Friday, August 29, 2008

Training - Wed Night Ride, Hills

The local shop's Monday rides are "flat" rides, the Wednesday ones are the hilly ones. Mondays I have fun, I do a jump or two, and I finish off the ride pleasantly fatigued.


We rode out to Mountain Road, a road that I've done somewhat consistently over the past year. For me it's 30 minutes of hard riding, starting with a steep pitch that puts me up against the ropes. It's hard to continue any kind of effort because I get so demoralized in the first 7 or 8 minutes, but the persistent climbing forces me to keep going, one rise at a time, until I crest the last, long rise 30 minutes later. If I don't keep working, well, I either fall over or I have to put a foot down.

However, except for one ride on this road with SOC, I've never done the road with others. What a difference. After about 100 meters of the road, everyone except two people flew by me - and I thought I was going pretty well too!

I sighed internally as they disappeared around the bend, internally because I was already breathing like an asthmatic in the middle of an attack with no TUE, no puffer, no nothing.

This is why I don't do road races.

When I say that I don't do road races to others, I feel sort of wimpy, like, "Dude, you should just suck it up and do a road race or two." But then I go on a training ride with a bunch of guys that don't race and get completely and totally annihilated by them.

In 20 seconds.

It clears that mist obscuring my road racing wimpyness.

Okay, fine. I'll admit that one guy does race. Mountain bikes. And road bikes sometimes. Okay, he did Mount Washington. If you read anything about the race this year, you'd have read about him. He's the one that broke his chain and ran the last couple miles. Finished in 1:18 and change. Pushing his bike.

Fine, so he annihilated me. But so did everyone else. One guy caught up to me towards the end of the steep part (he had to wait for traffic or something at the bottom of the hill) and told me I was going well. My first thought was, "If I was going well, how come I can't see any of the guys in front of me?" My next thought was, "If I'm going well, how come you just blew by me?"

Yep, Dan went pedaling by like I was standing still.

Ultimately I passed Dan just before the end of the road. Unfortunately he had turned around to check for stragglers, yours truly being one of them. It's a bit humbling to be "searched for" on a group ride, but, hey, I was okay with it.

We headed back to the shop, flying along some nice fast roads. I put the hammer down, trying to keep my body up in the "I'm working hard" heart rate. Actually I just wanted to work hard - without any monitoring devices (no SRM, no HRM, not even speed or cadence) - I just focused on working hard, steady, and trying not to blow up.

One speedster Paul and the Mount Washington guy came up to me after the descent leveled out a bit (my density allows me to descend well), and although the Mount guy eased, Paul kept hammering until he turned off to go home.

I thought about the different time gaps while I pedaled along in dark aloneness.

Lose 10 minutes on the climbs.

Gain 1 minute on the flats and downhills.

Yeah, this is why I don't do road races.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Racing - The Last 2008 Tuesday Night Race

So I discovered why so many people asked me about my racing at East Hartford when I got there for the last race of the series, August 26, at least the ones that weren't there when I was there.

Apparently there was one race where I soloed for most of the race at 50 kph. Here is a picture of me launching said "solo":

Rounding Turn One at full cry.

What's funny is that some very good riders were asking me about my racing at the Tuesday night races - I have a feeling they sort of believed that I really did solo for most of the race, getting caught with about 2 to go.

Of course the reality was a bit different. I bridged to a break in half of a half mile lap, exploded, went off the back, got lapped, and dropped out when I became unstable.

But, most importantly, in my half lap bridge, someone took a good picture of me. It's a big rule in racing. If you make an effort someone needs to take a picture of said effort.

You gotta look good.

I do like the "50 kph solo break" description better than my "reality bites" description, to be honest.

Just goes to show that you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet.

Anyway, the last of the races came and I decided I wanted to do another motorpacing type of effort. I'd try and get near the front when I could, not blow myself up, but definitely push myself to the edge.

My diet has been horrible with the move and with work. It's been largely focused on Dunkin Donuts coffee and their various bread type products - egg sandwiches on bagels, muffins, and lots of donuts, supplemented by peanut M&Ms at work. Last week my legs were crampy from the get go, so this week, about an hour before the race started, I bought 10 quarts of Gatorade, trail mix, Rock Star, and a candy bar. I drank one and a half quarts of Gatorade, ate half the trail mix, and drank the Rock Star, all before starting the race. It must have worked because I didn't bonk and I didn't feel a hint of a cramp.

I felt bad because there were two times where I got too far up front and ended up pulling off when I was second wheel. Once was when the group was going really fast, under pressure, chasing something. I was second wheel and started to lose it. I couldn't even move up next to said wheel to drop off the next rider, and before I gapped off too much (it was maybe 2 feet and growing), I swung off to get a few breaths of recovery. I was hoping my heart rate would drop in a few seconds, letting me back on, and that's exactly what happened. About six guys went by and I got back in, comfortably in pain once again. But the guy who had to close the gap wasn't very happy. So, to him, I apologize.

The other was when I got towards the front and the guy in front of me attacked - I didn't budge and guys had to maneuver all over to get around me. I wasn't about to go jumping after someone and a lot of other guys didn't budge, but usually the guy on the attacker's wheel should go with the attacker. It's easy, it might dissuade the attacker, and the wheel is essentially handed to you on a platter. But I didn't go.

As it was I was deep in the hurt bucket with about 5 minutes of the 40 minutes left to go (we'd do five laps after the 40 minutes was up). It was strung out, I kept sliding backwards, and I made huge efforts to move up when I felt it prudent (using the wind, corners, and my strengths), just so I could use those spots to slide back again.

When the race folks yelled "Five to go!" suddenly the field turned the Race Switch to "Off" and we fanned out for a bit. It got going again within a turn or two, and I found myself in difficulty once again. I thought (too much) about whether to move up or not, and with the short laps winding down quickly, and a committed leadout train from one team in particular, I kept putting off my move up effort.

For once though the field had stayed together so there was no break that lapped us. We were all fighting for the race. You'd think this would have motivated me but I held back. I'd had some odd premonitions of fighting too hard for the race and getting hurt, so I decided against fighting too hard for the race. Make sense?

At the bell I realized it was sort of late to move up. I'd been going around the outside nicely on the last turn, gaining almost five miles an hour and about that many spots, but that would put me into the wind, so I took a conservative line, stayed on wheels, and started the sprint about 20 back. I guess this was pretty much at the back of the field, but it was what it was.

Once again there was a non-sprint - five guys separated themselves from the rest of the group (probably due to leadout guys exploding and leaving a gap), and said rest of field meandered towards the line. The inside (and sheltered side) opened up inexplicably so I rolled into it and did a half hearted jump to clear a couple clumps of guys. I got clear of the field, coasted to clear the jutting curb (it requires a minute turn), did another pedal stroke or two, and kind of soft pedaled to the line, checking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn't going to get passed. Although in most cases I'd have kept going to the line, the coast bit made the sprint less fun so I decided I'd just pedal enough to make it to the line.

Mission accomplished (i.e. I got in a motorpace type workout without getting dropped), we headed out to dinner. SOC won again, and I got sixth, so we could feel good about ourselves.

SOC and I talked bike stuff, the missus and Mrs SOC talked other stuff, then we all talked a bit about pet projects and such. Finally, when the staff were busy cleaning up around us, we left the fine dining establishment and went our way home.

Not sure of my next race but I'm hoping it's sooner than later. The track won't happen until September at the earliest but I have some decent motorpace type form and I want to get more of it before the year ends.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Life - New Digs

So we bought a house and we moved. Tried to inject a few dollars into our country's economy, you know, patriotic and all that.

Plus we wanted to have our own place. Hang things on the wall without worrying about not getting our deposit back, things like that.

Bikes? Yeah, they're here. I even rode one yesterday, but right now, honestly, the focus is elsewhere. It's hard to focus on anything when I'm living in the middle of a pile of boxes. Hard to believe that's me saying that (I used to think it was fine), but the way it is right now it's too much even for me.

I like describing things, when trying to impress myself, using multiples. You know, something like this:

"He rode at twice my theshold wattage for the last climb!"
"That car accelerates to 60 miles an hour in one half the time it takes for that other car."

So, to impress myself, I'll briefly describe the new place in "multiples plus". This is where I run out of multiples so I have to actually describe additional things, i.e. the "plus" part of the "multiples plus". This exercise justifies buying the place so bear with me.

Compared to the apartment, the new place has 2.5 times as many bathrooms, 1.5 times as many bedrooms, and an infinite number more garage spots (what times zero equals two?).

Compared to the beloved house we sold last year, it still has 2.5 times as many bathrooms but it has only twice as many garage spaces, about 1/2 as many parking spots, and three times the number of finished floors (or twice the number of floors above ground level).

We have some non-multiple features too.

We now have an official dining room. This is, of course, the room "least likely to be used ever" so it's currently the laptop room, Tiger's hang out room (if I'm using the laptop), and the Room of Many Chairs. I count 9 chairs around the dining room table (the table is a beautiful new addition to our family, as are 6 matching chairs, all from the home's sellers). In the future we hope it's the room that no one goes into except on special occasions, sort of like the old fashioned living rooms.

