Thursday, December 31, 2009

Training - Florida Training Camp - The Trip Home

We spent the last day traveling, waiting, and traveling some more.

The prior evening I packed the bike under Pap's watchful eyes. He's been teaching me how to fly on the Flight Simulator (he can't fly himself for real anymore). He even taught me the basics of flying a 737, which, coincidentally, would be the type of plane we'd be taking home. We did some autopilot stuff, trim stuff, and then we came in for a landing. I came in a bit low but didn't wipe out on landing.

Good thing, right?

Anyway, he sat and watched me pack up my bike, and Haley joined us too. Pap commented on this and that, reminded me not to forget my wrenches, nor my bottles, nor my helmet (all of which I almost forgot).

Actually I was trying to set a base up so I could return without bringing too much stuff but I failed. Okay, maybe not, but I could think of worse places to train.

We returned our rental car, waited a bit, got a shuttle to the airport, waited a bit more.

In line for checking luggage I heard the typical murmurs behind us.

"I don't know, it's a real big bag. What do you think it is?"

Finally someone piped up.

"Excuse me, excuse me! Sir! Excuse me. Could you tell me what you have in that bag?"

"A bike. Like a bicycle bike."


I could hear disappointment. It became clear why in the next couple seconds.

"We thought it was a harp."


The missus and I started chuckling.

But then I thought, hm. Maybe next time I can avoid the bike bag fee by saying it's a harp...

Of course, it's not worth it on Southwest since the bike costs only $50 to fly (and I can check another bag for free), but for those of you on $175-per-bike flights...

After the harp incident we sat down for an early lunch. I took the opportunity to imbibe a bit - a nice Chili's margarita at 11 in the morning. Hey, look, I'm on vacation. My diet took yet another hit with that drink so I just had a bowl of soup.

My calories kept adding up, ditto my grams of fat. I'd been having consistent 2300-2400 calorie days, well over my target 1800, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

I started dreading the morning weigh-in at home.

The margarita had the pleasant effect of making the flight go by pretty quickly. It helps if you fall asleep before reaching cruising altitude.

Not that I'm condoning using alcohol use, but I felt pretty refreshed when I woke up.

We landed pretty hard, and I know that because of my extensive experience flying 737s on the Flight Simulator. Actually, seriously, we did seem to come in high and set down kind of fast. We almost overshot our taxiway too, so I stand by my statement that we came in kinda high and fast.

(Of course, if it had been the game, I'd have seen the red and white lights indicating high or low.)

We got home okay, looking forward to seeing the kitties. I clambered up the stairs with the bike bag, opened the door.

Bella was there, looking, but I must have looked like an alien to her.

Her fur fuzzed and she ran away.

She came back after I made a few trips, and within a few minutes she'd calmed down.

Bella, less fuzzed and more relaxed, on the bike bag.

We were home.


The next morning, I weighed myself.

I was half a pound lighter than when I left.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Training - Florida Training Camp - Day 7 - Winding Down

Tuesday afternoon I set off with DM for the last ride of my trip. We'd do pretty much the last section of the Suncoast Trail that we hadn't done, about 17 miles worth. Combined with the 6 or so miles in Starkey Park (our start point), it'd be "about 46 miles" according to DM.

DM, one of my two trusty guides in Florida, in Starkey Park.

Out of Starkey Park I took some pictures of the immaculately repetitive and fake looking landscape.

Copy/Paste landscape. C/P palm bushes, c/p trees. Looks fake.

I'd swear up and down that this was all done on a computer.

I also saw a prehistoric little armadillo, probably the most fascinating thing I saw on my trip here. Spindly legs, huge armored back, the tiny pointed head... Hard to comprehend.

Spot the prehistoric animal in the picture.

No alligators, alas.

We did see a bald eagle, but I didn't have my camera out so no pictures. Just look at your closest patriotic poster and you should see one.

We headed north into a slight northern wind, maybe a 5 mph headwind. Ideally things would stay the same and the return trip would bless us with a 5 mph tailwind. DM set a steady tempo, slightly above my comfort level, and I churned along next to him, talking when I could, staying silent when I couldn't, and when I was in real trouble, tucking in behind him.

I staked out what I thought were some slight rises, keeping them in mind. I wanted to do a jump or two on the way back, and I wanted to get a decent rolling start. One stretch in particular had distinctive fencing lining a long straight, barb wire curving over the top of the fence. I decided I'd do my return jump there.

As we rode north I could feel my prior rides, the muscles used outside but not on the trainer, muscles that had forgotten what it was like to pedal a bike that could tilt side to side, muscles that pedaled when I was tired and hunkered down in the drops.

When we got to the northern trail end, the wind had suspiciously died down a touch. After a short pause (where I munched on 900 calories of "low calorie" bars), we started back. Sure enough, when we turned around, the northern wind had transformed into a western one - we'd be riding into the most annoying kind of crosswind, the kind that feels just like a headwind.

My bike in "Florida Mode"

At least yesterday we had a ferocious crosswind, one that required me to sit almost directly next to DM in order to get any kind of a draft. Today I only had to sit 6 inches to one side of his wheel to get a draft.

I felt a little more capable - the SRM told me that I was doing 180-200 pretty consistently, whereas on the way up I'd been struggling with DM's 220-240 watt pace. I learned from the prior days that he faded a bit in the second hour, and I found myself on more even terms.

I didn't want to "attack" DM unexpectedly so when we got closer to my barb-wire zone I told him I'd be doing a jump, an acceleration to test my legs.

Of course, as soon as I said that, the westward wind picked up a bunch of strength.

We came up to to my target stretch and I decided I'd let it go. I'd do the effort in Starkey Park. If I was going to fight a wind in a sprint effort, I'd do it into a headwind, not some deceiving kinda-sorta cross-headwind.

I let DM know of my updated target as we turned into Starkey Park. Hoarding some energy, I sat on his wheel a bit more, trying to stay at a low pace (under 100 watts) before my "test". We passed through the wandering bit of the trail, and when it straightened out, I launched.

I accelerated from only 19 mph, I think my 53x19, and after I got up to speed, I shifted into the 17, 15, 14, and finally the 13. I overgeared a bit, typical for my first sprints in a while. I also didn't have a goal, a finish line, even a landmark, so when I didn't feel like it I abruptly stopped pedaling.

I checked the numbers after the ride. Although a bit disappointed, I had to remember that this was not even January.

I peaked at 1268 watts, much lower than the mid-1500s I've seen as early as February of a given year, but higher than anything I've done recently.

More significantly, I held just under 1200 watts for 10 seconds, and averaged just under 1000 watts for the 22 second effort. These longer efforts bode well for the final half lap of a race, where I typically hold 1000 watts before I launch a sprint.

Leadouts, as nice as they are for the sprinter, aren't very easy, and if I'm going to see a leadout or two, I don't want to explode when my leadout man pulls off at 150 meters to go.

Towards the end of the ride, before my test, I did some reviewing. I'd found myself going to the drops after less than 90 minutes of riding. I felt much more comfortable there, with my back a bit lower, my lower back stretched out a bit. As a bonus I could use less wattage to go the same speed.

It helped that I was a bit thinner than last year. Before, when I went to the drops, I'd end up thumping my stomach with my legs. Now, not so much.

I also kept in mind my new soon-to-arrive frameset, with an effective length increase of 6 cm or so. Although it may be just cognitive dissonance, I find myself feeling cramped lengthwise. I want to stretch out, stretch that back out, and get into a nice, low position.

It reminds me of the couple times I got to see pros up close on the bike. I had the priviledge of getting passed by one Chris Horner in California, more than once in fact. I was amazed at how low he rode, even on the hoods.

The other pro I got to watch, at a crit where he rode away from a chasing P12 field, is Skip Hamblin (sp?). He may not be in the same class as Horner, but he was so fast, so smooth, he looked like he was on a motorcycle.

And that's what I think of when I see the pros race - they look like they're on a motorcycle.

