Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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Jun
25

Steve Jobs and the Great Man Theory of Leadership

Bill Taylor’s recent post on Steve Jobs and leadership, “Decoding Steve Jobs: Trust the Art, Not the Artist,” is a must read for emerging leaders or those who aspire to lead.  Taylor discusses how Jobs clings to the Great Man Theory of leadership which works well for him as an unusual skilled leader creatively, but fails miserably for others who try to implement it.

From the blog:

“So In terms of the impact his products have had on the world, Steve Jobs represents the face of business at its best. And yet, in terms of his approach to leadership, Jobs represents the face of business — well, if not at its worst, then certainly not as something worth emulating. It’s not so much the secrecy about his liver transplant or the controversies over backdated stock options. Those are matters of corporate governance and investor relations, which, while important, aren’t all that urgent. To me, the issue is more Jobs’s approach to leadership itself — which, despite the compelling and cutting-edge quality of his products, is strangely unappetizing and often downright retro.”

The author further generalizes:

“. . . The best leaders I know don’t want the job of thinking for everybody else. They understand that if they can tap the hidden genius inside the organization, and the collective genius outside the organization, they will create ideas that will be much more powerful than what even the smartest individual leader could ever come up with on his or her own . . . “

I couldn’t agree more.  While there are a few very successful leaders who can pull off the smartest guy in the room thing [count ‘em on one hand kinda numbers], most great leaders don’t and can’t lead this way.  Replicating Jobs’ tirades, my-rules-are-the-only-rules attitude and overall hubris would destroy most leaders and would doom almost any person trying to establish a leadership role to a crash-and-burn type failure.

Don’t get me wrong.  None of this is meant to take anything away from Jobs as a leader himself – he’s proven to be a successful leader on many levels.  It’s merely to point out that trying to copy his leadership techniques will likely end in failure.  Your odds are much better when you use the capabilities of those around you and share the credit wisely.  Humility is an incredible leadership tool and is very easy to use if you keep your ego from getting in the way. 

Read the article.  Its author does a much better job telling this story.

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 June 25th, 2009  
 Will  
 Leadership  
   
 7 Comments
Jun
24

The Baseball Park Tour – Phase I

To celebrate my son’s graduation from high school, we decided to spend some time this summer touring baseball parks around the country.  While it would be great to align our schedule with that of the Red Sox, practically speaking, it doesn’t make sense.  Since teams generally play 3 games in each city they visit, following the team would mean big gaps between cities and parks.  It’d just take too much time.  Even when one doesn’t care who’s playing, scheduling a trip turns out to be a bit more difficult than it might seem.  Finding times when teams within a particular region of the country are all playing at home in the same week is, sometimes, a challenge.  Add that to flight schedules, hotels and game ticket availability and scheduling becomes an effort.  Our plan was simple.  Fly into a town in the morning, hit as many tourist sites in the town as possible, attend a ballgame in the evening and crash in a hotel.  Then, start again the next day.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

We decided to start out tour on the West Coast catching four games at four stadiums – Dodgers Stadium, Angel Stadium, Safeco Field and AT&T Park.  While our benchmark for each stadium was The First National Church of Baseball, Fenway Park, we tried to objectively compare our experiences using these critical criteria:

  • Hot dogs (and other food offerings – what?  You think that’s not critical for good baseball?)
  • Field view
  • Noise level
  • Attendance (Fenway just celebrated its 500th consecutive sellout)
  • Concourse maneuverability
  • Depth of outfield
  • Scoreboard and information

Day 1 – Dodgers Stadium, LA (Dodgers vs Athletics): Built in 1962 and looks it.  Not that it’s beat, the style is just very reminiscent of the 60s.  I liked it a lot.  Maybe it’s because I’m from the cold Northeast, but the fact that there are palm trees beside the scoreboard made me like it all that much more.  The seats were comfy and roomy, the concourses, reasonably wide and maneuverable and the food was great – Dodger Dogs are terrific (not quite Fenway Franks, but close) and the garlic fries are disgustingly fantastic – I’m still digesting them.  I would have never have guessed that the stadium seats 56K people.  It feels more intimate than that.  A good thing

