Friday, March 30, 2007

Your hoods are jacked! Or why I hate "ergo" bars

With props to Rob M for the name of the topic.

I was on a ride in California and saw a rider with what I call a "classic" bar and lever position. The bottom end of the drops pointed back at some point around the rear brake or just above it and the lever bodies were just above pointing straight forward. Essentially a low position overall.

I mention this because I also saw a lot of riders with hoods way up the drops, almost high enough to start moving in to the tops of the bar. I call this the jacked lever position after Mr Rob used the term in a funny email. I've seen other bits on why they think bars and lever started pointing up so much and I'll chip in with my two cents.

It first started with the abominable "ergo" handlebars, those with the flat section on the drops. No one really had a great idea on where this flat section should be or at what angle. For example 3ttt had some models where the ergo section was almost vertical and others where it was just above horizontal. And this was in the same year!

The problem is as follows - rider hand position requirements on the drops changes depending on the rider's current situation. For example if you are just cruising along on the drops, don't need a lot of leverage, and are simply guiding the bike with a light touch to the bars, you'll need a relatively horizontal section of bar. The flats of the "old" style rounded bars works, or, if using "ergo" bars, a more horizontal ergo section works.

However, if in the middle of your cruising along someone jumps past you and you want to react, your needs change dramatically. Instead of a light touch on the bars, you want a firm base from where you can pull and push to counter aggressive leg movements. You want to hold the drops further up so that your forearms are more level - this prevents them from your forearms from hitting the tops of the bars too hard. And you'll probably want access to your shift/brake levers so you can shift up as you accelerate. This means you'll need to choke the drops. A more vertical "ergo" section satisfies this need.

But there are no ergo bars which satisfy BOTH drop type positions. This is because combining the two ergo sections would result in a, err, rounded bar. What you might know as a non-ergo bar.


Incidentally bar manufacturers are now coming out with "super-ergo" bars. What makes them interesting is that they no longer have highly defined ergo positions. They're simply rounded bars.

Ergo bars helped contribute to the jacked lever syndrome. Once the ergo bars came around it was virtually impossible to shift from the drops. Well, you could, it's just that you couldn't do it easily while, say, sprinting. At the same time there was this movement towards radically low bars. Case in point: Michele Bartoli. If you copied his radical seat-to-bar drop position, you'd end up riding on the hoods a lot, have a backache, or both.

If you rode mainly on the hoods, well, jacked levers are more comfortable. And since you couldn't shift while sprinting, unless you had some odd looking vertical ergo bars, being able to reach the shifters from the drops suddenly dropped in priority. So levers went higher and higher.

Check out Lance for example. His bike is the epitome of jacked lever syndrome. Why do pros use ergo bars with jacked levers? Shouldn't us mortals be satisfied with what the pros use?


Pros have simpler needs than us normal riders. They are either going a very steady easy or a very steady hard. They rarely launch vicious attacks with lots of shifting and stuff - that's for us amateurs who can't make efforts longer than anything measured in seconds or minutes. Their attacks are more of a "ride the legs off the other guy" kind of thing. And for that type of hard riding, the light touch position works. You hunker down into a position that you know you can hold for 20k and try and rip the teeth off your 12T.

My attacks are something like, "Oh, well, I was on the right side of the field, I figured I should go, and I popped it in the 14 and went super hard. Then I dropped it into the 13 and then the 12. Man I was flying. I looked and saw I had a gap. Then I tried to recover a bit but by the backstretch I was toast. I had to go back to the 14 and the field caught me."

And that kind of attack takes place over, say, 60 seconds.

Roy Knickman, racing for La Vie Claire, once took the leader's jersey in the Tour de L'Avenir. He told the interviewer he decided to attack on a long, flat, crosswind section of road. His attack was pretty straightforward. He simply went to the front of the field and rode really hard in the gutter for 20 km. The gutter because the crosswind meant that to draft him you'd have to be next to him and if he was in the gutter, you couldn't draft him. The whole field strung out as they cursed him and rode in the gutter after him. After 20 km, he looked back to see who was back there.

One severely suffering guy.

Knickman told him to pull. The guy probably looked at him like, "What are you insane? I've been groveling in the gutter for 20 k while you've been pounding beef." Whatever, the answer was negative. So Knickman said to him "Oh yeah? I'm a BAMF and I'm going to grind your legs to a pulp", put it in the 12T, and rode in the gutter for another 20 km. Okay he didn't say that but he did ride that. After going really hard for another 20 kms, meaning he's been hammering for something like an hour (think of how long it takes you to ride 40 km or 25 miles), he looked back at the guy and said, "If you don't pull, I'll do that again, drop you, and you'll get your sorry ass fired for not being able to stay on my wheel while not taking a pull for an hour."

Okay he didn't say that either. But the other guy started to pull.

Knickman moved over to let the guy get some shelter, they gained over 9 minutes, then Knickman turned off the power. The field thought the two had blown. The bunch eased off, cruised a bit, did the math, and figured out when they should start chasing. On cue, they put the collective hammer down and started what they thought would be a nicely timed pounce to scoop up the break with a few kilometers to go.

That's when Knickman turned the gas back on. The pounce was all air as Knickman pounded just as hard as all the teams in the field combined. The two ended the day about 8 minutes ahead of the field. Knickman took the lead by five minutes.

From what I could tell Knickman, it seems, rarely needed to shift that day. He didn't have jacked hoods (he's old school) but if he had three speed bars it wouldn't have mattered. The point is that he didn't need super quick access to the shifters.

If you were on his wheel, what good would it do if you could shift really quickly? Nada. You'd be as toasted as everyone else in the field as you flail through your gears really fast. Toast doesn't make pros go fast and everyone, even the eventual winner, was left behind.

The winner's name? A young, upcoming Spanish rider named Miguel Indurain.

Unfortunately Knickman got sick and dropped out about a week after his heroic ride.

Anyway, I think I've illustrated my point. Pros are really, really strong. They don't need no stinkin' fast shifts. They just hammer.

And the really big pros, the ones that do the Tour and stuff, the ones in the magazines, well, they climb a lot. And I mean a LOT. For me, 150 meters is a climb. I shift. I prepare. I psych myself up. And I hit it. And at the top I think, "Phew, I made it, wow that was a hard 8 pedal strokes."

Pros don't even notice 150 meter climbs. They don't call it a climb till it takes 5 or 10 minutes to finish. And those are the short ones. It's the 30 or 45 minute climbs which determine, say, the Tour. So for riders targeting those days, it's important to optimize the bike for climbing for what would seem like forever, not for something inane like jumps or sprinting.

There's no questioning that if you're climbing for a while, jacked hoods are more comfy. Your wrist bends a bit less. You feel like you're a bit taller on the bike. And there's a secure feeling when you grasp the hoods, stand up, and lean forward. Hence the jacked hoods in the pro peloton.

But that's not the real world. That's the pro's world.

I don't race 150 miles in the mountains, up 10 or 15 mile climbs. Neither does anyone I race against. In fact, I think I'd be hard pressed to find anyone who was not a pro that raced a 150 mile road race with 10 or 15 mile climbs.

Like everyone in the real world, I do dinky crits which pros wouldn't even consider a warm up. The pace varies wildly - sometimes we're going 18 mph, other times I'm hanging on at 35 mph. Guys blow up, they sit up, and we slow. Or someone attacks, everyone else swears, and we go bananas for a lap or so, shifting furiously into our bigger gears, the field stringing out, everyone frantically looking for shelter.

In races like those you're shifting all the time. And you're virtually always in the drops, since that's where you should be when you're making efforts, cornering hard, riding in super close quarters, etc.

And, if you have jacked hoods, you won't be able to shift when you're on the drops.


Simple solution: lower your levers a bit and enjoy the chaos in the working class races.

Leave the jacked hoods to those climbing gods.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Bethel CDP Gold Race - helmet cam

A clip of a race where I don't sprint. This is the downside of having the sprint be your strength.

btw if anyone has music I can use (you own the copyright) please let me know. My two brothers have a limited repetoire of songs!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Being a promoter

So I looked up "swollen neck glands" on Google and ended up on this page.

First of the 48 causes of swollen neck glands - bubonic plague.

I can't get away from that diagnosis.

But my throat feels a bit different this time - a sharp pain. A so-familiar pain. A pain I haven't felt in many years. Strep throat pain. If it gets any worse today I'll go to a doctor tomorrow.

I'm using this groggy sick feeling as an excuse why I spaced last night and didn't post the Cat 5 results. Actually I did post the results. I just posted the prior race's Cat 5 results, since I used that prior race's page as a template for the new one. And I didn't update the overall either.

Anyway my email got flooded with friendly and not as friendly notes pointing this out. So I did it right tonight. I also somehow missed a bunch of places from the 5's for the overall, so put them in as well.

I could have used the whole "well I just promoted the race" excuse but that doesn't fly after however long I've been doing it. It would be easy to point out that I got up at some ungodly hour, spent the day marching around with a broom or a blower, raced, packed up, got home at 7 or so, and then worked on the results and stuff.

But it's not really accurate. I know how to pace myself during the day. All the help we get from the volunteer marshals, volunteer sweepers, and people helping set up or break down helps me with this energy rationing.

At the end of the day (or end of the evening if you will), if I don't feel up to updating the site, I leave it blank and let it rest for a bit. It's like racing and training. I don't push too hard else something will push back. Maybe it's why I'm still racing now and everyone I started with isn't. It's probably why I am still promoting the Series something-teen years after I started. I almost walked away from it for a number of years, I was so tired of running the races.

