A New Spin on Spinning: Confessions of a “No Spin” Guy

Kaiser M3 Spin Bicycle

My first experience with an “exercise bike” was as a young boy when my mother got on a fitness kick, and our family got its first taste of indoor cycling technology. A lot has changed over the past thirty or so years, and indoor cycling has taken a quantum leap past the dreaded excer-cycles of yesteryear. There have been some good iterations up to now, no doubt, but nothing has ever made me look forward to indoor training like the new Keiser M3. Let me confess right off the bat, I’m typically not a “spin” type of guy. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against spinning, in fact I enjoy it, but I’ve never made it part of my training or off-season routine. Most of my cycling revolves around my chosen hobby (obsession), triathlon. In any case, most of my riding is done solo. That’s how it has best fit into my schedule, I’ve enjoyed determining when and how I do my workouts, I like the outdoors, and perhaps I’m just too lazy to wake up early enough to go to a class, so there.

This begs the question: what would make a “no-spin” guy want to get up at 4:45am, grab a bite, and haul his sleepy body to a 5:30 spin class? One word. Power. In outdoor training, results are quantifiable. I can measure my heart rate, my mileage, my time over a given route, speed cadence, etc, etc. For those who can afford them, one of the latest advents in personal training devices is the personal power meter. Products like the PowerTap will give you real-time feedback about just how much power (measured in watts) you produce at any given time while pedaling your bicycle. There are also indoor trainers that incorporate power (Computrainers). These devices let you know if you are pedaling just hard enough to power and Edison light bulb, or a microwave oven. The quantifiable aspect of a bike workout is what I have missed from spin classes. There are some great instructors, and they will hand out as much suffering as you are willing to take, that is for sure. But I tend to be a “by the numbers” sort of guy, and at the end of the class I was always left wondering how to measure my workout. I knew for sure if it kicked my tail (and they would) but it was difficult for me to compare one class to another. Was workout B really harder than workout A, or had I simply recovered less from a previous workout when I walked into class?

Before I offer my impressions, I feel compelled to say that I in no way consider myself an expert on spin cycles. I just know what I like. Apparently this bike has been out for a couple of years, but this has been my first encounter with it. While I don’t believe that any indoor experience can exactly replicate riding outdoors (nor do I think that is the goal of a spin cycle), the Keiser M3 gives me what I have been looking for – hard data, and a reproducible amount of resistance. Here is what I mean: Previous generations of spin bikes that I have used relied on knobs and friction to provide flywheel resistance, making it nearly impossible to keep up with how much resistance one is accustomed to working out with, much less reproducing the same scenario twice. The M3 solves that with electronic gearing and magnetic resistance. I can dial in a gear, 1 through 24, and count on it being pretty much the same each time I get on the bike. Couple that with a cadence and power readout, and now we have some real parameters to work with. After only two sessions on one of these new bikes, I find myself using power as one of the main measures of my workout. It is now possible for me to quantify progress on the indoor spin cycle!

As far as the actual ride goes, the M3 is by far the smoothest indoor cycle I’ve been on to date. I also appreciate that it has a “narrow” feel. Often, stationary bicycles have a large beefy housing between the crank arms which can make for a less natural pedaling motion. The Keiser, in my opinion, has a much better feel. I also appreciate how adjustable it is. Unlike many models that make you choose from several pre-selected positions (i.e. select slot A, B, C etc for your seat height), the M3 is almost infinitely adjustable. Some have noted that the handlebars have no fore-aft adjustment and see this as a drawback. The result is a more aggressive riding position, as compared to a typical road setup. Personally, it doesn’t bother me, but I prefer a more aggressive position anyway. All in all, I found It a joy to use, at least as joyful as you can be while sweating buckets and being yelled at. Another confession: I actually enjoy the yelling.

Let’s take it from the top!

