Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Promoting - Trailer Beginning

Yesterday I went and picked up the rental trailer. It's a 7x16, one that I thought was too small when I walked into a similar size trailer. I ordered the 8.5x20 because that extra 18 inches of width really make a difference. When I briefly polled people I know they told me that 4 feet of trailer won't make a huge difference once I am used to pulling the trailer around. After driving with the 7x16 I realize that the 8.5x20 will take a bit more to drive. It's okay, it's just that I'll be much more engrossed with driving than anything else when hauling "the trailer".

I also got a brake controller installed. It's a Primus IQ. With some scary stuff I've seen posted by bikeforum folks as well as tips from local trailer knowledgable people I decided I should really understand how the controller works, how to adjust it. Basically it mimics your own braking action, boosting brake power based on the weight of the trailer relative to the tow vehicle.

Brake controller.

With the low trailer weight (expected to be under 4000 lbs fully loaded, versus 5500 lbs for the tow vehicle), there's no boost, just an initial "brake power" adjustment. You have to do this so your controller is properly adjusted with factors like tire wear/traction, brake wear, load size, etc.

The brake controller is a big help if the trailer starts to sway back and forth. By applying just the trailer brakes you can (allegedly) bring the trailer back in line. Without trailer brakes you coast (don't brake as it makes it worse!) and hope the trailer doesn't pull you off the road before the trailer stops swaying.

I was nervous about the whole hook up to the trailer thing (backing up until you're not just next to something but the hitch is underneath it??), the starting and stopping, the width, and basically everything around hauling the trailer. With a second person it's not a big deal. By myself? I suppose I'll find out one day, but someone told me that you get used to it after a few times.

Backed up to the trailer. Note the jack is down on the trailer - it's not hooked up yet.
The guy helping me out is getting a different bar as the one I have is the wrong height.

I got to the trailer place okay, they did the paperwork quickly, hooked up the trailer pretty efficiently, and with a final check of the lights I was off. For reference it's a 3000 pound trailer, steel frame, double axle (3500 pound capacity axles so 7000 pound capacity trailer). The Expedition is rated to tow 8900 pounds.

Trailers need to be loaded with 60% of the weight in front and 40% in back. Too much weight in the back and the thing sways. Too much weight up front and it pulls the tow vehicle down by the hitch. The trailer should be basically level, with perhaps an inch or so of droop on the tow vehicle. With an empty trailer this was a moot point, but I am very aware of these basic concepts.

I first fiddled with the brake boost level, setting it to 6.0 (0.0 to 9.0 range), per something I read in the instructions. I could feel the tires locking up as I slowed. I set it to 4.3 (it was set at that from the factory). The trailer seemed to push the Expedition at the next light. Then I set it to something like 5.4 and it seemed to work out. On loose stuff like sand the tires lock a bit but on regular pavement it seems fine.

I missed a turn. I wasn't comfortable trying to turn the whole rig around, especially not at rush hour, so I did a huge detour, touring all sorts of very narrow roads, getting used to the way the trailer felt. Each time I slowed I'd feel a bit of a push as the 3000 pound trailer tried to keep going. When I accelerated away from stoplights the 3000 pound drag felt like I had the parking brake on.

After a good 30-45 minutes I finally got to the highway. I was a bit afraid of the speeds since I'd only hit about 50 mph on the backroads, and that seemed plenty fast.

With a kind driver letting me in I merged onto the highway. I immediately wished for a 55 mph speed limit, not the 65 limit at that bit of I-91. I stayed in the right lane, doing about 55-60 mph. There were some parallels to the video game and bike racing training/practice I've had over the years. No sudden or significant steering movements - the trailer merely amplifies anything dramatic you do with the steering wheel or brakes. It was sort of like I was steering the whole rig with the Expedition's rear tires. Doing nutty things with the front tires wouldn't be good.

I had to keep an eye out on the trailer wheels since the left wheels constantly flirted with either the yellow line or the lane stripes. The right wheels sat almost on the white line or on the edge of the snow banks (for local roads). I just barely missed a bunch of garbage cans - with all the snow folks put their garbage cans on the road. Now I realize just what that does to the wider vehicles.

I also thought about the impossibility of passing a cyclist driving this rig. It would be dangerous on a narrow road because the trailer doesn't allow for quick, succinct movements, something that you sometimes need when passing a cyclist.

I also thought of the difficulty of passing a group of cyclists. Forget about one rider, what about 20, double wide. No way. I'd need 300-400 yards of straight and level road if the group was going 25 mph, and if they were going fast, like on a downhill, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to pass safely without a good mile of clear road ahead of me.

