Monday, May 27, 2013

Equipment - Tow Vehicle Decided

Over the last year or so, and actually longer than that, I've been contemplating replacing the aging van I use to carry stuff to Bethel. It's a 1998 Dodge 15 passenger extended van with a one ton chassis - capable of carrying a lot of stuff, reasonably easy to drive, but not very stable if anything goes wrong. In fact if you Google phrases similar to "Dodge 15 passenger van" you'll get some hits that talk about the "death van" and such.

I knew this going in and had some ideas about doing a dually conversion for the rear axle (so it would have four wheels in back), maybe a rear axle stabilizer. The issue was that the rest of the van was starting to get a bit rusty. Although I could start replacing parts here and there it'd be a pain and ultimately I would end up with a van that needed some final developmental work (like the dually rear axle set up) and wasn't really optimal for how I used the van.

Right now I have two types of events where I use the van. The first is Bethel, the primary reason I got the van. I need to carry a lot of stuff to Bethel, and in fact I almost completely fill the van with equipment of various sorts. For Bethel I need a lot of carrying capacity.

In the future, if I can hold other races, I'll need similar carrying capacity. I may not need some of the stuff - leaf blowers and shovels seem to be more of a "Spring Series" kind of thing - but I may need equipment I don't have now. Overall, though, Bethel demands the most in terms of carrying capacity.

The other type of events are the smaller ones where I'm not the actual promoter. Instead I'm working one aspect of the event, either the finish line camera or registration or both. In these cases I don't need to bring anything for course prep and a lot of times I don't even need a tent. I've worked a couple races like this out of the Golf so that gives you an idea of the amount of equipment I bring to one of those races.

In the future I hope to have more of such events. I may need a lot more equipment for some events. Others will be relatively low equipment ones, suitable for the Golf.

The van is great but not very modular. It's all or nothing, a huge behemoth of a vehicle, not great in inclement weather, not really appropriate for carrying more than one passenger, and, critically, too tall to fit in our storage garage (by an inch!).

I wanted to get a modular system, a tow vehicle and an enclosed trailer. This would let me use the smaller tow vehicle for doing mid-size events and the trailer and tow vehicle for a Bethel or similar. If it's a smaller event (in terms of equipment) I can still use the Golf or Jetta. Importantly I could leave the trailer behind if I didn't need to bring a lot of stuff.

I also wanted a tow vehicle that would be able to carry the Missus and Junior if they wanted to come along in the same vehicle. This meant a back seat (Junior won't be a front seat passenger for many years) and some modicum of comfort. No working fans up front, no radio, in a bouncy van... that wasn't really ideal.

Like usual I tried to think outside the box. I briefly contemplated a Porsche Cayenne or a VW Touareg, sister vehicles which when equipped with a V-8 are rated at almost 8000 lbs towing capacity. Reviewing the dimensions I realized that both were taller versions of the Jetta Sportswagen (JSW), literally just a few inches longer. If the Missus and Junior were in the vehicle I wouldn't have any room for equipment.

I learned that pickup trucks command a significant premium, typically about 30% more than a comparable chassis SUV. Diesels also bumped the price up - I realized that we'd still have a gasoline powered vehicle in our stable because the big diesels were just too expensive.

I thought about non-garageable vehicles like the Dodge Sprinter or a school bus or another van. I knew that I'd rarely drive the vehicle so on principle alone I tried to avoid them. Driving the van 1000 miles or less a year on average meant that although the drivetrain worked super well the structure was corroding at a higher rate than normal.

To give people some idea of how little I drove the van, I bought the van in April 2004 it had 38,000 miles on it (37, 895 to be exact). On Sunday May 2013 it had 51, 456 miles. I drove the van 13,500 miles in just over 9 years.

I decided I wanted to stay with a garageable vehicle.

I realized that a larger enclosed trailer would weigh 5000-7000 lbs so I needed a vehicle with that kind of tow capacity. I quickly realized that I'd need a true body-on-chassis type vehicle (i.e. a truck). The big chassis would allow me to tow more than a 2000-3000 lbs. A normal chassis , even with a big engine, is limited by the fact that the chassis is a tub of thick sheet steel rather than a grid of steel beams.

This got me narrowed down to pickups or large SUVs. Pickups, by virtue of cost, would be unlikely. I'd want a second row of seats so a crew cab type set up, and I'd need a full size pick up to get the towing capacity.

There are some "mid-size" SUVs with 7000 lbs towing capacities, notably the aforementioned Cayenne/Touareg duo. The newer Pathfinder also came with a Class IV hitch from the factory so that would work as well. The problem with the mid-size SUVs was that they had limited space once I put a couple people in the second row of seats.

For larger SUVs it came down to the Ford Expedition or the Chevy Suburban. Both can tow enormous loads because their chassis are based on the heavy duty pickups from their respective lines. Both have third row seats and significant cargo room behind the second row. Both are large enough so that if they tow a large trailer the trailer won't end up controlling the vehicle.

The Ford Expedition had one significant drawback relative to the Suburban - it had less cargo room. There is almost no room behind the third row seats whereas in the Suburban there was a full width area as deep as a big wagon's cargo area. The Ford would require me to sacrifice the third row if I had to carry anything significant inside the vehicle.

(Although there is a longer version of the Expedition, the Expedition EL, it was out of my price range.)

The Ford had two advantages over a similar year/mileage Suburban. First, the Expeditions had an independent rear suspension (IRS). That may not mean much but the IRS is shorter in height than the live axle rear because the center of the axle doesn't move up and down. This allows the floor to be lower in the Expedition which in turn gives more room inside. In fact it allows the third row of seats to fold down into the floor. This is a common feature in minivans, none of which have live axle rears anymore, but in large SUVs the live axle is a less expensive way of getting a lot of power down to the ground. Interestingly enough the IRS used in the Expedition is stronger than the live axle used before it - the towing capacity actually increased when Ford went with the IRS.

