2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 3 – Tough day, but great views

I wouldn’t have guessed from looking at the official route profile for the Edwards to Steamboat Springs ride that it would turn out to be my hardest day of the tour. Sure, the length of the route is 5 miles longer than the previous 2 days, but there were only two relatively small climbs shown on the profile, and a long downhill into Steamboat itself. A piece of cake, especially when compared to the Cottonwood Pass climb we did on day 1, right?

Not so much, as it turns out. The day started out fast and fun, with great weather, calm winds, and a nice mostly downhill ride out of Edwards. Once we hit Wolcott, the climbing began with a nice 1,000 ft climb and then a fast descent through Bond and then ending at McCoy where aid station 2 was located.

The bad news we heard about a rider crashing and later dying on a descent yesterday seemed to affect everyone I saw descending. There seemed to be a little reluctance to go as fast as the previous two days. It might have just been my own perception and awareness, but in general everyone seemed to be a lot more cautious than I have seen before.

After leaving aid station 2, we began the biggest climb of a day, a nice, long, winding climb along highway 131 heading towards Toponas. The terrain changed from high desert to a slightly more lush wide valley, with plenty of aspens and wildflowers to color the landscape along the way. This climb was really a lot of fun – the grade was just right, steep but not too steep, and it was long enough that you just needed to find your zone and keep the pedals turning.

There was a short descent after this hill towards Toponas, and this is where the trouble began. The mostly westwardly winds seemed to get stronger, and became a headwind for most of our route. The speeds coming into Toponas were much slower than I expected and once we reached aid station 3, we knew we were only halfway done with the day.

I took a long break at aid station 3, and indulged in some Nutella and banana crepes from one of the ride vendors. I’m sure it was an excessive amount of calories, probably more than I burned on the entire ride, but it was completely awesome and total worth it.

I wasn’t looking forward to the remainder of the ride, as we were going to have a headwind almost the entire way. But, I had a couple of guardian angels that showed up and made the next 20 miles amazing. A couple on a tandem that I had been hopscotching with all day passed me on a windy straight-away, and another rider and I latched on and used them as a nice, big windshield. I stayed with them until aid station 5, going at least 5-10 mph faster than I would have been able to maintain alone.

Stagecoach Reservoir
Stagecoach Reservoir

The Stagecoach Reservoir where aid station 5 was located is gorgeous, and frankly, so was the remainder of the ride coming into Steamboat Springs. This was my first time ever in this part of Colorado, and the first time to Steamboat Springs. The route through the lush valley coming into town was gorgeous, and hats off to whoever picked the route, and to making sure all the road obstacles were well marked. It remained windy, but luckily the downhill grade was enough to overcome it and I maintained a nice, fast pace coming all the way into town, even with the few rolling hills along the route.

This turned out to be my longest day in the saddle thus far at 5 hours and 45 minutes. I also wound up doing quite a bit more work than before too, pedaling out 2,977 kilojoules of work compared to 2,500 on the previous two days. Maybe that crepe wasn’t too many calories after all.

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/14/day-3-the-hardest-day/871/

2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 2 – Windy Climbs on the Way to Leadville

Day 2 started out a bit nicer than day 1 – it was 10 degrees or so warmer in Buena Vista than Crested Butte, making getting ready a whole lot more enjoyable.

I decided to skip breakfast at camp and opted for the famous pancake breakfast at the first aid station – this may have been a bad plan. The first 13 miles were the hardest of my day – moderate cross- and head-winds the entire way, and a gradual climb with no respite the entire way. Couple that with tired muscles from day 1 and it was a rough way to start out the day. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way – I heard lots of complaining along the way, and some short tempers compared to day 1.

The pancake breakfast hit the spot as it always does, and gave me enough energy to head directly to Leadville and bypassing aid station 2. The ride into Leadville was surprisingly easy compared to the first 13 miles. The road grade seemed more gradual, the winds miraculously died down completely, and the temperatures were perfect.

The road quality in this section was the main issue, as we had little to no shoulder and a sandy margin beyond that. Oh, and of course the altitude continued to creep up and we did a large part of this section over 9,000 ft, eventually reaching 10,200 ft in Leadville proper.

After a nice break in Leadville, it was time to leave town, go on a short, fast descent, and then make our way up Tennessee Pass. This climb was fantastic. The road grade was very gradual making the climb up to 10,424 ft a pretty easy one.

