Sunday, November 28, 2010

How To - Clean Your Chain

I know I've posted a bit on cleaning your bike, including the drivetrain. But on one of my many meanderings at the local shop, I saw and bought the following: The Grunge Brush.

Now, for those that experienced "grunge music", the name has a different connotation, although "dirty" comes to mind.

The bit that got me was the end with the three sided brush. It looked like one of those chain cleaner tools that always got filthy, got dirty cleaning fluid everywhere, and looked trashed about 60 seconds into its first use.

With the open ended design (no case around the brushes), the tool promised to be a bit neater. Also, since there was no up or down or forward or backward, it'd be easier to use.

New secret weapon.

It's rare enough for me to find a favorite new cleaning tool. The original Park brush dates back a while, probably 15 or so years ago, and at the shop we used to wear them down regularly. So for me to find this little gem, that's unusual.

To use it you do like you normally do with the chain - spray down with some mild degreaser (Simple Green is my favorite), let the chain get nice and wet so the degreaser penetrates the greasy black stuff on the chain.

Then slip the three headed side over the chain. In my case I like to push the tool down onto the bottom bit of chain, just before the rear derailleur, or push it up into the chain just in front of the cassette. Both methods get the third brush on the inside of the chain, with the two other brushes doing the sides.

(Finish Line's site has the brush used 90 degrees off of my recommendation, with the two opposing brushes getting the top and bottom of the rollers. That's fine too but I want the side plates clean as well.)

Swipe back and forth maybe 4 or 5 times, applying pressure in different directions on each swipe. So emphasize scrubbing the outer plate, the inner one, and the rollers. Move the chain 6-8 inches and repeat swiping motion.

In about 2 minutes you're done.

The nice thing is that the tool gets the left plates of the chain clean, i.e. the outer plates facing left. For me those are the hardest to get clean.

You can use the three headed side to get the chainrings too, although a standard Park brush helps get at the nooks and crannies. I use the Grunge Brush's pointy end to get the pulleys clean and to poke out any black gunk hiding in crevices and such.

With the Grunge Brush, a hose, and some Simple Green, my bike-cleaning required time has dropped to something ridiculous, 5 or 8 minutes or so. I use a bit of car wash in a bucket for the rest of the bike, and quickly wipe down the damp steed when I'm done. A bit of chain lube and presto!, ready for action.

A clean bike is a happy bike. The process of cleaning the bike forces you to look at it carefully. You'll catch things that you may not otherwise see. You'll get a feel for how much wear the drivetrain has, what kind of life it has left, based on the looseness of the chain and the width of the arcs in the cassette and chainrings.

Of course a clean bike also looks pro. It shows pride in your equipment, pride in your riding.

Make it so.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Training - Trainer Tactics

Indoor trainers offer a lot of advantages to those with limited daylight, limited clothing gear, and limited time.

Limited Daylight

Obviously, since you ride indoors (or at least without moving geographically), you can ride a trainer even in the pitch dark. You remain safe from cars, wild animals, and weather (if indoors). Lon Haldeman, the long time dominating rider in the Race Across America race, would ride rollers in an unlit basement.

I'd recommend against setting up a trainer in the middle of a street, but you should be okay in most other places with a firm, level floor/ground.

Limited Clothing

Trainers help those with limited clothing gear. To ride semi-comfortably out in the cold requires at least a minimal amount of clothing expenditure, and to do it "properly" (with a team kit etc) requires quite a bit of money. I won't call it "tremendous" but at the same time I'll point out that my various team jackets cost about as much as a (magnetic) trainer. Folks out there wear shorts that cost as much as my Cyclops Fluid2.

Since trainers work on virtually all normal bikes, you can buy one trainer and use it for many, many, many years. For the most part they don't wear out - the roller will get a groove in it, paint gets scratched, but functionally they'll remain virtually the same for literally a decade. This beats expensive, limited-use winter clothing which can start to show some wear in five to seven years and, more importantly, which you really shouldn't wear if you join a different team.

(Apparently some fluid resistance trainers will leak but I haven't had issues with that.)

Limited Time

Those with limited time will find plenty to appreciate in trainers. First off, no matter what mechanicals you may suffer, you're still at home. A flat tire won't wreck an "on the limit" schedule, nor will a maladjusted rear derailleur that mates with your rear wheel's spokes. As soon as the pieces stop flying you can climb off your bike, walk into the kitchen, and announce that yes, you had a mechanical, but that you don't need a ride home.

Second, it takes very little to prepare for a trainer ride. You only need to wear shorts, shoes, socks, maybe a heart rate belt, and check the rear tire's pressure. It also takes very little "wash energy" to wash that gear, at least compared to washing a full cold-weather kit load out.

If I was doing an outside ride I'd have to add a LOT to the list. Booties, tights or knickers, base layer/s, long sleeve jersey/s, short sleeve jersey/s, jacket, neck thing, head thing, helmet, cold weather gloves. Putting the stuff on takes a while, even more so when trying to judge what to wear (or what not to wear).

Once I get home from said cold weather ride I have to strip all that stuff off. It takes time and energy to wash all that gear, the hook and loop closures eat away at the other gear in the wash, and I have one less wear left on that gear.

If I'm prepping for a trainer ride it's different. Just the bare essentials. For a really long trainer ride, I'll wear a jersey too, to get my mind into it. I have a few caps near the trainer so I can wear one when the sweat starts to pour. I have a stack of "not wearable outside" shorts, jerseys, and the like in the trainer room. Shorts with rips, ones from teams as long ago as 10-12 years (at the limits of lycra endurance), even the less-than-optimal team shorts from last fall (now replaced in the gear bag with much better quality Hincapie gear). I have maybe 15 or 20 pairs of shorts, from Mapei shorts to New Canaan Cyclery to TriState Velo (Carpe Diem sponsored them for a few years) to Carpe Diem Racing shorts to Verge plain shorts, even a very pricey Castelli pair of "painted on" Body Paint shorts (a gift from a friend, if you must know). Each time I ride the trainer it's one less time I need to wash my current kit shorts.

If I'm totally unprepared, it can take half an hour to get on the trainer. Bike comes in from the car, through garage, through house, down stairs, all the way to the other end of the basement. Gear follows, maybe the floor pump, get bottles filled, find some bars, the list goes on and one. Usually I do this only a couple times a year, when I prep for a long stint of trainer riding. For the record, on Thanksgiving Day this year, I've already been in trainer mode for about a month.