Their upperbodies are low, almost motionless. Their legs spin very fast (except Mark McCormack, who looks like he's trying to break his bike, not pedal it).

And they go fast.

That's my goal, then. I want to get my long, low frameset, train in a long, low position, and go fast enough like I'm on a motorcycle.

Even if it's just for a half lap or something.

You gotta start somewhere.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Training - Florida Training Camp Day 6 - Pushing Through

Today I went for a ride with DM, the first guy I rode with here. We set off on the Suncoast Trail again, this time further north. We did a nice loop to the northern end of the 41-odd mile trail.

Unlike the other portion we did, this part of the trail had numerous short rollers. I seemed to hit about 400 watts on every single one. Not an easy effort, for sure. By the time we turned around I could feel the effort in my flanks.

I mentioned this to DM - at home I rarely ride in the same position for, say, an hour, so I keep recruiting new muscles. When I climb I stand, when I descend I'm off the saddle (or tucked), and I regularly stand when accelerating out of corners and bends and such.

Here, not so much. Okay, fine, the trail moves around a bit, but in general you rarely need to move your tush off the saddle. This means a lot of riding in the same position which means a lot of riding using the exact same muscles.

I thought riding on the trainer was muscularly monotonous - flat lands are even more so. On the trainer I tend to move around a bit more, I don't know why. Flat lands, not so much.

And, with flat terrain comes something else - wind.

The wind acted as a steady resistance unit. With a reasonably strong west wind on a north-south route, we fought the wind there and back. You know how everyone complains about having a headwind all the time? It's because you rarely have an actual straight on headwind - instead, normally the wind hits you at an angle. When you turn around, it hits you from another angle, and it could be almost as unfriendly as the first one.

Case in point? Monday's ride.

I could only think of the epic Classics while we rode leaning slightly westward, the echelons, the scrabble to get to the front group. In particular I thought of Gent-Wevelgem of this year, when Cervelo blew apart the field in the first hour of racing in a strong crosswind.

The combination of a team drilling it at the front, the strong crosswind, and a couple inattentive favorites meant that the race exploded in a totally unpredictable way. The lead group, lacking the big star Tom Boonen, pushed hard to hold their advantage, and only towards the end it seemed possible for the front group to finish first.

Anyway, crosswinds are the cat's whiskers of bike racing. And I felt like a flahute, kinda sorta, battling it out with my invisible foe.

I wanted to do an effort at some point, some jump, some sprint, some something big, but by the time I felt warmed up I was also feeling a bit run down. The chilly wind really bit through my kit - 62 degrees or so, breezy, sun setting, and me in shorts like a dummy - and my legs started getting a bit stiff.

I suppose in a race I'd have hoarded my strength and done something, but not on a simple training ride.

I laughed to myself and explained to DM that this inevitably happens on long winter-time rides when I'm thinking of next season. I keep thinking I'm going slow, I'm too weak, stuff like that.

My teammate John told me something like this happened to him one winter. He rode the winter, long rides, nice base type miles, but couldn't go very fast. Big ring, big cogs, but nothing crazy fast.

Then he went to the first training race of the year. He stood up and launched an attack at the start/finish on a one mile circuit, sprinting away from the field.

Half a lap later he sat down.

A soon-to-be-pro joined him, and together they quickly put a half lap on the field. Ultimately John flatted with half a lap to go, but he had made his point.

Those long winter rides really do something for the legs.

So, on the years where I could get out, I'd try and do some of the same kind of steady rides in the winter. I poke along, look at the speed (or heart rate or power, depending on how recently said winter ride took place), and think, "Oh, man, I am just crawling."

Then, when I get to my first race, I find myself "crawling" at the same heart rate or power or whatever, but at the front of the field, looking around at all the suffering faces.

At least that's the hope.

I told DM that each year I think there's just no way it'll be like that this year, that this time I'll get to my first race and suffer and scramble for wheels and be at the back of the field. Each year I think of reasons why this year would be different.

In my case I'm looking at all sorts of stuff that should make me go really fast right now.

First, I'm lighter than normal. This should make going up little rollers in Florida a breeze.

Second, even though I'm lighter than normal, I've been eating a bit more than normal (and carbs and such at that). This means I should have enough fuel not to bonk or feel weak.

Third, I keep telling myself I'm only slightly off of my relative peak fitness of July/August. This means I ought to have some decent power in my legs.

Of course, the data seems to argue otherwise. I'm struggling at 400 watts, I can't break 1200 watts on a really hard sprint (and that's peak power, not 5 second power), and I kept watching DM ride away from me on the small rollers and such.

So I kept scrambling for DM's wheel, kept the pressure up on the little rollers, and thought about how I'm just crawling right now.

I reminded myself that it's not even January, that I have a week and change in San Diego coming up at the end of January, that I have another week I've committed to spend training at the end of February. That these miles and hours would go a long way to jump-starting my season.

I thought of my diet, how I'll be able to better control what I ate when I'm back at home. No more 1100 calorie breakfasts or 2000 calorie dinners, no more 40-60 grams of fat at one meal instead of less than that for the whole day. That maybe, just maybe, my home food diet would mean my weight would drop into the 150s.

And I kept churning the pedals on the Suncoast Trail, hoping that my legs would magically get good for the first race of the year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Training - Florida Training Camp Day 5

I woke up refreshed with a touch of fatigue lingering in the corners of my mind. No soreness, no saddle issues, nothing.

There's something good about having nothing wrong.

I decided that today the bike would get its drivetrain cleaning. I performed this task in overboots, using an ancient spray head that was either full on or full off. I kept an eye out for the resident armadillo but I guess he figured he didn't want to be near this green and black thing in jeans with sparkly spokes and clicking arms spraying water everywhere.

Afterwards the drivetrain looked refreshingly clean. Doing this regularly makes each cleaning very rewarding, and I haven't ridden too much outside since I last cleaned the bike. Therefore I reaped the rewards and found no super-ground-in grunge and dirt and stuff.

Then I did the things that one does for Pap, a really cool grandfather-in-law. I played IT tech on his computer (and flew the Flight Simulator since he really wanted me to fly it), then hers (after his astonishment at the performance increase on his own machine), fixed a broken sofa bed (collapsed, glue, screws, drills, two trips to the hardware store), went shopping for some cold medicine for Nana, vacuumed a bit of the Great Room, and one or two other things.

After a brief rest (I fell asleep on the couch), I motivated and got out on the bike. Despite the temperatures in the mid 50s, I wanted to experiment with my kit and set off in just shorts on my legs.

I also wore two LS jerseys, one SS jersey, a wind vest, booties, a reasonably warm head cover, and summer long-finger gloves. I wanted to try to keep my extremities warm, and I wanted to see what would happen with my bare legs.

I rolled along an interesting backroad named, interestingly enough, Trouble Creek Road. It turns left and right, 90 degrees at a time, all over the place. The turns were quite sharp, keeping me on my toes.

Against some old advice from my friend Gene, I've been trying to stick to my diet while training some volume. I paid the price as I felt like I was bonking just 30 minutes into the ride. I started feeling weak, a little dizzy, and a bit chilly. My legs felt like I'd just ridden 3 hours, loading up as soon as I made any kind of 100+ watt effort.

I pedaled along in the small ring, waiting for my body to figure out what it wanted to do. I hoped it wasn't going to escalate to a full-on bonk. My "less is more" kit selection would work against me with the cool temperatures and an under-fueled body.

Finally, magically, my body responded, warming up, and my legs started feeling a bit better.

I tried to get my legs going again, doing a little effort, but I struggled to maintain even 330 watts. My legs felt pretty dead. I eased, absorbing all this information that seemed so familiar yet so foreign. It all seemed familiar, but far enough away that I only felt deja vu, not "Oh, yeah, I know this sensation."

Then a van drove by, going just over the 30 mph speed limit. Not just a regular van, a conversion van, with all the fairings and such, letting not a molecule of air past the bottom of the van.

Perfect motorpace vehicle.

I couldn't resist and launched an almost aborted sprint. A mis-shift under pressure almost made me stop, but some fiddling and I launched myself again.

