Crap I love: the Selle SMP Strike saddle

I’ve spent the last four years riding a handful of different bikes a few thousand miles total and in that time I’ve learned a lot about how my body works, what kind of bike feels most comfortable, and areas where comfort can be improved.

It took quite a bit of trial and error to find the perfect seat for my road bike. It’s no secret that for both men and women cyclists, sitting on your junk for hundreds of hours a year can cause a lot of problems (increased ED in male cyclists is a definite something I don’t look forward to). After getting saddle sore on the seats that came with the last three bikes I rode, I tried using different models with more padding (made problems even worse) and less padding (better, as you try to sit just on the bones of your butt) and I got a proper bike fitting on my last two bikes (this helped immensely). Eventually I found a Selle San Marco model with a cutaway mid-section. That seat worked pretty well until rides went beyond an hour long — eventually I’d move around on the saddle and settle too far forward or too much in the middle and end a ride sore as usual.

Recently I picked up a Selle SMP Strike Pro saddle for my newest bike. It’s a pretty weird looking saddle, with the entire middle cut away and oddly dropped nose. It also starts around $200 at most shops, which is a drag. After using the San Marco model (with the mid-section cut away) for a year, I had a feeling that going to a more extreme saddle like the Strike Pro would be a good next step. There’s some science on their site claiming that it’ll relieve pressure in all the right places.

I’ll admit that I’ve only ridden this saddle for about 100 miles in the week or two that I’ve had it but I have to say it’s miles ahead of anything I’ve used before. In the short time I’ve had this seat on my bike I’ve realized it forces you into good form and positioning because there’s really nowhere to sit besides the two rails. Unlike other saddles I’ve used, my entire weight rests on the bones of my pelvis (as it should) and never moves to other parts over time. Even on my longer rides, I felt perfectly fine at the end of the ride, with no numbness or soreness anywhere which is pretty much a first.

The only drawbacks I’ve found is the steep price (unless your local shop carries a ton of them and will let you test them out, you’ll have to pony up $200+ just to give it a try) and if you’re a weight weenie that cares about grams the seat is a little on the heavy side for a pro-level saddle (they make lighter models with varying levels of padding). But if you’re looking for a little piece of mind and bit more comfort on your long bike rides, I can’t recommend this saddle highly enough.

Globalization is freaking awesome


Chinese Hammer fucking rules, originally uploaded by mathowie.

I stumbled across Chinese Hammer tonight and fell in love with it for a thousand reasons. Just the thought of someone halfway around the world mimicking a video from 1989 in a move-for-move remake. Also, the mom on the couch crocheting, oblivious to the awesome dancing. Then I posted it to MetaFilter only to find there’s a such thing as YouTube Doubler to play them side by side.

I captured the best bits in a short movie here. About 30 seconds in, things start matching up and it just keeps staying awesome for another minute or so.

update: cool, the dude has a ton of other videos (Thriller, more MC Hammer, etc)

More fun than a pile of powdered sugar

You might have seen a hilarious / bizarre / historical set of found photos someone picked up at a swap meet of a 70s cocaine party. It’s really oddball stuff.

Even more odd, Astro Zombie (and friends) from MetaFilter started recreating the photos with their own mirrors and powdered sugar and a ridiculous new flickr pool was born.

Testing upgrade

Just testing out to see what broke in moving to WP 2.5…

update: amazingly enough, nothing broke, even a bunch of old plugins I still use.

ReCAPTCHA’s quality is going down?

Several months ago, we implemented ReCAPTCHA on MetaFilter contact forms, to thwart spammers. It’s a good cause and a great idea: the nonsensical text you decode ends up helping public domain book scanning projects.

But lately, we’ve been getting a steady stream of complaints that it is not working or is unsolvable. Last night I tried out the contact form and was surprised that in the first ten images presented to me (keep hitting the little refresh button, the top of the three buttons on the control), at least half were totally undecipherable.

Here’s an actual screenshot of one I saw this morning. The first word is impossible to decipher. My question is, has ReCAPTCHA had such success that all we’re left with is the really, really bad book scans?

Podcasts are officially better than radio, thanks to user experience

The other day I realized that although I was skeptical of podcasting going all the way back to 2004, I have to admit that now in 2008, I vastly prefer the experience of listening to a podcast, when compared to listening to the radio (say, NPR as I am comparing voice podcasts vs. talk radio).

In my early college years, I delivered pizza and drove around for hours a day in my car, listening to mostly talk radio (KFI in Southern California) to keep myself from being bored. When I had a long commute in college for a few years, I started listening to NPR. I would drift in and out of stories and reports as I dropped off a pizza or had to run to class from the parking lot and I never really got the hang of the broadcast schedules. I haven’t had to commute by car regularly for over five years so I don’t have 5-10 hours to kill every week in a car and I listen to NPR much less.

