Monday, January 30, 2012

Training - Outside (Bars, Sportsiiiis, Cold)

I'll do a short recap of my first training ride outside since Thanksgiving. Let's just say it was an all morning affair just to get on the bike. It took for freakin' ever to get ready, if I do say so myself. Here's what I did:

1. Cut the new bars, wrap them. I already sliced my knee/quad open on the bars while on the trainer - I usually cut about 1.5" of the end of the bars off, and these new ones were still pristine (albeit with a bit of blood on the right side). Therefore I cut about 1.5" off of each end, after I found my good hacksaw and replaced the blade in it with a nice, new, sharp blade. Filed the sawed ends smooth after the cuts. Then I taped them, a hurried job with a brand of tape I haven't used before. They'll probably look horrible in a week.

2. Spend time gathering rarely used cold weather gear - I pointed out to the Missus that other than Thanksgiving this is really the first time since the 2011 Bethel that I've looked at this stuff. Usually I do this prior to the trip to SoCal so to do this at home, with the pressure of an impending ride, was a new thing for me (at least since 2004). I have to admit I couldn't find one of my favorite winter gloves (I found one side, not the other) so I grabbed the warmest looking gloves I could find. I did find tights, a base layer, and booties. One of the new sets of booties I bought (because I wouldn't be going to SoCal I figured I should have 3 or 4 sets of booties) doesn't work with my shoes so I had to revert to my trusty SideTraks. I remembered to put the Sportsiiiis Ant+ heart rate strap under all that. I'd wear my new Expo jacket on top of everything.

3. Get all the various electronic devices set up. For me this includes a helmet cam, Sportsiiiis (now anyway), SRM, and phone. I forgot to start Strava on the phone but I carry it for calls and such (in SoCal I also carry it for its maps/GPS).

4. Pump up tires. I harp on tire pressure all the time, to the point where I lent out my one known-location floor pump to my sister-in-law. Therefore I used a frame pump to pump up the tires (luckily I know where both my primary and backup frame pump are located).

5. Test garage door opener. As part of the house fix up stuff, I'd recently replaced the broken outside garage door keypad. I also got a third clicker for the cars, knowing I wanted one but not remembering why. I remembered why today - it's much easier to have a clicker on the bike than to tap on the keypad or turn a key in a door. Not so much right now but during mosquito season it's critical. I tested the clicker, which worked just a few days ago. No dice. What the heck? Got keys instead, double checked I had them before pulling the door closed behind me. Then remembered the outside keypad is working, so I could get in that way if I had to. Plus, at 30 degrees, there ain't no mosquitoes out there.

6. Get out on the road. What a production!

I realized a few things right away. First, the bar wrap made the FSA Wing Compact bars look huge. I realize now that guys like Cavendish may not have two layers of tape on their bars, just one fat layer on one fat bar. This isn't a bad thing - I alternate between preferring a thin bar (think almost-not-there Benotto tape) and a thick one (thick cork tape or thick padded fake cork tape).

Second, riding the cold requires proper attire. At 30 degrees F (give or take), and wind gusts of up to 30 mph, a pair of NON-windproof fleece gloves don't do a lot for my hands. I really need to find my windproof thin winter gloves. The Missus (later, after the ride) generously offered up her Lobster gloves, and I'll probably take her up on that.

In addition a neck warmer is critical in cold weather. My exposed neck felt cold and stiff right away. The Verge Warsaw jacket, with just one long sleeve base layer, was okay. I'd have preferred another layer as well when the wind blew, but otherwise I felt fine.

Third, starting with a short, shallow descent really took the heat away from my body. I was pretty numb with cold within minutes of the start of my ride. I warmed up a bit later but I was never comfortable. In a race I'd have been warm, but on a 15-16 mph ride, not so much.

This would mark the first outdoors ride with the Sportsiiiis. I had previously set the talking voice (the pleasant robotic Austrialian ? accented female, who I have not named yet) to speak a little less frequently. I upped her volume to 7 (max) - in the basement I could barely hear her at 5, over the powerful fan and the TV blaring Het Volk or something.

I also changed the heart rate zones to "training" mode, which illustrated to me why you can save different profiles - I'd definitely differentiate (and save appropriately different settings for) between training, racing, time trialing, "tests", and other modes. I'd initially set the zones to a typical race type thing, but when I got on the trainer I was going way too easy to trigger anything but the lowest two LEDs. A much less optimistic zonage let me experience the different LEDs lighting up without risking cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest, I should point out, is well below the 40 bpm minimum I set to start the LEDs blinking, and that would deprive me of seeing an LED blink. Not acceptable.

Speaking of which... Sunday I'd found the bright LEDs a bit distracting at level 200 (on their scale, but my setting) so I set them to 50 or so for the outside ride. In a dimly lit basement 50 works fine. In bright sunshine, at noon, 50 was way too dim. I think outside riding needs about a 200 or so. Night riding would be more like 25. As I try the Sportsiiiis out more I'll let you guys know.

I also reduced LED blinkage from every half second to every 5 or something. That's not enough for me, I want feedback. After the ride I changed it back to every half second or so.

My outside ride was also the first with the FSA Compact bars (Wing version) with a -17 degree 130 mm 3T Team stem. The first impression I got was, wow, this cockpit is light! I knew objectively that it actually weighs within 20 grams of the bar/stem I removed, so it's not any lighter. The front end of the bike, with my regular HED Bastogne clincher wheels, did feel really light though. Then I realized, oh, right, I haven't lifted the front of the bike since, oh, October, when I did Pedal 4 Paws.

So, yeah, when you first pick up a bike in months, it feels light, especially when it's not connected to a massive trainer.

Next impression - the bars felt pretty rigid. I don't have another bike set up with a Ritchey/crit-bar set up for side-by-side comparison, but, yeah, the bars felt rigid. At the bottom of the opening descent there's a good left, and the bike tracked nicely through it, the bars really conveying "feel" if you will.

Later, when I did a "blast into a corner and sprint out of it" move (on my favorite right bend on my Quarry Road loop), the bars really felt more efficient. Very rigid under pressure, allowing me to rock the bike more precisely than I remember.

Unfortunately, the bars also felt too high. Not in the tops, they felt fine there, but in the drops. Interestingly enough I realized that in the tops the bars were further out, since they centered on the 130 mm stem's bar clamp. Since I just made the move from a 120 mm stem, the tops were 10 cm further out. They felt great.

The hoods felt okay too, being about the same reach as on my original set up on the orange Tsunami. A little higher, yes, but about the same reach.

The drops, though, felt much higher than before. I felt like I was sprinting on the hoods, not the drops. Being bent over a bit more really helps in an out-of-saddle sprint. Consider when you pick something up by a handle - it's easier to pick it up if your arms aren't bent. In other words you're not picking up a heavy suitcase with your arm bent, you pick it up with the arm relatively straight. This uses your torso to anchor your body.

Next, when you need to lift the suitcase higher than "arm dangling" height, you basically do a curl, bending your arm up about 90 degrees.

When I sprint out of the saddle, I'm doing sort of that, arm almost fully extended when the bar is low, arm curled when the bar is high.

I'm willing to try something new though. I noted in the 2011 Tour (I watched the 7 DVDs in the 12 hour pack already) that Cavendish sprints with his arms bent/curled the whole time. He doesn't extend his arms much. I'm not sure if I can do that too, but I'll try it. If it gets more more power, so be it. If it gets me more speed (it seems like it should be more aero), so be it.

I need to test this concept on some rides, comparing it to past numbers. I have to admit that my first instinct is to "fix" this higher drop position by getting a lower stem. This may mean a -25 degree stem (right now the level-to-the-ground -17 degree stem is too high) in a 140 mm length (since the angle will shorten the effective reach). I don't know if such an animal exists.

During the ride I remembered Strava, so at a stop light, when I stopped (no turn on red), I turned it on. My ride, therefore, seems a bit odd, a one way ride.

Of course as soon as I turned it on and started going west, the wind hit me hard. 30 mph gusts, and they were coming from the west. I realized a while back in Vegas that I really like hammering in crosswinds, at least on my own. Today my south/north legs had me traversing some major crosswind action so it was fun. I felt like I was in Belgium for the classics or something.

What Strava doesn't show is just how exhausted I felt when I got back. I had to leave for a doctor's appointment within 13 minutes of getting home so I had very little time to rest and recover. A quick (hot) shower, a change of clothes, and I rushed off, telling myself that I could put away the clothing strewn on the floor and the bike by the front door when I got back. I could feel my eyes getting heavy even as I drove, and the chill just would not leave my body.

In the doctor's office, in the exam room, I actually dozed off. Someone had to tap my shoulder to wake me.

When I got back home, I got into bed, no memory of taking my shoes off or going up the stairs, and definitely no action on putting away clothing and bike.

The Missus woke me up when she got home (the garage door opening woke me up, to be precise). Hal was sleeping under the comforter to my left, Bella lay between my knees, and both jumped out to go see who was coming into the house.

