Thursday, June 8, 2017

Best Value Aero Wheels for Ironman Triathlon - HED JET+ 6 Wheels $1099

If there is any question that generates more confusion among Ironman athletes it is "which triathlon aero wheelset to buy?" The manufacturers are endless: Zipp, HED, Enve, Roval (Specialized), Profile Design, Reynolds, Flo, Knight, SwissSide, Edco, Mavic, Bontrager (Trek) and more.

HED JET 6+ - Best Value Triathlon Wheelset
While all aero wheels will save you time, the reality is picking a wheelset can be quite the process. Tubular vs clincher, aluminum vs full carbon, 60mm vs 90mm/Disc all add to the confusion.

The purpose of this piece is to provide a simple recommendation for a wheelset that is: aerodynamic, light, durable, handles well, rides great, comes with a full warranty from a company that has been in business for decades, is safer, easier to maintain, forward-thinking, and more affordable than 99% of the other choices out there.

Whether a beginner or Kona qualifier, the HED JET 6+ wheelset is my personal recommendation. Priced at $1099 via Competitive Cyclist it is the "have your cake and eat it too" choice that lets you focus on training and not agonizing for hours or days on your wheelset purchase.

Below I will discuss each of the reasons in more detail. The comparisons mostly focus on what the HED JET+ offers that you don't get from a full carbon clincher rim. I won't discuss tubulars - they have no place in triathlon anymore.

Why HED JET 6+ (in no particular order)

1) Safer - The HED JET+ feature an aluminum brake track that brakes more consistently and faster, in both wet and dry conditions. In addition there isn't the same risk from carbon where under heavy braking the rims melt and potentially lead to catastrophic crashes from tires blowing off the rims. Lastly, for those running latex tubes, some manufacturers of carbon rims, like Enve, suggested not using latex due to possible heat buildup of the carbon rims which can then damage the latex. Latex tubes are fast but if you can't use them safely in the wheel then the wheel is going to be slower. If you don't use latex this isn't a concern.

2) Wide and tubeless ready - The industry has been transitioning to wider rims over the past decade. While 13mm internal diameter used to be standard, now the average is closer to 17-18mm. Zipp is at 16.25mm - 17.25mm, Enve has rims that are 19mm, FLO 19.4mm, while HED and Roval are at 21mm. 

In addition the HED JET+ have the new bead-hook design for tubeless setups where the tires "snap" into place. While Enve and Roval also have tubeless bead-hooks, most of the other manufacturers do not and thus are not truly capable of tubeless if you so desire to run them that way. This is more of a future-proof feature for those not familiar with tubeless.

3) More comfortable - Because HED JET+ have that large 21mm internal diameter your same tires end up being much wider. The reality is the air volume is much larger and you need less pressure. In fact HED has a max PSI of 90. Don't worry if you still think higher pressure is better or faster. In reality too much and too little is slow. PSI is all about balance and with HED you can run lower pressures without risking the same pinch-flats that can happen in other setups.

As an example, I road Zipp Firecrests (16.25mm) in training with 25mm Gatorskins for many years at around 95-100 psi. I have been running the same 25mm tires on HED JET+ at between 75-80 PSI (I am 155lbs). In addition while the 25mm tire will measure a hair over 25mm on the Zipps, it measures closer to 27mm on the HED JET+. The end result of the wider tire at lower pressures is a more comfortable ride.

4) Better handling - Similar to #3, the larger tires and lower pressures provides for better handling in corners. I also find they are also less twitchy in strong crosswinds.

5) Great aerodynamics - The late great Steve HED was a master at aerodynamics with decades of experience. The HED JET 6+ is yet another advancement that continues the long tradition of great aerodynamics that have been independently validated by others. You won't find a significantly faster 60mm deep wheel but you will find slower. 
Hed JET vs HED JET+ Wind Tunnel Data
San Diego Low Speed Tunnel

Some people may want a deeper front rim or a disc on the rear, but the 6+ front and back offer superior versatility in my opinion. If you do want a disc you can always add a wheel cover to the 6+ rear for under $100. Skip the 9+ up front.

