Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Life - Moving Trials and Tribulations

I haven't posted about bikes in a while, and there are two reasons for this. One is the move - I'm simply exhausted and have no time or energy to ride. Given the choice between doing something related to the move or riding, I choose riding.

A second is a bit more straightforward - none of my bikes are here. My everyday bike, the carbon Giant, is sitting in the soon-to-be-sold house, along with my riding gear. The others are all sitting at my brother's house, waiting for me to pick them up.

With exhaustion comes some funny and somewhat inconvenient happenings. For example, I brought my work computer with me on the move. As you all know, the "computer" consists of more than just the box and a monitor. There is a keyboard, mouse, sound things, and various power supplies and such. My work computer is a dual flat screen setup with a booming sound system, a headset/mic (for Skype - which we use for work). So the flat screens have separate power supplies, the sound system has a bunch of wires, I have a headset/speaker switch (which involves wires), and I have my work set of phone charging things. I carefully packed it all and unpacked it all here at my other's office. Set things up. Only thing left?

Network cable.

At the townhouse. I drove back, got it, drove back. 25 feet long, just barely reaches the computer. The office here is not really internet connected - one centrally-located computer connects to the internet. The others are networked to a server, the whole thing being offline. So I took the one port available for the internet. Not a problem since the boss, the most avid internet user, wasn't due back from vacation.

About 5 minutes after I got things going, the boss walks in, two days early.

"Hey Aki, how's it going?"

Doh. I had to go get a router so both of us could use the internet at the same time.

Luckily I have three routers. Two are at the house. One is at the townhouse. So I went back to there, said hi to a chipmunk sitting on the steps. He darted between the steps and the building - of course I peered down there (there's about a 1 inch gap), scared said chipmunk who fled further down, laughed quietly at his self-perceived "stealthiness", and got the router. I was locking up when the keys dropped out of my hand.

Swished perfectly between the building and the steps, right down by the chipmunk's hiding spot.

Problem is that my hand is a bit wider than an inch. And the key was two feet down and a foot in.

I had to get online and working though so I left the keys there (luckily the truck keys weren't on the same ring).

Got back to the office. Reset the router (forgot the username/password), reset the network connections for my and the boss's computer, and got online. We had our daily handover call - and the internet connection burped (unbeknown to me, it was related to the lightning strike over the weekend). My boss (not the one who came back a couple days early) called me on my work cell. We continued the handover call.

Then my work cell died.

My boss called my on my personal cell. Asked why the work cell died. Didn't we get you two chargers, an extra battery, yada yada yada. Yes yes yes. I just haven't charged it since last week since I wasn't working from Friday evening through Sunday night.

I look around and realized at that time that, of course, my phone chargers were in the townhouse.

You know the one, it's the one with the keys in a crevice that would make a GI Joe climbing figure happy, maybe a chipmunk curious, but is perfect for keeping a key out of my grasp.

With the advent of plastic and wood hangers, the stylish wire hangers, the perfect implement for picking locked car doors and fishing keys out from tiny crevices, have disappeared. Even this non-internet office had no wire hangers.

I looked around and finally found something similar - the antenna to my little zippy RC cars (packed here as I had a couple on my desk at work). With a paper clip (they still use those) rubber-banded to the antenna, I had myself a little hook device.

Telescoping no less!

I went back, the chipmunk hid better than before, and I retrieved the keys. Checked the townhouse. Ends up I put the phone chargers in the van, with the thought that I'd use the in-vehicle plug adapter (allows you to plug in a wall charger into a device that plugs into the cigarette lighter). Of course that was in the future missus's car. That car was sitting at her mom's - she traded her car for the pickup truck. But I still had the chargers.

Anyway, I'm finally up and running. Even the phone lines being down (lightning over the weekend) somehow didn't affect the DSL at the office.

With the walk through a bit earlier than I anticipated, and a lot more stuff in the house (than I anticipated), I'm trying to get Wednesday off. I took Thursday and Friday off, the former to clean out whatever is left, the latter for the closing. The noon walk through means I have virtually no time Thursday so I really have to get things done before. That leaves... tomorrow.

And Friday, although I could have had the lawyer sign for me, I decided I really want to be there for the closing. It's my first sold house and I figure I want to pick up the check and deposit it into the bank.

Then ask for a printout of my account balance :)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Life - Moving, Stage 2b, PODS dropoff

The PODS saga continued on with the drop off of the PODS unit at the future missus's office lot. The townhouse complex doesn't allow such a thing to sit for more than a day so the only other possibility was the office 2.5 miles away.

We got a nice pickup truck (not full size as I thought - it was a mid-size truck) and the big van for the move. As a sort of scheduling bonus we loaded the van up at the house so we'd have that much less to move later.

I decided to "top off" the van and went to the house to pick up a few things. I ended up a few hours late, much to the consternation of the future missus. That was fair as even I didn't know I'd be gone for more than 30 or 40 minutes, but when I got a surge of energy at around 9 PM, I decided to ride it out till it was gone. It took till almost midnight.

We came up to the townhouse the next day (after staying for literally just the night at my brother's house). We planned on meeting a couple of friends (Todd and Donna) at 11 AM, but we needed to get the keys for the townhouse at 9. Once we did that, we did a walk around, realized it was going to be hot (hottest day of the year or something like that), and she went to get air conditioners while I started unloading the van.

We pretty much finished the van by the time Todd and Donna showed up, took time for lunch, moved some more stuff, and waited for the PODS guy to call. He did, we went to the office, and relaxed in the air conditioning until he showed up.

I saw the guy deliver the PODS to the house so for me it was old news but the other three hadn't seen it so went out to watch. I could hear the "oohs" and "aahs" and couldn't resist going out to watch whoever it was work.

I walked out there and said to my other, "You know, that guy looks like the guy that delivered the PODS." So I walked closer and sure enough, it was him.

So I asked him.

"Hey, you're the guy that delivered the PODS to the house!"
He looked at me like I was speaking Japanese to him.
"Right, you know, I think it'd be hard to remember a delivery from March."
He scratched his head so I continued my monologue.
"I don't know if you remember but I came out and videotaped you (motioning like I have a camcorder)"
His eyes lit up.
"Right! You live on the corner and I had to (and he motioned turning the PODS around a corner)".
We laughed.
He kept working.
And we had our PODS back.

As soon as he pulled the PODzilla thing away, we opened the door. We let the mattress slide out and we saw the inside of the PODS. I must have collapsed in exhaustion because when I turned around, the friendly PODS guy Keith was asking, from 50 yards away, with a thumbs up.

I gave him a thumbs up and he grinned and drove off.

The rest of the day was a hellacious day, hot, humid, and tiring. Lots of heavy lifting - probably literally tons of lifting. Getting the washer into the pickup was the hardest thing - getting it down was the second hardest.

The second most challenging thing of the day was getting the last few pieces into the van on the second round at the PODS - but we managed, after about 15 minutes of cussing, to get the sofa seat and three tables into a space that our cat would consider a bit tight.

The most challenging thing we did was get the box spring up into the bedroom. The box spring scraped the rug, wall, the other wall, and the ceiling of the stairway. And we had to make a U-turn at the top. Todd and I tried to get the box spring up to the second floor but simply couldn't. I pointed out that tilting the box spring level would require the tail to come up a bit - and since it was already scraping paint off the ceiling, it wasn't a likely proposition. This was a bit distressing. So, like an ostrich, we decided to move everything in around it and figure out what to do later.

My other asked a random friendly blonde walking by us (earlier she asked us "Don't you love moving?") if she had a queen size bed upstairs and she did. Armed with that knowledge, Todd decided that the box spring was going upstairs, my plane geometry arguments notwithstanding.

I'll give you a hint. It's called a box spring, not a box or a box box. And I virtually failed out of engineering in school, so my plane geometry might need some touching up.

Anyway, that thing sprung a lot. We scraped more paint and plaster off the various walls and ceilings but it somehow tilted down, tail went up, went into the bathroom, popped around a wall, and slid into the bedroom.

We pretty much called it a day after that, with just a few detail things done, and went out for dinner after cleaning up a bit. Since Todd drove, both myself and the future missus indulged and had a few drinks (i.e. three drinks between the two of us).

We got back to the townhouse and passed out, exhausted after a 14 or so hour day.

Sunday we get to do more the same. Packing up more of the House - garage, basement, my office, and a bit of the kitchen. And move it up north.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Life - Moving, Stage 2a - PODS Pickup

So the PODS was picked up today but not without some drama. Last night I had the 1954 (and other years) Hungarian National Champion (1954 - 50 km) and a one time Florida State Road Race Champion help the future missus and myself cart out boxes and bins to the van and the PODS. The van is full of boxes - up to the windows - and the PODS was barricaded closed with the mattress and locked shut.

No bikes in the PODS but plenty of bike stuff - rollers, workstands (I have three now - a Park folding one from my friend Gene, the Blackburn tripod one, and a not-so-great white Blackburn one).

And virtually everything from the bedroom, middle room, living room, and kitchen.

Andre, the Hungarian guy, is pretty funny. Usually every other word is a swear. "Can you believe de bleeping Coppi was down 32 minutes by stage 6?! Den the bleep wins de bleeping race by bleeping 45 minutes or so." I warn the future missus so she wouldn't be surprised. And then he never swears.

We were rummaging through the basement for various things to fill gaps in the PODS. He's the one that brought out my rollers, workstands, fan, and some other bike stuff.