Obviously I didn't. I felt an obligation to continue though and there are a number of reasons for this obligation.

1. I don't need to make money off the Series, so I don't. This is good for the race. One rule we have is that people who run the race should not make money off of it. Keeps the reason for running the race clear - not for money but for the racers. The whole reason the original promoters started the Series was to have an inexpensive race series that paid out money (and "real" money at that) to the racers. My unsubstantiated feeling is that if I and whoever I work with (it's varied over the years) leave the race, a new promoter might pocket a lot of the money we typically intend for the racers. This fear for the racers motivates me to keep doing the race.

2. There's definitely sweat equity in this thing. Before we could afford two big wheeled leaf blowers, we had one. And before that, we had two portable leaf blowers. And before that, one portable. And in the very beginning, we had brooms. The further you go back, the more work I had to do. And when we had brooms, guess what?

I swept. A lot. I mean a lot.

When I went to see Stomp, they opened with, would you believe, a sequence involving brooms. I turned to whoever I was with and said "Hey, it's just like Bethel!". Except they used inefficient strokes. I know because after a few hundred hours of sweeping the course at Bethel, I learned the most efficient way to move sand off a road.

The way they did it, I couldn't believe they made it to the end of their bit without blisters and cramping arms.

3. I like the course. Personally, I couldn't ask for a better course with better conditions. Meaning for me as a racer. First, whoever paved the road knew what they were doing and took pride in it. Virtually no cracks in something like 15 or 20 years. No potholes. In Connecticut with its frost heave and ice and snow and all that? Incredible.

The profile works for me too. A power hill that is too short for climbers. Wind that saps the strength out of all but the hardiest of time trialers. And a lot of room for slicing and dicing in the field. It's fun, I like it, and I can always think about trying to win or place here. Usually anyway.

4. Another thing is it feels good to give stuff to people. You should see their eyes light up when we give them primes or prizes or trophies. Some of that stuff pays for gas or whatnot, but trophies and leaders jerseys last forever. I know I treasure the ones I've won, and it puts an element of reality to the racing for those that don't race or watch. Instead of coming home with a bunch of sweaty laundry, you have a trophy to show for your efforts. How cool is that?

Of course cash is good too. Last week a guy and his teammate walked over to pick up a prime. The guy won the prime but hadn't paid very much attention to the amount. Figure early season race, Cat 3-4's, $10 would be normal, $20 would be nice, anything more would be a bonus. It was a two place prime so figure each would get watered down a bit.

When we told him it was $50 he couldn't believe it. He seemed like he was about to give the money back because he held his hand out so long after we put the money in it. He studied the money suspiciously, asked us if we were sure, and looked at the money again. We reassured him we weren't mistaken. He cracked a big grin, withdrew his hand, thanked us for a great race, and walked away with his prize money.

5. Finally there's the whole thing about setting out to do something and accomplishing it. As an underachieving student that barely made it out of college, it really amounts to something when I help run a six week series of races that draws racers from all over the Northeast. Inevitably the racers are nice and appreciative, even if at some points they don't act that way. This counts a lot because if the racers didn't appreciate it, the race would be over so quick it'd make your head spin. Remember, this race is for the racer.

On the last day, when we're cleaning up for the last time, when we do the last lap around the course to pick up stray bottles and GU wrappers, I'm flooded with a feeling of intense accomplishment and satisfaction.

Must be like women having babies or something.

The baby makes you forget about all the pain of pregnancy.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Bethel CDP Gold Race

Well now.

It seems I only know how to write about bad races (from a racer's point of view). And here's another one.

Just as a counter point, the race from a promoter's point of view was pretty successful. The races went off pretty smoothly. The course wasn't icy. And we had some big fields. One crash marred the official paperwork and some very, very squirrelly and aggressive riding marred the unofficial rating of the race. I've heard reasonable complaints of chopping wheels and stuff before (meaning one guy complained and it didn't happen or it was misinterpreted) but today I heard enough, to, well, I can't do anything about it. Not officially. But when the officials also reported the same things, then it worried me. I don't want Bethel to be a wheel-chopping, elbow throwing, hip-checking kind of bike race series. At Bethel I want people to ride people off others' wheels so discretely they don't realize what happened till they're in the wind. And I want sprints to be won because someone outsprinted someone, not because they slammed the guy against the curb and then took off. I have to think about how to bring this about.

Back to the racer's perspective.

The day actually started out yesterday when I spent about six hours on my back installing a new exhaust system on my daily driver, a Honda Civic. Yes, it's one of those exhausts, but I couldn't resist upgrading. And yes I consider it an upgrade - it's stainless and won't rust through in three spots like my old exhaust.

You know how when you want a new wheelset it's nicer than the one it's replacing? Well I feel that way about car parts. If something wears out, I'll put something a little nicer on if it costs about the same as the replacement part. It did so I did.

Anyway, try laying on the pavement outside for about six hours. Okay, I'll give you this - you can get up, go hunt for a tool or anti-seize or get the impact wrench, but whatever you do, you have to lay back down for a few minutes at a time. Ideally you should be inhaling little specks of rust, jam your hand in weird positions, and do lots of crunches to peer up into the bottom of your car.

Then, when you're totally chilled to the bone, do it for a couple hours more.

The result? You wake up the next day with a sore throat, swollen glands, and a general feeling of malaise.

Hey, at least I got a shiny exhaust out of the whole deal.

So we got to the course this morning and it looked like one of those New England beaches - sand all over the place. And not normal sand like, say, on a postcard picture. It's New England sand. Rocks. Pebbles. They make walls out of this stuff. And it was all over the road.

We swept, blew, shoveled, and the whole time wondering what we need to do to get a weather-course break. Then when we thought we were done, the wet sand dried out. And we went out there and did it again.

Add breathing sand and a couple hours of hard labor to sore throat, swollen glands, and general malaise and you have a winning receipt for not winning races, field sprints, or a jog to the registration desk.

Between the two long rounds of course maintenance, I was checking out some of the bikes by the registration table. I'm still on the "My Giant is mushy" train of thought. Thankfully one guy said that they weren't mushy at all, but he might be trying to psyc me out.

Ok, I'm not serious about that, but it is one of those things you say to a racer, you know, the sort of thing you say when they doubt themselves and you're trying to be nice. Example:

"I think I need to lose weight. You think I need to lose weight?"
"No, you're fine. Damn you can sprint well."
"Hm thanks. Maybe I'll be okay with my weight for now."

See? Sounds fine till the guy says his next sentence.
"Hey, why didn't you go with me when I bridged to that break? I mean you were right there."
"Um... my bike's mushy?"

I tried to stay cheery though. I figured I'd try and fool my body into feeling good. I managed to change 10 or 15 minutes before my race started, set up the helmet cam, accepted an offered GU packet (it tore by accident and the guy didn't want it), took a PowerGel to be safe, and lined up.

As soon as we started I knew I was not going well. I had a sort of shiver-hyper feeling, the kind that hits me right before I bonk. I tried to move up and stuff and actually sat near the front for a bit, just long enough to watch a break ride down the road. I decided I should let the break simmer for a lap and then go if someone went. So I was far enough in front to watch a group launch a nice chase. And I figured, well, I should probably go with the next move. And watched that go.

Eventually, no one was going. And the little peloton up the road just disappeared.

A full fifth of the field (a close to 100 rider field mind you) went away and I just watched them. And for the last two weeks I've thought "I better go with the moves because they're actually sticking this year.

I have to admit that I couldn't watch them on one lap because I was literally seeing stars while riding up the hill. At first I thought they were New England sand particles bouncing around but they were a little too consistent and spun in circles. I quickly dismissed the possibility of weird air currents around a rotating rear wheel as the reason for the circles, although when I first noticed them, the idea briefly crossed my mind. I almost stopped because I wasn't sure if I could keep my balance, but before I could fall over, the stars went away. I kept going.

I thought maybe the double sugar rush was too much so drank water. Drank almost all my water. No use. I didn't even toss my bottle because it was virtually empty, and I dreaded the walk to go pick it up.

Walk > Weight loss from bottle toss + psychological benefit from bottle toss = no bottle toss.

I figured I better move up and it happened to be at something like 4 to go. So I tried to stay up there, be aggressive, and do all the things you're supposed to do towards the end of a race. Follow moves for real, slice and dice, blah blah blah. I figured if we're sprinting for 19th (yes, 19th) place, well, nothing to lose if I do some work and stuff.

Not too much work mind you, just the stuff you're supposed to do.

So I followed certain guys, moved up when I could, and sat on wheels when it got windy. At the bell there were a few guys off the front, each alone, evenly spaced apart, sort of like moving wind shelters. A good rider would have been able to jump from one to another, like James Bond did on the alligator snouts, and launch off the last guy for a spectacular field sprint win. The "where the heck did he come from?" kind of win.

Alas I was not that kind of good.

I did go across a tiny little gap to some CT Coast Cycling rider who looked really strong. After I sat on his wheel for about 30 seconds, he turned around, saw me, and started going faster. Or maybe he saw the field about 30 feet behind me. Whatever, I was already at my limit and started to come off. Then he actually jumped.

How the heck did he do that? I mean he was pulling for something like a lap, then when I got there, he accelerated and then finally jumped.

Those alligator snouts bite back sometimes. If I was Bond, I'd be Bond-flavored 'gator food.

At the bottom of the hill I pulled off to let the field through and thought I almost took someone out since he pulled left just behind me. But he also sat up. He didn't yell at me so I think (and hope) he was simply trying to close the gap for the field or a friend in the field and sat up when he caught me.

