Saturday, September 29, 2007

How To - Night Riding For Fluent Riding

With the future missus out with a friend of hers (or not, she just walked back in), I went for a night ride. I had some problems keeping track of my NiteRider a while back, leaving the light, extension cord, and the helmet both sat on somewhere in the depths of Summer Street. So as not to waste the perfectly good (and virtually new) NiteRider battery and charger I had left, I bought a second setup. Now I simply have two batteries and two chargers for my one helmet light.

For someone who likes backups and keeping things in reserve, this is a good thing.

I went out for a ride the other night, enjoyed it, so when I had the opportunity to go out again, I went.

There's something special about the night. I know there are some physical things that happen - it's usually colder since the sun is down. Your pupils dilate because it's dark out. And I read somewhere that your adrenaline gets going - the fight or flight thing, sort of revving up, "just in case". With your vision handicapped, your other senses step up their vigilance. You're more aware of touch, of sound, and of smell (except tonight - I had a stuffy nose).

My legs were a bit tender from my run the other day - I yelped when the future missus lovingly squeezed my quad - and so I wasn't expecting too much. Usually I have a goal or two in mind when I go out on a ride. Sometimes it's as simply as "Go out and ride." Other times it's a bit more specific. Tonight was a specific kind of night.

With my legs not totally recovered, I'd feel any sort of effort. With the night freeing me of distractions, I knew my legs would be broadcasting their state loud and clear. I was thinking of how to increase my aerobic base - it's my Achilles heel, and if I had a better base, I'd be able to finish more races. More finishes means more chances to sprint. A friend of mine rode a few times with a very, very good racer who happens to sprint well. What interested my friend was that the sprinter trained at a steady, locomotive-like pace. Apparently he went 220-250 watts all the time - uphill, flats, down hills.

Now, for me, the instant I start heading uphill and put any kind of effort to the pedals, I'm at 250-300 watts and usually much more - it's not uncommon for me to look down and be doing 600-900 watts when I think I'm "just getting over this hill". On the flats I prefer to stay at 100-150 watts (except when chasing trucks, imaginary sprinters, etc.). And on downhills, well, I figured out recently that if I break 100 watts on a downhill I'm working harder than normal.

So tonight I decided to see if I could be a bit more consistent with my output - perhaps a bit less on the hills, a bit more on the flats, and a lot more on the downhills. My somewhat tender legs would be better at broadcasting their workload so it's be easier to gauge my efforts.

What ended up happening was I'd go 300+ up a rise, try and maintain that on the flats, blow up, and then try it again on the next rise but keeping the numbers a bit lower. Ultimately I did something right. Instead of the paltry 145 watt ride I did on the same loop a while ago (or even the 179 watts on my "fastest" ever ride on the loop), I managed to average 184 watts.

Eventually I want to even out my efforts a bit more - it would help to spin more on the rises so I don't have to push on the flats - but I think this was a good start.

Although that was my only conscious goal before I left, soon after I thought of something I wanted to work on - looking ahead.

During the day it's easy to look down too much - see what you're about to ride over. At night, with a spotlight type beam, if you look down you quickly lose track of where you're going. Because of this, riding at night with a helmet light is the best way to learn to look forward while riding.

This is because your helmet light illuminates what you look at - and if you look down, you can't see forward anymore. Suddenly a little twitch of the bar and you're veering off the road. Sounds sort of unsafe, right? Well, it forces you to keep your head up, to look ahead.

And by default, you can't see what's directly under you.

(As a side note, in a similar vein, I think that all student drivers should have the bottom 6-10 inches of the windshield covered in limo blackout tint - so you can't see what's directly in front of the car. This would teach much better driving habits by forcing the driver to look 50-100 feet ahead, not peer at the road 10 feet in front of the car. Of course when you park your car or do any close quarters manuevering, you can simply raise up on the seat to look at what's happening.)

When I first started riding at night, it was all mountain biking. I really wanted to see what I was riding over so I could time my wheel lifts and such. I even went as far as to mount a light on my seat tube pointing downwards so the ground below me lit up!

But this didn't help. I had two light systems with two lights each and carried a lot of extra weight, but lighting everything up around me didn't help - I couldn't go beyond a certain speed because I'd outride my visual field.

Everyone told me I need one good light pointing forward, not four with one pointing down, another up a bit, even another up a bit more, and another pointing perhaps 10 feet away. I understood what they were saying but couldn't commit - I'd always end up looking down (after doing something like flipping over a big rock that disappeared out of my 20-30 feet in front light beam).

That was until my light rig died on me.

Imagine you're in the depths of a Connecticut park, 450 acres of unmarked trails, rock fields with baby head sized rocks, stone walls, logs, and lots of low hanging branches and pesky trees that spring up in front of you.

Now imagine it's pitch black.


You can't see a thing.

You can't even feel your way forward because you're on a bike. Sure you can scrunch up your eyes so you don't get a branch poking in it, but it simply doesn't work.

This was vividly illustrated to us one night. A bunch of us saw some kids riding with AA battery lights. We cautioned them on the lights but they were having too much fun (or they were lost, I don't know). It was already pitch dark. We saw them an hour later, walking their bikes through the thickest of bushes, completely and utterly lost. They had no sense of direction, they couldn't see anything, and were literally trying to walk in a straight line until they hit something civilized - a road, a house, something.

One of us took pity and rode back to the parking lot with them.

I didn't think too much of it until the night my light went out.

Suddenly, things were very, very scary. I couldn't see anything, I couldn't see the trail, not even my handlebars. Close your eyes real tight (but before you do that make sure you do the following after you close your eyes - count to ten and then open them so you can keep reading).

What did you see? Yeah, well that's what I saw.

Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit - I had a couple friends with me who had lights. So one of them said, "Hey, just follow me." Before I could assimilate this concept, everyone took off, including him.

I realized that everywhere I looked, except where his light shone, was pitch black (the eyes closed kind). I started pedaling furiously to catch him. I was bounding over the trail, the familiar thrumming below me, then a big bang as I launched over a rock (or log or something). I landed, somehow made it, and kept going.

After a very scary 10 or so minutes, we made it back to the car. But in those 10 minutes, I learned more about fluid and zen-like bike handling than I had in the previous 10 years of racing. When you're flying over single track with obstacles up to a foot high over slippery and inconsistent terrain, you adjust your riding style so that you can handle anything that happens automatically. Your grip on your bars gets a bit tighter but your arms are loose. You let the rear wheel skip around if it wants. You deal with things.

When you see your "headlight" (i.e. the one on the rider 10 feet in front of you) illuminate something, you file it in your head and ride around the thing you imagine (since it's in the pitch black part of your visual field). You quickly learn to stack three or four such obstacles at a time - because Mother Nature doesn't space her trail obstacles 20 feet apart for you.

I suppose it's like reading music - if you can't read ahead, you can't play. So you learn to understand the notes that are a bar or two ahead of what you're playing.

I haven't done this in a while - but when I started up tonight, I realized my helmet light was aimed pretty well - at a reasonably level head angle, the beam focused about 40 to 50 feet in front of me.

This meant I couldn't see things 10 to 15 feet in front of me.

When I realized this, I made "looking ahead" one of my goals. It helps when you drive cars, especially on entrance and exit ramps (my favorites), although it's also useful in parking lots and general street driving. So I practiced looking forward - so much so that I almost turned into the curb on a super hard right turn.

I thought I was going faster than I was and when I turned, I felt sand and grit under the tires. I quickly looked down, saw the curb about a foot away, and corrected my trajectory - the road was another 5 feet down. I was looking to my 4 and 5 o'clock - where the road ended up - until that point, looking 50-100 feet up the road.

My eagerness reined in, I had no further problems on the ride. I kept my head pretty much level, looking down only to spot check wattage, time, or to illuminate my arm (when I signaled a turn).

Another thing that happens when you can't look down too much is that you don't know what gear you're using.

This, I realized, is a good thing.

When you're in a tightly packed field, perhaps on a narrow road, you may not have the luxury of looking down to see if you're in the 18 or the 19. Instead, you shift in a zen fashion - pedals too fast = shift up, pedals too slow = shift down. If you run out of gears, you have to shift both the front and rear at the same time to get the next higher or lower gear. On your own, it's hard to discipline yourself to do this without looking down. At night, it's much easier.

This is because if you look down, the top tube reflects the light pretty strongly and basically blinds you. It's a tame but effective punishment for checking your gears. The same goes for checking your computer.

This means you're at the mercy of how you feel, what you perceive. The sensation you get when riding at night (with a helmet light aimed correctly) is sort of the same as the one you get when you're riding in a field so tightly packed you can't look down.

This is good.

Finally, with very little to distract you visually, you start to use your other senses. For safety, your ears become extremely important. I always knew this for avoiding cars (you can hear around corners you can't see around) but I didn't realize how important hearing is for riding in the peloton until this spring when I felt extremely uncomfortable fighting for position in the field. I happen to get a bit warm so uncovered my right ear. Suddenly I felt like I knew everything that was happening to my right. I still felt uncomfortable to my left. With only a lap to go, I had to uncover my left ear. I took half a lap but as soon as I did it, I could sneak through gaps I was scared of approaching earlier in the race. Hearing is important and riding at night helps reinforce this.

Your sense of touch is amplified. That sand and grit on that acute turn? I might not have noticed it during lighter hours but at night it was a huge alarm bell ringing.

Night riding is also good to test out different gear. Doing a group ride during the day is fun and you get to hang out and stuff but you learn of the uncomfortable seam on your thumb only when you're in the diner and someone says, "Hey, what's that red raw mark on your thumb?". You look and realized, oh, it must be my new gloves.

When you ride at night, any maladjustment, any misfitted clothing becomes apparent immediately to your hypersensitive body. You can tell right away when a long sleeve jersey is actually doing nothing to shield your torso from the wind, or when the wicking material in your jersey gets overloaded with moisture.

