Bike Upgrades

2015 Rouabix SL4 Comp Ultegra Di2Recently I’ve made some changes to my bike. My trusty 2013 Roubaix Apex Comp has been replaced with an updated version. I am now a proud owner of a 2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Ultegra Di2. I saw this bike being displayed at my favorite local bike shop (LBS), Bicycle World RGV in McAllen and immediately loved the paint job. Finally Specialized splashes color on their bikes. I am tired of the all white, all black, or shades of grey. To me those are lazy, unimaginative paint jobs. This bike also had electronic shifting too! I knew I had to get it for my Freddyness (is that a real word?) in me. Before I could, I would need to sell my existing bike.

My bike had 9200 solid miles on it plus my first century ride (see Wildflower Centurion), so it has a special place in my heart. It’s all stock except for the Richie handle bar, Crank Brothers Candy pedals and the Specialized FACT carbon CG-R seat-post. The bike is in excellent shape so I knew I could sell it. So happens that I ran into a friend of mine at the LBS and over heard him talking about wanting a new bike, a Roubaix! Long story short, he bought my bike and I got the new one. I had the LBS swap out the pedals, handlebar, handlebar stem, bottle cages and nick knacks. They also transferred the measurements of the old bike to the new one so it should be the same fit.

I had ordered some new speed and cadence sensors from Wahoo (Wahoo Blue SC)and I installed them when it arrived. Yesterday was my first ride, the shake down ride. Get all the glitches fixed and verify the bike fit. I had to tweak the spoke magnet a little to get steady reliable speed results. Since the Blue SC is dual band I used bluetooth to connect to my Magellan 505 and ANT+ to connect to my iBike Newton power meter. The speed matched up correctly between the two units but the cadence was about two beats slower on the Magellan. Close enough for me.

How does the bike ride compared to the old bike? Night and day difference! I felt that the new bike was a lot smoother ride especially over chip seal surface even with the 700×23 tires (Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II). I don’t know if it’s the difference in tires, rims or both, but the new bike was also faster and more nimble. Shifting is a dream! Gone is the long or short throw to shift. I just click click click like using a mouse. Sweet! Loving it!

Now to get back to training and keep on losing that weight!

Peeking over the Edge: Training with Power

Like many cyclists, I measure my cycling progression by either one or two metrics: distance and/or speed. I remember when I used do 10 miles per day every day and shoot for 50 miles per week. Seemed like every little rolling hill was a major leg burner and the wind! Oh my gosh, the wind! Going south on 107 was a blast but turning around to face the wind made me wonder if I could ride the distant seven miles back to the car. Well, I did make it back to car and that’s how I continued to measure my progress. Distance was the way to go. Eventually, speed started to creep in my metrics but that was later.

iBike_POWERHOUSE_InsertionMy first foray into something different was with the Powerhouse system from iBike. This was an innovative system to do structured intervals while cycling. A combination of iPhone case and the Powerhouse application that, when combined together along with your bike, would guide you through a fifty-four day plan of intervals and rest days. It would start you out with a fitness test to see where you stood and establish that baseline. Once you completed the fitness test it would then create a custom schedule of intervals for you to follow throughout the week. The application paired up with cycling coach Allen Hunter that guided and encouraged you to keep at it. It’s his formulas and techniques in training that is used to create that personalized training plan for you. How cool is that!

The program was simple, Allen Hunter would pop up and tell you what to expect for that days workout. It had a structure to it: a warm up, a set of intervals and then a cool down. All you had to do was keep up a certain cadence and keep a sliding arrow between the minimum and maximum range for that segment. The intervals varied from day-to-day and they were tough! You had to learn to change gears to keep that sliding arrow where the coach wanted it. Shifting gears up or down depending on the road conditions and winds was the name of the game. It was fun and challenging to go through the entire 54-day program. Throughout the program there were rest days and fitness test days to see where you stood and to make adjustments to the training program. Fun! When you completed the program you simply start over but at a higher fitness level.