When I'm somewhat prepared, i.e. my gear is already downstairs and the bike is already on the trainer, I can get on the bike in about 5 minutes.

And that includes finding a DVD and staging it in the player.

Trainer Enjoyment

As a long, long time trainer user, I've tried everything to make trainer riding more enjoyable. Or bearable, if you're of the opinion that trainer rides rank in the same genre as cleaning toilets or changing diapers. I used to do very structured training, intervals and the such. I have to admit that after the second year of training in the family house's basement, I actually dreaded walking downstairs, even if it was just to move clothing to the dryer. I hated the trainer, hated being near it, hated the pain and mental anguish it dished out on me.

So what changed?

A lot of things.

First, I decided to severely limit structured training when on the trainer. When I was 16 and 17 years old, I was doing intervals twice a week on the trainer through the winter. I forced myself to finish each rep, each set, and mentally destroyed myself. When I was 18, at the height of my "serious training" phase, I finished ONE race the entire year, out of maybe 45 or so races.

Now I'm less demanding. I race because it's fun, not because it's my job. Therefore it's okay to be slightly less than perfect. I'll put sugar in my coffee; I eat french fries occasionally. And on the trainer, I don't force myself to do intervals. Heck, I barely do 20 minute FTP tests - I get maybe two or three of them done per year. Yes, I do them sometimes, but it's a rare thing. I do them when I want to, not because someone (a book or person) told me I have to do them.

Second, I focus a lot on the pedaling sensation. I'll find myself on the trainer, pedaling furiously, with my eyes closed. I have no objective proof this helps, but I worked a lot, for many hours on many rides, on improving my pedal stroke. I forced myself to pedal smoothly, sometimes by tensing other parts of my body to ridiculous magnitudes, then teaching myself to relax said tense muscles while maintaining my smoother pedal stroke. When I'm working or focusing on my pedal stroke, time flies.

Third, I use audio and visual stimulation to help while away the time. Watching riding videos and listening to music makes the time go by quickly.

Random Tips

I found the following random tips help me on the trainer:

1. If riding rollers, don't watch videos, especially of descents in the mountain stages of any Grand Tour.
1a. If riding a trainer, don't try new cornering techniques observed while watching above type clips.

I've ridden off the edge of the rollers more than once when I've gotten so engrossed in a video that I start moving in relation with it. When the front wheel drops off the rollers I realize that, oh, right, I'm not on that road. I'm on the rollers.

And relating to 1a... the Missus once heard a loud thump in the living room. She ran out to find me laying on the floor, shoes still clipped into the pedals, my bike and trainer on their side. I'd been watching a Giro clip (Bugno was riding for Polti and had Spinergy Rev-X wheels) and one guy just in front of him was cornering like he was on a motorcycle. The guy hung his body out to the side, knee out... and I had to try it too.

2. When riding really hard I don't pay attention to video, although on easier rides it's important to observe how good riders ride. I focus on form and feeling; I don't have the energy to focus on visual stuff. MP3s allow me to do this while still using conditioned response to elicit an adrenaline flow.

Videos of good riders always helps. When I played violin I had teachers with good form that (importantly) demanded good form from their students. My strongest point on the violin is my form. It's something anyone can do but relative few accomplish. Good form lays the foundation to exploit one's abilities to the fullest. I have good violin form and I got only so far on the violin (final four in All States). That defined the outer limits of the violin for me. Watching pro cyclists on video helps everyone visualize and learn good form. Yes, there are those exceptions that pedal weird, like Sean Kelly. But for the most part the pros provide a great example of how to pedal a bike. You can't go wrong watching them ride.

It's critical for me to get the adrenaline going and music does that. Maybe not adrenaline per se, but definitely motivation. Music really affects me. I think it has to do with conditioned response, where a stimulus elicits a reaction. Music that psyches me up, well, it psyches me up. When I hear such music I get psyched up. I put a lot of that music in my helmet cam clips; the ones by professional bands stay on my MP3 player. Interestingly enough I realized that I keep the same playlist in the car, on the trainer, and in my laptop, a playlist that has only 50 or 60 songs. I have others of course, but I seem to focus on those that I really enjoy.

For MP3s that's key. Listen actively, not passively. It's not like the radio where it's just background noise and every now and then I think, "Oh, hey, I like this song!" My playlist is one that I really like - every piece has significance.

3. When doing sub 2 hour trainer rides, watching sub 2 hour Classics DVD/tapes works.

Over the years I've built up a nice collection of race DVDs and tapes. I watch them for objective reasons (like watching good form and to rehash race tactics) but also for subjective reasons - it's fun to watch bike racing. Race videos also have some built in rhythm. They start a bit easier, hold decent tempo for a while, then culminate in a furious push to the line. The build up to the finish helps motivate me when I'm getting tired.

One interesting thing I've observed (and it's a conspiracy theory so I have yet to prove it otherwise) is that the riders who doped seem to ride more stupid than those that either doped more discretely or didn't rely just on doping to do well. I'll watch a race and think, "Oh, what an idiotic place to attack", and then realize that, oh, right, that's the guy that got arrested in the middle of the Tour while in the Polka Dot jersey for being a major drug dealer (and user). No wonder his whole team was flying in that particular Classic!

I keep MP3 volume low so I can hear some of the commentary. It's interesting to catch minor errors throughout the clips - the heat of the moment catches everyone off guard. In particular one Paris Roubaix was, in my opinion, decided because a lone chaser (O'Grady) never got a TV camera. No one knew he was bridging to the break, not the team directors, not the break, not the field. Suddenly he popped up way off the front, in the break. He rode a superb race to win it, but if he'd gotten tailed by a camera bike I think the field would have reacted differently. I read the race report on the race but since they go off the TV too, it wasn't clear when he took off. I always wondered how he made it to the break. Watching the race video, with the conspicuous absence of his chase, explained it.

4. When doing long rides, 2-5+ hours for me, movies I've never seen before usually work best for motivation. I need to see dumb action movies like Transformers and such, or better ones like Lord of the Rings or the Bourne series. I can watch 2 movies, do a bike DVD/tape (that's about an hour, and has an ending, i.e. a Classic not the first of 6 DVDs of a Grand Tour) and call it a long night.

