Monday, July 18, 2016

Training - Why Should You Get A Better Fan?

In 2015 and this year I trained basically 100% indoors, going outdoors only for races or a few event rides (the latter in 2015 only). My last regular outdoor training ride was around Christmas 2014 when we had unseasonably warm temperatures here in northeastern US.

Indoor Training Advantages

I've always trained indoors throughout the year, in the winter to avoid the cold/chill, but even in the summer, usually to escape the heat/humidity outside. This has been the case for about 25-30 years. Training indoors is great for a number of reasons, like road safety, no scheduling problems if you encounter a mechanical, immediate parts/tools availability for said mechanical, immediate water/food availability, etc. For about 10 years I trained inside the bike shop so I really had any and every part available if something happened. I've done outside rides only to puncture at a critical time, like on a ride where I gave myself virtually no time cushion to pick up Junior from daycare. Although I rode harder than I thought possible it was an irresponsible way to motivate myself.

Indoor Training Challenges

Training indoors is tough for a number of reasons. The absolutely most significant thing with indoor training is that it's simply harder than riding outside. No one can really pinpoint exactly why but this post offers some possible suggestions. Basically it suggests that not being able to coast, not being able to rock the bike, and less external stimuli as factors that make indoor training harder than training outside.

However the main one most people cite when talking about training indoors is boredom. Nowadays, with all the tech available, there's quite a bit of distraction available to combat this problem. I find that watching bike DVDs, using Zwift, and listening to music make time fly on the trainer.

A dominant Race Across America rider, Lon Haldeman, defined the anti-thesis of a bored indoor rider. He would ride rollers in the dark to condition himself to riding through a dark night in the middle of nowhere. Although I don't turn out the lights and I generally don't ride rollers, I still find myself regularly reverting to riding with my eyes closed, particularly when pushing hard. I count pedal revolutions, focus on maintaining a consistent pedal stroke, and open my eyes to do a time/effort check.

Another indoor challenge is learning and conditioning to ride out of the saddle. Due to the nature of trainers and rollers it's hard to rock the bike out of the saddle (Kinetic Rock N Roll notwithstanding). For me this is significant since I simply cannot sprint effectively without being out of the saddle. I admit that I'm in the final stages of doing a very low buck DIY Rock N Roll using a converted CycleOps Fluid trainer frame (yikes, I started that three years ago?). If that works out I'll post about it, otherwise it was all just an exercise in experimentation for me.

Direct drive trainers tackle the problem of tire slippage. It's significant when making huge efforts. I'm not quite strong enough to regularly slip tires on my trainer/s but there are riders significantly stronger than me that probably have major tire slippage. Such a trainer replaces your whole rear wheel - ultimately you end up putting your bike's chain on the trainer's cassette. By eliminating the tire-roller interface a direct drive trainer makes the system virtually slip-free.

Direct Drive trainer (approximately $660), picture from the CycleOps site.

A "smart" trainer is the ultimate for indoor training. "Smart" trainers use software inputs to adjust resistance, so, for example, if you're using a program like Zwift and you're on an uphill, a smart trainer will increase resistance. In order to make it up the hill you'll have to shift into lower gears. With a regular trainer you have to shift into higher gears in order to increase resistance. Smart trainers should engage you a bit more, due to the fact that you'll need to shift gears to react to virtual terrain changes.

Smart direct drive trainer, not available yet, est. MSRP $1200.
Picture from CycleOps site.

A long time ago I got to use a smart trainer, something called a VeloDyne. It was really engaging, really motivating. It was a bit hard as it didn't coast well, making the downhills the hardest part of any route. There was also not much in terms of "courses". I think the 1984 Olympic RR was one of the courses, I think also Morgul-Bismark of Coors Classic fame, but one could not import a course, nor could one make their own. I might have a picture of it from my shop days but I don't know at this point. I did have an adventure delivering one though.

For all the indoor training I do I haven't been able to justify purchasing a smart trainer or a rocking one. Zwift started to change my mind on direct drive and active trainers, but at the moment buying such a trainer is simply out of the question.

Indoor Training Cooling

Finally indoor training is hard because it's hard to cool off.

When you work hard you generate excess heat energy. Your body tries to get rid of that heat energy, mainly by expanding blood vessels near the skin surface (so you get flushed, your veins pop, etc) and by sweating. Sweat gets rid of heat through evaporation. When sweat evaporates it must absorb heat energy - if the sweat doesn't evaporate then it won't do much good in removing heat.

For sweat to evaporate it needs two things - air and some dryness. If your sweat has no air volume around it then it can't evaporate. For example if you wrapped yourself in Saran Wrap you'd be mighty hot after a short time. On the other hand if you were in an indoor stadium or concert hall, you'd have a lot of air volume. When I had the shop with 20 foot ceilings and a 70'x25' floor foot print, I had a gazillion feet of air volume (okay, it was 20x70x25 so 35,000 cubic feet of air). With smaller areas you need to move air around so that you're introducing new air to your trainer area. A powerful fan works well for this, allowing you to move air around quickly.

Sweat can't evaporate if it's too humid. If you're in 99% humidity air then the air is basically saturated. Your sweat won't really evaporate and therefore it won't really cool you down. You'll feel like you're taking a hot shower. Air conditioning helps, since it dries the air. A dehumidifier is good also, although it heats the air while it dries it, making it a bit touch and go if the house is already warm. In the shop example above I had 35,000 of air conditioned goodness so even in the middle of a heat wave it was downright pleasant to ride indoors for an hour or two at a time. We even had "group indoor rides" with maybe 6 or 8 riders, without any problems with too much humidity.

Remember, air volume and humidity.

Indoor Training Set Ups

When I see someone else's trainer set up I always look at a number of things usually obvious by the picture.

1. Fan, like its size/velocity.
2. Air Volume, like how much air volume appears to be there.
3. Air temperature, like does it look like the rider is on a trainer in their garage with the door open during a snow storm?

Those three factors - air velocity, air volume, and air temperature - really affect how you'll feel on the trainer.

There's a fourth factor but it's hard to guess at, although it's often related to air volume. The mystery factor is air humidity. I'll put it in the list below.

4. Humidity

If I see central AC vents or a window AC unit or a cold/wintry background then I'm guessing the humidity is under control. If I see a dehumidifier, if I see five towels draped over the bike and nearby furniture and a puddle of water under the bike then I'm guessing the humidity is a bit out of control.

The other day (okay, the other month) I saw a picture of the local hero pro on his trainer It looks like a home decor ad, if you ask me, because it looks so neat and tidy:

Note the fan on the floor.
Photo courtesy Benjamin Wolfe (Jelly Belly Cycling Team p/b Maxxis)

(Let me put in this disclaimer right away. In my world 200 watts is a hard effort. 450 watts is basically a max 60 second effort. For someone like Ben he does 450w average for a long time, like an hour at the beginning of a long day of racing. This is based on the fact that he posted that it took 450w avg for an hour just to make the second laughing group at some stage in the Tour of CA this year. What I mean is that my recommendations may not hold water if you're a super human and don't generate much heat cranking out 400 watts. Maybe you don't even break a sweat at 400w.)


When I saw Ben's picture above I subconsciously went down my list. I'll skip #1 for now and start with #2, Air Volume. It looks fine - there's so much ceiling above him that someone could take this very stylish picture.

#3 Air temperature I'm guessing is okay since it's June and the windows are closed. This could be an indicator of air conditioning.

#4 Humidity... related to air conditioning, air conditioning would make humidity a non-issue.

The only thing left is #1, air velocity. He's using what appears to be the ubiquitous Lasko 20" box fan. Set on the floor it blows cooler air up at his head/upper torso, ideal for cooling off a working rider. It's a decent fan for moving air around - I should know, I think we have four in the house. We use one dinky little window type AC unit to cool our 1500 sf house. The box fans help move the air around so we don't have one icy cold room with the rest of the house sweltering in heat; instead we have one chilly room and an otherwise comfortably dry and cool house. Other than the low thrumming of fans in the background and the somewhat MacGyver looking fans set up around the house the system works well.

The ubiquitous Lasko box fan is rated at "up to" 2500 CFM, or 2500 cubic feet per minute. That's on high. I thought I read somewhere that low is 800-1000 CFM (I think when I worked at a place that sold such fans) but I can't verify that.

