Purple spot next to Skype for Business presence information

I noticed a couple of days ago that my Skype for Business presence information was accompanied by a purple dot/spot. I hadn’t seen this before and I wondered what it meant. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything on the ‘net.

Purple spot next to Skype for Business presence information

My colleague Brian Cain (@BrianCainUC) clearly has better googling (ahem, Binging) skills than I, because he found Microsoft knowledge base article 3072756, describing a change that explains the phenomenon.

It seems that, since the 14 July 2015 update for the Microsoft (Lync 2013) Skype for Business client, when a calendar shows a user as Out of Office (i.e. the appointment status, not to be confused with an Automatic reply message from Exchange), the purple spot appears next to the Skype for Business presence information when they are online anyway…

I regularly add time into my Calendar for when I’m travelling (and mark it as Out of Office) but if my travel plans change (or I’m running late) I might still be online in Skype for Business and that’s what causes the purple spot to be displayed.

The article also describes some other changes in behaviour that might lead to a purple arrow being shown where the presence indicator normally is.

Incidentally, whilst researching this, I also found a useful FAQ about presence and pictures in Lync (Skype for Business) that may be worth a read.

My activity tracking ecosystem

After I wrote my post on Monday about the Fitbit Charge HR, Dan Delaney (@Dan_Delaney) and Gregg Robertson (@GreggRobertson5) both tweeted me to say “try MyFitnessPal“. Well, after putting aside the really cringeworthy name (although “MyNetDiary” is not any better), I thought I’d give it a try and, so far, the experience has been really positive.

Not only does MyFitnessPal seem to have a decent UK food database (albeit one that could do with some tidying up for consistency in naming – although that’s probably just my pedantry again) but the app is pretty good (just as good as the MyNetDiary app I paid money for…) and, more importantly, the ecosystem of connected apps is pretty good (Strava and Fitbit are both there, which is what I need – but many more besides). It’s growing too; only yesterday Endomondo emailed to say they were joining the “Under Armour Connected Fitness suite”, which includes MyFitnessPal.  The only slight downside (and it’s really not an issue when I think about the data that I need to keep, long term), is that MyFitnessPal bundles up each meal into a summary when it passes it to Fitbit:

So, this is what my activity tracking ecosystem looks like now:

Ultimately, I only have to enter or capture each item of information once (exercise via Strava unless automatically captured on my Garmin Edge 810 cycle computer; food/drink/weight via MyFitnessPal; daily activity/calorie burn automatically from my Fitbit Charge HR) and it flows into Fitbit and onwards each day to Microsoft HealthVault.

(Just over) a week with the Fitbit Charge HR

Over the last couple of months I’ve attended a couple of British Computer Society (BCS) meetings on the “Internet of Everything”. Looking at the speaker’s activity band got me thinking about “the quantified self”. Just as, when I’m cycling or running, I like to track my activities and see how I’ve done compared with others, this year I decided to buy myself a fitness tracker. I’ve worn pedometers before (when taking part in the Global Corporate Challenge) but with the current (and upcoming) range of activity bands/watches, my device of choice is a Fitbit Charge HR.

Why the Fitbit Charge HR? Well, I’d seen the Charge and it looks good – discrete, but functional – and the additional £20 for heart rate readings sounded interesting (and should lead to more accurate calorie counting).  There are Apple and Microsoft watches on the way but I’ve been burned far to many times buying a first generation product (iPad, Nokia Lumia 800) and Fitbit have been working in this market for a while now – their trackers are pretty well established. I was also seeing some good reviews on the Charge including this one from Michael d’Estries (@michaeldestries).

Setup

The setup was simple – the product packaging directed me to a website to download and install the software on a PC (or Mac in my case), together with a dongle after which the band updated itself and continued to sync. There’s also an app on my phone that communicates via Bluetooth (I use this for call notifications and synchronisation). I’m not sure what technology the dongle uses (ANT+ perhaps?) but it’s certainly not the Mac’s built-in Bluetooth stack.  I also need to work out why, since I paired the band with the app on my phone, the Mac no longer sees it as present but that’s not stopping me from using it so can wait a while.

