Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The 7th Park Bike Store

This afternoon, I just did a 15 mile jaunt through the city, cruising through back alleyways and visited the 7th Park Bike Store to get a couple of repairs that were needing to be done my Orbea Opal. I had been to this great bike shop previously when I met the owner of the shop (Mr. Wu) and his manager Steven (nickname: Daxiang, means Elephant in Chinese) during the road race day at the Deaflympics. First of all, Daxiang was the designated driver of the New Zealand support car and did a good attempt to motorpace me when I flatted and had the shocking wheel change (the story is told in the Deaflympics link above). After the race, I noticed an SUV with Orbea decals emblazened across both sides so I introduced myself to Mr. Wu and started talking to him in Mandarin (since he had limited English) and it turned out he was the official Orbea distributor in Taiwan and owns a couple of bike shops in Taipei and employs Daxiang (Steve) as a manager at one of them. Jennifer and I were invited to lunch that day and got the royal treatment and my bike was tuned up for my final race (the 50km Points race).

I really appreciated their help on that day and thought a quick review of their shop would be in order. Yu Ming is one of the mechanics in the shop and is a very good one. He fixed a number of small things on my bike when it was fine-tuned during Deaflympics and is very friendly. His English is limited but makes up for that with his enthusiasm. My repair bill was only $250NT for a wheel true and straightening of my derailuer hanger plus adjustment of the gears/brakes Good value at approx $8USD. They have a very good selection of mid to high-end road and mountain bikes for sale including Orbea, LG, Kuota, Bianchi, Fuji and others. There is also a large selection of the folding bikes for the commuters or weekend warriors. The prices at this shop are pretty reasonable for Taiwan. They have also recently opened a flash "show room" style section of their shop displaying higher end bikes including a fast looking Kuota full carbon TT bike sporting nice Zipp 808s with a price tag of just over $200,000NT (US$6,350). They serve you nice Chinese green tea to sip and also have a professional coffee making machine to serve waiting customers. Daxiang & co regularly host Sunday weekly rides that leave from their shop divided into several groups, A's being the more serious and faster group, B's for the recreational to serious riders and the C's for those who enjoy coffee and socializing at the top of every major climb! I plan to join their rides sometime in the near future. If you check out the picture with the Mechanic working on a bike, you will see the Deaflympics NZL sticker that was used on the support vehicle now being used on their back door!

The Seventh Park Bike Store
No. 10 Songlong Road, Taipei City
Tel 02-2749-1727

This is my bike shop of choice here in Taipei (it might be a little biased, but you will be impressed when you visit the store(s).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Graveyard Ride in Taipei

This ride I did today was a combination of serious training and exploration of new areas for me in Taipei. This was a ride that was recommended to me by Cam at InMotionAsia and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I left Taipei City from my place of residence.

This is a great ride for people seeking nicer scenery compared with riding along the flat river paths and for higher quality workout. It was amazing to see the contrast, one minute I was riding in the middle of thick traffic and the next I was in old shanty town (that used to be prevalent all over Taipei) with virtually no traffic. I followed Chongde Road and within a couple of minutes I was riding on a mountain road shrouded with lush green vegetation and grave-yard sites sprawling in all directions. This was Taipei City's Public Cemetery that covered practically the whole mountain side. "The first section is the Muslim cemetery in which Bai Chongxi, the famous Republican Muslim general from Guangxi, is buried. A little further on, you can take a steep left and visit the White Terror Memorial" quote from Rank who writes about recommended rides in Taipei City. Directions for the ride can also be found on that site among many other great rides that I will be trying out while I am living here.

The cruise up to the top took about 15 minutes and I took the left turn onto Yanjiuyuan Road that led to an awesome twisty curvy decent that ends up in the Nangang District. You enjoy lush green scenery, cliffs, rivers and small waterfalls. There are people Taiwanese fishing in the river, hikers and others growing vegetable gardens. You can forget that you are still in the middle of Taipei City!