I watched the field roll up the hill but sort of lost track as I lost all momentum. It probably took me a minute to go up the hill. I was dizzy, exhausted, and disappointed. Not a good combination for a racer.

I even gave my spot in the P/1/2/3 race to a friendly racer (I'm the promoter and he signed a waiver). And I just sat in a daze for a while on a registration table.

I decided I better change and get warm but someone came over and told me something weird had happened in the trees right by the start/finish. They're those pine needle trees that don't shed during the winter. Apparently some guy was in there breaking branches. Then spread them all over the lawn on that lot.

As we have enough trouble with the people on that corner I figured it'd be best to walk over there and pick up said branches.

So I did. The guy helped me. There were a lot of these branches and they were pretty shredded. I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to do such a thing - climb eight or ten feet into a couple trees (I saw the stubs up there), then toss said branches everywhere. And really, really shred them.

I carried the kindling over to the deserted lot behind the officials and tossed them back there. Asked them if they saw anyone abusing branches over there.

They started laughing.

"German Shepard."


I'll have the helmet cam tape up at some point, hopefully this week.

And see what I can do next Sunday.

Meaning in the race.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

How - To: crankarm lengths

I'm about 5'7" and have short legs. I have something like a 29" inseam. I ride a size Small Giant TCR. As you probably know already, I sprint well, I don't TT or climb well.

Normally sprinting means short cranks. Track racers typically use 165's, and 170's are considered "long". The realm of long cranks are the mysterious and elusive worlds of climbing and TT'ing. Mysterious and elusive to me anyway.

Sprinting. Speed over power. Explosive acceleration. 19,000 rpm Formula 1 versus 1,500 rpm Mac trucks.

But then I look at BMX racers. They race a one speed bike, it's a very low gear, and their races are essentially standing start sprints. But they use the longest cranks possible - it's sort of normal to have 180's. It just seems to go against my intuition. I figure they get a jump at the start then immediately spin out and get passed. But that's not the case. They go like crazy all the way to the line.

In 2001 my fitness deteriorated as I spent a lot of time with my mom. I'd get out to do my favorite Summer Street Sprints, but I was going slower and slower all the time - my speed dropped from about 43 mph to just over 30 mph over the course of the year. My race results reflected this lack of fitness. There were races where I lasted one lap, group rides where I got shelled on the first hill.

In the warm-up.

I was hurting.

Nevertheless, in October 2001, I went for a ride with a not-racing-anymore teammate David (ex Cat3). As unfit as I was, he claimed to be even less fit. To "handicap" myself, he asked me to ride my mountain bike while he rode his road bike. Unlike my road bikes and my previous mountain bikes, this mountain bike had 175's (my road bikes had 170's). Normally I'd put the same crank length on my mountain bike (so my legs trained on the same crank length), but since this was a beater trade, I left it totally stock except to put on a longer stem. The bike retained its original unusably bent middle ring, the 2 pound steel bead tires, the bent bottle cage, even the seat.

During the ride, my friend struggled on some of the bits where you need some semblance of aerobic fitness. Even on the mountain bike I got antsy. I really wanted to make a big effort so I asked him if he was okay with it. He was, I went, and he dug deep to stay on my wheel. After I eased he came up next to me, excited and thrilled at the burst of speed. I had gone 33 mph on a slight uphill with quite a bit of a cross/head wind.

And I hadn't sprinted per se, I just powered my biggest gear while seated.

My mountain bike had nothing "fast" on it. Compared to my 18 or so pound road bike with 22 mm 120+ psi tires, drop bars, and better gears, I shouldn't have gone as fast "pursuiting" on the mountain bike as sprinting on my road bike.

I thought about those BMX'ers and figured the 175's might be the ticket.

I bought a pair of 175's (same model as my 170's, just longer) and put them on my road bike. If they didn't work out, I'd give them to some taller rider. With my updated bike I went out to my favorite sprint road. My previous sprints were at 31-33 mph. 7 minutes into my ride, I sprinted on the 175's (identical bike otherwise).

41 mph.

The 175's stayed.

No kidding right? I also bought another set for my second bike. And I decided to keep them on the mountain bike.

I've heard a lot of people preach about how long cranks screw up knees. I thought about this too since I didn't want to screw up my very fragile knees. And I came up with the following ideas/steps:

1. When I put the 175's on it was sometime in late Oct, early Nov. I rode them on a trainer and rollers till February, focusing on spinning. My long rides were over two hours long, and one was over three hours. My initial comfortable cadence dropped from 110+ on 170's to below 80 on 175's. For reference, after five years, I've been stable at being comfortable at 95-100 rpms.

2. I dropped my seat about 5 mm so I kept my same leg extension. My knee has more of an acute angle at the top of the pedal stroke but I figured the extension would be more important.

3. The seducing aspect of long cranks is that you can use much bigger gears. Instead of spinning a 39xsomething up a hill, you just pound a 53x15. Anytime you push big gears at lower rpms, you increase the load on your knees (and the length of time of the load). This kills your knees. I was very careful to try and keep my cadence similar to my short crank cadence on climbs (80-ish or more). Realistically I dropped about 10 rpms to 70-ish, but this beats the 50 or 60 that I wanted to do initially.

4. I did a LOT of time on the bike getting used to the cranks. I only started making violent efforts when I felt comfortable with the cranks.

I can say the following:
1. I have yet to have any pain beyond the normal aches during my "training camps" where I ride months of my normal training time in a couple weeks.

2. After not placing at the CT Criterium Championships for a long time, and training less and less from Sept 2000 till July 2002, I placed an extremely close second at the Nutmeg State games and won the CT Criterium Gold Medal. I've since added a silver, a gold, and a bronze. The last time I won a medal was a silver in 1995 (when I was much more fit, about 40 lbs lighter, and I was on 167.5's). This has a flat finish which favors speed.

3. After not placing overall at the Bethel Spring Series (which as you know I promote and race in), I placed second, first, and third overall in the 2004, 2005, 2006. This has an uphill sprint so it favors a longer crank.

4. I still can't TT or climb.

I have found long cranks to be very, very helpful. I previously tried longer (172.5) cranks a few times but gave up after a week or two. I had to commit and get used to the long cranks in order to use them successfully.

If you are careful and sensible, you may find that longer cranks work well for you.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - pre Bethel CDP Gold Race

After last week's snow fiasco it's nice to have weather in the 50's and 60's. There was a lot of snow even yesterday and I went out with a metal shovel to break up some of the big stuff. It covered about three feet of the narrow street and I figured it would be better to get it broken up so it would melt quicker.

I'd been going at it for about five minutes when this old guy walks up to me.

"So you had problems with the water, eh?"


This guy is like a yard work ghost. It seems that whenever I'm doing some unusual yard work (violent weeding) or even not (mowing, leaf blowing), he'll walk up to me and tell me a few things.

First, he "owned this whole street" but he was a kid and signed it away. Second, he always points out to me that I really ought to do something about blank (he'll say something which I normally don't understand). Third, he makes assumptions about whatever it is I'm doing. Fourth, he starts telling me that I drive too fancy a car, that I really ought to own a house instead of renting it, and other things about living my life better.

I tried to point out to him I buy my cars outright, I own my home (well, the mortgage, and no, it's not a subprime doozy), and I do try and do things the right way. After a couple tries, I gave up.

So anyway, he came over while I was chopping up snow in a t-shirt and jeans and made his normal assertions. I ignored him and he left.

I forgot, he stands about a foot away when he says all this.

And yells.

Anyway, because of all the snow and how it froze after it melted a bit, my upper body got quite a workout over the last week or so. They feel pretty fit. My legs... well, nothing really.

Sunday is the Bethel CDP Gold Race (CDP for Carpe Diem Promotions). I'm finally not sick - I guess the flu went to Europe and snagged a bunch of guys there - and, to put a positive spin on not really riding for a couple weeks (except for the races), I'm really fresh.

Really, really fresh.

I keep telling myself that second bit.

We'll see. Tomorrow I'll do the standard pre-race prep - charge radios for the marshals, pack gear, stage my bikes, things like that. I'll have to put some air in the tires - the van tires are rated to 80 psi for heavy loads, 40 psi when it's empty. Since it's on the heavier side, I want to bump it up to 60-70 psi.

And I have chores to do. A PODS is being delivered (we're refinishing floors in preparation for a house sale). I'll get to witness the PODS-zilla live! I have a new exhaust system to install on my beat-up, 14 year old, quarter-million mile Honda. Yeah, it's one of those huge canister exhaust things. But I couldn't get just a regular one. So I'll look like one of those punk kids with the sideways cap, slammed seat, and thumping stereo (without the cap, slammed, and thump bits), especially since the car has no straight body panels and a really bashed up back half. I want to change the Honda's oil as well.

I hope I'll be able to get a ride in there somewhere.

And I just know that old guy will pop up when the PODS shows up.

I'll wear my ear plugs.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tribute to my mom, Part 2 - 2006 Nutmeg State Games

As the previous post describes, I made a promise to my mom just before she died. There are two parts to the promise and two posts. Part One, the previous post, describes the story leading up to the winning the 2005 Bethel Spring Series.

This is Part Two - my promise to win the CT Criterium Championships at the Nutmeg State Games.

In 2004 I simply didn't race. I think a friend was getting married and since I figured the Nutmeg State Games would be back, I didn't enter the race.

