Author Archives: Aaron Deutsch

Aaron Deutsch

About Aaron Deutsch

Aaron has always felt a passion for, if not a gravitational pull from, racing. Since being lured from the basketball court onto the track in 1993 he set 7 track & field records and medaled six times at the state level of competition.

He moved to the mountain bike in the late 1990s and won the Penn Cycle Buck Hill race series in 2000 in the sport class. He also placed 4th in the Subaru Cup XC race that year.

After moving to New York Aaron took up road racing and rode unattached for the first year and medaled in 2 races including a 1st place finish in the Kissena Race Series in 2007. In 2008 the Brooklyn Arches Cycling Club was formed and the results were immediate and consistent including winning the Cadence Cup Race Series in Brooklyn. He currently races with the Major Taylor Iron Riders Development Team

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 and Discord are 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!

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.

Some reasons to not get down on yourself over your winter Strava stats

  • You won’t be putting on the regular miles that you do while the weather is warm so your baseline will be lower
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of all that winter gear
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of perspiration and/or precipitation soaked into all of that extra winter gear
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of your winter bike (you do have a winter beater, right?)
  • You’ll be riding with the extra weight of Thanksgiving on you (hopefully not, but you know…)
  • You’ll be riding with the extra resistance that good windproof gear brings
  • You’ll be burning extra calories just to stay warm

Speaking of which, I would recommend choosing shorter routes so that you aren’t tempted to stop for hot chocolate once you’re out. Once soggy you finally gets moving into that cold, winter wind you will immediately regret it, followed by getting hypothermia and dying. Happy riding!

What to Wear When It’s 40 Degrees And Raining

Maybe you paid for the ride in advance. Maybe it just so happens that mother nature decides to dump on your one window of opportunity to ride all week. Whatever, it’s 40 and raining and you’re going to get on that horse and ride it. Here is what I wear in these conditions:

winter-layers-40-degrees-with-rain-blog-size

1, 2: Base Layers

Since you will be using a good outer shell or two you can go a little light on the base layers. I choose a heavy (though not fleece lined) long-sleeved Under Armor shirt and a regular short sleeved jersey. Should the clouds break you’ll appreciate being able to let your arms breathe a little if you remove your outer jacket.

3: Winter Vest

A good windproof, fleece lined vest is an important layer because it won’t be too warm under a rain jacket BUT will be warm enough if the rain subsides.

4: Rain Jacket

When its cold enough that its almost snowing you don’t need to bother with gore-tex or anything super high-zoot, but you should consider something cycling-specific. The Capo pictured has a little ventilation under the arms, has an extended back side and most importantly, is clear so your club kit shows through! ;-)

5,6: Windproof tights, Bibs

Even when wet your leg muscles are going to generate plenty of heat. Rainproof pants will be too much for a training ride–stick with two layers of good lycra and you’ll be fine. Avoid thicker fleece as that will just soak up water.

7,8,9: Shoes, wool socks, rainproof shoe covers

I probably shouldn’t have grouped these together but I did. Here is the bottom line: Unless you have rain-specific gore-tex-lined shoes you’re going to get wet so you might as well prepare for it. The Perl Izumi Barrier Pro shoe covers pictured lasted about 50 minutes in a steady drizzle before I could feel that the dampness was more rain than sweat, which brings me to the second point:

Use the right weight of WOOL sock. Too light and you’ll get cold. Too heavy and your feet will feel like they are wringing out sponges with every pedal stroke. You just want a little light insulation. Wool, as you know, will keep you warm even when wet.

10: Cold Water Scuba Diving Gloves

Following the same theme as the shoes you should also know that your hands are going to get wet as well. Bummer. Lucky for you they can remain comfortable. I have an entire writeup on the use of cold water diving gloves for cycling use. They’re pretty good and really the only thing that will work. I just took these babies out for 2.5 hours of non-stop rain and only had wrinkly fingertips as a result.

11, 12: Helmet, cycling cap

I like using a cycling cap in the rain as it helps to keep the rain out of my eyes. Glasses are utterly useless so I leave those at home.

PRO TIP: DRY OUT YOUR SHOES QUICKLY UPON RETURNING. Use a space heater or a hair dryer. Once you start growing stuff in your shoes you will NEVER get the smell out. Believe me. The shoes pictured have been washed, bleached, soaked in baking soda, and more. The faint smell of wrong still lingers.

Medic!

It’s hard enough trying to convince a new consumer of the value of upgrading from Shimano Tiagra to Shimano 105 and beyond. I can explain the weight differences between the components, the shift quality and the addition of an extra gear or two, but for most; it comes down to cost. The monies saved are rarely thought about when the road pitches up to 15% and you find yourself a gear or two short. Don’t walk darling. Tough it out!

