Monday, March 23, 2015

Back on the Track: Surround Yourself With Expertise

I was back on the racetrack at NCBIKE with Team Pro-Motion on Saturday after what felt like an impossibly long winter break.  This was actually supposed to be my second day back, but the first got snowed out!  I closed out last year having made some progress getting used to the racetrack and my new bike. The bike also saw a few upgrades (rearsets and seat) in addition to the usual maintenance stuff over the winter.

Shaking Off the Cobwebs

Everyone else seemed to have the same idea I did; NCBIKE was packed!  I managed to track down some friends and sneak into their pit space so I didn't have to park out in the gravel.  When I rolled into tech inspection and signed in, I got my first surprise of the day.  I was going to be riding in the Yellow group (the lower intermediate group) rather than White (novice) where I wrapped up last year.  It's not uncommon for the more experienced novice riders to get moved up on a busy day, and I felt like I was ready for it.  I went out for the first session, and took it easy since it was still cool and we had a long sit on the pit road waiting on an oil cleanup.  I felt pretty good after the first session.  I didn't throw the bike into the weeds, and I didn't feel like I lost much over the winter.  Still had the same things to work on, but no new ones.

My biggest challenge has been finding the right body position and ergonomic adjustments on the big Kawasaki.  It's so different from the skinny Ducati v-twins I know and love.  It's not worse, it's just very different.  The Ducatis, particularly the old 916/996/998 series, force the rider into at least close to the correct position simply by removing choice and comfort from the equation.  The Kawasaki has lots of room to move around, and is shaped very differently, allowing more leeway to make the wrong choices.  This isn't entirely a bad thing, as giving those options allows for quite a bit more comfort on the street.

Since buying this bike and going to the track, I struggled with riding "crossed-up."

This shot from last year shows what I'm talking about.  My right shoulder is pulled back, and I'm dropping my hip into the turn to compensate.  My outside leg is doing a ton of work to hold me in this position.

This resulted in having to work very hard to hold on to the bike and position my weight correctly, without weighting the bars.  This meant I was spending too much energy and concentration on body position, and not enough on going faster or smoother.  I knew the problem, but hadn't isolated the cause.  The adjustments I made to the bike were helpful, but didn't get me all the way there.

Surrounded by Experts

My pit location with local friends and TPM coaches Donna and Sheldon was right between two other TPM coaches.  I met Paul and Brett pretty early on, and Paul was coaching in my group.  Paul very quickly gave me a refresher on the best lines at NCBIKE and that helped quite a bit.  As the day went on, I had lots of time to talk with everyone pitting near me.  As the day went on, to say I learned a lot would be an understatement.  Between conversations with the coaches, listening to them coach other riders, and the on-track instruction the coaches provide, there is a wealth of knowledge available at a TPM track day.

I went out for each new session with something new to work on, and came back in each time feeling a little better.

I spent much of the downtime during the latter half of the day talking with Brett, and he hit on a few things that no other coach at TPM or at California Superbike School had mentioned.  During one of our conversations, I mentioned that I was trying out my new rearsets for the first time.  He mentioned that he finds that most people get new rearsets and put them on as far up and to the rear as they can go.  I hadn't gone all the way there, but that's the direction I went as well.  Brett pointed out that if the footpegs are too far back, you tend to fall forward and put more weight than you want to into the bars.  He showed me an easy way to test (DO try this at home!).  Get on the bike while it's on stands, and put the balls of your feet on the pegs as you normally would, and lift yourself about an inch off the seat with your legs.  If you fall forward, the pegs are too far back.  I tried this and mine were borderline.  I moved them up after another session, and came back in the next time feeling a little better.

When Brett rolled back in after his next session, I let him know that I liked the change.  He was working with Michael, who was getting ready to evaluate for the bump to the Blue (Advanced) group.  He was showing him some body positioning techniques, and called me over to join in.  We ended up using my bike for the demo there in the pits, since my stands were the most stable.  What the other rider and I learned was that one of the tricks to getting hooked in to the bike correctly is not being right up against the tank.  By sitting back in the seat, the rider's outside knee engages much more positively with the tank.  Then, by rotating the inside foot much further than I had been doing, the inside knee falls open to the correct position rather than having to be pushed out there.  Last, we learned a trick to consistently hang our upper body off while keeping our shoulders square.  This allows better vision and minimizes weight on the bars.  Even on the stands, I was able to feel the difference.  Sometimes a little change can make a big difference.

