2010 Is Looking Tight — UPDATED — Tight is Right

SEE UPDATE @ bottom of this post…

Will 2010 be the year that compression clothing breaks big in cycling?

If you’ve been to any type of endurance sporting event in the last year or so you’ve probably noticed a pretty good smattering of compression garments hanging off the racers. And if you watched the pre- and post-stage interviews at the Tour de France you saw Lance Armstrong and several other riders sporting compression socks.

The basic premise behind compression clothing for athletes is that the tight fabric increases circulation and enhances oxygenation, and hence recovery, of the working muscles.

Lately it seems there are 3 main companies producing compression gear for athletes: Skins, Zoot and 2XU. Of the 3 Skins and 2XU seem to be making the biggest play for cyclists. Skins sponsors Columbia-HTC, and are rolling out a robust cycling line  later this year. 2XU has a decent range of cycling clothing, sponsors Garmin and AIS, and even offers sublimation. Zoot is mainly tri-focused.

My Experience with Compression-wear

Zoot Compress RX Tights
I got interested in Compression for cycling after reading this cyclingnews review of the Zoot Recovery Tights. I liked the idea of using them for recovery and travel. Long car rides are brutal for the legs  and I’ve had more than one bad race the after driving home from a family vacation. I opted for the $110 knickers because I thought they’d be more versatile than the long tights. I never rode in them, but wore them around the house in the evening after tough workouts and even slept in them a few times. I also wore them a few times if I had to drive  more than an hour or so the day before a race.

How’d they feel? In a word, tight. I mean crazy-tight. They’re actually hard to get on. You sort of have to shimmy them up your legs in sections. Although the fabric is pretty thick I did stretch the seams in a few spots. For $110 I thought they should be a little tougher, but the initial seam tears haven’t spread now that I’m a bit more careful.

Once on you can feel the compression in the the knickers right away. It’s almost a mild throbbing sensation, but it’s not at all unpleasant. After a few hours of wear my  legs always feel fresher, but I wouldn’t say the feeling is overwhelming. The fresh-legs feeling is more noticeable after I’ve worn the knickers during long car rides. I usually emerge from such hour-plus rides w/ a heavy, blocked-up stiffness in my quads. However, with the knickers on I hopped out of the car feeling fresh and rested. This summer I had a very good race the morning after serving 2 hours behind the wheel the previous night. I haven’t worn the knickers since the season ended in September, but plan to give them a try under my cycling shorts in some cool-weather races this spring.

2XU Compression Shorts
These shorts are very different from the Zoot knickers. First off the material is much thinner and they are not nearly as tight. When I first got them out of the package I was a little worried that these weren’t really compression tights, but the first ride has left me optimistic about them. Today the training plan called for a 1 hour zone 3 ride. My legs felt a little beat up from a moderately-strenuous leg workout yesterday, so I thought today’s ride would be a good test for the shorts. The 2XU model I have doesn’t have a chamois and the website says they are designed to be worn under your cycling shorts, so that’s how I wore them. As I said the fabric is rather thin, so the extra bulk didn’t feel bad and I think the 2 layers enhanced the compression feel.

I set up the trainer popped in a movie and got at it. After a short warm up I settled into the mid- to high-end of my zone 3. Fifteen minutes later my initial apprehension about the shorts was fading. A day after lifting my legs should have felt a little hollow, but instead felt full and powerful. There was a noticeable feeling of tightness around my quads, but it made me feel strong. I spent time both spinning around 100 rpm and grinding down around 80 rpm and both felt great. In short the ride felt like one of those too few great legs days that you experience now and then. Tomorrow is another lifting day, so I’ll try the shorts there too and then continue to wear them on most rides. Hopefully the good feelings will continue. I’ll follow-up after some more time on the bike and in the gym.

DeFeet DeCompressor Socks
DeFeet makes great cycling socks, so when I saw that they were getting in on the compression act I was interested to try them. The first thing you notice about the DeCompressor socks is that they are extremely comfortable. The DeCompressor features a thin Levitator Lite foot section that is lightweight breathable and quick drying. I’ve had these for a few weeks and have been wearing them around the house in the evening. I’m rocking the black ones so they look extra goofy if I’m wearing shorts. Like the knickers I’m using these just for recovery and I’d put them in a similar category — good, but not amazing. The socks are much easier to put on that the knickers, and much less warm under clothing, so I see myself getting more use out of them for the aforementioned long car rides.

