Monday, May 31, 2010

Racing - 2010 Tour of Somerville

After the Bethel Spring Series my season always seems to stutter a bit. A lot of the classic May crits are gone, or, if not gone (I haven't checked), too far away. Scotch Plains, Point Pleasant, Freehold, Nutley, these were the ultra-fast crits where I'd basically get a motorpacing workout before heading for a much more reasonable crits in Connecticut or Rhode Island.

With some good form at Bethel, I decided to try the Mystic Velo Crit at Ninigret Park. Usually I skip Ninigret Park races because, frankly, I get shelled there all the time. A four lap race is a triumph for me, and finishing is... unexpected. When that went better than expected, I realized that, hey, I can actually race this year.

See, for me, Bethel seems like such a "home field" race, I kind of assume that people let me do well. I mean, yeah, I work hard, and yeah, the team worked hard, but I've been doing the race so long that I think of it as Not Real Racing. Bethel is always a "there's next week, and if not next week, next year." I feel like I always have a back up race coming up.

Real Racing happens in other races, like Prospect Park or East Hartford or Freehold or Rocky Hill. Bethel and my other "been doing this forever" Not Real Race (New Britain) are both venues where I have a pretty high minimum expectation. New Britain is the same way as Bethel - there's usually two races there a year, and if I screw up at one, I can come back another day. And back before Bethel, we raced a spring series there. So I raced there 7 or 8 times a year, and, frankly, did pretty well in the spring series.

But, in the same breath, I can also say that if I'm not in contention at Bethel or New Britain, I'm just as happy just racing around the course. So I'm never really upset - it's always okay, and I don't think I've left either course sorely disappointed in a long time.

Of course that leads into Real Racing, like the aforementioned crits in New Jersey. When I got 11th at Nutley I was ecstatic. I never finished Scotch Plains, ending up on the pavement twice, shelled another time.

See? Real Racing.

Well, the biggest biggie of Real Racing for me is the Tour of Somerville. It's as big as it gets - the longest running event in the US (apparently), the Queen of Crits. When I started racing the Tour of Somerville was probably the most prestigious crit on the East Coast, with Nevada City vying for honors on the West Coast.

For many, many years they only allowed Cat 2s or higher at Somerville, so I never got to race it.

Then, as some of the local races started disappearing, more and more races started slotting in the weekend of the Memorial Day Somerville. One such addition - the Streets of Somerville, a course with a long, big-ring drag, followed by a close-to-50 mph descent to reset the altimeter. I blew just as the sprint started (up the hill) but I'd made the trip down there.

Then, finally, Somerville allowed some lessor riders to race that day. I signed up for something, it could have been Masters 35+, maybe Cat 3s. Whatever, it was the fastest, most strung out race I'd ever done. I was clinging onto the back by my finger tips. After a few laps I realized that it'd take me a lap to move up 5 spots, and with 125 or something riders, and 10 laps left... well, I had to do some serious moving up.

I spent one lap moving up.

Half a lap later I blew sky high. Pulled out of the single file line of riders, after trying to bring the guy behind me up to the wheel in front of me.

And that was that.

I avoided returning there for various reasons. I wouldn't want to travel all the way there just to get shelled in a lap or two. Therefore any year where I had doubts about my form, I didn't go.


I think that's the only various reason I have. And since I had serious doubts about my form every year after that first Somerville, I didn't return.

Until today.

Because, for whatever reason, I have the best form I've had since my short stint in Belgium, and the season following that stint.

The Bethel Spring Series hinted at it. The Mystic Velo Crit helped confirm it.

And suddenly I was looking all over for crits I could enter. I had the form and I didn't want to waste it on group rides or sprinting after trucks. I wanted to use it up in races.

The next race after Mystic Velo that I could find?

Tour of Somerville.

Ten days prior to Memorial Day I checked the 10 day forecast. It looked reasonable so I registered for the race. 135 field limit, I was about rider 90. It would be a full field.

I had less than optimal prep for the race - too many days off, a little tumble, not enough work riding the bike. Although I didn't want to use up my race legs, I still needed some efforts, and I never got in any ideal ones, the high speed, high power efforts that help so much in epic crits.

The "Day Prior" ride didn't help much. I didn't feel like I was so good that I had to get off the bike right away (this happened before Ninigret). I struggled to turn over the pedals, worked hard to go 300-odd watts, felt dehydrated, and basically felt pretty horrible.

But, as the Missus pointed out, the day before isn't the important one. And I've raced well after a horrible Day Prior.

We trekked down to Somerville, NJ, a 2 hour drive from my Dad's place. Got there nice and early, chose a parking spot (the lot was basically empty), and started getting ready.

Before I had my bike together, sweat dripped from my face.

It was hot.

Mr. SRM says it was 100 degrees, and it might have been, in the sun, but most thermometers said 95. Whatever, it was hot.

We found registration, I picked up my numbers.


Sign of a Real Race? More than one number.

While the Missus used 16 (!!) pins to attach said numbers to a jersey, I got ready. This means adjusting my stem a bit (it turned a touch when I touched pavement Tuesday), lubed the chain, and load up my bottles. Two bottles, Gatorade mix, with a ZUUM for extra measure in one. More electrolytes, some caffeine, and some fizz. Excellent.

The Missus gallantly took my HED 6-9s with her and dropped them off at a pit. At some point later, I found a tired, sweat soaked Mavic guy, and verified that there was neutral service.

"Not to be dense, but is this neutral support?"

Ends up there were two neutral support pits, one at the beginning of each long straight. And the one I went to probably had my wheels there already, if I'd looked around a bit.

I did a couple laps, realized that the main stretch went slightly uphill, and it was long.

Like really, really long.

When you think you should jump, you have to wait. Because that's how it usually is at a race. But then when you really think you should jump, you have to wait again. Then, when you've waited that second time, and you're absolutely dying to jump, you have to wait yet again.

When you see the low finish line banner, and you hit the intersection shortly before it, then you can jump.


I promised myself to not sit up coming out of the last turn because in the gazillion meters from the last turn to the finish, I had a chance of recovering a bit before launching into the sprint. I mean I could have dinner, with an appetizer and a dessert, and still jump early in the sprint.

It's that long.

Tip: If you have problems with heat, and it's really hot, carry a bottle of water in your jersey (center pocket, if applicable). You can dump it on yourself for an instant air conditioning kind of feel. And if you're good, you can put the bottle back into your pocket, even at speed. Bonus if you freeze the bottle the night before.

I found the Missus, bought a precious bottle of water ($2.50 precious), poured most of it into a third bottle in my back pocket, drank the rest, and got ready for the race.

A friendly voice across the street - Brian W, he who helped me at one of the Bethels this year. I rolled across the street to say hi.

He, in turn, gave me some advice.

"You gotta stay up front. They'll be crashin' like fools today. You'll use more energy after the crashes than you will by staying up front. Top 5 out of the last turn and you can win."

Tip: When someone gives you advice, adjust it to fit your personal characteristics. When a time trialer says that you can easily solo the last 5 laps, remember it's a time trialer saying that.

I adjusted his words to my self-knowledge.

Stay up front, surf it hard. Crashes don't help anyone except those in front.

Top 5 out of the last turn and I'll get hosed in the sprint. 5th through 10th and I'll have a chance. 11th through 20th and I'll have a better chance in the sprint but I'll also risk crashing.

Properly armed, I started making my way towards the line. I managed to chat a bit with a guy on another team. We had a good talk actually, discussing some of the aftermath of the August 11 crash.

Then, with the Junior race winding down, we wormed our way to the line.

Tip: When staging for a Real Race, keep bike on ground, pointed in direction you want to go. Do NOT lean bike against fence/railing in such a way that you can't move it quickly.

I made the mistake of leaning my bike against the crowd barrier, in the one opening available in the 200 meters before the start. Eventually I wiggled my bike up and out, bumping guys while doing it.

"Sorry. Oh, sorry. Sorry about that. Sorry."
"Hey, as long as it's not during the race it's okay."
"Still, sorry. Oh. Well at least it wasn't the chainring. Sorry."

Then they released us.

I hobbled forward on my cleats.

Front row, baby!

Tip: When lining up for a Real Race, get your position, then stand next to the bike on the left side.

Do something like pick up the back and shift your derailleurs. Wiggle the bike a lot. Make your bike and yourself bigger than real, so that other riders don't crowd you. Left side because you don't want to stand on the chain side.

I got to the line and promptly put my bike into a better starting gear, raising the rear wheel off the ground, the bike wobbling precariously while I tried to shift the right shifter with my left hand.

Tip: When starting a Real Race, put it in the 3rd largest cog in the back, big ring up front.

For me I had an 11-23 so I put it in the 53x19, the third largest cog. Anything bigger and I may derail the chain back pedaling (when nervously waiting for the start), and anything smaller and I may bog down.

