Just Another Day in Lycra

Egg and cheese w/salt & pepper on a salt bagel. My heart may give out but the EMT’s will concur that today I had the legs.

Descending at 50+mph knowing that if it all to end right now that the impact crater would be epic.

Ascending Skyline knowing that if I were to throw up, I’d have to take one for the team and swallow it back. Bile had caloric value too.

Hopped behind a truck to draft and then noticed that he was going 15mph. Strava segment ruined…

Ran out of liquid. Almost as bad as running out of alcohol.

Leading a Virtual Ride on Zwift

My name is Aaron and I’m the ride leader for the Thursday night US Richmond Rally on zwift.com. Zwift is more than just great software that provides an engaging experience while riding indoors, it is also a tremendous community of riders from all around the world. Here are some tips I’ve compiled over this winter that I’ve found helpful when leading rides in this virtual world.

Photo Jan 28, 9 05 50 PM

Use voice-to-text

With drafting and real people at the controls virtual rides are very realistic but differ from the outdoors in a couple of important ways, namely reduced situational awareness and improved ability to communicate with riders around you. You get both the benefit (and requirement) of coaching your group throughout to keep them focused and together.

While I’m sure TeamSpeak is lovely, you have to presume the lowest common denominator. I don’t want to say everything twice so I only use the Zwift text feature on my phone app. I use my phone’s built-in speech-to-text translator so that I can give clear instructions quickly while riding at speed.

So far I’ve found ways to overcome most of the limitations. If I type urr or wwr my iPhone will capitalize it for me. I use shorthand for power—if I say “three point oh” I will get 3.0 on-screen which is desirable. Siri still hasn’t figured out that I “pedal” my bike rather than “peddle” it, though.

Speak as if you’re speaking to a first-timer

Presume that at least one rider in the group has never done this before. Make announcements before the ride so people know how long they have to get to the start line. Tell them where the start line is. For example, you will frequently have to pedal much further to get to the Richmond start than the drop-off point in Watopia.

Prepare riders for what’s ahead

I give riders a full rundown twice before the ride (more if I’m asked specific questions which I try to always answer) and once shortly after departing while everyone is getting situated.

Richmond is a particularly tricky course due to the hills. I make sure that everyone knows NOT to coast on the descent because the 40mph group will dust you if you let it go.

When climbing VERY small variances in power output lead to 30 second gaps quick. I am clear that the group WILL split and that this is OK. Stopping to regroup does not work but people are adaptable and can find others on the list with their ride abbreviation in it and get together to carry on.

Photo Jan 06, 8 13 11 PM

Be Present

One of the things I love about Scottie Weiss’ Wednesday Watopia Ride is that he is always present. If you’re in the first group you’ll always see him there at the right pace so you can gauge your efforts appropriately. A couple of times per lap he provides positive feedback for those in the group who are following the pace and working well together.

Since we can’t feel the wind in our hair and hear that guys super loud cassette ratchet you need to remind people of things that would be more obvious in the real world: “close those gaps to get your maximum draft effect!”, “the hills are coming up, make sure to watch your watts and take care of your neighbors”, “after this sprint the downhill is coming up, let’s ease up to 2.5 and stay tight”.

I try to be realistic about power. I don’t have a smart trainer but I know a lot of people do. I’m sure once your kicker whacks you on the hill it is going to take you a minute to get sorted and putting out the appropriate number of watts. I have recently just been calling out sustained watts that are beyond the group agreement.

After each ride I like to go into Strava and give everyone Kudos that came out. The Strava algorithm for determining that you rode with someone isn’t always perfect but it’s what we have. Its a little gesture to thank everyone for coming out and encourage them to return.

Make it fun

The ‘moderate’ rides are interesting because while they are slower than the races, they still attract a group that likes, as was said the other night, “a good gauntlet throwdown”. By lap 3 in Richmond you’re over an hour in so there is no harm in opening up the final hills to an all-out battle to the finish. It’s a great way to ensure that you feel like you got a workout as well as give everyone a goal for the following week. Similarly, WWR does a sprint finish on the flat Watopia course.

