Mid America TT Series

In the (Feed)Zone - True Reviews: Quarq Elsa Cranks & Zipp 30 Wheels

By: Mark Swartzendruber
Posted: Nov 1, 2013

Quarq Elsa Cranks

Regular readers of the (Feed)Zone should not be surprised by my admission that I’m not really a slave to training regimen.  Having been an athlete all of my life, I’m fairly accustomed to what it feels like to “push” myself and when rest is necessary.  I don’t need “numbers” to tell me when I’m good or when I’m tired.  When I started racing, the only “numbers” I had were miles, miles per hour, average speed and total ride time.  My number unit didn’t even stop running when I stopped riding.  So, if I stopped at a gas station for Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies at some distant point on my ride and forgot to turn my number gathering unit back on after the stop, my entire ride was ruined because I had to estimate how far, fast and how long I rode after the stop.  It was a primitive time.  The only way to judge a training ride was by how fast you went and the only way to judge how well you did in a race was by whether or not you won or at least earned prize money.

Then, the Hear Rate Monitor became widely available, but only on your wrist.  So, I bought a Nike watch that recorded my heart rate.  Soon, I was bored with having to look at my wrist so I rigged a way that I could with the aid of a kitchen sponge, strap it to my handlebars.  So I began writing my HR max and avg. into my training log book.

Soon after, some smart engineer at Cat Eye figured out how HR information could be captured in your bike speedometer and it wasn’t long after that all hell broke loose and the coaching industry began.  Coaches claimed they could delve into a rider’s HR data and map out a training program that if followed precisely could elevate a lowly Cat 4 with enough cash to pay the monthly coaching fee to Cat 3.  Since most young bike racers couldn’t afford the scratch, the coaching industry was built primarily on the backs of Fatty Masters with disposable income and infinite egos.

The next innovation was the cadence counter.  Used to be, you just had to count your pedal strokes for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to figure out your cadence.  Now, with the help of magnets and wires and sensors, you could see your pedal cadence on your bike computer.  I never had much use for cadence as a training device but some track racers tell me it’s a number worth paying attention to.

All hell broke further loose with the invention of the Computrainer.  For the first time, a rider’s fitness and ability no longer was defined by race results.  You see, the Computrainer captured a rider’s ability to exert force on the pedals and measure that exertion in a term called “wattage”.  Given the mystery and difficulty of interpreting wattage, this new layer of training capacity became a boon to the coaching industry.  With the invention of the power tap hub, and SRM crank riders now had the opportunity to not only pay their coaches to interpret HR and wattage data and be informed whether or not they’re good bike racers or had a good ride or a bad ride, but they could also buy the power measuring units directly FROM their coaches – at a discount of course.  So, if a rider was equipped with a Power Tap or an SRM crank purchased at great cost, but at a discount, they could have their coach tell them exactly why they remained stuck at the back of the pack during the Fatty Master criterium for which they had specifically trained to finish mid pack.  That reason being: “You didn’t produce enough power”.

So, gathering “numbers” moved to high science with charts and graphs and files and all manner of ways to gauge a rider’s worthiness other than simply by race results.  It was complicated but worth it for a great number of riders to jump on the “power” band wagon and pay coaches to interpret the data that was captured when they rode – for short their “numbers”.  Though complicated, it was essential.  If you were a Power Tap user you needed a power tap head, and if you wanted to train and race on a different wheel you needed two power tap wheels and if you wanted to do a time trial you needed a power tap disc.  Forget about it if you wanted numbers from your track race as well.  Expensive.  Along came the SRM unit which could provide you with your numbers via a micro computer in your crank set. Brilliant – no more reason to have multiple wheels, but you still needed a special head unit and lots and lots of wires and they were expensive and not transferable from bike to bike so if you wanted numbers on your road bike and your time trial bike, you needed two separate SRM units.  If you wanted to use a 54 chain ring instead of a 53 because the race had a down hill tail wind sprint, you couldn’t.

This brings us to the age of Elsa.  I waited a long time to be one of those guys who reviews his numbers.  Other than speed, distance, time and race results, I just never had much use for any other numbers.  So, when I finally decided I wanted to get numbers, I chose the Quarq Elsa.  Here is why. 

  • It’s compatible immediately with the Ant + Garmin head unity I already had
  • It doesn’t require constant calibration and returning to the factory to be reset
  • I can install it by myself and it is immediately functioning
  • It weighs the same as the SRAM Red Crankset I replaced
  • I can swap out the chain rings without having to have the crank recalibrated so if I want to put on a 54 chain ring for a TT, I just do it.
  • The Ant + system is fairly universal with modern GPS units and communicates wirelessly without time consuming programming.  I literally installed the crank, and my Garmin 500 sensed it, communicated and started giving me numbers.
  • It measures left/right balance.  This has been very valuable in measuring my rehab progress from my back issues.  I’ve been able to see that my pedaling balance has gone from favoring my left leg by over 10% to now being almost balanced at 51/49%.
  • It’s consistent.  There really is no way to truly claim “accurate” in wattage measurement.  I’ve seen guys get freaked out because the numbers weren’t the same on the Computrainer screen as they were on the SRM or Quarq  number collection devices they employed. Big deal… You want your unit to be consistent.  You don’t want wild swings or even 5% swings from day to day as this makes it very difficult for your coach to analyze your numbers and tell you whether or not you had a good ride or how badly you suck as a racer.  The Quarq is remarkably consistent.

If that’s not reason enough to recommend the Quarq Elsa, I will also add they have outstanding customer service.  After racing in the O’Fallon Grand Prix criterium in an absolute down pour, my numbers failed.  The unit was sucking the life out of brand new batteries in an hour. I called the Quaq Service Dept. and they gave me a Return Authorization with paid Fed Ex shipping.  I sent the unit to Spearfish, SD they determined that it wasn’t water, but rather a software malfunction where the unit was stuck in boot up mode.  I had a repaired unit back before a week was done and I didn’t even pay for shipping.

If you are looking to get into riding with numbers – I’d recommend starting and ending your equipment search here: www.quarq.com 

Zipp 30 Wheels

Riding on the mean streets of Chicago, my wheels take a beating. When my trusty Zipp Team Issue wheels finally gave out after 6 years, I replaced them with the new Zipp 30 model. After using them as my primary training set for this past full season, I’m convinced that Zipp has developed a perfect training wheel set that can also be used as a race wheel or your pit wheels.

Here are some highlights. Zipp made these with the new pop-pop popular 21.5mm wide tire bed. The rim is 30mm deep and has an aero profile. Front wheel has 18 bladed spokes and the rear has 20. Claimed weight for the set is 1655 grams with 765g for the front and 890g for the rear.

My set weighed 10g heavier per wheel which is essentially just a blip of the digital scale. No big deal. Wheels come with the Zipp aero skewers and 18mm wide rim tape. They are not tubeless compatible. The front hub is the 122 and the rear is the 249. They are standard steel bearings with a composite hub body. Rear hub is 10 and 11 speed compatible. My experience riding these has been great. I ride 25mm wide clinchers and I intentionally seek out rough surfaces. Riding out in the rural areas, I look for aggregate and gravel roads. In the North Suburb of Evanston, I hit the bricks hard. I dare say the ride quality of the 30 wheels is more comfortable on brick and gravel than the ride quality of the 303 clinchers I have.

Changing flats is easy. With most flexible bead tires, you should be able to remove and replace tires without tire bars. After several thousand miles of rough treatment, the finish on the wheels is still flawless and they are as true as the day I pulled them out of the box.

You should be able to find them at retail for around $850. www.zipp.com