Putting it Into Practice

Just as we were wrapping up the conversation, the call went out for Red (Upper Intermediate) group, with the "last session of the day" announcement.  It turned out not to be the last session, just Red's, but it didn't sound like that.  I was bummed, since I wasn't going to be able to test out what I had just learned.  Brett told me to get on my bike and follow him; he was going to take me out in Red for an evaluation.  I was a little nervous, as the pace tends to pick up quite a bit as you move up a group, but I was also really excited to get to go.  We rolled out, and I told myself I'd take it easy and just work on what I had learned.  I did exactly that as we left the pits, and felt the difference almost immediately.  I had closed the gap to the rider in front of me by the middle of the first lap, and found a clean pass on the second.  Compared to my previous sessions, I was flying!  I didn't have a lap timer, so I can't quantify the difference, but I had moved up a group and still had to make several passes.  I was also noticing how much more mental "clock cycles" I had to work with.  I was going faster, but it felt easier!  For the first time, I felt like the bike was truly working with me, or me with it.  That 20 minute ride was definitely among the most fun in 14 years on bikes.  

After the session wrapped up, I came in to thank Brett for the pointers.  We talked for a bit, along with the other rider he was working with.  Brett asked us both to walk down to the sign-in area to bump up a group; me to Red, and Michael to Blue.  Neither of us had sought out the advancement, only the knowledge that led to it.  When we pulled into the paddock that morning, I never expected I'd leave two groups up from where I left off last year, and more excited than ever about riding. 

This Isn't Just About Riding

The awesome experience I had this weekend is similar in a lot of ways to my start working for SQL Sentry.  I dove in to the deep end of the pool, taking a chance on a big career change.  I found myself surrounded by extremely smart people who were all experts in a field I to which I was a newcomer, and I learned (and continue to learn) more than I ever imagined I would.  Having a wealth of knowledge everywhere you turn is incredibly powerful, if one can put their ego aside and listen.  I've learned that in both personal and professional pursuits, it pays to surround yourself with those with more knowledge and experience than you have.  You ride faster chasing someone fast than passing someone slow.

The timing of this milestone in my riding career couldn't have been better.  My motorcycle riding and my career at SQL Sentry are intersecting in a big way next month.  I have accepted an invitation to ride with Motorcyclist Magazine at Circuit of the Americas after the MotoGP race next month.  I'll be testing all of this year's new superbikes at one of the best tracks in the country.  Without the generous sponsorship I've received from SQL Sentry, I couldn't have made the event happen.  Stay tuned here and on both my personal and SQL Sentry's Facebook pages for much more in the coming couple of months. 

Circuit of the Americas, I can't wait!  Note that Rossi (46) is not struggling with riding crossed-up. :)

Thanks again to Brett, Paul, Donna, Sheldon, and the other TPM coaches that have helped me out.  Also, a huge thanks to Greg Gonzalez, Nick Harshbarger, Ken Teeter, and Kevin Kline at SQL Sentry for helping make the COTA event possible for me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Comet Racing Leathers Apex Pro Kangaroo Suit Review

A New Suit of Armor

I'm a little late with this one, but I decided to delay my review until I had my new suit from Comet Racing Leathers out on the track a couple of times.  I've now done a track day at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) South Course with Team Pro-Motion, and repeated California Superbike School Level One at VIR North Course.  I did Level One with CSS in 2002.  I thought it was best to repeat after 12 years, and I'm glad I did.  On to the suit!
Crossing the finish line at VIR South

From the time I paid for my order and submitted my measurements, delivery time was about 5 weeks.  This was a little longer than Comet estimates on their website, but I did take advantage of their customization capabilities.  Custom logos, colors, and printed leather cost extra from most custom shops. 

My suit is the Apex Pro model in kangaroo leather. 

Here's why I like it:

  • Fit: I can't stress this one enough!  It's PERFECT!  It's a bit of a chore to get over my extra-thick Forcefield back protector, but once on, it's literally spot-on everywhere.  No tight or saggy areas.  What a difference! 
  • Comfort: Between the custom fit, good armor placement, and the kangaroo leather, this suit is much more comfortable than my old one. 
  • Build Quality: The stitching on the suit and all of the materials use are top-notch.  It compares well to other suits in its price range.
  • Protection: The armor is very well-placed, of good quality, and good coverage. My initial impression is that the suit will protect me well if called upon to do so.
  • Looks: Comet did a great job, the suit looks exactly as I requested in my design submission.
  • Value: This was far from inexpensive, but what I got compared with what I spent is very impressive.

