Friday, November 30, 2007

Racing - 2008 Bethel Spring Series Prelim

When there is an event, perhaps a race, which seems to be a fixture in the sport, it's easy to forget that there are individuals behind it. The Bethel Spring Series is one such event. I recently found fliers from 1993, and based on the info on the fliers, it might have been 1992 that the Series first started. I'm not sure, actually, and it bugs me a bit not knowing for sure. Regardless, except for the first year (when I simply helped out), the Bethel Spring Series has been one of my annual personal focal points. Every year, every spring, I know that there will be hundreds of racers looking to get off the trainer and onto the road. The Bethel Spring Series allows them to do this.

And I feel responsible to make it happen.

However, because the race relies on a couple individuals, there are human-type factors which affect the race. For many years I dreaded the first four months of the year because I felt obligated to hold the Series. I persevered because, well, it's like bike racing. When you're groveling in the field and things don't look too good, you don't just sit up and say "I'm done with it."

Actually, you might, but then that's a sign that perhaps you should take a break.

Usually, we'll grovel either until we finally get sawed off the back or the bell rings and signals just a few more minutes of hurt. Of course for me, the bell infuses my body with new found reserves, but that's a different topic altogether. After the race we cool down, change, go home, and try and figure out a way to reduce the hurt for the next race.

The Series groveling (promoting it, not the bike bit) stopped a few years ago. The bike bit still hurts and I haven't been able to finish a Pro-1-2-3 race in what seems like forever. But from the promoting side I've somehow regained a sense of purpose and motivation. It's not clear why but it just happened. Like when you're groveling and suddenly your legs start coming around, suddenly I've become more motivated to do the Series.

That's not to say that it was an easy process, even in the last seven months when, technically, the Series was done for the year. Since the 2007 Bethel Series ended, a lot of things have happened in my life.

2007 was the year I got married. In and of itself that's not a big factor since the missus is supportive of the Series, but the process took some energy - planning, ceremony, etc. The most significant thing relating to the Series is that I used a lot of my annual vacation time to do wedding and honeymoon stuff. I just checked and my normal 15-17 vacation days of training time in Jan and Feb have been reduced to just 8 days. That doesn't give me a lot of time to do massive hours in those two months leading up to the Series.

We also live about 90 minutes away from the course, and we used to live about 30 minutes away. We used to have all our stuff ready to go at our house - that's no longer the case. Because the weather may be completely different where we live, we don't want to risk parking the van here and then not being able to get to the race. This means we have to park the van local to the Series location and leave it there during the week.

Finally, even as the 2007 Series happened, we were in the process of prepping our house for sale. It went to a very nice couple in late August, we moved up north, and now we're in the process of finding a house for ourselves. Again, another thing to disrupt what used to be a relatively static and predictable schedule (as a side note, I lived in my previous house for over 14 years - so moving was a big shock for me).

Nonetheless, "it's about that time of year again", as Wendy says at the Bethel Selectman's office. We've started the process for holding the Series in 2008.

We'll be going for the Sundays in March, minus March 23 Easter, and two, if not three Sundays in April.

Our categories will remain the same - Cat 5s (two races), Cat 4s, M40/Jr, Women, Cat 3-4s, and Pro-1-2-3s.

We'll be giving out prizes like normal. Last year was $8000 in cash - this year we'll be doing something similar. The prizes start at about $1000 per week, grow to at least $1500 per week, and we give something like $1500 for the best overall racers.

A significant change the racers will see is the start times published for each race, a huge break from tradition. We've almost never done that, but since it's the #1 reason for calls and emails, I've decided to implement start times. Now everyone can call and email to see if we're on time.

Any other changes will be aimed at making it easier to set up and break down the race stuff. Ideally I'd like to have a better way of sweeping the course since that takes a ton of time and energy. I'm working on that, but if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!

The single biggest change in 2008 though should be invisible to the racers. I've decided that after volunteering my time and energy for 15 years that, in 2008, I'll be earning money from the Series. Not any prize money I might win but an actual "promoter's" fee if you will. I talked about this with a few people and as one pointed out, "Everyone thinks you make money from the race so you might as well."

I promise I won't rape the Series of its normal prize money, its reasonable entry fees, or its generosity to those that help out (marshals, sweepers, registration folk). I have taken a step to stop sponsoring an unrelated team in a different state - over the years we've given them a lot of money, probably enough to pay for an entry level Pro racing for a local Pro team.

Since I live so far away I've already started planning logistics for the travel - a primary and backup place to park the van, equipment storage, etc. And the promotion process will now include a three or even four hour drive on Saturday - pick up two guys who help out with the race, then drive them to the Series area Saturday afternoon/evening. And after the race on Sunday, we'll drive the van back to one of our parking spots, switch to a car, and drive home. Our helpers will get rides back from others in case you were wondering.

Related to the driving logistics, I also hope to have an air card (broadband Internet access) at Bethel, allowing us to make almost-live updates as the day progresses. This will benefit the racers because we'll be able to update the race results immediately. It will also save me from three to five hours of work updating the site - with the long drive ahead of us each Sunday afternoon, it would be better to have all the updates virtually done before we even left the course. I've been unwilling to change the format of the results page prior to this, but if I can upload pages directly out of our spreadsheet based results page, I'll sacrifice the integrity of the page design and do it.

I've finally made good on my promise of buying a couple UPSs (uninterruptible power supply) for both registration and the finishline camera. If our generator goes offline for a bit we'll still be able to work as normal. I'm also working on getting better finish line results so we can go deeper into each field. I'm not sure if it'll work out but I'd like to offer that to the racers.

The co-promoter Gene P will be working behind the scenes as normal for 2008. In fact we've already started making arrangements for the upcoming races. And the missus will be there too, helping out when possible. Since she's in the accounting world, tax season is her peak year - and the Series happens to take place in the seven weeks before the annual April 15 deadline.

So with this, I hope that you're all out there planning your assault on the 2008 racing season. And I hope that you'll make the Bethel Spring Series a part of that plan.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Helmet Cam - Optimized (or not)

I uploaded some optimized clips (they were in YouTube's ideal format) and although the uploads took less time, the clips looked about the same. So although I put a few out there, I'm not going to convert any more clips at this point. In the future I'll upload the optimized versions if only to cut my upload time by 50% or more (they are 30-50 MB versus 98-100 MB). But the quality, unfortunately, is no better than my un-optimized clips.

Someone asked me recently if I'll be doing more clips. I have a couple I want to work on (one from 2006, two from 2007) but I haven't been motivated to alot the necessary time to finish them. On average I'd say the clips represent about 2, maybe 3 long nights of work - 8 to 12 hours. Until I end up with a lot of time to focus on such things, I need to let them be.

In 2008 I hope to be more active in the race scene and hope to have a corresponding increase in both the number of clips as well as the variety of routes - races, group rides, and perhaps a couple Summer Street sprint type things. I'd really like to get a Gimbles or two on tape. A true night ride clip would be good too - urban riding with lots of traffic, motorpacing off of unsuspecting buses, trucks, and cars.

For those CompuTrainer users out there, I hope to have the clips available through ErgVideo, a place that sells clips with power data so you can "ride along" with the helmet cam wearer. When I make new clips available, if enough people ask, I think they'd be willing to purchase clips from me (hint hint). I only have one clip with power available and that is the prematurely ended 2007 Nutmeg State Games (when I go off road in the sprint). They sell DVD quality full length clips so you won't experience the fuzziness of YouTube.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Doping - Purge?

Recently I had a very short email exchange with someone I honestly don't know very well. He's a long time cyclist, a long time racer, and someone who's involved in the sport, at least at the fringes, at the pro level.

He was wondering out loud if the sponsors of the sport will flee from the doping darkness permeating the sport. Of course, with the recent news, he mentioned the whole T-Mobile pulling out of the sport thing.

Now that in itself is an interesting move (T-Mobile's, not my friend's).

Previous sponsors caught up in major doping scandals have found that, for better or for worse, such enormous scandals work to their favor. After all, we don't talk about "Willy Voet's stop at the border", we talk about the "Festina Affair". Likewise, when people talk about the Floyd fiasco, it's hard not to think about Phonak.

What the heck is a Phonak anyway?

Well, according to Andy Rihs, a lot more people know who Phonak is, in part because of the doping scandals surrounding the team.

Is he upset?

Well, look here. He looks quite happy to me. I'd be "eagerly awaiting" the release of a book if the title included my company's name!

So T-Mobile is pulling out of cycling. So is Adidas. What does this mean?

It means that the two companies ended up in a win-win situation if they followed the course of action, and they would have been in a lose-lose situation if they did not.

Let's look at what would have happened if they stayed the course.

First off, we'd get sick and tired of hearing about T-Mobile stating that it's good that another ex-racer admitted doping, but that "Bob Stapleton is not of that era and we believe in him." They'd sort of gloss over the various details that are bound to come out - financial records, DNA matches, and all sorts of paper trails linking rider after rider to nefarious doctors and clinics. They no longer support that, even though they might have, at some level, in prior years.

This leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. Look, if you heard that there might be some e-coli tainted beef out there, would you go out and order your steak "rare" like normal? No, that would be a bit risky. Hearing "T-Mobile" next to words like "strongly deny" or the weaker "we stand by the team" just doesn't make you feel too good about buying a new T-Mobile phone. Okay, so the phone won't kill you, so it's a bad analogy. But if you were holding T-Mobile phone in one hand and some competitor's in another, and the two phones were virtually identical, you might select the T-Mobile phone because you're a pro-cycling fan.

Anyway, how do you fix that bad taste in your mouth thing? Back on steak, if you then heard that some previously-unknown-to-you beef company recalled some zillion pounds of Angus, well, you'd feel comfortable that, say, in a week, the steak sitting in front of you, still mooing, is not going to kill you.

Similarly, T-Mobile has "recalled" its sponsorship. It's pulling out. They no longer have to have some poor administrative assistant reviewing all the news releases containing the words "doping" and "T-Mobile". If someone calls T-Mobile and asks, "What are you planning on doing in response to the latest allegations by your ex-racer Singing Canary?", the T-Mobile doping damage control person can confidently say, "Well, T-Mobile is completely against doping in sport. It is unethical and we do not condone it. In fact, we have pulled all our cycling sponsorship so our stance cannot be misinterpreted."

The caller would probably say, "Thank you" and hang up. There's no story there. So the caller will say something like "The T-Mobile dope scandal continued today as Messr S Canary and S Pigeon testified today in court about the doping scandal that rocked the cycling world over 5 years ago in 2007".

And for the next 10 or 20 or 50 years, whenever we talk about the "huge doping scandals in bike racing", we'll talk about T-Mobile, Festina, and Phonak.

Well, less of Phonak I think. Not too many people remember the Polka Dot Jersey Rodolfo Massi, racing for Casino (who?), getting kicked out of the Tour while leading the King of the Mountains competition. Those same people probably don't remember a short version of Ivan Drago on that team - one platinum blonde racing machine named Alexander Vinokourov. You know him better as the guy who has such big thighs that they contain two types of blood.

Nor will race pundits harp on TVM or Lampre or Fasso Bortolo or... maybe I should just link to the list of teams around between 1992 or so and now.

In an old issue of VeloNews, probably in the 1991-1992 era, Allan Peiper (of Peugeot, Panasonic, and Tulip fame, and more recently of Davitamon-Lotto and the now defunct T-Mobile squad) was talking about the differences between the stars and the watercarriers. Although he was probably talking about some base level of "ability", I think his example illuminated what was happening in the peloton. Some were charging. Some were not.

At the time heart rate monitors were sort of new so everyone talked about heart rates the way they talk about wattage today. Peiper was riding along in the field, working somewhat intently, his HRM showing 160 or so BPM. A rider who Lemond called Capuccino rode up next to him and asked what Peipers HRM showed. Peiper replied and asked what the Coffee Man had displaying.

98 BPM.

Wow. Apparently he doesn't drink that caffeinated stuff. Or for that matter, he isn't pedaling his bike - when I'm sitting at a light I'm at 98 BPM. I could understand the heart rate difference if I was the one riding in Peiper's place in the Tour. But to have two very strong pros riding at such incredibly different levels? I'll leave it to you to figure that one out. Oh, wait, I don't have to - Chiappucci got caught using EPO and also got kicked off the Italian team with a high hematocrit. His response?

"The mentality of the sport has changed."

Not "I didn't dope". Not "No way no how I never did EPO". Or "Oh me oh my stick a needle in my eye."

I'm getting loopy.

Peiper, in an interview I can't find but it was in a British cycling magazine that interviewed current and retired Austrialian pros, said that he wishes he had doped. He came very close to winning a classic here and there but never got one. He knew others doped and they won. He stayed the high road. But, thinking back on it, he felt that given the chance, he'd dope to get a win or two. It's got to be depressing when you're training and racing and you're in really good form and humming along at 160 something BPM and then another guy rides up and he's literally at the same heart rate as when you first threw your leg over the bike. Think about that for a sec. I thought that interview was very illuminating.

Anyway, back to T-Mobile and their win win situation. Their team's unusual practices might have hurt the individuals themselves - I mean, look at the individual's situations - constantly called to come into court, hounded by the press, rejected by their formerly adoring fans. But T-Mobile will benefit from this for an eternity.

Well, my eternity.

I figure when I die, people will still know of T-Mobile because of doping, even if the company isn't around anymore. So is that a bad thing for T-Mobile?

The guy who exchanged emails with me wondered out loud (in text) if sponsors will flee the cycling market.

I told him I thought not.

I think certain sponsors are committed no matter what happens with the sport. For example, Nike will sponsor stadium sport stars until who knows when, ditto Oakley, ditto AMF or whoever makes basketballs and stuff like that. There are cycling equivalents. Of course Shimano and Campagnolo and SRAM will sponsors teams until there's no more bikes in the world. But what of non-cycling companies? Depending on their market and their home country, I think there are similarly positioned non-cycling specific companies who will stay the course. For example, Rabobank will be there forever - to sponsor a cycling team in Holland is like sponsoring the Bulls in Chicago, it will always, always work. Another sponsor would be...

Hm. I can't think of any more off the top of my head.

That puts us into more troubled waters. In the less cycling oriented countries, I think there will be a big shakeup. The purge I think will occur from within, from the cycling community, not from the sponsors. Yes the sponsors will demand clean cycling, but if racers are so afraid of getting caught that they stop doping, well, then they'll probably stop doping. A long time sponsor has a harder time in front of them (i.e. T-Mobile). A new sponsor will be better off (SlipStream) because there's that "childhood innocence" thing - they haven't been corrupted.

(With the last word unsaid - "Yet".)

A Cat 1 in the NY area was caught recently using some anti-something drug (whenever it's not testosterone or steroids, I figure it's a masking/related drug). He won Masters Nationals (the points race) this year, a month after his positive. Apparently there wasn't testing at Masters Nationals because nothing came up there. With this blemished track record in mind, it would make sense to test at the 2008 Masters Nationals. And if there was testing done then, well, I think not too many people would be blatantly juiced up in 2009. When it stops happening at the lower amateur levels, it'll be easier to stop it at the pro levels. Less places to test, to experiment, to corrupt. And if you have regression testing at an amateur level, well, we have 60,000 racers who have a racing license - there ought to be plenty for labs to practice on in that bunch.

The testing has to be reliable though. I think that it'll be absolutely necessary to have transparent doping procedures, even if that means having 3 labs test a single sample. Data should be shared or certain parameters revealed to the public (hemoglobin, hematocrit, for example) even if the test is negative.

Storing samples for future tests should become a standard thing, especially when taken during a non-competition time. Training camps for example might be a good time for a tester might take three times the normal sample in order to store two of them. Future results (for those cynics like me) should be pretty interesting. If a test for HGH does pop up, I have a feeling a lot of riders would be caught out if subjected to regressive testing.

Speaking of HGH, other things I think ought to be public are head circumferences as well as hand and foot "print volume" - some measure of the size of the hand or foot. These are measurements affected by long term HGH use. Such measurements, if they suddenly increase, should pin point an athlete for sample saving and close testing.

For pro cycling, the question really is whether or not the sponsors will stand for the current behavior. It's clear that they won't. However, it's just as clear that sponsors are interested in clean teams, or at least teams that appear clean.

So, no, there won't be a purge any time soon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Story - 2:1 - Dirty Sprinting

When you get a small breakaway group that contains two racers from a particular team, you'll hear the announcers talk about how the two teammates "have the advantage". They're supposed to attack in turn, forcing the others to chase, while the other teammate sits in. Ideally one teammate time trials away, the other sits on the chasers till the sprint and then gets second.

In reality it's much less straightforward.

If the two teammates are not that strong, the others will easily outmaneuver them. For example, if the two teammates are big strong Cancellera type guys and there's a 10k climb before the finish, well, it's pretty clear that the two big guys aren't going to make it over the top. Likewise, if you have two domestiques in a break with a powerful all around team leader like a Museeuw (who has no teammates around him), it's unlikely that the domestiques will be able to out-power the stronger racer.

The "advantage" also varies with different size breaks. If a team has four racers in a break, that sounds great, right? What if the break had 25 total racers? Good but not so great. If the break had five racers? Excellent numbers. Well, for the four teammates. Not promising for their single opponent.

So if you have two teammates, both national team racers, in a break with one amateur racing for a local team, what would happen?

Such a scenario played out at a small criterium in Stirling, NJ. A GS Mengoni racer, a NY local, provoked a move that drew out two racers from a high powered field. Since the race was held in Team Navigator's backyard, it was surprising that no Nav riders made it up. But the fact that they weren't up there meant one thing.

