e-Tap and Wanky Tech Review

June 24, 2017 § 18 Comments

In the overall scheme of things, “scheme” being “since time began,” I haven’t seen all that much. In cycling I have seen exactly three technical changes since 1982 that were really significant, things that changed cycling a lot for the better. I’m sure you will disagree with my Big Three, but here they are:

CLIPLESS PEDALS

What they replaced: Toe cages, toe straps, and heavy alloy pedals.

How they made cycling better: They got rid of purple toes and dead toenails and hotspots a mile wide unless you happen to wear Bonts, in which case you pay extra for those things. Instead of falling over at lights because you couldn’t reach down and undo the strap in time, now you fall over because you can’t twist out in time. They eliminated the constant repurchase of worn out Alfredo Binda straps ($25/each), and now require the replacement of worn out cleats ($35/each), and highly specialized and technical shoes ($435/pair). But seriously, clipless pedals made pedaling easier, less painful, and more efficient. Game changer.

What I miss about the old stuff: Nothing, except not having old straps lying around to strap stuff under my seat with, and being able to buy a pair of Dettos for $39.

INDEX SHIFTING

What it replaced: Friction shifting.

How it made cycling better: It eliminated wing-and-a-prayer shifting. It eliminated the 12-year apprenticeship required to learn how to find the right cog. It led to handlebar shift levers, which made shifting faster, safer, and more efficient, especially since the number of cogs climbed in a few short years from six to eleven. Now it goes to eleven.

What I miss about the old stuff: Simplex friction shifters were silent and perfect once you learned how to use them. Index shifting killed downtube shifting, which was good, but at the expense of heavier, clunkier hoods and bars. That’s pretty much it.

ELECTRONIC/WIRELESS SHIFTING

What it replaced: Mechanical shifting done with wires.

How it made cycling better: It eliminated the “shifting penalty” that kept you in the wrong gear a lot of the time. Before wireless shifting you had to always consider the effort it was going to take to shift plus the fact that you might put it in the wrong gear, mistakenly thinking, for example, that you needed to be in the 11 rather than the 28. With the mechanical stuff, when you shifted into an inappropriate gear, you then had to shift again to get into the right one, which meant at least one wasted shift effort, more if you were a complete goober. Since all cyclists are lazy, even when it comes to something as effortless as modern mechanical index shifting, which basically requires the effort of pushing around a warm stick of butter, most cyclists would rather pedal along in a gear that’s slightly too hard or slightly too easy than shift twice, or, dog forbid, go up and down several cogs to find the right gear. This inherent laziness caused by the effort required to mechanically shift is the “shifting penalty” that keeps you in the wrong gear a lot of the time. However, with e-Tap and its ilk you just clickety-clickety-click and it doesn’t fuggin’ matter how wrong your gear selection is. You can mis-shift entering a turn and be in the right gear before you’re even through it. You can mis-shift on a climb when someone is attacking and be in the right gear even after being in a couple of wrong ones.

What I miss about the old stuff: Nothing. I hated those fat hoods with a passion, to say nothing of the droopy tentacle-design favored by Shimano’s earlier versions, where the wires came out of bar tape like bug guts.

Of course, along with the three best improvements ever, there are also the three worst things ever to happen to cycling. In order of repulsiveness:

TT BIKES AND EQUIPMENT

What they replaced: Regular bikes, good looks, common sense.

How they made cycling worse: You look like an idiot on one; they make really slow people think they are fast; they discourage thousands and thousands of people from ever getting into TTs; they are twitchy and crash easier than drunk unicyclists; they add exponentially to the cost of what is already a fake sport even on a good day; they make terrible clothes hangers, which is what they end up as. Or the world’s ugliest wall art and/or garage filler. Also, an old TT bike ages about as well as an old ass tattoo.

What I miss about the old stuff: Everything. One bike no matter what kind of race; affordability of one bike versus two; knowing that apples were being compared to apples; sharing the lineage of Eddy.

ONBOARD COMPUTERS AND POWER METERS

What they replaced: Brains. Fun.

How they made cycling worse: No one knows anything anymore. People just read and memorize data. Cyclists, who are already the world’s most boring people, when armed with ride data become duller than a year-old razor blade.