When I see these fans in front of trainers or treadmills I wonder how the person can possibly stay cool. Okay, in the winter, in an unheated basement, it's sort of reasonable since you may not need much air velocity at all. But when it's even sort of warm you really need a lot of air flow to evaporate your sweat to cool you down. If there's no evaporation happening then there's really no cooling off happening either. That's why a super humid 95 degrees can be so much tougher than a very dry 105 degrees.

My set up isn't quite as neat at the one above, as evidenced by the picture below. However there is one key element in my set up: a very strong fan.

You might be able to find the fan on the floor amongst all the clutter.
It's a 20" Hamilton high velocity fan.

Air volume is sort of low because the bike room is in our basement. Worse, in order to keep the cats out of all sorts of human-inaccessible nooks and crannies, we have to keep the door shut to the bike room half of the basement. For the trainer room and the bike "shop" room I have two small rooms for air volume. Two wall mounted vent grilles allow air to travel between the bike half of the basement and the regular half. I have two fans permanently pushing air around the bike room and out of one of the vent grills so I'm guessing that the air probably gets cycled once daily at most.

Not only that, because of all sorts of reasons I can't leave the door at the top of the stairs to the basement itself open except for late at night so there's very little air flow into for most of the day - it's whatever seeps around the door along with about a 5"x5" cat door (we removed the flap so it's always open). Therefore the basement air itself doesn't get "refreshed" very frequently. At night in warmer weather I use one of our Lasko box fans to push air into the basement, allowing the hotter air down there to travel up the ceiling into the first floor.

Very low air volume cat door in our door to the basement stairs.
This doesn't bode well for air exchange between the main house and the basement.

In the winter the furnace naturally creates circulation, heated air rising to the first floor, cooler air sinking into the basement. It ends up the basement is pretty warm in the winter so it works out.

For air temperature the bike room is fine in the winter, typically 45-65 degrees F. In warmer weather it gets a bit hot, like 75-80 degrees F.

Humidity is all over the board. In the winter it's about 35-45%, ideal for indoor training. Sweat evaporates quickly and the room doesn't feel like a sauna. In the summer about 70-80%; that's not that great, I get sweat running down my face, I have to use a towel to keep my eyes clear, and, probably most significantly, I'm simply aware of sweating. I run a dehumidifier in a different part of the basement so the temperature may go up as much as 10-15 degrees F, but with judicious basement-door-opening I can keep the basement at about the 70 deg F mark.

Air temperature, air humidity, that's sort of based on your trainer room environment, your house. You need to take into account what you have, what you don't have, and figure out how to fill in the gaps.

Air Velocity

For me, for air velocity, I'm all set. The 20" Hamilton, model SFC1-500B, is rated at 3900 CFM on low, so at its lowest setting it moves about 150% the volume of the ubiquitous Lasko box fan on high. The Hamilton pushes 4700 CFM at medium and a hurricane-like 6100 CFM on high.

To give you an idea of how powerful the fan is, during a particularly bad storm I had water come into the basement (this was in our old house, leak was due to a crack in an add-on foundation area which we eventually found and fixed). Initially it looked like some water had just seeped into the basement, simply wetting the floor. It looked like I'd spilled a bucket of water down there. I set up the fan on high to "dry" the floor, pointing the fan at the wet floor to maximize air movement and therefore evaporation in that area. I also ran a dehumidifier on a counter top down there to dry the air. This set up my trifecta of air velocity, air volume, and air humidity. I hoped to check in a couple hours later to a nice and dry basement.

Unfortunately when I came back to check up on my "drying project" I found that the water level had risen unexpectedly. We had a few inches of water in the basement, with the shallow bit about 1" just near the fan - apparently our basement floor wasn't very level. I was worried that the fan would get shorted out, sitting in a puddle of water. But to my great surprise I found, in front of the fan, a miniature wave an inch or so high about 3 feet away from the fan. The fan was blowing so hard the water couldn't approach any closer. The floor in front was bone dry and it's where I staged the wet/dry vac to start cleaning things up.

So I have a very powerful fan for my trainer.

As a side note I've had the fan for maybe 12 or 14 years now, if not longer. I use it regularly. In some situations I'll move the fan to move air around in other parts of the house, like the wet basement (when we lived there) or, when we get hit with debilitating heat waves, I'll set it up to blow air around in the main part of the house. It's a solid, durable, reliable fan.

Air Humidity

Drier air will help comfort on the trainer. You cool off by having sweat evaporate off your body, but if the air is too humid the sweat simply cannot evaporate quickly enough or at all. When I was a kid we didn't have air conditioning so if I got sick and it was hot and sticky out it'd be hard to cool me down. If I was running a high fever my parents would carefully dole out aspirin to reduce my fever. I knew if they were really worried, or if it was really sticky out, when they patted me down with a towel dipped in a water and rubbing alcohol solution. The slight bit of rubbing alcohol was there to evaporate quickly - it evaporates quicker than water. My dad, the chemist, knew that the rubbing alcohol mixed with water would cool me better than just plain cold water. Just to be clear you should NOT be dousing yourself with rubbing alcohol on the trainer. There are problems with rubbing alcohol that far outweigh the benefits of its cooling properties when on a trainer.

Nowadays, in our house, we have air conditioning in the main part of the house but not in the basement, so the ambient (trainer) humidity is typically 70% or higher in the summer. On the first floor it ranges from about 50% to maybe 60% if the AC is falling behind. Temperatures in the basement range up to about 80 to almost 90 deg F; upstairs it seems that we aim at keeping it at 76-78 deg F, and at 80-81 deg F we want the AC on.

During recent trainer rides, with trainer room ambient temps into the mid 70s deg F and humidity about the same, I've had to use medium speed on the powerful fan, and I've started rides with it on low. Normally I use just low speed and I don't turn the fan on until about 10-30 minutes into a ride.

When it's super humid in the basement (I don't have a % number to reference but I'm guessing at 85% or higher) the problem is that so little sweat evaporates that I have to move a lot of air past me. Even on high I find that the sweat drips off me before it can evaporate effectively. These are the worst rides, I have to focus on making sure I have ice cold water in my Podium Ice bottles. The thing is that if you can't cool off from sweating then you need something else. Ice cold water helps a bit, at least a bit more than luke warm water. It also helps to douse a towel in ice cold water and then rub it on my neck, sort of the rubbing alcohol hack without the rubbing alcohol.

The Open Secret To Training Indoors

So that's my secret to training indoors so much, the high velocity fan. It's not that much money, about $45-60. I know the box fans are much less, but for you, someone interested in riding a trainer or rollers, it's a small price to pay for the difference in comfort going those trainer sessions. Even frugal me bought one of them a long time ago, I simply couldn't do trainer rides with a regular box fan.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Story - My Sharona (Or "A Single Lunch In My Road Trip Of A Lifetime")

This story is part of the four week road trip of a lifetime I took back in the days of Desert Shield (making it Dec 1990 to Jan 1991).

My Sharona, The Knack, from YouTube

One of my favorite songs back in the day was My Sharona, by The Knack. I suppose that's not unusual since it was a huge hit back then.

The song came up at some point during my four week "life exploration" thing. I allude to the road trip here in a post from 2010. I left Connecticut on Christmas Day morning 1990 and returned at the end of January 1991. I brought both my mountain bike and my road bike along with a ton of spares and tools and such. I planned on doing some long rides when I could, in whatever places struck my fancy. I chose a few destinations for various reasons:

 - Dayton, OH - customer and fellow rider from the shop days moved back to his home there after completing some internship near my shop; his family offered me dinner and a bed when I came through.
 - Winter Park, CO - customer and fellow rider was traveling and would be there; we hoped to ride or ski or just hang out.
 - Boulder, CO - customer visiting parents near shop lived in Boulder and offered me a bed.
 - Grand Junction, CO - where the famous "Tour of the Moon" stage took place in the Coors Classic
 - Santa Cruz, CA - we were there a few days before the big earthquake, virtually at the epicenter, and I wanted to re-ride the route we did just before the earthquake
 - Santa Monica, CA - wanted to check it out; it had a pier like the one we used to go to in Schevenigen, in Holland. Well it seemed similar anyway.
 - San Diego, CA - seemed like a good spot to go, as far as I could go from Connecticut within the 48 states, plus I might be able to see Mexico which I hadn't seen before.

