Thursday, March 19, 2009

Equipment - Crank Arm Length, Take 3

So... crank lengths.

This is one of my main areas of indecision, or, more accurately, making lots of decisions with different conclusions. After a long, long time on 170s or shorter, in 2003 I went to 175s (Take 1). Then, in 2007, I moved back to 170s (Take 2). But, as of about five weeks back, I'm back on 175s (Take 3).

As anyone who knows me can verify, I'm not leggy at all. I ride either a size S Giant or a 50-52 Cannondale (52 to get top tube length), sporting a (sub?) 29" inseam. (I have not measured my inseam for some time now, and I don't feel like digging up old fit notes, but I wear 30" jeans and they are long on me).

Yet I am running 175s.

Last year I trained about as much as I could (I was a "pro cyclist" at the time), doing 150 hours in about three months, just about equaling my prior year's total training. I felt good, felt lean, but I struggled to break into the top 10 at Bethel each week. I finally won one but it felt unreasonably hard, like my legs could never get on top of the gear.

I tried to take advantage of my fitness but I felt less successful than ever, failing to capitalize on a once in a lifetime year of training freedom. I couldn't shoot across gaps to bridge a break, something I looked forward to with the "faster" cranks. I did it with the longer cranks but I figured I could do it better if I could go faster. Never happened.

After something like 300 hours on the 170s, I happened to go for a ride on the Giant, a bike still outfitted with 175s (with my "pro cycling" status also came a severe lack of funds, and I wasn't about to go out and buy a bunch of 170s for my other bikes). With a heavier, less efficient bike, I did a standard training loop with absolutely no expectations, out for a slightly-harder-than-easy ride. I did the loop and checked the time (I round to the minute).

A record pace.

I analyzed my ride, tried to figure out exactly what happened. I had noted a few spots where I seemed to be going a bit better than normal, but I just chalked it up to "being enthusiastic". So as to have some good comparison data, I did the same loop a few days later. This time I took the Cannondale, with 170s, SRM, full data recording, expecting to ramp up the speed. Instead I felt that I lost speed in the harder portions (false flats, short power hills), and I made up for it on some of the faster sections (like slight downhills). I managed to go faster but it certainly wasn't "by accident" - I had to work hard to go faster than my "sort of easy" ride on the 175 equiped Giant.

So as to justify the 170s I went out again, this time to just go really hard, and blew my old record time away. I knew I was more fit but it took me a lot of doing to go fast on the 170s.

My thoughts started turning to 175s once again.

This past winter, a bit despondent over the prior year's lack of success, I decided to go back to what worked before - 175s. I'd spent a massive amount of money on the cranks and their proprietary BB30 set-up (by buying a whole bike), expecting to get a lighter, stiffer, and more reasonably priced system. I even went so far as to commit to a BB30 SRM crank (the beautiful SI cranks). The bike was lighter, more responsive, and handled better. The cranks were lighter, stiffer, and recorded power. I could use my DV46ts and still record power. My bike dropped over 2 pounds in weight. Things were good.

Except I wasn't going better.

Since it couldn't be me (of course not! It's never the rider!), it had to be my equipment. The only substantial ergonomic change I made? The 170 cranks.

Therefore I had to go back to 175s.

Mid-winter I emailed the nice folks at SRM and they confirmed that not only could I swap just the arms (why didn't I ask in mid-2008??) but that the PowerMeter in the crank spider would not have to be recalibrated.


Of course, knowing this and actually getting some 175s are two different things. I spent much of the winter keeping an eye on 175 Hollowgram cranks on eBay, thinking I would sacrifice the SRM to get the longer cranks. After the SRM email, I realized I could have just bought a set of 175s and swapped the arms. So I eagerly logged into eBay, ready to buy one of those oodles of 175mm Hollowgram cranks for less than $200.

You know what happened next because it's totally the way things work.

I couldn't find a crank. Nada. Not a single crank for sale below some absurd price ($800?). The 175s I managed to find were all carbon and not "arm-swappable", so they wouldn't fit my needs.

I twiddled my thumbs, waited a week, and checked again.

This went on for a while. I briefly contemplated bidding on one set of cranks, but some research seemed to implicate the cranks had over 10k miles on them (they seemed to have been listed on Craigslist with that info, and the pictures looked the same, as did the seller's description and location). 10k miles to me is like eons of training, and I wanted cranks with, say, less than 2000 miles on them, preferably new take-off cranks.

Finally, in February, I found a decent set of cranks, take-offs or close to them. But I was leaving for California in two days and the auction didn't end for another week.

I consulted with the missus, explained the time predicament (she already knew about the 175 vs 170 thing), and she pointed out that it'd be worth however little money I may save by doing the Buy It Now. I bought the cranks and headed out West.

(This is one of those reasons why the missus is the missus, and incidentally, she also recommended the same thing when I told her about my bike when I found it on eBay.)