Ultimately the key to a good group ride is communication and engagement. A group ride brings together the best aspects of a spin class and virtual reality, passing the time quickly and giving you the feeling that you went somewhere together. This is already a lot of fun and will only get better as the software improves.

Ride on!

Life in a Bike Shop

Understanding That You Don’t Know Shit And Thriving

I don’t know it all as it pertains to bikes, women, beer; fuck, I’m still working on figuring out myself. I am functioning at a slightly higher level than your common ariolimax californicus aka “banana slug”. Slugs and service managers are the vuclanized glue/icky slime that binds the fabric of America together.

In most pursuits, we all know what we know and then maybe a little more. What those who tend to succeed understand is that, knowing too much and knowing enough tend to yield similar returns. Surrounding yourself with complimentary pieces is not only the wise way to get business done, but also lessens greatly the need to want to shoot innocent (and not so innocent) people in the face. In these days and times such displays of malcontent are frowned upon. Major news outlets eat that shit up, but shooting people in the face in general is bad for business. Finding good help without having a rep as a bike shop where people get shot in the face is hard enough in the best of markets.

Individual knowledge is just one part of what it takes to be successful in the bike shop biz. The collective experience of the group is what really makes a good shop, great and a service manager sane.

Musical Selections

“You just don’t expect to hear this type of music in a bike shop.” What the fuck is that? If you have a problem with Doris Day, we may not be the service department for you. We happen to have a very eclectic taste in music. Everything from “post-industrial Christian death metal, to ska-meringue, to country heartbreak-trap to the smooth and sultry sounds of the Jim Crow era. We mix it up. No standard faire retail selections here or traditional service department staples. We do on occasion play the Black Keys as we are contractually obligated to do so by the masons. When they’re not on that whole world domination/illuminati kick, they do appreciate systematically toppling strategic KOM Strava segments and ridding the world of those high cadence “Nancy-boy’s”.

TLC

“My bike needs a little tlc, you know a little tender loving care?” No shit on both counts. I can see that and I know what the acronym “tlc” stands for. This dumb look on my face is just a look. What I don’t see is a case of beer and a compelling enough reason as to why I should break away from from my xxx-rated match of “Fucked Up Words With Friends” to assist you. Alas it is my responsibility to help ensure that your time spent on the bike is as pleasant as possible.
So your GT mountain bike spent time in Syria infiltrating ISIS? Didn’t play out well? You can’t go over there with bean pies and a Final Call and think that you’ll be accepted. Wrong Muslims entirely, though I’m sure the pies were appreciated. Caliphate or not, everybody knows that bean pies are the shit.

Life in a Bike Shop

There’s No Crying In The Service Department

We in service are generally immune to your shared stories of inspiration. We are a cold-hearted lot.

“What’s your bikes malfunction private?!!!”

Then convention got tossed on it’s head. A customer who frequents the shop came in and told me just how much the other women on our ladies rides inspire her. They are supportive of one another and have developed a sisterhood from it. I think a tear began to form. I was genuinely moved and then I started thinking about the October beers again.

For The Love Of All Things Decent

Customer: “So this is how you want to run your business?”

Service Drone: “By providing you with information in order for you to make an informed decision? Yeah I think so…”

The customer is always right? Not in service. Your achievements in that strange world outside of our basement don’t qualify you to do my job, even though my uncanny skill to discern IPA’s from stouts does qualify me to do yours. Weird equation but more true than not.

It’s a cold world. Most of the time the customers and the techs working amicably together in order to satisfy one another’s needs. It gets steamy in service, but what happens in service stays in service except when someone feels it their duty to defile you on that internet thing. People “wrench and tell” all the time now. Societies on the skids.

In service you had better have a tough skin, because certain customers see you as the guy/gal that wants to pick their bones clean.

Customer: “I have a flat. Can you fix it?”

Service Drone: “Is it ok if we replace the 3 spokes that are missing as well? You’d be amazed at the performance gains from a wheel not just holding on for dear life.”

Customer: “I just need the flat fixed!” Your not gonna get the drop on me! I’m on to your game; see!!!”