A guy came in the shop bleeding from several different wounds. He was the victim of a paceline gone wrong. He was 20 miles out from home when he went down and still managed to get himself onto our sales floor open wounds and all. Like a true roadie he came to us to get stuff for his next ride. I bandaged his wounds between sips of my coffee. Adrenaline is a fucker post trauma. My goal was to tend to his wounds. That was my human side. The sales guy side of me wanted him the fuck out of the store. Promoting cycling as a healthier alternative to sitting on the couch drinking beer and watching athletes can get a little tricky when a guy still in his lycra is bleeding out right in front of you.

Used Bike Purchase:

That’s a tricky one. Just because the price was right and the decals were still in tact, doesn’t mean that the bike is right for you. I know you like the color and the tales of valor that came with the package, but that doesn’t equate a decent fit for you. It is however my job to make it work for you the best I can. I am not a technical fitter. I don’t ask you about your favorite Redford film or your favorite sexual position. There are algorithms for everything, so I’m sure that information could be helpful to a true fit specialist. I eyeball it, watch you pedal, ask about what you want to get in your experience, health problems and make tweaks based off that information. I prefer free weights and encyclopedia’s as well.

Dude

We do repairs. We sell stuff, fix stuff and occasionally ride. Not as much as we would like, but baby needs a new pair of shoes and banks tend not to give a shit about your Strava rankings.

I love X-Files. Bikes that either come in with ghastly issues and the owner having no idea how a flesh eating disease affixed itself to his rear derailleur. Rusty chains are neat too. “Yeah, I think its going to take a little more than a few spritzes of Wet Lube to reincarnate that chain. Store your bike in the creek, expect a few complications. Take that baby to service!

I also like the gal who thinks that she only needs air in her tires and I see at least 5 reasons why riding that machine would be detrimental to the health and safety to not only herself, but others. If I were in the mortuary services business, I wouldn’t have a problem telling them that their bike was A-OK, but I pride myself on people enjoying their ride outside of a hearse. That tire holding air would be a very bad thing at this stage. All I can do is provide them with my opinions and hope that they heed them.

Be Careful What You Wish For (on eBay)

This year my Breezer mountain bike is celebrating it’s 20th year of mud, road salt and potholes. I’ve ground more than three sets of components into sand and the frame fights on, albeit with a few more chips and dings. It takes time to appreciate it but this is what people mean when they say “steel is real”.

We might just now be turning the corner on the worst winter in memory in NYC and everyone has cabin fever something fierce. While there is no doubt my Titanium road bike can handle the impending mess of the spring melt-off, Dura-ace parts do the same thing as all others when subjected to excessive road debris and buying new drivetrains aftermarket can get really expensive really quick. I decided it was time to take the leap and get a dedicated training bike.

Every once in a while, one of the founding fathers of the Mountain Bike Joe Breeze pokes his head back into the competitive world of cycling and designs a fast bike. Usually they are of the mountain variety but the Venturi road bike has made a couple appearances over the years. It is made of steel and thus not aimed at the road racer but he always outfits them nicely (no less than Ultegra). They carry the old Ignaz Schwinn paint job from the early 1900s and are very unassuming in appearance but toss a set of CRUD fenders on and you’re ready to have some fun in the pre-season!

About three years ago I had set up an eBay alert for this very bike but since they are so exceedingly rare I honestly didn’t expect anything to come of it. Imagine my surprise an email showed up a couple of weeks ago for a listing of last year’s model, unused, for the price of the Ultegra gruppo. I was pretty much obligated. I took shipment of the bike, swapped a few parts for fit and took it out the very next weekend—our first warm day of the year; 50 and sunny with some good snowbank runoff from the road shoulders.

Breezer always sweats the details; the headtube is adorned with a metal depicting Mt. Tam, the birthplace of the Breezer Mountain bike and the home of some very amazing riding (both road and mountain)

Despite (or possibly because of?) some purposefully heavy parts (such as the wheels) it handled very well–it was rock solid on the descents and crosswinds and responded well to mashing on the pedals thanks to an oversize bottom bracket that was designed to accommodate the BB30s that you normally find installed in carbon fiber frames. I would say that this felt a little stiffer than my Titanium racing bike, even though the Ti has a tubes the size of a baseball bat.

The original plan was to ride to stateline but the sun and the momentum from the sprint carried me over the hill and ultimately on to Nyack before my rational mind finally made me turn around as there were still many miles, hills and gusts of wind between there and home.

I will mention the CRUD fenders here, which are an absolutely essential part of any training bike. The reviews you’ve read are accurate: They are a pain in the ass to set up because the tolerances are so tight. I absolutely guarantee that the first time you get them set and spin a wheel something will be rubbing. Once you fiddle with them for a while you’ll get them silent and then you can use them.