I filed this away for future reference. I know now that if there's a landscaping truck and trailer behind me that I'm going to move as far over as possible and, once on a straight, slow down so the truck/trailer can get past me quickly.

I finally made it to the house area. One road has the narrowest roads allowed by law (I learned this at a local meeting held in part by the DOT). With snow on the right shoulder the left wheels sat just next to the yellow line while the right side tires skimmed the snow. Still someone coming down the hill was literally over the yellow line. The car swerved to get into their own lane. Again, something for future reference. A little daydreaming could be disastrous if there's a trailer around.

I walked slowly into the house, leaning on the kitchen counter, such that the Missus asked me if I was okay. The drive home had been extremely stressful, with absolute and total focus on my part. I realized that this was probably what a new racer would feel during a race. I got shelled so fast in my first race that I never had to deal with a group, just the few guys that got shelled with me. Later, though, I'd go into races so nervous that I wouldn't blink that much - my eyes were dry at the end of races.

I had a few thoughts after I relaxed a bit.

First, power is very useful when towing. The 300 hp 365 ft-lbs engine seems pretty weak when towing the 3000 lbs trailer. I can't imagine doubling that load, to 6000 lbs, and I certainly couldn't imagine tripling that load to 8900 lbs. Now I understand the appeal of diesel (power down low, almost double the mileage) and why all the tow accessory places also sell drivetrain mods to increase power (exhaust, chips, intake, etc).

Second, I want more mirrors. The big mirrors on the Expedition seemed pretty small when hauling the trailer. I have add ons - I was worried that the 8.5 wide trailer would obscure stuff behind me. It will, but that's okay. I know now that it's the side stuff you really want to see.

Third, I want to do some practice brake runs to fine tune the controller. I'll probably note the controller numbers for a given load. I don't know the weight of everything I have but I know some weights, I can guess on others, and at the very least I could make lists of typical load outs and the settings that work for them.

Fourth, folks with heavy vehicles, whether trailers or not, need more space. Trailers need more room because the drivers cannot make sudden changes in direction without substantially risking a crash. As a driver of a normal car or as a rider I have to keep this in mind.

Fifth, I may be upgrading the tires on the trailer to something that matches the Expedition. This way the trailer will handle predictably even on, say, snow, or in water, etc. Reducing the risk of sliding (like the trailer sliding to the curb due to the crown of the road) would really ease my mind. It'll be a bit, first I have to get the actual trailer.

Of course all this is secondary to the primary purpose for the trailer - a solid, somewhat wind proof structure to house registration and, for other races, the finish line camera stuff as well. That's the goal with the new trailer that has yet to arrive. For now we're going to make do with the rental.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Life - Why Snow Tires and How

And why snow shovels, blowers, boots, gloves, hats, and all the stuff you need to be out there in the cold.

I know this isn't a bike thing but if it helps one of you out there then it's worth it to post. With this winter, with all the snow everywhere, this is sort of pertinent.

The gist of this post is that, if you live in a snow area, instead of spending $1000 on a carbon wheel or powermeter you should allocate that money towards dedicated snow tires (and rims if possible, to avoid the mounting/dismounting process of switching tires on rims). If you wreck your car in the snow it's infinitely worse than not knowing your FTP.

The Golf on its first drive on snows - it was a doozy, a drive that normally takes 7 hours. The last 4 hours took us about 8 hours due to the virtually unplowed highways and roads.
The rims are the OEM rims; we have the OEM all season tires on aftermarket rims.

A lot of people get taken in by the "all season" label on tires, thinking they're good for everything. Now, granted, the best tire for a given condition won't be as good in other conditions. There's no one "best" tire.

For example in warm, dry weather the best tire tread would be to have no tread - you maximize the rubber to road contact, there's no need for any tread to get rid of water, grip ice, whatever. Bolt on those slick-tired rims and go out and have a blast.

Of course if you get hit by a sudden thundershower then those slicks will be virtually undriveable. They float easily over water, losing traction, and taking any kind of directional control away from you. If you need to go straight then it can be okay, but to lose traction in a curve… it's not good.

I, of course, experienced this first hand when I "economized" by using tires until they were near slick. This meant I had to really slow down in rain, typically to 50 mph or less in a strong downpour.

So what's the deal with winter tires?

First, a quick tire summary.

1. All seasons - these tires have a tread compound that remains flexible in colder temperatures, typically under 35-40 degrees F. They normally have more aggressive tread than "summer" tires and usually work well in a broad range of normal conditions - rain, very light snow (no accumulation so the tire can cut through to the pavement), and of course dry conditions.