In 2005 I made it to the race. I felt good, had a great Series in the spring per my previous post, and felt like I had a good chance to succeed at the Nutmeg State Games. Then a big break went away - it had something like 14 or 15 riders in it. I'm not a break person and I got desperate as the field started shutting down as the break's teammates started covering all the moves. But, realizing I had to do the impossible (for me), I decided to try and bridge.

And for the first time in my life, I bridged up to the break by following another guy who happened to attack at the same time as I did. We picked up a third guy and dragged him to the break. Once there I couldn't work because I was totally and absolutely cooked. Because of this I really hesitated in the last lap - I didn't feel right doing a 100% sprint without contributing a lot to the break. So I sat at the back, watched guys go for it, and jumped near the line. I got the bronze for CT by placing 7th. I was disappointed but felt it was appropriate - I was not the best racer that day, and a win would have felt cheap.

This then is the clip from 2006.

Two notes - First, although I don't mention it, for literally about 5-7 seconds someone pushes me quite hard on my left side with two laps to go, right after the start finish. He was on my left and trying to get through some impossible gap. The push starts just before the 2:00 mark. It ended after we passed the two sewer grates.

Second, there was a pretty spectacular crash just after the line after we got the bell. It was behind and to the right. When the guy in front of me does a little acceleration and opens a little gap, that's right after the crash happened. It happened at about 4:20 into the clip.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tribute to my mom, Part 1 - 2005 Bethel Spring Series

In September 2000, my mom was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. After fighting for two years, her condition started to deteriorate.

In July 2002, in a miraculous race, I managed to win the CT Criterium Championships by placing a close second in the race (Nutmeg State Games). After the race I called two people to tell them what happened - my mom and my future fiancee.

In 2003 my mom's condition worsened. An inoperable tumor deprived her of sustenance, the outcome inevitable. We talked a lot about her preparations for "that time". And she still did all the things she did to try and recover.

Even in her bed-ridden state, when July 2003 rolled around, my mom asked about the Nutmeg State Games. I wasn't thinking about training or racing and told my mom so. We talked about fighting for survival and I told her that from my point of view it was okay to give up. She had fought hard for almost three years and at that point, bed-ridden, things were inevitable. Time to simply relax could only be good for her. That night she announced to the family that she was giving up her fight against cancer. It seemed to lift a great weight off her shoulders as she could let that responsibility go.

I promised her I'd win two things for her - the Bethel Spring Series and the CT Criterium Championships. I told her that I'll do this "after". As we'd already had our talk about fighting, she knew what I meant. It was one of the last times we talked before her condition deteriorated to the point that I really couldn't talk to her.

She passed away August 9, 2003, surrounded by all of her immediate family.

By that time I'd ballooned up to 191+ lbs (I'm 5'7"). That winter I started training in earnest. Motivation is an incredible thing. I'd spend two or three hours on the trainer, riding at virtually race pace for an hour at a time. I went to Florida with the Bethel Spring Series co-promoter for a week long training camp. And then went to California for a two week long camp.

I came to the 2004 Bethel Spring Series lighter but not in ideal shape. Nevertheless, after some lucky breaks and some very hard fought finishes, I was tied for the lead coming into the last race. I lost the sprint by finishing third and I was second overall in the Series.

I was determined to do better in 2005.

I went to Florida again, California again, and I was almost 30 pounds lighter than my peak weight. Once again I fought hard during the Series. I started the last race of the Series with a one point lead over two other racers, one of which was last year's winner. The way the points work, if we all placed in the top 7, whoever beat the other would win the Series. It was a nerve wracking race, hard fought, under sunny skies.

One of my brothers (and his wife and son) and my dad were there on the last day of the 2005 Bethel Spring Series, as well as a lot of friends. He recorded things from his point of view.

This is part of that tape.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

247 RPMs

Tuesday morning I didn't have a lot of time to ride since I overslept. I overslept because after I rode for the first time in over a week last night, I ended up getting distracted trying to set up a laptop to record a song off my tape player. I have a lot of stuff crammed onto my small entertainment center in my bike room - tuner/amp, tape player, vcr, dvd player, vhs rewinder, TV, computer monitor, various cords and surge protectors, a lot of tapes and DVD's, and the odd tire lever or other miscellaneous bike thing.

Now there's this song I really like but I don't know who performs it. So I figured I'd tape onto my laptop, convert to mp3, and put it on the site for ID purposes. Anyway, putting the laptop on top of a little speaker was a big mistake, especially when I had two audio cables going to and from it. A little inadvertent tug on a cable...

Yep, I dropped the laptop. Almost six feet onto a concrete floor. While it was running.

Incredibly, it's okay.

I can think of better ways of raising my heartrate.

Anyway, my laptop rig didn't work - I need a better method of converting tape to mp3. But it took me a couple hours to figure this out and I ended up sleeping those couple hours in the morning.

Therefore I didn't have a lot of time to ride - about 40 minutes. So I figured I'd get another baseline for my max RPM's. A perfect task for a short ride in my basement. I warmed up for a bit and when I felt that an explosive effort wouldn't rip a tendon somewhere, I jumped off my bike, switched shoes (no clipless on the spin bike), and jumped on the spin bike.

The heavy flywheel rolls pretty quickly and I found myself soft pedaling at 110+ rpms. Max RPM efforts really require a lot of mental effort so I gathered myself for about five minutes. Finally I took a few quick breaths (I don't know if it works but good athletes do it so I figure it can't hurt) and tightened my grip on the bars.

And went as fast as I could.

I was immediately in the 240 range but had problems exceeding it quickly. Basically you end up at or close to your max speed right away. I can sometimes eke out another 5 or 6 RPMs but it's not like I can find 20. I really wanted to see 250+ so 240 was a let down.

I had to wind down and give it another shot. It took me a few minutes to get back to a calm state and I tried again.

And again.

247 RPMs.

Not that great. Good, but not great.

I switched shoes and got back on my regular bike. And started thinking about finding an extra 20 or 30 RPMs. 40 would be awesome and anything over that would be a new record for me.

I want dropped bars, not the generic exercise ones on there now. A longer and lower stem. Lower Q factor cranks (I feel like I'm straddling that tiny horse in the news). New cranks means a new bottom bracket since the thing has a 1-piece crank now. And new cranks means I can put on clipless pedals. And use real cycling shoes.

Now to find a three-piece bottom bracket converter for a BMX bike. I can use a crankset and bottom bracket I have sitting around. And I'll just swap pedals onto the spin bike.

Then we'll see what happens.

Monday, March 19, 2007

How To - Increasing maximum RPMs

So it's snowing. Again.

I don't remember the last time we canceled a race, but Gene P was the co-promoter so it was after 2001. Probably 2002. Because it seemed do-able at 6 AM, we only canceled after we got to the course and we found the light rain at home was icy sleet at the Bethel course. Since the course appears to be in its own weather world, it makes sense. Anyway, we stood around for a couple hours as racers kept coming up to the course. What was interesting was all the overall GC contenders showed up (or called). I guess we could have used that info to mark racers for the upcoming weeks.

Yesterday's cancellation meant I had a free day. I used it to visit a new niece (fiance's brother's daughter so technically not my neice, it's her neice). And I visited with my family the night before (normally we're in bed by 8 or so, but Saturday we stayed up).

I didn't ride though.

I haven't ridden my bike since I leaned it on the van after a couple laps of the Ris Van Bethel P/1/2/3 race. I'm dying to do a ride so will probably do a short spin tonight and some slightly longer ride tomorrow morning (on the trainer).

I found that I am severely lacking snap. I don't know how to describe snap, I just know it when I have it. It is the massive power application which instantly propels me to my sprinting speed. Fifteen years ago (I just did the math - and it really was 15 years ago), I did a great series of criteriums in Michigan called the Tour of Michigan. It consisted of eight 25 mile crits in ten days. I think three were night crits. Held in September it was an excellent series of races, highly regarded, and one of the best racing experiences I have ever had.

Anyway, one of the courses had a 15 mph hairpin turn about 300 meters before the finish. I think it was the transmission town Muncie. I figured my lightest wheels would be ideal for this repeating sprint interval so fitted them on the bike. During the race I counted how many revolutions it took the racers around me to reach cruising speed (about 25-30 mph). Most took 6 or 8 and it was agonizing watching them. I took about 3 and could soft pedal while the guys around me struggled to get their gear turning over.

That is having snap.

I've rarely felt so fit in my life as I did then. I had been doing sprint workouts weekly for a couple hours at a time. I raced a midweek race and typically twice or three times on the weekends. And I was flying.

Now things are a bit different. I'm about 35 lbs heavier (I have to admit my bike is about 2 lighter). I can't race midweek. The big sprint workouts at SUNY Purchase are gone. And it takes me a year to do 15 races, not three weeks.

All this is very telling when it comes to my snap. Snap should be crisp and sharp. Razor edge. Honed.

Mine is dull and bloated.

There is a glimmer of hope though.

I have a secret training tool - an Schwinn DX-900, circa 1989. I bought it a few years ago off some woman who didn't like the seat and never rode it. It's the predecessor to today's spin bikes - a 40 lbs flywheel, a fixed gear, some felt-lined resistance pads, and, critically, a thing that tells you your cadence.

I put my own seat on it but haven't replaced the cranks (so I can put on clipless pedals) nor have I replaced the bar/stem (so I can put drops on it). But it works.

My workout is pretty simple. After a nice warm-up, you get yourself all psyched up. You put the computer to cadence. Give yourself a little countdown. And spin like mad. I don't count it if I have to bail (and pull my feet out of the pedals). I have to slow with my feet still on them.

