First triathlon

Completed my first triathlon today – yay! I came a miserable 144th out of 166. Pish, eh? However, there’s lots of room for improvement.

I managed to do the swim without stopping, however I was still 8th slowest out of 166. I followed this up with the 2nd slowest first transition out of the entire field – holy crap. This left me 3rd last overall after the swim and T1.

The cycle went much better. I overtook loads of people, especially at the start, and lost count how many I went past in total, and got to the end without being overtaken myself. Granted, the really fast cyclists would have also been much faster in the pool and thus in a much later heat, but still… So after the cycle, I’d made up 16 places. T2 wasn’t quite so bad, although I still took almost 2 minutes, and from looking at other people, it seems I could have knocked off at least 30 seconds here quite easily.

The run… didn’t go so well. Turns out it was a cross country run, and my ankles don’t cope with such territory at all well and thus it took me far longer than I thought it was going to take. I still made up a half dozen places, but it was disappointing.

So plenty of lessons to learn from it:

  1. Get a trisuit. That will save vast time in transitions, and also make me look less pathetic when going to the start line
  2. Get quicker during transitions in general. This merely means being more organised. I was in total chaos and time flew by.
  3. Keep up the running training. I started far too late, concentrating mainly on swimming with some biking. My run was terrible.
  4. Get better at swimming. Work in progress.
  5. Get better at cycling too! I need to start doing shorter faster cycles. My cycle averaged 16.1mph, so I really need to get that higher

Sky breaks Never Miss feature on their web site

I like Sky’s “Never Miss” utility, as it allows me to make a note on their site of a film I’d like to see which isn’t on Sky right now. However, they have currently broken it. It usually works easily; get an email telling you a film is on in a week’s time, click link from their email to go to their site, click various “Record” buttons, and hey presto – job done. But when you click on the 2nd Record button, nothing happens. Or at least, nothing appears to happen. Actually, what is happening is a web request is sent off silently, but it fails… silently. So you think the link is broken, or goes nowhere. It pretty much does go nowhere, let’s be honest, because the connection is reset by the web host at the other end – but if the site at least told you that, it wouldn’t be quite so bad!

C’mon Sky, fix it please!

Shimano Tiagra Groupset is Installed

Back in January, I did a trial run to install my new Shimano Tiagra groupset on to a frame that I’d bought off Gumtree. The exercise was thoroughly worthwhile because I learnt a lot about how a bike is put together, and there’s no better thing than taking apart a bike that you don’t actually need to use – taking apart the one you use on a daily basis puts a lot of pressure on to get it all working again! It wasn’t perfect, though, mainly due to the frame forks being too wide and the cassette not fitting in the forks well such that I couldn’t put the bike in the smallest cog on the cassette. But still, a good practice.

Well, I’m on holiday this week and it was the time to put the groupset on my commuter – the bike I use on a daily basis. I deliberately did it at the start of this week to give me time to fix things as and when they went wrong. But surprisingly, the main things that went wrong were more to do with taking the old kit off the bike, rather than attaching the new kit on it. It’s all on, and a 23 mile test ride this afternoon suggests that there’s no major issues with it so far. I’ve gone from 8 gears up to 20 – win!

I have learnt a lot from the exercise, so if you’re considering upgrading your bike, here’s some important lessons to consider:

Get the right tools
I don’t think I would ever have believed someone if they told me the amount of different tools you need to maintain a bike. There’s a lot more to it than just some allen keys (which are important!). A socket wrench, torque wrench, rubber mallet, bottom bracket tool (x2), cassette removal tool, cable cutter, adjustable spanner, phillips and flat-head screwdrivers… there’s bound to be more, but those are the key ones. Make sure you have and understand all the tools that you need for all the jobs, because there’s nothing worse than getting half way through the job to discover that one all-important tool is missing.
Cables, inner and outer
Rather than buying cable sets, I just bought a bunch of inner cables and a bunch of outer cables. This makes for a lot less waste, or at the very least a lot tidier box of kit. Buying them individually appears to be much cheaper! And OMG, but replacing cables makes such a difference. Also, the cables are different for gears and brakes – that’s both the inners and outers. So make sure you get some of both. And cable end caps. And ferrules…
Too long an outer can cause a problem
I had a bit of outer just in front of my rear brake caliper which was around 3mm too long and caused my brake to not release properly. I shit you not. 3mm made all the difference; it was basically forcing the inner through too much of a bend, and knocking 3mm off the outer made the bend straight enough to not cause a problem, but still bendy enough to allow the barrel adjuster to work.
Cassettes are a bastard to remove
I could not get the old cassette off the wheel. Spent an hour trying to do it, pulled a muscle in my back trying to force the fucker to budge, but I couldn’t get it to move. Took it to the bike shop, the guy did it instantly. In fairness, his spanner handle was really long, so he was able to get a lot more leverage, so maybe I need to get a bigger one (oo-er). When I put the new cassette on, I didn’t put it on tightly. Indeed, it’s on quite softly, tbh. Hopefully it won’t fall off.
Cables can get jammed in barrel adjusters
I had some serious issues with cables jammed in barrel adjusters. One of the barrel adjusters in my brake calipers is a write-off (no biggie) as I ended up having to cut the cable as it just wouldn’t come out. Therefore, consider that you might have more trouble getting the kit off your bike rather than putting the new kit on it.
Front mechs have braze-on and clip-on
These phrases meant nothing to me initially, but it’s pretty simple; clip-on front mechs quite simply have a round band which goes around your seat tube and is held in place with nothing more than tightening the band. This initially surprised me – I thought it must surely have been held in place with some kind of screw through the seat tube, but no, nothing more than tightening the clip. Measuring the size of your seat tube is potentially the first time in your life that π (pi; 3.14159…) comes in useful. Braze-on, on the other hand, require your bike seat-tube to have a specific thing on to which you attach a braze-on mech. Therefore, the braze-on is the same as a clip-on, just without the round “clip” (round band). If you’re completely unsure, you could always get a braze-on and get a separate band on its own on to which you can attach the braze-on front mech – but if you just have a good look at it, you should be able to tell whether yours has a band round your seat-tube or not.
Triples are pointless
I knew this already – having a triple crankset is a waste of time. I think mine was 52/42/32, and aside from comedy value when I first got the bike, I never used the 32 (aka granny) ring. The smallest gear I ever used was therefore a 42/25 (since my cassette was a 12/25). This never caused me a problem. However, today I went in my new smallest gear of 39/30 and holy crap, it’s small! Only needed for the steepest of hills, and even then, very rarely. If you really do need low gears rather than high gears, get a compact 50/34. I’m running 53/39 on both my commuter and my Cervélo, with 12/30 on the commuter and 11/28 on the é. Loving it.
Bike stands are a must
SSIA. If you don’t have one, you really should, they are a life saver.

Office 365 is broken: Sorry, there’s something wrong with your account

I have Office 365 which has been ace for the past few months. Alas, it’s stopped working on my Win7 laptop for no apparent reason, and when I attempt to log in to office.microsoft.com and see what’s up, I get “Sorry, there’s something wrong with your account”. Unhelpfully, although it says “We need your help to fix the problem. Click Contact Support to get help”, and suggests I click the “Contact Support” button, it takes me to the front page of their Support Centre, with no indication of WTF I am now supposed to do to gain said help.

So I contact Microsoft through their web site and they are totally stumped. They first say they can see nothing wrong with my account, but later admit they have many other cases of this, and they have to escalate it to get it fixed, which can apparently take days. So I’m without Excel on my Win7 laptop for a while, then… :(

[ Updated 16-Apr-14 ]

Credit where credit is due, Microsoft duly fixed the problem 2 days later. At least, they have fixed the problem with my online account – I still have to reinstall it on the Win7 laptop to see if that resolves that problem, but I didn’t ask them to fix that (yet).

Swimming just got easier

This week has seen a significant breakthrough in terms of swimming. Before Wednesday, the most I had ever swum without stopping was 300 metres, and when I finished that I was absolutely exhausted. Then, on Wednesday, I decided that my aim was to try to swim while breathing left. This I managed with relative ease, so had a bit of a practice of that for a few lengths, and then just kept on swimming. I realised I hadn’t been counting the lengths I had swum, which I usually do, because I had been concentrating on the different breathing technique, but I also realised that I didn’t feel tired or out of breath, which is very strange, because I usually start running out of breath after about 8 lengths. I eventually decided to stop so I could see how many lengths I had gone – 16. So, 400 metres. A new PB. It was amazing.

Today, I thought I’d try the same thing again, although this time to actually count the lengths I was doing. Now, normally I’d have done something different, such as sets of 4 lengths to improve my speed, but I wanted to see whether what happened on Wednesday was a fluke, or whether I could repeat it… because swimming actually felt easy for the first time in my life.

