Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Bike Tech: Cool Wheels

I have a bit of a wheel obsession, especially Zipp wheels. So, when I came across an article on a new pair of Zipp's debuting at the Tour, I started drooling.

These take the deep dish wheel to a whole new level. A quick look at Zipp's lineup will show a clear progression:

Not much sidewall (Zipp 202):

A bit more (Zipp 303):

Now we're getting somewhere (Zipp 404):

Holy sidewall batman! (Zipp 808):

These things are just shy of being full disc wheels. The 404 is pretty popular these days and are quite deep, surprisingly so when you see them in person. Not to mention, they just look fast. The technology being them is very interesting as well. Definitely check out the article I mentioned above and the info on Zipp's site.

Ok, I'll calm down now... they are just wheels.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Flying Wheels Summer Century

On Saturday morning I hopped on my bike and rode down to Marymoor Park to take part in the Flying Wheels Summer Century. I met up with a friend and we set out at 9am for the 50 mile route.

I had never done one of these "social" rides before so I was looking forward to seeing what it was like. The starting area was crowded with people of all shapes and sizes. There were some serious spandex offenses going on, but I'll spare you the details of that. People took off at their leasure and everyone just rode their own pace. It was kind of like going on a ride with your closest 1000 friends.

All in all it was a pretty low key day. We got back before the finish line opened, so we parted ways and I headed home. All together I clocked 65 miles at an average speed of 17. Nothing special, just a good way to spend a Saturday morning.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Thursday Night at Seward

Last night I went down to Seward Park for their weekly Thursday night criterium. Adding the 25 minute race to my ride home adds some good race training to my commute and brings the total ride to about 40 miles -- not bad for a Thursday evening. Unfortunately I haven't done as many of these as I hoped.

The course is a teardrop shape with one hill. The direction of the race switches every week and the direction definitely impacts the difficulty of the race. As we rolled off I realized we were going in the same direction as my very first race. I also remembered how the hill in that direction killed me. It made me a bit nervous, but I was still hoping for the best.

After the race settled into its pace and a few laps passed I realized I felt fine. I had no problem staying at the front of the pack and could move around the group as I wanted. This was a huge improvement from my first race.

As we started the final lap I was still with the front group and figured I could probably get a top 10 finish. As we rounded the back side of course and headed for the final climb to the finish the group was really flying and everyone was fighting to be in the best position for the sprint. We approached the bottom of the hill at 30+ mph to find 2 lapped riders in the middle of the hill. Riders in the group started calling out "riders up!" to let everyone know we were (very quickly) approaching lapped riders. Unfortunately the two riders didn't see us coming. People started yelling for them to get out of the way, which they did, but it was too late. As the sprint began the group swallowed the two riders and I heard that horrible sound of bikes and bodies hitting the ground. I hesitated for a moment caused myself to fall out of the top 10. Fortunately, I think everyone was ok.

Since I haven't raced in that direction since my first race it was a great reminder of how far I've come. I was thrilled to have seen a definite mark of progress.

There's no races on my schedule for the weekend. Some people are heading down to Oregon for the Elkhorn Classic. I'd love to participate, but this race is definitely out of my league. Most road races for people in my category are in the 30-50 mile range. This stage race includes both a 70 and 100 mile race, in addition to a time trial and criterium. Sounds fun, but I'm in no shape for that. Instead, I'll be doing the Flying Wheels ride with some friends.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Seward Park Summer Classic

This ended up being a non-event. It was a 40 minute criterium around Seward Park, just like the Thursday night events, only a bit longer. I didn't really prepare and since it was so close to home I just took it as an opportunity to get another start under by belt and get some race training in.

As usual, I came away from the race thinking about how to get in better shape for next season. I've been lusting over a beautiful pair of wheels that retail for $1350, more than half original price of my bike. I realized that while they are cool, they will make no practical difference in my performance. When you look around at races, equipment seems to make no practical difference. It's the guy sitting on the equipment that really matters. If I'm going to invest some money in this hobby I should make sure I can see the difference. So, I think I'm going to take some cash and buy some time with a coaching service over the winter. I'll probably use Carmichael Training Systems, but I have a couple months to decide.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

A little down time

For the past five days I scheduled in some well needed downtime. A friend was in town so I took the opportunity to take some time off the bike. I put in one long hike during that time, which make for good cross training, but that was it.

Today I did my usual extended commute home, which is about 30 miles. Everything felt great. My legs had energy, my heart rate was in great shape. Yep, a little recovery time really pays off.