6) Lightweight - One knock on aluminum race wheels is that they are quite heavy. For instance, according to Flo's website, their latest Flo 60mm front wheel is 910 grams while a 58mm deep Zipp 404 Firecrest is listed at 755 grams. Meanwhile my own HED JET 6+ with stickers removed weighs 725 grams. When you think about the fact that HED's are also 21mm wide, while the FLO 60s are 19.4mm and the Zipps 16.25mm, that is even more impressive considering how much more material there is for the wider rim. The HED Jet+ series is as light as carbon wheels without the negatives of a carbon brake track.

7) Simpler maintenance. Swapping brake pads when going back and forth between carbon race wheels and aluminum training wheels is a major pain. If all your wheels are aluminum there is no need to swap brake pads.

By the way, if you have carbon wheels you should be swapping out the brake pads. This is for two reasons. One is because carbon rims require a different brake pad to be able to brake effectively on the carbon surface. And two, if you use the same brake pads on both aluminum and carbon rims you will embed tiny bits of aluminum from the rim into the brake pads, which will then eat away at the carbon rims. 

8) Get immediately - Competitive Cyclists offers free 2-day shipping and the same great return policy and customer service as its parent company Backcountry. No waiting for slower retailers/etailers, or even worse, 8 weeks until the next "group buy" just to put in your order.

9) Warranty - buying new wheels from Competitve Cyclist or other retailers/etailers/lbs means you get the full backing of the warranty as the original owner. I myself have bought many used wheels because of the drastic price difference between new and used, however in doing so I know that most wheel companies will not warranty a wheel if I have an issue. It is something to think about if you are looking at used wheels.

10) Price$1099 shipped for the set is about as good as it gets. This includes, skewers, valve extenders and my preferred rim tape as well. I know that this is Competitive Cyclist's carrot to get you in their door so you buy more from them, but the reality is that you can likely ride these for a year or two and resell them and recoup much of your investment if you so choose.

In general HED has excellent resale value as well. You can check prior eBay sales to get a feel for what used wheels go for. As for this deal, it has been about a year since I recognized it. At one time last October it was as low as $799 for a short period but has mostly been bouncing around between $999 and $1099. The sale seems like a permanent sale and loss-leader to me.

My Personal Experience

I have owned a variety of HED wheels over the years including Stinger 9s, Ardennes, H3s, H3+, JET 6+, Jet 9+ (rear), and a Jet Disc+. I have over a year of racing and training on the HED JET+ series, and in that time I have really come to appreciate the superior stopping power of aluminum after many years on carbon. The ride quality with the wider tires at lower pressures is great and riding the JET 6+ in training gives me the opportunity to get comfortable with gusty crosswinds so that on race day I am confident.

Additional Notes

Cheap carbon wheels - there are lots of cheap carbon wheels floating around. You can even gets sets on Amazon shipped via Prime. Personally I would never ride a carbon brake track from anyone but Zipp, Enve, and Roval (Specialized), and Bontrager (Trek). While some people may get away with it, the reality is that wheels are mission critical and I have seen too many failed brake tracks on carbon wheels. You are gambling with your health going with cheap carbon wheels. 

HED JET+  Tire installation - Please not that tires may be slightly more difficult to get on these rims depending on what you have had in the past. While Zipps were always notoriously easy to get the tire on, that isn't exactly what you want when you are bombing down a descent and have a flat. Easy to get on, means easy to fall off as well.

HED JET 6+ vs HED JET 6 or JET 6 C2 - Many people are confused by the differences. The HED JET 6, or C2 as they are also known, are a prior generation. They are narrower and weren't designed with the tubeless bead-hooks. They are 23mm at the brake track instead of 25mm. They are 17.8mm internally versus 21mm. The new HED JET 6+ will perform better aerodynamically with wider tires than a HED JET 6.

HED JET 6+ vs HED JET 6+ Black - The Black series features an all black rim and a specially machined brake surface that according to HED provides 30% improvement in dry conditions and 70% in wet over standard aluminum. Having used Black I can say the brake track does offer even better braking but I haven't attempted to quantify it. The brake surface is very nice but it is twice the price. Some people really like the sleek Black look as well.