What do I mean by easy? Well, I can describe it fairly simply. “Not dying” has been my only tactic up to this point. I have never been able to swim with any level of confidence (or skill), and merely breathing has always been the major issue, in terms of not managing to get enough oxygen into my lungs. But on Wednesday, I seemed to be able to do it without any problem.

Therefore, today I got in the pool to see if I could hit 16 lengths, and I managed it again with ease, so kept going. By the time I was on length 22, I knew I was able to get to my ultimate goal of 30 lengths, which is what I need to do so that I can enter a sprint triathlon, leaving me merely to then get fast enough to do it inside 20 minutes. And guess what – I managed it in 19:33. Winner.

Needless to say, I’ve entered the next available triathlon, which is in April. Looks like I’ll need to get my running shoes out again :)

This week also saw a good number of miles, mainly on the bike, with a solid 117 added on to the year’s total:

miles-comparison

10 weeks swim status

Looking back at my stats, I realise that I only really started to try to learn to swim properly on 15-Dec-13. The goal I have for 2014 is to do a triathlon, and to do that, I needed to learn to swim. 10 weeks in, things are definitely getting better.

Stats so far are that I’ve only swum 16 times in the 10 weeks. Christmas and going to St Louis have prevented me hitting the full 21 times that I would have wanted to have gone, if I was going twice per week, but missing 5 sessions is not the end of the world. The good thing is that I am making progress.

I’m taking tips from my running training in that I am not just doing the same thing each time I go. Sometimes I will go and do sets of 4 lengths and try to do each set quickly. I’m then knackered at the end of each set, but that’s the point. Other times, I will do long sets of lengths, such as today when I did 10 lengths per set, and thus only did four sets to do my 1km. The time it takes me to do that, in terms of actual swimming time, is longer, because I’m not going as fast, but I am working on having a steady technique.

When I first started swimming back in December, the length of time it took me to do each length fluctuated wildly. Sometimes I’d do a length in 34 seconds, and then two lengths later I’d do a 49 second length, taking many more strokes to do so. Lately, things have been much more even. Today all my lengths were between 11 and 13 strokes (although Garmin Connect claims between 12 and 14, but I know better as I now count them during my swim). Timings have also become a lot more stable, too.

I’m not at the point where I can do 750m in one go. Right now, I need three sets to do that, having 2 rests of a couple of minutes between each set. But considering where I was just 10 weeks ago, it’s a big step forward.

One reasonably cool thing that happened today was to do with how many people were in each lane. When I turned up, there was only one guy in the slow lane, and no-one in the fast lane, so I went in the fast lane. The guy in the slow lane got out reasonably soon, so I was the only person using either lane. Then, by the time I got out, there were five people in the slow lane, and no-one else had come into my lane. When I finished, I watched the 5 of them to see whether I was truly faster than all of them, and I was. Now, I appreciate I’m still pretty slow, but that was a nice wee confidence booster.

DHgate: worst purchasing decision, ever

I ordered a cycling shirt through DHgate. I’d not heard of this site before, but this is most likely because it’s not a UK site, although I can’t reliably tell where the site is based. The shirt, ordered on 26-Jan, was to be posted out within 3 days and arrive within 19 days, as it seems to be coming from Hong Kong.

On 12-Feb, I got an email to tell me my item had been shipped. What? Over 2 weeks later, and it’s only just been shipped? WTF? Still, at least it was on its way.

Or so I thought.

Today, 22-Feb, 10 full days later, and I get another mail telling me that “the tracking order has been deleted by the seller”. So they have not posted it out at all. It’s now almost 4 weeks later, and the item, which is still showing as in stock on the DHgate web site, has not been sent out.

It’s fair to say I won’t be using that site again.

Blaze Bicycle Light

The only project I have so far put money towards at Kickstarter is the Blaze Bike Light. Funded at the end of 2012, the light finally arrived in February 2014. Yep, over a year later. It was originally supposed to arrive after 4 months, but 14 months later, and after excited emails repeatedly being sent by the creator promising it would be delivered “next month”, I gave up hope of ever seeing it. But it did finally arrive. Was it worth the wait? Is it going to be worth shelling out £125 for one? Summary: no.

Why? Well… I had some problems, as follows.

Initial Impressions

I brought the light home after it arrived at my work, and tested it out in the darkness by attaching it to my bike and seeing what it looked like while the bike was stationary.

