Thursday, September 11, 2008

Racing - New England Velodrome Racing

Okay, so the Riggio works.

Getting to the track Wednesday night, though, was an arduous journey. I'm not talking the three hour drive with tons of traffic, delaying my arrival until the races almost started ("We'll wait 10 minutes because some folks are running late"). It was the process of simply having the bike before I could leave.

I had mentioned that the cranks had to be replaced due to the frozen-in Aerolite pedal. I wanted 165 mm long cranks, would settle for 170s, but didn't want longer ones. I also had to have them now. Tuesday night, while trying to complete my bike, I realized the beautiful Superbe Pro cranks I have are 144 BCD. That means the bolt circle for the chainrings is 144 mm in diameter.

It's an old standard.

Nowadays 135 mm is sort of hard to get (Campy), 130 mm and 110 mm are easy to get (Shimano/Suntour/SRAM/etc and Compact for everyone).

My 50t chainring is a 130 mm. I have no 170 or shorter Shimano/SRAM/etc cranks. Well, the old Superbes (Suntour) but not anything with a 130 mm BCD.

This made me really grumpy.

I recalled the local shop had a few cranksets on sale. I resigned myself to buying one of them, along with a matching bottom bracket. Another couple hundred dollars down the drain, and on equipment I really didn't want (OEM FSA, Shimano 105). I mean, yeah, they work, but if I was upgrading my bike, I'd probably buy something else.

I'd already spent a ton of money (relative to my new entry level job) and I realized that I'd fallen into the "upgrade the bike piece by piece" trap. I grumpily told the missus I should have just bought another bike.

I recently learned that this part of town has a bazillion mosquitoes in it, due to a nearby river or something. It's such that I get bitten just getting to the car. So other than researching non-toxic ways of getting rid of mosquitoes in front of the garage (a huge jet fan with 30-40 mph wind would do the trick, but I don't know if the neighbors would appreciate that everytime I ran out to the car), the only effective thing I can do is to use Cutter insect repellant. So I do.

And I did, to pack the car. No quick releases (it's a track bike, and the rules say they have to have bolt on wheels), have to unpack the other bike, have to pack the gear bag, all the parts I may need (I found a 110 mm 50T chainring, need tape for the bars, some other stuff), bring computer (nav system), blah blah blah.

I drove to the local shop and asked the guys there (Hans and Craig) questions in descending order of importance.

First, did they have a 15mm socket that would remove a Campy bolt from a crankarm.

Hans pulled out a socket.

Second, did they have a 170 mm or similar crankset and a bottom bracket to match.

All their display cranks were 175s so none for me. I started to melt a little inside.

No track tonight?

Then Hans said, "Oh, we have some take offs here."

Shimano 105 triple.

Beggars can't be choosers. "Do you guys have a bottom bracket?"

They did.

I went back to the car and pulled out my bike.

Hans fitted a clamp on one of the stands so I could use it, but I ended up working on the floor of the shop anyway.

Ends up I didn't need the bottom bracket because the cranks fit on the one already in my bike. I won't describe the BB except to say that it's not supposed to work with the 105 crank.

I pulled the bag of single chainring bolts I'd just bought from them. Looked at the bag carefully. Crap. I'd grabbed the bag of stainless steel gutter screws, not the chainring bolts. Hans pointed me at their chainring bolt stash. I got a replacement.

I put on my old SPD-R pedals, tightened the wheels a bit, and dropped the bike off the stand. Hans and Craig looked at my 25 minute wonder. In particular they examined the steep drop stem (it slopes down) along with the super deep drop 3ttt track bars I'd put on since I took the pictures of the bike.

"Is that rideable?", Hans asked, in all seriousness, not a hint of sarcasm, a big dollop of geunine concern.

I took another look at my bike.

It really looked sort of impossible.

"It better be because I'm racing it tonight.", I replied, sounding more confident than I felt.