The Missus came upstairs and grinned when she saw just how wiped out I looked. She went back downstairs and prepped some food. Once I managed to get myself out of bed, we went out to eat (prepped food would be done later). When we got home I told the Missus that there was no way I'd be able to paint trim in the third bedroom.

Instead, I went to bed, the Missus joining me. Bella curled up between my legs as she usually does, and Hal curled up under the comforter next to me. Tiger, Mike, and Lilly joined us (Riley is too shy, and Tiger is too curious about Estelle so she hangs out downstairs).

At some point in the evening I looked at the Missus.

"Riding outside really wiped me out."

The Missus just grinned back at me. I couldn't have stated something more obvious, not with my windburnt cheeks, droopy eyes, cold fingers, and glazed 1000 yard stare.

I continued.

"Maybe I should ride outside more. I have the mounts for the Down Low Glows, I have a good head light, the blinkie tail light, and I could ride the mountain bike. I feel safe with the Down Low Glows and it's not that much colder at night than it was today. This way I could fall asleep earlier at night."

"Hey, that would be nice!" replied the Missus.

Hm hm hm. It's supposed to be in the 30s Wednesday night.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Equipment - Sportsiiii

So I'm a bit late in my initial ride with the Sportsiiiis. I have to admit that it was all my fault. Jazzed by the idea of having the LEDs, I decided that I'd make some other changes to my data collecting on the bike. For me that meant replacing the SRM wire, the one that picks up speed from one bit and power and cadence from the other.

It's the latter that concerned me, with power and cadence not working. It's actually been on the blink since sometime last year, and with the season as dismal as my 2011, I had no motivation to replace it.

Seeing as all it took was a few LEDs to motivate me, you can see just what I thought of my 2011 bike season.

At any rate, I spent a bit of time trying to get the Sportsiiiis to work, assuming (like a guy), without reading up on how these things work (like a guy), that the Sportsiiiis would just pick up the nearest heart rate strap.

It does.

But you need to tell it to do so. (For those of you who have Ant+ devices, you'll know what I'm talking about. For the rest of you, keep reading.)

Ant+ is like Bluetooth. Since it's a common protocol/language, it needs to mate with its sensors, otherwise you'll be getting all sorts of weird readings in the pack as it reads everyone's heart rate and such. I didn't figure that out on the first night. Oblivious, I waited for the Sportsiiiis to find the strap, not realizing that the Sportsiiiis was waiting for me to tell it to find the strap.

On the good side of things I managed to replace the SRM wire, immediately rewarded with power and cadence. So my crank battery is fine (and my soldering of said battery). I guess this means I should buy a couple extra harnesses for the SRM - it was really nice to see numbers on the whole screen. It's also an encouraging factor as far as soldering my second SRM head (PCV) battery (my other cranks still have juice).

At any rate the availability of power and cadence really motivated me and I ended up doing 2.5 hours on the trainer. This translates to a bit more time, since I spent a good 1.5 hours setting up the SRM and trying to set up the Sportsiiiis. Combined with a trip upstairs to the bathroom I actually spent more like 4 or 5 hours with the bike.

That was Friday night, going into Saturday morning.

Saturday, after work, I was absolutely dead with fatigue. When I got home I managed to eat (the Missus cooked up some really awesome food), then prepared for a full night's sleep by taking a three hour nap. After said nap, another quick bite to eat, and I went to sleep for real, getting up a good 10 hours later.

All this recovery meant no bike stuff, no Sportsiiiis, no nothing, not even a dream.

That brings us to today, Sunday.

We've been frantically working on the house, trying to get it done before Bethel. "Done" means getting the previously vacant third bedroom fixed up (floor, trim, paint, then move furniture into it), getting a futon for the den (for overnight guests), and doing some basic clean up stuff. Typically it's spring time work, but with Bethel in the spring, our spring time falls in January and February.

A full Sunday of working on the third bedroom meant we finished the trim by about 5:30 PM. Some paint for the same (that's the plan tomorrow) and we can clean up and start moving stuff in.

Trim before caulking, picture taken this morning.

This left me the evening to fiddle with the Sportsiiiis and play with the SRM once again.

I charged the Sportsiiiis.
You can see my heart rate zones in the background.

The red LEDs means it's still charging - they kind of roll, like Knight Rider's (I didn't know there was a new one!) car's eyes, or a Ceylon from Battlestar Galactica. When the first two LEDs are green you're good to go.

First, mount the mount on the glasses.

Since I don't have cycling-only glasses, I decided to just mount them on my regular glasses.

Next the Sportsiiiis
The red round thing is a speaker

They slide on. I advise that you slide the unit on and off the mount a few times to loosen it up; new, out of the box, it was really tight - I practically broke my glasses sliding the unit on.

With the knowledge that I had to sync the heart rate strap to the Sportsiiiis, I allowed them to talk to each other. I immediately got a nice blinking LED (I wore the strap while I did this) and the "female" voice told me my heart rate. You can choose male or female - I figured guys listen to female voices better, at least that's what they found with fighter pilots, so female it was.

"Below target. 51 BPM."

Hey now, she talks!

I wore the Sportsiiiis as I ate, fiddled with the bike, and did the (seven) litter boxes. The voice kept telling me I was below target. I surprised myself by jacking the heart rate up to 79 just by bounding up the stairs, and dropping it just as quickly while standing at the counter waiting for my toast.

When I first put them on.
You can see the speaker pointing at the ear.

The unit is super light, almost unnoticeable, and they definitely fade into the background. I inadvertently hit the side of the unit when adjusting my glasses and such.

After a bit of time on the trainer
The red LED is very visible in my field of vision

You can see I'm in the first zone, below 113 bpm. I chose that heart rate, btw, because that's when my reverse beat reverses, i.e. it fixes itself. Below this I have some weird "heart attack" EKG, above this it seems normal. I learned that I don't ride that hard on the trainer, never exceeding 140 bpm tonight.

The Sportsiiiis have four functions: power, heart rate, cadence, and speed. You select them by double tapping the Sportsiiiis (it has a g-force meter type thing in it so you just tap the side). A single tap tells the voice to talk (exact value at the time).

There's a button for system type functions, like changing between run and bike, turning the gizmo on or off, and, get this, finding a heart rate strap (or power meter or cadence sensor or speed sensor). It takes a just-right touch to hit the button so it's something you want to get done before you get on the bike. Once on the bike, the tapping function works fine.

On the bike the Sportsiiiis worked great. They blinked red and orange (I need to drop all my zones down so I can see the different LEDs light up - I only got out of the low red zone for a bit). I could see them blink, although it's hard to tell the orange from red.

I spent a bit of time fiddling with the LED arm, the bendable thing that needs to sit under my glasses. I tried it in front, below, and behind. In front was a bit much, distracting me. Behind was nice except it hit my face. Below the frame worked well.

I realized that sliding the Sportsiiiis forward and backward on my glasses allowed me to fine tune where the LEDs sat under the lens. By sliding them far enough back, I could keep the low range red LED way out to the side. The closer in the LEDs got (regardless of whether I could tell the orange from the red), the higher the value.

I set the Sportsiiiis to talk to me every minute, but that seems a bit much. In fact, if I had a second Ant+ device, I'd leave it to talk to me every hour or something and just glance at the other device. As it is I'll probably set it to every 5 minutes or so. In a mass start race, where I'm in a field, knowing my heart rate (or speed or cadence) really doesn't matter. In a time trial or a climb it's more critical, and I could see reducing the interval to a minimum. It's like have a director sportif yelling in your ear.

Ultimately, for me, in a race, I think that I'd want to have the Sportsiiiis on cadence. My main goal would be to jump at a good cadence, optimizing my sprint.

The rest of it is gravy, really, at least for a mass start racer. Speed may be fun but knowing how fast you're going doesn't really change things. Power, in a mass start race, is kind of useless, at least at the moment. You have to follow moves, and it takes what it takes. Heart rate falls under that category also; if you have to peg your heart rate to stay in the race, you have to peg your heart rate.

I think for a time trial type person or a duathlete a Sportsiiiis make huge sense. Competitors needs to stay in a narrow band of optimal effort (power, heart rate, and therefore cadence, resulting in some particular speed), and the Sportsiiiis LEDs work perfectly for that.

I was thinking that for me a second Sportsiiiis would be good, on the other side of my glasses. I'd set a second one to probably heart rate as a primary reading.

With two Sportsiiiis I could set different types of values. For example, if I was off the front, I'd be in time trial mode, and I could have settings such that I could keep track of power and cadence, trying to keep both in the green. Knowing my zones I could really pinpoint a sweet spot range to optimize my time off the front. This would work for a climb or some other "non-SprinterDellaCasa" kind of effort. If I went into a race knowing I'd be working for others, I could set these non-SDC zones a bit higher, for chase and leadout type functions.

Otherwise, for me, I would have the two set for personal alert settings, power for one, heart rate for the other. I tend to be a bit too enthusiastic early in races, when it's easy to zing the wattage meter up into the 1000-1200 range without trying. Usually these zings aren't of any use, and in the past some of these transgressions have cost me any chance of doing well in a race. An LED reminder not to rev too hard would be good.