The three riders in the break were strong.

The two other racers in the break? Teammates from a foreign (but English speaking) country's national track team. Obviously, if they represented their country, they were solid, strong riders. The Mengoni racer would eventually turn pro with the 7-Up team, so he too was a strong rider. The three of them set about solidifying their lead until it was apparent that no one could bridge up.

As the laps wound down, the three racers started taking the edge off their pulls. The race seemed wrapped up and they needed to focus on the podium order. I found it surprising that the Mengoni rider kept working hard, never slacking on a pull (at least not so I could tell). Out numbered two to one, it seemed like he could plead "team tactics" and skip a pull or two. Everyone knows that the textbook says the two teammates should take turns attacking, and everyone waited for the attacks to start.

Surprisingly, although the three racers made a few feints at each other, they seemed resigned to working out the race in the last lap. The three of them took the bell, in this order: Trackie1, Mengoni, Trackie2. Only four turns separated them from the finish, and they flew into the first turn at full bore.

Since it's a slight downhill approach into a pretty narrow turn, the three rode through in single file. With time and distance rapidly running, Trackie2 launched a ferocious attack from the back as soon as the road straightened out. As a trackie, he had a good jump and got a bit of a gap right away. The Mengoni rider countered, as he had to, with Trackie1 on his wheel, as expected.

Now everyone reads the same "How to Race" textbooks and these three weren't any different. The expected order would be for Trackie2 to attack first. Then Mengoni would bridge, dragging along a relatively rested Trackie1. Then Trackie1 would launch a leg withering attack, with an exhausted Mengoni unable to respond.

The Mengoni rider knew the textbook too. So although he bridged to the powerful Trackie2, he did so while keeping an eye on Trackie1. In fact, even though Trackie2 was doing his utmost to get away, the Mengoni rider bridged without going into the red. Although that in itself is amazing, it gets better.

He reconnected towards the end of the backstretch, just short of turn 3. Predictably, by the book, Trackie1 launched an even more ferocious attack, blasting through the turn and sprinting away down the third stretch. And although the Mengoni rider had just made a tremendous 35 mph effort down a somewhat windy stretch of road, he had left just enough in the tank to respond to just such a move.

To both Trackie1 and Trackie2's surprise, the Mengoni rider immediately bolted off after the relatively fresh and rapidly disappearing Trackie1. The Mengoni rider bridged just before turn 4, the last turn of the course. Trackie2, who had thought his work was done, somehow dug deep enough to latch onto the flying Mengoni wheel, and held the caboose position through that last turn.

At this point, Trackie1 was pretty spent - he thought his initial attack would seal the deal and he'd just motor to the finish. With the Mengoni rider on this wheel though things weren't the way the two teammates expected. In fact, only a few hundred meters from the line, they were in the same order as they were at the bell - Trackie1, Mengoni, Trackie2.

Except now they were all breathing hard.

The trio streamed out of the last turn, Trackie1 opening up the rockets to lead out the other two - and with the Mengoni rider in second spot, Trackie1 could pull off whenever, put the Mengoni racer into the wind, and force the Mengoni rider to give Trackie2 an armchair ride to the finish.

The two track riders also knew class when they saw it. And though they might have underestimated him at the bell, they'd learned a lot in that last 3/4 of a lap. They knew the Mengoni rider was stronger than that.

They needed to dig deep into the playbook.

Way deep.

In fact, they pulled out the other playbook. The black one. The "Do Not Open Except in Case of Emergency" one.

And they went down the scenarios until they found the one. "Two teammates, allegedly very strong, allegedly very good sprinters, find themselves in a break with a guy who allegedly doesn't sprint but seems to sprint as well as the strong sprinting teammates and responds to multiple attacks with scary efficiency".

The book called for plan DZ-015.

And so they executed.

Trackie1 sprinted ferociously out of the last turn, leading out the Mengoni rider and Trackie2, who was now the undisputed leader of the two track teammates. Trackie1 wrenched at the bike like he was trying to rip it to pieces, accelerating well into the red zone. The Mengoni rider, know he'd be dumped into the wind a little too far out from the line, stuck to him like limpet mine, ready to go for a long, drawn out sprint.

That's when Trackie1 slammed on the brakes.

Now, normally, locking up your rear wheel at something like 40 mph isn't a good idea. It's especially unsafe when there's a guy sprinting like mad about 12 inches behind you.

But if your teammate, a further five feet back, knows what's about to happen, well, slamming on your brakes at 40 mph might actually be a pretty good idea.

If you ride dirty.

The Mengoni rider expected a lot of things, maybe a chop, a closed door, a skipped wheel, but not something quite so blatant and obvious. He also slammed his brakes on, barely avoiding the skidding sprinter, skidding to one side of Trackie1. And he knew what was coming next.

Trackie2, going like he was shot out of a cannon, on the other side of Trackie1.

Just because you know something is going to happen doesn't mean you're going to be able to anything about it. And with 200 meters to go, watching your newest arch nemesis sprint away from you while you're still on the brakes trying to avoid your newest nemesis's teammate slithering around the road in front of you... well, it presents a bleak picture.

The Mengoni rider, though, was furious, and fury, fury is a fuel. Somehow he found the energy to jump again. Trackie1 was done, cooked, but even he knew trouble when he saw it - and the fire in the Mengoni rider's eyes meant trouble. He screamed a warning to his teammate.

The Mengoni rider smiled at this point of the story. He said that when Trackie2 turned around and found the Mengoni rider rocketing towards him, even after all the shazzam they put him through, Trackie2's eyes widened in fear. To see him scared like that made it all worth it.

Trackie2 turned back around and sprinted like his life depended on it, because, at some level, it probably did.

And although the sprint was close, they didn't need a camera to decide. Trackie2 had won the race. With no protest lodged the result stood.

I asked the Mengoni rider why he didn't protest. He said that it didn't matter, second was fine. Eventually, he said, those riders would pay the price. But not here, not now. They'd be riding nervous and scared for a while. Because, as good bike handlers as they might be, he showed them that he could hold his own against them. They knew they rode dirty, and therefore they knew to expect something like that back at them. And when it came down to the wild and crazy mass field sprints, who know what would happen.

I never heard of those national team track riders again but the Mengoni rider went on to sign with 7-Up and rode pro for a few seasons. He never lost sight of his roots and would always say hi whenever I saw him, even at the big races. He'd even tell me that he heard me cheering at such and such a race. It's incredible that he remembers, first because there are lots of people, and second, because he made the effort to remember and tell me.

What's most surprising about the story is the Mengoni rider told me the story about 30 minutes after the race finished.

They'd crossed the line, he'd done whatever (flicked them off, yelled at them, something), rode back to his car, and changed. And when he stepped out of the car, he was the same old smiling self. He told me this story like it had happened years ago. If it was me I'd still be shaking with the adrenaline. Him? Sipping whatever drink and talking and laughing like he was talking about a movie.

There's class in a racer. It's hard to define, but probably the most illustrative example would be the mythical old time coach/soigneur squeezing a rider's leg and immediately proclaiming him to be the next great racer, just from the "feel" of the rider's muscles.

And then there's class as a person.

This Mengoni racer, he had both.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Review - Cannondale SI SRM cranks - Mechanicals

The Cannondale I bought had one feature in particular in which I was interested - the Cannondale SI version of the SRM crankset.

Three things differentiate this crankset from other non-Cannondale cranks.

First, it has an oversize BB30 bottom bracket. The BB refers to the fact that it's a bottom bracket. The 30 refers to the internal diameter of the bearings. A previously proprietary design, Cannondale has released specs for use by other companies - an open source design if you will. As someone that works with open source software (linux and putty among other things), it's refreshing to see a good design shared with others.

The whole oversized-bearing concept isn't new - the standard 68mm shell will accept outboard bearings with much larger than current outboard mounted 24mm I.D. (internal diameter) bearings. Placing the bearings outside the bottom bracket shell has its disadvantages, the primary one being the fact that the bearings are so far apart from left to right. The crankarms have to be further apart too, or designed carefully to keep them relatively narrow. One thing that kept me away from Shimano, FSA, and related cranksets are their relatively wide Q-factors, the distance between the pedals left-to-right. Campy has consistently kept their Q-factor relatively small and Cannondale's SI cranksets follow a similar philosophy.

Instead of pushing the bearings outside the shell, Cannondale incorporates oversized bearings by stretching the bottom bracket shell itself. This is nothing new - Cannondale was the first to use a huge headset bearing, they use the widest (and single tube) suspension fork leg, and they first appeared on the map by mass producing oversized aluminum framesets. At any rate, 30mm I.D. bearings sit inside a much bigger than normal bottom bracket shell. With the outside-to-outside measurement the standard 68mm (instead of 90mm), it is a narrower design, more efficient due to the shorter bottom bracket axle, and gives the crankarm designer leeway to stiffen up the cranks laterally.

