Monday, December 31, 2007

Training - Powertec Workbench Multi System

Many years ago, after the second sprint of a hard ridden Gimbles ride, I was scrunched up on the wood bench at the convenience store (the only sit-down spot in the shade), drinking my Gatorade, listening to everyone talking about whatever. I had made some big efforts and for once actually made it to the end of the ride with the group.

One guy, sitting a couple guys over, turned and looked at me. Now, I should point out that this guy was a really good rider, a Cat 1 (I think) that went by "Mikie". Tall, lanky, slim, with the spiky blonde hair in style at the time. I hadn't seen him at Gimbles, but then again, I hadn't been doing Gimbles very long at this time. The only other places I'd seen him were:
1. At virtually all of the SUNY Purchase sprints, but he didn't really get mixed up with them, he just hammered at the front.
2. At Gainesville FL where he and his Kissena team did some absolutely monsterous miles with their newly crowned Junior National Champion Sean Nealy.
3. At various Central Park and Prospect Park races. He won at least one of them.

So, to be there with someone that strong was, well, a bit satisfying.

Of course, with my jersey unzipped, slouching, I probably didn't make a good impression.

He looked at me and confirmed my suspicions when he blurted out, in a post ride "what the heck was I thinking?" way, "Yo, what's with your hollow chest? You need to lift a bit. And you look so white, you need to get to the beach or something."

That got a bunch of guys going, some chiding Mikie, some laughing, etc.

The good part was he meant it all in good fun.

The bad part was that he was right.

At some point shortly thereafter I started doing some upper body exercises, mainly push ups and some dumbbell type things. I also worked on my tan, but that's a different topic altogether! My brother said once that we family members (at least me and him) were blessed with distinctly unflattering builds - the aforementioned hollow chest and a stomach better for squirreling away reserves than modeling for an abdominal workout gizmo.

A few years later, when I got a chance, I lifted pretty aggressively. I went from struggling with 90 or 100 pounds on the bench to doing reps of 180, maxing out at 200 pounds. This took place over a three or four month period when I worked unusual hours in an office equipped with a very nice gym. A bunch of the guys and I would go downstairs and lift before or after work. I'd gained 10 pounds rapidly, felt much stronger, but looked basically the same.

No need to up my t-shirt size or anything like that.

I never lost that weight, and in fact, I now know that losing weight is much harder than it is to gain it. I figure that, at this point, my best tactic is to gain strength, train a lot, and try and exchange some of the excess fat for some muscle.

Although riding helps a lot, I found in that earlier life (i.e. in college) that lifting really helped drive home a good sprint. So with this in mind, I kept a nice heavy-duty black weight bench from the house, reassembled it in the basement of the apartment, and tried to lift every now and then.

My workouts are somewhat standard:

Curls, to develop bar pulling biceps and related muscles. I curl with dumbbells oriented like a handlebar to try and make it a bit more bike specific.

Dumbbell military presses, i.e. just pushing the dumbbells up like a muscle guy might do. This is a collarbone protecting lift, trying to build the muscle "girdle" around the collarbone.

Bent over rows, flys, and some other stuff I don't know. Basically to work the lats (bar pulling muscles), lower back (ditto, but more core related), and my arms see some benefit too.

Bench presses, because, well, that's what weight lifting is, isn't it? Plus it works on triceps, the muscles you use to hold your body up when you're riding.

The problem is that I lift on my own and can't spot myself. I feel relatively uncomfortable doing an unspotted bench of over 150 pounds, for example, because if my muscles suddenly failed, I'd be choking on a weight bar. My lifting tapered down and my strength slowly dissipated.

Then, on Thanksgiving Day this year, I spotted an ad in the paper for a yellow weight lifting thing I'd previously seen at Dicks Sporting Goods. When I first saw it I dragged the missus over to it and showed her the next great secret training device I really wanted (after the SRM and carbon clinchers and the SystemSix frame and, well, you get the idea). Anyway, the thing was on sale (it still is, by the way) and came with a few hundred pounds of weights (not part of the current sale). So, I think a day later, I dragged the missus to Dicks, we went over and looked at the thing (again), and this time, I bought it.

Of course, it weighs 475 pounds without weights or boxes, and with the additional 300 pounds of weights, the total weight of the package rapidly approached half a ton.

With only Honda Civics around to haul things (the van is at my dad's), and a potential move coming up, we asked if we could pick it up later. Like in a month. Surprisingly, the store people agreed, letting me put the stuff on layaway. (Before you run out and do the same thing, Dicks ended the layaway program last week).

The move thing didn't work so I decided to make the thing fit in the basement. I spent a couple days clearing out a quarter of the basement, to give the weight thing room. With a 8' x 10' foot print, I needed a lot of room. I decided to clear out two more feet each way so it became a 10' x 12' area.

I got some 3/4" exercise mat things which interlock together. Conveniently they are 2' x 2' so I could make a little sketch in my notebook on how to lay them out and get the area I need for the weight thing. I hope to have an area for the bike (on a trainer) and room to put down a newly purchased yoga mat.

Finally, the basement prepped, I rented a 14' box van to pick up the gear. I figured I'd have to un-box the pieces in the van, carry them into the (hatchway) basement, and assemble them inside.

I didn't even want to think about what I'd have to do when we move.

Anyway, when a Dicks person and I loaded the van, I saw that one box was 130 pounds or so. This confirmed the fact that I'd need to un-box stuff in the van.

After about 6 hours of assembling, disassembling (inevitably because something was installed backwards due to the nut holding the wrench), re-assembling, struggling with big pieces of welded steel, trying to line up precision drilled holes while holding said big pieces of steel, and learning tips and tricks on how to assemble such things, I was finally done.


This is a view of the gym (if you didn't know already, click the pic for a huge version of it). It's hard to tell but the floor is actually the mat stuff, covered in "diamond plate" pattern things. You'll see a shelf full of stuff in the back (I want to move it) as well as my favorite bike poster (of a crash).

The bench bit - for bench presses, military presses, and some standing things.

To "test" things, I put 90 pounds on the bench bit, and benched it. Very nice, smooth movement, and no worries about dropping a bar on my throat. I promptly put another 70 pounds on it, cranked out 12 reps, and decided I better chill out before I strain something. Then I re-thought that last bit, took the 45s off, left the 35s on (70 pounds) and cranked out a bunch of military presses (sitting presses).

All the weights seemed very manageable, and since I normally lift up to these amounts, I was a bit surprised. I think the leverage thing is not quite accurate so the weight amount is a bit optimistic (i.e. I'm not lifting the full 160 pounds, more like a 160 x 0.8 or something). This just means that I'll have to put more weight on :)

Since it's a real pain moving 45 pound plates around, I might get a second set of weights. But that costs money and for now I'll make do with moving weights around. It's called "weight training" for a reason, right?

The squat part of the machine.

There's also a nice squat station, and this is one of the reasons I got the whole gizmo. It's a bit tight back there, but you can see it just in front of the shelf in the first picture. I can load up with weights and safely squat without blowing out something if I collapse in exhaustion. I tried it unloaded (i.e. just moving the heavy yellow steel around). Whether it was from accumulated fatigue from my suddenly intense riding schedule or something else, my legs started getting that lactic acid burn pretty quickly. I moved the 45 pounds plates there (to "store" them) and left it for now.

The curl/pull down station. I put a light weight to test the "abs crunch" thing and it seems to work.

On the curl/pull down station I didn't test out the bent-over row or the pull down bits just yet. However, both are among my favorite "sprinter lifts" and I'm anxious to build up some strength there.

Finally the weights came with an Olympic weight bar, i.e. a very long bar that weighs a lot. I can't imagine loaded it up with so many weights that it flexes, but some people do that. For me, I'll be using it for dead lifts, another "sprinter lift" I find helpful.

I hope to use this whole setup to create muscular balance, so that, for example, my back doesn't go neglected. I think lifting really helps create a solid core which allows me to sprint better. My jump definitely improves, and I hope that my top speed does also. I have to incorporate some sort of speed moves too (plyometrics) so I don't become a slow but powerful rider.

In a future post I'll have a more comprehensive review of the Powertec Multi System as well as a host of tips to assemble it quicker and without as many errors as I made myself.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Doping - T-Mobile Racing Team?

So T-Mobile might be moving to bigger and better sports. Of course, we'll see if this is true when the BMW F1 team is revealed in January. But it could explain part of the reason why they pulled out of cycling. I have to admit that pink and blue were the colors of the team I joined when I was 15 so I wouldn't protest too much if BMW sported some T-Mobile pink.

When I had a shop, a guy asked me to name my competitors. I named all the local shops, a couple mail order places, and a couple really big shops some distance away from me. Basic right?

Then he asked me about a store down the road.

An electronics store.

"They don't sell bikes", I protested.

"No", he replied, "but they sell things. And those things cost money. And if that guy right there (he points to someone in the shop) goes and buy a nice stereo, he'll have less money for bike things."