Doing reputable work and helping to ensure your safety is pretty important to us. Legal ramifications aside, nobody in service wants anybody to do anything less than have a fantastic experience, get to work safely or engage in whatever the pursuit they see fit. Ripping people off isn’t part of the business model. We’re not getting rich doing this shit. Stand down irate customer, stand down…

Do You Fix Bikes?

Nope but our service team can make you a mean tiramisu. When your call was directed to us, the option on the outgoing message said, “service”.

I used to work at Tower Records during the time when grunge was king and the internet was just used to play the military grade version of Candy Crush. I used to get questions all the time about that song that has a “crushing guitar part and indecipherable lyrics”. I wanted to tell them that they just described half the songs on Sub-Pop and Dischord and to leave me alone because I was severely hungover, my flannel was itchy and making me highly irritated. Good times, good times…

What else would a service department do in a bike shop other than service bikes? The spectrum runs from people asking if we tap bb shell threads to asking if we have the technology to repair a flat on a 20″ bike. Now I’m severely sober, not itchy and perplexed. Can’t devote too much time to simple questions, gotta get ready for The X-Files reboot and cleaning the heads on my cassette player is a full-time gig.

Inadvertently Passing The Torch

Was out on a ride with my son on a hilly trail and inadvertently passed the torch. I told him to take point on the climbs because he was faster than I. I took the lead back on the descents because I can but watching him effortlessly pull away from me was bittersweet. Blood or no blood, I don’t like being outdone. I had to check that because he asked me if I wanted to hang out with him. I leap at these opportunities with my teenagers. There are still teachable moments out there like, to grip the saddle on the downhills with your thighs and picking your line before it picks you. Maybe not life lessons but if it helps him avoid a tree my job is done. That said I need to work on my power to weight to age to beer ratio.

Life in a Bike Store

Grease May Be The Word, But Not The Answer

Your bike isn’t an assault vehicle. It doesn’t work on crude. If your bike won’t shift its not because the chain longs for fossil products. Loving your chain doesn’t mean drowning it in muck. No tech wants to engulf themselves in a Exxon Valdez amount of sludge. There are some bikes that practically slide through the doors. If you see a tech grab the heavy gloves its not for extra care, its because they don’t want to spend 30 minutes scrubbing your grease, ball-sweat (or female equivalent) and everything else those magnets attract from their hands.

The Package

One thing that is a constant in the world of bicycle retail is the ever present chance to see some guy clicking through the store with his junk on display. The more experienced the rider the less the shame. Experienced riders however do understand that 2 seasons of hard riding kill off most kits. You can possibly get one extra fondo out of one if you religiously use light detergents and air dry. Newer riders show theirs off with an air of societal defiance. It’s a dick. We get it. It’s a big dick. Noted. Tie it up outside before you come in next time. We have a small store and space is at a premium.

Ladies click around the aisles as well, but somehow manage to not look as pathetic as guys. Women at least look tasteful. Snotty noses and sweat stains are totally welcomed. Shows a ride well ridden. With some of the guys its all dick and balls. Sometimes I want to remind dudes that we have children walking about. No need to add to their future therapeutic unresolved concerns.

“It’s Good To See You Again. Now Who The Fuck Are You?”

Nothing worse than the customer who visits seldomly yet expects you to remember everything about his last visit. Dude…I see a lot of people in a day and I used to smoke my fair share of pot. Please forgive me if I can’t discern your Trek 7.1 from the other 20 I’ve dealt with over the last week. Not that yours was taken any less seriously than anyone else’s but if your not a frequent shopper, have a kick-ass story, a total dick or Jesus Christ Himself, chances are it’s going to take a little something more than “remember me”, for me to actually remember you.

Life in a Bike Shop

The Unfortunate Return of The Man Purse

I by far am not the manliest of fellas. I think an Amaretto Sour is a fine drink and have learned to stomach Project Runway. Tim Gunns tough but fair. I also love Peggy Lee and don’t just watch “Orange Is The New Black” for the shower scenes. I really enjoy the character developments and Uzo Aduba “Crazy Eyes” is a brilliant actress.