What I miss about the old stuff: I liked my brain a lot. It was soft in spots but worked pretty well in others.

STRAVA, PHONES, AND ANYTHING CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET

What they replaced: Freedom.

How they made cycling worse: You have no more excuses for escaping from the drudgery of work, family, or life. Cycling, especially when combined with “data” items above, becomes just more drudgery.

What I miss about the old stuff: Freedom. Duh.

END

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Quick product updates

June 6, 2017 § 41 Comments

One of the great things about not being paid to sell stuff is that I can say whatever I want. This doesn’t mean I’m independent or objective, it means that I have no financial interest in any particular statement. I’m still biased as hell, of course.

Below are some product updates on things I have been using.

Wend Chain Wax: I don’t know how long I’ve been using this. Two and half years, maybe? My buddy Ryan Dahl, who works for Wend, gives me all the free chain wax I can use. All I know is that I will never go back to lube. My chain stays clean all the time, no matter how nasty the riding weather. And the drivetrain shifts flawlessly. I’ve found that in order to get the best results I have to apply the wax every 3-4 rides. No mess. Simple. Superglide.

wend_combo

Timex Helen Keller Model: Since I don’t use a Garmin and I quit carrying phone a while back so I don’t use Strava, this very cheap watch makes it pretty easy to know how long I’ve been riding. The big needle points to the minute and the small needle points to the hour and the skinny long needle points to the second. So, if the little needle is on the six and the big hand is on the five and the long skinny needle is on the ten it would be “6:25:50.” You still have to do some observational analytics to determine whether it is day or night, but with practice this isn’t as hard as it sounds. This device is great because when you lose it, drop it, forget it, or run over it like Matt did to Tony’s Garmin in the TTT, you only have to pay $39.95 to get another one, instead of $599.95.

helen_keller

Apace Vision Seat Stay Blinkers: Greg Seyranian turned me onto these. I think they cost six or seven bucks each. They are incredibly bright and run forever and add that all-important “Christmas tree” effect to your bike. The more I ride the more I’ve become an adept of “lights ward off cagers.” It’s a pain to charge them(the lights, not the cagers), but it’s a pain to wipe your fanny every time too, yet somehow you manage. I hope.

apace_vision

NiteRider Solas Rear Light: I clip this to my helmet, to the side actually, because it makes me look like an insane person who might veer into traffic at any moment and scratch your Tesla bumper, which will cost $5,000 to buff out the blood stains and bone shards. This blinky is effing bright AF. Again, lane position is important, bike skills are important, having the law on your side is important, but nothing is more important than being seen in broad daylight while some PV water buffalo is slurping his 650-kcal skinny drink and texting his fantasy football pals about The Big Game.

solas_150

Vittoria Open Corsa SR Race Tars: So far no flats, although after two weeks of training I switched the front and back so that the tars will wear evenly. These tars are scary supple and grippy and cornery. I don’t know how many weeks of use I’ll get out of them (about 175 miles per week), but my guess is about ten. Maybe more. This is one of those purchases you chalk up to “it’s cheaper than being an alcoholic” or whatever meme you use to convince your wife/husband/SO that this particular bike purchase really is worthwhile.

open_corsa

END

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Buying speed

May 22, 2017 § 33 Comments

Since I am cheap and especially cheap when it comes to bicycling crap, I was in a conundrum a couple of weeks ago. It had to do with the upcoming time trail for which I had sworn not to spend any money but for which I nevertheless desperately wanted to spend some money.

The first crack in my resolve was buying a new swimsuit. If I could spend money on a new swimsuit, I could spend money on anything.

Still, everything related to time trailing was too expensive, i.e., it cost more than a pair of nice socks. Naturally I looked at wheels and ruled out a $5,000.00 set of pure carbon wheels even though in their 100% carbon state they appeared to be more carbony than my existing 100% carbon, pure carbon wheels.

Rejecting the carbony option I decided to do the TTT on my tubulars, which was fine except that they are shallow climby wheels and not time traily wheels. To test them out I time trailed on the Parkway and they rolled great; I turned my fastest time over the course, completing the entire hour in exactly 60 minutes.