Tip: Practice clipping in by clipping out at every single stop sign, stop light, yield sign, whatever. And clip back in as fast as possible.

Real Races usually have announcers, and a tricky thing they do nowadays is to say "Go!" all of a sudden. They didn't do it for us, instead letting us stutter start.

"Ready... Set...."

Lots of shuffling as wheels start rolling.

Then lots of cleats clacking back on the ground since there was no "Go!".


Aw, crap.

When I dropped my shoe back onto the pavement it jiggled my cranks just right, flipping my pedal a bit. So when I went to clip in, pedal wasn't cooperating. I rolled while I raised my foot, tried to get back in again.

No go.

Finally I looked down and clipped in.

I'd lost 20 spots.

We dove into the first turn, then the second. Guys seemed content sitting in position. I moved up. I was actually pretty far up at the end of the first lap.

Then the racing started.

Most of it is a blur to me. I managed maybe five dumps of cool water from the jersey pocket bottle before I ran out. I also drank a bit of my ZUUM/Gatorade, but as I got more and more hot I felt more and more queasy.

The water dumps helped, but I quickly ran out of water, a soaking lasting, oh, half a lap or so.

Without really thinking about it I started dumping the ZUUM/Gatorade on my neck, face, and shoulders. When I ran out of that, I grabbed the other bottle of Gatorade, using most of it up the same way.

This got me through the race, although I wish I'd frozen a bottle for the jersey pocket. It was all good though, because frankly I wasn't sure if I'd get to the end.

In between bottle dumps I managed to slalom through a pretty massive pile up, spread out over a good 20 meters of straight, heard a big crash behind me going into Turn 3, and saw a slew of riders cutting off others in turns.

I was one of them, actually, because I couldn't, for some reason, corner that hard. I kept swinging wide. Sometimes it wasn't by much, like 6 inches, but enough to garner a deserved "Hey!". Whatever it was, I have to work on it, and, as the Missus pointed out, I have to race the race wheels in some hard cornering races, preferably training races, like the Rent. Tomorrow, at the Rent: race wheels.

With a couple laps to go I sat in excellent position, 4th, 5th wheel at times, surfing hard to maintain position. Screw all that moving up inside stuff - I was flagrantly blowing huge chunks of change maintaining position, moving up, following wheels. Each time I heard a crash or a yelp or something behind me, I worked even harder to stay up front.

At the bell I'd gotten swarmed a bit, but on the back stretch regained about 10th spot. The guy in front of me went a bit too hard to move up and ended up at the front, me sitting on his wheel.

Going into the second last turn at Somerville, I was sitting second wheel.

I couldn't believe it.

We dove into the turn, he took a tight line, and I... almost hit the outside curb.

Gotta work on that cornering. I was good at it, but no one would believe that, not there, not then.

I closed the gap I opened up, tucked right back on. My heart rate was well into the red zone, deep into it, in the high 180s. I didn't know that then but that's what Mr. SRM tells me.

I never see the high 180s. So this was a special effort.

We hit the main straight. Churned gears towards the finish. I started thinking that maybe something would happen, my legs would come around. I was hoping I could breath without feeling like my heart was doing somersaults in my chest.

Then, inevitably.

Big crash behind. It was so loud the guy in front of me actually jerked on the bike. For a moment I thought he'd lose control, but he tried to jump. The left side was moving hard, accelerating in slow motion, like they were in molasses.

I started to jump, get on another wheel, then realized that I was still two landmarks away from my jump point. I eased a bit. And my body shut down.

I watched the clump of riders slowly pull away from me, nothing super spectacular in their acceleration. I wondered if that's all it took.

Then, like a rocket, a pink and blue kit of the CRCA team. Juan Pimentel. Sitting maybe 20th. He'd avoided the crash and launched a spectacular sprint, like he was shot out of a cannon. Which is maybe a bit faster than a rocket, come to think of it. I don't know who won but he got second.

I crossed the line, the Missus watching, worried after that last crash. She'd watched me hold onto good position, didn't know what happened in those last two turns. But she watched me crawl over the line.

I'd been woefully unprepared. No extra water, no ice, no nothing. I Action Wiped myself down, using three of them to get myself to resemble a civilized human being.

I felt a mix of emotions. I guess I was semi-heat stroked so my brain wasn't functioning too well. I don't think I had a lot of energy to be really happy or really angry. But I felt these muted emotions.

Disappointed because I couldn't sprint.

Glad because I hadn't hit the deck.

Glad because I finished a race that used to be "unfinishable".

Glad because I'd pushed myself beyond my previous limits.

But when we pulled away, the Missus driving, and we started meandering back to the highway, I realized that it was all good.

Bike racing, as intense and fun as it is, is just a part of life. The Missus was really happy for me. I'd raced really hard, raced near the front, and stayed in contention in a race where the last time I did it I watched the finish from the sidewalk. Although I couldn't think that clearly, she could.

And that's that.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Life - Rest Day @ Navone Studios

Not today, actually. I'm referring to Wednesday.

See, I took a tumble on Tuesday evening and although nothing noteworthy happened to me or the bike, I didn't quite feel like riding or racing on Wednesday night. So, although I drove to Bethel and had my bike and gear in the car, I declined to exercise my ability to remove said bike and gear from car.

Instead, I spent a very nice and relaxing few hours hanging out chez Navone Studios. You know them - they're the folks that had Bethel Spring Series registration indoors.

I ostensibly visited to take care of business, but the reality was that the place has a certain vibe, an atmosphere that's hard to capture in words or pictures. I find it really relaxing to hang out there, sitting on one of many chairs, gazing into nowhere, mind about as blank as can be. Sometimes I get almost manic with whatever task I set myself - whether it be reading, writing, whatever. Other times I just zone out, stare off into space, fall asleep.

Whatever it is, I feel a deep rooted sense of security, relaxed. It's hard to get myself into such a mental state. When I can it's (to paraphrase a former colleague) "a special and precious" time. He was referring to programs that did things "on their own", meaning "of course the programmer didn't write a bug - that behavior is magical, and we should save it because magic is a special and precious thing!"

I go looking for it sometimes, but more often it falls into my lap.

Sometimes it happens in an airport, waiting through the night for a flight. Other times it hits me over the head, late at night, prompting some furious typing on the computer, or maybe just-as-furious scribbling on paper.

But, incredibly, it happens every time I step into Navone Studios. Every Saturday I went to set up for Bethel. The Wednesday visits during the week, when I went to talk to neighbors or distribute flyers.

I don't know what it is about that place. The frame dripping from the ceiling. Shots of racers, racing, races. The slew of bikes hanging on the bike "rack", or the inevitable bike in the work stand. The team gear casually strewn around. The folks there, going about their business around me, but always conscious of me - asking if I need anything, want anything.

I thought about what makes me fall into that mental state. I sort of have to define it to describe it.

One overwhelming thing is that I need to feel like it's okay to relax. I feel like I'm in a safe haven. I don't feel that way at work, for example, because napping at the register just doesn't work. Oftentimes I don't feel this way at home because there's always something to do, something I want to do, something I need to do.

I find that certain friends' houses get me into this state - they may not know this, but they probably think I have some kind of narcolepsy thing going on because I drift off when I visit them. My dad's place - where my brother and his family live too - is another place. I get there and bam, I'm sleepy, drowsy, and can barely stay awake.

And though I said I don't often feel this way at home, there are times that I do - when the Missus and I call "time out" on errands and sigh and relax and nap and stuff.

A second important aspect of this "mental state" is feeling free to do whatever I want. If I feel the urge to check the Echo lawn equipment (I really need to empty them of the old gas/oil mixture), I can do it without feeling like I'm ignoring anyone or being obnoxious in some way. If I feel like reading a book, so be it. Or I make one of my interminable lists, thinking hard about the sub-lists associated with the list. You know, like "To do the Number One thing on the list I'll need to do A, B, and C. To do Number Two, I'll have to do A and B. And A needs to be broken down into hash mark one, two, and three."

So on and so forth.

In these safe havens, whatever my brain decides to do, I can do without any feeling of negativity.

Another factor in this "heightened state of being" has to do with the people around me, their attitudes, their actions. At my dad's it's pretty much always relaxing, with no pressure to do anything. Ditto friend's houses. Sometimes we are there to help out, but usually it's just hanging out, and that means relaxing.

No stress, no expectations.

When people let you be, it's very relaxing.

Finally there's the environment. Usually quiet, sometimes noisy, no unusual anything - smells, colors, noise, maybe some background noise or acoustics that isolate me from the rest of the room. It could be a loud party, anonymous in its noise, or it could be a cafe near the ocean, quiet like a library, breeze passing through. Nothing unpleasant though, else I get on edge.