The advantage is that until you're dealing with conditions where snow or ice mask the road these types of tires generally work very well.

I like buying a wider all season tire. Properly selected it won't affect rolling diameter so it won't change your speedometer, but it will give you a wider footprint in the dry. It will reduce gas mileage a bit, perhaps 1 or 2 mpg, but you can usually make up for that with slightly better driving habits. The advantage of the wider tires really show up when you need to stop in the dry - that's when tire size makes the most difference.

Here's a tip - if your anti-lock brakes kick in when you make a panic stop (i.e. you feel the brakes going on and off) then that means you're out braking the TIRES. Your brakes are fine, your vehicle is fine, but your tires do not have enough traction relative to your brakes. When one magazine tested a bunch of modded cars (all 350Zs) they found one surprising thing - all the cars with similar size front tires (245 wide front tires) stopped in similar distances, regardless of how many thousands of dollars the brake upgrades cost. The car that had the widest front tires, 270s, and bone stock, base level brakes, stopped significantly better than those massive-brake equipped competitors. Using that as a cue I fitted 285s in the front. I can tell you that it was very hard to activate the anti lock brakes after that.

2. Summer tires - these tires typically maximize performance but sacrifice cold weather traction. When I say "sacrifice" that's a huge understatement - they basically have zero cold weather traction, like you might as well be driving on a Teflon road sprayed with oil.

On a 30 degree day I pulled away from a traffic light on a car shod with summer tires. With virtually no throttle (I knew I was on summer tires and I knew it was cold), with very little input (turning left across three lanes of road so not really a true one lane left turn), I broke the tires loose and almost hit the car waiting to go straight. Luckily I didn't hit anything but the look of shock on the other driver's face probably mirrored mine.

If I buy summer tires for a car I usually try to get the widest tire that fits on my car. I know that in the wet I'll have to slow down but in the dry it'll be nice.

3. Winter tires - these tires are optimized for snow and ice conditions. The tread compound remains softer even at low temperatures, like 0 deg F, unlike a summer tire. They have many "sipes" in each tread block. Sipes look like someone got a wiggly straight cookie cutter and cut parallel squiggles across each tread block. Sipes deform in cornering, creating another edge for each sipe. If a tread block has three sipes in it then in a corner, or when under stress, that tread block will have three extra edges (so a total of four edges). This really, really helps when it's icy out, because your 20 tread blocks on the pavement suddenly becomes 80 tread blocks.

Due to the wide spacing between the tread blocks, winter tires tend to be pretty good in deeper standing water. This is because the weight of the vehicle is focused on those tread blocks, enabling the tire to cut through the water better. With a less treaded tire, like a slick, the weight of the vehicle is spread out over the whole tire's foot print and therefore there is less pressure to break through to the pavement. The tread blocks spacing also gives the water somewhere to go - without evacuating the water from under the tread the water simply can't go anywhere quick enough and it ends up staying under the tire. That's why you hydroplane at higher speeds - the tire can't excavate the water quick enough so it starts to "surf"on the water. Once you start hydroplaning you have no choice but to see where the car wants to go.

The disadvantage is that winter tires are optimized for snow and ice conditions. That means that they're not optimized for dry pavement. The sipes that help so much in icy conditions make the tire feel sort of squirmy when you turn in dry conditions. Also, as the tread wears down and the tread block gets shorter, it can't flex as much. This means you start losing the sipe advantage. Many non-studdable winter tires state that after the tread is 50% worn then you should treat the tire as an all season - the tire loses most of its winter advantages. The idea is that you would leave worn winter tires on for the summer (as all seasons), wear them out, and get new winter tires the following winter.

You normally want to use taller, narrower size winter tires, compared to normal tires for your car, so that the tire can cut through snow better. If you look at pictures of rally race cars in snow stages they have incredibly skinny tires fitted. I'll point out that rally cars normally have super aggressive studded tires for snow stages since they don't have to worry about paved performance. Such tires are great in snow but they'd rip apart pavement and reduce traction on such surfaces significantly.

Common Winter Tire Myths (That I Believed)

Some common winter tire myths that I believed include the following:

1. They are horrible in the summer/warm/non-snowy-conditions. This is true if you're racing your car, but for general use they're pretty good. Due to my financial situation at the time I drove for two years on winter tires exclusively. Although there was a bit less traction than the summer tires I bought eventually (which were also 50mm wider), it wasn't like I was limited in any way by the winter tires.