I used a micro-cassette recorder to make audio notes to myself. I wanted a way to chronicle things without writing by hand. I considered tying a notepad to my thigh as one of my book protagonists did when said protagonist made notes about his car set up and such (book was something about hot rods in New Jersey, no idea of the book name... although some Googling makes me think it was Hot Rod by Henry Gregor Felsen, I'll have to read it to see if it's the one). Whatever the idea of trying to write on my thigh while driving didn't make sense to me. The micro-cassette recorder made more sense. I even have the tapes somewhere, and I think the actual player as well.

The car in Salt Lake City, mountain bike is inside.
The high for the day was 10 degrees F I think, I have to check my notes.
It was the morning of Dec 28, 1990, the start of the fourth day of my trip.

It was quite an adventure, to be honest, with crazy good luck and incredible risks on my part. I suppose I'll do some posts about it later. I wrote a short trip diary about it and it ended up about 10 pages long so it would be in bits and pieces.

For now I'm writing because someone posted a My Sharona clip on Facebook and it reminded me of this part of the trip.

At this point of my trip I'd been driving maybe two weeks, I don't remember exactly how long but I was starting to head back. I'd stopped in Dayton, Ohio; Winter Park, CO; Salt Lake City, UT; Santa Cruz, CA; Santa Monica, CA; San Diego, CA; and now I had just returned to Santa Monica.

I was staying at American Youth Hostels for most of the trip for a couple reasons. One was that it was cheap. The other is that I could meet people in the areas where I hadn't lined up a place to stay. In less populated areas, like in the middle of Kansas, I stayed in motels for their convenience.

In San Diego I'd stayed at the hostel near the beach.  At the time the hostel was closed from 9 AM to 5 PM. That meant that anyone staying there had to find something to do for those hours. The first day I was there I went for the mother of all bike rides. I held the chain link fence separating Mexico from the US (and an INS chopper started hovering near me, prompting my ride guide say that we had to leave). I saw where the Exxon Valdez had been refitted and renamed. I rode around Fiesta Island. Stuff like that.

Then I met Diana.

She was traveling alone as was I, we seemed to get along okay, and so after we shared a table at some dinner we ended up hanging out together.

Since I had a car we drove around a bit during that 9-5 "outside" time. This particular hostel is really geared for people on foot, like a backpacker kind of traveler, so the car was an unusual luxury. We drove out to Joshua Tree National Park, we drove out to Ocean Beach, stuff like that. Our relationship was platonic, which I think made it even more enjoyable. There was no worrying about "that" stuff, it was just hanging out and having fun. I'd liken it to hanging out in high school or even college, where it was more about exploring the area with a new friend more than anything else.

I remember one night where we stayed out talking in whatever parking lot I'd found for the car. It was light out, maybe the moon was out, but it was night, it was nice and warm, and we just sat around talking about whatever. This kind of thing really doesn't happen anymore for me. Even when the Missus and I were alone last year (the night before the White Plains Crit) we were working on the crit.

When it was time for her to leave we talked about me coming up to Santa Monica with her. I'd just been in Santa Monica for a week so I sort of knew the area. She was already planning on staying there, I had two more nights allowed there (I think they limited a traveler to nine nights a year or something at the time). Plus if I drove it would take a couple hours. If she took the train it was an all day thing, with transfers and such. We decided to make it a road trip and continue our adventures up there.

The woman checking in guests in Santa Monica thought we were a couple, even married, so that was pretty funny. Apparently we looked like we got along to others. After getting our own separate rooms we explored again. Santa Monica wasn't as foot-friendly and we didn't have the money or inclination to go travel to the typical tourist locations like Disney or Universal Studios or whatnot. I think we went out once in the car but mainly we walked around for the two days and change we had together.

We were walking near the hostel, I think on a block converted into a walking street, when we decided to stop in a place for lunch. We were at some salad bar or something, I forget exactly what the set up was, buffet style or Chipotle style or just a salad bar, but whatever it was a bunch of people in the restaurant had to get in some line for food, including us.

At that moment we happened to be talking about the music we liked when we discovered rock and roll. For me the first two songs were ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" and, of course, The Knack with their hit song "My Sharona", linked at the beginning of the post.

While we were talking about the songs (I think I had to sing a bit of My Sharona as Diana didn't know it) I noticed an older white guy giving me the evil eye. Now, back then, I was subject to quite a bit of racism, being Asian. Whenever something weird happens to me I always take my race into account, to see if maybe that was part of it. Being in an unfamiliar environment I wasn't sure what, if any, things I should or shouldn't do. Diana was white. With my first girlfriend, also white, I got flak from various strangers, randomly, and sometimes in quite ugly and public ways.

(I'll note that this is mainly no longer the case, just to make things clear.)

Therefore, unfortunately, this guy giving me the eye set off some internal alarms.

Diana and I sat down, away from that one guy; I actually directed her toward a different part of the restaurant. The place was pretty crowded, we were pretty far from the guy, so I felt pretty safe. I wasn't really being too provocative, we weren't making out or anything, just two people having lunch. We continued our conversation, moving on from our favorite music as teens to other topics.

At some point I looked up. I was shocked to see the older guy was standing right next to me, at our table. He glared at me.

"Were you talking about the song 'My Sharona' when you were in line back there?", he demanded.

The whole restaurant sort of went on mute. The man's posture, his demand, it seemed a prelude to something not really good. I know I went into high adrenaline alert; I'm sure others were feeling the same way.

I looked up at him.

"Yes, I was."

The man's face broke into a huge smile.

"That's great! You know, Sharona was my daughter! She was dating that guy and he wrote the song about her! They ended up breaking up and he married someone else but that song is about my daughter Sharona!"

He turned and yelled across the restaurant, across a sea of curious and mildly concerned faces.

"Honey, I was right! They were talking about Sharona!"

The whole restaurant collectively sighed, everyones' faces turned back to their meals, and the restaurant went back to normal.

Except for our table, of course. The guy was obviously really psyched about his discovery. He told us how he used to hear the song, and people talking about the song, all the time. As time went on, though, the song sort of slipped away from the public eye. Hearing us talk about the song really made him happy. When we left he waved to us, lightly elbowing a woman who must have been his wife and pointing at us. I'm pretty sure he was telling people that, yeah, "that guy over there knows the song about my daughter".

Of course I have no idea who he is, or who she is (or was). In fact, until that moment, I didn't even know what the title of the song meant. I thought it was "Mysharona", like some weird name of a place or animal or flower or something - I never really paid attention to most song's lyrics, still don't. I just liked the bass beat, the octave up and down thing. And the muh-muh thing.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Equipment - Helmets That Saved Me - Specialized Sub 6, Scotch Plains, NJ

When the USCF passed the rule requiring helmets in races must pass Snell or ANSI tests, manufacturers scrambled to get helmets out there that didn't resemble motorcycle helmets. The first year of "the helmet rule" the peloton was wearing a mish mash of various helmets. One was the Monarch, one of the lighter approved helmets (who actually altered their design after testing and therefore production models didn't pass the test). Many of the other helmets out there were pretty heavy, and Giro was, I think, a year away.

I had a Monarch (and very few pictures of me using it). I never crashed it and when I learned it didn't pass the tests I only used it long enough to get another helmet. Then I tossed it. So no Monarch memorabilia here.

My (illegal) Monarch and me, Limerock, same direction as the cars.

We're on the little hill which is currently a downhill for the Limerock races. No chicane yet (that's where the backside wheelpit sits now). At the bell I was in a three man break with about 10 or 15 seconds on the field. I finished the race on the deck on the hill just as we got caught by the Richard Sachs team led field. I shifted hard into the small ring and managed to shift the chain right into the bottom bracket. I fell over but the ground was pretty low compared to the track - I couldn't reach the ground with my shoe and ended up rolling over onto my back.