Then, with ten laps to go, I'd double tap the two Sportsiiiis to set them to my preferred mode and prepare for the sprint.

I hope that I can get outside and try this out, maybe tomorrow. I have to cut down my bars (I've already cut my knee to the point it bled), wrap them in tape, and pump up my tires. With a bit of outside time, with wind blowing past my ear, more distractions than just the TV, the Sportsiiiis will get a real workout (on heart rate only, at least until the speed/cadence sensor arrives).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Equipment - 4iii Sportsiiiis

One of the things I saw way back when, in the 2010 Interbike show, was a new, still developing product by a new, still growing company named 4iiii. I put the picture of part of the interview here - a bit when one of the guys had some humorous problems trying to say something in front of the camera.

I alluded to the fact that I felt it the product of the year, but I never expanded on that thought. I didn't want to talk about some product that couldn't deliver, that didn't deliver, and then try and backpedal and say, "Well, I thought it was for real" and all that.

(And I know that I'm going to catch some good natured flak for that, but so be it.)

Well, today, in the mail, I found a box addressed to me.

The SDC nominated 2010 Product of the Year, the one that I never disclosed, had arrived!

Now, before I get into this thing, let me review some things I've learned about myself in the last few years of racing.

1. If my average wattage goes over 200 watts for a race, I usually don't have a sprint. I can't psyche myself out because I don't scroll through the numbers while I race - I only have second by second power readings available, and even then, I barely look at the computer while I race.

2. If my heart rate is over 168 or so when I launch a sprint, it's below par. Significantly below par. At 170-172 bpm, which is about my redline, I have no sprint - it's hard for me to even get out of the saddle. However, at 164 bpm, I have a ferocious sprint.

3. When I jump at about 95 rpm, I have the best peak power number. If I can stay in that range, by shifting whenever I get out of it, I can sustain a very high number much longer than normal.

I got all of these numbers by analyzing the power data the SRM gave me through the download. I didn't look at the computer while I was doing jumps or sprints or at the bell or whatever. I can't - I'd crash or something.

The only way that I could get this kind of data was by recording and reviewing my performance on the bike.

Let me say that again.

The only way that I could get this kind of data was by recording and reviewing my performance on the bike.

In an unfortunate coincidence, I can't use the data I got either, not easily.

And because that's important, let me say that again.

I can't use the data I got either, not easily.

It's hard to focus on the SRM screen, read my HR, read my cadence, all while barreling down the second last straight, while jumping out of a turn, while trying to surf the pack just right.

Ideally I'd have a system where I could have some way of telling me I'm at, just below, or just above my ideal points, without forcing me to look anywhere but where I want to look.

Let's get think about this. I can manipulate some factors, others I can't. Ultimately, average power is average power. I can't help it if I had to put down serious power to stay on wheels. Trust me, I'm not making attacks when I'm dying just staying on wheels - I don't flagrantly blast away at my reserves, not if I'm trying to do well in a race.

Another factor - my heart rate. I can somewhat take control of that. In the lead out in the final 2010 race, the Francis J Clarke race, my heart rate dropped 5 bpm during the lead out.

It dropped 5 bpm.

Heart rate is something where I can trade a few spots for a few bpm, with the idea that I should be able to get back those spots, with interest, in the sprint.

This means knowing my current heart rate is important.

The third factor - cadence, or how fast I'm pedaling at the moment.

This one is huge for me, just huge. I see, in different experiments, pretty consistent evidence that I lose as much as 200-300 watts when I veer away from my ideal cadence. Seeing as my race-end sprints tend to peak at only 1100-1200 watts, losing 200-300 watts is huge.

If I can jump at my ideal cadence, I should be able to stay much closer to my typical race ending 1200 watt jump.

If I'm really good, I may be able to rip out a training ride kind of sprint, one that bumps up that 1200 watts by at least 20%-25%. I haven't done that in a race ever so that's a pipe dream, but still, I can dream.

I'm putting things in terms of myself, in the descriptions above, but I can't imagine that I'm very different from an average regular racer. We all have our optimal power bands, our best cadence, our sweet spot heart rate. For me, I look for what I just described. Others may look for other things. A time trial kind of rider may focus on a narrow band of power output; a climber may focus on a similarly narrow band of power, or of heart rate.

We all have our sweet spots and we all need to be able to instantly and safely check them.

So what's all this got to do with the Product of the Year award, a belated year and change later?

4iiii came out with the product that accomplishes just that - it safely and instantly tells you if you're in your own sweet spot.

I talked with the folks at 4iiii at length in 2010, and a little less at length in 2011. The latter year was more interesting, with more off-the-floor talks, and an attempt at getting together to ride (I couldn't make the ride, and from what I could gather they'd be hammering anyway, something I don't do well except in a race).

The girls at 4iiiis.

I call them the girls with all due respect. They were a good hearted bunch for sure. One is the wife of their spokesperson Ian, and all of them are athletes. They also took their "booth girl" duties seriously but with a grain of salt, enjoying the camaraderie with the people interested in the product (the girls use them), while at the same time understanding that some of the guys at the booth had no idea what a Sportsiiii was, and never would, and didn't care.

The show booth glasses, with a Sportsiiiis mounted to a pair of sunglasses.
The heart rate broadcaster is on the right, the speed/cadence on the left.

Ultimately, although we kept in touch, I still had reservations on how this product would work (and if it would work at all). This is why I never put up a post about the product - I didn't want to be talking about a dream.

I wanted to talk about reality.

Well, reality landed in the mailbox today.

Inside the box.
This is a Sportsiiii with HR.

(Disclaimer - I'm getting this as a tester so I didn't buy it. But I'm going to test the heck out of it, believe me.)

The packaging is light and simple. The device itself weighs next to nothing. It charges up pretty quickly - by the time I got the software loaded and going, it was pretty well charged. Once I started playing with the settings, it was done, fully charged. Not much to charge; I'll be curious what the battery life is on the thing.

(Cue the wistful "well it would have been great to use in SoCal on a Palomar attack, with 6 or more hours continuous use to fully test the Sportsiiii".)

The lower back of the unit.

The round thing is a little speaker. If you want to know exactly what's going on, the Sportsiiii tells you. The red thing is, um, some red thing. I just looked it up. It's actually a touch sensitive power/function button. There's a black cap over the micro-USB port.

Micro-USB port open.

You can see the stuff that came with it in the background. Two mounts for glasses, so you can mount the thing on two glasses. A heart rate strap. Micro-USB adapter. A small quick start manual.

And that's it.

Because of a number of reasons, the first ride of the unit won't be until tomorrow, and it'll be on the trainer. But for now, with the setup and all, we can see some of the features.

We'll start with my focus, the heart rate and cadence things.

(With no Ant+ Sport power meter on my bike, I can't take advantage of power. As it is I need to get a cadence/speed pickup to broadcast that info to the Sportsiiii. Out of the box, with no Ant+ Sport pickups on the bike, I can only use heart rate.)

Picture of HR screen

Note the full charge indicator in the lower left, the big green battery. Note also the big yellow button "Ready to Upload". This uploads the settings into the Sportsiiii.

In this shot I've focused on my peak HR zones, the spots where I want to be just before a sprint. The green LED tells me I'm in the right zone (156 to 162 bpm, ideally just at or below 156), the yellows to either side alert me that I'm a bit out of it, either with more reserves (to the left) or going into the red zone (literally, as the LEDs move to the right).

The reason the interface has those music-print like lines across the screen is you can tune (pun intended) the LED colors to your preferences. So, for example, if I want the first two or three LEDs to light red, I just click and drag the musical notes to the red bar. After the settings upload, the appropriate LEDs will light red, not yellow or orange or green.

Incredibly, with the click and drag interface, I can make one bpm adjustments to the ranges. It's that sensitive. For a time trial type rider this would be incredibly valuable.

Cadence screenshot

Here I've adjusted the cadence range to a very minute, very fine range. The green LED will light when I'm between 92 and 95 RPM. The yellow before will stay lit in the 85-92 rpm range, prompting me to shift up. The yellow after will light from 96 to 100 rpm, warning me I'm starting to stray out of my optimal range.

Going into the sprint I want to see green in front of me. I'll shift as soon as I see red, then keep going.

If this sounds like it looks like the F1 steering wheels, with their LED shift lights that light up just before you need to shift, you're right. This is exactly what they were thinking when they made this set up. An intuitive, never have to look closely, no numbers reading, no focusing, just catch the color out of the corner of your eye.

For the rest of it I'm not as concerned. I know that my best time trailing and FTP type efforts happen at 111 rpm, so I set the red LED to go off at that point.

I expect that for most of a race I'd be in the upper yellow or orange zone, between 96 and 110 rpm.

For a hillier ride or a hilly crit, I could change this to focus a bit on a lower rpm range. This would let me focus on not bogging down too much on a power climb.