So my new Cannondale has such a bottom bracket shell and a corresponding oversized-bearing bottom bracket. The latter is nice because it uses a large diameter hollow aluminum axle - light and stiff. The short axle focuses leg power closer to the center plane of the bike. And the simple design (pressed in bearings) means less parts and a cleaner install. Sort of like integrated headsets versus the cup and cone ones - it's much easier now with the integrated headsets (no complex tools necessary). The integrated bottom bracket is similar, except that to replace the bearings (when was the last time I wore out a bottom bracket?) you need to press the new ones back into place. Cannondale has conveniently included the tools for doing this, so no worries on my part.

The second difference is the Cannondale specific Hollowgram SI (System Integrated) crankarms. Although the bottom bracket shell is an open standard, Cannondale has their own thoughts on what cranks should connect to the bottom bracket. Currently Specialized has a BB30 crank/BB combo, and a few other companies too, but nothing too widespread. Cannondale's cranks are hollow aluminum, extremely stiff, and very light. They are a modern version of the Pong cranks from way back when. They are among the lightest and stiffest cranks out there. With a standard width bottom bracket, the crank can be a little wider to make for a very laterally stiff arm. In addition the crank can follow the chainstay profile to give maximum clearance for the rider's shoe (and booties - but more on that later).

The final significant difference in the crank contains the proprietary SRM chainring spider, the force measuring setup which first widely appeared under Greg Lemond. The original power measuring system, the SRM measures the twisting forces between the bottom bracket axle and the chainrings. Because both left and right arms exert force on the axle, the SRM measures power from both legs. (I mention this because the Ergometer only measures the difference between the right and left leg.) The spider normally adds some weight, but the SI crankset allows the crankset to come out at something like 657 grams whereas the other "light" SRMs (Dura Ace, FSA) are more like 800 grams, with the standard one weighing in at about the same weight. Remember my way of measuring weight? Every 45 grams is 0.1 pounds - and this means the SI SRMs are about 150 grams, or 0.3 pounds, lighter than other SRMs. Not bad for just the cranks, right?

The SI SRM has a nice stiff bottom bracket, a narrow Q factor, and works in the efficiently stiff SystemSix frameset I've wanted to use. Great! So how are the cranks?

Ah, well. Hm. Let me go over what I found in my limited testing so far.

The shifting seems fine, but new chainrings always seem fine for the first few thousand miles. So that's sort of a wash. Appearance wise I'm not a fan of the black rings - I prefer the chiseled look of the Campy Record rings I have on my Primary Giant. Perhaps at some point I'll swap out the rings. Till then though, I'll suffer along. I'm also keeping the original KMC chain. It's quiet enough but my peace of mind is asking me to install a Campy 10s chain. I'll wait till the sand is off the roads and do the chain, perhaps the chainrings. Of course if I'm my normal self, the chain won't happen till spring of 2009 and the chainrings only when they wear out.

The cranks seem very stiff but it's hard to quantify since the cranks sit on a much stiffer frame. Regardless, I did notice that while sitting on the trainer (same rear skewer, same wheels, same tires), the bottom bracket shell barely moves on the Cannondale but sways noticeably with the Giant TCR carbon (I'd estimate the visible movement as Giant = 10-15 mm and Cannondale = 5 mm) . The Giant's Record chainrings therefore move a bit too, but there is a chainring "sway" (a left right movement as you pedal) which is noticeably separate from the BB sway. The sway is about 2-5 mm relative to the bottom bracket shell. The SI has almost neither - perhaps a 1-2 mm chainring sway to accompany that 5 mm or less bottom bracket sway. However, since chainring sways also develop over a couple thousand miles of riding, I'll have to reserve judgement on that.

I should point out that the cranks are shorter than my Records - I've returned to 170s after about five or so years on 175 mm cranks. I've been rethinking the long crank theory - I think that it's a good thing for someone who is short on fitness (relatively speaking) but, just like a long stroke engine loses ability to rev as highly as a short stroke engine, I am starting to think that short crankarms allow a rider to reach higher top speeds.

This upcoming season will be an experiment of sorts - I feel comfy on both 175s and 170s and I want to see if a shorter crank will help when I'm fit. As part of my "controlled" experiment, I want to measure my output differences between the carbon Giant TCR with 175s and the SystemSix with the 170mm SI cranks. I'll be doing this (hopefully soon) on a friend's Computrainer, a device which will allow me to swap bikes quickly without too much fuss, all while keeping the cranks, pedals, and bike intact.

A significant difference with the shorter cranks is that I found that my comfy "loafing along" cadence immediately shot up about 10-15 rpms, from about 85-90 rpms to about 100-105 rpms. I also found that my legs remembered the 170mm radius pedal circle - I felt immediately comfortable spinning the cranks around. This remained especially true when cresting short hills - I experienced the "rev-up" feeling as my cadence increased over the top of the hill. With long cranks my preference was to shift into a higher gear, but with short cranks, revving up a bit was fine. It's almost as if long cranks encourage me to be lazy (i.e. shift instead of pedal faster) whereas the shorter cranks encourage me to pedal.

The short cranks means that my legs make smaller circles. This means, significantly, that my legs don't come up as high. Therefore my legs don't intrude into my torso territory quite as noticeably as they do with the 175s. This in turn means that I can hold a lower, flatter position on the bike. In addition the SystemSix (52 cm size) has a one centimeter shorter headtube than the S sized Giant TCR, allowing me to drop the bars by about the same amount. With more drop, a higher seat height, and less thigh intrusion into my torso, my position is much flatter. So much so that my back has noticed the radical change - and I've had to start doing some exercises to accommodate its complaining. With more hours on the bike I hope to be able to turn this aerodynamic improvement into better overall performance. The flatter back also recruits more glutes and hamstrings - so I hope that I'll develop more power too. More aero, more power. Good stuff.

My sprint remains a mystery as I have some winter bars on the bike (wide with an ergo drop position) and I can't sprint to save my life with ergo bars. I'll have to wait and see how it goes when I swap back to my non-ergo crit bars. I hope that the shorter cranks will allow me to turn the pedals over faster in a sprint. Although my leverage has suffered (about 3% less), I'm hoping that my 10-15% increase in cadence will help compensate for that. In other words, if I apply 3% less power but I can pedal much faster (up to 120 rpms for a sprint), I hope that the higher revs will allow me to exert as much or more power relative to a lower rpm, high leverage sprint. My body is not great with sustained power (we're talking sustained over 1/3 of a circle with a 175 mm radius), but quick, short bursts work perfectly for me. I hope the shorter cranks, with their smaller 170 mm pedaling radius, will allow me to find that top speed power, power that I can't even contemplate reaching with the longer cranks turning their wider, lazier circles.

As far as the nitty gritty goes, the cranks did require a few re-torques after I put the bike together. I'd strongly recommend carrying an 8mm allen wrench the first few times you ride these things, or, preferably, ride the trainer for an hour or two with your toolkit nearby.

On a negative note - the nice silver finish is actually painted on the crankarm, and even only 6 hours of booties rubbing the arm slightly has already damaged the finish. I don't have big feet - size 41s - and my shoes, although close in to the cranks, normally don't cause such damage to a Campy crank for a year or two. Nevertheless the Cannondale SIs are irrevocably scarred in less than half a dozen hours of riding. Unfortunate.

This ends my mechanical review of the Cannondale SI SRM cranks. When I have enough experience with the SRM and its software, that review will follow. And when I have more of a feel for the SystemSix frame, fork, and how that rides, I'll post a more comprehensive review of that as well. The components, in case you didn't know, are the ubiquitous Record stuff. I have virtually identical components on my other two bikes and, well, there isn't much to say there. It simply works.

With such an investment in my bike, additional investments in related gear (some of which I'll review later), and some (obsessive?) thinking about factors which affect my racing, it's obvious that I'm looking to regain some of that "incredible but lost" 1992 form. The first step was getting some mechanical help (it has a psychological effect too) in the form of lighter and stiffer equipment. This is done. The next steps are as follows (and in no particular order): increase overall strength and conditioning; optimize balance of aerodynamics and weight in wheelset/s; optimize position on bike.

I hope to utilize the SRM a little more than the PowerTap, not because it's "better" or "different" but simply because I've never done any steady training with the PowerTap. My January and February training accounts for a huge portion of my annual hours on the saddle, and with the SRM, I'll be able to measure progress a little more accurately.

I plan to review some other equipment for my "strength and conditioning" phase, and I'll be commenting on my wheelset and rider position thoughts, explorations, and findings.

2008 awaits :)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Review - Prelim Cannondale SystemSix, Fizik seat

I rode four hours this weekend. Okay, so it was four hours over two days. Well, about 15 minutes short of that. But it was still a significant amount of riding. I did sort of the same loop - headed up north, went up this particularly daunting climb ("Mountain Road"), then headed back down to the apartment. Saturday I headed immediately back at the end of the intimidatingly named road; today I wandered a bit before heading south.