The Future Looks Tight
I’m looking forward to more experimentation with compression clothing this year.  I plan to get my hands on some of Skins’ updated line of C400 cycling specific clothing when they come out later this year, so be sure to look for updates on my self guinea piggery.

UPDATE

So it’s been about 6 weeks since I began earnestly testing my compression wear. The results are a big thumbs-up for both the socks and the shorts.

I wear my DeFeet DeCompressor socks in the evening after almost every workout (both gym and bike work), and the results are noticeably less-sore, fresher-feeling legs. I usually throw the socks on around 7 or 8 and wear them until I go to be at 11 or so. I would bump up my initial assessment of them — good, but not amazing — to pretty damn good. I think as I’ve begun to do harder rides and workouts the benefits of the socks has become more noticeable. In addition to wearing them at home I’ve worn them a few times when I knew I was going to be on my feel a lot or taking a long car ride — both with good results. Just last week I drove about  5 hours straight while wearing the socks. When I arrived at my destination I didn’t have that awful, dead-legs feeling that driving often gives me. I didn’t have a chance to ride or even exercise the next day, but my legs felt pretty snappy just walking around.

As for washing I usually run them through the machine about once a week if I’m just wearing them around the house. Maybe that sounds nasty, but they don’t get too skanky padding around my living room, and the fact that machine drying in not suggested makes daily washing a hassle. I haven’t noticed any deterioration in the material or tightness.

The ease of use and the $30 price tag makes these a no-brainer for any athlete looking to dip a toe into compression.

The 2XU shorts also did not disappoint. I tried them both at the gym and on the trainer. I can’t say I felt any benefits at the gym. At this time of the training year (Jan/Feb) I’m doing some mid- to heavy-weight squatting. I was hoping that the shorts would add some pop to that, but I don’t think they did. They’re thin and comfy, but I life the same weight and feel the same when I don’t wear them. On the bike is another story. I’ve worn them pretty much every time I’ve ridden for the last 6 weeks or so and on the few occasions I didn’t wear them my legs felt noticeably worse.

Yesterday I was doing some  threshold intervals. 1, 2, 3, 2, 1 in zone 4/5 on the trainer. My legs were a little beat up from some squats at the gym the day before, but the shorts continued to deliver. The feeling is sort of hard to describe. I could feel the fatigue in my legs, but it seemed manageable and it seemed to take me longer to get to the point where I was in discomfort. Although the shorts don’t feel nearly as tight as the other compression wear I’ve sampled the do seem to be making a difference. I have no data to back any of this up, but even if it’s just psychological who cares. Feeling better is better. At $80 the shorts are a bit more of an investment, but still a good deal in the grand scheme of cycling accessories.

I’d still like to sample the new Skins C400 shorts, but it seems that they’re not available yet. Also, from the looks of their site they are only offering bib shorts w/ a chamois. Fine for training, but I need something I can wear under my team kit.

For me tight is right and I’m looking forward to seeing how I feel when the racing starts.

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CambelBak Podium Bottle Review

You use at least one every time you ride, but you probably don’t give a lot of thought to your water bottle. I know I didn’t. My rotating cast of bottles was a hodge-podge of no name brands that were mostly freebies or race giveaways. Then last Christmas I found two Podium bottles in my stocking, and my view on the lowly water bottle was changed.

In general the bottle looks and feels like most others. The plastic is a bit thicker and gives a bit more resistance when squeezed. The podium is a little wider at the neck than most bottles, but fits fine in the cages and it no problem to grab and remove.

The real differences in the podium bottle are found in the lid. First there’s a twist valve that rotates to lock and open the valve. It works flawlessly. When closed the bottle simply does not drip. I mean, not one drop. Usually when you mix up a batch of whatever it is that you drink while riding you have to shake it up-side-down over the sink or risk faux-finishing the kitchen. You don’t need to use the lock every time you drink from the bottle. The other cool feature is the self-closing bite valve. With just a light squeeze of the bottle the valve opens and lets you drink. Let go and the vale closes back down to avoid the dribbles and drips that get on your hands and bike w/ a standard bottle. There’s a little learning curve with this valve in that the water doesn’t seem to flow as freely, but you get used to it after a few sips.

