Monday, February 27, 2012

Promoting - Drive Down

Before anything, I totally forgot to take any pictures whatsoever. Arg.

Sunday the Missus and I ran errands for most of the day, stopping frequently so I could get something to eat. I don't know if it's the cold or what but I kept eating and eating.

At any rate I managed to round up a lot of the heavy stuff for Bethel. I checked the Echo PAS heads (we have two for Bethel), the leaf blower (need to get the other one too), brooms, shovels, pallets (to keep the officials out of the potential swamp aka lawn), sewer grate covers, tents, propane tanks, heaters, two generators, stop/slow signs... the list goes on.

I forgot (now that I think of it) the extension cords.

I purposely left behind the radios, printer, surge protectors, wireless router (I have to remember the password so I can configure two more machines for it), notebooks, pens, and all sorts of stuff that I carry back and forth each week to the races.

Once I had the van packed the Missus and I did a mini convoy down to Bethel. We live a good 90 minutes away, and the van, heavily laden, doesn't like going that fast.

Or rather, I don't like going that fast in the van. 65 mph, the legal limit for much of the drive, is about what the van does comfortably. It weighs 5500 pound empty, probably close to 7000 pounds as it was, with fuel and its bike race promoting payload.

The drive wasn't bad. The Missus has driven the van, extensively sometimes, but usually I drive it now. The Missus took my red car, the one we'd use for the trip back.

We have fun driving together, whether we're in the same car or not. If not we just have to catch up when we get there, otherwise we comment on stuff when it happens. At Bethel we blurted out to each other the stuff we noticed on the drive down.

"Did you see that guy that cut into my lane at that intersection?"
"Yeah, that was crazy. But I like how you kept the gap closed to the van, that was sweet!"
"And that pickup truck. That's why I had to pass you on that down hill."
"I know, I couldn't get enough room for you before I had to move over."
"And then he almost drove that one car off the highway!"
"Yeah, I got that on the dash cam."
"I figured you'd be doing this," motioning a finger tap motion that saves the last minute of the dash cam.

We headed back in the red car, more comfortable as we didn't have to drive with a caravan partner to think about.

And, of course, we stopped for some food.

Once home we got some stuff done, I headed down for a short spin on the bike, and then I worked on...

The Spreadsheet.

It's the thing that makes Bethel flow so much smoother than before. It does a lot of stuff automatically, asking only for registration people to type in certain information.

The rest of it gets calculated.

Every year I have things I want to change, stuff that I meant to change but didn't get around to it.

For example, we have the race date on each page. A while ago we manually entered that date, over and over, on every tab. Now we update one tab (the first one) and the rest of the dates auto-populate.

I know that sounds really basic, but when your head is buried in the names and details of the spreadsheet, it takes a bit of time to figure that out.

Well, this year I had this brilliant idea that the category titles should be copied too. It seems that on a given week I'd have one Masters results page with M40+, a remnant of a few years of M40+ races. Likewise some of our formulas won't work until I delete the Juniors data since we don't have a Juniors race. Some racers questioned the results we post, basically a print out of part of the spreadsheet.

"The M40+ results, is that for the M45+ race?"

I chide myself when I hear that. "Friken friken frak, I need to fix that."

Then the next second there's something else and I forget.

Until the next person asks the same thing.

I also changed the "/" in the category names to a "-", so instead of P/1/2/3 I made it P-1-2-3. This was for only one reason - Excel kept auto-correcting Cat 3/4 into Cat "three quarters". I decided on the dashes, but in some of the back office pages (meaning the pages the racers don't see) there's a bunch of "three quarters" stuff because I didn't change them.

Now they all transform when I change the category on the main registration page for that race. Magic, right?

Another thing we never really fixed was the prize list calculator. We base our prize list on field size, taking the tens digit as the number of places. If there are 81 racers, we take the tens digit ("8") and that's the number of places. We have minimums, 4 places for most of the races, 5 for the Cat 3-4 and P-1-2-3.

I'm proud to say that the prize list now auto-calculates, based on field size and the prize list grid (where the actual prize amounts gets entered). I can update the grid and the dollar amounts update too.

I have other things to work on. USAC requires promoters to send in results in a particular format, and I plan on using the racer database to look up the racer's official team name and such.

I eventually want to use this for registration so we can type in a license number and have the rest of the line auto-fill.

Finally I want the spreadsheet to automatically create the overall standings for individual and team. This takes a lot of time for me and I hope to reduce this a bit.

For now I have a few things to get done up at home. Any spreadsheet work I can get done is great. I have to pull together all the official paperwork for the officials. I want to figure out a way that women can do the clinic too. I need to make sure I don't overbook the Cat 5 race (because racers can register for the Series for for each week, and I don't have a perfect way to combine them).

Thursday registration closes.

Saturday is Sweep Day.

Sunday we race.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Training - 50 Degrees

When the stars and planets lined up on Wednesday I couldn't refuse. My day off during the week and, get this, temperatures in the mid 50s!

So, like any good Connecticut bike rider, I made plans to get out and ride.

Of course I had chores and stuff to do, and knowing how I basically detonate after a ride, I tried to get them all done in the morning.

First I had a meeting with some folks about doing a bike race. It's a long off project, one that's been simmering for a few years, but I've finally decided to try and make a go of it. I've only begun a long, long process, and, frankly, it's looking pretty dismal.