We also have two finished rooms in the basement. I was thinking of making one a nicer version of the Dungeon but I realized that having space would be good, so I am looking to sell the big yellow machine. It takes up 90% of the room and doesn't leave much for a trainer, my bike memorabilia, spin bike, hanging all the bike posters and such I've saved over the years, and other assorted bike/winter must-haves.

In case I am not clear, I am selling this (fyi it weighs 465 lbs empty, uses a 10x12 foot space completely, and I don't want to sell the weights I have):

Yours for only $700, with a special SDC discount available if you ask for it (or I'll do a partial/full trade for track bike equipment - not SS/Fixie stuff, real track - or really tall aero wheels).

I can't deliver except under extreme duress and I figure it'll take me eons to deliver (to retrieve the van will take me about 6+ hours, and to load it will take another 30-40 minutes) so forget about the SDC discount if you are thinking of having it delievered- in fact the gas to get the van here and back will cost me about $60-70 alone.

The new kitchen will be big enough for two people (the apartment has a one person kitchen, the old house had an enormous three-four person kitchen), wash dishes sort of automatically (we had an special edition SDC dishwasher in the apartment), and give us some counter space so we can pull some of our appliances out of their storage boxes.

Well, right now the counters are full of various packed boxes so right now we're still eating with plastic utensils, at least until this morning when I found our normal metal ones. Those have been put in their place and now we can start filling the silverware part of the dishwasher.

Our garage is a bit of a misfit garage. Much of it is only four feet tall, preventing me from having, say, a beautiful high ceiling workshop, or from parking my 52" tall cars underneath. It is great for storing van bench seats, bikes, and other assorted things under four feet in height which will be dust and spiderweb covered in no time at all. I'd like to get it into more usable shape but right now it, too, is filled to the brim with packed moving boxes.

We do have an office room (or, more accurately, a room designated as an office). This has yet to be set up as we have no normal internet connection, no desktops, no chairs even. The latter are in the Room of Many Chairs (naturally). Hopefully it'll become the office soon, the IT/business hub of the household.

Upstairs, like way up on the second floor, we have the most luxurious of things - a second full bath. The missus and I rarely venture up there and we made a point of walking up the stairs a couple nights ago just to see what it looked like. I think it'll be like coasting after a winter on the trainer - it'll take some getting used to, because right now our mentality is that there is a downstairs (the basement) and the upstairs (the main floor). We've lived so long in two story residences that the second set of stairs going up just doesn't register.

I may take a shower up there just so I can say we used it, but right now it's a quiet spot. It doesn't help that Tiger found the top of the banister overlooking the living room - in other words the hand rail that prevents people upstairs from falling into the downstairs. It's really nerve wracking to watch him sitting 15 or 20 feet above the living room floor with only a hard, painted surface (i.e. no traction for claws) underneath his paws. I put padding on some of the tables below but I think we need a better solution.

We plan on using one upstairs room as the hobby/TV room. It is a nice sunny room and I figure that in the colder months it'll be a nice warm hang out spot.

The other room upstairs will be our guestroom, situated conveniently next to the luxurious bathroom. Instead of making our guests sleep on the floor of the living room, they'll sleep, err, well, on the floor of the guest room. Hey, look, we don't even have any couches, how would we have an extra bed?

At least they'll have their own room with a door they can close and their very own bathroom.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Life - Moving, New House

New to us anyway.

It's almost 9:00 PM on Sunday. We closed at about 3:30-4:30 PM on Friday, did some prelim move stuff on Friday, had dinner on a $155 rebate on the house (well, it wasn't like a rebate where if you borrow a quarter million dollars you get $155 back or something, but it was close), and then went to bed all ready for the big move.

Then my mind goes blank.

We did move Saturday. And we moved more on Sunday. But when I try to type anything in font, it comes out all garbly.

So, for now, I'll just say we're almost done moving. And there are boxes everywhere. And the cats are frightfully exploring, at least Tiger is (Lilly is loving it actually), and we're really tired.

And, and, and.

Oh, and we have to go to work tomorrow.

I'll write more later, when I can actually type and stuff.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Life - Closed on the House

The missus and I just got back from our official house closing. We did the walk through which was a nice experience. We met the other half of the selling couple, she was really nice, and she told us all the little things you learn about a house when you've lived there for almost 25 years. You could see the tears in her eyes when we were getting ready to leave - she'd be locking up the house and leaving it to the hands of the "new owners" for the first time since it was built.

We went to the lawyers, signed all these documents, and committed to being in debt for 30 years. 359 payments at one price, a last payment at a slightly higher price (a few dollars).


Then we called people, went to dinner, and started planning out the move. A lot of things were up in the air until the walk-through, mainly because we didn't know if the sellers would get a couch out of a particular room. If they did, it'd be a bedroom. If not, it'd be a den.

It'll be a bedroom.

Tonight we'll do some prelim move stuff, in preparation for tomorrow's major move.

My eyes are twitching a bit already so although I could eat normally through the day (the missus couldn't - isn't that cute?), apparently I am feeling some nervous stress as well.

Now that we have two places, at least for 9 days, it's much easier to think about "moving".

We're starting right now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Life - Pre-Move

Today we're finalizing a long-time project - buying a new house. The closing is tomorrow, the move is the day after, and we have a LOT of stuff to move. Well, it seems that way when you try to put everything you own in one room. Then it looks like a lot of stuff.

Looks like a lot of stuff. Note the only remaining chair we have in the living room.

More stuff. Heh - you can see this post, without pictures, on the laptop screen.

Right now we have all this stuff in the living room, a basement with some stuff in it, and of course our bedroom, office, and bathroom. Not much furniture but a decent number of boxes and bins.

Oh, and bikes. Lots of bikes. Frames. Wheels. Trainers. Rollers. Weight lifting things. Stuff like that.

Some bike things in the living room.

More bike things.

Sad lonely bike.

Part of my severely reduced wheel goods pile.

The rest of my severely reduced wheel goods pile.

I've been steadily giving away things (again) in order to reduce the amount of stuff we have to move. The missus managed to give away all of our living room furniture to the point that her race-watching seat is now the only TV-watching seat around - our couches are all gone, as are one coffee table, two end tables, and even our hutch.

I've also been sorting boxes of bike parts, fantasizing about plastic nut and bolt organizers, and thinking of great ways to use the unusual garage space in the new place.

For now though it'll be a big push to get things out of here and into there. It's been a month or two of steadily organizing things in the basement, bringing things up to the living room, and repeating the process.

Training will be on hold just a bit, enough to recover for the Monday group ride and the last Tuesday night race. Then, as long as I get my cranks and wheels put together properly on my track bike, I'll venture north to the New England Velodrome and see what happens up there.

First things first though, and packing and prepping for the move is important. Maybe not as critical as the closing (else we won't have a house), but, yes, being able to live in the new place would be a nice bonus.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Racing - Tuesday Night and Short Cranks

I'll be the first to admit that I don't have conclusive data on fit, power, aerodynamics, and other things which can be scientifically measured. Okay, I have the SRM, a heart rate monitor, and I can see speeds and cadence. Not much else. And I probably don't use the tools as well as they could be used - for me it's just looking at numbers and seeing if I can get a few of them higher than before.

The problem with measuring scientifically, or at least in a repeatable manner, is that sometimes the measurements are made in such a way that the data ends up being irrelevant to the goal.

My blue car came with suspension braces and the marketing material boasted about how its stiff chassis. If the chassis was so stiff, why the suspension brace? How would you test such a thing?

Well, one owner (not me) did some suspension work and forgot to tighten the bolts on one side of his suspension brace. He found that whenever he went around a corner he'd hear a set of clunks. Ends up that his brace was clunking against the bolts. This indicates that there was enough chassis flex to move the brace a bit, and, consequently, if you tightened the brace down, it would help resist that movement.

So, likewise, I've been sort of experimenting, somewhat involuntarily, with different length cranks. After about 20 years using 167.5 mm or "normal" 170 mm cranks, I made the move to 175 mm cranks. I did so because the cranks gave me much more power, and, with a rider that had a significantly reduced fitness level, better top speed and mid-power "oomph".

I used the long cranks successfully, winning my first races in a long time, even earning medals (at least one of each color I think) in the Cat 3 CT Crit championships. But as I gained fitness I found myself wishing for shorter, faster cranks. I wasn't sure if sacrificing the ability to roll huge gears over medium hills would be worth any potential speed, but I decided to take the gamble.

I got some 170 mm cranks.

Problem was that these weren't just "cranks", they were part of my SRM. Changing them would cost, nowadays, upwards of $2500 (used) to almost $4000 (new).

There was no going back.

Unless... I used my old bike. Or the tandem. Or the mountain bike. Or the spin bike. All of them have 175s on them, and I don't feel like swapping them out. Well, my wallet doesn't feel like swapping them out.

So, recently, when I busted a spoke in my Reynolds clinchers, I moved my whole night riding rig over to the Giant (with 175 mm cranks) and went riding on the group ride.

I got killed.

I mean I couldn't go fast if my life depended on it. I felt like someone had put superglue in my bottom bracket bearings. It felt horrible.