While we're down there he looks at one of my bikes. I have my carbon Giant, my aluminum Giant, a couple frames hanging, my mountain bike, all my "good" wheels, a ton of stuff. What does he home in on?

My $90 Riggio brown track bike (complete with yellow tape - and I chose that on my own, 15 years before I saw the picture I linked).

Of course.

No interest in the modern stuff. Super Record is new stuff. It's the old stuff that he likes - he cut his teeth on that gear.

Anyway, we managed to pack up the PODS without getting too engrossed in listening to Andre tell stories of his racing.

This morning, when I started charging the phone at work I saw I got some messages. Two were from the PODS guy. The first said he was on the way. The second said that my blue/fun car, a Nissan 350Z, was in the way. I've identified the car for, well, you'll see why.

A picture of the car from two years ago. Like my bikes, the car got a set of cool wheels (functional and cool - lightweight, cold forged Nismos) as well as brakes, intake, some other stuff.

He said in his message that he wouldn't be able to move the PODS unless the car was moved. I'd be glad to move it but it's over an hour away from the office.

This is the kind of stuff that stresses me out.

I let the future missus know. I told my colleagues I might have to leave. I tried to call him but no answer.

That kind of stuff stresses me out more.

I called the future missus, shared the bad news. We prepared to cancel the help we recruited for tomorrow. I prepared to drive home to move the car. And I called him about 45 minutes later, desperate.

This is how the call went.

"Hi. I'm calling about the PODS at..."
"You know, you need new rear brakes on that Z."
"Cross drilled and slotted Brembos."
"And you gotta paint those calipers gold. The grey looks terrible."
"Um, okay."
"And then we can race but I'd still kick your ass."
"Uh, well, at least I could stop well."
"I'd stop better than you also. I got Brembos all around."
"What kind of car you have?"
"I got two Z's. Twin turbo. '90 and '91."
"Those are fast cars."
"400 foot pounds at the wheels."
"Um, so anyway, I was calling about the.."
"Oh you're all set."
"I got it out. It was tight. But your PODS is out. You're all set."
"Oh. That's great."
"No problem. Take care of those brakes."

I'm glad he had a Z and that I had a Z. If I had a Mustang or Corvette or something he probably wouldn't have gotten the PODS out. Heck if I had driven the Z... well it wouldn't have been in the way. But if my Honda was in the way, I'm sure the guy would have said "Oh, can't do it, won't work, gotta go." And me and the future missus would have been up the proverbial creek without so much as a paddle.

Tomorrow we drive the heavily laden van, the future missus's mom's full size pickup (still to be loaded), and meet the PODS up in Simsbury. Then we get to move all that stuff into our new, rented townhouse.

After that, well, after the closing, I'll be working from there, no commute, no nothing. I hope to have more time to do stuff like train or work out or something. No more yard and no more garage so no yardwork or tinkering.

Today, then, is my last day in the office. They got together and we had a little lunch thing with brownies and cookies as desert. The cookies had on them "Good Luck". I felt like I was going to court or something. Me and, well, let's see, I could name a lot of cyclists.

Soon I'll be shutting down my computer, packing up the monitors, the computer, and the various accessories, and shuttling them back home. I'll use them next week from the future missus's office until we have internet, then I'll be working from home.

Sunday I was supposed to help promote this race. But I simply can't, just can't. I missed essentially a couple days of packing due to illness, the garage and basement are still painfully full. I have to clear all that stuff out in time for the walk through on Thursday at noon.


I thought the walk throughs happened the morning of, not the noon before.

Anyway, by Thursday noon the house has to be broom clean.

And Friday, early in the afternoon, I'll hand over my beloved house to two very eager and excited new homeowners.

I think it'll be a bit tough, leaving the house. It's been home since 1992 and I went through a lot while I lived there. Lots of sweat equity. Lots of real equity. A great place, solidly built, not a single new crack in the plaster since I got there. Solid, like I said.

Really, though, it's time to move on. A bigger house, more room, more yard, more garage. Hopefully some little SprinterDellaCasas running around, that kind of thing.

For now all we have to do is move out.

Later, we'll move into whatever new place we find.

Story - Psyching Someone Out

It must have been perhaps the second year of Bethel, maybe the third. The weather was atrocious with gusting wind, rain falling sideways in sheets, and everything cold - in the mid 30's - and soaking wet. We decided to combine the races from five to two - the "first" race and the "second" race. The first would be for everyone from the 4s, Juniors, Women, Masters. There were no 5s back then, just (non-licensed) Citizen racers, and I think we let the two or three do their own race before combining the other races.

The second race would have all the 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s. And of those, pretty much all of them were 3s and 4s. I don't recall a single Cat 2.

This was the era when I was actually somewhat fit so I approached races with more than minimal expectations. My warm ups were the same though - dress, get on the bike, and ride to the line. Typically my first lap would start off with a big effort, end up off the front with one or two other guys, hang on wheels on the back stretch, and then sink back into the field on the hill.

I'd recover in a lap or two and that would be my warm up.

On such a horrible day I needed a good shock to get the blood flowing. I knew it would be a race of attrition and I wanted to be in a position to respond to go within the first four or five laps.

So when the official sent the miserable, already soaked 20 or so racers on the way, I jumped away from the line. Two racers, both on the same team, joined me. We went around the second "turn" (really a long bend) in tight formation. I eased, expecting the rush of racers to come by.

Then one of the guys, Ron, looked back.

"Hey, they're letting us go. We should ride."

I looked back. The group was plodding along, obscured by rain and spray, rooster tails flying, but going perhaps 20 mph.

Ron and his teammate immediately put their heads down. I had no choice but to join them.

We struggled along for a bit. Not a good racer in steady efforts, I could contribute perhaps 1/4 the length pulls that these two guys did. Nonetheless I was struggling with what efforts I made. Within a few laps I started to skip pulls, hanging on for dear life.

The group stayed within 20 or 30 seconds, a gap easily closed with a big effort. Every lap the officials (or some soggy spectator) would yell a time gap. It didn't change too much - I guess everyone was letting us kill ourselves in the rain, waiting for us to come back.

After a number of laps the two other guys, Ron and his teammate, eased up and conferred a few lengths behind me. Such a conference between two teammates only meant one thing - Attack!

I steeled myself, ready for the quick one-two attack. Although we had a long way to go, such an attack would probably finish me and then they could get on with their two man team time trial without worrying about carrying me to the finish.

Their tactical conference finished, Ron rode up to me, past me, and did a half-hearted pull. I looked back at the other guy, ready for the imminent attack.

To my surprise he had sat up.

It wasn't a fake either - he took a pedal stroke here and there but basically waited for the group. Ron's pull seemed limp, even to me, and I took a pull. I asked him what happened to his teammate and he mumbled something back to me. I lost the details in the rain, spray, and wind, but I got the gist of the message - "slow leak".

Well, I thought, good thing the guy sat up. I'd hate to have the guy slide out in front of me on the hill or that first turn or something like that.

With the odds a bit more even, I started digging deeper in my reserves. Actually I didn't have a choice - it was just Ron and myself. Plus Ron seemed to be somewhat tired. And the other guy had been doing a ton of work - it was him I thought would win from the three of us.

We passed by the start/finish.

"One minute!"

What? A minute gap? We got 30 seconds in a lap?

I thought for an instant that maybe the slow tire guy took down the whole group. But there were no bottles or other debris scattered on the road. I couldn't see much else, the grey skies, rain, spray, and sandy grit obscuring the view through my glasses.

The gaps were probably wrong for a while. Whatever. At the pace we were going we were now two good pulls from getting caught.

Lifted by the good news, we kept going. I plodded along with Ron, trading pulls. We were both riding at a reasonable effort - definitely not a winning break type effort, more like a hard training ride.

With my circulation improving, I was starting to feel better. I felt flashes of form on the hill (read that "I didn't let a gap go") and could pull reasonably hard on the flats, my soggy feet in my soggy booties reminding me how miserable it was out there. I'd do a little mini-sprint at the top of the hill each lap to close the gap, recover a bit, then pull what I could pull. Ron would come around me and hurt me on the hill the next lap and we'd repeat the cycle.

A good thing about getting wet is that once you're wet, you're wet, and it doesn't get worse. That sort of helped me persevere. The rising gap helped. When the few spectators started yelling how close we were to the group (instead of how far ahead we were), it injected some heat into our pace.

Suddenly, out of the grim grey stuff in front of us, the group materialized. I hadn't realized how close we were as I could barely see past Ron through my rain and spray covered glasses. Shortly afterwards we rolled by them, a demoralized looking bunch. I saw one of my teammates look over, too shell shocked to do anything except glance my way. No one tried to get our wheel. Someone said something like, "Good work guys." We just rode around them and away from them.

Although I understood this before, lapping the group set in concrete the idea that today had become a two man race. Me and Ron. Everyone else was out of contention.

Ron was obviously stronger than me - he pulled like a madman at the beginning and was hurting me on the hill on every lap even now. I had to figure out a way to beat him - and that meant getting to the sprint with him. If there's one place I could beat him, it was the sprint. He even told me at some point that he can't sprint.

So I tried to pull less in the headwind. Tried to pull more on the hill. Any spot on the course where pulling didn't help the other, I'd try and pull.