Therefore it wasn't a good sign when the meeting had to be rescheduled. I left it with the somewhat pessimistic outlook, with the difference being that now I had a list of reasons to be pessimistic (a town permit and all their requirements).

I stepped outside, and, ironically, one of the guys from the now-closed local shop's ride was there. He was next on the meeting list, on a totally unrelated topic, but he happened to be there with a really enthusiastic bike advocate type person.

Talk about planets lining up.

In the next 10 minutes, after I explained what I'd just gone through in the meeting, we went over a slew of possibilities for other events or races. Although one idea seems like it'll be shelved indefinitely, they listed no less than four possibilities for the future.

And they even took my event and thought that they could help make it happen.


With that I headed to the bank. It's Bethel season and I churn through a lot of money in a few months. Part of my costs are the LLC fees or something - I wrote a check for one such state fee and mailed it out (post office, another stop). And I deposited an old fashioned snail-mail pre-reg check.

I had a few tasks at home, chores really, and just one more simple thing to do - take off the FSA bars and install some crit bend ones.

I'd installed the FSA Compact (wing style) bars only recently, looking for a forearm clearing bar in a modern format. A bonus for me was that I know where my 31.6 mm SRM mount is, and the FSA bars are 31.6mm. I happened to have a stem for the bars too, a single 12 cm stem for a 31.6 mm bar. I originally bought it for the tandem but never managed to put it on the bike.

A short time after I installed the FSA bars I realized I needed a longer stem. I bought a 13 cm stem, and, although that satisfied the length, the FSA bars felt way too shallow. They didn't drop down enough and this really affected how I felt in a sprint.

Therefore, on that warm Wednesday late morning and early afternoon, I stripped off the new stem, the new bars, the new tape, and installed a previously used 12 cm stem, a new 3ttt Gimondi bend bar (heat treated aluminum), and, for those of you keeping track, I reused the tape.

That's kind of a record for me, to reuse some tape.

I weighed a few things since I could. 3T stem, 13 cm, Team edition, 140 grams. Ritchey something-stem, 12 cm, 155 grams. 3ttt (I use the old name since the bars were originally bought in 1996 or so) Gimondi bars, 296 grams.

(And the 12 cm 31.6mm stem I removed was 150 grams, a Stella Azura or something stem.)

Net net the front end didn't change weight-wise, gaining perhaps 5 grams.

Oh, maybe it didn't gain any weight. Just before I started to wrap the bars I realized that I hadn't cut any of the bar off. Since I usually do, to avoid the knee scrapes (and scars) I usually get on full length bars, I grabbed my trusty pipe cutter and cut a good 4 cm or so off the ends. The bars use heat treated aluminum so the bars basically cracked at the score mark, making a familiar crunching sound.

A touch with a file and the bars felt smooth and ready for wrap.

The tape went on okay, with the dingy part of the tape covering well. The bars happened to have exactly the same wrap length as the FSAs so I didn't have to cut or trim.

I finally got out of the house at 2:30 or so, at the peak temperature of the day, about 52 or 53 degrees. I had on my Verge bib 3/4 shorts (aka knickers), two long sleeve base layers, one short sleeve jersey, wind vest, warm gloves, booties, and a skull cap thing.

And some Atomic Balm.

Honestly I could have gone with slightly less, maybe going as far as doing shorts (and leaving the torso the same) or maybe eliminating one long sleeve base layer and using a short sleeve one instead. I think the right call would have been shorts with more Atomic Balm.

Whatever, I was out there and I wasn't shivering.

I blasted out into the wind, the new (to me, for now) bars letting me hunker down pretty low. It felt good, stretching out my back, letting me drive down with more power.

Crit bend is evident here, the immediate sweep forward from the center of the bars.
I don't know where my 26.0 SRM mount is so I use straps instead.

I struggled down the southbound part of my loop, the wind pretty strong from my front quarter. I calculated wind direction a few times, debating on whether I should do some sprints (only if the wind is somewhat favorable) or a second loop. I decided that a second loop would do me more good.

I started to head back north, the wind now a friend. I got up to speed for the first time when someone pulled out directly in front of me. I swerved left to avoid hitting the Devras SUV when the driver swerved left and turned on its left turn signal.

I don't think the driver realized I was going north of 30 mph, almost the speed limit at that point, but regardless the driver never gave it a second thought.

So, after I swerved back to the right of the SUV, I gave it a tap with my hand.

Counting coop, if you will.

I rode north, the adrenaline fueling me for a bit, a slow dump truck hauling a trailer backing up traffic nicely for me. Combined with the tailwind and that lower drops position I could get some decent speed going.

I made it into town without any incidents, taking it easy when I got a bit tired, going faster when I felt inspiration. In Strava I found another segment where I usually test myself, a hill on 10/202 by Abigails. I made it a segment so now I can see how I go, but I really noticed the bars there. The narrower bars felt awesome climbing that short power roller, letting me really whip the bike back and forth.

Chickens roadside. A donkey stands behind the fence post.
They all ran away from me.

On the second loop I felt a bit tired so I didn't go quite as fast - all my numbers dropped a bit. I had some positive cheer when Rob C drove by, yelling all sorts of stuff you'd yell at a suffering racer.

I should point out that other than the Devras SUV, there were no unthoughtful drivers. In fact many of them took extra care around me. I don't know if it's the blinky tail light (it was on), my red/black kit (the red looks... red), or if they were simply cyclist-aware.