Fine, my bike weighs 26 pounds or so, fine, it doesn't have fancy shmancy wheels, but still, this was a bit ridiculous. Ends up my seat was too high so I dropped it some. That helped. But I still felt dog slow.

I don't have any computer on it though so although I felt slow, I didn't know if I was slow. Ends up that slow on that bike is pretty fast - I did my Quarry Road loop pretty quickly on the "slow" Giant when it didn't feel very fast.

This brings us to the East Hartford Tuesday night races. I went back again yesterday, August 19th, bringing the Cannondale with its short cranks and tubular tires. I tried to warm up a lot because I wasn't used to the cranks. Coincidentally the last ride on the Cannondale was the prior week's race, and I hadn't downloaded the SRM data for either one. I'd get to see two races at once later that night!

I did some jumps in my warm up, trying to get my legs used to the 1 cm smaller circles. I felt fine on the bike though, a little more "spinny", a little more fluent. Felt fast in the tailwind, felt slow in the headwind. I had to work kind of hard to go more than 15 mph in the headwind and I started dreading the race. Small fields, no hiding, lots of wind.

A fellow racer, he of the "We Chase Blue" team, merged into the warmup loop. We've gotten to chatting while we spin around, but for this particular loop I wanted to do a big jump - I'd spent the last two loops steeling myself for this effort. So the first words out of my mouth were me saying that I had to jump.

"This isn't personal but I need to do a jump."

He laughed, I jumped.

We rolled around after, talked about his last race, a gear problem he had last Tuesday (fixed now), stuff like that. We went and watched SOC win his race, attacking the break and rolling in about 10 meters in front of the next guy.

Then we raced. I had a lot of fun going through the corners. Cornering in groups is something I don't do frequently, and I got to the point where I was pulling next to riders, looking over their lower back, and sighting down the exit of the turn by doing that. I experimented with cornering hard, once going over the manhole cover (both tires slipped sideways - better to go inside or outside), going wide a lot (fine), going inside (fine), and pedaling a lot (fine, but maybe I should have rested my legs instead).

Except for one guy who seemed to have a hard time cornering (he'd turn in early, swing wide, and didn't weight the front enough to prevent the "wide" bit) who almost ran me into the curb twice, it was good. Some other guy seemed to be dizzy and almost took himself out twice, but I can't really complain about that since I almost took out he of We Chase Blue on the warm down lap doing exactly the same thing, my bars swinging left somewhat spontaneously as I lost all sense of balance.

I did focus on staying on the drops, my hands a bit uncomfortable but my back and neck fine - although I started getting dizzy like I'd mentioned before. I don't stand enough on flat courses so I tried to stand a bit more than normal.

I started cramping about 25 minutes into the race, starting to regret doing that third and last jump. I tried to drink water but I had no electrolytes, no sugar. I kept at it though, as first my left calf started twinging, then my right, then, in the last five laps, my left quad started to go. I started dropping my heel to stretch out my calf, started using much bigger gears to avoid spinning, and tried not to make any unnecessary efforts.

I also kept checking my watch. When was the 45 minutes up and the lap cards out? 7:20? 7:25? It seems I was looking every lap and getting more and more impatient with the lap card folks.

Finally, at about 7:30, the cards came out. Well, I missed 5 to go, but I saw it was 4 to go. I rolled up to the We Chase Blue guy and told him I was cooked. I also rolled up to SOC and told him the same because he'd been trying to look after me in the race, and I didn't want him to be looking after me while I cramped right out of the race.

The laps wound down pretty quickly, and with two to go I was pretty far back for the group - 10 or so back in the 20 or so field. I moved up a bit, decided that my legs weren't really good for this, but the adrenaline (and the focus necessary to take all the turns smoothly and aggressively) kept me from sitting up.

But, of course, at the bell, I was sitting in the field, perhaps 10 or 15 back, and feeling like I had maybe 5 or 8 seconds of sprint in my legs. We flew through the first and second turn, a pro to my inside letting me ease ahead of him in the second turn. The field went pretty wide in the third turn (with manhole cover) and I tried to stay out of the wind by staying left, to the inside.

We passed the spot where Secondo jumped last week, then where I jumped. Guys were sort of milling around, a group of maybe five detaching slightly. I think they were the break, and although I sprinted last week and no one complained, I wasn't sure of the ettiquette of sprinting when a lap down. The left (sheltered) side was completely clear though, like five feet worth, and just screaming "Jump here! Jump here!" You know, like a little kid in gym class. "Choose me! Choose me!"

I listened to the gap, waited until I thought the line was prudently close, and sprinted into the superhighway along the left side fence. I rolled by the guys milling around in the front and rolled to the line, sitting up at some point, not throwing the bike, not doing too much. I thought I sat up well before the line but it never appeared so I think I sat up after the line.

Then, after the aforementioned almost-taking-out-We-Chase-Blue, some congratulatory words to SOC, and escaping with only two mosquito bites, we left. After we got home I downloaded the data from the two East Hartford races.


In my crampy 10 second sprint, I didn't break 1000 watts, essentially a moderate effort if out of the saddle. Not impressive, but at least I have a benchmark for me for a poor sprint. As a reference point I'd make the same effort when responding to P123 surges at Bethel up the hill.

I did do 1583 watts in one of my warm up sprints, my max effort ever (!!), and I did 1400+ in another one of them. The other two "sprints" were more form-sprints and I did only 800-something on one, 600-something on another, focusing on rocking the bike rather than going fast, getting ready to do the bigger efforts.

In contrast to my crampy sprint this week, last week (when I felt good in the sprint) I did a 20+ second sprint, holding 1000+ watts for 10 seconds, over 900 watts for 20 seconds, and peaking at a somewhat normal 1300 watts in the sprint. Nothing great (1450+ would be really nice) but sustaining the effort is good, and in races it seems I don't have the same peak power as I do in isolated sprints - in the past few years I haven't gotten the whole "sprint 100%" thing down in a race situation.

So, it seems that when I went and got on short cranks after being on long cranks for about 6 hours, I had much more power than normal. Is this causual? I don't know. Is it correlated? Yeah, because it happened.

But I don't know how to interpret this data.

One more week of East Hartford. Then I have to start looking for races. There are other things on the horizon as well, significant things which are not cycling related.

But tonight there's a group ride. And I'll be using the Giant with its 175s. Can't hurt for next week, right?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Racing - Fit is a Relative Thing

A while ago I did a post about how someone's ideal position changes over time, and how it's hard to nail down your current "best position". Although I used to be in a position to influence quite a number of riders' positions, that pretty much ended after the late 90s. Recently, this year, I stepped into the controversial fitting ring and put my money where my mouth was - I fit a couple riders.

One, Young Rider, did okay right after our fitting session, but a relatively horrific accident ended his season. Plus, to be fair, he was so new to the whole thing that it was hard to quantify any position change's benefits. New racers improve by huge margins, usually despite some incorrect training or position or whatever, but the simple fact of riding will improve a non-rider's riding ability pretty quickly. So I really can't take credit for any of his hard earned accomplishments.

After this slight set back (when YR crashed) I sort of stopped thinking about fit and stuff. Although the actual fit session doesn't take a lot of time, traveling to and from such fitting sessions does. With the gas prices, my former full-time cycling status, and a looming house purchase, it didn't seem like traveling all over the state to fit whoever would make sense.

SOC is a friend though, and, significantly, Mrs. SOC is a friend of the missus. So any coincidental races usually have us traveling in time to watch SOC (or staying late to do so), and we try and combine things with a dinner or something.

Now, for a slight tangent, a long, long time ago someone told me never to offer advice. Wait for the person to ask for it. Offering advice can be seen as obnoxious, overbearing, presumptuous, and a whole lot of other negative things.

Worse, if the advice is incorrect, the advisor loses all authority. Offering advice, my friend told me, is a right. It's an earned right. And you build that right, and that authority, by offering only good advice over many, many years.

I guess it's like trust. It's so hard to build up, so easy to break, and virtually impossible to restore. Offering advice is like that but there's an added element of knowledge, of experience.

With bike racing, there is a lot of unwritten knowledge, a lot of experience out there, and a lot of people who have neither and are desperate for either. New and relatively new racers are like sponges, absorbing everything around them. Problem is distinguishing between good and bad, and initially at least it's very hard to separate the two.

Unfortunately this leads to riders getting bad advice, or perhaps advice not particularly suited for them.

So, anyway, that tangent is a long way of saying something else. When I see someone with an iffy position on their bike, or one that doesn't seem to handle their bike very well, I don't say anything. I used to have to hold my tongue, when I felt like I knew everything, but now that I realize that I don't know that much, it's much easier to keep my mouth shut.


Anyway, when I first saw SOC race, I wasn't happy with his position. But since I had no idea of his position's history, nor of any potential unusual physiological needs or problems, I didn't think too much about it.

Then, perhaps a year later, at a Tuesday night race, he asked me about his position.

Coincidentally I'd been watching the ebb and flow of the race, trying to get a feel for one of the very few new courses I've done in the last ten years. Since SOC was in there, I used him as one of my reference points. And that naturally had me studying his position.

