A few of my favorite things

I love riding my Specialized 29″ Epic Evo along the twisty single tracks of Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Besides a great bike and great trails there are a number of things that can enhance your riding experience. The following are a few of those things that have really done it for me recently.

Infinit MUD coffee protein mix
I recently discovered this product while on thefeed.com doing one of my favorite things shopping for performance foods. Infinit has long boasted hydration mixes that can be specially crafted for your unique race needs. I have never used Infinit products before but the MUD tag line, “It’s like a cup of joe and a granola bar in one” sold me on a need I didn’t realize I had. image I enjoy espresso and certainly utilize caffeine for my early morning workouts. I often look around my kitchen at 5 am for something quick and light to eat before heading to yoga or the gym, but I rarely settle on something appetizing. The MUD protein powder has since become essential to my mornings. Caffeine, check. Protein to get the body moving, check. I’ve used protein powder in the morning before but with the MUD I feel like I’m killing two birds with one stone. BAM! Awake and ready to work! I will say that Infinit utilizes whey protein which is not a favorite of mine, and to reach MUD’s fullest, creamy, latte like potential it really should be mixed with milk. Despite this, I have The Feed deliver a 23-serving bag to my door every month. PS: check out thefeed.com for endurance food porn and automatic delivery options.

Sugio Dan’s Comp winter jacket
This could be considered a bit of a rare item as it is specifically issued by my sponsor Dan’s Comp Bike shop in Evansville, IN. Yet Sugio is an international brand and their thermal jacket is certainly available for order online if you wanted to experience warm bliss such as I have.  This jacket is very thin yet waterproof, thermally lined, perfectly tapered and deflects wind so well I believe you could stand behind a jet engine and not mess up your hair. Well, maybe that’s a bad example because the jacket doesn’t cover your head but, you get the picture. This is a well thought out cycling jacket; extra long sleeves, small coattail, high collar, arm pit ventilation, and three rear pockets that keep your belonging secure even when inverted (Just for testing purposes, no epic endos here).20160215_170507.jpg I was initially hesitant to invest in such a jacket. I believe that I am colder than the average bear and riding in the winter wind requires 3-4 layers. But not with this jacket!! I recently rode 44 miles with a steady wind in temperatures ranging 29 to 33 degrees wearing just ONE thermal shirt and my Dan’s Comp jacket. By the way it was overcast and kind of damp too. Definitely not a ride I thought I would survive let alone enjoy!! Thanks to Dan’s Comp and Sugio it is now an option to ride below freezing!