I continued on this road for 15 minutes or so before turning back up the valley where I proceeded with my serious training. I completed 3 x four minute intervals on a gradual climb that kicks up steeply halfway through (which made the interval tough). I must have gone too hard in the first interval, posting just under 400 watts, as my subsequent intervals showed a seven watt decline for the second interval and a 30 watt decline for the third. However, all three intervals had me right on 400 watts for the last 30 seconds which was a good indicator of finishing strongish. After completing the intervals, I tackled the steep climb back to the junction at Chongde Road and made the left turn to head down towards Muzha and ended up a Temple Memorial area. I went back up to the junction again and came up behind a lone rider sporting a CSC jersey. I gave a friendly wave as I passed him on the down-hill and I went into exploring mode after most of the down-hill. I rode through a few tight little alley ways in the Shanty town area exploring and stopping to take pictures of compositions that caught my eye. If my ride was purely for training only, I would not spend the time to explore and soak in the surroundings. It was good to mix up the structured training with the exploring while easy pedalling. It makes you feel more intimate with the routes you train on and allow for a breather after some good steady efforts. I wanted to finish with a hill-climb interval and the climb up to Yanjiuyuan Road junction is a perfect hill for such an effort as the gradient is not too steep (about 5-6%) and allows for higher cadence and higher speeds. It would also serve as a good bench-mark for future hill-climb intervals to guage my rate of improvement every few weeks! Today I did the climb in 9:20, with an average power of 356watts. The average speed was just under 24km/h and a cadence of 75. I was pretty happy with this result since I have not done many intensive efforts since the end of the Taipei Deaflympics. Stay tuned for the Giant Cup Criterium Race Report that will follow after this coming weekend.

Note: The photographs are clickable and larger images can be viewed.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Xindian ride and Eating Delicious Street Foods

Yesterday my wife and I headed out on our bikes for a nice Sunday afternoon ride. It was the first day that the sun had come out after a week of Typhoon weather. The ride to Xindian from where we live in Shida is a pleasant one on purpose built cycle paths that snake alongside the river. It was a perfect afternoon to spend riding nice and slow with the wife, and enjoy lots of delicious tasting foods along the way.

We stopped first for 'Baozi' - steamed buns on Shida Road - the place makes one of Taipei's best Baozi and we ordered three of them, all different flavours: Pork, Taro and peanut flavored. They are top quality and taste amazing for $20NT or less. My favourite one is now the Taro one while Jennifer likes the Peanut filled Baozi. With renewed energy, we zig-zagged through the Taipei traffic to get to an overhead bridge that went over the riverside wall to the cycle paths. The paths were filled with Taiwanese, lots of families all out enjoying the Sunday afternoon. Xindian is a popular tourist attraction which is lies at the base of kilometres of beautiful mountain ranges. It is very easy to ride your bike there from Taipei City and should take no more than 30-45minutes from the centre of the city. Alternatively you can take the MRT Subway red line to the Xindian Station and stroll around the Xindian Market and take some short hikes up some of the nearby hills. We rolled into the market area on our Orbea road bikes, looking slightly out of place wearing our matching lycra cycle uniforms, and found a nice fruit smoothie stand to enjoy an ice-cold Passionfruit smoothie with honey for $35NT ($1.10USD). This was a good re-charge for the return home.

On the way back, I stopped a few times to take some photographs of the various Taiwanese on the little bikes. There is a cycling boom going on here with more and more Taiwanese realizing the benefits of fitness and health. But most of them ride the folding style bikes that have 14 inch wheels. It is quite funny to see them on these bikes in full-riding gear (as you can see in the photo on the right) and most look grossly mis-fitted. There is the occasional 'roadie' with a full-carbon road bike that zips by, usually with an acknowledgment waved in my direction. During the weekend, these bike paths are not ideal for training on since they are clogged with in-experienced leisure bike riders, sometimes riding four abreast on the paths and zig-zagging. So, its best to leave the 'training' mentality behind and just enjoy the riding (which we were).

Instead of going straight back home, we decided to explore another area of town we had not been before, we exited the cycle path at the Gongguan and found ourselves on busy Ting Zhou Road that was filled with people shopping and eating all kinds of delicious looking street foods. We stopped at one of the alleyways that looked appealing and checked out the foods on offer. Our first snack was a vegetable nutty wrap that was healthy and nutritious ($30NT) followed by little custard buns made by a Deaf-mute vendor (in photo on right), we had five of them for $20NT and we rated the batter to be one of the best around, and you could see that he was popular judging from the lines of people that would line up to order his piping hot food.