The descent down from Tennessee Pass was fast, mostly straight, with only a little road traffic to contend with. This descent ended too quickly though, and then it was time to climb Battle Mountain. At 59 miles into the ride, and the hardest climb of the day, this climb wore a lot of us out. It was much steeper than the other climbs up the day and the temperatures had warmed enough by then to make shedding clothes a necessity. The road was narrow, rough, and with lots of traffic, but the views were spectacular.

After Battle Mountain, we had a fast 15 mile descent into Minturn, followed by another descent along US 6 into Edwards. That section of US 6 was almost entirely downhill, but there was some occasional strong winds that made the descent quite a lot of work.

The overnight setup in Edwards is nice – maybe a bit more spread out than we’d like, but everything is nice and clean. I made sure to visit the yoga class this evening to help work out some kinks after a couple of hard days of riding. We’ll see how that helps with day 3 trip to Steamboat Springs!

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/13/windy-climbs-on-the-way-to-leadville/764/

2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 1

Today was the day I was looking forward to the most during this year’s Ride the Rockies. I’ve ridden up Cottonwood Pass before, but never got a chance to descend.

Chad at the top of Cottonwood Pass
Chad at the top of Cottonwood Pass

The weather looked perfect starting this morning so looked like a perfect opportunity to finally get a chance to see what this pass really looked like and how fun the descent would be.

Like everyone I talked to, this morning’s cold weather really made getting out of the tent and going difficult. I waited, as snug as possible, until the sun finally made it over the mountains before venturing out. I still managed to get on the road by 7:30am so not too much time was lost waiting.

Taylor Reservoir as seen from Cottonwood Pass
Taylor Reservoir as seen from Cottonwood Pass

The ride down to Almont was amazingly fast, and a great way to start the day. Likewise, the ride through Taylor Canyon has great – perfect weather, gentle climbs, and little traffic to contend with. Once we made it over the Taylor dam we were blessed with one of my favorite sites in Colorado – the Taylor Reservoir with the mountains beyond it.

 

The climb up Cottonwood Pass itself was great fun. Even though it’s a dirt road, it’s in such good condition that there’s very little lost traction to contend with. The weather on the climb up was cool, but not too cold – perfect climbing weather. Even though Cottonwood Pass is one of the highest, the road grade coming from the Taylor Reservoir is rather gentle and makes the climb a lot of fun.

Granted, once the we cleared 10,000 ft it was really hard to keep the pace up as before. I got into a groove and kept it there, just happy to be there and enjoying the climb in great weather.

The best view of the day came just before reaching the stop of Cottonwood Pass by looking back down and being able to see the entirety of the pass road and the Taylor Reservoir in the distance.

And finally, the descent (but not before indulging in a quesadilla!) – fast, smooth, and a blast. Car traffic was well-behaved, it wasn’t raining, and the wind was mostly playing nice, with only a few big gusts to contend with.

Day 1 – what a gem.

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/13/day-1-what-a-gem/422/

2011 Ride the Rockies – Preparing for the Ride

When I finally made it to 12,000 ft elevation, I thought for sure I’d feel better than I had in the past. After all, I live at sea level, and any additional time at high elevation should help my acclimation quite a bit. This year, I’ve been in Colorado exploring and training for almost a full month before the Ride the Rockies begins – I should be getting somewhat used to the higher altitudes by now. But that climb up to 12,000 ft reminded me how foolish I was to think it would come so easy. It was easy to get out of breath just doing a normal pace walk, even after all the time here.

Land's End
Land's End as seen from the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway

The effects of the higher elevation on me are different than I would really have expected. Yes, if I jump right into it from sea-level, I’ll get the classic headaches and a bit of dehydration. But more surprising is how it effects my riding. I don’t see increased heart rates, and I don’t see a longer time to recover after a hard effort. What I do see, though, is a precipitous drop in power output compared to riding back home. After a season of training, that’s quite frankly annoying to see performance drop just because of a few little, er, massive mountains.

Still, it’s great fun climbing up these things, especially given back home in coastal Texas I can ride for 70 or 80 miles and see a grand total of 150 ft in elevation gain. Climbing 5,000 or more ft a day really lets you know your body had some hard work to do, and the feeling is incredible.