Here's what I don't like as much:

  • The Liner: The liner doesn't zip out.  This isn't a huge deal, but a zip-out liner would be an improvement, making the suit easier to clean.
  • Logos: The Comet logos are fine, but it would be really cool if some of them were embroidered or embossed like they are on some other premium leathers.  This would be a good upgrade to further differentiate the more expensive kangaroo suits.
  • One Blemish:  After two days on the track, the suit mostly looks brand new still, but one spot on the stretch panel above my left knee didn't stand up well to my StompGrips.  The leather isn't compromised, but the colored layer peeled a bit.


Some of the custom work, one of the two SQL Sentry logos to give a little extra visibility to the company that has indirectly made this adventure much easier!  This also shows some of the precision stitching.

I've spent a lot of time riding in one-piece racing leathers, and it's amazing how much less fatigued I am after a day on the track in leathers that fit perfectly than I was after a day on the road in leathers that didn't.  I'm still tired, but I'm not near as sore and stiff afterward.  It's also easier to move around on the bike, and maintain proper body position.

The suit also drew a fair amount of attention at both events, with people asking where I got it and how long I've had it.  One couple at Superbike School, both in custom suits from another maker, commented on just how well it fit.  They were very surprised when I told them it was only my second day riding in it.  They commented on how comfortable it looked and how much mobility I had.

If you're serious about riding, either on the street or the track, consider a set of custom leathers.  I can't recommend it enough.  I'm very happy with the work Comet did for me, and would definitely go back to Karl for another suit.  I expect that Comet's cowhide and two-piece models will be of similar quality. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A New Adventure (Part Three)

Custom Leathers Update and a Few Gear Reviews

I’m making progress toward hitting the track.  My bike is ready to go, the order for my new suit has been submitted, and all of my other gear is good to go.

My new suit from Comet Racing Leathers

I submitted the payment, measurements, and design specs for my suit last week.  Turnaround time on their suits is about 30 days, much faster than some of the other custom options that I investigated.  The ordering process is fairly straightforward as well.  You select the basic suit you want from the website, pay for it, and then submit your measurements at the Comet Design Center to get the process started.  Once I had done that, Karl followed up with me within the hour to provide a PDF for color selections.  These are fully custom suits; you can select any colors you want, or go with one of their designs.  After I returned that, I got an email from Karl after the long weekend to confirm my measurements and the design.  

My design sheet after alterations.  I added the checkered flag pattern on the shoulders and shins.  Much of the shin pattern will be covered by my boots, so it won't be quite so intense.

Comet offers both one-piece and two-piece suits, and several different models for each.  The different suits offer different levels of mobility and support for different riding styles, and many different visual options.  As I mentioned in Part Two of this series, I selected the Apex Pro model in Kangaroo, and used their red color scheme as the basis for my design.  I made a few design adjustments, added my name to the back and a couple of SQL Sentry logos that may come in handy in the future!  

Here's the original Apex Pro in the red scheme.  The only changes are the checkered flag patterns and blacking out the left knee.
I'm really impressed with the customer service and ordering process so far.  Karl's great communication and attention to detail have made shelling out a large sum of money for something I can't look at or try on in advance a lot easier.

Held Phantom II Gloves

I’m finally getting around to doing a review on these.  I’ve had a pair since last summer and just bought another.  I guess that’s really all the endorsement that I need to give them: I’ve paid full retail for two pairs.  I've gone through a lot of riding gear in 13 years, and this is only the second time I've replaced something with the exact same thing.  They are a little pricey at $289, but the build quality puts most other gloves in that price range to shame. 
The Phantom II is one of the two all-kangaroo leather models Held offers, their flagship Titan model being the other.  I tried on the Titans as well, but the knuckle protectors didn’t fit me very well. The Phantoms are also less bulky without feeling like they’re giving up much if any protection.  When it comes to gloves protection is important, but it can’t come at the expense of feel.  There’s no shortage of safety features in these things either.  Stingray skin on the heel of the hand, Superfabric plates on the fingers and wrists, Kevlar sheeting and stitching, and a plastic and titanium knuckle guard make for a very safe feeling glove.  They’re also the most comfortable full-gauntlet gloves I’ve ever owned.  Kangaroo leather and memory foam backing for all of the armor plates is a great combination.  Also of note is that Held's higher-end gloves come in half size increments, so it's much easier to find a pair that really fits well.  My only compaint is that the thumb is cut just a tiny

On with the crashed gear shots!  I know that's why you're all here anyway. :)

The pair I went down in fared very well, with minimal damage to the gloves and only one little scratch on me through a vent hole on my finger. The damage to the gloves is shockingly minor considering that I put my left hand down hard to prevent myself from rolling.  My hand was probably down for somewhere between 25 and 50 feet of the slide, at considerable velocity.  A few seams need to be replaced, and the red leather piece needs a little patch, but that's it.  I will be sending them off for repairs, and expect they will continue to serve me well.   

