Winter has arrived in South Eastern Australia with a vengeance. A wild storm has descended from Queensland into New South Wales and brought with it a lot of wind and rain. This pretty much swamps me out from any riding this weekend with the forecast not looking to clear until Tuesday. To say I was disappointed is an understatement, as I was looking to stretch out the legs on the new speed steed. Some other cyclists would say, “Stop being a fair weather cyclist!” or quote Rule #5 or #9, but the reality was that it flooded in my local area and I had no intent of carrying a kayak on my back.

All that was left was to put the bike on the trainer and spin. Yes the torture machine was to be put to use, but I had been itching to try something different out than spin while watching reruns of “How I met your Mother”. I had read quite a few reviews about the social cycling app Zwift. I grabbed an ANT+ dongle and hooked up my laptop to my TV. With the S3 rigged up to the trainer and the app downloaded I was ready to roll.

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This is a far better way to roll on the torture machine compared to anything else other than watching European pro-cycling races while pedalling in the middle of the night. The whole set up of seeing other riders in real-time virtually in front of you or coming up behind you is quite fun. The sprint segments and mountain climbs with their leaderboards are novel, with a hint of Strava in the mix. The one thing that was not so good was that with a “dumb” trainer (I have an Elite Crono Fluid Gel from 5 years ago) the sensation of drafting, or the variable resistance of climbing or descending along the circuit, was not available. This did detract from the experience, but not so much that I wanted to hop out of the saddle. Still, I reckon it would be even more fun with a Wahoo Kickr on the rear skewer. There was also the strange sensation that I felt when approaching a bend or corner – I found myself looking to the apex of the curve and preparing to lean in with my shoulder.

The screen layout presents plenty of information to you while pedalling. At first it was a bit overwhelming, but after a couple of minutes (or was it a couple of virtual kilometers) it became quite easy to read. I had my Garmin on to give me my indoor speed and cadence, but after a while I only looked down at the trip computer every so often. The table on the right of the screen with the time gaps to the riders in front and behind was a real motivator to pedal harder, to catch the next rider. It surprised me how quickly I fell into the same mindset that I have when I am on it and doing laps at Centennial Park.

Will it ever replace riding out on the road? No way. Was it fun? Yeah, in a Playstation meets riding sort of way. Will I have a go again on the virtual circuits of Zwift? Most definitely! Indoor training this winter is about to get a bit more interesting and competitive.

Nothing to say, just the photo

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So with nervous excitement on Saturday morning I took off to Endeavour Cycles in Gymea (the Sutherland Shire of Sydney) to get the final sizing and fit for my Cervelo S3. George who owns the store and seems to be hooked in with every cyclist and triathlete in the Shire welcomed me and set up my new steed on the trainer to finalise adjustments. I will write about that experience in another post. After an hour with George, I walked out of the store with a new bike which I am aptly going to name the “Speed Steed”.

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It was raining during the day in Sydney, and so I strapped my new bike onto the roof racks and headed home. The first ride on the new machine would have to wait till Sunday. This was a good thing because it gave me the opportunity to add a few of my personal adjustments.

Making it Mine

Learning from a lot of the mistakes I made in owning my first road bike, my 2009 Trek Madone 4.7, I took to work making all the necessary adjustments for my first ride. Hopefully a couple of these points may help others.

  1. Removal of all the manufacturer stickers about dimensions and safety warnings. I know what size it is, and I know to look at the online manual to see what I need to do. This is cosmetic.
  2. Protecting the frame in key positions. This was a mistake that I made on my old bike, only to learn from it when it was too late. I put tape on the frame on either side of the head tube to block cable rub from the derailleur and rear brake cables. The cables are internally routed, so they are packed tight against the frame. I also put tape on the seat tube on the non-drive side where I keep my bike pump for emergency tire repair. It is important to rub the frame down with alcohol first before applying the tape.
  3. Installation of the bottle cages and pump frame mount. These were transferred from my old bike onto the new one, bit of grease on the bolts for waterproofing and no more than firm hand tightening.
  4. Installation of Garmin mount. The K-Edge unit that I had on the old bike is a pretty good setup. Two key points to be aware of; i) torque wrench to tighten no more than 5.5Nm and ii) Garmin is flush in line with the bars to reduce wind resistance.
  5. Installation of the front light mount. I am no a pro, so when I ride in the early morning or evening, the light is essential. I have a Specialized Flux light, bright but big unit, so I tucked it in close under the Garmin.
  6. Installation of the bell. Yes, it is now law in the great state of NSW that all bikes must have a bell. Never mind the fact that at over 40kph no car is going to hear you ring your bell, nor should you be moving your hands off the bars to “ring your bell”. Safety first?