I felt like Roger Legeay in the first Tour du Pont, tsk-tsking away at his GC leading rider, Atle Kvasvol (sp?), as Atle rode himself out of the lead in the final time trial. I watched SOC ride and wanted to reach out and start adjusting his bike right then and there.

After the race we powwowed a bit and, at some point, he asked me what I thought about his position. He felt "cramped" as he put it. In other words, he was asking for my advice.

Well now.

I went out on a limb. I told him that, yeah, I'd actually studied his position on the bike when he raced, and yeah, I thought I might be able to tweak it a bit.

I had him get some stems - since he had a 10 cm stem I asked him to find a 11, 12, and 13 cm if possible. I had 13 cm stems but with the wrong clamp diameter so that was out. We could raise his seat and I really wanted to move his seat forward. Yeah, yeah, it's a crit thing, but SOC is a crit kind of guy so it would be fine.

I met up with him, sat him on the trainer, and had him pedal a few pedal strokes. All my Tuesday Night studying came rushing back.

I steeled him for some massive changes and then proceeded to remove 2.5 cm of spacers, stick on a 12 cm stem (+2 cm), keeping it flatter (it was a +/- 10 degree stem), cranked his seat up almost 2 cm, and moved his saddle forward 1 cm.

Another person, a long time ago, told me that when you make adjustments (in this case to a race car engine) you make adjustments to the extremes, see what each extreme does, then narrow down the range until the car is good. We didn't find too many horsepower on the engine but it was fun winding up the thing to 8500 rpms to try anyway, changing various things between each howling run.

With SOC there was no dyno, no ear muffs, no Webers, but I wanted to see what the most radical change would do. So I made those changes.

And it looked.... normal.

Since it was so radical I took pictures of the original position with my cell phone because, if I screwed everything up, I wanted to be able to return him to his original position. At worst he'd be back to where he was.

SOC looked pretty skeptical with such radical changes, but he also had that glint in his eye when he climbed back on the bike. He thought it still fit relatively well but it was obviously a different creature.

My front-wheel-heavy fitting style really showed its hand when he got on the bike on his driveway. He didn't get 10 feet on the bike when he commented on the immensely heavy feeling steering the bike had suddenly sprouted. Yes, I told him, the long stem turns the bar more like a windshield wiper than a steering wheel, and your position places more weight on the bars, so your slow steering will be heavier, more awkward. But at speed, I said, it would be much more stable. After a few swoops he readily agreed.

We didn't have the right stem cap for the carbon steerer fork (we didn't cut it so the inside of the steerer, where the stem clamped, was no longer supported from the inside) so the stem wasn't on very tight. Well, tight enough to ride, but not so tight that it would crimp the fork. We still sprinted for a speed limit sign, but otherwise we took it pretty easy.

We went on what ended up being a flat 10 or 12 mile ride. Nothing really spectacular except that nothing was wrong with SOC. With such a radical position change, the fact that he was okay could be considered somwhat spectacular.

So, how did the new position work out?

Well, let's see.

On the next Tuesday Night race, he won.

The Tuesday Night series took a week off, but he returned to the next one.

He won.

Not only that, he also hung in with the P1234s till the end (second race, immediately follows the first one), the first time he did so.

Fine. Those are "just" Tuesday Night training races. So he went to a "real" race. Fall River, MA.

And he podiumed in the Cat 4 race.


Chalk one up on the "plus" side of advice.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life - Doping Temptations

So I've been working in a hardware store. Sort of an entry level position, ringing up people, helping them out, etc. The biggest things are to be trustworthy, helpful, and motivated - this is a town where people trust one another.

I had a bunch of different adventures during my first week of work.

I learned that horses eat a LOT of food. Straw and stuff, sometimes flavored with molasses, preferably dry. I learned that although feeding horses costs a lot, feeding the birds costs a lot of money too, ditto dogs. I'm glad our cats are good with a couple scoops of dry and 2/3 of a can of wet a day.

I also found out that if you drop a heavy bag of horse feed on your head just right, your neck crackles just like you went to a chiropractor.

I didn't experiment with different drops so I can't report on different techniques, but suffice it to say that a two foot drop hitting about the top left quarter of my head wrenched my head sideways pretty hard, resulting in that comforting crackle. My neck felt really good for a couple days, I have to admit.

I also found out that my self-perceived IT skills (relatively basic) is, in fact, a touch more than basic. My typing skills are okay too, considering there are no ergo keyboards and I have to delicately peck at the keys so as not to irritate my wrists. To illustrate my wrist endurance, it takes perhaps 30 seconds of consistent typing before my wrists feel like they just did an intense interval. But I can type while looking elsewhere and talking about something else, something that apparently impresses others.

I have very understanding bosses - they remind me to leave on time so I can ride or race, and twice now they've poked me out the door to make it on time. I haven't missed a ride, and I made it to the midweek race fine too.

I also learned that having literally tons and tons of feed around (horse, dog, cat, bird, goat, bunny) is sort of like a huge "all you can eat" buffet for mice. I think this last week, with one person who studied mice in college, we (they) caught about 30 or 40 mice. Personally I have no problem with mice (rats are different) so it's a bit difficult to learn about their demise. To put things in perspective, when I moved the Bethel van the other weekend, a mouse ran under it, looking for shelter or something. I made sure the mouse was clear before I moved the van again.

They also bug-bombed the place but I haven't learned the results just yet - I'll find out tomorrow. Bugs bug me so I have less problem with eliminating them, but the last time someone bug-bombed a place I knew of, I was still in it! I and the whole bike shop was working in the same building and we ran out, coughing, a couple guys who really got fogged getting violently ill. So fly swatters are okay, bug bombs I'd rather do without.

This coming week is the first week where three full timers return to their "real" jobs, teaching school or going to college. I got a week of trying to figure out where everything is - it's got to be the biggest little hardware store around.

I also learned that bike shop margins are huge compared to hardware store margins. I thought they made tons of money on each sale but that's not true. When you make the same margin on a $50 sale as you do on a severely discounted high end bike, it's not good.

So what's all this got to do with doping?

Well, it doesn't. But it sets the tone of my job, my work, how I spend my 7:50 AM to 5:30 PM during the week, 30 minutes less than that on Saturday. It was on that shorter day Saturday that I was helping a couple load their SUV with very heavy bags of horse feed. 50 pound bags, and their "dead body" firmness made it hard for me to carry even one - the ends would droop or the bag would slide or I'd be afraid of ripping the corner of the bag off.

Obviously I wasn't a pro at this, but the guy buying them was - he deftly picked up TWO bags, plopped them in the SUV, and repeated the process. I said something about being impressed with his skill.

He grinned and looked at me.

"I did this for a living. It's what motivated me to go to college."

Then, realizing that perhaps he'd said too much (i.e. implying that perhaps I didn't go to college), he abruptly turned and left.

As I walked back to the front, past the mouse-kill spots, past the dead-bird spot, past the "where I got bit by a bug" spot, I thought about what the guy said.

Okay, I know that I can do something else and make more money. I took a whopping pay cut to work at the store but that's okay. I don't need to make much money and, honestly, I want to focus on doing what I want to do, rather than what I can do. I've been fortunate enough that I bought a bunch of nice stuff, I don't feel the need to buy other things, and so being in a status quo type of situation is fine.

But that approach to life is a luxury.

What if I didn't have my fun car? Or my Cannondale. Heck, what if I didn't have my Giants? My lights? Down Low Glow? Computers? Laptop? Weight lifting thing?

What if I was struggling just to make a living.

And college simply wasn't an option.

And, to extend the "what if" a bit further, what if I had a hint of cycling talent? What if I go on the group rides after working all day, exhausted to the core, yet manage to demolish all the local Cat 2s and such. I go to road races and end up vying for the win, perhaps foiled now and then by substandard parts failing at critical moments?

What if I knew I could make 100 hours of salary by winning a race? 200 hours? I'd have to work 1000 hours to make the amount that one guy won at a huge purse, mass start, one mile sprint event. And that event was something like 10 or 15 years ago.

And what if someone told me that taking this or that would help me win.

Tough, isn't it?

That's a big problem. A big one. It has nothing to do with ego, nothing to do with being more cut. It has to do with "Can I make it till next week money-wise?". I have to think that desperate people do desperate things.

I've mentioned before how I've been at the bottom of the barrel, struggling to find food on the weekends because during the week I relied on handouts from the bagel shop. I didn't mention how I rode whatever I could, using less than ideal things simply because they were free. My cranks and rings for a long time were 167.5 mm. They went to 170 mm when a customer had cranks and his bottom bracket swapped and gave the shop his old parts. They promptly went on my bike, saving me from having to buy a new bottom bracket (I had to use both because they weren't compatible).

But I always had a shelter, I had family worried about me, willing to help me. And though I didn't rely on that crutch too much (my dad would discretely give me too much money for helping with stuff around his house), I knew that if all else failed I could just go home, regroup, and try again.

Some people don't have that luxury.

For me the point is moot. I have so little ability that when I'm feeling really fit I just get out of the "untrained" category of power to weight. Everyone drops me on climbs, everyone. So cycling or any athletic thing is out of the question for me.

But for those slightly less than totally gifted cyclists? It has to be tempting.