I put some tape on the bars (so poorly it's embarrasing), jumped on the bike, and almost smashed into the counter. I did this one foot hop-skitter thing to stop myself - one foot on the pedal, which happens to be pushing the bike forward, and one foot on the ground, trying to support my weight (so I don't pedal forward with the other foot), hopping on that foot because my bike is going forward. At some point I hopped high enough that I could get the pedal foot off the bike, and I tippy toe-straddled the still-moving bike.

Right. Fixed gear. No brakes. 50x15.

I more cautiously rolled out to the parking lot. The front wheel pinged (I bought it built and didn't look at it at all). Nothing was loose or rattling or anything.

Done. Time to go.

I said my goodbyes, made sure I finished the chicken Craig offered me when I first walked in, packed the bike, and took off. I planned on being at the track at 4:30 PM, plenty of time to get used to the fixed gear before the 6:15 "Beginner's session". I haven't ridden the thing outside since, well, that afternoon, but at speed? 1992 or so.

At 5:50 PM I rolled into the lot. I had no idea how this track worked but it's not T-Town. I ran down a gravel path to ask the guys where to park. I also couldn't find my wallet so I couldn't register that second. The guy said to park past the announcing booth, i.e. I should drive down the gravel path.


I found my wallet (buried in the passenger seat), drove down the gravel path, stopped. The guy Aaron looked at my car and asked me if I wanted to race or watch.


"You have a bike in that car?", he asked, motioning at the hatch.

I had my blue car and it looks like it can't carry any more than a wheelset.



I registered ($15) and went and parked my car. I got out and realized I'd never fixed my floor pump which had blown its hose out.

As I fixed it I heard the Announcer say that there were to be flying 200s (flying 200 meter time trials) to determine seed position, and that, like I mentioned before, they'll start in 10 minutes because of some, ahem, riders were running late. I looked around - I was the only one still in the parking lot.

And I wasn't even changed.

But then again, it's like Bethel, right? And it's track. No warm up needed. Right?

Getting to the portapottie on the track bike was an adventure. No brakes, and when you try and coast, the bike acts like an ornery horse and tries to throw you over the bars. I told myself not to coast anymore.

I stopped at the portapottie by jumping off the bike while it rolled, but my foot was still in it, so although I didn't fall, it was a close thing. Think the shop hop skip but without being able to disconnect the pedal foot. I almost slammed the bike into the portapottie by accident trying to stop. I looked around to make sure no one saw my shenanigans. I saw Aaron about 30 feet away looking at me a bit peculiar-like, like, "Oh man I just let that guy register to race here."

I got a few scary warm up laps in before they had us line up. Well, warm up if you consider going 40 rpm for about 1500 meters a warm up. So far so good, I hadn't crashed into anyone, I remembered that if you go slow you stay right (up the banking), fast is lower, try to pass on the left, and if you need to stop you, um... almost crash into the fence on the backstretch, grab it, and hang on for dear life (?). Well, that does work too, but back pressure on the pedals works too.

I tried to tighten the straps on my shoe and the bike reminded me not to coast by almost tossing me over the bars again.

Don't coast!

We rolled around again, folks doing flying 200s. In the Olympics and such they do 10 second times. At Nationals it's 12+ seconds, which I always though, "Jeez, they go so slow!". The record at the track is a touch over 13 seconds. The first few guys did 15s, a few did 14s, and then a disk wheel with tall front wheel dude did a 13.7 (or something, but it was in the 13s - for sake of this post we'll call it a 13.7). Wow.

The flying 200 is an unusual time trial. You can start off as fast as you like, but the idea is to cover 200 meters as fast as possible. Since you can't use a leadout, there are no cars or trucks to draft, and the acceleration side (main stretch) was a headwind, I didn't get going too fast.

As I got close to the cone marking the start I drilled it though, out of the saddle, sprinting the little gear for all I was worth.

I went flying into the bend and, well, almost crashed.