I made the mistake of watching more serious action movies like Syriana (I think - it has George Clooney in it, along with the Bourne guy). It's a great movie, sure. But it totally sucked raw eggs as a trainer movie. A good movie will have small peaks every 8 to 10 minutes, and they get higher and higher until the end of the movie. The Bourne series is best for this. It's amazing - if you look at a power meter output from a Bourne movie ride, it looks like a coach told me, "Okay, do a warm up, then slowly crescendo to about 80%, then repeat every 8 to 10 minutes while adding 1-2% to each peak. You should finish at max effort on the last effort, and it should take you about 2 hours."


When your coach tells you that, just slip in the Bourne movie where they have the taxi cab chase in Moscow. You'll be all set.

5. I eat and drink stuff on the trainer, more so than out on the road. Energy bars, electrolyte stuff, water, whatever. The really long rides require fuel, so that's a given, but even on shorter rides I'll sometimes fuel up or down some electrolyte stuff. Usually I have multiple bottles ready to go. I may go through $10-20 worth of food/drink during a long ride, $5 or so in a 1-2 hour ride - it's enough that I have thought about doing a post just on the cost of a trainer ride.

I even use heat rub (Atomic Balm, medium) on trainer rides. It's another conditioned response thing, gets me psyched up for the ride. I use the Balm only on cooler training rides and in most sub-80 degree races. Since I associate the Balm with the Bethel Spring Series, it really motivates me when I go through the whole slathering on the leg thing, with the smell of the rub, the feel of the somewhat greasy stuff, and the deep heat feeling it generates.

It's critical to move heat energy away from the body when riding a trainer, and the combination of sweat/moisture and big fans makes it possible to sustain heavy efforts without any problems. If I notice I'm not sweating as much then I try and drink more. The fan I use really moves a lot of air so I get dehydrated without realizing it.

6. Speaking of which... A good strong fan really helps keep temps under control. The fan I use is powerful enough to hold about 1/2 to 3/4 inches of water back about 3 feet - it's strong. When I turn it on the lights dim and you hear the fan motor kind of grunt as it starts to turn the metal blade. I rarely use it on more than 1, but there are hard rides where I not only have it on 3 but also move the floor pedestal fan from across the room to right in front of my face. I've even sprayed water from bottles onto my head.

It also conditions me to keep working hard when there's wind in my face. I used to get super demoralized when I felt the wind hitting me square in the face. Then one day, when I was fit, I realized that although it sucked to be in the wind, if I pushed hard then it sucked even more for those around me. My then riding partner commented on my willingness to pull into the wind - I felt motivated by it. I also detoured to find hills to climb but that's a different thing altogether.

Mental conditioning helps, so having a fan blowing into my face helps me think of it as "normal", not "oh, no, not again!". In the past I had the fan blowing from the side or from behind, so it'd be mentally less tiring. As you might guess that didn't really help me.

Keep in mind that your head and neck release the most heat. Therefore you should try and direct air to the top of your body. Although it may feel good to have wind on your legs, you don't exude as much heat there. Your torso will feel cold because you don't do much work there, so don't direct wind there. That's one of the reasons why I wear a jersey on my longer rides - as my energy levels drop, my torso gets cold.

Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for 2011. At this point it would be appropriate for me to say, "Okay, time for me to go ride the trainer."

But I actually have to go work on the car before we head out to visit family and friends. So no trainer ride for me today.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Racing - Details versus Overall Picture

The other day I spent a good part of the morning in a state of delirium. The prior night I'd collapsed in bed, exhausted, at some early time (8 pm?). I did have the presence of mind to wear my Expo hoodie, a nice warm season-saving garment. Nice and warm because it's nice and warm. Season-saving because for the first time in many, many, many, many years, I didn't get sick in the spring. It could have been the lower weight (but wouldn't fat insulate me and allow me to stay warmer?), it could have been some diet change, but I attribute it to the Expo hoodie.

That's because I wore the hoodie everywhere, including (and most importantly) to bed. I stayed warm overnight, no drafts on my neck, no chilly morning air. In January in Southern California (the nights are cold) and in Connecticut I wore the thing religiously and, guess what?

I never got sick. Not truly sick anyway.

Anyway, I put my trusty no-sick Expo hoodie on, went to bed, and fell asleep, at some point pretty early on. 8 PM let's say. Or 9 PM. Something like that.

At 12:05 AM, shortly after midnight, I woke up. I wasn't hungry but I was wide awake. I trotted downstairs and read and played Age of Empires and checked my backups and stayed up until well after 4 AM. I stumbled back to bed, exhausted (once again).

Unfortunately the next wake up call wasn't self-imposed, it was due to needing to get up. I struggled through the REM haze because if we didn't get a move on, our breakfast place would get swamped. Normally I'd beg off and do some quick shut-eye to get my body out of REM mode, but not that morning. The Missus and I hit breakfast out on the road (unusual for us nowadays), ran some errands, and started doing some chores around the house.

Then, finally, I couldn't function. I needed to get some sleep.

I escaped to the bedroom, a few cats joining me for some warm (and therefore welcome) company. I closed my eyes and tried to let my body recover from the interrupted REM sleep.

This REM recovery sleep is not that deep, nor does it last that long. Yes, you lose consciousness. But you also get this horribly disorienting kind of thought process where you're not sure where you are or what's reality.

And that's when I started thinking of something that made me think of bike racing.

See, recently I'd read this incredible book named Replay, written by Ken Grimwald. It's an incredibly deep book that resonated with me in my life as it is now. The main character basically relives his life but with the benefit of knowing what will happen (at least for the most part). Since he gets to relive his life over and over, he kind of experiments with the whole thing. I'll leave it at that for those that haven't read it (I highly recommend it), but suffice it to say that although the character knows about a lot of stuff, he himself doesn't change.

No matter what happens, he doesn't start his "re-life" suddenly built like Arnold or a woman or whatever. He starts off the same. His playing cards, physiologically speaking, are the same.

Yes, he knows some of the big details of things that'll happen. Like, say, the JFK assassination.

Initially he starts off worried about the details. He wants to make money, and he can. He knows the huge trends, like the fact that people will start buying these gizmos called "personal computers" or that they'll be a few gas crunches.

Later, though, he worries more about other things, things in a broader scheme of things.

And that's where my delirious mind brought me on that short little nap.

