KNOW’S NOTES – WHAT’S UP
It’s been a minute since you’ve heard from me, at least in internet time.
In this post, I’ll tell you why and, perhaps more importantly, preview what’s coming up in 2022 now that I’m back on the saddle.
All About Family
The period from Thanksgiving in late November to the first week of January in the US is all about family, hustling to finish up the work year, and recharging your batteries a bit.
While everyone in my family is fortunately now fine, I spent several weeks during this period at my mom’s house helping her get ready for a new living arrangement. At the same time, my wife was looking after one of our boys who was in isolation back home after contracting Covid for the second time (despite being fully vaccinated). I was also doing physical therapy after having the plate and screws removed from my collarbone that had set up shop there a year earlier after a nasty gravel ride crash.
Needless to say, getting a lot done with the site beyond keeping the links updated to stores with the best holiday deals wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, I had published a review of training plans at the end of October, had started my program, and was able to continue building my base for the 2022 cycling season by riding my trainer 6-days a week at my mom’s house and totally impressing her. (Always a good thing!)
While I was away, my wife bought a Peloton and started a very different type of “group riding” than the kind I rave about. This again proved how little influence I have on what cycling gear to get next and where to get it even in my own home.
But, she’s happy so I’m happy. And as my wonderful daughter says when I’ve tried to get her involved in cycling, “Dad, that’s your thing, not my thing.”
Thanks to my extended family – all of you fellow enthusiasts that read and follow this site – I’m happy that cycling is our thing, something we can share together.
Time of the Season
December, January, and February can get quite cold and messy in the northeast US where I and my fellow testers Nate, Miles, and Aiyana live. And even though they ride a fair amount outside during the winter, it’s not a great time of year to compare the different performance characteristics of the gear and kit we all ride the other 3 seasons.
It’d be different if we lived in SoCal or Australia or took a month to train in the south of Spain and brought a ton of gear with us to test.
Now there’s an idea!
Traditional cycling media outlets have employees to pay with monetary compensation and advertisers to impress with click numbers. They fill their pages this time of year with stories about upcoming race events, rider news, cycling industry updates, cycling commentaries, culture pieces, and product announcements, but few actual product reviews (and none like ours…uh hum).
Since In The Know Cycling is ad-free, reader-supported, and “staffed” by fellow roadies with real jobs and regular cycling lives who also happen to dig checking out new gear and sharing in-depth performance evaluations and comparisons, I don’t have any employees, advertisers, or corporate overlords to keep happy.
Instead, I keep my focus on you, the deeply curious, highly analytical, and very discerning awesome cyclist making decisions about what gear and kit will help you ride faster, have more fun, and do it for less on your road and gravel bikes.
So each winter I look at what products you’ve asked about that we haven’t tested, what my fellow testers and I wish we had ridden but haven’t yet, and what’s been announced that we want to check out when it actually becomes available.
From that, I put together a product review wish list, look how much I can budget toward new gear from the money that came in when you and other readers used the links to the stores we rate the best to buy your gear and kit, and which companies and stores I can ask for demos to test, review, and return.
That comes together in an “editorial calendar,” a fancy name for what product reviews I’d like to do if and when the gear is available and assuming I can afford to buy them or get demos.
I also try to do a winter project each year, something I can sink my teeth (or nerdy cyclist mind) into that will help me and you ride faster and have more fun doing it next season. This started way back when I wrote a two-part, 15,000-word post about how to ride faster (Part 1 – Training and Technique, Part 2 – Gear and Kit) that I update every couple of years.
I haven’t always pulled off the winter project. But, I think I’ve got a good one coming together that will help you crush it on roads this spring while feeling as cush as ever on your bike.
Getting faster on your bike is a team sport. I don’t just mean training with others, drafting in a paceline, or even the motivation you get to push harder by having others riding around you.
I also mean combining the team of your own mindset, training, nutrition, rest, gear, and kit in a coordinated way to go faster. All of those things can and need to mesh interdependently as a team to help you to ride faster. If you treat them as separate components you’ll likely ride slower.
That’s why as a cycling enthusiast that also reviews gear and answers your questions, it’s often hard for me to judge whether a single piece of gear or kit will help you ride faster without knowing or making assumptions about the rest of your gear and kit, and your goals, training history, rider profile, etc.
When it comes to wheels and tires, two categories of gear we test a lot of, this is especially true. You can put “fast” tires on “fast” wheels and still ride slower than if you had combined slower tires with slower wheels that better suited each other and were set up in a more effective way for the kind of riding you do.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been digging into and analyzing what tire and wheelset choices and decisions make you faster. To figure this out, I’ve been doing interviews with product and engineering people, reviewing confidential and published research, and revisiting some of our own In The Know Cycling tests while doing some new evaluations.
This winter project will come together in a post in early February to help with the handful of choices you need to make around tires and wheels to go your fastest.
So watch for that. I’m excited to share it with you.