Next I took them to Telo and they flew through the corners. With these two conclusive checks it made sense to price out a pair of tubular TT wheels, but alas the Internet showed the same pricetag as the last time I’d checked an hour or so ago.

Finally I decided to look at racing clincher tires. These would fit on my FFWD F-4 100% carbon wheels made of full carbon, and at $64.95 each would cost less than a new wheelset. In fact, at $64.95 each, I would have to go through 38.4 sets of tires before equaling the cost of a new wheelset. And even if the tires only lasted for 300 miles, that would tote up to 11,520 miles worth of time-trailing, and since I only time trail about 25 miles a week, that would last about 460.8 weeks, or 8.86 years. If my time trailing dropped to 25 miles a month, or, more likely, 25 miles per year, then it would take about 460.8 years to equal the cost of the new wheel set.

So the 8.86-or-460.8 year payment plan was much more budgety, and I read up on racing clinchers to make sure I was getting the best ones, which were in fact the Vittoria Open Corsa SR clinchers. First, reasons this may not be the tire for you:

  • You ride a lot.
  • You ride far from home.
  • You are not good at changing flats.
  • You wear your tires until the tube is poking out through the threads.
  • You are crazy cheap.

Here are the reasons this may be the tire for you:

  • You don’t ride a lot.
  • You ride close to home.
  • You have tire-changing-hands-of-iron.
  • You don’t ride badly worn tires.
  • You want to go faster.

This last point is key. I tried the tires out at Telo last Tuesday and they are the softest, most supple thing I have been on since my earliest teenage encounters. I’d say they handle better than — gasp!! — my tubulars. They are super grippy at 100psi but at the same time very fast. I’m pretty famous for not being able to go through a turn without finding the worst line possible, and these tires made even my horrible line-finding a minor liability.

It is very difficult to tell the difference from one bike item to the next but compared to the Vredestein Training Clunkers I ride with year-round, these are a revolution and a heck of a lot cheaper than new wheels, or a fancy helmet, but not as cheap as a pair of fun underwear.

undies

Give them a try (the tires), but don’t complain to me if you get a flat. They seem to have the durability of reinforced Kleenex, but I will do a follow-up on that later. Maybe. Meanwhile, they have a cool red logo patch that says “PRO” on it.

tar

END

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Shifting the center

May 1, 2017 § 13 Comments

For years now the Manhattan Beach Starbucks has been officially recognized in the Interplanetary Coffee Starship Guide as the center of the known universe. Its starship locator code is CotKU.

Due to the high quality of the male and female passersby talent, its ample brickside layabout for lazy cyclists, and its awesome view of the MB Pier and Pacific Ocean, intergalactic travelers have long agreed that CotKU really is CotKU.

However, a few weeks ago I was coming back from a ride and I noticed a new coffee shop a couple of yards up Highland. Actually, it wasn’t a coffee shop, it was a surf shop that sells coffee. The place is called Nikau Kai. In Hawaiian this means “Center of the Known Universe.”

“Wow!” I thought. “Has the center of the universe shifted?” So I went in. The owner, Jason Shanks, has a dog dish out in front to entice dogs, and a bike pump next to it to entice bikers. The enclosed-but-open-air railing on the inside, with high stools, is amazing. A few feet back is a big table with plenty of room to spread out and make funny noises as your cleats clack on the floor.

But most importantly, the coffee is superb. Jason gets it from somewhere fancy in Santa Cruz. He told me the name and I pretended to know, but it’s gone now. All I can tell you for sure is that if the taste of your coffee matters, Starbucks has a fight on its hand. And instead of factory-made food delivered in a reefer truck, Nikau Kai’s stuff is fresh and homemade. A reefer is probably still involved, but in a different way.

So you can get coffee that actually rocks, and you can also get de-dorkified. As a cyclist you are of course a dork, and that’s why surfers, who are cool, have historically never mixed with cyclists, who are dorks.

Of course there are the few rarities like Dan Cobley, MMX, Jay LaPlante, and a handful of other legitimate shredders who ride and surf, but they all go to great pains to never introduce their cycling dork friends to their cool surfer friends.

What’s great about Nikau Kai is that you can get great coffee and then when you’re finished you can wander into the back of the shop and get a swimsuit that doesn’t look like it was made in 1987. Mrs. WM has been hassling me for years to replace my perfectly serviceable swimsuit but since it isn’t broken I’ve never replaced it.