I chased the van for a short straight, powered through a turn, did my best Philipe Gilbert imitation out of it, and...

My legs faded.

Upon review I saw I did about 1000 watts for 10 seconds, peaking a little higher at 1200 watts. I maintained just under 900 watts for 20 seconds, fading to 680 watts for 30 seconds.

I only hit 36 mph, quite disappointing, but I rationalized with myself that it was a headwind, I felt bonky, my legs empty, and I just wasn't good today. Plus my mis-shift cost me a few seconds.

Whatever, it wasn't great.

To avenge my poor performance I sprinted past an ice cream truck just before I got home.

(Ice cream truck?! In December?! Must be Florida.)

I started to peel off my outer layers, like my helmet, gloves, and such, when Aunt Linda came running out.

"We want to take pictures of you on your bike!"

Oh, wait. That didn't happen. What really happened was the following:

"You really should do some sprint intervals on the street. You can do with them Haley."

Haley, just so you know, is a seven year old girl.

With a scooter thing.

We proceeded to do enough sprints that the ice cream truck drove by twice (we never bought any). Haley's brother Elijah ran along for fun on a few sprints.

(Apologies in advance for the blurry pictures, but note the very cool looking kit!)

Note Haley's pre-scooter throw posture. And don't let the gleaming drivetrain blind you!

Three wide with Elijah in the middle. Note excellent form displayed by each of the three sprinters.

Haley scooting furiously. I jumped too late.

Alas, I couldn't win a single sprint.

I'll let the fire of disappointment fuel me through the rest of the training camp. Or something like that.

Up on deck for tomorrow? A long ride starting early afternoon.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Training - Florida Day 4

Today I went out with a group here north of Tampa, the Gear Link Racing Team. I met one of the guys virtually at BikeForums, Bob. We duel a bit with long, hopefully informative posts. Okay, his posts are definitely informative, usually more succinct.

Mine get, well, they end up a bit long. Go figure.

Anyway, when he found out that I'd be down in the area, he invited me on a group ride they'd planned for Saturday after Christmas. He figured on 20 or 30 riders showing up. They'd ride 2x2 (double file) out to some bridge, do intervals on the bridge, and return back.

With the start point about 12 miles away from my home base, he said he'd ride back with me. This way the missus just had to get me to the start.

A nice sign - across the street from the start point: a Ferrari dealership.

Cool beans.

I signed a release with a guy named Ray Booth ("How'd you know my name?" "Well, your bike says 'Ray Booth's Road Bike'"). Bob showed up, I shook a few hands, and we prepared to leave.

Ray made a few announcements, chided those talking while he was announcing, and then proclaimed that we had a guest for the day.


I raised my hands when he called my name. One of the guys I just met laughed and playingly complained.

"Hey, how come I don't get a call out? I do this ride all the time."

With that we set off.

I'm not sure exactly where we went, but we did stop for someone's pedal "issues" before we left the lot. Things went smoothly after that.

I learned that a few of the guys were originally from Connecticut - Westport, Danbury, Ridgefield, Moosup, all somewhat familiar hunting grounds for me (except the latter). This happens whenever I go to a warm-winter clime - I inevitably meet folks who moved "from the cold" to wherever I happened to be at the time.

We passed by some prep school kids in their uniforms, seniors by the look of them. Then we passed by some more of them. I figured there was a big school around here, with all these kids running around. I queried one of the riders on the prolific prep school uniforms.



Apparently we were in Scientology central, Clearwater, FL.

We hit a bridge, which, on later review, took about a minute to climb, seated. I focused on staying low, recruiting the glutes, relaxing the upper body. I tried to hold about 350 watts, struggling consistently each time.

We broke up into small groups, many riders doing solo efforts at their own pace. We turned around shortly after the bridge descent, either in a parking lot or by riding around a condo complex, and returned immediately to do another effort.

At some point one of the riders attempted to turn around without checking his six, and a car bounced him gently. He went down, traffic stopped, and in minutes we had a fire truck and a bunch of police cars on the scene.

We waited a bit (I did 4 more efforts), but it looked like it would be more than a little time, so ultimately the group gathered and left. We rolled back towards the start point, the group a bit antsy. I made some moderate efforts to close some gaps, and then, just when I started feeling a bit woozy, Bob motioned for me to take a turn, to head back to my home base. Another rider joined us for the slow roll back.

After gallantly trying to ride next to Bob for a while, I eased and sat in. Then, after I took a moderately short pull, I turned to Bob and confessed.

"I'm cooked."

Bob brought the pace down, telling the other guy Jeff to ease up too. After that I just sat on and we rolled back.

End result?

A little over 3 hours. Almost 60 miles. 12 intervals.

I wore booties, knickers, 2 LS jerseys, 1 SS jersey, vest. Felt fine, a little warm, but comfortable.

Notes to self:
- Tighten Ergo levers. One of my efforts moved a lever.
- Shoulder hurt when climbing out of saddle, therefore resume shoulder therapy when I get home.
- Overdressing is okay.

I think tomorrow I'll skip the 3000 feet of climbing, 7:30 AM ride. I'll wait for later in the day. Degrease the poor bike's drivetrain. Tighten up the levers.

And go for a nice mid-day ride.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Equipment - Second Ultrasound

So appropriately, on Christmas Eve, I got a slightly early present from Tsunami Bikes; the second ultrasound. Santa Claus apparently jammed this into my email box, along with all the emails on 50% off of virtually everything ever sold in stores as well as warnings about all sorts of unauthorized access made to bank accounts I don't have.

Look towards the bottom of the picture - you can see the enormous bottom bracket shell.

Grown a bit since last time, right? Welds, a rear triangle, and, apparently, a sibling on the other side of the stand. Looks fast now, efficient, stiff. Not very "BMX-like" as I expected. More like a size small compact frame bike, or, more precisely, a long version of a size small compact frame bike.

You know, the L version of the BMW 750i or the Audi A8.

This bike will need an "L" at the end of whatever it ends up being called. I have no idea what to call it yet so I'll have to figure it out later.

The things I notice from these decidedly iPhone-like pictures include some interesting details.

First is the familiar downtube and top tube on both frames - it seems to be a standard (exterior) shape for Tsunami. As long as it works, right? I'm liking the short headtube and the resulting tube-traffic-jam just behind it.

And, remember, I want the stiffest, most efficient frame possible.

Second, the rear stays seems somewhat un-Cannondale-like. The seat stays are pretty beefy, the chainstays less so. Looking at other pictures of Tsunamis, part of the reason for the large looking seat stays is probably the camera fisheye lens - you'll notice the headtube angle looks really steep too, and it's more shallow than the seat tube.

Anyway, I'm not a builder, so I don't know how things affect the ride. As usual I defer to the builder.

You know the philosophy, right? You know what you know, and you know what you don't know.

I don't know frame building so I'm leaving it up to the pros.

(Of course there's the stuff I don't know I don't know, and usually that's what bites you in the buttocks, so I try and leave some leeway for that stuff. In this case I've left that leeway pretty thin.)

I'm really getting a bit antsy about getting this frame - I feel like I'm riding on borrowed time on my current frame, just waiting until this masterpiece shows up. It's all good, riding my Cannondale, but it's like wearing unhemmed pants or an unfit suit.

I know what I have now isn't quite right. More significantly, I've had the flavor of what it should be, and, more importantly, what it will be.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Training - Florida Team Camp, Day 2

Yes, Southwest got the bike to me last night. Late, like 9:30 PM late, but, hey, it got here. Apparently there were a lot of problems in Baltimore, where we had a plane transfer.

Note to self: no more flights through Baltimore.

Second note to self: try to schedule more than 25 minutes for a transfer, so that if the plane is 10 minutes late, you still get to sit in some semblance of a good seat.

This morning we all went for a reasonably healthy breakfast at Cracker Barrel (my breakfast anyway, not theirs), then headed home to recover, prepare for "my" shopping trip (food and Simple Green), and put my bike together.