Rim Rock Rd High Point
The high point of Rim Rock Rd in the Colorado National Monument

I’ve been lucky enough this spring to be able to spend some extra time in Colorado and do some of my favorite rides: Durango to Silverton, the Colorado National Monument, and a loop up Grand Mesa. These are amazing rides, especially so for someone like me who doesn’t live in the state and has few chances to ride them.

The first day of this year’s Ride the Rockies is the day I look forward to the most, thanks to Cottonwood Pass. I rode up Cottonwood Pass back in 2009 on another tour, and it was fantastic fun, despite the heavy rain, fog, and new freezing weather we had the entire way up. I didn’t get a chance to ride down into Buena Vista because the ride course was shut down, something I’m hoping to correct this year.

Comparing the Garmin ForeRunner 310XT and Edge 500

In July, 2009 I started using a Garmin Forerunner 310XT
T to keep track of my workouts. At first I just used the running features of the device, but shortly after I started using it for my cycling workouts as well. Previously I had been using a Polar system for cycling data capture, and soon I found the ForeRunner 310XT to be a better solution by far than the Polar one (see my previous review of the ForeRunner 310XT for more details).

Garmin Edge 500, Garmin ForeRunner 310XT and CycleOps PowerTap CPU
Garmin Edge 500, Garmin ForeRunner 310XT and CycleOps PowerTap CPU

Starting in February, 2010, I added a power meter to my cycling gadget list, and the ForeRunner proved a great partner to cycling with power, especially when compared to the PowerTap CPU unit that came with the power meter. I found the ForeRunner easy to use, accurate, and the integration with both Garmin Connect and the software solutions from TrainingPeaks more useful and easier to use than the other options.

In June, 2010, I rode the wonderful Ride the Rockies event in Colorado and used the ForeRunner 310XT to track the entire week of riding. One problem I discovered in an event like this is that the ForeRunner did not have enough onboard memory to store the entire week’s worth of riding. I discovered this before the trip and so I lugged a small netbook around with my camping gear just so I could download data after the rides. Not quite the best way to unplug on a holiday.

When Garmin announced the Garmin Edge 500 Cycling GPS
it looked like a great solution for use on my bike. Since it was cycling specific, it had a few more features designed for cycling, whereas the ForeRunner 310XT was definitely intended to be used for multi-sport activities. Since I’m always in need of a new gadget to play with, I went ahead and bought one and started using it for cycling in August, 2010.

I’ve found it to be as good as promised, but there still are times when the ForeRunner 310XT is a better choice. In the rest of this post, I’ll show you the various differences between the two devices and how one might be better than the other depending upon your circumstances.


Memory Capacity

As the memory limitation of the ForeRunner 310XT was the first thing that made me interested in the Edge 500, it’s good to start here. In my use, I’ve found the ForeRunner only has enough onboard memory to store between 24 and 36 hours of workouts – certainly not enough for a week long cycling tour. Garmin doesn’t provide specifications on how much actually memory is installed on this device, so it is a bit of a mystery to the actual capacity.

Meanwhile, the Edge 500 has 56.4 MB of flash based storage, at least according to my Mac’s view of it. I’ve got every cycling workout since I started using the Edge still stored on it – about 50 hours worth so far – and the device still has 48.7 MB of storage free! This is an amazing amount of usable storage and means even the most active cyclists will find they have room for months of data without issue. No need to take a laptop with you on holiday!

Advantage: Edge 500, handily.


Data Transfer

The data transfer mechanism is very different in the two devices. The ForeRunner 310XT uses a wireless ANT+ based data transfer mechanism, while the Edge 500 appears as a simple USB flash drive to your computer.

To exchange data between your computer and your ForeRunner 310XT you have to use a ANT+ dongle provided by Garmin that connects to your computer’s USB port along with a software application that provides drivers for the dongle. It works, and depending upon your computer configuration it is easily a setup-once-and-forget operation. You don’t need to plug in any more wires, and you just bring your ForeRunner 310XT within a few feet of the dongle and you are good to go.

In practice, though, this approach was not perfect. I found during my cycling holiday that a cheap netbook did not have enough CPU performance to reliably handle the data transfer job if it was not plugged into A/C power. That was a surprise and made downloading data from the ForeRunner a hassle during my trip, since I did not frequently have access to A/C power while camping out.

By comparison, the Edge 500 requires you to use a USB cable to physically plug the Edge 500 unit directly to a USB port on your computer. The Edge then shows up as USB flash disk, so once you are done you have to eject the device to prevent your computer from complaining.