Charging

Next up was charging the battery. It had some power out of the box but needed charging soon after (unsurprisingly).  Fitbit’s claimed battery life is 5 days but I’d say it’s nearer to 2-3. Actually, I don’t let it run down that far – I generally charge daily – and I started off by charging whilst taking a shower, etc. as any steps taken during the period are probably balanced out by steps recorded as a result of movement during sleep.  Unfortunately, putting it on charge when I woke (and before it had registered much activity confused the sleep tracking (it thought I was still asleep!) so I’ve since started to charge it whilst sitting at my desk, working at a PC.  It really does seems like this would be one device that really would benefit from wireless charging!  Added to that, the proprietary connector locks on well but I can’t help thinking it’s another way to make money (replacing lost/broken cables) and micro USB would do the job just as well?

Monitoring steps, hear trate and sleep

Importantly, the step count seems reasonably accurate. There are some phantom steps when driving/otherwise moving my wrist but the Charge HR basically seems to keep time with walking (goodness knows how as it’s nothing to do with how I swing my arms or not!).  Incidentally, you can’t delete/edit the recorded steps/floors data so it’s worth logging driving as an activity (take a note of the start and finish times) to negate the entries as it’s somewhat disconcerting to be notified that you reached your step target whilst driving along the motorway!  Unfortunately, although recording an activity trues up the step count and other metrics, any badges earned remain on your profile.

I’ve yet to check the heart rate monitoring compared with the Garmin chest band that I wear on my longer bike rides – it seems a little low to me but maybe a bike ride is more exerting than I think!  And on the subject of exertion, I was amused to see that, one evening, after visiting my local pub, the walk back up the hill counted as both active minutes (raised heart rate) and towards the number of stairs climbed (due to the elevation)!  Stair climbing (along with distance walked, when many of the steps are around the home/office) seems a bit of a gimmick but still another metric to compare. It’s not 100% accurate, because Fitbit measures a flight of stairs as 10′ elevation (based on atmospheric pressure) – modern homes may be less than this, and commercial buildings more – but it’s there or thereabouts.

Sleep tracking is another reason I was interested in wearing a band, which is also the reason I can’t charge at night (as I do my phones). I’m not sure exactly how this works (it tracks time in bed, restlessness, and time awake) but I’m pretty sure “time reading a book before going to sleep” gets recorded as sleep (perhaps the low heart rate?), as does “lying in bed being lazy (a lie in)”. As mentioned previously, so does taking off my watch and pugging it in to charge after sleep as the software only seems to end the sleep when I’m active – and therefore starting to charge it whilst I’m still in bed extends the sleep time!

Some niggles

There are some minor niggles to watch for:

  • The Charge HR has a proper strap buckle (the Charge has a different clasp) and it can be tricky to get the correct adjustment (not too tight, not too loose for HR monitoring); however I haven’t worn a watch for many years so it may just be me getting used to having something on my wrist again.  More significantly, the strap is quite short (even the large version). Mine only has about another centimetre of expansion and, whilst I’m a stocky guy, I’m not huge – I’m sure there are others with bigger wrists than mine.
  • The watch face appears to be plastic rather than glass and I was disappointed to see it had scratched after a few days of use, although I was shown a Microsoft Band a few days ago and that was clearly scratched (on a much larger screen). I guess I’ve been spoiled by glass smartphone screens and expect the same from all devices…
  • If you’re in the UK, Fitbit’s food record database is terrible. So far the only items recognised by the barcode scanner in the app have been from Costco (i.e. American products) and I’ve used other apps that do a much better job for this. Also, the Fitbit food tracker can’t create recipes (i.e. add a bunch of ingredients, save as a recipe with x portions, then eat y portions). After a few days, my common food items have mostly been added manually (which has taken quite a lot of time) but there’s still the issue of tracking food when eating out. Maybe it’s pedantic but it does seem to me to have little value in accurately tracking calories burned if I don’t accurately track calories eaten…
  • As with driving, when logging activities (exercise), be ready for some inaccuracy as (unless logged as a walk/run, etc. via the Fitbit app) because manually-logged activities can be recorded down to the second on duration but only to the minute on start/end times! So, if I take an activity from Strava (for example) that started at 16:39 and lasted 18m 11s… the heart rate graphs don’t quite match up. As you can’t edit an activity (only delete and re-record), it can take some trial and error to record it accurately.