On Sunday I'm hoping to head to Seward Park for a summer criterium. If you're in the Seattle area I recommend stopping by. Seward Park is beautiful and makes for very spectator friendly racing. I'll be in the 9am event. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Digital Photos

During the Wenatchee race, a local photographer was on the course snapping photos of everyone. He had prints up at the end of every event and thumbnails on his website later in the day. When all of the thumbnails were online I enthusiastically went to his site, ready to purchase my pictures. I find my photos, and click the dropdown to see that my only purchase option are prints. Huh? These are digital photos and I want a digital version.

After a short email exchange in which I offered to pay for the digital originals, the photographer gave me the following reasoning for not selling them:
"The reasoning is that having control of intellectual property, especially with photographs, is paramount. With the advent of the web and digital media, no telling where and with whom any given image may be used, and in any fashion. Sometimes the image is used not in the spirit of the original use request. Just protecting everyone involved. [ ... ]"

I don't agree with his reasoning at all. Sure, if this was a major sporting event then he has a point, but it wasn't. People aren't going to be spreading these photos all over. The most likely case is that people would post them to their website to share with friends. They might even print a few copies and send them around. Are people going to spend $10 per print (the smallest print, btw) to send a copy to their friends and family? I doubt it.

So, by refusing to relinquish just a little control over these images, he is probably losing money. I would have paid $10 for the digital original. Yeah, I would have posted a reduced version of it online and might have made a print or two, but that's it. Instead of getting $10 or $20 from me, he gets nothing.

If you have some cash to burn

When the weather gets nasty, most people turn to some kind of indoor training. There are two popular choices, a trainer and "rollers".

Now, if you have about $40k burning a hole in your pocket there is a new option: an indoor treadmill for your bike!

Check out the product website for all the details.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Results and a gripe

The final results of the race have been posted. The scoring is a bit strange because this event was not based on total overall time. Instead, each race paid a particular number of points for different finishing positions. In the end, total points determined overall place. If you didn't score any points, you're essentially unranked.

My gripe of the day goes back to something that has been eating at me since the road race. On the first climb I was pretty well matched with one guy, let's call him Joe. I managed to pull away from Joe after the first climb, but he got together with some other riders and caught me on the flat section of the course. Fast forward to the second climb. Joe and I are once again marking each other up the climb. Riding side by side, swapping positions, nobody could decisively claim the lead. Finally, over half way up the second climb I was able to pull away (bye Joe!). I didn't see him again, not even on the downhill.

However, as I was riding the flats back to the finish line I looked back to see a train of riders coming up behind me. As they caught me I was relieved as I realized they were from a different race. Whew! Then there he was, attached to the end of the train getting a free ride!

These riders probably caught him somewhere on the downhill and he hopped on with them. They all went on to pass me, but I was a little pissed. I worked my ass off to beat this guy and he takes a free ride with people from a different race? I thought this had to be illegal and a quick glance of the USCF rulebook confirmed it:
"3B5. Taking pace or assistance from any outside means is forbidden, including holding on to a motor vehicle or taking pace from riders in a different race that is concurrently on the same course [relegation or disqualification]."

Now, he and I were competing for a low finishing position in a low category race. It doesn't matter. So, I just want to say for the record: Joe, Fuck You.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Washington State Omnium Stage Race Championships

Whew, that title is a mouthful. I'll get right to the highlights.

Stage 1 - Individual Time Trial

The course was a 9 mile out and and back layout along a relatively flat road with some rolling hills. I decided to use the time trial as a chance to test my lactate threshold. This number is a great tool for structuring your training and I hadn't tested it in a long time. I simply took my average heart rate over the time trial, which turned out to be 172.

Unfortunately, I didn't place very well. 26 out of 30 if memory serves. Not sure what happened. This time trial was 3 miles longer than the one at Enumclaw. Maybe my conditioning isn't good enough.

Stage 2 - Criterium

Later in the day was a 30 minute criterium on the streets of downtown Wenatchee. The course was a 1 kilometer square with a small climb.

The small climb, not surprisingly, killed me. This crit went much worse than any other one I've raced. Not long after the start my mouth went dry and my legs were exhausted. I think the time trial took too much out of me and I probably didn't drink enough during the day. I figured I would fall off the pace, but not as quickly as I did. I definitely did not prepare correctly for this event.

Stage 3 - Road Race

Coming in to Sunday I was pretty disappointed. I was really hoping to have done better, but as usual I applied the whole "I'm new to this" rationale and felt better.