Night riding, I realized, is better than just using night hours for getting some training in the legs. It's also a good way to become more fluent in riding your bike.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Training - Baseline Run

Suffice it to say that I haven't been doing too much with the bike. The wedding is next week, there are the various last minute details to iron out, we still haven't moved completely, and I'm still a bit under the weather.

Each day seems like a balance between trying to rest, trying to keep my throat from going "a bit raw" to "sore", and seeing if I have the energy to work, and on the really good days, to do a bit of physical exercise.

As it's off season, and with a lot of non-biking stuff scheduled in the next few weeks, I've decided to put any purchases on hold. I did, however, somehow buy rust proof materials for the van in my very ill haze and didn't know I did it until the UPS guy dropped off the boxes at the door. I don't think I've ordered anything else like that, and for now, I'm not planning on doing so.

The future missus and I try to do a regular walk up and down the Rails to Trails path around here - we even took the tandem on it one evening. Somehow, although it couldn't have been planned, every stretch is a mile long. So if you go from where we are (next to a RtT intersection), turn left and go to the next intersection, it's a mile. 0.99 miles according to gmap-pedometer. Go right and it's a mile too.

Now, for an unspecified reason, I've gotten in my head that I need to be able to do some general all around fitness type things at some reasonable level. This involves a bit of stretching, some abdominal work, upper body work, and running.

No, you do not need to look for me at 2008 multi-sport events.

The other night I did a couch-thumping bunch of sit-ups. I did crunches too but I timed myself on sit-ups for a minute. I anchored my feet under the couch and started up (after starting a 60 second timer), but my flailing around moved the couch almost a foot (hence the couch-thumping). I stopped after 35 sit-ups because I thought a minute had gone by and perhaps I didn't start the timer - I didn't want to be doing sit-ups for 2 or 3 minutes. When I looked at my watch it was at 5 seconds to go. I managed two more but felt awkward and weak after I was done. So, in the spirit of the samurai (always looking to improve oneself), I decided I better do this more often so I'm a bit more fluent.

About running... I once heard a relatively well known cyclist, who grew up riding with a much better known cyclist (ex-teammate for a while now), talk about running. Just like the really well known ex-teammate (he won a bunch of Tours), he cut his teeth on triathlons. And after he retired from his pro cycling career, he decided to return to his tri roots. When queried by another ex-pro on how this change was going, he said that the biggest thing to deal with was that since cycling is so gentle on your joints, he had to allocate months of running to toughen them back up (so he could run the distances necessary to train at a pro level).

Although I was simply eavesdropping on this conversation, I filed this information away like I normally do. And now, a few years later, as someone who's seeing if he can run faster than an 8:00 minute mile, I've started to realize a bit of what that guy was talking about.

For now, my runs (all three of them) have progressed steadily in an unspectacular fashion. I managed a mile run the first time (about a month ago now), and it took me about 10 minutes of careful trotting.

It killed my legs.

I had to hold onto the towel bar to sit on the toilet. I almost fell down the stairs when my legs buckled. And it took a good four or five days to recover.

A couple weeks later I did a slightly faster run, the same mile, and although I walked for a minute after running at a very optimistic pace for 5 or 6 minutes, I covered the mile in about 8 minutes. And although my shins were a bit sore (worrying me), within a day I was fine. And my muscles were fine.

Using the satellite picture on gmap-pedometer, I picked out a tree which marked the 1/2 mile point, got my gear on (it's much easier getting ready to run versus riding), and went out the door. It's just over 1/2 mile to get to the half mile point so I walked it sort of quickly - I don't really know too much about warm-ups, never really did them for cycling, so I figure walking for about 10 minutes is plenty. Then, to get a baseline for a 1.5 mile run, I started running when I got to the Tree.

My heart rate immediately went up and I was on my way. I was dying at the turnaround a half mile away, convinced it'd taken me at least 5 or 6 minutes to get there, my heart rate higher than I normally see on the bike (and staying there). I checked my time - 3:45 (!).

Okay, that's pretty impressive. Well to me it is.

So I walked my heart rate down to about 170 (from 172, which is kind of high for me), which was about 10 seconds, and started trotting back. At the Tree I walked again, let my heart rate drop from 176 to 172 or so (I gave myself another 10 seconds regardless of the heart rate), and I continued on to the end of the path. I walked another 10 seconds at the end but even so I covered the 1.5 miles in 12:04.

Peak heart rate - 181. I rarely hit that in sprints.

So... that's my baseline. In the next month I'd like to reduce that time, perhaps by as much as a minute. I can't imagine not being able to run a lot faster than my sorry trot I did today.

In other news, Secondo, from a race way back when, apparently lives in the area. He asked if I wanted to ride. The route he mentioned goes up a road towards a house the future missus and I like so I remembered the road. One of the comments on the house was that if we lived there, I'd get a lot of climbing in as I'd have to do a couple major hills just to get home on each ride. That included said road.

Anyway, for me, right now, I wouldn't want to put someone through the agony of waiting for me on such climbs.

With incredible foresight, I'd been thinking about what to do if someone offers something like this (i.e. "Want to go for a ride?"). I had to find a way to point out that, although I may hold my own at Bethel and New Britain, I make for pretty miserable training company unless my ride companions are on an easy day. I tell guys (like on my team, like a Cat 5 on the team) "I'm not really fit" and they all pshaw me and tell me "Yeah whatever". Then when my heart rate goes over 170, I'm dying, and they're soft pedaling up the hill in front of me, they realize, oh, maybe Aki was right about that.

Anyway, I've decided power and average speed are two easy ways to illustrate my riding ability (or lack thereof).

Along those lines, the last few rides on the bike (even as recently as this week), I've kept track of things like average speed, power, etc. And the numbers are quite low. On essentially a flat route (I get out of the saddle for perhaps 3 little rises, none of them remotely close as big as the 150 meter "hill" at Bethel), I average about 28 kph or about 17 mph. My power rarely exceeds a 170 watt average. And on these sub-hour rides, when I get back, I'm somewhat spent.

I pointed this out to Secondo, who, somehow, hasn't pressed the issue. To be fair he knows I'm getting married and stuff but I still think it's sort of funny.

So I'm continuing some of these "all 'round" fitness things. This weekend we hope to finalize most of our moving in, get some wedding things finalized, and start thinking about next weekend and the honeymoon week after that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Equipment - Off Season Musings

Each fall, after my season starts to wind down, I think about what I might to do evolve my bike just a bit more. I think about some of the bike bits and pieces I saw out there during the season. Of course, with Interbike happening right now, things change so rapidly I have to put things on hold. After all, Interbike is when many manufacturers reveal their new latest and greatest thing ever to happen to bikes.

I've alluded to this before by my decision process is normally a tortuously drawn out "compare and contrast", cost analysis (meaning what my different options will cost me), benefit analysis (what I'll get out of it - usually in terms of subjective features, like "I want deep profile training wheels", not things like "I want to reduce my bike's aerodynamic drag by 4 or 5%), and finally figuring out if I trust off-market sources (eBay, craigslist, etc) or need to ante up for full price and full service.

In the past I've made a few changes to convert my bike to an off season mode. During the season I focus on emphasizing speed, agility, and getting my psyche to think my bike is really cool. I get the speed by putting on my deep, light wheels, using tubulars, and slapping on the steel/ti 11-23 cassette. I used to go as far as getting bigger chainrings but it seems I'm past that now. Agility comes with narrower bars (I rarely use bars wider than 41cm c-to-c), "brifters" (brake-shift levers) at an angle which makes it easy to shift under full power sprints, and my bars as low as possible (to weight the front wheel - easier to pull interesting maneuvers like that). The "cool" bit is subjective, but whenever my bike wears matching deep carbon rimmed wheels, it can't help but look cool.

When I go to off season mode, my focus does a 180. I look for durabilty (instead of speed), ability to sustain rolling efforts (instead of agility), and, although I still go for a "cool bike" look, a cool winter bike looks totally different from a cool race bike.

The durability comes from substituting more durable but typically heavier parts - an all steel cassette (11-25, not 11-23), heavier clinchers (versus tubulars), wheels with exposed spoke nipples so I can true the wheel without too much extra work, things like that.

The "rolling effort" bit is maybe misnamed but it refers to cruising along in a decent gear, not worrying about responding to an imaginary attack, just doing what someone like, say, a domestique would do for the first 100k of a flat transition stage - motor on the hoods at the front of the group. For this I like a wider bar (42-43 cm c-to-c), higher brifters, ideally a smaller big ring (I used to run a 51T for example), and decent rolling tires.

And finally, making a cool looking winter bike involves loading it up with bottles, a pump, a miniscule seat bag packed to the gills, blinky taillight, a computer or two, and some extra electrical tape (wrapped around a stem or a seatpost). The bag would contain two tubes, a multi tool, a chain tool, tire levers, money, thing cardboard for patching tire cuts, and perhaps a PowerGel. The rider has to match - pockets bulging with long sleeve stuff, a wind vest, and dressed to the nines in booties, knickers (tights if absolutely necessary), jacket, long gloves, neck gear, head gear, and some poorly ventilated helmet.

This year, like the last few, I have pretty much everything on the list. The only thing I'm missing are what I'd consider to be some "rolling effort" gear. What do you see when you see a team slogging away at the front to keep a break in check? Suffering racers. Matching kits. And, inevitably, deep rimmed wheels.

I have deep rimmed wheels, just not clinchers. Well the one clincher I have is a TriSpoke.

So, one of my things to check out are a set of deep rim carbon wheels (50-60mm or so), clinchers, with exposed spoke nipples. Although weight won't be as critical, it'll be nice to get a set that doesn't feel like carbon-wrapped iron. And a final thing is getting a rear wheel that is PowerTap compatible. Although a 32 hole deep rim wheel seems illogical, I would consider it. I'd prefer a 24 hole deep rim but that would take some inventory adjustments, especially since I'm thinking of a 24 hole PT for racing (with a tubular deep carbon rim).

Or, as I've thought every now and then, sell the PowerTap, buy an SRM, and use whatever wheels I like.