In the old days, when I first started racing (with stone wheels and sticks for axles...), I worried obsessively about the details. I worried about whether saving a few grams for aluminum toe clips was worth the shorter life span (and higher cost) relative to the steel clips. I thought about 5 grams here, 3 grams there.

Later I obsessed about 280 gram versus 330 gram rims. I hedged by buying both. Tellingly my 330 gram rims still exist in my inventory - the 280s are a bit tweaked, good only for non-rim brake bikes (track bikes). 50 grams, though, was significant.

Nowadays... I worry about hundreds of grams. Thousands of them. Going from an 1150 gram frame to a 1500 gram frame? I was okay with it because, first, it fit better, and second, because I lost about 13,000 grams off a different part of the racing unit. Meaning off of me.

In my delirium I realized that in life I also seemed to focus initially on the details. I watch the store baby (as I call him - he's about seven months old now). He focuses on immediate, small things. Food. Being picked up. Diaper.

Our cats are only slightly more long-termed than he is right now. They can think about moving into a warm sun spot on the rug - the store baby hasn't figured that out yet.

As the baby grows he'll focus on slightly less immediate things. Food is fine, sure, but when there's a toy to be had... Or maybe there's one toy and he wants another. His thoughts will extend a little, just a little past immediate.

I think our cats are about this point. For example, if Hal is watching a squirrel on the front steps and the squirrel goes to Hal's left, out of sight, Hal will quickly run away from the window (i.e. away from the last known point of said squirrel), go to the bathroom to the left of the front door, jump up into the window, and wait for the squirrel to pop up below the window.

Hal, it seems, understands that the squirrel exists, not just in the window, but "outside".

The store baby hasn't figured that out yet. He doesn't have the concept of object permanence yet.

(I think. I have to test him next time he's in.)

When the store baby starts to realize that you can't always get what you want, but, for the most part, you get what you need, he'll start to think even further out. His thought should turn to the point where he's starting to think of things like consequences. If he's hungry he won't just grab food off the shelf and start eating, not if he's in a store. He'll get it, pay for it, then eat it.

Of course as he progresses in maturity (i.e. get older), he'll think even further out. Retirement. Insurance. "Adult" things, not kid or baby things.

What's that got to do with bike racing?

When I woke up from that delirium-ridden nap, a bunch of thoughts came tumbling into my head. I thought about how I haven't worried about a few grams on the bike (at least not so it counted) in a long time. I look for ball park numbers, not specifics. I don't choose one stem over another because it's 4 grams lighter. I choose a stem because it's been measured as being stiffer or tested well in an independent testing organization. Of course it would fit, too, else I wouldn't have considered it.

I don't worry about training as much. Again, maybe some ball park numbers, but not specifics.

I think, "I really ought to ride tonight since I haven't ridden in a few days."

I don't think of specifics: "Tonight I need to do ten intervals of 60 seconds each where I do max rpm in a 42x18." That's a real thought I had back in the day. I cringe at that thought today.

I obsessed, and I mean obsessed over gearing. I plotted out shift patterns based on cogs and chainrings, debated whether I wanted to get less than, say, 5% differences between gears (it would require two chainrings close in size like 53/49) or if 10% would be okay (that's the normal
jump between big gears when shifting a cog at a time).

I spent tons of time manually calculating gears. I can't believe how much time I did that. When I flip through some of my old notes (I've saved some from various times, mainly because I use the unused page for more notes), I inevitably find yet another try at the "ideal gear ratios".

Now, when someone asks me what gear I used for a particular bit of terrain, I don't know. Heck, sometimes I don't know if I hit that hill in the big ring or the little one. I haven't even memorized my cogs so I mentally count to see if I have a 16T in the cassette. Mentally and using my fingers. I have ten cogs, ten fingers, and I start counting while sticking out a digit for each cog...

"11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25... hm, nope I don't have a 16T."

However, based on that, I know that my 12-25 does have a 16T.

More than a few riders won't know that.

A new rider needs to think about specifics. This encourages learning, especially important when part of the sport involves some technical things. We're not F1 drivers, where we need to describe to our engineer/s exactly what happens in the turn when we shift from 7th to 4th gear under braking and the back end wiggles a bit, but mainly on sweeping lefts and not on rights and not when going uphill.

No, we don't need to do that.

Bike racing does involve a bike though. We need to understand at a broad level the gizmo we're pedaling. We do need to know at some level what gears we use, what gears we need. If I get spun out on descents all the time in a 50x13, it would be good to know that:

A - I have a 50x13 top gear
B - What I can do to increase the gear

If I had no clue about gearing (and I see a lot of new riders who don't know their cassette teeth counts, and even a bunch that have no idea of their chainring sizes), then it would be very hard to figure out, on my own, why "I keep getting dropped on long, slight downhills".

Or why I can't move up when the group is going fast.

We also need to understand how things work so that we can analyze and understand any oddities in performance.

For example, knowing how tires react to tire pressure helps the rider understand when something is wrong. I know SOC had a scare earlier this year when he dove into a turn on a newly-and-silently-flatted tire. It wasn't flat 100 meters earlier and it made no noise on the straight - I was a couple wheels back and I never heard a thing. When he dove into the turn his front wheel slid a few feet to the side. The tire, a tubular (and tubulars would react better in these situations than a clincher, and you should know that too) stayed on the rim, gave him some minimal traction, and he recovered beautifully to stay upright, not hit the curb, and to be able to stop to check his bike.

If he didn't know about tire pressure, he may have kept going, thinking the tire just slid on something. If he'd been using clinchers he'd most likely have crashed.

So what's that got to do with me, here, now?

For the most part I realized that I'm over the details. I've stopped thinking about one or two or three grams. I may save a few grams here and there but I know and truly understand that my own weight plays a much more significant role in my bike racing. I've gotten past that first reliving in Replay, where the character just tries to make his own life "more better".

I think about gearing at a broad level. I know I like having a 53x11 at hand for descents and for moving up hard when the pace is extremely high (35+ mph). Heck, it helps when drafting a truck too, but that's not the primary reason I have the 11T. No way.


I understand and accept my limitations. I am not trying to change things. No extreme this or that, not anymore. I had a TT bike a long time ago - disk wheel, aero bars, aero helmet, skinsuit, the works. I was the biggest joke on a TT bike ever. I tried really hard, I was really serious, so much so that when I launched off the line at one state time trial the guy behind me asked the officials if I was a pro. The official that told me the story kind of laughed because he and I both knew how poorly I time trialed. It's not offensive to me to say that; it's funny.