The idea is to increase your maximum RPM. Set the resistance pretty low, just enough so the wheel stops on its own. You're not trying to get a resistance workout. You're trying to accelerate a 40 lbs wheel as fast as you can. Do repeats and try and spin faster.

My all time record is 286 rpms. My current (over the last winter) is something like 240 rpms. And my goal is to raise it to 250+, ideally to 275+.

When you can spin at 275 rpms, cruising at 110 rpms suddenly seems sedentary. And sprinting at 100 or 110 rpms seems like pedaling through molasses. And your legs can spin up instantly.

Here's to some snap!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Ris Van Bethel Helmet Cam

Bethel Spring Series - Snow cancels Tour de Kirche

So this morning I looked out the window. Apparently I have no voodoo powers. The world was white and still.

My fiancee and I went out to shovel early this morning. This was getting old quick since we shoveled last night to cut down the volume of snow we'd shovel today. We found that the snow had semi-frozen, creating a sort of shell of snow. The shoveled areas were only 3 or 4 inches thick, but even that was very hard to move. We had to chip away at it and then move it.

After two hours, we cleared about 100 square feet. We played Rushhour with the cars.

Eventually we got the red car out (it has very aggressive snow tires and is great in the snow). I had to back it up a bit, gun it, and then go for it on the foot deep snow on the road.

State maintained roads were surprisingly clear, but all the secondary roads were like ours - unplowed with 2 foot high "walls" hemming them in from the primary roads. We were able to get out only because some kind Samaritan plowed a lane down the slight hill down our road. The Samaritan stopped about 10 feet from our driveway and so that bit was the stuff the red car had to surf over to get to the "safe" area.

After talking it over with my co-promoter, I decided to call the race. The most significant factor, after the sheer volume of snow everywhere, was tomorrow's temperature forecast. Even without anymore precipitation expected, with temps in the 20's in the morning, we'd run the risk of having ice on the course.

A close second were the unplowed roads. I don't know how other towns are but it would not be good to hold a race and have racers crashing on their way to the race (that already happened this year). Plus from a purely practical standpoint, I don't know when my road will be plowed. And with a very heavily loaded two wheel drive van which has an official tendency to spin and flip when it loses traction, it didn't seem like a good idea to be driving that around today to go clear the course. And if we don't get there tomorrow, well, no race.

So no race.

This sort of frees up the weekend unexpectedly.

And it gives me some time to train and recover. I hadn't touched my bikes since I put them in the garage after last week's race. And I'm finally getting over my cold.

Next weekend they're forecasting temps in the 50's.

Maybe I'll finally have a good sprint.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Snow

So it's snowing pretty hard.

Snow + Bike Race = no bike race.

Well, we'll see.

As it is, last night I had to pick up my bro as he ended up breaking his ankle. So we asked our waiter, who was standing at our table with our dinner, to put it in "to go" bags.

I remembered some very nice expensive crutches we got last year when my fiancee hurt her foot. So we stopped by the house and picked those up, ice packs (in a picnic cooler), and some painkillers.

I was tempted to grab the untouched Grey Goose Vodka (it's been in our fridge for a few years now) but I figured that wouldn't mix well with whatever tests the hospital does.

"So, how did you hurt yourself?"
"Well, you shee shur, I wash... what wash I doing?"

I left the vodka behind.

We flew halfway across the state to get him. I drove for a stint while she ate, then we switched so I could eat.


Except she drives a lot faster than I do. Sort of. In the rain anyway. So I was a bit nervous. So she slowed down for me.

What can I say.

We got there and I clambered out of the car, crutches in one hand, the ice packs and Alleve in the other. I felt like an EMT. We went in, I gave my bro the crutches, and he hobbled out to the car. I figured they wrapped his ankle because it looked so fat. I found out that it was all him and a thin sock. Ouch.

His wife had to put their older son (my nephew of course) to bed quickly so she could meet us at the hospital.

"Quick story and then bedtime because Mommy has to go pick up Daddy."
"Well Daddy hurt himself playing."

Wide open eyes.

"Was Daddy playing too rough?"
"Well, yes he was."
"Does he have to stand in the corner?"
"No, he has to go to the hospital."
"Does he have to stand in the hospital corner?"

You know, I can't believe every parent doesn't blog their kid's stuff. Actually, I know why. They probably don't have the time.

Anyway, what does that have to do with the Bethel Spring Series?

Nothing really. Except I just shoveled my driveway and my brother can't do that up where he lives. And he has a much longer driveway.

And tomorrow I'll be checking out the course to see if we can hold a race.

My flahute respect not withstanding, it's looking pretty grim.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - pre Tour de Kirche

Seems that it's supposed to snow something like half a foot on Friday and another inch or two on Saturday.

Makes holding a race on Sunday morning sort of dicey.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed though. The Bethel course is known for having its own weather system - windy, cloudy, and cold, no matter what it's like anywhere else in the area. Maybe this time the snow will stick all around the course but not on it.

Plus, after last week's frozen fog problem, I was left with 280 pounds of salt in the van. So if it does snow, we can use it up. I can't think of a better way to use it than to spread it out on the Bethel course so that we can race on it.

Last night, after I updated the GC, I was working on two very significant race-cam videos and lost track of time. And lost what I saved of the Ris Van Bethel video. So I started to reconstruct it this morning. Probably be another day before that's up.

The other two videos will go up later. They're of past races but when you see them you'll know why they're so significant to me.

Now to go do some voodoo to keep the snow from accumulating on the Bethel course.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Being a Pro, Danny Pate style

I read on some forum or blog on one person's view on what being a pro is about. Although I've never been a pro, I imagine that since it's a job, your first duty is to fulfill your employer's wishes. And although it's nice to think that these guys race bikes for fun, I've heard one former top racer (a "friend of Lance" and a former Tour teammate) admit to another pro that "He had been in it only for the money".

To be sponsored is a privilege.

Someone else is giving you something for free. Whether it's a discount (they're giving you their profit margin, essentially giving you money out of their pocket), free product, or, the Holy Grail of sponsorship, money, your sponsor is giving you something of theirs for free. In return, they expect you to do certain things. Very few teams have actual contracts (all pro ones must, and some amateur ones too). But this shouldn't be necessary.

A decent racer respects his sponsors and does everything he reasonably can to promote their business.

I guess this is old school.

Winning Magazine, now gone, used to publish a series of stories under the section "The Bike Shop". In it they had some funny stories, some lesson-type stories, and some sad ones. One that struck me was the story about the shop that whole heartedly sponsored a local team only to have the team riders patronize either other shops or (at that time) mail order.

Granted, there are some differences now with the Internet, 24 hour stores, and instant gratification. Back then things were a bit different - you had to either read the paper for Tour results, and if you were lucky, they'd appear in the Sunday issue. The hardcore racing fan would travel into the city to buy L'Equipe or the pink Giro paper (I forget the name, Regazatta or something like that). TV - well, when CBS broadcasts Paris Roubaix the week before the Tour starts, you know that "timeliness" wasn't a priority. Now, with world wide connections, you hit "refresh" anxiously even though you just got an update a minute ago. Or watch on live feed.

A professional attitude gets you sponsors and keeps them coming back. The professionalism might be quite serious - listen to almost any foreign rider in an English interview - or in a light hearted way. Some of the pro's antics are not "professional" but they are a reflection of the times, in this case a parody, and sponsors decide whether or not to keep them after their stunts.

I posted the picture of the Jelly Belly Team shot because of some of the conversation that went on before and during the picture. Danny Pate, it must be said, is one of the most thoughtful racers a team could hire. If you look carefully, you'll notice that he's wearing full finger gloves. He intentionally found them and put them on, even though he had just been on a very wet training ride with the same gloves on. So there he is in the picture, soaking wet gloves on his hands, and why? Because, as he mumbled to himself when he dug them up, "Someone should be wearing long finger gloves in the picture."

He wants someone like me, who pores over cycling pictures and studies them to no end, to say, "Wow, those are cool gloves, I want to buy a set."

I remember laughing to myself while he was trying to pose himself for the team picture. You see how he has his arm up on the Lexus? He was trying pretty hard to keep from covering the small decals on the rear pillar of the Lexus. First he scooted over so you could see them. Then he had to figure out what to do with his arm. He kept moving it around, one spot, then another, all while trying to look "natural" or at least like a "pro".

Pate's a pro, what can I say.

While in the team presentation meeting (a different but just as rainy day), the racers were duly introduced to the companies putting up the money and resources that would pull the team through the year. Afterwards, the racers looked over what they were getting - after all, the products were new to some of them too (a few weren't even there yet).

Pate and some other "rouleurs" were flexing the soles of different shoes. Apparently, compared to some of the stiffer soled shoes, the shoes on display were on the flexible side. One rider asked Pate if he was going to change shoes. Pate replied with a negative mumble. The rider then piped in, "Oh, right, you're still using the pedals too." Pate replied that, yes, he was giving them an honest shot. Pate didn't want to use other equipment - he was determined to use the sponsor's gear as long as it didn't injure him. Because they sponsored him. They paid him. Because it was his job.

4 months later, at Philly, he was still on the pedals and using the shoes. And did pretty well for himself.

Another professional (hence his position) is Jelly Belly team director Danny Van Haute. He's been through the system, racing for 7-Eleven, Schwinn-IcyHot, and directing this team for a while. In the photo shoot above he had everyone move to uncover the vehicles' door panels. He wanted to make sure that the bikes in the shot had the sponsor's pedals on them (I think they had one which didn't). He wanted the helmets in the shot. Caps. Jerseys pulled snug. Logos lined up. Gatorade bins visible.