In my wandering (I went about 1/2 mile the other way) I actually found myself on the Barkhamsted Reservoir Road Race course - recently reincarnated as the Tokeneke Road Race. It's a hilly course, not one for me. The last time I raced it I almost got lapped by the break - and that's on a 20-odd mile lap! The race was the site for my favorite wheel change ever, and I try to help out the new promoters when I can.

Anyway, my meandering brought me to a familiar looking intersection (although I'd last raced it about 15 years ago) and after pedaling a bit, I passed the big field where the racers parked. Nowadays there's a paved area as the new promoters moved the start/finish to line up with a building instead of a field.

Progress.

What's been nice is that although my rides left me a bit tired ("zombie-like" might be appropriate), I felt completely recovered the next day. Blame the HGH I just started on, or... oh, wait, I forgot, I don't take that stuff. Whatever the reason, I've been recovering nicely. Granted, I'm not going really hard - over the two days I struggled to maintain over 200 watts even on the flats.

There are some familiar sensations, those "getting back into the groove" things. A stiff neck that's gradually getting a little less "cricked", an equally stiff back that's slowly stretching out (now I can ride the drops somewhat comfortably), and legs which seem to have remembered how to pedal.

I've actually put about 8 hours total on my new bike - the Cannondale SystemSix Liquigas Team Replica thing I got a short time ago. I installed a different bar/stem combo, wrapped it with tape, and stuck my blue FiR Zenith slash Campy Centaur wheels on there. I didn't bother moving the magnet to the sensor side on the front wheel until Saturday so I didn't know my speed till then. And it seems that the heartrate strap went AWOL so I haven't gotten a beat off of the SRM.

So how's the bike so far?

First off, I should point out that I did two rides on the trainer, sort of the "shake down cruises" to get any settling components settled. The cranks (Cannondale Hollowgram cranks using the now-public BB30 standard) settled a lot - I was glad I could sit on the trainer and stare at the chainrings while I pedalled.

I re-routed the derailleur cables, letting the front derailleur cable enter the right cable housing stop, the rear cable go to the left. Then I criss-crossed them under the downtube to line them up with the correct derailleur. This makes for a more graceful housing arc and a less stressed set of derailleur cable housing. I've done this since the 90s sometime and it works well.

I set off on my first "outside" ride, a double of the familiar one-hour flat loop, always in cell phone range, no super tricky descents, and basically all flat roads, a rarity in this region.

I noticed the light feeling front end immediately when I first starting assembling the bike, but I thought it might be me being excited about the bike. However, when I traveled around with the fork (to get it cut down), I realized how insanely light the fork felt. Apparently this isn't an unusually light fork - so I can't imagine anything lighter. So with this psychological factor in mind, I tried to make myself forget the light front end.

I couldn't.

50 meters from the driveway I have our now-familiar traffic light. I rocketed away from said traffic light, shifting up, rocking the bike. It felt immensely more responsive and I quickly over-accelerated past 30 mph. I promptly exploded and sat down to spin the pedals a bit. The frame felt wonderfully responsive. No perceived BB flex, no crank mushiness, and the front end damped vibrations nicely.

On the other hand, I had no idea if the "aero" seatstays were doing anything aero, and the extremely wide top tube let my inner quads rub if I felt like it. I love the big, chunky head tube with the relatively dinky stem sticking out from it. I remember this image from the Road Bike Action which "reviewed" HealthNet's SystemSix bikes - I thought the bike looked massively cool, rock solid, fast, and very "pro".

Well, except for the STI levers. But I could live with that.

When I stood to ride up about the longest incline on the loop, I initially over-threw the bike side to side, it felt so light. I had to adjust - sort of the same way I adjust when I slap on the Reynolds DV46s, except today I still had the stand by FiR Zeniths with their 500 gram (facetiously) wire bead Schwable Blizzard tires. I have no idea what a Blizzard tire does but I can imagine one thing you don't want it to do - have a flat during a Blizzard. So far, the tires have been solidly reliable, with the emphasis on "solid".

Other than the cranks and the frame/fork, the bike had only one other "different" component from my Primary Giant - the Fizik (I'm not even trying all their accents and stuff) Arione seat. It's a seat I've maligned frequently offline and I even offered it up for sale before I sat on it. But a trusty friend suggested trying it out - he'd heard some rave reviews and as he knows a lot of bike people, if they give rave personal reviews, well, it was worth checking out.

Plus it came in matching colors. I had to try it.

With about 8 hours on the seat, I'll admit it. It's not bad. I don't remember if my tights (Nalini, both windstopper and not) have any unusual padding but I do know that, due to my "trainer" training, I tend not to stand up too much. Plus I'm heavier than I used to be so it's not efficient to stand up. So I've sat on that saddle for about 7.9 hours - and I'm no more uncomfortable than I normally am after a few week layoff. In fact, I felt more comfy than normal. I felt zero discomfort on the day after a 2 hour ride - usually I feel a twinge when I first sit down.

In addition, the seat really does have a long "sitter" area. I can slide pretty far back to power up some of the annoying climbs in the area, but it's not a big deal to move forward something like 5, maybe 8 centimeters to get a bit more on top of the pedals. I really like this feature and it's now become a pre-requisite for any seat I try.

The cranks are the most different aspect of the componentry, but they will have to wait until I get some more data and experience. So far though, the two big changes - the frameset and the saddle - have both worked out well. I just have to see how this translates into sprinting up to some familiar finish lines.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

How To - Look Behind You

At some point in your racing career you're going to have to look behind you. An optimist will tell you it's because you'll need to see how far back the field is after you've broken away. A pessimist will tell you it's to see how many guys are behind you - in other words, how close you are to getting dropped. Hopefully you'll be in the former situation; realistically, it's more likely to be the latter.

One can buy equipment to help you look back. I've seen racers with little helmet mirrors and I've seen riders on group rides with inconspicuous little mirror lumps on their bars. Both help see a bit of what's behind you. Ultimately, just like in a car, if you really want to see behind you, you're going to have to turn your head.

A quick and dirty way to look back, effective if you're making a big effort, is to simply look under your arm. You can check your close quarters this way immediately, see who's on your wheel (or at least what kind of fork they have) or see if you have room to move to one side or another. You'll be able to see perhaps 2-5 meters - if you try looking under your arm now, you'll see that the "optimal" range is perhaps 3 meters, about 10 feet.

To look back more than those 3 or 4 meters, lift your arm. Again, try it out. This is usually how attackers check their progress relative to the chasing field. You can probably see 10 meters (30 feet) back, but it'll be hard to make out anything more than the roughest of details. It'll be easy to see if there's someone there, but it might be challenging to tell whether it's a teammate or not.

Both of the above techniques allow the racer to keep both hands on the bars. This means that racers can use the "arm method" even on rough roads or in windy conditions, situations where you want to maintain as much control as possible. You're also in a good position to respond to an attack - if you are looking and spot a guy accelerating up the side, you can immediately respond.

However, if you really need to look back, nothing beats sitting up, turning around, and sweeping your gaze across everyone and everything behind you. I always think of Sean Kelly, resplendent in his KAS kit, sitting up, looking back, surveying the damage he's done behind him. I say that but I can't find a picture, of course.

The problem is doing this without crashing you or everyone around you. The only real requirement is to be able to hold you line when you do that sweeping gaze.

"Holding your line" really means you need to be predictable. Riders around you need to know you're not about to fall over, that you're in control of the situation. It's difficult to define "predictable" but I think that you are predictable when your upper body, and more specifically, your torso, isn't moving a lot.

For example, if you watch someone sprinting out of the saddle, their bike will be swerving left and right a few inches on every pedal stroke - but since their torso is traveling in a relatively straight line, it's predictable. Check out the frontal or helicopter shots of any field sprint - the wheels are everywhere but the bodies go in a reasonably straight line.

Well until someone swerves. But that's a different problem.

If you predicatably drift (very slowly) to one side, that's sort of okay - everyone adjusts. If your wheels suddenly go left or right even a little bit or your body jerks one way or another, it's unpredictable and therefore doesn't feel very safe to those around you.

When you turn around to look over your shoulder, you tend to pull that shoulder down and back a bit. Just look over your left shoulder now, while you're reading these words. Keep your hands on the keyboard like you're typing (or holding the bars) and look back over your left shoulder - your left shoulder moves just a bit.

This slight movement in turn tugs at your arm which then tugs at your bar just a bit - causing you to swerve. Since you should almost never actually "steer" your bike that much (you have to steer a little but generally the feeling is that you steer from your hips, not with the bars), the handlebar jerk/swerve is sudden, somewhat strong, and unpredictable. Imagine if someone went and jerked your bar back half an inch while you're riding along - makes the next 20 or 30 feet very unpredictable!