It's like someone mistaking me for a climber. Imagine?

So... If you can relate to how your bike affects your riding, if you know how bearings wear and their effects the bike's feel, if you know about broken spokes and true wheels and loose headsets and limit screws and centered brakes and overtightened seat clamps and why frame tubes might crack... then you're ready to leave the material world behind. You can stop worrying about it.

But until you get to that point, you should learn. Use the off season to figure out your gearing. Examine your frame material and read up on exactly how it would fail, how it holds up compared to other materials. Check your components. Think about how different things would affect the bike. Make sure your brakes are centered, and if they're not, figure out how to make them so.

Check your training program. Is it sensible? Does it allow for a normal life? Will you really be a pro?

I woke up to myself. Hal was on the bed, so too was Riley. The two white ones. Mike, the big tabby, was there too. Riley likes Mike so she sidled over to him; he in turn grabbed her head and neck with his paws and started licking the top of her head (not unwillingly). Hal likes his love too and moved over to get the top of his head licked.

I watched this scene of domestic bliss for a bit until first Hal then Riley decided enough was enough. They moved back to their sun spots, intent on basking in the sun.

That was my signal. I dragged myself out of bed. I wasn't a pro cyclist all of a sudden. It wasn't 1985. Nothing had changed. I was just a guy who needed to help his wife do some chores around the house.

So that's what I did.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sprinting - Karma and Kontact

A long time ago someone gave me some pictures of the final sprint in the Cat 3 race in Danbury, CT. A now defunct crit, the course pictured was the second and final version, a simple rectangle in the middle of Danbury.

I'd been near the front but my leadout man Mike H exploded just before the bell, so I think I was feeling tweaked from that still.

Mike, to the right, had started pulling like mad at 2 to go. I had to make efforts just to stay on his wheel.

The two lap leadout was a bit optimistic since at one to go... things looked not so good.
(Hint: we're at the front of the field)

This race was marked by some really big moves, the last one being a forever-long sprint launched by who knows who. Actually I'm pretty sure I know who but those guys aren't the point.

Behind the first two places though there was a mad scramble for the line. A rider in blue jumped early, gapped the guy behind him, and set the stage for some of the following two pictures.

The order before the photog snapped away was Pat's leadout guy, Pat, Nick, and me. I remember seeing knees and calves - the two guys in front of me were way taller and I was going cross-eyed with the effort.

As we came up to the beginning of the sprint, the guy in blue had already jumped and was pulling away. Nick and myself felt a bit more tentative, perhaps feeling the stress of a pretty aggressive race.
As we bore down on the finish Pat had his leadout man in front. Unfortunately said leadout man was fading hard and couldn't quite get up to the guy in blue.

Nick launched first, going to the right. I didn't want to go over two "lanes" (meaning go from behind Pat to behind Nick and then into a clear lane). I also figured that Pat would be the big threat, so I figured it'd be better to go to his left, one lane worth, and box him in.

As I pulled even with Pat I could tell that Nick was basically across to my right. Pat's leadout man saw Nick and must have mentally detonated because he slowed really hard. Pat had to get around his mobile chicane.

Imagine if you were in his position. To your right there's a guy on a 58 cm frame. On your left a guy on a 50 cm. Which guy do you think would move first?


That's what Pat thought too.

He went left.

Leadout man fading, Pat is boxed in. Nick is to his right, I'm to his left.
Pat has to move now.
(I think the guy in blue is a Thule engineer named Tom - he was killing it early season at a training series in Poughkeepsie)

Pat moved left. I stayed my line. And we had the inevitable contact. I remember the push because I didn't realize just how big Pat was until his forearm hit up by my shoulder. I thought it was his thigh for a second, but the steady pressure meant either he was coasting or it was his arm.

Given the choice, Pat decided to try and get me out of the way.

I refused to budge since, first, I wasn't moving towards him, and second, I didn't trust my sprint to beat him outright. Pat eased up and waited for the lane to clear, but it was too late by then for him.

I thought I could beat the guy in blue but I never caught him. I managed to beat Nick to the line, but I was both thrilled with my "line defense" and disappointed with my 4th place.

A teammate reported to me much later that Pat was pretty upset for the contact in the sprint. But since I didn't initiate contact, I felt like I'd done nothing wrong. Regardless, in the age before internet and email and stuff, I figured I'd just see him at whatever next race and talk to him.

Ends up it would be the following season at the Alpha Lo crit in Wallingford. I apologized for the extended contact. After all, in review, I could have eased off a bit and still done my maximum sprint. Pat laughed his genuine and infectious laugh - he told me it was no big deal. In the heat of the moment he hadn't been happy, but in the scheme of things, what's the big deal, right?

He and I didn't get to race head to head for a while - I think he did races I don't do, like ones with hills in them. In the ones where I raced with him he'd usually solo in or blow up trying. Regardless I didn't run into him in a field sprint for a while.

We finally got to race together again at the New Britain Crit, probably in June or July of that year. I had a new replacement teammate, Chris N, on temporary loan for the year (the following year he started up his own team and thoroughly dominated the Cat 3 scene for a few years). Mike I think was gone, moved up north, and I had yet to meet Rich, my next most dedicated leadout man.

Start line of the race.
I'm the red jersey to the left, white sleeves. Chris is three more riders to the right (picture right), red kit, white sleeves, white helmet, and a white bike. A Kestrel if I recall correctly.

Even though Chris barely knew me, even though he was significantly stronger than me, he insisted on leading me out for the sprint. He started just after the bell, about a mile from the line.

Too far, I thought.

He led through the backstretch, guys looking to hold position but not go past us. At one point, just before the hill, I saw a huge surge coming up the left side. I yelled for him to go left and Chris obliged, drifting left. He knew as much about racing as I did, probably more, and he did things perfectly.

The field followed us left, burying the surge on the curb. After the race a good friend Abdul said that he had been buried in the pack. He tried to move up on the left on the backstretch when suddenly the whole field shut down. I laughed and explained what happened.

Chris continued up the hill, hammering, and the field obligingly strung out. They started to swarm coming into the last turn but Chris launched yet again, stringing out the group.

Finally, his incredibly long effort put "done" on his legs.

He swung off.

I gamely jumped, but another guy jumped harder. He gapped the field and ended up winning.