Although initially mad at myself and covered in sand and dead grass I finally picked myself up and got back on the bike. I rolled down the course, mentally kicking myself for falling over. As I cleared the top of the hill and could see under the bridge I realized there were a lot of riders all over the place. I rolled forward and took in a breath taking sight - about 50, maybe 70 riders were scattered on the track and on the grass.

Apparently on the downhill (currently the "uphill") one of the first riders rode into the grass on the right trying to move up, tried to get back in, and fell over into the field. The field was going about 50 mph (the point man happened to be someone I rode with regularly) as the front riders sprinted down the hill to lead out the sprint. When the grass rider toppled over into the field at about 5th or 7th wheel, he took down a bunch of riders right there with the rest scattering mostly left to avoid the crash. I rolled across the line covered in dirt so everyone thought I crashed there also but I'd actually fallen over at zero miles an hour. I remember a Cat 1 put an ad in Velonews for the next year or so, selling all his bike stuff. Rumor had it he fell in that crash and was disgusted with how no one knew how to ride and he was selling all his stuff.


When Giro helmets came onto the scene it was huge. Suddenly there was this lightweight helmet that was reasonably ventilated, as much as anyone might expect, and it passed the tests. The trick was to use a harder foam (I think) as well as a mesh cover to hold all the bits together when the helmet hit the deck. This "foam with a cover" helmet design spawned a number of competing helmets. I had one of the cheap ones, an Avenir helmet. It was similar in construction, foam with a mesh cover. My helmet I'm pretty sure only passed the easier ANSI standard; I'm almost positive it failed the more stringent Snell test. However, at the time, I had just the Monarch. I negotiated with my mom - if she bought me the Avenir ($34.99?) I'd wear it every time I rode.

She bought it.

That helmet perished protecting me as well. I'm pretty sure it ended up chunks of styrofoam held together with a mesh bag (the cover). That, too, went into the trash can. Therefore no Avenir helmet memorabilia.

Avenir helmet in action, 1988, in Middletown, CT.
Rider in orange has a Giro helmet. I think they cost twice as much as the Avenir.

Another competing helmet was the Sub-6 helmet from Specialized. The goal was to have a sub-six ounce helmet that had good ventilation. This came out a bit after the Giro, Avenir, and such. I bought into it as we were a Specialized dealer and I was looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous Giro (mainly due to cost but also I just didn't want a Giro).

The Sub-6 helmet was pretty straightforward. One big innovation is that it had a plastic "frame", sort of a roll cage inside the foam. It helped hold the foam together in case of a crash. The super duper version had no shell on it; I can't remember if it eventually had to have a shell on it, I think it did, but I think initially it had no shell on it. I skipped that version but bought the one with the shell. Red, of course, to match the kit. Now that I think of it maybe it had no shell later? I don't know, 
Sub 6 in action, A race, Bethel Training Series.
I'm behind one of the Whalen brothers; John B is in the blue. I think the purple is a guy named Tom.

One of the problems with the Sub 6 is that they lightened up the helmet by making it really, really shallow. Less material meant less weight. It sat really high on your head, exposing a lot of the head up and around the ears.

However, if Motorola used it (with Phil Anderson, Steve Bauer, Andy Bishop, and a slew of other inspirational English speaking racers) then it was good enough for me.

My bike with my mechanic, if you will, Victor.
He had just gone over the bike for me and was very proud of his work.
Normally I did all my own work but he'd just resurrected one of my wheels so I let him check everything else over.

Specialized Sub-6, Scotch Plains, NJ

Scotch Plains Crit, P123

This was a P123 race that I didn't mean to enter. I'd intended to race the Cat 3 race but due to some logistical problem, probably traffic, I didn't make it to the race on time. Since I made the long drive going through NYC and committed to paying all the various tolls to and from the race, I decided to get some motorpacing in by doing the P123 race. I decided this with absolutely zero expectations of even finishing the race, forget about trying to do well.

Scotch Plains was an 8 corner, 1 mile course. The pavement melted a bit in the hot sun and the tar the Public Works Department dribbled into all the cracks softened up nicely. Sometimes you'd dive into a turn and your front or rear wheel would slide out a few inches. The melting tar felt like riding over thick oil, which, when I think of it, is exactly what was happening. It really unnerved me and I figured out the lines through the sunny corners where I'd miss the tar stripes. I think everyone did that because after the first few laps, where everyone explored different lines, we were single-double file for much of the race.

I assumed that I'd be shelled partway through the race, but as the race went on I realized that although I was hovering on the edge of explosion I wasn't getting pushed over the cusp. I told myself to do just another lap, another lap, another 5 laps, get to the prime, so on and so forth.

Racers crashed regularly. I counted at least 3 or 4 crashes in one turn alone, a left hander, three turns from the finish. It came up after one of the longer straights, transitioned from a wider road to a narrower one, and somehow guys would hit the deck there. It was such that the ambulance at the course moved to the corner and their crew stood there, waiting for the next batch of riders to come tumbling toward them.

It was about 10 laps to go, about 30 or 40 miles into the race, when I realized that, hey, I may have a chance at doing something here.

I started moving up every chance I could, usually just before or just after turns. With 8 turns a lap I had a lot of time to push a bit deeper into a turn, taking maybe 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 spots in a turn. On two straights in particular I could pedal a bit more and I'd pass another few riders.

At the bell I darted around the comet head of the field and planted myself squarely in about 8th or 10th spot as we dove into the right hand Turn One. I knew I had a couple minutes of racing left, just one mile, and I'd spend a huge portion of it coasting through turns. That meant that I could do a big surge, recover, surge again, recover, and so on. This kind of course favored my abilities, punchy efforts with quick recovery.

With the finish just a half dozen pedal strokes from the last turn, the battle would be to that last turn. This meant that going into the second last turn would be critical as the straight between them was very short. This meant going into the third last turn would be critical. The straight between the third last turn and the second last turn wasn't super short but it'd be hard to make up a lot of places. I guessed that at speed I could make up maybe 3 or 4 spots max; behind a fast guy I'd be doing well if I just stayed on the wheel. I figured the sprint would open up 100% after the third last turn.

To compound things the first five turns of the course came in rapid succession so we were lined out single or double file. It was next to impossible to move up significantly flying along at speed. We flew through that first turn, a right, then the next three turns, all lefts. Then a right at Turn Five, the opposite side of the intersection from Turn One. Then a bit of a straight to Turn Six.

Turn Six was the third last turn. The critical one in my eyes.

I approached the Turn Six sitting about 4th wheel. That in itself was a huge accomplishment. In front of me was J-ME Carney (or maybe it was his brother Jonas?). I don't remember, it was one of the two Carney brothers. More importantly, it was a pro, he was a phenomenal crit racer, and he'd be (or was already) national champion in various disciplines including the criterium.

I was on a pro's wheel, a good pro's wheel, in a P123 race, and we were approaching 3 turns to go.

I figured he'd go after the third last turn, I'd be on him like glue, and I'd get a top three.

In a P123 race!

We dove into that third last turn, hustling, with the two riders in front of the Carney brother going pretty hard. I was leaned over to the max when I realized that someone was approaching me from my left, sort of from above since I was leaned over really hard.

Some nut had sprinted up the inside to get into optimum position going into the sprint. The only problem is he couldn't make the turn. He made it up to me and promptly laid his bike down.

He slid right through my wheels.

I don't remember exactly how I flipped and stuff but I remember seeing pavement very close to my right eye for a brief moment and then a fantastic "CRACK!" as my helmet slammed into the pavement.

After that it was tumbling and such.

I ended up curled up, my hands on my head, rolling around. I looked up and saw this shadow of an enormous guy (he was one of those EMTs from that ambulance at the corner).

"Stay still!", he commanded.

I rolled around a bit more. "I'm okay, I'm okay!" I replied.

"You're not okay, you're holding your head."

I stopped and thought about that. Damn. I think he's right. I wouldn't be holding my head like this if it didn't hurt like a mofo, and it hurt pretty bad. I stopped moving around.

He took my shoes off, my socks, my gloves. He made me wince by doing something to my feet and hands. He asked me questions while he did all this. I remember having to help him with my shoes as I had all sorts of nutty stuff on it - toe straps, velcro straps.

I said that I'm okay because I'm not paralyzed so I went to get up.