So when everyone cries about sponsorship and doping and stuff, it's not about bikes. It's about soccer, golf, marathons, the Olympics, and even car racing.

Cycling is a minor sport. I mean, really. $5.5 to 22 million for a year for a whole team (see page 8)? That's what some stadium sports figures make all by themselves. Michael Schumacher, in one of his years at the top of the F1 heap, could fund probably 8 or 9 teams himself based on his $80 million haul one year.

And think about the Wall Street boys. $20 mil might be an annual bonus for some of these guys, especially the hedgefund guys who fly extremely fast below the radar. Instead of buy a few cars one could buy a team and watch their fund's name sprinting to the line in San Remo, climb the peaks of the Pyrenees, and if they're lucky, perhaps don some leader's jersey somewhere, or, even better, the World Championship stripes.

It's ironic that a sport that paid its stars the cost of five teams in the NFL just to race one week now takes a back seat to the NFL. Back in the day, the NFL was a rogue thing and, expanding from its 18 teams, the NFL put some franchises up for sale in 1925, available for $500 each. There were five franchises up for sale, including the NY Giants, so you needed $2500 to buy the lot.

That's half of what the major six day racers made each week.

How things change.

I don't know what caused it. Cycling was an epic sport, one for the hardiest of hardy men. There were no spectators in the mountains to cheer them on, just the rattle of the official's car, maybe a motorcycle or two, and the couple protagonists grinding out some ridiculous single gear on their 40 plus pound machines. Nothing like the party that happens every year on the mountains in the Tour.

It all changed somewhere. Car racing definitely replaced bike racing in the US. NASCAR, IndyCar (or whatever the various leagues are called now), even drag racing. Some may argue that it's easier to race a car, but to put one together such that it's competitive with another car prepared in the same way? It's about as competitive as it gets.

And if you thought diving into Turn 1 at 30 mph in a 100 rider field is nerve wracking, I can't imagine diving into Turn 1 at 240 mph in the middle of 30 or 40 other cars. I have a hard time watching the start of any F1 race, and they have only 20 or so cars.

Cycling, some say, is a "people's sport". Everyone knows how to ride a bike. Well almost everyone. But it's hard to find a kid that hasn't tried to pedal a bike, and I think nowadays you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn't ridden one.

But a lot of us eat hot dogs too, but I don't see us scrambling for a seat at the annual Coney Island hot dog shindig. So the "people's sport" doesn't really cut it.

So maybe it's doping.

No, definitely not that. I'm sure that any time a big expose article appears in those German publications their sales skyrocket. When that baseball player was indicted, the article was amongst the most popular for Yahoo. Ditto when Landis got nailed.

Maybe those stories popped up due to the evil cookies lurking on my machine but I think not.

Perhaps cycling is too tactical? Too much thinking?

Have you ever talked to a baseball fan? They spew stats like there was no tomorrow. I'm surprised the number of baseball fans don't equal the number of actuaries because, according the hard core fans, it's a numbers game.

"So and so hits .421 against lefties, .285 against righties, but the team only has one rightie left in the rotation for today and the next guy hits .471 against righties so they'll have to keep the leftie up there, plus that leftie likes throwing curveballs (28% of his pitches) and the batter is only .384 against lefties throwing curves. This is so cool!"

And that's from a 10 year old who struggles with math in school.

In the shop, I struggled with the idea that everyone was out to grab my potential customer's money. I simply couldn't do it because, well, I had no money to spend. When a customer asked me (holding a defective but expensive Pearl Izumi Jacket), "Have you ever bought something and it didn't work the way it was supposed to?", I paused to think, and when I realized the truth, I almost told him, "No, because I haven't bought anything in a store in three years."

But I kept my mouth shut.

At that time, the last big item I bought was a computer, but before that, I really couldn't remember buying anything in an actual store except a stereo and speakers I got 15 years ago.

Today my bike dollars are spent mainly at the local bike shop (LBS), some online stuff (Excel Sports seems to get a good chunk of change), and the occasional eBay thing (whoppers usually, like a bike or some Reynolds wheels).

But unlike 10 years ago, I actually have money to spend. And although I know the shops are trying to get me to spend my money there instead of somewhere else (because, unlike me, they understand who is fighting for my dollar), I still go and spend the money.

Because, for once, I have some money to spend.

How things have changed.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Training - HTFU***

One night the missus and I were driving somewhere and I brought up the topic of training in the somewhat yucky weather we'd been having around here. I said that one of the things I need to do is (***) "Harden The F Up" and actually get out there and train. It's not like I have to go to work or anything so I have time during the warmest part of the day.

The next day I set off on my mountain bike, determined to do a HTFU ride, and at the same time get some shopping done. Of course the only place that would understand a guy walking in in bike clothes covered in salty sand would be a bike shop. So I set off to the shop.

I timed it such that I'd be caught out after dark, and I equipped my bike accordingly. I don't know how much it weighed but when I first went to life the bars, the front wheel felt like it was stuck to the ground and I literally couldn't lift it. With three batteries, one big headlight, one little headlight, and the two Down Low Glow tubes, the bike felt pretty heavy. To prep such a bike I actually made a little "charging" station as pictured below (the fourth power cord is to the laptop on which I'm typing):

Note the surge protector protecting anything being charged. Batteries are located under the stem and top tube (headlight) and at the seat tube - top tube junction (Down Low Glow). Tandem behind is for summer use, but it doesn't fit in the basement so it lives upstairs in the winter.

The seat close up shows the seat bag, useful only for its tools, the blinkie, and the rear fender mount. As will be apparent, this was a post-ride shot.

Note the blinkie angled too far up - the fender worked loose on the ride home and I quickly reset things (improperly) since I was a mile from the apartment.

The front details, with the 10w NiteRider light and the two AA battery powered blinkie front. The latter is an emergency backup as well as a "not dark enough for the headlight" light. I used up the batteries before the sun set. Since I use rechargeables, they'll be at full strength for the next ride. I used both NiteRider batteries too, although I used the second for less than the full charge.

I habitually cut my mountain bike bars down to the minimum so I shoved everything to the middle, figured out how wide my hands were on the grips and slice the rest off with a knife, then slid the bar ends on the end. The outside of the bar ends gets cut off and voila! I have a nice compact mountain bike bar setup.

It's quite comfy, sort of like riding a road bike with no drops, just the tops and the "brake hoods" (i.e. the bar ends). With a 15 cm stem, the top is nice and stretched out, very comfy, relatively aero.

I took the pictures of the bike after I took it out for about 2.5 hours on a wet and sloggy day. With snow from our first major storm still on a lot of secondary roads, I rode in the tire tracks when I had to, the shoulder when I could. I purchased the fenders about an hour into the ride, ditto the blinkie. The fact that the local bike shop was still clearing their entryway of snow indicated just how much snow still remained.

The rear fender was a great boon, my butt not so cold without the constant stream of cold water splashing onto my tights. I missed a front fender though, and nothing I saw at the shop appealed to me - they only had matching front fenders and from previous experience, I knew that only a full front fender with a splash guard would be acceptable.

The blinkie stayed on for the duration of the ride and I think it helps keep drivers from passing you with only millimeters to spare.

When I returned to the same shop in street clothes, warm and dry, some full 26" fenders magically appeared in my view. I guess when I'm cold and wet I don't look around very much because I was standing right next to the full fenders and never saw them. The bike will lose the clip on fender and look a little more utilitarian, a little less motocross-y.

If you look carefully at the rear cassette you'll notice I don't use the two biggest cogs (they're still silver). And although you can't tell from the picture, the middle ring is bent so badly the chain stays on for less than a revolution at a time. So my winter bike is effectively a 7 speed bike. Works for me.

In the theme of HTFU, I went out yesterday even though I was a bit fatigued from a relatively long ride two days prior. I happened to chose roads which don't get a lot of sun so the temps were low, the water/salt/sand everywhere, and I fatigued so quickly I simply did my loop and went home. This was on my precious road bike so I washed off the bike and decided that wet roads means mountain bike, dry roads means the road bike.

I hope to finish up the mountain bike fenders today (I have to make up a few pieces for it to fit on the non-standard frame fittings) and take it out for a ride in the wet but warmer conditions today (mid 40s). And in the near future I'll have some reviews on the blinkie, the Down Low Glow, and the fenders (not that they're special but I hope they work out okay).

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Sprinter Della Casa


"This 40 year old US cyclist is the Sprinter Della Casa."

Okay, so it's in German. But still, it's kinda cool :) My specialty (this word is probably not translated properly), according to the author, is to race with a camera, supplement with music and subtitles, and post on YouTube.