The other advantage is cost - the Expedition is a few thousand dollars less than a comparable Suburban. It may be the shorter platform that gave it less cargo capacity, it may be the less sexy image of the Expedition (who ever heard of the Secret Service cruising around in black Expeditions?), but whatever, the Expeditions cost less.

The Suburban, then, has the advantage of more cargo space (and therefore a lower likelihood of needing a trailer), and the disadvantages of needing to store the third row seat in the garage and costing a bit more.

The Expedition it was.

I wanted to get a 2004 or later if possible. Based on some of the high miles I saw on vehicles for sale (some were over 200,000 miles) I realized the chassis/drivetrain would go a long way, far more than I'd ever drive it. However the 2004 and later came with some electronic stability control to help prevent roll overs - I figured that couldn't hurt. Plus such Expeditions wouldn't be as old.

I also understood that the Triton engines had some plug issues when performing the 100,000 mile plug change. I wanted an Expedition that was a bit below the 100k mark or substantially above it (125k or so) so that I knew that either the plugs would be reasonable or the plugs were already replaced.

I started looking for an Expedition circa 2003 or newer, bookmarking those that looked promising. However every one got sold quickly, often before I could even contact the seller.

I should point out that I couldn't really do anything before the Bethel Spring Series ended because I was too occupied with Bethel. Then my poison ivy really hampered everything in my life and things got put on hold by default.

Finally, towards the end of May (i.e. right now) I felt ready to make a move. For a week or two I didn't see any Expeditions in my price range. Almost all of the Expeditions I found had 110-125k miles, so high enough that the plugs might have been changed. There were a couple at 98k miles and such but they were simply too expensive for me.

Then, on a late Saturday, I saw a new Expedition ad. It was new enough that it had no pictures and not even a color. 89k miles. 2006. I ran AutoCheck and it came back looking good, really good.

I had to wait until Monday to call the place, ironically a Chevy dealership. I went on Tuesday and, after a test drive and some hemming and hawing I left a deposit. Before I left Tuesday I took pictures with my phone, especially of the underside of the Ford. I didn't want to get a bent frame or rusting chassis. I returned Saturday with a Ford friend in tow, a car enthusiast like me. I wasn't sure if he'd be the one to take because he's more about cars than trucks but when I first called him on Tuesday, from the dealership, he immediately asked me the year and engine.

"2006? 5.4 liter? I think they went to the aluminum coolant crossover in the manifold by then. The plastic ones weren't good. The plugs are a pain to replace. It's an F250 chassis underneath so it's a proven chassis. I can't remember any electronic problems with it."

I decided he'd be totally appropriate to drag along to the dealership on Saturday.

We arrived during a bone chilling cold rain fall. The detailed running boards were slippery with silicone. The Expedition felt better than it did before - the salesman said that they replaced the tie rods. (My Ford friend confirmed that one tie rod was replaced, outer, and no inners).

I felt good about the Expedition. My friend felt good about it. I went ahead and handed over the bank check. I signed my first ever car loan. I declined the powertrain warranty.

The new battlewagon, as someone called the van.

A bit more presentable than the van (in the background in this shot)

Overall in pretty good shape.

The other side.

The third row seats, left side folded down into the floor.

The front suspension with the drive axle visible.
Tie rods on this side weren't replaced.

The rear suspension. The silver arms extending out are aluminum.
The center silver piece is stationary on an IRS, it moves up and down a good 8-12" on a live axle.

That's the extent of the tow vehicle stuff, just the tow vehicle. The trailer is a different story, a whole puzzle unto itself. My goal is to have registration inside the trailer (well the staff inside, not necessarily the racers). Such a trailer would use every bit of the Expedition's tow capacity, if not in actual weight then in the size/length of the trailer. I don't want to get into the situation where the tail wags the dog, so to speak, and a long tail, even if it's not quite 7000-8000 lbs, can exert a lot of leverage on the 5400 lbs "dog".

The "small" option would be to have a small trailer just for the finish line camera, similar to the one we've been using at Bethel. This would mean setting up a tent for registration in locales that didn't have a registration area.

The van, just before it left.

On a side note I listed the van in Craigslist on Thursday evening, sort of on a lark. I had no recent pictures of it so I figured I'd add pictures over the weekend. My experience with Craigslist car ads is that you get a few bites and that's it, so when I got 4 or 5 emails in the next 12-24 hours I was a bit surprised. One guy drove a couple hours to see the van on Saturday.

He bought it.

I got home and the Missus looked pleasantly surprised.

"I can't believe you bought the Ford and sold the Dodge in 24 hours."
"I should go into car sales."

The Missus shot me one of those glares.

"Or not."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Racing - May 21, 2013 @TuesdayTheRent

Over the last few weeks I've been steadily trying to get my pedaling legs back under me. With a break after Bethel, some stuff to do around the house, and finally the massive poison ivy rash, I've had time to first rest (and diet) and then to start riding.

The red Tsunami is becoming more a part of me. I really like the tops being further out - the FSA Compact bars have short reach so I am running a 14 cm stem in front of the 56.5 cm top tube. Having the tops of the bars an extra 2 cm further out is nice, very comfy, very relaxing.

The drops still feel a bit high. I have some FSA Energy bars, similar to the Compact with its 80 mm reach but it has 150mm drop instead of 120mm. This should put me right back where I need to be when I'm out of the saddle sprinting. The Compacts feel too high, like I'm trying to sprint on an extra tall bike.