I started thinking of comments to say. I remembered reading about guys like Lemond who made comments to a super Urs Zimmerman in the '86 Tour. Zimmerman had been attacking Lemond on the final climb in a stage in the Tour, dishing out some serious hurt on Lemond. Lemond in turn was responding to each move, trying to make it look like it was okay. Finally Lemond rode up to Zimmerman and said something innocuous like, "Good pace". Zimmerman had thought he was hurting Lemond, and to hear such a nonchalant comment deflated his motivation. He steadied his pace, rode to the top, and dragged a thankful Lemond into the yellow jersey.

Although this was no Tour de France, this was, at the moment, the most important race of my life. I figured Ron's comment on not being a sprinter was his first move. I thought of things to say back to him.

Maybe some comments on the weather.

"I'm so glad it's raining - it's so much better than when it's just plain cold."
"This water is pretty warm isn't it?"
"Damn. My foot just got wet now. I was hoping they'd stay dry for the whole race."

Or perhaps something about his bike.

"Is your chain getting stiffer without lube? I used to feel that until I got this waterproof stuff that really works even when it's wet out."
"Man my brakes don't work at all anymore."
"You only run a 12 tooth?"
"Your wheel is out of true."
"Your rear tire looks a little low."

Actually Ron's tire did look a little low. But then there are those who deflate tires for the wet so I dismissed it as something intentional.

Ultimately I was too tired, too stiff, and too wet to say anything. I did understand that Ron had done more work than me and that I was a better sprinter. So I figured to even things out I'd pull for most of the last lap, up to and including the leadout to the sprint.

Then we could fight it out like men.

So at the bell I took the front position. Ron must have thought I was up to something because he took it right back. I clawed my way around him and set about going a decent speed, sitting up a bit more so he'd have some draft. We got to the back stretch and, of course, I started to tire. This made me rethink my generous strategy. If I cramped up in the sprint it'd be awfully embarrassing. I kept pulling though - it's one of those inertial things. Hard to stop in the middle of something.

Ron handled my quandary for me. At the beginning of the backstretch he jumped.

Not to discredit him or anything but his attack showed he was tired. He seemed like he was sprinting in molasses, and though the rain was uncomfortable, it wasn't that thick. I also jumped, went a few pedal strokes, got on his wheel, and started thinking about when to go. He looked back and essentially sat up.

So I jumped again, went clear, looked back, and Ron was barely pedaling. I didn't know why but he was giving me the race.

I went up the hill, expecting to see him throw off his bluff and start charging at me. But he never did. He must have been more tired than I thought and I rolled across the line the winner. I was too tired to raise my hands and just rolled across.

For me it was an epic win. The first time I had been in a breakaway that lapped the field. The first time I'd won from a break. The first time I solo'ed in. And one of the very few times I was in a break that actually worked.

Afterwards I went to Ron, asked him what happened. I told him I was going to lead it out because I sprint better than him anyway. He blabbed about the slow leak. Yeah, yeah, his teammate's slow leak. What's that got to do with the sprint?

He laughed.

"I had the slow leak. I told my teammate that I had a slow leak. He told me, 'Well, Aki's fried and you have a flat... I'm sitting up'."

Well now.

So the teammate sat up, the field rode up to him, and he told everyone "Aki's fried and Ron has a flat."

Everyone in the field thought that that was that. Nothing unusual about "Aki fried". And a flat? Totally expected in this weather. So they sat up too, expecting to see an exhausted Aki trailing back into the field and Ron at the start finish in a lap with a new wheel.

That's when we picked up 30 seconds in a lap.

I laughed.

"You know, I was trying to think of things to psych you out - I was even thinking of telling you your tire was low. But I figured we'd just ride it out so I didn't say anything."

So my epic win deflated, somewhat literally, just a bit. I beat a guy with about 50 psi in his tire for most of the race - and he pulled harder than I did. But it didn't take away from the 30 or so laps we rode off the front, literally from the start line of the race. I pushed through all those times where I just wanted to sit up, to drop off Ron's wheel, to drift back to the safety of the group. And eventually I made it.

I thought to myself that this could be a turning point, that somehow I'd be a breakaway racer. But this was not the case. Ultimately this was the race where everything fell into place for me to be in a break. A day like that you don't need to play games. You just ride.

Else, well, else you'll just psych yourself out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Yeah of all times to get sick. Stomach something. Horrible. It must have started last Saturday as my stomach wasn't normal. Worse and worse during the week. And today I took off. Chills, hot, cold, I don't know what's happening.

I ate a couple times. Drank some tea. And that's about it.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Life - End of Summer Blues

With my fiancee out "shopping" for the day (it was actually a surprise bridal shower), I was left alone at the house. Normally this would mean a mega-ride, maybe one of my "not this year" ride to Kent (120 miles or so). Or maybe doing Gimbels (and riding there and back). Or some other mega-mile, mega-time, mega-exhausting ride. A chance to spin, do some climbs, chase after some trucks, blast around a few turns, do a few tucks on fast descents, and then come back home and act like a zombie for the rest of the day. An eating, drinking, and sleeping zombie to be precise.

Instead, with the move looming big on the radar, I did other things.

First off there's this crack running between the driveway and the walls around it. I used about 20-25 pounds of pavement patching stuff and patched it. I have to seal it now but the patching is done. I didn't realize it until after I'd patched them that the cracks had been stressing me out. Somehow patching them gave me a lot of relief.

Putting the pavement patching stuff away, I started packing the van with all my car stuff to take to Todd's (he's married to one of my fiancee's bridesmaids - in other words, she was up in Todd's vicinity "shopping"). I had listed a lot of stuff I wanted to bring and asked about some "optional" items. He hinted that one of the optional items, the extension ladder, would be welcome. Since I hadn't planned on bringing it, I had to rearrange the garage to get to it. Easier said than done but after an hour or so I gingerly removed the ladder from said garage.

I started maneuvering it to get it into the van when I remembered, "Laundry line." Right. The laundry line that's been in the big tree in back since 1992. And which was last used in perhaps 1993. I needed to get it down. Now. If no ladder, no getting it down. Todd said he needed the ladder so not taking it was out of the question. Instead, I had to get the line down now.

So Mr. "I'm Afraid of Heights" got the ladder up on the tree, wobbled his way up to the line anchor (it's about 15 feet up), and after debating for a while on how to get it down, clambered back down, retrieved the BFH (the Big F-ing Hammer), and smashed the laundry line anchor clear to tomorrow.

Some pieces may have landed next door but honestly I don't know. I picked up what I could and tossed it in the garbage.

Anyway, that done, my eyes traveled to the branch hanging over the walkway like the Sword of Damocles. I got my relatively new (and expensive) telescoping saw and tried to get at it but it was at least 20 feet up and out of range of my ground-anchored self.

So as not to let this opportunity pass (i.e. the ladder), I propped the ladder up against the house, climbed onto the roof, precariously reached out with the extended saw, and cut up said Sword. Pieces fell everywhere but I felt a lot better about not having someone impaled while walking into the house.

I climbed down after the heart-stopping "How do I get onto the ladder again?" bit and got back down to the ground. The ladder didn't rattle too much so I wasn't quaking as much as normal. Still though it was nice to be down on Mother Earth again. Also a good reminder that I want to buy a ranch, not a two story (or more) colonial, so that during gutter cleaning season (the fall - leaves - and the spring - pollen stuff) I sit only 15 feet off the ground, not 20 or more when I clear the gutters.

I finished packing the van about three hard-laboring hours later and started on the drive up to Todd's. It was somewhere in the Route 8 valley where things sort of hit me.

Nothing physical mind you. No bugs in my teeth or bouncing hubcaps smacking the hood.

It was the End of Summer Blues, smack dab in the middle of my forehead.

Normally it's something I feel just before school starts. Since I haven't gone to school in almost two decades it's something else. I've been trained to have this feeling in the fall. Maybe if I was a bird I'd migrate or something. It's usually a consistent pattern. It goes something like this.

I've been training and racing like a madman. My body has gotten used to being tired or sore or both. The only days it isn't sore is when I show up at a "peak" race, a goal race. The legs usually feel okay but as the summer wears on a deep seated fatigue permeates everything. I find I get stronger and faster as the summer goes by, and even the achiness in my body doesn't stop me from making the enormous efforts required in a race or a hard group ride.

After each race or ride, dehydrated, bleary eyed, tired, I'd drive home, eat, read, lounge around, and wait for sleep to overtake me.

And I'd start it all over again the next day, the next week. The racing, training, lounging, eating, drinking.

It's a great feeling, living this riding and recovering cycle. You know you're in deep when you hit the deep seated fatigue part where you're tired but amazingly strong. The strength doesn't really go away, it just hides until you make that one extra effort and suddenly your legs are going and you close that gap.

After the effort you feel just like you did before you made that effort, tired and sore. But not more tired or more sore.

So when you need to make another effort, you ask your body again.

And it responds.

Again and again.

Somehow your body is able to do this, fatigued or not. A relentless reservoir of reserves, waiting to be tapped.

This year I barely raced, barely rode. But I felt the same achiness, the same fatigue, the same bleary eyes, the same response when I went to make an effort, but it was all for a different reason - moving. Working Saturday with my friends Kelly and Jenn, moving a lot of heavy and bulky things into the PODS, pre-loading the van, it was exhausting. We'd been moving stuff around for a while in preparation - and then the stress of the honeymoon planning didn't help. Then that morning I ended up editing the van, editing the garage, and loading a whole lot of other stuff. I finally felt that deep fatigue - it hit me in the van.