It's interesting what others get from the blog. I didn't even start it - my last lead out man sort of led me out and started the whole thing. And initially we thought it'd be about doping. Then it got into some tactics, some how to stuff, and now, well, it's sort of a mish mash of specific equipment reviews, tactics, how tos, and stories. Since I buy everything I review, I can't review too much stuff, and I try not to buy silly things. The tactics, well, that's what I thought the blog would cover. The How To things started when I saw some pretty flabbergasting ideas on the internet on how to do certain things (not that my opinions come under attack, but that's a different topic altogether). And stories, well, I love telling stories, and people seem to think that somehow I've experienced more than they have.

I'm sitting here at the computer because I forgot to charge my cell phone. Since I was contemplating heading up into Never Never Land (a.k.a. Massachusetts), I figured a cell phone would be a good thing. Since it doesn't take forever to charge the phone I decided to map my potential routes (short and long) while the phone charged.

I'm also listening to music, specifically Midnight Oil, something I haven't had a chance to do for a while.

Ah, phone is charged. Short, since it's getting late. I don't ride much more than 17 mph on a good day so I'll add an hour loop around town after my "short" ride. The Long route will have to wait for another nice day since I'll need at least 5 hours to finish it.

I have to get into shape, see, because I've joined the honorable CT Coast Cycling team, and, well, I don't want to let them down. My current goal is to do a typical month of training (for me, in mid-2007, it was about 10 hours per month, maybe less) each 7 to 10 days. After 4 to 5 months worth of training (i.e. by the end of January), I'll be flying. I hope. With another 3-4 "months" of training in February, I figure I should be in pretty good shape come March. That or I'll be toasted. I don't think I'll be toasted since I used to train like this back in the days I raced well. And this is my first self imposed goal. To race well in March 2008.

So, off to my ride. And I'll try and sprint after something while I'm out there.

Equipment - CycleOps Trainer stand

I promised a review of a trainer front wheel block that works. Pretty straightforward, to be sure, but after finding one that doesn't, I feel obligated to find one that does work.

The genius I am, I finally bought the CycleOps Climbing Block. Here's the label on the block:

The block is nice and solid, supports my weight fine, even while I bounce up and down on the bars. I guess if I really wanted to test things, I'd load weights onto the front of the bike until the poor block collapsed under the weight, but I figure this thing is strong enough that my bike would be unduly stressed.

Needless to say, I skipped the destructive testing.

There isn't a lot to say about the block. there are three channels for your front tire, each one a slightly different level. The lowest level keeps the bike even when it's in a trainer and there are two higher ones for "climbing".

I always wondered about this. With your front wheel higher, your bars are a bit higher, sure. So it's a bit more like climbing. But your seat now points up too, and if it's at a good angle when the bike is flat, well, it isn't anymore. I suppose though that a climber type rider wouldn't mind pretending to be going up Alpe d'Huez for a couple hours at a time, just like I don't mind pretending to be scampering after attacks in a crit for a couple hours at a time. So for me, the three channels are a bit of a wash.

The CycleOps block goes one step further than the three channels though - not only can you use the higher channels, the blocks are stackable, so you can pretend you're going up some 24% grade (or higher, not sure of the cumulative angle delta). I didn't know this until I was checking out the packaging in the store, and this is what I saw:

Anyway, with my other three-channel climbing block packed in the nethers of the basement, I bought this one. Incidentally you can buy this thing virtually anywhere - I saw them in Dick's Sporting Goods, I think Target, and I think even Wal-Mart (the big box stores sort of meld together). I also saw them at every local bike shop I've been to. A tip - since the block costs only $19.95 at a local bike shop and it costs $5 less at the big box places, do your local shop a favor and buy it from them. Unless, of course, you think the big box places have much better bicycle-related customer service and product knowledge than your local bike shop, in which case you know what to do.

I tried to get our cat Tiger to sit in the CycleOps block's deep and strong channels, but he skirted his way around it - I guess it's not as soft and fuzzy as the carpet. Regardless, we did catch him playing tag with his new Christmas dog. Sort of reminds me of that painting where the one guy is reaching out to another guy.

Or the bit where ET touches the kid.

And with that, I'll leave the climbing blocks alone for now.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Review - Minoura Mag Riser

So I bought one of these dinky wheel things for the front wheel of the bike when it's on the trainer. I have a star shaped one but it's packed somewhere and I never use anything but the lowest height channel anyway so I figured something like this would be fine.

I was wrong.

The good thing - it's small.

The bad things...

First, the front wheel channel is not really deep so the front wheel can move around. If I wanted a setup where the wheel would turn whenever I leaned on the bar weird I'd just use a couple books. I bought the wheel riser so the wheel would stay pointing forward. The Minoura Mag Riser fails in this respect.

Second, the riser is made of relatively soft plastic. Since it's really small compared to the other star type risers, it's hard to center under the front wheel, especially if I'm hopping the bike around to point it at the TV a bit better or maybe the fan. The thing ended up getting crushed under my front tire. Not only that, it hasn't popped back into place, so the crushed part is like the bruise of a bruised apple - looks pretty normal but you push on it and it just sinks.

I took pictures because I didn't want to write 3000 more words, and the three pictures count towards that. I figure maybe it counts for 2500 words since the last picture is out of focus.

Looks pretty normal, but note the slight crease on the right side of the picture.

The crease is more visible here. Since the plastic is already, err, "seamed" (it's already folded in that crease area), it takes very little effort to push it down.

This is more obvious. A poorly executed idea. If they used a much harder plastic, it would have been fine - or a number of other design improvements. Well it would have been strong. The front wheel would still move around though because the channel is wide enough for a cyclocross tire.

I'd recommend that you NOT purchase this item. I'll have a review of one that works in a bit.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Equipment - Lose 0.2 Pounds for $30

So I was browsing around the local shop and looking for some cages for the mountain bike - the HTFU ("Harden The F Up") bike - and found a couple nice looking plastic cages. Since plastic cages don't mar bottles like aluminum ones do, I figured I'd move the aluminum Elites on the road bike over to the mountain bike and put the nice looking plastic ones on the road bike.

Since I happened to have the scale and camera nearby, I put the cages on the scale before I mounted them onto the appropriate bike. Lo and behold, this is what I found.

I should let everyone know that although I may be a weight conscious sort of person, I'm not a super weight weenie. So I won't spend $300 to take 20 grams off my bars but I will spend money if I need something and it happens to take some weight off the bike. I needed bottle cages, but since I don't really think they're worth more than $20 or $30 each, I decided not to get sucked into the "lightest cage" contest, one full of very blingy $50-100 cages.

I picked up a pair of Specialized cages, blue, with a reasonable design to prevent bottle depth charging. $30 for the pair, $14.99 each. These cages actually fell below my perceived value for a cage. Heck, I may even buy four more for the tandem.

The Elite aluminum cage for which I think I paid $10 or 20 each, ended up weighing a massive 86 grams apiece.

The Specialized cages a more reasonable 39 grams apiece.

This netted me a 47 gram loss per cage, a number close to the 45 grams by which I convert grams to pounds - 45.4 grams is a tenth of a pound. Each Specialized cage, then, was a tenth of a pound lighter than the Elite cages.

So with the two Specialized cages installed, the bike weighed 0.2 pounds less.

For $30 that's not a bad thing.

I tug a bit harder to pull bottles out of the Specialized cages, but I figure that's not really a bad thing if it helps keeps bottles reined in to the bike. I'll have to go see how this security translates to the real world.

In other words, I'm off to ride the bike.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Story - How Not to Prepare for the State TT

When I was a lot younger than I am now, I felt I was totally invulnerable. Sure, I got some road rash now and then, but my overall perspective is that, well, I was invulnerable. I watched racers stack it up on descents, and when I gleefully described such incidents to non-cycling friends, I compared it to driving along a highway at 55 mph, opening your car door, and stepping out onto the pavement. Oh, with just lycra stuff on, and no long sleeve anything.

And I wonder why my friends didn't take up bike racing.

Along these lines, I also felt that I was a master driver. Long before I could drive I'd "practiced" shifting the car while it was parked in the garage, so much so that I flooded the engine and it wouldn't start for a while. After that incident I practiced without actually pushing down the gas pedal. And when I started taking Driver's Ed courses, I thought it perfectly appropriate to have the tires screech through the turns.

The instructor, as you might expect, was not as keen.

When my brother, in school in Chicago, asked me to pick him up the day before the CT State Time Trial, I felt it was perfectly reasonable. I mean, we lived in Connecticut, it wasn't like he was asking me to pick him up in California. I'd drive there, drive back (he'd be tired and I was sure I'd be fine for the drive back), and then, after a short spin, I'd turn in for the night. I'd drive the 2+ hours to the TT the next morning for my 9 or 10 AM start.

No problem.

I realized pretty early on that, well, perhaps I need to leave on Friday, not Saturday. I felt it was a bit tight to drive the whole round trip in one day (plus a couple hours). Because of work (in a bike shop), I couldn't leave until Friday evening. So, being the invulnerable, always awake, master driver person I am, I figured that was fine. I'd drive through the night, pick up my brother, and we'd manage to drive back okay.