All to say I don’t wear my testicles like little tributes of honor on my shoulders. Didn’t man-purses go away in the 80′s? I blame the European Union on this one. I have no basis for this accusation but economic unrest can lead to unforseen consequences. What honestly is wrong with the strapless wallet? Money clips are pretty bad-ass. I can’t even pawn this one off on the metro-sexuals. It’s bigger than them. The gentlemen that have carried them in (and thankfully out) of service have been totally cool, but what decent God-fearing American would accessorize them with their Lees?

Nobody Loves Campagnolo More Than Themselves

It’s the sexiest grupo on the planet, just ask them. I’ve never heard anyone talk with as much passion about a set of hubs as a Campy person. People dig Shimano components and appreciate SRAM but rarely talk orgasmically over them. Campys love-affair with itself makes is totally incompatible with any other component group. Its sorta like a pretty young lady rocking a 3.9 g.p.a. with no identifiable social skills. Exceptionally functional but a bore at mixers. To be fair every company worth its weight in ceramic bearings has a superiority complex. It’s healthy for business. Campagnolo has thought differently for years and in doing so has made some of the best components mechanickind has ever had to never hear the end of.

Better Off Alive

We see all types of bikes everyday from the luxurious to the practical. Every customer presents their own unique challenge. Every customer has a story and not always an audience to recieve it. In service the doctor is always in and the fee for unsolicited unqualified advice is always free.

I get stories about divorce, death of children, births of children, lifestyle changes, accomplishments, failures and all in the spate of writing up a job order for a flat change. Sometimes you want to give said person a hug and other times just a quote and a time of expectation. You cannot escape the human experience in the bike store and especially not in service. The alcohol in house is generally reserved for employee use only, but some days you just want to clear a space on the counter pass a guy a bottle and a shot glass and just keep the tab open. Understanding the human mind really isn’t my shtick but 44 years has taught me that in most cases we’re all just as lost as the next guy, but perspective like decent beer is everything.

Garmin LiveTrack, A User Story

Introduction

So I’m a UX designer. “UX” stands for User Experience and means that it’s my job to make it as easy as possible for users of products to accomplish their tasks. When us UX guys and gals are feeling touchy-feely we create what are called ‘user stories’ where we follow a user from the beginning of a path to their goal and identify friction points and fix them. We are the champions of the end user.

I recently purchased a Garmin Edge 1000, primarily for the LiveTrack and SMS capabilities. Previously I had been using the RoadID e-Crumb app to let my wife follow my rides and get updates on my whereabouts. The concept is sound but the execution is tragically flawed–the app frequently freezes or fails to update making it look like I’m dead on the road. With my phone packed in my pockets with tons of gear I often miss her text message asking if I’m ok.

The Garmin seemed to promise the solution to both problems: more solid tracking and the ability to see incoming text messages if my tracker did fail for some reason.

The reality is that the onboarding is very, very bad and once configured, the remainder of the experience leaves a little too much room for improvement for a $500 bike computer.

In an effort to look chipper and on top of things @Garmin responded to an admittedly cryptic tweet of mine inviting me to contact their customer support. Of course this is an issue for their customer support but it is also an excellent lesson on exactly what kind of setup experience you want to avoid, so I’m posting it here.

The User Story

This user story is a slightly abbreviated version of my first actual attempt to set up and use LiveTrack on a ride with my wife as the at-home follower.

In order to set up text message notification I needed to pair my Edge 1000 with my iPhone in the bluetooth settings. Pairing required two connections as if my Garmin were two devices. Jeckyl identified himself as ‘BLE_Edge 1000′ and Hyde was BT_Edge 1000′. Or maybe that’s the other way around. Either way, with the devices paired, alerts on, and Garmin Connect running, text messages were not being passed through from the phone to the Garmin. Online forums provided no clues but suggested that this might be a software-version-incompatibility problem, or that this function was simply broken. You never know with online forums.