After almost a year of regular use and dozens of trips through the dishwasher the bottles have held up well and the valve and locking mechanism work as they did on day one.

The Podium is a little more expensive than it’s less feature-rich cousins, but they’re still pretty cheap. The bottles come in two sizes, 21 and 24 ounces and are available in six colors. The 21 ouncer is $8.00 and the 24 is $9.00.

I’d love a few more of these for Christmas this year and I’m sure any serious cyclist would be glad to have one too.

CamelBak Podium Bottle


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“Politics” Keeping Landis out of the Tour?

I think Floyd Landis might be giving politics too much of a role in his lack of Pro Tour team offers. There is also the little problem of his 2009 results. What were those, you ask? My point exactly.

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Filed under Doping, Pro Cycling Antics, Racing – Europe, Tour De France

Here’s a Thought — Don’t Cheat in the First Place

While saying he doesn’t “look for excuses” Thomas Dekker checks in with the predictable I only did it once excuse and adds in the I only did it because I was injured excuse. Then he moves on to assure us that since he’s young he can come back and prove himself clean. If you’re so young and have so much time why bother with the drugs to rush back into shape. Thomas Dekker is very sorry — sorry he got caught.

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Universal Sports Cycling Name Game

I’m glad to have the Vuelta on TV. It’s had some cool moments this year (Cancellera’s storming prologue, Tyler’s crazy-long sprint win). Mostly I blaze through the stages via TiVo to get to the good parts. I have watched enough of this race and the Giro to pick up on some odd name pronunciations from the the Universal Sports announcers — Todd Gogulski and  Steve Schlanger.

Now, I have no idea how most of these cats really pronounce their names. People do all kinds of whacky crap with their names — I’m looking at you Brett Favre (Farve). That said, I’ve never heard anyone use the pronunciations these guys do. Do they have the inside line? Are Liggett and Sherwen wrong (and everyone else I’ve ever heard) wrong? If they’re right I want to start using their pronunciations. I love knowing the right way to say things when common wisdom say otherwise. For example it’s Ser-Ott-uh, not Ser-Oh-tuh. If they’re wrong I want to shout at the TV and mock them during the club rides.

Here are the ones that jumped out at me — with my preferred pronunciation in parenthesis and theirs in brackets:

  • Freire (Fr-air)[Fee-air-ay]
  • Sastre (Sas-truh)[Sos-tray]
  • Cunego (Ku-Nay-Go)[Ku-Nuh-Go]
  • Farrar (Far-ar)[Far-uh]

That’s all I can pull out of memory, but it’s kind of odd. Did Gogulski and Schlanger make a decision about this or was it organic?

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Zigo Leader Review

Recently my wife and I had the opportunity to test-ride a couple of Zigo Leaders at the NYC Summer Streets event. As a serious racer with 2 youngish children and a wife who is an average cyclist I’m always looking for opportunities to include the family in my sport. In the  interest of disclosure I should mention that a long-time friend of mine (Marc) works for the company and asked that we accompany him on the Summer Streets ride. That said, our personal relationship had no bearing on what you’ll read below.

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The Family on/in the Zigos

The Zigo Leader is a modular carrier bicycle that lets you ride with one or two children in a ChildPod. The pod acts as the front wheels (basically a reverse tricycle set-up). The modular aspect comes from the fact that you can detach the pod and use it as a double stroller, a jogger or even a traditional kid trailer. The jogger and trailer modes require the purchase of additional accessories.

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The Zigo Carrier Bike. You can see the 2 knobs that secure the Leader Link – between my hands and at the junction of top-tube and head-tube.

The Zigos before attaching the child pods

The Zigos before attaching the child pods

A Brief History of Totting My Kids

Over the years I’ve had experience with a couple of different contraptions designed for hauling kids with a bike —  rear-rack mounted child seat, a rear trailer attachment. The rear-rack seat is OK when your kids are small, but even then it tends to be a bit tippy and you have to look around behind you to check on your kid. You can mount the seats to your regular bike, but with the model I owned you had to have rack braze-ons. Since none of my race bikes had them the seat went on my wife’s MTB. Trailers are a nicer, more expensive option. I never owned a trailer, but borrowed one from a friend and towed the kids all over Block Island, RI a few years ago. The experience was pretty good, but I didn’t like it enough to purchase one.