King Cage top cage mount

Water. If I remember my 2nd grade science correctly, we’re mostly made of the stuff, so it stands to reason that during REALLY hot Summers (like this one), staying hydrated is not just a good suggestion, it’s critical. Sure, we would all like to have more water handy during steamy rides, but that nagging question always arises, “where do I put it?” Well, whether you’re a triathlete who follows the latest debates about the most optimal position for a water bottle, or an avid cyclist who just wants a way to transport a little more H2O for your next epic ride, the elegant simplicity of the top cap cage mount by King Cage may be just the solution you’ve been searching for. King Cage of Durango, Colorado is probably most well known for its hand crafted bottle cages. However, with their latest offering they make a slight change of direction and present to us a product that will provide another location to place one of those hand crafted cages (or whatever cage you prefer).

As of late, I’ve personally been studying some alternate ways to take hydration on the bike during sprint distance races. Some people can make it through a sprint without any type of hydration at all. My body, on the other hand, has a high demand for fluids, so passing on the hydration is simply not an option for me. For the most part, the Profile Design Aerodrink has been my go-to bottle and in all fairness, it has worked well for me. For some reason though, I’ve gotten it into my head that it may just be a little bit of overkill at that distance. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me. In any case, I’m always on the lookout for a better mousetrap and like many bike junkies, I just love a new gizmo. Enter the King Cage top cap cage mount. Let’s take a look:

The mount is made of lightweight aluminum, not carbon fiber (gasp!) Even so, it weighs in at a scant 15 grams. Granted, aluminum is no longer the hot “space age” material, but at 15 grams it is still lighter than some of its more well known competitors. Personally, I like the fact that it feels sturdy. I was never afraid I might accidentally break it during installation or use. Of course, cost is also always a factor, and that is one particular area where the top cap cage mount shines. It is available online for $8 directly from King Cage (he still makes these in his garage), and can be shipped to your door for another $4.

I can’t comment on the competition from a qualitative standpoint. They may all be great offerings, and I would love an opportunity to try them all at some point, but to date I simply have no firsthand experience with them. However, what I can compare directly is their advertised costs and weights. By the way, all of these mounts fall into the category of “cockpit” located hydration, and in triathlon terms aim for that bottle position know as “between the bars.” Before I dive into a more in-depth review of the King Cage mount, let’s look at some of the other options.

HED Lollipop: fixed and adjustable mounts

HED Lollipop: This is a slick looking little design from the same guys who bring us super sleek race wheels and the like. The Lollipop is for bikes with a 1-1/8” steerer tube and comes in two flavors, a fixed mount and an adjustable version. The listed weight for the fixed mount is 24 grams (with bolts), which is slightly heavier than the King Cage product. The list price for the fixed mount is $40. The adjustable version gives you the ability to tweak the bottle position, and it weighs in at 50 grams (with bolts) and lists for $50.

It appears that since the mount slides onto the steerer tube and sits under your top cap, those running a setup with little to no spacers might not be able to make use of this system.

Xlab Torpedo Mount

X-Lab Torpedo Mount: The X-Lab mount places your bottle a little farther out, literally suspending it between your aeroabars via a carbon fiber mounting cradle. The system weighs 36 grams and can be found for around $40 through online retailers. If you aren’t riding a triathlon bike or a road bike with clip-on aero bars this isn’t the system for you. If you like the more forward position it offers as well as the simplicity of its Velcro attachment system, the Torpedo mount might be worth checking out. However, I have seen lots of homemade setups that accomplish the same thing using a standard bottle cage and a handful of zip-ties at only a fraction of the cost.

King Cage top cap cage mount: The King Cage mount is designed for use on bikes with a threadless headset. That’s the typical type of headset used on modern road bikes, but if you aren’t sure what type of headset your bike employs click here for a brief explanation. As opposed to the HED version, which slides directly onto the steerer tube, the King Cage mount actually serves as a replacement for your headset’s top cap. Installation is a breeze.

Installation: The directions that come with the mount are pretty vanilla (literally) and could perhaps offer a little more guidance for those who may not be comfortable tinkering with their own bikes, but they get to the point. The actual installation should only take a couple of minutes. The instructions suggest that the unit has a front and back end, but in reality which direction you turn it depends on whether or not you run with your stem flipped (pointing down as opposed to up) and whether or not you have cut your steerer tube down (typical) or leave extra spacers in place so you can vary your bar height.