A few months earlier, at the annual Interbike trade show, he appeared at the booth where the JB vehicle sat, whipped out some decals, and started applying them to strategic points. He had just signed a new sponsor and wanted to make sure that they got the exposure they wanted even at this early stage of the season. He appeared happy (new sponsor!) and serious (job to do) at the same time. He looked over at me and whoever was around me. "You never know when a photographer will show up." Or something like that.

When you're a pro, you're being paid to market your sponsor's products and services. This means you use them and tell everyone they're the best thing since sliced bread. This doesn't mean you go and sell them on eBay and use the money to buy the shoes or pedals or whatever cool gizmo you've been eyeing for the last few months. You don't badmouth them if they don't extend your contract. The next year, when you have your new bike, you say "I love my new bike. It feels really fast. I'm really looking forward to racing at Ronde Van Ris Flanbaix Remo Liege Flanderarden race."

Remember the pro's job - to market and sell the sponsors goods and services.

And though it's pretty clear that a Cat 3 (like me) is not a pro, sponsorship, to me, is always pro.

What would Pate think in your position?

It's a privilege.

Treat it as such.

No Series updates yet... and still sick

I woke up this morning after having a nightmare. Since I never dream (or rather, since I never remember my dreams?), this was very unusual.

In my dream I kept doing things which made me think "What am I thinking?". It seems to have something connected to promoting the race, my drive home yesterday (swervy 18 wheelers in the wind), and concern for my sponsors (heh).

I guess I was following our short trailer truck (we don't have one in real life) in the van (we have one). The truck was a 6 wheeler pulling a 4 wheeler type trailer - you know, a small 18 wheeler - I think of a smaller FedEx truck when I picture it. We were driving in some slippery conditions. I realized it was black ice (like last Sunday morning). The guys driving the truck lost control coming down a hill to an intersection and spun the whole rig around, finally ending up blocking the road. The trailer rolled into the woods.

I got out of the van and walked over to the guys (not sure who the "guys" were). They promptly climbed into the van and took off.

So now I have a truck blocking traffic and I'm standing there in the middle of the road. I decided to get the truck out of the way. I put it in neutral so it could roll backwards down the hill.

That's when I saw the cop running up to me.

Now if a cop comes up to me in real life and tells me to stop, I stop.

But in my dream, I thought "Oh man, if I talk to this guy, it'll take forever." Insert thought "What were you thinking?" So I did what you see on the Cops video shows. I rolled backwards right past him.

The black ice worked in my favor - I needed to turn around and as soon as I got the rear wheels in the dirt, the truck spun around. I was pointing forward, downhill, and I gunned it.

Somehow, the town after the intersection had a carnival going on. I recently read about that guy who mowed down a street-market in California - someone said that the driver showed blatant disregard for human life because he aimed at the people instead of, say, parked cars. I know collision insurance is expensive but if you don't have it. The market story reminds me of some of the old car racing stories I read, Indy 500 in particular, perhaps the driver's name is Shaw? Anyway, a racer crashed really hard in the race. The driver running just behind didn't hesitate. He simply slammed his car into the wall at full speed. Better than running over the driver in the middle of the track. Very honorable.

Anyway, I have a lot of regard for human life. So to avoid hitting people, I was doing wheelies with the truck and sort of bouncing the front of the truck around them. I didn't hit anyone but I was scaring a lot of people. I figured I should stop. At some point I parked the truck and got out. There were all sorts of people running after me - police, paramedics, and carnival security. I darted down a boardwalk type thing running behind all the buildings.

A paramedic came up to me first, holding out a big syringe. I said, "Wait, wait, let me get my jacket off first. I don't want my sponsor getting involved in this." I struggled out of my jacket and stuffed it under the boardwalk. Always looking out for the sponsor. Such a nice boy.

He watched me then said, "I wanted this for myself anyway." And he injected himself and slumped over. I'm not saying this is what paramedics do - they've been very helpful whenever I've needed one, and I know a couple. But this is what this one did in my dream.

My brother showed up (?) and asked how I was feeling. I told him I was feeling kind of sick. We actually work at the same company and he wanders over when he needs a brain break (he programs, I do sys admin stuff). So this replayed a scene from work yesterday. He sat down and we chatted a bit.

And the co-promoter and his wife also showed up. Or maybe it was my colleague and his girlfriend. Whatever. I told them, look, I just put my jacket under this boardwalk. Put it at such-and-such house (where I grew up and which we haven't owned in many years). I'll get it back when I get out of jail in 10 years or something.

That's when I woke up, sore throat, feverish, head pounding. Not sure how much the dream has to do with the feverish and pounding but the sore throat, that didn't feel good.

So... back in the real world.

The Ris Van Bethel may be over for the racers but it's definitely not done for the promoters. My co-promoter Gene handles the paperwork. I do the site. Since the site faces the racers, it gets a lot of feedback.

I still haven't done the GC for the Bethel Spring Series, and with two races done, racers want to know this stuff. I did the P/1/2/3's and the 3/4's but have the M40's, Jr's, Women, 4's, and 5's to go before I upload the page. I won't be able to finish it before I have to go so I stopped. I corrected a team I got wrong. Tried to find a misspelled name I noticed earlier but couldn't.

I'll need to finish editing the tape of the Ris race. Yesterday I got a lot of songs from my brother which he owns. Although I don't think anyone will come after me for using more than clips from a song, technically I sign an agreement when I upload clips to YouTube saying I'm not using copyrighted material. Since I haven't gotten permission from various well-known bands to use their songs, I can only use clips (that's okay). Or songs where I've gotten permission - like from my two brother's bands. So unlike my "get away from the authorities" dream, I try to play by the rules in situations like this.

Now I'll see if I can go to work. I think I'll be okay.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Ris Van Bethel, March 11, 2007

Compared to last week, things were a lot more chaotic from a promoter's point of view. First there was the Daylight Savings thing and the earlier "spring ahead" date. I didn't think this was a problem until we got to the course and it was still pitch-black outside. When a guy is holding his release form in front of the van headlight so he can see it, you know it's pretty dark out. The sun made a magical appearance just as our registration crew got under way, so ultimately it worked out.

For registration anyway.

The heavy fog started to cool and sink to the ground (I'm no weatherman but that's what appeared to happen). The frozen ground. The frozen pavement. What was a nice but damp surface at 6:45 AM became a sheet of black ice by 8:00 AM. Incredibly people were still riding around and no one crashed. People did say their back tires were slipping. One rider remarked "I know I'm strong but I'm not that strong!" Well, when I went to check things out, I could barely walk on the road, it was that icy. We promptly shut down the course.

I bought a really cool flamethrower thing just for an occasion like this. I was eager to try it out. And after searching for a while realized I left the proprietary hose at home. No cool flamethrower.

Bring in three leafblowers. If you park them on ice, it'll melt and dry the ice in about five minutes. Then you have a 6 inch by 6 inch patch of nice pavement, surrounded by ice.

We realized it might take a while to clear a couple hundred yards of black ice.

Next try - send some of the CT Coast Cycling crew went to buy some salt. They bought 400 pounds of salt. I did give them $100 and told them to spend it all. They stopped at $84, luckily for me. We spread 120 pounds of salt in the two big icy spots (i.e. the shaded parts of the course) and presto, ice went away. And yes, they gave me the change.

Just to be safe, we put cones in the vicinity of the icy spots so riders wouldn't want to ride there.

So, an hour and a half late, the very understanding and patient Cat 5's went off.

We had already seen a lot of traffic in the park due to a gymnastics competition held at a building at the bottom of the hill. In other words, where the sprint starts. We gave them priority but we still had to wait for open spots on the course (i.e. after the pack went by) to let them in. The traffic was very understanding considering they're driving their kids to a competition where they are judged on individual performance in front of everyone else.

It might be like doing stints on a wattage trainer, one at a time, in front of all the racers and spectators, and being judged publicly on your performance. Nerve-wracking. Not conducive towards polite traffic manners. Ultimately there were probably 100+ families driving in and out of the course and things went smoothly.

And finally there was exciting racing as usual. The 5's (there was one race) raced hard and ended in a field sprint. The 4's were very animated and there was a two man break, one dropped, a solo bridge (so now two men up front), a solo chase attempt, and finally the finish where the two man break won and the field swallowed up the solo chase attempt and finished as a whole.

But in the Masters race there was a pretty bad crash in the final sprint. It seems someone basically fell on another guy, the guy saved him by staying upright, but when the original someone recovered and suddenly unloaded the good Samaritan's shoulder, the good Samaritan went down. A third rider went down over said Samaritan, appeared to have landed on his eye/face based on the destroyed lens (amateur CSI - Crash Scene Investigator - here), and unfortunately a fourth rider hit the third rider hard somewhere (but not in his face as the poor guy originally thought).

That third rider, as you can imagine, was hurt pretty bad.

Obviously not a good thing. The officer was down there quickly, EMT's and some other peoples (not sure of titles) were there, and ultimately the downed rider was backboarded, loaded on an ambulance, and carted to the hospital.

One positive thing that I saw was that all the racers, regardless of their "race face attitude", were extremely conscious of clearing the road as soon as they knew what was happening. This reminded me that the racing community bands together when "real" things happen. They might argue about someone holding their line or closing the door in the sprint or pulling in a break but when it comes to real life, they stick together and look out for each other.

