Friday, January 17, 2014

Promoting - Trailer Thoughts

I've been stressing about Bethel for a bit now, for a number of weeks really, hence the scarcity of posts.

One thing is that a few things have changed in terms of the businesses in the area. The parking lot we used before, at 7 Francis J Clarke Circle, will basically be off limits to the racers. The racers, the finish line trailer, the finish line tent, anyone warming up, all that needs to go away from that particular parking lot.

This means moving everything relating to the race - the finish line, registration, the portapotties, even where racers congregate before they stage for their race. Without that the race really can't happen, hence my stress over the last 6 or 8 weeks.

The main goal will be to move things to Turn One. By keeping racers closer to that intersection they'll be, by default, somewhere other than 7 Francis J Clarke. It'll be close enough to the finish line, which will move down the hill a bit for 2014, and it still allows people to walk over to watch the finishes.

The first thing will be to ask the town for a town of Bethel "detour" sign on Second Lane, the other road that leads to the four way intersection at Turn One. Oddly enough, since Francis J Clarke Circle is a lollipop-shaped road, FJC Circle has the distinct privilege of having three of the four branches of that intersection.

By controlling traffic on Second Lane, and forcing any FJC Park tenants to use the main FJC entrance, we'll deal with traffic coming from just one direction. This will allow us to better manage the cars heading through the race course.

We'll move the portapotties to the old spot, pending landowner approval. If that works then the portapotties will be by Turn One also.

Next, because Second Lane should be closed to through traffic, we can use a bit of the shoulder near the four way intersection to hold registration.

In the old days we did it using tents and primitive propane heaters. We sometimes lost a tent to wind and we only stopped losing them when we anchored them to our own cars. Stuff got wet, it wasn't fun, and it's something I want to avoid, especially for the people working registration.

In the past I've mentioned the idea of a trailer for registration. It would be some kind of trailer with windows on the side, like a concession trailer. For Bethel it needs to be somewhat sheltered from the weather, maybe have some heat (details to be discussed below), and bring more than just "it won't blow away" to the table.

With a trailer I could set up registration much earlier than normal, like Saturday. When I say "set up" I mean actually set up - set up the computers, printer, monitors, everything. It would be all ready to go, in the trailer. If I could do that then I could just drive up to the course, open the concession windows, power up the generator, and be ready to go. I imagine this would take all of 5 or 10 minutes, mainly dealing with parking the trailer.

This is, of course, dealing with an ideal trailer. Most enclosed trailers out there are meant to be used simply for transporting things like cars or motorcycles. They have a big ramp door in the back and a smaller door up front. No concession windows, and typically no plugs or other things associated with, say, an office.

As someone pointed out, if I got a normal enclosed trailer then I'd have a compromise trailer, one that isn't exactly what I want for the job. I joked that I would get the "real" trailer later.

Of course when I say stuff like that it really means that I'll never get the "real" trailer and that I'm really just going to deal with the compromise for a long, long time.

Well, said person asked if a custom trailer would make sense for me.

Custom trailer?

Well, heck, I got myself a custom frame, and now I'll never look at another factory frame again. The custom frame is totally functional - it's not custom because I wanted fancy lugs or a classic steel bike, it's custom because I wanted a frame that fit me.

For kicks I configured a custom trailer. I went all out - the idea is that I can eliminate things if I want, but at least I have an idea of the pricing. The configurator doesn't show prices until you select something so it's easier to select a lot of stuff and scratch some stuff off rather than select a few things and then wonder how much such-and-such would cost.

The custom trailer ended up a bit pricey, at least in terms of my initial expectations.


I'd have to have a few years of Bethel just to break even on the thing, and I wouldn't want to spend that kind of coin unless I really thought it would make a big difference. Heck, the thing would cost more than the tow vehicle.

With the custom trailer option now defined I started thinking of how the other choices could work for me.

For example, if I got a "compromise" trailer and took a Sawzall to the walls and put in some primitive concession windows…

Okay, never mind. That would just be a disaster.

Nevertheless I priced some used trailers. This is how you do it, right? You figure out your options and you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

So the used trailers… No concession windows, no power plugs, no nothing, just a big box on wheels. It seems that $5k or so gets one in the size I'm looking for, although right now it seems there are none actually available (no one has returned any emails so far). I'd have to register it and stuff, so I lose a day there, and then I have a trailer that has no warranty, no assurances that something weird isn't happening with the thing, and no place to go if I have a problem. I'd have to outfit it as I need, which, for Bethel, really means loading it up and trying to figure out how to get registration done without putting the registration people out in the cold.