2. Put them on the front if you have front wheel drive. This is the worst thing to do. In fact, if you have a front wheel drive car and have two good and two not-so-good tires, you should put the good tires in the back.

Doesn't make sense, right? Why put the better tires in the back? They barely do anything back there. Well, yes, that's the point. Your front tires not only get you going but they do the majority of the braking and turning. If you put your good tires up front then you're going to get sucked into a situation where the front tires maintain traction while the back ones lose it. It's not good - I was in a car going backwards at 50 mph on a highway because the good tires on that car were up front.

If you have just one pair of winter tires then you should put them in the back. You may not be able to get up a hill but you won't lose control mid-turn, like, say, on a 50 mph sweeping curve (that is normally fine at 65 mph or faster).

Normal cars are designed to understeer if you go beyond its limits. "Understeer" means it doesn't steer enough, i.e. it goes straight. It encourages you to slow down to make it through turns and such. Putting the good tires in front negates all that engineering. It's great if you want to go drifting but not great if you're just trying to get your kid home.

3. All seasons are just as good as winter tires. Ask the Missus, who got stuck in our 2010 Jetta at our mailbox. It's basically a flat driveway, maybe a 2% grade, but such a little grade that for us cyclists you'd think about shifting down only after hammering up such a grade for a few minutes. Yet she got stuck in the driveway to the mailbox with all seasons. She immediately went and got snow tires put on. Now we're good in pretty deep snow, even on 8-10% grades.

All seasons lack the bigger tread openings that the winter tires have. They have no sipes. They're usually wider and lower profile, so they're optimized for sledding over the snow, not cutting into it.

4. Winter tires are noisy. Well, yes, the studded tires are noisy. The less expensive winter tires, typically meant for studs, like the Firestone Winterforce, are pretty noisy. I had a set of those and they were so noisy they almost drowned out the sound of the coffee can exhaust on the car.

However the current generation of studdless snow tires are incredibly quiet. Among these I'd count the Bridgestone Blizzaks, the Dunlop Graspics, the Continental ContiWinterContact, and the Pirelli Winter Sottozero, all of which I own or have owned and/or driven extensively. The tires I put on our Expedition, the Bridgestone Blizzaks, were significantly quieter than the OEM all season tires on it before.

The Hondas with Dunlop Graspics, less noisy than the Winterforces.
The sipes cut into the tread blocks are visible since snow has penetrated them.

5. I have 4WD/AWD, I don't need winter tires. Whoa. Yes, whoa. In snowy/icy conditions you need good traction from all your tires. 4WD/AWD is a crutch to make up for low traction tires (relatively speaking) because it puts power through all four tires. However, if you need 4WD/AWD to get going then you probably don't have the right tires on to turn or stop in an emergency, both of which use primary just one pair of tires. In other words if you need to turn quickly you need good traction from your front tires. If you want to brake hard you need good traction from your front tires. If you need to get going with a front wheel drive car then you need good traction from your front tires.

If you don't have good traction in your front tires then you probably won't be able to turn or stop when you really, really, really need to. 4WD/AWD will let you get into situations that are beyond the capability of your tires. With winter tires and 2WD (front wheel drive for most of us now) you should be able to get through pretty much everything short of snow deep enough to float your car.

Recently (Dec 2013) I drove, back to back, similar year Fords, an Explorer and our Expedition. I drove the Explorer to where we store the Expedition and drove the Expedition back - we needed the extra space in the Expedition else we would have used the Explorer. In retrospect I'm glad we did because of the tires on the respective vehicles.

The Explorer had all seasons. The Expedition had snows. In the Explorer not only did I slide down the driveway out of control but the thing also crab walked along the road due to the road's crown (the rear of the Explorer wanted to slide left, toward the gutter, because as soon as I touched the throttle a bit the rear tires would lose traction). With the 4WD I could get going but it was hard to stop and hard to turn.

I parked the Explorer and prepared for a sketchy drive back in the Expedition. Incredibly it was just the opposite. It was totally undramatic, so much so that I forgot to put it in 4WD on the way back. Just to experiment I drove down the driveway and tried to stop. In the Explorer, on all seasons, I slid into the snow bank and then into the road. With the Expedition, shod with winter tires, the vehicle stopped within a few feet in the middle of the steep downhill driveway.

Because of 4WD/AWD's seduction (because it gets you moving) I think it's even more important to get snow tires for such a vehicle. This way you can get going, of course, but you can maintain control once you get going.

The Blizzak tires when I picked them up. They're huge.