So, at this point, just before I use the unit, I'm going to sign off.


Tune in tomorrow for a ride report.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Equipment - Stem

One centimeter.

That's what I needed when I put on the new FSA Compact bars on the black Tsunami.

All the thought that went into figuring out a nice top tube length (so that I'd use a 120 mm stem with my bars - I feel that's about the ideal stem length for a standard bar so a rider will weight the front wheel enough), agonizing decisions made after painstaking calculations and geometry stuff, that all went away when I stuck the FSA bars onto the bike.

Suddenly the bike was too short.

I mean, I knew that going in, when I bought the bars. I knew they'd be shorter, that they didn't reach as far. That's the point with the compact bar, they're shorter in reach and shallower in depth.

Compact, in other words.

I bought them anyway because of two reasons.

One, I realized (and I haven't admitted to anyone until now) that when I finally got my black Tsunami frame, the 120 mm stem I had wasn't a 120 mm stem - it was a 110 mm stem.


Let me rewind. In 2011, building up the black Tsunami, I bought a stem for it. My goal was to have two identical bikes, two bikes where I could hop off of one, hop on the other, and all the contact points would be identical. I'd grab the bars instinctively, drop my foot, the pedal would be there, and when I sat down it'd feel like I was on the other bike, right down to the millimeter.

With that in mind, I bought a few stems for the two bikes. The original one, a WCS superlight Ritchey unit, was getting a bit old, and I was worried that it'd eventually fail. Therefore I ordered two or three similar 120 mm Ritchey stems (when I commit to something, I really commit), just in a slightly heavier model.

(I think I have three since I have two in boxes. Or do I have one? I don't remember and don't feel like looking.)

I pulled the first stem out of the box and thought, "Oh, they put a 130 mm stem in the 120 mm box."

The other ones seemed just as long.

So I measured it with a spoke ruler. Then with a tape measure. Then measured it again.

I looked at the old ("weathered"?) WCS stem, the one that was supposed to be a 120 mm stem. It measured 110 mm.

Looked at the new, unstressed, clean, and 10 mm longer stems.

Thought about all those super fast descents I wanted to do while I was in SoCal (because that's where I received the frame). Thought of the switchbacks, the penalty for a failed stem.

I put the new, unstressed, clean, and 10 mm longer stem on the bike.

And I went out on a long, long ride.

I have to admit that it felt okay, a bit stretched out. Long, yes, but okay.

I let the stem thing kind of slip to the back of my mind as the year started. It wasn't a good year on the bike, with a lot of my races lasting just 15 or 20 minutes. I won't blame it on the longer stem, but there were times when I thought it'd have been nice to have the bars just a touch closer.

Therefore the FSA Compact bar kind of made sense. Shorter reach, closer drops.

But they brought the bars back a good 20 mm, a lot more than the 10 mm I wanted.

I should point out that the FSA Compacts are the first 31.8 mm bars I bought on purpose. The 31.8 mm refers to the diameter of the center part of the bar - my regular bars are skinnier at 26.0 mm. All my regular stems are 26.0 mm clamp.

So why did I buy the 31.8 mm bar? Because that's the only diameter it comes in, and I already have a stem.

Let me explain.

The only bike we have here with 31.8 mm bars is our tandem. And would you believe this, I even bought a 130 mm stem for it (the tandem doesn't have a custom top tube and the 130 mm was the longest stem I could find at the time). I didn't really like the bars already on the tandem though, and I didn't want to buy a 31.8 mm bar as I'm kind of opposed to them in principle. I thought that one day I'll just put one of my regular bars on it and a 120 mm stem.

All this meant that for about 3 years, that 130 mm 31.8 mm clamp stem has been laying around the basement doing nothing.

I thought of that stem when I bought the FSAs. A brand new, very nice 130 mm reach stem that is 10 mm longer than my current stem, combined with 20 mm shorter reach bars, means a 10 mm shorter reach.

That's what I wanted.

When I finally put the FSA Compacts on the bike, I grabbed the for-the-tandem stem (I can't believe I knew where it was), put it on the bar...

Looked at it.

"That 130 mm stem looks a lot like a 120 mm stem."

And, lo and behold, it measured 120 mm.

Fricken frack.

Today I got a 3T something Team stem, a nice one. -17 degree angle (with a 73 degree head tube angle it is horizontal), 130 mm reach (for real), and it even matches the 3T Team fork on the bike.

3T stem on the newer Mac.
Them be Ti bolts.

The stem swap took about a minute. I didn't realize just how nice of a stem I'd bought for the tandem until I realized that both stems have titanium bolts.

Because, you know, they make such a difference.

They actually do, seriously. The biggest thing is that they don't corrode. Titanium doesn't oxidize like some of the more common metals. I mean, yes, it oxidizes, and when it does it's bad news if the titanium is holding your bars on your bike, but it doesn't oxidize under normal conditions.

(When it oxidizes it turns into a pure white powder. You probably have titanium oxide all over the inside of your house - it's used in virtually all white paint; it's the white pigment. My dad told me this when I was a kid. He revealed to me that he was involved in a project where they isolate titanium. Having just read about F-15 fighter jets and their titanium make up, I thought, "Boy, my dad helps make F-15s!". So I asked him what they did with the titanium. "They burn it and make it into a white powder. It's used to make white paint. It's very valuable." That's when I realized that adults were crazy. Hey, at least any white paint on the F-15 probably had titanium oxide pigment.)

White letters - I wonder if there's titanium oxide in them.
The bottles are empties. There's a whole slew of them.
The stem cap bolt is not titanium. It rusts.

When I finished the FSAs were a centimeter further away from the saddle.

My bike is dirty but you can get a sense of the stem's height relative to the front brake.
I'm still debating if I will keep the housing behind the bar.
Note the Nokon segments go all the way to the lever - no cheater spiral housing used (Nokon includes spiral stuff for under the tape).

I threw a leg over the bike (it's on a trainer), sat on the saddle, clipped in, and hunkered down on the drops.


One centimeter.

Who'da thunk it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Training - No SoCal

Today I got a wistful text from my SoCal training host.

Kind of coincidental since I've been thinking about the SoCal training camp too, the ones in the past. If I were going this year I'd be leaving shortly, maybe next Wednesday, with a return February 6th.

I didn't have to look up the date for that Monday. Nope, I know it'd be the 6th because I got an email reminding me that the Red Trolley registration is still open for the February 5th race. I knew that I'd have raced Sunday and therefore I'd be flying back Monday.

Work my way back schedule-wise from that return trip and next Wednesday would have been go-day. The Missus would have halfheartedly complained about waking up so early to drive me to the airport, or the fact that I wouldn't be around to share in the household chores.

She'd skip the part about doing a project on her own (like the bedroom the last time, or the bathroom before that), or visiting with friends, or just plain hanging out.

We talked every day of each trip. Inevitably, within a day or two, she'd report that Bella (our extremely affectionate curious adventurous female cat) was curling up with her, or that Tiger was snuggling up on her lap.

Or, more likely, that it snowed heavily for the first time, and she had to shovel. This seemed to happen every year for a while.

I don't think she'll miss shoveling, or doing (her own) projects on her own. But I think that taking a break from me wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

There are other things about the SoCal trip that I'll miss this year too.

My host, of course. He's the one responsible for this whole blog, for motivating me. He's been an inadvertent life coach for me, giving me gentle nudges in directions he felt would work well for me.

Last fall I had an epiphany about myself, a real significant thought. I shared it with the Missus who expressed support (she's very good about that). I confided in my host who, at some point in the discussion, pointed out "Yeah, remember I mentioned that to you like four years ago?"

You did?

Yeah, he did. My huge epiphany about myself was something he'd been trying to tell me for a while.

People that know you that well are good hard to find and, realistically, even harder to keep around. It's easy to be friends with someone you don't really know. It's harder to be friends when you know their limitations, their defects.

I should point out that as much as we're good friends, my SoCal training camp host isn't just one person, it's a whole family, with his wife and two kids a huge part of the picture. Having been doing these "training camps" since 2004, I've watched the two kids grow up from infants to, well, walking and talking people.

Young people, okay, but still people.

I learned a lot about kids by watching them. Every year I'd offer to babysit a night so my hosts can enjoy an evening out themselves. Sometimes they take me up on it, sometimes not. I learned on those nights, solo with the kids, responsible for their children.

When their daughter was really young I was babysitting her pretty regularly. I remember we watched Nemo so many times I was watching the extra boring parts of the bonus features, like the chalk drawing proposal clip when they first presented the film outline to investors (or whoever). The mines resembled balloons drawn by a kid; the sub wasn't much better.

"Why are we watching this? I want to watch the real Nemo."
"Okay, let's just finish this one first."
Pout. "Okay."
I look over at her. Wait a half minute. "Hey, it's done. Let's watch the real Nemo now."

Thirty seconds later.

"Do you want to play the Princess (board) game?" (or whatever - I think those with kids will understand).