The two things to point out in the photo are:

  • The length of the fenders is not only polite for those in your draft, they also do a very good job of keeping all but the spritz off of you. I rode through a lot of water on my first ride wearing normal (non-waterproof) shoe covers on. My feet did not get wet.
  • Look closely near the front deraileur—that little extra swoosh of plastic does an incredible job of preventing your shifter from becoming a sandcastle

So in summary the bike (and a few carefully chosen parts) were all I dreamt they would be. I, on the other hand, wasn’t, but now I have no more excuses. Time to get outside!

Breezer Venturi training bike. This is the last time these parts will ever look this clean.

No Medals for Blizzard Commuters

Bike commuting as a sport does not possess the grace of many of the other winter events that you’re probably watching on the olympics but it does require strength, strategy and exceptional balance.

When a proper blizzard rolls into NYC I follow these rules of survival:

  1. Use major streets. They are the ones that get plowed. Side streets, unlike the suburbs, quickly turn into 3″ deep blocks of rutted ice due to the mild days and cold nights.
  2. Exercise EXTREME caution! I use the opposite-light rule: Wait at the intersection for the light to turn red for the traffic that is going the same direction you are. Enjoy a couple of blocks of having the road to yourself, then pull over and repeat.
  3. Plows travel in packs in New York. If you find one FOLLOW IT AS FAR AS YOU CAN
  4. Know when you’re in over your head—if things are getting really sketchy remember there are (usually) subways

Snow plows travel in packs in New York. Photo credit: Serge Permyakoff

Review: U.S. Divers Cold-Water Diving Gloves. Wait. What?

For all the high-tech gear that cyclists have at their disposal (and there is a lot!), there is one infuriating omission: nobody makes a waterproof glove. I imagine this is mainly because most riders take the day off when the clouds open up, not leaving many people to sell to. Or maybe it’s really hard to make a waterproof glove. I don’t know.

Since the cycling world has turned it’s back on us we need to turn to other industries that have the same problem with moisture. I got a tip to put medical gloves on under my normal winter gloves. I can definitely see this working in a pinch but like chemical toe warmers, I want something that isn’t disposable. Also the medical gloves will hold in moisture and will not provide much insulation on their own so once your outer gloves get soaked your time will be limited.

The answer ended up coming from another niche sport: scuba diving. After trolling the internet I chose the U.S. Divers Cold-Water Diving Gloves based on positive feedback for build quality and durability. If you read the Amazon reviews you’ll find all kinds of displaced cold and wet people. As a matter of fact, none of the top reviews for this product refer to them being used for actual diving!

U.S. Divers cold-water gloves fit snugly and fit nicely under a gore-text shell

The day after they arrived I got the perfect weather to try them out: 40 degrees and raining. These first thing that I noticed is that they don’t repel water, which you might expect from a “waterproof” glove. Water will bead up on your Gore-tex jacket but soak right into the gloves. Despite this, I didn’t feel the water, or the wind. The next thing I knew, I was 20 minutes into your ride and my hands were perfectly warm and happy!

Fit is very good–unlike most long-fingered cycling gloves they have a little give so can stretch your fingers a little more easily to work with brake levers and shifters and such. They go up past the carpal bone which is more than enough height to tuck up under your gore-tex jacket.

The only place where it shows that this is not made specifically for cycling is the palm. Generally the padding for a cycling glove is minimal and strategically placed. With the diving glove the “padding” is just a natural byproduct of the neoprene material which is an even thickness everywhere. I purchased the 3mm version which ended up making my main contact point with my handlebar feel spongy. Despite this, there is no question that these work and are an essential piece in creating a head-to-toe outfit for adverse weather riding.

Grips on the palm are good, but the 3mm thickness of the gloves make your contact point a little spongy feeling.

Pros:

  • Pre-curved and good fit
  • Great price! Since these aren’t made for cycling you don’t pay the cycling premium. If these were made by Perl Izumi they’d probably be $85
  • They work!

Cons:

  • 3mm thickness is a little too spongy
  • They take forever to dry. Like over a day.

Takeaway:

Simply necessary in the rain, especially between 33 and 55 degrees.

Ride Along: Gimbels Long – July 6, 2013

Missing the camaraderie of group riding during the dark, cold months of winter? Fire up this video in HD and join some of the fastest riders in the area under a white hot sun for the Gimbels Long ride.

This workout is 1hr 35 minutes so make sure you have plenty of water and make sure to save some matches for the second half of the ride! While the temperature tempered the climbers (slightly) you’ll be bridging plenty of gaps and keeping the pressure on. Your perseverance will bring you across the line in lead group with the 9th fastest time recorded on the course* (*according to Strava).