The ride is under new management! The Alpine Co. Chamber of Commerce owns the ride (as it has for years) but this year we’ve (I am a board member) decided to take it to a new (different) level. We’re hiring a professional ride director and are exploring things like alternate route options, or additions. We’re also looking at making it more of a Fondo and adding a bit of a retro vibe. We’re still working out some of the details so stay tuned for more information about our Ruby Anniversary Edition. It’s going to be a blast!

Well, there you have it! I told you there was lots going on here in the heart of the California Alps. Here at California Alps Cycling we count our blessings every day. Living, working and riding in such an awesome place is a privilege that we don’t take for granted. We hope to see you here for a visit soon. In the meantime, let’s kick some passes’ asses! Assuming they’re still rideable.

Climb! the California Alps

For years, like many of my friends, I have been riding bikes. Mostly road bikes but I do some mountain biking as well and have been known to ride my wife’s hybrid as well – especially when I don’t want to gear up.

I’ve gotten to be a better rider over those years, mostly because I’ve lost some poundage but also due to the shear volume of riding, with the associated climbing that comes with living and riding in the California Alps.

I’ve found, though, like many of you I suspect, that I pretty much “just ride.” Yeah, I’ve used a heart rate monitor for years and I’ve been active my entire life, even when I weighed over 300 pounds, but I never really paid attention to the data and until about two (2) years ago I never had a power meter.

So, as I added my big events to the calendar this year, the first one being the Wildcat 125 in Chico next month, I decided I needed to do more to improve my climbing. An ad or an email, I can’t remember which, that I received earlier in the year touted a new book: “Climb!” by Selene Yeager and the editors of Bicycling. The sub-title reads: “conquer hills, get lean, and elevate every ride.” So I went ahead and bought the book and read it from cover to cover.

What an awesome book! It has several plans in Chapter 12 and I decided to do “The 8-Week My-Base-is-Built-So-Let’s-Roll! Hill-Climb Plan.” It’s a combination of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), steady-state intervals, endurance rides, easy rides, and rest days. In other words, exactly what I wasn’t doing! By the way, as it happens, just yesterday Selene posted a blog article on HIIT workouts. Click here to check it out.

Well, I’m in the middle of week 5 and it’s making a huge difference. My power is up, my endurance is up and I’ve learned some new skills as well. Because of the weather here in the Sierra over the last several weeks I’ve had to do many of the workouts inside but thanks to Zwift and FulGaz, and my smart-trainer, that hasn’t been a problem. Last Sunday I got outside for my first ride in awhile and I killed it! Extra poop on the climbs, lower heart-rate while generating more watts, and I PR’d my Max Avg. Power (20 min.)!

So, if you haven’t checked out the book, and if you want to be a better climber, I recommend that you do. It’s a good read with lots of nuggets, and no, I’m not getting paid a cent by Bicycling for this “review.”

And if you have any climbing tips for your fellow riders, comment on this post and share them.

Last but not least, I wanted to let you all know that you can FOLLOW US now on Twitter! @bikedalps is our handle and we’d love to have you join the conversation!