Sunday, May 13, 2012

Training - Motorpacing Without A Motor

I read an article about motorpacing the other day. I can't find the article (I think it was in Velonews) but it had to do with the benefits of motorpacing. When I read it I felt like I didn't get a complete answer as far as identifying exactly how motorpacing benefits racers.

So, while on a training ride (the first since my race last Sunday), I thought about it. I was doing my normal loop, like normal, and I struggle over these little bumps, literally 20 foot rises that force me to change my rhythm.

And that's the key.

Motorpacing allows you to maintain a near perfect consistent level of effort. We're talking the steady state stuff here, not the "go for a bit then sprint around the moto" or other more advanced stuff. I'm just talking "draft the sucker and don't let go".

I have a Honda Civic owned by a former pro. It bore motorpacing scars on the rear bumper - small vertical grooves burned in by a spinning 700c tire. As a hatchback with a pop-up glass door, it is a perfect motorpacing vehicle - short enough to look over, a glass windshield to look through, and a sincere lack of power.

The latter is important because it's too easy to pull away from a redlined rider. Low power makes it a bit harder to accidentally goose the throttle. Or rather, low power makes goosing the throttle a non-issue because nothing happens.

I thought about how great it would be to motorpace for training. It's basically how I race, really - it's motorpacing until the sprint. I hang on for dear life, the pace is usually uncomfortably steady, and I'm redlined most of the race. It's great training; I actually rely on it for all my intensity training since I virtually never extend myself on training rides (on a typical pancake flat ride I average 16-17 mph, 150-170 watts).

The question becomes "Why can't I just do motorpacing type training by doing a time trial or something like that? Isn't that also a redlined type of ride?"

Well, yes and now. When you time trial you realize just how big a one cog shift can feel like. This is because wind resistance increases exponentially. A small increase in speed means a large increase in effort.

There's a reason why racers used a "half step" chainring set up, where the two chainrings are close enough in size that you shift the chain on the chainring before you shift it on the cogs. So, for example, you might run a 49/53, and, from faster to slower, your gear progression would go 53x11, 49x11, 53x12, 49x12, etc.

The "half step" means the chainrings are so close that shifting to the other chainring brings you a half step of a gear difference, at least compared to shifting to a one tooth difference cog.

What's that got to do with motorpacing?

Well, time trialing usually makes you make one cog jumps. Your speed and effort change dramatically with each shift. It's not a very cusp-like effort, unless you're on a track or some other super consistent grade road (i.e. not in Connecticut).

Motorpacing reduces the change in wind resistance when you change speed. You can shift a full cog but your resistance changes very little.

Resistance becomes more linear, not exponential.

And that's the key.

It's different from riding on your own because on your own you experience exponential resistance. Going just a few mph faster requires a lot more power, and easing just a bit will drop you down to an easy Zone 1 ride.

The closest you can get to it is riding on a decent size downhill. Gravity helps overcome wind resistance so your "default" speed would be something like 20 or 25 mph. Since we don't have any long downhills that fit this description, that's out for me.

So is an actual moto. Although I have that Honda (albeit with a new unscarred bumper), it's technically illegal to motorpace. I would consider it with a moped or something but that can land you in hot water.

Regardless of the law, the driver of such a vehicle needs to be a veteran cyclist, one that can read a rider's body language in a millisecond glance in a mirror. I don't have one of those at my disposal to drive around in front of me for an hour at a time.

What's left?


Not just any rollers. Motion rollers, rollers that allow you to stand and sprint without falling. With linear resistance the massive jumps in power disappear. The motion rollers allow the rider to get out of the saddle without worrying about falling. You can coast, you can stand, your crotch doesn't go numb.

Best of all rollers require no other people. It's just me, my bike, and my homemade motion rollers.

I think with my severely limited time and energy available for training, I have to make some changes to maximize the benefits. Motion rollers will be one of the first things I try in the near future.

(In my haste to post this I'll skip looking for links and even the picture of the scarred bumper and some other stuff. Just text for now.)

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