The saddle bag was packed with a couple of tubes, tyre levers, couple of gas canisters, and a multi-tool. So to christen the wheels, the only thing that was left was to fill the bidons and boot up.

So How Does It Ride?

Three words – fast, stiff, and aero! I am not in the best riding condition at the moment with a persistent chest bug inherited from little Kiki (who brought it back from the centre for disease control – otherwise known as daycare), but it was not going to stop me from putting the hammer down.

This new bike is very efficient in turning every pedal stroke into power on the road. I hadn’t even swapped over my Shimano Dura-Ace C24 carbon laminate clinchers onto the bike and it was very zippy off the mark. I took it for a spin in Centennial Park, and saw three riders ahead of me on one of the false flats that goes up at 2%. A couple of big turns out of the saddle and wham I was up at speed – and IT FELT GREAT!

The stiffness takes some getting used to, and to be honest I thought it was a bit of a marketing gimmick from the Cervelo, “18% increase in the bottom bracket over the previous model”. But it really is something else, and hard to describe. The bike frame doesn’t laterally “wobble” underneath you on each pedal stroke and the energy you put in goes to where it belongs.

The slipperiness of the frame is also surprising. I noticed it when I sat up on a flat section after an average effort. When I looked down at the Garmin, instead of rolling at 23kph I was up at 28kph. I was very attentive to how the bike felt through the air. What was telling was that it was difficult to notice.

I think I definitely have to swap over to 25mm tyres, which may not be a bad thing. From everything I have read 25mm is faster than 23mm, going against the long held wisdom of the skinny rubber. But the reason is not speed but more comfort on the rough Sydney roads.

The speed steed will definitely take some getting used to, but at least I will do it with a smile on my face. The advances in bike technology from 7 years ago for a mid level race bike are pretty amazing and I will have to write a comparison post to explain all subtle changes. Withall said and done, I can’t wait to ride it again!

So life and work (and not necessarily in that order) have put a damper on my blog over the last 6-12 months. The bike has also become a secondary priority. My road steed, my 2009 Trek Madone 4.7, has been getting fat grazing in its stable (or was that its engine). The bike really did open my eyes to a different world of fitness, exploration, and adventure. And with it I had made a whole heap of new friends with a common interest – cycling. But it, like its owner, has become old and creaky. I have taken good care of the Trek and prolonged it use with regular replacement of the consumables. I gradually introduced upgrades to the point where the only original thing left on it was the frame and forks. Now, even with all the TLC, it creaks with every pedal stroke. The mechanics at my local bike shop through the last couple of services have arrived at only one conclusion – the carbon frame is getting long in the tooth.

I have been eyeing up dream bikes and replacements for a few years now, but my fussiness and budget have limited my selection. The criteria: aero but comfortable, aesthetically striking but not garish, fast and stiff, bang for the buck, and clearly better deserving than its future engine.

My dream bike? A Cervelo S3. You know, the one Thor Hushovd won the World Championship with in Geelong. The one that Jack Bauer used in the ultimately futile attempt to hold off the peloton at the TDF. The one a young Dutchman named Dylan van Baarle used to stick it to Kwiatowski and Wiggins at the 2014 Tour of Britain to take top spot. Now with the 2015 models being disposed of to make way for the 2016 models (with the main difference being… a paint job), I am able to pick up an older year model for a bargain. I saw my new steed online a couple of weeks back, got fitted up on it on Saturday, and with the adjustments to the contact points will pick it up later this week. I am giddy like a kid at Christmas – can’t wait!