I mean, no swimsuit in the world is going to fix my cycledork suntan or help me grow shoulders, arm muscles, etc.

Anyway, I sauntered into the back and found a pair that probably fit.

“You want to try these on?” Jason asked.

“No,” I said. “I hate trying things on.”

Instead of giving me grief he smiled and said, “No worries. Bring ’em back if they don’t.”

I got to the counter and the very polite and uber-cool young surfer fellow said, “Anything besides the boardies?”

“I don’t want any boardies, thanks. Just this swimsuit.”

He hesitated, but in the nick of time one of my cyclist friends whispered “‘Boardies’ means ‘swimsuit’ in surfer talk.”

I nodded as undorkily as I could. “Yeah, dude. Just the boardies.”

Anyway, I got home quickly from the excellent double espresso and tried on my swimsuit. It fit perfectly. Now all I need is a suntan. While I’m working on that — and it’s going to take decades — give Nikau Kai a try. But don’t necessarily tell them I sent you.

END

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Just one bike

April 29, 2017 § 26 Comments

A friend came over today and took a quick tour of the apartment. “Where are the rest of your bikes?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I see your road bike, parked next to your bed. Nice. But where do you keep your other bikes?”

I had to tell her that’s all I got. No ‘cross bike in the storage locker, no MTB, no beach cruiser, no cool bike from back in the day.

Just one bike.

Mostly it’s because I’ve never been able to figure out how to ride more than one bike at a time, and also because of Scott Dickson, he of Paris-Brest-Paris fame. We were riding one day east of I-35 between San Marcos and Austin and I was well into my third bonk and according to Scott we were “almost home” and were “just going” to take a “little detour” right here to “get a couple of extra miles.”

Scott opined that it made no sense to have two bikes because all that meant is that neither one of them would be working perfectly.

That’s not to say I don’t like bikes or admire bikes or secretly wish I had a bunch of them. My friend Deb has a bunch of them. A whole bunch. She has a bicycle problem, in my estimation, one that she’s tried to remedy with a giant garage, to no avail.

Today I was almost overwhelmed with the urge to buy a second bike. Dave W. came by and showed off one cool bike, his Follis, made in 1392 or thereabouts. It has the coolest thing I’ve ever ridden: A hand-operated front derailleur.

follis1

You want to feel like the world’s baddest badass? When it gets time make the big meat sing, you don’t click no button or whack no handlebar shifter or even flip a lever on your down tube. Nah, you drop your entire fuggin’ arm down to the big chain ring and grab a big steel handle and prize your chain up onto the 53.

And when you go uphill, you reach down and manhandle it back.

It was surprising how smoothly it shifted. The bike had super narrow bars with cloth tape, just like the Nishiki International that Uncle Phil sold me back in October of 1982. The water bottle cage was up on the bars and the big, leather Brooks saddle was behind. It had a big, beefy Simplex derailleur and five — that’s the whole number between four and six — cogs on the freewheel. Yes, freewheel. Not “cassette.”

Spaghetti cables coming out of the brake hoods. Big goofy brakes that didn’t stop very well.

But it rode so smoothly, and wasn’t afraid of cracks, bumps, or deformities in the pavement. Rolled over that shit like a tank.

But what I really loved about that bike was the smile that came with it.

END

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Coffee cream cruise

April 1, 2017 § 26 Comments

Special Ops and I went for a coffee cruise today. We did the Super Wanky Power Loop with Kickerz, hopped the chain link fence at La Venta Inn, went down VdM, on down to Haggerty’s, up the Cove Climb, back up VdM, up Highridge, and up Whitley Collins.

Or as Joann Z. would say, “Just turn left.”

Then we descended Monaco to Hawthorne to PV South to Sea Beans. It was sunny and warm. Some dude was pulling up for valet service in his $200,000 BMW sporty car thingy wearing a matching jogging suit. Michael and I looked at all that money and quietly got free refills of our $1.87 small coffees.

Many years ago Johnny C. had told me about tubeless tars. They were, according to him, “Way better than clincher tars.”

“How come?” I had asked.

“Because no tubes. Just like a car.”