Toss in some hard luck, struggling circumstances, maybe a bad decision or two, and you have a very bad mixture - a huge potential for doping.

I make a big assumption that the biggest problem with doping is when a struggling athlete succumbs to temptation. I'm studiously ignoring the individuals who don't need anything yet still dope. That's a different thing motivation wise and although the net results are the same (they doped), I think of it as a different path.

Unfortunately I don't have a solution. Credit counseling? I think it's a bit more universal than counseling for cyclists only, but perhaps it would be a start. If you're not in dire straights then you won't have to give in to temptation. Post cycling career counseling?

I'll let it stew for a bit. But I think that this is something that ought to be addressed.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Training - Quarry Road Loop at Night v2.0

So today I checked the weather when I got home from work.

Okay, first I had dinner with the missus. She took the time to make a really nice, full course meal. So, after we had this really nice dinner (faux BBQ chicken, corn on the cob, and a great potato salad, along with about 20 ounces of cool, refreshing water), I checked the weather.

This is what I saw on the computer:

Note the "isolated t-storms", 30% chance of rain, 72 degrees.

In this day of virtual weather checking I rarely look outside to see what it's actually like. But this pessimistic forecast didn't jibe with the experience I had walking from the car to the apartment about an hour before. So I trotted down the stairs, looked outside, and then bounded back up the stairs.

Grabbed camera. Took picture of screen. A "screen shot" if you will, and I took that picture above.

Then I went back downstairs, stuck my head out the door, and took this shot:

Looking sort of east. Note the sun is shining on the trees.

I wasn't sure if this illustrated the weather accurately so I turned about 90 degrees and took this shot:

90 degrees to the west. Note I'm sort of looking into the sun.

Isn't that much better than the virtual forecast?

I decided that shorts and a jersey would be enough, and that I wouldn't have to bring my phone in a zip lock bag.

Earlier today it was dark grey, rained a bit, and did what it's been doing for the past few weeks - grumble, rain, spit, flash, and generally act really grumpy, with some surprisingly nice interludes here and there.

I'd transferred all the lights to the Giant but I ended up doing my favorite "taking it easy" loop, the Quarry Road loop. Because I'm really impressed with the ice-cold blue of LED lights, I took off the cyclometer and stuck my 2xAA LED headlight on. My light tally went to four sets with the LED headlight, the NiteRider headlight, the Down Low Glow blue tubes, and the Vistalite tail light. I expected to be in the dark at the end of the ride so the more lights the better.

In contrast to my generally disastrous ride the other night, I took some time to set up the bike properly. First off my seat height was more appropriate for the 175 mm cranks. Second I put more than 105/110 psi in the tires - I bumped them up to 115/120psi. Third I adjusted the mysteriously loose headset. And finally I remounted the two big batteries so they wouldn't sway into my legs when I rode.

Properly adjusted and dressed, I left for my ride, giving the missus a good luck kiss (for me or for her, I'm not sure, but I tend to think it's for me).

I rolled out and immediately had to pee. Luckily Simsbury is part of the Farmington Valley Greenway thing, and one of the things it has are portapotties (!). I turned off the main road, rolled down this bumpy dirt driveway thing, and surprised a family walking along the paved trail. The portapotty seemed practically new - it smelled like spearmint and the plastic inside was pristine. I used the standing part of it (probably the first time it was used) and left, pressure relieved.

My little delay made me reset my "for reference sake" time and I rolled on to the start of my loop.

I won't bore you with too many details but I had to stop at a lot of lights that normally treat me nicely, but in exchange I got to do my two right turns at full speed.

The long 175 mm cranks allowed me to sustain much harder efforts over the little rises but without a power meter I have no point of reference. I never really blew, I rolled over the more difficult bits in a 53x21, and I came up to the apartment expecting to see a 51 minute time. I checked my watch.

52 minutes.

Okay, I admit it. I was expecting a sub-50 minute time. And to be 2 minutes slower, that was a bit disappointing.

I sat up, soft pedaled a bit, and tried to think of where I went 2+ minutes slower than I thought I was going. Without a cyclometer or heart rate monitor it was sort of a moot point, but there were a lot of mitigating factors. I ate a huge meal right before I got on the bike, I hadn't ridden for the last two days, I was on box section 32 spoke wheels, steel bead tires, yada yada yada.

Whatever. I shouldn't be going too fast.

I decided to do a half loop instead of a second full loop. I started twinging right away and thanked my guardian angel for letting me remember to lower the saddle a bit (else I'd probably have cramped for real). I did my "big gear, drop my heel" cramp prevention pedaling technique, something the 175 cranks help pull off, the longer lever slowing my cadence down a good 10-20 revs per minute.

This meant some steady work on the false flats, focusing on not cramping. It had gotten quite dark too - sunset was one minute after I started the second loop, i.e. 7:49 PM - so I had to start wiggling my bike and do other inefficient things to attract more attention so as not to worry the missus with near miss stories.

All this mental focus took me away from the "half a loop" thought process so before I realized it I was out at the far end of full loop.


At least I wasn't cramping.

The traffic lights got me on this loop too, and there were no kind trucks or big vehicles to pull me along. I approached the apartment and checked my watch.

49 minutes.

I checked it again, swerving around as I tried to light my watch up with my way too bright NiteRider.

49 minutes.


Okay. I should make a note of this. Don't ride for two days. Stuff yourself right before the ride, drinking so much water you almost slosh. Pee at the start of the ride, preferably in a portapotty. Use a 26+ pound bike with non-aero wheels, steel bead tires, and two full bottles that you never touch.

And use 175 cranks.

Is that the secret?

I'm going to do some experimenting.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Training - Group Rides, Long Cranks

Yesterday I had my first day off since I started working. I wanted to do the evening group ride, but with my DV46c limping with a popped spoke, I decided to pull the Giant off the bench. I got a pair of the Campy/FiR wheels we have, swapped a flat front tire, and started remembering all the things I'd let slide on the bike.

Out of true front and rear wheels. Brakes off center. That flat front tire. No magnet on the front wheel - confiscated for the DV46c. No cadence harness, just the wireless speed (the harness went to the tandem). With no front wheel magnet I removed the computer and left it on the hutch.

I transferred the blue Down Low Glows (DLGs) to the Giant, ditto the NiteRider. The Giant had a 7 LED Vistalite on the rear so that was okay, but the batteries, as I found out later, were far from recharged (I use Duracell rechargeable batteries whenever possible).

I checked the seat height and yanked the seat up until it lined up with my 68 cm BB-seat top that I had on the Cannondale. The bike shifted okay so I left that alone, and the chain, although a bit dry looking, didn't looked parched so I left that too.

I took out my Christmas present digital scale, and although the numbers flickered a bit while I held the scale, the bike tipped them at just under 26 pounds.

Yes, 26 pounds.

Ah, heck, that was okay. I was 10-12 pounds heavier when I raced the thing so adding 9 pounds to the (dry) weight of the Cannondale wasn't a deal breaker. Plus I had the various lights and stuff and it wasn't a race and it'd be good training.


I rolled out the door and reveled in the SUV like ride of the bike. I felt I could ride over anything, the cheap but tough steel bead tires able to take anything. The wheels were very quiet too, compared to the hollow reverberation chambers that happen to hold a tire on my Reynolds wheels. The much, much lower top tube (44 cm seat tube center to center) made me feel like I was riding a BMX bike, and the long bit of seat post made me feel like I was flicking the bike back and forth even more than normal.

I felt like I was on a race bike. Or race SUV. Maybe an off road race car. Like one of these. A race car that has a lot of ground clearance but has extra lights and parts and stuff.

The box section rims reminded me of Cadel Evans and his stubborn resistance to tall profile wheels in the Tour, although he had $3000 carbon tubulars and I had $70 aluminum clinchers.

The nicely cut down Mavic 350 crit bars felt like home, and the saddle, my favorite for at least 10 years, felt assuringly familiar.

Something, though, wasn't right. I rolled over to the shop where the group met, and even though I gleefully climbed every rise standing, waggling the saddle like a happy dog's tail, I had this sense of impending problems.

(Cue in some "Dum, dah-dum dum daaaah" kind of music.)

Started off the ride, felt fine, almost put my foot to the ground when the pedal almost let go. Ah, too loose. Maybe that was it.

No, it wasn't.

175 cranks. Big circles, compared to my Cannondale's 170s.


This bike came from my 175 mm days, and the cranks were longer. And dropped farther.

And my seat height wasn't any different because I set it exactly like the Cannondale.

In other words, my seat was 5 mm too high.

I thought it would be okay but the first hard hills put paid to that thought. I struggled mightily, lacking any power I thought I ever had. I don't count myself as a good climber, and this group regularly humbles me, but it was even worse than that.

The tall saddle position was just too tall.

I used a borrowed wrench to tighten up the pedals, and, in hindsight, I should have adjusted the seat too, but I didn't feel like guessing while mosquitoes dive-bombed my legs.

I realized pretty quickly that I should have guessed. When I stood I felt reasonable after a couple pedal strokes. Makes sense because when I stand I adjust my leg extension automatically. But as soon as I sat down I lost tons of power and felt myself sliding backwards relatively speaking. I adjusted by sliding forward on the seat but it was still a bit too high. Better than back but not as good as having the right height.

