An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Why it works -- Some Kinekt details from my perspective

To say I was enamored with the Softride system is to invoke the British gift of understatement. I've had three dedicated Softride bikes, by two different framebuilders.

I raced them. On the road and on the track. In a transitional era when bike racing and what constituted an acceptable machine was still steeped in tradition, and anything "not normal" was derided. Constantly. But in spite of being on something so unusual (and before they were deemed "no longer legal" for international competition), I did fairly well for myself.

I've now been riding on a Kinekt seatpost for a little over a week. Well, actually, I've put in five rides on it. Three days in a row over the first weekend (Aaaaaah!), then a week riding my single-speed monster-crosser without the Kinekt, a weekend of trainer rides (and Netflix)... I brought the Kinekt to work to put on that bike to ride over VERY familiar terrain (almost 40 hours so far just this year on these trails/gravel roads).

 Oh, yes! It made this:

feel more like this:

But I'm not so much wanting to gush about how good it feels, rather I want to take a little time to expound on why I think it works so well for gravel and even road riding.

Most of what hits you on gravel is fairly low amplitude single bumps, non-rhythmic stuff going over embedded small rocks, sticks, small pot-holes-in-the-making, and the occasional grass clump. We're not talking about the big stuff that you should be avoiding or jumping anyway (your tires will thank you), but the constant undulations, pokes, prods, and little jolts that you unconsciously (or consciously in many cases) unweight the saddle to roll over.

It's exactly this kind of constant upsetting in which the Kinect post shines. There are two reasons for this, in my opinion: Direction of movement, and active nature.

Direction of movement

When the rear wheel rolls over a small bump, the entire bike rotates around an axis. Initially one might think that the point of contact of the front tire to the ground is that axis, but the entire bike is not a rigid body. The wheels rotate, or from another perspective, the bike also around the wheel at the hub. The axis of the bike when the rear wheel hits a bump is at the front hub rather than the front tire's contact patch. The rear hub motion is vertical, only because it is at a horizontal position relative to the front hub. The saddle rigidly attached to the frame moves in an arc upward and slightly forward. To counteract this in an ideal manner, the suspension motion must be down and slightly rearward.

Which is just what the Kinekt does. Unlike telescoping systems, the parallelogram moves the saddle in very nearly the ideal direction.

Active nature

The second reason the Kinekt works so well on the small, constant hits is its active nature. Shock-absorber based suspension systems rely on seals and dampers to keep the suspension medium (air and oil) in the fork and working. These seals produce friction -- resistance to the suspension doing its job. Additionally, dampers slow the motion of the shock so that it doesn't "pack up" or over-rebound. This is great on the big hits, but a shock system tuned for hits like that is fairly inactive over small stuff. And that's the nature and need in the mountain bike world. For gravel riding, the hits are smaller, and you want a suspension that lacks the "stiction" (static friction) of an air/oil shock based system. You want it to be active on the small hits.

Again, the Kinekt shines in this regard as well. Where the Softride worked as essentially a big leaf spring (with an elastomer layer for damping), the Kinekt uses coil springs inside the parallelogram, and extremely little in the way of friction. The result is a very active suspension that responds to the small bumps, with enough travel to take up most of the normal little stuff that you'd ride over.

The big hits? Potholes, large, sharp half-buried rocks? Still go around them or jump over them. You'd be pinching a tube or denting a rim anyway, so just don't go there. The Kinekt won't save you from reckless abandon or sheer lack of smarts.

And that's all well and good when the pavement runs out. But how about road riding? 

Well, again, the very active nature of the Kinekt system reacts to even the smallest of vibrations, so all those chip-sealed backroads feel more like that newly laid asphalt on the main highway. All that little buzz is something that you don't even notice until it's gone, and you wonder how you didn't realize what it was doing to you. It's fatiguing. Taking it away doesn't make you necessarily faster -- in the first hour. But as the ride gets longer, the difference is very apparent.

So... Still a very enthusiastic two-thumbs-up vote. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Ghost Rider

I took a ride with ghosts yesterday. They stayed with me through two hours of roads, and some off-pavement stuff that had me grinning.
No, I'm not going to post
pictures of my legs...

The sun was out, which is nice, but it was also warm! Well, at least getting near 60, which is warm enough. Okay, not warm "enough", since I really like it when it's in the high 70's to low 80's, but for March, I'll take it.

Certainly it was warm enough for shorts. As in no additional leg coverings (!!). My normal lower-body dressing for riding starts with shorts, shoes, and socks. Add knee warmers if needed (below 60), toe covers or oversocks. Below 50 and I have the toe covers and oversocks, tights over the knee warmers. Below 40 it's the winter shoes, and I'm contemplating wind-proof tights.

I wore an orange jersey, a Christmas gift, for the first time. As I was leaving, my wife said I'd be bright on the road. But she wasn't looking at the jersey.