App ecosystem

In general, activity tracking would actually be greatly improved if there was broader integration between apps (e.g. Strava-Fitbit or Garmin-Fitbit). There is an ecosystem of Fitbit-aware apps but we’re a long way from a universal health tracking app ecosystem. Added to that, the need for premium versions of each app, with subscriptions in order to integrate (e.g. MyNetDiary-Fitbit) could get expensive.  I’m hopeful that Apple, Microsoft et al will make great strides in this area (and I’ve linked my Fitbit account to Microsoft HealthVault) and it’s certainly something to watch over the next couple of years.

Conclusion

So, it seems that health tracking is useful, but I need to modify the way I work to deal with the Fitbit Charge HR’s shortcomings re: charging, sleep monitoring, food diaries, etc. I’m still really pleased with mine (and don’t think any other device would be any better, right now) but it’s not quite the put-it-on-and-ignore-it sensor I’d hoped to accurately quantify myself with! Maybe my expectations were just a little too high…

I bought my Fitbit Charge HR Heart Rate and Activity Wristband from Amazon UK.

A Sunday in Hell? Not quite, but rule 5 definitely applied (#RideLondon #Ride100)

East London, 6.30am, and I’ve somehow managed to miss a great big sign saying “to the start” as I make my way to the Ride London-Surrey 100. Luckily, there were enough other cyclists around for me to realise the error of my ways and get back on track. A few minutes later I was taking dodgy “start-line selfies” whilst checking the weather forecast and chatting to fellow riders queuing up next to the Lea Valley Velopark, waiting for our wave to start the slow procession towards the start line.

I’d been looking forward to this sportive for a while – I realised how lucky I’d been to get a ballot place – and, with my London-Paris and Holme Moss challenges under my belt, I’d pushed my training up to 100 miles. This was supposed to be special: ride out from the Olympic Park, tackle the Surrey Hills, and finish up on the Mall.  Sadly, I learned on the start line that the route had been cut to 86 miles through the removal of Leith and Box Hills because to safety concerns with ex-hurricane “Bertha” coming through. I wasn’t very happy: my second journey to East London in three days (first time to “register” for the event, in what seems to be an elaborate ruse to guarantee that at least 24,000 people visit the Prudential Ride London Cycle Show) and after a 04:15 start to get myself to the start and this was not what I wanted to hear. In the end though, I have to admit that 86 miles in the wind and the rain was plenty.  Last Sunday was one of those days when rule 5 definitely applied.

As a predicted slow rider (I think I originally said about 7.5 hours, before revising to 6.5 later), I started at 08:10 and with only 20 minutes to the back of the race I was conscious that the broom wagon could be upon me at any time.  I had 26 miles to cover to the first hub before 10:30 – which should have been a doddle – but I decided to crack on anyway.  The first couple of miles were lined with people waiting for their friends with different start times and a surprisingly high number of punctures (thankfully I didn’t suffer any) but I was enjoying my ride as I flew down the East Cross Route towards Docklands. A former motorway (now the A12), closed to all traffic except cyclists and I was averaging just shy of 30kph (not bad for me). Along Aspen Way, into the Limehouse Link, onto The Highway. I was buzzing. Past the Tower of London (poppies look amazing) and towards the Embankment. Running red lights (legally) through central London (with a spectator using a traffic cone as a megaphone) and on out to the west, watching lines of no-doubt extremely annoyed motorists on the eastbound A4 as we had the whole of the westbound carriageway to ourselves as far as Hammersmith.

By now the weather was deteriorating and the ride was marginally less fun but I was making good progress as I stopped to take on (and release) fluids at a drinks station near Chiswick.  As we hit Richmond Park I was making a steady pace up the hills but then came the rains. Not just a shower, but monsoon rains, the likes of which are rarely seen in England.  After taking shelter for a while I decided there was nothing for it but to get back on, only to be reduced to a standstill, and then walking pace, whilst an ambulance crew dealt with an accident.  Hopefully the poor soul involved was OK – as it was around 40 minutes before I was on the move again – and we crept into into a flash-flood-hit Kingston after which I suspect my bottom bracket may now be full of smelly water.