I should point out that this year didn't start well at all for me, at least for training. With a lot of stuff happening outside of cycling, I didn't do my typical 3 hour trainer rides, didn't break my 5 hour trainer record, and I found myself struggling with a much more physical job than I've had in the past. To top it all off I was sick for my annual Febrary SoCal training camp, running some kind of fever for about 6 weeks total, succumbing to ultimate fatigue for 3 weeks of it.

Net result: I didn't train as much as last year, not by a long shot.

That said, my sprint is better than it was last year and I have an easier time, so far, in races that involve a short hill (i.e. the two Bethels I've done).

The only change on my bike from last year - the 175s.

Coincidence? I think not.

Actually, I don't know if I'm faster on 175s this year (I should point out that I sprinted substantially faster when I switched to 175s in 2003), but I am fresher at the end of a race and I can sprint better. I have not done a max speed sprint this year, meaning one where I thought I went fast on a flat road. So far, because of limited training, all of my jumps have been on uphills, save one or two truck drafts (but the speeds from those don't really mean anything).

Ultimately I think 170s would help when I'm really light, and really fit, like when I was young. I used 167.5s for a long, long time, successfully, and then 170s for almost as long. But realistically, I have to admit that my fitness has deteriorated over the years. "Realistically" meaning I am 25-30 pounds heavier than I used to be, and I am nowhere near as fit as before.

As such, I think longer cranks suit me better.

I have to admit that doing the whole Bethel thing (i.e. promoting) is exhausting me. It takes me until Wednesday to recover from Sunday, and that's when things ramp up for the next Sunday's event.

It also seems that I'm still a bit congested from my February cold, preventing me from sleeping well, and keeping the missus up too with my hacking during-the-night cough.

But I hope that this is temporary, that I can get back on track with my training for later in April and in May. With the local midweek training series set to start at some point soon, ditto the track racing in NH, I hope to race my way back into some kind of fitness by racing twice midweek. The local shop's rides are starting too, and with two group rides and two races every work week, I should be getting in some good riding.

Combined with races on the weekend... Well, let's just say that I'm hoping for a better year. The 175s seemed to have jump started my racing (once again). Now I need to train to keep up with my new found speed.


Anonymous said...

Whow, two midweek races, two group rides (and we all know how much testosterone can be involved there) and some weekend races to top it off.... seems a pretty heavy program to me. Don't you ever do easy rides or recovery rides?
Such a schedule would simply kill me

Aki said...

Heh, I should clarify as well as point out a few things.

First off, I'm selective in my races. Too much driving time, conflicting family schedules, and unsuitable courses (hills) eliminate a lot of weekend racing. Those weekends become family/friends things.

Second, the group rides are not racing team rides, they are a local non-racing group on Mondays and Fridays, although once daylight lasts long enough, the rides tend to be 2 hours long. Having said that, they absolutely kill me on hills, forcing me to actually work, rather than twiddle up in the 25. The fast parts are fine for me though, and I enjoy the give and take of the ride (I learn on the hills, "go fast" on the flats and downhills).

Third the midweek racing is pretty short - sub 1 hour for the Tuesday night race (albeit hard) and about 30 minutes of efforts in 2 hours or riding on Wednesdays at the track (if the schedule works out). I warm up for perhaps 30 minutes on Tuesday and maybe 5 minutes for the track.

Finally, since I have a really, really hard time motivating to ride hard when training (essentially all of my rides are easy except when I do some threshold to get up hills), racing is the best motivation for my hard training. My best years were when I could do group rides 2-3x/week, 1.5-2.5 hours of sprints on Tuesday (or a 123 race for 1+ hours) and multiple races on Sat and Sun. I seem to race better the more I race.

Once California ends, I tend not to train too much, at least when I have a job. Between Feb 26th and March 18th, I've ridden about 2 hours outside of the races (I did over an hour last night so it sort of wrecks that impressively low number :) ). By committing to doing some of the rides/races, I'll bump up my training to a more reasonable 5-8 hours a week.

So, hopefully, this approach will work this year. Last year, in August, I started the schedule, but I didn't race any weekend races because they were all gone or we were busy (moving etc).

Anonymous said...

Just heard the Tuesday night races will be starting first week of May - looking forward to doing that with you again this year!

Also, this post has me considering 175s myself. Not even sure what I use now - I think 172.5

Aki said...

I have spare 175s if you want to try them. One of the instigating factors in my long crank saga was reading about Marc Madiot winning a Tour stage using 180s (under Cyrille Guimard, Renault-Elf). He rides a 55 cm. I took 2-3 months to get used to the cranks (I think I put them on in October or November). I did massive hours on the trainer, focusing on spinning and figuring out the best seat position (keep at same height, drop 1/2 crank length difference, drop full crank length diff).