Dodger Stadium 2 Dodger Stadium 3 Dodgers Stadium 1

  • Food – excellent.  Dogs were great and garlic fries are to die for (or with or by, they’re pretty greasy).  Next time I’m gonna try the Brooklyn Dodgers Pizza
  • View – was great from almost anywhere, surprising since it’s such a large venue.  Even the seats further from the field have a nice view
  • Noise level – polite southern California crowd as interested in the taste of their pinot noir as the game they were watching.  The left fielder made two errors during the game.  Fenway fans would have had him taken out back and shot.  Dodger fans did little to acknowledge the mistakes.
  • Attendance – poor, lots of empty seats.  Interleague play?
  • Concourses – not as wide as a modern ballpark, but WAY bigger than Fenway and other ancient ones.  Had no issues, but there weren’t a zillion people in attendance either.
  • Outfield – deep and uniform, no adavantage for right or left handers.
  • Scoreboard – adequate, but nothing special

Day 2 – Angel Stadium, Anaheim (Angels vs Dodgers): Built in 1966 and converted to 45K seat baseball only stadium (the LA Rams football franchise played there for a while) in 1996 and looks as if it could be almost brand new.  The place looks and feels like a modern park.  Concourses are wide  and views are good.  I had to dig through my hot dog bun to find the actual hot dog part.  It looked like a foot long Slim Jim in a roll.  The rest of the food selection sorta sucked.  Seats were reasonable in width, but were scientifically engineered to make your butt numb by the end of the second inning (just like Fenway).

Angel Stadium 1 Angel Stadium 2 Angels Stadium 2

  • Food – disappointing.  Hot dogs were thin, salt strips.  Almost nothing else worth eating (or digesting) after that.  Should have stopped by one of the vendors outside the park (but within the gates).
  • View – good.  It looked like some of the upper deck seats down the first and third base lines might require a space suit or some sort of breathing apparatus, they were so far off the ground, but even then, they were pretty close to the field – horizontally, anyway.
  • Noise level – well, this game wasn’t a good benchmark.  It was a “freeway series” of the two “home towns” (see picture of the woman’s t-shirt above for how Dodgers fans feel about that) so the crowd was noisier than is usually, I’d suspect.  I don’t know what the Angels fans sound like normally, but the Dodgers fans were as loud and obnoxious as any Red Sox or Yankees fan.  There were even a few boos.  The simultaneous chants of “let’s go Ang-els” and “let’s go Dodg-ers” sounded like gibberish.
  • Attendance – surprisingly low.  Even though this was a freeway series, there were plenty of open seats.
  • Concourses – nice.  Not as wide as a new ballpark, but comfortable.  Small rest rooms though.
  • Outfield – deep and uniform, left and right field are approximately the same depth.
  • Scoreboard – uber-cool.  High res bit-mapped displays everywhere.  Totally modern with very nice graphics and video.  Loads-o-information everywhere you look.

Day 3 – Safeco Field, Seattle (Mariners vs Diamondbacks): Built in 1999, Safeco Field is a thoroughly modern stadium with a retractable roof and 47K seats.  Fortunately, there was no rain when we were there, so the roof remained open.  Concourses were big, seats were comfortable and the food selection was big.  For a Saturday night game, there were surprisingly few people in attendance.  The entire right-center field grandstand was empty and other sections were spotty.  The fans were into the game though and robustly cheered for the aqua-men.  Like any closed or optionally closed-roof stadium, stands tend to be built up instead of out.  As such, some seats are pretty high off the field.  We walked around the stadium, though, and never felt too removed from the game.