I would call my basic setup only mildly atypical, as my triathlon bike does not have the stem inverted, but I have chosen to keep extra spacers in place so I can change my position based on the distance I am racing. To install you simply remove the bolt holding your top cap in place, remove the top cap, and then install the top cap mount in its place. Be careful not to over-tighten your top cap or you might pull out the star-nut inside the steerer tube If your headset was properly adjusted before, and the stem was properly bolted to the steerer tube you should be in good shape. If you aren’t comfortable fiddling with your stem/headset I would suggest having a mechanic or a knowledgeable friend help you out – safety first! The mount is designed to hold your bottle in a slightly inclined position, but by simply turning it around backwards I was able to achieve a more level and aerodynamic bottle position.

(standard top cap is shown in photo, but has since been removed)

(Note: You can see from the picture that I’m not always the best at following instructions, even when they could fit on a note card. I re-installed the top cap for my headset on top of the king cage mount. I did this initially, as I wasn’t sure how much I trusted the cupped design of the mount to keep water out of my headset. Last Summer I lost some bearings in the headset on my tri-bike due to moisture, so I started out cautiously. I have since removed the extra cap and use the mount as recommended. I have yet to use the system on a rainy day, but so far I have not noticed any moisture/water retention issues.)

I recommend centering the mount before posting pictures to your blog.

I chose to use my go-to bottle cage, the Trek Bat Cage. It’s nothing fancy, no carbon fiber or titanium here. It’s just a relatively inexpensive (I usually get them when they go on sale in the Summer) plastic bottle cage that is fairly light and launches fewer bottles than other models I’ve tried. I’ve field-tested the mount a few times now on both long and short rides, and I’ve been pleased with the results. Only once have I lost a bottle, and I would attribute that more to taking a fast downhill (which terminated in a pothole) than I would a deficiency in the mount’s design. Bottle choice however is important. If you have a leaky bottle, you are likely to get water, Gatorade, or whatever else might be inside, dripping down the front of your bike. So far, I have yet to have any spillage issues with this mount. In summary, the top cap mount seems to be a very simple, clever, and effective hydration solution. So whether you are just looking to pack on more water, or you want a bottle location that won’t force you out of the aero position, the King Cage top cap mount might be worth your time (and your $12). Have fun, ride safe, stay hydrated, and finish well!

Something up my sleeve…

Zensah compression calf sleeves

Leg sleeves to be precise. And I don’t know what’s going on in this photo (which is not of me by the way). Anyway, tonight I decided to try out the calf sleeves my brother and sister-in-law gave me for Christmas. They are made by Zensah (the sleeves, not the in-laws), and one thing I can already say about them is that they feel very VERY nice. I may just start wearing them around the house. Are M&Ms less fattening when you wear compression sleeves? Are the excess calories forced to flee to less constricted forms? Not likely, so back to the review.

What a striking image I made – rocking the old school mailman look on the treadmill in my garage, tucked between the fridge and assorted stuff . So what do I think of compression sleeves so far? Well, I didn’t fall of the treadmill, I guess that’s one check in the pro column. The main thing I hope to gain from them is reduced muscle cramping. However, those tend to strike me around June or July. I’m guessing my garage temp was somewhere in the 40s, so cramping wasn’t really a problem this time around. I did get that great “pro” feel when wearing them. Good enough for Kona, good enough for my garage!

Seriously though, running folks in the know highly recommended these. Although I only did a short run, I felt good. I’ve appreciated the compressive qualities of tri and cycling shorts I’ve used in the past. I wore some tighter fitting knee warmers for the iron distance race I did this past November, and perhaps it was more psychological that physical, but I thought my legs felt better for those 112 miles than in most of my previous training rides. At this point I’m hopeful. The real test will come when I unleash my latest fashion statement on the open road – just as soon as the temps get out of the 20s. Look out Cliff Claven, here I come!