The bike started feeling really skittery, the front wheel felt like it was skating on concrete, and I swung up a good 15 feet up the track.

This scrubbed off enough speed that I didn't end up in the parking lot over the side of the bank, so I drilled it again.

I couldn't hear my time but it had to be miserable. I was halfway up the track, trying to slow down, in the middle of my 200. I hope I beat 17 seconds.

There's always next week, right?

Next up. Scratch race. I know these! It's like a crit but it's on a track. First person across wins. Period.

I started at the back, not wanting to take anyone out. My goal was to get closer than 5 feet to the next rider (fore-aft) and closer than 3 feet to the side - the fixed gear freaks me out enough that my "comfort zone" is that big.

I focused on that for a few laps, trying to move up to the riders in the field. There were maybe 12 men and 4 women, all seeming to be much more competent than me. They had no problem getting closer than 5 feet, and they were almost rubbing shoulders sometimes.

I, of course, tried to coast twice, and the ornery bike reminded me never to coast. No yelling from anyone around me, but then I think I was at the back so no one to yell at me anyway.

With three to go I started to move up. Two to go I was about fourth. One to go we were going pretty hard. Now let me remind you that on a track a lap goes by a LOT quicker. It's 318 meters, this one (there's no real standard for random US tracks), and, as I learned later, you jump at about 350 meters to go.

Yes, you jump before the bell.

So a few guys are going pretty hard and I think, well, they all want the inside, but that's fine because I just illustrated to myself that I'm happier half way up the (shallow) banking. So I went up the track a bunch, had lots of comfort space, and sprinted past everyone in the last bend.

Hey, I won!

Everyone looked at the new guy again, his mish mash bike. Guys watching gave kudos, which was nice.

I was learning this track stuff quickly.

I also learned why I never used the aluminum seat post bolt - my seat pointed down at about 45 degrees. I yanked on the nose of the saddle and leveled it out.

All the other riders were gone suddenly, only a few left circling. I learned later they get water and stuff because you can't drink while you race and the racing goes on for a while. I, of course, didn't know this.

We did the sprints next. You get matched up based on your 200 time, winners advance. The losers sprint amongst themselves, so you end up with two parallel tiers advancing towards the bottom half or the top half.

I watched some pairs and triplets match up and then it was me and another guy.

My first opponent was pretty entertaining. He explained to me how the sprint line works. It defines a 3 foot wide lane at the bottom of the track, and if there is someone there, you can't pass him on the left (inside) of the track. I told him the sprint line is useless for me because I can't hold a line at the bottom. He laughed and said that you have to really dig your shoulder down, weight the bars, and lean.

I contemplated this, looking down as I did so. He promptly jumped away from me.

I jumped after him, got his wheel, and in the last bend went around the outside (he was in the sprint lane). He swore as I passed him so that was a good sign.

I watched a few more sprints, yanked up on the nose of the saddle some, and rolled around the track, my mouth totally parched.

Hey, I have Gatorade in the car.

I went back to the car (the parking lot is slightly downhill, nightmare for me), almost crashed into it, hop-skittered to a stop, got some Gatorade, then rode back to the track.

I was up shortly, against some guy I didn't know. The announcer pointed him out. Oh. Mister 13.7.

He waited off my right rear quarter on our first lap (of two), and when I got bored of looking over my shoulder, he immediately disappeared from view. I looked to my right and verified, yep, he's gone.

I looked left and he was sprinting past me.

I have to learn more about tactics in the match sprint.

I sprinted after him, caught him after a pretty big effort, recovered on the back stretch, and went flying around him on the last bend.

Jeez. I just beat Mister 13.7.

I only had one match left. This meant it was for the overall win - fighting for first and second. My opponent had watched me dispatch Mister 13.7 but he saw that I'm easily snookered. So he did the same move and snookered me. But he jumped a lot harder and I couldn't bridge on the main stretch as the bell rang. I sat up.