At this point the lead riders were coming back through on their final stretch back to London. I was sorely tempted to join them but stuck with it, under flooded railway bridges and out over the Thames to the first hub.  The time? 10:30! The broom wagon was due now but there were still thousands of riders coming through.

Setting off again, I witnessed another accident between Weybridge and Brooklands as the rider a short distance ahead lost traction and hit the road.  I stopped and called an ambulance whilst his fellow riders kept him safe and, after the St John Ambulance guys arrived I set off again. On into deepest Surrey, the next section was a real slog into the prevailing wind and I was wondering just how far out of London we would keep on heading before the course turned north east again.  At one point a chap said “follow me – you’ve been making good pace and I’ve been on your wheel for a couple of miles” but I couldn’t manage his speed and I had to let him drop me. Eventually, the sun started to appear as we climbed to Newlands Corner and, hard as the climb felt, I was glad to hear one of the spectators call out “it’s a long way to the finish mate, but you’re nearly at the top of this hill and it’s downhill from there”. What a star!

Actually, that was the wonder of it all. Despite the wind and the rain (and the reputation that Surrey has for hating cyclists who clog up the roads on a weekend), loads of people had turned out to watch 20,709 cyclists ride past their front door and were cheering us on in our “two-wheeled version of the London Marathon”.  “Come on Olney Multisport” I heard (the team name on my kit that day), “Sunshine ->” I read on one placard, whilst the next one said “the weather may be crap but you’re doing great!”. Clearly not making great time, I didn’t stay long at Newlands Corner because the broom wagon was due again and I set of down the hill, only to stop to retrieve my rain jacket which had come out of my pocket and was wrapped around my rear hub. Maybe if I paid less attention to rules 29 and 31 I might have room in my pockets for layers of clothing removed due to changes in weather conditions!

Now heading east, and riding in sunshine, things were looking up.  We passed the Leith Hill diversion and then a couple of Police motorbikes came past me.  Unfortunately I didn’t realise why they were there and, part way down the next  hill, under trees, on a wet slippery road I heard shouts of “slow down, accident ahead”, as I skidded, caught the bike, skidded again, crossed double solid white lines and hit the road, sliding along on my left side thinking “please don’t scratch my bike” whilst I tested the “tarmac resistance factor” of my kit.  Luckily for me, I only suffered superficial damage (so did the bike, with scratched brake lever, pedal, and rear skewer – all easily fixed) and was quickly back on my feet. I wish I’d had the manners to properly thank the lady rider behind who’d checked I was OK but, in the heat of the moment I’d said a quick “I’m fine thanks” and jumped back on, with the biggest damage being to my pride.  And I’d like to think my “luck” in not being badly hurt coming off at what appears to have been about 42kph was karma for stopping to help someone else earlier…

On through Dorking and up the A24 to Leatherhead, bypassing Box Hill, it was actually getting quite warm.  For the first time all day I was down to my normal summer kit (removing the arm warmers and tights that had probably saved my arms/legs from gravel rash earlier) and I was keen to get through the miles. At Oxshott, I spotted a pub with an all day BBQ to celebrate the ride coming past (one of many joining in the celebrations) and contemplated a beer but pushed on.  Shortly afterwards, I pulled over for a snack and another one of the wonderful spectators called out “have you got a puncture mate?” I didn’t, but I thanked him for his kindness, as he offered a mobile puncture repair service (including a track pump in his rucksack)!  Once again, the generosity and support from people on the roadside had really amazed me – clearly not everyone views this annual event the way some journalists do.

I’ve mentioned the spectators but the volunteers who worked as marshalls and other roles to run the event were superb.  I’ve done something similar myself, as a volunteer marshall (a Tourmaker) for the 2014 Tour de France Grand Départ and it was amazing but we had sunshine and professional riders – these guys had torrential rain, howling winds, and thousands of amateur cyclists to look after.  That didn’t stop them from encouraging us, being a smiling face at the roadside, and otherwise helping out.  Sure, the professional stewards (orange jackets) looked bored but the volunteers were fantastic and really helped to build the atmosphere of the event.