This is especially true if you're riding in traffic, cars are passing you, and look over your left shoulder. Your natural inclination will to do a shoulder drop and that will make your bike steer to the left - into the flow of cars passing you. Not good.

To prevent this bar movement, simply drop the affected side's hand down. For example, if you're looking over your left shoulder, put your left hand on your left thigh or simply let it dangle. Try looking over your left shoulder again, but this time put your left hand down on the desk or on your leg. Now turn your head to look over your shoulder. Your shoulder still moves back a bit but since your hand isn't on the bars (or the keyboard), your looking isn't affecting your steering.

An important note - if you're looking over your left shoulder, your right hand should hold the bars as close as possible to the stem. This is the most secure spot to ride one handed. The further out you grip the bar, the more any upperbody movement will affect your steering.

Check out the Six Day racers on the track - they essentially do a relay race between two guys (and you can trade off anytime). The rider who is "it" rides under the recovering teammate, they grab hands, and the "it" rider slingshots the recovering rider into the race. When it's intense they slingshot every lap - like every 20 seconds or less, averaging in the high 30 mph range, sometimes 40 mph. The slingshots are enormous upperbody efforts - the riders have to lean away from each other to prevent from going down (and recently some Lampre guy ended up on the deck and there are pics of it in Cyclingnews - he probably got yanked into his slingshotter based on his teammate's hand position).

If you look at any of the Six Day racing pictures, you'll see the guy slingshotting (i.e. the guy who is throwing his teammate into the race) always has his hand right next to the stem. As the slingshotter he does most of the "slingshot work" and therefore needs the most stable on his bike. The other guy doesn't because he's going to be sprinting right after the slingshot and he doesn't do as much arm/torso work during the actual slingshot.

A great shot of the slinger and the slingee from PezCyclingNews - note how much energy the second rider has put into the "slinging" effort

Okay, back to looking over your shoulder. Another way of doing this is to put your hand on the shoulder of the guy next to you - it has the same effect as taking your hand off the bar. Of course this motion opens a lot of other variables like can that guy hold a straight line, does he think you're making a pass at him, etc.

If you practice this "one hand down, look over your shoulder" regularly, you should be able to stay on a road marking line for at least a few seconds while looking back - this is fine.

In a small group looking back "normally", i.e. not bothering to put one hand down, shouldn't be a problem, even if you move a bit to one side or another. You can broadcast your intent to look back fully by first looking under your shoulder. Then peeking back a little further. Then looking back fully. Unless the guy behind you is suffering so much he can't see higher than your cassette, he'll realize you're trying to see what's behind everyone. As long as you don't end up getting gapped, the other riders will probably wait for you to finish your "looking back" business.

It gets a little trickier in a huge group (say 100-200 rider pelotons), especially when you have no idea of the skill level of the riders surrounding you. In such a situation, the "one hand on the thigh" method is most predictable and probably the safest. It also allows you the most time to scan the sea of faces so you can find your teammate or friend or whatever. Remember that predictablity is more important than an actual straight line so your torso should be reasonably still.

Finally, keep in mind that a wobbly looking rider with 10 feet of open space around him is much scarier than a smooth rider who is blasting in and out of tiny gaps in the field.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Story - Knocked Out of Her Shoes

It never ceases to amaze me what I have missed while living in the same area for decades. One such instance is the city of Mount Vernon in New York, a short drive from the Connecticut line. Although I've trained thousands and thousands of miles all over western Connecticut and southern New York, in the almost 20 years I'd been living in Connecticut I had never, ever seen Mount Vernon. That changed when I took the exit off of I95 one June day on the way to a new criterium there.

Once we exited the highway and started driving around I got that uncomfortable feeling you get when you drive through a sketchy part of town. I'd gotten the same kind of feeling, but worse, when I drove through Bridgeport, Connecticut. The white car with the bullet hole waiting at the light didn't help much, and it certainly wasn't high on my list of priorities to return there. For a long time a section of Bridgeport had been off limits to EMTs - since they'd get shot at when responding to emergency calls, they had to stop responding to calls from that part of town. Mount Vernon, in a less extreme way, reminded me of Bridgeport.

The city itself was in much better shape than Bridgeport but the big, faded "SALE" banners in the dusty windows, the closed shops, the waxed over windows, and the general dreariness made the area somewhat depressing. A strong wind only added to this feeling, pushing papers and litter around the roads.

Here was a city that had been passed over for bigger and better things. There were some "distressed" people walking about, probably homeless or living in shelters, their slow, shuffling walk depressingly familiar to any big city resident. Another character I noticed was a tiny old woman in mourning - she was all dressed in black. Someone later described her as "the little Italian widow". I think that described her perfectly. She may have been old, little, and wearing black, but she seemed full of life and vigor, her walk resembling an military march. She stomped past me with single minded purpose when I first noticed her.

The race brought a lot of the local residents out, curious about the oddly dressed interlopers in their city. The fancy machinery never fails to intrigue the young, bright eyed kids and they all watched, carefully, from a distance, as the racers took over a parking lot (with a crater big enough for a small house on one end) and prepared for the races.

The course itself was a typical criterium thing in the middle of a small city's downtown. The front and back stretches were wide, perhaps four lanes, and the two shorter stretches were much narrower two lane roads. Totally flat and very windy, the course promised for a strung out, hard, fast race.

It went counterclockwise so it was all left turns. Eddy B said in his book that a racer's heart disrupts the balance of the body and therefore racers fall on their left side more often. I figured racers fall on their left side because they don't make hard lefts on training rides but they will make a lot of hard rights. Except where they drive on the left side of the road. I found the same with right and left turns in cars - I could get my GTech to register much higher G-force numbers (with correspondingly more stress on my part) on right turns than left turns. I think this is because left turns tend to be pretty wide - you turn left from the right lane and you finish 100 or more feet later it in the right lane. In contrast, when you turn right, you start in the right lane and pow! you finish about 10 feet later in the right lane. Whatever the reason, left turns meant a higher chance of a crash according to the guru.

The course had only one potential problem: the third stretch, on a two lane road, was hemmed in by large brick buildings which extended virtually to the street. This created a cool looking artificial valley for the racers (it even echoed a bit) but made it impossible to see around the third and fourth turns. The third turn wasn't a problem - only race spectators ended up walking down the narrow third stretch. The fourth turn dumped the racers out onto the big main straight - and even on this quiet Sunday, a number of city folk scurried back and forth on the sidewalk next to the main street, running errands and such. None of them could see the racers on the third stretch until the racers came barreling onto the main street.

My race ended prematurely - without too much of a warm-up and with virtually no fitness left after a period of non-training, I nevertheless scampered off after a guy who attacked at the gun. The guy is a friend of mine and I actually thought in some delusional state that I could bridge up and we could have a little breakaway for a while.

Me, in a break. Ha!

I went around him pretty hard, pulled like a maniac, and realized half a lap into the race that, well, that was it. No break. No legs. No nothing. I tried to recover a bit as the time the field caught me but I'd inadvertently set the tone of the race with my 35 mph blast off the front. With the field strung out and flying along like a flight of F-111s, I had no chance of integrating into the group.

Off topic - the F-111 bit makes me wonder, why did Phil Liggett use the F-111 to describe Ekimov in the 2003 Paris Roubaix (he uses it when Eki bridges to that big Italian Saeco racer, I forget his name) ? Why not a B-1 or an F-14 - both are swing-wings like the F-111, and the F-14 was immortalized by "Top Gun" and the B-1 is the ultimate Cold War bomber. Why not an F-15 or F-16 - the most versatile of the planes in action at the time? Ach, it doesn't matter. No matter what the field resembled, I dropped right through them and off the back.

My partner in crime, the guy who attacked, said that when I went by him I was going so fast he couldn't go with me. And, knowing me, he also wondered exactly how long I'd go before I totally and completely blew.

Not far.

Anyway, I went back to the cratered lot, changed, and after carefully locking up the car, I walked back to the course. I watched some friends/teammates race, taking pics of them - a few did the 4s and my Purple Jersey friend did the Juniors (a combination race with the women I think). My Cat 4 friends did okay, finishing in the top 20 or so. Purple Jersey did better - he won his race, and he did it the hard way. He attacked shortly after the start and time trialed around the course for 20 minutes or so on his own. He looked really smooth but each time he rode by I could see the signs of enormous effort contorting his somewhat pained looking face. I would last maybe a lap at that kind of speed - he lasted virtually the whole race. I guess all that Cat 1-2 work paid off.

We all settled in to watch the big race, the Pro-1-2s. Since we all wanted to watch different parts of the course we split up. I wanted to walk around the course since I didn't remember anything from the two or three laps I did in the race. We walked by some of the guys eating at a deli with a few tables and chairs out on the sidewalk. I passed up an offer to join them - the race seemed pretty exciting and I wanted to focus on that, not on food.

