Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Life - What Got Me Started Racing

This was a thread response that I wrote sort of stream of conscious like just now. I just added pictures for the post.


I grew up in Holland. Ironically I don't remember ever seeing a drop bar bike there. Never saw a race, a cross race, nothing. Saw rally cross (race cars - there was a track in our town), watched some rally racing coverage on the very limited TV. In Holland a the time it was 2 channels, noon-11 PM or so, that was all that was broadcast, and weekends were pretty dead. We didn't watch a lot of TV.

Moved back to the US. Saw a guy on a road bike going around a corner. I later learned the guy was a strong Cat 2 (Scott Donovan). I couldn't believe how skinny the tires were on his bike. Started looking for books about cycling in the library. The only pro racing picture I saw was one of Eddy Merckx. He became legendary because of the 6 or 7 books, he was the only racer mentioned.

I decided I wasn't the big thighed racer the Bicycling guy kept describing. I forget the guy's name but he always wrote about touring and his search for the perfect drivetrain for a bike (half step + granny). I was dreaming about a 14-28 and 52/48/24.

I was 13.

Bought a road bike (Schwinn Traveler III, red) when I could finally ride one. Short legs, 19" frame was a bit big. Wrote the gear chart (52/40, 14-28) and taped it to my stem. Practiced double shifting. Got toe clips.

Second bike, Dawes Lightning, dark/light green fade. Changed gearing to what I thought was ideal, 48/34, 14-21 or 14-23 (for either "flat rides" or "hilly rides"). Eight usable gears out of ten. Got 700c wheels. Learned that a kid (Ken Bowler) in a bunch of my classes was an actual bike racer. Peppered him with questions 4 of 7 classes for a fall and winter.

I was 14.

He told me that in a race he'd have climbed Wolfpit (Wilton, CT) in a 53x15. That's basically the same as my max gear 48x14, and that blew my mind. I asked him repeatedly to make sure he wasn't telling me he'd descend down Wolfpit, not climb the thing. He kept insisting that he was referring to going uphill.

I tried it in the spring, going up the hill in a 48x19 or 21 first and working my way up. I got to a 48x15 but all the efforts made my legs fold in the 48x14 and I had to pull a u-turn halfway up the hill to avoid falling over. A kid Kurt in our school, who got a pro triathlon contract ($16k back in 1983?), got clocked and ticketed for going 50 mph down the thing. It's steep.

Shortly after my Wolfpit experience I went riding with Ken and his dad. I was absolutely shocked at how fast they went on the flats. Appalled, really. I thought the flats were the easy part when I rode, but the reality was that climbing was always hard and the flat stuff was ultra fast. Fortunately his dad got stung by a bee and required medical attention, else I'd have been dragging them down for 80 out of the 100 km ride we'd started. I think I still have the badge from that ride, the Bloomin Metric.

That winter I used all my current savings, my birthday present, my Christmas present, and some extra earned stuff, and ordered a Basso with Campy and Excel Rino on it. $550, $585 with tax. Campy NR derailleurs and shifters, Modolo brakes. And Excel Rino? Excel Rino had to be good, Lon Haldeman won the RAAM on it.

I was 15.

Basso in action, 1984.

Excel Rino was horrible, it was cast aluminum with the density of styrofoam.

But the bike was built by a mechanic who got 2nd in the Jr State RR. He asked if I wanted to join his team. He built my bike with Junior gears, laced over GP4s, put Clement Futurox tubulars on, and I raced that bike for two or three years.

I rode to escape all those teenage angst things. Lots of long rides deep in the boonies, roads I'd never seen before. All my friends through high school were my cycling friends and teammates. There were a couple Juniors (including high school classmate AgilisMerlin) but most of my friends were in their 20s and 30s.

My favorite days to ride are the gloomy 45-55 degree overcast possibly raining days. I guess that's sort of Holland weather. For some reason it really calls to me. Just pounding the pedals, rolling, feeling the tires dance over the pavement. I also hate riding in that weather, it's tough, it can get unpleasant, and it's always a bit iffy if it's wet or sandy.

Back in the day taking a picture cost money.
I wanted these pictures so bad I was willing to pay for them.
It's because I went for a ride in wet, gritty, gloomy weather, and I loved it.