After a blitz back through Kingston, the rest of the ride was pretty uneventful, except for the downpour that led to me sheltering in a bus stop somewhere near the last drinks station (alongside three spectators, including a little girl who had counted 600 riders with two water bottles!). After grinding up the last big hill in Wimbledon I was counting down the miles to the finish (although thankfully all downhill) and as I hit Chelsea Embankment, I could feel the pressure lift as the finish line drew nearer.  The last push past the Houses of Parliament and along Whitehall flew by, before turning left under Admiralty Arch and onto the Mall.  There was the finish – a few hundred metres away – could my legs manage a final flourish?  It may not have been the fastest sprint finish in history but I approached the line with arms aloft (before quickly grabbing the bars to avoid falling off whilst crossing the timing strips!) and cruised along the Mall with a massive smile on my face. I’d done it!

My official time was 7 hours, 5 minutes and 10 seconds and that means my average speed was pretty shocking.  Take out the stops for accidents though, and my Garmin recorded 5 hours and 46 minutes at a slightly more respectable 24.6kph (I didn’t remember to stop it until a little way further down the Mall, where I collected my medal, so the seconds don’t count!).

Unfortunately, my Garmin Edge 810‘s altitude sensor was severely affected by the wet weather (seems to be a common issue), and I lost my pedal magnet from the crank in my crash (so no more cadence measurement) but all the important info is there – although obviously the Limehouse Link Tunnel doesn’t mix well with GPS!

And what about the bikes? Predictably, most riders were on road bikes – with some on hybrids and MTBs. But, just as when I took part in a charity ride from Wakefield to Manchester over Holme Moss a few weeks ago, someone did it on a Brompton (chapeau!).  I saw a few tandems too – but no Boris Bikes… until I spotted this tweet!

Possibly inspired by the guys who rode up Mont Ventoux on a Boris Bike (and returned it with seconds to spare before the 24 hour limit), that’s seriously impressive – those things weight 23kg!

All in all, Ride London-Surrey 100 (OK, 86), was a blast.  I hated the weather at times and I was in quite a bit of pain at the end (dodgy knee position affecting my IT band, I think – time for another bike fit…) but got a wonderful sense of achievement. One slight disappointment is that I didn’t get a picture (even a selfie) in front of Buckingham Palace as my iPhone ran out of juice immediately after crossing the finish line (at least it held out that long).  Unfortunately that also meant I had to rely on my sense of direction (with a little help from the Garmin) to get back to the car park (another 8 miles).

Hopefully, next year I’ll get through the ballot again and do the full century in under 6 hours…

Finally gave in and bought a Garmin

Many of my cycling buddies tell me how great their Garmins are and I just didn’t “get it” but, after having to neuter my iPhone to get through a day’s riding, I decided that it was time to take the plunge.  Actually, there were a few reasons…

Increasingly, I live by the stats.  If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen. And I want to work on my cadence and on training in particular heart rate zones.  I can use a dongle to get ANT+ connectivity on an iPhone, but I decided to buy a dedicated cycle computer instead.

Secondly, my wife worries when I’m out and about on my bike.  Some of the recent Garmin cycle computers have a connected features like live tracking, using a Bluetooth-connected phone with the Garmin Connect app (iOS or Android, not Windows) and, after watching this video (yes, I’m a sucker for marketing), I thought that it might be just the thing to give her the peace of mind from knowing where I am (Find my iPhone was just a little too much of a pain with a complex password set on my Apple account):

There are some good deals around on the Garmin Edge 800 at the moment but that doesn’t have the connected features found in the 510, 810, and the new 1000.

Finally, I decided that, as my distances increase, riding in unfamiliar places means a map can be useful.  Whereas in the car I have a £9.99 map-book and a good sense of direction, the time had come to get myself a sat-nav for the bike.

Improving iPhone battery life for use as a cycle computer

One of the uses for my iPhone is as a cycle computer.  I don’t have a Garmin (many people who do tell me that the Garmin Connect website is a pain) and I prefer to log my rides on Strava, with the iPhone in a Topeak Ride Case.  The downside of this is that the iPhone will sometimes run out of juice on a long ride.