First though, I need to eat dinner.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Birthday Boy

Maybe Birthday "Man" would be more accurate.

Last weekend I celebrated a milestone birthday (celebration Saturday, actual birthday Sunday). A while ago I took a life expectancy test online and it said I'd live to 83. If that's the case, I'm almost at halfway now. I have about 43 years to win a Nationals or something.


The future missus organized a get together at my brother/dad's place and got a whole bunch of people together. We sat around, didn't drink too much, ate, and hung out. It's always nice when a bunch of friends get together - more than the one or two that usually hang out (like working on a car or going to a race). When you hit four or five, it gets to be more fun. And when there are something like 20 people, it's really nice.

The invites said no gifts but some couldn't resist nonetheless. I guess a "gift card" can hide inside a card so a bunch slipped me such a thing. My other brother (the one in Boston) mailed me a book on fighter planes - and although I didn't realize it, my WW2 fighter plane knowledge was full of a few big holes, specifically the various model variants' power, armament, and armor differences. I spent pretty much the next two days reading the various plane specs, figured out the significance of power to prop size relationships, and learned all sorts of things about all the plastic models I built 30 or so years ago.

Apparently post WW2 planes don't interest me because at some point I realized I was reading over the same planes again and announced I'd finished reading the book. Then I started from the back (when they say that some people read such reference books forwards and backwards, I'm one of those people who actually do that). When I looked at the last plane (the F-18 - for you aeronautics fans, the book was published in 1981, so nothing more exotic than that), I realized I hadn't even seen the pages before. I realized there were a whole host of jets I'd never even heard of - and then I figured out I'd read and re-read only half the book. As soon as the end-of-war jets appeared, I started flipping back to the front.

A couple friends gave me actual gifts - all related, of course, to bikes or cars. A cool gift was an old Kucharick hairnet from a guy I've known for something like 18 years or so. It was cleverly wrapped so impossible to tell what it was - and back in the day it was the best padded hairnet. Scary that they used to be considered "protection".

Then the future missus gave me her gift - and it was a modern day helmet, an '08 S Works something helmet. Incredibly light, ventilated, with a "round-the-head" locking system. My current helmet was getting ratty, the locking system was sketchy, I always had sweat in my eyes, so this was a great gift.

She'd gone to a local shop and asked for a Large helmet (I have an egg head). The guy (a co-owner of the shop, a local and former pro racer) asked "Are you sure?". She replied to the affirmative. As she has a size small head, he must have been a bit confused until she mentioned it was for me. Apparently he knew who I was, thought of what I looked like, and didn't question the size Large anymore.


Anyway, he opened up some new shipment of stuff and pulled out this spiffy helmet. The future missus was rightly impressed with its lack of weight (although, as she pointed out, I'll stick a helmet cam on it), big vent channels, made sure it was big enough, and bought it.

By the way, for you weight weenies out there, although the size S helmet is 184 grams, the size L is "guarranteed to be under 263 grams" according to the box - and that's without the visor. You know, if I had a smaller head, my kit would weigh 80 grams less. 80 grams I wouldn't have to lose (or buy off my bike somehow). Pinheads rejoice.

When it got dark my brother lit off some fireworks. We do this regularly after they de-criminalized fireworks in the state and the town, but based on the attention some of the "city folks" (from local cities), apparently we're in the minority. Lots of sparkly lights, noise, and smoke - always fun.

The mix of bike people and non bike people made it a bit interesting (perhaps boring for the one guy who has nothing to do with bikes). I figured out after the fact that I'll have to move around a bit more when socializing in a big group (like at the reception). One advantage of getting older is that you know who your friends are - although a couple of them I only met in the last 2 or 3 years, the majority I met 15 or 20 years ago.

What is incredible is that the future missus organized this two weeks before the wedding and three weeks after we moved and sold our house. In addition to all that nonsense, on the morning of the party the future missus drove an hour an a half to her dress fitting.

I should say that although we're still working out the final numbers for the wedding/reception and figuring out some final details, the wedding is looming pretty quickly. Very different from two Aprils ago when we got engaged.

Sunday we returned home after we picked up a big desk for the home office. We went for a ride on the tandem, the first up here. As it was somewhat late I brought the NiteRider and we used the blinky taillight the whole time. We explored a bit of the rails to trails system around here, passed a few families on bikes, couples walking or cycling, the dog-walker or two, and a friendly guy in a wheelchair. It was nice and relaxing ride, and although work interrupted quite jarringly towards the end, a perfect close to the weekend.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Doping - Sauron's Veil

I feel like Theoden, the king of Rohan, after Grima's evil work is lifted from him. The past three days have been like a haze, a delirious mish mash of heat, chills, hunger, and above all, an overwhelming fatigue. With some potions supplied by the future missus (a mysterious red substance named NyQuil as well as something I'll leave unnamed but it fixes things one doesn't talk about in polite company), I overcame the evilness, warded off the blanket of fatigue, and stand now free of all such encumberments (that's not a word I think but you get the gist of it).

Apparently my brain is still feeling the after effects judging by what I just wrote. I suppose my aborted attempt at watching the Return of the King a couple weeks ago (the last time I watched even a portion of a movie) had something to do with that first paragraph.

At any rate my oblivion was such that I missed all sorts of things.

For example, a figurehead of the World Rally Championships passed away over the weekend. If anyone had told me during my haze that the famous Scottish rally racer Colin McRae had died, I'd have thought they were the ones possessed by evil spirits. However, sadly, McRae died in a helicopter crash (on Saturday, the point at which, I think, the blanket was descending but I was not aware of it just yet). He helped make the World Rally Championship part of American kids' vocabulary (although they just knew it as the "rally" part of the Playstation's Gran Turismo).

It was his driving and his charismatic character that made the blue Subarus (and Ford Focuses) so well known in the rallying world. This then prompted Subaru to introduce the real car in the US - the WRX. Until that point, Subaru had been satisfied selling a non-turbo car, sort of a tarted up Impreza. With the introduction of the low cost, high horsepower, all wheel drive WRX, Subaru upped the ante for all car manufacturers, much like Scott Bicycles got everyone going on frame weights by publicizing its frame weights so prominently.

Ironically his then teammate died of a brain tumor a couple years ago. And his team owner crashed the next day in a helicopter (but luckily walked away).

Now, when looking at cars, I see all sorts of WRX-prompted competition - Subaru's own STI (a hopped up WRX), Mitsubishi's Evolution, a number of larger AWD saloons (Subaru Legacy GT, MazdaSpeed6, the various Audi A4s), and a number of boosted similar sized cars (MazdaSpeed3, Mini Cooper S, Volvo's new C30, even the Caliber SRT4). A few cars haven't made it here yet - Ford never brought over their AWD Focus (to me a natural competitor to the WRX, thanks to the Playstation game) and of course we don't get some of the interesting European cars like Citroen, Alfa (not yet), or the smaller BMWs (but soon we will).

Anyway, all that was to make the point that normally, if such an illustrious and famous character in some sport or arena I tend to follow passes on, I'd make a note of it.

I didn't.

Some other breaking news hit the wires while I was in my haze of confusion and disarray. Yesterday afternoon I was passed out on the bed when my phone rang.

As a practical matter, I kept my phone next to me as I kept missing various calls because I couldn't stagger to the phone before whoever it was gave up on me. So answering the phone was a matter of groping for it, flipping it open (didn't recognize the phone number), and holding it to my ear vicinity.

"Hey, were you sleeping?"
It was the other name on the blog, GMF.
"Oh. Sorry to wake you up. I thought you'd be all over this. Did you know they announced the Floyd verdict?"

My hazy brain tried to assimilate this. Floyd the airfield? Floyd, wasn't that a hurricane? Wait, it's got to be Floyd, the racer!

"No, I didn't hear."


I could hear him trying to decide how to break the news to me.

"Well, what happened?", I asked, a bit anxious. After all, the whole blog got started because of our discussions on Floyd, doping, and all sorts of related stuff.

"Guilty, two year suspension."

At some level, it was a let down. I figured that would have been the outcome, but it would have been nice to be surprised. Like Bernanke and his half point cut. A nice surprise.

I pondered what I just heard.

CAS appeal, another year or two, and then in 2009 we'll crown Pereiro the 2006 Tour winner. Doesn't seem right.

For Floyd's sake, his financial sake, and for racing's sake, I hope he decides not to appeal.

Interestingly enough (and unfortunately for the whole sport), the arbitrators found that his initial ratio test was not carried out in a proper manner. If this is the case, at least from a legal point of view, the carbon isotope test never should have been carried out.

It's the latter that demonstrated he doped.

It's a legal question now. If the ratio test was properly done, perhaps the carbon isotope test wouldn't have been done. It's like getting evidence with a faulty search warrant. I'm no cop but according to the TV, evidence gotten without the proper paperwork is no evidence at all. Actually, since we don't get any TV, it's according to CSI Las Vegas (for which the future missus owns the various season DVDs) that evidence gotten without the proper paperwork is no evidence at all.

Therefore, Floyd's wallet notwithstanding, I think we'll be reading about an appeal at some point in the future.

If only it would be possible to lift this doping veil from cycling. All the confusion, uncertainty, and disarray gone. It's hard to remember what freshness feels like until it's gone and it comes back. Although cycling is a sport hard pressed to remember when it was "fresh", earlier generations of "doping" didn't alter a racer's ability to the point where you could make a mule into a race horse. In fact, some of the banned substances from back then are considered so harmless that they are now legal for use by cyclists.

Back then it seems like a good racer was a good racer. You read about the same guys week after week in the spring and then other guys week after week in the grand tours. They were inevitably helped by the same guys, racers who couldn't quite wield the finishing hammer but could get most of the framework done before dropping back.

I suppose it'll take a lot of money, perhaps some fresh faces. More vigorous testing, less rigid testing procedures (i.e. sometimes we'll do the ratio test, other times we'll go straight to the carbon isotope test), and a LOT more random tests. Tests virtually at the start line since that's when any doping would be most effective. Such start line tests would prevent last minute "topping up" of the system with blood (the racer's or someone else's) and force racers to have some semblence of normal hematocrit levels, not those controlled by blood thinners and such.