If you open the picture up you'll see what looks like faint marks on each tread block. They're actually the "sipes", resembling very fine razor type slashes in the tread block. They flex independently, like bristles on a broom, to grab ice and snow. In the summer they're not that great, in the snow and ice they are an absolute miracle.

Many winter tires (every one I've used) says the sipes only reach about halfway through the tread block. Once the tread is at 50% then you have no sipes - now you're on an all season tire. Leave them on in the spring, wear them out through the summer, and put new winter tires on in the late fall.

Tires mounted on the Expedition (obviously in warmer weather).

Tires, underneath, in action on about 4-6" of snow on the road, with 1-2' on the sides (Feb 2014).
Travel speed approximately 35 mph.
I decided to skip going to the trailer appointment that day.

As part of the ongoing work to get the Bethel Spring Series underway I headed out to get a brake controller and tow hitch installed on the Expedition. I did that in the middle of "heavy snow fall", after missing the prior appointment due to the "heavy snow fall". With the Series rapidly bearing down on us I decided to go regardless of the predicted 1-3" of snow fall within a few hours.

Knowing the difference between snow tires and all seasons, it became pretty apparent who had what tires. The drivers driving very slow, very gingerly, they probably had all seasons. The ones driving a bit faster, probably snows. Having experienced both types of tires on a 4WD vehicle I knew that 4WD wouldn't let an all-season shod vehicle go very fast.

With conditions only slightly better than the picture above I was able to drive somewhat normal speeds, 45-55 mph on the relatively unplowed I-384. The other highways, I-91 and I-291, were too congested and I drove at the speed of traffic. On I-91 one driver only felt comfortable going 15 mph, in much better conditions than I-384.

Ironically I passed three cars that had spun out within 200 meters just before merging onto I-384. The snow didn't discriminate - there was a 4WD (pick up), a FWD (Dodge Neon I think), and a RWD (Infiniti G35, unless it was the AWD version). A state trooper had just lit the first flare to protect the first vehicle. From what I could tell they all had all season tires. All seemed to have lost the rear tires first and hit the snow on the left side of the road. All seemed fine, relatively speaking.

So that's my schpiel on snow tires.

(And on snow throwers - each winter I usually hurt my back shoveling snow. I thought shoveling was good, gave me a work out, etc, but when I looked at my training log for 2013 I missed virtually all of February because I hurt my back. This year we got a snow thrower and, guess what? My back is still limping along! I said to the Missus that this was one of those "penny wise, pound foolish" things. All the powermeters in the world won't do any good if I simply cannot get on the bike.)

Friday, February 07, 2014

Life - Back

So my back is pretty messed up right now. I have to dole out my efforts, just like a race (or a ride I suppose). I have x number of lifts before my back is done and if I'm close to x but I really need to do a lift then I'll do it. "X" is about 4 or 5 over a couple hours, maybe fewer.

When I say "lift" it basically means lifting Junior. Most everything else I can move around without lifting them but Junior, I lift him up for things. The worst is getting him into a car - it got to the point where I'd put him in the car first because I knew that if I couldn't do that then we wouldn't go out. If I could get him in the car then I could get his bag and whatever else.

In fact this morning the Missus took two of the cats to the vet. They totaled maybe 30 lbs but lifting one was brutal and I realized pretty quickly that I wouldn't make it lifting both the cats as well as Junior. The Missus took the cats and I stayed behind with Junior. I think that this saved my back from going out today.

Changing position is bad also. For example standing up from a kneeling position is pretty bad, and I tend to do a lot of kneeling with Junior. From a laying position isn't as bad. These are limited to perhaps two or three every hour. It helps if I can lift myself up by bracing against a table or something.

The worst is lifting Junior when I'm seated, on a chair or couch. I've resorted to dragging him up onto my knees because I can't perform a proper lift.

Of course I try to save a lift or two for emergency purposes. Today there were a couple, one when he toppled back off of a full sized chair, another when he needed a belay while climbing the cat tower.

Junior, poking at Mike's eye and yelling, "Eye! Eye! Eye!"
Mike is laying on a platform five feet off the floor.

Still, though, my back has been pretty screwed up. I'm unclear on what caused it but I'd been riding consistently for a bit, did some snow shoveling, and bam, that was it.

Last year I did almost the exact same thing, some consistent riding, snow shoveling, and then I was done.

So remedies going forward, to try and prevent this from happening:
1. Buy a snow blower, per the Missus.
2. Be a man and let the Missus shovel the walkway when she offers.

For now it's Advil, some very easy stretches (my back feels like it needs to pop), and taking it easy.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Training - Trainer Ride, Feb 1, 2014

This is just "a day in the life of" kind of training post. No big back story, just a typical training ride.