The Powerhouse was my first experience with and training with a power meter. Yes, that’s right the Powerhouse system was in fact a power meter with all the numbers stripped out and a simple graphical interface was used instead. No mention of Watts, FTP, NP, VI or some other acronym was ever uttered. Total bliss. The case held the wind port and the sensors needed to measure the forces you were overcoming to pedal. The software on the iPhone used those sensors to compute the power and display it graphically. That sliding arrow represented the power you were exerting while cycling. That fitness test you was doing was the same fitness test you do to get your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

I did improve. It was easier to ride against the wind, those rolling hills were a lot easier and my average speed improved. I find it interesting how I fall back to the old metrics for measuring improvement, distance and speed. Those are “feel good” metrics that we can easily relate to.

iBike Newton

iBike Newton Power Meter

I now use a Newton Power Meter from iBike. It is just as accurate as any other permanent power meter but the big advantage with the Newton is the price and the fact that you can take it from one bike to another as easily as you could with a Garmin. The Newton has been on my bike for about a year now and just love it. The unit does have a few quirks such as no backlight, no bluetooth and no GPS but makes it up with having a great visible display in bright sunlight, long battery life, wind gauge, temperature and excellent power readings.

I’ve learned to do my fitness test to get my FTP and I’ve become familiar with the average power readings to expect on my rides. It does have Intervals built-in but they are not as easy to follow as the Powerhouse unit. The developers are constantly updating the firmware for the unit to improve and add new features to it. Bug fixes are free as well as minor enhancements. New major features means you will have to fork out some funds to enable it. That’s cool because you pay for what features you want. With the new enhancements I now have access to Nominal Power (NP) and actual power on the same screen. This really helps me pace myself depending on the type of ride I plan on doing. In my case it’s mostly endurance or long rides. No Time Trials for me.

kickerfeatureAs I mentioned before, I’ve set a weekly distance goal of 100 miles. I’ve started out at 50 miles and now it’s 100 but I’ve been thinking of increasing that. That is until I started using my indoor trainer to do some of my intervals. This trainer is not the usual mount bike and ride type of device but instead you can vary the resistance electronically through your PC or iOS device. The resistance is also calibrated and outputted in Watts to you electronic device. In essence I can now do structured power based intervals indoors (while watching tv of course)! Wahoo makes the trainer called Kickr and what a blessing it is. Combine that with the iOS app called iMobileIntervals I can do my rides, post them on Facebook, Strava or TrainingPeaks. Sweet!

Because of the Kickr, I have readjusted my thinking on those 100 miles per week. I used to struggle with deciding on whether I should ride on the Kickr or go cycling outside. I like doing the intervals on the trainer, but yet I’m not reaching my miles per week goal. It took me a while to get over the mindset that the miles HAS to be from cycling outside. That is just not true. Good quality miles on the trainer is just a good as being on the road. This was really hard to wrap my mind around but I’m starting to accept it.

Now my routine consists of intervals on the Kickr and longer rides outdoors where I focus on the target Nominal Power (NP) and reducing my Variability Index (VI) by pacing myself at the target power level. I don’t worry about speed or the wind. That will be taken care of as I get fitter and stronger. So far the results has been amazing. With the right pacing (even with the wind on my back) I can do the long rides without being burnt out although I do have to mindful of the 100+ F weather that we get around here in the Rio Grande Valley.

I’ve started brushing up on training with power and I got two books to help me on that aspect. Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan and the other book is The Power Meter Handbook: A User’s Guide for Cyclists and Triathletes by Joe Friel. I’ve read the Joe Friel book and I need to go back and reread it again for better absorption.  The Huner Allen book is there waiting for me to graduate to that level of understanding. Both books are great and highly recommend either one to anyone. I am definitely a beginner in this and have a lot to learn but I feel like I’m peeking over a tall fence and I can see the what’s on the other side, training with a power meter and I like it.

Share your experience with your early years of using a power meter. I’d love to hear from you.

iBike Newton Revisited

iBike Newton

iBike Newton Power Meter

It has been several months since I started using the Newton from Velocomp and it has become an essential tool for me. I thought it’s time to revisit my decision to buy the Newton.

