the tacx tyre and the Saris M2

Tacx trainer tyre

So there I was, plodding up some pass in the Czech republic, slogging steadily through the middle of a Rouvy server, minding my own business, when BANG! A mechanical! On a smart trainer. A blowout.

I hopped off my bike and moved to the side of the road. Fished out the tyre levers, which had conveniently appeared on a nearby workbench, and had a look at the problem.

Tacx trainer tyre – exhibit A
Tacx trainer tyre – Exhibit B

I have my doubts about the Saris M2. I miss my Tacx Vortex. It’s a pity that it fizzed and sparkled when I tried to fix it. It’s pretty much unfixable now. It’s now a perfectly functioning not-smart trainer though. The Saris M2, with its scary clutch knob, makes me nervous. So much tyre squashing involved.

Moving to a dedicated trainer tyre was definitely a good move. It’s quieter and smoother. Not sure about the battery life though. Is it connected to the trainer? Is it a co-incidence that since changing to the Saris M2 that the cracks have begun to show in my trainer tyre?

On the surface of things I certainly seemed to have a smoking gun. But I’m a bit puzzled. Admittedly the tyre is not looking its best, but I was surprised it had resulted in such a rowdy blowout. I decided that it was just a fluke, and the tyre had a bit of life in it yet.

Tacx trainer tyre

I wasn’t wrong. There was some life yet. Another 12 minutes to be precise. Then there was another loud bang, not dissimilar to the first one. Luckily I had another nearly new tacx trainer tyre, I just had to find it. I was nearly at the top of the pass too. Annoying.

The new tyre is on, and today I managed to complete the ride without a mechanical. But I’m really, really not sure about the Saris M2. Surely a tyre was never designed to be quite so squashy …

Tacx trainer tyre

Adjusting the Clutch Knob tension on the Saris M2 Smart Trainer

Goodbye to the Tacx Vortex

My Tacx Vortex packed up. I was a bit surprised. Five years it’s been turning round and round with various degrees of resistance and I’ve always taken it a bit for granted. Then recently, when trying to pair it to Rouvy, I noticed nothing was happening. No lights, no connection.

I was in denial for a while. When something has worked fine for 5 years then doesn’t, it’s a bit of an adjustment. After changing the power and plug and digging around with a multimeter, it was clear it really was dead.

I lifted the hood, had a google, and it looks like it’s a thing. A thread on www.electronicspoint.com reveals a few people with tantalisingly dead Tacx trainers. I don’t fancy prodding the PCB with a soldering iron – my soldering skills were never that good – but I might one day revisit this.

The R64 resistor gets a few mentions and the one on my PCB looks like after 5 years it’s decided to call it a day.

I was discovering how much I’d taken the trainer for granted. The Tacx Vortex is a really simple affair, with a straightforward lever that presses the roller against your back wheel. I liked it a lot. Smart Trainers are hugely variable in price and the Vortex hit a nice entry-level sweet point when I bought it in 2015, and now it was dead.

Or, more precisely, dumb. Clearly I could use it as a dumb trainer, like in olden times. But I was surprised how quickly I’d adjusted to, and taken for granted, having real virtual resistance, or virtually real resistance, as I slogged up an alpine pass in the comfort of my garage. I needed another smart trainer.

Looking for a new Smart Trainer

Time for another shock or two, or three. The Vortex was no longer available. And Smart Trainers are pretty expensive. Even cheap ones are expensive. And as we pedal virtually through the post-Covid apocalypse, they are very hard to find.

I was quite keen on a wheel-on trainer. Mostly because they’re a lot cheaper, but also because you can use it to road-test, or pseudo-road-test, an old bike. During lockdown I’d rebuilt two old steel bikes and learned a lot on the way. Mostly about the joys of trying to adjust a cup and cone Campag bottom bracket. And I was discovering that the best place to discover that you hadn’t adjusted it very well, was not somewhere a long way from home.

I bought the Saris M2 Smart Trainer. I wanted to stick with Tacx, but price and availability were against me. Despite many of the alarming reviews for the M2 I decided to take a risk. It was the only one around my budget, in stock, and available to pick up.

There’s a good review, or non-review, of the M2 by Jeff Whitfield on the velonut.com website. I have to say my experiences almost exactly reflect his. He mentions adding the bolt action tube was difficult. My experience was identical. Initially I assumed that I was doing something wrong and I kept checking and re-checking the documentation until I was convinced I was right, and eventually it jostled in. It was in the right place but the engineering felt a bit rough.

