Friday, 16 March 2012

Is bigger better? Not in an aero bar. How the 3T Brezza Nano stacks up

Last year on one of my bi-weekly trips to the Manchester Velodrome for a training session, I started chatting to a Canadian rider (Mike Nash) who was there doing some final training for what turned out to be a record-breaking ride the following day. He had just finished riding in the Master's Track World Championships and had decided to stick around for a few days to make an assault on the Hour Record for his age group. (For those unfamiliar, it's basically a test to see how far you can ride your bike in one hour – on the track.)

We spent some time chatting about equipment and one thing I was immediately drawn to was a special set of aero bars he had on his bike. The thing about the Hour Record is, besides needing to have incredibly good endurance and an ability to suffer for the entire hour, you also need to maximise aerodynamics – both as a rider and with your equipment. Anything you can do to cheat the wind is going to give you extra distance when attempting to assault the record books. The bars on his bike were designed to do just that.

The Brezza Nano bars
What I was looking at was a set of the brand new Brezza Nano bars from 3T ( If you didn't know much about cycling you would think they were just a smaller version of their normal Brezza II aero bars – and you'd be correct. 3T took their top-of-the-range aero bar and made it smaller.

What's the big deal about that you ask? Well, a normal aero bar has a width of around 40-42cm. The Brezza Nano is only 30cm wide. Not much difference, right? Well, the theory goes that by reducing the width of the bar you are reducing the amount of material that has to cut through the air. Less air resistance = faster times. I've read claims of as much as a 30% decrease in drag over their standard Brezza bars. Add to this the reduction in weight from less material and there is the potential for some good gains.

The next day I did a quick online search of the rider I had met that night. It turns out that he did indeed manage to break the Hour Record that had stood for 8 years. I was now definitely intrigued by these bars! You see, I am obsessive about my equipment. Anything I can find that will legally give me an edge over the competition – I am willing to try and if it works for me, use in competition. Especially in track cycling where races can come down to tenths of a second, I need to make certain that I have the best equipment available. I wanted a set of these bars.

I got in touch with 3T and it turned out that the bars I had seen were a rarity in the wild. The were due to hit the market, but not for a while. However, in hearing about my background as a Paralympic hopeful and already being a World Champion in the time trial, something clicked with the folks at 3T, and they offered to get me a set of the bars before they went on sale to the public. What 3T didn't know at the time was that I was actually already a faithful 3T user. I have (and have had) 3T bars and stems on ALL my bikes! I had won the TT Wolrd's with their aero bars on my TT bike and my road and track bikes both sported their bars and stems also. And now I had a set of their new Nano's to test out on my Pursuit bike.

Nano width compared to Brezza II
Upon receiving the bars, my first impressions were, like all my other 3T products, they were superbly crafted. Light, sleek and well-made. In comparison to my 'regular' aerobars that I had on my TT bike, they seemed absolutely tiny! I strapped them onto my track bike and headed for the velodrome to give them a good test.

3T readily admit that these bars are designed for either smaller riders, or events where you are mostly travelling in a straight line. Despite seemingly travelling around in circles, pursuiting in the track is really just following a straight line – meaning you don't have to manoeuvre in and out of traffic or avoid obstacles. The narrowness of the bars makes it harder to steer the bike, when compared to the wider bar. It took me a short while to adjust to the different feel these bars gave to my steering whenever I was actually trying to negotiate around other riders on the track.

Let me be clear: there is nothing 'wrong' with the steering of these bars. It just feels different to a wider bar. It took me all of one session to master them. I would happily use these bars on my TT bike IF I primarily did flat and straight(ish) courses. But if you have to ride technical courses with lots of turns and are out of the saddle climbing regularly, then these bars probably aren't for you.