I suppose if I had one of those Japanese gardens, with the stones and the water flowing and a perfect balance of sight, sound, and texture, it would be relaxing. But I think that the stress of making such a garden "just so" would kill it for me. Some of the stereotypical "relaxation" environments get me on edge - that would be one of them.

When I know that I can find myself in this mental place I'll make an effort to get there. I've wanted to get to Navone Studios for weeks now, but each week something else has come up and diverted me away.

So when I headed down Wednesday to Bethel, to Navone Studios, knowing there'd be a race there, I wasn't necessarily going there to race. But just in case the urge hit me, I packed my full gear bag, my bike, even the helmet cam.

I knew, though, that it was very unlikely that I'd ride. My neck felt sore from the crash, I wasn't sure how my legs would feel, and, frankly, I didn't want to leave the studio to ride the bike.

So instead I hung out there, talked with Frank, said hi to the racers, listened to the various stories and such, and soaked in the atmosphere.

I don't think I dozed off, and I don't think I did any manic work. I never got my bike out, nor did I open my notebook.

I watched the races there, soaked in the vibes.

Talked with some of the racers there. Caught up with one, who didn't know that the blue car was mine - he thought I was just jokin' around. I finally popped the hatch to show him my bike. He laughed. And then we talked about the bike.

The races ended, the riders left.

I had some of Frank's pizza - a newer, thin crust, delicious masterpiece, spices popping out at you.

Throughout my visit - probably close to 5 hours long - we talked. Talked about racing, compared wounds and their accompanying stories. He had a real reason to fall - he was racing mountain bikes. Mine wasn't so good.

We talked about next year, how to make things better.

Talked about some of the less appealing aspects of the sport, stuff in the news, stuff that's been news.

And when it started getting dark, when traffic on the highways had eased, I went back out to the car. I almost forgot about my wounds until I dropped myself into the driver's seat (I couldn't get in gracefully yet). My neck reminded me of its soreness when I turned to grab the seatbelt strap. I could feel the Tegaderm on my hip when I pushed in the clutch.

The car started right up, its unique burble music to my ears. I still can't believe that I have this car, that I get to drive it, even though it's going on seven years old. It revved nicely, ready to go, eager. Music started coursing through the car, the beat picking up where it left off when I last turned off the car.

I called the Missus, to let her know I was on my way. She had stuff going on too, and so we'd just meet each other back at the house.

I looked over at the Echo equipment on the passenger seat, on my gear bag, next to my first aid stuff, my business stuff, my cooler. In the mirror I could see the wheels sitting on top of my bike, and, reflecting off of the studio doors, the car's taillights.

I let the clutch out, nicely, a blip to ease the transition, and the car rolled forward.

I left Navone Studios behind.

Mentally I felt clear.




And that's what rest days are all about.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Equipment - Bokken, or HED Jet 6-9 Wheels

So, the final installment of the series. I had to delay it while I tested the subject matter to just two more tests, but it's all good - I can post now.

In review, I've gone over the Katana, the actual fighting swords. In my world they're my racing wheels for almost all conditions. Only unusual or training races would see me on other wheels.

Next, the much shorter Tanto, which, for me, represent non-fighting swords, used for emergency or difficult conditions, stuff like extreme wind, debris, dirty roads, stuff like that. The trainer could be one such condition since the rear wheel will likely end up used mainly on the trainer.

Finally we get to the "bokken", or wooden practice swords - that's what this installment is going to cover. In the HED world they'd be called the Jet 6 + Jet 9. In my world they're my aero training wheels, used as a substitute for the lighter, more agile katana. I like to call them bokken because the rim profile heights reflect the 60 cm and 90 cm standard bokken sword lengths perfectly, with the wheels measuring in at 60 and 90 mm for the Jet 6 and Jet 9 respectively.

60 mm to the right, 90 mm to the left.

When I first rode the wheels, I noticed a couple things immediately.

First, they're heavy. Compared to the Bastognes, they add about 120 grams up front, 200 grams at the rear, but it's all at the rim. These wheels don't like to accelerate quickly, at least not as quickly as the Bastognes, definitely not like the Stinger 6s.

Second, partially because they're heavy and partially because they're so frickin' aero, when I'm sitting in a paceline on a flat or slight downhill road, I feel like I have an electric motor on the bike. The bike wants to go, and I have to rein it in.

These wheels are fast.

They just want to motor on all day. Not the best match for a jumpy rider like me, but a good one for a time trialing machine.

I have yet to do some more objective testing, but those are my two biggest "take aways" from my first rides on the wheels.

The Jet 6 in front, the Jet 9 in the rear.

You can see the drain holes in the fairing. These help keep the wheels drier than waterlogged - some older aero wheels could hold a few ounces of water in the rim.

Note also the aluminum brake track - they stop just like a normal aluminum wheel. They've been very good, smooth, no oil spots or anything. Very nice.

You should know that these wheels are essentially aluminum, not-very-tall-rim wheels with a carbon fairing. Therefore they will ride like aluminum wheels with a low spoke count and a not-very-tall rim. They are not like a structural carbon wheel, where the rim really is 60 or 90 mm tall. I don't know the rim height, but I'm guessing it's in the 30 mm range. The fairing is a false front.

Jet 9, by itself.

Huge area for logo. I left them on, being a logo kind of guy. If you're not a logo kind of person you can remove them pretty easily. In fact one corner of one of the labels started to peel without any prompting. For stealth riders this is a nice touch.

Find the valve hole. No, I didn't remove the logos, it just happens there isn't one in this area.

With no valve, and a valve too short when I actually mounted up the tire, I had a bit of trouble finding the valve on the Jet 9. A Carpe Diem Racing sticker took care of that.

See how the spokes enter the side of the carbon, and each spoke goes through a large-ish hole? This indicates the carbon is simply a fairing, not a structural part of the wheel. If you squeeze it you'll realize it right away - the carbon is only a little stiffer than an inflated party balloon. The carbon is there simply to guide air around the rim and tire.

Wheel fairings are legal for USAC so this isn't a problem for racing.

The Jet 9 is tall. Both wheels have the same 80 mm size valves, yet the Jet 9 requires an extension. Note sticker on the Jet 9 marking valve location.

It's a bit stunning, how tall the Jet 9 really is. I bought a couple 80 mm valves for the wheels. On the Jet 9 I can barely close the presta nub of the 80 mm valve with my fingers. On the Jet 6 it sticks up way too far.

No bulge - Jet 6. Okay, a hint of one.

One thing I found kind of interesting - no huge bulges out from the sidewall. I was kind of disappointed, to be honest. I thought, after seeing the wicked wide bulges of the Stinger 6s, that the Jet 6 and Jet 9 would be similarly enhanced. No such luck. Although tall, and wide (due to the wider rim), the sides don't bulge out significantly.
No bulge, Jet 9. You can tell it's the 9 because it's the rear wheel.

The rim "peaks" (i.e. where the spokes enter the fairing) are kind of flattened out. This helps the air move sideways over them - someone told me a long time ago that this flow really helps stabilize a wheel in a crosswind. Sharp edges catch more wind.
Various hand-built evidence things. Note FSA rim strips (red things top right corner).
4-5 indicates date, based on when I got the wheels.

I didn't mention this in the other posts but the wheels all arrived with various marks and notes on the rims. These seem to reflect the builder's initials, build date, and other notes. The big "CAMPY" scribble probably means "get a Campy cassette bodied hub". It's reassuring to see all these markings - I feel like someone actually took responsibility for the wheels.

I point out the FSA rim strips because the rims end up coated a bit with a very slick lube, evidently used to lube the spoke nipple on the rim (based on the trails of lube barely visible when the light hits the rim just right). Velox rim tape (my default tape for clincher rims) doesn't stick to the stuff, and it's hard to clean off the grainy metal finish. The guys at Bethel Cycle (where I bought the wheels) like the FSA strips because they just stretch onto the rim, no adhesion necessary. It works well for these wide rimmed, low pressure wheels.

Ginormous profile rim. I never thought I'd have a wheel like this.

After my first ride on the wheels - it was a group ride. Picture taken inside where there were fewer mosquitoes.

I mentioned some extra testing done on these wheels before I did this post. The first distraction was riding on a group ride where, somehow, I managed to hit just about everything on the road. Potholes, 2 inch chunks of loose pavement, random gravel stones, cracks, seams, everything. I was bouncing around for a good hour, the carbon fairings amplifying the noise. At least half a dozen times I hit something, turned around, and saw yet another meteor-fragment-like piece of pavement bouncing off the road.

To my pleasant surprise, the wheels shrugged off everything. They were totally straight, totally round, and didn't seem bothered at all by the impacts.

The low pressure tires (you can go down to 95/105 psi on the 23 mm rims) also shrugged off all the impacts. Some of those rock impacts could have flatted a tire on a regular rim, but nothing happened here.

The next morning, though, I noticed the rear tire was low. Since it had a valve extension, I thought maybe the open valve got "touched" and let out the air. I re-inflated the tire, left for another night.