Sizing up the Zigo

Before the Summer Streets ride I had only seen online pictures of the Zigo. Truth be told I was a little apprehensive. The whole thing just didn’t seem too slick. But when we arrived in SoHo to meet up with Marc I was pleasantly surprised. The bikes were actually rather cool and the setup was easy. The ChildPod takes shape through a siple series of unfolds and clicks — sort of like a regular stroller, but on a larger, more rugged scale. The Pod attaches to the bike via what Zigo calls the Leader Link. Basically two large, easy-to-manipulate knobs that, when tightened, secure the ChildPod to the bike part of the Zigo. I’m pretty ham-fisted when it comes to things like this, but it was simple enough that once I saw Marc do it once I had no problem operating it myself. Now we were ready to load up the kids. My son (5-years-old) hopped in, buckled the 5 point harness and was ready to go. My daughter is 7 and quite tall — she had a tougher time. She couldn’t really get under the harness and spent much of the day w/ her legs hanging out the front. Can’t really call this a flaw w/ the Zigo just a simple statement of fact that there is an upper limit for height. All that said there wasn’t any complaining from her about being uncomfortable. As for my fit the height-adjustable seat (via a standard quick release) was fine. I’m 6’1″ and still had plenty of post in the seat tube.

The Ride

Let’s get something straight about the Zigo — it’s a bike designed to carry your kids. It is NOT nor does it claim to be a race bike or even an everyday road or mtn. bike. The riding position is pretty upright, which for most casual riders is rather comfortable. To a racer it feels hokey at first, but you don’t really notice after a minute or two. The shifting on the Zigo is handled by a Sutrmey-Archer 3-speed internal hub. I’ve had no experience with these type of hubs before, and was curious to see how they worked. The shifting was pretty quick and smooth, but the 3 speeds just aren’t enough. I think even the casual rider would find it limiting. The low isn’t low enough (my wife had to really work hard up the one or two steep-ish hills on our route) and the high gear often left me spinning like crazy. For most bike paths I think this gearing would probably be fine, but if you have many ups or downs you’ll be looking for more gears. Luckily the folks at Zigo tell me that the next generation of the bikes will feature a 7-speed internal which should help things out a lot.

The steering on the Zigo feels a bit heavy since you have the ChildPod right in front of the handlebars, but the heaviness actually works to your advantage in that the ride is very stable and steady. On a few quick downhill sections I appreciated the heavy feel at the handlebars in that there was no hint of speed-wobbles. That steadiness is also an asset when you come to a stop. Due to the 3-wheel configuration there’s no need to put your feet down when you slow or come to a stop. This is a real advantage over the rear-rack carriers which require you think ahead as you slow down due to their top-heavy nature. My wife actually toppled over once at a traffic light with our daughter in the rear carrier. Nobody was hurt, but it was sort of scary. The stopping duties on the Zigo are handled by drum brakes in the front and rear wheels. The lever feel is light and the brakes to a fine job of stopping the bike.

Overall Impressions

In short, a fun day was had by all. Although I initially had my doubts a day spent on the Zigo was a good time. As a serious racer I sometimes lose sight of the simple pleasure of a bike ride with the family and friends. Since my kids are both riding 2-wheelers a Zigo probably won’t find a place in my garage, but if I had younger children a Zigo would be high on my list. At $1349 it’s not inexpensive, but when you take into account that the Zigo is a bicycle, a stroller, a jogger (with a $70 accessory), or trailer for any adult bicycle (a $75 accessory), the price seems much more reasonable. My advice is to visit a Zigo dealer and take a ride to see if it’s right for you and your family — I think you’ll be impressed.

A Fun Day with the Family

A Fun Day with the Family

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Tyler Farrar Wins Stage 1 of Eneco Tour

Tyler Farrar did a great sprint today to take out the first stage of the Eneco Tour and propelled himself into the overall lead. Video is here (click on the top, right video in the sidebar on the right).

Boonen was second. He started from way too far back and then had to go out and around the rider in front of him. Farrar was 2nd or 3rd wheel when things got going and nobody ever got close. Koldo Fernandez from Euskatel in a fab display of head-down sprinting seemed to cause a massive pile up near the front of the sprinting bunch. The video link above shows a good shot of a Bbox Time bike broken clean in half and the head-tube.

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