HED JET 6+ on Competitive Cyclist
HED JET 6+ Black on Competitive Cyclist
HED JET completed sales on eBay

Saturday, May 27, 2017

10 Tips for Purchasing a New Triathlon Wetsuit

My BlueSeventy Helix
Photo Cred: Tim Hughes
With triathlon wetsuit season quickly approaching I thought I would highlight a few things to think about when purchasing a wetsuit.

You can save 25% on a new suit or anything else at using coupon code b70ThomasGerlach17 (good anytime in 2017)

Wetsuit Buying Tips:

1) It is all about fit - a proper fitting wetsuit is the most important thing when buying a wetsuit. A wetsuit should be snug when putting it on. It will loosen up when you get water in. It will loosen up over time as you use it. Keep this in mind when trying on a new wetsuit. If it is a breeze to get into and zip up then it is probably too big.

2) Features, Features, Features - The wetsuit industry has endless marketing terms for various "features". The majority of these features are worthless. I don't blame the manufacturers as each one does it.

The reality is that some users may like some features. An example for me with my BlueSeventy Helix is that I like the top-zip option. It gives me peace of mind in the water that another competitor isn't going to "accidentally" pull down my zipper in the middle of the race. They simply can't.

While some features offer minor benefits, the reality is that most features are over-blown. Don't get buried in features.

3) Return policy is key - You want to be able try out your wetsuit in the water to make sure it truly fits and will work for you. BlueSeventy has an awesome return policy and they let you try the wetsuit for 30 days. Here is their full policy. Also, if you are borderline in the sizing, you can always buy two suits and return the one that doesn't fit as well.

4) Low vs mid vs top-tier wetuits - Typically top-tier wetsuits offer the best rubber, that is the thickest to lift your body and legs out of the water for reduced drag. They also have really thin arms and shoulders so you don't feel restricted while swimming.

Lower to mid-tier wetsuits usually have thinner rubber in places you want thicker, thicker rubber in places you want thinner, and that rubber is usually less buoyant, more rigid, and often lacking a special coating to help you cut thru the water faster.

Sighting Open Water
Personally I do like the top-tier wetsuits and even when I was age-grouper, beyond my first wetsuit, I always bought top-tier wetsuits. If you can afford them I say get them. If you can't then I often suggest getting a sleeveless.

5) Sleeveless vs sleeved - If the water is 68 and above I much prefer sleeveless wetsuits than sleeved. The only time I prefer sleeves is if the water is cold enough to be uncomfortable, 55-64 for me. Even in 65-68 water I will often swim in a sleeveless depending on other race factors.

The reality is everyone's temperature gauge is different. I generate a ton of body heat swimming hard and easily overheat in sleeved suits. If I overheat I am far slower than I would have been with a sleeveless. From a feel perspective there is nothing more enjoyable than swimming in the freedom and flexibility of a sleeveless suit.

Keep in mind, a poorly fitting sleeved suit, or a sleeved-suit that doesn't have super flexible shoulders, is going to be slower than a sleeveless. Personally, my best swims in relation to my peers have always been in situations where I have worn sleeveless. If you aren't worried about water temperature I have no problems recommending sleeveless. This is especially so if you come from a swim background.

6) Look used if buying top-tier - Buying used can be a great option, especially if you trying to get a top-tier wetsuit on the cheap. You can often find $800 top-tier wetsuits for under $300. Check eBay for great deals. Look for wetsuits with fingernail tears that can be easily repaired to save even more.

Wetsuit cement for repairing fingernails tears in 10 minutes or less
Wetsuit tears happen to everyone and it is better to buy a $150 suit that is already torn, versus the feeling you get when you put the first fingernail tear into that new $800 suit. The reality is that wetsuit tears are common and can easily be repaired with wetsuit cement. Don't sweat them.

7) Buying used from a friend or Facebook groups - chances are the suit is way overpriced.
Look at past sales of wetsuits on eBay to get an idea of what suits go for.The reality is if you buy their used wetsuit then you are doing THEM a favor. Negotiation power is all in your favor.

