Cycling with Shimano Ultegra Di2

2015 Roubaix SL4My local bike shop had a bike on display last year that had electronic shifting on it. I recall seeing the external battery pack on it and thought how cool to have. I knew of the benefits of the electronic shifting such as precise shifting all the time. Gone are the days of cable stretch and skipping shifting. I knew I wanted it but didn’t have the funds to buy it. It was not until recently that the same bike shop had another bike on display. What really struck me was the paint job on it! I loved it. I then noticed that it too had the electronic shifting system as well. Icing on the cake I felt. A few days later I had the bike in my home. The bike that I got was the Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Ultegra Di2 (see Bike Upgrades).

This being my first electronic shifting system I started to read up on it. The first thing I realized that the battery is internal (in the seat post) and that plug that I noticed on the unit was the charging port. Low and behold a thunderbolt struck me, I need to be able to recharge the batteries and I don’t have a charger. Checking Shimano’s Shimano Bike Website I found what I needed and check Amazon for the price. I could spend the money on the charger, but I got to thinking, shouldn’t the bike shop provide the charger? Would Specialized sell an electronic shifting bike and not include the charger for it? A phone call to the bike shop resolved the issue. They said I could come over and pick it up when ever I had the time and after quick drive during lunch time I had it in my hands. Problem solved.

Digging around the Shamano’s website I found the manuals for the entire system including the Dealer Manuals. It is from there that I figured out how to check the battery level, how to charge and how to upgrade the firmware using the same charger. The only issue I had with upgrading the firmware is that the software it needs runs on a Windows PC. I have a MAC at home. I’ll have to use Virtualbox to get this done.

Why would you want to update the firmware? Well, in short, extra features! Extra features such as support for the wireless unit (D-Fly), customize shifting speed, synchronized shifting, and custom shifting maps.

That battery charger is an important piece of gear. Not only do you need it to charge the battery but it’s also used to update the firmware, make adjustments to the front and rear derailleur, set the multi shift mode, and finally shifting switch function. These are all DIY types of functions, but you can always take it back to the dealer and have them do it for you. You use the software that Shimano provides to accomplish all of this. I’ll leave you to read the manual on the specific details and the software can be downloaded from the e-tubeproject.

Some other do dads that I can upgrade the system with is the D-Fly wireless unit. What this attachment provides is a wireless transmission of the battery indicator and what gear you are currently in. Fortunately, I have the Magellan Cyclo 505HC unit that can pair up with it and display the data. Checking the parts list I need only three things, 1) the D-Fly, 2) 150 mm e-Tube cable, and 3) the e-Tube tool. Amazon puts the kit slightly over $100. You can mount the wireless unit anywhere on the bike, you’ll just need to get the correct cable length.

From what I’ve read, battery life depends on how much you shift. Living in the flats of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, I really don’t shift all that much. Those that live in hilly terrain and shift a lot can expect shorter battery life. Battery life is not measured in hours but rather in miles. Bikeforums has a nice thread going on long distance cycling with the Di2 system that’s worth the read. My bike has the internal battery in the seat post so if the battery died on me, I could recharge it in the field with an external battery pack and charger or plug the charger into a wall jack and top it off. If all else fails make sure you’re in a good easy gear cause that’s all you will have to work with. According to the manual, the front derailleur will stop working and then the rear. This should give you ample time to switch gears.

UPDATING FIRMWARE

I’ve been working to get my MAC ready with some sort of virtualization to run Windows. Right now I’m using a trial version of VMWare with Windows 8.1 Professional that I purchased from the University where I work at. Less than $10, can’t beat that. I’ll later switch over to Virtualbox when I have the chance, bit for now, this will do.

Since I have the internal battery version of the system, all I need is the battery charger and the software from the e-tubeproject. When you startup the program, it will check for any updates for all the possible firmware updates that you may need and proceed to download them. Each component of the system apparently has firmware such as the front and rear derailleurs. After the download you should do a connection test. What this does is scan your bike for all the components and identifies them. It then uses that information to do the firmware updates.