Same story for the resistance unit. After many “this can’t be right” moments I tentatively tapped the bolt through the frame, having constantly checked the alignment and kept everything lined up. There isn’t a huge amount of thread to be engaged on the bolt and I spent a few minutes fruitlessly using a socket wrench turning a small amount of empty space mistakenly assuming I’d finally managed to get the bolt far enough along to engage the thread.

But I got there in the end. And then, the adventure really begins. The Clutch Knob.

The Saris M2 Smart Trainer Clutch Knob

It’s hard to find a review of the M2 that doesn’t mention the Clutch Knob. It is, as they say, a fine idea. In principle, you might add. But it scares me. So much tension in such a delicate looking piece of metal. So much so, that on my first attempt, I lost my nerve. I’d read so many reviews mentioning so many bent frames and so many clutch knobs not clicking, that I really didn’t want to end up with a bent 2-day old trainer. The last one the shop had in stock.

It was very frustrating. After spending a lot more time assembling the frame than I expected, and thinking I was finally getting somewhere, I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk turning, and turning, a yellow piece of plastic hoping, waiting and praying for it to click. What I hadn’t been able to find out from my searches was a ball-park figure for how many turns, how much pressure, would be required to get to the click. How much should the tyre be squashed?

One article suggested 2.5 to 3 turns, but that was for a black knob. The M2 was yellow. Did this matter? Another support article suggested the tyre should be squashed in about a 1/3 to get the required resistance, with the tyre inflated to just a little of maximum. And a thread on www.trainerroad.com shows that I’m not the only one to be uneasy about the level of deformation or turning required.

Having lost my nerve and resigned myself to never knowing, and then discovering the joys of software calibration, I was feeling pretty dejected. Compared to the simple engagement mechanism used by the Vortex to apply pressure to the wheel, I was finding the M2 pretty inelegant. I visited the Saris website, registered the product, and put in a support ticket explaining my sad story.

Waiting for the click

To set things up I was using a 1983 Alan bike with a wheel and tubular of similar age. The tubular is pretty frayed but it would fine to test things out.

Alan Super Record with old tubular

Next after the Alan was to try it with my road bike with a dedicated Tacx trainer tyre inflated to the recommended 120psi.

Tacx dedicated trainer tyre

After my first failed attempts I decided to man-up and try again. But this time I decided to video my attempts so that I had something concrete to show to Saris.

The twenty minute adventure is available for viewing but you might have some paint you need to watch drying somewhere, so here’s my key discoveries.

TL;DR

  • Old tubular at approx 120psi: Start tightening clutch-knob (06:47).
  • Old tubular at approx 120psi: Clicks after 8 and a bit turns (08:27).
  • Deformation in tubular (09:34).
  • Old tubular at approx 130+psi: Start tightening clutch-knob (12:50).
  • Old tubular at approx 130+psi. Clicks after 6 and a bit turns (13:25).
  • Tacx trainer tyre at approx 120psi: Start tightening clutch-knob (17:10).
  • Tacx trainer tyre at approx 120psi: Clicks after 6 and a half (18:00).

So that’s between 6-and-a-bit and 8-and-a-bit turns. To me that feels like a lot of turns, even if the tyres are slightly under-inflated. I get that you need decent thunk of pressure to get that potential 15% of slope, but even so, it doesn’t feel right. Perhaps I could inflate the tyres a smidgen more and it’d bring the number of turns down but I’m not so sure. There feels like a lot of tension in that L-bolt. I’ve had one training session on the M2 and the jury’s out. Time will tell.

Club La Santa Triple

It’s getting hard to be first-timer at any race in Striders nowadays. There are so many far-travelled adventurers competing in so many events that there’s often nothing new under the sun. I’d intended to do the Club La Santa Duathlon/Half-Marathon/Triathlon triple back in 2016 but I’m pretty sure even then that Neil Sleeman had already got the t-shirt.

Mon 9 Sep 2019 – Duathlon

around the lagoon

The duathlon was first. All these events are done and dusted before breakfast before the weather gets too hot so they’re not massively long, but still long enough to wake you up and give you an appetite. I was looking forward this as my previous attempt in 2016 had given me the dubious honour of DNF’ing after the first monster 2.5 km run stage.