Head on view with my risers. I built a small bridge
between the aero extensions to add stability.
Over the period of the next few weeks I continued to ride with the bars, getting more and more comfortable with them. I made a series of adjustments until they were perfect for my needs. Due to the particular set-up of my track bike and the need to get maximum leverage when pulling up on the bars when doing a standing start out of the start gate, I opted to drop the base bar down as low as my bike would allow – but kept the arm rests up high in my normal position. This meant I had to use some large (60mm) spacers between the bar and the arm rests. The spacers are from 3T themselves and current opinion is that separating the base bar from the arm rest actually improves aerodynamics. It does make the bars look quite 'extreme', but trust me – they feel fantastic.

On the track I ride two different events with these bars; the Individual Pursuit and the Kilo (1km time trial). When you start the Pursuit you 'ease' into it. This means you don't come out of the start gate as hard as you can. You still need to be able to pull not he bars, but it isn't a maximum effort. When starting the Kilo though, it's a matter of giving everything you have. What I personally found was, that the bars were fine for Pursuit starts, but lacked enough leverage for Kilo starts. Being as narrow as they are – it's just difficult to be able to pull on them with 100% effort. For Kilo starts you ideally need the wider bar.

The bars in action
In the end, the bars were a key part of my arsenal in winning the Individual Pursuit title at the World Championships. Not only winning, but doing so by a convincing margin against the reigning World Champion and World Record holder (more than 6 seconds over 3km). I have been asked by many riders and other coaches about the bars – my impressions, where I got them, etc. I have always given my honest and candid opinion (as I have done here). And I will continue to use the bars as I prepare to win gold in London!

The best part of this whole experience, is that 3T offered to be one of my sponsors leading into London. I will be using their very best bars and stems (both road, track and TT) on all my bikes, and will even be riding on their new carbon race wheels (wheels are a new entry into the marketplace for 3T this year). It's so rewarding to work with companies that you believe in and who are willing to go the extra mile to help YOU succeed. 3T definitely fits into this category. I humbly thank them for their support and I look forward to many more victories using their products!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Shifting... with a difference

I've had my current road bike for a few years now and have loved most things about it. Plus I decided to switch to Sram components years ago, when the Red system first came out, and for the most part I've been really happy with it. But if there's one issue I've had with my bike and the components – it's been the shifting of the gears.

Now, I'm sure my good friends at Fisher Outdoors (who sell Sram in the UK) aren't going to be happy when they read this and say it's because the cabling wasn't installed properly or blame some other factor for the poor shifting – and they are probably right! I personally think I've had issues with the shifting due to the difficult cable run on my bike (a Cervelo S3). Some tight, tricky bends through the frame mean that cables don't always pull the way they are supposed to. 

Whenever I install a new set of cables, things seem to work great for a short period of time before things start to get 'sticky'. I have tried several different systems from Gore's fully sealed system to generic cables to ├╝ber-fancy Aligator i-Link compressionless cabling. They have all had their issues.  Plus, as a bit of a weight-weenie, I'm always on the lookout for a cabling system that is lightweight and won't add extra, unneeded weight to the bike.

This search brought me to Power Cordz. Power Cordz is a synthetic cabling system. That's right – it doesn't use traditional metal cables, but rather is uses synthetic fibers (called Zylon HM or PBO). Here's the techy bit: 

"PBO is a rigid-rod isotropic crystal polymer that has superior tensile strength and modulus of elasticity. Simply stated - Zylon is very stiff and strong. It's superior cable material. A slick nylon protective coating encases around 10,000 PBO fibbers.

The cord is bonded (using a top-secret patented process) to a high quality anodized anchor. The bond has a breaking strength of over 600lbs which is the same as steel at 25% the weight."

So what does all that mean? Well, basically it comes down to this: The cables are lighter, more durable, won't stretch, are more efficient and don't require adjustment. The won't rust or corrode and work on any bike. OK – that's enough of the sales pitch from the company. What about ME? How did I find them in real life?