I woke up early this day - I was trying to reset my internal clock so that I'd get up early, like 5 AM or so, automatically. My goal here is to get used to the Bethel Spring Series wake up time so that it doesn't hit me hard when it's actually time to wake up. For this day I got up at 5:50 AM so not that early but better than the 2 AM wakeup from a few days ago.

I trudged down to the basement, changed into some bike gear, got on the bike, and started riding almost right away. I have a stash of energy bars next to the trainer. I ate one so this ride would be a $2 ride, give or take. Before I started I took a picture of the primitive "weather station" that sits next to the bike.

5:55 AM, about 66 deg F and 38% humidity.

This ride, immortalized on Strava here, wasn't particularly notable. I finished watching some pro race DVD, stuck in my own SprinterDellaCasa DVD that I made of my own clips, and hammered a bit harder than I expected.

I find that music works best to motivate me to ride hard. Watching movies or pro races isn't as interesting, especially if I know the race already. For example for all of the culture's faults in 2003, the 2003 Liege Bastogne Liege is a riveting race to watch. It looks so hard, everyone is at their max. Another good one is the Ghent that Nico Mattan won, another race that shows pretty much all the riders at their limit.

However when I watch them and I want to ride hard (and I have the luxury of not needing to keep an ear out for Junior), I'll put the ear buds on and listen to music. When I like the music it energizes me to the point that I have to make sure I back off a bit so I don't keep blowing up.

On longer trainer rides I'll actually ride with my eyes closed for reasonably long periods of time (a minute or two at a time, a peek, repeat for 30-60 minutes). The music and the feel of the pedals is enough stimulus for me.

If I need to keep an ear out for Junior I don't have this luxury, or at least I have to set the volume so low that the music loses its inspirational character. This is when I'd rather watch a pro race out loud (meaning I hear the announcers) or an actual movie.

The one exception is when I watch my own clips. I make them for a number of reasons but one is that it's something to motivate me when I'm on the trainer in the winter. I enjoy watching them and, since I get to chose the music, I enjoy the music. The clips feature many of the same songs that I listen to on the trainer, eyes closed, tranced away, and so the clip DVDs are nice in that sense.

On this morning I found one of my DVDs and popped that into the player, the first time I've watched it in this off season. This resulted in some big-for-me efforts, 222 watts for 10 minutes (about the length of the average clip), 202 watts for 20 minutes (a benchmark since that's one of the two ways I test my FTP). With a 220-230w FTP those efforts aren't bad at all.

I have three total DVDs, including mainly stuff from 2010 and 2011, as well as one low-res DVD with every clip from the beginning to the 2010 Red Trolley, my last low res clip, i.e. the last one I recorded on the Canon camcorder I carried around up to that point. I want to find the earlier DVD as I haven't watched it in a while.

About an hour and a half into the ride I heard a clunk from the floor upstairs - it was probably Junior either dropping something, falling over, or a cat jumping off of a couch or similar. Whatever it was I figured the Missus would need some help with all the morning stuff, breakfast for us, breakfast for Junior, getting ready for work, the kitties, all that jazz. I eased and climbed off the bike, shut off the various devices (TV, DVD player, fan), turned out the lights, and headed upstairs.

At about 7:40, 68 deg F and 46% humidity, +2 deg F and +8% respectively.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Equipment - Radical Steelman Stem On Bike

A few people have asked me what my stem looks like on the bike. I posted a pretty distorted picture that really makes the stem look ridiculous so I wanted to post something a little bit better.

The distorted picture, a still off the helmet cam; the stem was unpainted at that point.

When you look at that picture it looks like the drops end up below the 60mm fairing of the front wheel. The saddle looks like it's a good foot up in the air (I guess my National Lampoon style taillights don't help either). Although I have some saddle-bar drop the picture makes it look just a little bit ridiculous.

Therefore I lugged the camera down to the basement take a more reasonable picture.

The now-painted stem on the bike, in the trainer room.

I took the picture kneeling, hiding myself from the camera by placing myself behind the head tube of the bike (meaning so I don't appear in the mirror, or the flash in the mirror doesn't drown out the bike). The drops are shown a little more accurately in terms of relative drop.

Of course my kneeling position makes the saddle look like it's pointing up but trust me, it's not. It's level with a little dip in the middle. However the saddle doesn't look like it's towering over the bike like it does in the first picture.

The drops end up in the same spot as they were before, about next to the tire. Due to the compact bars, with their 3 cm shorter reach and 3 cm less drop (meaning it's 3 cm higher), I commissioned Steelman Bikes to make me a stem that would situate the drops properly.