Specialized Command dropper seat post
THIS is the most magnificent of my favorite things, the dropper seat post. The debate, to drop or not to drop is as heated as that of religion and gun control. You either think, “I like to go off jumps and lean my bike near-parallel when railing corners and the dropper post allows me to do those things better”. Or you maintain that a dropper post is cheating and riders simply need to get better at maneuvering their body around the bike. I was in the latter camp for a long time. I practice mountain bike skills almost weekly.  I can get behind and around my seat with… some ease and I understand the importance of leaning the bike and not the body through corners. I feel like I ride technically sound and often have the speedy times to prove it.  But my biggest concern has been going off jumps. I’ve worked on my jumping technique for years now and while I seem to have my timing and mechanics down I could never jump very high. I was determined to get better.
I went to a downhill clinic at Snowshoe Mountain and rode a true downhill bike, complete with the seat slammed down to the top tube. It was then that I realized the high seat on my cross country bike had been limiting how much I could squat and load with my legs. Sure the suspension and geometry of the downhill bike helped propel me up in the air but I was highly attuned to how much more space I had between my butt and the seat. When I returned to ride my cross country bike on the jump line I put my seat as far down as it would go, and sometimes I even took the seat post out completely! Instantly I felt a difference and felt like I could better execute the steps to take off and land a jump. I was beginning to see the benefits of having a lower seat but I wasn’t yet convinced it would enhance my ability to corner faster. Finally Christmas came and I got one. I’ve been eating crow ever since.
Like most things there is a learning curve to employing the dropper post. The first trail I rode with the dropper was a perfect testing ground and it soon became evident my timing needed improvement. Even with some miscues my fun level was already through the roof!! 20160131_100441.jpg
I now believe, due to actually experiencing a dropper post, that it has ENHANCED my riding skills. It is not a cheater feature. I have found the dropper post to be an excellent tool for further developing high speed cornering skills. Think of it like the Strider balance bike for kids. The Strider teaches the new rider how to balance and steer a bike before adding the additional skill of coordinated pedaling. The dropper post allows the rider to achieve optimal body position, balanced with the bike, while cornering and this breeds the confidence to go faster.  A dropper post gets the seat out of the way of any significant side to side hip movements.  A seat set high to facilitate climbing with full leg range of motion greatly impedes the ability to sit ‘next to’ your bike as a means of counter balance. It’s a great feeling knowing that the tires won’t slide out because you are leaning your bike while your body remains centered over the bottom bracket.  If your body leans with the bike through a corner your center of gravity is over the ground, and thus you go to the ground.
Here’s the final nail on the coffin. When I am riding into a corner and I don’t engage the dropper post before I enter I find myself executing the same body positioning to the same degree as when the seat is down. The dropper post has allowed my confidence, my body- bike balance, and my involuntary execution of railing a corner to all improve!! I guess one could argue that I really did need to improve my cornering skills, but I don’t believe I could have gotten there without the use of a dropper post.
Another argument against having the dropper post is that it gives you one more thing to think about while riding. Perhaps. But even when I forget to use the dropper post my riding is so fast, so fluid, and I’m having so much fun it’s like riding at an excitement level of 10 and the dropper post takes it to 11. Go ahead and call me a ‘cheater’, mountain biking isn’t a test and I’m having way too much fun to care!

Endomondo fitness app and blue tooth heart rate monitor
If it’s not on social media then it didn’t happen, right? Well cyclists have created their own social media community with the likes of Strava, MapMyRide, Garmin, and Training Peaks. All of these apps track your activity even if you chose to do something other than ride, gasp! Of course to make sure everyone knows what you rode, they allow you to share it with your friends. Likewise you can see how much your friends (or competitors) have been riding. And in mandatory social media fashion you can ‘like’ and comment on people’s workouts. This was all very fun and motivating for a while. I feel like I’ve moved past the need to share my workouts and now need a platform to really dissect what I’m accomplishing during training sessions. I’m not aiming to evaluate and contrast the platforms listed above but I have used all of them at one time or another.

My number one need right now? Detailed heart rate information. I got a blue tooth heart rate monitor last year and have loved pairing it with my phone and, at the same time Strava. I bought the premium membership for Strava because it did break down how much time was spent in each heart rate zone. At least it was something. But then my Strava refused to record any stationary efforts I had, such as riding the trainer. I’m sure you can imagine the agony of sweating and suffering for an hour with the timer and heart rate monitor going only to have it wiped away upon saving. Two episodes of this and my year long love affair with Strava was over. A handful of my mountain biking friends have also had experiences with Strava dropping mileage and even failing to save workouts.
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I needed an Android based app with GPS, heart rate zones, manual workout entry, a variety of workout categories, AND the ability to make notes on my workouts such as  weight lifting sets.  Endomondo fits the bill. It does boast additional features like social sharing, adding pictures to your workout, preparing a workout calendar, setting personal goals, and nutritional guidance, none of which I am currently using. I really like the option to set up a route before heading out on the bike (like Strava and Garmin) and the thorough graphs that break down your speed, heart rate, elevation, and lap times for each workout. I did pay $20 for the premium features, the only one of which I care about is being able to adjust the heart rate zones. I do wish I could share my workouts to other fitness trackers like Training Peaks for long term logging purposes. This app has yet to crash or lose a workout on me, and I feel that it is an all inclusive fitness app that has gotten little street cred. Mostly I use it to manually enter my yoga and weight lifting sessions but tracking rides has been flawless. I’m sure it sounds like I need a Garmin (didn’t like it) or some other heart rate focused device but I don’t really want to buy another device. Strava is not completely dead to me but I have yet to use it for any of my 30+ workouts in 2016.




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