Yep, after a fall and winter of indoor trainer rides and layering on the lower extremeties, my gams are pale. The ghosts were brought out. Sorry to all you folks blinded by the glare.

But after just a little over a two hour ride, I have tan lines.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Kinekt Bodyfloat suspension seatpost

Let's start off with this disclosure: I have been selected to be a brand ambassador for the Kinekt Bodyfloat suspension seatpost, and as such was provided this product free of charge for testing and promotion purposes. I'm not paid to do this -- in fact, Cirrus Cycles (makers of the Kinekt seatpost) insisted that I give honest feedback.

Now let's get to why I'm excited about this. For many years, when I was bike racing, I rode on Softride bikes. They were rare in bike racing, illegal for international competition, and often looked at with disdain by the tradition-bound within the sport. I landed on Softride after riding for several years on standard double-diamond frames, in long distance cycling events and triathlons. After a particular triathlon, run over heavy chip-sealed back-country roads where my backside went numb from vibration, I was looking for an alternative. I'd heard about Softride, and after another triathlon in Bellingham, took a test-ride on a Sofride on the Kulshan Cycles sales floor. I was instantly sold. Within minutes I was looking for things to ride over -- manhole covers, railroad tracks, etc. The plush ride, while maintaining the stiffness of the main frame, was eye-opening.

I contacted Paul Barkley, one of the initial designers of Softride and framebuilder for most of the first generation of Softride branded frames. I trekked back up to Bellingham to get measured, and a couple months later had my first custom Softride frame.

I had two more built by TiCycles in (then) Seattle, one a track bike built on 650c wheels (I needed all the help I could get with low-intertia wheels for acceleration). To say I was a believer in the Softride system would be an understatement. Even though the system was heavier than a standard frame and seatpost, I gladly dealt with the weight penalty for the comfort. The advantage wasn't that the frames were faster, but more that the damped out vibration had a long-term energy sparing effect, essentially leaving more in the tank towards the later miles. And I never felt like the weight held me back on hills (I was actually at the pointy end when it came to climbs).

The feature that made the Softride such a success was the active nature of the suspension -- there was no "stiction" to overcome in order for the suspension to move.

But there were issues with the Softride system, namely the mounting of the beam to the frame. I had a few of the through-bolts fail, one in an event. And the aluminum disks had a nasty tendency to crack along the lip where they interfaced with the cross-tube on the frame as well. After Softride sought (unsuccessfully) a buyer for their business, the spare mounting hardware essentially dried up, making failed parts become stored and unusable frames.

Photo from the 2014 Seattle Bike Expo,
my first look at the BodyFloat post.
I was first introduced to the Bodyfloat seatpost at the Seattle Bike Expo in March, 2014. I noticed the same Softride demo rig in a booth, then saw Paul Barkley, this time demonstrating the effectiveness of the Bodyfloat product. It instantly took me back to riding the Softride -- though not with the amplitude of response, it had the same movement and active nature. I took their information, looked up the product, and tucked it away in the "must do some day" file.

Fast forward a few years, after doing a whole lot of off-pavement rides, I'm in the process of building my next gravel bike, and had designed it around the 25mm offset of the Bodyfloat seatpost, with the idea that I would be fitting it onto this frame. I inquired with Kinekt regarding their current generation of seatposts, which are offered in a 12mm offset, and that's when I noticed the link for applying to be a brand ambassador. After a discussion with the head of the ambassador program, I was given the green light. So that brings us to today.

Kinekt post delivered. Can't wait to try
it out on the bike!
The seatpost came on Thursday, and almost the first thing I did was put it on my Mjolnir Cycles Vidarr gravel bike. Almost, because I had to clean/ream the seat tube first -- something I hadn't done when I built the frame four years ago. Per the instructions, I added one centimeter to the seat height, and used the same setback. What I didn't do, however, was set the preload such that the saddle didn't move up when it was unweighted. There are two reasons I did this: (1) the nature of the Softride system was very active, with no preload, and I wanted to duplicate that feel as much as possible, and (2) I didn't have a second person available to watch me unweight the saddle. 

Today (Friday), I took it out on the maiden voyage. The ride difference was immediately apparent: Plush. My driveway was recently rendered a third-world runway by the need to replace the water line, so it's pretty bumpy. I could feel the bike moving under me, but the saddle just changed pressure against me, without forcing me to move along with it. It immediately reminded me of my old Softrides. 

My ride was a little over 35 miles of mostly familiar backroads, some of varying quality chipseal. And even though the tires I was running are 700cx42mm Continental Speed Rides at 58psi (rear), I'm very familiar with how they feel on these roads -- meaning I still feel it in spite of the air volume of the tires. The Kineckt post is so active that all the variations in the chipseal surface just melted away. 
The test bed: my current gravel bike.