They did and it does.

Yesterday I went on an Expo ride and the unstoppable Heavy D had his helmet cam on. I grabbed a couple stills from there to illustrate that my position on the bike isn't nutty as the stem makes it look.

In the paceline. I'm on the right, in case you didn't realize.
(still from a clip by Heavy D)

I admit I do have a flatter back than many riders out there, but it's because my back hurts if I ride in a more upright position. Another Expo rider, chatting with me on the roll out, theorized that the longer, lower position would reduce the load on my back by transferring it a bit to my hands. That makes sense. My back is definitely my weak point and it can be almost crippling at times. Riding on the drops is almost like therapy for me, easing the discomfort and making things much more manageable as far as my back goes.

Of course it doesn't hurt that it's aerodynamic or anything, but if my back forced me to sit upright that's what I'd be doing instead.

Making an effort following a hard working Jeff.
(still from a clip by Heavy D)

My position isn't radical at all. My arms are a bit bent but the low drops isn't meant to give me straight arms or bent arms or anything like that. It's meant to give me a good position when I'm out of the saddle and my only contact points are the pedals and the drops. I need the drops to be low enough that I can pull up on them and so that the front wheel gets a bit of weight on it. With higher bars (by 3 cm) the front end got really skittery, making the bike hard to control in sprints. My short legs determine the bar height, not any need for mucho drop.

Unfortunately I was behind Heavy D when I made my rare jump efforts on the group ride so there's no shots of me actually going hard out of the saddle from that ride.

You may notice that I have a saddle bag on my bike. I normally carry stuff in my pockets but with a limited amount of pocket real estate on my jacket (one huge pocket, one key pocket), plus the fact that the stuff was moving around too much on me in Florida, pushed me to use my saddle bag again. It's nice - no worrying about it, not as much weight bouncing around in my pocket, and easy access (I tightened a bottle screw just before we rolled out).

So that's the bike. I need to get a second stem for my other bike, so that I have two bikes with the same set up. There are other maintenance things I need to do, mainly gluing tires, but for this year that's the only significant change I'll make as far as the bikes go.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Training - Expo Winter Ride

I've been busy with working on Bethel stuff so I haven't been updating the blog much. When I've had time to potentially do the blog I've also skipped it, choosing to do other things instead - look after Junior (the main reason) and to train (another significant reason).

With Junior around we're trying to keep electronics to a "less than all the time" thing. For me it's meant leaving the laptops in the office area, a gated off area. With gated off areas more difficult for us to hang out in with Junior they've become "use as needed" space rather than "go in and chill for a while" type spaces. This has led to me looking at the laptop, on a somewhat typical day, just four times or so - early morning, when Junior naps, when the Missus is around, and after Junior goes to sleep.

(He's taking an unexpected afternoon nap, hence the furious typing on the computer.)

Even the phone is sort of off limits. I have a smart phone and now Junior has realized that it's full of pictures of him, pictures and video he loves to watch. Therefore even my phone sits out of sight (and out of mind).

This has led to at least one missed appointment, with no electronics to remind of stuff. Now my appointment book is more old fashioned - I am using a notebook left over from my school days (so it's literally 25 years old) for my "to do" lists and such.

At any rate with our lives a little less centered on electronics and a bit more centered on real world stuff, we really didn't know what the forecast would be for this weekend. Yesterday we headed out with Junior because it was so "warm", in the mid 40s. He played happily in the playground, we went out and did some stuff, and he was happily exhausted.

The Missus asked if I wanted to do a ride outside. I'd already ridden about an hour and a half, stopping because I heard the Missus and Junior upstairs (and figured I could help with something more so than if I stayed on the bike). I declined, although the outside did look tempting. Then, checking the forecast and such, the Missus mentioned that the weather would be better Sunday, today. I was sure there'd be a group ride and I used my precious electronic time to see what Expo email had gone out.

Sure enough there'd be a group ride, leaving from the shop. I even know where to go for that, better than a ride leaving from who knows where, so the Missus and I planned on me going to the ride.

Of course that meant gathering stuff for riding outside, radically different than riding indoors. Head gear, booties, jacket, tights… some of the stuff was still packed in our rolly-bags from our trip to Florida in mid December. I charged the camera, left the SRM where I'd remember it, and all that.

I even found my favorite winter gloves. Okay, I found one side of my favorite winter gloves - it'd been downstairs behind one of my old frames. I haven't had them since 2011 so this was a nice bonus.