I re-inflated again, left it another night, but this time I removed the extension and tightened the valve down.

Flat again.

So on the third day I replaced the tube (no, I didn't ride those days so I just left the bike in the same place, leaning against the wall in the kitchen). And lo and behold, a piece of glass had squirmed its way into the tread.

Glass shard. Gear bag underneath.

I tested the wheels another way too. This involved me sprinting to 30 mph, impacting an object going about half that speed, then throwing the bike down onto the pavement.

Surprisingly enough, the wheels held up fine there too. They were straight, round, and made no untoward noises. I don't have pictures because, really, there's nothing to picture. The wheels look exactly the same, with some extra scuff marks on the tires.

Although I'd rather not repeat either of those two tests, they did help show that the wheels are quite durable.

Now to go out and spin the legs a bit.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Training - Crash

I walked into the handicap stall, the only one actually, but luckily a handicap one. Unusually for a public bathroom it had a lid on the toilet, which I promptly lowered.

I wasn't here to use the toilet.

I hung my "kit bag" on the door handle, another bonus in the bathroom. The door resembled that of a changing room, not one of a toilet, and that made it seem a bit more normal.

Plus the large handle made for a nice hook.

I pulled off my work boots (steel toe, zillions of eyelets to unlace), then my jeans. My team shorts, which I'd been wearing under the jeans, were a bit wrinkled but otherwise unharmed.

I pulled those off too, and, conscious that someone may come in to actually use the toilet, pulled on my underwear.

Then I got to work.

I'd already done a quick Action Wipe clean up. But now I needed a little more.

The first aid spray, along with a generous serving of toilet paper as a gauze pad, let me clean out the wounds, wipe down the abrasions. Toilet paper is a bit flimsy so I had to make sure I didn't leave any behind. I lifted the toilet lid and dropped the wet paper there.

Then, quickly, the larger Tegaderm patches, for the hip. With the fluency of practice, I quickly peeled off the paper backing, stuck the clear film onto the wound, and removed the paper "frame".

Two more patches on my leg, another on my elbow, but these were smaller ones.

I felt like Jason Bourne, patching himself up after a little adventure. I'd say Terminator, but he was really hurt. Except I didn't take the stuff from a store, nor did I shoot up half of Moscow getting away from the bad guys.

No, I was just recovering from a group ride.

It was pretty innocent, actually. We had done most of the ride (I was suffering like crazy), and now we were heading back to the start point, in cool down mode. A small gap opened up in front myself and a few guys; we were busy talking. Then, naturally, one guy went to close the gap, calling out to the rest of us to join him. We all jumped at about the same time.

I got up to a decent speed - it was the hardest jump of the ride, now that I look at the data. But since I was over-geared, it took me a while to get up to speed.

This meant that when I finally caught the group in front, I was going kind of fast - about 32 mph, according to Mr SRM.

I started veering left, following the first guy, intending on doing a flyby of the group just pedaling along. I checked my seven to make sure there were no cars, turned back around...


Slammed (like "Suh-Lammed") into the cassette of the guy in front, who, instead of going around the front group, slowed to their speed. Which, I should point out, was much slower than how fast I was going. I talk about recovering from touching a front tire, babble on about the sphere and such, but when you hit someone that hard... well, when I hit someone that hard, I had no chance.

Impact speed: 30 mph (Mr SRM, again)

Estimated speed of guy I hit: 15 mph

It's possible I scrubbed off 2 mph of speed because I actually hit 32 mph before I started to slow, but I'm not sure. I think I eased on my acceleration to check my seven.

I went flying off the bike, left side, and skittered along the pavement. I wasn't that hurt, but I sat in the road for a second or eight, gathering my thoughts.

The left side of my body hurt. Hands stung a bit. Stinging on the left leg. No real pain, no deep scream-your-head-off, break-down-and-cry pain. Just some stinging.

I realized I was sitting in the middle of a road that cars use so I got up. Walked over to the grass on the shoulder. My bike was already there, someone already checking it over. It looked fine, nothing really damaged. A small dent in the top tube - probably from my shoe.

I did another self-check. Legs okay. Muscles worked. Arms okay. No serious pain. Shoulders fine. Head okay. No ringing or dizziness or anything.

A woman came out of a house across the street.

"You want to call someone?"

We as a group declined. I was fine. Shaken, but fine. I don't remember talking very much. I directed most of my attention inward, to my body, interrogating different parts of my body, making sure that each bit responded appropriately.

They did.

The bike seemed good too. Wheels okay, brakes worked, nothing in the bar/stem area loose or sketchy. I got back on the bike, looking at the chain as I did. It looked normal - weird chain behavior would have meant a bent derailleur or crank (or worse), but the chain looked fine.

I rode back to the cars with everyone else. They seemed to keep an eye on me, waiting for the unfelt injury to make itself known. Or a mechanical bit to fail.

As I rode I noticed less critical things. Levers a bit skewed. Saddle may have been a bit off, but maybe not.

I thought of Somerville, next Monday. Six days away. I should be okay for the race. A little stiff for a few days but that should be it. I still wanted to work on my form - I felt like I was pedaling squares - but with the lingering stiffness it would be difficult for a day or two.

I recalled that when I was on the road that my bike only hit the left side, which, in my bike shop mind, meant no drive train damage. It shifted fine, confirming that thought.

I realized when I had trouble unclipping that something happened to my shoes. When I examined them I found fresh chips in both cleats. One corner of a cleat had disappeared - and since the corner is what disengages the pedal, I couldn't unclip pushing in that direction.

When I went to start my car, the key felt a bit rough. I'd fallen on the key, scraping it slightly. Apparently it stuck a hole in my jersey, but I didn't understand the words when someone told me that as I did that second self-check, standing on the side of the road.

We had been planning on going to dinner after the ride and I wasn't about to let a little bit of road rash spoil the party. So, before I got to the restaurant, I stopped by a CVS. Bought some supplies. Hit the road. Found the restaurant.

After I dressed my wounds, I flushed the toilet to get rid of the evidence. I stuffed everything back into my kit bag and walked out to our table.

Now that I'm home things are stinging a bit more. We'll see how it goes in the next day or two.

My "kit bag" unpacked. Big Tegaderms and little ones, spray wash, tape, gauze, and litter.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Equipment - Tantos, or HED Bastogne Wheels

So, as you know, I want to dedicate the next few posts to a topic close to my heart, and one that many of you can relate to:


Other than a well fitting frame, I've decided that once you have a minimum level bike, wheels make the biggest possible upgrade readily available to every rider.

In fact, my experience with the Tsunami (official post on it yet to come) has made me rethink my whole aero-road philosophy. I'm ever-evolving, what can I say?

When I got going on structural versus fairing rims, I did some research, trying to find a wheelset available in both types of construction, just so I could post pictures of both types by one manufacturer. I stumbled upon, once again, the HED website. And when I started looking, I started sipping their Kool Aid.

Combined with ads going back to the Miami Vice days of TV (pastels were the rage in cycling, believe it or not), I realized that the HED I knew of - with its cheap, fast, but kind of heavy disc wheels, the Stingers that I never even wanted to try - that the HED I knew of had evolved into a much more sophisticated company.

Correction: They marketed themselves in a much more sophisticated manner. Their wheels look finished, their presentation much more compelling, and I think they honed their product until they had the best wheels in the world, at least for us mere mortal bike racers.

Big words, I know.

I think the first hint of this "progression" was Team High Road's use of HED wheels. With no wheel sponsor (and still no wheel sponsor), High Road (now HTC-Columbia) has to buy all their wheels. I figure that such a buyer will get wheels at a nice discount and all that, but still, they can choose any wheel they want. If they think one disk wheel is better than another, they can buy the better one. And if they think one tall profile wheel is better than another, they buy it.

And they've been buying HED wheels, probably by the dozen.

This prompted me to look at the HEDs for myself, because, like HTC-Columbia, I have no wheel sposnor.

(Which, I should point out, is about the only thing I, as a cyclist, have in common with HTC-Columbia. Okay, the Missus has a Columbia winter coat. But you get the point.)

I already posted on the Stinger 6s, the katana if you will.

Now for the "tanto", the 30 cm dagger samurai sword. In the bike world, the tanto would be well represented by the (sub-) 30mm rimmed HED Bastogne wheels.

For me the Bastognes fulfill three purposes. First, for any really gross riding conditions, they'll be my default wheelset. I even bought 25c tires for them, although they're not mounted.

Second, I'll use the rear wheel on the trainer.

Third, I'll use the front wheel when I'm training or racing in high wind conditions. Or if I feel like using non-aero wheels for whatever reason.

Introducing the Bastognes:

The Bastognes, after a trip to Vegas and a couple rides in the area. Oh, and one race.

If you look at the HED line-up of C2 Road Racing Wheels, you'll notice a few differences between the wheels.