The missus asked if I wanted to stay at home and do the bike, so I did. The bike went together well, but the embarrassingly dirty drivetrain really stuck out. The missus went out on a mission to get some Simple Green but couldn't find any. I'll have to venture out and see if I can't find some, or some citrus degreaser.

Paps, the missus's grandpa, sat and watched me while I worked on the bike.

I spent much of the time explaining to Paps all about the quick release levers, the carbon fiber wheels and such, and the power meter cranks. I also explained that I'm just a hack, as impressive as the bike may seem, and that in the scheme of things the bike was really nice but not insanely so.

He understood - he grabbed some of his golf clubs, explaining to me that he built them up using heads he'd bought, adding shafts he cut himself. I guess it's like building a bike - you don't "make" the frame, but you build the bike from pre-made parts and pieces.

Usually I can get by without any problems with a dirty drivetrain, but I planned on riding with a fellow BikeForums rider, and he'd be sure to notice the blackened drivetrain. I thought that maybe I could fake it and tell him it's a new waterproof lubricant I'm testing for a Connecticut based company, but he'd probably see through that.

We did a good ride, about 40 miles.

So some of the things that make riding in this part of Florida interesting.

First off, great trails. Good pavement, no root ridges every 2 feet like at home, wide enough to ride double file (but you single up when passing riders going the other way).

Second, the interesting wildlife. I saw two sand cranes (apparently pretty idiotic and common, but new to me). I can call them idiotic because they carefully sauntered right across a busy road, the drivers politely slowing and avoiding them. Even with cars passing a foot or three away, they never flinched.

I also saw a deer. Common in Connecticut, the smaller version here seemed, well, smaller. Much more tame, barely an ear twitch when we rode by.

And I saw a really new to me animal - an armadillo. Actually, I saw armadillos three times, but I suspect two sitings involved one armadillo. All three were diligently rooting around for bugs and such, walking daintily on their spindly legs, carrying their protective shield everywhere. Apparently these guys are pretty unaware too, ignoring everything around them.

(As an addendum, I also saw two lizards sunning themselves outside the house. I wasn't on the bike so I didn't see them on the ride, but I saw them a few times. They're common in California but this was a first East Coast siting for me.)

Pro sitings? None.

Third, the interesting scenery. It's interesting because it's so uniform. I'll have to take a picture, but it looks really fake. Seriously. It looks like someone got a 3-D representation of a Palm Bush (my name for a palm tree on the ground) and did a bazillion pastes of a copy around the landscape, creating a sea of palm frond things.

Then they got some real Palm Trees (the tall version) and copy pasted one for every 30 Palm Bushes. Imagine a sea of palm frond things with trees scattered around here and there.

Then they got some Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Pine Trees and copy-pasted those at a ratio of two for every Palm Tree. Now you see pine trees, slightly more often than palm trees.

Install a flat, meandering bike path that rarely changes texture and you're looking at...

A fake bike trail.

It looks just like some of the incredibly fake scenery in some of the bike power trainer software I've seen.

Pretty, though, and a bit mind-boggling in its uniformity.

Add to it the steady breeze and you have a mutated version of Belgium. Steady winds, flat winding roads... but with Palm Bushes and Palm Trees and smooth pavement instead of electric cow fences, ditches, and cobblestones.

I remembered how hard I worked to deal with wind in Belgium, and how strong I felt afterward.

I hope that my work in the next week or so will help me gain some of that strength once again.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Training - Florida Training Camp, Kinda

Okay, this isn't a training camp, and I didn't bring quite as much gear as I would to a "training camp". We're really visiting the missus's grandparents, and since they live in the Tampa area, I discretely asked if bringing the bike would be an option.

"So... where are we going for Christmas?"
"Nana and Pap's. Florida."
"North Florida or South Florida?"
"They live on the Gulf Coast, near Tampa."
"Did you hear me?"
"Yeah. Would they mind if I brought my bike?"

As I said, discrete. They call me Slick.. never mind.

Anyway, this morning I had the sensation of cats padding around on the covers, a sensation of warmth, and suddenly I was awake. 4 AM, time to get up for the flight.

We flew out of Hartford, leaving behind the teens and twenties (temperatures, not peoples), and landed in the 70s in Tampa.

As has been my habit lately, we flew Southwest. Checked luggage for free, reasonable bike fees ($50 each way), and reasonable ticket prices. A bit of humor too - like the warning to put away our "Nintendos, Game Girls..." and the thanks for flying the airline. That bit went something like, "We know you have other choices when selecting an airline and we're glad that you can't afford them."

The flight went well except my bike didn't show up at baggage claim, nor the baggage claim customer service desk, or anywhere else in the airport.

We filed a Missing Bike Report and went off to destroy my diet. I managed to salvage something, by avoiding cheese and sour cream and butter and guacamole and chips (can you guess where we stopped first?).

The funny thing about the independent restaurant was their unadvertised wireless network. A couple of technologically hip companions, complete with iPhones, looked for some info on one of their flights. The name of the most powerful network in the area?

Taco Bell Sucks.

We chuckled over the little things you can express in various technical ways.

I'm hoping to do a couple group rides over the weekend as well as get out on some smaller rides with another BikeForums member.

First, though, I need my bike. And I'm tired and need to buy some diet-friendly food.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Racing - The "Team Bike"

I went to the local shop the other day. It was kinda quiet, a bitterly cold day, one where you don't think about riding along swathed in a layer of lycra, a foam helmet, and light, slim shoes.

No, it was a day where you debate 2 or 3 long sleeve layers, winter coat, hat, hoodie, gloves, insulated boots, thick socks, flannel lined pants...

And that's just to go grocery shopping.

Anyway, since it was so cold out, and since the supermarket is next door to the shop, I figured it'd be safe to leave my food in the car and shoot the breeze with the guys at the shop. Plus I wanted to buy them a few lunches in exchange for my fit session, and the supermarket has a branch of my bank in it, I got some money out for them, and... you get the idea.

I left my perishables in the car, hoping the 15 degree temps didn't freeze things before I got back, and strolled into the nice, warm store.

At some point we started talking about low end road bikes. You can get them now for a song - carbon bikes for about $1200-1300, aluminum ones for under $900, steel ones for a touch less.

It made me think of some of my more outlandish ideas for whatever team I was on at the time.

One of them had to do with team bikes. See, I think it would be cool to have team bikes. Not just any team bike. I mean, come on. SRAM Red? Campy Super Record 11? Di2?

That's for pretenders. (And pros, okay, but we're not pros, so I'll stick with pretenders).

We're talking real bikes. Bikes that the sponsoring shop can sell. Bikes the team riders can afford.

We're talking the sub-$900 bikes.

Check it out.

Manchester Cycle sponsors Expo Wheelmen, my team for 2010, and they sell Trek. Okay, fine, we get a discount on some Treks, but seriously, check this one out:

MSRP: $875, about $925 with tax around here.
(Image from Trek's site)

Okay, I can see a few weak spots right away, but those will be there on virtually all the bikes at this range.

Work with me here.

First, pedals. You need clipless. Use whatever you have now. If you're buying pedals, get a consensus and get the same pedals. I use the Look Keos and they seem reasonable. Cheap too, and that's key.

Second, fit. You need to fit the bike right, so you'll probably have to change the stem, post, saddle, and maybe the bar. It would be nice to keep the same brand, to maintain the pro harmonious image. We'll talk about moving around in the product line later.

Along the fit thing goes stem adjustment. Most racers will slam the stem down, so you'll need to cut the steerer tube and such.

Third, tires, and if you want to get fancy, wheels. You can use the stock wheels for training, but for racing you'll want at least Kevlar bead tires. Bonus would be some lighter, higher tension wheels, aero would be nice. I know the latter is getting a bit much, but you may be able to lace new rims and spokes onto the current hub. Who knows, you have to get creative.