I clung to the right curb, desperately driving for the line. I wasn't quite on the curb, carefully leaving just half a lane open, enough to tempt a fast rider but not enough to let them by. I wanted to use that false opening to defeat one opponent, and I knew whoever had the impetus to dive into the hole would be a rider I needed to defeat.

Well, plans are all good and such, but when I sensed a rider next to me, I knew it was a tall one. And a quick glance told me it was Pat.

I had left the half lane open to tempt and trap a faster sprinter, but I'd made a mistake and let it open a bit more than I should have. Now that faster sprinter was there and I knew he could push if he wanted.

I looked towards the line and the officials' trailer parked to the side. Saw the sharp, pointy, shiny aluminum leading edge (to us) of that trailer. Noticed that it was the same height as Pat's forehead.

Thought how bad it would be if I didn't move and Pat didn't move and he hit it and split his head open at the officials' feet.

Moved to the left a bit.

Let Pat by.

And once Pat started passing me he held his line to the finish, carrying us well clear of the curb.

I got third. Pat second.

The finish. The really tall guy is Pat. I'm next to him, barely clinging on to third.
Note that Pat's head is not impacting an official's trailer.

Karma had returned the favor. Or, if you want to look at it a different way, Pat proved once again that he was a faster finisher than me, given the freedom to prove it.

Tactically I'd ridden as good a race as I could have ridden. I couldn't beat the guy who won, no way no how. But second could have been in my grasp. If I'd left the door closed a little longer, giving Pat just 5 or 8 meters to move up, I probably could have beaten him.

But look. It's just a bike race. I did what I could.

I'm proud of how I raced in both races. I'm proud that I held my own in the sprint for 4th at Danbury. I'm also proud that I got 3rd at New Britain, even though I had a chance at 2nd. I can look Pat and Chris in the eye and say that I raced honorably, honestly, and to my maximum.

At the end of the day that's what counts. I can't ask for more.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Training - Pulling Up During Pedal Stroke

After reading a lot in BikeForums about how "pulling up" is a myth, I did some low gear work on the trainer and tried to observe what happened without consciously changing my pedal stroke.

I pedaled at 19-21 mph on my Cyclops Fluid2 in a 39x15? - I kept it in the same gear on purpose, in case my legs acted differently once I warmed up. Cadence ranged from zero, if I coasted, to a consistent 100-120+ rpm. 20.8 mph counted out to be about 120 rpm.

I wasn't consciously trying to pull up. If I "try" my shins get tired and my shins didn't get tired.

I noticed my foot lifts slightly off the sole of the shoe consistently, every revolution, from about the 3 o'clock pointing back (9 AM if looking at crank from right side, maybe a touch earlier) to the top of the stroke. I remember this as helping with hot spots when I started riding (no socks, hardwood sole, no insole).

I think I pull forward past the top of the pedal stroke. If nothing else, I pull up into the top of the pedal stroke, i.e. an inefficiency. My foot goes near vertical at the top of the stroke and then flips down. It's unconscious now but could have been something I purposely developed.

I can see my hamstrings tense to help my leg pull up. It's more substantial in bigger gears but I didn't use bigger gears in my "test". I do see the same kind of contraction on other riders' legs, typically when I watch better racers race out of turns.

I first noticed this after seeing some pictures/video of Jan Ullrich - he has incredibly muscular hamstrings, and hamstrings contract only when you lift your leg. Therefore he must pull up very hard. I have to admit the pictures were posted as "proof" Ullrich doped, but still, I've seen similar hamstring development in more "normal" riders.

Of course I'm not sure how much power I have here. Pulling up that hard may be worth, what, like 100w? It's not a lot, not at the cadence I was holding. At lower rpm it could be worth a lot more - it's how I survived for many accelerations in my last 2010 Rent race. I couldn't push down due to cramping so I had to pull up. Then I had to just push down because my hamstrings got really twingy and couldn't pull up any more. Etc etc.

I know that when I pedal a BMX bike with no clips, I lift my shoe off the pedal consistently. I have to focus on keeping my shoes on the pedal on the upstroke.

I can feel the shoe push into the top of my foot. I have Sidis with a main strap and two turn buckles (so they are very consistent - ratchets for all three devices and I don't loosen the turn buckles when I take the shoes off).

My current shoes, from this post.
They aren't as pretty now, and they're on their third set of cleats.

The main strap is as tight as I can get without discomfort, the middle buckle is moderately tight, the lower buckle is kind of loose (else my foot hurts after a while). I feel the movement/pressure between the middle buckle through the main strap.

Interestingly enough I definitely don't pull through the bottom of the pedal stroke, at least not so I can feel it. I tried this when I first read about "scraping the mud off the bottom of the shoe" thing by Lemond but, after a bit of trying, I gave up on it. I think it made my hamstrings cramp too easily (this was when I cramped a lot, about 20 years ago).

I did my "pulling up observation" exercise for 1+ hours and it felt normal the whole time. I remembered a lot of what I felt as being "normal", i.e. all the sensations are familiar, I just didn't notice it recently.

No power, cadence, or HR data other than manually calculated stuff. I did have speed. 20.8 mph was about 120 rpm.

Open for discussion.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Racing - What I Like About Bike Racing

Recently I've been thinking about things like cars and homes and even bikes. At some point soon I'm planning on meeting up with a strong triathlete with the idea of helping her get into racing just the bike (her initiative, not mine, and yes, the Missus knows who she is). I thought about the whole bike racing thing versus, say, running or tris or car racing or whatnot.

And I realized why I like bike racing (I'll tell you why later).

Because, contrary to all the things I say about aero this and aero that, the bike is a small subset of the whole "racing package".

In other words you cannot buy races by buying equipment.

Now, granted, I think there's something to be said for a lot of the equipment out there. I spent thousands of dollars on aero wheels alone, and I'll be spending more money this winter to see if I can reduce how much energy it takes for me to get through the air.

I also know that, for example, aero bars help with time trials, significantly. I understand that.

Ultimately, though, I know that I'm playing (meaning me, i.e. me as a racer) within a limited sandbox.

It's the "Connecticut Cat 3" sandbox (I know I'm a 2 officially but bear with me here). Physiologically I'm no superman on the bike. I'm a pretty average rider (in the scheme of things, not just in bike racing). Fine, I accept that my body's been a bit optimized for bike racing - the last 27 years of racing can't help but do that. For example, if I started doing, say, crew (you know, "row your boat" crew), I wouldn't be very optimized. I'd get sore and stuff and have to learn how to row. Cycling... I figure I'm optimized.