Because the Edge 500 uses a direct USB connection, it is much more reliable and faster to do any data transfer than the ForeRunner 310XT. The USB cable is not really any more or less hassle than the ANT+ dongle, so you aren’t gaining a lot of advantage by having a wireless based data transfer mechanism.

Advantage: Edge 500, but just so.


Charging

Directly related to the data transfer mechanism is how the devices are charged. Both devices can be charged via a USB connection to a computer, or using a USB to A/C adaptor, which Garmin provides.

The primary difference here is that the ForeRunner 310XT requires a large binder-like clip that grabs onto the unit and touches two electrical connectors on the rear of the unit. Meanwhile, the Edge 500 simply uses the same USB connection for data transfer. This means a lot less bulk when traveling.

Garmin provides an excellent A/C adaptor system that includes several international wall-plug adaptors as part of their standard kit for both devices, so you’re set for all kinds of power scenarios.

Advantage: Edge 500.


Battery Life

How about battery life? Garmin says the ForeRunner 310XT’s battery life is up to 20 hours, and the Edge 500’s is up to 18 hours. In my experience these estimates are spot on. Both units battery life means you can get a few days worth of use before you need to recharge, but if you are traveling you should plan on bringing a charging solution with you.

The Edge 500 clearly consumes more power than the ForeRunner 310XT, and given that, Garmin provided more software features to help. The Edge 500 is very quick to auto power-off if it is not receiving any data, and this helps avoid unnecessary battery consumption if you’ve stopped to take a long break or after finishing a ride.

Advantage: ForeRunner 310XT, but just so.


Display

The display on each device is similar, but there are numerous small differences.

The ForeRunner’s display is covered in glass – which I dropped and broke once, resulting in an expensive repair bill – while the Edge’s display feels like a type of plastic, but I’m not 100% positive on that.

Display Comparison of Edge 500 and ForeRunner 310XT
Display Comparison of Edge 500 and ForeRunner 310XT

Both units provide a high-contrast, easy to read display, with an optional backlight. Both units are exceptionally easy to see in outdoor light, although they are both prone to glare if the sun hits them at just the right angle – just like every other cycling computer I’ve ever used.

Each unit provides multiple pages of data, and multiple data items per page. The ForeRunner limits you to 4 data fields maximum per page, with 4 total pages, plus a workout specific page. Since the ForeRunner 310XT is a multi-sport device, each sport setting has its own independent set of customizable pages and data fields.

The Edge 500’s display is slightly taller than the ForeRunner’s, and as such you can have up to 8 data fields per page. This also means that for those pages with few fields, you can make certain key data items very large and easy to read. The Edge 500 limits you to 3 pages of data, with one additional page for workouts.

Advantage: neither. Both devices are champs with slight benefits to their intended audience.


Workouts

Another software feature that is different between the two units is the Workouts feature. Both units have the ability to program complex workouts with a variety of steps, targets, repeats, etc. Both let you create courses to follow, and set alerts for time, distance, calories, or heart rate; the Edge 500 also adds support for cadence and power alerts.

The ForeRunner 310XT, however, has a great shortcut for creating interval workouts. With a quick, easy-to-use 2-page setting wizard, you can select intervals that are time or distance based, along with recoveries, and then choose the number of repetitions and if you want warm-up and cool-down intervals added. For a lot of workouts, this is all you need.

Programming the more advanced workouts in either device is not very difficult, but it’s enough steps that many people will just avoid doing it altogether. Programming these workouts is easier if you use Garmin Training Center and then download the workout to the device, but this software isn’t the best quality itself and I find myself just programming the workouts directly on the devices.

Advantage: ForeRunner 310XT.


Mounting Options

The ForeRunner 310XT is a sports watch, but there are a few different bike mounting options available as well. I’ve found when doing multi-sport activities it’s better to just leave it on your wrist, but when primarily biking, having it mounted on the bike was a better option.

ForeRunner 310XT Quick Release Kit
ForeRunner 310XT Quick Release Kit

The bike mount option I used for the ForRunner 310XT is the Garmin Quick Release Kit. This kit replaces the watch strap of the ForeRunner with one that includes a mounting bracket that then snaps into place on an adaptor that mounts directly to your bike with twist-ties. The replacement watch strap wasn’t as comfortable as the original strap that came with the ForeRunner, and it increased the width of the device slightly, but overall this is a very good mounting solution.