"We're putting you in an ambulance."
"But I'm okay!"
"You're not okay. You took a big hit on your head. You need to get checked out."
"But I have to tell my friend who drove me here."
"Don't worry about him, he'll figure it out."

The guy, and I'm sure a helper or something, got me onto a stretcher. This was my first ambulance ride. I remember how I thought, boy, I'm glad I'm not really hurt because I feel like I'm being bounced around on the stretcher as they moved me to the ambulance. I remember that they didn't fold the legs, I think they lifted me into the ambulance because once inside I was well above the floor. My head faced the front of the ambulance, my feet the back. I couldn't move my head much (was it strapped down?) so I had to roll my eyeballs to look around.

Then we started off, siren in the background. I tried to look up to look forward. I couldn't see out the front of the ambulance so I just looked up at the ceiling.

We slowed for an intersection. Remember, my head was pointing forward toward the front of the ambulance. The blood rushed to my head.

The absolutely most excruciating pain pierced my head. I couldn't believe how painful it was, just horrible, nauseating. I felt like someone put a gigantic hardened steel spike into my head and then smashed it with a sledge hammer.

We accelerated. My head was okay.

We slowed. Arrrrhhhhhhhhhh!

Repeat about five or six times.

I got smart.
"Can we raise my head? It's killing me when we slow down."
"We're almost there."
"But... Arrrrrrrhhhhhhhhh!"

And then we were there.

Specializd Sub-6, Scotch Plains, NJ

I don't remember very much at the hospital except I was absolutely exhausted and it was air conditioned.

Specialized Sub-6, Scotch Plains, NJ
My thumb is over a sunken part of the foam.

At some point the curtain drew back and it was Mike D, the guy that I carpooled with to the race. It was one of the few times I got a ride to the race - Mike drove in his uber-cool Sirocco (MK2 for those VW nuts) - so I didn't have to weather the drive back.

I did subject Mike to a scare though - after the race he went looking for me as I seemed to have disappeared. He went to the start/finish area and saw my bike, shoes, gloves, and helmet on the announcer's platform.

He pointed at my stuff.
"Where. Is. The. Owner. Of. That. Bike?!" he hollered out.

The next day I ran my hand through my hair, as I do when I'm stressed and stuff, and someone nearby screeched in surprise. Apparently the whole side of my head, under my hair, was purple, one massive bruise. I'd whacked my head pretty hard.

I had a little bit of nausea so I definitely had a minor concussion. I don't remember much about the recovery. Back then there was no Facebook, no blog, and I haven't dug through my training diaries where I probably made notes like "leg hurts" or "didn't feel sick today". Maybe one day I will. For now though the Sub-6 sits in a stack of helmets that saved me.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Racing - CCAP Tuesday Night Crit - July 5, 2016, Shelled Hard, Tried to Lead Out a 24" Wheel Junior

Ah, the Tuesday Night Worlds. For me it's been a tough couple weeks so I didn't ride much. I did get a half hour in on Monday to loosen the legs, but before that I think I last rode Thursday.

In the meantime my Facebook feed has been full of reports of a number of the local Juniors that do the B Race placing at Nationals.

To top it off the ideal summer weather - 50s at night, 70s during the day - came to a crashing halt today. It was over 90 degrees and sort of humid after a morning shower.

Finally, I got my A1C follow up blood test done and it told me I need to be a bit more diligent about cutting carbs.

Basically I hadn't progressed any on the bike, there were a lot of strong riders out there, I felt a bit under fueled due to low carbs, and therefore tonight would be an exercise in damage control.

Close up during the neutral laps.

I like to do "best practice" stuff when I ride. So during the two warm up laps I tried to avoid the hoods. I'd ride the tops if I felt it safe enough to not have to brake suddenly. I rode the drops otherwise, because the drops offer the best control, best braking, most secure grip. This is if you can brake from the drops. I know that smaller handed riders may not be able to brake as well from the drops so there are exceptions, but for me the drops are my hand position of choice.

In the third turn, if things looked okay, I tried to ride close to whoever was on my inside. I didn't want to spook them so I'd ride a bit behind, but basically it was practicing cornering in a tight field.

Neutral laps over and we got under way.

A big field.

There was a decent size group taking to the start. However some of the aforementioned strong Juniors started punching away at the pedals and the group started to split apart.

First gap that I closed.

One big gap opened up right away. I debated sitting and sort of keeping an eye out for struggling riders in the field. Then I realized that I was one of the struggling riders. So I made a somewhat impromptu decision to first make the first group, then worry about helping others.

I went to bridge the gap.

Not very hard, just sort of rolled across it.

I couldn't recover well though and when the others started upping the pace a bit, not even really attacking, I couldn't stay hooked on.

Getting shelled hard.

I looked back and realized that the field had really split apart. I didn't have a group to fall back into, there were two or three groups already with a bunch of individual riders scattered around the course. I decided to soft pedal for a while until I felt a bit better, then I'd look around and see what I could do.

A nice benefit to my "solo training ride at about 15 mph" was that I could wave to Junior virtually every lap. It crushes him when he waves or yells and I don't acknowledge him so to be able to see his face light up as he realizes I'm waving to him... it's worth not being in the field.

Junior waving (he's in the little chair)

At some point I jumped in one group but couldn't really do much. I pulled off and pulled myself out of that group.

This 24" Wheel Junior caught my eye.

A slightly more relaxed group rolled by, a Junior on a 24" wheel bike pedaling furiously at the back of the line. I accelerated to see if he needed a hand but he closed the first gap pretty quickly. Entering the next turn a gap opened again.

He closed that gap on his own.
Note the very low position.

And again he closed it.

I don't fault him for cornering poorly. It appeared that even without braking, even with him getting low on the bike, he simply didn't coast as fast. Whether it was the 24" wheels (and their inherently reduced inertia), the different rolling resistance (24" tires have higher rolling resistance), his light weight (less inertia/momentum), I don't know. Whatever, a gap would open at each corner and he'd close it after a brief struggle. This happened in every corner.

Drafting closely and on the correct side (left side at this part of the course).

What impressed me even more is that he seemed to have an instinct for Wind Management. He stayed to the right coming out of Turn Three but then ended up more to the left as we hit the start/finish. During the race I watched a lot of adult riders not get this at all. Here was a kid, if you will, who seemed to get it automatically.

Because of those two factors I left him alone. No helpful pushes, just a little protection from the wind once, but otherwise I let him do his thing. At some point when I rolled by him he seemed to drop off. I figured he'd exhausted himself closing all those gaps.

I initially thought I'd sprint at 2 to go, so I'd "cross the line" at the bell, but then I thought that's a bit selfish. I'd rather contribute to the group. I was at least a lap or two down on some of these riders so I decided to do a somewhat laid back leadout. I could act as the moto, everyone could follow, and there'd be a fun sprint.

I rolled to the front just before the bell. When I checked back I was pleasantly surprised to see the 24" wheeled Junior sitting right behind me.

I put my hands on the hoods and tried to make myself wider. From my own experience I know that drafting a tall person changes the drafting dynamics compared to drafting a shorter person. When I draft a tall person I'm behind their knees - it's not much of a draft. I understood that sitting up really high doesn't help. What I needed to do was to make my torso as un-aero as possible. Hoods were high enough, I spread my elbows, and pedaled a steady  pace.

Looking back to make sure the Junior is on my wheel.
I had to look between my legs as I couldn't see him if I looked over a shoulder.
My HR is 166 bpm - I'm pretty much blown.

Even with this "mellow" leadout I was starting to suffer. I tried not to push too hard and I eased as I came out of Turn One, knowing the Junior would lose a few feet. I looked down just in time to see his wheels veer to the side - he'd pulled out of line.

I looked back because the Junior sat up and moved over.
He's behind the older Junior who is telling me to go, go, go.

I looked back but he seemed to be done. The Junior in front of him told me to go, to jump, to sprint. I think everyone was trying to be helpful to one another no one was actually trying to win.

I looked at the gap to the next rider, the speed that they were going, and decided to do a jump on the backstretch. I'd sit up at Turn Three and see what happened after. The group had disintegrated - I think my pull wasn't really constructive so next time I'll do it a bit slower - and the riders went by one by one.

Junior (our Junior) after I rolled up.

