Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Life - Moving and Training

We're not done moving yet.

Alas, the truth hurts. Vacating the premises, that's the part we got done. Scattering our possessions across three widely spaced locations (four, if you count the separately keyed basement from the townhouse), we managed to do just that.

Now we have to consolidate.

My brother, as much as we're family, could probably use the half of the garage where my bike, car, and race promoting stuff ended up sitting. I know that the future missus is jonesing to ride the tandem, maybe even her single. And I'd like to be able to rebuild my PowerTap so it has a clincher rim, not a tubular rim with a really expensive, really nice tubular on it.

With that noted, it won't surprise you to learn that we spent our first weekend "after" the move, well, moving.

We drove down to my brother's place. Technically my dad's, but since they all live there, I use the two interchangeably - if you ask my insurance company, it's my dad's place, but here, I'll refer to it as my brother's place. Anyway I'd stashed all my bike stuff there save my carbon Giant and my gear bag.

We got there with the mainly empty van (some stuff to drop off there) and her empty car. We mounted the rack on the future missus's car, and piled on the tandem (with its enormous disk brakes - I'd forgotten about them), my backup Giant (really dirty drivetrain, forgot about that too), and her Coppi (with my borrowed-for-the-California trip wheels back on it) on top of it. I managed to stuff my spin bike, my mountain bike, a pile of wheels, and miscellaneous stands and tools and such into the van. We also put what car stuff we could find (big air compressor, car parts, tools, etc.) into the van for deliver to Todd's.

We couldn't leave without dropping a few things off - a clarinet (my brother's, from way back when), some art work (both of my brothers', some dating from when they were in pre-school), and some of my dad's stuff.

Now the van we have is a discontinued 15 passenger Dodge Ram (see the white thing behind Vassos and Bill?). It's discontinued due to its ability to roll quicker than the proverbial Fido. Replaced, incidentally, by my new favorite functional truck due solely to its name - the Dodge Sprinter. What a name, eh?

Anyway, really the only reason the Dodge Ram van was discontinued was safety. Go into a turn a bit hot and it doesn't turn. Turn the wheel more and the van turns suddenly - to the point where the rear end starts to slew out. With its high center of gravity, soft bouncy suspension, six feet of overhang behind the rear wheels, and narrow overall width, the van wants to barrel roll more than anything.

The front suspension is a heavy duty, parallel A-arm setup - like pretty much any big American car. Coil springs, brand new shocks, no known problems with the ball joints. All in all it's in good shape.

The rear has leaf springs and a beam axle. It resembles the setup used in big trucks. They use this setup because it works - truck loads can reach 50,000 pounds or more, and that's for a "normal" truck. The heavy duty ones, they hold so much they're limited by the road underneath the tires.

Before this weekend day I figured the best way to avoid the problems associated with 15 passenger vans was to avoid putting weight behind the rear axle and to have any weight possible towards the front of the van. I dutifully removed the rear seat (the bane of any 15 passenger van's handling characteristics). I carefully loaded our generator, tents, tables, grate covers, and other heavy things just behind the front seats, much to the annoyance of everyone helping me clean up after Bethel. Although a bit sluggish, the van drove reasonably well when loaded like this.

When we moved, I followed the same philosophy. But towards the end of the move, with the front of the van holding a lot of heavy things, I noticed the front of the van seemed to squat a bit.

Carrying boxes back and forth, my dazed brain processed this new information. And, in a moment of inspiration, it came up with a new idea.

The way I figure, the van's load should not be on the front axles. The front suspension has ball joints, pivots, and all sorts of fragile type things meant to give a nicer ride, not hold tons of weight. Instead, Mr. Einstein here decided we should center the load around the much stronger rear axle. Not centered on the rear axle really - more like "on or in front of" the rear axle. "Front-center" if you will. I wasn't about to load the rearmost portion of the van with heavy things but I was much more inclined to put stuff on the rear axle (instead of diligently pushing it all forward).

We put all of the stuff for Todd in the back (since it was easier to unload like that at his place). All my stuff in the front. Todd's stuff was pretty heavy, but centered on the rear axle. My new load philosophy wasn't disturbed by this unusual load distribution so things were good.

We set off to Todd's.

I learned pretty quickly that my new method of loading the van wasn't exactly optimal.

In fact, I came close to sheer, mind numbing panic twice on the way up to Todd's. I managed to get the rear tires to actually go sideways once on the highway (trying to keep the van from flipping over an elevated highway's guardrail) - and that wasn't one of the mind-numbing incidents, it was more just a flick and it was done (one of almost half dozen such flicks). Normally I'm very careful, very smooth when driving. But this thing, well, this thing suddenly had a mind of its own.