Whatever the reason it was nice. I made the assumption that vehicles with bike racks were either cyclists or cyclists' family, but some of the cars weren't so obviously prejudiced. So, for that, I salute you.

I got back, a bit tired but feeling okay. Believe it or not my day wasn't done. I quickly got showered (I didn't have time to get the rubbing alcohol so my legs were a bit hot from the Balm), dressed, and double checked stuff for my final planned task of the day, attending a nutrition presentation at Devil's Gear Bike Shop in New Haven.

I got some Bethel emails so started taking care of them, right about when my network bogged down to prehistoric speeds. I managed to screw up registering a bunch of entries, could barely load Google to find the shop, and started to get a bit stressed. A Bethel help person called at about this time, asking questions about the finish line camera and half a dozen other things. It was just before 5 PM, I was about to wade through rush hour Hartford, and drive an hour into a just-after-rush-hour New Haven.


I got out of the house, typed the address into the nav system, and it came up with the estimated time of arrival - 6:55 PM. I hoped for clear roads, no accidents, nothing weird out there on the roads.

Dash cam on, nav system programmed, it was time for the crazy train.

I rolled into New Haven right on time, using up a year's worth of "no traffic" luck on the run down. I went around a few familiar turns and realized I hadn't been here in at least 10 years or so, maybe closer to 15. It felt uncomfortably busy for me, the (now) country bumpkin, where three cars is busy and ten at an intersection is worthy of a traffic report.

I crawled down the streets, waiting for pedestrians and cyclists alike to throw themselves under my tires. But, no, no one did. The cyclists had lights, the pedestrians common sense.

I found the shop, circled the block for a parking spot, and walked in at 7 PM.

Incredibly the owner, Matt Feiner, used to race with some of the guys back in the day. I talk about the attack at New Britain where this one guy (Gene C) and I entered the first turn so fast we first eased, then, when that didn't work, we had to brake to stay on the road. We'd gone into the turn at 42 mph and just assumed we could hug the inside line.

Well, Matt was that guy's teammate.

The shop's walls were covered in my kind of memorabilia, mainly Greg Lemond stuff, but also tons of jerseys from that mid-late 80s era. I recognized a lot of them, didn't recognize a lot of them either.

The talk, by Jeff of Echelon Health Coaching, was short, covering stuff in a broad but brief manner. He brought some stuff that exemplified what he spoke of, and that was great. The killer kale chips tasted great as did the rice/parley/chickpea dish.

Afterward I helped close the shop, rolling bikes in from outside. It reminded me of my bike shop days, first rolling the bikes into a hallway behind the store, and, after a time where we kept the bikes inside, the times where we rolled the bikes in from behind the shop.

The 50 degree day had given way to a chilly feeling 40 or so, and in New Haven the wind bore down the man made wind channels, amplifying its power.

Shivering a bit I got to my car. I hit the home button on the nav, hit the tunes, and headed back home. Once there any thoughts of getting stuff done went by the wayside. I felt exhausted and fell asleep, my legs still tingling pleasantly from a combination of the Balm and the ride.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Promoting - Finish Line Camera Test

I don't own a slit lens camera, one that makes those funky finish line pictures. At Bethel we rely on a more traditional camera with a frame by frame look at whatever sits in front of the lens.

Since the finishing hill slows things down nicely, usually a fast finish is only 25 mph, maybe 30 mph tops. I know I've won field sprints while crossing the line at about 25 mph, with a max speed of 35 mph at the bottom of the hill.

At any rate, with some of the new rules coming into effect (like Cat 5s have to finish ten races to upgrade, not just start ten races), along with the realization that our current finish line camera is non-HD (albeit a very, very nice non-HD camcorder), we had to improve our place picking abilities.

In 2011 we used an iPhone (HD) as an experiment, set up in parallel to the Canon GL2. We found the race bib numbers much easier to read in HD, but with the low frame rate we couldn't tell who crossed the line first. We could read the numbers, yes, but we couldn't get the placings.

Using the low-res high frame rate camcorder allowed us to pick the order; the HD iPhone gave us the number.

Logically this led me to an upgrade plan for the following year. I decided that for 2012 we'd move into the HD world.

Initially I thought this meant buying yet another expensive camcorder. I knew I needed a relatively high frame rate, and I thought I wanted 1080p resolution. If we could get away with a slightly lower resolution (720p) then I had an even better idea - ContourHD cams.

I should point out that we've dropped every single camcorder we used for Bethel. Not just a drop from a table, we're talking a drop from the ten foot high tripod we use. A teetering, tottering, "Oh snap!" kind of pregnant moment, followed by the smash of the camcorder.

We've dropped three of them, resulting in three somewhat crushed cases. Fortunately the units still worked, so, for example, the latest one, the GL2, has soldiered on successfully with a crushed mic boom, some case damage, and a ruined and illegible LCD screen.

On the other hand, I've fallen with the ContourHD cam once, at 30 mph, and had no damage to it. It survived with just a few cosmetic scrapes, some quite deep, but functionally it worked fine. I figure that if we drop a Contour from 10 feet up chances are it'll still work fine.

The Contours are also very light, about half a pound each. This beats the one to two pound camcorders, and the even heavier GL2. With less weight and virtually no wind profile (it's only marginally thicker than a tripod leg), a Contour won't be quite so attracted to the ground.

The big question for us was resolution. We knew 60 fps would work great, but we weren't sure if 720p would be enough to read a number.