The full 2020 Editorial Calendar can be best defined by a series of themes.
More Brands – As supply chain issues hopefully ease some in 2022, I’ll have access to more brands than we’ve been able to test and review over the last few years. You’ll see reviews from those we’ve never tested before or haven’t tested in the last few years.
We still can’t test everything and will favor those brands and products that are available to most of you who come to the site and have support for those products nearby. Nothing worse than reviewing something you can’t buy or can’t get serviced. Been there. Done that. Frustrating for both you and me.
More Value – While performance will still guide my recommendations and value is something each of us determines for ourselves, I get that you all want to know how lower-priced cycling gear and kit rate. (Me too!) So we’ll plan to review more of it and tell you.
More Categories – In the same way cycling equipment is becoming either more versatile or discipline-specific, the categories of gear and kit are morphing and being added to. I’m trying to figure that all out in a way that suggests how to rejigger and add to the many categories of products and comparative reviews we already do to help you be more successful in your chosen cycling lanes.
More Apparel – We often think more about the fit, comfort, and style of cycling clothes, helmets, shoes, and other pieces of apparel more than than the added speed they can bring. I want to add that perspective and do more apparel reviews this year along with a few reviews focused on fast apparel. Aero socks anyone?
More Connections – I’m working on better ways to connect with you and help more of you in your cycling gear and kit decision-making. Likewise, I’m also looking to have more of you and your perspectives reach more of each other in ways that are unique to our community of cycling enthusiasts. No, not another cycling forum. More on this later.
More of What Works – After seeing your reaction and comments to the reviews we’ve done over the years, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what you want to see more (and less) of. So we’ll do more reviews and update current ones of the best performing gear and kit that’s out there and in demand by us enthusiast-level cyclists.
So that’s the editorial calendar, something that’s also starting to look a little like a list of New Year’s resolutions. Oh boy…
Bonus – A Trainer Suspension Hack
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper post without at least one gear recommendation.
And that is Penn Ultra-Blue Racquetballs $3.99 for a can of three.
My friend and ride leader Dennis alerted his flock to a 3-year old YouTube video about a trainer suspension hack that can give Wahoo Kickr owners the experience of a $500 rocker plate for only a few bucks.
After Dennis posted the video on our club’s #in_the_basement Slack channel, a discussion started about what balls to use since the original video poster never shared that rather important detail. Dennis tried a pair of Pinky Hi-Bounce balls he found at his local hardware store. His fellow ride leader Hugh cut a couple of tennis balls in a 55%/45% ratio and put the larger section under each leg.
I had neither Pinky nor tennis balls around the house so I went over to the Dick’s Sporting Goods store nearby,
squeezed the uhh… evaluated the balls they had for different sports, and picked the Penn racquetballs.
Penn makes three colors of racquetballs, each with its own properties. After explaining to the salesperson what I was up to, he allowed me to open up the cans for each color and compare the bounce performance and density properties of each to help me make a decision. In keeping with my commitment for more reviews of lower-priced products this year and because I couldn’t tell much difference between them, I ended up buying the $3.99 can instead of the $4.49 or $4.99 ones.
You still with me?
I then ordered some Pinky balls from this link at Amazon and did workouts with each under my Kickr’s legs.
Extending an already too long story, I find the Penn balls give the trainer more travel and are more like riding out on the road than the Pinky balls. You can move the bike left and right when you are sprinting or out of the saddle noticeably more than with the Pinky balls. You can also work on your no-hands balance while reaching for a gel after finishing an interval.
That said, while still offering a more road-like feel than the screw-in Kickr feet, the Pinky balls are more stable and less nervous than the Penn balls. That may be a good thing when you get on your trainer at Zero Dark Hundred in the morning and don’t want to worry about having to keep yourself upright.
And with either setup, Dennis and I both thought that the depression created in the mat underneath the balls likely helped keep them in place. However, I never experienced the trainer pitching so far one way or the other during hard pedaling that a ball lost contact with the leg. Still, it’s a good idea to have some kind of mat there that will create a depression to keep the ball in place for you 5 w/kg neo-pros.
I’ve never tried a rocker plate but I can’t imagine it would be worth spending $500 more than you will with this hack. Wahoo sells screw-in feet for their Kickr with a little bit of bounce in them but I’ve read that it’s hardly noticeable. You’ll definitely notice the Pinky or Penn ball set-up.
This hack might work with some Saris and Tacx trainers but I’ll leave it to those of you who own models made by those brands to do some testing and update the rest of us. So many trainers, so many balls, so little time…
Mark L, I hope you get a good laugh from all of this!
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So that’s what’s up. Join me on this 2022 In The Know Cycling ride by connecting on the social media channels listed below, commenting at the end of posts, supporting the site (here’s 10 ways – most that cost you nothing extra), and enjoying yourselves and your gear safely out on the roads. Cheers, Steve.
Thanks to 4 Non Blondes for the title and musical inspiration for this post and for a damn good song!