When I got to the fourth turn, the second of the two turns hemmed in by the tall brick buildings, I decided that this would be my spot. I could watch the racers stream into the narrow third straight and, literally only half a dozen seconds later, take the wide, sweeping turn into the final stretch. The echoing magnified the thrumming of the tires and made for an excellent vantage point, visually and aurally.

The little widow came marching down the sidewalk once again and I cautioned her against crossing without checking for the racers. She glared at me and stated emphatically that this was her town and she walks where she wants to. She turned and marched right off the sidewalk and across the narrow road, the end of the walled in third stretch.

I backed off, mindful of the whole bike racing public relations thing, and figured if the field did come streaming into the third turn, I could scoop her up and move her out of the way. Her forceful march and take-no-prisoners attitude got her quickly across the street and the problem, if there even was one, wasn't a problem anymore.

The race went by a few more times. Graeme Miller and Jeff Rutter, both of Scott/BiKyle, were tag teaming the rest of the field, slapping them silly. Miller had spent a long time soloing off the front and Rutter was comfortably sitting second or third wheel in the field, covering all the moves. I'd seen this before at a number of other races - Miller soloing to victory, Rutter beating most or all of the field for second.

A good way to make some money.

Miller, by the way, soloed in for sixth place at the USPro Championships in Philadelphia that year, behind a small break but well ahead of a motivated field. He'd stayed away for something like 15 or 20 minutes on his own. No slouch this guy.

Shortly after the widow marched off, one of the distressed women, carrying two full shopping bags, shuffled by in her pajama like dress shortly after the field passed my spot. I watched as she set off across the wide final stretch with a little concern, but with a full lap, perhaps a minute and change, to cross, she'd be okay. I turned my attention back to the third turn and waited for the race to return to my stretch of the course.

Miller came flying into view, coming off the wide back stretch, his tires barely clearing the outside curb as he straighted out for the two or three pedal strokes it'd take him to cover the short section of road. I watched with admiration as every lap, every guy in the field came within one or two centimeters of the curb at 30 or 35 mph, each one of them confidently sprinting out of the turn and diving into the next one. I'm always impressed when I watch good racers corner, and although I allegedly do similar things, it's much more impressive to watch it done by the pros.

Miller's scruffy face flashed by, his deep section aluminum rims humming (and amplified by the echoes) past me, a contrast to the bright orange kit he wore. I turned back and looked for the field - they had been closing a bit and were about 15 or 20 seconds behind. Sure enough, here came a Bettini like figure in blue, flat out, with Miller's teammate Rutter about a length off his wheel. The blue guy must have attacked on the long back stretch, trying to escape the clutches of the field, trying to bridge up to the superb Miller. Behind Rutter a short gap opened so even as the two flew by me, I turned my head back to the right to see what the field was doing.

That was when I saw a flash of light to my left.

I turned my head and realized the flash was the sun hitting Rutter's rear deep section aluminum rim. Since he was riding directly away from me (I was at the apex of the turn), the flash meant his wheel wasn't parallel to me anymore - in fact, it was sort of perpendicular to me.

In the microsecond it took to register that thought, I realized Rutter was doing an insane power slide at 35 mph, his back wheel hanging out there like a dirt track motorcycle racer, his bike at about a 50 or 60 degree angle to his actual path. As all this registered I realized why he was pulling this insane stunt.

Directly in front of him was the shuffling woman.

Both her arms were at her side, holding onto her bags, and she flinched her shoulders as first the blue guy shot past her on the outside. Immediately after came Rutter who miraculously managed to straighten up in the last ten feet and pass on her inside at something like 30 miles an hour.

The woman stood frozen in the road.

I looked back - the rest of the field was coming! And here they came, strung out, sprinting desperately down the third stretch, responding to the attacks at the end of the back stretch. They couldn't see the woman and had no idea she was there. I screamed a warning but I think they probably thought it was for a spectator, not for the racers. I saw some faces hesitate but others bore down on the turn like the finish was 200 meters down the road.

I cringed as I watched the field burst out of the valley'ed road, the riders registering this sudden and new obstacle in their path. Tires zinged as riders locked them up and the field disintegrated around the poor woman. I thought for an instant that she might make it but then I saw it happen. One guy was practically glued to the next guy's wheel and had no idea what was in front of them both. The lead guy saw the woman and swerved out of the way and the second guy looked up and, well, he saw her.

He hit her at full speed.

Her bags went flying, scattering their contents all over the road. The woman herself got flung perhaps 10 feet, her ragged dress billowing and then settling down onto her and the pavement around her. The rider went flipping over her and landed hard on the pavement, his bike breaking into pieces on impact with the woman. She lay motionless on the road.

Yet the field was still streaming around the turn.

Rider after rider swerved, skidded, and somehow avoided her. But a guy deep in the field came sprinting around the turn. He might have been just off the back and bridging while he could, I don't know. Whatever he was thinking, he was sprinting into a turn with people already running into the street. He came flying around the turn and bam there was a woman laying across the road right in front of him. He slammed his brakes on but there was no way he'd stop, and as he skidded he lost any chance of maneuvering around the woman. Then tensed his body, his pedals level, his butt coming off the saddle. I knew what that meant.

Oh boy.

Bd-dump-bd-dump.

He bunny hopped over her legs, but without enough air, he made pretty solid contact on her legs with his tires. The woman's legs bounced up and down about an inch as each tire bounced off of her her, a nice rhythmic bounce, kind of like two piano keys each played twice in a row.

The racer slowed and looked back with a shocked look on his face. I don't think he thought he was going to make the bunnyhop but after he did his next thought must have been something like "Did I just run over a dead woman??"

The scene resembled something out of a wild west movie. A wide, deserted road, albeit with racers rolling away or turning around and coming back. A couple bodies laying in the middle of it. Wind blowing stuff around (clothing, not tumbleweeds, but still). A shocked silence blanketing the scene.

In the tense second or two of this surreal pause in life, I noticed something on the road, about ten feet away from the downed woman.

Her shoes.

The woman's shoes lay on the road, side by side. They looked like someone had carefully placed them there, pointing the way across the street. She'd literally been knocked out of her shoes.

Then, suddenly, everyone sprang into action.

The marshals at the corner - volunteers from a local charity - suddenly came to life. The six or seven of them on the turn started blowing whistles, the EMTs came rushing over, cops ran over, and the race was neutralized.

I stood there in semi-shock - I thought for sure she was dead. But after a few minutes the EMTs, having checked her, pronounced her relatively okay. Bumped and bruised but no serious damage. Her bags had mostly clothing or at least fabric type stuff, and people ran around picking up everything and bringing it back to the woman's general area. As a precaution they loaded her onto a stretcher and ambulanced her to the hospital. Apparently she'd started to cross but couldn't decide where she wanted to go - and ended up wandering around the road for the minute and change it took for the field to come around the course.

The racer was hurt bad. He'd broken something, a collarbone, maybe a shoulder, and possibly some other stuff - an arm or a leg. He'd been peaking for Fitchburg, the biggest stage race in the area. It was next weekend and there was one guaranteed non-starter - him. His bike was broken into two, cables holding the two halves of the bike together. The front rim was broken into a couple pieces - he hit her really hard. His day was over and it wasn't going to get any better any time soon.

The marshals, seeing the consequences of their relaxed attitude towards marshaling the course, adjusted to the other extreme. No one else was hurt that day, save a bruised ego or two for a few pedestrians forcibly held back by excited and fervent marshals.

The race at Mount Vernon didn't last very long, maybe another year or two. But that first race there will always stick in my memory. I spotted the finishing straight many years later while commuting on the train to the City. I was gazing out the window absentmindedly when I saw a parking lot with a crater at one end. I sat up, suddenly alert, and looked carefully as we streamed past the lot - the big, faded SALE posters in the windows, the uneven and broken up parking lot. There was the little bridge that people sat on to watch the race. And finally I could see the finishing stretch flash past, the walkway over it, connecting the two sides of the street. And then it was gone.

I looked for it whenever I sat on the north side of the train and it became one of the many landmarks by which I measured my progress either to work or back home. When I stopped commuting, I stopped seeing the updates to that sad, dreary lot. The race succeeded in putting Mount Vernon on my map of New York State.

All because of the woman who got knocked out of her shoes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How To - Handlebar tape

At first thought installing handlebar tape doesn't seem too complicated. Just wrap the bars, right? I've seen a lot of people come into the shop, buy tape, look at the package, then look up and ask, "So, this is pretty straight forward right?"

Well.

It's when you actually do it that you realize it's a little more than "just" wrapping the bars.

Bar tape is unique in that there is an infinite number of ways to install it. Maybe not infinite but something like that - a math major might have a better handle on that one. You can start at the top or the bottom, wrap over or under (think toilet paper - do you install a new roll over or under?), you have to figure out the bit by the brake lever, and finally you have to figure out the bit at the end.