With any product that I use and write about, I like to give my honest opinion and tell why I use it. Not just the manufacturer's fluff piece but a real-life assessment. The cables were provided to me by the UK distributor, Synergy Action ( The owner there, Simon Philbrick, has been incredibly supportive and superbly fast in dealing with me. Product was sent out the same day it was promised without having to ask twice. Service like that is hard to find. Anywhere.

Simon sent me Power Cordz's Prime System. A full set out outers, inners, ferrules, etc and in your choice of several colours. Everything you need to wire up your bike perfectly. The Power Cordz website has videos on how to install the cables, and there are also instructions sent out with the product.

But it's pretty basic. Just a matter of cutting the outer housing to length (usually to match your existing cables if you already have them on your bike), and then putting the correct ferrules in the right places. Run the inner cable through and tighten at the ends to your mechs and brakes. The last bit (tightening the cables) is the only tricky bit and you need to get it right for the system to work. But it's just a matter of wrapping the synthetic cables around the bolt in a 360° loop instead of the way you normally would do it with a steel cable (where you just put the cable through and tighten down directly on it). Hard to explain, but the videos show it clearly, as do the written instructions. This just stops the synthetic cables from sliding out from under the bolt.

In tightening down my bolts on the cables, I noticed that the cables 'came apart'. I squashed them so tightly that the cables separated into individual threads. Like if you took a piece of rope and squashed it so tightly that you could see the individual strands that make up the whole rope. I thought I had done something wrong – but this is the beauty of synthetic cabling. It's so strong that even when 'crushed' like this it keeps it strength. I was assured by Simon that this is OK.

That really was my only complaint! Seriously.

I've been riding with these cables for a few months now. I wanted to wait a while before posting a review of them. Give them a chance to 'wear in' and see if any problems occurred. I didn't want to install them, go for one ride, declare them the best thing ever, only for them to turn out like other cables and stop working a few rides later!

For the first time (possibly ever with this particular bike), my shifting is smooth, crisp, correct and reliable. I don't have to pull extra hard on the levers to get my shifts. The cables don't stretch so the shifting is accurate every time. The cables aren't metal, so riding in the rain and muck and salt of winter hasn't corroded them. They don't need oiling. The ends don't even need nibs on them! I am impressed.

If you've come to this blog through an internet search for Power Cordz and want to know if/how they work, my answer is... perfectly. If this changes over time I'll repost and update with any issues. But for me, for now – the best shifting performance I've had to date!

And lastly, as a side note, when Simon sent out the cables, he also sent me a couple samples of one of his other products. A little packet with a wipe inside. It's called 'Foggle'. You wipe your sunglasses with it and it stops them from fogging up on a ride (a common problem, especially on colder days). It's the ONLY product like it that I've used... that has actually worked! Went out on a cold day (where I was rather warm from the efforts on the bike) and it actually stopped the glasses from fogging up. I was amazed. If you have this issue, get a packet and try it out. (I think they're only a couple of quid each, and you can reuse the wipe several times). I'm going to try it on my TT visor next as well to make sure they can handle a REALLY tough challenge!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Passion Play

Last week in the midst of my post-World's break and promotional tour of sorts, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days as the guest of one of my sponsors, Fisher Outdoors, ts their annual Expo – essentially a bike show where they show their products to all the suppliers and the media. It's not open to the general public as most bike shows would be so has a different feel than a large show.

Fisher is the UK distributor for many great bike brands, including names such as LOOK, Zipp and Sram. Fisher's was instrumental in getting me my Look 596 track bike that I won the World Championships with. And as it's the only one of it's kind in the UK, they asked me to bring it along to put on display.

The Expo was held at a very nice hotel/spa resort in St. Albans – not too far from London. I drove down on Sunday morning in order to participate in their annual charity bike ride being held in the afternoon. This year, they were riding on behalf of an organisation called World Bicycle Relief ( WBR is the brainchild of FK Day – one of the founders of Sram. In essence their goals is to provide strong, sturdy bikes to individuals in Africa. It started in the aftermath of a tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2005 when local communities were wiped out and the need for cheap, reliable transportation quickly became apparent.