The End of Summer Blues got some help because the van has a quaint cassette player. I have some copies of tapes I listened to in college. I usually listen to the tapes when I was driving, and I was usually driving to go to races. So the music - REM ("Begin the Begin" and more), Smithereens ("Blood and Roses" and some others), U2 ("Gloria" and more), the Cramps (a PG-13/R song I won't even name), and some lessor known alternative 80's bits - helped bring back the flood of feelings pertaining to the ESBs.

The final ingredient was the cool weather and cloudy skies. The precursor to the fall days of September, the weather shifted pretty hard this last couple days. No A/C, windows open, and you need a blanket on the bed. The cats are a good barometer - when they're curled up, tails wrapped around like a shawl, nestled in some comfy warm spot, you know it's not that hot (the alternative being sprawled out on their backs on the cool hardwood floors). Driving the van (with its nice new firm shocks and re-lined brakes) in this weather simply completed the whole ESB thing. I found myself driving steadily, mellow, sort of the way a really tired, really fatigued, yet somehow alert person would drive.

I got to Todd's, we unpacked the van with the help of his friend Mark and that was it. In the race of life I blew up. I watched them work on what used to be my Passat (I gave the Passat to Todd in February, along with all the stuff I had for it). It starts now (bad connection in the anti theft circuitry prevented it from starting before) and he's been diligently working on the brakes and various little things to get it street worthy.

Todd's wife and my fiancee arrived after her surprise bridal shower and we all talked while Todd and Mark cleaned up. I drank Gatorade and water, ate pizza and cake, and sat around doing, well, nothing.

The drive home was a repeat except I could follow a leadout car - my fiancee, driving extremely consistently and predictably (as the van doesn't like going over 65 mph), led me through to the house.

Walking up to the house I realized I left the telescoping saw hanging on the gutter of the house. The BFH lay in the grass. Bits and pieces of dead branches littered the walk.

We left them there, I just took the time to lay the saw on the ground.

We walked into the house, the semi-empty house. The bed lay on the floor, about two feet below its normal height. The cats were having problems adapting - they'd pause, wiggle their butts, and then jump... all of 12 inches up. Then they'd try to get to the window above the bed. It used to be a climb down - now it's a two foot jump up. We helped the disoriented Tiger get to his watchtower sill so he could survey all those around him.

Only one more week living in this, my first house. I've lived here almost 15 years (it'll be 3 months short when we move out). I daresay it's in much better shape now than it was when I moved in that cold December morning in 1992. The agent called today to report that the lenders had done something about a mortgage contingency thing. I think this means they promise to lend the money to the buyers. This means the house is sold. I called my fiancee right away, she called the townhouse people, and so tomorrow we'll be the proud future tenants of a cozy two bedroom townhouse about 90 miles away from where we live now.

And we'll have until two Fridays from now to clear out the house. This means we have a lot of packing to do. "We" means "I" since a lot of the stuff is mine - bike stuff, garage stuff. The whole basement, except for some clothing, is all my stuff.

At some point, maybe tomorrow morning, I'll pick up a small container of pavement sealer. Seal the cracks in the driveway. Cover my patches (the patches are the foundation for sealer but are not waterproof themselves). It's not like anyone asked me to do this, but I feel it's only right. So, before we've moved, I'll get it done. The one thing we have to do is cap the chimney - and that should be done Wednesday night.

The soon-to-be owners seem really nice, really enthusiastic. I'm happy that the couple buying the house seem so involved - they've called a few times to ask about the house, the plants, things like that. Granted the house is in good shape - after all, except for the floors, I fixed things up for me, not for someone else. But it's still good to know the house is in great shape. I feel like I've done my part. It's a good feeling.

Like you might expect, it'll be sad to move out. I wonder if it'll be like the time I sat in the empty bike shop, looking around at "what had been". I had a bit of that feeling yesterday, perhaps brought on by the ESBs. Or maybe the other way around. Really, though, you can't live in the present (or the past) for your whole life.

Progress is sometimes disruptive.

The thing about the ESBs is that although they signal the end of a season, they also herald in the beginning of a new season, a rebuilding time (both figuratively and literally), a time of hibernation.

When I got my fun car (the blue one), I wanted to videotape it backing into some anonymous garage door. Then I'd do work on it, modify it, make it more powerful, make it handle better. Then I'd videotape the door opening, the engine starting, snarling, and the car pulling out, better, stronger, faster than before. Okay it probably won't be stronger. But man did I love watching the 6 Million Dollar Man when I was a kid.

Anyway, back to the ESB thing. The time my car would spend in the garage is like the fall and winter time here in New England. This year is winding down. A couple big events to go - the immediate move, the slightly less immediate wedding. And after that it'll be time for recuperation. To rebuild. To recover. Next year all sorts of things will blossom, come to fruition. Time to drive the car out of the garage. The end of the hibernation cycle.

But for now? For now it's the End of Summer Blues time.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Life - Move, Stage 1

So I've been sort of stressed this past week. Two big things occupied my mind. The most immediate is the upcoming move. There are three stages - this weekend doing some packing and moving car stuff to our friend Todd's place, next weekend actually moving to the our temporary new permanent place, and the following weekend clearing out whatever is left).

The second thing is the honeymoon.

On the latter, the future missus and I both searched all sorts of sites, my sister's recommendations (she lived there for a bit), and a couple tour guide books we bought a while back. We were looking for a place that was reasonable in cost, somewhat spacious, and had no known horrors. Oh, and one more very important thing, which we only figured out after a week or two - available rooms.

I registered for a few of the travel sites, searched high and low for hotels, saved a few dozen, went over them with my other half, and then, when I went to check rates (or book), the hotel was booked.

So we'd repeat this process again. And again. And again.

This went on for a couple weeks.

Instead of riding, I'd browse hotel sites. I've been consumed with finding a place to stay. And finally, a couple days ago, we found a slightly out of the way place, really nice looking, and, well, a bit out of our price range. We'd already doubled our initial budget, then we went up a bit more. And now this.

But, you know, a honeymoon is a once in a lifetime thing. And though I could probably think of a lot of things I could buy with the cost of one night there, it's really sort of beside the point. We're selling our house without buying another one, we have a lot of equity in it, so we'll make, in a couple months of interest, enough to pay for the whole honeymoon, even if we stay at this semi-extravagant place.

So, with that in mind, yesterday we finally booked the hotel and the flight we'd been eyeing for a couple weeks.


So that means I can ride, right?

Well, not really.

I did ride once. The big white van I have for the bike race has been pressed into service as a mini-moving van - if a 10 foot wheelbase with about 16 feet of floor inside could be considered "mini". It's needed shocks for a while but driving about 20 miles each way on local roads to the race, well, the shocks waited for a few years. But with a couple 200 mile days coming up, I decided I should stop procrastinating and get the shocks done. To put it in perspective, the van had traveled only 269 miles this year - 6 or so trips up to Bethel for the races.

I jacked up the van, the jack creaking in protest, and after getting the heavy wheel/tire off, I realized I couldn't get the rust shock bolts off. So I dropped off the van at the local garage and in the process went for my first and only ride this week. I had to get back from the garage and I figured riding the bike beat walking for a few minutes. So decked out in street clothes, helmet, lights (it was 11 PM), I had a quick 2 minute ride, most of it coasting. I got to turn four times. The swish of the tires made me ache for a nicer, more involving ride, but this had to do for the week.

We got the van back, shocks nice now, and loaded it up for the first Stage of the move - all the car stuff to go to Todd's. Any big carbon fiber pieces (hood, fenders), the stainless dual exhaust, the original wheels (and the tires on them), my big bike wheel rack, compressor, air tools, regular tools, workbench, jack, stands, ramps, maybe the big ladder.

In preparation for Stage 2, we also emptied the bedroom and living room into the PODS. Rearranged things so we should get by with one of them. The day the PODS moves is stage 2 - and that's on Friday/Saturday.

Two good friends, Kelly (he works with me) and Jenn (his girlfriend), came by to help with the packing and stuff. We got an insane amount of work done. I even had time to change the future missus's oil before they showed up.

So today is the final bit of Stage 1, the drive to Todd's. I want to edit the load in the van a bit, it should take an hour or so, then I'll be on my way.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Doping - Hypocritical Tailwind

So Discovery is pulling the plug.

That's fine. Nothing surprising there, right? They committed to the end of this year, decided not to renew back in February, not a big deal.

Tailwind Sports, the actual organization that races as the Discovery pro cycling team, knew about this plug-pulling, probably before that February announcement. So during the 2007 season they looked for a sponsor.

Sponsors like when their teams win, and from that respect, Tailwind Sports has been quite successful. In 2007 Levi won a bunch of races, their "Best Young Rider" hope blew everyone away in the Tour (except for the skeletal disgrace who can't figure out where the Mexico stamps are in his passport - When repeatedly pressed on the topic, and confronted with a question of having documents such as passports to support his version of events, Rasmussen would only respond: "Well, what I am saying is that now we have to see what the [legal] case brings and we will take it from there."), and they got a lot of press, as usual, in the American magazines.

Yesterday the arguably most successful American team ever announced they were giving up that search for a sponsor.

I figured there were some good reasons for this.

Forget doping for a minute. Or any other pro cycling thing. Something else rules the cycling world. It's what people ultimately work for, whether they're slaving away in the team pits or standing on the podium.

It's called money.

When you sponsor a team, you're using part of your marketing budget to market your company. The idea is that a cycling team might get you a better return on your marketing dollar. For a big company, $15 million is a drop in the bucket. Not a big deal. And it's certainly less than it would cost to get your name plastered all over the sports pages when, for example, your racer wins the Tour. Or even just a stage of the Tour.