I'm no pro. But I have to believe that such a system would reward the clean racers. Dissuade the dirty ones. And, though the average speeds in the mountains might drop substantially, that's okay. It's the race between racers which is spectacular, not the race against the clock. I don't care if a stage averages 38 kph or 48 kph, as long as the last 10k is a elbow-throwing, shoulder bumping, tire touching mosh pit. And when it comes to climbs, the climbers will dance away from everyone else.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to see the climbers get shelled on the flat stages? And the time trialers get shelled on the climbs?

It goes without saying, of course, that the sprinters would be shelled anytime the race didn't end with 50 km of flat roads ending in a nice flat sprint.

Now, since I'm not a pro cyclist, for the second time this week, I have to get to work.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Life - Sick

It amazes me that whenever I feel a bit off, tired, maybe lack my normal appetite, I don't think anything of it. I seem to have explanations for everything. My throat gets a bit dry, I feel blah, well, I figure I've been working too hard. My muscles are sore - that's from not recovering enough. Then my glands swell up, I feel dizzy, and I'm exhausted, cold, and feverish all at once.

And I'm surprised.

With a relatively busy weekend coming up, and another much more important one coming up in two more weekends, I decided to be extremely conservative. Skip everything - working out, the walk, and work.

Warm clothes, hot tea, hot soup, rest and recover.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Life - Offseason, Upcoming Wedding

Things have been slow on my front here in Simsbury. The weather took a dramatic turn downwards (last night it was about 40 degrees F) and made for some chilly nights and a touch of a scratchy throat. The days are still moderately warm - about 70 each day, 80s in a couple days - so my body is a bit confused. Come to think of it, this is how it is out West in February.

No wonder I usually get sick out there.

Anyway, with a new town, distance from friends and family, and me not knowing too much of the area, we did some exploring, driving around, dropping into people's houses.

Yes, other people's houses.

Okay, I'll 'fess up. After we picked up the blue car (essentially to wipe the rust off the rotors as it's been sitting for a few weeks), we drove around and went to open houses (i.e. houses for sale where you can just drop in at certain scheduled hours). We stopped at virtually all the houses for which we saw signs, except for one that we realized was priced in the millions and not the hundreds of thousands.

Nothing really grabbed our attention although a few houses seemed really nice. Unfortunately, "nice" doesn't mean it had what we wanted, it simply meant the house was really nice. It's like me looking at a really nice 61 cm bike. Really nice, fine, but I need something about 10 cm shorter. Likewise, we found nice houses with no basement, no yard, or not enough garage space. One house, a "stop on a lark" house, was pretty big (about 4000 square feet), complete with a home gym, enormous kitchen, tiled inground pool, all sorts of fancy things including an intercom, and even a sauna.

It was also about 50% over our budget.

But the agent wouldn't let us know that - she firmly stated that she'll give us the paperwork (various papers describing the property) after the walk through. So we suffered through a walk through of a somewhat aging big house. Finally we got the papers - and the asking price on the house.

Granted, it wasn't as bad as we thought, but it was still way high.

I was trying to think of a way to politely end our charade when I heard the future missus tell the anxious agent, "Well, it seems like a really nice house but it's a bit small for our needs. We were really thinking of a four bedroom, not a three bedroom."

Cheeky, eh?

We felt bad about that so the future missus called our agent (who knew that house's agent) and mentioned that we'd dropped by in case the house agent started making noise about a couple looking at houses larger than 4000 square feet.

We had stopped at other houses. At one the agent left a note on the door - "Please look around, if you have any questions call me." It was scrawled in something resembling a 2nd grader's handwriting using perhaps a nail polish brush. It was no cheap house either, but it was on a very busy street. I can't imagine this helped sell the house.

I realized that there are a lot of odd houses out there. I suppose it's the way they age, a fashion thing. If I dressed up in Miami Vice stuff people would look at me oddly - but 20 years ago, I'd have been "cool". The same goes for these houses.

After house shopping we went to a somewhat local shop named Benidorm. I wanted to check out a few things including the World Championship Jersey there. I also figured they'd sell Sidi shoe parts - my turn buckle thing fell apart (the spring metal "pin" partially fell out, I lost the buckle part, and then the rest of the turn part fell off). I ordered one and watched as the guy behind the counter filled out a "special order form".

I used to have them just like it.

Good to know things still work the way they used to work.

While we were waiting at the counter I looked around for the Jersey. Lo and behold it was next to my head!

I read the pictures describing the Jersey (won by Jan Bolland in a TTT). The Worlds were held in Benidorm, Spain.

Ah, so that's where the weird name came from.

The Sidi things will be in at some point, which is fine. I have other shoes and I should probably make sure they're set up for the Look Keos I have since, if I actually start riding outside in inclement weather, it'll be nice to have three or more usable sets of Sidis. Right now I have one set (the turn buckle ones). I have one set (Zetas) which has a cracked cleat (over-zealous ham fisted mechanic... a.k.a. moi) and one set (Genius 5s) with my old SPD-R cleats on them (but otherwise in perfect shape). I'll mount some extra cleats on the G5s, put new uncracked cleats on the Zetas, and then I'll have three sets of shoes. This way I can ride in the rain and not obsess over drying out the shoes in time for the next ride.

Before we left, I asked for a couple catalogs - Cannondale's and Felt's. Normally I don't do such a thing since catalogs are typically in short supply and sometimes expensive. But I felt the need to catch up on Cannondale (they're local to the Bethel Spring Series) and Benidorm had a sub 15 pound Cannondale Super Six hanging just inside the front door to the shop. Felt is a different story - they sponsor Slipstream (a team that gives me better feelings than most others), the pictures of the Felts in Road Bike Action make the bike completely undesirable, but when I saw the bikes in person, well, they were cool. So I asked for a Felt catalog.

They have this interesting full suspension link thing which is supposed to counteract rear suspension bobbing. It's intriguing enough that I might have to go test ride a bike.

In the meantime, I've been doing some other stuff for my bikes. I went on eBay and picked up some crit bars (an extra - now I have one extra). If any more pop up, I'll probably buy the next one or two I see. Being soft, normal aluminum, these don't crack very easily and I expect them to last a while. I'll probably explore some new bars too so that when the world's supply of crit bars dries up, I'll be able to use something else.

I also picked up a track bar so my Riggio (or whatever my track bike ends up being) will have a proper track bar, not a left over Modolo forearm-bruising anatomic bar.

If I get my track act together, I'll eventually get proper wheels for the thing too.

I've been exploring getting fit in other ways too. The future missus and I walk regularly and on the days I feel a bit antsy, I'll actually run for a bit (a mile is a full "bit" in my dictionary). Today my shins are a bit sore but I ran to try and keep my heart rate up, not to try and preserve my legs. The problem is my heart rate doesn't go up easily so I have to run kind of hard to raise it. My non-running legs don't enjoy that too much so I'll have to stick to walking for a bit.

Finally we have one very big event coming up. My birthday.


Okay, that's coming up too, but the big event is our wedding. We've been working out some of the details on that, finalizing things, and trying to make sure it'll run without a hitch. A lot of thought and planning is narrowing down to the early October date.

And now that I mention it, my birthday is coming up also, on this upcoming Sunday. The future missus is planning a get together for Saturday so that should be fun.

In the meantime I'll be doing my off season "general fitness" type things, getting my gear in gear, and looking at the Cannondale and Felt catalogs I picked up at Benidorm.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Review - ProCyclingManager 2007, the demo

Somewhere, somehow, I learned of Pro Cycling Manager 2007. Basically the player is a team director, running a team that is racing. A few weeks ago I downloaded the demo which has only one team (Predictor-Lotto) and one race - the 8th stage of the 2007 Tour.

As the director, you're responsible for selecting equipment. You can select it to optimize either flats, climbing, or something else, I think time trialing, but there are no sponsor allegiances - you can use any front and rear wheel with no fear of losing sponsorship (at least in the demo).

Tactically, you can have your racers work for one another, attack, counter, chase, or simply sit in. There's a couple sprint buttons but with no real sprint in the demo stage, I didn't get a chance to experiment with them.

I didn't see anything on feeding (from a feed zone or a car), about support cars in general (how do I fix a flat?), or giving bottles to one another (which then gets into how you feed).

The initial install took a while (I put it on two machines - two hyperthreaded 2.8 Ghz, both with excessive RAM and somewhat vanilla video cards. The disconcerting bit was a period of time where nothing appeared on the screen.

Starting the game takes a while too. First you have to "start" it, i.e. get into the game. Then, after you go through your pre-race preparatory steps, the game has to load the "environment" for the particular game. This takes a long time. Perhaps a faster drive (I have both SATA and IDE drives) would speed things up. Regardless, I feel like I'm back in the old days when you kick something off, go make a cup of coffee, come back, and sip and savor your bean drink while you watch a whirly gig cursor or dots march across your screen.

Speaking of which, I need some java right about now.


See, you couldn't even tell I went and brewed up a nice cuppa light and sweet.

Man you must have a fast machine.

Back to the game.

Once you actually get into the game interface (i.e. it finished loading and you're sipping some nice java), you have a few options. The important ones are the Tutorials and the Stage. I also learned it's good to review the manual.

Tutorials give you barely any info unless you read the manual first. I didn't so I sort of floundered in them. However, they're so straightforward it's almost as if the game designers were afraid to challenge the gamer.

The Stage starts off with some background info - the previous stage's results, who's in what place, and what the upcoming day looks like. For the imaginary 8th stage in this Tour, you want to keep your new upstart Van Huffel in the yellow. As a distraction, Cadel Evans wants to try and win the stage and take some time from his rivals (without taking the yellow from Van Huffel).

The stage starts off with some minor climbs. I found out that when your racers start to hurt, their heart rate skyrockets (all your racers heart rates are visible to you) and they turn yellow and red in effort.