The top of the line Ardennes weigh the least (1430 g), and cost the most ($1050). They have an 18/24 spoke configuration.

Next, the Bastognes come in at 1482 g and $850. They have an 18/24 spoke configuration.

The Kermesse slot in at 1570 g and $750. They have a 24/28 spoke configuration.

Finally, the new Flanders arrive at 1650 g and $700. They have an 18/24 spoke configuration.

Based on these numbers, and based on my planned use of the front wheel (possible racing), I wanted the most aero wheel, and that meant, at least with these choices, the least number of spokes. This eliminated the Ardennes. Plus, for training wheels, they were a bit much.

The Kermesse were out because of their higher spoke count.

I had two choices - the Flanders or the Bastogne. Ever since I read a book in elementary school about the Battle of the Bulge, I've been a "fan" of Bastogne. And for $150, it was worth dropping about 170 grams. I mean, okay, maybe not, but I won't miss $150 in five or seven years, and I figure the wheels will last that long minimum.

Bastognes it was.

No rim visible to the sides.

Unlike the Stinger 6 wheels, the rims on the Bastogne don't extend past the edges of the tire. You see just tire, not rim. In fact, I found that the Bastognes do not interchange cleanly with the Stinger 6 - there is some brake barrel adjustment necessary. The Stinger 6s are wider, so it works out for racing - if I need to swap a wheel, the clinchers will fit in easily. If I'm prepping for a race, though, I need to adjust the brakes out to clear the Stinger 6s.

Bontrager RaceXLite All Condition - seems good for all round training.
Note exposed spoke nipples - good for a quick true.

You'll notice the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde tires. They're Bontrager RaceXLite AC (All Condition) tires. I got them because the team is sponsored by a Bontrager/Trek dealer and offered up some cool gear at good prices.

The Bontrager tires are half-color. It's a bit different but I can handle it. Makes it easy to pick out my wheels, and I feel like a test rider whenever I get on my bike (because I'm testing the tires for myself).

I've used these wheels in Las Vegas, riding over roads I don't know, riding on small or non-existent shoulders covered with bumps, glass, and other assorted road obstacles. They've been fine.

The wheels have flown twice - to Vegas and back. As a unit the wheel/tire combo has been great - the wheels are straight, the tires have been holding up well, I can't complain.

HED makes a point about comfort with the C2 rims. I can't say for sure if they're more comfortable because I haven't ridden the wheels right before or after a similar level 19mm rimmed wheel. However, with the HED tire pressure recommendations in mind, I've been riding at 95/105 psi. This is much, much lower than the 110/115 or so I usually run. The tires seem to roll fine, and although I've nailed a couple holes, I haven't pinch flatted.

Part of my uncertainty is that these are new-to-me tires - I've never ridden them before. I mean, yeah, they're new, but I have no idea how these tires ride on 19mm rims.

I'll have to report more on this later, after I do a ride or three on the old clinchers.

On the bike, with reflections off the reflective decals.

A bit more "Avatar" like in color without the flash.

I realized I never mentioned it, but the skewers that come with the wheels are pretty nice. I'm a snob when it comes to skewers, but HED has sourced some good ones. They close nicely, tightly, with a nice, even increase in pressure. No digital "on/off" feel like cheap feeling skewers.

Don't look at the dirty hub. Please.

All the HED wheels I have came with the same skewers. And, as far as I'm concerned, the same hubs.

The lever has a logo too.

They hold well. And, of course, they have HED logos on them. A nice touch.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Equipment - Samurai Swords, aka HED Stinger6

When I first mentioned these wheels, I referred to them as "swords". For whatever reason it seems that I sometimes like to refer to my equipment (or tactics or training or whatnot) in military terms. For example, when I talk about a rider's repertoire of available moves, I may mention their "quiver" (of arrows). It's not just me, just so you know - Zipp likes to talk about "speed weaponry" - for a while their wheels had a decal that said something like "weapon grade equipment".

When I typed out that I got these wheels, I couldn't use the terms "weapon grade" or similar stuff because, well, someone could easily confuse it with a Zipp wheel. Or my describing my tactical repertoire.

Instead, I used the term swords, as in samurai swords. I felt that was appropriate - heritage, weapon grade, saved for use, precious, all that.

What I didn't realize is just how appropriate.

I knew that samurai used the real stuff, katana, for battles. There are some gruesome stories on just how effective these things can be but I'll skip the details (let's say it involves testing a sword's effectiveness on live subjects - the fairy tale phrase "Seven With One Blow" takes a whole new meaning...). I also knew samurai used wooden swords, bokken, for practice because, frankly, a little slip up with a real one in a practice session and your sparring partner will be missing a limb or more.

I figured this concept of "fighting" and "practice" swords would work well with the "racing versus training" wheelsets.

Then, researching the swords themselves, I learned that the swords came in different lengths. I mean, I knew that, but I didn't know the lengths were standardized. Not only standard, they seemed to reflect some similar numbers.

60 cm for the main katana. A versatile one, this; lightweight, agile, but still able to reach out and touch someone. The best all-round sword.

90 cm for the two handed katana - slower, yes, but you could literally cut down more enemy with one broad stroke. Used in certain situations this sword could be extremely effective, but it was too heavy, too long for normal fighting.

30 cm daggers, for "up close and personal" stuff. Usually this consisted of women and upper class people, desperately fighting to the end.

Coincidentally, HED makes wheels in 60 mm, 90mm, and (about) 30 mm rim heights.

Samurai swords it was.

The first set, because they're the ones I got first, are the HED Stinger 6 wheels ("6" because they're 60 mm tall).

Like the standard 60 cm katana, the Stinger 6s are versatile. Weighing a little under 1400 grams a pair, they accelerate quickly. At the same time, with its aero shape, it can maintain high speeds.

In fact, the Stinger 6 convinced me to move all my wheels over to the HED 23 mm wide rim thing.

The main reason for the Stinger 6's aero capabilities is its wide brake track and even wider rim. This is the first wheelset I've owned where the rim is wider than the brake track. By bulging the sides a bit, HED found the wheels got a lot of extra "go". Although I have yet to do any testing back to back, I can verify they definitely don't slow me down.

The problem was when I swapped out the Stingers for a normal 19 mm clincher wheelset - the brake pads are now a huge distance away from the rim. I thought I'd just need to tighten the brake barrel adjuster to regain brake function, but I found that it was quicker just to unclamp the cable, close the brake up, and re-clamp.

This is fine when I'm sitting in the bike room, but out on the road, or in a wheel pit at a race... not so fine. Therefore I needed to get spares that would fit without much trouble.

But that's for later.

First, let's talk about how they ride. Because, frankly, they're awesome. They feel light, agile, and reasonable in wind. I worried about the wide rims in corners but they seemed fine even in flat, high speed, middle-of-an-attack turns.

They accelerate well, as a 1385 gram wheelset should, and their aero qualities, although not necessarily verified by me, seem to be working well. I never felt like I had to push just to stay in the field, a feeling I get with box section wheels.

At some point I'll do something a bit more scientific, maybe do some power versus speed on a stretch of road, one wheelset after another. But for now they're the schnizzle in my quiver of wheels.

I used them for every race at Bethel, a couple training rides in between, and at a couple more races after Bethel.

Although I DNFed at one Bethel and sat up in a training race sprint, I managed to get, in the other races, a 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, and 2nd.

Let me tell you, I haven't had a streak like that in, well, forever. And although I can't attribute everything to the wheels, I can say that the wheels didn't hurt at all.

So, without any further ado, let me preset: The Katanas, the HED Stinger 6 wheelset.

This is from the Bethel registration shot, but this was taken in the first 24 hours I owned these things.

The day before the first Bethel, when I first rode them, I was astounded by their responsiveness. I even did a big effort just to feel them out, kind of like how, when you get a fast car, you just have to floor it once.

Okay, in a car you can floor it over and over, but before the first Bethel race, with my legs doing the talking, I only floored it once.

Suffice it to say that I like the wheels.

Note the brake track has some extra layers of carbon. The rest of the structural rim is left alone.

I have used normal Kool Stop pads without changing them between wheels. On the carbons I had no problems until the second Bethel, when I rode these wheels for the first time in the rain (and third time ever). I approached the first turn, touched my brakes, and... nothing.

I learned the hard way that you need the right pads for rain conditions. I have yellow Swiss Stops but I haven't ridden in the rain since, so I can't report to you how the wheels stop in the wet. In the dry, with normal Kool Stop pads, they're fine.

Note how wide the rim is compared to the 21 mm Vittoria EVO CX tire.

Two things struck me when I realized how wide these rims really were. First, I had to forget about riding a flat. One advantage of tubulars is the fact that you can ride a flat all day long. With this rim, although I have yet to flat, I think the delicate carbon edges would get a severe beating if I rode on a flat. So if I flat I'll stop.