First of all, I just love the unit! I ride everywhere with it even on social rides. It does almost everything that I would want on a bike computer; easy to ready screen, power, temperature, wind speed, hill grade, heart-rate, speed and cadence. The only thing it does not do is GPS, Bluetooth or WiFi. You cannot directly export your ride to your favorite sites such as Strava or Traning Peaks since there is no GPS data in it.

There is a work around for the no GPS data. The Issac software, that you use for the Newton, can output the data-file into a format that Training Peaks can read.

For Strava or any other site there is a firmware upgrade that you can purchase that will enable the power output to be paired up with any ANT+ compatible reader. In my case, I have it paired up to my iPhone and the Strava App (works with Cyclemeter and Wahoo Fitness too). You will need to get the ANT+ dongle from Wahoo to make this happen. I already had it, so it wasn’t a problem for me. I use my iPhone to record the ride (and post it after the ride) and the Newton to visually see what is going on. If I don’t care about uploading the ride, then I skip the iPhone pairing and just ride.

I’ve been exploring some bike forums and I often run across a thread talking about power meters and what to use. I’ve noticed that if any one mentions the iBike Newton as a possible unit to purchase, others dismiss it as a “pretend” power meter or that it’s “cheap” or “guesses the power”. These people have no clue as to what they are talking about or really do not understand the physics behind the technology. Occasionally, a more knowledgeable user would chime in and set them straight.

Accuracy

What the Newton does is measures the opposing forces you encounter while cycling. This includes head/tail wind, speed, slope (going uphill, flat or downhill), drag coefficient and computes the power you are exerting. The unit comes with its own advanced and sensitive accelerometers, temperature and wind sensors. Combine that with the speed and cadence sensors, your height, weight, bike info and other factors, it has everything it needs to run through the algorithms and come up with an accurate power reading, 16 times per second! There is no “guessing” as one forum member put it.  With any power meter, including DFPM there is a certain amount of sampling and calculations that has to be performed to come up with a power number. There is no way around computations. But don’t worry, that’s what computers are for!

When properly calibrated, the Newton accuracy is rated be +- 2%. That is on par with other power meters. Anyone interested in the Newton really should check out their website at iBikeSports. They have a bike ride with a side-by-side comparison of the Newton and a DFPM. It’s hard to tell the difference between the two! They also have a great support forum where you can research questions concerning the Newton and any of their products. It is there where you will find valuable information on just how good the product is. Sure you will find problems too, but any product will have problems.

Third party reviews are important to look for, so here is one that I found from Cycling Power Labs. It’s a great article on the Newton and how the technology works. Give it a read. Bicycle.net also has a review of the Newton as well as performing head-to-head comparisons of a Newton and a DFPM on the same bike and same ride showing that there was virtually no difference between them.

Something else that I ran across, ZUUUM Club Cycling also uses the Newton in their training program. You can buy a Newton from them or rent one! I never ran across someone renting bike equipment before, but there is always the first time. They are not the only ones using the Newton as their power meter, Velocoaching is doing the same. Acceptance is growing and the “Nay Sayers” are falling to the wayside.

Calibration

One of the complaints about the Newton was that calibration was a tedious process. I have to admit that it was. It wasn’t too bad, but still a little time-consuming. Well, all that has changed. With the miracle of firmware updates, calibration is a simple five-minute ride out, turn around and ride back. How simple is that! Just start the calibration process, ride out (there is a 5-minute count down timer built-in) and at the five-minute mark turn around and ride the same route back. The trip odometer counts up the miles on the first half, then counts backwards to zero on the trip back. That’s it. A quick confirmation indicates that the process is done. You can ride at your own pace and you can even stop if you have too (stop signs, stop signals, etc.). Couldn’t be simpler than that.

Once calibration is done, you will not have to do another one until something has changed on the bike. For example, if you change out tires to that of a different characteristic then you should recalibrate. If you lost a significant amount of weight (hopefully you’re not gaining weight) do a recalibration. If you have the Newton mounted on the handlebar, then every time you change the position of the handlebar then do a recalibration (usually not a big deal).

