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!

Miles Comparison, Week 7

It’s at this point I’m going to struggle to stay ahead of last year.

miles_comparison

This week last year I did 90 miles, then the next two weeks I did 95 and 102. This week this year I did 22 miles. There’s a good reason for that, though – I’ve been in St Louis, MO, from Sunday until Friday, and my ability to get out and do any kind of activity was severely limited by two things. Firstly, working 14 hours a day leaves little time to do anything else, while being -17°C (1°F) also made things a bit tricky. Hitting 22 miles was therefore a bit of a miracle, only made possible by cycling to a couple of shops today.

That said, I did go out for a run in St Louis, just a short 4 miler when it had warmed up to a toasty -6°C. I wore my NYC marathon running coat, and bloody hell am I glad I did. However, it appears no-one really walks anywhere, and the pavements (sidewalks…) were not cleared at all, so I had to run round a dual carriageway ring road on the inside lane of the road. One car blasted their horn at me, but quite frankly I’m not sure what they expected me to do.

It’s at this point where I start wondering whether I’ll be able to compete with the miles I did last year. I look at the numbers later on from around week 19 and I’m thinking there’s no chance I’ll be able to hit over 100 miles. However, I am forgetting the fact that it is bloody freezing in Scotland right now, and by week 19, we’ll be in May and it will be both much warmer, and a hell of a lot lighter, giving ample opportunity to get out on the bike.

Also, we’re not far away from the 6 week stretch where I basically didn’t do anything at all, when I totally broke myself. That 6 weeks, I only rode 42 miles in total, including 4 weeks of zero miles, so I should be able to get well ahead. I’m currently only 68 miles ahead, and unless the weather starts to improve, I might not be ahead at all in a couple of weeks time.

Miles Comparison, Week 5

Another jump ahead this week, but this is probably where it’s going to either stop jumping ahead, or even go down over the next 4 weeks, as I clearly stepped things up a bit at this point last year. This week should be easy to match with just 67 miles. The next week, 90 miles, I won’t get anywhere near as I won’t be able to cycle to work that week (more on that later). So, I’m currently 112 miles ahead after 5 weeks, but if I’m still 100 miles ahead at 9 weeks, I’ll be lucky.

miles_comparison

Breathing is getting easier

My breathing when I’m swimming is definitely getting easier. The past couple of weeks at least, I’ve been getting out of the pool with parts of my body feeling a light bit achey. Not necessarily sore, but they definitely feel like they have been working out. This didn’t used to happen. I think this is largely because I wasn’t working my body hard enough because I couldn’t swim for long enough without running out of breath. But now, I seem to have figured out how to breathe, at least to my right hand side, such that I can keep going for longer periods of time.

Today’s swim was a good example of this. I did about 5 sets of 8 lengths, but at the end of the 8th one, I decided I didn’t want to stop, so I did another couple. I was at that point going to get out of the pool, but didn’t because I felt like I wanted to try to embed some techniques that I have been working on a little more. I suspect I didn’t manage that, but still, another 46 lengths of a 25m pool, and it didn’t feel too bad.

I’m getting there, slowly.

Steps to Replace a Groupset

The plans to replace the groupset on my commuter are going well. I took apart the “test bike” I bought on Gumtree a few weeks ago and attached the entire Shimano Tiagra groupset to the bike. The only bit that was a problem was the front mech which was restricted because the screws for the water bottle on the down tube were in the place that clip for the front mech needed to go. Not entirely sure who designed that frame, but they clearly were not thinking about making it possible to fit a standard front mech to it.

Anyway, next I took the entire groupset off the bike so that I can attach it to my commuter. I plan to do this in two sittings, and although I may end up doing both sittings in one day, I am leaving myself the option of doing one sitting one weekend and the next sitting a week later, if time runs away from me. However, to attempt to prevent that happening, I am now listing what I reckon I need to do, and therefore what I need, to do the job.

Brakes are missing from this installation because I already have Tiagra brake calipers on the bike, as the original 2300 ones pretty much died, most likely from lack of care by myself. I should apply GT85 to such things more often than “never”.

Sitting 1: Front

Encompasses:

  • Left STI
  • Bottom Bracket
  • Crankset
  • Front Mech

Kit needed: inner and outer brake and gear cables.

Steps to assemble:

  1. Remove left hand bar tape
  2. Remove front gear cable
  3. Remove brake cable
  4. Throw away inner cables, retain outers if in good nick
  5. Remove chain
  6. Remove front mech
  7. Remove pedals
  8. Remove cranks
  9. Remove bottom bracket
  10. Clean out threads that BB screws into
  11. Remove left STI
  12. Attach new left STI
  13. Attach new bottom bracket
  14. Attach new crankset
  15. Attach new front mech
  16. Attach old chain
  17. Attach pedals
  18. Attach gear cable, and test
  19. Attach brake cable, and test
  20. Wrap new bar tape

Sitting 2: Back

Encompasses:

  • Right STI
  • Rear mech
  • Chain
  • Cassette

Kit needed: inner and outer brake and gear cables.

Steps to assemble:

  1. Remove right hand bar tape
  2. Remove rear gear cable
  3. Remove brake cable
  4. Throw away inner cables, retain outers if in good nick
  5. Remove chain
  6. Remove rear mech
  7. Remove rear wheel
  8. Remove cassette from wheel
  9. Remove right STI
  10. Attach new right STI
  11. Attach new cassette to wheel
  12. Attach rear mech
  13. Put wheel back in
  14. Attach new chain
  15. Attach gear cable, and test
  16. Attach brake cable, and test
  17. Wrap new bar tape

Injury #1 of 2014: Dislocated Thumb

I made it to the 21st day of the year before injuring myself this year – an improvement of 6 days over last year. Today, I managed to dislocate my thumb merely by attempting to put my brake light in its clip before riding home. IMG_3686 This was quite pathetic really, since the guy standing beside me unlocking his bike will have been none the wiser to what happened, as I masked the sudden need to throw up while putting it back in its socket quite well. Cycling home was pretty sore, and I bandaged it up upon my return, mainly to prevent myself from accidentally using it.

My thumbs are not, in fairness, the strongest part of my body. I have broken them both and dislocated at least one of them (possibly both, I can’t now recall, but I suspect I have), and they are therefore the most likely to damage from standard activities, such as putting a rear brake light in its clip. Need to take more care when doing such risky procedures in future.