The wife ("hostess" made me think of a Twinkie) is just as much part of the trip too. She's a former racer (got her Cat 2 upgrade when she was something like 8 months pregnant - but by then she'd stopped racing). Over the years we've bonded. It's kind of like what happens when you ride four or five hours with someone - there's a bond there that you can't get just hanging out, even if sometimes you don't talk that much.

Now that I think of it she's one of very few female friends I have on my own, meaning the Missus really doesn't know her. Pretty much everyone else I know also knows the Missus pretty well - it's what being with the Missus for the last ten or so years will do, assimilate friendships.

I actually do more training rides with the wife than with the host, although in hours they may be the same since I typically get to do lunch hour rides with her. With him I'll do just a ride or two on the weekend but they'll be a multi-hour jaunts, with the Tour of Palm Springs being a notable exception (the three of us rode for 4 or 5 hours under the hot sun).

I run errands and such with her (and/or him), picking up groceries, the kids, whatever. Whenever my hosts try and get me one of their cars (so I can run errands - this hasn't happened in a few years), I end up driving her somewhere and then taking her car for the day.

With my hosts we've taken field trips, mainly instate, once out of state. We visited Mexico, the first time I'd been in a non-first world country, where dirt roads outnumbered paved ones, and where I started getting an appreciation for rules and regulations (and following them) when building roads and bridges and sidewalks and such.

It was such a powerful experience that I tell people about it somewhat regularly, and I was talking about it just recently.

Over a number of SoCal training trips I've had a bunch of interesting experiences on the bike too. I mean, hey, it's a training camp for me, right?

Mainly I had a bunch of pro sitings, either riders riding (Chris Horner, twice, and a few other slightly lower level pros), in races (Andy Schleck winning a stage in Tour of California), or even in team presentations. I got to meet some of the Jelly Belly pros at said presentation and even got to shake hands with some of the Jelly Belly staff.

One little quirk of mine is that I've made it a point on my easy training rides to zip by the GIA (the folks that rate diamonds) office in the area, an office conspicuous only because of the heavy steel fencing and gated entryways surrounding the parking lot. The whole diamond thing holds a certain level of mystique for me, and seeing where they do... whatever they do, well, I always look over at the place. I'm sure that I'm on their security system now, "the guy on the bike that always slows and looks over at the parking lot, he seems to ride by a lot in late January and early February".

I always, always troll the PCH (aka Pacific Coast Highway, or Route 1), the "easy" road around here. It follows the beach so it's relatively flat ("relative" being the operative term). There isn't a lot of beach "viewing" since, first, it's usually cold for SoCal, and second, the beach is usually a hundred feet down and fifty feet over from the road (so people look like they're little ants). It's more about riding along with the ocean to one side, the wind coming from that same side, and debating whether I should shift into an easier gear or not.

I enjoy taking in the easier riding on the PCH, the typical sidewind (I never get sidewinds here at home), and enjoying the fact that I can roll along with barely a stop for an hour or so. I'm surprised at first, then not, at all the riders on the road. It's usually midday when I'm riding (after the morning clouds burns off) so everyone I see is either doing a lunch ride or not working during the day.

It helps that I don't have an ego on the road, at least not with other cyclists. I may pace off of them, even join a small group (I actually don't remember doing that but I would if I could), but mainly I'm there to ride at my pace.

If that pace, drafting, gets me with a group that passes me, then fine. But if I have to up the tempo much at all, I'll let whoever pass and drop me. Often I'll see the rider discretely check back to see if I'm still there; regardless of their attitude, it's interesting to people watch the riders.

Other times I've caught up with riders, then hung back a bit while I tried to decide whether I should pass them or not. Passing a rider indecisively is a faux pas, kind of like when a car pulls out to pass you and only gets its bumper ahead of you before reducing its speed to yours.

Likewise, if you pass someone on the PCH, you need to pass them. No dilly dallying around. No cheating either because if you slow a bit after 20 minutes, that rider you passed may come zipping by - there are a lot of riders that will ride an hour or two in one direction. There's no "pass then ease" stuff here.

I usually turn inland only for my Palomar attempts; otherwise I get lost and I don't have an easy reference point ("go to the PCH and turn north" is my default route home, and that doesn't work when I'm inland in Escondido). On unsuccessful attempts I turn around before the climb, usually a little less than two hours inland. When I make it I ride a couple hours to get to the base of the climb, spend about two more hours climbing, then returning home in just two and a half hours.

Yes, the two hour climb takes me just over 30 minutes to descend.

My fastest Palomar ride is a bit shorter than that by about 15 minutes, not very fast by any means, but nonetheless I feel it the next day. I'm usually pretty wasted when I get back, sometimes late enough that the whole family is anxiously awaiting my return.

Having said that, it's amazing how much I can ride each day and how hard I can ride when I do ride when all I have to do is ride. I usually start off with a 4 or so hour ride the first day I get there, then I settle in with a bunch of 3 hour rides (PCH loop), some 4 or 5 hour ones (Torrey Pines), and then the Palomar ones (6 or more hours).

After I kind of max out the fatigue meter (it usually takes a week), where I'm feeling this general overall fatigue, I find that the legs can still keep turning over. They just go, as sore or as tired as they felt when I first got up. After an hour or so of riding they start coming around, loosening up, willing to work, able to suffer. Even after a Palomar day I can get on the bike, roll out, and after a short warm up (in my SoCal world that's about an hour) my legs start coming around.

Yes, I can feel the empty pit called my stomach, still hollering for more supplies. Yes, I may be a bit tender when I first sit down (it's usually a two- or three-sit day, where it takes two or three tries to sit down comfortably). Yes, I can't make huge efforts like I could the day before.

But no, it's not terrible being on the bike.

It's about then, a week into the trip, that I start feeling like a pro. Every day I'm shufflin'... Um, wait... pedalin'.

Seriously, though, I get into this routine. Wake up. Cook some food (which might involve putting cereal into a bowl and pouring milk over it). Eat. Eat some more. Figure out the weather for the day - the temps can go up and down 30 or 40 deg F depending on where I go. Figure out kit stuff for said temps. Gather supplies, jam them into pockets and such, do a final debate on vest, long sleeve jersey, and if I should also carry a rain jacket.

Head out, legs stiff. Lactic asid before I get a hundred yards away.

"Am I crazy to set out on a 6 hour ride?"

Keep going. And going. And going.

Hunker down in the drops, back nicely stretched, legs whirling fluently, arms relaxed. Sun beaming down on me, warm air flowing past my skin. A salt crystal on my skin. The familiar resistance from the pedals.

Totally in the groove.

Kind of like that.

Of course there are those bits that I won't miss.

It seems like I get sick almost every time I go out there. I try and budget sick time in my trip, so a 10 day trip means 2 or 3 sick-ish days. I think I went for 20-odd days one year, and I was sick for 4 or 5 of them.

Another thing is rain. One year I think it rained 14 days, a record. Landslides everywhere, flooding, mud, everything. Even the climb up Palomar was closed (I rode past the DOT signs). I seem to bring the New England moisture with me out west. Next drought, just call me over.

I also stress a bit over the actual traveling. I don't mind flying but it's a bit nerve wracking to give my bike to the luggage folks, regardless of how well I packed it.

I usually put off taking the bike out of the bag for a week or so, and I avoid packing the bike until the last moment before I leave. Packing for the trip alone can be stressful since I try and bring backups for backups, even with all the bike shops and grocery stores in SoCal (many more than in CT).

I was looking through my SoCal bag just the other night (it's a green duffle bag) and saw a few dropouts, a bundle of tubes (after installing a few tires, giving a few away, I still had about 8 tubes left). I also saw a slew of cables, cable housing, the extra Sidi shoes I carry with me, a few sets of cleats, and a few chains (the latter which I bought while I was out there).

For the last couple years I brought two sets of wheels too, not relying on my hosts' slew of wheelsets for spares.

All that makes for packing and unpacking something I end up avoiding.

Since it's hard to ride all day, every day, I usually get a lot of stuff done while I'm there. I work on various projects, the main one being the Bethel Spring Series. I realized the other day that I rely on some of that SoCal downtime to get Bethel stuff done, calls and website and spreadsheet stuff.

This year I won't be going, the first off year since 2004. It's all good, the reasons and all, but still, I'll miss it.

And yes it's made me wistful too.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Equipment - Tsunami (Orange) Updates

I got word that the frame that I (finally) sent out arrived at Tsunami central, out in the warm Arizona. I wanted to do this ever since I first rolled up a hill on the black Tsunami, with its ultra short 39 cm chainstays.

Geometry-wise the two frames are otherwise identical, with the same reach and such. But with the orange bike I found the rear tire chattering when powering through even regular 90 degree turns, and sharper ones sometimes became a bit "interesting".

The rear wheel didn't have enough traction because of the unusually long front end, determined by the long top tube and steep seat tube angle (which in turn were determined by my long torso and short quads respectively). The combination of sticking the front wheel out an extra 5 or 6 cm meant that I unweighted the rear wheel a bunch, enough so that normal pedaling through a turn resulted in the tire losing traction.