Now it's a bit different. I train indoors most of the time. But my last ride was in 50 degree, rainy-at-first weather. We were on flat roads next to fields lined with trees, wind blowing hard, rain falling sort of sideways. My head was pounding from the cold, I could feel the wind piercing my long sleeve jersey just past the wind vest. It really was just like Holland. Horrible. I loved it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Training - Blues Ranger

To continue an unlikely trend, I rode outside again, on November 6.

This time it was with two old time ex-teammates, riders that I hung out with mainly in the 90s. One bought the bike from my one and only "pursue and recover" incident, where I chased a thief for a bit and got back a bike he'd stolen from the shop. I'll call him Ranger.

The other guy is a musician first. He's since moved about 4.5 hours away, and, yes, he made the drive just to do this ride. I'll call him Blues.

Ranger, to my delight and astonishment, showed up with the theft recovery bike. I quickly snapped a picture of it in all its glory. It's virtually unchanged since back in the day.

The bike I recovered from a would-be-thief in a different life.
Other than a change in tires I think the bike is pretty much original.

While we got ready it was raining a bit, a cold, windy, damp, grim, grey, day.

A perfect day for a Belgian style ride.

What's interesting, and we all commented on it after the ride, is that none of us ever suggested just skipping the ride and catching up over coffee at the local breakfast place, a favorite in the area which Junior refers to as "The Waffle Place". Instead we set about dressing for what seemed to be a pretty grim ride on the bike, each of us putting on differing amount of gear.

With the temperature just about 50 degrees, a chilly wind, and the drizzle, I had on knickers, booties, a short sleeve jersey, a thick long sleeve jersey, a wind vest, and my winter gloves and hat. My helmet of course, and shoes.

My bike, this time with a saddle bag, rear light, a pump in my pocket, bottles.

Blues had on everything, tights to jacket, and looked to be the most prepared of the trio.

Ranger, true to his hard man style, opted for shorts and just two t-shirts. With his toe clips and straps, sneakers, and non-lycra gear, he was by far the least pretentious of the group.


Our motley crew headed out. It was so cold I started getting a massive headache because of the cold and a slightly tight helmet (I loosened it later when I realized it was too tight). I could feel the wind blowing through my jersey arms, my shoulders and upper arms feeling the piercing chill. My glasses got wet from the misty rain, the tires looked slick as ice, and I found myself wondering how long I could keep this up.

I figured both Blues and Ranger had driven quite a bit to ride with me. Blues had initially arranged to meet up by me so I could take a short break from looking after my dad. Since my dad passed that wasn't a concern anymore but still, they made the drive here. At any rate I figured they both had too much vested into the ride to quit after 15 or 20 minutes.

I had to keep going.

So I plodded along, trying to shift my helmet around to get my cold-induced headache to a minimum.

Then, as we moved along, the clouds started breaking up, the sun peeked through, and things got a bit better.

We tried not to go too fast so our pace heading out was, shall we say, "conservative".

Along the path

Let me go on a tangent here for a bit.

Along the Canals

In the book "The Dog In The Hat" that spoke to my core in some absolute and indescribable way, Joe Parkin talks about how a lot of riders train by riding along canal bike paths. These paths are meant just for bikes, they don't have motorized traffic on them, and it allowed a group of riders to pound out the hours without getting too distracted by cars and such.

I realized that here, along this "Multi Use Path" (MUP), we were riding along our version of the "canal paths". In a different life, perhaps a future one, I thought it possible that I'd be rolling along these paths, maybe in the off hours, doing base work.

For now though, it was just for fun.

Turn Around

We generally stayed together although Blues went ahead when someone passed us. Even on easy ride it's easy to get pulled into little informal competitions. However, after about an hour, with Blues ahead maybe 20 or 30 seconds ahead, Range admitted he was done. Blues was still in sight over these flat and straight trails. I told Ranger to turn around (it was an out-and-back ride) and that I'd catch Blues and we'd turn around and catch up.

I did a little effort to bridge the gap and quickly realized I was blowing up. I looked down and saw 26.7 mph.

Yeah. Not very impressive.

I eased because, um, there were some people walking a dog. That's it, people walking on the trail. Actually, there were people walking, I eased to pass them without scaring them (smiles and waves all around), and then, with 20 seconds of recovery, quickly bridged the remaining bit to Blues. I told him Ranger had turned around and that we'd catch up to him.