 

double-bluetooth-3

With my phone linked to my Edge I fired up the Garmin Connect app on my phone and started a LiveTrack session. As part of the setup I needed to invite a contact. Apple’s search filter works great within address book and narrows down the list as you type but here Garmin seemed to have written their own, much worse version. The results you see apparently only match the first letter you typed, and none thereafter.

None of the names shown first on my list matched the letter pattern I typed. They are also not alphabetical so I have no idea what logic, if any, this system is following. My matching name ended up being at the bottom of the second screen.

None of the names shown first on my list matched the letter pattern I typed. Since I’m on a first-name basis with my wife and my friends, and because Apple’s built-in address book sorts by first name, I expect that this will work in the same way.

After finding my wife I obviously choose her SMS number because I wanted her to receive my message right away.

choosing-SMS

but all she got was an error:

sms-error

So I had to resend the invite to a real email address AND send a separate text to my wife telling her to check her email manually. She doesn’t see it. The message went to her the Junk folder:

 

live-track-in-junk-2

…and was not formatted for phones:

Message set to display at half the available screen size, which is not much on a mobile phone!

Message set to display at half the available screen size, which is not much on a mobile phone!

 

She taps the link and is taken to a web page containing a map and some data. The tracker doesn’t seem to update, even though there have been methods to refresh web pages available for a decade.

There are also aspects of the display that are a little confusing such as the minus before the time and distance. Am I traveling back in time? Do I have 35 miles left to ride?

When thinking about what your viewer may want, elevation gain probably isn’t on the top of their list. More useful would be defaulting to a ‘current’ speed–this way the follower knows if you’ve stopped and if you don’t start moving again within a certain time period they can legitimately start wondering about you.

no-live-update-and-no-end-notification-3

 

So my wife sees the screen above and wonders what’s up and sends me a text message asking if everything is ok. My phone gets it quietly but does not register on my Garmin because something failed in the pairing of the devices and instead of producing and error or warning, it gave a confirmation that all was well.

crickets

Instead of seeing my incoming text messages I get crickets. Hand credit: DC Rainmaker.

So I never get back to her and she worries for two or three hours until I get home when…

ended-2

 

I’m done! After finishing and saving the ride Garmin Connect sends no additional email or text to her so the only way she knows I’m really done and alive is:

  • when I fish my phone out of my pocket and see her text messages and I reply or
  • when I walk in the door, completely unaware of the angst created by this notification system

What a horrible story.

So in summary, here are a few to-dos for Garmin:

  • Improve error detection so that if a bluetooth connection has a problem that will prevent a text message from getting passed from phone to edge that the user is notified
  • Fix the name search in Garmin Connect’s LiveTrack
  • Allow people to be notified of live track session via SMS
  • Auto-refresh online map
  • Improve data of online map
  • Send notifications to followers when activity is completed

Postscript: After this first ride I gave the bluetooth pairing another go and deleted all connections and re-added them, with the BLE_Edge 1000 first, after which text messages started showing up on the Edge. As and end user don’t know if this order is important or if it was just luck of the draw that it worked.

Life in a Bike Shop

Camel Jockey

Accidental or possibly purposeful, racism happens in the last bastion of all that is pure and decent; the bike shop. Sometimes I don’t think people really take into consideration just what in the hell they are saying. I’m not the Sesitivity Inspector as I failed my civil servants exam but, I think I know foul shit when I hear it. When someone had used that term as part of a poorly slung together anecdote about who she was and who she wasn’t I paused and waited for something from her to expound on her words. I really believe she thought she was using a term that was not offensive like, “fag” or “chink” or Afro-American. Some moments are teaching moments and others are made for Michelob.

Grief Counselors

Service folks are not cynics by trade but by design. Bikes fatigue just like everything in the known universe. They fatigue even faster if you happen to get hit by a truck. In service our responsibility is to inspect the bikes for anything that could cause future heartache and certain regret.

Step 1 in this dance, is to ask about the health of the one fortunate enough to find time to ride, only to cash in those chips by doing “the bump” with a Chevy. Sometimes you see the person still clearly fucked up trying to address the shifting issues there bike was having pre-wreck. Gotta love (from a distance) the vigor.