TV time too - imagine an hour of coverage where your racer is prominently displayed on the screen. How much does it cost for a 30 second ad? And how many viewers use that ad time to run to the bathroom or refill their electrolyte drink bottle? That's a lot of ad money getting flushed down the toilet. But wait, if you sponsor the team... well, instead of paying a TV station to air your stuff, the station actually goes out looking for you and your logos. More importantly, the viewers run back to the TV to watch your racers.

And then as a bonus they can watch your team in a bazillion other races too. And read about them. And every time they do, your name, the sponsor name, gets pounded into their heads.

With Tailwind Sports and their Discovery team so prominently featured from February till now in every type of cycling publication worldwide, it's not about marketing or the lack thereof.

It might be about available money. Take the subprime mortgage fiasco (don't even get me started on that). That seems to have taken the wind out of everyone's sails. Actually, it seems like the whole financial infrastructure, based somewhat on imaginary money, is teetering on the brink. A couple hundred billion dollars helped stabilize things ($38b in the US, about $200b in Europe) - but doing this every couple days is going to mean, well, I don't know what, but it's not a good thing.

Anyway, there are a lot of reasons why a sponsor might not want to use $15 million to market their name through a pro cycling team.

But Tailwind Sports says that they were 90% there to getting a new sponsor but they, not the potential sponsor, decided not to go ahead. They decided it wasn't worth it. And it was because of the the other teams, the other organizations, which made them make this decision. To quote, "we can't control what goes on in the sport and with other teams."

Wait a minute.

What team signed Basso?

You know, the "I don't have enough guts to confess even after I've confessed" guy? I think my cat Tiger, who's been neutralized (as my mom would have said), has more balls than that guy.

What team signed Contador, the guy who held the lamest press conference ever? I think it takes immense talent to hold a press conference about doping that doesn't say anything at all. Where are his blood records for the last five years? How about pulling some blood, right there, and handing the vials (in an appropriate cooler) to the Minister of Sports (or whatever) of Spain? What happened to actually saying something significant at a press conference?

Who kept Joachim Benoit, the rider who tested positive in 2000, for the next five years? And what team did he go to this year? Astana, the dopiest team after anything Manolo Saiz managed. The one whose two leading GC men in last years Vuelta managed to miss a doping control (and somehow get away with it). And both of whom tested positive for blood doping - Vino and Mr K. And their manager claims he was "naive". I guess those locked coolers all your staff were carrying around were for, what, beer? Yeah, nice palmares.

I've written about the Tailwind Sport's Discovery team before. You know the stuff that Rasmussen allegedly asked someone to carry for him from the US to Italy? Well Discovery had a bunch of similar stuff in 2000 in France (but it comes from Australian calves) called Actovegin. Either way it's great, whether you use Actovegin or that Hemopure stuff. Basically it carries oxygen in something smaller than a red blood cell. Your hematocrit remains unchanged (thereby passing the only test out there for blood doping at the time) but you're supercharging your blood.

Why the big deal with blood doping? Why is it so significant?

There are two limiting factors in bike racing - power and how long you can sustain that power. Testosterone, HGH, and other anabolics help with the power. But power over a mile or two doesn't help a Tour racer. The key is sustaining power. In fact, pretty much all of us can "be a pro" for a few minutes. It's being a pro for 45 minutes up a climb that, well, makes them pros and us just normal working class people.

I'm skipping the anabolics for now, staying with the blood stuff.

Say you have the average of 5 liters of blood. You carry about 0.03 milliliters of oxygen per liter of blood in dissolved gasses. That's about 0.15 ml of oxygen total. Not a lot.

Your hemoglobin carries about 200 milliliters of oxygen per liter of blood - 1000 ml of oxygen. A full liter. Very significant.

Biopure carries twice the oxygen as hemoglobin. And it doesn't affect your hematocrit level. You're supercharging your blood by compressing the amount of oxygen in your blood - possibly literally doubling it.

A racer could use that stuff, fly by any hematocrit test, and still have the benefits of an astronomical hematocrit.

Using compression to get more power is nothing new - that's what supercharging and turbo charging does to an engine. In the late 1980's, BMW built the most amazing Formula One engines.

They used a small engine, an at-most 102 HP 1.6 liter engine sleeved down to 1.5 liters, a size that is literally smaller than most of the car engines out there in the US. But they compressed the air inside many times so that the air's density was high. This enabled them to burn enough fuel that they put out some astonishing power - they were acknowledged to develop something in the range of 1400 HP in qualifying trim (1150 HP for a race).

The ironic part is that the team found that used BMW engine blocks made for an ideal base for the engine. The engines were almost literally junkyard engines with 60,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) on them, taken out of used street cars.

Wouldn't that engine help cut down your morning commute?

Savor that image for a second or two. Merging would take on a whole new meaning. So would rain I guess. And mid-turn bumps. Your BMW 316... Let me digress. The -16 refers to the engine size - 1.6 lieters - have you ever seen a US 316? No. It's too wimpy for the country that wants power and doesn't penalize for engines over 2 liters. For most BMWs the last two digits is the engine size - just put a dot between the two numbers.

Anyway... talk about turning a donkey into a race horse. A pitiful BMW engine so weak it wasn't considered for sale in the US could put out over ten times as much power when you compressed the air/fuel mixture inside of it.

That's what blood doping does for a bike racer. Not ten times perhaps, but with power levels so low compared to cars (one horsepower is about 740 watts), even a 100 watt bump is really significant.

The racer with oxygen-heavy blood can ride at a much higher level before going anaerobic, before running out of breath. Efforts which would have normally put him at the edge become "a light spin around France". It's what lets one dominate the others - a blood doper can wait till everyone is groveling and then smash them to pieces with a vicious attack or four.

As one racer described Basso, it's like he was "an extra-terrestrial". He, of course, only "thought" about doping. Yeah. Like winning the Giro by nine minutes wasn't enough. "I wanted18 minutes." Oh wait, he never said that.

Apparently there are other ways to increase your blood's oxygen carrying capacity without resorting to injecting more blood or by taking EPO. Discovery acutally declared their use of this product for their team riders' "abrasions" and for a mechanic's "diabetic" condition.

The next year it was banned.

Enough is enough.

You reap what you sow. It's reaping time and Tailwind Sports, well, they're getting what they deserve.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tactics - The Sphere and Three Scenarios

What is okay to do in a race? Is it okay to block? Elbow someone? Close the door on them? It can be a tough call since there is a very big grey area between what the rules state and interpretations of said rules.

Working within the rules and trying to win, that's fine. Breaking them is not. That's pretty simple. But there are a lot of unwritten rules. Sure it's illegal to impede someone's progress. But isn't that blocking, sort of? And blocking, at some level, is okay.

Ultimately it comes down to sensing what's right and what's wrong.

Think about what racing means to you. Is it your livelihood? Are you relying on getting $20 so you can get gas for your drive home (or food for the day?). Although I've known people in this situation, I don't fall into that category of racer. You probably don't either. Remember we're all doing this for fun. If it becomes not fun consistently, you may need either an attitude check or a new sport (or a job).

Let's take a scenario unrelated to racing but one you probably run into virtually every time you drive on a highway. Say you're driving on the highway in the left lane and you're about to pass a truck traveling slowly in the right lane. There's a guy behind you. He pulls right to pass you. It'll be very tight if he tries to pass you and then move back into the left lane without hitting either you or the truck. Your judgment says that it's better that the car passes after both of you pass the truck.

What do you do?

1. Swerve right and hit him.
2. Accelerate to beat him past the truck.
3. Slow down, let him in.
4. Stay next to him until the truck forces him to slow down.

I hope it's pretty obvious that #1 is not the answer - the police would have a great time learning about your rationale for ramming a guy next to you. However, I see the equivalent in bike racing all the time - someone goes to pass in what will be a dead end lane and the guy they're passing moves over into them. If you wouldn't do it in "real life", don't do it in a race. If you do stuff like this in real life you have problems that this blog can't come close to helping.

#2 is a great idea but maybe you don't have the power or speed to do this. In a bike race, you rarely have the luxury of flagrantly wasting energy like this. The only time this isn't true is if you are in a critical point of a race - leading up to a critical climb or the sprint. In these cases it's important to maintain position and you may find yourself willing spend a bit of muscle money in order to maintain even one or two spots. Choose this option if you have a vested interest in guaranteeing your position - and if making an effort will have the proper result.

#3 is nice if position is not important to you - and often, even in a race, it really isn't that important. Letting a guy move up 3 laps into a 30 lap race is not a terrible thing. Early in the 2007 Nutmeg Classic, I asked someone to let me go to the outside. I was trying to position myself for a photographer (but the reason really doesn't matter). It was early and not a decisive part of the race. The other guy let me out, I moved left, the photographer (hopefully) got his shot.

#4 would be a viable option in virtually all situations, real or in a race. In the driving example, it does not impede on the car to your right while at the same time it lets you meet your tactical goal of protecting your position. The best thing about it is that, on the bike, you end up spending no energy. And you make the other guy spend a lot for nothing in return.

Your judgment and that of those around you determine what happens in a bike race. It's a complicated balance of aggression and understanding. When done in a fair and reasonable way, things tend to be a bit safer than not. When someone tries something unfair or unreasonable, it's up to the bike handling skills of those around to stay upright. Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, skills are not enough to overcome poor judgment. Crashes ensue.

There's one thing that determines what you can do and what is safe to do around you. I call it the sphere of safety.