I came home smiling, impressed. As stated earlier, the ride is very much akin to the Softride, which makes sense since it shares many of the same designers. I didn't take it off pavement (much), so that review still remains. I expect that will happen within the next two days.

One might ask about the weight of the Kinekt post, and yes, it is heavier than a normal seatpost. How much? I didn't weigh it, but the difference is far less than that of the Softride system. In fact, unless you're at a bodyfat percentage where people are constantly asking whether you're okay, you could probably lose the weight difference from your body in a week's time without drastic lifestyle changes. I certainly didn't notice the added weight on my bike, either climbing (where weight really becomes a factor) or standing and swinging the bike.

So the verdict? Two enthusiastic thumbs up, so far. The Cirrus Cycles Kinekt seatpost does essentially the same job that the Softride system did, with many other pluses going for it: much lighter weight, legal in USAC and UCI racing (I'm pretty sure -- I'll have to check on that), and doesn't require an entire new bike frame for best execution. This will add rider isolation to any bike with a round seatpost.

Actually, I only see one downside: I need two more for my other bikes...

More to come.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Pics or it didn't happen

There's a common reply when some one claims some extraordinary feat or accomplishment on any kind of social setting (whether social media or in conversation), "Pics or it didn't happen!"

It's said it jest, really (at least normally so in my experience). 

Well, in cycling circles (social circles, not literal riding a bike in circles), there's a twist on that response -- "Strava or it didn't happen!"

Strava, for those of you who might not know, is a social media type of GPS-based tracking application for smartphones and other GPS-enabled devices, recording speed, distance, route, and performance vs. other users on any user-defined "segments" (sections of a route, usually an uphill, where the time split is compared to every other user who traveled over the same section). Segments are another subject entirely...

Anyway, today was a ride that didn't happen.

I usually track my rides via Strava on my smartphone. I start it up when I push off to start a ride, put it in my jersey pocket, and don't touch it again until I'm done. I don't even have a speedometer on my handlebars any more. I kind of ride "unplugged", and just check the speed, distance, and sometimes the segments (if the system flags me and tells me I did well on a particular segment) after the ride is done.

But today, I was in a hurry, starting a little earlier than normal to fit a ride in before a noon meeting. When I got to the locker room to suit up, I realized I'd left my phone on my desk. Not wanting to sacrifice the time to go get it, I rode without, and just used my wrist stopwatch to time the ride. I estimated the average speed (it's usually within a couple tenths of a mile-per-hour) to get the distance.

I'm fine with that. At least until some one puts me to the test on it (not that I expect anyone to do so, especially since I don't crow about what an accomplishment the daily ride might be).

But if they did... It didn't happen.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Changing course

As some readers may know, I put on two multi-surface bike rides each year (or three, as the second one is a two-day affair). They are now in their fifth and fourth iteration in 2018, respectively.

But, being the nature of out-in-the-real-boonies service roads (in some cases that's being generous), I find it necessary to recon the route before event day, in case there are last-minute changes needed due to washouts, major construction, or in some cases paths that have disappeared entirely.

Such was the case for the second leg of the Lucky Mashochist's Gravel Deuce, 2017. I ventured out two weeks prior to roll-out day to make sure the roads were clear enough to ride. I wasn't concerned with the first day route so much, since it's all on forest service roads in Capital Forest -- roads that get quite a bit of traffic most of the year from recreationalists of all types. But the second day route takes in logging areas and real back-woods. Each year the first off-pavement sector had been varying degrees of overgrown on the southern exit, and fairly recent logging meant that the northern entrance might be impassable. But this past summer the first sector was fine, it was the second sector that caused the problem. The last descent had caused wash-out ruts across the road, but was still passable (even though I took it on foot). This time around, as I made the descent, I noticed that the path was increasingly encroached-upon by small trees and such. And when I got to the bottom, I came to a screeching halt. What had been a wide trench, though dry, in 2016, had become a deep ravine, some 20 feet wide and a good 6 feet deep to the water, with a bottomless layer of silty mud underneath.

The impassable object.

I tested the depth with a couple rocks, and watched them disappear into the murky abyss. I looked around for any potential to build a quick bridge across the chasm, but since I had not thought to bring a chainsaw, aside from the fact that the resulting noise would have brought some unwanted attention, I ended up turning back the way I'd come. Which was about 6 of the 7 miles of that section. I looked for another branch off that road that might punch through, but alas, everything else just petered out to dead ends or vanished into impassable overgrowth.


Fortunately, there was a paved option that offered a nearly identical distance, so I remapped the route and vowed to look for another off-pavement option for 2018.

Sure, there are some options, which will have to be scouted out to make sure they (1) actually connect through, and (2) don't cross hostile private property. Yes, I will always ask permission on any private access, but sometimes the answer is clearly "no" before the question is even asked.

So I may be making a sojourn back to that muddy river to build a bridge some time this spring/early summer. But I'll come at it from the other end.