But optimized as I am, I'm still in the lower ranges of a Cat 4 in the various power charts.

I spent two plus years tracking power, and I have perhaps 15 years, on and off, of heart rate data. I have some idea of my weight over the years, and I know at some broad level the typical average speeds I hold on training rides (and since I normally train on the same roads all the time, I get an idea of how I handle, say, the "Quarry Road Loop" or, back at home, the "Compo Beach Loop").

I've found that, for the most part, nothing has changed. I can alter my training load - full time, part time, no time. I can lift, not lift. I do sprints, don't do sprints. I race a lot, I race not a lot.

Fine, I see improvement when I race a lot. I see some improvement when I do certain lifting. Being light helps, of course - I raced the best when I weighed in under 145 lbs, and when I dipped into the low 130s for season, I was positively rocking on the bike.

That got me... nowhere.

Physiologically I was a sub-par Cat 3 through and through. In road races, even at my best fitness, I never and I mean literally never finished with the main group. I could count on maybe one or two riders getting dropped before me, but typically those were riders that had problems on the faster flat bits, sections which made me feel at ease.

My redeeming physiological characteristic is my sprint, and, more specifically, my acceleration.

Other than that, I'm definitely of average ability.

Every year I raced I watched new racers start. I watched them fumble around, literally and figuratively, on the bike, in races. They'd fumble the ball tactically, use poor technique, and, for those that stayed the sport, learned quickly how not to do that stuff.

And then in a year or two I'd watch them ride away from me.


And five or ten years later just think of them as "Oh, him? He's a Cat 2." Or even a Cat 1. Heck, even the Cat 1 that normally gives me a drubbing at the Rent started out only recently - I remember him winning the Cat 4 Bethel Spring Series overall, then the Cat 3 Plainville Series overall.

Now he's somewhat unreachable.

I can think of other riders. I remember one kid at UCONN. He'd raced a bit as a Junior (like five times or something) then quit for some reason. He came to a UCONN Cycling Team meeting and felt the urge to race again. He diligently did the handling drills in the fall semester that year at school, doing bumps, bunny hops, wheel touches, picking things up off the ground, wiped his tires, and partook in the "Slow Crit" at the end of each drill session.

Note: The Slow Crit involved tossing bottles out in a circle and then slaloming through them, slowly (5-10 mph), with full/hard contact with at least one rider, preferably two. We'd ride around the circle, left of one bottle, right of the next, constant shoving with shoulders, elbows, hips, and even knees. After a while it was kind of easy, almost like you didn't need to do it anymore. The contact felt almost gratuitous, like standing in line at the airport and having someone stand against you.

That spring the newer riders (one had to borrow a bike to do the drills - he didn't own one yet) rode magnificently. They felt confident in the field, comfortable in close quarters riding.

And that kid that was a Junior for a bit?

Our first "real" race, the season opener at the time, was the Alpha-Lo Cycles Wallingford Crit.

I should point out that I was rocking that year - a close second (no photo finish and the home team got the win, but a picture of the sprint later seemed to show me in front) and a whole lotta places, even in races I didn't expect to finish.

As we came into the finish of the Cat 3 Alpha-Lo race I felt great, strong, ready to launch a massive sprint. Since he'd raced before the kid was a 3 - he may have even upgraded during the collegiate season - and he was in my race. I hadn't seen much of him during the race, but then again I hadn't seen much of anyone - I'd been tailgunning on this hilly crit.

Following my standard modus operandi I moved up aggressively in the last couple laps, slotting in top 10 at the bell.

That last lap we flew down the backstretch towards the third turn, a left into a short climb. Another left at the top, then a straight that would settle the finish. (Similar to the Fall River Crit, for those that did it.)

I was holding maybe 5th on the narrow backstretch, almost salivating at the finishline opportunities.

Then the kid went by like a rocket.

I watched him sail up the hill effortlessly, rounding the fourth turn and disappearing from sight. I can't remember if he won. I do remember thinking, "Hey, he can't do that! He's still a new rider!"

He'd upgrade quickly.

I don't know what happened to him but I remember vaguely he was a 2 by the end of the year.


I was just the pack fodder Cat 3. I raced well on a few select courses, had my moments on others, and let the bike racing life roll on.

So what's this got to do with equipment, you ask. Well, let me tell you a tale...

My record, absolute record, in a 7 mile time trial held "undercover" in the old days, was a 16:28. That's a reasonable speed I guess, about 25.5 mph. I didn't break 17:30 (24 mph) until I got a dedicated TT bike - disk wheel, 24" front wheel, aero bars, and even an aero helmet (short tail TT helmet).

That's all great until you realize that my leadout man Mike H did a 15:55 (26.3 mph) with 32 spoke GP4s on a regular road bike. I don't remember a lot of other times but that was kind of shocking. I was going 30 seconds slower than him, at best, over a 7 mile course. Most of my Cat 3 teammates did similar times, high 15s or low 16s. The Cat 2 I worshipped would regularly crank out 15:10s and the like, an astonishing pace that hit almost 28 mph.

If you want to compare apples to apples, we can talk about the guy with the aero bars/wheels on a normal Giant road frame (which I fit for him) that scorched the course in a 14:05, a tad under 30 mph.

This is where the equipment thing comes into play.

You think that I could buy 2:23 worth of equipment?

In 7 miles?

143 seconds?

Yah... No. I can't.

And neither can you, not unless you started out on a full suspension mountain bike with monstrous tires and 5 inches of soft cushy travel front and rear.

So what's this mean?

It defines my sand box.

It defines where I belong in the cycling world. I don't belong in the stratospheric 33 mph time trial arena. Nor do I belong in the mountains, like Palomar Mountain, which the pros take just over 35 minutes to climb. If I was in that race I'd lose something like 40 or 50 or 60 minutes there, on that climb alone.

Heck, I don't even belong in the Cat 3 field at Fitchburg. The one year I did it I crawled up the final climb in the road race, dying a thousand deaths, so far behind the state trooper at the bottom of the last short bit (something like 20% for about 20 meters) wasn't aware of my presence until I gasped, "Left?"

(I finished so far down they didn't record a time for me.)