I rolled up to Junior who is an absolute chatterbox right now. He started asking me about this and that, started talking about that and this, and generally jabbered for a minute or two. The crazy thing is that I understand it all, all the subject changes, all the random idea injections.

He's telling me about everything - he's in the Narrative Phase.

Squeezing the brake lever, sort of. It's not just adults that do it instinctively.

He wanted to help me walk the bike back to the car, or, rather, I'd help him walk the bike back to the car. He pointed out all sorts of things as I packed the bike away, didn't run into the street, and basically was a good kid.

On the way to the car I'd spotted the 24" wheeled Junior. He was there with his dad at the very least and I wanted to let the Junior know something important. My Junior and I walked over to the car.

I asked the adult racer (he was in the B race also) if the Junior was his son. He nodded affirmatively. I addressed the Junior, because I wanted to make see if he'd blown up or if he pulled off because he didn't want to get in the way.

"I tried to lead you out on the last lap. I was really surprised that you were on my wheel but you were riding really strongly before. I wanted to ask you - when you pulled off on the last lap were you done? Or did you pull off because you didn't want to get in the way?"

The Junior was nodding before I finished.

"You were done?"


"Okay. Because I wanted to make sure you understand that if you're on a wheel you earned your spot. You have every right to be on the wheel. You don't need to give it to anyone. It's your wheel. You understand?"


"Okay. Well if I'm at the front at the bell it means I'm not sprinting. It means that if you want a leadout you should get on my wheel. Right?"

Grin. Nod.

The dad and I talked briefly and then (my) Junior and I left to get my Pops.

(As a side note - I said something that wasn't quite accurate to the dad. When I started racing I was a featherweight. Even so I couldn't climb, I couldn't time trial, and I could sprint. My cycling physiology tendencies were already very clear. However I said that "even so" I could hit 42 mph from a standing start in one gear. I realized after the fact that I didn't even know I could sprint until I'd been racing maybe three years. By then I was closer to 100 lbs rather than 90 lbs. At 103 lbs, 17 years old, I could do a standing start, one gear (53x12), and hit 42 mph consistently. It was a Steve Bauer training thing so I did it because Steve Bauer. But when I started at 15, at probably 90 lbs, I didn't have much data in terms of top speeds in sprints and such. I hit 30 mph sprinting up a short hill a few driveways down from the house - I knew that because my mom was just behind me and noting my speed. But other than that I didn't have a lot of data for the first few years I raced. I wanted to clarify that.)

*edit update: the 24" Wheel Junior got the bronze at Nationals just a short time ago. Apparently he is quite strong, I had no idea.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Racing - Throwing Your Bike (Pictures)

I wrote a post a while back about throwing your bike, meaning doing a bike throw at the finish of a sprint. I know that I'm somewhat obsessive about bike throws, even doing bike throws when I'm well clear of the field.

However, my livelihood doesn't depend on it. I still do them, just because I want to do the best I can with what I have. I do bike throws because I don't want to leave something to chance.

It's a very minor one, I thought I was clear so I threw the bike out of habit.
I'm not way over the back wheel.

This is a pretty poor bike throw, I've gained maybe 6-12 inches forward travel on the bike. My head would normally be over the bars, or even in front of them in an all out sprint, not behind them. If I had to really reach I could have gotten another 6 inches of reach I think.

The picture below shows just how safe I was playing that finish.

That's me up ahead, the speck below the red and white tent awnings.
Like I said, I threw the bike just to be safe.

And today, July 5th, 2016, in the Tour, I think that Direct Energie's Coquard had the sprint in the bag. He simply could not finish it off with a good bike throw.

Bryan Coquard's finish in Stage 4 of the 2016 Tour de France.
Picture from BH Bikes USA, Facebook.

The significant thing here is that Coquard is sitting on his saddle.

This means he did not do a bike throw at the finish.

Remember that you're classified as finishing when your bike breaks the plane of the finish line. I think if the bike is crashing then it's not necessarily the front tire, but in a normal sprint you're looking to put the front tire to the line before anyone else. That's key because it means that you're not as concerned about your head, your torso, etc. It's the front tire of the bike.

The way a bike throw works is the rider moves momentum/inertia from one part of the bike/rider unit to another. Since the rider, even a skinny Tour racer, is heavier than their bike, a racer can shove themselves backward on the bike to move the bike forward. If you shove the bike forward relative to your body you will momentarily slow your body. In return your bike will accelerate.

Say you weigh 160 lbs. Your bike weighs 16 lbs. If you move your body back one inch, your bike will move forward 10 inches. This means that if you move your bike forward, relative to your body, just an inch or two, you'll gain half a wheel in the sprint.

Okay, that's not totally accurate. There's wind resistance, there's friction, and there's the fact that part of your body is moving with the bike (your hands, feet, some of your arms, most of your legs). Plus there's the whole "how long are your arms" question - if you can't reach further forward then your bike isn't going forward any more.

The reality is that if you move your hips back about 8-10 inches you'll realistically get your bike forward maybe 12-18 inches. It's not ten to one ration between yours and your bike's movement, it's more like three to two. Still, though a foot is significant if you're losing the sprint by a an inch.

The wrong way to do a bike throw is to simply straighten your arms. You don't move your body relative to the bike so the bike doesn't leap forward. This is what Coquard did at the end of Stage 4.

The right way to do a bike throw is to extend your arms as you drop your pelvis behind your saddle. By pushing your pelvis behind your saddle you're moving the most mass possible as far back as possible.

This thrusts the bike forward.

This is the bike throw that basically started the blog.

Once I realized I could sprint on the bike I started looking at how to optimize my sprint. I learned about bike throws, figured out the physics thing (thanks to school), and from then on I was doing bike throws all the time. Easy ride? Throw my bike to whatever shadow was in front of me. Waiting in the parking lot for a group ride? Bike throws to empty parking spot lines. Group ride? Bike throw at town line sprint.


Bike throws for sure.

Over the course of 30-odd seasons I don't think it'd be unrealistic to say that I've done maybe 10,000 bike throws. If I did 300 a year that would be about 10,000. I probably had single days where I did 50 or 75 or even 100 bike throws. I even had bike throw mishaps, like when I went out on a ride on my Aerolite equipped bike with slippers on instead of cycling shoes.

For a long time I never thought I'd really use a bike throw because I seemed to get shelled all the time. Eventually though I started sprinting, started placing, and started doing bike throws for real.

I did get an interesting place in the Tour of Michigan due to a bike throw. We were sprinting curb to curb, about 10 riders across. I was stuck in the second row. The first row was somehow, magically, sprinting at basically the exact same speed, within a foot or two of one another.

The second row was soft pedaling, waiting for someone to blow, waiting for that gap to open to allow them to surge past that blowing up front row and win the race.

The gap never happened.

At the line I thrust my bike forward as far as I could. My front wheel ended up at or past some of the front row riders' pedals and cranks. I thought I might lose my wheel to those spokes.

There were 10 riders in the first row of sprinters. I got 11th in the race.

Fast forward about 11-13 years. I was one point behind Morgan in the overall in the Bethel Spring Series. I had to beat him in the sprint, and get top 7, to win the Series overall. As a sprinter I was definitely one step behind Morgan. He could beat me straight up; I was close only because he skipped a race, I think because it was raining and he'd used himself up in the Masters race.

Coming into the sprint I followed Bethel Cycle's four man leadout train. They had two sprinters, Stephen G and Bryan H. Both of them would win the Series overall in other years - they are both very good riders. I sat on their wheels, waiting for the right moment to pounce.

I jumped very late, trusting in my jump to give me the best chance against Morgan. We sprinted at similar speeds (he a bit faster) but in the jump I possibly had an edge.

I sprinted towards the finish. I'd jumped hard I thought I had it made. I was debating if I should raise my hands or not. Then, just before the line, to my right, I sensed something.

I looked.

To my horror it was Morgan. He'd gotten boxed in going into the sprint (when one or both of the Bethel sprinters blew up), had to back out of that spot, and was now closing with a fury. He was sprinting noticeably faster than me. I had to get to the line before he passed me for good.

I did a couple more pedal strokes and desperately threw my bike at the line. I threw the bike so hard I lost my grip on one side of the bar, causing me to veer crazily toward the left curb.