After conceding defeat and soft pedaling around, other guys told me I could have beaten him. I wasn't really sure of that until a later sprint to determine some other placing. I watched someone sprint on the wrong lap and keep going a second lap and beat the other guy. I decided I wouldn't sit up anymore.

The last race was a Miss and Out - one rolling lap, three "shuffle the pack" laps, and then for the next whatever laps, the last racer would get pulled each lap. When we started out I was actually cold. I guess it's cooler in New Hampshire - next time I'll wear a long sleeve jersey. At any rate, after the first four non-pulling laps, Mister 13.7 went to the front and started hammering.

Man, this was going to hurt.

We were flying along in single file, and I sat about 5th, about a foot off the next wheel.

Hey! I was drafting!

Anyway, at some point he pulled off, and then yelled "Half lap pulls".

Wait, I thought this was a Miss and Out, not some paceline thing. What's this paceline tactic? I dared look over my shoulder to see if everyone else was doing the same thing. I mean, if we pace line, the guy at the back gets chopped.

So why the pace line?

The glance back told me why - there were no other riders on my wheel - we'd dropped everyone, and Mister 13.7 was trying to rally the group so we'd be assured the top 5.

Okay, count me in.

After some interminable number of laps (at least a billion laps to my parched mouth) I came off the back of the group. Fifth for me since I could soft pedal for a couple laps to stay in front of the two guys behind me (who got pulled on each lap respectively). My seat was pointed to my front hub - I really have to get a better bolt for my post.

It was getting pretty dark, but that was it for the racing so it was all good.

Two guys came over from Cambridge Bicycles, gave me a cap and a bottle. Hey wow, I won something. Ends up Tony, who runs the velodrome, worked ToPA too, and although he looked familiar, I couldn't place which car he drove (I classified caravan people based on their vehicle). Another guy, the well known Dick Ring, asked me about my racing experience after telling me I had a good jump (hehe).

Mister 13.7 asked me a few questions. He told me he was surprised at my 200 meter time considering how high I went up the track on the last bend. I asked him what I'd done - and he replied a 14.20.


Hm. If I kept the bike lower on the track... they don't call it a flying 210 meter, it's a flying 200 meter, and if you ride further than that you don't get any bonus points. If I could get into the 13s...

He also asked me how old I was to have ridden the track in 1992 (that came up earlier in the racing somehow). He registered some surprise when I told him I'd be 41 in thirteen days, and for good measure I pointed out I'd been racing 9 years before 1992.

"Oh, I thought you were, um, oh, never mind."

Ha ha. He must be in college or thereabouts.

After some very short post-race chatting (multitudes of mosquitoes took care of any lingering conversations) I left the venue, bike packed back in the trunk, my warm up pants on over my short.

I cranked the Paul Oakenfeld until the sound bathed me, the bass causing the headlights in the rear view mirror to distort rhythmically, two lights turning into four connected by some elastic looking light. My navigation laptop sat next to me, illuminating the cockpit. I couldn't help but spontaneously smile every now and then as I made the just-under three hour trek home. A successful night, by all means. No crashing, able to draft, and able to utilize my jump. Next week I'll have more Gatorade, have a seat that won't move, and hopefully I'll be better at sprinting around the bends.

Thanks to Hans and Craig at Granby Bikes for making this all possible.


Anonymous said...

Wow - what a story! Sounds like you had quite a day/night. And great results too! You've certainly found a good substitute for the Tuesday night crits - at least you're still racing. I, alas, have been eating too many candy bars lately instead of riding . . .

Giles said...

Oh, I know Tony. Pretty sure he's a NorEast member--he was at our season kick-off back in April or whatever. I accidentally stole his raffle tickets then failed to claim the prize because I forgot the numbers.

He's a good guy.