I remembered that when SOC got fake-swiped by a truck we could easily and clearly read the truck's plate. That was in 720p, and if I could read a plate of a truck passing us at 20 mph above our speed, reading a five inch high number shouldn't pose a problem.

I had only one way to check this - a test.

Luckily I had a few cycling friends over the other day and they helped me test. Initially I was going to give each rider a number and have them sprint up this short rise past me at 45 mph. Because, you know, they're uber-sprinting machines.

Uh, okay, I'm exaggerating just a bit.

I'd have them start down a steep descent leading into the complex where I live, pedal a bit to hit at least 35 mph, and fly by me, pretending to throw their bikes and such.

Holding my two cameras, one set at 720@60fps, the other at 1080@30fps, I'd record the "finish".

Then we got caught up in talking and such and suddenly it was time to go and we were still in street clothes. We quickly changed the plan to "let's tape some numbers on a car and drive by the camera."

One of the guys that helps with Bethel volunteered to drive his car, with numbers taped on it, past me and my two Contours. I set one at 720@60fps and the other at 1080@30fps (the max fps for each resolution respectively). Since I have one camera in each hand, both hands next to each other, there shouldn't be any argument over "differing conditions".

The other guys made smart comments and such.

"That's 35 mph? That seemed pretty fast."
"He should drift around the bend."
"He should do a burnout when he launches."

I posted the two tests to YouTube since I was having problems attaching a 14 MB .mov file to email to all interested parties. Now everyone can see my test results.

720 at 60 fps:

1080 at 30 fps:

To put things in a bit more detail, here are some pertinent stills from the two clips. I'll start with the 720@60fps, two frames taken one frame apart.

First frame. 720p@60fps.

Second frame. 720p@60fps.
Note the peanut gallery in the background, Joel and SOC. David is driving.
And also note the awesome Renault car back there. Belongs to a neighbor.

You can see, from the oil stain on the road and the wheel position, that the car only moves about half a number worth of road between frames. That's pretty good, considering the car just blew by us.

A single frame of the 1080@30 fps.

After looking at all this stuff, I think we'll be going with the 720@60fps set up. Obviously if there are major problems we can go with 1080@60fps, but with at least two Contours on the tripod things should be okay.

I should point out that the Contours feed into a Mac. I found that the video appeared inconsistent when viewed on a Windows machine. In the Mac Quicktime lets us review clips a frame at a time, quickly and without any fuss or muss.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Life - A Bit Busy

Yeah, it's been a bit busy.

Typically, before I do a long trainer session, the Missus asks me to tuck her in. For us that means I keep her and the cats company until she drifts off. At some point I sneak out of bed or she reminds me drowsily that I need to train that night. Either way the result is the same - I head downstairs and do said trainer session, lasting, at times, a few hours or more.

Anyway, on more nights nowadays than before, I'll get into bed to keep the Missus company and I'll end up falling asleep. My eyes feel heavy, my whole body just drowned in exhaustion.

The other night it was Bourne Supremacy (I think), the book version, not the movie. I started reading the very short first paragraph, maybe four lines or so. Just after 8 PM, maybe 8:10.

I got halfway through the first sentence a few times before I accepted the inevitable. I turned to my side.

"I don't think I'm going to make it on the bike tonight."

The Missus opened an eye and looked. I could tell that she concurred.

Then suddenly I was moving boxes, another thing I seem to be doing a lot lately. This box was really wide, and I worried about squeezing through a narrow hallway without having to turn sideways. The box fit perfectly though, narrowing a bit as I walked into said hallway.


Then I went through the doorway and saw the Missus sitting at a desk.


I looked at her.


She looked at me. I could see her mouth moving but I couldn't make out the words.

"Honey? You need to get up for work."

I opened my eyes.

I was in bed.

It was after 7:30 in the morning. Jason Bourne sat on the nightstand, forgotten, unread.

I mentally chalked up the day before as a rest day.

Wednesday is my day off. With temperatures expected in the mid 40s, I hoped to get out on the bike, wearing 3/4 shorts (as the Brits call knickers since, to them, knickers are "panties"). First I had to visit the vet (with Estelle, our last addition), then head south to IKEA to pick up some furniture for the 3rd bedroom. After that I could go do a ride.

I got out on the bike, finally, at about 3 PM, at the peak temperatures for the day, the upper 40s. I'd scrambled around a bit trying to decide what to wear. Two or three long sleeve tops plus a vest? One long sleeve base plus a jacket? One short sleeve and two long sleeve plus a vest?

I settled on a long sleeve base plus the jacket. Plus the 3/4 shorts, some booties ("Endura" ones I wore in Maine), a Jamoca around my neck, and a PI skull hat thing.

After some debate I decided to use the SRM heart rate (for recording purposes), leaving just speed and cadence to the Sportsiiiis. With the SRM going full bore, all batteries good and the wiring harness 100%, I wanted to record what I could.

The helmet with the helmet cam went on next, and finally the PI gloves I got at the Expo Wheelmen shop, Manchester Cycle.

I'd recently bumped the saddle up a few mm, totally a good 5 mm or so compared to, say, the last race I did in 2011. It felt a lot better on the trainer (as it usually does) but I'd be curious as far as my body's response to the change. I'd be especially aware of cramps, strains, worrying stuff like that.

I could tell my saddle was higher as soon as I got going. My legs felt like they dropped just a touch more, but nowhere near a "stretch" kind of feeling. I still had plenty of room to drop my heel - I wasn't going crazy with the height - but I still had a bit more of a "over the bars" feeling.