When you start the actual updates, you will get a warning that not to unplug or disturb the process until it is complete. An outline of a road bike appears and each section that is in the process of being updated turns a solid green. It takes a few minutes to cycle through all the different components (left/right shifters, junction box, front then rear derailleurs, and battery). Once complete you can disconnect the battery charger from the bike.

It’s a pretty simple process with nothing to do other than watch the diagram as it goes from one component to another. To me, doing firmware updates to any electronic device is a little nerve-wracking. If something goes wrong there is a potential to brick your device. After unplugging the charger I checked the functionality of the shifters and all seems okay.

CUSTOMIZING

One of the best features of electronic shifting is the customizing you can do. If you’re a lefty and want to use the left lever to control the rear derailleur, you can do program that. You think that it’s shifting too slow, you can adjust the speed of its gear changing. You can define how many down shifts to perform when you hold the lever button. You can switch over to synchronized shifting and define your own gear shifting pattern. It’s all pretty flexible and if you mess things up so bad you can always go back to factory defaults. Really not hard to do, just select the function that you want to do and then select from some drop down menu’s and that it. There is no hardcore command line lingo to wade through or config files to setup. It’s basically point-and-click.

UPGRADE OPTIONS

One of the best things about the Di2 system is the expansibility. You are not limited to using the shifters in the standard configuration. There are three additional locations you can place remote shifters depending if you have aero bars (Triathlon), sprinter or a climber. You will need to change the Junction A box to accommodate the additional ports needed to plug-in the remote shifters. Here is a rundown of the expansion options as of this writing:

  • SW-R671 – Remote Triathlon Shifter
  • SW-R600 – Remote Satellite Shifter (Climbing Shifter)
  • SW-R610 – Remote Sprinter Shifter
  • ST-6871 – Dual Control lever for TT/Triathlon
  • SM-EWW01 – Wireless Unit
  • SM-BTR1 – External battery
  • SM-BTR2 – Internal battery

The external battery will be good for those bikes that have the battery mounted on the frame. With that kind of a setup you can easily swap out the battery incase you got caught out on a ride with a dead battery. Highly unlikely, but it’s a good insurance policy.

BATTERY LIFE

I’ve waited until I’ve cycled 1000 miles on the new bike before reporting on the battery life. As of right now, I’ve cycled 1,121.2 miles and I checked my Cyclo 505 and it reports the Di2 System has a battery charge of 60%. So from June 20th till today is about 2.5 months of flat road riding. I’m happy with it. Although the terrain is flat there are a lot of intersections where I change gears to something easy. I suppose you can think of it in terms of city and country road cycling, where you can expect to be changing gears a lot within the city and not so much in the country roads. As far as I’m concerned, battery life is a non issue.

ON THE ROAD

With a little over 1k miles on the bike the shifting has been spot on and responsive to the clicks. Never once have I had to take it back to the bike shop for any adjustments other than new tires.

Ride quality is even better than my previous Roubaix that I sold to a friend of mine. With me still in the Clydesdale weight class, I haven’t had any issues with the wheels. No out of truing, bent or broken spokes. The only issue that I’ve been having are flats. Mostly from sidewall punctures. I’ve read that the 23mm are prone to the sidewall ripping from debris so I’ve made the switch to 25mm. Let’s see how these turn out. Hopefully longer than 800 miles that the other set provided.

Well there you have it. I’m loving my new bike and my friends like it too. Shifting is easy and accurate all the time and gone are the days of the gear slipping unexpectedly. Battery life is a non issue for me and it’s super easy to charge it up. I and get a new smooth ride that can tame the chip seal roads that we have around here. The bike is just fun to ride. Go out and get one!

Approaching 1000 miles on my new bike

Just a quick note that I’m approaching 1000 miles on my new bike, a 2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Di. Aside from flats it has been a good ride. I’ll be finishing up a posting with updated information once I hit 1k miles this weekend, if all goes well. knowing me it’ll probably take another two weeks to do the actual write up.