Anyway I guess NEV is talking about putting in a real indoor track, like in Europe. They need funding though.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Aki. My name is Brian and I live in Hokkaido, Japan. Been racing here for 16 years, the past 4 years on the local Keirin track.
That New England velodrome sounds pretty slow - I guess the banking must be rather shallow??
Thanks for such an entertaining post, and Congratulations!
Looking forward to reading more!

mattio said...

Nice! Glad you made it out there. It sounds like you held your own pretty solidly out there, even if you felt like you didn't know what was going on. Spectating and participating in a handful of omniums will go a long way toward getting a feel for the dynamics of those races, how and why they unfold the way they do. With your racing experience I imagine you'll pick it up fast.

You know, I was reading some of your old entries the other day, including the one about the importance of lots of base miles - you wrote how much they improve one's comfort, efficiency, and handling on the bike. Track bikes work the same way (not surprisingly!). A lot of the racers I know, though they don't exclusively ride fixed, ride fixed a lot. I ride my road bike a lot but rode fixed exclusively for almost three years - the forward inertia of the pedals coming back around starts to be crucial to feeling in control (for quite a while I felt like every time I coasted on my road bike I was going to fall over), and that reassuring stability gives the confidence to get closer to other rides, to predict and feel how the bike will react to the surface, and to responding to abnormalities - cracks, bumps, touching other riders... Spending those hours on the bike might be something to consider if you plan to spend more time racing on the track next season. Clamp-on front and rear brakes are available for some added security for getting some miles in on the roads.

To Brian above - the NEV is shallow, I believe it used to be a go-kart track. Kissena, in NYC, is only 17 degrees, but there are short and steep tracks scattered around North America. It seems, though, that a lot of keirin tracks are also on the large, shallow side, no?

And what's this I hear about a keirin racer dying yesterday? I can't find any english-language coverage. It sounds awful.

Aki said...

Yes, the NEV is pretty shallow, nothing like T-Town where I put my hand on the track to walk up the banking (unnecessarily it ends up, but it felt necessary when I did it). The banking on the turns is about as steep as T-Town on the straights. There's also a hidden jog in the first turn where the track suddenly moves out a bit and then moves back in. Either that or I always make the same error there.

Re: base miles, now I'm thinking doing lots of fixed gear hours. I definitely want to experiment with the bike on the trainer, make changes in position etc.

I think my racing experience is important because I know how to go hard, I know how to sort of sprint, and my only challenge is to be able to control the bike while making efforts. Surge speed is really important, so is the jump. Because there are no gears I can't just jump willy nilly because doing a jump is really making a commitment. I definitely missed being able to shift in a sprint, that's for sure, but I think this track stuff will help my racing in general.

I hope to take pictures and maybe have the helmet cam going next week. NEV is extremely informal so be forewarned. Kind of like Tues nights but on a track.

Mike Arena said...

Congratulations! Nice going. I've met and raced with a bunch of those Cambridge Bicycle guys and was interested to see how you'd tear things up with your famed sprint after I'd heard you be going up there. Well done!

The best advice I've heard for the turns on a track is to "play the violin". Put your right ear to your right shoulder, and everything else will jsut slide into place.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Nice going Aki!

I've been reading up on your track related posts for a while and it sounds like a blast!

Now you and another one of my friends have been racing track and seem to really enjoy it.

I might have just have to build up a fixie over the winter. ;)


Aki said...

I found a couple short blurbs on the keirin racer, but this one has a pic.

Mike - Thanks for the tip, I'm really psyched to go back there and try a bunch of things to go fast around the bends. If I get that down decently I'll be happy. Funny tip about the violin though - I played for about 12 years and for a violin you tilt your left cheek to your left shoulder - ask any violin player to show you their "hickie". But I get the point :)

YR - if you get a bike we can make regular trips up there next year. Good luck at your crit and welcome back to the bike.

Stacey said...

Great story Aki! - fun to hear Dick Ring is still out there. Way to show everyone how to sprint! Stacey

Aki said...

heh thanks. Now I feel a little more schooled, i.e. they schooled me. Next year...