Fourth, you'll be able to judiciously pare weight off the bike. Cheap bikes have cheap parts, and by getting rid of some of those unseen or discrete parts, you can shave literally pounds off the bike. Steel chainrings? Out. Heavy saddle? Take the opportunity to substitute in a lighter one. Stem, bar, post, same thing. Again, keep in the theme (meaning the product line, or at least color), but ditch the weight if you can.

Finally, if you cheat a bit, you can get some nicer brifters. They'll really improve perceived feel of the bike, and they won't wear out in a season. Don't worry about derailleurs - they're totally over-rated, at least until they wear out.

Figure without the brifters or pedals you'll be out $1200, with all the bells and whistles figure $1500 or so.

What will you end up with?

(Image from Trek's site)

No, not quite. (Note - MSRP = $6500).

But you'll get a bike that fits, that rolls reasonably well, and that, most importantly, matches your teammates' bikes.

Totally pro.

The point here is not that you'll win necessarily. Or dominate. Or anything like that. The point here is to have fun as a racing team. You have matching kits. Use matching helmets. Bikes. Shoe covers (shoes are too individual).

And then you can go have fun.

Attack in pairs, as a team.

If a break gets away, chase, as a team. Line up the train and haul them back.

Do huge leadouts for sprints, whatever the result.

Laugh, have fun.

I figure the riders will eventually follow. People like having fun, and people will join other people having fun. The ones that take themselves too seriously will get fed up and leave, and you're left with a bunch of racers grinnin' like fools.

And maybe, just maybe, someone will actually give some sponsorship money to the team. Heck, hopefully they'll be responsible for a nice uptick in sales.

The local shop can say to a new, uncertain, maybe-will-be-a-roadie, "Yeah, the team races these bikes, with typically these upgrades. You can get it too, at the 'standard' level for $1200 and 'deluxe' level for $1500."

Shop makes money and it'll be easy to upsell the bike with accessories and such. Everyone wins.


Bike by itself (ignore the higher end parts)? Fine.
(Image from tenetracing)

Bike as part of a cohesive team? Much nicer.
(Image from KendaUSA)

Look, I'll be frank.

I'm not going to go and buy a new bike every year. I'm not one to drop a few thousand dollars to get a team bike, just for the sake of it. Heck, I carefully dole out my schwag money, doing wheels every now and then, frames every 3 or 4 or 5 years.

But if a new bike costs, say, less than $900, if it were part of a fun thing, if I could recycle (heh) a bunch of my race equipment, I wouldn't be too opposed to it.

Of course, I'm getting a relatively inexpensive ($650) custom frame this year. That means this whole post is moot for me.

Unless everyone on the team starts buying the same custom frames...

With team graphics.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Doping - Bike Pure

A couple weeks ago I found a lost treasure - my 2007 Giro DVD set. I hadn't seen extensive coverage of the Giro, and the whole atmosphere seems a bit more chaotic, a bit less controlled, and a lot more random than the much more austere, dignified, and somewhat predictable Tour.

So with eager legs I got on the trainer and popped in the three different DVDs in the set.

I forgot about all the controversy surrounding that particular race, but it came back to me pretty quickly. Lack of male hormones, the Oil for Drugs thing, blah blah blah.

On the other hand, I discovered something today.

I must have been dozing at the keyboard in the last few months... err year... because I just discovered a cool new site. Pezcycling, who I haven't been visiting as often as I used to, had an interesting article on Joe Papp. He's a guy that raced around here, used to have an online diary, doped like crazy for a while, almost died due to a hematoma caused by blood thinners, got tagged in a test, and confessed to doping. The article was a "post-tag" interview, where they asked him some questions about doping and stuff.

That article linked to Bike Pure.

And Bike Pure, well, that was a new one for me.

In the last year or so, with the various dope positives (apparently there were 60?), the fall of ACE, and all sorts of depressing doping news... I kinda sorta lost interest in things. Somehow, it seems, I either missed or wrote off this new "Bike Pure" announcement.

Anyway, I haven't fully explored it but it seems pretty interesting.

First order of business - donate enough money that they can send me a cool bracelet, sticker, and headset spacer without losing money on the deal.

Okay, admit it. You think that's kinda cool too.

I'm tired so I'll stop here, but it gets old watching DVDs of bike races and thinking, "Okay, he got tagged... he did too. So did he. Oh, man, that guy is riding like an idiot, and, yeah, he got tagged too."

A lot of those guys don't ride really smart. It makes me wonder what came first - not riding smart because they don't have the wherewithal, or not riding smart because they think they're so superior because they're doped to the gills.

Whatever, I feel sorry for Phil and Paul. How can you marvel at a new star racer when you think, "Man, the last time I talked about some new star, he got tagged a year or two later." So what do you say?

I don't know either.

The 2007 Giro DVD set, which I so eagerly retrieved from its hiding place, seems to have lost some of its luster.

But, you know, it's still cool watching all the attacks and stuff at the end of the flat stages. That's where, regardless of doping and dopers, it's still a lot of instinct and planning and tactics and adaptation.

And, ultimately, because of that, the racing still thrills.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Promoting - Bethel Spring Series 2010 - Registration News

No, the race is not on BikeReg yet.


Let me clue you into something that is so cool, so warm, so friendly...

This ain't no stinkin' bike race!

Yeah, but check out the address.

Francis J Clarke Circle.

Bethel, CT.

And, in case you didn't notice, the place has a roof on it. And lights. And it looks warm.

That's a hint by the way.

Okay, fine, no, we're not building a track in there and having all the races indoors (although...)

But, that dirt lot that I pointed out earlier? It's now occupied by the space above, and Frank, as we'll call him, has agreed to let us use the space for registration.

So it benefits the helpers (and me) more than anyone else. So maybe you won't mind waiting in line for a bit. In fact, you may let people cut in front of you. I can see the scene now.

"Boy, it's cold out, eh?"
"Go ahead, I'm waiting for my teammate."
"No, you go ahead. The guy paying for my entry is still walking over."
"Oh, my teammate has my money too. So I can't register yet. By the way, I don't see anyone outside right now. You sure your guy is walking over?"
"Um, yeah, he, uh, maybe he had to take a leak first. Really, you go ahead."

So on and so forth.

Perhaps it's a start to the whole "weather proof Bethel" thing. Covered race. Heat. Lights. No ice or snow or bundling up.

But then it kinda takes away the whole atmosphere of the thing. The snot running down your nose thing. Needing booties. Figuring out which gloves actually work. Should I actually wear goggles so my eyeballs don't freeze?

Atmosphere counts for a lot.

For now, then, we'll skip weatherproofing Bethel. And though I may regret my words early next year, it's just the way Bethel should be.

In the meantime, when you stand in line at registration, indoors, thank your blessings that Frank likes bike racing, that he happens to have a studio, and that the studio happens to be right next to the start/finish line.

And, please, shuffle forward with everyone else. Give everyone a turn.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Racing - 2010 License

So, in the mail today...

Ironically I'm a Cat 3 'cross racer.

Ironic because I've never, ever done a cross race.

And if I get a mountain bike license, I'd be a Cat 2 there.

(I'm still considering it, just to get that Cat 2 on the license.)

The thing I don't like about getting my license is I age right away. Can you believe I'm 43?!

Okay, you may believe I'm 43. But me, I can't believe it. Even if I'm not, yet, it's still kinda sorta my age, as of next September, but I feel like I'm already there.

I even have two grey hairs to prove it. The missus may have stolen them while I wasn't paying attention (i.e. snoring), but I saw them for at least two days in a row.

Anyway, after the shock at seeing those numbers on the license, I went to put it into my wallet. And, yes, as the first picture hints, I found two more licenses.

License Line Up.

When I went to load my wallet, I found two licenses already there. Apparently I was starting my bike memorabilia collection in my pocket.

Naturally I took the opportunity to take a nice picture. It looks kind of interesting because the three colors are almost primary colors - red, blue, and yellow. I say "almost" because someone's bastardized the colors just a touch - each color seems slightly off from the true versions.

I guess I didn't save the other two licenses. Now they're downstairs, not in my wallet.