The FSA bars felt a bit foreign to me, still, the reach okay but the slightly wider bars (1 cm wider at 42 cm c-c instead of 41 cm c-c) and much higher drops (about 2 cm higher) really makes a difference. The bars felt enormous when I climbed out of our complex, and the drops felt really high when I descended out of our little village.

I headed out on my standard hour long Quarry Road loop. Almost immediately I saw a guy going the other way. He looked like someone more serious than not as he had a mish-mash of kit stuff on. Racers tend to put on whatever they have, whether they match or not, and this guy, although I didn't get a good look at him, he looked fluent.

He didn't acknowledge my wave so I figured he was in la-la land or he had just finished some interval or something.

A minute later I heard shifting behind me. I turned and voila, the mish-mash kit guy was behind me. Now that he was closer I recognized him right away - Jeff, the owner of Central Wheel.

After exchanging greetings we rode in silence for about a minute. Then he piped up.

"I'm just catching my breath after chasing you."

I grinned. And we started talking.

He's the one that first showed me the FSA bars. I actually bought them from his shop on the sly, without him knowing I walked in the shop, thereby skipping the awkward process of arguing that I shouldn't get a courtesy discount. Meaning I think I shouldn't but that shops seem to want to extend me one.

Anyway we talked about general stuff, with some bike racing bits thrown in there. He admitted to me that he'd scrambled to find enough kit for the ride, hence his jumbled up kit. He even had cross or mountain bike shoes and pedals on his Look road bike.

Interestingly enough I rode the section of road with him faster than I ever have while Strava knew about it - I set a PR for that section while talking with Jeff, flying along at a spectacular 15.9 mph.

He headed back to his shop while I headed back home. I slowed considerably on the way back, not really comfortable on the bike. The bars were way too high for sure - I decided at some point on the way back that I'd have to swap bars and sacrifice the brand new tape. I made a small note to see if the crit bend bars would feel a lot less rigid, but I seemed to focus on the fact that I'd be stripping off barely used white tape. I need to get over that and remember that fit is more important.

I tried to do my sprint loop but a massive head/crosswind put a damper on that idea. I blew up almost immediately, rolling through my Strava sprint segment at a whopping 20 mph.

I rolled back up the hill to the complex, not even willing to stand up to speed up.

I flew down into the complex, around the tricky turn onto my road. I had a familiar though as I carved the turn there - at some point I want to make a clip showing good and bad lines through that turn. It's a great turn for practicing good cornering lines since it punishes you severely for turning in too early.

With that I rolled into and up my driveway, hopping off the bike, and walking up the walkway to the front door.

I still had daylight out but I needed to end my ride early. I felt my body getting cold out there and my pedals weren't turning easily. I knew I was tired but I didn't realize just how tired I was until later in the evening, when, at about 9 PM, I called it a night.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Helmet Cam - 2011 Tour of Somerville Cat 2

Another clip from the summer, this of the 2011 Tour of Somerville Cat 2 race. This race left me with mixed feelings - it was faster than the Cat 3 race I did there in the prior year, so that's good. I put down less power than when I raced the Cat 3s, so that was kind of good. No one I knew got terribly hurt, so, again, that's good.

But I was struggling to stay in the field. I was less fit, hence the lower power average. That's not good. I never saw the front or even close to the front of the field. That's not good. I got caught behind what seems like a careless crash. That's not good. Even after the crash, when I perhaps should have had the umph to go, I had nothing. My legs went numb and I went off the back.

Not so good.

But still, it was an illustration of what can happen in a race. And for me it was another year at Somerville. When I think of the first Cat 3 race I did there just a few years ago, struggling at the back for about ten laps, then exploding myself trying to move up just a little bit, I've come a long way.

Here's the 2011 Tour of Somerville, Cat 2 race, as I saw it. I hope you enjoy my somewhat leisurely race.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Training - Fluid Position

I have to admit that I've been doing a few trainer rides a week. With no SoCal training trip, no trip to Florida like in December 2009, I'm lacking some of my mega-hour training weeks.

So, in desperation, I'm trying to replicate some semblance of those rides here at home, on the trainer.

Okay, I admit I also rode outside, twice even, but the cold really zapped me. Both times I cut my planned rides short (by an hour), and both times I was a total wreck for hours after the ride.

Those rides reminded me why I like training out in SoCal - riding in 40 or 50 deg F warmer temperatures really makes a difference.

At any rate, I realized I do something through the season, something that I knew I did, but I never really made it "official" by writing it down.

It has to do with fitness, speed, and saddle height.

This is how it works. There are three seasons in my year, the Early, the Mid, and the Off.

Early Season

I tend to be unfit. I can't make repeated efforts - one short jump will force me to recover for the next 20 minutes. I lack speed because I lack power. I mean, yes, I can pedal fast but I get winded. I can push a big gear but I blow up.

What I do is I start making up for this lack of fitness by raising my saddle a bit. It allows me to rotate over the saddle just a touch, flattening my somewhat weak back, settling me in nicely in the drops, and giving me a more TT-oriented position. This gives me a bit more top end speed, at the cost of some longer duration power.

Mid Season

Now I'm getting better on the bike. I feel pretty fit. I want to make a few efforts in the race, beyond just sitting on wheels. My torso is pretty strong again, and my legs are strong enough to stress my abs. In fact, when I do a hard sprint, my abs are the most sore muscles afterwards.

