Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Training - Back On The Bike

So... it's the middle of December again, and once again I'm finding myself thinking about next year. It seems like just the other month that I was suffering in the heat at Somerville or Harlem or one of the Renlentless Rents.

Like usual I've been musing equipment because, frankly, I do that whenever I ease back on the riding. As soon as my brain haze clears from race sufferage, I start thinking, "You know, if I had an aero gizmoid, I could probably save a heart beat or two at speed, and that would make it just a bit easier to hang in at the races. Hm."

I've taken the step of ordering my new aero-style frame. I'll be mounting the right size tire to optimize the aerodynamics of the Stinger6 wheels. I'll have some other things I want to try, all in the quest to reduce the power necessary to hang in at the higher speeds of a Cat 2 race.

I'm also in the process of refitting my current equipment, important since I'll hang a lot of those parts on the new frame. I read about "refitting" a lot in my military history books, where a division is sent back away from the frontlines in order to "rest and refit". The books mention stuff like half of the tanks in one of the biggest tank attacks in World War 1 were "casualtied" because they simply broke down.

Even in World War 2 there was a lot of attrition, basically from overworked engines and drivetrains failing from abuse. The infamous Tiger tanks, 60 ton behemoths that were semi-mobile bunkers, were powered by gasoline engines so tuned to the edge that when you got under way the exhaust pipes bellowed out three foot bursts of flame. Think drag racing or rally racers, with foot long flames shooting out of the exhaust. Now imagine that kind of tune in a Mack truck.

(In night movement that would light up a nice 50 meter radius area - making the whole "doesn't smoke like a diesel of the era and is therefore more discrete" reason for using gas engines a bit ludicrous.)

Those giant tanks would churn through engines, drive wheels, and tracks like you wouldn't believe. They required frequent air filter changes (every couple hundred miles), huge amounts of fuel (a hundred miles or so took something like 200 gallons - and you thought your SUV got bad mileage), and constant maintenance on a slew of batteries (I think there were 28 of them but I may be wrong). Engines had to be overhauled, filters and track and other expendables checked and replaced regularly, and guns sighted and cleaned and barrel exchanges kept up.

And that's before you even got shot at by the other guys.

Likewise, racers (and just regular riders) wear down bikes over the course of a season. That pristine bike in the early season, with its crisp shifting, the sticky and undefiled tires, the perfect paint, the beautiful tape...

The chainring teeth get a bit rounded, the chain rollers wear down, the cassette cogs get thin and shark-fin shaped. All this makes the shifting sloppy, gives the drivetrain room for a bit of play whenever you press on the pedals.

The tires develop a flat plane across the top of the back tire. If you rotate the tires then both tires start developing this flat plane in the tread. Any color in the tire loses its pureness, getting gray and black and dirty. Little nicks and cuts appear everywhere.

The paint, oh the paint. The chain slap will take care of even the most carefully armored chainstay paint, and heaven forbid you drop a chain off the cranks - the bottom bracket shell will never forgive you. Minor adjustments of the front derailleur, cable housing rub, even the constant rubbing of a muscular calf or thigh will damage the paint.

And of course, the tape. My tape is in shambles, the gel (but not adhesive) backed "carbon" tape a sad failure in my eyes. The stuff gets slippery when damp, it moves around under pressure (apparently I grip the bars hard when I sprint), and, well, let's say I wasn't impressed with it. Even good tape, like the Cinelli wrap, will compress over time, even if it doesn't move. If it's anything other than black then the tape will also get darker, grayer, the grease and grit and road stuff embedding itself deeper and deeper into the unwashable tape.

For me there's one more thing other than the standard stuff - the SRM cranks and head units. Batteries wear out, grit accumulates on the BB30 bearings, and everything gets dirty. The stuff needs to get worked over nicely, refreshed.

So this is my "refitment" period, my retreat from the front lines to refresh my equipment.

And that's what I did with the SRM crank over the course of a couple "sessions". My initial attempt at SRM battery replacement failed miserably, the power reading failing within a few days. I didn't think things through and got too nervous about stuff. I took the crank off, made sure nothing had melted or short circuited, and rode around with just the regular crank spider on. No power, no cadence, just speed.