We looped around, passed the people walking (more smiles and waves), and then I started pushing a bit. Normally I think going sort of fast on these trails is really bad, but that's in the summer with lots of people and such. When there's no one around, in dreary conditions, 20-22 mph seems pretty reasonable.

The Chase

I was leading much of the time as Blues was on an off day. At the beginning of one of the many long straights I realized that Ranger was totally out of sight. Like absolutely totally out of sight.

"I think Ranger dropped the hammer when he turned around."
"No, he was hammered already."
"Well, he's pretty far ahead."

We went on for another 15 minutes, not a glimpse of him. Finally, at the end of a really, really long straight, I spotted him just disappearing out of sight. After a minute or two along the straight, the end of said straight still off in the distance, Blues admitted that, wow, Ranger had a big gap on us.

I started making calculations. We'd been chasing "hard" for about 15-17 minutes and he was at least 4-5 minutes ahead of us. I couldn't go much faster and we might have closed a minute on him, based on previous straights. At this rate it'd be an hour before we caught him, meaning we'd only see him back at the cars.

I started pushing as hard as I dared, Blues clinging to my wheel.

Unbeknownst to us Ranger had pushed super hard until the end of that exact straight and then blew sky high. Just 7 or 8 minutes later we caught him. He had a big grin on his face. He'd tried to pull one on us but had shattered himself in the process.

We slowed down a bit then, with the three of us sort of working together, we upped the pace slightly.

The only incident of note happened when we were clearing yet another set of gates meant to keep cars and trucks off the path. Blues clipped the gate with his bars, got flung to the side, and basically karate chopped through two of the three poles of a wood fence. He was fine though, as the wood was totally rotted.

He got up and we got going again. Our little incident blocked the path for a minute or two, holding up a few riders. I saw them, called it, and we got into line. I was pleasantly surprised by our ragtag group's fluency. Everyone got in line, we were in tight formation, all that, no fuss, no muss. I pulled at a reasonable pace for a bit, I asked if the riders were still back there, and Ranger and Blues replied that they were gone.

We got back okay and then headed to the Waffle House (aka Harvest Cafe) for lunch. We, meaning the family and myself, hadn't been there after 8 AM for a number of years, so I went in thinking they just served breakfast all day Sunday. When the manager (a funny character) walked by I asked him if they were serving lunch because the lunch menu was in our breakfast menus.

"Yeah, we serve lunch. Why?"
"I thought you only served breakfast on Sundays."
"Well that changed, I don't know, like TWO years ago," he grinned.
"Oh. I guess we haven't been here for lunch in forever."

I realized later that we hadn't been there for lunch since long before Junior was born, so a solid 4-5 years ago.


I got home and felt absolutely wiped out. I realized that riding outside, especially when it was chilly out, made the riding a lot more fatiguing. Probably burned more calories also.

My epiphany that the MUP was sort of like the local version of the "canal paths" also came as pleasant surprise. I could see myself going out there and doing some steady work, maybe even on my mountain bike. I need more than anything else to do some uninterrupted, high-steady work, and the MUPs are perfect for that, a semi-long effort separating the road crossings. If I rode them at night, or maybe early in the morning, I imagine there'd be little or no traffic.

And finally...  When I drove by the broken fence the other day I noticed that the remaining log in the fence was moved to the middle spot, which makes sense. High enough to keep people from spilling out onto the road, low enough to keep kids and dogs from breezing through the posts.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Training - Riding Outside

So the other day (Nov 2... it's been a while) I went for a ride, the first normal training ride (where I started from and finished at the house) I've done in something like 22 months.

22 months.

The last regular outside training ride I did was back on December 27, 2014 (2014!), part of a three day ride fest when the weather ended up unseasonably warm. The winter really hit hard after that, with a ton of snow and stuff. I ended up not posting very much at all because things were absolutely crazy with holding the 2015 Series.

I wasn't planning on riding but it was November 2, it was 70 degrees outside, and the Missus came home early. At first she said she wanted to go for a run but then she thought about it, looked at me, and asked if I wanted to go ride.

I hadn't even thought of it.