At this point I have much more power in my legs, and I want to take advantage of that. I drop my saddle, a millimeter here, a millimeter there. I typically drop it a full 5-7 mm by the end of the season. This gives me a much longer power stroke because I can pull back and up so much harder.

The speed remains because I have the power. Now I don't have to sacrifice power to get some top end speed.

Off Season

As the season rolls off the calender, I really back off on the intensity. My rides might be faster than a vacationer riding to the news stand for a paper, but not by much. I usually wear cooler weather gear, tights and knickers, and feel a bit constricted when doing so. The lower saddle position works well, giving me more room to move around and such.

I don't do much adjustment at that point, but my saddle stays at the lower position.

So what's all this mean?

Right now it's early season. I managed to "re-discover" raising my saddle in the last couple weeks, first tentatively raising my saddle about 2 mm. I did some longer trainer rides at that position and it worked well. I felt like I wanted to raise it just a bit more, so that's what I did - for another 3 mm worth.

That was last night. And it felt awesome. I felt much better in the drops, much more comfortable, my legs moved freely, and I didn't have any telltale back-of-knee pain indicating that I went too far.

It might have helped that I wore my 2012 kit for the first time - shorts, jersey, wind vest, socks (which aren't new to me), even my cap. I felt vaguely BMC-ish, with its the red/black scheme, but it's all good. Maybe it was watching BMC in the 2011 Tour, I don't know.

And in case you were wondering if you read right, yes, I wore my wind vest while on the trainer.

I have a fan, yes, but I was feeling a bit chilled, and the best combination of warmth and coolness was to have the fan on low with the vest on top of everything else. My arms and legs cooled me off but my torso stayed warm.

I think my saddle is about as high as it can get so any gains from here will have to be gotten the good old fashioned way - I'll have to earn it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Training - Outside Ride, Sprints

I started my Wednesday with a trip to the Missus's, helping move some stuff in her office. Then came the great part - going to the team's bike shop Manchester Cycle to pick up my 2012 kit. I'd ordered three jerseys and three bib shorts. As I already have a 2012 wind vest, jacket, arm warmers, and shoe covers, I'm pretty set for the year.

No long sleeve jersey, you point out, accurately.

Well, since the sleeves are black, any black sleeve baselayer works. I have three, well, two really, with one baselayer so faded that it's more gray than black. I forgive it though - it's been my favorite baselayer since I bought it back in the early 90s.

While I was there I bought some new winter gloves, thinking that this would prompt me to magically find the other half of my favorite winter glove. Alas, this wasn't the case, but the gloves may be good anyway. They have some rubber grippers strategically placed all over the gripping surfaces, making me hope that in the wet they'll let me grip the bars.

Not that I'm planning on any cold, wet rides, but you never know.

I also bought a new floor pump, a $29.99 Bontrager Charger pump. I lent out my backup pump to my sister in law, not realizing that my primary pump had gone AWOL. I decided that it'd be okay to buy another pump, one from this decade. As a bonus it has a base that won't gouge everything softer than tungsten.

I headed back, first stopping to get my scanner back from photographer Corey. She'd borrowed the scanner a while back. She returned it just as I lent it to her, and as a bonus she offered to sign a pin-up calender photographed by her and, for at least one month, starring her. It's nice, I recommend it.

And yes, the Missus saw it.

All this led to the planned "ride du jour", the second outdoor ride in a while, and the first where I specifically planned on doing a sprint or three. I prepped my bike, dragging it off the trainer in the basement, through the narrow bike room door, down the hall, up the stairs, 180 in the hallway, down the next hallway, left into the living room area.

(You can see why maybe I ride indoors when the bike's already on the trainer.)

I got my new pump, clipped off the tag, and pumped up the tires. I should point out that I'm very particular about my floor pumps. This one worked great.

What's great? No drama.

That's the way, uh huh uh huh I like it uh huh uh huh.

I kitted up with my team jacket, a windproof set of bib tights, two long sleeve jerseys (one thin baselayer, one thick jersey), wool socks, booties, the new winter gloves, a neck warmer, and a skull cap. I managed to squeeze my helmet on, and set off.

Oh, and before that I got all my electronics in order. I must resemble a guided missile cruiser, emitting electronic traffic like crazy.

First Strava. I remembered to turn it on, and I let it search for a GPS signal while I got everything else ready. For some reason it takes the DroidX a few tries to find a usable set of signals.

Next I made sure my heart rate strap was working. I decided to use the SRM heart rate - this would record things for posterity sake. And so I could see peaks and such. I got the SRM head unit, plugged the harness into it, waking it up, and voila, I was alive.

Finally I got the Sportsiiiis on, the heads up LED light system. I set brightness at 200 (for outdoors, even though it was clouding up), volume 7 (max), voice every 5 minutes (so it doesn't interrupt me too much), and LED blinking at 1 second intervals (still haven't figured out what that means).

I already paired it with the wheel/cadence sensor, but I'd done it without the computer. I could set the wheel circumference on the computer - it was off by a bit. I uploaded the new settings, removed it from the cable, powered it on, and, bingo, it found my bike (2 rooms away), and the LED started blinking.

New floor pump, new gloves, scanner, helmet cam.
The Sportsiiiis is that little black thing by the gloves, the LED bit looks like the end of a zip tie.

When I retrieved my phone (by the front window), Strava was happy with the GPS signal. I hit start, put it in my pocket, grabbed my bike, and headed out.