Safeco Field 1 Safeco Field 2 Safeco Field 3

  • Food – hmmm.  Selection was good and broad – including “Sushi & Sake Ichiroll” (a play off the name of the Mariner’s right fielder – Ichiro Suzuki).  Hot dogs were a bit different – grilled with toasted rolls.  Not bad, but not ballpark franks, IMO.  Yeah, I’m picky.
  • View – good.  We walked around the park during the game and found reasonable views from almost everywhere.  As usual with modern stadiums, the seats get pretty high off the field which, IMO, is better than being far from the field.
  • Noise level – great.  Even though the stadium was far less than full, the fans were into the game and were pretty loud.
  • Attendance – surprisingly low for a Saturday game.  They didn’t announce the numbers, but there were thousands of open seats.
  • Concourses – typical of new ballparks, they were pretty wide and not too bad even between innings.  of course, the ballpark wasn’t packed, either.
  • Outfield – again, deep and uniform.  Especially considering that it’s an optionally closed roof venue.
  • Scoreboard – I expected scoreboards more like the ones at Angel Stadium considering how new Safeco is.  They were pretty mundane.  Key info was always accessible, though.

Day 4 – AT&T Park, San Francisco (Giants vs Rangers): Built in 2000, AT&T is a truly unique park with it’s location adjacent to SF Bay.  At 41.5K seats, it’s rather small, but the field gives up loads of potentially seating space to open up the outfield to the Bay and beyond.  The stadium is a virtual amusement park for every age group.  There is even a playground in the outfield stands.  Food selection was enormous and the scoreboards were incredible.  The only major drawback to the park was the seat Nazi (a Giants employee) who planted herself at the end of the row.  We basically had to raise our hands to ask permission to come and go. 

ATT Park 1 ATT Park 2 ATT Park 3

  • Food – great selection.  Almost anything you’d want.  The dogs were good, close to Fenway Franks, but not quite there and the garlic fries (no, not a baseball standard, but after having them in LA, we had to try them somewhere else) were even better than at Dodgers Stadium.
  • View – great.  In our seventh inning walk around the stadium, we didn’t go anywhere that would have been poor for game-watching.  The outfield seats were pretty cool and didn’t feel too far from the action.
  • Noise level – reasonable.  It was announced that the game was a sellout, but we saw many open seats.  The fans were definitely into it, but I’d say fairly reserved compared to American League East fans.  Maybe it’s the calmer Californians . . .
  • Attendance – sold out, but I guess some people had other things to do?
  • Concourses – they were pretty wide, but always seemed to be packed.  It was hard getting anywhere.  Come to think of it, maybe that’s where all the people from the empty seats were. 🙂
  • Outfield – deep and almost uniform.  There is a nasty center field corner where several balls got trapped like in a pinball machine.
  • Scoreboard – was lifted right out of the Starship Enterprise.  This thing had more information than a baseball stats book.  This could be done because the centerfield screen was ginormous and had about a zillion pixels of resolution.  Additionally, there are high res displays around the park so that you don’t even need to strain your eyes looking at the 10 foot tall numbers on the outfield display.  Gillette Stadium, take note please.

All-in-all, phase I of the ballpark tour was fantastic.  Both my son and I would have happily squeezed in another city, park and game even with the frenetic schedule we had.  I’ll conclude with the rankings.  I’m afraid that while we shared a great time, our thoughts on the stadiums were wildly divergent.  Maybe an age thing?  I surprisingly liked Dodgers Stadium the best, followed by AT&T Park, Angels Stadium and Safeco Field, although the last two are a toss-up.  my son liked AT&T, Safeco, Angel and Dodgers Stadium, in order.  Of course, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  🙂

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 June 24th, 2009  
 Will  
 Sports  
   
 2 Comments
Jun
23

Kodachrome is Dead. What Can You Learn From Its Death?

Way back before digital photography, when dinosaurs roamed the surface of the planet, families packed themselves into smoky living rooms to watch trays full of color slides projected onto uneven plastered walls.  These photo viewing sessions along with some of the most outstanding print photography in history were brought to you by Kodachome, Kodak’s long-lived transparency film.  Kodachrome, created by Eastman Kodak in 1935 (specifically, by scientists Leopold Godowsky and Leopold Mannes, known as "God and Man" inside Kodak), has been around longer than any photo product in history.  Today, Kodak announced that it is “retiring” Kodachrome.