What's weird is that in the last few years I've basically trained myself to not ride outside. I know there were a few days where I was walking with my dad and thinking and saying out loud (my dad wasn't interactive so all my talking was to myself), "It's a nice day out, what a perfect day for a walk." Or, before my dad was here, I'd think, "What a great day! It'll be perfect for the playground!" and I'd bring Junior to the playground. In fact, when I picked Junior up from pre-K earlier that afternoon, we ran around outside for a good 30-40 minutes, it was just so nice outside.

So when the Missus asked if I wanted to ride my brain sort of missed a shift. I couldn't answer for a second as I worked to assimilate this new thought, this new world.

Training outside?

After what seemed like an eternity I said yes. And I started scrambling to put together a riding kit. Shorts? Jersey? I wanted a long sleeve, just in case, but not winter weight. Only thing I had quick at hand was the 2010 Bethel Spring Series Leader's Jersey so I grabbed that. It's yellow and therefore visible, but it also is both an ego boost and a memory trophy so there's that. I grabbed a pair of matching shorts because, you know, matching.

Shoes, socks. I couldn't find my oversocks in 15 seconds so I decided to skip them.

I couldn't find my long finger summer weight gloves but they popped up somewhere, I don't remember where.

I grabbed my helmet, my main helmet cam on there. It hadn't been charged in forever, since August, so I knew it would be done quickly. I debated switching batteries but, really, none of my helmet cams had been charged recently so I knew I'd get 5 minutes of coverage before the dreaded double-beep and the shutdown.

I grabbed the tail light off the helmet I used when I rode to the local garage to pick up the Expedition.

Waterbottles? No.

Tube? Pump? No.

"I'm not carrying anything so if I flat I'll need to call you."

And with that I was off.

I tightened up the brakes - they are set for the race wheels, about 5mm of clearance from the pad to the rim. It took a lot of turns on the brakes' barrel adjusters, more than the 5 turns I normally do for the clinchers. I think the pads have worn a bit since my last ride on clinchers which was sometime in mid-2015, over a year ago.

A note on our driveway - over the summer I went to measure the slope using a level and a ruler. I was sorely disappointed that it only dropped 7" over 32 level inches. It didn't seem that radical and the driveway feels radically steep. Then I did the math.


Our driveway, at the steep bit, is 22%.

No wonder I've slipped and fallen there. No wonder the Missus had to crawl up the driveway once (it'd snowed, the driveway wasn't plowed yet).

Knowing I had to stop at the bottom of a 22% slope had prompted me to check my brakes before rolling down the thing. Brakes good I rolled down our driveway. 

I turned onto the road and did what I always do when I first get on a bike outside. I got out of the saddle and waggled the bike a bit.

There's something magical about riding a bike out of the saddle, saddle wagging back and forth. It's what I've tried to capture with my homemade rocking trainer mod, and it's what I miss most about riding outside. Racing, yes, but doing a massive acceleration on the bike... that's basically what I live for when I ride.

I did my standard loop, the one I call the Quarry Road Loop. I'd love to be able to say that I smashed all sorts of PRs and stuff but the reality was that I just trundled along. I got out of the saddle when I could, blew up way too quickly when I made any kind of effort, and generally did what I normally do on training rides.

One change was that I completely misjudged one fast right turn. I briefly wondered if I was going to lay down the bike. Apparently my cornering gets rusty when I ride inside, not that it's great to begin with. No bike laying down so it was just a little hiccup in an otherwise good ride.

No one buzzed me really close. A couple cars were a bit close, but they were hovering over the white line anyway.

When I got fitted back in 2015 one of the thoughts that came up was that I'd be a good person to ask if driving has gotten much worse since, say, 2014, because the last time I rode outside in the area was 2104. So here's my n=1 survey result: I have to say that between Dec 2014 and Nov 2016 it seems that the drivers were about the same. No worse, no better.

Bike as I rode it.
ISM saddle is an absolute must for me now.

When I got back I was a bit out of breath, a bit warm, and I felt energized. I took a picture of the bike inside for posterity's sake. Thanked the Missus for the chance to get out there. I realized that maybe riding outside has some merits.

I also realized that I had a little reunion ride with a couple former teammates in a few days. This ride outside was a great little reintroduction to the outdoors, before I joined others on a ride.