With this in mind I headed out to @TuesdayTheRent, the Tuesday night training races at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. The course is simple enough, a triangle-ish kind of 1km loop with three real turns.

What makes a race hard are the riders, not the course, and the riders are of some pretty good caliber at the Rent. For this evening we had a current National Junior Crit Champion and a few of his very strong training/racing friends, as well as a slew of Cat 1s, 2s, and then all us regular folk.

I was a bit bonky on the way down - I'd spent the afternoon looking at a replacement for the white van, and because it took a while to get Junior to daycare I skipped lunch to get there on time. Then, with semi-rush hour traffic and such I didn't have time to eat much when I got home. I managed to eat some random protein bar while packing the car and then had a soda on the way to, and during, the race.

A tornado warning popped up for towns north of there - the skies looked black and roiling when I headed south from the house. It was bad enough that I took pictures of the sky.

Note the sort of circle in the middle - the skies were rotating around the center of the picture.
I took this picture while parked at the venue, from the driver's seat of the Jetta Sportswagen.

Then, as I headed into Hartford, the front ended, a definitive line drawn in the sky. On one side gray, the other side blue, sunny and hazy, about 90 degrees.

Before even warming up though the skies had turned gray overhead. We could see lightning flashes on the horizon. The rain held off, the lightning never got closer, and we raced.

Our red VWs.
Note: there is condensation on the lens - it wasn't this foggy in real life.

The Missus has been driving the Golf, the lighter of the two cars. It's a bit more peppy - the very lightweight wheels help a bit in the summer. It's also a bit more agile, thanks to its shorter rear overhang. We drove separately so that I could get to the race earlier and so that the Missus could leave if Junior had any problems. He's normally very accommodating but you never know.

Start of the race.

I felt pleasantly surprised at the turn out, considering that the Emergency Broadcast System interrupted the radio to announce a tornado warning. The robotic voice said that if a tornado hit to seek shelter in the basement or an interior room, and if in a vehicle to seek shelter in a permanent structure. I hoped that if a tornado touched down near our house that the cats would run to the basement (they usually do if they're petrified). I think only Hal wouldn't do that - he'd be too scared to come out from under the blanket in our room.

Fortunately no tornado touched down, they just measured 68 mph winds at Bradley Airport.

At the venue it felt a bit windy but that was normal. The wind came off the stadium side, giving a slight cross-tailwind on the finish line. The first turn put us into a brutal headwind.

Innocuous shot but guys are surging hard.
Wind is hard from the right.

I felt reasonably good on the bike, literally the first time this whole year. Well, I felt okay on Sunday but my race ended after a couple laps due to a mechanical. So to be in a race, feel good, and not have my saddle pop loose after two laps, that was a good sign.

I decided to push a bit to see how my body would react. When a move went up the right side I tagged along, and when they cranked the pace again I followed suit. Even when I started to struggle I kept on the wheel, trying to work hard, pushing the limits.

Well it's a good thing it wasn't a mechanical engine I was pushing because I blew sky high. I essentially redlined myself for about a lap, holding an unsustainable-to-me 175 bpm. To put that in perspective I normally race at a 155-160 bpm average and I can't recall a sprint where I started at over 165 bpm.

I tried to get back in and recover but I just couldn't, and a lap or so later I came off.

OTB ("Off The Back")

So now I was OTB, or, in an intraweb funny, I found myself in Offthebackistan. I needed to ride, I wanted to ride, so I kept pedaling. To my surprise I was holding about 164-165 bpm on my own, a race pace kind of level. It translated to 19.5 mph on the slight tailwind straight so I was still crawling along, but for me to be at 164-165 bpm and not sitting up, that's a good thing. It means I could work, was willing to work - not something I normally feel on the bike. In the last 10-15 years I found that I have a hard time pushing myself on my own. I need a race or a group to motivate me (sometimes music works too), and even on very hard rides I'll find myself averaging 155 bpm at the hard points.

So to sustain the mid 160s, solo, off the back, that was good.

After I got lapped a few times I jumped in, blew up, got lapped again (a couple times), jumped in, blew up. The last time I jumped in I intentionally let the field go up the road a bit before I got going. I "bridged" to the fragmenting field and then tried to drag the guys near the back further up forward. I sat up on the tops while going hard, trying to give a better draft. I think that most of those guys were lapped or blown so it didn't matter.

With that I turned off the course. I'd ridden about an hour total, a third of it my warm up. I felt pretty good, legs pretty good (I was cramping a bit). I rolled over to the Missus and Junior. The Missus asked how it went after jokingly pointing at the field and hollering, "Why aren't you in there??" I felt pretty good about my progress from Bethel, finally feeling like a bike rider again. I had fun cornering in close quarters with others - it's the biggest thing I enjoy about bike racing, the close quarters riding. It was nice to be strong enough (albeit briefly) to be able to ride with the group.

It was just plain fun.

Missus and Junior, who was fascinated by my funny hat.

We watched the rest of the race, which, to be honest, was quite entertaining. The field, having spent most of the race a half lap down, almost brought back the break. When the gap was literally 10 meters or so the break rallied, the group collectively blew, and the break quickly distanced the field again. Three guys took off from the break and that was that.

After some after race chat, cut short by the mosquitoes, I headed home, into the rain. Interestingly enough I wasn't hungry after the race, not at all. I did feel exhausted though and got to sleep pretty quickly. A few more weeks like this and I'll be good to go.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Racing - 2013 CT Masters Crit M40+ Cat 1-4

This report is basically a joke because I made only a couple laps before a seat post bolt broke.

Before anyone starts asking what brand post to bad mouth I should point out that the nut that holds the seat down (aka me) changed the bolts from the perfectly good stock ones to some aftermarket titanium ones. Therefore the seat post manufacturer, Thomson, has nothing to do with the breaking bolt.