Now to get over this cold of mine so I can actually ride a bike. Yeah, it came back after a day or so of sitting quietly.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Equipment - The First Ultrasound

One of the cool things about a Tsunami custom frame is you can see your frameset "become".

Meaning you see its birth. I suppose this is like when you order some exotic car or if you're Jenson Button waiting for his new McLaren F1 car. Since I've never ordered an exotic car and the closest I've ever come to a McLaren is playing an F1 game, this is the next best thing - ordering a custom frame.

I suppose in the frame world the front triangle sets the tone for the bike. If you show someone a picture of a super aero front triangle, it has a different genre than a frame with, say, really skinny tubes, or even one with really large diameter tubes. The front triangle leads, and the rest of the frame follows.

And, apparently, the Tsunami gods have seen fit to start up my new custom frame.

Therefore, like a proud parent-to-be showing off an ultrasound, I'll play a proud Tsunami-owner-to-be: The First Ultrasound.

"You can see the bottom bracket shell over here..."

I won't go into sexes or names, because my bikes aren't gender specific, nor do I name them. I have an idea of what this one will end up looking like, even after I've received the frame (it won't stay stock), but that's for a different time.

I left tube selection totally up to the builders. I don't know anything about aluminum tubes, nothing about wall thicknesses, blah blah blah. I can tell you that Columbus SL used to be 0.9/0.6/0.9 mm for the down tube (unless you get the "stallion build" SP, then it's 1.0/0.7/1.0), that Prestige could get down to 0.7/0.5/0.7 for the top tube, and some other useless information about steel tubing.

Ask me about aluminum or carbon or titanium and you'll get one of those glazed-over blank stares.


Based on the picture above, the downtube looks massive. Like Gibraltar massive, like it needs its own lighthouse massive.

This is a good thing.

Massive means a rigid front end, predictable steering, and responsiveness to pedaling input.


Next up is the critical head tube. 1 1/8" on both ends, since there isn't the 1 1/4" option (yet).

Head tube length?

Slammin', as they say. It should come in under 10 cm, a full 1.5 cm shorter than the SystemSix. Combine that with a headset (no integrated stuff here) and the full height should be about 10-10.3 cm.

Holy Sore Backs, Batman!

Yeah, I'm looking forward to finally being able to hunker down in the bars and feel totally and completely solid, no knee-elbow interference, no nothing.

The top tube looks pretty tall. I don't have any real reaction to that - I really don't know what it'll do. I figure if it keeps the bike from doing the shimmy I'll be pleased. My knees should be able to clamp that top tube on rockin' descents.

Or, since it's such a small frame, my calves'll do the clamping.


Actually, come to think of it, the frame doesn't quite resemble an oversize BMX bike. But we'll see when the rear triangle makes its way into the picture.

And the seat tube looks, well, like a seat tube for a 27.2 mm seat post. Kinda sorta skinny. Round. Holds a front derailleur, a waterbottle cage, and an N-Gear Jumpstop.

Fine by me.

I have to admit that I've never been so interested in a frameset before. I've never felt quite so involved in the purchasing process, the research process, because of one very simple reason: Custom Geometry.

Selecting a stock frame is exactly that, selecting a frame. You look at some limited number of variables (like frame size, and, to get different geometries, frame manufacturer). You hone in on something that kinda sorta fits you, that you can kinda sorta afford, and you get it.

But when you buy a custom frame, you decide what you want.

You don't think, "Oh, the top tube is only 53.5 cm. I should be able to get by on that."

Instead, you think, "Wouldn't it be nice to have a 58 cm top tube?"

And the builder says, "Um, not really. Trust me on this one."

Then you say, "I really meant to say 56.5 cm."

And so on and so forth. Within certain boundaries you can do anything you want. Make the bike more comfy, less comfy, more rigid, super long, super short, slammin' head tube, whatever you want.

It's yours. Man, this is so cool. I feel like a little kid again.

How's that ad go again?

Cost of calls to order custom frame: $6.50
Custom frame: $650
Feeling like a little kid again: Priceless

Monday, December 07, 2009

Review - SideTrak Booties

I'm not one to flagrantly spend my money on bike stuff, although I won't deny myself a treat or three. When it comes to booties, though, I've stuck with a favorite for many, many years. I think I've had these for 5, maybe 7, maybe more years, and I first started using them in the early 90s.

SideTrak booties.

I took this picture from Excel Sports. I don't take such good pictures.

One of the cool things about the SideTraks is that you can get them at your local shop for the same price as it is online. I don't know exactly how they did this, but it works for me. For the record, I bought a pair online, but I bought other pairs in shops.

The best thing about these booties is how long they last. I didn't buy the last booties because of anything wrong with my old ones - I either (A) gave them to a racer in need or, more likely, (B) I left them somewhere by accident.

These reasons differ greatly from the normal cause of bootie replacement - bootie expiration. Usually booties expire due to one of the following reasonss:

1. The toe top wears through. What's the use of a bootie if your toes get a refreshing blast of cold Arctic air when you ride?

2. The side or back rips, usually due to crashes and abrasions, and then washing said bootie multiple times. What's the use of a bootie if... you know the rest.

3. The collar around the calf wears out, exposing piping and threads, abrading the skin there.

4. The zipper in the back fails. Have you ever ridden behind a rider with their booties held together with safety pins, duct tape, or the like?

Yeah, big fail.

Okay, fine, you can get zippers replaced at the local tailors (I did that once), but if the zipper if failing, Messieurs 1, 2, and 3 above can't be too far behind.

Bootie design fails for the following two reasons:

1. They aren't warm enough. I've bought $50 booties that felt like they were made with Saran wrap.

2. They aren't windproof enough. I've also bought booties that felt like they were made with mesh fabric. I could tell if the wind shifted by which part of my foot was coldest.

On all six accounts above, the SideTraks rock. The toes don't wear out, the heel doesn't wear out, the calf collar stays soft, the zipper doesn't break, the material is warm, and it's windproof.

My beat up and at least 5-7 year old booties.

It's hard to see the toe area, but it's reinforced with something that resembles steel wool crossed with Kevlar. It's a bit coarse but holy smokes it simply will not wear through. I haven't tried dragging my toes on the ground for any length of time but I figure the toes will be good for another decade or so.

The bottom is pretty simple. Look, ma, no heels!

I thought the open bottom would be a problem, but apparently not. I've never had a problem with my booties being too cold. It also makes for a simple set up - no cutting, no trimming, no fraying edges. Just unwrap the plastic, unfold the booties, slip over shoes, and ride.

The coolest part of the booties - the non-zipper.

I think SideTrak's patent either ran out or they're selling the rights to others. I noticed, for the first time (maybe I missed it before - I haven't paid attention to booties in a while), that a lot of other manufacturers are using velcro rear closures.

You wrap the back around as much as you want. I need to wrap a lot.

The edges at the top are soft and comfortable. It's actually really fuzzy, warm, and comfy when I wrap the back around my calves. I wish my other gear were as comfy. My gloves, for example, are not nearly as soft.

The rear velcro takes care of the collar up top and handles any potential zipper problem. Simple and straightforward.

The one negative is that to get the velcro nice and snug, you really need two hands. This means that it's hard to adjust while you're riding. That's okay if you're training, you just stop for a bit, but in a race... Now you know what I'm doing when I'm fondling my ankles for a minute at a time. I reposition the lower velcro, then the upper, then the lower, then the upper, repeating until my ankle feels like it's encased in an ankle sling.

I've been seduced by a variety of expensive booties over the years, dishing out $50 and more for snazzier booties with things like reflective piping, semi-hidden zippers, traction bottoms, and fancy looking fabrics. But all of them expired, much quicker than the 5-10 years I expect my booties to last.

I finally realized that there's no beating the SideTrak. They may be the cheapest booties out there, but they're more comfortable, more durable, and just as warm.

I'll stick with my SideTraks.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Story - The Last (Mountain Bike) Race

So, yeah, I used to race mountain bikes.

My first time ever leading a mountain bike race, in Cranberry Park in Norwalk. Last time too. And the only picture I have of me on a mountain bike. Our team tent is in the background somewhere.