When I was young and dipping my toe into the very deep waters of photography, I primarily used black and white print film which was my stock in trade because I could process and print it myself.  When I wanted color, I used Kodachrome and it’s younger sibling, Ektachrome.  The colors in Kodachrome were great – much better than color prints at the time.  In retrospect, slides held up way better than prints as well and are much easier to scan into their digital versions.

The passing of such a product is a reminder about how things have changed and how companies need to be dynamic and change with their markets – hopefully leading them.  Kodak has made the switch to digital (they still, of course, produce plenty of film), but in the change, lost the market leadership that they once had.  While I’m sad to see such a landmark product die out, it makes me excited to think about all the potential replacement products in all markets as inevitable change happens.

Nintendo lost its utter dominance of the home electronic game market when Sony, then Microsoft beat them at their own game, using new technology.  Nintendo then reemerged from its failure with another breakthrough product, the Wii.  What’s going to happen now to wristwatch sales as virtually everyone under 25 uses their phone to get the time?  How about compact camera sales?  As cell phone cameras keep improving and software processing on phones gets better, who will want to carry both a compact camera and a phone?  You get the idea.

What about your market?  What fundamental and underlying changes are happening that you can take advantage of?  Don’t think only technological, societal changes are even bigger driving forces.  Whatever they are, get there first and you’ll have a substantial advantage.

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 June 23rd, 2009  
 Will  
 General Business, Photography  
   
 8 Comments
Jun
23

Modeling a “Jamiton” – The Mathematics of a Traffic Jam

My good friend Dave just sent me an article from Wired magazine, “MIT Hopes to Exorcise ‘Phantom’ Traffic Jams,” about research going on at MIT in mathematically modeling randomly occurring traffic jams to discover their source as well as potential remedies.  Since I’m not a mathematician, I developed a somewhat less scientific theory as to why such traffic jams happen – morons and ignorant motorists who shouldn’t have licenses.  If people paid more attention, the chance of randomly occurring traffic jams taking place would be greatly eliminated.  Read the signs: Slower Traffic Keep Right.”  But, if you’re interested in a more rational theory, check out the article.

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 June 23rd, 2009  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 4 Comments
Jun
17

Livin’ in the Cloud

When it comes to my data, I’m a suspenders and belt kinda’ guy.  It can’t be in too many places or have too many layers of security.  As with investing one’s hard-earned cash, diversification is critical to success.  As such, I have loads of internal backup and security methods that are part of my routine.  I ghost a copy of my primary drive in my desktop to an auxiliary drive inside the same machine; I have a Windows Home Server in my house which does a differential backup of my files every few days; and I even sync critical files with a USB memory stick that I can take with me if I need/want to.  OK, maybe that’s a couple of sets of suspenders and a belt or two.  What can I say?

I’ve been thinking about also syncing and backing up some data to the cloud over the last six months and took the plunge a couple of months ago.  I’ve thought about what I really want out of cloud storage and have tried several offerings.  I’ll talk about these specifically, but first, a little background on my thinking and what I was looking for.

It seems to me, the when it comes to the storage of data in the cloud, as opposed to the actually use of it, there are three general types of storage solutions – raw file storage, synced/backup file storage, and content-specific storage.  Raw cloud-based file storage is simply disk space somewhere on the internet that you can do whatever you want with (think Amazon S3).  Synced storage is similar, but it’s usually set up specifically to facilitate the synchronization or backup of data between a PC and disk space similarly elsewhere on the net.  Content-specific storage is specifically set up for particular data types like email, photos, music, etc.

When cloud storage is segmented this way, one quickly realizes that all email users have been cloud storage consumers for a while.  Whether you use a basic POP or IMAP server for your email or something heavier duty like Exchange or Notes, your email has been in the cloud at least for some period of time.  So, you, like me, are already likely a user of cloud storage.  This rationalization helped me feel more comfortable about moving my data to someplace unknown.

In the end, I found I was most interested in having storage for backups and syncing to keep multiple computers up to date.  Services for the latter often assume the former – a cloud-based synced storage provider often has nice backup capabilities as well.  After all, backup is the same storage mechanism without the sync function.  I also wanted to expand my specialized storage to include my large photo collection.  For this, I wanted a photo-specific site that offered galleries and photo management.  These, of course, are not offered by the raw or synced backup folks.