Second, it made it easy to mount the tire. The tire seat area even has a groove for the tubular tire's seam. The tire basically plopped into place, no fuss, no muss. With the Vittoria EVO CX tire I used, I'd only stretched it out overnight, just enough to make sure it didn't have a slow leak. So without much stretching, with a lot of glue, I ended up with a nice clean glue job.

Definitely one of the easiest mounting tire/rim combinations I've experienced, but not so easy that I worry about rolling a super loose tire.

A lit up shot.

I have valve extenders on the tires, not core extensions. I'll use the extensions next time. Extensions have the disadvantage of having the valves open (unless you remove the extension and close the valves with some narrow tool). This means that if you hit something just right, or the extender gets loose and rubs the valve nib, you'll lose air. Extensions work like a normal presta valve - tighten when done, no problems.

You'll note that the spoke nipples stay exposed. This makes truing wheels easy - no tire dismounts necessary. It also indicates that the rim is structural since the nipples end up anchored in the fairing portion of the rim. I prefer the exposed nipple set up since I tend to knock wheels out of true. So far the HEDs are straight, even though I've slammed into various potholes pretty hard (in a race you don't deviate from your line just to avoid a pothole - if you're about to hit the pothole, it's your fault for not seeing it earlier, so you have to suck it up and figure out a way to ride through it without trashing your bike).

On the last lap of the first Bethel, I hit a parallel groove so hard I thought I'd flip over the bars or at least move them a bit. I think the bars did move but the bike was otherwise fine.

The front wheel? Perfect.

The hubs are all the same so I didn't bother with photographing them. Hubs, as long as they roll, are one of those invisible things. If they work, great. Weight is not as critical, but I'll take a weight savings if it doesn't cost me too much.

Aero spokes, normally not my favorite, round out the wheels. I prefer round spokes up front because I feel they hold a better line when sprinting. With these wheels I'm still figuring out how to keep them planted so I'm not worried about a little line variance.

The wheels feel stiff enough. When I first ordered them, Greg asked me if I wanted the Stallion build, i.e. the "heavy rider" build. He mentioned that some sprinter types preferred the Stallion build wheels for their greater rigidity. I decided to trust HED and got the regular wheels. They've been fine.

Wheels on the bike when loaded out for training in the evening.
(Sorry, I don't have a white garage door for a backdrop.)

The "no-flash" picture - Down Low Glows glowing.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Doping - Floyd Comes Clean?

Got this from a friend who saw it from a friend in Europe. It originally broke on the Wall Street Journal but since their articles "expire" sometime after seven days for non-subscribers, I'll link to a non-expiring one.

Not that this will go away any time soon.


One cynic said that this was a pre-book publicity thing. Which, when I think about it, makes a little bit of sense. If he writes a book that reveals doping habits it'll be huge - but he doesn't need to send out emails about doping before the book comes out. The book itself will be enough.

One of my original thoughts at the beginning of this blog was to use it to "editorialize" on doping in cycling. But then it got ridiculous. The turning point came when Floyd and Tyler both used their fans to raise money for their defense. Instead of letting cycling fans (in general) watch the proceedings, they got them involved.

In Europe riders were a bit more succinct in their responses. Almost all of them quit or played out their suspensions. Currently my peeve rider is Valverde who just won't stop (but then again, no one's told him to stop except the Italians).

I like the Swiss rider's response when he got caught. Thomas Frei promptly admitted to doping; not just that, he told us why he did it.

The problem is when Floyd starts talking about other riders, he opens himself up for lawsuits and such, not just from the riders but from their sponsors and associated companies. To wit - one book never made it into English after its subject matter sued everyone associated to the book. An internet copy (seemingly laboriously translated into English and then scanned into a pdf file) found its way onto, and then off of, the internet.

I hope Floyd has a good lawyer.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Training - Misty Ride

You ever have one of those days where it seems that you're missing one thing from everything you start? It seemed like I was having one of them for the first half of the day. I managed to rearrange a few things but other than standard chores (dishes, laundry, brush the cats... the last one not a chore but something to distract me from them), I had to postpone doing a bunch of things I'd planned on doing.

This left me stranded in the middle of the afternoon. A dreary day, grey, cloudy, I figured it'd rain. But it never did, the roads looked dry, and I decided that, hey, I'll go for a ride.

One of the things I managed to get done was putting together my final set of swords (i.e. wheels). I'll have to post on that but suffice it to say that I won't be buying wheels anytime soon. I thought today would be a great day to test out the latest and last (for a while) set of swords.

Training swords, if you must know.

I got my bike ready to roll - it weighed a lot, even without two full bottles. How much? I don't know - the battery in my scale died - but I'm guessing it's north of 20 pounds. Good for training, not good for climbing.

I thought I'd be gone by the time the Missus got home, but she pulled up as I rolled down the driveway. We said hi, bye, and I rode off.

On the hill leaving the complex, my "feeling out" test on every ride I do from home, I knew I was in trouble. I scampered up that thing every time year, especially with the race wheels on. This time I got halfway up before I sagged down to the saddle. I struggled to turn the pedals over to the top.

I sighed at the top of the hill. It was going to be a long ride.

I did a short loop before heading over to the shop for the group ride. I dropped by the store to say hi - none of them had seen me on a bike (in bike clothes). They had just closed so I talked to or waved to everyone.

My legs felt pretty bad the whole time, and my stomach was cramping a bit. I don't know if maybe I ate something not-so-good (a distinct possibility since I ate food that I'd cooked last week). Those kind of "on the edge" meals tend to manifest themselves in me in the form of serious stomach cramps. The fact that I had stomach cramps for the next few hours kind of argues for that theory.

I felt that I'd be more of a "sitting in" rider this week, not an instigator. Cramps, flat legs, and a heavy bike. Not a good combo.

The other thing is that the forecast - 10% chance of precip - seemed to be almost as lucky as the lottery. I felt a gust of mist on the way to the shop, and threatening clouds started gathering to the north.

Of course we were riding north.

Sure enough, shortly after we started, we rode into a "mist storm". No real rain, no drops, but condensation everywhere. If this was a 10% chance of precip, I'd much rather have the 30% chance where it's actually sunny.

We got buzzed by a van - he swerved into the shoulder, laying on the horn the whole time. I was sitting third wheel - he probably cut in about 15-20 feet in front of the lead rider. We happened to be single file, but we'd just gapped the other five riders, so I can't speak for them.

Whatever, this distracted me a bit - I rode to the gas station where the van pulled in and helmet cammed his plate. The driver actually walked out and asked if I was getting his plate.

"You getting the plate number?"
"Good. It'll help."

Or something to that effect.

I don't think he knew he was on camera. Ends up that one of the riders has two brothers who are law enforcement officers in the area. I'll have to forward that info to him.

That rider actually followed me to the gas station, I think to make sure nothing happened. He also didn't realize I had a helmet cam on, but when I told him I did, and that the van driver was on it, he laughed out loud.

"He just confirmed it. That's kind of funny."

We chased down the group (they were dwaddling, but we spent a couple minutes riding through some grass to get to the gas station and back). We chatted a bit (we weren't chasing that hard) and he asked me about the Bethel jersey I had on. The yellow one, if you must know - I figured it'd be one of the last days this summer I'll be able to wear it, since it was in the mid 50s. And it's brighter than the black/grey/orange of the standard team kit. I said I earned it, without really expanding beyond that, other than confirming that it was the Bethel Series in Connecticut.

So he says that he raced there in the fall a long time ago. Won his race actually, a beginner one.

I thought for a moment. It had to be the race sponsored by the previous owners of Bethel Cycle. The promoters called it the Industrial Strength Crit (because it was in an industrial park, a novelty at the time).

"The Industrial Strength Crit?" I asked.
"Yeah, I think that's what it was."

Ends up he's also raced at the Rent, Plainville, and a couple other places. But he stopped a while back, although he admitted that he's thinking of getting back into it.

Anyway, by the time we talked about all that stuff we caught the group, and things went back to normal. You know, mist, stomach cramps, legs not responding, and a heavy bike.

I think we all had a collective day off - our pace seemed pretty low, and we were all kind of struggling. The ride leader made a good call and decided that we wouldn't go up the long climb. This would cut things short a bit.

I have to admit that I didn't mind the mist. The roads were wet, yes, but the brakes worked fine, we didn't have any slippery spots, and I didn't get soaked. So if I have to ride in rain, I'd ride in a misty one.

On the way back we got into a decent rotation, encouraged by that initial rider that followed me to the gas station (Gas Station Chaperone, or GSC). I realized that the swords on the bike really wanted to go - they felt optimal for these kinds of fast, steady conditions - but I didn't want to break up the rhythm.