On the first minor climb, one of my racers immediately went into the red, heart rate blasting into the 190s while everyone else was still in the 160s. I was wondering who the heck this horrible racer was as I tried to read the unfamiliar format down the column of names. So Mister Red Heart would be.... Robbie McEwen.

The Sprinter.

Della Casa, so to speak.

Of course.

Nothing like when a game mirrors real life, especially for me.

As one accustomed to being in such a situation, I quickly let McEwen ease up. He managed to hang on for the first few climbs but finally popped on the longest climb of the day. I got so absorbed in making sure he didn't get dropped alone that I left four guys (including Van Huffel, which I didn't realize) doing a rotating paceline, driving the field, for more than half the stage.

For the demo, remember that your primary objective is to keep your guy Van Huffel in the yellow. So putting him at the front in a rotating paceline is, well, not tactically sound. The secondary is to try and win the stage.

The first game I played was a disaster with McEwen somehow finishing with a bunch of my climbers (who'd all blown after slaving away at the front). I suppose the fact that Van Huffel finished ahead of them meant Van Huffel had a good day, not that I played him smartly.

The second game I let Van Huffel simply maintain his position about 5 guys from the front, assigned everyone to protect him (save McEwen, Horner, and Evans, the latter two working together), and he kept the yellow. I even had Evans attack at the end but I ended up pushing him so hard he lost a lot of time at the finish.

The third game I used everyone up, allowed McEwen to ride in the autobus on his own, and used up the flat landers up till the middle of the big climb. Finally I put Horner and one other guy at the front, Van Huffel just behind, and tried attacking with Cadel a couple times. Cadel couldn't stay away (I don't know the subtleties of gauging their efforts so I almost blew him up, then I made him slow down too much so that the field caught him). This was the first game where Evans and Van Huffel were in the lead pack but it splintered going up the last climb, Moreau won by two minutes, and both Evans and Van Huffel blew sky high and lost tons of time.

So I managed to meet one of the goals in one of the games I played. Of course, in real life, my whole team would have been cooked for the next day, but this is a one day demo, right?

There are elements of PCM I like. For example, you get to select your team's equipment, with up to three "load outs" possible. Each selection (frame, front wheel, rear wheel, helmet) is rated for its help in climbing, time trialing, and flats. I'm not sure what the numbers mean but if you hit 50 for any of the categories, that's about as high as you get. I haven't figured out if things make a big difference. In the first game I played I "optimized" some guys for pulling on the flats but I couldn't tell if it made a difference. So the second and third games I selected the second load out ("C2") which is optimized for climbing.

Another thing I like is the accuracy in how the field positions itself, how it takes form. When you send your guys to the front, you'll recognize the way the pack reorganizes itself. There's also a good "autobus", the pack of racers that simply want to finish within the time cut.

Of course game lacks some things.

From a cycling perspective, the demo doesn't offer much. In it, due to the fact that the race has no real sprint, I wasn't able to see if I could set up McEwen for the sprint until the third game I played.

The racers, when moving up or back, meld through racers in the way. No bumping or whatever. There seems to be logic to it - when the field is bunched up you can't meld your way through it, but it's still sort of annoying to see others "ghost" right through your guys. This didn't prevent about four riders from crashing in the second game but I was paying too close attention to my Evans/Van Huffel tactics I didn't check out the crash itself.

The racers have a few set actions or motions - pedaling easy, pedaling hard, climbing out of the saddle, drinking, and sprinting. No variations to speak of.

The timeline is accelerated (I wasn't sitting for 6 hours per stage) but there's no way to slow it down to anything near real life. You have to hit pause to issue a lot of commands in a short time. I wish, like the game, lemme look it up, jeepers, I can't even find it online, but it's a game that simulates the North Atlantic during the Cold War era. Whenever your opponent launches or is sighted, game speed returns to a real 1:1. PCM could do with something like that - its default 1:1 is really about 10:1.

Of particular annoyance (to me, the guy who rocks his bike like Abdujaparov) is the way the tires stay in a straight line. Relative to a bike's path of travel, when you are out of the saddle, your bicycle pivots at about hub height. The tires move back and forth (left and right) under the bike, and the handlebars and seat move right and left up top. The rider's body stays relatively still - after all, it weighs about 10 times as much as the bike and it's not like you're actually slaloming down the road. In the game, the racer's body moves back and forth, the tires don't wiggle at all, and it makes things look very, well, unnatural.

As a formerly super-avid gamer (Unreal Tournament, Counterstrike 1.5 and Steam, Ghost Recon, BF 1940 and BF2, and some miscellaneous strategy games I didn't play online like Age of Empires, Total War: Shogun, and various platoon level WW2 games, ), I'm somewhat tolerant of slow load times and less than intuitive interfaces as long as the game itself has a good, solid foundation. In fact, I haven't played any relatively recent games like the newer Unreal Tournaments or the newest First Person Shooters (FPS) since they demand so much from a PC (graphics and speed).

From a gamer point of view, the graphics of PCM are pretty disappointing - akin to an earlier generation game. I'd call them slightly below the original CounterStrike (where the people really don't look too real). To CS's credit, it has matured maps and tactics - this means that the weird stuff has been taken out, at least for the most part. PCM is not at that level, at least not so I can tell.

For me though, the game is unpolished enough that I expect to see it in the $5 bin at a local software store. At a stretch maybe the $10 bin. But you can get two to three generation more polished games at th $50 price you need to ante up to get PCM. For example, Unreal Tournament is out there for $5, and even though it dates back 7 years, it's still one of the best games out there. PCM is primitive enough that I'd rate it less refined than the 7 year old UT.

Like wide ranging strategy games (Age of Empires, Total War: Shogun, etc), you need to move your mouse around the screen to do things like tell a unit what to do, click on an opponent to counter them, etc. But with PCM, the mouse moves lethargically, so much so that I'd sometimes click on the wrong racer or the wrong opponent. Based on my experiences with other games on the same machine, I was surprised at the pointer "slowness". It felt like my pointer was moving through molasses.

A final "problem" is a minor one but one that stares you in the face while you're playing - virtually all the names are misspelled. Perhaps there's a patch (or a hack) to fix this, but for now, my game is a (name) spell check disaster.

A possibly redeeming feature might be its LAN gaming possibilities - meaning you race against other humans and their teams, not against the computer's artificial intelligence (AI). With everyone floundering around equally handicapped by the game's shortcomings, a human-controlled race could be very interesting - I could see such a thing being a hit for a geeky team at a mid-winter team meeting-slash-get-together.

Overall, as a game, for a bicycle racing fan, the game could be somewhat interesting. For anyone else, it's a pass.

What does this mean to me? After all that negativity, it means I'm going to ante up and get the full version and check out the whole she-bang. Then I'll feel like I've tested all the game's capabilities and delved into the finer points of the game. However, that will have to wait for the real off season.

For more "professional" reviews, check out here (tongue in cheek but pretty accurate) and here (a little more serious).

So, anyone up for some virtual racing?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Story - Carbon Fiber Upgrade

When I started racing, I was a kid barely into puberty, scrawny, and had very little worldly knowledge. Sure I'd gone through some eighth grade DARE program and I even took sex ed at about the same time.

But in the real world?

Suffice it to say that I was very sheltered.

When I started racing, two things became pretty apparent (other than my distressing lack of speed). First, the races were really far away. Second, there were a lot of "old" people racing.

Along the first topic - for me, even an hour drive was far since it meant lengthy negotiations with my parents, figuring out how to get there (which meant we had to have somewhat current maps as those were pre-online days), and I had to actually get to the race on time.

For everyone involved, each trip to a venue was a new experience. We'd never ventured so far north or east for any family trips, so the drive out to some remote beach airstrip in Rhode Island or the main street of some little town in the middle of Connecticut had a sort of "quest" feel to it.

After the first year, my parents saw that the races were really far, there was nothing to do for non-racers, and there were plenty of my teammates at said events. So when I started asking if I could go with one of my teammates, they figured it was a win-win. I'd get to race and they wouldn't have to drive.

And along the second topic - back then I always thought of the Senior racers as old. Heck, they were so old they were already out of college, something I hadn't even thought of at that point. The Veterans (as the Masters were called) were, well, the same age as my parents. I'll leave it at that.

The old folks - the Seniors, mind you - on the team would kindly drive me to the races my parents couldn't handle. One guy named Jim seemed pretty good about driving this somewhat clueless kid to races. For some reason it stopped shortly after I was checking out a teammate's Mustang (with a V-8 and a stick no less). Jim was futzing around with his bike around the car so I'd asked, gotten permission, and sat in the car. I dreamed about such a car but since they cost a fortune ($5000), it was a pipe dream for me.

The guy who owned it had parked it pointing uphill a bit, and being a non-driver, when I checked it out I pushed in the clutch (to shift the shifter while making vroom vroom noises to myself).

I heard a yelp, a scream, and then I realized the car had rolled backwards about a foot. Hasn't anyone heard of a parking brake?

Anyway, I quickly let go of the clutch, put the brake on, jumped out, and ran around the car.

Jim, it seemed, had been putting his shoes on or something while sitting on the rear bumper when the car suddenly started rolling back underneath him. I found him sitting on the ground with a somewhat panicked look on his face.

He didn't pee his pants so things were okay.

Strangely enough, he rarely offered to drive me after that.

Another racer adopted me until I turned 16, then I got to drive to the races on my own. A speeding ticket slowed me down some, but with my newly found privileges, I tried to return the favor to those that drove me to races. Jim reluctantly agreed to ride with me to a couple events. In the process of blasting out of line to get to a toll lane that just turned from red to green, I managed to scare Jim. When he could breathe again and the blood returned to his face, he commented, "Well, you know, I was young once too."

Yeah, like he was ever 16 years old.

Ultimately that was the last time he ever got in a car with me.

The old ones that drove me (or who I drove), I got to talk to them and learn a bit about what they were doing. Well for training anyway. I never knew what they did for work (except Jim, later) and I never understood that they'd do something for fun other than eat at McDonalds on the way back from a race.