It has to do with me changing something that didn't need to be changed.

One lesson re-learned today - don't change something that isn't broken.

I re-learned another lesson today - always bring spares and back ups to a race.

The Missus asked if I was going to bring the black Tsunami to the race. I've recently made the red Tsunami my primary race bike, to the point that I haven't ridden the black bike in almost two months. I need to get the bike to the shop to get the headtube faced and the BB30 reamed to spec, but I haven't done that yet.

I also want to finalize my bar/stem configuration. The red bike is close but no cigar so until I figure out the red bike I don't want to make the same less-than-complete changes to the black bike.

So, when the Missus asked me if I was going to bring the black bike, I said no.

I mean, look, it was raining, it'd have to spend the whole trip on the roof rack, then sit out in the pits in the rain during the race, then ride the rack back in the rain.

Even after I thought about having a spare bike, complete with things like, well, an unbroken seat post bolt, I decided that, no, it wouldn't be worth the trouble.

So we left with just one bike on the roof, three pairs of wheels for said bike. I had my clinchers, the only aluminum braking surface wheelset I regularly use, plus two carbon sets ("primary" and "spare").


At the venue I decided to go conservative and kit out the bike with the aluminum clinchers. I figured that the aero benefit of the carbon wheels would be outweighed by the fact that I hadn't ridden in the rain on those wheels in a while. I also dressed aggressively, going with no shoe covers and summer long finger gloves despite the 55 degree rainy conditions.

A Bethel Spring Series (new-to-the-scene) racer struck up a conversation with me, asking about equipment. He showed me his bike, outfitted very close to mine, and I gave him some thoughts on how I'd upgrade his bike. That made me look around and realized that, wait, I could keep the aluminum front wheel and use a carbon rear wheel.

Plus the Stinger 9 had a Vittoria wet weather tire mounted to it, and I wanted to see how that worked in the wet.

I headed back to the car and switched the rear wheel.

I ran into another Bethel Spring Series racer, this one a long time friend and one of the staff of the BSS. He pointed out that it was pretty cold out there, once the water got through whatever layers you had on. In particular he questioned my aggressive choice of gloves and footwear. The wind vest was fine, but my hands and feet...

I did a lap out there and realized that, yeah, he was right. I switched to winter gloves (water and wind proof) and put on some ancient Cannondale water/wind socks. I think I wore them just once or twice before, and I've been hauling them around in my gear bag for about 20 years.

I felt better immediately, my feet toasty with no chilly water or air hitting them, my hands also toasty due to the lack of chilly water and air.


The miserable weather, combined with all sorts of conflicting events, meant that all of maybe 12 racers lined up for the M40+ race.

Almost the whole field.

This didn't bode well for me - without incredible fitness I rely on being able to sit in the protected field. 12 riders didn't really constitute a "field" so I'd be exposed to the wind much more than normal. In such a situation I expected a couple of the strong guys to take off, leaving behind the rest of the riders.

For some reason the sprinklers were going full bore.

Someone said that "Sprinter Della Casa" was here.

I replied that, with such a small field, a break would win the race.

Someone else countered that the small field already counted as a "break".

With that the race started.

I last raced here in the rain in 2010 in really sketchy conditions. Ironically it was the "All Weather" tires that caused the problems at the time, slipping and sliding everywhere. This time my bike felt fine. I had the same front wheel on but this time with Maxxis ReFuse tires, my heavy training tires. They felt really grippy to my fingers even in the showroom and in the wet they worked great. I ran 80 psi in them, just because. I've run as low as 55 psi and as high as 105 psi, but for me 80 to 95 psi is okay, and I prefer to run a bit higher if I know I'm going to be cornering hard.

The rear Vittoria was great too. I'd automatically pumped up the tire to 120 psi, the pressure I normally run in my 23 mm tubulars. I had left putting on the rear wheel a bit late so I just left it like that and decided today would be an experimental day. To my pleasant surprise the Vittoria rear tire worked extremely well, even at the high pressure.

With both tires gripping nicely I even experimented with riding over the yellow line in the first turn, at the top of the hill, and even going into the last turn.

I felt much more secure on the bike on this wet day, compared with the race from 2010.

I couldn't sit directly on a wheel due to the spray and the fact that it took a half second for the brakes to start working, even if I was just feathering the brakes. This meant sitting slightly to one side and a bit further back than ideal for wind protection, which in turn meant I'd be working harder than normal.

Sitting off to the side to avoid spray.

Nevertheless I felt pretty good. The cool, wet conditions reduced my poison ivy craziness, the soothing chill driving away the insane itchiness on my arms, torso, legs, neck, etc.

All this happened in just two laps.

Then, on the backstretch, as I started getting warmed up, I heard a pop and I fell a bit forward on the bike.

My saddle had just dropped down.

I knew exactly what had happened before I looked.

Looking down when my bike popped and my saddle dropped.

I'd found some Ti bolts for the Thomson posts I use on my bike. At $14.95 for a set I figured it was harmless fun. Unfortunately I heard some creaking after I installed them and I realized that something with them must be bad. I kept putting off replacing the Ti bolts.

I couldn't put it off any more. One had just snapped.

There was a wheels in, wheels out pit.

My spare bike was at home though.

This meant my race was done just as it had started.

I coasted and soft pedaled to the start/finish area, where the Missus and Junior waited under a tent. I couldn't go too fast because I didn't want to drop my saddle. I knew the Missus could see me across the course so she'd know that although something went wrong she'd also know that I wasn't hurt.

I rolled up to the tent and stopped, explained what happened. The irony of me changing out the bolts and then deciding to leave the spare bike behind. I even had the original seat post bolts in my gear bag in the car (but they weren't in the pits so I couldn't go get them, fix the post, and get back in the race).