I knew the road race was going to be very hilly, so I decided to forget about trying to stay with the group and just ride my own race. I've been working on my pedaling and climbing form. Combined with my lactate threshold number from the day before I decided I would work within my physical limits and try to keep good form throughout the climbs. This meant resisting standing and hammering on the pedals when the pack did and not following along with every acceleration.

As the race got underway you could tell everyone knew what was ahead. The pace was quite light and nobody was really racing. To our left sat the mountains and everyone knew that once we turned left the field would slowly be torn apart.

Once we turned into the hills we were faced with 2 laps of a hill profile that looked like this (my race did the short loop):

I stuck to my plan and as we made our way up the hill it seemed to be working. I was pushing hard, but keeping myself under control and starting passing people. I could hear the labored breathing of people as I passed. Some had clearly pushed themselves too far. I also watched people's form deteriorate. Their entire upper bodies would bob and they continue to grind away on the pedals. Many of these people I never saw again.

Now, I'm not going to say I had some miraculous comeback. I learned a lot about myself and how I perform. I haven't seen the final results yet so I'm not sure how I did overall. I'll post this as soon as the information is available.


Coming soon.. having some issues... check back later today.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Off to Wenatchee

This weekend I'll be attending the Washington State Omnium Stage Race Championships, held in Wenatchee.

I'm sure it will be a complete sufferfest. Tomorrow morning is an individual time trial, then a criterium in the afternoon. Sunday's torture session is a rather short 30 mile road race where I'm convinced they've traded overall distance for more climbing. A full race report will follow.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

All about gearing

Over the weekend I installed a new SRAM cassette (the gears on the back :). I picked up a 12-26 model, meaning the gears range from 12 teeth to 26 teeth. On the front end I have 39 and 52 tooth chainrings. Using a handy gear table and a little math, you can find out that with one revolution of the crank I can travel anywhere from 8.61 to 20.42 feet. That is a pretty reasonable range. Those gear ratios will get you up just about anything around here.

Now let's convert those figures to actual speed. Assume I am flying down a hill, 52 tooth chainring in the front, 12 in the back. At a cadence of 110 rpm I will be doing about 38.12 miles per hour.

Cassettes are available in a variety of sizes, some with an 11 tooth cog. Also, most racing setups use a 53 tooth chainring, not a 52. Do a couple teeth one way or another make a difference? Hell yes. If I put a 53 on the front and had an 11 on the back, at 110 rpm I could do 42.57 mph.

You think, big deal, so you can go a bit faster. Well, in my limited experience I've been able to make up good ground on downhills. I'd love having a little extra speed at my disposal. The catch is that I can't find a manufacturer that makes a cassette with an 11 tooth and something as big (or small, depending on your point of view) as a 26 tooth. If you want an 11 tooth cog on your cassette, the biggest you're going to get is a 23, unless you go with a mountain bike cassette which gives you something like 32 (way too much).

I wrote to SRAM about it, but no luck:

"We don't produce an 11-26 model cassette and don't recommend altering the gearing on the cassettes. Cassettes are designed as whole units and exchanging cogs will make shifting inconsistent and can affect wear on the chain and cassette.

Happy Trails."

Let's see, is there another way to approach the problem? If I purchase an 11-23 rear cassette I would have to go to a 34 or 35 tooth front chainring to get a gear ratio similiar to a 39 tooth chainring and 26 tooth rear cog. The catch here is that chainrings smaller than 39 teeth require a new crankset.

Sigh.. I just want an 11 tooth cog. The search continues!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Why Racing Is Different

I'm starting to learn that racing is a very different type of riding. I think a few books tried to tell me as much, but only now am I beginning to internalize it.

Let's look at a concrete example. Suppose you're in pretty good shape and can average 20 mph over a 30 minute ride. You think, hey I'm pretty quick, maybe I should try some racing. During your first race you're keeping pace with the group, confident in your ability to stay with the leaders. Then they put the hammer down. Maybe there is a little hill, maybe it was a corner, maybe someone was feeling feisty. Whatever it was, suddenly you're getting crushed. This is what racing is like. How did it happen?

Keeping my first example in mind, here is some contrived data showing what race pace might be like:

Guess what.. that pace averages 20 mph over 30 minutes, but it is a very different experience physically. Here's the problem: most likely you tried to stay with the group during those surges. Your heartrate went close to or above your lactate threshold (in other words, you were panting like a dog that had just chased down and killed the mailman) and by the end you felt like shit and were hanging on to the group for dear life.

This obviously requires a very different kind of fitness. Hopefully I can acquire some over the summer and then concentrate on it during the off season.