Training for Conquer the Coast

It’s been quiet on my blog the past month or so. It has been a busy two months for me. I’ve had some health issues to take care of, super busy at work as we complete the merge of two universities into one and finally I have been busy training for the Conquer the Coast (CTC) ride. I’ll save my health issue for another time, but I did want to go over how I am training for the CTC ride.

Conquer the Coast is held every September in Corpus Christi, Texas. It’s certainly not a hilly ride but rather is flat and very windy. You do have some large bridges to cross especially near the end of the route at a point when you are really tired. The route starts and stops at Whataburger field. The first thing you do is cross the bay bridge heading over to Portland and work your way to Aransas Pass. From there you cycle to the ferry at Port Aransas. Did I say ferry? From there it’s a windy ride along Mustang Island to the other bay bridge to take you back to Whataburger field along Ocean Drive. The sun and wind really do a good job of beating down on you. Challenging! I did this ride two years ago and wanted to do it again this year with some friends that have not ridden it. To help me prepare for it, I love the structured approach to training.

For those looking for the route of the ride, here is the one straight from the Conquer the Coast website Conquer the Coast Tour – 66 miles. If you haven’t signed up, do it! It’s a Well organized fun ride to participate in.

What do I mean by structured approach? Simple, training rides that includes intervals. Most people that I know of start working up longer and longer rides until they can do the metric century. This is a favorite method chosen by many cyclists. This is a great way of training that doesn’t require a lot of equipment investment. You just need a good bike in working order, basic bike computer (or phone with bike app) and time. Lots of time. Also known as the low tech method (and there is nothing wrong with it either). Me being who I am, love using technology and in this case my power meter. There is that old saying, “Work smarter, not harder”. That’s where using my power meter and intervals come into play.

I use the power meter to measure the intensity of my ride and intervals to maximize my workout in a short amount of time. This method is great for those that are short on time and want to maximize effort in the time they do have for riding. Some people call it riding with a purpose. If you look at my Strava postings, I name the ride something like, “Endurance Pace”, Endurance w/Sweet Spot”, or “Tempo Ride”. Those names describe what it is I’m trying to accomplish for the training ride. Basically, it is the power zone that I’m riding in as described in my training plan.

Where do I get all these plans? You can Google it and find plenty of free plans on the Internet. I like using an all-in-one approach. TrainingPeaks is where I go to find, buy, implement and track my training plans. The site is great for runners, swimmers, cyclists, for those training for duathlon, triathlon and Ironman competitions. Set your goals, get a coach (optional), buy a plan (and reuse it as often as you want), upload your results, analyze the results, track nutrition and body metrics. They even have a nice app for the phone too! I love this place.

I like using TrainingPeaks because of the plans and the calendar. Once you buy a plan of your choosing, you can tell the system when you want to start following the it. It then loads up the schedule on it calendar detailing what days you workout and what days you rest. Workout days are broken down into details as to what you need to do for that work out. For my cycling the breakdown is usually a warm up, the main set and then a cool down. It gives me the overall amount of time for the ride and what zone and cadence I should be in. Here is a sample workout:
Sample_Workout

This is a typical weekend workout where you are riding at the endurance pace. It’s the pace that I will be riding at when I do the Conquer the Coast. Some things to make note of. The plan doesn’t go by miles but rather by time. In this case, the plan called for a 2:15 hr ride. Within those two hours and fifteen minutes, twenty minutes are consumed by a ten minute warm up and a ten minute cooldown. The rest of the time I should be in my Endurance zone. The goal is not to ride x amount of miles but to complete the training session. It is the combination of all the training sessions that gets you at your peak when it’s time to do the event. In essence, you don’t want to burn out from over training but puts you in a position where you have the strength and stamina to successfully complete your event. Remember, you are short on time and you want to maximize effort you are on the bike. This is the best way of doing that.