Ah well.

Junior took a while to realize that the weird looking bike racer with a helmet on was his Pops.

Then he smiled, his arms and legs kicking a bit in excitement.

All was good.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Training - Picking Up The Van

I did manage to do one long ride before the poison ivy misery. Typically, in years past, I've left the van at Bethel after the last race, returning later to pick it up. Because it's far enough away from our house the Missus and I usually drive down together and I drive the van back.

With Junior things got a bit more complicated. Although he's good in the car we prefer not to put him in  a car seat for what would be about 3 hours total. This meant either figuring out a schedule to do other stuff (like visit my dad's) and then picking up the van after or doing something completely different.

A couple years ago I did the latter - I rode to the course and drove the van back on a blazing hot summer day. I did the Wednesday night race there while I was recovering from the epic-to-me ride, managing only to barely finish the B race. Normally I'd have done the A race but a 5+ hour ride, massive cramps, bonking... I didn't want to do any race. I got talked into doing the B race though, struggling up the hill each time, using every trick I knew to keep from cramping. I pushed a bit on the last lap and then sat up before the sprint.

I decided that this year I'd ride down to get the van. It would keep us from having to drive 2 ways in one of the cars (there, back) and it would let me train a bit. The only logical days to do it would be on the days that Junior goes to a half day of daycare.

I decided to go the Thursday after the last Bethel race. This was in complete contrast to 2012 when we got the van so late in the season that our primary motivation was to beat the snow and ice.

Of course my training had been minimal so I hesitated a bit. On the flip side I wanted to get the van back home so I could unpack it and get all that stuff put away. I figured that I could make it in 5 hours or so at worst. The weather was still in the 60s so I wouldn't suffer like I did the other time I rode down.

Well my 33 minutes of training the prior 10 days (24 minutes with my nephews, 9 minutes of racing) wasn't that much and it showed pretty quickly. I started cramping less than an hour into the ride, literally just one town over from where I live.

I normally don't check my PCV (the computer head for the SRM) but I started glancing at it regularly, checking the mileage. I thought about the point of no return, when it would be easier to keep going than turning around. When I was cramping I was well within the "turn around" distance.

I fought, though, and started getting into that nebulous "not sure which is better" zone where turning around didn't seem like it would gain me much.

I pressed on.

I didn't know the topography of the ride, unfortunately, because I climb over two larger ridges/hills in the first half of the route and it's mainly flat for the second half, losing altitude slowly but steadily.

Started cramping in the second green shade, before 15 miles.

It would have been much easier motivating myself to get over that second climb with the relief of steadily descending roads afterward. Instead I pressed on in the face of what might be relentless hills. If I had to guess at the topography of the route until the 30 mile point I'd have guessed it was mainly flat with a couple rises, more like the latter portion of the ride. I didn't realize the climbs were big enough to count, so to speak.

Relatively early on in the ride my helmet camera battery gave up. I hadn't charged the thing since the race the prior Sunday, and even for that I think I didn't charge it that long.

This meant I missed a few things on the cam that I could have otherwise taken a still from and posted here. I don't want to bore everyone with some two lane road lined with trees - they look like any other nice two lane road in Connecticut.

I saw a former teammate and recent returnee to the bike racing scene - he was driving his car. I saw a friendly rival out on the bike.

In the latter portion of the ride I was doing a lot of mental mathematics, trying to calculate my average speed. I knew the ride would be about 65 miles long and I hoped that I'd average 15 mph. This would give me 4 hours (15x4) plus 1/3 hour (the final 5 miles). I knew it'd get a bit dusky at about 7:30, dark around 8:15, and I'd left at just before 2:30 PM.

This gave me a good 5 hours of daylight. My goal was 4:20, at a conservative 15 mph pace, but I was struggling after the first hour to hold 12-13 mph (not knowing I was doing so much climbing).

Therefore I had to push when I could. My time calculations were taking me to the 8:00 PM range and this worried me. I even started thinking about things like taxis, public transportation, stuff like that.

So with these concerns swirling around in my head the next bit got tough.

I was trying to eat and drink a bit but I knew that for me cramps are cramps, they do what they want. Normally I'd just turn around and go home but with a one way route I didn't have that choice. I started experiencing some weird sensations, cramps rippling up and down my leg, a rush sensation as goosebumps traveled up and down my legs, stuff like that. It wasn't just cramps, it was weird stuff.

I had to stop a number of times to put a foot down just to keep from falling over. I could barely make headway at times, even on flat roads.

I realized that even when I "soft pedal" I lift my leg up on the upstroke. I had to consciously stop that to prevent my hamstrings from locking up completely.

At some such point a rider turned onto the road in front of me, running a stop sign (a peeve of mine). His running start meant he was going about my speed, just 50 meters in front of me. He scampered up the short hill there and I figured he'd disappear from view.

Then he slowed down.

I was feeling pretty antisocial simply because I was cramping, I was doing a lot of math in my head, and I was worried I'd get caught out in the dark. This meant I didn't want to roll up next to him and have a conversation.

At the same time I didn't want to pass him politely but firmly and then promptly have a wave of rippling cramps stop me in my tracks.

So I slowed also.

He would speed up every now and then (he knew I was lurking back there) but then slow substantially on some of the rises. My legs started to come around so I wasn't falling back anymore and in fact I rolled up to him.

Against my better instincts I rolled up next to him, said hi, and rolled by.

The next bits of road were unusually flat for Connecticut with long sight lines. Of course. I tried to keep my pace going without "attacking", rolling harder when my legs let me, easily up dramatically when they wouldn't. I pointed out the grates and such and finally, at a light, motioned for a stop. I turned around. He wasn't there.