8) Buying if you are an odd size, say Women's XS - Believe me, selling overstock wetsuits one summer, I realized just how hard it was to sell even a brand new $800 suit if it is an odd size like Women's XS. If you are at the far end of the sizing spectrum look for blow-out deals or check eBay. You might be surprised.

9) Xterra - Don't fall victim to Xterra pricing. Similar to Rudy Project in helmets and sunglasses, Xterra's whole business model is to take the Kohl's approach. Nobody pays more than 50% off for Xterra. You aren't getting a deal if you get 50%-60% off you just think you are getting a deal.

10) Two-piece vs one-piece - As someone who is 5 feet 8 but has a 33.63 inseam, I am the perfect candidate for a two-piece. The reality is that I owned one and I hated it. They are heavier and more complicated to put on and take off (the manufacturers claim they are less). It is just one more thing to lose too!! While a two-piece sounds like a nice idea, and I can understand why some think it might be great, the reality is that two-pieces for me was a huge let down.

Regardless of whether this is your first wetsuit or you are a seasoned pro, here a few reminders about getting that wetsuit on:

1) Make sure to apply Body Glide to your legs, arms, and back of neck.

2) Use plastic bags on your feet or socks to help get the wetsuit on.

3) Wear gloves so your fingernails don't tear the wetsuit. Wetsuits are very easy to tear with your fingernails. Usually the nicer the wetsuit the more easy it is to tear.

4) Pull from the inside of the suit, in small sections, working from bottom to top.

5) Pro tip - Once the wetsuit is on over your shoulders, you can bend over at the waist and that creates excess material which then you can pull further up to give more breathing room and space.

Links: - save 25% on a wetsuit, goggles, speedsuit, whatever, in 2017, using coupon code: b70ThomasGerlach17

Body Glide on Amazon

- Wetsuit Cement on Amazon

- Completed Sales of BlueSeventy Wetsuits on eBay

- BlueSeventy Wetsuits on eBay

Lastly if you are triathlete, endurance athlete, or marathoner, I have set up a FREE Q&A group on Facebook. It will always be FREE. As a long-time age-grouper I spent way too long determining what information I could trust and what I couldn't. As a TRUE student of the sport I have learned a lot, remain open-minded, and realize that so many people disseminate information blindly and then bad myths become lore. I am hoping to shed some light and simplify things for people. Feedback is always appreciated.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Post Ironman 70.3 Recovery Workouts

This past weekend I raced at Ironman Chattanooga 70.3. The result on the day was ok on paper coming in 7th and finishing in 4:04:27 vs 4:03:57 in 2016. Given that it was actually much warmer that was a positive for 2017. In addition, as many know, I was very sick in Jan/February with mono. I raced at Ironman Texas 70.3 last month (early April) in what was easily a career worst race so it was nice to take a huge step forward in my racing. On paper the day was ok but I needed to run faster and it is clear I am nowhere near 100%. Regardless it was nice to be 8-10 minutes faster than guys that were 8-10 minutes faster at Texas 70.3. 
Immediately following Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 I made the drive back to Clermont, Florida. Being self-coached I have a lot of flexibility in my training and decided to give myself three really easy days consisting of getting on the trainer and pedaling while working at a standing desk. The idea was to quit the ride when I felt like I had enough whether that was physical or mental. I also did 30 minute easy recovery swims on Monday and Wednesday and had planned on Tuesday, but due to some weather issues I never got the swim in. The idea was also on the bike to not look at the time and watts and just go by feel and let the leg fatigue totally dictate the watts. As you can see there was a nice progression over the 3 days. For reference I have had no trouble pushing 355 for more 20 minute efforts.

Today I got back at it with a longer aerobic run starting at about 1pm in the Florida sun. That was followed up with 40 minute spin before an aquathon where I was full gas swimming 1,000 meters and running 5k. I ran the 5k, again in Florida heat and humidity just under 18 progressively building from about 6:00 min/mile down to about 5:25 min/mile. Post race it was cool down jog of 1.5 miles at 10:30 before spinning again for another 40 minutes.