While I hardly tried all services available, I did try a few including, Amazon S3, Microsoft’s Skydrive, Microsoft’s Live Mesh, Syncplicity, KeepVault, SmugMug and Flickr.  Here are my thoughts:

  • Amazon S3 – S3 is simply raw storage and it lies underneath many of the other, higher-level cloud storage services out there.  There’s no high level interface per se and, as it states clearly on the Amazon AWS site, it’s “intentionally built with a minimal feature set.”  At $0.15/GB/Month it isn’t even that cheap compared to some other services – 200GB of backup costs $360.  Oh yeah, I can do basic math . . .
  • SkyDrive – It’s “integrated” with Microsoft’s unbelievingly confusing array of Windows Live services.  I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about Microsoft stuff, but this Windows Live thing is hard to understand.  It works nicely, but there isn’t any client on the PC side, really.  Uploading files is done a handful at a time and there is no syncing.  It’s really about sharing files and doesn’t offer any automated backup or syncing.  Even for bulk storage, it’s too difficult to use.  They offer 25GB of storage for free. 
  • Live Mesh – I like Live Mesh a lot.  Live Mesh is all about synchronization between multiple machines, including Macs (beta) and mobile phones (“soon”) as well as online through a web browser.  It works totally behind the scenes, is fast and has the best reporting about what it did and what it’s doing of any service I tried.  It also offers features like accessing the desktop of a Live Mesh-connected computer and a nice chatting and feedback facility for sharing and commenting on shared documents.  My only problem with Live Mesh was the level of file granularity for syncing.  Live Mesh only understand directories, not individual files.  Sometimes, you just don’t want the entire directory synced.  The initial 5GB of storage is free.  It’s still in beta.
  • Syncplicity – It’s my favorite of all the sync/backup solutions so far.  It makes assumptions about the directories you want to sync or backup and adding different ones is a tad confusing, but once you get it, it’s all a piece of cake.  The reporting on what it’s doing isn’t as nice as Live Mesh, but it’s just as seamless and it’s pretty fast (like Live Mesh).  Unlike Live Mesh, individual files can be added or removed from a sync tree by right-clicking them (Windows) and just specifying whether or not the file should be included or not.  Also, it’s easy to specify whether you want files to be synced with other machines or just backed up.  I’m still not completely content with how Syncplicity deals with conflicts.  No data is ever lost, but it can be duplicated leaving copies scattered in your directories.  Also, I had one really nasty problem with the service.  The Syncplicity client was sucking up 10%-50% of the CPU time on my machine – all the time.  I sent messages to Syncplicity support and complained about the problem on their forum.  Nothing, zero, no response for weeks.  In fact, to this day, I’ve gotten no response.  I eventually figured the problem out myself.  A TrueCrypt encrypted volume in a directory on my machine was screwing the client up.  Once removed from the sync tree, the problem was gone.  Just horrible service.  There is a free 2GB trial and then $99/year for the first 100GB.  This is a 50% discount offer that’s been running for a while.
  • KeepVault – I tried this out because it integrates nicely with the Windows Home Server Console.  I’m using it specifically to back up my server – no desktops included and no synchronization, just backup.  It seems to work well, but the initial backup of 150GB of data took about 16 days even when I was not throttling the speed of the connection (a nice option for a server, BTW).  Additionally, the backup process stalled about 20 times during the initial backup.  Now that it’s only dealing with a handful of files, albeit big ones, at a time, it seems to be working well.  Jury’s still out.  No trial, but a 30-day money-back guarantee.  $180 for 200GB of backup.
  • SmugMug – I have 42GB of photos on my server which represent the most cherished of all data I have.  At the very least, I needed to backup these files to another physical location.  At best, it would be nice if the data could be organized and viewed from that location as well.  I looked at many sites, including Flickr (the relative standard in this space) and chose SmugMug.  The difference is that SmugMug is aimed at photographers who at least think there is some level of professionalism in their shots.  SmugMug’s pages are totally customizable and they understand not to mess with pictures being uploaded (unless you want them to).  It’s about the gallery first and about sharing second.  Just what I wanted – I’ve never learned how to share well 🙂