I was on a Jamis Dakar something-or-another, a full suspension pearl red bike. XT stuff, RockShox Judy fork, I think Paul or some other CNC machined brake levers, and some V-brake set-up.

But my mountain bike career started a decade or more before.

Pepto Cannondale

This was a long way from my first bike, a Pepto Bismal pink Cannondale. That bike had the first generation Suntour indexing system, one that barely worked on a good day.

One warm summer night, the guys did a Midnight Mountain Bike Ride from the shop. We had to wait until two guys built up their brand new DiamondBack bikes, and at about midnight we left for our ride. We rode all over the place, taking in two or three beaches, and getting chased by multiple policecars with spotlights out of a golf course. The most exciting part of the latter was sprinting at a wall of trees and hoping that you didn't hit a trunk. Once through the other side, we were home free.

Towards the end of the ride we were meandering around a small residential road in town, and the ride leader hollered to follow him. We were on a street-lit road, bordered by thick bushes. He blasted into a gap in said bushes and appeared to take a left. I blasted through the gap too.

And my front wheel dropped about eight feet. I landed hard on my chest, rolling onto my back, and watched as two more riders launched unknowingly off the eight foot drop off.

What we perceived as a left turn was in fact his butt hanging off the back of the bike as he made the drop off.

Laughing, we picked ourselves up and kept riding. At some point I mentioned that I wished I had a camera so I could have taken pictures of the ride. The ride leader looked at me.

"Why do you need a camera? We're going to do this all the time!"

Later, when I realized it was all poison ivy down there, and I was bathed in it, I wasn't laughing. And, no, we didn't do a lot of Midnight Mountain Bike Rides.

I went through that pink bike pretty quickly, toppling over while doing laps around my childhood home (I was still a kid). Broke the dropout, bang, and that was the end of the frame, end of story.

Cannondale 3.0

My next mountain bike was a black Cannondale, a beauty with the fat one inch fork blades.

My bike is in the foreground. You can't tell but there is about 18 psi in each tire. I met the guy in the background while I was riding around Boulder, CO, and we decided to go do a long climb. This is the top of that climb.

I built it up with Suntour, although this stuff worked well. My wheels were skinny M13s or something, the Sun Mistral copy of Keith Bontrager's cut down and re-connected Mavic MA40s (he'd get 700c clincher rims, separate them at the seam, cut out a couple eyelets worth of rim, and reconnect the ends to make a 26" mountain bike tire rim). I ran 2.1s, but just before the bike's demise I moved to a 2.35" set up.

One day, at work, I went out to the car. The trunk wasn't shut quite right, and I peeked inside. The bike, there in the morning, was gone.

Specialized M2

After the shock at losing the Cannondale, I toyed with the idea of getting a Bridgestone MB-0 or MB-1, the favorites for the guys at the shop. But I bucked the trend and got the massively overbuilt Specialized M2 bike. It had XT, a new Judy fork, and some superlight Specialized tires.

The coup d'etat? Spinergy Rev-X mountain bike wheels.

This bike was fast. Like really, really fast.

I raced this for the first time in a 30 mile, point to point race up in Vermont. I'd chosen some inexpensive clipless pedals, impossible to clip into and out of, and had to run all of the single track.

Later, in more conventional circuit races, I placed 12th in pretty much every race I entered. I usually started well, flatted, changed the flat, and passed people up to the finish.

In one of my last races, in Ringwood, NJ, I ended up losing my brakes in a wet and wild event. The finish was unconventional at best, with a 200 yard or so rocky descent to a dirt road, a hard right, and a 10 meter sprint to the line.

As the race went on, my (cantilever) brake pads melted into glooey grey globs in the muddy conditions. On the second last lap I hit the descent and realized I had virtually no brakes. With my levers slammed into my grips, I flew down the descent in absolute terror, totally out of control.

Of course the spectators all thought I was attacking, and cheered me on.

The last lap I actually passed a couple guys on the descent, terrified out of my wits. I got even more cheers from the peanut gallery, although the guy I passed in the last turn wasn't as much of a fan.

My fingers hurt from where the brake lever crushed them against the grips. I was really glad to finish that race.

I eventually sold the bike to an employee, who sold it to his brother. I wish I still had that bike.

Jamis Dakar

When I could get my hands on a Jamis, I did. I wanted a light, full suspension bike, and the Jamis seemed perfect. I made some upgrades to the bike, primarily in the wheels, brakes, and anything to do with fit (stem, saddle, bars). I also fiddled, pretty much unsuccessfully, with various suspension settings.

It had sweet Mavic rims, with 4 different color spoke nipples, 32H each. The bike had an XT drivetrain, which I kept. I cut down the bars, put on Paul levers, used super light Specialized tires....

And I only raced it once.

Due to time, stress, and energy constraints, I rarely rode the Jamis. But I decided that I'd go and do the Jack Rabbit Run race at the local park, a 10 minute mountain bike ride away from my house.

I remembered the first time I rode with a Cat 2 off road - we immediately hit 32-33 mph, and we were just flying through the woods. I realized that I had been doing it all wrong.

Therefore I went to recon the course with an open mind. I'd ridden the course before, of course, and therefore I had preconceived notions of how fast each section could be taken. My goal was to explore those limits, to go exponentially faster. This meant looking to use trees and berms as banking, using enormous gears in certain sections low gear sections of the course, and optimizing my attack of the 2 foot tall concrete cube that blocked the bottom of the hardest climb of the course (a short one).

I realized that by going high on tire pressure while relaxing the spring tension on the suspension, I could rock and roll over almost anything at high speed. The first bit of the course had some tight single track, with roots, a right-left, and a field of "baby head rocks". I experimented with this critical opening bit of the course and decided that a 100%, full out assault would work best. I'd hit the section at top speed, realistically about 32-34 mph, and blast through everything, relying on the suspension to deal with the big shocks.

I had to learn how to control my bike's tendency to drift at high speed - the long sweeping curves, if approached at crit-like speeds, ended up being the most challenging turns of the course. I could handle a little slide at 5 or 10 mph, but when my tires started edging sideways at 35 mph, it got a bit tricky.

I found other sections where I could make up time relative to my "old mind" experiences. A particular short bump hill, instead of slowing and creeping along in the small gear, I could sprint up in the big ring. Some flat, sweeping turns meant big gears, big speed.

I did have one weird commitment prior to the race, and when I say "prior", I mean like a hour or two before the race, not a day or two: I was doing the Bloomin Metric. Just the 25 mile route, mind you, but still.

I overhauled both bikes the day before, cleaning the drivetrain, checking all the bits and pieces for looseness or damage, and packed up late at night.

After a couple hours sleep, I dragged myself out of bed. We started the Bloomin Metric, but after over and hour of riding, I realized that at this pace I would miss my race start. With apologies to the group, I turned off and time trialed back to the car. I zipped to the race course, and of course the race had attracted the largest ever one day field in NORBA history, I think 1600 or 1800 riders. Cars stretched for literally a mile in each direction, parked on the side of the road.

I meandered to the park entrance, wondering what to do - I might as well park at home and ride over. I stopped, panic starting to set in.

Then, literally at the entrance of the park, a guy jumped into the first car next to the gate and pulled away. I pulled in before he was 40 feet down the road, jumped out, and started getting ready for the race.

I knew the race would be about an hour long, and I decided that I'd race to win, and only to win. No spare tube, no pump, no tools, no water, no nothing. Just me, my bike, and the course.

This, of course, simplified getting ready, and after I pumped up the tires I went looking for registration. My teammate Dave found me, and he directed me to the starting chute.

I looked at it appalled. There had to be 150 racers, all lined up in a one lane dirt driveway to nowhere. I thought I knew the course, but they were pointing the wrong way, so obviously I didn't know the course.


We sat and sat in the staging area. I climbed off my bike, knee to the ground, and propped my tired head against the bars. I drifted off to sleep, startling myself awake once when the bike started to tip over.