I struggled back to the shop, doing fine whenever I had to descend (26 pound bike!), corner (I love cornering), or do some steady state cruising (175s, even lacking power, work for that).

Hills, forget it.

At the shop I decided I could guess for the ride home.

Would you believe it, I guessed about right. Felt great, at least for the first mile. Then I bonked and slowed down and had to wiggle to make sure drivers saw me (it was totally dark outside).

I crawled home, the missus opening the door as I rolled up. No zucchini bread but to my great surprise she'd made pasta (Barilla) and meatballs.

Yum yum.

At least I know one thing. Next time I ride the bike will fit.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Racing - Tuesday Night, Again

I alluded earlier to a desire to build some fitness for the later part of summer, early part of fall. I also hinted at a return to contributing to the economy.

The two, as I quickly realized, don't mix very well.

Monday evening I was totally and utterly exhausted, unable to do much except stare blankly into space. As one of the two owners said at work, "You'll sleep well tonight!" At least my neck wasn't sore. I managed to drop a really large bag of feed (for horses, believe it or not) on my head. Normally that might be a bad thing - that's what ran through my head as I realized this thing had just let go - but instead, when it hit, I felt this crackle ripple through my neck. My neck felt a LOT better.

I can see it now:
Free chiropractic adjustments. All natural. We use straw and molasses, no added water weight.

Yes, the feed has molasses in it - I guess it tastes better than plain straw, and the straw is sealed in plastic wrap.

I had a concoction called a Snakebite to ease the aches and pains other than my neck (since that was fine). This worked to some extent, getting my stare even more blank. I justified the drinks (plural because I had a bottle of each, mixed) because it helped my blood circulation, enabling me to recover quicker for Tuesday.


Tuesday dawned nicely but the Snakebite effects seemed to linger on well into the morning. By noon though I was starting to feel better and started hoping that maybe, just maybe, there'd be a race tonight. The forecast called for some heavy thundershowers but as the day went on, the skies started to blue up a bit. When I came back from lunch I even left the car windows open (on purpose), it was that nice.

At about 5:00 PM one of the folks at work reminded me I needed to leave for my race, telling me "Go win!" as I left. I grinned to myself - non-racers just don't know what that means. But then again she's a soccer player/coach, a swimmer, and general all-round athlete. So maybe she's just using some of that coaching stuff on me.

I drove over to the race in my race car (more on that some other time, my accidental "post" notwithstanding - I hit the touchpad just wrong and I published a post which I then immediately unpublished, so those of you on email alerts now know what happened), enjoying some sinful driving on the way. In past lives that would mean some combination of speed and risk, but nowadays it means something completely different - "inefficient driving".

So instead of trying to squeeze more than 35 miles out of each gallon of gas (the car is rated at 21/26 MPG), I focused more on listening to music (loudly), taking good lines through ramps (and, yes, that did involve some speed), accelerating briskly (normally I accelerate so slowly I almost get rear ended when I shift veeeery slowly from first to third), and generally driving like an oil consuming hog.

You know, like a normal person.

It helped that I've been driving my car a mile at a time and my tank's overall mileage sat at about 18 MPG on my meter. When it reads 35 MPG it's much harder to push the gas pedal more than necessary, or to actually use all the gears as I shift up, or to pass someone on the highway. FYI after I got back from the race, even with my brisk accelerations and all that, it sat at 24 MPG, so I managed to get something like 30 MPG despite my inefficient driving.

Anyway, once I got to the race, I talked with a familiar guy as we warmed up. We share war stories, funny stories, and it's fun seeing things from someone else's perspective, especially one that once asked me what gear I used when I jumped. Plus he's a good guy with no attitude and it's good talking with a good guy with no attitude.

My goal for the day was to NOT do anything flagrantly stupid (always a good goal, but I'm talking from a tactical point of view) and actually race for 45 minutes plus five laps. I also wanted to see some decent surge speeds so I could work on my speedwork. Of course the fact that I'd be racing for 50 or so minutes would help my aerobic fitness and all that too.

After a quick but needed stop at the green portapotty (I had a Boost for dinner, in the car, on the way to the race, and those things make such stops necessary) I was ready to go. Yeah, I know, a Boost isn't much, but that's another goal, to make sure I don't overeat.

Contrary to my thoughts earlier in the week, I didn't bring my Giant. I thought I'd have to since I broke a spoke in my Reynolds DV46c (clincher) and I haven't rebuilt them yet. Plus I had my lights and such on my Cannondale, and although I'd ditched the NiteRider (the heaviest of the three I have), the other stuff was still on there. I did have my race DV46 tubulars though, so that was fine.

I decided this would be a "Surge+" workout, where I'd be dragging along a few extra pounds of stuff.

My warm-up partner looked around after we eased to a stop at the line, side by side. He pointed out there was no upside-down 13 guy, one pro type, and a few Cat 2s. It would be less than impossible today.

When I rolled up to the line I did hear "Primero!".

Ah. Secondo was here.

We rolled off the line and got under way.

Eventually a big-ish break went up the road. Individual guys chased it pretty hard, including SOC (who just won the prior race), but when those guys collectively blew up, the break disappeared up the road.

Like a good boy, I sat in and didn't scamper after the break, didn't do anything to get myself dropped.

I did delay some acclerations a bit, forcing myself to close small gaps. These were my surges, and unfortunately, I found that to get above a certain speed I had to stand up.

Not good.

Surges (at least the ones I wanted to make) need to be done without altering the body's pose, so they need to be done seated. Standing up and sitting down takes energy, reduces smoothness, and alerts folks you're doing something. Seated type efforts make it seem like you suddenly "surged" away, no obvious outward announcements preceeding the sudden rise in speed.

I filed away the fact that I need to work on my surges.

Another thing I learned is that when I focused on staying on the drops, I'd see double when I looked up. This meant two things. First, I was looking down. Tired racers look down, or those checking gears. Since I couldn't tell you what gear I used when (I just use what I need), I can tell you that the gear checking excuse wouldn't fly for me.

The second thing is it means I'm either too low or not used to prolonged efforts. I've been fine on the exact same bike with the exact same set up at much harder races like Harlem (the only other totally flat race I've done at a super hard pace) so this means I'm not used to prolonged efforts.

I filed these facts away as well.

I looked up for the break regularly, hoping to see a bridgeable gap, hoping to see it disintegrate under the impetus of the pro (he made it, of course). One lap I looked up front. No break, but my vision was doubling up and some lamp posts looked sort of like tall riders. I looked a bit to the left, which would mean they were about half a lap up (looking across the course). Now details of the stadium looked like racers. I blinked and looked again. Apparently I was looking around for a bit because the guy I warm up with, sitting just to the side of me, poked his finger in the air, pointing sort of behind us. I looked to our 8 o'clock. Eight or so guys in a row.


They were about to lap us.

I started thinking about maybe doing some efforts to keep them from lapping us. I mean, might as well, right? Work on surges, work on holding my head up, you know, get some form.

Then a red-faced Horst guy came flying up on the inside, followed by a bunch of other red-faced racers.

Nix that whole "work a bit to keep the break from lapping us" bit.

Secondo had managed to infiltrate the break, and he was the second guy to fly by. Some of the other break members decided to sit back a bit after lapping the field - the sprint was not as important as the workout, and to risk a crash while duking it out with the lapped guys didn't seem necessary.

For a few of the break though the sprint was important, and Secondo was one of them. Secondo was conspicuous in the fact that he never dropped back more than five or six positions from the front - it was obvious he was feeling good and that he wanted to do something in the sprint.

We wound down the last five laps, and I started thinking of surges and leadouts and all sorts of stuff that hurts a lot to do but would help me in my quest for more fitness. But as I repeatedly thought of things to do (and then promptly discarded them), I ran out of laps. With half a lap to go I was slightly off of Secondo's wheel and decided I'd sweep his wheel a bit.

The finger poking guy (who apparently doesn't have this double vision problem when looking around for a breakaway) was on Secondo's wheel, and since he hadn't made the break (obviously, since he pointed out the break's position to me), he too would act as a sweeper. Not intentionally, but still, a sweeper. I also knew that both of them liked long sprints so I knew that they would go kind of early. My shorter, jumpier sprint would normally love a long leadout but I wouldn't take the wheel today.

Sure enough Secondo jumped at about where a leadout guy would have just gotten going. I played nice and didn't move. The guy on his wheel ended up bouncing his chain in his pulleys and almost tore off his derailleur - luckily for him he managed to stop pedaling. Regardless of what was happening behind him, Secondo was busy putting meters between himself and the field.

After the chain bouncing guy managed to save things, I saw that other guys were going, guys to the chain bouncer's left. This was a bit too much for me to resist so I started to go kind of hard. Jumping from the front into a more-headwind-than-tailwind is definitely not my style, but I managed to get the bike rolling. I never came close to Secondo, not even closing up any of the gap, but I did go all the way to the line.

I think we'll have to switch names.

Okay, I can still meander through a field comfortably. No adrenaline whatsoever from field riding stuff, a twinge of adrenaline when they held out 5 to go. Then the careful counting of laps to avoid the one-lap early sprint.