So the other day I was running errands around town like I usually do. This entails driving a couple miles to my bank, a couple more miles to a downtown shop, and a few more miles to the grocery store. It’s a series of stops and starts and I have to pick up my mail down the street from my house and sometimes I get hot chocolate or food in a drive-thru and I realized the user experience of radio sucks for this. There are nothing but interruptions as I go about my day. I know I’m spoiled by having the internet around for so long and having a TiVo for the past 8 years. Everything remotely entertaining and informative in my life is completely on-demand for me — I can watch, read, or listen to anything I want, whenever I want, wherever I want.

Except Radio. With radio, I can’t follow every episode and I can’t even remember when stuff is on. While I long wanted to have a “TiVo for radio” what I really wanted was a On Demand radio service with pause capability, and that’s pretty much what podcasting gives you.

I know it’s still a pain in the butt to download and run iTunes, then sync to a device like an iPod/iPhone, then it’s a whole can of worms to get it playing back in your car, but once you’ve done the legwork, it’s a pretty amazing thing. I find in my regular in-town driving for common errands I have about 2-4 hours a week to kill in the car listening to music or podcasts. Currently, this lets me dutifully follow every show that I’m a fan of, and I can hear every segment of every episode without missing a beat (thanks to the mighty pause button) and it doesn’t entail sitting in a parking lot for 15 minutes waiting for an amazing interview to conclude. Over the course of the past year, I’ve worked through almost the entire back catalog at MaximumFun.org and I follow a couple of NPR’s podcasted shows, listening a little each time when I’m out driving around.

My truck came with XM radio and I get several NPR stations where I live, but ever since I started listening to podcasts on my iPhone in the car, I noticed I really don’t turn on the radio anymore, and it’s not because of the program quality. It’s all about the user experience.

Does a $5,000 bike improve an amateur cyclist’s performance?

15min later, ready to ride If you’ve ever spent much time around cyclists, you’ve certainly noticed they love to talk gear and if you’ve ever picked up a bike magazine, you’ve been inundated with ads extolling the virtues of bike performance. It’s nearly impossible to separate the marketing fluff from facts whenever doing research on a new bike purchase, given that most publications (both online and off) publishing reviews also take advertising from the companies behind the products. While researching a possible new high-end road bike purchase (I’m riding a 500 mile, week-long event at the end of the summer and thought shaving 3-4lbs off my bike would be nice), I came across the Competitive Cyclist website and I spotted something novel: they offer pro-level bike rentals/demos shipped directly to you for a week.

I immediately recognized the brilliance of a demo program like this — while magazines and website reviews can all sound the same (“vertically compliant while laterally stiff“), the proof is in the pavement. A week of riding roads I’m familiar with would be a lot more informative than the common 10 minute test ride around a bike shop. I wanted to know what a $5,000 road bike with “crisp, tight handling” and also with “forgiving ride characteristics” felt like on the same roads I ride several hundred miles every year (which I typically do on a $1700 “recreational” aluminum frame/carbon fork Lemond). And more to the point: for an average recreational cyclist like me (60-80 miles ridden on a good week, in the 16-17mph avg speed range), does a $5,000 bike really improve your speed all that much?

I decided to experiment with myself and pony up the $300 to rent a bike for one week (the $300 can be applied to a new purchase if I buy it in the next month). I specified the size I needed, put in my details and a week later, it showed up at my door. Assembly was very easy, just throwing the wheels on, airing up the tires, and putting the bars on the stem. A few adjustments and the addition of my own pedals and it was ready to ride. A quick jump on the bathroom scale holding my old bike showed it was 21.0 pounds with pedals (no water bottle or bag), while the Cervelo with my pedals attached was just 17.4 pounds for the 61cm bike (their largest frame). 3.6 pounds is a pretty significant weight savings for road bikes.

The hyperbole around this specific Cervelo model is that it’s really stiff, really light, but also forgiving on the roads, with a more comfortable ride than similar carbon race bikes. From the moment I got on it, I could feel that it was much more responsive. On the same road loops I’ve been riding for the past few years, I was surprised by how the bike seemed to lurch forward whenever I put a little extra effort on hill climbs. I never thought of my regular bike as inefficient, but you push down on the R3 and it really goes. The handling was great as well — my typical ride features a couple high-speed tight turns that make me nervous on my regular bike but the Cervelo tracked them tighter and easier than I’ve ever done them before.