Jeepers. All that and I still hadn't pedaled the bike yet.

I climbed up out of our complex, a minute climb that makes me work hard. I noticed that the bar/stem combo seems a lot more rigid. It might be the long time off the bike (every ride outside feels great) or the bar/stem is more rigid. I'll have to see.

One of my goals was to check the drops, make sure that the higher position lets me sprint normally. The hill wasn't the place to check, but for now I filed away the thought, "this seems more rigid. Is it me or is it really more rigid?"

I set off down a short, shallow descent (I hate these - I go about 28 mph if I coast so I feel like nothing's happening), then the hard left

In the turn I realized, wow, the bars are high (meaning the drops). I reached the turn out point.

I jumped.

I realized I felt pretty constricted with all the clothing I had on. My extra weight didn't help, but, man, it felt like I could barely move. I wasn't sure if maybe I'd have to raise the bars. After some depressing thoughts like that I realized, right, I'm wearing three long sleeve things, all fitted to me like I was wearing just one.

I did notice the drops were higher. I mean, yeah, I knew that because I measured it, but they felt really high. Cornering went okay but I felt like I was way too high up, way too far back. I felt like I had no weight on the front wheel. Yet another thing I need to think about.

My plan was to do my Quarry Road loop, about an hour of riding, then do a short triangular one right near my house. The short loop has a nice sprint spot in it, now memorialized in Strava as the Terry's Plain Sprint.

Last summer, seeing if I still had it, I ripped out a few 38-39 mph sprints. These are pitiful, to be honest, but at least I felt like I was flying.

I warmed up to the sprinting idea by chasing a schoolbus that passed slowly by me. I jumped hard, immediately realizing I was way over-geared, managed to get up to some kind of speed (later I realized it was all of 33 mph), and then blew up spectacularly after about 15 or 20 seconds of "all out" pedaling.


It just got worse when I hit my sprint loop. I jumped hard, the bars a bit high but definitely doable, getting into a good rhythm, not shifting up and overgearing, instead staying in a nice gear, good effort.

Ms Sportsiiiis cheerfully told me in her Australian accent that I'd just hit 31 mph.

Yeah? Well thanks for nothin'.

The jump really chilled me. The speed, as slow as it was, forced air through every gap in my sieve-like winter gear - down my neck, around my wrists, even just below the jacket waistband. Every bit of sweat I had got chilled hard.

Almost shivering I slowed. I soft pedaled until I made it to the next intersection, went right, and thought about the next right, the one that would put me back on the sprint loop.

I looked as the road approached.

Right? Or left?

Sprint? Or home?

The road arrived.

I went left.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Helmet Cam - 2011 Keith Berger Criterium

The Keith Berger Criterium in East Hartford, CT, back from June 2011.

There's a bit more critique in this one than normal. I don't do well but it's a race I really enjoy doing.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Racing - Avoiding Crashes

Someone on BikeForums posted a great question the other day - how do the rest of us avoid crashes?

I never thought much about what I do to avoid crashes. I tend to focus more on skills of the rider, less on the environment. This means focusing on things like practicing touching wheels, bumping, cornering properly, braking, and, while on group rides, riding with strangers whose skill levels vary greatly.

One generalization I'll make is that the racers that avoid crits tend to be less adept at pack handling skills. Yes, they're very strong, usually much stronger than an average crit racer. But strength doesn't make a skilled bike racer, skills make a skilled bike racer. Avoiding time to practice this skill means you can't develop it. This is why a high level non-cyclist athlete (like a runner) would have to start as an entry level racer. It's not fitness in question, it's skill.

Criteriums offer the chance to practice the same corner again and again. I can watch different racers take the same turn, and it'll become obvious pretty quickly who's cornering well and who isn't. I'll avoid the ones that make me uncomfortable and follow the ones who demonstrate, if inadvertently, their skill at riding.

At any rate the BF member posted some of the following things he does to avoid crashes. It's a good list of standard things to do, i.e. the foundation for a set of guidelines.

1) I avoid being in the middle of the pack, instead opting to be on the edges. This gives me more of an 'out' if something happens. Sometimes this leaves you in the wind a little more (or a lot in a cross wind).

2) I try to stay to the front of the pack if possible. Not always easy with the way the pack moves.

3) If I can't be near the front, I stay near the rear. Staying in the rear takes a lot more effort, but lets me see things happen well before I usually get to them.

4) Stay to the inside of as many turns as possible. When someone falls in a turn, they slide to the outside. Staying inside means less likelihood of someone taking you out (but increases the accordion effect if you're not near the front).
Of interest to me was point 3, staying near the rear. I spent a bit of time working on a yet-unpublished clip of the 2011 Tour of Somerville Cat 2 race, and there's one crash where I was far enough behind where I could safely make a sweeping move to get around the crash. One rider slows me up a bit (he was just getting around the crash himself) but you can clearly see that I pass something like 1/3 of the field in my move.

Once the original post person ("original poster" or OP) put up his question, someone replied with a good but non-specific response.
...experience helps, a lot. Just like car driving experience... you develop a sixth sense that something is not right, and take evasive action before the actual wreck even gets started.
That, of course, got me thinking again. "Sixth sense" can be just a well-trained response. For example, blind people have claimed to be able to feel walls from a couple feet away. Their skin tingles and they turn away. Under normal situations the blind people so affected seem to be able to back up this claim. However, when the folks running the experiment put ear protection on the same blind people (ear muffs), the now-deaf people slammed into the walls.