WBR have done lots of research into the impact of bikes in these poor communities – whether on local 'business' people who are able to get their goods to market easier and in greater volume, to schoolchildren who can make the journey to school (often up to 10 miles away) with increased regularity, greatly improving their attendance and grades. It's amazing to see how a bike costing so little can have such a huge impact. If you have any interest in finding out more, or to make a donation of any amount, I strongly urge to click on their site to find out more.

The following day the Expo opened and was immediately flooded by crowds of people in the bike business – most of which run shops selling these products. I had the opportunity to browse the various displays and talk with the Fisher's staff about the great brands they represent. As a self-confessed bike geek, it's always a genuine thrill to be able to see loads of the products i normally only see in magazines up close and personal. And to have the chance to speak with the people that know the most about the products and get insight into how to best use them is a real treat for me.

Fisher, as the UK distributor for LOOK bikes and pedals, had a number of their bikes on display. As mentioned, they also put my track bike on show. Whenever I was in the general vicinity of the LOOK stand, it was gratifying to see how much attention the bike garnered. Lots of people coming over to check it out, most not realising that it had won a World Championship and wasn't just another demo model on show! Whenever I was able to though, I gladly spoke to people about my experiences in using and riding the bike.

In the evening at the conclusion of the show for the day, Fisher's hosted a gala dinner for all the guests. Close to 200 people packed the ballroom for the dinner. Once again, I had the chance to speak with many of the guests – from passionate bike shop owners and staff, to other riders and cycling team staff. I had the privilege of being sat next to (on one side) one of the senior board members of Fishers and on the other – the head of sales worldwide for LOOK.

Pascal, the gentleman from LOOK has been in the job for 25 years. He spends a great deal of his time travelling all of the globe, dealing with sales staff and distributors and making sure the LOOK brand is well represented. He has a wife and 5 kids at home, and (if you can believe this) in his 'spare' time competes in full length Ironman triathlons. For those unfamiliar, that's a whopping 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a FULL 26.2 mile marathon run. All with no break. That is hard core. Somehow, he manages to fit training for these events in and around his work and travels. I know I sometimes struggle to get my training done when I have nothing else to do, let alone a full day's work!

Pascal and I touched many times on the subject of passion – and how it is important to have in life – in whatever you do. If you want to be successful and happy in your life and work, you need to be passionate about the things that you chose to do. It was obvious that he had this passion and consequently he had made a great career and life for himself, and I am certain that he could tell I had a great passion for what I do and my drive to win medals in London. It is because of people like him that I am proud to be associated with the LOOK brand and have their support in the next year.

The whole evening reminded me again how lucky I am to be able to do what I do (ride a bike on a daily basis for my country). It drove home the point that not only is it a joy and privilege to be able to do this, but it is in large part made possible by companies such as LOOK and Fisher's who provide me in some part with the equipment that make my performances possible. And in watching the presentation on World Bicycle Relief, and seeing how some of these people struggle just for the basic necessities in life (and what a difference having a simple bicycle can make to those lives), I was reminded that my life is blessed in so many ways – despite missing limbs and various other physical problems.

It was a pleasure to meet the staff from Fisher's – who, like Pascal and myself, clearly have a passion for all things bicycle and cycling in general. Obviously they are, to some degree, salesmen, but it goes beyond that. There is an underlying desire by many of them to go above and beyond, and that is always clear to me in my dealings with them and in their show of support for my and my goals. In particular, I have been helped regularly by TIm Bayley who reps Sram, LOOK and Zipp – a true gent. Probably doesn't hurt that he is a fellow time trialist! 

And so – the whole point of this post is that… in whatever you do in life… the key to success is passion. In work, life or play! So get out there and enjoy whatever it is you are doing and make the most of it. You never know when you'll get another opportunity to do the things that you love.