And instead of doing the whole round trip in one day, my brilliance earned us an extra 12 hours of driving or so. No problem.

I went through what I learned was a bad patch I have each night, about an hour of pure drowsiness. I slogged on and started feeling a lot better. I flew through New York, made the long trek through Pennsylvania, and got through a lot of Ohio. I checked the time, checked the map.


I was going to make it in something like 12 hours, a couple hours ahead of my budgeted time (I wanted to get to Chicago around 7 or 8 AM, and it was something like 4 or 5 AM). I anxiously awaited the "Welcome to Chicago" sign. Or was it "Welcome to Illinois". Or perhaps Chicago was in Indiana, because the next state line I saw was the one welcoming me to Indiana.

My sleep deprived brain muddled over this one. Chicago, IN? Or is it Chicago, IL? I couldn't focus enough and looking at the map while driving clearly wasn't helping so I pulled over.

There was a state called Indiana between Ohio and Illinois.

Suddenly overwhelmingly exhausted, I lay my seat back and took a nap. I used these "power naps" to study in school and I got really good at sleeping intensely for 15 or 20 minutes, or up to 90 minutes, waking up, and continue studying a textbook for a class I skipped all semester to go ride my bike. I actually timed different sleep lengths after I woke up in the middle of REM sleep and couldn't focus for the next few hours. I learned that if I ever did this (usually sleeping about 2 hours, maybe up to 2:20), I should go back to sleep for 15 minutes and I'd be fine when I woke up again.

If this was truly a nightmare drive, I'd have woken up 12 hours later, but I woke up about an hour and a half later, refreshed and ready to go. I pulled back onto the highway and kept going through this geographically warped state that didn't belong here.

I arrived at the city limits of Chicago at about 6:30 AM and found my brother's dorm by about 7. He had a bunch of errands to do so we walked around and did them. We burned through some of those 12 extra hours but it couldn't be helped. We closed a bank account, we ate breakfast in some church looking place on benches (I felt I was in seminary school), and, finally, after some insane amount of time, we packed the car and started back.

I can't remember if I drove first or not, but I think my brother had told me his finals had been a bit rough and he hadn't slept for about 36 hours. My invulnerability feelings didn't make me quite that reckless so I must have been driving first.

At some point, I'm not sure where, I started hallucinating (if I was sure I was hallucinating, then it really wouldn't be a hallucination right?). Whatever. I was probably driving pretty slow since my body knows me better than I do and it tries to preserve itself from me.

Whatever. Suddenly some enormous yellow and white Bic disposable razor blades started bouncing up and down to the right of the highway. I'm talking 20 or 30 foot high razors, dancing together, perhaps singing.

I looked forward. I know about tired bike racers and hallucinations - I watched the RAAM stuff on TV.

The highway looked normal in front of me, albeit a bit darker, and I figured that my brain had cleared up. No dancing razor blades in front or to the left, just highway, cars, and a lot of green field stuff on the left. So I looked right again.

Dancing razor blades.

The kicker was I actually used these things on my legs sometimes so I knew about these blades. But no other blade I tried, including the really nice one that came with the college freshman "welcome pack" was dancing around. Just these yellow and white disposables.

I quickly repeated my look forward and left bit, looked right. The blades were still there. I started getting a bit worried.

Then, in the hazy image my eyes presented me, I saw cars at the feet of the blades. A few of them, all at parking meters. The gears started churning in my head, the car slowed even more, and I realized what I was seeing.

A drive-in movie screen.

And they were playing the BIC ad before the feature film started.

I felt relieved but very perturbed by my lack of reality perception. If it had been Smokey And The Bandit and I'd seen a car coming at me, well, who knows what I would have done. I shook my brother awake and told him I couldn't drive anymore. We pulled over somewhere and swapped seats.

I promptly passed out.

I woke up suddenly, instantly alert. I looked up and saw a jersey barrier coming straight at us at a rapid clip. I looked left and saw my brother standing on the brake and cranking the wheel to the right. Apparently he'd dozed off and almost slammed into the barriers herding the cars around one of those ubiquitous sections of highway under construction.

I asked if he wanted me to drive, and when he got the panicked look off his face, he agreed. I think this time we pulled off onto an exit ramp and swapped seats. He told me that he'd missed some highway turn and we were heading southeast to Washington DC, not northeast to home sweet home.


I took out a map and found the navigational boo boo. Instead of following I-80, at some point in Ohio he ended up bearing right onto I-76. I recalled that there was an unexpected "exit" to stay on I-80 heading west so the same probably held true for the eastbound side too.

I looked at where we were and noted, of course, that we'd be driving by Trexlertown. I wondered briefly if the track was open, then realized it was quite late on Saturday night and I had a time trial tomorrow. We did drive by the brewery on the highway near T-Town but that's all I saw of it.

I remember nothing of getting home, less of driving to the TT course (luckily I knew where it was). I do remember feeling unquestionably tired when getting ready to warm up, and I briefly fell asleep while leaning against the bike which was against the car.

Nevertheless, I expected to miraculously wake up once my heart started pounding. I headed to the start line, lethargic but somehow still optimistic. I'd done a 1:03 the prior year on this hilly course, but the guy that won beat me by 11 minutes. He passed me, his six minute man, with less than 6 miles to go, and then beating me to the line by an actual 5 minutes over the mainly uphill finishing bit. I was climbing in a 45T chainring sometimes so I really bogged down. My goal this year was to climb those hills in the big ring and, ideally, get a 1:00, but more realistically get a 1:01:30. Since I'd done a TT where I'd ridden at about 28 mph for about 7 miles, I felt a 24 mph hour TT was possible, and a 25 mph would be on the outerlimits of my ability.

I started off on my very tricked out bike - wheel cover in the back with a then-extreme 140 psi 17 mm tire, cow horns, aero bars, 24" front wheel shod with a matching 140 psi 17mm tire, radically fast position. In TTT drills with the UCONN Cycling Team I could easily maintain 31-32 mph on my pulls, but I had to recover after 30 to 45 seconds. I knew this bike was fast.

Of course, it helps if you stay on the road. A couple miles into the time trial, I sort of dozed off or something, my mind wandering a bit, and suddenly I felt this big jolt, followed by a lot of gravelly noises. I'd ridden right off the road and onto some gravel placed beside it. With the tiny tires I slowed quickly and had to unclip, waddle the bike to the road, and get back onto the pedals.

Luckily no one saw this embarrassment and I continued on. Problem with time trials is that you need to focus on maintaining a very high hurt level, so high that a car passing 15 feet away from you feels like you're suddenly drafting a Mack truck. But I couldn't do that, not in my state of mind. I tried to focus on holding a straight line, not riding off the road, not riding into the cars passing me, and not crashing into other racers (also passing me).

Instead of using the big ring up all the climbs, I popped it into the 45T right away, and then cursed myself for mounting a 21T in the back. I wove back and forth up the hills, finally crossing the line in some insanely slow time, a 1:20 or 1:25 or something terrible.

I kept riding to the car, the one that just made it to Chicago and back, and actually accidentally crashed the bike into the car - the Aero Gran Compes don't stop too well. A slow speed bump but a fitting end to such a dismal day.

I crawled into the car and fell asleep. When I woke up there were only a few cars parked on the road. Everyone had left.

Of course, since virtually no one saw me, everyone figured I had a flat or something, because, heck, even with a flat, someone could do the 25 miles in that time.

I learned a few things over those 72 hours spanning the Friday through the Sunday.

First, it's possible to drive to Chicago without stopping, even after a long day of work. You just have to know that Indiana somehow inserted itself between Ohio and Illinois. As a bonus though, Indiana is a short state, not like the longer Ohio and the unending (and speeding ticket happy) Pennsylvania. So it's only an hour or two of driving.

Second, if you're falling asleep before a race, you probably shouldn't race. It took me two races to figure this one out, and this was the first one. I had to give it one more shot before I realized the futility of the gesture.

Third, if you fall asleep during a race, you really ought to pull out. Best to do on a loop race like a criterium, not an out and back race like a time trial. In my case I should have simply turned around and ridden back to the car, but I'd insisted on seeing if my legs would come around and my brain would wake up.

Fourth, if you see gigantic dancing razor blades, check to see if you've somehow gotten a look at a drive-in movie screen. Cars with parking meter things at the foot of such giant dancing razor blades would be a good hint.

If there are no cars, you really, really need to get some sleep.

*Note* It is important to note that fatigue causes the most car accidents out there. I now know that if I'm tired, I simply cannot keep driving. Even a 5 or 10 minute nap will recharge me a bit, and pulling off at a rest stop or an exit (not the shoulder) and taking such a nap is well worth the lost time. My stupidity doesn't mean you need to verify that such stupidity can happen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tactics - Wheel Sucker

As a kid, for a long time, I was taught that "wheel sucking" was dishonorable. I should pull through as much as everyone else, share the workload, and see what happens.