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So ‘The Pok’ (my son) and I went to go see the new Star Wars flick – The Force Awakens this morning at 6am at the IMAX in Sydney. And in one word it is – AWESOME! There are no spoilers in this post.

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Our film adventure had been building for a couple of months now where we have watched the multiple trailers on YouTube about a million times. He received a new generation X-Wing and TIE Fighter to fit in action figures for his birthday. So when we the tickets were released, I went straight for the jugular and ordered them for the biggest screen in Sydney on the opening day. There was no way that I was going without my boy, who even managed to go to bed early so I could wake him up at 5am to trundle off down to the theatre.

He dressed up as a Stormtrooper (his shirt and jacket combo – and the his white sneakers are “stormtrooper” shoes), and I donned my Boba Fett t-shirt. We loaded up on portable breakfast, a couple muesli bars and some drinks. There would be no popcorn for this viewing.

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I am no movie critic, so my review is going to be punchy and concise. JJ Abrams nails it, in terms of cinematography, pace, and sense of fun. It looks like Star Wars, feels like Star Wars, and it looks real – not like a polished video game. There are some shocks to the plot, and a lot more to be revealed in episodes VIII and IX. The star of the film has to be Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and he is bad@ss. I felt giddy like a kid again watching X-Wings blowing up TIE Fighters, and now want more. Some of the sections of the film were too scary for a 5 year old child, so he ended up sitting on my lap for the last two thirds of the film. My only criticism is that a lot has happened between Return of the Jedi and the Force Awakens, but it wasn’t fully explained. I guess I will have to read the books and comics to find out.

How do the Films Rank (my humble opinion)

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. The Force Awakens
  4. Return of the Jedi
  5. Revenge of the Sith
  6. Attack of the Clones
  7. … um E.T.
  8. The Phantom Menace

All in all, this closet geek was happy and can’t wait to watch it again and again.

In my last post about my son’s birthday party preparations I wrote about the construction of lightsabers. That was a surefire opportunity rev up the 4/5 years into bashing each other for hours with what they thought were laser swords. But I could not rest on my laurels – R2-D2 had to attend this party. I asked myself what would be the best way to do that in a fun and interactive way with the kids without taking a year to construct a droid, but also not have it look like crap. The answer:

R2-D2 Keg Mode

Or more correctly, an R2-D2 that functions as a drink dispenser for the kids to keep hydrated with. Here is the end result, and I got quite a reaction from the kids and parents. While it took considerably longer than the construction of the lightsabers, this was definitely more fun.

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I gave myself three weeks to build this, and most of the work was done at night after work in the garage. I looked on the internet to see if anyone else had done something similar, but alas my plans are original. While it was not quite to the same standard as the little guy below, I tried to get my Artoo as accurate as possible in its construct.

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Raw Materials

I put some thought about what was needed, and in the end the construct would come down to three main components:

  • I would make his legs out of construction grade pine. Strong enough to support 10L+ of drinking water plus the weight of my “keg” droid.
  • His body would be formed from what he is commonly criticised as looking like – a “bullet” waste bin (domed lid with cylindrical body).
  • A water bladder to store the drinks.

He would need to be painted and decorated to add the features. This would all be through paper, card, and a bit of art material – as well as a whole heap of concentration and improvisation. But he had to look as real as possible.

The Legs and Body

So I constructed his legs out of a couple of 4 by 2 pieces of wood. The mitre and saw came into good use again. From the two pieces of wood came his legs and feet. I went on feel this time in terms of proportions instead of direct measurements. And of course the dimensions would have to line up with the size of the body.

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The off-cut would end up forming the feet. No rollers on this droid though (or rockets embedded in the legs).

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The bullet bin itself was sourced from my local hardware store. I knew exactly what I was after, but surprisingly it was not easy to find (there are a lot of square bins out there). The domed lid would form Artoo’s head, but obviously the colours were wrong – he needed a paint job. But to prepare the paint job I needed to rough up the smooth surface of the lid to grip the paint. The rest of the body needed a good clean with soapy water.