The alleyway that we were in was quite interesting looking since it had an interesting combination of old and modern Taipei. I took a picture (shown on the right) of an interesting composition with the red lantern; massive bill-board with non-Taiwanese people depicted; myriad of Chinese signage and the flow of people walking past the food stalls.

We were now ready to eat a proper meal and found a small Thai restaurant tucked away in the same alleyway and ordered two dishes and a Thai Style Milk Tea. The picture on the far left is the Chicken Red-curry that tasted quite authentic and contained some thick noodles at the bottom with carrots, potatoes and spices. The other dish, shown on the right is a dish they call "Yunan Dish" which was a mixture of cold vegetables, thin noodles and some dried type of fish sprinkled on the top. It was actually quite tasty and a good meal to end our cycling excursion with. The Thai Milk Tea was the best 'authentic' style we have had in Taipei since enjoying it during our trip in Thailand. It was so good that we asked if they had the actual tea that we could buy. Surprisingly they said they could sell us a packet of real Thai Tea for $150NT, which was a very good deal since it was a good sized bag and you can make at least 100 cups of tea with it. Our meal (including the Thai Iced Tea) at the Thai restaurant only cost $175NT ($5.40) for both of us. The cycle home, past Da-An Park the largest park in Taipei, took only 15 minutes, it was already dark. This is a nice ride to do if you are looking for an easy, relaxing one and a chance to taste the various street foods that Taipei has to offer.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Living in Taipei

Have been living here in Taipei now for just over a month and enjoying the new lifestyle here. We live in the Shi Da area, a nice quaint and crowded area of Taipei. It is very convenient with two MRT subway stations within 5 minutes walk and a whole host of cheap eating places to choose from each night. Eating out compared to the US or New Zealand is dirt cheap, a delicious meal for two would cost approximately $6USd on average. Some places you can eat as cheaply as $3 for two people!

I had started up my training last week, beginning with easy morning spins on the rollers. I then did the Epic 190km ride that I ended up 'bonking' in. I recovered quickly though to have enough energy to play tag rugby at the American school in Tianmu. I played well, at least till I fell and ripped open my knees. My left knee was the worst hit since it re-opened an old cycling injury from 3 years ago - it had been torn open enough times to prevent skin re-growth! Also, since I had not run since last year, my muscles had a shock and for three days I was hobbling around like an old man! This put me off cycling for the week, but I spent three hours yesterday cycling around Taipei City. The best way to understand a city is to let yourself get lost and go with the flow. I visited a few language schools that I spotted and went in to enquire about teaching positions and to leave my resume. I cycled mostly around the back streets, checking out all the shops and outdoor eating stalls that were lined up on the road. I also took a few photographs with my Nikon D90, but it was hard to hold the heavy camera in one hand, steer the bike with the other and watch out for traffic! I enjoyed a freshly made pork 'Baozi', steamed bun (piping hot) on one of the busy corners for only $8NT (about 20cents).

Today I went on a proper training ride to Maokong Mountain. It was not too long, 40kms and 1hr 40mins. I did a couple of 1min 500 plus watt efforts and also did the mountain climb in 16 mins @ an average wattage of 335. Which was not too bad for lack of training since the Deaflympics. I will be racing the Giant Cup Criterium race in Taichung at the end of this month and need to re-gain some semblance of form I had prior and during the Deaflympics. Some quality structured training over the next couple of weeks should sharpen me up for the event, which will be my first Taiwanese race.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Epic ride in Taiwan

I remember picking up a book one day when I was visiting a cycling friend in San Antonio and reading about what defined a truly "epic ride". There were several factors that I remember that was listed that qualifies your ride to be regarded as a true epic:
  • Invariably at some point during the ride, you bonk from lack of food/fluids and the last miles take a momentus effort just to keep going
  • You suffer the misfortune of a mechanical or a puncture/burst side-wall
  • The ride is longer than originally planned - riding in unknown areas
  • You experience cramps and have to fight them to get home
  • When you start fantasizing what foods you will eat when get back
  • When you start watching every mile ticking over and feels like it takes forever
Today's ride was very much what was described in the above, I started the day rising at 5.30am and riding to meet Taiwanese rider, Chih Wei who rides for the Specialized Novatec Racing Team that is based out of Taipei. From there we cycled to the meeting point out at the Cheng De Road McDonalds where the rest of the team was waiting. The plan for them was to ride 160km down to Taichung where they would be doing a intensive three-day training camp. My plan was to ride with them till about half-way and then turn back the same way. This was a plan made that morning as I originally thought the team was going to do a loop ride in the Taipei Area. As it turned out I ended up doing 190km - by far the longest training ride I have done for a long time.