For that reason, on my recent London to Paris cycle ride, I needed to do everything possible to boost the battery life.  Here’s a few of the things I did – and they seemed to get me through the day:

  1. Turn (almost) everything off. 3G. Wi-Fi. Bluetooth. Roaming data (especially on the continent).  Some people say to use flight mode and, whilst that may work on some operating systems, on iOS it will also turn off the GPS, which would make the iPhone a pretty useless cycle computer!
  2. Buy a battery booster. £4.95 on eBay got me a little battery booster that will give something between a third and half a charge to my phone.  Using that at lunch, or on the afternoon break, gave a little extra power to keep the phone alive for a few hours.
  3. Try to avoid the temptation to constantly look at the screen and mionitor your stats.  The screen is the big power drain and I even wore a watch on this trip so I wasn’t tempted to look at the phone for the time!

Three cycling challenges for this summer

Remember “Fit at 40” – my quest to lose three stone and run three races of 10km or above before my 40th birthday?  I got there, although a succession of running-related injuries put pay to some of my good intentions for 2013 but there’s plenty of two-wheeled exercise still taking place (I even broke Rule 42 and completed a sprint triathlon last year).

This year I have three personal challenges planned on the bike that will all stretch me in different ways:

  1. In June, I’m joining a group of friends who are cycling from London to Paris and raising money for Prostate Cancer UK, Cancer Research UK and the British Heart foundation.  That’s about 270km in 3 days.
  2. If that wasn’t challenging enough, in July, I’m joining a team of riders from Fujitsu, cycling from Wakefield to Manchester, including part of the Tour de France route and including the fearsome Holme Moss climb. We call it the Tour de Fujitsu and we’re raising money for Streetbikes CIC.  Frankly, I’m a bit worried about that one. I’ve driven over Holme Moss and remember it being pretty steep and long.
  3. Then, in August, I’m taking part in the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100, retracing the steps of the 2012 Olympic road race.

Oh yes, and I’m going to be a Tour de France Tourmaker too… but that’s not on my bike!

If anyone would like to support me by sponsoring either the London-Paris or Tour de Fujitsu rides, it would be very much appreciated. You can also follow my training progress on Strava.

Short takes: special cyclists’ edition

As this post goes out, my beloved Bianchi C2c Via Nirone 7 should have just emerged from the workshop after its first service.  Strava says I’ve ridden it for around 1200km and, as I rack up some miles in my training for several events this year (London-Paris in June, Wakefield to Manchester over Holme Moss in July, and the Ride London-Surrey 100 in August), it seems a good to point to take it back to Epic Cycles to give it a once over…

I’ve also got a few open tabs in my browser with cycling-related bits and pieces I mean to blog about… so here’s a special cycling-themed “short takes” blog post…

Editing GPX files

Every now and again, it’s bound to happen… you forget to stop the cycle computer/app on the smartphone and the resulting GPS eXchaneg format (GPX) file has a block in the middle where you were waiting for your mates to arrive/sitting in a coffee shop/whatever.  Then there are times when the GPS goes haywire and thinks you did 87.8kph down a hill, or when it just straightlines a corner. In those instances, you might want to edit the file.

Thankfully, GPX files are not binary – they are just another XML schema – and the OpenStreetMaps Wiki has advice for editing GPX files in a text editor.  Hack around to your hearts content, then upload to your social sharing site of choice.

Searching for bike serial numbers

We’re off to Centre Parcs later this year, and I needed to provide details of our bikes (useful for insurance purposes too).  Once again, I was searching for the serial number for my mountain bike and, once again, it was eluding me so, whilst it’s unlikely to apply to everyone who reads this blog, here’s the link to Trek’s advice on where to find your bike’s serial number.

 

Short takes: “detagging” oneself on Facebook; and the universal cleaning power of baby wipes

In the absence of a “proper” blog post, a few short takes based on things I’ve discovered these last few weeks…

“Detagging”

Over the last few months, I’ve been notified that someone has tagged me in a photo on Facebook. Great, I think, another picture from 20 years ago that I need to check to see I’m not doing anything naughty in… or “how on earth does that person have a picture of me?!”.

As it happens, some of the pictures weren’t of me – just someone who looked a bit like me, viewed from a particular angle.

It turns out that Farcebook has a help page for “how do I remove a tag from a photo or post I’m tagged in”, which is kind of handy as, however careful you are about sharing your information online, you can’t do anything about your friends.