I contacted the builder Joseph about altering the orange Tsunami. To his credit he didn't say "just buy another frame"; instead he said he'd work with the existing frame.

(On a side note I didn't think the frame very saleable because of its odd geometry and the fact that anyone that fit it would have the same problem with the back tire skittering around in turns.)

With some idea of my requirements (I train on a 23c tire, I want minimal tire clearance, and aesthetics is a non-issue), Joseph demurred on any plans of action until he had the frame in his hands.

He did point out that he wouldn't be repainting the frame. This meant I need to figure out a solution to the finish thing - I'll probably take the easy way out and spray the rear triangle black. If he has to heat treat the whole frame, I'll paint the whole frame black. If I get ambitious I may try and recreate the candy orange, but from previous experience I know that only automotive paint comes out looking real good, and I don't do that stuff.

Since I'd partially built the orange frame as a spare, it wasn't a matter of just tossing the frame in a box. I got lazy and left the "disassemble the frame" task for another week, another month, and finally, when it came to "another year", I drew the line.

I spent all of 30 minutes disassembling the frame (including removing the fork), boxed it up, and sent it out. I was amazed at how much I beat it up - one fall at 30 mph (dent in top tube) and a slew of packing-chips, where a cassette or some other edge thing jammed into the frame.

And once again I taught myself that waiting to do something doesn't accomplish much.

This time I have no sketches, no unusual ideas; it's just shortening the stays.

Of course I didn't think of what needed to be done. I defined the goal ("shorten the stays as much as possible"). Joseph came up with the plan.

This communication worked well.

Oftentimes, at work, I'll have someone describe exactly what they think they want to get. When I delve a bit into their project goals, it sometimes becomes painfully apparent that they need something totally different. Think of it in bike terms.

"Hi, I think I need a new chain."
"Okay, let me write up a work order. What's happening with the bike?"
"Well, it shifts into the spokes."
"Um... when you ride the bike does it feel like it's skipping gears at all?"
"How old is the bike?"
"Couple months."
"It may not be a chain. It might be just an adjustment."
"Really? I figured it needed a chain."

This is where a self-diagnosis (chain goes into spokes) and troubleshooting (needs chain), communicated well (I need a chain), could be totally inaccurate.

Likewise I could have asked Joseph to execute step-by-step instructions, steps that I think he'd need to take to shorten the stays.

And what would have happened is that I'd have ended up with a frame where the rear wheel wouldn't fit.

Because when the stays get shortened, the rear brake bridge would end up too close to the wheel.

So the plan of action, as Joseph let me know, is to cut off the seat stays completely, cut the end of the chainstay off, reset the chainstay (i.e. bend it a bit), and weld on new seat stays, a brake bridge, and dropouts.

At some point I'll be getting back my frame, trimmed down a bit. And hopefully I'll be able to do it some justice.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Training - Fit and Thoughts

I've felt a need to push on some house stuff in the past few months - I might have mentioned trying to get some flooring done upstairs (hallway and a bedroom), some painting and trim stuff (that same bedroom), and some general clearing up. We recently got a futon for our den, a room really meant to be a master bedroom suite on the first floor. This means we can now have sleepover guests who don't have to bring their own beds with them.

One thing that kind of scares me is electricity. I don't understand it much, I don't know a volt from a watt from an amp from an ohm (but I know amps hurt). Our house came with a bunch of "distressed" exterior light fixtures. Not in a decorative good way, more like in a "it's almost 30 years old" way.

We wanted to replace those fixtures as one of the many things we wanted to get done around the house. Today I got them done, with the help of a handyman. He's a friendly customer of the store - we chat about life and stuff, and he greets me with "How's my favorite Sith?" from Robot Chicken's hilarious Star Wars skit.

(You really gotta watch that. It's the best. I'll even wait.)

Okay, now that you've watched it...

Anyway the Handyman came over and I helped him put up these fixtures the Missus and I picked out. Although one didn't work out (we picked one that hung down and we need one that points up), we got three exterior and two interior light fixtures replaced.

The new light fixture above the garage door.
Handyman did that on his own, I just handed him a few bits while he was on the ladder.

As a bonus I now know how to replace the three that desperately need replacing in the basement.

After some dinner and having the Missus smile at the new fixtures, I headed down into the basement for a planned two hour trainer ride. That's been my regular ride now. Two weeks ago I felt hard pressed to get to the 60 minute mark. It's amazing what totally nonstructured training (JRA or "Just Riding Along") will do for one's legs.

Now the 2:00 mark arrives pretty quickly, and I've had to force myself to climb off the bike, sometimes cheating and riding as long as 2:15 or 2:30.

As usual I've been using the winter to experiment with stuff on the bike, trying out whatever new things I've thought of over the last year. This year it's bars, stems (because a different reach bar needs a different length stem), and thoughts on mounting the SRM in a more secure way.

Experimenting with FSA Compact bars, therefore no tape.

You can see the Mavic 350 bars (silver) on the floor, still on the stem. I've been using those bars since 1997 when I got them on closeout. I have two of them (all they had left) and swap back and forth. The others bars are 3ttt Gimondi (crit) bend bars too - those are heat treated aluminum, sort of brownish in color, and a good deal lighter than the Mavic bars. The big floor fan ("high velocity") is essential for trainer work.

Incidentally I bought a thermometer/humidity thing a few weeks ago. I found that during a trainer ride I heat up the bike room (and the attached furnace room) from about 63 degrees to almost 70 degrees, and the humidity rises from the mid 40s to about 50%. Pretty cool, right?

Tonight I watched the last DVD of the 2011 Tour as an hors d'oeuvres. I noticed a twinge in my left knee, just under the knee cap. I remembered that I dropped my saddle a bit late last summer, a bit of desperation as I tried to find power somewhere, anywhere. I knew I'd be stressed my knee a bit more but I wasn't putting enough power down to hurt myself.

I guess now I'm hurting myself.

I grabbed a 4 mm allen wrench and raised the saddle back up the 2 mm I'd dropped it - luckily I had a tail light clamp in place as a reference point the whole season so I knew exactly how much to raise it.

I decided to really cheat on my ride and do an extra bit, whatever the movie Red took (a John Malkovich thing - not exactly a good trainer movie). That ended up giving me a total of 3:33 on the trainer (pedaling time), which probably took me close to 4 hours to accomplish.

I totally forgot about my knee twinge - the 2 mm saddle height bump was enough to erase it the twinge from my world. And, as a bonus, I spent most of the movie Red in the big ring, an untouchable chainring two weeks ago.

When I climbed off the bike I walked over to the laptop. Ironically someone emailed me with a fit question, asking about fit and such.

I thought about what just happened to me on the trainer, with my knee twinging then not. I thought about the fact that I really can't do any leg weight lifting type exercises because my very fragile knees start hurting like mad. Yet I can jump really hard in a big gear and not feel a bit of (joint) pain.

I thought of riders I've fit in the past, maybe not necessarily "the best" fit, but good fits for sure. One rider liked his fit so much he reverted to that bike from his next two (sponsored) bikes, literally giving up superior equipment for a superior fit. He couldn't replicate the position on his next two bikes so he rode his old one, the one I set up for him.

Does that make me a fit expert?

Not really.

But I understand some basic concepts with fit. Ultimately there's such a variety of fit philosophies that it comes down to selecting one person and trusting them.

I think that constantly changing position in radical manners is the worst thing to do, it's like chasing the stock market. I'm a firm believer that your body needs to adapt to a position, and that it's critical to listen to your body's feedback. Your fit can be a bit low, a bit high, a bit wide, a bit narrow; whatever it is, if you ride that set up for a bit (2-3-4 months minimum) then you can think about what changes you need to make.

So, as an example, I rode 175mm cranks for literally 4 or 5 months in the winter before deciding that they were good for me (and I was very carefully honing my saddle height and set back while I was doing this). I did much of this riding on the trainer, where I could make small adjustments and see what effect it had on my comfort.

By the spring, and after a SoCal training camp, I arrived at a small range of saddle heights that work for me, about +/- 2 or 3 mm total. When I'm weaker or very sore I tend to lower my saddle (to get more oomph through the bottom of the stroke or to spare my sore hamstrings from extending as much), when I'm feeling a bit more ambitious I raise it a touch.

As I mentioned above, tonight I had noticed my left knee twinging a bit, under the kneecap. It's a sign the saddle is too low (or that I'm pushing down at the bottom of the pedal stroke). I had lowered the saddle a few mm late last season. Therefore tonight I figured I should raise the saddle back the 2mm I lowered it late 2011; this would help extend my knee a bit and relieve the pressure pulling my kneecap into my knee. Although I noticed a slight reach down to the pedals after I got back on the bike, I was okay with it within a few minutes, and I could roll a bigger than normal gear for the next 90 minutes.

What's cool is that I actually forgot my knee had been hurting until I read the fit question email - therefore my knee didn't hurt the rest of the ride.