In my case, I switched the handlebars on my bike and went through all the tweaking one does with a new handlebar. Once I was satisfied with the position of the bar, I then calibrated my Newton on a five-minute ride.

One other thing is that the calibration is preset for a person of a certain height and weight. You would want to tune it some more with the Issac software and enter your weight, height, type of bike, tires and position on the bike. Once done, just push it to the Newton.

Profiles

One of the great features of the Newton is the ability to setup profiles for either different bikes or different bike configurations. Just do a calibration for each profile and now if you switch bikes or change the training tires to racing, switch the profile and your ready to go. I do that when I ride my Sirrus and switch to the Roubaix.

Issac

The Newton is not an iPhone or has a nice pretty graphical touch screen like many smart phones. Nor does it have WiFi or a cellular connection to post your ride on-line. That’s where Issac comes into play. Issac is the software that runs on a Windows or Mac PC that connects and downloads your ride files. It is from Issac that you can analyze your ride, take notes and post on-line. It supports Strava and Training Peaks as well a generating various datafiles to upload to your favorite site (providing that you have GPS data).

It is from Issac that you can check for firmware updates for your Newton and push it out to the device. You can also use Issac to purchase firmware upgrades such as the GT Upgrade, Powerstroke or the Newton Tracker. Check their website for a complete list of upgrades that are available.

There is a whole slew of functions that can be done with the Issac software that I haven’t begun to master. There are several videos at the iBikeSport website, give them a view for more details.

Intervals

One of the basic things that I’ve learned to enjoy doing are intervals. I started doing them when I was using the iBike Powerhouse system. Switching to the Newton built-in intervals has been a different experience for me. On the Powerhouse system, the interval segments were shorter in length which means it felt faster paced, but on the Newton, the intervals are longer. Now, I stay at a segment for about ten minutes before I switch. That’s fine, I’ll have to adjust to the difference. It’s probably good for me too.

If the built-in intervals are not to your liking, you can create your own with the Issac software and push it to the Newton. The only draw back is that you can have only one custom interval. Kinda of a bummer because I would like to have a whole set to choose from on the device with out having to connect to the PC and download it.

Final Thoughts

As part of the evolution that cyclists go though, cycling with power is a big step for many. The Newton power meter helps bring the cyclist up to the next level of cycling with out breaking the bank. It comes with the Newton, mounting bracket, ANT+ speed and cadence sensors and the Quick Start instructions. after installing everything you can get it calibrated in five minutes and you can start your new experience in training with power. Weather you are cycling for weight-loss, fitness, club rider or higher, expect a learning curve in training with power. To some, the curve is simple and intuitive while others may find it difficult to understand and may need additional help.

I used to love using my iPhone as my bike computer. Didn’t matter which app I was using it was fun to do and the ability to post your ride file afterwards was a big plus for me. The down side is that during mid-day rides the screen would get washed out from the sun. As a result I couldn’t read anything and was riding blind. With the Newton, the screen is easy to read in any kind of weather and its water proof too! The down side is that there is no back lite, so at night I can’t read the screen. I’ll figure out something with LED’s to take care of that problem. Other than that, it has been a reliable unit for me with excellent battery life (I charge it once per week via USB).

It does store all your rides that you have done with it and you will need to dump the rides via the Issac software. If you don’t, the memory will fill up and stop recording.

One final thought, calories burned on the ride. Without a way to measure the power you are working at, there is really no accurate way to figure out the calories burned. Devices and Apps vary widely in there estimates and are useless. Sometimes I hear one of my friends chime-in that they burned 1600 calories on that 20-mile ride. They are all happy about that and plug that value into MyFitnessPal and think they got all of these extra calories to consume. I check my Newton to see what it says and I keep quiet. I don’t want to rain on their parade.

Other than what I have mentioned, I would definitely recommend this to any of my friends. I would recommend it as long as they are willing to put in the time to learn to cycle with a power meter. If they are not willing to do that, then I would recommend an App on the iPhone (if they have one) or a good bike computer. They need more time in the oven cooking.

Drop me a comment if you are interested in the Newton system and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.