When I went and fixed spider the first time I tried to keep the battery facing the same way as before. But it didn't make sense - the (+) and (-) wires crossed each other. This time I snipped off some unnecessary mounts from the battery body, flipped it upside down, and cleaned up the wire routes.

Presto, bingo, things were much smoother, much neater, and they worked.

Much neater than before.
(I looked for a "before" picture but it must have been bad - I didn't take one.)

I covered the positive joint (red wire to battery) with some liquid electrical tape, literally a small dab spread around with a cut off zip tie. I decided to leave the convoluted negative side alone but in the future I'll bend the battery terminal to fit under the screw. No soldering needed for that side if I do that, just the positive side. Well, I do have to heat up the solder to release the old battery, but I should be able to install the new battery's negative side with no heat involved.

I also used a volt meter to check the battery and the circuit board where the wires attached (since they both came unattached at some point). They matched pretty well, the 0.001 number flickering up and down just one digit.

About to seal it up.

The black round thing in front is the lockring tool for the lockring that holds the arm to the spider. Red can in back is liquid electrical tape. Zip tie was used to spread said liquid electrical tape. All this "fine motor skill work" was inspired by my friend SOC's fine motor skill work. Incidentally, speaking of fine motor skills, I picked up a lot of my childhood plastic models and such, including some Tiger tanks, hence my current Tiger tank thought process. Not that I don't read my war books all the time. Anyway...

After letting the liquid electrical tape dry for a few days, I checked the voltage again. The same readings. This was a good sign. I took the right crank off my bike (only a couple minutes work), removed the spider, installed the SRM spider, and put things back on.

It seems to work. And I feel much more confident about the soldering under the white plastic cover.

I didn't do a calibration but did a "gut test" by taking a short spin on the trainer. The numbers were depressingly low. It took a lot of effort to get them over the 200 watt threshold. It stabilized, pedaling kind of hard, at about 270 watts.

In other words it seemed normal.

Tonight, after letting the crank settle for a few minutes, I decided to do a 20 minute test. I had to have some number to think about, to focus on. I haven't prepared for a 20 minute test - no emphasis on carbs, no coffee before the ride, no mental buildup, nothing. I just got on the bike, pedaled for a bit, saw the power seemed right, and decided, look, I gotta do it.

Plus a low starting point is always good. It's hard to improve on the best day of your life. But a poor day... there's tons of potential.

I tried to use music to motivate but found my brain wandering after just 60 seconds. This is about 120 seconds less than normal. So I popped in a DVD I made of helmet cam clips, cranked the volume, and used music, visuals, and emotions to push myself.

20 minutes later, two clips into the DVD, I eased off, exhausted.

I started out thinking I was stronger than 2009, and in February (?) 2009 I did 268 watts (or something like that) for 20 minutes. Since I'm better now than I was then, I decided to try and hold 275 to 280 watts, let myself suffer down to 255 watts or so, then use my natural sprinter surge in the last minute or two to push back up to whatever I could push.

I thought 268 watts might be difficult but attainable.

I got into a rhythm and eased into the effort. My legs started loading up right away, the sign of a less-than-carb-rich diet. I haven't been starving myself but I have been focusing a bit more on protein and fiber. I'm not having pasta and rice regularly, in other words.

I got into the hurt mode, feeling the muscles work, feeling the different muscles fire at different spots in the pedal stroke. The big ring worked well but I eased a bit to try and keep some speed in my pedaling.

I checked after a few minutes.

220 watts.


I did a self-check. My legs were suffering. I was definitely sweating. My lungs weren't hurting but they rarely do. I was breathing awfully consistently, pretty hard. I had no heartrate belt so I didn't have that, but it felt like I was going pretty hard.

I pushed a bit, trying to get the power back into the mid-200s. It seemed so hard, the faster cadence just did not want to come to my legs. I eased the gear to spin up a bit, then geared up to get the wattage back up.

My legs protested.

I tried to think about the emotions and excitement of the races I had on the TV screen, of the immense reservoir of power I felt.

My legs still protested.

I drove hard, pushing, risking overcooking it, risking blowing up before the finish.

250 watts.

Ultimately I had a bit at the end, and, after riding an extra ten seconds (the longest ten seconds ever, every single time), I eased. I hate it when I do a 20 minute test and it's really 19:54 because I eased too early.