Perhaps because of this, it was the others in the club that fascinated me, the ones of which I knew virtually nothing.

There was a waif-ish woman, probably in her early 20's, blonde, who I couldn't help but fall into massive "crush" with. She had a pink Pinarello, the decals peeling like they all did, to the point her bike read "Pina". About a decade later, I met a woman who had (and probably still has) a pink Pinarello. Interestingly enough it has lost most of its decals - only "Pina" was left on the downtube.

Coincidence? I don't know.

Her friend (the waif-ish one) was a GQ looking guy, friendly, nice, grinned a gleaming white smile, twinkling eyes, and was an all around good guy. For years he watched me "not looking" at his blonde friend and handled a young Junior's awkward attempts to talk to his female friend. To his credit I never felt a bad vibe from him and I always considered him a "good guy".

I was so naive that to this day I don't know if they were dating or simply friends.

Anyway, Connecticut seemed a bit too backwards for that type of successful looking guy and I wasn't surprised to hear that he'd moved "out West".

"Out West", of course, meant mythical bicycle country. Out there the mythical races like the Coors Classic and the Nevada City Classic existed. Icons like Greg Lemond, Jonathan Boyer, and John Howard roamed the pavement. And specific locations like the famous Morgul-Bismark and Tour of the Moon stages, towns like Boulder and Grand Junction existed, in my mind, just for bike racing. Man, if I could get out there...

One of the cool things was the music I could play when I went to races (with my parents in the car, such music took a back seat to more classical selections). One "no parents" song was Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World". I learned of the hit from one of my long time drivers-turned car-pool friend Dan. He was definitely an old guy as he had some kind of job. He told me about this new band he heard - Tears for Fears - and was surprised when I pulled out a tape with their songs "Madworld" and "Change" on it (the latter still generates an adrenaline rush when I hear it). He in turn played "Everybody", and although at first I decried it as a traitorous move to mainstream, eventually I like the song (and its accompanying video).

In fact, the imagery in the video inspired me to plan and execute a four week driving trip around the country. Ultimately I wanted to experience what I thought the clip showed and in doing so I ended up immersing myself in some scenery similar to that in the video. The trip, of course, had to include some of those famous "out West" landmarks.

So anyway the GQ guy went to find his good fortune. Jim also moved out west - I think he ran the fledgling Shimano shoe division for a while - I ran into him at one of the first trade shows I went to, but after that, I don't know what happened with him.

Fast forward about 15 years. By now, I'd grown up a bit. Gained weight - I weighed in at about 140 pounds (how I dream of those days.. but I digress). I knew a little more about the birds and the bees, I had actually consumed alcohol (the first time was after my Senior Prom), and I was one of the "old" guys (i.e. done with college) with a Junior or two tagging along.

My steel Basso with its Excel Rino components (except for a Campy derailleur and shifter set) had given way to an aluminum Cannondale with a new Campy Ergopower group. I still had a favorite tan Cinelli saddle, my 42 cm crit bars, and, as always, about the longest stem you could buy. I also had a plethora of wheels and it seemed I had a front wheel and a back wheel for just about any riding condition out there.

I went to one of my 50 or 55 races I did each year with a friend and teammate of mine. He and I trained together when we could, we ended up at the same races, and we even hung out off the bike now and then. We shared car interests, both of us in a VW A1/A2 chassis kick, and he had a VW Scirocco II, a car I thought ruled the roost. Eventually I ended up with an '87 GTI, a really fun car to drive. To get a ride with him was the best and as a bonus, the race was about two hours away. More time to talk about cars and racing.

Once there, we struggled to get the two bikes ready (the drawback of a low hatch car), registered, and got dressed. We warmed up on a closed section of road (a straight road that led to one of the race's turns). Like any area suitable for warming up at a race, other racers had the same idea and did the few hundred yard loop with us.

One such racer caught my eye. He had a generic blue jersey on, nothing special about that. He wasn't any heavier or lighter than anyone around. He had a generic enough bike that I don't even remember if it was steel or not.

What caught my eye was some carbon fiber he sported.

This was back in the day where the only carbon fiber you'd see at races were the glued flexy fliers by TVT, Vitus, and Alan, and usually you'd see them under racers like Sean Kelly, not some hack Cat 3 in the middle of New Jersey.

This guy in blue though, he sported the carbon fiber elsewhere.

His forearm.

It was apparent he'd lost part of his arm. His shoulder and upper arm looked strong so it seemed like the limb loss occurred unnaturally. Interestingly enough his carbon fiber forearm was shaped a lot like his other arm - muscular, sort of like a super hero's arm.

I'd been exposed to missing limb individuals, however briefly, as one of the guys who worked out of the shop near school (meaning college) had lost an arm. So I didn't shy away from him, and in fact, I was a bit curious about how he braked and shifted. Compared to the guy near school, the blue jersey rider had a lot of arm left - the school area guy lost his arm at his shoulder. At any rate, I nodded to the guy, fingers lifting in greeting from the brake levers.

At some point I felt the need to get back to the car and sit inside of it. I don't know if I was changing my jersey or simply getting out of the sun. But whatever the reason, I sat in the Scirocco sometime before my race, admiring the car, thinking some random thoughts, when a guy rolled up next to the car.

I looked up, expecting to see my friend, the owner of the car. But it was someone else - the guy with the carbon fiber arm. I wondered what was up - maybe my bike fell over into the street and he wanted to let me know.

He looked at me through the stylish sunglasses he wore.

"Hi," I replied back.
"You wouldn't by chance be Aki, would you?", he asked.

Taken aback, I responded in the affirmative.

"I don't know if you remember me, but my name is..."

He pulled down the stylish sunglasses.

I realized that I was looking at Mr. GQ himself. A little grey around the temples, more tan than his normal tan, and sporting a few extra wrinkles, but it was him, twinkling eyes and all.

"Wow! How are you doing?! What are you doing here?", I said, trying to recover from the multitude of messages pummeling my brain.

We chatted for a bit. He had thought it was me, but after so many years, with different glasses, bike, and even having grown some, he wasn't sure. So he came over to ask.

Like I said before, he's a friendly guy.

From my side, there was one glaring new thing about him. When I last saw him, he had two biological forearms.

I looked at his arm questioningly.

He looked down. "Yeah, it's hard not to notice. This happened a long time ago in Colorado. Climbing accident."

I nodded like I knew what he was talking about.

"It was hard but I managed to recover and started racing again. I even got it upgraded to a carbon fiber arm with titanium hardware!"

His eyes twinkled.

For all he went through, whatever happened, he was fine.

We told each other good luck and he rolled away. I saw him a couple times in the race but it was one of those races that ended in the hospital for me so I don't know what happened to him.

I've never seen him again, and although we live in the age of Google, I can't remember his last name.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Life - Moving and Training

We're not done moving yet.

Alas, the truth hurts. Vacating the premises, that's the part we got done. Scattering our possessions across three widely spaced locations (four, if you count the separately keyed basement from the townhouse), we managed to do just that.

Now we have to consolidate.

My brother, as much as we're family, could probably use the half of the garage where my bike, car, and race promoting stuff ended up sitting. I know that the future missus is jonesing to ride the tandem, maybe even her single. And I'd like to be able to rebuild my PowerTap so it has a clincher rim, not a tubular rim with a really expensive, really nice tubular on it.

With that noted, it won't surprise you to learn that we spent our first weekend "after" the move, well, moving.

We drove down to my brother's place. Technically my dad's, but since they all live there, I use the two interchangeably - if you ask my insurance company, it's my dad's place, but here, I'll refer to it as my brother's place. Anyway I'd stashed all my bike stuff there save my carbon Giant and my gear bag.

We got there with the mainly empty van (some stuff to drop off there) and her empty car. We mounted the rack on the future missus's car, and piled on the tandem (with its enormous disk brakes - I'd forgotten about them), my backup Giant (really dirty drivetrain, forgot about that too), and her Coppi (with my borrowed-for-the-California trip wheels back on it) on top of it. I managed to stuff my spin bike, my mountain bike, a pile of wheels, and miscellaneous stands and tools and such into the van. We also put what car stuff we could find (big air compressor, car parts, tools, etc.) into the van for deliver to Todd's.

We couldn't leave without dropping a few things off - a clarinet (my brother's, from way back when), some art work (both of my brothers', some dating from when they were in pre-school), and some of my dad's stuff.

Now the van we have is a discontinued 15 passenger Dodge Ram (see the white thing behind Vassos and Bill?). It's discontinued due to its ability to roll quicker than the proverbial Fido. Replaced, incidentally, by my new favorite functional truck due solely to its name - the Dodge Sprinter. What a name, eh?

Anyway, really the only reason the Dodge Ram van was discontinued was safety. Go into a turn a bit hot and it doesn't turn. Turn the wheel more and the van turns suddenly - to the point where the rear end starts to slew out. With its high center of gravity, soft bouncy suspension, six feet of overhang behind the rear wheels, and narrow overall width, the van wants to barrel roll more than anything.

The front suspension is a heavy duty, parallel A-arm setup - like pretty much any big American car. Coil springs, brand new shocks, no known problems with the ball joints. All in all it's in good shape.

The rear has leaf springs and a beam axle. It resembles the setup used in big trucks. They use this setup because it works - truck loads can reach 50,000 pounds or more, and that's for a "normal" truck. The heavy duty ones, they hold so much they're limited by the road underneath the tires.

Before this weekend day I figured the best way to avoid the problems associated with 15 passenger vans was to avoid putting weight behind the rear axle and to have any weight possible towards the front of the van. I dutifully removed the rear seat (the bane of any 15 passenger van's handling characteristics). I carefully loaded our generator, tents, tables, grate covers, and other heavy things just behind the front seats, much to the annoyance of everyone helping me clean up after Bethel. Although a bit sluggish, the van drove reasonably well when loaded like this.

When we moved, I followed the same philosophy. But towards the end of the move, with the front of the van holding a lot of heavy things, I noticed the front of the van seemed to squat a bit.