“Cars don’t have tubes?” I asked.

He rolled his eyes. “Not since about 1938.”

“So what happens when you flat?”

“You never flat. That’s the beauty of them.”

I thought about all the times my Dad’s Galaxie 500 had flatted and all the curse words I’d learned watching him work a tire iron on a bunch of bolts that had been put on with an impact wrench. “Never?”

“Never.”

“What about when you roll over a cake filled with razor blades or ride through a glass field?”

“Oh, sure, sometimes you flat. If you’re doing something way crazy, sure, they’re rubber, they’ll slice. But basically it never happens.”

“Never?”

“Mine only flatted once.”

“Then what happened?”

“You just stick a tube in there like it was a regular tar and you’re good to go.”

“So it’s a tubeless tar that takes a tube?”

“If you want it to. But it never flats. Unless you are doing something way crazy.”

“How can it hold air if there’s no tube?”

“Just like a car tar.”

This stumped me because I had no idea how a car tar held air. In fact I had wondered about it since I was a little kid but was always too afraid to ask because I didn’t want people to think I was dumb. Er.

“How does a car tar hold air?” I asked.

Johnny C. looked at me like I was really dumb. “The edge of the tar makes a perfect seal against the rim. No air can get out.”

“How does it do that?”

“You put some sealant in it.”

“Some what?”

“Sealant.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s this liquid that sloshes around in the tar and when you put air in it the pressure forces the bead against the rim and the sealant closes off the infinitesimal gap and makes a complete seal so no air gets out.”

“What happens to the sealant when you get one of those flats that never happens?”

“They never flat, I’m telling you.”

“I know. But what happened that one time you got that flat that never flatted?”

“I just put a tube in.”

“With all the sealant?”

“You just kind of wipe it away. It doesn’t make that big a mess or anything. It’s not like your tar is filled with a gallon of white paint. Anyway, they’re the wave of the future. Five years from now no one will be riding tubes. They’ll all be tubeless tars. They never flat, and when they puncture the sealant fills the hole and seals it up, and if once in a million years you flat then you pop in a tube and you’re good to go.”

“I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. I only switched to clinchers from sew-ups back in 2006 and am just now getting the hang of putting in the inner tube. I don’t want to have to learn how to change a tubeless.”

“But they never flat. There’s nothing to change.”

“Except that one time.”

“One time in three years. Think of all the money you’ll save on tubes.”

“Mostly I’m thinking about that one time every three years like clockwork I’ll be 50 miles from home covered in white paint.”

So anyway it was five years later and everyone hadn’t switched over to tubeless tars but a whole bunch of people had, especially ‘cross and gravel types, and Special Ops was one of those types.

We were feeling pretty good after the coffee and the jokes about the jogging suit and the car that cost $200,000 but had probably never been driven over 45 mph, and we were pedaling slowly along Crest, a nicely paved, smooth piece of asphalt that looked like it had been polished that morning with Kiwi shoe wax and buffed with a horsehair brush, so fine it was, and I was on the inside and am pretty sure neither of us was doing anything crazy or even mildly neurotic when pow! There was an explosion louder than a Trump tweet at 3:00 AM and it was followed by the sound of carbon scraping asphalt and how I didn’t fall off my bike from fright I’ll never know.

Special Ops his foot down and looked back at his rear tar which had blown off the rim and the road and his leg, which was covered in what looked like a gallon of white paint.

“What happened?” I said, trembling with much fear.

“Darned if I know.” He took off the rear wheel which was a major operation because these new bikes are all equipped with a slow release and the derailleur falls off when you take off the wheel which itself gave me an aneurysm but he had it under control except for the gallon of white paint that now covered everything, everything meaning his hands, legs, feet, bike, the shrubbery … it looked like Local 157 of the Painters Union had thrown a white paint party.

Special Ops did some surgery on the wheel but the tar wasn’t going to work even though we couldn’t find a hole in it. He shot it up with a couple of C02s and more white paint spewed everywhere.

“Are you going to put a tube in it now?” I asked.

He looked at me like I was really dumb. “It’s tubeless,” he said. “There is no tube.”

“Right,” I said. “I was just testing you.”

Luckily my apartment was nearby so I rode home and Ubered him to work. I think I am going to keep using my clincher tars for a while yet.