I cooled down, collected all the empty bottles, and headed up to the computer. The SRM downloaded fine. I checked the data. First off my extra 10 seconds of effort got me to 20:00. If I hadn't done it, I'd have lost 10 seconds of power.

With that in mind...

20 minute max average power: 218 watts.

That is terrible.

That's 105% of your FTP, give or take, which makes me a 207 watt kind of guy.

That is terrible.

I happen to know that I was at 73.2 kg this morning, not bad, not good, kind of where I've been for a while.

And that makes me a 2.9w/kg racer.

That puts me smack dab in the middle of the Cat 5 racers on the power chart, and at the very bottom of the Cat 4s.

That would be great if I was a Cat 5, but I'm not, unfortunately. This is crazy terrible.

Now, granted, I didn't do anything to prepare for this 20 minute test. I didn't eat properly - snacked on trail mix all day, ate a NOW bar for dinner while I warmed up, then rode the 20 minute thing. I didn't have a lot of consistent riding in - it's been late night riding, not very hard, and sporadic at best.

I've also just gotten over a big cold that flattened me for about five days. Even Sunday I was feeling really off. Today was okay but I felt exhausted at the end of the day.

But I did the 20. I got my number. It's a low one, yes. It's a good starting point. Anything will be an improvement. I'll see gains even in a short period of time.

My morale will go up.

Because... it has to.

I scheduled my SoCal training trip already. I hope to do three Palomar rides, Red Trolley (the crit), and get some quality time on the bike. I want to have some legs when I get there - to fly a few thousand miles to get shelled in a lap, that just wouldn't do.

Although I know I held on fine in the 3s, I can tell you that the fast guys there, the 2s and the Masters, absolutely haul.

This year I have to race with them.


Anonymous said...

I always find your honesty refreshing....good luck and we'll see the numbers climb!

Aki said...

It could be just a red herring :)

Seriously though I have to check the SRM calibration. Even if it's off 10%-15%, that would put me in the 240w range for 20 minutes, and that's a little more reasonable considering my record is 268 or so. Unfortunately I don't think that'll be the case.

A lot of people have asked in various ways if I could put power overlays on my helmet cam clips. I've declined for a few reasons:
1 - too much work, each clip already takes a lot of time.
2 - too boring, I coast a lot, soft pedal, and generally am very good at sitting in
3 - effort and output are different. I may be absolutely dying at a particular point in the race but I may be going 175 watts (although my HR might be as high as 170-175). A lot of people have much higher heart rates than me and much more power. To say "I'm dying" but to see 175w@172bpm... not very impressive nor does it seem accurate.

I may still do it though, if it helps encourage newer riders to keep at it. One of those, "Heck, if he can race like that averaging 179 watts, so can I!". I'm no superman, that's plain to see. It's about tactics. And everyone can learn tactics, regardless of genetic talent or trained fitness.

Aki said...

After digging around for a bit I finally found the book for a friend. Along with it some corrections. So where credit is due: "Tigers in the Mud" by Otto Carius, an excellent book on how a unit limited in support, purpose, and numbers but that has superior training, equipment, and tactics handles a relatively unlimited supply of opponents who have better purpose, numbers, and support with inferior training, equipment, and tactics.

Some stats on the Tiger:
- 530 liters fuel, 80 km (50 mi) range on non-paved terrain.
- 28 liters oil (7 gal) in the engine, 30L in the transmission, 12L in reduction gear, 5L in turret hydraulics, 7L in ventilation system.
- with clean air filters an engine lasted 5000km. Without clean ones, 500km.
- 22L, 700hp engine, 4 carbs.

The Tiger is a long range weapon with superior (in its day) targeting and accuracy. Its strength lay in its accuracy out to 2000 meters or more, while its armor could withstand virtually any hit from 1000 meters on out. Therefore there was a 1000 meter zone its opponents had to cross in order to defeat it. You could do it by charging with superior numbers, fighting in a tight area (town, forest), by disabling it and waiting it out, or by air/sea attack. The latter were most effective for the US, the first for the Soviets.

To a cyclist Tigers are like big, strong track sprinters. You can beat them but only on your terrain. In a straight up battle on their terrain you always lose.