Summary of the ride progression:
  • After riding through heavy Taipei traffic and once the roads had less traffic, the Specialized Novatec team of seven riders set quite a fast tempo that I was regularly putting out 350 plus watts to stay in the pace-line.
  • We rode single-file and hard once we were out on the highway next to the ocean, with the powerful wind behind us we were averaging over 30mph (48km/h) and sustaining 35mph for good periods of time. When I hit the front for a turn, I was putting out 400 plus watts to maintain the speed.
  • Covered 80kms in 1hr 38mins and ended up in Hsinchu City, almost halfway to Taichung. The pace was ramped up considerably 20km outside of this city and the team was splintered and only 3 riders plus myself were riding hard. I pulled the plug when I realized I was over-doing it and especially since it was my first real training ride since the Deaflympics.
  • I rolled to a stop in Hsinchu City to wait on the side of the road for the Specialized Novatec support van to come. I must have been there about 10 minutes when all of a sudden my rear tyre went completely flat. I pulled out my spare tube and proceeded to change tubes. While checking for foreign objects in the rim and tyre, I discovered that the tyre side-wall was ruptured. Support van eventually came up and fortunately they had a spare tyre which I was able to use.
  • My plan was now to head back the same way we came (if I could find the way back). The weather had now heated up since we left Taipei; it felt very hot and humid. I drank the rest of my fluids and got replacement water from the support van.
  • Since I was having so much fun riding in the pace-line with the Specialized-Novatec team, I had failed to realize we had traveled so far. Now I was faced with the daunting prospect of riding directly into the powerful wind. After enjoying high speeds on the way down, I was now grinding at 50-60rpm going at a snails pace of 16km/h. My power output had fallen to 150-160 watts.
  • I also missed the turn for the highway we came on, and continued my death march along highway 15 that went through several small towns. That did make the ride more interesting and since I can communicate in Mandarin, I stopped to ask for directions back to Taipei and one kind Taiwanese man gave me several bottles of cold water as by that point I was seriously hurting and was not in good shape. I mixed my REV 3 Surge powder mix into one of the bottles, and that's what kept me going for another hour or so. I also had a caffeine gel plus two bananas to eat. The old man told me I still had a good 60 or more kms to go! That was not good news to hear.
  • The wind was so ferocious that when I cycled past buildings, I would get some respite but the instant there were no buildings, the power of the wind really kicked me side-ways. My front wheel was a HED Jet 60, so most of the sideways movement came from that. After grinding along for a couple of hours, I jumped at the opportunity to draft some trucks including a truck filled with big fat pigs all squashed together. However, this brief activity of higher cadence and power-output caused the first of my cramps to come on.
  • I had to stop shortly after the drafting to shake the cramp out of my big thigh muscle. From then on I was battling the cramp. I controlled it for the most part by pointing my heel down and keeping the gear light.
  • I enjoyed my Usana Oatmeal Raisin bar as the last of my food supplies. I had packed enough food in my pockets to last me for 100-120kms! So, I was definitely going to suffer the last 60kms home. I finally made it back to Ba Li, a small town that marked the beginning of entering the sprawling city of Taipei and cruised up to a traffic light. There was a drink van in front of me, so I rapped on the window and asked in Chinese if I could have some drink. He motioned for me to wait on the side of the road while he pulled up to park. I saw that he had 250ml cans of milk coffees and water, so asked for three milk coffees and two bottles of water. I told him that I did not bring any cash with me and would he give it for free since I was shaking from lack of energy. He said that he could give me the water for free but not the coffee. However, I noticed some on top of a box and asked him what they were. Was told that they had expired by two months and could give my stomach problems. I replied that's no problem (I was desperate for something sweet to keep me going for another 30km). He gave me it and I gulped it down and that gave me a new lease on life.
  • After drinking the coffee and drinking more water, I actually noticed my power output increasing back up to 170-180 as I continued on my adventure to get back home.
  • Once back into Taipei City proper, I had to contend with the cramp that was coming back slightly along with dodging crazy scooter riders, taxi drivers and trucks that would cross my line. Riding in Taipei City is not for the faint hearted and I was constantly weaving through the traffic to get to the front where the hundreds of scooters were waiting to take off.
  • I also had to rely on my sense of direction to get back to my apartment on the other side of the city. I almost crossed over a bridge that would have taken me in the opposite direction, but before taking the bridge I stopped to ask two traffic wardens which direction was the International 101 building, one of the tallest buildings in the world. Once they pointed me in the right direction, I was able to navigate myself back home using the 101 building as a point of reference.
  • I was stoked to have finally made it back after pedaling for almost seven hours and 190kms!
Summary of food/water during my EPIC ride:
  • 9 bottles of water
  • 1 x 250ml coffee
  • 2 x caffiene gels
  • 3 x bananas
  • 1 x USANA Oatmeal raisin bar
  • 2 x REV 3 Surge paks
Once inside, I immediately downed a bowl of pineapple and Dragon fruit with yogurt. This was followed by gobbling down three pieces of toast with honey, a pineapple cake, a glass of milk with Milo and a Usana Peanut Choc Crunch bar. I cleaned up and immediately crashed out for a couple of hours as I only got 4 hours sleep the previous night!