There are loads of other services out there including some I considered, but decided not to try on this first pass – DropBox, ZumoDrive, iDrive, Soonr, Jungle Disk, etc.  In general, I’m feeling better about having my data somewhere else.  The process is easy and, as far as I can tell, secure.  Syncing can certainly get better, though, and when there’s a failure, it’s very hard to debug, even if you can detect that it happened in the first place.  Sometimes, as with any backup, you don’t know there was a problem until an emergency happens and you really need to restore a file.  Not painless, but fairly low barriers to experience.  Come on in, the water’s fine . . . so far.

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 June 17th, 2009  
 Will  
 Computers, Photography, Software  
   
 26 Comments
Jun
15

2009 Pan-Mass Challenge – The Italian Job

The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) is a charitable, 2-day bike ride across the state of Massachusetts that raises money for cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through its Jimmy Fund.  The ride was the first fundraising bike-a-thon in the country, starting in 1980.  Since then, over 50,000 riders and 30,000 support volunteers have made it one of the largest and most successful athletic charitable events in the world, raising $240M for cancer research.  Last year, 100% of the $35M raised was given to the charity (making up 50% of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue) made up of donations from 240,000 supporters (more information from my blog post about last year’s ride here).  This year’s ride will take place on August 1st and 2nd with 5,500 riders and 2,800 support volunteers along its several routes.  This year represents my sixth time participating in this great event, although this time it’s gonna be a little different.

PMC Italy Approx RouteLast year, a new route was created.  Instead of crossing Massachusetts, riders upped the ante by crossing Italy (yeah, the country) to put in their charitable miles.  The route is, obviously, a little longer at 360+ miles versus the 180 mile Massachusetts route, but it’s also six days of riding instead of just two.  This year, I’m going to attempt to ride the Italian route. 

The ride starts on July 26.  The last two days are coordinated with the Massachusetts routes and take place on August 1st and 2nd.  We start on the Adriatic in the town of Fano, ride through the regions of Le Marche, Umbria, Lazio and Tuscany and end on the Mediterranean in the town of Albinia.  I’m thinkin’ a swim in the Med might be called for.

I can’t imagine why you’d want to read it, but I posted my shameless sponsorship request on this blog a couple of years ago.  If you’re dying to read begging brought to an embarrassing level, you can find it here.  For those of you interested in the short version, let’s just say that cancer is really, really bad and that we all need to do everything possible to eradicate it from the face of the planet.  This is a tough year for everyone financially.  Charities are feeling it big time.  If you can’t afford it, don’t sweat it.  Do what you can when you can.  If you can swing it – donations don’t have to be large – this is a cause you may want to consider.

While I think of myself as a generous donor to many causes, sometimes I need a kick in the pants to remind myself to write a check.  If you’re like me, please feel free to treat this as your ass-kickin’.  While I’d appreciate your support and donation for my ride across Italy this year, supporting me isn’t what’s important.  If you’re financially able, supporting a worthy cause like cancer care and research and a great organization like the Jimmy Fund is.  So, sponsorship of my ride is less important than sponsorship of these organizations and efforts.

PMC Logo If you’re interested in donating to Dana Farber and this seems like a reasonable way of doing it, you can do it online at this web page or click on the PMC logo to the left.  My PMC Gift ID is: wh0028 if you choose to sponsor me (click on “Sponsor one Rider with one donation”).  Of course, you can make the donation directly to Dana Farber or to PMC.

No obligation and donations can be made anonymously, if you prefer.  Thanks for even reading this far and if you choose to donate, thanks in advance for your support.

 June 15th, 2009  
 Will  
 Cycling  
   
 2 Comments
Jun
15

Mercedes ESF 2009 Worthy of Speed Racer

Mercedes has always been a leading innovator of safety gizmos that help pull your vehicular ass out of the frying pan when things go terribly, terribly wrong.  Every once in a while, they show off what’s next in preventing your insides from becoming your outsides in an auto accident with a marketing-oriented test vehicle.  They are parading the ESF (experimental Safety Vehicle – yeah, it’s German) 2009 around the world to show off their engineering talent right now.