But, in all that, I'd done a good bike throw. I'd won the race, and with it, the Series.

You can see here that I'm only slightly ahead of Morgan.

I'm rapidly slowing in the sprint at this point. It's hard to see in the pictures but in the video you can see that I'm not going as fast as Morgan.

However I'm already getting into the bike throw at this point.

As my body extends back my bike moves forward.
I'm trading my body's position to gain bike movement.

At this point I'm going to win the race. I'm deep into my bike throw, I'm still not fully extended, but my front wheel is already ahead of Morgan's wheel.

I'm still extending, trying to get my hips down.

At this point I'm still getting further back on the bike. My head is coming down really hard, hard enough to hit my helmet to my stem. I can feel the saddle in my stomach and I'm hoping that I don't fall back into my own rear wheel.

The finish.

I'm fully extended and on the edge of losing control. The saddle is firmly in my stomach and I have marginal control over the bike.

However, if you look at Morgan, you can see he's really only raised himself up out of the saddle. If he'd thrown the bike forward it would have been a closer race. I always compare head position relative to the line - my head is forward of Morgan's so I think I'd still have won. However it would have been much, much closer.

His hips are basically in the same place as mine, and if he had a similar torso length as me, I think his head would have been about even with mine. It would have been even a closer race.

Bike throws are quick. In pictures they look nice and neat, but in reality it's a little spurt and that's that.

The bike throw for the 2005 Bethel Spring Series (go to just before 6 minutes into the clip for real time, 7 minutes in for slow motion):

Coquard, in the sprint for Stage 4 today in the Tour, didn't move his bike forward relative to his body. If he had done so he realistically would have taken the stage.

The last kilometer, courtesy the Tour (no commentary):

 I did notice that virtually no one threw their bikes at the line, even Kittel. It might have been that the uphill drag was particularly tough. However that's even more the reason to throw the bike, because if only one rider throws his bike...

For all us normal racers the bike throw is an easy skill to practice, you can do it all ride long on easy rides, you can do it warming up for races or group rides, you can even do bike throws when you're testing riding your bike (or someone else's bike). It's a skill that you should master and use. You never know when it'll come in handy.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Equipment - Helmets That Saved Me - Bell Biker, Gallows Hill Road

Long story ahead...

Bell Biker, Gallows Hill Road, Redding, CT

Note: Gallows Hill Road in Redding, CT is immortalized (at least in my eyes) in the story about the Revolution "My Brother Sam Is Dead". If you're from the Connecticut area there are mentions of Hartford, Ridgefield, Croton-on-Hudson (NY), a few other places. The bit that gets me is that they walked ("marched") long distances, like Redding to Hartford. Anyway, on to the cycling bit.

When I Got The Helmet

I bought (or rather my parents bought) this helmet for my trip across Pennsylvania when I was 14 going on 15, back in 1982. When I got into cycling I was all about touring - that's the kind of cycling covered by Bicycling magazine. I wanted to ride with panniers, a triple crankset, wide range gearing, long wheelbase bike, yada yada yada.

My mom, ever supportive of my endeavors, found that the local Westport Y offered bike summer camps and requested a catalog. I pored over said catalog like it was a build kit for a bike... okay, maybe not that long, but I pored over it for hours and hours and hours. There were all sorts of choices, from a massive trip from Canada somewhere to somewhere in the US (Montreal to CT? I think it was 600 miles), others that were pretty short.

Because I was a bit tentative I selected a two week long trip that started somewhere way out in western PA and ended in Philadelphia. I think it was supposed to be 200 miles or something. Not very far but enough - the idea was to spend some of the days doing stuff, not just riding from one place to another. It was supposed to be a tour, not a trip.

The drop off was a nervous affair. I wasn't really sure of myself and I had no idea what to expect from the others. I quickly learned that most of the group were kids that weren't really active and their parents thought that dropping them off for a bike camp would get them in shape ("lose weight"). I can tell you that there were some miserable kids on that tour.

In contrast I'd been training in preparation for their quoted max 50 mile day. I wasn't sure if I could do a week of 50 mile days in a row but I certainly could do a few, and I did 72 miles one day in a bikeathon. I felt prepared.

Therefore when we plodded along waiting for the kids that literally didn't ride their bikes before camp I got pretty bored. As a distraction I tried going up one of the hills as fast as I could. The lead ride leader (we had three adult chaperone types) sprinted ahead of me. I tried going hard up another hill and he sprinted again.

I thought he was just having fun. I didn't realize it at the time but the Y policy was that one ride leader had to lead. Another had to sweep. The third one was the only one that could check up on the riders in the middle. We had one male ride leader, a very outdoorsy type, very fit. He was like a little Paul Bunyan. We had two female ride leaders that seemed to be more like daycare teachers, although one was admittedly an experienced touring cyclist. This meant she knew a lot about packing panniers and tents and cooking and where to camp but didn't really feel like sprinting over hills like it was a Strava KOM. The three ride leaders quickly agreed that the male would generally lead the group, especially when I started hammering up the hills.

Keep in mind that when I was 14 I was a scrawny kid. At 17 I weighed 103 lbs (my physical before going to college), so at 14 I was probably in the 90 lbs range. We carried our gear on the bike, for me it was mainly clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, some tent stuff, a flashlight (for a headlight - can you believe that?), and some food. The leaders carried the tents, stoves, heavy food like canned food, and first aid kit stuff in addition to their personal gear.

The male ride leader happened to have a Schwinn Continental. I'd done some research on bikes before getting my Dawes Lightning, and I knew that the Continental was an absolute beast of a bike - 55 lbs or so, and that was without any gear on it! He had to have been easily pushing 100 lbs of bike and gear. My bike was something like 24 lbs and I was probably loaded down to maybe 45-50 lbs.

So basically the ride leader was sprinting against me while effectively pulling a trailer with a small kid in it. If you've ever pulled a small trailer with a kid in it you'll understand - it doesn't seem like much, 40 or 50 lbs, but man oh man when you start going up a hill it's like the bike dropped an anchor.

Into the asphalt.

I don't know if the poor guy was into racing at all but let me tell you, after that week, he had to have been pretty strong. We were sprinting up every hill - it was like a game for me. He made the mistake of telling me that a ride leader had to stay in front of all the camp riders. To be fair he told me this in the context of, "If one of the women are leading don't sprint. You can sprint up hills when I'm leading."

I interpreted this as, "If he was leading we were sprinting."

I'd look at him as we started up a hill, start going faster, he'd go faster, and then we'd end up going as fast as we could up whatever hill. I inevitably blew up and then we'd crawl to the top, gasping.

Then we'd do it again.

Eventually I did beat him. I remember the feeling of triumph when he finally blew up first, then used whatever lung capacity left to yell at me to not get too far ahead. For me that was a huge victory.

Toward the end I was "outclassing" him regularly. I was drafting him on the flats and then popping out for the hills. It wasn't fair, him being handicapped about 50 lbs, pulling all the time, all that stuff. I felt some sympathy so I toned down the attacks.

My favorite day was when they leaders polled us the night before about the next day's itinerary.

"Okay, we can do a really long ride tomorrow, 50 miles, and then we can spend the next day at Hershey Park. Or we can do about 30 miles tomorrow, another 20 the day after that, and we'd have a few hours at Hershey Park."

We collectively voted for the 50 mile day. We were out and on the bikes pretty quickly (it was like herding cats getting a bunch of 14 year olds onto their bikes). We ran out of daylight at about 9 PM.

Yeah, 9 PM.

I think we were out there for 10 or 12 hours. I took a wrong turn somewhere, we were in the middle of Amish land, dark farm country with no street lights, and it was getting dark.

The experienced touring ride leader had stayed in the area at some point before and knew an Amish family around the area. She called, we got permission to stay, and we rode through the dark to some farmhouse. It was huge, to be honest, about 15 kids camped out on the first floor with room to spare.

Thing was that during the day we'd go kind of hard for a while, stop, go hard again, so on and so forth. I felt super strong even at the end of ride, at night, I was just jonesing to go out and keep riding.

After a great "farm to table" breakfast (I couldn't bring myself to drink the warm milk but the eggs and ham were great!) we rode what seemed to be a mile or two and then we were at Hershey Park.