I started getting a bit tired at the 3:30 mark, but my knees feel fine, my Achilles good, and my groin muscles (one isn't attached well to the pelvis and hasn't been for 15 or 20 years) were okay.

A little salt on the 2012 Expo cap.
(It's from more than just one ride.)

Now for some food so I don't bonk in my sleep.

(As a side note if you feel sore under your knee cap your saddle is probably low; if it's painful at the back of the knee, or you get some Achilles stress or frequent calf cramps, your saddle is probably a bit high.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Training - Working on Descending

The other day I read an article where Andy Schleck says he doesn't feel like "working on descending" is a good thing.

To quote:

Schleck explained that he had already begun efforts to tweak his time trial position, but he was less enthusiastic about working on his descending, in spite of his travails on the road to Gap and Pinerolo last July.

"I don't really know how you should train descents. I think that it's a little too dangerous to train on," he said.

I'm actually a bit shocked at this statement.

See, descending is free. It doesn't even require getting on a bike, at least not any more than what a pro regularly does for training and racing.

Descending is about cornering.

If you corner poorly you'll descend poorly, I guarantee it, especially on descents like those that affected Andy in 2011.

You can work on cornering whenever. In fact, I got some cornering lessons hammered into my head playing one of the versions of Gran Turismo. Early apexes kill you there, as does less smooth driving.

Andy could work on his descending after dinner, when he's resting, legs elevated, in the comfort of his house (or hotel).
Cornering takes no fitness. In fact I stand by my much earlier post about letting bike racers use other vehicles to practice cornering. Go karts, cars, even boats, they all teach you how to corner.

Really there's just one thing that virtually all racers need to work on - late apexes. That's a cornering line where you wait a long time ("late") before cutting in to the apex of the turn ("apex").

I know I've said it before, but it's one of those things that needs repeating:
Work on late apexes.

All the time.
This means take late apexes every time you go drive your car, whether it's to work or to pick up some much needed milk (or whatever).

Every entrance ramp, every exit ramp, every right turn, every left turn, they're all opportunities for you to work on late apexes.

Heck, I have three opportunities to work on late apexes after I've turned into my housing complex, in about 30 or 45 seconds of driving. My 3 mile commute on quiet country roads, with just a half dozen turns, gives me about 12-15 turns and curves to practice late apexes.

Do I focus on driving?


Do I focus on cornering well?


Should you?

Well, let's put it this way. If you go hot into a turn, do you want to decrease the chances of hitting the deck? Do you want to decrease the chances of wrecking your car?

Then your answer is yes.

And if you're unable to do so because you can't focus, then put down the food, get off the phone, stop fiddling with the music, and ask your passenger to "zip it for a bit".

When you're cornering at the limit (usually inadvertently, like in rain or snow), a late apex can literally be a life-saver. Late apexes give you more of an out, they give you the most room to maneuver once you realize you've underestimated the turn.

You can always attack yourself out of a late apex - it'll slow you down a touch if done over aggressively - but you'll be upright to do a surge.

I've been sitting on the trainer regularly, watching first the 2006 Tour (the Floyd fiasco), then the 2007 Tour (the Rasmussen fiasco) and now working my way through most of a 12 hour set of the 2011 Tour (the Schleck fiasco if you will).

The 2006 Tour illustrated just how poorly Rasmussen cornered - when Floyd spent the day off the front, Rasmussen was cornering so poorly that he totally disrupted the beautiful arcs of the peloton in a tight series of switchbacks, the overhead view from the helicopter.

He couldn't have messed it up worse if he tried.

Now we're seeing a similar pattern emerge from Andy Schleck. His descending performances are second to everyone. He spends so much time and energy working on taking time on the climbs but he gives all that hard work back, hand over fist, on the way down the other side of the mountain.

Only when he had a teammate guiding him, in a small group, did he descend anywhere near normal.

(And I can't imagine what his director was yelling in his ear on that one descent; it might have been more detailed navigation than a rally car navigator talking to his driver.)

If he's going to lose a minute on a short descent (like he did on one stage of the 2011 Tour), he should lessen his focus on climbing well. After all, if he's just going to give it back then he might as well focus on something more productive. All those training camps, all that reconning on the mountains, it's a waste of time if he doesn't figure out how to descend, and, in doing so, figure out how to corner.

Instead he can work on something else, like his time trialing.

Oh, wait, that doesn't work either.

Because, as you may have realized, in time trials you still go around turns.


Monday, January 09, 2012

Promoting - Finish Line Camera Thoughts

With more emphasis on USAC license points in recent years, and with points counting down more than 6 or 7 or 10 places (which is what they used to do), I want to pick more finishers at Bethel this year.

It's only fair after all. Racers need to show placings, more so than before. For example, in 2011 a Cat 5 only had to start 10 races to upgrade to Cat 4. In 2012 a similar Cat 5 has to finish 10 races to get that same Cat 4 upgrade.


Not start.

I need to be able to prove that someone finished, or that someone didn't finish.

Video is good for proof.

Unfortunately my current finish line camera system isn't great for that, and that means I need to redo the finish line rig for 2012. This means replacing our high quality albeit regular resolution Canon GL2 camcorder and our TiVO unit with a more modern and hopefully easier to use system.

In 2011 we experimented with a parallel camera set up, using an iPhone feeding into an iMac. We found that the higher resolution iPhone (not sure what it was but an iPhone 3 doesn't go much over 640x480) allowed us to read the numbers better, but the faster frame rate of the Canon let us see which tire crossed the line first.

For 2012 I want to combine the two things, the readable numbers and the higher frame rate.

(Keep in mind that these are low-buck alternatives to the real deal, a slit-lens setup that takes really cool stretched out pictures.)

Therefore we have two parts to the finish line setup - the camera and the "viewer" (the computer).

First, the camera.

I was thinking of using Contour+ exclusively, two of them. I like them because of a number of reasons:
1. I can use a Bluetooth phone to aim them (I have one, and the laptops have Bluetooth). I can review footage via USB or HDMI cables.
2. They're relatively shockproof (all three camcorders I've used in prior years have taken 10 foot falls with some serious consequences, but I'm using a ContourHD that took a tumble at 30 mph with no problem).
3. They're easily waterproofed, an important point at Bethel when it can be raining quite hard.
4. They're very light, allowing us to secure them with less sandbags or whatever.
5. They shoot at 720p at 60 frames per second (fps), or as I'll put it 720@60fps. I can pick out license plate numbers with this setup so it's pretty good.

But then a helper (who had the iPhone+iMac at Bethel in 2011) pointed out that 1080@60fps would be better for capturing numbers. Since that's true I realized that I may have to use a camcorder for number reading and a second camera for tire placing. For the latter I'll stick with a Contour+ (or two), with the Contour+'s Bluetooth capability a big must (I need to aim them easily).

Second, the "viewer".

Apple offers iMovie with all their systems, and Quicktime is usually the application of choice for HD type clips. Both applications are easy and intuitive to use. Both are free with a Mac. And both are applications I know how to use.

It makes sense for someone like me (not an expert at video stuff) to get a Mac for a finish line clip viewer.

This means my camera setup (either two Contour+ or an HD camcorder with a Contour+ or two) will feed into either an iMac (not mine but one of the helpers owns one and we used it last year) or a MacBook I just purchased (has Firewire).

Regardless we'll review finish line footage on whatever Mac. With 2 or 3 cameras I hope to have some overlap in actual pictures so we have better granularity.

What's this all cost?

iMac - $1000 or so, refurb from Apple. I was worried about portability (it takes just one drop to wreck a hard drive) so I decided against this, even though the iMacs offered a much more powerful computer for the money (it include the monitor for one thing).

MacBook - about $1400-1700 refub from Apple. I just got one for a bit under $1700. I figure I'll drop it a couple times a year, and a laptop is designed for that, kind of.

Contour+ - $500 retail (street price). If 720@60fps works I'll get at least one of these, preferably two.

ContourHD - about $150-200 retail. I own two of these (although I paid a lot more). I've done all my post February 2010 helmet cam clips on them (at least through 2011).

1080@60fps HD camcorder - $625 retail. If I need 1080@60fps, I have to get one of these.

Right now my plan is to:

1. Test the ContourHD (720@60fps) and see if I can read numbers at some reasonable speed (40 mph). I'll also test at 1080@30fps to see if the number clarity is better. Since I have two ContourHDs I'll have one at each setting, both recording the same car going by, so it's a more consistent test.

2A. If 720@60fps works then I'll get two Contour+ and two waterproof covers for them.

2B. If I need 1080 for clarity but 60 fps for granularity then I'll get the HD camcorder. I'll probably get one Contour+ for secondary granularity, to try and get close finishes (read the number on the 1080, check position on the 720). I want the Contour+ for the Bluetooth and HDMI capability, which the regular Contour does not have.

Either way I'll be buying either one or two Contour+ and maybe one HD camcorder. I'll get the appropriate cables and then we'll be ready to pick a lot of finish places at Bethel.