With everyone's thoughts subdued a bit, the race I focus on, the 3-4's, lined up. I was wearing my helmet cam again, had just eaten a mega-calorie muffin and coffee courtesy of Matt and Kate, and topped off with a couple of Power Gels and a swig of water.

My promoter's cap was off after a very chaotic morning. And my racer's cap was on. Literally. And from a racer's point of view, things were good.

That missing fairy godmother made her appearance today, waved her wand, and things were very bright. I felt very feisty. I really didn't warm up - after riding for about 2 minutes the crash occurred, I rode down the hill to the crash site, back up, and then a lap. But then those that know me know that today's warm up is typical for me - it would not affect the race.

Earlier I talked to the mushy Giant guy (from last week) today and he apologized up and down for putting a psychological brake on my bike. But I was really, really sick then and this week I was less sick (almost not sick). Lo and behold my really mushy bike suddenly hummed and quivered like a finely tuned race bike just aching to go fast.

Okay, I admit I did put an extra 50 (!) psi in each tire.

The tires sung up the hill and I found myself moving up at will (on the hill). I didn't think I'd drink too much and remembering how tossing my bottle helped last week, I tossed it this week too. I didn't wait till two to go though. I tossed it a bit earlier. Like after about 10 minutes of racing.

The temperature started to drop, the wind picked up, and then suddenly my mouth was parched and my legs were getting crampy. I started having serious problems applying power while seated so I had to stand whenever I needed to make efforts.

The rosy picture appeared to fade a bit. That fairy godmother stuff wears out pretty quickly sometimes.

The topper was that I watched eight guys ride up the road. And I was right there when they went. I kept thinking, "Oh, this looks dangerous" and figured I'd try and do a hard bridge to get across to them.

A hard bridge (my term) is the only kind of bridge I can do. It involves going flat out for a minute or less. If I'm not on by then I have a serious chance of not being able to hang on when the field catches me. A hard bridge attempt is not to be taken lightly. I've only executed this once successfully at Bethel, a few years ago. And the field promptly brought everyone back.

So everything had to be perfect. Attack as soon as we hit the non-wind section, drop the proverbial hammer, try and do most of the bridging in that section, and then try and hang on for dear life in the wind till I get there. I'd have to be in a particular position, feel totally right, and be psyched to do it.

So I'm thinking about this and suddenly the sprinter who slayed all in the field sprint last week rocketed up the side and away into the distance. A lap later he was still struggling to bridge but he was almost there. And then he was in there and disappearing up the road.

I really had to get up there.

Every lap, something wasn't right for my hard bridge. And every lap the chances of a successful bridge looked smaller and smaller. Positioning in the field, legs a bit tweaked when I'm in position, waited a bit too long in the non-wind section (due to being blocked in as the field spreads out when there's less wind), and finally, after three or four laps of this nonsense, a spectator yelled out.

"This is the last lap you can bridge!"

No kidding. I thought I was a lap late already. And it took me a lap to finally follow what seemed to be a good wheel. He blew, I pulled through (no warp speed attack though - I think I already realized the inevitable), and when I decided there was no way I was going to make it, I sat up for the field.

The break had already gained 25 or 30 seconds.

A long time friendly competitor rode up to me and said "That's it, race over." And I agreed. We were going pretty hard but the gap remained constant. There were a lot of blocking teammates and it just didn't seem possible to bring them back.

The only thing that kept a flicker of hope alive was the steady gap - it never increased.

Coming up on the lap cards (after the timed section of the race), some of the big teams that missed the break decided they'd do something about it. One rider in particular rallied his team and two other teams, and about ten strong riders found their way to the front and started to hammer.

Suddenly, I felt like I was in the Tour, following a huge chase by Lampre, Lotto, and Milram. The sprinter's teams had come to the front and wanted to settle things once and for all. The field was totally strung out - what a sight to see! The break resisted for a lap or two but then the gap began to tumble. I thought, wow, we might catch them. But it'll be really close. I was thinking we may catch them at the bottom of the hill on the last lap, with about 150 meters to go.

At two to go, the field had closed to 7 seconds. Theoretically a strong counter could close the gap solo. In fact, if my legs were feeling great, I would have contemplated such a move. And quickly discarded it because the break would get caught and I'd have just spent my sprint money. It didn't help that the pace was 28 mph on the windy backstretch, the field was totally strung out, and my legs were feeling not too great.

At one to go, the field was still back by 5 or so seconds. A field sprint would easily swarm the break. But the field was so strung out that in reality the gap was still probably 10 seconds back to me. The elastic was stretching and started to fray up front.

One team did some monster pulls there and I started to psych myself up for the sprint. Inexplicably, while doing this, I totally zoned and let about five riders past me - I guess I was focusing on drawing together all my reserves for this one final effort.

Suddenly, at about 300 meters to go, the front five or ten racers launched their sprint in a bid to catch the break. The guys right behind eased and bunched up. Yours truly was right behind them.


Brakes. Wait for the wind to die down a bit - I learned a long time ago that a couple seconds in the wind will eat up magnitudes more seconds of sprinting later. And when the field rounded the curve at the bottom of the hill and the wind started to relax, I launched.

It was nowhere as pitiful as last week's sprint but I lacked the snap I had to have to do something special. It was, unfortunately for me, a lackluster sprint.

Incredibly, the front sprinters (I think) caught the break halfway up the hill. My guess was wrong by 75 meters. One team totally rocked and got a lot of places.

Me, I was content to follow whoever was in front of me right up to the line. Eighth at the line, and I'd consider it virtually a field sprint.

Ends up I followed the guy in the picture from one of my first posts. No dramatic bike throw this time. I simply sat down as I crossed the line.

I put a vest on and started the Pro-1-2-3 race. A lap or two in I peeled off. Suddenly I didn't feel good and I didn't want to gap off whoever was behind me. I watched the race with the officer working the race. A guy who'd been racing at Bethel since he was something like 15 years old rocked the field. Rite-Aid pro and all. Rode away from them on the last lap. And there were a lot of good racers behind him.

We packed up with a lot of friendly racers' help. When the van was full, we did a "drive-by" of the course and picked up whatever was there. This week there were lots of gel wrappers - last week just one. And then drove home.

Only one unfinished thing to do.

After I got home, I called the "third guy" at home. He's there, recovering. He whacked his head hard enough not to remember too much. He didn't know I was there. He didn't know what happened. He didn't remember hitting anything. He recalled seeing the one lens which probably saved his eye - he landed on his face at just-before-sprint speed. He remembered kicking the dirt with his heels - and he was laying on the pavement with his heels on the dirt when I left him with the EMT's and policemen. Other than a bit of memory, he listed his losses as a right/rear shifter, the glasses, and one other thing (I recall his seat looking kind of tattered).

He was okay enough to reminisce about doing sprints at SUNY Purchase 15 years ago. He laughed and said that with all the close calls there, he should have had the instincts to avoid whatever happened at the race. I guess it happens to the best of us. Anyway, he sounded pretty chipper all considering.

Hey he was laughing. It probably hurt his head to laugh. But he laughed anyway.

So all is well.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - pre Ris Van Bethel

So today is the day before the Ris Van Bethel.

By the way, in case you're wondering, this is how we came up with the Series race names. Three of the names of the various Bethel Spring Series are simply translations of Tour de Bethel. I plugged the name into a translation page and got back various responses. Since there were only three usable ones, I borrowed the themes from some classic races (Amstel Gold Race, Criterium International, and Circuit de "you name it") to come up with the other names.

The reason we named each race differently is we went to a Category D type race which are one day races. Category E series races limit the amount of prize money you can offer ($1500/day). Category D races bumps that up to $2500/day. Since we offer more than $1500 minimum on certain days, we chose to up the race Category. Incidentally, if we advertised more than the Category maximum in prizes, we'd have to pay a "Prize Tax" to USA Cycling. I guess this is the prevent races like Tour De Georgia to be filed as a Category E race.

This year we advertised $8400 in cash for the 6 week series.


That's a lot of money, even if I do say so myself.

Oh wait. We advertised daily prizes totaling $6900. And we pay $1500 for overall placings. That adds up to $8400.


We don't advertise Bethel Cycle's very generous gift certificates for overall winners (they have a great online store so they're actually usable), nor the carbon brake calipers from Tektro, nor the DeFeet socks donated by the TargetTraining team. There may be more primes as well but till they're in our hands, we won't count them.

We also don't count our dashing Leader's Jerseys, supplied by Champion System.

And while I'm talking about prize money, we typically pay out more than the minimum advertised amount. We pay prizes in two ways - race placings and primes. The minimum prize lists are based on 3 places for each of the earlier races, 5 places for the 3/4's and 1/2/3's. (Unfortunately we can't pay out in the Cat 5 races due to rules).

Based on field size, we increase the prize money. We use the 10's digit to determine how many places we pay. So in a 39 rider field, we still pay only 3 places. A 40 rider field, we pay 4. Last week I think we had 60+ or 70+ racers in the last couple and 60+ in the 4's. So all those races paid either 6 or 7 places.

In addition, we pay unadvertised primes. I only have the numbers on the P/1/2/3 race - in that race we paid three 2-place primes, $30 and $20. So $150 in primes in that race. Again, we don't advertise these primes. We decide on them based on field size, race importance (later races get more primes), and, well, honestly, what we think we can afford to give away.

Although I go for places (and therefore place money), I can't remember the last time, if ever, I won a prime at Bethel. I figure the primes are for the racers who need some gas money, brunch money, etc. I'll leave primes for them.

Okay, where was I?