Selle SMP Composite saddle - does it live up to its claims?

My previous posting was geared to educating others about the issue of numbness associated with cycling. It also provided several top tips on how to help alleviate the issue, which one of the tips stated saddle choice was an important one for all cyclists. This posting is a review of one of my sponsor products - Selle SMP

A 2005 study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, found that SMP saddles have a new geometrical conception for maintain the vascular perfusion of the genital-perineal region. The study stated:

“The true innovation brought about by the SMP saddle is its capacity of interfering scarcely on the blood perfusion of the penis…. It is the geometry of this saddle, by redistributing the body weight onto the buttocks, prevents the squashing of the neurovascular structures that run medially to the ischial tuberosities. Furthermore, the depression in the rear part prevents the coccyx from touching the saddle, thus preventing repercussions caused by the un-evenness of the ground that may affect the spine”

The study showed that the SMP saddle was the “most efficient in protecting the blood perfusion of the penis compared to one of the saddles most frequently used by professional cyclists”

When I first saw the Selle SMP Strike saddle, I was doubtful that it would comfortable enough to do long training rides on, let alone do road and criterium racing due to its peculiar shape and hardness. I was also skeptical that the saddle would eliminate my numbness issues I frequently get during longer or easy training rides. I was pleasantly surprised. As mentioned in my previous posting, racers are less affected by blood flow issues. The same is true for me as I seldom experienced numbness during racing events; it was just during training that my issue emerged. The Selle SMP saddle seemed like it might be the saddle that could solve my problems.

I was supplied with a nice looking Strike Composite saddle that is shown here in the picture and had this mounted in conjunction with a bike-fit and raced on during the US racing season and when I represented New Zealand at the Deaflympics. I was amazed at how snug it felt during my first race. When I was on the rivet, I was able to slide forward into a position that is more conducive to power riding. SMP claim that the beak of the saddle nose is “designed to supply a flat base for efforts when sitting for long climbs that have to be faced and as a help in downhill slopes, offering greater thigh control of the bicycle”. When you actually try this saddle out, you will realize that the claims by Selle SMP have a very solid foundation with their award-winning design and function.

The Strike Composite saddle has no padding, only has thin leather covering, and one would think this would add to the discomfort. However my experience with this saddle, provided it is fitted correctly, is that it is very comfortable. Since my conversion to SMP, I have not experienced any numbness during training due to the central channel of the saddle. This area is big enough to slide your whole hand through. The rationale behind this is that it “prevents crushing of the anus, prostate, vanae pudendae, deep dorsal vein and artery of the penis, scrotum and testicles in men, and the labia majora and minora and the clitoris, in women”. You can investigate for yourself and see the difference if you are still searching for that perfect saddle for long rides and racing.