This sphere encompasses your front wheel and handlebars. Violating this sphere causes the sphere-owner mental discomfort. Violations typically results in either fear, panic, or a crash. An experienced racer's sphere might be as small as 0-10 cm away from different parts of that area. A new racer's sphere might be as large as a couple feet.

The sphere is the key to all close quarters cycling tactics.

I saw three different scenarios at the Nutmeg Classic when racers might violate this sphere:
1. Bends, where riders on the outside moved towards the inside with no regard for those just behind them and to their inside.
2. Moving up, when a line of racers move up the side, and someone tries to pop into that stream of racers moving up.
3. Closing doors, i.e. shifting over to physically impede an attack or surge.


In the course of your racing and riding career, at some point you'll end up on a curve that straightens out a bit before curving back in again. The natural tendency is for people on the outside (who don't see the minute change in curb angle) to keep turning in. The riders on the inside can't follow the same arc because the curb is there - they have to move out. The two end up meeting, and, as they say, "your results may vary."

If you're on the outside of a turn, your guiding line should be a combination of the riders in front of you as well as the rider to your inside. You should pay close attention to the rider inside if they drift out towards you - it indicates that either they see something which makes them want to move out or that they're simply drifting a bit. Either way, you should move out in a parallel and controlled manner. Not doing so could result in some painful consequences.

If you're on the inside and suddenly you have to straighten up unexpectedly, you should do so in as smooth a manner as possible. Don't jerk the bars unless you're about to crash - but then you've already made some kind of cornering error. Follow the curb or edge of the road. The rider to your outside should (hopefully) do the same.

New Britain has a lot of curves where the outside riders can squeeze the inside riders inadvertently. Respectful/polite/knowledgeable racers will hold a slightly wider line to avoid potential problems inside but you'll find racers squeezing the inside all the time - on the first long bend and the top of the hill. Look on the first lap of my cam clip - the light blue guy to my outside moved in a lot. He moved back out as soon as he realized it so it wasn't necessarily intentional, just a mistake.

Moving up (Stream of Riders):

If there is a line of riders moving up on your left much faster than you, unless you can jump really, really hard, you move sideways will force the rider just behind you to brake, possibly firmly. Not good. If you can get into that line without causing anyone in that line to brake, you're fine. I'd recommend looking first before moving. That look will let the others know what you're thinking.

A quick judge of whether your move is okay or not is to think about if your move will cause someone to put their brakes on hard. If so, it's not a good move - and if you pull a move like that, you're riding poorly and unsafely.

If the line of riders is not moving very quickly, there is a way to check the reaction of the stream without doing much of anything. Slide over perhaps 3-6 inches, less than a quarter of your bike's width. This will let you put your "curb feelers" out. If the guy rushes by you, get back onto your line - he's looking to get by you and he's willing to burn the gas to do it. Let him burn the gas. If he slows, it's your spot. Take it right away.

Either way, you have given the other racer the option to pass or not. It's not a "force" thing. You present the option and take it if it's possible.

The "stream of cars" example comes to mind.

Think of a highway where one lane stopped due to traffic and the other lane is humming along at 30 mph. Is it okay to pull out from the stopped lane because "there's a gap"?. Not unless you can get to 30 mph before cars behind you get to you - otherwise you'll force a whole line of cars to slam on their brakes (and possibly cause one to hit you). If the two lane speeds differ by 5 mph, it's a different story - moving over quickly and decisively into a clear spot will usually be safe.

Closing Doors:

Closing doors refers to physically moving over to block a free "lane", i.e. "you're closing the door". It is almost never a violent move - if you have to lean the bike or steer to close the door, you're actually just swerving across the road. If you slightly adjust your angle of travel (say less than 5 degrees) and it takes you a few pedal strokes to move over one bike lane (the width of one bike, perhaps 2 feet), then you're "drifting" at a reasonably safe rate. If this drifting happens to close the door on a surge coming up the side, well, then your drift also closed the door.

If you're shutting doors hard (i.e. you're doing things you shouldn't be doing) it's an indication that you're not following the guy in front of you in an ideal way. Any sketchy moves like that means you're making up for tactical mistakes and/or lack of fitness. Back off on the moves and accept that, without endangering those around you, you're unable to compete in the present race situation in your current fitness/mindset.

Shutting doors correctly is a quiet, subtle thing. No slamming. You can move very slightly to dissuade someone from passing you. The idea is you penetrate their sphere and they back off. Yet you are still pretty far away from the rider (say a foot). Variations of this include using another rider as a "mobile curb" (our truck example at the beginning would apply here - use slower riders as "trucks" and make sure you don't let a gap go big enough for someone to enter), using the wind as a deterrent (if he really wants to go out in the wind, let him), and use road conditions (wheel-eating potholes can deter even the most aggressive riders).

Remember that even a subtle door closing can cause a ripple effect through the field, magnifying the effect further back in the field. I eased when some friends went off the front in one race. The field was storming behind, eased also, but someone at the back ended up crashing in a moment of inattentiveness. My easing of pace, and those who did the same around me, was not violent. In the back though there were riders not focused on what was going on and they ended up on the ground.

I see the same situation played out in rush hour traffic every day. I see a few people slow, perhaps for a bunch of merging cars, maybe because there's a general slow down in front. The drivers who pay attention, they seem to slow based on the car that's two or three in front of them. The ones that accelerate and brake based on the car just in front? They tend to have to slam on the brakes. Although they may get away with it, it makes things exciting for those just behind them.

Although I touched on just three scenarios, I hope you get the idea of what makes good tactics, good skills. Just like in life, it's not necessarily the aggressive moves that get you what you want. Sometimes a little bit of subtlety is what you need.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Letters - Long Cranks

Originally posted in cyclingnews.com. (This letter addressed mountain bikes but the same holds true for road bikes).

In response to Richard Rule's crank length letter:

If you are 6'2", 35.5" inseam, there is little reason for you not to buy 180's. Long cranks give you extra leverage and allows your muscles to exert power over a greater range of motion. If you're limited in training time, don't have the aerobic capacity of a pro, and just want to enjoy 1-3 hour rides, then I think longer crank arms are great.

I'm only 5'7" with a 29" (barely) inseam. I ride a 49-50 cm seat tube frame. I have decent speed/power, terrible aerobic capacity. Conventional wisdom would put me on 170's or shorter. By working for a couple months to overcome the tendency to push, I eliminated the one significant drawback of the longer cranks. With limited training, I found a dramatic increase in performance after switching to 175's. I first learned of long crank usage when Renault Elf put their riders on long cranks. Marc Madiot, riding a 55 cm frame, used 180mm cranks with success. I "re-discovered" the theory last winter when I rode a mountain bike with 175s and found myself riding as fast on it as my road bike. I made the switch soon after that.

Some precautions. Long cranks force your feet to make bigger circles and increase the distance your various leg parts travel for each revolution. Your knees go higher, drop farther, your foot extends forward more, your Achilles is stretched a little bit more. Long legs minimize a lot of those effects. Long cranks require adaptation time, which, if skipped, give rise to some "long crank arm" myths like the inability to spin and losing efficiency. Since the cranks drop further, you'll hit them (or your pedals) more often on rocks and such.

If you allow yourself time to adapt to the new cranks, you'll be able to spin fine. Switching off season helps - you can focus on regaining pedal speed instead of keeping up with your riding friends. After my November 2001 swap, my comfortable cadence dropped to just over 70 rpm's. However, my performance increased significantly due to increased leverage/power. By March 2002, my comfortable cadence was back at 100+ rpm's. To measure cadence, buy a simple cyclometer with cadence. Mine cost less than US$60 (and it has heavy duty wires for mountain bikes). You can also count rpm's for 6 seconds and multiply by 10, but this is less accurate and immediate. To see where you ride comfortably, simply ride without paying attention to your exact cadence. I find that my cadence climbs 5-10 rpms if I ignore it. You'll find that your cadence returns to a consistent range each time you do this on a given day or week.

As pointed out in other letters, "pedaling efficiency" has more to do with having a good form and discipline rather than crank length. If you can maintain form comfortably at 100-120 rpm's, whatever the crank length, you'll be able to maintain it at lower rpm's.

Losing efficiency in specific situations is a different matter. Long cranks don't help sometimes, particularly at very low cadences. On very steep climbs at low rpm's, they seem to lose efficiency (this is my personal observation). I attribute the efficiency loss to a combination of a longer "dead spot" in the pedal stroke as well as a higher output "power stroke". Long cranks also accentuate the difference between your lowest and highest output for each revolution. This causes the pedal to "stall" in the dead spots. When pedaling at a reasonable speed (70-80+ rpm's), the dead spot issue is moot. In fact, you'll find that you have significant more power on slight and moderate uphills - you'll be able to shift up a gear or two. Your flat land cruising speed will increase as well, as much as 10%. Your top speed will decrease for a given gear due to the larger pedaling arc - you'll find yourself using bigger gears when sprinting.

If you do decide to get the longer cranks, don't forget to adjust your position on the bike. Your position is determined by the amount your cranks point forward (for seat fore-aft) and down (for seat height). Check your seat height (lower for longer cranks), seat setback (this may not be necessary because lowering your seat will move it forward), stem height and length (lower and longer, usually). If you install 5 mm longer cranks, you'll need to move your seat forward about 5 mm and down about 5 mm. Remember to first maintain the seat-pedal relationship and then worry about the seat-bar relationship. Don't adjust your seat position to fix an incorrect stem or bar - this compromises your seat-pedal position. Instead, you should fix it by changing your stem or bar. In the case of 5 mm longer cranks, your stem will need to drop 5 mm and extend 5 mm.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Story - G Fox - and a little history

When people ask what I "do" for fun I tell them I race bikes. A lot of people figure I mean motorcycles so I have to clarify, "You know, like the Lance bikes."