Instead, I let myself get gapped in the last couple miles, then rode on my own, bridging back up. I focused on being low, aero, efficient - an upcoming race demands that, and in general I need to work on my form. Then I'd do it again - drop back, ride forward. Rinse, repeat. We finished up the ride - it'd been over 2 hours since I'd left the house.

GSC, myself, and a couple others headed south together, and it ended up GSC and myself after the other two split off. At the point where I turn off the main route, GSC asked if I lived in the complex right there.


"Oh," he said. "I helped build that place. I was a foreman, did a lot of the framing there."

We stopped, chatted a bit. Ends up he worked for the folks that made the whole development. A nice company, treated their employees well, but went belly up.

The mosquitoes started biting and we had to cut our talk short. But when I finally rolled into the house it was nigh near 9 o'clock.

And I felt like I'd just gotten on the bike.

How To - Pin Your Race Number

Ah, bike racing.

Such a fun, exciting sport. It's fun to watch races, watch the field approach, riders pedaling furiously, the occasional attacks up the side, the strung out chase, the different expressions on the racers' faces. Then they start streaming by, the drivetrain and nowadays the aero wheel noises almost drowning out the thrumming of the tires on the ground. As the peloton-created breeze picks up, you can smell the embrocation, the heat rub, and you get overwhelmed by an overload of bodies flying past as you lose focus on the individual racers. And then...


You hear the flapping numbers.

Oh, the agony.

There's only one thing you need to do when you pin on your number.

Okay, I take that back. There are five.

1. Pin it on the correct side. If you have a lot of numbers, usually at big races, put them all in the correct places. It's bad form to have your number on the left when everyone else has it on the right. If you forget to ask and can't see the finish area, look around and take a survey of the racers warming up near you. Are the numbers on the left or right side? Once you've counted at least five on the same side, start pinning on that side. It's a safe bet. If you see one dissenter, count a few extra just in case.

2. Pin them right-side up. You won't believe how many guys pin their numbers on upside-down, even after years or, scarily, decades of racing. I have to admit that twice (!!) last year year I had to look around quickly and quickly re-pin my number. Yeah, I got afflicted with Upside Down Number.

3. Pin the number so it doesn't come off. A good fall may rip your number right off, but it should take that and nothing less. Don't be the guy riding along with their number held on by one desperate pin.

4. Pin the number so it doesn't Parachute. That's a technical term for "slowing you down", aka "flapping number syndrome". I'm sure you've driven down the highway and seen that vehicle cruising in the slow lane, a mattress on the roof, front end arched up like the mattress is doing yoga. It's not efficient. And if your number parachutes, it's not efficient. Make sure it doesn't.

5. Use enough pins. I used to think 4 was okay, 6 preferable, but one year I decided to step it up to 9. I figure 9 was enough, but then I saw this post, where he uses 10. Now I feel like I'm in This is Spinal Tap. I think I need 11.

A well pinned (over pinned?) number. It did not flap. Leading edge is to the right. 8 pins. I provided 2, promoter provided 6.
Note: Do NOT wrinkle the number. My number is wrinkled because I pulled this out of the car after the race.

Some tips:

Don't use rusty old pins. They ruin your jersey, discolor the number, and will give you weird diseases if you poke yourself with them. Toss rusty pins (or those with rusty tips) into the metal recycling bin. Use shiny dry pins. If you're saving pins, save them in a dry spot. Unpin your number after you race, put the pins in something dry. You have a little tupperware thing? Grab one of those "Do Not Eat" silica packets, toss into a beat up tupperware, and put your pins in there.

Also, try and bring your own pins. Promoters sometimes run out of pins. I know we did one year at Bethel. That's why we have about 20,000 pins now (15 or more boxes of 1440 pins each). Every year I think, "Well, just in case, we should order more." If I see less than 14,400 pins, I feel uncomfortable. If you see a plethora of pins, help yourself. If not, use sparingly and dig into your own reserve - the promoter may have missed a little detail in the frantic rush to hold the race. In the above picture I actually had very few pins in my bag (I stopped with the tupperware a long time ago - now they sit in a normally dry pocket in my gear bag), so I had to rely on the promoter for pins. Sorry, and thanks.

The trick to prevent flapping is to pin the number so that you pull the number flat when you put your jersey on. If your pins are too close together, it'll flap. A long time ago I saw a teammate slip his jersey over the car steering wheel. Properly "stretched out" (not too much, but not bunched up), he pinned his number on.

If I am pinning my own number, I'll typically lay my jersey flat on a table, the road, a hood, something, anything. Then, being careful not to pin through the other side of the jersey, I'll pin my number. Start at one side (like the leading edge), doing the top and bottom. Then flatten out the number to see where it'll end up. Don't block your pocket if you need it for anything - food, drink, keys, money, whatever. If you're doing a road race this is especially important.

Make sure the number is legible once you put your jersey on. Yeah, it's great if it's not flapping, but if it's in your armpit it won't do anyone any good.

Double pin the number with each pin. In other words, make two holes in the number with the pin, not just one. If you have just one hole, the number will align itself to give the number the most flap possible. You'll end up with a parachute. You'll make two holes in the jersey too, but that's why you buy extra kits.

The final test is slipping the jersey on. If you hear some slight tearing you may have been a bit aggressive with keeping the number tight on the jersey. If you've already warmed up your jersey will stick and tend to rip your number. Double check and make sure the number isn't too damaged. Check out the view in the car window - hunch over ("assume the position") and pretend you're a finish line camera or a finish line official. Will you see your number?

All that solo stuff can be avoided if you have a friend you feel comfortable enough around that they can touch your back. Put the jersey on, have assistant pin number. Watch out for pin pricks, double pinning (pin jersey to base layer - the worst is when it's pinned to your bib shorts, and it's the pin that's closest to the center of your back). Make sure that your pockets aren't blocked - the worst thing is getting 30 miles into a road race, reaching back to the other pocket for the second round of food, and finding that your helper has pinned it shut. Arg.

As a final "aero" thing (it looks clean anyway), you can pin the number from the inside. However, if you fall, you'll be digging those pins into your flesh. I pin my number from the outside, as an FYI.

So there you go. Now you won't be one of the parachute numbered riders.

Keep the bike racing feel on a straight line - don't have a flappy number!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Racing - Ninigret Mystic Velo Crit

It seems like forever since I lined up for a "real" race - not a Spring Series race (where, to be totally frank, the course and situation is ideal for me), not a Tuesday Night World Championships (which I really like racing but it's not, um, as "serious"), not a group ride (where I find myself getting annihilated by some of the other guys, most of whom I'm supposed to beat based on my Cat 3 "rating").

So today I lined up at the line for the Mystic Velo Crit, yet another race at Ninigret Park, located in a park in Charlestown, Rhode Island.

Now, before anything about the race, I ought to point out that Ninigret and I go back a long way. In 1983, in my third ever race, I managed to finish my first race.


In my fourth ever race, I returned to the site of my all conquering "pack finish". Alas, twas not to be - I got shelled so fast it made my head spin. On the way home my brother introduced me to a new song he heard - "Stand and Deliver", by Adam Ant. I didn't appreciate it then (my head was pounding and we were in bumper to bumper traffic on Route 78 - who the heck makes a one lane highway?!), but after I recovered from that demoralizing defeat, it became one of my favorite songs.

From then on I've had my ups and down there. I got there one year after a frantic 1.5 hour drive (normally 2 hours - I made up most of the time driving like an idiot to the highway) and missed my race by 5 minutes. Another time I left there with my beautiful Silca floor pump on the bumper of the car. When I got home I no longer had my beautiful Silca floor pump.

Racing-wise too I've had good and bad. I've placed a couple times but more often I end up finishing in the last group or get totally dropped. The Missus, in the five or six years she's been watching me race, has never seen me do anything better than last a few laps. Usually I'm dressed, composed, and gone before my race finishes, or, if I have a teammate or friend in there, I'll be cheering.

But in recent memory I haven't done much of anything at Ninigret. The last time was probably in 1992, so 18 (!!) years ago, when I got into a break for 10 laps with two much better racers, and took a few pulls. After that, nada.

So when I said to the Missus that I was thinking of racing there, she probably shrugged nonchalantly. Been there, done that. We'll see what else we can salvage for the day.

(Actually, the Missus wouldn't think that way - she's eternally optimistic about my racing.)

Okay, I confess - it's me that thinks that way.

So what's so special about Ninigret?

Well, its history. Ninigret is an old WW2 airfield, with the "bike racing course" paved maybe 10 or 15 years ago. Originally folks wanted to build a velodrome there, and we paid a "velodrome" surcharge forever when we raced there. The funds to build a velodrome never happened so they used the money to pave the figure 8 instead.

It's a flat course, totally flat (of course - it's an old airfield). Exposed to wind, because airfields don't have trees sprouting up in the middle of them. The course there follows a non-crossing figure 8 - right, left, left, pass by the start/finish but about 20 feet to the other side, then right, left, left. A figure 8.