I'd have a used compromise trailer.

I also priced a new trailer. I was looking at the $7k-8k range. This was a bit better in terms of me feeling comfortable with the trailer. I'd get the towing stuff (the ball, pin, some bar thing, and the brake controller, plus all installation) on the house, they'd register the trailer for me, so I could drive over, pick it up, and drive it home. No days lost and the dealer is about 30 minutes away from the house. Easy peasy.

This would leave me with a new compromise trailer.

I'd have a place to go if I had questions or something weird happened with the thing. I'd have a warranty. But I'd be dealing with no concession windows, no power stuff in the trailer (except an extension cord passing through an open door), etc. I'd be dealing with the same issues as far as how to set up the trailer and such.

Plus, at that price, I might as well get the custom trailer.

Sort of the trailer I'm looking at; they call it a "car hauler".
No custom options I want are included in the picture.
There are custom options I don't want, like the alloy wheels.
I think this trailer is longer also, it might be a 24' trailer.

The $10k is a fully loading, to the max trailer. It would have 12 feet of concession windows, minimum.  The smallest window is 6 feet wide and 4 feet high - it only gets bigger from there - and I figured two windows would make sense, one for pre-reg, one for day-of, and for big races two for pre-reg or something like that.

I skipped AC and heat, and I'll get to that in a bit.

I added a spare tire because it seems that whenever I see a trailer on the side of the road it has a flat tire. Okay except the few times I saw the whole shebang (tow vehicle + trailer) on their side in the median after the driver lost control of the massive trailer.

I added extra lights on the outside because I don't want to start making a left turn and then have someone drive through the trailer.

I added an awning because when it's raining people want to wait in shelter, not in the rain. I still have two 10'x10' tents, and I'll probably use them if necessary, but the awning would be awesome. 18 feet long so it would be huge. The only thing is that I'm not sure it would work with the concession windows. If it doesn't then I'll save a lot of money or I'll put a smaller one up or something.

I added a 110v system. It works like a house backup thing - you get your generator, use the 30 amp plug, and plug the thing into the side of the trailer. Then on the other side you have your outlets and distribute as necessary. This works perfectly for a registration gig - run the generators outside, wires run in, it's all good. UPS and surge protectors on the inside and we're good to go.

This is where the AC and heat come into play.

Registration for a bike race draws very little power. A couple laptops, a wireless broadband connection, a printer, and charging some radios and phones. When it's really cold I'll use an 800w microwave to reheat coffee or even food from home. I suppose I could put in a dorm fridge in it - they run pretty low wattage, like 150w or so, and in the summer some cooler drinks would be nice.

An electric heater wouldn't do very much when you consider that there would be at least 12 feet of windows opening directly in front of the registration folks. It would pull a LOT of energy, 1500 watts or more, and it would really tax the generators. I'd be using a total of 3200w for the generators, a pair of  small Hondas running in tandem.

I think that with such an open set up (ramp open in the back or at least cracked open, front door cracked, and the sides open) we could set up a propane heater somewhere without asphyxiating ourselves. If it came down to it we could plug in an electric heater if the trailer was all closed up for whatever reason. Therefore I think I don't need to pay for a permanent one in the trailer.

Likewise a roof mounted air conditioner would require maintenance, a little more care when dealing with low clearance stuff (ever see YouTube clips of low clearance bridges?), and attract a thief's eye. I'd rather do one that sits on the floor and has a tube going to the outside. I could remove it when I don't need it and then it's not a hundred pounds I'm driving around in, say, the first weekend of March.

Finally, when working registration at summer races, I never had a super oppressing day. An air conditioner would be great but I'll get it if and when I need it.

So right now I'm eyeing the custom trailer. It would be a huge commitment for me. I'd have to finance it otherwise I'd totally blow myself out of the water money-wise for 2014. This means I would be relying on having another, say, 3 years of Bethels and the one day gigs I do for other promoters simply to pay for the trailer.

If I fail to do that I'd have a really expensive trailer that only another race promoter would want to own. The market for such trailers is really non-existent as far as I know. I guess a race car guy might want one so they could show off their car without pulling it out of the trailer.

Yeah, right.

So it's about commitment to the race series. Commitment to doing registration gigs, and significant ones at that. Commitment to trying to put on new races. It's all stuff I want to do, for sure. The trailer represents commitment in a concrete (or metal, as it were) form. Getting it would mean I'm committed for a minimum number of additional years.

I haven't taken the plunge yet but if I do it'll be very, very soon.