Then, in the hazy bluish world of "I just woke up", Dave started poking me.

"Get up, we're lining up!"

I staggered forward, following the masses, feeling like a lemming.

Then, glorious day.

A loud voice, on the PA, yelled out.

"Okay, now everyone turn around!"

We all looked at each other in confusion.

I turned around and looked in disbelief. The gravel driveway, the start of the course, was behind us.

I ain't no dummy. I picked up my bike and whirled it around. Sweet! I was in the second row of riders.

I heard a LOT of grumbling further back, but, hey, you take it when you get it.

Scott Montgomery, of Cannondale and Scott Bikes, happened to be a few riders away from me. He led the racers in a "thanks to the promoter" cheer. Then, after the Series leader moved to the front, we set off.

I fumbled a millisecond with my pedals and then I was flying.

I had started in the big ring, second big cog, and I literally sprinted away from the line. Pedal pedal SHIFT pedal pedal pedal SHIFT... I was maxed out, biggest gear, sprinting my brains out, looking to lead into the first section.

I passed by the team tent near the end of the straight. Then everyone started motioning, "Left, left, left!"

The course went around the parking lot, not through it like we rode, and I had to make that left. My tires started drifting in the loose pine needles. Apparently that's when I passed the photographer who took the picture above.

I went flying through this unfamiliar terrain, riding in a perfect Zen-like state. Then the course hopped into a couple empty parking spots before hopping the curb back into the woods, for the start of the real singletrack.

I flew onto the pavement, and then lifted the front wheel for the curb. The rear wheel didn't clear it and I heard a big BANG as the wheel hit. The bike didn't move too much, the suspension taking the impact.


I sprinted down the singletrack, did a big wheelie over the roots, again letting the rear suspension take the hits.

Dove into the left-right... and the bike was drifting way more than it should have.

Down the singletrack, around the left...

And for sure, the rear tire was flat. I rode into the Baby Head field, rim slapping against rocks, roots, and the ground.


I hopped off the bike to look.

Yep, it was flat. I jumped back on, thinking maybe I could get a tube from the guys at the team tent. Rode around a left, and then I heard the distinctive rumbling of tires on dirt. I moved out fo the way, and four riders went by me.

The Series Leader led the group, and they were the next group on the course.

Holy smokes! At the cost of the rear tube, I'd taken a 15-20 second lead in about half a mile!

I started walking up the step climb, where an anti-erosion log sat every five feet up a slight grade. I got up almost the whole grade, a good 30 seconds of walking, before the 6th place racer went by.

Holy smokes!

I walked to the top, saw the team tent, and decided I really wanted to take a nap. I strolled over, a guy let me take his lawn chair, and I fell asleep. Delirious with fatigue, I don't remember much of what happened that day, but eventually I rode my bike back to the car, and drove the car home.

That was the last mountain bike race I ever entered.

The Jamis ended up at in an IT colleague's hands. He used it to commute to work in Manhattan, and raved about the bike all the time.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Bethel Spring Series - What It Used To Be

So Bethel has become this nice, polished, semi-consistent event. But how was it at the beginning?

Not so polished, nor organized.

One of the first Bethels. Not quite the first.

Based on Easter's date, it's from 1993. The Series started the year prior, in 1992, with a $7.95 entry fee. This confirmed what someone told me a long while back - that the Series started in '92. Anyway, no one wanted their nickels that year ("nickelback", so to speak), even though we'd brought rolls of them to the race. We decided to raise the fee by that nickel for the following year.

Bethel then was different from Bethel now. For one thing, the only van I had didn't run. You can see it in the picture below - a beautiful F-150 if it ran. I ended up selling it to the dump for $20, and they picked up up for free (bonus!).

Instead I got by on using a hand-me-down car, a Mazda 626. I hauled virtually everything in it. I also used my parent's Subaru, and for a while we even rented vans or SUVs.

Packed car, the last day of the Series.

Note the podium (the wood box), my green kit (means it was 2003 probably), the clock, and one of the original "Caution" signs from 1993 or so.

More podiums, cones, gasoline, and my bike up top (a Specialized M2 with Ergo).

I think we were in the "borrowing a tent each year" phase so there's no tent. Either that or Joe B or Tom was carrying the tents home. Whatever, they're missing from the pictures here.

At this time we were still using paper and pen for registration. It started getting complicated when we went high-tech with laptops, which then required some level of dryness, which meant tent sides, and finally heat.

We used a tiny generator after frying two cars worth of electrics (using plug in transformers). The generator was noisy, inefficient, and tried to give up after two years of service. Merto fixed it despite its protests one year and we got through that Series before it really gave up. I gave it to the dump when we moved a couple years ago.

Big honkin' radio, rented from CBRA. Guessing it's 1996-1997 based on the cap, maybe 1996 since a bunch of the pictures are from the same batch.

For the Series, especially in the early years, radios presented a big challenge. I thought for many years of distributing, to the marshals, a car battery with a CB radio attached to it. I figured a fully charged car battery would power a CB for long enough, and if it didn't, we could just hook it up to an actual car.

But instead we used walkie talkies. Heck, the $40 for a minimum CB was a deal breaker, and where would I find 2-3 car batteries that worked? (Forget about all the dead ones I had in my garage...)

For many years we rented radios from the CBRA. We'd get chargers, radios, and pay some fee each year. We finally saved up to buy some Motorola walkie talkies, and we're still using them now, supplemented by several AAA battery powered cheapies.

Mike, one of our two regular officials, standing in the center. Our actual official that day was Dave.

This used to be the scene at the start/finish area. A car or three, dirt, and warmly dressed officials.

Action shot of the same scene.

Perhaps it's 1996, based on other shots from that Feb/Mar. Yeah, that's me, at the back of the field. I'm running a 24H Zipp 340 rear wheel, probably a 28H GEL280 or FiR GL330 front. A very fast, very light set up, for the time anyway.

There's a building back there now, and a big paved parking lot, not piles of sand and dirt.

Doing the lap cards.

Checking the time gap.

Whenever I see this picture, I think of the Tour where Hinault gets into a break in the 1985 Tour, one of the flatter early stages, one that took place in Brittany. A young Phil Liggett comentates that the Bretons, checking the time gap, will be happy with Hinault's progress (Hinault is from the area).

The break has some horsepower. Stephen Roche, who would win it one day, was there with three teammates I think. Phil Anderson, another top rider from the time, was there with three teammates also. Only three or four teams missed the break, and it was up to Fignon's new-for-that-year System U team to do all the chasing.

Hinault finally gets caught, and as he does, the World Champion striped Lemond rockets out of the field.

"Has he caught the field by surprise? No, Marc Madiot, the French Champion, is on his wheel."

Phil concludes this flat day's adventures with the following rhythmic phrase:

"The Tour will not forget the day the Badger came out to play."

What everyone forgets to mention is that the cameras out that day were no normal ones - they were movie cameras, filming "background" footage for the "soon to be released" movie, The Yellow Jersey, allegedly starring Dustin Hoffman. The movie, of course, never happened, but with a chance to immortalize oneself in a film, a bunch of racers broke away on what should have been an easy day.

Not only that, two team leaders were almost across but couldn't quite get there - had the break waited just a touch, with those two leaders in the lead group, pundits were saying that the break would have gained 15 minutes. Instead, those two team leaders threw their riders into the chase, and for a good hour or so two groups of Tour riders chased each other around Northern France.

I guess we brought tables to the start/finish area.

I'm the guy with the horrible haircut leaning against the table, a reasonably lean 140-odd pounds, fighting weight back then. Merto is behind me in the striped shirt and long hair. Abdul is in the sunglasses, and his bike is the one leaning on the table. They still come to the races, when they can.

In 2010 we'll be doing the 18th confirmed Bethel Spring Series (thanks to that flyer up there). I hope that things get even nicer than last year. The town's already given its permission, and now, for the first time in a long time, I'm looking to increase (just a bit) the amount of stuff we give away. Hopefully I have more news in the next month or two.

See you out there.