Sunday, April 12, 2009

Track - Preparing for the 2009 Season

So the New England Velodrome (NEV) is open for "open riding" this month, April. This means, I guess, that one can go there and get used to the fixed gear while outside, not while on rollers or on a trainer.

It also means that racing will start soon, and in the case of NEV, it'll start in May.

And, just like any other year, I've left the winter "to do" list to lay dormant while I did other "more important" things. So now I find myself wondering if I can get my bike in shape before the first race in May. (Obviously I can race it as is, but last year I figured out that I need to change some things to optimize the bike).

As a review, here is my bike, as it is now, with all its winnings sitting at the foot of the cranks:

Total winnings: A bottle and a cap.

So, to go along the "to do" list from the post above:

1. Gearing.

I currently have a 50x15. And only a 50x15. I'd like to run a 49x15, with the option of going to a 48x15. Based on some extremely complex gear calculations, I'd like to be able to run a 46x14 and a 53x16 as well. Basically I'd like to be able to run, with the 15T, an 86.4" gear (48x15), 88.2 (49x15), and the 90 (50x15) I currently have. The 46x14 gives me an 88.7, slightly bigger than the defactor 49x15. The 53x16 gives me the only gear in the 89s, an 89.4.

On the track, unlike the road, one must decide whether to run a 3/32" chain (road chain) or a 1/8" chain (BMX type chain). Road chains are slim, pretty, and flexible, the last because they need to shift from cog to cog. Track/BMX chains are fat, unwieldy looking, and very stiff, because heaven forbid the chain even thinks about moving from one cog to... well, to nothing.

Right now I run a 3/32" set up because, frankly, it's all I had in the early 90s when I made that fateful trip to T-Town. And when I first bought the track cog, I got a 3/32" because I figured the drivetrain would be lighter. Plus I wouldn't have to buy a chainring - I already had a 50T and a 51T, and who would want a lower gear? I never knew about the flex thing, and I didn't know about a big gear's handicap in any race with slower than fast speeds.

Since I have to (well, want to) buy two chainrings, it's not much more to buy a third, and while I'm at it, I can easily buy a cog or two. BMX chains are cheap, so that's easy.

Therefore the question is, 3/32" or 1/8"?

A related question is "Which crank should I use?" I have a few cranks, not too many bottom brackets, and getting new cranks would entail a BB plus all the above chainrings. If I stay with a 130mm bolt circle crank (Shimano and the like) as well as the 3/32" chain, then I have a chainring, cog, and a chain. I'd only have to buy more chainrings.

If I go with my 135mm bolt circle Chorus cranks, I have to get a BB plus a slew of chainrings (and decide between 3/32" and 1/8").

Or I could go with the 144mm bolt circle diameter (BCD) "track standard". Since I gave away all my 144 BCD cranks and chainrings to Gary in Florida, I'd either have to ask for some of them back (I had a 45, 46, 49, 51, 52, 53, 54, if I recall correctly) or go out and buy a bunch of chainrings.

I'm mulling all that stuff above over, and have been for a bit.

Since I treat life like tests, and tests like life, and the rule is if you can't solve one problem right away you should go to the next question (and return to the unsolvable one later), I'll move on.

2. Too much weight forward.

I never thought this would be a problem for me, but at the track, once I got up to speed, I realized that the bike's rear seemed awfully skippy. Like sliding skippy, not like sticky Skippy peanut butter.

I'm currently running a radical 140 mm track stem. It's beautiful, in an industrial sense anyway, but with the extremely deep drop bars, it's a bit much for a moderate speed track like NEV. I need to move some weight to the back of the bike, so I'll need to do one of two things - a shorter (and probably taller) stem, or use bars with less than a crazy amount of drop.

Since I can't use the track bars anywhere else (too low for my road bike), I'm inclined to try a shorter, taller (level) stem, maybe a flat 110 or 120 mm stem. Failing that I'll use a pair of my precious road crit bend bars because I'm used to sprinting on those things.

