Monday, June 14, 2010

SRAM and Specialized to the Rescue -- Apex Review

The hill climbs that I have been training for are finally approaching. Whiteface is Saturday, Okemo is the 26th, and my races up Mt. Washington are on July 10 and August 21. While I had no doubt that I could race Whiteface and Okemo on my existing gearing I knew that I needed some gearing help for Mt. Washington. In April I emailed our inside rep at Specialized and he put me in touch with the kind folks at SRAM. Seems that they were ready to release a mid-cage rear derailleur, along with a 32 tooth cassette. Actually, these bits are part of a group, called Apex, that is designed for road use. Parts are interchangeable with SRAM's other road offerings, from Red on down.

Two weeks ago SRAM generously provided me with the RD and cassette combo prior to its impending release. I cleaned my Power Tap wheel and installed the cassette. Justin at Sonne's did a flawless install, replacing my Red derailleur and fitting a longer chain. I was now ready to assault the toughest climbs I could find. An Internet search lead me to some 15 minute climbs just west of Lafayette, where I could crank out 15 minute intervals which started out on 20 percent grades. My four minute intervals could be done on the famed 24+ percent grades of Potato Hill. I was ready.

Wow, climbing with a 34 x 32 is an entirely new experience! This gearing definitely levels the hills. No, I am not going very fast when I am using it. However, I actually have a cadence and can keep within the power range that I want to average for the duration of the hill climbs. Working with this gearing on the steepest of climbs has me working on balance at such unbelievably slow speeds. An added benefit is that I can ride just about any hill I want and keep my power in Level 2 on my easy days. Fun!

Of course, and happily, I am not in the 32 tooth for very long during my intervals. When the grade comes back down into the teens I need some more gear inches, and fast! The Apex derailleur shifts flawlessly, just as I would expect from SRAM, and once back into the smaller cogs my bike rides just as fast as it ever did :) With the recommended gearing for Washington being 1:1 -- this almost makes that cut -- I am thrilled that I did not have to install a triple. Instead, I can just change cassettes, as per usual, when I plan to road race.

SRAM has reminded me that I am not the first to use Apex. It was ridden to a third and eighth place in the infamous hill climb TT stage in this year's Giro. A certain famous cyclist from mountain bike races past is also racing Mt. Washington with Apex. It is fairly certain that he will cross the finish line before me! However, I will be thanking SRAM and Specialized for enabling me to get to the start line with the right equipment and thanking them too as I work my way to the top, somewhere in his wake.

I'll keep you all posted.