Garmin also sells a Forerunner Bicycle Mount Kitfor ForeRunner devices that lets strap the device to the mount directly. I haven’t used this option, but it’s a convenient way of solving the mounting problem as well.

Edge 500 with Quarter Turn Mounting Kit
Edge 500 with Quarter Turn Mounting Kit

The mounting solution for the Edge 500 is similar to the Quick Release Kit option for the ForeRunner, but attaches to the bike in a very different way. The mounting bracket itself uses high-quality bands (ethylene propylene diene monomer, a synthetic rubber!) of various sizes to secure the mounting bracket to the bike. The Edge 500 comes with a handful of different size bands and two mounting brackets, so you can easily attach it to multiple bikes. Moving a bracket to a different bike takes just seconds, but you can always buy another quarter turn bike mount kitif two mounts are not enough.

Edge 500 Bike Mount
Edge 500 Bike Mount

The design of this mounting system is simple and elegant. The bands are extremely strong and pliable enough that stretching them to secure the mounting bracket is trivial. The back of the mounting bracket rests on either your bicycle stem or handlebars using a rubber piece that keeps it from moving. Once it’s attached with the bands, the mount just isn’t going to go anywhere.  The Edge 500 slides into the bracket quickly and once its turned, it also isn’t going to fly off, even on the bumpiest of routes.

Edge 500 Bike Mount using the ForeRunner 310XT's Mount
Edge 500 Bike Mount using the ForeRunner 310XT's Mount

One nice surprise is that the quarter-turn mounting bracket design is the same between the ForeRunner 310XT’s Quick Release Kit and the Edge 500’s mounting brackets. On my road bike, I’m actually using the bracket that came with the ForeRunner’s kit instead of the Edge 500’s rubber band brackets – but only because it was already attached. There is a small screw in this mounting bracket that lets you change the orientation of the attached device, and this is one difference between the two different devices. It only takes a couple of seconds to change this, and chances are good you won’t be going back and forth between the two devices if you happen to have both (I only use the ForeRunner 310XT with its original wrist strap after buying the Edge 500).

forerunner 310xt bicycle mount
ForeRunner 310XT Bicycle Mount

The quarter-turn quick release mounting design is a great solution for putting either of these devices on your bike. It allows them to be installed and removed in about a second without having to fuss with any tools. I especially like to take off the devices whenever at a rest stop – a $200+ bike gadget that’s so easily pocketed is going to be tempting for the unscrupulous out there.

Advantage: neither, both have excellent, and compatible, options.


Training with Power

Both devices have great support for receiving data from any ANT+ enabled power meter. Over time, the firmware has been updated on both and support for showing more power data has been added. As of version 3.00 on the ForeRunner 310XT, and 2.40 on the Edge 500, the following power-related data fields are available:

  • Power (current power measurement)
  • Power – % FTP
  • Power – 30s Avg
  • Power – 3s Avg (my personal favorite)
  • Power – Avg
  • Power – kilojoules
  • Power – Lap
  • Power – Max
  • Power Zone (current power measurement)

I tend to ride with my display set to show the 3-second average power, the cadence and the current lap time. This keeps me focused on what matters most during training, but hides all the other data that might be distracting, but it ultimately depends upon what kind of ride I am doing at the time.

If you are interested in training with power, but don’t yet know much about it, start by reading Training and Racing with a Power Meter. Training with power is great fun, but the bottom line is that you either need to be analytical (okay, a bit of a geek), or have a coach that uses your power data to keep track of your progress. Otherwise, you aren’t likely to realize the benefits of the tool.

Advantage: both devices are equally capable.


Bottom Line

Both devices are excellent at what they do, and either is a powerful training companion. If you are just a bicyclist, and do no multi-sport activities, then the Edge 500 is the right choice for you. If you are into multi-sport, the ForeRunner 310XT is all that you will need, but the Edge 500 does have a few advantages, such as the large memory capacity.

The Edge 500 is also a little bit cheaper than the ForeRunner 310XT, especially if you already own a compatible heart-rate monitor or power meter.

Garmin Connect screen shot
Garmin Connect screen shot

A lot of folks are buying Garmin sports devices these days so that they can upload and share their data using Garmin’s excellent Connect website. If you haven’t tried Garmin Connect, go there and give it a shot. It’s worth the price of admission and continues to get better as Garmin adds features, albeit rather slowly.