Close-up of the stingray, I think it might have done more damage to the asphalt than the asphalt did to it.  Sturdy stuff!
It's really a shame that Held's US distributor in Conover, NC closed down over the winter.  I really hope they get a new US importer up and running, because as far as I'm concerned there's not a better option out there.

Forcefield Pro Sub 4 Back Protector

It's a pretty good looking piece of gear, for what's essentially a sort of underwear.
My old Joe Rocket suit has a soft back protector insert.  The protector is just a 3/8" thick piece of gray foam; it’s not something I’d really like to put to the test.  It was time to upgrade, and I went with Forcefield Body Armour's top of the line, the Pro Sub 4.  

I needed to get my new back protector before I could make my suit order, because I needed to be able to include it in my measurements, especially in this case.  The first thing I noticed about the Pro Sub 4 is that it’s pretty thick, about 1.5”, considerably more-so than some of the other CE Level II back protectors out there.  The CE Level II standard states that no more than 9kN of impact force can be transmitted to the rider’s spine.  The Level I standard allowed a maximum of 18kN in the same test.  The “Sub 4” comes from this back protector’s reduction of the impact to less than 4kN (3.38kN to be exact), more than twice what the standard requires, and the best out there by a significant margin.  The 4kN number isn’t just a statistic it’s the standard for CE standard EN1621-2, considered to be the maximum allowable impact force to prevent severe spinal and rib injuries.  I find it interesting that even the CE Level II standard allows more than double that force.  For more information on the testing methodology used and the technology in the back protectors, see Forcefield's Nitrex Body Armour Technology Page.

This shot shows how thick the Pro Sub 4 is.
Instead of segmented hard plastic plates like many of the other CE Level II back protectors on the market, the Pro Sub 4 uses multiple layers of Nitrex material to dissipate the energy of an impact.  This multi-layer approach does result in a thicker back protector, but it provides unmatched protection and is good for multiple impacts.  Many back protectors need to be replaced after taking a strong impact.  Hopefully this feature will be irrelevant for me!  I was unable to find another back protector that offered as much impact reduction, but the protection does come at a higher than average price: 200 dollars. 

Lots of layers inside!  Each one is roughly the same size and thickness as the stock protector in my old suit.
The Pro Sub 4 was easy to adjust and fits very comfortably.  The plates conform to your body once they get a little heat in them, and they have vent holes through them that will hopefully keep heat under control.

Ventilation is key.  I tried to get the panels to move around enough to get the holes out of alignment, but they stay put very well.  This should breathe nicely.
I’m impressed so far.  I’ll follow up on this review once I get a chance to try out the new leathers and back protector together, since that will be the true test for comfort and mobility.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A New Adventure (Part Two)

Getting Ready for the Track

She's in her track clothes now!
In my first post of this series, I laid out the plan to shift from riding on the road to the racetrack.  I’m not there yet, but I’ve made a ton of progress since then.  I’ve bought the bike and trailer, back protector, new gloves, and I am finalizing my order for new leathers with Comet Racing.  I’ve also made quite a bit of progress on preparing the bike for the track.  

I’ve definitely learned an important lesson this far along in the process: it’s expensive!  Granted, I haven’t exactly gone the budget route with this project.  I could have spent about half as much on the bike, and still had something perfectly acceptable for the track.  Given the wide range of bike options and rider preferences, I’m not going to focus on the bike aside from the track preparations.  I had also budgeted for the gear replacements and upgrades, and I truly believe that it’s worth it to buy the best of anything that might one day save my skin.  The expenses that I’ve really been feeling have been the “nickel and dime” sort of thing.  I’ve had to make several runs to The Home Depot for little stuff, tools, zip ties, towing accessories, and what not.  

Bike Prep

After 10 days on the road with the SQL Sentry team for the PASS Business Analytics Conference and Microsoft Tech Ed North America, much of my weekend was spent getting the bike ready.  I purchased the bike with a full set of Sharkskinz race bodywork, so that was a big plus.  I did have to pull all of the street parts, tie up some wires, and mount the race plastics.  Wow!  There are a ton of pieces to the street plastics on the ZX10R!  I took off 25 or so pieces of bodywork.  They were replaced with four!  I’m planning to sell the street plastics, mirrors, and lights to recoup some of my costs.

Who blew up a motorcycle in my living room?

 What’s left to do: 

  • Safety Wire
  • Replace coolant with distilled water and Water Wetter
  • Change numbers, and maybe add some other cosmetic touches.

New Gear

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been getting some new gear.  I’ll be sure to review all of these in a future post.