However…

The clip that goes around the handlebars was squint, and needed some fairly serious bending to allow the light to be attached. Took me about 10 minutes of faffing to get the thing on the bars. To get it attached, I also had to unwrap my bar tape, as the mounting clip is not that big.

It didn’t feel that secure on the bars, either. I had the screws tightened but the light was still bouncing a bit, not steady like my Cateye.

The lit up green bike was as advertised, nice and bright, though. Or at least, it appeared that way when I had it out the back of my house and I was shining it on the ground.

The white light, on the other hand, is extremely bright. That’s surely a good thing, you’d think? But it is so bright, in fact, that I was not convinced I was going to be able to use it, because I had it pointed down as far as I can so that the green bike is at least some distance ahead of me, but when standing facing the bike with one my my various daughters holding the bike, I was still generally blinded. And that’s on the low setting; turn it up to the high setting and I couldn’t see anything any more.

Initially, I planned on having only the green bike on when I’m on cycle paths, and keeping my Cateye on. When on roads, I would turn on the white light on the Blaze.

Pictures of the light, while the bike is stationary, are below. First, without the white light on:

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Then, with the white light on full blast:

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The white light on the less mental brightness:

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Facing the white light on full blast mode. Note here that the light is still facing down, but you are still unable to see past the bike because it’s so bright:

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Facing the light when on less mental brightness:

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After a Ride

I had hoped that my initial fears would be replaced by the joy of seeing this light in action on the roads. Alas, the opposite is true. I am quite disappointed with the light, and if I’d bought it in a shop, I’d be returning it. Since it’s a Kickstarter project, I won’t be doing that, because I accepted it was a risk, but for the sake of the team who made it, I hope they make a number of significant improvements to the light.

1. The green bike is not bright enough. You might be able to see if on a dead flat surface in pitch black, potentially when it is dry, but in most cases today (both this morning and this evening) I could not see the light in front of me while moving – and if I can’t see it, there’s no chance a driver can see it.

2. You can’t direct the green bike light independently of the white light. This is a major flaw. It basically means you can use one or the other, because to have the green light pointed in the distance means you blind oncoming people.

3. The green light is impossible to see even in pitch black because the light is not held firmly in its mount. Our roads in Edinburgh are not silky smooth, they are rough, which makes the light hard enough to see on the surface of the road as it is, but because the mount does not hold the light firmly, it bounces around like crazy, and the laser image becomes distorted so it becomes invisible.

4. The light got completely soaked on the commute in this morning, and the lens still had mist on the inside of the lens 8 hours later for my ride home. I therefore doubt it is as waterproof as they believe.

5. The way you charge it seems pretty ropey. The charging cable attaches to the light using magnets, rather than slotting into the light. This might be seen as a good thing, but it’s really dodgy and falls out without much provocation.

I didn’t have a single person react to the image in front of me during my commute today, because no-one could see it. They won’t see it in the future either, because I won’t be using it. It’s a shame, because the idea sounded good, but alas all the high spirited marketing from the light’s creator has not been matched by a quality product. A better mount, being able to direct the lights independently, actually waterproof and a significantly higher powered laser and/or larger bike image are needed, I reckon.

ITV HD on Sky in Scotland

I have finally managed to get ITV HD on my Sky box, which I didn’t think was possible, since I live in Scotland. But hurrah! It is indeed possible. You merely have to add the channel manually. This means it doesn’t appear in your normal set of channels, and you can’t record it or pause it, but if you would rather watch HD without that functionality, then this is for you. Alternatively, if you want to record or pause, then you’re stuck with SD. First world problems.

To add ITV HD:

  1. Go to “Services”
  2. Press SELECT to choose “Options”
  3. Choose “Add Channels”, which is along to the right
  4. Frequency: 10.832
  5. Polarisation: H
  6. Symbol Rate (Mbaud): 22.0
  7. FEC: 5/6
  8. Press yellow button to “Find Channels”
  9. It will now scan, so wait a few seconds
  10. Highlight “ITV HD”, and press the yellow button to store it
  11. Press SELECT to continue

That last instruction is important; I didn’t press SELECT on my first attempt and it didn’t save correctly.

When you want to choose the channel later on:

  1. Go to “Services”
  2. Press SELECT to choose “Options”
  3. Choose “Other Channels”, which is along to the right
  4. Choose ITV HD!

Profit!