Step 2 is seperating the cosmetic damage from a piece destined for a shop art piece. Not every shop has a Jackson Pollack hanging but most will have some sort of homage to a dead bike.

Step 3 is cleaning the frame and inspecting it for telltale signs of damage like missing chain stays. That’s usually a dead giveaway that the bike is beyond repair.

Step 4 is putting your arm around the client’s good shoulder and giving it to them straight. Eye contact is crucial. As their bike is suspended on the gurney lifeless and cold, the way in which you deliver the news is vital to the next step…

Step 5 is the estimate. You usually don’t want to lead with, “I know a guy______”. That works in Jersey and the un-gentrified sections of NYC but sounds like a crock of shit in every other part of the country. Carbon repair is costly but there are avenues that cater to the super metal-type substance. Usually with the steel bikes we see, the fabrication outweighs the cost of the bike. The carbon repair estimate pill for the customer can be harder to swallow than the oxy that they refuse to share, but still cheaper than going new.

The Cake Is In The Oven And Chicken Raising

I had a customer tell me that she would come over to get her bike as soon as something she had in the oven was done cooking. I really didn’t need to know why she couldn’t come now, but its the quirky people that make life tolerable. When her pie did finish she came over. Empty handed too. Pie almost beats a case of beer for mechanics. You bring pie and you have mechanical friends for life. She did tell me about the network of chicken farmers in town. Again, I don’t know why, but I love a quirky yarn. I think chicken raising may be what hiptsers evolve to after drinking artisan Pabst, skinny jeans and Italian fixed gears are all passe’. Someone will no doubt raise the stakes and have an in town cow named Mabel. Fuck hipsters and their fresh milk!!

Life in a Bike Shop

Acronyms

They are evil. Not like Hitler, but if the two were spoken of in the same sentence I wouldn’t be surprised.

I was talking to a woman the other day and in our conversation she used the acronym, “E.O.D.” (end of day) when I explained that we couldn’t do the service on the spot but would complete it by close. I had no idea what in the fuck she was talking about. I think my expression relayed that. She peeped the grays in my stubble and dumbed it up for me. Unless your hitting two packs of smokes a day, you can spare the breath it would have taken you to complete your sentence. And yes…Get off my lawn!!!

Why are you using code in casual conversation anyway? I don’t think the Russians give two shits about when your bike is going to be serviced unless your riding for Teams Katusha or Astana.

Holy Grime Is Still Grime

A guy came in from Israel to have his bike assembled. No problem. I took it out of the box to be welcomed by Israeli dirt. The last road this bike may traveled may have been one lf biblical importance. Not too many of those roads in the USA. River Road that runs alongside the Passaic River may be as close as it gets for Jersey. No prophets that I’m aware of floated down those mighty waters, but in Paterson anything’s possible.

As I was giving the bike a good wipe down the grandeur of holy dirt faded. Holy dirt is as much a pain in the ass as the secular stuff. Maybe even moreso. The consistency was clay-like. After applying the holy trinity of bike detailing which is, Simple Green, Bike Luster and a shop rag I took it out of my stand and moved on to a less sanctified machine.

Do You Want A Medal?

Shops closed. We have specified times of operation like 100% of the business in this country. Just because the doors not locked doesn’t mean the times on the door are bogus.

I’m a people person between the hours of 9 and 5. Something weird happens at 5:01. My warm and fuzzies get a little cold and prickly. We rarely turn people away in service at close, but when we do it’s done with a republican look of abject remorse.

A gentleman comes through our doors drenched in sweat. Not moved by his Herculean efforts to still fall short. He tells me that he just snuck in and then smiles as though I’m supposed to follow with a hi-five or Muslim terrorist fist bump made popular by our president. Stuff happens and people call ahead. We try to be accommodating. Don’t kill yourself or others trying to make it by close for a brake job on your Emonda. Its all about communications and preferably libations. If you have a tri-bike I totally understand your need to improve on your splits in every facet of your life. “It’s a tri-thing, you wouldn’t understand.”

No sorry for keeping me later or nothing. A case goes a long way. Say it with beer. I’m listening.