Despite being a remote lump of lava just next door to Africa, Club La Santa events definitely have their regulars. The route isn’t complicated but you have to be paying attention to the briefing otherwise a wrong turn may take you into the supermarket or swimming pool rather than on to the running track. I was disappointed to hear that the bike section no longer took a long climb up to Tinajo to turn there with a gleeful descent back to base, but instead went ‘four times round the lagoon’. Well that sounded fun. It wasn’t surprising though, as the previous route was on busier roads with the potential for a high-speed encounter with a speed-bump and a local out to buy their breakfast in the village of La Santa itself.

It’s a good way to start the day and even though it was a short event I was mindful of going off too fast and too early. I enjoyed the bike section more than I expected and just had to concentrate on counting the laps. It had a couple of bumps and troughs enough that it wasn’t a simple single-gear time-trial. The finish as with all of their events is a lap of the running track to finish under the timing tower.

Finish of the duathlon

Tue 10 Sep 2019 – Half Marathon

I did this event in Mar 2016, and quite a bit faster too. Perhaps it was cooler then but it was pretty hot today. The route is a simple three lap out-and-back to La Santa, and I was pretty comfortable for the first two. On the third lap the sun was well and truly out of bed and things were hot. I’m not a good hot weather runner but I have a sound strategy for dealing with the heat. I slow down and ease up. It’s the only way. I’ve learned from experience how small my margin of error is when it comes to pushing the envelope in hot weather.

Half-marathon

It meant I wasn’t as fast as I would’ve liked, but, on the plus side, it also meant not having surreal conversations with palm trees and unpredictable physiological responses. Half Marathons are an interesting beast; very easy to under-estimate. Another hot weather race, not really in my comfort zone, hard going, but not in trouble either. Still in control of the race.

Wed 11 Sep 2019 – Triathlon

South Pool

And finally, the fun one. I’m continually fascinated by the fact that I can run ultras, and cycle rather a long way. But try and do a length or two of freestyle and I’m gasping at the pool-side in weary bewilderment. A project.

Although my swimming has improved a little it wasn’t enough for me to have the confidence to venture out of the slow lane. And it was busy. Lots of sign-ups for this event and I got chatting at the start to an Ironman vet. I knew this from the tattoo on her leg, and I suspected she might be reassuringly geeky as it was a tattoo of the periodic table entry rather than the more familiar splodge.

Club La Santa Green Team Triathlon – Sep 2019

She went into one of the faster swim lanes but I bumped into her at transition as she’d had a poor swim. My improvised hybridised breast-stroke-freestyle had worked out quite well and I was feeling fine. I’m also pretty clueless about triathlon dress-code so I just slipped on my shoes and Striders top and off I went, while some people had brought towels and stuff. I’d forgotten a towel so I was relying on the wind-chill drying me off on the bike section. There was no transition policing as such so I just had to imagine Ian Mackenzie shouting about touching the helmet before the bike. My stuff was at the front of the bike (“Everything happens at the front of the bike”) and my practice with the Tri Club Duathlons had helped a lot. There was only one timing mat per transition, but, geek that I am, I was inventing my own. I’d set my Garmin for Triathlon and so I had to be a little creative about where I decided my transitions had begun and ended.

Ironlady caught me after a lap or two, where I sat on her wheel for a bit, which I rationalised was ok because others were sitting on mine. Someone had asked about draughting, and, the response had been that it’s four laps around the lagoon; it’d be impossible to police, so they weren’t going to get excited about it. Which I think meant that it was ok. The bike circuit was windy and in a way that was good as it made it more interesting. There was a modest climb into the wind, then a section back past the centre where it was possible to get some good tempo going.

I’d been carefully counting the laps as ironlady gradually edged away from me. I’m not sure if it was guilt that made me decide to subconsciously drop back, or whether she was just, you know, faster than me. But either way, as I was about to turn into transition, she kept on going for another lap.

I was pretty, pretty sure I was right, and that I’d done four laps, but I wobbled, dangerously close to choosing a line that was neither transition nor another lap. I decided that I was right, and veered away from the line of parked cars that were in the middle position, and headed for transition.

triathlon

At the finish I was still unsure how many laps I’d done, and she was pretty sure she was right, but, everyone else was pretty sure she wasn’t, and when I checked my garmin later it confirmed  I had been able to count to four. But it just goes to show how easy it is lose count. I mean, four isn’t a very big number.

These events are small but unpredictable. You might be rubbing shoulders with serious athletes who are on some serious training as well as first-timers. A bit like turning up for a fell race and standing on the start line next to a national champion. Great fun, exciting, competitive, and sunny.