It's not like, say, a rear derailleur. If you install a rear derailleur incorrectly, it simply doesn't work. But a poor wrap job? It's not critical to your bike's performance. However, a poor wrap job reflects on its rider, and since people judge others first by appearance (where do you think stereotypes come from?), it's better to broadcast that you know what you're doing.

Anyway, I've been waiting to wrap bars so I can take a pic or thirty, but with about 1100 miles on two bikes since March of this year, I really haven't had an excuse. See, typically I'd rewrap bars when the tape got dirty (black tape dirty?), it ripped (nope), or I wanted a change of scenery (my five sets of black tape doesn't really allow me that luxury). My old "wrap my bars every week" habit died a decade ago but even so, I thought I'd be wrapping tape much earlier than eight months later. Alas, that was not the case.

Then the Cannondale showed up. With a new bike and swapping bars, at least temporarily, came the chance to wrap some bars.

Here's how I do it:

(With props to SOC who mentioned this, use nitrile (it's non-allergic), latex (you can get allergic to it), or other thin gloves to keep your grubby hands from dirtying up your precious new tape.)

1. Wrap a lot of electrical tape around the cable housing that will sit under your tape. It used to be that with flexy and compliant housing and much stiffer and stronger bar tape, the bar tape would hold the housing in place. Now, with the rigid index shifting housing and even the somewhat stiffer brake cable housing combined with thinner and stretchier bar tape, that is no longer the case. The bar tape has a function - it's for you to hold. It's not designed to hold cable housing in place.

2. Start wrapping the tape at the open part of the bar, towards the end of the drops. Work your way to the stem. This allows the tape to overlap correctly, to "fishscale" correctly. Your hands naturally slide from the center of the bars towards your levers. If the tape overlaps with the edges facing the stem, you'll peel the tape back, slowly but surely. If the tape overlaps with the edges facing the brake lever, nothing happens. Well, eventually the tape slides a bit, but that's unusual with the current generation of adhesive. Tape wrapped too loosely will slide but that's not the tape's fault. I wrap from the inside, over the bar. If you do it the other way it's up to you, but I've found the "over" direction works well.

3. Use an extra piece of tape (Cinelli supplies you with pre-cut one which you'll probably have to trim) under the brake lever. It allows you to avoid wrapping tape over and over around the lever while trying to hide the bit of handlebar peeking out at you. That multiple lap wrap results in unsightly bulges. The extra piece avoids all that.

4. End the tape cleanly using electrical tape, optionally covered by the manufacturer's end tape.

Some goals for a professional bar wrap job:

1. No unsightly lumps in the tape - it should be relatively even in thickness from end to center.

2. No peeking handlebar.

3. Securely wrapped tape - no tape rotating around the bars in a sprint.

4. Cleanly finished edges, bottom and top.

5. Wrap job should last until the tape compresses (Cinelli and the like), gets dirty (any light tape), the tape rips (crash, rough stone wall, drop bike, etc), or you swap bars or teams (the latter perhaps determining a new bar tape color). The tape really shouldn't move, it should never peel, and there aren't a lot of other reasons to change tape. In my heyday I'd rewrap the bars weekly with white Cinelli, the tape that's about the easiest in the world to get dirty.

Pictures work better than words so here is a set, from start to finish, of a bar wrapping procedure. Note that all the comments refer to the picture above the comment.

Note the electrical tape is holding the housing to the bars securely. I have extra laps of tape at the brake lever to hold the cable housing securely - the gear housing is particularly rebellious. I've already determined the brake levers are even. This is critical since it's hard to move a wrapped-bar lever. It's relatively easy to move an electrical-taped-only lever.


I cut the tape at an angle to start it without lumping. The left side looks like this.


The right side like this - note the tape starts inside, wraps over, and continues. Mirror image to left side.


Back to the left side. I always cut the bottom of the tape on the left side. On the right side, I always cut from above. The angle is the same (I'm right handed so it's easier to cut to the right, like the picture above). This way the wrap rotation mirrors each other - a detail but then again, this whole post is about details.


I start the tape using the cut part - the actual start of the roll is at the bottom of the bar (where my finger turns pink). Then I wrap over the top from the inside. This is the left side of the bar.


Here is the first bit of wrap - notice no lumps, no unsightly or uneven tape sticking out past the end of the bar. Very smooth, it could be a grip instead of tape. That's your goal - smooth like a grip.


Next, the piece under the lever. Note how on the outside of the bar the short piece is tilted down a bit - this is because the main tape will wrap around the upper part of the lever naturally. The inside of the lever is covered up higher because the main tape wraps the lower inside. The small piece of tape is therefore placed at an angle - perhaps 30 degrees from parallel to the lever. It is not straight on purpose.


The main tape approaches - you can see how it will wrap over the top of the lever next. However, if the little piece wasn't tilting forward, you'd have a gap just above the main tape, just under the lever. Not pro.


Now the main tape has completed its wrap to the top. Everything is nicely covered, inside and out. From here you wrap to the center of the bar.


When you get to the center, pick out an end line for the tape. This line should work on both sides of the bars - so if you have a bar mounted computer or light or something on one side, take that into account on the other side. A "winter" wrap might end really far from the stem to give room for lights and stuff, but a "summer" wrap may go to the beginning of the taper for the bulge. In the old days the bar had two layers of metal here so you'd always have a nice solid line. Nowadays, with bulges, there's no real "line". Make one up, measure to be sure, and note where your tape will end on each side. Once you do that, hold the tape out like I'm doing in the picture above - you're going to cut along a line that is exactly in line with your target "end line". My target end line is just to the left, perhaps 1-2 mm, of the shiny bit on the bar (the shiny stuff is electrical tape).


This demonstrates where I chose to "end" my tape. I've cut along the edge, ending the cut where my index finger is touching the tape. You'll find the tape twists and turns when you cut it - it's critical that you hold the bar tape without stretching it or otherwise applying tension to it. This cut will essentially replicate the effort you made at the beginning of the whole process, when you cut an angle at starting end of the tape.


Wrap the cut end until you get to the end. Notice no lump since tape is tapering along the cut line.


For reference, I'm showing the right side. Note it's the mirror image to the left. Now comes the finesse part (as if there's been no finesse so far).


Start by lining up the tape along the cut edge. Electrical tape stretches if you pull on it - and if you stretch it, it gets longer and it gets narrower and changes color (lighter). If you start with a less tensioned wrap, you start with a wide base of tape. If you then stretch the tape, the layer underneath shows up. So this first bit is not tensioned. Therefore it is black and it is wide.


The second bit is tensioned. It is narrower and it turned a little grey. This is the end of the first full lap of tape. I've tensioned the tape and wrapped it so the edge of the electrical drops off the inside edge. The tape, designed to stretch in order to seal gaps, stretches down to the side of the tape. It ends at the bar, covering the cut edge of the main tape. Note that in the picture you cannot see any Cinelli tape under the electrical tape.


Then the electrical tape goes around once, no tension, to cover the stretched and discolored electrical tape underneath. Do only one lap without tension - you don't need to do more. When you finish you'll have a lap that quickly goes from no tension (since it's hard to start with tension) to tension. A lap without tension follows. Your total will be about 2.5 laps, maybe 3. This was the finesse part.


Finally the plug. You have to have your bar ends plugged to race, it's a rule. Prevents "apple core" wounds. Now whether they're mythical or not, I don't know, but I don't want to take a 1 cm wide biopsy of my thigh. So I plug my bars. Since I don't like lumps and cut the beginning edge of the tape, the plug is slightly under the required diameter. I use electrical tape to make up for it, usually only two laps or so. If you put too many laps of tape, you'll break the plug when you force it in. You're going to rely on the squishy tape and it's higher friction (compared to the plastic plug) to hold the plug in place.


The wrapped plug.


The wrapped plug going into the bar.


And finito! Grab a beer and celebrate.

Bonus Tip - Before Cinelli shipped their bars with unfinished plugs like the black plastic plug in the pictures, they used to paint them with a chrome color finish. This finish would wear off slowly over thousands of miles of riding. The plug would slowly reveal its base color, the color of the plastic under the chrome paint. Since Cinelli finished the plug with paint, it appeared they didn't care about the plastic's color - the plastic base color varied randomly. A sign of a "real" rider was:
1. The chrome wearing off the plastic
2. And the plastic would be a non-standard color (white and black were standard, but if you had a different color, maybe blue, yellow, red, or grey, those were really cool).

This led to bar plug collections at the shop, at least for me - a little bin of unusual colored Cinelli plugs saved for the next "cool" build. Once installed you'd rediscover only after a few thousand miles of riding when suddenly you realized that under the chrome paint you had a pink or green or some weird color Cinelli plug.

Super Bonus Tip - For very high end bike builds, we'd match the plugs' mold color to the bike - so for example a red bike got red plastic plugs. Since all the plugs were painted that chrome paint, it would take the customer thousands of miles to learn the painstaking detail that went into building that bike.

The unfinished plugs take all the fun out of it now.

Enjoy your bar wrapping.