Day before Ris.

Oh, so let's see. Other than being trapped at home due to various contractors coming over to give various estimates on various things, I have to do a few things to prep for the race.

Charge the radios. Update the site. Update any errors I made over the week on race results. Think about putting in the permit numbers on the flyer. I won't, not this week, plus the other guy does the flyer. Test a USB hub so we have an optical mouse.

Oh and ride my bike.

For those of you keeping track, I'm still sick. So it's been almost two weeks. "Da Bomb" worked a bit but I may have to hit myself again tonight with the same thing.

And hope for the best for tomorrow.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Summer Street Sprint - Video

Hope you enjoy this little clip from a ride last year in 2006.

Sick - "Da Bomb"

Yesterday, my trackstand post notwithstanding, I was also sick. I wrote most of that post after a ride in California where someone asked me how to do a trackstand. I explained but it's hard to do on a long group ride where you've already covered most of the ride.

In other words, I had been too tired to make a lot of sense.

Anyway, I spiffed up what I'd written and put it up. That post is for that rider out in Oceanside, CA, and for a Cycling Forum reader who seems really into cycling.

Back to being sick.

Yesterday I woke up for long enough to eat something (I was dizzy with hunger), call in sick, and go back to bed. My phone rang at 4 PM, jolting me out of bed into a confused, still-in-REM-mode haze. In short order, it rang again. I finally got up, not feeling too much better than when I went to sleep.

I was still feeling terrible last night so I decided to unleash "Da Bomb". It's the last resort for a racer worried about his Sunday race and it's already Thursday and he hasn't touched his bike the whole week.

"Da Bomb" consists of two, perhaps three elements.

First, find all the cold weather gear you own. Layers and layers of this stuff. Put it on.

Second, get on your bike. Leave the fan off. Start riding. Moderate pace, mind you, no sprints here, just a "loosening the legs" kind of ride.

Third, stay hydrated.

The last bit is tricky since after a few minutes you're drenched in sweat. I soaked my gear enough that I could feel the chill air of the basement through all my layers of soaked gear. Even the best gear doesn't evaporate the moisture for you - it's up to the atmosphere to do that. And by skipping the fan, I had created my own little steam bath.

Anyway, after an hour of this sauna-like ride (and the point where my clothes became water-logged), I climbed off the bike. I felt drenched, tired, and like I did something to get rid of my tenacious cold. I ate a bit, took a hot shower, and went to bed.

At about 2:30 in the morning, a work related call came through. I thought for sure this would blow my ride-benefits as it was in the single digits overnight, and although I do live in a house, we turn the heat down overnight. Breathing the chill air wasn't doing me any good.

I did pull on my gangster knit hat and slept the rest of the night with that on.

I woke up this morning and my head is stuffy, my throat is phlegmy, I'm coughing some horrendous sounding coughs. But they're wet coughs, not those scratchy throat dry coughs. And wet coughs mean I'm recovering. It's dead bad stuff being evacuated from my system.

So I'm off to work in a bit. I have to get gas for the car and for the generator for the race on Sunday.

And for some very good racers at the Bethel Spring Series...

I have to pick up the Leader's Jerseys.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

How To - Trackstands

I promised in an earlier post to put something up on doing trackstands.

First, don't try this yourself. I can't be liable if someone tries to do a trackstand and falls over in front of a speeding car or breaks their wrist. Capisce?

On to the theoretical how-to article...

A trackstand is simply when a rider, on the bike, stands still without putting a foot down on the ground. This skill gets its name from match sprints on the track. Since there was no advantage to being in front in a match sprint (the second rider is drafting and can jump when he wants), in the old days the leading racer would stop and try and force their opponent to get to the front. This led to some ridiculous races where racers just did trackstands for hours. Modern sprint rules force one rider (based on random drawings) to lead the first lap. This helps the race move along.

Trackstands are useful for a bunch of reasons:
1. Showing off (being honest here - I've even seen pros who can't do trackstands).
2. You can't unclip (say due to a pedal malfunction).
3. You'll stop only a short time and don't need to unclip (you were about to roll past some slow traffic when you realized there's broken glass all over the shoulder - so you need to wait a second to merge with the cars).
4. Skill building to enhance overall cycling skills.

This last reason is the true reason to learn trackstands. Although it's fun to show off a fluent trackstand, the way you do a track stand means you'll be able to learn and execute other maneuvers.

One cool thing about trackstands is you simply need a bike and your personal gear you wear. No carbon cranks, aero wheels, or the latest and greatest components will help you do a trackstand. And when you can do a trackstand and the rider next to you (who's laid out all that dough to buy that really cool stuff) can't, well now.

Trackstands are done by overcoming a natural (but incorrect) instinct on the bike. There are a couple of these instincts. I don't know how we learned them - perhaps from our first wobbly rides when we were kids. Regardless, in teaching many people how to do trackstands (and other skills), the instincts have always been there in the cyclists.

The first thing you have to learn when you rock climb is to trust the rope. To do so you have to do something which is completely against your instincts - let go of the wall. Once you feel comfortable doing this (this implies you trust your belayer and the gear), you open your horizons on the rockclimbing front.

In trackstands, you must overcome your instinct to "avoid going backwards". It is critical that you be able to roll backwards.

Remember - virtually any cyclist can do a trackstand! Send $19.99 to me to learn the 4 easy steps and I'll also send you instructions on how to pick up a bottle off the ground, bunny hop, and beat McEwen in a sprint!

Okay maybe not the last one.

To do a trackstand you need to be able to do three things:
1. Control the amount of force you exert on the pedal to a very fine degree.
2. Have enough leg strength to roll forward from a dead stop.
3. Roll backwards.

You know how there are those "How to draw" articles? They draw a rough oval, put some little edges here and there, and suddenly it's a face? Well track stands are sort of the same deal.

Get your bike, some normal shoes (to begin with), and put on clothes that you can fall on. This means thick long sleeve clothing. Get your helmet, gloves (really thick long finger ones), and also bring your cycling shoes.

If you get somewhat comfortable trying trackstands with sneakers, try it with the cycling shoes. They actually make it easier since you can (lightly!) pull up on the pedals.

How to do a trackstand:

Gradient (for beginning trackstanders and for those who are risk averse)
1. Find a very slight uphill, one that would allow your car to barely start rolling if you parked on it. The hill will be used to allow the bike to roll backwards a bit.

2. Pedal uphill on it slowly. Start in a low gear (try a 39x19). Roll up until your pedals are horizontal and let the bike slowly come to a halt (or almost halt). Horizontal pedal position is important because it gives you power to pedal the bike forward when you need to go.

Note: since I learned to do a trackstand with my front wheel pointing left, my left pedal is forward. For those of you aspiring to be track racers, you should learn with the front wheel pointing right and your right pedal forward. "Right-handed" trackstands are harder to do in the real world of roads whose crown goes uphill to the left (i.e. left hand drive cars). Aussies, Japanese, Indian, Brits, and a few other places I'm sure will be the exception to the rule.

Engage the chain/cassette
3. Without frantic pedaling, ease your forward pedal pedal down slightly so you engage the cassette in back (i.e. you feel some resistance and if you stomped the pedals, you'd go forward). This fixes your foot/pedal position in relation to the rear wheel. Basically you have reached your trackstand position.

Roll backwards, reset pedal
4. Allow the bike to stop. If you've pedaled too firmly for the gradient, use your brakes slightly to help the bike stop. Later you'll learn to judge your pedal "easing" so that you will rarely use your brakes. Lighten up the force on the pedals just enough to allow the bike to roll back. You should allow the bike to pull the pedals backwards too. This "resets" your pedals so you can pedal forward again. Without allowing the pedals to reset, you'll end up at the bottom of the pedal stroke and unable to roll forward.

Roll forward using pedals
5. As soon as you lose your nerve, stomp on the pedals to roll forward. Initially you'll roll back perhaps 5 millimeters. Later you'll find yourself rolling back 5 inches. The limit is really set by what gear you selected - if you roll back too far, your pedals will end up vertical and you won't be able to accelerate unless you "reset" them by pedaling backwards another 1/4 turn. In certain gears your chain may derail so I don't recommend doing this.

The theory being used here is the one that dictates how you balance on your bike. Your bike balances because it rolls and it is steered. It has nothing to do with wheel inertia, wheel size, wheelbase, etc. Once you lock up a bike's steering, it's unrideable. And it seems only circus performers can balance on a stationary bike with its wheels in a straight line.

Your "trackstand" is actually going to be very short forward rolls separated by very short backward rolls. Initially you'll use gravity to roll you backwards. Most roads have a crown so you can simply point the bike a bit up the crown as your hill.

Later you'll use inertia. You probably weigh about ten times the bike (15 times if you laid out dough for your bike or you're really fit). If, while on your bike, you jerk your body forwards an inch, your bike will roll backwards about 10 inches (or 15 - it's the ratio that counts). Use this action to roll the bike backwards. First you can do this on flat roads with no gradient. Later you can do this on downhills. In these cases you'll need to apply your brake when you finish jerking the bike back, especially when doing a trackstand on a downhill.

Although I keep both hands on the bars for the most part, it's not necessary. Skilled riders can even do no-handed trackstands. One-handed is nice if, say, you want to scratch your nose or wipe the sweat away that's slowly but surely trickling into your eyes while you're waiting for the forever red light to turn green.

If you have questions or problems let me know. And when it's a lot warmer than the 7 deg F it is right now, I'll make a short video on this, with my four basic steps clearly laid out.

Good luck!