I read somewhere that the scariest thing when racing a car is to be going through a long sweeper at 100 mph or more and then, almost imperceptibly, the rear of the car starts to slide a bit. There's nothing you can do to help the situation - a perfectly balanced car at the limit of its abilities is letting go and anything you do to upset it will make it, well, more upset.

(I'm sure that some advanced car racing type folks will cry bloody murder and name all sorts of things you can do, but I'm just a beginning car racing type and, well, when faced with such situations, I sit and wait.)

The van got into two "high speed" drifts. One was at about 65 mph, the other about 60. Both times I used about 5 or 6 feet of pavement I hadn't planned on using, both times I started getting the "numb with adrenaline just before you crash" feeling, and both times the van decided, in an agonizingly slow fashion, that it would make the curve.

Let me tell you something about loading a van, especially a short-ish wheelbase van with a huge rear overhang.

Put ALL of the heavy stuff up front.

Anyway, with all that out of the way, we managed to get to Todd's alive, unloaded all the stuff in the back, and so weighted (front-heavy), the van was much happier and let me dictate what it was going to do, not the other way around.

We made it home, left the stuff for unpacking later, and fell asleep, exhausted.

And here I thought it'd all be done once the house was sold.

On the plus side, instead of our normal lifting type exercises (load van, unload van, load van, unload van...) we got out and walked for a bit - a couple miles on a quiet Rails to Trails thing. As a cyclist, and more specifically, a racer of sorts, I thought walking would be as exciting as something like watching grass grow. I suppose it would be if you weren't allowed to talk to someone (like your significant other) or think about plans for dominating Cat 3 cycling in the area.

(That second bit is a joke. Ha ha. Right?)

Anyway, the walk was good. I followed it up with a ride, struggling to get out and back before I had to report to work (which involves walking upstairs and wiggling the mouse). I started to bonk somewhat severely and crawled back to the townhouse.

Of course when presented with a slowly accelerating truck, I couldn't help but to merrily jump my way after it, draft it for a bit, then blow spectacularly less than 30 seconds later. Disappointingly I only hit 36 mph. It was the next ride that I realized that stretch of road is uphill. And upon downloading the PT data, I saw that I'd done a 1400+ watt sprint, holding about 1000 watts for 15 or 20 seconds. Not bad for training a few days in the last month.

I went out for a ride another morning. I'd even gone out earlier and did a 2 mile pedestrian thing, walking the first half and running for the second half. My rubbery legs recovered within 30 minutes and I was back out on the bike.

Thoughts of Cat 3 domination ran through my head.

And then I got home. I struggled to get my bike in the door, past the half unpacked boxes, and leaned it on the coffee table (driveside out). Walked around the dirt from the plant Tiger playfully tagged in the morning.

Reality hit home. Cat 3 domination will have to wait.

First we have to finish moving.


Debby said...

Hang in there. It does get better. We still have boxes in the cycling room that are not unpacked, and the bikes are in the living room for easy access...ask Mr. Suitcase about the *two* UPS vans we filled, and the stuff we had to stash at his parents' house. Consolidation is a good thing. So is weeding out, which I hope to do after unpacking!

Bill said...

"Go into a turn a bit hot and it doesn't turn. Turn the wheel more and the van turns suddenly - to the point where the rear end starts to slew out." Classic, dude! Tight in, loose off. Radio the crew chief and get an adjustment at the next pit-stop. Until then, we can't afford a green-flag stop, so deal with it.

The easiest fix for a slow, lazy loose rear-end in a high speed sweeper is very gently more throttle. It applies more weight to the rear of the ...van, and should stick the rear tires better,

I must say, however, that having raced everything from Corvettes to Formula Fords, a 15-passenger van would be a sobering challenge!

Aki said...

heh I knew someone would pipe up on the van's handling. I thought about it today - front end doesn't have as much bite due to the relatively heavy rear, I ease to weight the front, it turns in, but now the rear is light so it slews.

Throttle at that time is, well, scary, so I'll have to stick with putting the weight up front.

Regarding 15 passenger vans - when I took a Skip Barber class way back when (they used Fords back then), we students were driven around the course by an instructor. With about 14 or 15 of us, we piled into a 15 passenger van. The first lap seemed pretty casual as the instructor noted the turn in cones, the apex cones, and the turn out cones, along with some of the unusual track characteristics.

No big deal right?

Instead of pulling into the pits, the instructor said "Now let's go a bit faster."

I never knew a van could lean so much without flipping. We flew around the course, tires howling in protest, van swaying, and a lot of various swear words coming from the students. Probably the best van ride I've ever had.