I finally started seeing civilization again, near Danbury. A white Mercedes rolled by, the driver looking at me and saying something. I was a bit blurry visioned and I didn't know who it was, but I figured, whatever, just some guy in a Mercedes.

Then I saw the Mercedes waiting on the shoulder.

I did a "did I do something wrong" assessment of my riding, and other than existing, I couldn't think of anything that could have upset the driver.

Well it ends up I was right - the driver was the guy that first introduced me to the Missus!

We chatted for a bit, me taking advantage of the break to stand over my bike, straightening my legs, easing some of the now ever-present cramps.

He offered me a ride but I knew I was close so I declined. Plus the stop rested my legs and I felt like I could keep going.

I finally made it to the entrance of the Francis J Clarke park, where the races happen. My legs were cramping something fierce and I had to stop again to put my feet flat on the ground. I knew I needed to stop for a minute or two so I took the opportunity to call the Missus.

When I checked the phone it was at "under 5% battery". I stopped Strava and called the Missus.

"Are you at the van?"
"No, I'm at the bottom of the hill from Turn One, but I may have to walk and my battery is dying so I'm calling to let you know I'm here."
"Okay, drive safe."
"Okay, see you at home."

Of course my legs miraculously relaxed, I clipped in, rode up the hill no problem, and got to the van. I called the Missus back.

"I'm at the van, my legs got better all of a sudden. But I don't have a charger here and my phone really is dying."

The sun was just setting.

I jammed my bike into the van, both wheels off. I had to hold the wheels and slam the door shut, there was so little room in the van. In fact a brake lever ended up rubbing against a propane tank for the 90 minute drive home, putting a good gouge in the finish.

I drove gently home, spending a lot of time following 18 wheelers (instead of passing them). I was conscious of making sure I could see their mirrors (because if you can't see their mirrors they can't see you). Of course I had headlights on because it was dark by then, so it was obvious to them that someone was behind them.

I got home so exhausted I didn't want to eat. I hadn't eaten on the drive home either so I knew I had to refuel. After an hour or two I finally gathered up the energy to eat.

Overall the ride went well. It'd taken me about 4:40 to do the ride, much better than the 5+ hours it took me on that 90 degree day a few years ago. If I hadn't been fighting cramps for almost 4 of those hours I would have ridden a bit better. How much, I don't know, but at least a bit.

My new SLR saddle worked fine. I was a bit tender, of course, even more so since I couldn't stand as much as I wanted, but I was surprisingly comfortable. The saddle's slipperiness had encouraged me to move it forward just a touch and that really helped.

The bike was good too. It felt really responsive when climbing out of the saddle, thanks to its short chainstays and nicely honed and faced head tube (making for light and quick steering).

The power is off on the SRM, by about 20%, so I really need to calibrate it. For now I like looking at the high numbers.

I am still a bit disappointed in the bar position. I thought that having a higher saddle (by about 1 cm total) and a slightly dropped stem (a few mm) would make up for the 2 cm higher drops. That's not the case.

I really need to have the drops a certain height relative to the BB. It doesn't matter if the drops are in the right place relative to the saddle, it's relative to the BB. Right now the bike is not good for out of saddle sprinting, at least for me.

With those lessons I concluded the ride. I need to hone my bar position. I need to calibrate the red Tsunami's cranks. I want to give the black Tsunami the same treatment as the red one in terms of BB and headtube facing/reaming/honing.

Then it's just a matter of riding a bit more.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Life - Training... or Not

It's been a while since I posted. I tried to line up some posts but found it difficult to get even half hearted attempts complete enough to hit the "publish" button. Even so I'm not impressed with my own posts recently.

The thing is that there are other things that occupy a lot of my time. Things have changed here in the homestead. They're good changes but they veer me away from sitting down and typing at the computer.

I suppose I could divide my life up into a few different parts. There's the cycling, of course, and I strongly identify myself with cycling.

For example I imagine that when someone asks a friend about me they'll get a "yeah, he rides bikes" kind of a response. It probably won't be "yeah, he grew up in Holland" or "yeah, he plays the violin" or "he likes cars" or "he studies WW2 military history stuff" or  "he's fascinated with F1" or "he likes working in the yard" or "he's a cat person". I'm not even including the family stuff like "he's a dad" or "he's a husband" or "he has a few siblings" or stuff like that.

Those other things are true, though perhaps not as public as cycling. Well, okay, I think I've played my violin only once or twice in the last 5 years - twice I think - but the rest are still part of what I do.

Yesterday, for example, I swapped the rims on the Golf and put the "warm weather" rims/tires on - the original all-season tires which I had mounted on Enkei rims. I chose them simply because they were the lightest rims I could get, I think a good 7 lbs lighter per rim. With the very light factory tires (I was surprised at how light the factory tires were when I started looking at various tire weights) the rim/tire set up weighs in at about 36 lbs.

Tad under 36 lbs

Why mention this?

Because although I may not blog about the car I do spend time doing car stuff. In the process of swapping the rims...

(I have to mention that it's a bit weird that a bicycle wheel is made of a RIM, spokes, and a hub, but a car wheel is a RIM all by itself. So a car has a rim, a bike has a wheel. Anywho...)

... as I was saying, in the process of swapping rims I also fixed a fender liner, repositioning it. During one of the many storms we had last winter it got moved a bit - it would do that "playing card in the spokes" noise when we turned the wheel hard to the left. Some observations on how it assembled, some judicious fiddling with the piece, and it popped back into place.

So, instead of going for a spin, I did that.

We also have two of our cats in cat jails, so to speak. One is in a cat jail here at home - he's been isolated from the other cats, mainly for his protection. Our gentle giant Mike has been picking on Perry, the newest and almost the most timid male we have.