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I quickly sized up the proportions of the legs and did a bit more trimming of the legs with the saw. You will also notice the cross-bar piece of wood, this would form the support of Artoo’s body as the attachment of the body to the legs was going to be a couple of screws through the plastic into the wood – maybe not strong enough to support 10+kg worth of load. My son, “The Pok”, wanted to help me do the building but he had no idea what I was doing until I sized him up. I asked him “What do you think we are building?”

He paused and then realised with a massive grin on his face, “Daddy, are we building Artoo?” – you bet.

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After the main bit of cutting was completed, I wanted to kick over to the fun but toxic bit – paint time. I set up a little paint box in the corner of the garage and had purchased a couple of cans of acrylic spray paint. I ended up putting on three coats of white paint for the body and 3 coats of grey paint for the domed head. This was three nights of drying as well – hence why it took me a few weeks to pull together – a lot of elapsed time.

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On the nights that I was not applying the paint, I continued with the construction of the legs. The next step was to trim the feet, which were generally trapezoid in shape. Again the mitre proved its value with the pre-defined angles coming into use. The initial angle from the base of the leg into the foot would then be overlaid with a second steeper angle where the real cut would be made.

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Once the feet were trimmed I was able to then start with the join. There were a couple of ways I could of done this, but I chose a simple gang nail plate that I bashed into the wood via a mallet.

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The next step was to get the legs together against the supporting cross-bar. With the aid of four “L” brackets and their screws, I joined the legs and cross-bars together.

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Now we are talking! Artoo, we are beginning to see you.

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Now that the leg construct was coming together, the first reassembly of the painted body was needed. My son and I began to get excited on first viewing – Artoo was shaping up quite well.

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A quick test for fit by inserting the body was required to take in any further adjustments on the legs or cross-bar. I ended up having to shave of 25mm off the cross-bar to have the legs more closely aligned to the body.

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I removed the body after this so that I could spray the legs with multiple coats of white paint. The wood didn’t take to the spray paint as well as the plastic body of the bin.

Detailing the Droid

Here is where the fun, and most of the time came in. Artoo is a droid with much detail on both his head and body. To be accurate, I needed to detail the construction of Artoo with more decoration. Rather than settling for paint markings directly onto the droid, I detailed paper and card with blue, white, and silver pens to represent his arms and hatches. But first I started with the eye which has seen the full history of Star Wars and never had its memory erased.

I took a multi-layered approach with some 12mm foam card where I carved the back end of it to be more circular in line with the dome. The black card was then detailed further to represent a faux reflection of the glass eye itself. The shinyness of the glass eye was done via a transparency sheet over the top of the black foam card. To top it all off I placed the final bit of blue card to represent the top plate.

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A bit tricky, but I think it achieved the effect. You can see the first set of markings on his dome placed on as well. I am not entirely happy with this detail as it was quite hard putting flat paper on a spherical surface. My patience with geometry was well out of the window at this stage.

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The remain detail on his body was probably more time consuming just trying to get right the proportions of all the hatches and his arms. In the end, I landed on it, with a bit of eye judgement and the eye and dome as a reference point. I also used copious images from the internet to see as much detail as possible. This is definitely beginning to look like the droid that I was looking for.

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The Bladder

Now here is where I had a major decision to make. Do I put the water valve in the centre of Artoo for symmetry, or put it off to the side? Given that it was a kids birthday party and I didn’t want to create a “urinating” Artoo, I decided to offset the water bladder and valve. But first I needed to cut a hole out for the valve. To protect the paint and the detailing on the body, I put a plastic contact sheet over the patch for the valve before I made the cut.

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I thought that the cut hole for the valve was going to be difficult, but in the end the scalpel blade cut through the plastic body like butter (or should I say as easy as a lightsaber). Inserting the bladder through the hole, the valve fit perfectly.

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Looking inside Artoo’s body, you can see the 10L water bladder. You can also see the screws from the inside attaching the body to the legs. I sourced the bladder from a camping shop and had to be careful to get one that was safe for drinking use.

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With the final bit of detailing done, Artoo was ready to roll and meet the 5 year olds. I was quite chuffed with the result, but being the perfectionist I would like to finish him off with the rounded detail on the top of his legs. That may come at a later date.