But surges, double vision, and taking risks physiologically (i.e. making efforts)?

I need to work on those.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Life - Moving. Again.

About a year ago the missus and I moved from a small 3 bedroom house to a smaller 2 bedroom apartment. At the house we had a garage and a big basement, full of stuff I'd accumulated over the course of almost 15 years and having perhaps 10 different roommates. Before we moved I made a bunch of van runs to the dump, hauling sometimes thousands of pounds of stuff. It got to the point where the guy (at the dump) who drove the giant Tonka Toy Yellow front loader would come by the van to see what I was dropping off that day. He'd check out what I had in the van, inevitably ask me to leave stuff "over there" (where all the good stuff ended up), and wait for me to finish unloading everything so he could claim it.

Ultimately we moved what I thought was a pretty well edited bunch of stuff, all fitting in a PODS, multiple 18-foot-long-van trips, the missus's mom's pick up, and a few Civics worth of delicate stuff.

Lo and behold I'm finding that my editing in Norwalk, severe as it was, ended up incomplete by a long shot. There are some tables we're donating, sofas to disappear, and various miscellaneous things we've found twice (i.e. we have one and then we find another one). Freecycle is our friend and it can be your friend. A few minutes ago our second salad spinner went out the door to a very appreciative lady.

There are those things I want to keep. I have a pile of frames, wheels, bikes. And parts.

Lots of parts.

I've spent the last few days doing even more editing, organizing boxes. My procedure is pretty straight forward - grab a box that has a lot of stuff in it (inevitably bike stuff along with other stuff) and pick out the things one at a time, put them in the right box (a different one). Repeat ad nauseum.

I've now filled a pretty big plastic bin with "bike" nuts and bolts. This is a separate bin from the ones with bike suspension or automotive or household nuts and bolts, and separate again from the bins holding actual parts. My future goal will be to get one of those nut and bolt organizers that mount on the wall (maybe a few of them) and empty out this big bin into the little drawers. The new shop nearby has them and I really like the way the bins work out.

I also want to get some clear plastic drawer things, the cheap stackable "collegiate" type ones that previously generated scoffs on my part. Now I see them as great bug/dust resistant containers for stems, cranks, cassettes, freewheels, hubs, derailleurs, brakes, shifters, shock/suspension parts, parts for particular bike builds, and, if I can find one long enough, handlebars.

I have a few nostalgic frames I want to rebuild - my Actual Size Cannondale 3.0 crit bike (the 2.7 got crashed so much I actually tossed it), my original Actual Size Cannondale (it has the original race frame, one we called the "5.0"), and perhaps a time trial bike or something. That last thing I'll actually ride, maybe race, and probably convert back to a regular bike after I go really slow on it.

I want to rebuild something else too - my fitness. I've finally noticed some blood veins popping out of my calves, and the layers of fat on my arms have melted away just enough to show a hint of the veins there too. I'm almost back down to my peak fitness (i.e. "just before Bethel" fitness, i.e. late February fitness), helped along with some regular riding and some beautiful days.

There's a reason for gaining fitness this late in the season. A minor goal for me - okay, it's a major one, I admit it - is to rebuild a lot of fitness by late September. I am hoping to do a race I consider to be quite major and I want to do enough not to embarrass myself. This means a lot of speedwork, a lot of training, and losing some weight. Six weeks to go and I feel like it's February before Bethel.

Oh wait, it's exactly like that.

Except I'm already kind of in shape. Sort of, anyway.

I looked into doing some track races up in New Hampshire. 318 meter track, Wednesday night races and "free track time" 4:30 PM until 6:30 PM the same evening, pretty cool. I'll have to give up the Wednesday night group rides but the Monday ones will have to do until the end of September. It works out with my new job since I've told my new (very nice) bosses that I'd like Wednesdays off and they happily agreed. The track gigs will have to wait until we move as "5 hours of driving" (yikes!) won't work well with "moving in two weeks". So a few weeks in September will have to do - but I hope that some very intense speedwork will help me find some ancient form.

I'll get out of work early enough for Tuesday evening races and Monday night group rides, so that will help. Two hours every Monday, plus some "post-ride night riding", and my legs get pretty well cooked. Then Tuesday's races, where I now want to hang with the group rather than scamper off after breaks and blow up right away. Tonight I have to skip the group ride as I'm totally exhausted, there is a 90% chance of thundershowers, and the sky has been quietly grumbling. I hope to be able to race Tuesday though, and do the group ride Wednesday.

Nonetheless the main goal, right now, is the upcoming move. One full weekend of packing left, plus evenings, and we close on our house in two Fridays. Saturday we're having everyone who offered to help come over and, well, help. We also hired some movers for the heavy stuff, and between the 8 or 9 or more of us and the movers, we hope it's a quick and relatively painless move, not like when we moved into the apartment - the agonizing full day in blazing heat with just four of us doing the moving, and we moved everything.

Just to prove that friends triumph over pain, the two that helped us last year have volunteered to help us once again this year. Well, they did offer a little extra help - their new daughter Dara will be joining us in welcoming use into the new home.

Okay, I'll shut up about the moving. I will, however, want to talk about some of the future garage and storage plans I have for the new place. The group ride is not just good for riding in a group (and sitting on wheels) - it's also a fertile place for ideas, and one guy described what I think is an excellent way of storing bikes. If I can implement a similar idea in the new place I'll be sure to describe it here.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Incidentally I didn't know the worked mining diamonds (!).

Friday, August 08, 2008

Life - Dentist and Stuff

I went to the dentist this morning.


And got an old filling redone.


And now my tooth is driving me bananas. I want to itch inside of it, or squeeze it, or something, but I can't. And I'm starting to get really jumpy and stuff. It feels "swollen" but I know it'll go away. I hope it'll go away. But I can't focus on anything now.


I can't spend too much time here but we have some major things going on.

The biggest major thing is we'll be closing on a house in two weeks. It's been an arduous process, this whole "buying a house" thing, but it looks like all the hurdles are out of the way.

The second major thing is related to the first. Obviously we'll be moving the house, and that means we have to pack up here.

Remember the "Dungeon"? Well, it's even more full than it was in those pictures. And we've been working on emptying it out. The new house has a basement but it's mainly finished so I'll have to organize and such.

This packing doesn't (yet) include my friend Todd's garage, where I have a lot of car stuff (the new house has a garage).

And there's the standard living space of course.

Since we're moving the day after we close, we only have two weeks to pack.

"But you're a full time cyclist! It'll be easy to pack!"

True. But there's the third major thing.

I have a job.

Gasp. Horror.

It's actually at a local hardware store. 40-45 hours, depending on what they need, what I want. They recently implemented a computer system, they are losing three summer full timers (they're teachers and are returning to teach in the fall). It's very local. And they know that ultimately this is not my dream vocation.

They're a very understanding shop. They know I want to do a Tuesday night race, they know we're moving, and they know that I want to take time in September. They know the missus and they're nice people.

Anyway, I start Monday.

And we'll see how I do once I start doing that.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Life - Bike Shop Learning

Recently someone posed the question (albeit incompletely phrased), "How working in a shop changed you."

I immediately thought of one or two things, but as I started to type, I realized, hey, wow, there's a lot more here. I guess part of it is that I spent almost 15 years in the business, and if I didn't learn a lot by doing something for 15 years, I was doing something wrong.

I remember one summer I made something like $5000, worked my butt off, as many hours as I could manage. I had maybe $500 in the bank at the end of the summer but I had a 23 lbs mountain bike (for some reason I spent all my money on the bike I didn't race, and I didn't really race my mountain bike) as well as my road bike and all its trappings. Back then it was all wheels and tires - it seemed like I was building up new wheels every few weeks.

First lesson - don't spend your money where you work!

Because of my time in a shop, I appreciate small businesses. It's different when one or two people do all the back office work. Payroll, insurance, medical, taxes, purchasing, marketing, and let's not forget budgeting, it can be overwhelming in more than one way. It takes money to do all this. You can add time to take some money away, i.e. instead of hiring one more person you just work later, but ultimately someone has to pay for everything - the owner/s of the shop. Time or money, you take your pick.

I appreciate margins - I don't ask for a break unless I need it, and I'll ask to be charged full price unless it'll take more time to convince a shop to skip taking 10% off retail than it will for them to just give me 10% off. The discount, while I appreciate the gesture, doesn't make a financial difference to me, but to the shop it can add up. I do ask for breaks when I need it, but I try to make it such that the shop will benefit.

See, as a former shop person, I know it helps to have filler items when ordering from places with high minimums. I also know that if you're ordering a lot of stuff from a distributor that's far away, they'll expedite shipping (Next or Second Day) for free if the order is big enough. So I'll ask the shop to order something from one of those desirable distributors (i.e. good products, good selection, gives bonuses for big orders), pay for it in advance, and let the shop tack on stuff to my order. Since my base order will be substantial (I'm nice but if I want to order $1-3k of stuff, I need a break at that point - my $50-250/visit amounts are manageable and usually pretty spontaneous), the shop can earn expedited shipping, terms, and other things that help them do business. I never take anything out of their inventory, and if I hold off on picking my stuff up, the shop may be able to sell it first (that's part of the agreement - they just buy me another one).