Then I get a lot of nodding. And one of a few reactions.

Unfortunately one of the more common ones is, "I never heard of him until someone I know got cancer and I found out he won the Tour de France after he got over cancer." Then there's talk about cancer, how tough it is on a family, and a report on how that someone is doing.

Another is, "So you race the Tour?". I have to smile sheepishly and admit that, no, I'm not that good. I'm just a very amateur version of those pros - akin to intramural softball versus the Yankees.

Or the Red Sox, in deference to the future missus.

We were at home one Saturday when a slew of people looked at the house. One well educated potential house buyer asked if I race up the Pyrenees like the pros. I took a liking to that couple right away but they didn't buy the house.

I usually say, somewhat inaccurately, that my races are not on TV, that I don't appear on TV. But that's not entirely true.

First off, a couple years ago, I got a very excited call from a friend asking if I'd just raced in some Friday Street Sprints (the Connecticut Sprint Championships, if you must know). Apparently I was on the news that evening. I never saw the clip but now that I remembered it again, I'll have to ask if I can get a clip from the news station (our local cable TV). So, yes, for a few seconds, I was there on the TV.

And second, I was on TV. Just not the way you think.

That's me!
If you look at the picture carefully, you'll notice a number of things. I suppose I could run a contest, but I'll point out what I've noticed over the years.

1. I'm really skinny. In this shot I was sixteen years old (based on bike, team jersey, helmet, shorts) and probably weighed less than 100 pounds. I figure this because when I went to college at 17 and 11/12ths years old, I was a massive 103 pounds. That sounds great for a climber right? Problem was I couldn't climb. And at that point, I didn't have quite the sprint either so my race results weren't very impressive.

2. No ANSI approved helmet - the Brancale Giro helmet I'm wearing was nothing more than a thin plastic shell with some foam strips inside. I painted the helmet (the other side is much better looking) with a Rising Sun and some Japanese words. The Japanese characters are real - I had my mom write down some encouraging words like Victory, Strength, Speed, and a few others which I forget. Then I painstakingly painted them on the helmet with my plastic model paint, using the brush I used to detail 1/72 scale soldiers and various other fine bits.
I also added a number of cooling vents - I added three to each of the sides (and enlargened all of them) and two to the back (there were only three to begin with). Although such modifications typically negate a helmet's safety, this helmet is so bad it didn't matter. I do know that even recently a number of strong racers cut out lots of foam out of their (previously approved) helmets to improve cooling. No word on how they fare when they hit the ground, although the riders I am thinking of are all with us still. Nowadays I think such helmet mods are unnecessary - they're all quite good with ventilation straight out of the box.

3. Toe clips and straps. I'm using clips and straps. 'Nuff said. Right before I went clipless I used three straps per foot. And even with the straps so tight my feet went numb I'd still pull out of the pedals if I shifted hard in a sprint. Not a problem with clipless pedals. In this picture I'm on the original pedals (Miches, Campy knockoffs like all pedals that era) with double straps, the ends with toe strap button things. The button things are so you can yank really hard on the strap without slipping, even in the wet.

4. Non-aero brake cables. The (red!) Modolo Pro brakes replaced the original Modolo Speedys/Sprints (I forget which came on the bike but the originals are on it in this picture). Stiffer, more solid, and lighter, they were my favorite brakes until I got aero cables. The following year, in an attempt to do the aero brake look, I actually ran the cables backwards, the housing exiting the actual lever and looping back around to the bar. I eventually got DiaCompe aero levers, the kind Eric Vanderaerden used in the 1983 Paris Nice, used Shimanos for a while, and finally went to Ergo levers.

5. The picture is reversed! I'm really not riding a left hand drive prototype bicycle. The negative was flipped somewhere.

6. I'm still using downtube shifters in the shot (Campy, for those who care). I didn't change to a right-side bar-end (Suntour) until a year or so later.

7. This was my second of three red road bikes. My first 10 speed was red, this was red, and my first Cannondale was red. After that Cannondale I've always seemed to have black, blue, or some silver-grey sort of bike. The exception to the color rule were my last two mountain bikes - the last serious one, a full suspension XC Jamis, was red, and my current "traded it on a whim" bike is white.

I figure the photographer was a local rider (he was on the same team) who did about a third of the pictures for the first few years of Winning Magazine (the pictures seemed evenly split between him, Darcy Kiefel - that racer's wife, and some third guy named Graham Watson). I figure the race was the state road race in 1984, perhaps the Greenfield Stage Race in Massachusetts. There were virtually no other races where I rode with such a leafy backdrop.

What was interesting was my girlfriend at the time loved to shop and worked at G Fox. And one day she noticed the flyers had a bike racer on it. And not only that - the bike racer was her boyfriend!

One night shortly thereafter she and I trekked over there and I took all the flyers by one of the escalators - probably about 50, a stack a foot high. I figured that if they told me to put them back then I'd ask for a "modeling fee". It didn't matter, no one questioned why we were so interested in the weekly specials anyway.

My mom (of course) framed one of the flyers. It's the one pictured and hangs next to my desk now. And she kept it with her wherever they lived - Japan, Belgium, Indiana, Spain. (Yeah, yeah, I know Indiana doesn't fit in there but they did live there.)

So when people ask me, "So have you ever been on TV?" I can say, with a straight face, "Yep."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Story - Karma, or What Goes Around...

When I first started riding, I had very little money for cycling. My parents, having grown up under wartime hardship, were very frugal. Nothing wrong with it - I've taken after them, albeit from a middle class point of view. I had my period of struggling to eat from day to day but it was nothing permanent. For example, I lamented about scrounging for food. The thing though was that there was food out there, I just had to get it. It's different, I suppose, when there isn't any food at all. Your priorities get straightened out pretty quickly.

This didn't mean I went without. In fact, my parents never skimped when it came to helping the kids. We may have been driving around in a somewhat beat up Toyota but we were going to violin and piano lessons, judo and tae kwon do, swim stuff, who knows what else, and we all got a good education.

1888 Gemunder, my "red" violin. Relatively speaking, I was a much better violin player than a bike racer.

My parents also let us chose our hobbies. The kids sort of migrated into them. For me, at first, it was building plastic models. Living in Holland encouraged my fascination with World War 2 history - the local zoo had a Sherman tank (short barrel, with welded on links for extra protection), a midget sub (essentially a torpedo with hollowed out sides so it could carry two torpedos - each as big as the sub itself), and across the highway was an abandoned bunker. Wassenaar, this particular town, happened to be the site of the first V2 rocket launch. Unlike here in bucolic New England, fighter jets (F-16s mostly) regularly flew overhead.

I suppose it's like living near Camp Pendleton. It's hard to forget military presence when it's an every day thing to see choppers, jets, and various military ships.

When I realized I enjoyed building plastic models, I didn't just build one or three or a dozen. I had a virtual battalion of 1/72 scale soldiers and equipment - 1000 or so men, all painstakingly painted with boots, guns, belts, uniforms, and flesh (they didn't require assembly but came in packs of 46-50). They were surrounded by dozens of tanks, anti-tank guns, half-tracks, and a few jeeps. Their support came from an air force of perhaps 50 planes, again all carefully built, each model selected for their role in a particular battle.

Eventually a non-regulation ping pong table became my battle ground. Paper mache landscape, painted green and covered in fake grass and bushes, became the scene of a continually fluctuating battle - the Axis attacking the Allies one day, the next day the roles reversed.

(I wish I had a picture but I don't - sorry.)

I mention all this because my parents never actually pushed me to do plastic models. In fact they were worried that the fumes would affect me. Who knows, maybe they did. Holed up in my room, the windows often closed, gluing and painting models for hours on end... I'd walk down the stairs lightheaded afterwards.

I earned money for models by doing chores and I also asked for them for any special occasion - a baby brother arrives, a baby sister, relatives visit, things like that. It wasn't a case of "Wow I want that one" and I got it. It was more a case of "I really, really want that" and saving money for a week or three and then buying it.

I did spend a lot of time dreaming about other toys. I always wanted a slot car set - to the point that 30 years later I visited a slot car place (conveniently in the same space as CyclArt, a great painting shop) and ooh'ed and aah'ed over all the different things done nowadays. For years I pored over the Sears catalog, checking out the various tracks, the lengths, the realism (I didn't want loops - because they don't exist in real racing). At some point slotless cars came out - and now there was the whole element of passing!

Alas, these toys were pretty expensive and I never got a set. I dreamed and begged and pleaded for something like 6 or 7 years (and for a kid between 6 and 12 years old that's a long time!) but to no avail.

My bike interest, then, probably shocked my parents from a fiscal point of view. A plastic model was $5 or so, paint something like $2 per color. But bikes... Just the bike was $200 (Schwinn Traveler III). Toe clips, I forget the actual price but about $4 or $5. Toe straps ("What, they're not included?") might run $10 more. Bottle. Cage. Kickstand (yep I had them for a while). Rack. The funny clothing.

Right, the funny clothing.

I saved granola bar UPC codes and sent them in, along with $19.95, to get my first jersey, a yellow jersey with black side panels. That disintegrated many years ago but I have my second ever jersey, a yellow and red one.