Eventually we got to Philadelphia, where a van was waiting to drive us all home. While we were there we ran up the Rocky steps. The statue was up there (I had to Google because I was wondering if it was my imagination). When I ran up the stairs later, during one of the Philly Corestates Race, it wasn't there. I was crushed that it was gone and then wondered if it'd really been there all those years before.

When I got back home I gave the panniers back to the Y, took off the rack, put the skinny tires back on, and my 14-21  "racing freewheel". I rolled down the driveway, turned right, and did a wheelie when I punched the pedals. I sprinted down the road and blew up a few hundred yards later.

It was great.

To me that was riding, to go really fast, to sprint, to go 100%.

The bike racing bug had bitten me hard.

Over the winter I saved up, negotiated a combined birthday-Christmas-months-of-chores present (where I contributed some money also) and ordered a sight unseen Basso for $550 ($50 was an upcharge for the tubulars - the shop laced over tubulars and glued on some tires for that $50). It checked off all the checkboxes:

 - Columbus tubing
 - Campy derailleurs and shifter
 - Campy hubs
 - 53x42 chainrings
 - 15-21 freewheel for Junior gearing
 - tubular GP-4 rims
 - Modolo brakes

What I didn't realize is that it wasn't all that.
 - The Columbus tubing was Zeta, which is basically their worst tubeset. It was a tank of a frame.
 - Campy Nuovo Record front and rear derailleurs and downtube shifters. Fine.
 - Campy hubs. They were Tipo hubs. Fortunately back then Campy only had one grade of bearings - excellent - and their hubs were all virtually the same quality. The Tipo hubs were great. But they weren't Nuovo Record.
 - 53x42 chainrings. They were on an Excel Rino crankset. I only knew about Excel Rino because Lon Haldeman rode Excel Rino stuff when he won RAAM. I figured it must be good if he used it. It was cast aluminum, the absolute cheapest crankset you could possibly make. But I had no idea and the chainrings were black and drilled out so I loved the crankset. The bottom bracket was the cheapest piece of junk you'd ever seen. The axle had studs on it, you used nuts to tighten the crank down. Horrible.
 - 15-21 freewheel. This was a blessing because I didn't understand the gear limit although the sales guy Lou did. Lou was the silver medalist in the state road race the prior year and was a pretty good rider.
 - The GP-4 rims were installed in place of the G40 clinchers. At the time there weren't any good clinchers so the GP-4s were a natural. I didn't realize that they'd just glue the cheapest tires on the rims. They both flatted a day apart at the end of my first season. When I went to remove them they popped right off - there was barely any glue on the rim. Yikes.
 - Modolo brakes. Not the pro ones. Not even the mid-level Speedys. I can't remember what they were. Cast. Flimsy, But they were Modolos.

I upgraded stuff over the years.

 - Campy Super Record front and rear derailleurs. I couldn't install them at the time so I had the shop do it.
 - Bar end shifter on the right. I installed that.
 - Gipiemme crankset and BB. I think I installed that.
 - Eventually got different freewheels, once I was a Senior. As a Junior the 15-21 was all I needed.
 - Ambrosio Crono rimmed wheels. I can't remember the hubs but those were some nice rims.
 - Clement FuturCx/Futurox kevlar belted tires. I used them for a long time, until I could afford Vittoria CX/CGs (front/rear).
 - Modolo Pro brakes. In red no less.

The Crash

I started riding regularly with a group that met at Oscar's Deli on Main Street in Westport, CT. We'd do about 35 to maybe 50 miles, depending on the time of year. At first I was well out of my league. I have no idea how I got home each time, some of the older riders must have been very careful to keep me on route. Part of the tough part was that it was a 10 mile ride to get to the ride, and a 10 mile ride to get home. I was adding 20 miles to the ride just getting to and from the meet point.

As I got stronger I got cockier. Eventually I was trying to match the better riders, one Cat 2 Senior (Morley B, who I worshipped like he was a demi-god) and one super classy Cat 2 Junior,  Bill W. There were a couple Cat 3s and the rest of them were Cat 4s. Back then everyone started as a Cat 4 so they were all normal riders. The Cat 3s seemed human but "really, really good". The Cat 2s were demi-gods and properly so; it's where I thought that there's no way I could be a 2 but if I could I would.

(Interestingly enough one of the guys from that era joined my current team Expo Wheelmen, completely unbeknownst to me. A couple years ago I was sitting at one of the meetings, saw him, and thought, wait, I think he was part of the Oscars crew 30 years ago. Then he came over, "Hey, Aki, I can't believe it's you!". And if that's not weird enough when I was doing the shop rides nearby, in 2009-2010, one of the riders doing the ride was also from the Oscar's ride. As we're about 2 hours away from the Oscar's ride location it's amazing that these two guys ended up in the same area as me. Anyway, that's yet another tangent...)

One day Bill W attacked on some random, generic backroad in the Redding/Easton/Bethel/Newtown area. As I was in the "I'm getting good at this" mode I followed, sprinting hard, trying to keep him in sight. The other riders let us go.

We were going fast and I thought, okay, I'm going to catch him, I'll out-corner him because I know how to stick a knee out in a corner.

The road turned hard left, Bill slowed aggressively and leaned really hard into it. I followed at a much higher speed because I was going to catch him and obviously I could go faster than him.

It was a really long left curve, virtually a 180, and very sharp.

By the time I exited it I was on the right curb and panicking. I managed to stay upright but to my horror there was a hard right curve immediately following that left. Switchbacks like these - two in a row - basically don't exist in Connecticut so I was caught with my pants down.

I got the bike heeled over to the right but I had started on the right curb, almost in the bushes. In other words I'd done about the earliest apex possible, the worst thing possible. I found myself skimming the leaves on the left side of the road, the wrong side, the oncoming traffic side.

I started thinking about survival now - catching Bill wasn't the goal anymore, my goal was to not become a hood ornament or to hit too big of a tree.

I tried to slow but the steep hill, my sprint start at the top, and the curves kept me from scrubbing off any reasonable amount of speed.

I exited that second curve on the left shoulder and wouldn't you know it, there was a left curve in front of me.

Three hard turns in a row?! On a descent? In Connecticut?!


I dropped the bike to the left, hoping that I could make this turn, praying that it wasn't a long turn.

I was leaned pretty far over to the left, hoping I'd stay out of the trees, when I hit a severe gradient change - the road basically dropped out from under me (later I realized that even in a car the front tires would momentarily let go of the road - the gradient change was that sudden). My front wheel went light, the front end washed out, and I hit the deck.

I slid down the road, bounced off stuff in the shoulder, and ended up sitting in the middle of the road, my helmet in my hands.

I'd really clocked my head hard, my head hurt, and for a few seconds I sat there trying to gather my thoughts. I almost got hit by the rest of the club carefully descending down the same hill. When I stood up my shoes lost traction - it was that steep. I slipped down the hill uncontrollably and ended up crawling up the hill with my hands on the ground to get back up to my bike.

My bike seemed okay, I wasn't bleeding too badly from anywhere, and we had to get going. I got on the bike.

I gingerly rode back to Oscars, then back home, my head pounding. I felt a little nauseous for a while, like a few days, but eventually it went away. Headaches also, but again, they went away. I don't know what I was like immediately following the crash but I think I was lucky to escape without major problems, based on the nausea and headaches.

I know now I had given myself a concussion, and, in fact, it was probably the worst concussion I've had in my life.

Nonetheless I can't imagine what would have happened had I been wearing my favorite "Kevlar helmet" (my faded yellow Campy cap, which looked sort of like Kevlar colored hence I called it my Kevlar cap). For this reason I saved the Bell Biker helmet as one that saved me.

Bell Biker
Note the right side of the picture (left side of helmet) where the foam is not as thick as the left side of the picture.

I didn't think it looked damaged at all, at least at the time. Now that I look at it, or the pictures of it, I realized that the left side of the helmet looks pretty compressed, like maybe to half the thickness as the right side. It must have been a real solid impact. I didn't notice the compressed foam back then so I still wore the helmet after the tumble. Eventually I convinced my mom to buy another helmet for me.

That was the Brancale Giro.