Carrying boxes back and forth, my dazed brain processed this new information. And, in a moment of inspiration, it came up with a new idea.

The way I figure, the van's load should not be on the front axles. The front suspension has ball joints, pivots, and all sorts of fragile type things meant to give a nicer ride, not hold tons of weight. Instead, Mr. Einstein here decided we should center the load around the much stronger rear axle. Not centered on the rear axle really - more like "on or in front of" the rear axle. "Front-center" if you will. I wasn't about to load the rearmost portion of the van with heavy things but I was much more inclined to put stuff on the rear axle (instead of diligently pushing it all forward).

We put all of the stuff for Todd in the back (since it was easier to unload like that at his place). All my stuff in the front. Todd's stuff was pretty heavy, but centered on the rear axle. My new load philosophy wasn't disturbed by this unusual load distribution so things were good.

We set off to Todd's.

I learned pretty quickly that my new method of loading the van wasn't exactly optimal.

In fact, I came close to sheer, mind numbing panic twice on the way up to Todd's. I managed to get the rear tires to actually go sideways once on the highway (trying to keep the van from flipping over an elevated highway's guardrail) - and that wasn't one of the mind-numbing incidents, it was more just a flick and it was done (one of almost half dozen such flicks). Normally I'm very careful, very smooth when driving. But this thing, well, this thing suddenly had a mind of its own.

I read somewhere that the scariest thing when racing a car is to be going through a long sweeper at 100 mph or more and then, almost imperceptibly, the rear of the car starts to slide a bit. There's nothing you can do to help the situation - a perfectly balanced car at the limit of its abilities is letting go and anything you do to upset it will make it, well, more upset.

(I'm sure that some advanced car racing type folks will cry bloody murder and name all sorts of things you can do, but I'm just a beginning car racing type and, well, when faced with such situations, I sit and wait.)

The van got into two "high speed" drifts. One was at about 65 mph, the other about 60. Both times I used about 5 or 6 feet of pavement I hadn't planned on using, both times I started getting the "numb with adrenaline just before you crash" feeling, and both times the van decided, in an agonizingly slow fashion, that it would make the curve.

Let me tell you something about loading a van, especially a short-ish wheelbase van with a huge rear overhang.

Put ALL of the heavy stuff up front.

Anyway, with all that out of the way, we managed to get to Todd's alive, unloaded all the stuff in the back, and so weighted (front-heavy), the van was much happier and let me dictate what it was going to do, not the other way around.

We made it home, left the stuff for unpacking later, and fell asleep, exhausted.

And here I thought it'd all be done once the house was sold.

On the plus side, instead of our normal lifting type exercises (load van, unload van, load van, unload van...) we got out and walked for a bit - a couple miles on a quiet Rails to Trails thing. As a cyclist, and more specifically, a racer of sorts, I thought walking would be as exciting as something like watching grass grow. I suppose it would be if you weren't allowed to talk to someone (like your significant other) or think about plans for dominating Cat 3 cycling in the area.

(That second bit is a joke. Ha ha. Right?)

Anyway, the walk was good. I followed it up with a ride, struggling to get out and back before I had to report to work (which involves walking upstairs and wiggling the mouse). I started to bonk somewhat severely and crawled back to the townhouse.

Of course when presented with a slowly accelerating truck, I couldn't help but to merrily jump my way after it, draft it for a bit, then blow spectacularly less than 30 seconds later. Disappointingly I only hit 36 mph. It was the next ride that I realized that stretch of road is uphill. And upon downloading the PT data, I saw that I'd done a 1400+ watt sprint, holding about 1000 watts for 15 or 20 seconds. Not bad for training a few days in the last month.

I went out for a ride another morning. I'd even gone out earlier and did a 2 mile pedestrian thing, walking the first half and running for the second half. My rubbery legs recovered within 30 minutes and I was back out on the bike.

Thoughts of Cat 3 domination ran through my head.

And then I got home. I struggled to get my bike in the door, past the half unpacked boxes, and leaned it on the coffee table (driveside out). Walked around the dirt from the plant Tiger playfully tagged in the morning.

Reality hit home. Cat 3 domination will have to wait.

First we have to finish moving.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Story - The Purple Jersey

One of my favorite races was the Tour of Nutley. I suppose I had a somewhat wistful link to it - when I went there to watch my first race (and cheer on a teammate), it was the National Championships. Although my teammate didn't do too well, the racing was, well, as spectacular as it gets. And for a racing novice, it was quite inspirational.

The Junior race was won by a "diamond in the rough" named Roy Knickman ( for what it's worth Davis Phinney won the men's race and Connie Carpenter the women's). Knickman and a second racer formed the winning break. Knickman, not known for his sprint, wasn't favored to win. It didn't help that when he jumped, his rear tire rolled off the rim - flopping around next to the rim, in between the frame and the wheel (try that on your super-aero carbon frame - how much clearance do you have there?). He gamely pedaled to the line, staying surprisingly close to his not-to-handicapped break companion.

In shocking news, the break companion was in fact "aided and abetted" by something else - a 12 tooth cog. Since the Junior limit was a 53x15, and he was running a 53x12, he was immediately disqualified. Knickman was crowned the winner.

I carefully noted the strict gear limit policy and silently thanked the guys who built my bike (one was the one that raced the Juniors) as they had put a 53x15 on the bike.

Nutley was also one of my first good races. One year, somehow, I found myself near the front with less than a lap to go. A few big efforts, a fearful but successful maneuvering around the downhill left, and I found myself slotted about 5 guys back going into the last turn.

Since I'd been jumping far too early in various other races, I waited till I thought it prudent to go. This meant that as soon as someone jumped, I jumped on his wheel. And when he eased up, I jumped around him. I was flying, cranking the pedals, going for history.

Then I looked up.

Ever see a four lane road, completely empty, with a finish line banner strung across it about 200 yards away?

Well, let me tell you, it looks like you're looking down the Champs Elysees. Acres and acres of pavement. Tons of wind. A banner you can see if you have good binoculars. And, well, legs which are about to blow.

I gamely kept my sprint going but my legs started doing random other things. A heel jerk there, a quad twinge there, and suddenly I had exploded, crawling to the line. It seemed like everyone in the field passed me, followed by everyone warming up for the next race.

But, luckily, that was as accurate as my perception of the finishing straight. I ended up 11th, tired, happy, and looking forward to a summer of fun racing.

A race nearby, usually held just before Nutley, was the former Scotch Plains race. An eight corner crit, I did the race a few times, virtually all ending the same way.

The first Scotch Plains I did started out a semi-disaster. Underestimating the travel time along with some traffic jams meant I completely missed the Cat 3 start. Since I'd driven all the way there, I decided to do the Pro/1/2/3 race "for training". I mean, c'mon, an eight corner course with a bunch of rampaging Pro/1/2's? The 3s are there just to help flesh out the prize list.


So I lined up, not too optimistic, but determined to get as far as possible. And when the gun went off, we rocketed away from the line. I spent probably five laps just learning the corners, trying not to wipe out on the melting tar (really melting crack filler, which feels like hot chewing gum when you're cornering on it at 30-35 mph), and trying not to lose contact with the guys in front of me.

There were a whole lotta crashes but luckily I didn't get involved in any of them. Once I got the race pattern down, I went into survival mode - coasting into each turn, not braking too much if at all, and essentially soft pedaling back into the field afterwards

And when the laps started counting down, I realized that I was still in the race.

My conservative racing meant that I had a lot left in the tank. And with about 3 laps to go, I made a few efforts and found myself inside the top 10 at the bell. I could maintain my spot as we were simply flying along in single file - and when we approached the third to last turn, I let myself dream of a good finish. Some Mengoni guy was just in front and there was some other guy going ballistic, leading out the field.

All good.

The last turn was so close to the line that you had to be first going through it to win. This meant you had to be perhaps second or third at the second last turn. This meant I had to make a big effort after this upcoming third last turn.

We approached that third last turn, guys starting to try and move up both inside and outside, but I felt okay where I was. At warp speed there simply wasn't room for more than one racer at a time going through the narrow third last corner.

The guy behind and to my inside insisted otherwise though and he flew through the inside, slammed into the guy in front of me, and we all fell like dominos.

That taught me to dream before the finish.

I went back there to avenge my crash, this time getting there for the 3s. I felt like I was going to destroy the field - I felt good and I knew I was okay for a Pro/1/2/3 race - the 3s had to be a lot easier.

I spent virtually the whole race patrolling the top 20. Incredibly, this kid from my area that started racing a while ago kept getting in my way. When I first met him, he was 11 or 12 years old, rode a 24 inch wheeled road bike, and could barely pedal his bike. He'd grown up a bit but, to me, he was still that "kid". So, in the race, when I'd look up and see his lanky body pedaling furiously, I'd think, "I belong in front of him."

I'd move up, go by him, grit my teeth in satisfaction, and settle into racing again.

And that blasted kid would be in front of me again.

I never made it to the finish that year. Some bozo pulled the same move on the same turn, I ended up high siding off the bike, landed on the side of my head, and earned a trip in an ambulance.

A different year I lacked form, with predictable results. At Nutley (yes, back there again) I spent the day watching the various races (including mine - I was changed and cooled down before they hit 10 to go). I suppose it was windy or something that day as the races seemed pretty strung out, fast, hard, and with the sun beating down, it was hot.

The fastest race each year is, of course, the Pro/1/2 race. There were a few strong riders who immediately took off - a strong break, it contained multiple national level racers. Within a few laps they were motoring along, a little less than a minute in front of the field. One local team (I could tell because they wore somewhat generic purple jerseys with virtually no printing on them) missed the break and set about bringing them back. Within a few laps several of them were at the front, screaming along, stretching the somewhat complacent field into a long, stretched out row of suffering racers.

I figured the Purples were trying to "fly the colors" at this important local race and waited for the "real" moves to happen. The Purples seemed willing to work, they didn't blow up right away, so the field grimly hung on while the Purples and the break did their own private pursuit around the streets of Nutley.