The problem was that I was never really that good at steady state efforts. I could rarely sustain over 23 mph, even aided with now-illegal time trial equipment. I could go great for a short anaerobic burst, but ask me to meter out that energy over 10 or 15 minutes? Suffice it to say that other than an exceptional year or two I'd almost always get dropped if I pulled in a small group.

Eventually practicality won over honor. Sure it's honorable to pull through. But if you get dropped every time you do this, well, that's just plain stupid. So I stopped pulling through in breaks. It's hard though, breaking the stuff you grew up with, and so every now and then I'd think, "Well, maybe this time I can pull just a teensy weensy bit."


Off the back.

Last summer I watched the finishing sprint between two breakaway riders. The field had been out of contention long ago so as long as the two racers did not do any trackstands they would both win. The two disagreed at some level who ought to do how much work. One was clearly unwilling to work and the other got frustrated. The frustrated one swerved a bit to try and cut off the other rider. He repeated this a few times, each swerve harder than the next, the last couple right in front of the judges. You can imagine he got disqualified.

An "honorable" cyclist might question whether the wheel sucker should have taken a pull or two at the end. He won anyway, so maybe a less vigorous version of "not working" would have sufficed. It's hard to tell though, because with a lap to go, maybe that wheel sucker guy didn't feel too well.

Remember that this is bike racing. Your goal is to win the race, or, if you're thinking a bit bigger, your goal might be to gain support so you can win something bigger than just the race. Think Yellow Jersey allowing the rider with him to win the stage so this other rider will help Yellow Jersey chase things down in the upcoming days.

There are all sorts of reasons why a racer won't work in a break. If they're working for someone else on the team, they may have tagged along on the break simply to mark it. If his break companions drag him to the finish, well, his job will have changed to winning the race.

Is that wheel sucking?

In my book it isn't. The break riders knew he'd go for it and they made the choice to bring him to the line, fresh and relatively rested.

Is it honorable to sprint?

Again, in my book, it is. The break riders know that if they bring the guy sitting on all the time to the finish, he'll try and out jump them all. If they bring him to the line, it was their choice.

If you are stuck with one of these bad apples in a break, you have to decide what you're going to do - drag him to the line or let both of you get caught.

It might be that the apple is simply spoiled or not ripe or in some way not edible. In other words, the "bad apple" may literally be at the limit simply holding onto your wheel.

In an earlier stage of my cycling career, at the famous Bethel Spring Series (hehe), I launched customary suicidal first lap attacks. The I did the same thing each time - attacked at the start (to warm up my legs - I typically did a warmup measured in seconds, not minutes), got into a small break of much more ambitious racers (they wanted to win the race, not just warm up), pulled through once, and promptly got shelled. The second week I delayed my pull for a lap or two but when I finally did a short, steady pull, my body went over its limits and I came off shortly afterwards.

Nothing happens without consequences and unfortunately, I did not pay for my shelling, my loyal teammates did. They had to chase like mad after I got dropped and I can't recall if they were successful both times. I was disappointed in myself, they were tired, and no one was too pleased with the tactical scenario. The teammates who were close to me advised me that if I got into such a break again, I should simply refuse to pull. From a self preservation view, they couldn't afford to lead such hard chases too much more.

So, with their advice ringing in my ears, I did my customary first lap attack on that third week. A few riders, including one that was on incredible form, went with me. And, for the first time, I flat out refused to pull. A few guys got pretty vocal with me about not pulling, yelling obscenities or vulgar names as they rode by me. The strongest (and apparently most savy) racer in the break yelled at the yellers.

"If he pulls we'll drop him like we did for the last two weeks. If we drop him, we'll have 10 guys chasing us. If he stays here they'll block. Don't worry about it until 5 to go."

The others thought about it, grumbled, but relented. I was left alone at the back, behind four hard working guys. Mister Savy actually dropped back a couple times to see how I was doing, and although I was questioning my sanity for trying to stay in this break, I managed to stay on wheels, sometimes with a helpful little nudge from Mister Savy. He kept the pace noticeably steady on the hill and made sure I didn't get sawed off, accidentally or on purpose.

In this manner the break stayed away for the entire 30+ mile race.

The break roared down the road, cohesive until 5 to go. Then the attacks came rapid fire like a machine gun, blam-blam-blam, and the break disintegrated. I desperately hung on to the leading two racers - it would be too much to not pull for an hour and then promptly get dropped - and killed myself to hang on. Two guys, probably those with the worst sprints, had annihilated themselves trying to get away. Collectively blown, they dropped back to positions they would have taken had they waited for the sprint.

The other two, with me tagging along, met the bell together. And although I was part of the three man group that made it to the finish, I got third. I simply couldn't sprint against them. My legs were cooked and a small part of me didn't feel like sprinting. The stuff I heard as a kid percolated up and I didn't feel honorable sprinting too hard, no matter what I felt was tactically acceptable.

The savy racer had gambled on my team helping with shutting down any chasers. He balanced that out with my only threat, my sprint. He felt confident that a long break would dull my sprint, and he also felt confident he could sustain such an effort himself. He looked at his other break companions, figured out that they'd be strong enough to drive the break, and decided to go for it.

Mister Savy, the racer who protected me?

He won.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Story - Ti BB axle

One of the first things I ever learned about bicycles was that Campagnolo (aka Campy) was the end all for all components, Super Record (aka SR) was the end all for all Campy parts, and that the SR pedals and bottom brackets were the end all to all SR parts. This is because they had titanium axles.


At the time, titanium was used on Eddy Merckx's Hour Record bike, F-15s, space ships, the SR-71, super secret Soviet subs, and, well, the lightest pedal and bottom bracket axles out there.

There was one small problem with those axles.

They broke.

In fact, they broke at the most inopportune times. Laurent Fignon, in some race early in his career, was on some solo break (or perhaps a TT) when, pedaling hard over the top of a slight rise, his crank arm and part of the bottom bracket axle separated from the rest of the bike. He ended up on the ground, his director Cyril Guimard pleading with him to get up. This shot was captured in magnificent form in a photograph I can't find and by a photographer whose name I don't recall. After this happened both Fignon and Guimard swore off the unreliable titanium axles. To win a race you must first finish, and sitting on the ground with only the crankarm attached to your shoe doesn't help you finish.

"Wimps!" I thought. Victory requires sacrifice! A racer at that level must be willing to risk everything to win!

This was my introduction to titanium axles.

To be fair, the SR generation of titanium was not a strong alloy. Contrary to what some may think, titanium on its own is not incredibly strong. Only when alloyed with other metals does it gain the strength that gave it the miracle metal status in the bike industry. Pure titanium is most useful as a fuel to burn - the resultant pure white ash is used as white paint pigment, replacing the lead based pigment used until then.

So for a long time, the titanium equipped SR groups were exotically expensive and terribly unreliable. Retailers would repackage Campy SR groups as "SR Pro" groups, where the lightweight SR pedals and bottom brackets were replaced with similar looking but more reliable steel-axled Nuovo Record (NR) counterparts.

Back then weight was everything. Aero meant wearing your cap backwards. Everyone's obsession was with lightening the bike.

Since weight was a big deal, racers would sacrifice a bit of reliability to lose a few grams. In this power-measuring era it's apparent that such gram counting did not save any significant amount of energy, but the psychological effects must have been tremendous. Racers would trim cable housing down as much as possible, drill out all sorts of components (even head set cups!), and saw off the outer part of a NR pedal cage (made of aluminum). These Swiss cheese bikes looked really cool but their functionality was, at best, suspect.

I was no different from the drill-wielding pros from the 70s, albeit I was 10 years down the road. I drilled out and filed down shifters, a bunch of chainrings, and even went as far as filing down stress-raising ridges from the back of some of my crankarms.

Proper design, though, reduces weight much better than drilling out overweight bike components.

One of the things I did was to use Aerolite pedals. They were awkward off the bike, took forever to set up, had a one shot deal with your shoes since you had to drill out the sole for the exact cleat placement, but once set up they were a dream. They weighed about 168 grams for a pair (including cleats and hardware!) for the steel version, less than half that for the titanium version. The pedals are light enough that virtually every single "super light bike" built in the last few years used these pedals.

Drilled out of course.

Anyway, since the pedals were so light, I tended to use the steel ones as my budget didn't cover the price difference to the titanium ones ($70 versus $140 for a set).

A significant problem was that they were made in the US using standard measure fittings so the 5 mm allen wrench didn't fit - you had to use a 3/16 inch. So the shop would buy a couple sets of standard allen wrenches just for the Aerolite folks.

In addition, the pedal threads were actually standard threads, not metric. Although similar in size, the 9/16" threads would bind in the metric cranks. Tightening and loosening the pedals required a vice, a steady supply of 3/16" allen wrenches, and a lot of time and patience. Once done you'd be left with a pile of twisted 3/16" allen wrenches, a hot pedal (from friction unscrewing it), and a crankarm suited for only Aerolites from then on.