The other thing to make note of is that the plan doesn’t tell you how fast you should be going but rather the intensity (zone) you should be at. Why not speed? Simple, the weather and terrain play a big role as to how fast you can ride. If you’re trying to maintain 17 mph pace going up an incline and into a strong headwind you can end up blowing up your legs by expending all that energy trying to maintain that speed. Instead, use the intensity to determine the pace and go as fast as the intensity would allow. It could be slower but at least you will have the energy to complete the ride and finish strong.

There is a madness to the method of the intervals and the plans. Typically the plans are broken down into three phases: build, rest, sustain. The first three to four weeks is the building phase where they ramp up the intensity and duration. Phase two is the rest period. Usually one week with one or two endurance rides and that’s it. This phase is important because this is where body catches up to the overload you placed on it. Without the rest period, your body becomes over taxed and performance diminishes. The last phase is at the peak intensity but for longer and longer durations. When the plan is complete you should be at peak performance. Rest one week then tackle the ride you have signed up to do knowing that you will be at your best physically and mentally. The plans vary in length but the phases are generally the same, build, rest, sustain. Choose the one that matches your current fitness level and goals that you want to achieve and you should be fine.

I used this method when I did the Fiesta Wildflower full century in San Antonio. I knew before hand that the route would be hilly (compared to the flats here in the Valley) so I went to TrainingPeaks and found an eight week hilly training plan from Allen Hunter (a premier power based cycling coach). I followed that plan as best as I could (some intervals I could not complete due to the high intensity and duration) doing all the training rides here in the Valley utilizing the strong head winds to my advantage. The longest training ride I did was a 3:45 hour ride and I think that amounted to about 45-48 miles. Never once did I spend all day doing century rides. I saved that for the actual event. On the day of the Wildflower ride, I finished the metric century (hilliest portion of the route) with lots of energy and good stamina, so we pressed on to complete the full century.

So, with results like that, I’d like to repeat it again at Conquer the Coast in mid September. For this training regimen, I’m again doing the same “Hilly Century and finish strong” plan from Allen Hunter. I think it’ll be harder this time around simply due to the heat. It has been getting over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For the longer weekend endurance rides I have switched to 7 am start times. The same as the event so that I can be accustom to the time of day and heat level.

I do other things besides cycling to get ready. Diet is important. I’m watching what I eat by eliminating/reducing my intake of sugar, salt and carbohydrates. I’m not on any fad diet or purges. It’s rather simple, I equate those three items as poison and do what I can to avoid it. People often complain that they can’t eat their favorite foods but why would you? It is those very same foods that got you overweight! Learn to like new foods! There are over a gazillion recipes out there, surely you can find something healthier and tastier than tamales! On long rides I do eat a bowl of quality whole grain cereal for the long-lasting, slow releasing carbs for energy. I’m trying to lose as much weight as possible for the CTC event in mid September. The lighter I am the better and faster I’ll be. I’m still considered a Clydesdale but I’m getting closer and closer to dropping out of it!

Besides diet, I work on strengthening my core. You need a good strong core to help maintain your posture on the bike. A strong core will help you stay upright, improve your cycling and not let you lean on your hands. Leaning on your hands contributes to hand numbness. I really hate that. To avoid that, I do the basic core training consisting of planks, push ups, and light weights. If you were to do only one exercise, choose planks. Even if they are the beginners version (hing on your knees rather than your feet) of planks, do them and work your way up to full planks.

So there you have it. I use interval based training and TrainingPeaks to plan, track, analyze and share my results. I watch what I eat to reduce my weight and I do exercises to strengthen my core. Do I have bad days? Yes I do. Do I cheat on my Diet or forget to do the exercises? Yes I do, but that is the minority not the majority. Sometimes it’s fun to the workout and other times it’s work and I can’t wait to get it done. That’s normal! I don’t expect it to be fun and games all the time. Hopefully, by the time the Conquer the Coast is here, I’ll be at my best and have fun riding that route.