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Our Artoo is now available for weddings, funerals, baptisms, and BBQs. And we now have a droid sitting at home looking at us as we go about our business.

Only 6 more sleeps to go before we see him in action again on the big screen. Next year, it will have to be a BB-8 lolly tub.

Nothing to say, just the photo.

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Nothing to say, just the photo.

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My Mum was taking care of my son, ‘The Pok’, at home yesterday as he was sick and I was unable to take the day off work. Mum enjoys spending time with him and showing him things on YouTube sometimes. As she recounted the story of one video it prompted me to write this post. In the 30+ years since I was a child the changes in technology have been astronomical. Things that were cutting edge are now obsolete and for ‘The Pok’ and ‘Kiki’ they will only see this stuff being done in a museum.

1 – Winding an Audio Cassette Tape

This was what prompted the post. When ‘The Pok’ saw the video he was totally confused. He did not even know what he was looking at, and more importantly why the person had a pen stuck inside the hole of one of the reels. The two of them will never know about waiting up late at night to record the radio when your favourite songs were being played (and cursing when some silly DJ would voice over the intro of the song). Nor will they ever know how important someone with a dual cassette deck player was – the beginnings of media piracy.

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2 – Use a Sony Walkman

My generation was the first to truly experience personal and mobile audio – via a Sony Walkman. Yes it was a machine that played audio cassette tapes, but it was also a personal machine that allowed me to escape in my own personal world of music. So when my parents were playing some daft music on the car radio as we drove on long car trips, I could listen to my own personal playlist. The Walkman came in all sorts of models, with a multitude of buttons appearing on the more expensive models. You were a lucky kid if yours was a Walkman Sport with radio, and MEGABASS. My favourite model was the first I ever received – and it was quite a basic model, with two advantages being ultra compact and light. It wasn’t fancy, just black and small but I loved it. Apple has a lot to thank Sony for, particularly for not taking their technology to the digital hard drive phase. The evolution of the Walkman was cassette, compact disc, and then mini-disc (which was great technology, but ultimately short lived). Some elements of this technology have lived on though, just have a look at the plethora of headphones that you can purchase for absurd prices.

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3 – Need to look up a paper TV guide

I still can’t believe this, that to find out what was on the five television channels you had to buy either the newspaper or a special magazine like TV Week in Australia. By the time my kids are all grown up, media will be on-demand and you will interrogate any number of devices to tell you what is available. You probably won’t even type in what you are searching for, as the voice recognition software is already mature enough for the big electronic companies to be embedding it in everything – ‘ask Google’?

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BTW – Kate Jackson was my favourite Angel, not Farah Fawcett. And I thought the 6 Million Dollar Man was a legend. I can’t remember a single episode of Starsky and Hutch but I do remember the car.

4 – “Tape” a TV show

VHS players and tapes exploded during my teenage years. This was a pivotal point in media technology, and so much so that when I speak to my wife about recording a show from cable TV I often say that I am going to tape it. My kids will never “Tape” anything. Tapes are pretty much a thing of the past, and in most respects this is brilliant. I can remember what would happen when the VHS player went on the blink and would develop and appetite for said tape. Or when one of your brothers taped over something you recorded to watch later, with the ensuing sibling conflict. Hard drives will soon be replaced in their entirety by solid state media, and no doubt that by the time my two reach adulthood that a new technology will be used to store their favourite media.

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5 – Wait till a scheduled time to watch a show

Other than live sport and new TV shows or films, the concept of watching media to a schedule is almost obsolete. The same could be said with radio, where streaming and subscription services cater for what you want when you want it. Not only is on-demand now the way it will work, but the predictive software that analyses you audio and visual tastes will be able to prompt you to listen to other similar music or shows. With all of this, the only thing holding up the business models of the past is archaic and corrupt legislation – where lobbyists cajole politicians to favour their outdated media empires. Anyone for Netflix or Tidal?

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Writing this post made me thing of a plethora of other things in this field. I think there may be a second post of things that my kids will never know.

Nothing to say just the photo.

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