END

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The uselessness of data

February 20, 2017 § 14 Comments

You own a Fitbit, admit it. And after the first month, the only thing it measures is the fitness of the socks in the bottom of the drawer, where it permanently lives now. Right?

But wait. Fitbit and other fitness trackers, also known as sock drawer weights, are supposed to provide “real-time feedback that may be particularly useful to enhance lifestyle changes that promote weight loss in sedentary overweight or obese adults.” In other words … data!

Unfortunately, after billions were spent on the false promise of changing the way America eats through Apple Watches, Fitbits and etcetera, some skeptic, probably related to Billy Stone, decided to do an actual study using science and numbers and shit to see if the sock drawer weights actually work.

One such study started off by “recruiting 197 sedentary overweight or obese adults from the greater Columbia, South Carolina area.” I bet that was pretty easy to do. What would have been a challenge is “recruiting four non-obese adults from the American South.” But I progress.

So they took these poor folks, literally, and put them into four groups.

  1. Standard Care Group. Participants received a self-directed weight loss manual based on two evidence-based programs, Active Living Every Day and Healthy Eating Every Day. The manual’s focus was to help individuals adopt a healthful eating pattern and increase their physical activity levels through the use of cognitive and behavioral strategies consistent with the Transtheoretical Model and Social Cognitive Theory. Now I don’t know what that manual or model or theory are, but they sound a lot like Coach Castoria’s 7th Grade gym class at Jane Long Junior High back in August of 1979, where a rabid and sadistic football coach would spread a class of weaklings out on a 110-degree asphalt slab and scream at us to do leg lifts until we puked, which was about twice.
  2. Intervention Group: Same manual as above, along with a diary for participants to record daily meal and lifestyle activity, emotion, or mood. The mood section was pre-filled in with “hungry and pissed off about it.”
  3. Peer Weight Loss Group: 14 sessions with a facilitator using the manuals, with a weekly weigh-in and greater emphasis on weight loss than in the original programs. One-on-one telephone counseling sessions to provide continued support and enhance weight loss maintenance.
  4. Fitness Tracker Wearers: You know who you are.
  5. Peer Weight Loss Group + Fitness Tracker: Lecturing/scolding along with a fitness tracker.

Now before we get to the results and how it affects your cycling pro masters career, a couple of key facts. First, a bunch of people quit, which tells you all you need to know about fitness and weight loss. To recap: PEOPLE MOSTLY QUIT. Get it? No matter what you buy or how many power meters you own or how studiously you learn the CdA, most people quit.

THIS PROBABLY MEANS YOU. So, save your money and go buy some socks or some super stylish underwear. I recommend products by Stance:

m201c17oce_mul

Moving on, what the study found is that when you do a study there are a lot of numbers. And making sense of those numbers isn’t possible because the only number that matters was previously discussed and indicates that you are going to give up, which your sock drawer weight proves you already have. More importantly, the study found — and this is truly amazing — that doing something is better than doing nothing.

And unhappily for the Fitbitters out there, it didn’t matter whether you read a manual, got counseled, or did both in tandem. As compared to doing nothing, doing something was better.

I know, I know, let’s call up the Nobel Prize committee now. However, there were a few sad qualifiers that seemed to throw the entire study into doubt, raising the awful specter that doing nothing may be just as good as doing something.

To wit: The study noted that if your participants are university students, they are pretty much worthless at doing anything: “Students were the most unreliable group in this study, and their adherence was especially poor for homework assignments and other assignments.” Parents, time to start asking for some tuition refunds from those deadbeat kids! Also, we learned that since so many people quit, weight loss is hard.

Finally, we learned that the study was conducted by one “Dr. Blair,” who receives book royalties from Human Kinetics and honoraria for service on the Scientific/Medical Advisory Boards for Alere, Technogym, Santech, and Jenny Craig. In other words, this study, which so conclusively shows that your sock drawer weight is no better than Coach Castoria, also conclusively shows that even that flimsy conclusion is dubious at best. Because, industry bias and university students.

But back to your data driven cycling career. Tell me again how all those numbers are going to make you faster? Because first we’ll need to get together a control group, and I’m not planning on going to Columbia any time soon.

END

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