One of the things you’ll see in the video below is a “braking bag.”  This is the modern equivalent of Fred Flintstone ramming his heels into the ground to slow down his car or Speed Racer pushing one of those buttons on his steering wheel.  An airbag forces a plate into the ground as a last ditch effort to prevent you from careening off the edge of the paved universe.  Hope I never need one.  The other stuff is pretty neat too.

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 June 15th, 2009  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 4 Comments
Jun
14

My New Ride

Museeuw MF-1

When I was a little kid, there was a company that produced sneakers called PF Flyers.  They advertised that they made you run faster and jump higher.  They did.  I proved it every time I got a new pair.  It’s a good thing Michael Jordan wasn’t born yet, because I would have kicked his ass.

Getting a new bike offers up some of the same experience.  As soon as you climb aboard, you ride faster on the flats, beat your friends up the steepest hills and corner like you’re on rails.  At least for a while, until you’re once again reminded that it’s more the engine than the chassis doing the work and the engine got fat and lazy over the winter.

After putting about 20K miles on my last bike, a Seven Elium, and having a strong desire to ride faster (having given up on actually getting more physically fit, I’m relying on technology for the improvement), I decided to investigate what was available in the cycling market that met my needs and desires.  My goals were simple – I wanted the stiffest bike I could find that was also compliant (i.e. comfortable).  Stiff, so that the frame doesn’t flex and reduce the transfer of power from the pedals to the road and, compliant, so that riding the bike for hours at a time doesn’t require emergency orthopedic surgery.

Performance was never a priority for me before.  Previously, it was all about comfort on long rides so, because I fractured my neck several years ago and have a relatively strange riding position, I had my bikes custom designed to fit me well and meet my desire for having a two-wheeled rolling La-Z-Boy.  For those of you unfamiliar with cycling, custom frames are not that big a deal and there are many companies that make them.  In any event, this time around, I decided to get an off-the-rack frame with a geometry for speed already cooked in.

After getting fitted and creating a short list of the frames that fit me best, I decided on a Museeuw MF-1 (stock picture above – not my actual bike).  Museeuw is a Belgian bike that is made from a unique combination of carbon fiber and flax – yes, that flax, the stuff used as a dietary supplement and to make linen.  Flax behaves much like carbon fiber, but is even better at absorbing vibration without flexing or deforming.  And, if you get terribly lost or stranded, you can eat your bike (no, not really).

The bike build included the following components:

After spending the last few years training with heart rate only, I’ve decided to join the modern crowd and train with power.  There are several ways of doing this, but the PowerTap is probably the most popular.  The unit replaces the hub on the rear wheel and contains strain gauges that determine the power being applied to drive the bike forward at all times, taking into account resistance from any source – gravity, wind, poor pedal stroke or weak legs.

The bike weighs about 18 pounds ride-ready, that’s with everything on the bike (including water bottle cages, pedals, computer, seat pack with tools and tube, etc) and the PowerTap.  Hardly svelte, but considering I’m giving up almost a pound to the PowerTap and at least another pound to the seat pack, it’s not too bad.

I made several other changes this year that affected my bike choice and fitting.  These included a new pedaling stroke (I took classes this winter to optimize how I pedal) and a new riding position – more stretched out to get my body weight further over the pedals and to reduce aerodynamic drag.  These changes, combined with a stiffer frame should help me ride faster.

So far, I’ve only put about 700 miles on it.  I can say that they haven’t felt like comfortable miles, but they have been relatively fast for me considering my long-ride season is really just getting under way.  Right now, the jury is still out on the overall experience with my new two-wheeled machine.  I need to put a few hundred more miles on it before I draw any conclusions from the setup and there are many fit refinements that can be made to fine tune my experience and performance.

If you’re out on the road riding and notice what looks like an edible bike, be sure to wave when you pass see me.

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 June 14th, 2009  
 Will  
 Cycling  
   
 4 Comments