Mike (left) and Perry in peaceful times

Another male Tiger, the dominant one (but at about 9 lbs the smallest one - he's build like a climber) is at the vet for the second night. He's been hacking up a lot so it's been a bit worrying. So far so good with him - we hope to have him home tomorrow.

So instead of going for a spin, I went to the vet with Tiger.

Tiger, on the way to the vet in 2010 in the Z.

Recently I spent a few of my off days plus some weekend days working in the yard, putting in 3 or 4 hour days in the height of the "no bug, few plants, and nice temperature" season. It's prime riding season but it's also literally the only time I can walk in the yard without looking like a lunatic as I wave my arms around to fend off all the dive bombing mosquitoes. A long time ago I went for a hike with some people. The joke afterward - someone asked "what's this?" and ran around waving their arms furiously around their head.

It was supposed to be me, hiking.

Running, not walking, waving my hands around.

If it's not bugs it's something else. On the beautiful spring days so rare here in Connecticut I inevitably got poison ivy. Mind you I was wearing gloves, long pants, long shirt, and a one piece mechanic's suit on top of the pants and shirt. Work boots, hat, all the exterior stuff sprayed with DEET.

Wrist after about 5 days.
This is before it got really bad - I won't post those picture.

Although I'm pretty sensitive to it I decided that if I'm going to get it I might as well try and clear out a bunch of brush. A week later I started regretting my decision as I had poison ivy spots on both arms, torso, legs, neck, face... it really hampered my style as I couldn't move a lot and I was constantly uncomfortable.

I went to the doctor but the bumps still have to heal. It's very uncomfortable, to say the least.

So how did that affect my cycling? Two of my half days (which are "mine") spent in the yard. Weekend days spent in the yard. I rode once after doing yardwork. I declined riding a few days because the poison ivy was really irritating me.

I chose to do what I did. It's not like I had to give up cycling for a week. I chose to do it, on my own, preferring to wade through the undergrowth and move dead tree limbs and such rather than go inside, clean up, and go for a ride. I literally stood there, knee deep in tree debris, and decided, "Yeah, I'm gonna keep working on this instead of going for a ride."

Weird, huh?

There are other changes too. Junior is starting to sleep on a super regular schedule. He gets to sleep between 6:00 and 7:30 PM and he wakes up at 6:00 AM. I almost always get up with Junior, which, if you knew me before, would have you shaking your head in wonder. I am definitely not a morning person but now if I get up at 7 AM it feels like it's 10 AM.

I can't ride well in the morning - I tried it before - so I either ride on my half days (Tues/Thurs, when Junior is at day care) or on weekends. Just now I started riding a bit in the evening after he goes to sleep.

All this stuff, one small thing at a time, has dug into my riding time. I've chosen to do that, it's not against my will, it's just the way it is.

Therefore my riding progress is sort of in neutral.

The last race at Bethel illustrated things perfectly. Of course I was promoting the race so I had to get there early, coordinate the various staff and volunteers (and a few regulars were missing so it was tougher than usual), I wanted to do the podium pictures, I did a "cover as much as I could" Cat 5 clinic, and finally did a raffle to give stuff away.

When I got on the bike for the Cat 3-4 race I really didn't feel like riding. I'd ridden a grand total of 24 minutes the prior week, rescuing turtles with my nephews. Strava even told me I didn't ride enough for a "ride". Three laps into that race I decided I'd stop. I soft pedaled to get back to the registration area and saw the Missus with Junior.

I stopped to say hi, Junior recognized me and smiled and started waving his arms and kicking his feet, and all was well.

So what's ahead in cycling for me?

I have a few goals.

First I want to lose weight. I'm talking 10 pounds would be nice for a minimum loss, 15 pounds would be great, and 20 pounds would be fantastic. The last number would bring me to my 2010 weight, well a tad under, and it makes racing so much easier. It's much more fun because I can be involved in the race, not just suffering at the back.

I preach to whoever will listen that if you want to be a better cyclist you first need to lose any extra weight. Sacrifice your training to attain your weight loss. Once you lose the weight you'll gain racing fitness quickly. If you try and train and lose weight it's very, very, very difficult. I find it near impossible - I'm either too weak to make racing worthwhile (and training is a joke) or I eat enough that I just maintain my weight.

The only way I lose significant weight while training is to do long, steady miles, like I do when I'm in SoCal. I can't spend that kind of time on the bike, not regularly, so that's not really an option right now.

This weight loss thing was one of the thoughts I had when I decided to do non-cycling things. I wanted to lose some weight, weight I gained steadily during Bethel as I wanted to actually race there. I could sacrifice training for a month while I tried to lose weight. I could focus on non-cycling things. Mentally recharge. And return to cycling at hopefully a leaner weight.

So far it's only been semi-successful. I hope to do better.

Second I want to be able to make efforts in a race. Watching the pros, even watching my old helmet cam clips, I am surprised at how hard riders can go, even the old me. I'd like to have that kind of fitness where I could make efforts in a race and not get shelled immediately afterward.

Third, I'm going to cherry pick races. If I'm light enough I'll race, otherwise I'll skip the race. This way I'm motivated to lose weight. The races where I need to be lighter are no fun when I'm heavier. It's no fun for the Missus either, to see me start a race and pull out a few laps later.

So, for now, I'll be focusing on what food I'm taking in. I'll be doing steadier rides in general, rides that compliment a lower calorie diet.

And I'll be enjoying my time doing things that may not be related to bike racing.

Of course this may all change when I do my next race, but, hey, life changes all the time. Gotta adapt.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Equipment - Tsunami 1.1 (Red)

I haven't put up a recent picture of the now-red Tsunami in race form. I did only race it twice in its full race regalia and twice with a training front wheel due to the gusty wind conditions.