Until we got to experience the new pavement, the race was kind of like racing on lava - you really didn't want to fall because it really, really hurt. The pavement, optimized for traction for WW2 plane tires in all sorts of weather, resembled a field of broken glass glued to the ground. Great to keep those bias ply tires from sliding. But, at the same time, flesh and lycra didn't slide either. When someone fell, they just stopped. No sliding, none of this "slide in the rain across the road and into the curb".

Okay, maybe the bike would move around a bit.

The rider?

Just a muffled "Splat!"

Ask one fearless local pro sprinter, one with a lot of body ornaments and tatoos. He fell on his stomach/chest going a good 30-35 mph. Slid, oh, maybe an inch.

I couldn't bear to look - he had (still has) all sorts of piercings on the front of his body, and I can't imagine too many of them stayed where they were supposed to stay.

The pavement, after 40 or 50 years of nonexistent maintenance, had started to crack. One thing that started coming out - the wires buried into the pavement. I never thought of where the runway lights get there power, but now I know - from wires buried in the pavement. Give that pavement a few hundred cycles of frost heave and, hey! Wires pulling out of the pavement.

It's like those "tear here" strips - you pull on the wire and pavement comes up with it.

Most (all?) of the wires on the course were cut and cleared (at the edges of the course you'd see a bundle of cut off wires), but the 2 inch grooves they left behind were, well, left behind. You stick a nice 21 mm tubular in one of those and you were looking at some up close and personal time with the shredded glass pavement.

So, anyway, Ninigret was all about staying upright and avoiding the grooves.

And, since airfields have wide runways, the hosting club (not sure who actually) put tires along the boundaries of the course. If you went off the course, i.e. over a painted line, you had to brace for impact on a tire.

Or, if you tried to clip an apex a bit aggressively (easy to do on every one of the 7 turns/bends on the course), you'd clip a stack of tires, maybe 3 or 4 feet tall. I saw more than one racer stick a knee out diving into a turn, catch the stack of tires (bolted together so they don't fall over), and flip himself over the bike and onto the ground.


Everyone would frantically adjust trajectory to stay upright, and suddenly we were all cornering about 2 feet away from the apex.

Anyway, you get the idea.

When the new pavement arrived, suddenly the race became a lot less epic. It's like paving over the cobbles in Paris Roubaix. Now you could corner like mad, knee sticking out wherever, because all the tire barriers had disappeared. If you fell in the rain, you slid. If you fell in the dry, you... slid a lot less. But none of the "catch a loose wire" or "sand down your extremities on the shredded glass pavement" things.

Now we just had to deal with the normal stuff that happens at Ninigret - wind, cold, heat, and rain.

Since there's a beach nearby, the park is on the ocean. Lots of wind. Lots. One year the 55 gallon drums they used to mark off a particular area next the course fell over in the wind.

A couple times!

Other times we'd be going full gas into the wind. I'd shift into the small ring, struggle to find shelter, and look at the cyclocomputer.

16 mph.

And we were all just dying.

On the other side we'd break 40 mph every lap, spinning our top gears frantically.

With the ocean comes moisture, and that means rain. It seems like it's always about to rain there, although there are some rare exceptions.

Finally, the temperature. It seems like Ninigret is either freezing or hot. Never "just right". It's like Bethel - it has its own weather pattern.

May 16, 2010

Imagine my surprise when we went to Ninigret and it was nice out. It wasn't windy, there were some small white clouds peppering the sky, and the sun kept things nice and warm. SOC showed up, we determined we'd be the Expo contingency today, and we decided to play things as they came.

We got a tip from some racers that had just race that it was a headwind sprint today, but it seemed suspiciously like a tailwind one from what I could tell. The announcer cleared up the confusion.

"It's amazing. The wind has completely reversed direction in the last 15 minutes."

Tailwind sprint.

Of course that gets me thinking about tactics. Early jump. Big gear. Watch the headwind going into the sprint.

The Missus's optimism rubbing off, I rode backwards next to the final 200 meters, measured out 20 revolutions of a 53x13 (if you want to know, it gets you from the last bend to the finish line). If I went in a 12 it'd be a bit further out, but I felt confident I could go from the last bend to the line, full gas, in the 12.

We lined up, a small field, maybe 30-32 racers. After a moment of waiting (for the official start time), and with a very quiet field (were they all nervous?), we set off.

I had to find my cornering legs again, and here it took me a few laps. I felt a bit better then, well enough to go after three attacks in a row. Someone launched in front of me, his body language broadcasting his intent to attack for literally 5 to 10 seconds before the actual attack.

When we got caught, his teammate went. I went again.

When that got caught, someone else countered.

I went again.

(Mr SRM tells me I made 1200 watt, 800 watt, and 1100 watt jumps, each time holding a good 500 watts for at least 10 seconds. A lot of work for me in less than 3 minutes.)

Finally I let 2 guys get a gap, a little one, leaving me at the front of the field. I realized that if it was last year, this would be it - so many efforts in a row, so soon in the race? I'd be changed and cheering before the race went 5 more laps.

Instead, suffering a bit, I rode myself back into the rotation, into the strung out field. Every time I asked my legs to do something, they responded. When I'd tentatively stick my nose into the wind, my legs felt fine.

It may be psychological but when I got in breaks my legs fell away. I didn't have the power to pull hard, but I could make the efforts to bridge or, once there, to hang on.

After a bit of this "race participation" nonsense I decided to ease up a bit. I watched SOC make a few moves, the first one happening about half a second after I decided to ease up - a beautiful counter attack when the pace eased. It went well, but eventually he and those that responded came back to the group. He made more efforts, made it into more moves.

I felt compelled to close the gap to one move though. SOC made it, but so did about 10 other racers, and three of them were teammates, one of them being the team leader. When SOC started to pull I got worried that the teammates would attack the small group and get away.

After watching field not really pull for two laps, I went to the front (two 1000+ watt jumps), made a decent effort (Mr SRM says 375 watts for 30 seconds), and closed down the gap.

Someone thanked me for the work, but, honestly, it wasn't a huge effort (and the numbers back that up).

Less than a minute later I followed another well broadcast move, another 1100 watt jump.

It seems my legs were good.

As we started winding down the laps I started thinking of the finish. I didn't have a good way of approaching the finish with one teammate, even after all these years. So we rode our own races, I surfed the front, and tried to latch onto a big team's leadout.

With a lap to go someone tried to break the leadout train by attacking the field. It worked, but that team's sprinter went with the move.

Behind, the field scrambled, and I found myself losing position everywhere. A bit desperate I went into the wind before the second last turn, then again on the second last stretch. We went into the last bends (two bends beat as one) with me sitting maybe 10th.

When I looked up the line seemed way too far away. Although I did a little jump (900 watts) to get on wheels after the last bend, I waited a bit, the guy who got 4th overall at Bethel right in front of me. He launched, going left around two guys, and since I wanted to go past him, I went right. Then, after I cleared all three of them, I went back to the left curb, sprinting all the way to the line.

Mr SRM says I went for only 12 seconds at 1000 watts, but that was enough to catch and pass everyone but that big team's sprinter. It was close enough that the announcers were debating if I'd caught him, but for me it was no contest - I felt he beat me by 10 feet.

I wish I'd jumped just out of the turn. I wished I'd trusted my 20 rev distance. But I didn't. And I didn't.

Still, though, second was okay. Not just okay, it was good.

When we left, I realized something and told the Missus. Second, at Ninigret, is the best I've placed in a "real" race, a non-Bethel race. I placed second once at New Britain. Placed second at Providence. And second at Ninigret.

SOC, his missus, and my Missus went out for some eats afterward. I celebrated with a nice lobster, a perfect meal after a hard race. It takes forever to eat, has not too many calories, and involves all the major muscle groups (my hands were tired when I finished). We rehashed the race, discussed the moves.

We had fun. And that's what it's all about. I got second, fine, but that didn't make the day, it just capped it off. The race was what was important. Attacking. Chasing. Bridging. Even the hiding from the wind.

The talks before and after with friendly racers, catching up with news. Blasting through the turns, learning a little more about how the bike handles.

Trying to be as aero as possible when pulling.

Clicking up a gear and jumping after someone, even if you don't know that your legs can handle it.

Then doing it again because your legs could handle it that first time.

I realized that I have form right now that I've never had before. I don't know what it is - my power is about the same as it was for the last few years. I suppose the big difference is my weight. That and my bike fit. My bike is heavier than before, but it fits me well.

So now I'm looking for races. I want to take advantage of this form while I can.

I thought of that day so long ago, that fourth race in my life, the race where I went confident I could finish. Instead, dropped, demoralized, suffering from a rare headache, my brother trying to get me to listen to this new tape he had, trying to distract me from my heartache...

Stand and Deliver indeed.