Another problem is that the pedal sometimes broke apart, the body sliding off the axle, leaving you with half the pedal in your shoe, the other half still on the bike, and the two halves far enough apart to cause all sorts of problems. You could tell when this happened because you'd look down at the pedal on the crank and it looked like it went on a serious diet, losing half its diameter.

Approaching the finish of one race, my team lined up in perfect formation, I accelerated to stay with their leadout when suddenly my foot slammed the ground, my thigh slammed on the top tube, and my rhythm went to pieces. After I picked myself up off the top tube, I looked at my foot. The pedal axle was still there so no spontaneous pedal disassembly. But there was a lot of blood on my ankle, blood that wasn't there a second ago. I tried to pedal but my foot plummeted to the road again.

I looked at my crank.

No pedal axle.

My pedal had come unscrewed and had fallen out of the crank.

Obviously I didn't do very well in that sprint. At least I learned that if my foot suddenly dropped onto the ground, the first thing I'd check was to see if my pedal was still connected to the crank.

When SRP started coming out with titanium bolts for replacing the steel ones in brakes, cranks, seatposts, stems, and other parts of the bike, I immediately thought of poor Fignon, sitting on the pavement, a crankarm strapped to his shoe, the rest of his bike on the road a few feet away. I let the "beta testers" buy and try the light bolts. SRP and other manufacturers were careful to point out that this titanium was a strong alloyed version of the primitive titanium from 10 years prior.

When the beta test riders returned from their rides, intact and breathing, I decided to try a few parts. The structural ones were titanium, like brake bolt replacement kits (replacing every bolt and nut on a caliper brake), crank arm bolts, stem bolts, seatpost bolts, etc. The best value pieces were the axles - big pieces, they were heavy in steel and seemed oddly light in titanium. The less loaded pieces were aluminum - chainring bolts, the stem binder bolt, a derailleur pivot bolt, maybe the water bottle bolts. All told a bolt kit costing half as much as a group might save you, on a good day, 100 grams.

But it was fun swapping out the parts and so we did it.

Some more adventurous companies came out with, you guessed it, titanium pedal and bottom bracket axles. Mind you, these were pedal and bottom bracket companies, not aftermarket tuners selling stuff aimed at the big companies' stuff.

One such company was Sampson, and although their foray into pedals was simply disastrous (unusable, hard to get in, too easy to get out, impossible to walk on), their cranks and bottom brackets gained some favor.

In fact, I couldn't help but buy a bottom bracket for my bike.

With aluminum cups and a titanium axle, this bottom bracket was as light as could be, and it cost just more than a pair of ti axles for my hubs. This was about the time I came up with my 45 gram increment method of calculating weight on a bike, and according to my excited calculations, the titanium bottom bracket was worth almost three 45 gram counts - in other words, about a third of a pound. I installed it carefully, rode it a bit, and it seemed okay.

At that time I had quite the noisy bike. The replaceable dropout always loosened up so the bike was always creaking. My bar and stem never liked each other so that creaked too. And some other miscellaneous parts creaked in sympathy. In this cacophony of creaks, I never noticed when a new creak popped up.

I was doing Gimbles, went long, and was looking to get a good workout. We'd gone over the initial steps (when the ride splits long and short) and somehow I ended up chasing down the guys attacking the group by the time we were down to this one light a mile or two after the downhill right turn (the biggie at the bottom of the short descent). Feeling good, I was scampering after everything that moved. I felt a good ride in my legs and I wanted to use my ride currency 100%.

We eased a bit before a right turn which brought us to the short climb unique to the "regular" long loop and I found myself at the front of the group. An ambulance, lights flashing, came flying at us from the other side. Like a good boy I eased, moved right, and surprisingly the whole group sort of followed. Once the ambulance passed I went to crank up the big gear again, anxious to get back up to speed.

My chain skipped and a rock or something bounced off my ankle at the same time, causing a sharp pain. The ankle pain made me think of a pedal axle unscrewing, but by then I had moved to SPD-Rs so it seemed wrong that the pedal would unscrew. I looked down to see if the pedal axle was missing from beneath my shoe, or, as I learned the hard way in that one sprint, if the pedal has come out of the crank.

Pedal axle under shoe?


Pedal axle attached to crank?


So why was my foot dragging on the ground?

Then, the woman behind me shrieked.

"Oh my God your chainring is broken!"

I looked down again. The reason why my foot was dragging on the ground but my pedal checks came back okay was that although my pedal was in once piece, as was the crank, the crankarm itself had done a "Fignon" - the whole right crankarm was dangling from my shoe, bouncing along the road.

I thought of correcting the woman's shrieking but technically inaccurate call (the chainring was not broken, not even the crank) but I figured since her shrieking got me to figure out what it was, the spirit of her shriek was accurate. So I let it go.

I pulled over, letting the chainring bounce along the road. I didn't know if lifting my foot would cause it to unclip from the pedal, and the last thing I wanted to do was to inadvertently fling a right crankarm into the Gimbles ride.

Talk about a way to get banned for life.

An ex-girlfriend, the only one I really stayed in touch with after the fact the fact, slowed and asked if I was okay. I hollered I was fine but I was a bit stranded because I couldn't ride. She turned around, examined my predicament, and concurred. Although I insisted she complete the ride and then get the car, she went back on the route instead to get her car.

I walked slowly to the little four way intersection we had just passed. I never paid attention to the stores there but now I hoped one would be a deli or convenience store. Then I remembered I had no money.

At the corner I found a warm piece of curb in the sun and sat down. My ankle had an angry blotch on it from smacking the big ring, and I'd ground the top of about four teeth on said ring down a bit. I could see the piece of bottom bracket axle sticking out from the crank, but when I touched it I cut myself. I left it alone.

I examined the sharp piece of axle. It was about as sharp as could be. The titanium inside appeared fresh for half the axle, but the other half looked dusty and old. I realized that when the axle finally gave way, it had already been cracked halfway through. The axle had a poorly designed profile with an enormous stress raiser between the thin bit that went into the crank and held the bearings and the thick middle bit that made the axle so stiff. Mechanical engineering dictates stress raisers fail first and my axle followed the rule to the letter.

I thought of the big efforts I had just made - pushing the big gears over the initial steps (a couple miles of step climbs), sprinting after that really strong rider, then attacking after a short pause. I realized how lucky I'd been - even the ambulance going by had helped save me because if I'd been sprinting out of the saddle out of the turn, the axle snapping could have thrown me off the bike.

Instead, I had been coasting along at about 18 mph, pushed down on the pedal once, and that was that.

I had a long time to think before the familiar green car pulled up and brought me out of my post-ride daze.

Wimp or not, I have never ridden a titanium bottom bracket since that day, and I even passed up on buying my Keos with titanium axles.

After all, to finish first, you must first finish.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Life - Passion for Cycling

A long time ago I sat on my bike next to a rectangular criterium course in Danbury, CT. The course had changed from the original unusual course with a backstretch chicane to a much more standard four corner one. The Juniors were racing, and like all Junior races, a couple talents were cranking the pain screws all the way down. Few could hang on and the rest of the field lay scattered around the course.

I watched as one kid time-trialed grimly, off the back, just like a lot of other guys in his race. Guys in front of him sat up and rolled off the course, but this kid, he kept going. I could relate to his effort - after all, as a Junior, I often found myself in the exact same position.

I cheered for him, clapped, and watched as he dug himself deeper into that "I've blown up" hole. I hoped he could at least finish the race, for his sake, but with the finish approaching, it seemed unlikely.

Finally, at some point, his race was over.

He pulled to the shoulder and off the course. Although he was obviously disappointed, it was equally apparent that this was not a deal breaker.

As an "experienced" rider in my mid-20s, I made an announcement to myself.

"This kid, he'll be racing in 10 years. He may not set the world on fire riding his bike but he'll be there. He has that passion for cycling, not like these other kids who are there simply to beat everyone else or whose parents want them to become the next Greg Lemond."

With that, life intruded.

At some point the kid grew up. I saw him every now and then. Each time, I recalled my private proclamation that one August afternoon. I'd grin to myself because he was still out there, plugging away, and I would keep warming up or racing or talking with bike friends or whatever.

Many years later, he moved into my area, eventually joining the same team. We'd go to races together, or we'd meet up and drive to Gimbles. After one such ride we wanted to go out to eat. Since I had taken a "rubbing alcohol wipe down", I felt presentable enough, at least as a grungy bike rider. Sean wanted to shower first so we went to his apartment to shower. While he got cleaned up I helped his (female) roommate work on a crossword puzzle. I forgot her name that day, but in the same way I figured I'd see that kid racing around for the next ten years, I also figured that this girl and I had some yet-to-be-determined interaction in the future.