I’m going to get my old set of Held Phantom IIs repaired, but went ahead and ordered another set from Revzilla since Held’s USA distributor went out of business a few months ago.  I love the Phantoms and wanted to grab another set while I could still get them from a US retailer.  Not having to order from Europe saves on duties and an unfavorable exchange rate.

Back Protector:

My Forcefield Pro Sub 4 arrived while I was out of town.  I needed it before I could order my custom leathers, since I wanted to be able to wear it when I had all of my measurements taken.  My initial impression is that it’s very well made and quite comfortable. 


My new suit took a lot more research, and will be another month or so before it arrives.  I can’t fit my back protector under my old Joe Rocket suit, and it’s due for replacement anyway.  I’m sure there are off the rack suits out there that would fit me, but here in Charlotte, NC there are very few places that stock high end suits.  After riding for the last year with gloves made from kangaroo leather, I decided to focus my search on a kangaroo suit.  This further limited my options, and led to my investigation of custom suit manufacturers.  Most of the custom suit makers are small businesses with overseas production facilities, so it was important to me to find one with good customer service and a solid reputation.  

After speaking with staff at several others, I ended up going with Comet Racing Leathers.  After a few emails and a lengthy phone conversation with Karl, the owner, I’m sold.  I’m actually sold enough that I’m signed up for their track day ambassador program, which will make me a field representative for the company.  This did get me a discount on my suit, but I would have purchased one even without the deal.  Customer service and responsiveness are very important to me, and Karl has that side of things well-covered.  I’ll be posting a more thorough review on the suit and purchase process once it arrives in about a month.   

I went for one of Comet’s raciest suits, the Apex Pro, in Kangaroo.  I’m going to use their red/black color scheme as a base for my design, but we’re going to go a bit further and have some fun with it! 

Monday, May 19, 2014

As a SQL Server DBA, Why Do I Need Performance Advisor for Windows?

Performance Advisor for Windows for the SQL Server DBA

SQL Sentry Performance Advisor (PA) for Windows is one of our newer product offerings, and I think one that could use a little bit of use-case clarification.  I am often asked questions like this: “Why would I need Performance Advisor for Windows when Performance Advisor for SQL Server already shows me Windows metrics?”
There are several possible answers to this question.
  • You really don’t need it, PA for SQL Server has you covered.
  • You need visibility into other Windows Servers that aren’t monitored by Performance Advisor for SQL Server.
  • You need additional visibility into other things running on one or more of your monitored SQL Servers.
Before we talk about each of the three answers above, let’s go over what Performance Advisor for Windows does:
  • Adds the Processes Tab.
  • Adds process group highlighting to the PA Dashboard.
  • Allows monitoring of any Windows machine with the Windows portion of the PA Dashboard and the Processes Tab.

You really don’t need it, PA for SQL Server has you covered.

The bright green for "other" here really doesn't have much of a story to tell.

This is the easy one.  In the case of a standalone SQL Server instance with few to no other running services aside from the OS, you probably don’t need PA for Windows, as there 
won’t be a need to see details on the “other” Network, CPU, and Memory metrics very often.  In this case, you are probably going to be just fine with PA for SQL Server by itself.

You need visibility into other Windows Servers that aren’t monitored by Performance Advisor for SQL Server.

PA for Windows gives you live and historical performance monitoring for any Windows Server

There are lots of use cases for this.  If you are responsible for monitoring other servers in the environment that aren’t running SQL Server, PA for Windows offers a great solution.  Often, for users of PA for SQL Server these are servers that interact with your SQL Servers: VM Hosts, Sharepoint Farm Servers, App Servers, Servers used in ETL processes, and so on.  This is helpful because a SQL Sentry user can create consolidated views of related servers, and easily drill into problems.

You need additional visibility into other things running on one or more of your monitored SQL Servers.

That's better!  Now we have visibility into other process groups on the dashboard.

The processes tab gives even more details.
If you find yourself wondering what makes up the “Other” category that you see on the PA for SQL Server dashboard, those details can be collected and shown by PA for Windows.  Well-known processes will have predefined color highlights, and highlights for other processes not automatically recognized by SQL Sentry can be created with a quick update to the SQL Sentry Database.  Detailed utilization metrics are also available on the Processes tab which is also available in the Jump To menu for drilldown.  This is gives the user a way to see what is happening with processes like Reporting Services, Integration Services, Internet Information Services, third-party backup tools, and other things that might be running alongside the SQL Server process.

I hope this helps clear up the use cases, and what PA for Windows adds to servers already monitored by PA for SQL Server.  Please comment or contact us with any questions.