Six weeks until Bethel. Yikes.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Equipment - Steelman Stem, Part Deux

So I have a custom stem from Steelman Bikes. I put up a shot of it on the bike but nothing really detailed. I didn't have time to work on posts and such but now I do so you get to see the stem and all that I've done with it so far.

First the stem arrival and stuff is detailed in this post. Other than the one distorted picture of the stem on the bike you really can't tell much about the stem so now I'll try and explain how the thing looks and how it positions the bar relative to the previous set up.

Distorted picture of the bike.

I went through a thinking/exploration process in the fall after deciding to commit to a custom stem. I could either limit my bar selection to "deep drop" bars (I couldn't find one I liked) or I could use a compact type bar (which I like) and get a stem that would allow me to choose virtually any compact type bar for my bike. The custom stem made more sense so I thought it through and ordered it.

I have to admit the numbers would make even my back ache - a 14.5 cm stem with a negative 32 degree rise. However, once you see where the drops are before and after, you'll see that there is virtually no change in the drop position.

The FSA Energy bars, 15 cm drop, with a Deda Pista stem (-20 degrees, 14 cm).

These bars felt high and the drop shape made them effectively higher than the 15 cm "drop". I grasp the bars where they're a bit curved so I don't use the flatter part, which is where they measure the drop. Therefore the drop to where I hold the bars ends up in the 13 or 14 cm range, not 15 cm.

The FSA Wing bars, 12 cm drop, with the Steelman Bikes stem (-32 degrees, 14.5 cm)
This was during my first trial ride so I hadn't moved the levers/cables over yet.
Note the cut down bars - I cut them down when I first got them an eon ago.

The drops angle isn't quite right but the bars are next to my tire, which is approximately where I need them based on my BB height. Remember, the whole point of the exercise was to promote stability and power in the sprint, which for me is out of the saddle. In such a sprint I only have two main contact points - the bars and the pedals. The pedal position is determined by the bottom bracket location and the crank length - those are not very negotiable. Therefore I need to bring the drops to the right place relative to the bottom bracket.

A slightly zoomed out view of the stem. The bar is next to the tire, give or take.
I took this picture after moving the levers over. By now I'd committed to the stem.

As some sprint experiments showed me the stem works great. However, in its raw steel state even a long week in Florida led to some noticeable surface rust. I decided that before I got back on the bike at home I'd need to paint the stem. I had some zinc-permeated primer (zinc is what they dip car bodies in so they don't rust like they used to in, say, the 70s) and some chassis paint (specifically designed to be chip resistant; I got it for the Expedition) so that's what I used.

In the "paint booth".
The front cap was already black so I left it alone.
Blue tape to protect clamping surfaces and threads.

I will not criticize a paint job again.
The front cap came that color, a matte black.
The next stem, for the black bike, I'll have Steelman powder coat it or whatever for me.

I remember when I had the Z that some people commented on the poor paint. Okay, I had perfectionist body shop guys who work on exotic cars all day criticize the paint, one even doing so unknowingly in front of me. That led to a whispered, "Dude, the guy over there owns this car," and a muttered, "Oh."

I never really noticed whatever was wrong with the Z's paint so it didn't bother me. However even I can tell that I did a crappy job on my stem, just like I did a crappy job on a black BMX bike when I was in high school.

(The BMX bike started out as a 20" wheels TT bike project and I bought the bike because it had tear drop shaped tubes but that's a whole different story.)

I will never criticize a paint job again, at least not until I know how to do it right.

I ended up with what I'll call a "20/20" paint job. It looks fine from 20 feet away or at 20 mph, at least to my uneducated eyes. Maybe those exotic car guys would rate it a 50/50 job. Still, for me, I wanted to keep the rust away from the stem and so far it hasn't rusted so it's good enough for me.

On the bike, with the safety spacers on top.
Note the not-so-shiny part in the middle - that's the 20/20 bit.

Now the bike sits on the trainer, destined to be there for the next couple months. I need to adjust some cable lengths - I already shortened the rear brake cable but I need to shorten it more. The front brake is a bit of a puzzle since the cable ends up snaking up to get to the barrel adjuster on the brake. In Florida I tried to run the cable over the top of the bar but it looked horrible and it didn't reach and I didn't have any extra cables or Nokon housings and liners. Here at home I have both so I might spend some time fiddling with it.

All in all though the position in the drops feels great. I feel hunkered down and stable and that's all that I wanted from the stem.

I don't know if I'll get it ride it outside. Taking pictures of my bike right now is a bit tough so I'm afraid that's what you get for now. All willing it'll be out racing and sprinting in March and I'll be able to get some better shots then.