Ironically the Contour+ has a wider-angle lens than the regular ContourHD. I actually don't like the wider angle lens so the Contour+ won't be a new helmet cam for me. I'm sure I'll try it but as a straight out helmet cam, no. As a bike mounted one, maybe.

I'll try and have some pictures of the tests and I'll post my findings in a later post.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Training - Group Ride Factors

Someone on a smaller bike forum asked a question about group rides, specifically asking how to keep a ride going. This meant asking the forum what they felt made a group ride good.

That got the thought particles flowing in my head.

I did a group ride around here at a now-closed LBS simply because I could get there on time. It was a sub-10 minute drive there, 15 minute ride, and I'd get there just as they rolled out (6 pm start, I get out of work at 5:30 at earliest).

The ride included new riders and a very few experienced ones. We rarely had more than one or two racers out of 15-20 (and I was the best racer on paper - Cat 2 or 3 - but definitely not the strongest by far).

The rides were low key, meaning I got only somewhat shelled (few minutes for a short climb), and I did a lot of bridging type work (chasing back on). Although it was a slow-ish group ride for a "racer", it worked for me.

My team has a lot of group rides which are one rush-hour zone away from me (i.e. I need to drive 35-40 min but most of it includes rush hour traffic - traveling through Hartford - so it may take an hour or more to drive). Combined with the fact that they start before or just as I get out of work and it's game over for those rides.

If a ride is too hard I won't do it, just because it's too hard. 21-22-23 mph kills me. I may consider a "fast" ride if it's flatter (easier to sit in at speed), big group (easier to sit in), or on a Sunday (replaces a race).

(I should point out that some of the faster racer-type group rides regularly average 23-25+ mph, and some have gone in the high 20s or low 30s for considerable distances.)

Since I don't have a training schedule I treat group rides as hard rides. I use them as part of my "many hard days in a row" weekly schedule, i.e. Sun-Mon-Tue(-Wed) hard, easy Sat, repeat. Group rides used to happen Mon/Wed from the shop, although I sometimes raced Wed instead.

The best, most cohesive group rides I've done have had insane discipline, consisted of riders who subscribed to said discipline, and was merciless with rules enforcement.

The rules had to do with traffic laws for the most part. So, for example, you stop at every stop. You don't turn right if it says no turn on red. You ride single file as soon as someone yells car back.

You need a patron of sorts to enforce this.

You also need someone to set the expectation that this will happen (the patron usually says this).

Finally you need to enforce this ferociously. "What, you can't ride closer than 3 feet to the curb? You don't know how to ride a bike?" with every single other rider glaring at the guy who refused to move over when someone yelled "Car back!".

Have you ever been on a group ride where a rider dangles out in the middle of the lane? Did anyone yell at said rider? It's frustrating when that happens, right? Then the car honks at you because you're part of the group.

When things get too bunched up (and spread across the road) someone has to drill it to stretch it back out. Although I was usually too weak to do it, I'd murmur to a trusted teammate to go hard. Same effect. Single file. Car goes by. All good.

A good ride must have regroup points (end of each long road? at major intersections? etc). The exceptions are the huge ones, the non-organized ones, like Gimbles in NY.

On any smaller ride there should be no one left behind, no matter what. If someone is weak, you need to inspire them. "You don't look good, do you feel okay? You don't? Okay, you're now Fausto Coppi when he had that stomach bug. Guys, we need to bring him back alive. Pull on the flats, we gotta go easy on the hills, and kill it on the downhills. You, you don't pull, ever. We'll get you back."

That last bit is what happened on my pre-wedding rehearsal dinner ride. We were late, I blew up, and three guys (2 former leadout guys, 1 former pro) dragged me back home.

I like:
- Regroupments. I hate riding home alone.
- Good discipline. I hate being part of a group that propagates the cyclists' bad stereotype.
- Respect for one another. Strong riders pull more, esp on flats and downhills. Weaker riders can sit on, pull a bit on hills (sets tempo). No one complains about someone not doing work; everyone does what they can.
- Group members that subscribe to the above things. These can be taught/inspired.

I hate:
- Peeing contests, so to speak. Attacking up hills after sitting in on the flats/downhills. Or not sitting up after an attack.
- Regroupments that are only 30 seconds long.
- Semi-regroupments at 15 mph. "Oh, they'll catch up". No they won't.
- Poor lane/bike discipline. Blocking traffic, running lights/signs, etc. Don't destroy my reputation because you are. Exceptions - if I'm on another group's huge ride (Gimbles).

Friday, January 06, 2012

Life - Stuff For Bike Racing

Yesterday was nice to me in a few different ways.

First off a package showed up at work. The coworker that brought in the packages from the back grinned and looked at me.

"I guess you'll be busy for the next few hours?"

He was holding a box from Apple.

Yes, the new finish line camera computer had arrived.

I realized I was getting old when I thought, "Oh, man, what a pain, I have to set this thing up" instead of "Cool! A new computer that I get to set up!"

I guess it's like bike stuff. I get something and just think that it's going to be a pain, not that I just got some cool new bike stuff.

So, yeah, I haven't even opened the box yet. But I'm happy to have received it.

Ultimately though this will be the finish line camera computer, able to record and play back video quickly. My goals for Bethel include putting up a much more comprehensive results page and this is part of the deal (I have to capture all numbers quickly and efficiently). The Firewire port (lacking on my current Mac) and HDMI port (for a bigger monitor/TV) will help us accomplish that.

(The camera part is still TBD, but I know that our current camera is not HD and therefore will not get numbers as well as a full blown HD camera.)

Due to some issues with my registration laptop, it's possible that we'll be going all Mac for the race - the old MacBook may become the registration computer.

(Eventually I'll have a separate post for Bethel new-stuff for 2012.)

Later in the day, when the boss came back from the post office, she gave me a small cardboard box. I read the mailing label.

"World Cycling Productions"
Yes! My DVDs arrived.

(There is an issue where they didn't take off shipping and stuff but I'll deal with that later. And if someone is buying a LOT of DVDs - which is recommended when you buy from WCP - contact me for a code.)

The MacBook is in the box underneath the DVDs.

Again, since I'm old, I haven't opened a single DVD.

Not a single one!

I selected the DVDs because I didn't remember most of the races (the play by play bit and in many cases who won). I did remember the '94 Paris Roubaix, almost virtually play by play, but it's so epic I wanted it on DVD.

The 2011 Tour, well, I thought it was a great race so I wanted it.

Although I didn't open up any of the new DVDs, I did do a trainer ride yesterday while watching DVD#2 in the 12 hours of the 2008 Giro (Contador on the beach one). When I finish that up I'll put in some of the new ones.

Oh, speaking of which, we went shopping for a DVD player just recently. Some of my DVDs weren't loading properly in my bike room DVD players (there are 5 in there now). They'd play fine upstairs so I knew it was a hardware issue.

A new, inexpensive Sony DVD player and I was back in business. Three DVD players to go on free cycle. And one combo unit (DVD/VCR) which I'll keep (it plays some DVDs consistently).

These have been some recent "things to do" on my list.

I have two more immediate projects. One is sending my orange Tsunami back to Tsunami Bikes to have the rear chainstays shortened. The frame's been sitting here and I just need to pack it up and send it out. I think I've mentioned it here before - it's still in the "to be done" category.

The goal is to get the bike to handle a bit more neutrally. When I spec'ed out the very long frame, I didn't realize it would unweight the rear so much. As a result of the unusually forward weight distribution, the rear would skitter in any sharp turn under power. The black Tsunami, with a similar forward stance but just 39 cm stays (normal is 40.5 cm), stays firmly planted in the exact same corners.

Therefore I want 39 cm stays (or as close to that as possible) on the orange frame.

The other is doing a "rocking" conversion to a CycleOps trainer, which I don't think I've written about here. I have a third CycleOps "frame" (everything but the resistance unit) and I'm going to have a friend weld some plates to make it into something that I can rock (tilt).

I'm going to give this guy the CycleOps frame, a big piece of steel (it weighs about 50 pounds), and some cardboard templates to copy. He'll cut them (plasma or bandsaw), weld them, and we'll see what happens.

I'll use wood for cross beams and forward beams. The trainer will require cross beams since I'll eliminate the two fold down legs, and it'll need forward beams since the bike will otherwise twist the stand forward (like the stand wants to do a forward roll). I'll use wood because we have some at home but also I don't want to ask my friend to weld a gazillion things.

Finally, although it happened the day before yesterday, I also got some bars - FSA Compact Wings. I got them from an LBS that's not quite so nearby but on the way home from running to/from Bethel. The owner, Jeff, uses the FSA Compacts, so I decided I'd give them a shot.

The bars may supplant the crit bend bars I so adore, with their forearm-saving forward curve. Pretty much all regular bars hit my forearm when sprinting. If the FSA Compacts don't, I've found a new bar (and I'll post some info on them).

And, yes, because I'm getting old, I haven't touched the bars since I got home. They're still sitting in their minimal packaging. I'm psyched to have them. Not psyched to fit them to the bike.

Hey, look, at least I brought them downstairs to the bike room.