Note the high-tech collar.

Buttons on the pockets? Yep.

I eventually asked for, and received, after a lot of negotiating and a few years of serious cycling, a real racing bike. It was a combination present - everything I could possibly think of that happened in the latter half of 1982 - birthday, Christmas, finishing middle school, doing a lot of chores, practicing, whatever I could think of, I banked that gift amount towards this bike.

And boy was it expensive!

$585 with relaced wheels (GP4s with Wolber tires). Campy Super Record rear derailleur, Nuovo Record front and shifters, Modolo Speedy (or maybe worse) brakes, Excel Rino cranks. Custom gearing, 53x42, 15-21, in preparation for Junior racing.

After the first year of racing (and the obligatory team jersey purchase) I maintained a pretty serious winter training schedule. During the week I mainly rode a Racer Mate 2 wind trainer.

My backup bike posing on that same RacerMate 2, 24 years later, along with the resistance unit from a RacerMate 1

On those winter weekends I did a now-defunct group ride out of Oscars Deli in Westport.

Winter meant it was cold. But having blown all my money on the bike, race entries, two new tires, and various other things, I had no money for winter gear. Instead I made do with specifically bought regular clothing.

For example, when my mom took me shopping for a sweater, I suggested that I'd like a black sweatshirt instead. I chose one that was a bit tight and suddenly it ended up being my base layer (black made it look pro). Some pajama shopping turned up snug fitting black sweatpants - they were somehow recruited as biking long pants. I used garden gloves (no kidding) for long finger gloves - they were windproof and had fuzzy insides. And since we didn't train with helmets too much (they weren't even ANSI approved) I wore a knit hat.

Well, sometimes I wore a couple.

You can imagine that the gear didn't work well. My base layer, soaked in sweat, became wet, damp, and cold. No wicking. No wind protection. Well not until I used the trick always described in pro racing - the newspaper up the shirt. After staining various jersey/t-shirts, I migrated to using plastic bags instead.

Actually, when hard pressed, I still use plastic bags.

One day, at the ride, one of the regulars named Dan presented me one day with a brand new set of booties. I was shocked. For me? He laughed and said it made him cold looking at me ride in 25 degree weather with only socks and shoes on. I told him I didn't mind - my feet were numb after 10 minutes and it didn't make a difference afterwards. I didn't want to mention the thawing agony once I got home but I figured it didn't need mentioning.

He gave me one of those looks that you can really only give to teenagers who think they have the world at their feet.

I accepted the booties. My feet were toasty! What a revelation!

I ended up with some donated tights too. Although they weren't the best, they fit better than the sweats, covered my ankles, and had no seam down the middle. My uncle, who lives in Milan, sent a Basso long sleeve jersey.

I wrecked it in my big crash.

Over the course of time I've received a lot of gifts. One friend who raced pro in Europe gave me one of his team kits - tights, shorts, jersey, gloves, and even a thermal jacket! I wore the kit everywhere for a while - now they're all threadbare and relegated to trainer use.

My friend also accumulated bike travel bags. I borrowed one, didn't return it for a while (like a year), and when I called him to let him know I had it he asked me if I could do him a favor.

Sure thing, I told him.

"Could you keep it?", he asked. "I have two other cases and my dad's getting on my case about where to keep this stuff."

Well now. I suppose I could do something like that.

I can tell you that bag's been used for many years, received a roller-wheel upgrade (courtesy Home Depot and me), and it's been a great bag. I've flown to California a few times, Florida a few times, and never had a problem.

For many, many years I was the receiver of such gifts. Schwag is one thing - that's someone trying to sell you something (or get you to sell it) so they give you things to make you like them more.

But these were different. It was more than just trying to keep friends or to get something out of them. These were friends trying to help me out, giving me stuff that I really appreciated.

I found myself trying to contribute my bit. I'd drive a lot since I love driving. My ex-pro bike case friend didn't like driving his red Honda, I really liked it, so when we carpooled, I'd drive the car. When he got the car it had perhaps 10k-15k miles on it. We drove it everywhere and he drove it even more. A great fun car, you could pile in the racers, throw the bikes on the roof, and putt-putt away to the races.

When my ex-pro friend bought a nice, new Mazda3, I bought red Honda from him. Paid him what he wanted (and perhaps needed). It was 12 years later and the odometer read 246k miles. I expect tomorrow to hit 270k miles.

Shortly after I bought the car...

There was this kid that hung out at the shop. When first came in, perhaps 12, he loved BMX bikes. But after an all day trip on one, he realized the limitations of one speed, a weird seat position, and 20" tires. Converted to the Road Side, he bought a Cannondale road bike and immersed himself in the sport.

Eventually he started working at the shop. After work we'd go for a ride, usually with a few other riders, do our 30 or so miles, and then come back to the shop. There we'd spend a couple hours degreasing our bikes, polishing anything shiny aluminum, detailing our bikes, and prepping them for tomorrow's ride.

And we'd do the same thing the next day.

Three of us agreed to meet for an early morning race. This meant a 5 o'clock meet at a commuter lot. One teammate, whose car we took, was there. I piled my stuff in and waited for the other. But our friend, the ex-BMX'er, didn't show up. After giving him as much time as we could afford, we called him. Woke him (and his family) up. Told him we'd pick him up. He begged us off, told us to go race, not to be late on his account.

We drove to his house, picked him up, and took off.

Once on the way he admitted that his dad had yelled at him.

To go race.

"Your friends respect you, you're important to them, that's why they want you to go with them. You have to go with them. It's the only thing to do."

Probably not as polite but you get the gist of the message.

He eventually left the shop to help his dad with their family business, a successful high-end classic car restoration shop. A couple years later he dropped by on a day off to say hi. He couldn't help but notice that the shop was busy. He asked if he could help. Took an unused workstand. Set up his workspace. And ended up slaving away for 5 or 6 hours.

No pay. Nothing.

Just a "Hey, I gotta get going. I hope this helped."

And he was off.

A few years later, when I worked locally on an odd three day week (12 hours a day doing IT support), I asked him if I could help out around his garage on my off days. I'd get there sometime after everyone else arrived and do grunt work - sweep the floor, take stuff to the dumpster.

Sometimes I got to do interesting stuff - machine the cup spacer things on a Lotus Espirit 16 valve engine (they have solid lifters and need a valve job every so many thousand miles). I mounted and balanced a lot of tires. I helped take out a Mangusta's engine/tranny and helped put it back in. I even did a lot of work on his brother's Saab 900 turbo - help remove and install the head, do the shocks, axles, ball joints, brakes. Did brakes on a couple cars. Took inventory.

They tried to pay me something but I refused. I wanted to help out and I felt like I could. That was enough. My helping out let them focus on tough things like rebuilding a 50's Aston Martin. It was usually fun to help, but there's nothing fun about sweeping metal shavings off of an oily lathe or machining tool the size of a motorcycle.

Yet it was oddly satisfying.

I never left feeling used. Sometimes I left wishing I could have done more but I always left feeling good about what work I'd done.

Nowadays I drop by every now and then to mount and balance tires. Or order a few parts. Or ask him car questions. He recently got a bike and started riding again.

So last weekend I rode with another good friend of mine. I've known him since his wife was pregnant with their first child - a child who is going to college next month.

Makes me feel old.

Anyway, he's had some problems with wheels - specifically, a particular brand of hub would spontaneously freewheel in both directions. It happened once when he was cranking up a hill and he broke his shoulder because he flipped over the bars. He replaced the wheel with the same manufacturer wheel, just newer. It happened again on our ride.

Now just a couple days before that ride he had come over to help us out. He works with really big metal structures and when I asked him about how to get a really nice lock off of the PODS, he told me he had just the thing.

So as not to compromise all the locks out there, suffice it to say that in two minutes the $90 lock was off.

Unusable, yes, but off.

I have a lot of wheels. With my relatively new PowerTap, my standard repertoire of rear wheels was suddenly obsolete. This included my Campagnolo Eurus wheels, the most reliable wheels I've ever ridden. In fact they're pictured on the RacerMate up above.

The day after our ride, I gave him the rear Eurus to ride. No worries about the cassette body suddenly not catching - Campy is better than that.

And for good riddance I gave him my front TriSpoke (the clincher - the tubular has a flat). Worth a couple mph for sure and makes it easier to sit in a fast moving field.

He has two weeks to get used to the TriSpoke's handling characteristics. He reported today that he was flying on the wheelset. No insecurities about flipping over the bars. And the TriSpoke was fast.

It's a good feeling, being able to provide that kind of security, that mental boost, to be able to provide it to someone who is not in the position to blow a grand on a set of nice, fast wheels.

It's a good thing.

You know the two teammates that drove to that early morning race after the one overslept? Over the years they both helped me tremendously. They stuck by me through some pretty bad times. We have our lives but we still manage to hang out now and then.

Unfortunately, in about 10 years, we've never all gotten together. One simply lives too far away. Just me and the far one or me and the near one.

It's too bad because we were inseparable when we were racing together.

They'll be able to hang out in October though. At my wedding. Because they'll be standing by my side as my best man and groomsman.

Cycling, like life, has its flows and ebbs. It brings people together in a powerful manner. When things are good, give a bit. Share what you have, whether it's equipment, advice, or simply a shoulder to lean on (or perhaps push off of). When things are tight, I think you'll find that your friends are there for you.

I've found that the case with me, and I feel fortunate for it.