What happened?

The blind people heard minor differences in the echo of sound of whatever they and others were doing (footsteps, breathing, etc) and instinctively turned away from the wall. The skin tingling was a conditioned response to this stimuli (or rather to this different stimuli).

What was really happening is that the blind people heard different levels of echoes and they developed responses based on this.

Likewise a sixth sense for avoiding crashes is more about being able to read the riders around you, body language, faces, pedaling style, group riding style/skills, etc.

Other than a mechanical (unclipped sprinting out of a turn) and having a guy swerve across my front wheel intentionally, as far as crashing in a race, I haven't crashed since the early 90s. I've gone off course, slowed, stopped, etc, but not crashed.

(And to be totally honest, I've unclipped probably 10 times in that time period without crashing so that one crash was kind of my fault).

I think there are two things that make the nebulous stuff, the sixth sense stuff - reading others' body language and technical practice.

Reading others typically means making a quick judgment on whether I'll trust someone or not. I'll use prior experience in addition ("profiling"), so maybe a rider is smooth but I know that they make abrupt path changes, therefore I'll adjust for that. I've sat 1-2-3" off of a non-racer's wheel, someone I don't know, on a shop group ride, simply because everything about their riding announced to me that it'd be safe.

There are racers who've been in pelotons with me for literally 20 or more years - I trust them implicitly, understanding that even if they make an error they're equipped with the skills to help make it through the incident.

I'll also not-trust a rider and back off another rider for any number of reasons. I avoid squirrely riders, even working hard to get ahead of them. Ironically I usually think that seeing someone follow someone else too closely is a red flag - if I see someone too close and they don't look super savvy, I avoid the cone area behind them where the mayhem will occur when they crash.

"Super savvy" - ever seen a master at something? Musician, martial arts, car driver, bike rider? They have a quiet, steady confidence, very fluent, automatically do things that others have to concentrate on doing. Those are the riders you want to follow.

Rough pedaling style is a big sign. Not necessarily a particular cadence either, although more high cadence riders scare me than low cadence ones because it's harder to control a bucking bike at high cadence. Solo type riders seem to focus on cadence quite a bit, and they're also typically less comfortable in a field.

Poor form means the rider will be tired, i.e. they either normally have good form and are now exhausted (I fall in that category often) or they have poor form overall (some may claim that also applies to me).

Tired riders make mistakes, that's all there is to it.

I take my own experience into account. When I'm totally on the limit I get dizzy if I look around too quickly. I don't think it's just me - I just watched a Het Volk where a tired rider looks back in the final sprint, brushes someone, and falls over. Julian Dean once led out Hushovd for a Tour stage sprint, turned back, and fell over. It happens. So when I see a rider who looks like they're on the limit, ragged pedaling, eyes kind of glazed over, not looking around much, I figure they're at that dizzy stage.

Guys who turn in too early are scared of turns. That's a huge warning flag and it runs across all levels of the sport. To wit - watch any Tour mountain stage and you'll see some very strong racers who can't corner well. I totally avoid the early turners, or stay inside of them on the exit because they'll go wide. When things are moving right along in single or double file, cornering well usually means turning in later than earlier.

Those that turn in early by themselves, not following the field, they're especially dangerous. They're turning in early because they're scared - they don't trust the field to stay upright. But by turning in early they're setting themselves up to exit wide, right into the field, not the best way to make friends in the pack.

Of course, after they take out a bunch of the field, they'll probably pick themselves up and say, "Yeah, man, no one knows how to corner. The whole field ran into me."

It reminds me of the joke where an elderly wife calls her elderly husband.
"Honey, you should watch out. The radio is saying that there's a guy driving the wrong way on the Interstate."
"One guy? What do they mean one guy?! Everyone is driving the wrong way on the Interstate!"

Don't be that guy.


In SoCal one year, on some winding descent I'd never been on before (Lilac? near the Lawrence Welk place), I started it near the back of about a 20 or 30 rider group. I only stopped blasting by riders because I got to the lead rider of the group. Since I didn't know where we were going I just followed him. Later my friend overheard some comment like "That guy from Connecticut knows how to descend." No, I wanted to say, that's not right.

I know how to corner, therefore I can descend.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: I'm extremely risk averse.

That's why I do criteriums.

It seems illogical but it really isn't.

(Of course the fact that I can't climb or time trial helps in making this decision. If I could just drop everyone I'd do road races all the time.)

Based on some of that nebulous stuff, I feel much more comfortable in a criterium than a road race. I see more poor riding in road races than in crits, probably because a lot of guys who don't like crits don't like them because they don't handle their bikes well/properly in a group.

Road races also hit much higher speeds, regularly hitting 55-60-65 mph on descents in my personal experience. Crashing at that speed could be life changing; even a minor problem could be beyond a good bike handler's capabilities.

Therefore it makes sense that I stay with the slow crits, where we rarely exceed 40 mph and normally ride 25-35 mph on the straights. It's easier to read people when they take the same turn a few times; within a few laps I'm comfortable with who I'm comfortable with, and I already have flags on the riders I don't want to be near.

It's an interesting question, asked by someone who's consciously made moves to try and reduce risk. Ultimately the rider needs experience and knowledge to reduce the chances of crashing - experience as far as reading riders, groups, and making judgment calls, and knowledge in skills, tactics, and applying them both appropriately.