To put things in perspective, the finish line officials forced me to go lay down in the first aid tent. They literally didn't think I could make it down the hill in my condition, at that moment.

So why do I like racing?

Because, even with my limited physiological abilities, I can race.

That triathlete that wants to start racing bikes? She runs a 5-something mile when she does a 5k. I don't know what she does for a 10k but when I guessed 6:30s someone shook their head no, that was too slow.

You think I could run that fast? Heck, can you run that fast?

So how do you compete against them?

You can't.

But in running, there is no separation of ability. It's just age. It's like doing Juniors or Masters all the time, racing against Cat 1s and Cat 5s. You kind of feel your way to your place, whether it be a 5:20 pace or a 9:30 pace, and that's that.

Fine, you could improve a bit when you first start. But I have to imagine (since I don't run regularly enough) that once you start bearing down on your limits, it's hard to improve dramatically.

It's like that 2:23 in the time trial. For the life of me I wouldn't be able to go 30 mph in that time trial. Likewise, I can't imagine going from sprinting at a 6:30 pace for 30 seconds (at the end of a 5k) to averaging 5:30s for a 5k.

Bike racing lets you race among your peers. You have a chance to win. Slim, perhaps, but significantly higher than the chances had by those that run.

To top it off, there's this big, mysterious bonus in bike racing: tactics.

Tactics are huge in bike racing, all because a bike racer is so un-aerodynamic. Tuck behind someone, though, and suddenly you can ride like a super man.

I may not be able to average 28 mph in a time trial, but in a pack of racers... that's kind of like coasting. 27 mph? No problem. I struggle with the 35 mph attacks and such, but even they aren't that bad if they don't go on for mile after mile. I got dropped at Central Park one year when the current World Champion in the professional pursuit (and also the US Pro Crit Champ) Mike McCarthy set a hellacious pace for most of a lap - when I got shelled we'd been holding 35-36 mph for a while, almost a lap. In normal races though, the 35 mph bursts appear before 25 mph recoveries.

So, yeah, tactics. If there's someone that loves strategy and tactics, it's me.

When I doodled in class in 8th grade, I doodled battlefields. I doodled strategic maneuvers. For a while I doodled hexagonals and filled them with (permanent, since I drew them in) various units and terrain characteristics.

In high school, when I discovered bike racing, I doodled bike stuff too, pacelines and attacks and counterattacks. I wasn't very good at drawing figures so I'd make these T shaped representations of riders (like a view from above) with arrows and such.

In battles tactics count, just like in bike racing. It's not like running, where you can just force the issue by going so fast that no one can keep up with you.

Well, I suppose you could, if you were a 33 mph time trialer, and you just went and rode 33 mph for a while. After 5 or 10 minutes even the most dogged wheelsucker would have to be wondering just how long this could go on.

But for us normal folks, it's not about that. It's about hiding from the wind, attacking or chasing when it fits your plans, whatever they may be. Sometimes I work for myself. Sometimes I work for a teammate. I'll even go into races with plans to work for non-teammates. But I almost always have an idea of what I want to do when I line up for a race.

It's going into a race with a plan. I can't go line up at a running race planning that my legs will magically turn into 5:00 legs if my best is a 6:30 mile. Won't happen.

On the other hand, I can line up at a crit, surrounded by far superior time trialers and climbers (doesn't take much to beat me in either discipline), and still have a realistic chance of beating even the wisest, most crafty veterans out there. The interplay between racers, teams (and teams and racers definitely interact differently than just teams or just racers), the course, and luck (having it or not), it all goes towards deciding what happens in the race.

It's never predictable, but there's always potential. Sometimes I'll lose. Actually, if you look at my results, I often lose. Sometimes, though, I'll win.

And that's what tactics is for me and my bike racing, that potential.

Tactics represents hope.

That's the most powerful thing about bike racing - the potential for success, the potential for winning. The hope.

And that's why I love it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Pedal 4 Paws - Forgotten Felines on TV

Check it out! You won't see the ride but you'll get an idea of what the shelter does.

Tune in to:

Channel 8's Connecticut Style, Tuesday, 11/9 at 12:30pm (between 12:30 and 1 PM at some point).

If someone can record this for me that would be awesome. We don't have TV at the house so...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Racing - 2011 Rule Changes


Other than the helmet cam ban failing, some other stuff happened in that meeting too, regardless of how I presented my one dimensional view of the rule change proposals :)

First, probably the most talked about proposals, the Junior bike restrictions failed.

Second, another significant thing, women cannot race with the men at Nationals. They can race with the men at states but cannot win medals.

And third, a rule proposal I didn't see, clubs can have multiple teams. Riders can race for multiple teams. This is interesting as this means, for example, a racer can do a "one off" and represent another club at a given race.

Cat 1 and 2 women may race in "older than the women are" men's Masters races.

'Cross has a default 100 field limit. So unless defined, it's 100.

Women Cat4 can have 75 racers (not 50). Includes mixed W4/etc races so any race with Cat 4
Women have a 75 field limit. This is kind of like the Cat 5 50 rider limit for men, but women start as a 4.

Sleeveless jerseys okay in TT. This rule makes it possible for triathletes to race in their standard "tri" sleeveless kits.

Junior Madison passed. It seems that now Cat 3s allowed. In addition women are allowed to race with the men since the word "men" was dropped from "Junior Men Madison".

Junior International-style Omnium passed, meaning there will be a Junior championship based on a popular international format.

SS Cross passed. Yep, single speed 'cross.

Masters Scratch race added to the Masters track events. The scratch race is like a "normal" one - first one to the finish line wins.

Masters Madison stays. That's the two-rider team that hand slings one another into the race.

So that's what I know for 2011.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Racing - Helmet Cams Allowed For 2011

I haven't seen confirmation anywhere "official" but a bird whispered in my ear that helmet cams will be allowed for 2011.

So git your helmet cams out and make sure they're charged and have enough memory for your rides and races next year!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Racing - Cycling Revealed's Trivia Quiz is Back!

Cycling Revealed has a now annual winter trivia quiz up. I have to admit that I don't do that well, sometimes scoring just a point or two. If I get over 9 points I think I've triumphed.

It'll behoove you to know stuff from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, as well as some of the really early stuff. The easier stuff is things like jersey colors and such.

Here's where you go:

Cycling Revealed's Trivia Home Page

Good luck!