Based on the research in the field and the product innovation of SMP, they have come out with a cutting edge saddle that will amaze anyone who has not yet tried it. There are other saddle manufacturers that do well, such as the Specialized Body Geometry saddles, but they do not compare to the quality and performance of SMP. Provided the SMP saddle is fitted correctly, you should eliminate problems with numbness and enjoy your long rides. In fact, I just completed a seven hour ride today on the Composite saddle and was comfortable the whole time although my legs were feeling quite shattered by the end of my epic ride.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cycling causes numbness but does it lead to impotence too?

The statement “Cycling causes impotence” took the world by a storm in the late 1990s and it was largely based on research by Irwin Goldstein who believed that there was a link between cycling and impotence. This has been proven to be untrue.

His research concluded that a bike saddle can compress the perineal region, restricting blood flow and therefore leading to impotence. One of his other sensational comments was that “Cycling should be banned and outlawed”. The general scientific community did not accept his ideas since Goldstein’s research had several limitations including: small sample sizes, questionable methodologies and never peer-reviewed.

However, one of the main benefits accrued from the findings was that bicycle saddle manufacturers took notice and begun re-designing saddles to increase comfort levels and blood flow.

Minkow and Sommer tested more than 20 different saddles on large numbers of volunteers and they found that not one seat would ever fully eliminate compression. Minkow stated that “we found that it only takes a minute for blood flow to be compromised”. Roger Minkow became one of the leading experts in saddle design after the statements by Goldstein hit the world headlines. Minkow realized one of Goldstein’s main draw-backs in the methodology to determine blood flow could not be administered while the subject was actually pedaling on the bike, only if the subject was sitting stationary.

Minkow developed the early Specialized Body Geometry saddles that quickly became best sellers; however, with the success of Lance Armstrong, cycling became more and more popular.

German Professor, Frank Sommer was the person who found out the way to measure penile blood flow while actually riding. Sommer tested 100s of riders with many different saddle designs in different sitting positions. The research that Sommer and Minkow produced proved to be a critical factor in the proliferation of new and better designs produced by different saddle manufacturers in the last decade.

According to Minkow and Sommer, Conventional saddles of more than 10 years ago, blood flow while riding would be only 20-40% of what it was while not on the bike. However the emergence of new saddle designs, that can be increased to an average of 80%. Sitting on a regular office chair compromises your blood flow by 10%, which is what most people contend with when working. Minkow concluded that if you can find a saddle that only loses 10-20% blood flow, you can ride for longer than saddles that gives you 50% compression over a 1-2 hour ride.

Dr Pruitt (2006) says that “a lot of people think crotch soreness is part of the sport – it really should not be”. He goes on to say that “cyclists should be regularly standing up in their pedals every five to ten minutes during a ride to keep the blood circulating”

Another interesting point Dr Pruitt raises, is that racers are less affected by blood flow problems than casual recreational riders. Racers are generally lighter and thus support less weight on soft tissue when riding. “Racers usually have better technique, standing more often and take the weight of the vital areas. Furthermore, racers are training or racing at high intensity and are pushing down considerably harder than recreational riders on the pedals, this lifts their hips off the saddle slightly on each pedal stroke. The recreational rider, on the other hand, maybe overweight and likely to sit down the entire ride spinning with his whole weight on the soft tissue which can lead to increased incidence of numbness and crotch discomfort”.

Top tips on eliminating numbness

  1. Get a professional bike fit – often this is a big factor. Once you have been fitted properly to your bike the numbness and other discomfort issues may disappear
  2. If you don’t get a professional bike fit, you can try positioning your seat that its level or just a few degrees down in front
  3. Ensure your knees are not fully extended at the bottom of your pedal stroke, otherwise this puts extra weight on your sensitive areas
  4. Saddle choice – go for firm saddles over the softer ones. Firm saddles are better because they do not compress your vital arteries and support your sit-bones better. Sommer and Minkow state that flat or concave saddles generally have better performance. Since the link between cycling and impotence made headlines in the late 1990s, a proliferation of new saddle designs emerged and there now a wide range of choices for the cyclist.
  5. Invest in a pair of good quality cycling shorts with a well designed chamois
  6. The simplest adjustment you can make is to ensure you stand up on the bike every 10 minutes or so. If you live in hilly or rolling areas this would be a natural occurrence.