Baby wipes and handlebar tape

Almost nine years of fatherhood have taught me lots, including that baby wipes are great for cleaning many things – goodness knows why we let them near the skin of our precious little people.

A few weeks ago, I bought myself a road bike. I was a little concerned about the white bar tape though… not likely to stay white for long, I thought. And I was right. Velominati rule #8 discusses matching the colour of saddles and bars – in the full text of the book it also talks about  keeping white bar tape clean in order to Look Fantastic at All Times. After the application of a little elbow grease and a baby wipe though, my bar tape is gleaming like (almost) new…

Great service, great bike, great experience!

I’ve written before about the interest in cycling I developed last year but I wasn’t able to buy a road bike at the time. A few weeks ago, that all changed as I found myself attracted to a beautiful piece of Italian machinery at just about the same time my bonus was paid…

Mrs W. may think it’s a toy but I’m currently building up to my first (sprint) Triathlon and hope to be riding from London to Paris with friends next year.  That means that my Bianchi Via Nirone 7 Veloce Limited Edition is ridden several times a week as we enjoy the summer here in the UK and I try to build up my fitness (and knock off a few more kilos) – indeed I’ll be heading out tomorrow morning (and anything that gets me up early on a weekend must be fun).

The reason for this blog post is not so much to rave about my first road bike though (lovely though it is) but to commend the dealer where I bought it.

You see, I spent weeks looking at various bikes from Giant, Scott, Trek, Cannondale, etc. and I found many helpful dealers along the way. Unfortunately, I also found some who were less so – Pedalworks in Dunstable wanted to charge me so that they could spend twenty minutes working out which frame size would be right for me with the Scott Speedster 20 I was considering at the time. I managed to ride a machine from lower down the range at Phil Corley Cycles in Milton Keynes (they didn’t have a 20 in my size) but it just didn’t feel as comfortable as the Trek Domane 2.0 I rode next. The Trek was a lovely bike but this years colours are just so… dull (the 2.3 is OK, but outside my budget). I was tempted by the Giant Defy 1 (but struggled to find one in red/white) and I even gave Boardman Road Team Carbon Limited a try as it’s a stonking deal but a bit too racey for me (a*se up head down – as someone referred to it) and, despite their best efforts letting me ride one around the loading bay, Halfords’ staff just didn’t seem to know much about their bikes and how they compared with the competition (apart from on price).  Then, when two people independently suggested I took a look at the Bianchi Via Nirone, I liked what I saw.

I called Epic Cycles who were a) incredibly helpful b) really friendly and c) willing to let me come and spend some time with them to work out what size bike I need.  And when I say “some time” – I mean an hour and a half fitting session working out how best to set up the bike. I said “but I just need to work out my size” and they said they understood – this is a sizing evaluation – apparently a full performance bike fit is 3 hours!

So I set off to Ludlow, and Epic’s Ben Williams put me onto the turbo trainer, before setting about measuring various angles to get me in just the right position, each time explaining why it was so important and how it will make a difference on long rides (I have the measurements, but I wish I’d taken notes!). The thing is, it works – who would have thought that taking 1cm off the stem would make such a difference in comfort but it does – as does the position of my saddle (height and fore-aft), bar height, stem angle, etc.  Not only that but it made a huge difference in my purchasing confidence and the order was placed very soon afterwards.

The Via Nirone 7 is available in various spec levels but Epic buy so many they’re able to have their own limited edition bikes built up.  Mine has a Campagnolo Veloce groupset (roughly equivalent to Shimano 105) and K-Vid Kevlar/Carbon seat stays which really make it a smooth ride.

A few days later, and the bike was ready for collection – Epic would have delivered the bike to me, free of charge, but I elected to collect it – I didn’t want to entrust my pride an joy to a TNT courier. Even better, when I bought some pedals to go with the bike, Epic fitted the cleats to my shoes for me (even though I’d bought the shoes elsewhere) and helped me to get set up*. Great service, great bike, great experience – and hopefully the start of a great new hobby for me.

Unfortunately, Mrs W wants me to ride around in neon colours now so that I can be seen… ah well, at least that’s an excuse to buy some more gear…

 

* That still didn’t stop me from falling off after failing to unclip at the first junction on my first ride – but that’s something of a rite of passage, I believe.