He and I and another guy met up regularly to ride to Gimbles. We'd meet in Stamford, a 40 minute ride for me, then ride the hour or so to the Gimbles route. We'd go short on Gimbles (it's a little less than two hours), then, on the way back, cut out a bit early so we could start heading back. The two others stopped in Stamford and I would continue on back home. For me it made a six plus hour day and it made for a good weekend's work.

A year or so later a bunch of us starting meeting once a week for wings at a bar. The kid, now over 21, his female roommate, and I would meet friends in a bar. Cheap wings, a drink or two (or in my case, a soda), and we'd gab for a couple hours. At some point the female roommate and I started dating. One year, with the World Professional Road Race in nearby Canada, the three of us trekked up there to check it out.

Somewhere in there the female roommate moved out to her own place, and after a couple years, moved into a house - with me.

I normally refer to her as "the missus" since we got married in October.

Looking back at my future interaction hunch, I suppose it was pretty accurate. There isn't much more of a significant interaction then getting married. My gut instinct was definitely on target that particular day.

A week or two ago I was going through all the wheels in my place. I found a set of the Kid's wheels, Campy, FiR EA65s, 32 double butted spokes, alloy nipples. I'd built them in the mid to late 90s and the aluminum spoke nipples had started to fail a few years ago. He asked me to rebuild them, and though I accepted the wheels, I simply never got around to them. He had other wheels, bought even more, so rebuilding this beater set simply did not take priority.

When I ran across them I decided I better finish them up.

I called him up and told him I'd replace all the spoke nipples with more reliable brass ones - the wheels really did not need anything else. At the same time we ended up agreeing that he would buy my Eurus wheels from me. I'd deliver both sets of wheels on the upcoming weekend.

Well, with some unusual happenings in my life, I ended up with no time to build the wheels. Again. I sent him an email apologizing for not having the wheels ready - I'd bring them next week.

Saturday morning the missus and I were trying to sort out some stuff before we made the trip to the SW corner of Connecticut. We were sitting at the dining table and she asked about the wheels. I started explaining how I simply ran out of time, yada yada yada, and she told me that maybe I could do them "right now".

I thought about it and decided she was right. I cleared an area on the table, lay down a towel, plunked down the truing stand, and spend the next hour or so rebuilding the Kid's wheels. I also prepped the Eurus wheelset (removed the tires and cassette). Both sets done, we loaded up the car and set off on our way.

A couple hours later, we pulled up to the Kid's driveway. Obviously he's no longer a kid - he's married and they own their own place. Ironically their house is a couple miles away from that criterium course in Danbury. I even drove through their neighborhood to get to the race.

I walked up the driveway, turned the corner, and there he was, raking leaves. I held out my arms, a wheelset dangling from each hand.

"Hey, I have your wheels."

He broke out into a grin. He looked at the rake in his hand, wondering how he could get rid of it so he could take the wheels.

"Where do you want the wheels?", I asked.

He put the rake down.

"Let me take them", he told me, and I handed him the wheels.

A grin spread across his face as he looked from one wheelset to the other. The missus and I had matching grins. Joy is happily contagious.

After a bit he suddenly looked up, almost as if he'd forgotten we were there. "Come on in, say hi to the missus." He pointed the way with a hand holding a wheelset.

We spent a while talking, drinking coffee, and catching up. We both talked enthusiastically about our plans for the upcoming season. We both want to get back on form, and we're both joining new teams to help motivate ourselves.

At some point I had to pause and smile to myself. My hunch all those years ago had been right. The Kid still has the passion for cycling.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How To - Presta Valve Locknuts

You know those presta valve locknuts? The ones that you screw on to hold your presta valves in place?

Don't put them on.

I don't use them for a functional reason - when your tire loses a bit of air, you aren't being methodical about pumping up your tires, or you do some insane maneuvering which moves the tire around the rim, the locknut will prevent the valve from moving.

If it moves, and you noticed your previously 90 degree valve stem is now at 45 degrees, it's like your smoke detector going off. It may not indicate fire but it does indicate something is wrong. This gives you the chance to deflate the tire/tube, slide it back around so the valve is at 90 deg to the rim again, and reinflate. And think about what caused the tire to move around the rim.

If you use a locknut the valve will not move. If it doesn't move but your tire did migrate around the rim a bit, then your tube is under extreme duress. More importantly you can't tell because your valve is happily pointed up at 90 deg to the rim - it's like the smoke detector hanging on the ceiling with no battery inside. You find out only when the valve rips off the tube, goes shooting off, and you have a massive and sudden air pressure loss. Not good, esp if it's a front tire (typically front tire moves when you brake hard and have low pressure or a low tension tire). A slow flat will give you time to react. A fast flat, virtually no time.

If I need help in seating a pump, I'll put the locknut on the valve, start pumping, and when the tube has enough air in it so I can re-engage the pump without it, I'll remove the locknut and top off the pressure.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nothing Special

I may not be a fan of Michael Schumacher but I wish this taxi driver had one of those "dashboard cams" for this little drive.

Of course if there had been one, he might have lost his license for a bit. Or, if he was in Finland, he might have paid a whopper of a fine based on his income from prior years.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Racing - CCC

A couple years ago, at the Bethel Spring Series, I was, as usual, touching up the course while the first races went on. The old joke is that I clear my sprint lanes extra carefully so that I can jump and sprint where I want to on the course.

The funny part of the joke is that it's true.

So I spent a lot of time fixing up the edges of the last 200 meters of the course. It meanders to the right and then the left so the field typically moves from one side to another in the sprint. Although it's not ideal it's at least on an uphill and slows even the fastest sprinters substantially. This met one of the race's initial goals - the slowest possible finish in order to make the race safer as well as ease the job of picking places.

Since the races go off pretty much in reverse experience order, the newest additions to the racing world, the Category 5s, go first. With small field limits (to keep things safe) we actually hold two races each week. Then the 4s go, and we proceed through the ranks until the peak of the day, the Pro-1-2-3 race.

I was using our big leaf blower to push the little pebbles and such ("marbles") off the outer perimeter of the finish - if I needed to move over a lot, I didn't want to find my tires skating over this stuff.

Every lap I'd stop and watch the race go by, in this case the Cat 4s.

In particular I noted a tall, lanky rider on a new Specialized carbon fiber bike. The racer had asked me some innocuous questions and said that he'd actually come to the race the prior year, watched it, and thought bike racing was the coolest thing ever. He returned with a bike and the rest, as they say, was history.

This year he was a Cat 4. He'd joined a new team, Connecticut Coast Cycle (CCC), had that spiffy Specialized, and looked very strong out there. He'd attack constantly, and although he never got away, he placed well in the uphill sprint.

He reminded me of an untamed Cat 5 from a few years prior - he also attacked relentlessly, used all his reserves, and still managed to place well. One race he spent 10 laps solo off the front, got caught shortly before the finish, and still placed (I think) second. As the namesake to my first favorite author Alistair McLean, I felt obligated to direct his obvious strength in a little more focused way. I approached him and, after complimenting him on his strength, suggested that maybe he should sit in a little more, that when he felt that irresistible urge to attack that he should instead picture himself using all the saved strength in the final sprint, annihilating everyone around him.

He won the next race in a field sprint.

My "coaching" score with new riders one for one, I approached this lanky CCC rider. He too seemed very fit, very strong, and with a bit of focus, that energy, I felt, would net him a win.

I learned a long time ago that a good way to coach or advise is by using the "hamburger" method. No, you do not ply your people with McDonalds and hope for the best. The hamburger refers to your data dissemination approach. First you compliment the advisee on something they've already done or are doing (the "bun"). Then you point out what they need to do, what they did wrong, or whatever else is the actual message (the "patty"). Then you finish with either an illustration of the potential improvements or send a compliment or two their way (the other "bun").

The "buns" have to be genuine - you can't tell a racer who got dropped at the first turn that he "looked strong". Instead, you might point out that "he did a really good job clipping in right away". If the bun is not genuine, the racer will not listen to you.

With this in mind, I found the lanky CCC guy. I don't recall the exact conversation but it went something like this.

"Hey, how'd you do out there?"

(Like I didn't know - I'm the promoter and I post the results.)

"I got second (or third or whatever) again. I just can't win and it's frustrating."
"Well, you look really, really strong out there - to solo for those five (or whatever) laps midrace takes a lot of power. I was really impressed."

(That, in case you didn't catch it, was the top bun.)

"Yeah well I wanted to break the field apart but it didn't work."
"You know, I was watching you race out there. You were just off the win but you were up there even after that huge effort. Now I've seen a bazillion races out here and it's really unusual that someone breaks away in the 4s. Have you thought of sitting in, saving your reserves for the finish, and going for it then?"

(The meat of my advice.)