I appreciate the fact that bike shops usually attract hugely overqualified people and that they aren't typical "I don't care about my job" type folks. The "senior" staff are enthusiastic, intelligent, dedicated, and usually have strong opinions on what works and doesn't work. The "junior" staff are usually smart, well raised kids, doing the best they can. They're enthusiastic, happy to be important, eager to help, and full of raw idealistic ideas and opinions. That's awesome.

I love the social aspect of the shop. I like being able to help someone in a genuine way. I sold all my old bikes to folks on an "as needed" basis. My Schwinn and Dawes (steel, 27" wheels, etc) both went to guys who lived at a shelter and commuted on bikes because they couldn't drive. One I sold for $20 because the guy wanted us to replace a tire - $14.95 tire plus $5.00 labor. But he really needed two straight wheels, spokes that weren't about to pop, and a drivetrain that had less than a half decade of everyday use on it. My relatively pristine Schwinn Traveller III went to him for the price of that tire change, and I went over it before I handed it over to him. I even moved all his accessories onto the Schwinn, his rack, lock holder, and some other miscellaneous stuff. The last time I saw him, about 5 years later, he was still on the bike.

The Dawes also went to a guy who needed it. I put the original wheels back on (I'd swapped them out for super narrow "race" wheels) and sold it to another slightly distressed individual. I don't remember this transaction as much because I remember the guy for a funny exchange we had across the shop. He opened the door and hollered to the back. I think it was 67 feet to the wall separating the front and rear, so we were even further away. With very tall ceilings you really had to holler.

"You got a pin?"
"Pin?" We looked at each other. "Pin? Why's he want a pin?"
"Pin! You got a pin?"
"What kind of pin?"
Our guy was obviously a bit frustrated. "Pin, you know, PIN. P - E - N. Pin!"
"Oh, a pen! Yeah I got one."
I ran up and gave him a pen.

So, no, I don't remember anything about selling my beloved Dawes Lightning, but I think I sold it to him for $40, the price of whatever repair he needed at that time.

I do remember one thing vividly about being in the shop - I was so poor, so so poor. I was shredding some very old statements the other day and saw my bank account balances - I remember thinking things were good if I had more than $100 in the bank. $200 was exciting. Yikes.

Someone who bought a nice jacket brought it back when the sleeve thread broke or something. He was yelling at me, really upset because it would take time to get a new one (and it ended up that the company stopped making them for the year). "You ever buy something at a store and it just breaks????" I thought about it and realized (to my horror) that I had not been able to buy anything at a store for something like five years. My then girlfriend (and, before her, the one before that) bought me my clothes and stuff, I begged my food from the bagel place or traded for it at the deli, and I drove a totally beat up car that I worked on at my friend's garage. I didn't say that to him though. I just said yes and tried to get him another jacket from the rep, from another store, anywhere. No luck. I still feel bad about that, and it took me about 11 years to buy another Pearl Izumi product (last week, actually).

I also know that I never want to work in a shop again. I am totally and completely burnt on working in a shop. I have volunteered at shops, done as much free work as I can in the time I have (usually a day or maybe an early-to-late evening), refuse anything in return, but man, I just cannot do that as a job again.

After I first closed my shop I didn't even want to change a flat so I just swapped wheels for a few years until I started puncturing really expensive and virtually new Vittoria tubulars. When I started training on a Seta (silk) tire I realized I'd hit rock bottom. It took maybe 10-15 rides on the Seta before I changed a few tubes (I had them, just didn't change them) and started back on the road to recovery. It took a bit longer for me to actually degrease my chain - by then it looked like something out of the bottom of an old rusty oil tank.

What's interesting is what I learned after I closed the shop.

Keep in mind that I started working there pretty much as soon as I was driving, and although I worked in other places, none of them were retail oriented. Okay, a super market is technically retail, but a gallon of milk is a gallon of milk, and it didn't sell "Parlee with SRAM Red" equivalent beef or anything. Therefore I had very little exposure to other people's spending habits.

I learned that (some) people have a lot of money, that the way I spend money is not the way others do. So although I'm a relatively frugal person, I know that there are those out there who have tons and tons of money. And they want to spend it.

I made more money in the first 2 months after the shop closed than I did the previous year. Granted I made 1/2 as much that last year as I made the previous year, and 1/3 what I made the year before that, but still... I couldn't believe that someone thought my time was worth so much. And they paid for social security, state income tax, medical, even something called a "401k" (which I thought was a scam at first).

For someone used to doing payroll and deducting social security, insurance, taxes, and such, this was unbelievable.

I bought a new car in 2003, something that, when I owned the shop, I swore I'd never do. Cars were $2000 max when I had the shop, and I never got comprehensive insurance because I could never afford it. A new car? Forget it.

I learned that there is a bigger world than Campy vs Shimano, mtb vs road, hardtail vs full suspsension, Ritchey tires vs Panaracer. I learned how much someone sacrifices to pick up a bike at 5 pm, and if it's not ready, why they are so upset. Ditto picking up bikes for weekend rides. If I miss a ride, even one I forgot wasn't even being held, it's a big blow, a big disappointment. As a shop guy I just rode whenever I could, and that meant riding after whenever the last customer left the shop. In the spring and fall I'd ride in the dark, and in the winter I rode in the store, late late late.

I realized that upholding your word, no matter what the cost, is critical for a small business. People deal with you, not some vague corporate identity. They expect personal attention. From you. Over-promising is the worst thing you can do. So if the bike "might" be done on Tuesday night, say it'll be done Wednesday. Either that or make sure it's done Tuesday morning, before the shop opens and before things get so crazy that you can't finish it by 5 PM Tuesday.

I also learned to appreciate how much time and effort my friends spent helping at my shop. My teammates (and they were pretty much all friends of mine as well) would sometmes show up on Saturday after the morning ride to talk to customers, talk to them about what they knew about bikes and stuff ("Oh, if you want to carry your bike on the car, this is my car and this is the rack I have. The shop has them over here.").

I had one kid "working" for me. I couldn't pay him so I told his parents I couldn't hire him. But they wanted him to work for me, and they were willing to pay for it. So they paid him for the whole summer, his mom or dad calling every now and then to make sure things were okay with him. The next summer I paid him but I remember being really puzzled with the procedure, like, "Hey, this doesn't seem familar to me."

One friend spent a couple months doing my books, a day a week. This was after he designed and built our enormous loft in the second location, a project that took him out of "real life" circulation for about two months. During the build he managed to fall off the second floor deck, landing in a pile of scrap below (luckily he was only out for a few days). He even had a piece of wood fall on his face (and I happened to be snapping pictures when it happened). He helped with the Bethel races as well, doing a lot of the gritty paperwork that I love to hate.

And, get this: he even led me out at races! That's a friend.

Another guy spent probably five years helping with Bethel, and he helped paint the shop (he painted for a living). The landlord gave us paint, we painted. Because he's a pro, he painted everything that required a ladder, and he even brought a co-worker to help him out. I learned after many, many years that he's the one that gives me discrete little pushes up the hill at Bethel. If you ever saw me at the top of the hill at Bethel, looking around with a puzzled look on my face, that's what just happened.

Another friend would show up, out of the blue, on a day off, and put in an hour or 8 of hard work, grin, do the whole gangster knucks/slap/whatever thing to say they're taking off, and drive away. He worked with me for years, starting off as a kid, finishing off as a young adult ready to take over his family's business. When he was starting to get into racing, we'd ride after work every day, returning to the shop to detail our bikes in excrutiating detail. We'd discover new polishes for aluminum, waxes for the frame, and spend countless hours using such stuff on the bikes. We even used a drill press to drill out a bunch of chainrings, but when I realized how flexy they were, we stopped that experiment.

A decade down the road he's running his extremely successful business, his dad still lending a hand every now and then. It used to be the dad introducing the son. "Hi, Mister So-and-so, this is my son." Now it's the other way around. "Hi Mister So-and-so, this is my dad." Amazing.

And, yeah, he also rode his brains out for me, at least until he was so strong he could ride me off his wheel.

I didn't realize what they gave me until I got into the position where I wanted to offer the same help. When I worked an unusual three day a week shift, I knew what I wanted to do on my days off. I called my friend and told him I could help out a couple days a week. I didn't do very much, I don't think, mainly taking out garbage and cleaning stuff up, but I got to help work on some very cool things. When my time at that job ended, so did my short stint volunteering at my friend's business.

At some point, when I recovered from my extreme bike shop burnout, I'd offer a hand at the shop I patronized, spending a hour or two, maybe more, talking or wrenching or something. I trued a wheel at one busy shop while everyone was running around, built bikes at another, and did some repairs and assemblies at yet another. I haven't done this too much. I am very, very selective of where I make my work offers, and I've done so only at shops that support the local cycling scene. My volunteer work keeps me fresh, lets me see things from a slightly different perspective, and reminds me to appreciate the (good) local shops.

The last thing is important because of one overriding reason. Everyone starts at their local shop, and for that reason alone, it's critical to have them around.

Ultimately that's what I've learned from having a shop.