I threw everything in the wash, pulled it out when it was dry, and I was ready.

Today I woke up later than I expected, at 7 AM. I've been waking up earlier, sometimes as early as 2 AM, trying to get onto a Bethel schedule (wake up is at 5 AM for Bethel). I scrambled to get out of the house by 8:00, failed, and hit the road at 8:15. I left Junior behind with a worried look on his face - normally Mommy goes out in the morning, not Daddy.

Base camp for Expo, Manchester Cycle.

With great weather forecast a large group showed up for the ride. I'm not going to review the clip to count but I think it was in the 20 rider range, good enough for me. A lot of the guys were surprised to see me since I'd only done one (one!?) Expo ride since the team formed in late 2009.

To be fair I only remember doing two group rides after 2010, and one of them was in Florida in December 2013. Basically my group rides have been races, and any outdoor rides have been solo, with the occasional random fellow rider joining me for a mile or three.

I bought a bunch of gels and Bloks because I forgot to bring bars. Let me tell you, it's handy starting rides from a shop.

We set out at a normal clip for everyone else, a kind of fast clip for me. I glanced down a couple times to make sure the SRM was working (initially it wasn't starting because the speed bit wasn't picking up so the auto-on wasn't working). I'd see 230w consistently on the flats, sitting in, about 10% over my FTP. I realized I felt like I was holding my breath a little because I really was sort of holding my breath a little - I was falling behind the oxygen curve.

At some point we hit one of the first hills on the loop. A lot of guys started moving up, surging, and I followed because I figured the stuff was about to hit the fan. I made it up that hill okay (4th on Strava, shared with the others around me today), but that was my one and only success.

I got shelled on the flats shortly after. I think it was a tailwind so the draft wasn't great, or else it was a false flat so we were constantly climbing, or I was just too weak to hang.

Jeff M waited a bit for me to make sure I wouldn't get lost, we did a little regroup before yet another hill, and Jeff rolled away effortlessly from our group of four (the Laughing Group if you will, the ones just trying to make the cut off time).

We caught up to them at the regrouping point (they actually waited) and we all set off again. I found myself on Jeff's wheel. As a fellow Cat 3, a savvy rider, and someone I've raced with for a number of years, I trust his wheel. Therefore I felt comfortable sitting in a normally unsafe spot, overlapped by a good 5 or 10 inches on the right side. At about the time of the picture below I actually peeked under his arm to check out oncoming traffic to our 11 o'clock (front left).

On Jeff's wheel.
The camera makes things look really far away, seriously, so this is close.

I was at the back, trying to be polite. It's not polite to get shelled and leave a gap, so I positioned myself so that if I got shelled it wouldn't bother many people. Of course if someone eased and got in line behind me that's a different story. The team morale booster, Heavy D, did just that, a mischievous grin on his face. He started talking about some town line sprint and how he'd get Jeff to jump for it.

Of course this piqued my interest as we were rolling at a more manageable pace. Heavy D rolled by Jeff, taunting him. You could see Jeff fighting within himself but then you could tell he was going to go.


He went.

I had rolled up on his wheel, waited in the drops and in the right gear, so I went with him.

He went a long way out, and in fact I couldn't see any kind of sign that might resemble a town line sign. Then I saw a little sign that you'd normally see labeling a creek or something. It was still way out there, but now close enough for me to go if I wanted to go.

I eased though. Jeff had waited to make sure I didn't miss a turn (and I would have had he not waited), I was already tired, and he'd done all the work.

The group rolled by and I was glad I didn't go any harder - I had enough trouble reintegrating into the group, so much so that I had to swing out of line, recover a bit as the group rode by, then tag on the back.

I made one small effort close to the bike shop, trying to get rolling. I didn't think I was going that hard but when I blew, just as I caught the leading rider, I saw that I'd been rolling in a 53x11.

Well now.

Of course we turned left immediately after that, started up a hill, and I couldn't hang on.

So much for being strong.

We rolled back to the shop. A subset of the group immediately headed out for another hour or two. I headed home for some R&R.

Overall the ride went well. I mean, okay, I totally blew up a few times, reduced to twiddling the pedals at 130-150 watts. However I didn't have any of the "been on the trainer all winter" side effects, like a stiff neck, fatigued shoulders, or even sore legs. I realized that it wasn't that I could ride for two hours, it was that the ride was, at times, way too fast for me.

I realize that I need to work on some higher end fitness, a minimum amount so that I can finish the races in the spring. Things seem to be pretty good otherwise.

Some positive signs for spring then, the ground hog notwithstanding.