The second "race", if you could call it that, lasted just three laps.

The bike is therefore still a bit foreign to me. I hadn't really sprinted on it, not "ferociously", and I still haven't checked the SRM for accuracy. I mention the former because I wanted to make sure things were up to snuff - derailleurs adjusted, position reasonable, stuff like that - and I mention the latter because the power numbers I'm seeing were immediately 10-20% higher than those I see on the black Tsunami.

I went for a ride on a very close by loop recently on the bike shod with its Bastognes. After some intraweb discussions on wheel weight and aerodynamics I decided to throw on the race wheels to check them out. I'll post about the rides later but the second ride gave me a chance to photograph the bike loaded out in race day gear.

The Tsunami 1.1

First off you'll note some half finished yard work in the background. That's our handiwork. The part you don't see is that there's poison ivy mixed in there. I didn't know either but it's all over me - my arms, legs, stomach, back, neck, even just below my eyes. I must be much less stressed in life because it's not really annoying me, not like it usually does.

Anyway, back to the bike. I have some messy electrical tape holding the SRM cable to the frame. I plan on replacing it with clear tape of some kind.

One thing that you can't see are the parallel honed and faced bearing surfaces (the BB30 bottom bracket and the headset). It's made a huge difference in how the bike works. First off I started riding a bit squirrelly because the bike steered too easily (to me, coming off of some pretty stiff headsets). Second I am saving some decent amount of power because the cranks turn so easily. I would regularly see 5 or 8 watts when soft pedaling on the black bike, and I saw 15 watts once when pedaling with no load. Now it's negligible.

The quick steering and the efficient crank bearings make the bike feel like I'm riding rollers when I'm actually on the road. The bike feels super smooth, super quick.

Very nice.

The frame is much shorter in the rear now, I think 39.2 cm chainstays, so it reacts really quickly if I want it to change direction. They're just a touch longer than the black Tsunami's stays but basically the same.

For pedals I wanted to get the Keo Carbon again but with the metal plate for the cleat surface. Unfortunately the new pedals are absolutely wimpy on retention strength - I can clip out pretty much at will, even with the tension totally cranked. I need to figure something out because right now all my out of saddle efforts are somewhat checked, even sprints, because I'm afraid of unclipping.

For "race gear" I have the HED Stinger 7 front and Stinger 9 rear on the bike. I'll do a post on them soon, I promise. Suffice it to say that they're really wide, they have a rounded rim edge (the spoke side of the rim), and they feel really fast.

Oh and they make that cool "Swoosh swoosh" sound.

The SLR saddle.

I'm trying this saddle because I'm running out of the Titanio that I favor. It seems minimalistic but I rode it to Bethel, a 4.5 hour ride for me (at 14 mph), and it worked out well. I admit I was a bit tender because the different shape resulted in different pressure points but I was also going from virtually not riding to doing a 4.5 hour ride. In addition I started cramping almost immediately on that ride, due to a severe lack of fitness, so I had to stay seated for most of the ride. This literally kept me in the saddle even when I wanted to stand and stretch - the saddle definitely got tested on that ride.

Not only that but even when I was pedaling okay I couldn't pedal hard. This meant I wasn't supporting a significant portion of my weight with my legs, resulting in increased pressure on the saddle.

Even with both those things working against me the saddle seemed to work fine for me. The one thing is that it's more slippery than the Titanio. I don't have a solution at this point.

As far as fit I had to raise the post a bit because the saddle sits closer to the post. I raised it a touch more because the "center" of the saddle, where I end up sitting, is much further forward than the Titanio. This had the effect of shortening the distance from the saddle to the pedals by about 3-4 mm.

Err no you can't see the smudge marks on the seat post.

I took this picture because I could see the smudge marks on the post from where I raised it first for the saddle height difference and then again for the slightly different "center". No worries, it shows the seat collar area well.

The business end of the bike.

The Deda stem is misnamed, in my opinion, as a track ("pista") stem. In fact it only points 3 degrees (70 degrees or -20 deg) down from my regular stem which is horizontal (73 degrees or -17 deg from the head tube angle). I want a 14 cm stem that drops me at least a centimeter more but I can't find one.

The Deda is a 14 cm to try and make up for the lack of reach of the FSA Compact bars. I'm still short 1 cm in reach and the bars are 1 cm higher than my other bars. Due to this I'm almost positive I'm going to be moving back to the lower crit bend bars. Either that or I need to find some compact reach bars that drop 140 mm instead of 120 mm.

Centaur 10 speed shifters

I'm going to post more on this decision later too but I had two reasons for getting these shifters. One, I wanted to see if the new shape works for me. Two, I wanted a shifter that only gave me one shift at a time. The Record 10s shifters I have allow me to dump the chain down a lot. Limiting that to just one cog will hopefully save me from shifting too many cogs at once in a sprint.

GOOP and my PCV (off the Cannondale so the first one I got)

On a side note my SRM has a slight crack in the front "cover", the clear plastic that covers the whole face of the computer head. The plastic alternately bulges and gets sucked in, depending on the atmospheric pressure I suppose, maybe temperature too. It tends to bulge in the summer, get sucked in in the winter. Whatever, the important part is that whatever I used to patch it would need to be flexible.

I used GOOP to patch it up. It's clear after it dries and it's flexible. I've used it to fix the driver's side mirror on the van, gluing new mirror glass to the plastic backing. Someone had hit the van while it was parked on the street and left me with a broken mirror glass. So far it's worked well - about 5 years or so.

Reviewing this post you can see that the bike isn't quite complete. I still need to hone the bar position relative to the saddle or change the bar completely. I need to address the pedals. But overall the bike is great - responsive, agile, and fun.