The rider looked down, in a bit of thought.
"I don't know, it seems risky to just wait for the sprint. I feel better if I could break away."
"Well, you sprinted pretty well this week even after your big effort."
"But it's so hard in the middle of the race to just sit there - everyone's going easy and I just want to go!"
"When that happens just think of all the energy you're saving and hold yourself back. Think about womping them all in the sprint."
"I'll have to think about this."
"You know, you're probably one of the strongest riders out there. You just need to harness your power and you'll do well, I'm sure of it."

(That's the bottom patty.)

He won the next weekend.

I found a picture of the win and sent him a link - it ended up on his computer as his desktop for a while. I smiled when he told me that - my most significant win ended up on my computer as my desktop for a long time too.

The next year he was in my race, and he'd recruited a bunch of guys to join him. My season goals, as usual, were to win the Bethel Spring Series and the Nutmeg State Games. My goals and their reality collided on the first two weekends when they walked away with the lanky rider in the lead and me with nothing to show after two miserable (for me) races.

Their teamwork, cooperation, and even help running the race (they were marshaling as well) impressed me. With my overall chances shot (miss out on points on one week and you have a chance - two weeks and you have no chance), I decided to try and help them out.

I talked to them about setting up the field for a sprint at that course. I should know since I got probably 2/3 of my (small number of) race wins there. I talked to them about wind, gearing, efforts, and what it really means to do a leadout.

They did fine but I think someone took the lead from them that next week.

Now I decided to actually ride for them. During the race I'd let gaps go if they had a few guys in front of me. I'd force others to chase, do more work, all in a very subtle way. In fact, I was so subtle that sometimes their riders didn't know I was actually doing stuff and they'd end up closing the gaps I left. I guess I'll have to explain more about faking it and stuff. Unfortunately I could never contribute that much. In one race a huge group (including a bunch of the CCC guys) got away. In the last lap I decided to make an effort - and one of the CCC guys, when he saw me on his wheel, tried to lead me out. I was so blown that I couldn't follow. And the next week I got distracted by some stuff that happened on the last lap and never actually rode for them in the finale.

I decided to try and remedy that the last week of the Series. Mother Nature had her say though - that last week was marked by the worst rain storm in a hundred years. The storm closed I95, a lot of local streets, and the rain came down in sheets for the races. Although I couldn't do very much, I was one more guy in the small miserable field that didn't chase things down. One of their riders went, no one chased, and he won both the race and the Series. The lanky guy finished up there in overall but he was happy the team won, an unusual thing for a strong rider to be so generous like that.

I rarely raced afterwards but followed their progress through the New England scene. They seemed very strong, got a lot of good placings, and then their intense winter caught up with them. After the tall lanky guy did really well at Fitchburg, they seemed to fall off their incredible collective form. Burnt out or injured, they dropped from sight.

In the meantime, I started to see some changes in the future of my team. My main sponsor, the one emblazoned across my chest and back, is my employer. I noticed a "shift in the winds" a few months ago and started preparing for the worst. One thing I did was to consider actually making money off the Bethel Spring Series, and so I've been preparing to make it legal for me to draw money from that account. I started exploring other career choices, with the intent of moving to one if I found one that suited me.

I also decided that if things went south at work, I wouldn't race for Carpe Diem Racing. I love the name so I'd keep it (like a domain name squatter) and let whoever wanted to use it as their team name. For the actual members, since there were only two or three active racers on the team, I felt it would be okay to stop racing for the team.

And so I did.

I contacted the lanky guy and asked if they'd be willing to take me on as one of their Cat 3 racers. He was happy to take me on and announced the newest addition to the rest of the team. I got a warm welcome and immediately felt like I was part of the family. I sent out an email to my old team saying I'd be racing for another team, CCC. One spoke to me privately and said that with his recent move to a different area, he'd also be riding for a different team. Carpe Diem Racing, it seems, will be going into a bit of hibernation for a while. There is still one or two guys out there so you may see it out there, but for now, it'll be unlikely.

Appropriately, a week later, I was out of a job.

I feel fortunate actually. I was looking to leave the IT world, or at least the 24 hour IT Support world. I can pursue my other goals full time now. Even my "cycle-therapy" allotted time will go up. I trained 1100 miles between April and October in 2007. I hope to do that in a few weeks now.

As the missus put it, "You're going to be so strong next year."

Let it be, let it be.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Racing - Team Comp

Recently I came across some comments on the forums concerning what team a racer should join. The racer's original team had a good camaraderie, were friendly, but didn't get as many "benefits" as the other team. The latter got some gear - discounted kits, some entries, and some other non-specified or forgotten benefits. The kicker?

The racer was a Cat 5.

Apparently his biggest concern (and, to be completely honest, it used to be one of mine) was the cost of a team kit. His original team charged "full price" for a kit, the new team "discounted" it. When I made $5.75 an hour (before taxes and stuff), to pay $40 for a team jersey seemed astonishingly expensive. I'd say most riders are not in the same situation, save the high school and perhaps some college students. Those with virtually any sort of full time job should be able to sacrifice one night out for a kit. Figure if you save yourself 8 or 10 pricey beers you'll have a jersey, maybe a couple cases of the cheap stuff. Or a few pizzas.

Now, one of the things that I think escaped the questioning racer's learning curve is what a jersey actually costs. For example, could he define what constitutes full price for a jersey or bib short?

For that matter, can you?

One unspecified company will sell you a jersey with unlimited colors for $45 plus shipping, about $50 total. Verge Sports, for a 3 color, will run a bit more - $68 for a small order, with extra for some other stuff, usually they give you a break, so call it $68 even with the extras. Not sure about shipping. Even if the team ordered the same looking gear from the two different companies and sold it at "cost", the "price" would be different to the end user.

The difference? My Unspecified stuff I bought in the last two years is wrecked. Granted, this quality level is fine for a team that changes sponsors like you (should) change underwear. You get tons of colors, gear that will work for a season, and along with low minimums, you can outfit a pretty smart looking team.

On the other hand, my Verge stuff from 5 years ago is fine - in fact I wear the Verge stuff regularly since my "other" brand of bibs ripped at some bib seams, my SS jerseys ripped at seams, and my knickers bib area is also ripping. The only thing that hasn't ripped is the jacket. And before you crack the fat jokes, they're the same size as the Verge stuff. But believe me, when I first put the stuff on and it disintegrated on me, I thought "wtf I didn't gain that much weight".

So, let's pretend you're in the same position as that anonymous Cat 5 at the beginning of the post. For argument's sake, we'll say you're either a Cat 5 or 4, maybe even a 3. You're considering jumping ship for a team with better "benefits".

Have you considered helping out your current team? Help with the team clothing order or promote a race or something? Figure out why the team needs to charge "full price" for their kit. See what goes into trying to organize a team, handle various racer's requests for reimbursement or whatnot. Or worse, go after a fellow racer for not paying for the $500 in team gear they picked up but haven't paid for. It's amazing what slackers some of those really nice riders end up being.

Until you've done all that, I'd stick with whatever friendly team you seem to have found. Join a team for the racers, not for the shwag. You want schwag? Ask for stuff from the team you can't really ever get, like, say, a pass through the shop to Interbike. And bring a big backpack for schwag in Sept, and cash for all the race DVDs you could ever want (and socks and whoever else sells stuff at the show without checking if you have an account).

But from the team? I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Personally I don't think even Cat 2s should be comp'ed in an arbitrary fashion. I think a racer should be comp'ed only if they can generate as much or more revenue to the comping agent. In other words, if a racer gets $1000 in goods from a sponsor, it's because the racer can generate the team $1000 in net profit, either from tv or newspaper appearances (they have a definitive value per second or per column inch), in additional sales (need $2-3k of sales to cover $1k in clothing), or in bringing in additional
customers to the sponsor (equal to spending $1000 for direct mail coupons or an ad in a local paper). Can the racer get 100,000 eyeballs a day on the sponsor's name? Well, then they could justify asking for $1000. If not, then not.

And if they flip off a motorist or run a light... well, what's negative publicity cost?

"Yeah, I don't know who that jerkball is on the bike but apparently he's sponsored by So-and-So - I'm going to call them up and give them a piece of my mind."

If this attitude sounds pro it's because it is. If you don't generate your sponsors money, don't ask for any. Gear, equipment, it costs a bit less than retail (say 40% below the retail value, maybe 60-80% if they get it at employee/team price), but it still costs the sponsors money.

I joke that my kit cost me about $4000 because that's what I shelled out to buy it all - my teammates paid me for whatever they wanted, and since I ordered extra, I'm probably sitting on $2k worth of team clothing. The good thing is that I have a few extra jerseys which don't have holes in them.

Um, hey, you want to buy a kit?

If you make your sponsor money, help run the team, or you put a lot of sweat equity into the team and they still don't comp you, then you go elsewhere. Until then, if all you contribute to the team is to show up at the annual meeting and perhaps race at the team's race (they do hold a race, don't they?), then, honestly, should you really expect them to be so generous to you? Think about that the next time you go for a ride and the guy who runs the team can't make it "because he's busy".