Results

I spent a week on the bike, riding a little over 100 miles on five rides total. Since I wanted to compare rides on this bike versus my previous bike, I did the exact same distances I rode regularly: a 5 mile short fast loop (~13min), a 15 mile loop (~50min), a 27 mile loop (~90-100min), and a 35 mile loop (~2hrs). I have some data on each ride (1, 2, 3), all done in the last couple weeks and some with data going back two years. I’ve been on a steady schedule the last month or so, and I took the fastest ride time I ever did on my old bike, vs. one ride on the same distance on the Cervelo. Here are the results:

The results appear to be pretty consistent with one outlying sample, but since this isn’t a real experiment and I couldn’t eliminate all possible variables I should say that the variability in improvement is largely due to how much rest I got between rides. On the shortest 5 mile ride, I did it a day after a long ride, and I usually take a day of rest (with rest, it’d be another 30 seconds faster). Wind and weather affected the 15 and 27 mile rides each time I went out on the demo bike, further slowing me down. The longest ride on the demo bike was my strongest ride to date — I slept an amazing 10 hours the night before and the winds were surprisingly calm. The previous 35 mile slower ride I’m comparing it to was the first time I did it alone and I rode it very conservatively.

More importantly than the % improvement in my ride times, I did consistently ride faster, in the 17-18mph range on most rides, while the past few years of riding have always had me stuck in the 16-17mph average. My training goals have been to eventually work my way up to consistent rides in the 18-20mph average range. Moving up 0.5-1.5 mile an hour of average speed over an hour of riding on the demo bike was no small feat, taking me months of regular training in the past, and I’ve never been able to do a ride over an hour long in the 18mph range until that demo bike ride.

Bottom Line

The obvious question is whether or not going from a $1,500 average aluminum bike to a $5,000 handcrafted carbon bike is worth the added expense. For some people, shaving seconds off your time is a worthy goal while I would suspect most recreational athletes might want to see 10%-25% time/speed improvements on common workouts. I only found mild performance improvements on my own rides, on the order of single-digit percentage increases in speed and decreases in ride times. It’s definitely tough to justify spending 2-3x the amount of money without getting huge changes.

My hope with this test was to prove to myself that magazines and websites and all the bike geek talk was for naught. As much as I love reading about all the latest gadgets in the cycling world, I’ve long been skeptical about their actual utility and I wanted some data to back it up. In this test I expected to see negligible gains, I expected a rough ride on a stiff frame, and I expected to conclude that $5,000 bikes are generally a waste of money for all but the top athletes. I wanted to free myself from the feeling that I had to constantly upgrade every year to the latest, lightest parts available.

The one thing I can’t deny was the incredible feel of the Cervelo R3 when compared to any other bike I’ve ever ridden. After spending 25 years of my life on BMX and mountain bikes, the first time I took a spin on a road bike I fell in love with the feeling of raw power, blinding speed, and perfect efficiency. I bought my first road bike because it felt like there was nothing standing in between my legs pushing down in some effort and wheels spinning me forward at speeds I’d never attained on flat ground before. When I got up out of the saddle on my first climb with the R3, that same miraculous feeling again washed over me. Here was a new level of efficiency, a perfect melding of body and machine, with not an ounce of wasted effort going towards coasting down the road as fast as possible. The Cervelo R3 simply doesn’t hold you back, transmitting every ounce of your effort into progress on the road.

In the end, I’ll admit the $5,000 bike won me over on feel more than performance, though the gains weren’t too shabby. I attained speeds I’ve never ridden at before and I suspect if I owned a similar bike that I’d continue to improve and attain levels I couldn’t do with my old bike. But more importantly everything about riding felt better on the high end machine. Shifting was instant and precise, climbing hills was faster and easier, and I had more control and could take tight turns at faster speeds. After my 18+mph two hour long ride was over, I felt like I could turn around and ride another 35 miles at that pace and I decided then and there that I’d bite the bullet and purchase a high-end road bike. I eventually settled on a Cervelo RS, a slightly cheaper version of the R3 with a better fit for taller riders like me. At this moment, it’s on a UPS truck headed this way, showing up sometime next week.

Will MobileScrobbler work in the new iPhone SDK?

mobilescrobbler Here’s something I’ve been wondering about. Ever since Apple released the roadmap of iPhone development and the SDK details, they mentioned that third-party apps can’t run in the background. After avoiding it for months, I finally did the jailbreak on my iPhone last month because I realized I listened to music/podcasts constantly on the device, and none of that data was reaching my last.fm account. I opened up my iPhone to third-party apps just to get MobileScrobbler running, and it works great.

But it does the magic in the background (even over EDGE, which I optionally allowed). You play songs as normal, and every so often a tiny ping goes out to last.fm, logging the music played. I imagine that won’t be possible with the official SDK but I haven’t seen anyone mention this app specifically.

So mac/iPhone nerds: will I have to keep a jailbroken out-of-date iPhone to keep using MobileScrobbler come June when the new iPhone stuff is released?

WWNPHD


WWNPHD, originally uploaded by the sweetchuck.

I’m sorry, but that’s the greatest movie poster of all time