Either way, I'll need to experiment. The nice thing about a track bike, especially one with a quill stem, is that it takes one bolt to swap out a whole bar/stem set up. No cables, no fuss, no muss. Just loosen the stem, yank out, then reverse with the next set. I could show up with two sets of bar/stem units, one with the track bar, one with a crit bar, and decide which one I like better.

Heck, I may even set up my old cowhorns on a stem so I can have a "pursuit" bike.

3. Wheel, Front.

My current front wheel is one of those standard replacement wheels, if there were such a thing for "standard track bikes". It's akin to the front wheel you get for your 30 year old Schwinn Traveler III (or mine, if I still had it). Effective by definition - it's round and rolls - but definitely no frills.

The guy Scott who demolished me that last week of racing in 2008 runs a TriSpoke front. I have a TriSpoke front wheel. I even have two of them! Therefore, I thought about running the TriSpoke up front. More aero, cool looking, and, with the brake track a bit bent on the wheel, my tubular TriSpoke isn't really ideal for riding when you have brakes, but it'll work fine with no brakes. Therefore it would be great on the track.

To convert the TriSpoke to a front track wheel, I need to get a solid axle and axle nuts (since track racing forbids quick releases). I'll have to order that, then I can glue on one of my used tubulars, and I'll be set.

Really all I need to do is find my TriSpoke track axle because I already own one, but I can't, so I'll have to order one.

Actually I should go look for it now - I've been steadily making the bike workshop room more of a bike workshop room, and that means all the boxes of parts are sort of in one area.

4. Wheel, Rear.

If I can get a Surly Fixxer to work on the rear cassette TriSpoke, I'll do that. Then I'll have a pair of TriSpokes. The aforementioned Scott said that he tried it on his rear wheel but his (and my) generation of TriSpoke is incompatible with the Fixxer. If so I'll figure something else for it, like find some Ultegra rear hub wheel and put the Fixxer on that thing.

My current rear wheel isn't too bad so I can use it as is - it's a 32 spoke Suntour Superbe high flange hub, laced with a very narrow Sun M17 rim (albeit with straight spokes). I'd like to relace the wheel with lighter spokes (just because) and maybe a wider rim (I have a few laying around). Then I can put a slightly wider tire on it (it's a 19mm right now). Maybe one of my just recently dismounted 21-22 mm crit tires. The tires are a bit worn for racing a crit, but I think they'd work well on the rough surface at NEV.

The Surprise

The final bit of the equation popped up the other night when the missus told me that she wants to sponsor my track racing a bit. She knew that I was missing some "stuff" but she wasn't sure what to get me. In particular she was impressed with a guy's kilo helmet at Bethel - it's designed to be aero no matter which way your head turns. The guy's teammate explained this to both of us as we were chatting in the registation tent, and obviously it struck a chord.

I immediately started researching these things and learned that cost a few hundred dollars, and I really couldn't justify getting a helmet like that.

The missus, though, figured on exactly that "can't justify it" bit, and deduced that it would therefore be a good gift. She outright asked if I'd want a helmet like that. She'd even pay for it.

Would you believe I told her no?

Now, before you berate me for saying such a thing, I pointed out that such a helmet would be good only for a year, they'll probably be illegal next year, at least for USAC, because they only meet European safety standards, and therefore there'd be no guarantee it'd be legal for racing in 2010.

She took this in stride and asked if I needed anything else for my track venture.

Funny she should ask.

I launched into what has become this post, and although she tries very hard to follow the various bike geek terminology, she quickly understood a few things.

1. Since I can't shift gears, and I only have one gear that's a bit big, it'd be better for me to get more gears.
2. Since I have a crappy front wheel, it'd be good if I could get myself a better one.
3. Since I have a couple front wheels that could easily be used on the track, I should do that.

She amended her sponsorship offer based on the above conversation and asked if she could help pay for my chainrings, cogs, potential chain, and even axles and such.

This time I told her yes, she could.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

I look forward to seeing the full outlay of how your changes go. I might have to try going up to NEV and try out track racing some this summer too.

Also, hooray for supportive missuses of our obsession! :-)