Now mind you, in this era of racing, such teamwork was simply unheard of. Yes, some of the big teams occasionally got a little train going, but to have 7 or 8 or 9 racers at the front, well, that was pro stuff. Panasonic stuff. TI Raleigh stuff. Impressive.

For some reason the break insisted on trying to win and they never let up. This left the poor Purples to have to drag the field around for about 40 of the 50 lap race. I have to say that it was a most spectacular race. The break made up half of it, losing a couple seconds every few laps but never giving up, their effort clearly etched into their grimacing faces. The Purples made the other half of the race, impressively leading with these local Cat 1s and 2s, who, for all their effort, never blew. They kept the pace so high that the field remained single file for virtually the whole race.

Finally, with the laps counting down to the finish, the Purples, through sheer brute force, finally started wearing down the escape. A couple of the racers in the break faded, reducing the available horsepower up front. Others were probably thinking of the win and started taking the edge off their pulls.

The Purples, in the meantime, smelled blood. When others in the field launched some tentative attacks, the Purples responded, incredibly, by increasing the pace.

They started seriously dishing out the hurt.

And with about five laps to go, the field knew the break was done and started launching counter after counter.

Ultimately two guys would get away and finish on their own. One was one of the Carney brothers. The other, if I remember correctly, would end up the USPro Crit champion (and podiumed three times as an amateur). The non-Carney won, with the places reversed a couple days later at the Tour of Sommerville.

The Purples, as far as I remember, didn't have anyone in the top 10 or so. It was too bad, but really, when you think of it, they had an impressive race.

I walked back to my car. There were still a few races scheduled but watching that Pro/1/2 race was enough for me. Plus the upcoming races were the lower category ones - it wasn't like they'd have the same kind of spectacular show as the Pros put on.

I saw that kid from Scotch Plains getting ready for his race - 16 years old, just started to grow into his bike. His gear was strewn around the back of his car, his (now taller than mine) bike leaned on one side of it, and he was dressed in street clothes.

I figured that if he was running late I could help him get ready. Pump up some tires, maybe pin a number, things like that. Kid, right? Usually disorganized, late, they can use all the help they can get.

I walked up to him, said hi, asked him if he was racing soon.

No, he told me, he already raced.

I puzzled over this for a second. He wasn't in my race. But he's a 3 or a 4. And the 4s, I thought, were up shortly. The Juniors raced a while ago.

Wait, what category are you, I asked.

I got upgraded to a 2.

Oooh, I replied.

Wait a minute, I added. You just raced?


I thought about the break. Of the guys you read about in Velonews, pounding the living daylights out of the rest of the field. Of the Purples, killing themselves to bring back the top notch break, annihilating themselves in the process. I wondered how long I would have lasted in that field. Not long, I realized, even in really good shape.

Wow, I said, that must have been a hard race.


The kid, to his benefit, was sort of quiet. I could understand, he just did an insanely hard 50 mile race.

I thought about watching the race. I realized I never noticed him in his white and blue jersey (the Scotch Plains one).

He was putting some more of his gear away, revealing what lay underneath.

I saw a purple jersey.

A dark purple jersey. Some white letters on it, really generic looking. "Jeep", I could read, and some Cyclery place. For some reason I reached out and touched it.

Soaking wet.

I looked at the kid, still busy putting stuff away.

"Is that your jersey?"
"Yeah, sorry, it's gross, it's wet."
"Waitaminute... are you part of that Purple team that pulled the Pro/1/2s for the whole race?"
"Yeah," he admitted glumly, "we missed the break and the director made us chase."

I couldn't believe it.

"Wait... you mean you're part of that Purple team?"

You know when your mind refuses to process something?

"No way. That team that was at the front of the race?"

I tried a different tact.

"I thought you were a Junior."
"Yep," he looked at me. "Can you believe a bunch of 15 and 16 year olds worked over a Pro/1/2 field over for the whole race?"

He grinned.

I couldn't help but grin back.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Racing - Track Thoughts

In the past I've bemoaned the fact that I lost the charger to the camcorder. This meant no helmet cam clips, no transferring tapes to the computer, and not even watching anything recorded onto DV tapes.

Yesterday I was putting the TV stand stuff (cables for the DVD/VCR mainly) when I realized I was holding a distinctive red-striped power supply thing. It was the charger to the camcorder!

As the house was distinctly empty when we left it, we had to have it somewhere in the sea of boxes, bins, and "stuff" strewn about the townhouse. And so it was.

Of course my bike legs are done for the year so it'll be more of a "wedding and honeymoon" thing.

Speaking of which, yes, that's coming up in just over a month. I'll be going tomorrow to the town hall and signing something marriage related.

I'm also having a birthday (that's in 18 days) and since it's a significant one, the future missus is trying to get something together. To date myself, it's not my 30th. And it's not my 50th. And I can already drink legally (that means you can skip thinking it's the 20th). And, as far as I know, I'm not going to be retiring anytime soon. You can figure the rest out.

Another thing I did was to try and think about exactly what I want to do on the bike. Meaning in the next year or two of racing. Yeah, getting in shape is good. But when I think of it realistically, the guys who out climbed me when I was in college at 112 pounds are probably going to out climb me 70 pounds later. Even if I drop some insane amount of weight, I'm not going to return to a svelte sub-120 pound racer.

And before you mention things about strength and sprinting, I was hitting the low 40's (in mph) from a standing start at that 112 pound weight. So it's not like I got that much faster in the past, err, close to (ahem) 20 years. I just got heavier.

My focus, then, will be on doing what I do well - sprinting with a sprinkling of speed work.

I've contemplated the land speed record but, unless I figure something out differently, I think it requires doing a sustained high wattage effort. Not to say I've given up on it, but reading about the guys who broke 80 mph in the streamliners... well, suffice it to say that they're putting out some major wattage for a long time simply to accelerate to terminal velocity.

So accelerating to some insane speed, even if I'm drafting some fancy-shmancy race-car-turned-into-the-ultimate-drafting-machine, will take some substantial effort. To hit the speed record I'd have to accelerate for something like 120-150 mph (if I got towed to something like 40 or 50 mph). Since I haven't even done that in my fast car, I figure doing it by pedaling will be, well, difficult.

So I thought of another thing.

The track.

Hopefully my lack of endurance won't affect me in a 1 or 2 kilometer race - but the high sustained speeds, that could be a problem. Really though there are a couple events which don't require too much other than doing a lot of power type work - the kilo and the 200 meter TT (as a prelude to the sprints). Not sure what else they'll throw at the Masters but the 3 km pursuit is out (for me). And a points race? Since the last time I raced on the track I couldn't get closer than 5 feet to the next racer's wheel (fixed gear fear or something), I don't think that would be appropriate to enter.

Anyway, the track sounds sort of intriguing. It always has, to be honest, since I did a couple days of racing at T-Town way back when. Those outings weren't too successful - dropped in my first two races, got nothing in my third, but placed third in my fourth race. This qualified me for the big Cat 3-4 race at the end of the night, where I got fourth. But that was it. Recently though my inspiration got renewed when I saw this post. How inspiring is that?

Of course I have very little track specific equipment. Well, I do have a bike. But by anyone's standards, it's a bit heavy - 17 pounds with some light wheels on it. The frame and fork weigh 7 pounds, due to its straight gauge heavier-than-heavy-metal tubing. The brown is pretty too (brown? whoever heard of a brown track bike?).

I got the frame, the front wheel, the rear hub, and some other stuff, back in the 80's, for $90. I examined my first ever track frame and came away thinking track frames were pretty cool as the front and rear dropout spacing both measured 100 mm.

"How convenient," I thought, "you can put a hub in either position."

Then I tried to put the rear hub in place.

Yep, Mr. Einstein, it wouldn't fit.

Thankfully, in those days, we still had things like rear dropout alignment tools, and two of us in the shop went to work "cold setting" the frame. It's a very technical process which I'll try to describe in detail, in case you run across something like this in your cycling career.

First, figure out the right spacing, otherwise known as the target.

"Mike, you know what a track frame's rear spacing is supposed to be?"
"120 mm."
"Are you sure? This frame is 100 mm."
"Measure the hub. The rear one."
"Hm... 120mm."
"Looks like we need to cold set it."

Second, carefully position the frame in a solid device so it doesn't move around too much.

"Mike, are you sure clamping the bottom bracket shell in the vise is okay for the frame?"
"Isn't that tight enough?"
"(Final red-faced tug of the vise lever) Okay that's good."

Third, use the frame alignment tool to determine exactly how far you need to move the frame.

"Mike, on this side it's... well, it's off by about a centimeter."
I give the tool to Mike so he can check the other side.
"My side is about a centimeter too so that's right."
"I guess the frame got squished in some box somewhere."

Fourth, carefully cold set the frame. Typically this involves anchoring the pivot point (in this case, the bottom bracket shell) and "setting" the position of the target point (in this case the rear dropouts). In order to do this, we each put a foot on opposite sides of the bottom bracket shell, grasped the dropout, and pulled.

The high vise with my short legs didn't work too well.

"Hang on Mike, my foot keeps dropping off the vise.... Okay, okay, I'm ready."
"Okay, pull gently..."
"It's not moving..."
"Pull harder."
"It's still not.. Oh *#&$%! It moved a lot."
"Lemme measure... Whoa! 140 mm. Push it back."
"120 mm. Great work Aki!"

Can you believe I raced that frame? And better yet, can you believe I could hold a straight line?

Anyway, I figure if I want to race track for real, I need to get a real track bike. Since I have a lot of bike stuff already, what I really need is the frame, fork, stem, bars, and post. I have the wheels, crank, pedals, and cogs... which, of course, are the only parts remaining on the very straight forward track bike.

Of course I want an inspiring frame/fork setup - a cool looking frame that screams "Speed!" and looks as flexible as a proverbial I-beam. And it has to be affordable of course.

Now I just have to figure out what such a frame is and where to get to one.