Thursday, December 28, 2006

bridges (covered), seatposts (broken), and the Mennonite (bike mechanics)

Things that happened on my ride today:

1. Rode over (through?) a covered bridge...the first time I've done this on a bike, I think.

2. Narrowly avoided serious injury on (in?) said covered bridge.

3. About 50 minutes into my ride, my seatpost broke.

4. To get a new seatpost, visited the super-awesome Merv's Bike Shop--a Mennonite bike shop sort of out in the middle of nowhere, or at least six or seven miles from any where else where you could buy anything, which seems sort of in the middle of nowhere, when you're talking about bike shops.

Three things I learned today about covered bridges:

1. They have wood road surfaces (at least this one did)--horizontal wood planking with three six-inch planks placed vertically, side by side, where the tires of your car would track, if you were driving a car.

2. Well worn wooden road surfaces have slits between the vertical slats just wide enough to suck up a bicycle tire and send an unsuspecting cyclist (me) to a disastrous end.

3. Covered bridges are dark inside. They appear especially dark from the outside, when wearing sunglasses. So one doesn't notice the potential hazard of tire-width slits in the road until right on top of them.

Anyway, I narrowly avoided disaster on (in?) the bridge, but in coming out of the bridge, coming up a little rise to an intersection, I heard an odd cracking noise, and suddenly my saddle was much more comfortable. This...

(closer) what happened. Pretty awesome.

Anyway, aside from being extra flexy, the seatpost seemed to be holding alright, so I rode 45 minutes or so to Merv's and for the low-low price of $23 (the cost of the seatpost), they ripped out my old seatpost and shim (that shim had been nothing but trouble, and in fact I'm unsure whether the seatpost at this point could be removed from the deformed and mangled shim), found me a larger seatpost that fit my frame without needing a shim, cut it down to size, and installed it. I love those dudes.

Anyway, here's a pic of the new, bulletproof aluminum number that replaced my old, super-crappy FSA seatpost.

Actually, the picture is more accurately a snapshot of a corner of my basement, a blurry image of a seatpost just happens to be obstructing the view.


After all that, it turns out I had a great day in the saddle. Some days, it's just feels great to ride a bike. This was one of those days.

christmas gaming

For Christmas, my sister sent us this:

We already knew how to play...we'd been playing a licensed knockoff for years:

So addicting.

My wife and I play, just the two of us, with slightly modified rules including play to 15 points (rather than 10). Since Christmas Day she's up on me six games to three--we keep track in the lid of the game.

It absolutely drives me bonkers to be losing by such a margin. I'm beginning to rethink my strategies.

Monday, December 18, 2006

saturday in the sun

Saturday was a delightful day in south-central PA. The sun was shinning, by noon it was probably around 55 degrees, not too windy, and I got to stroke the pedals for just about five hours. Dee-lite-ful.

A great way to log those extra miles is to piggy-back club rides. Which is what I did Saturday. I rode with a group early--7am--then zipped across town to meet up with some other guys at 10. A good time.


In other news, my upgrade came I'm riding Cat 3 next year. Now to find a team.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Holidays!


(The observant blogospherite will notice I ripped off Neil@ROAD. To him, all the credit.)

first thoughts on training with power

A few weeks ago I bought my first PowerTap. So now I get to play with power.

Later I'll post some pictures of my snazzy new wheelset, the less-than-interesting frameset they're on, and all the rest, but for now, some preliminary thoughts and tactical implications.

Take a look at this graph of power output for a 60 minute stint on the trainer:

The graph here looks more or less as I would expect any casual ride should--power gradually increases as I stretch my legs and shift up a bit, then stays pretty steady throughout the workout with the exception of a few spikes, in this case, two: a spike downward at about 43 minutes into the workout, where I probably stopped pedaling to reach for the remote, and a spike upward at about 53 minutes into the workout, where I probably shifted up to get out of the saddle for a bit.

Now look at a graph from today--a 75 minute romp in the countryside:

It's a mess!

I think of myself as a pretty experienced cyclist with a well-trained pedal stroke. My average cadence is pretty high (105-110) and pretty smooth (really--I get complements). I don't like to coast, I don't like to stop, I don't like to sightsee. I just ride. So when I first started looking over this output it was a little disheartening--I look schizophrenic!

It seems obvious now (and so obvious I'm embarrassed to mention it), but when you venture into the great outdoors the terrain is not consistent and therefore neither is your power output. There are traffic signals, roadway obstacles, gentle rises, legitimate hills, wind, changes in wind due to changing directions, conversations, drafts, and whatever else that one learns to compensate for without a second thought, but that have a very real impact on the actual work your body is doing, even when you're just "going for a ride."

In my case, living in rural south-central Pennsylvania, the significant inconsistency in the terrain is elevation--it's hilly. One way to interpret this later graph is by the changes in elevation I encounter on a ride. Each spike upward represents a hill. The zenith in the spike is not associated with the top of each hill, but rather the point in climbing where the change in grade of the hill begins to decrease, like this:

(Very sophisticated picture, huh? I made it myself. Free free to express your gratitude in your comments.)

Anyway...I think anyone who has spent any time on a bike understands this idea intuitively, if not conceptually. In every climb (I'm talking rollers here, not real climbs) there's that point near the apex where you begin to taper off, naturally, you begin to back off your effort, and in fact probably begin to recover even before having reached the highest point of the hill.

Now it gets interesting. Imagine, tactically, if you could detrain this impulse. Imagine what the impact on your riding buddies or racing compatriots would be if you could successfully eliminate in your riding style what has become instinct, and instead of beginning to taper your work output where the percent change in grade begins to decline, continue to increase your output until you're on the other side of the top of the hill and have accelerated to the speed you would likely achieve had you ridden the hill normally. Then begin to recover. Maybe something like this:
I think you'd drive your buddies crazy. And if you rode hills like that when you trained, it would seem like nothing to do it during a race. Every hill--the top of every hill--becomes a tactical opportunity.

I invite your thoughts...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006



In the fall of 1987 I was in eighth grade. I was an awkward four and a half feet tall, weighed just over 90 lbs, and I was obsessed with racing bicycles. I lived in Boise, Idaho.

In December of that year I'd saved enough money (around $300) to buy what I considered a "serious" road bike. When I walked into a bike shop, looking for "serious" bicycles, I was looking for three things. First, the absence of "safety brakes," or that the only brake levers on the bike were available from the drops. Second, downtube shift levers. Third, toe clips. This catalog cutout from about 17 years ago adequately wraps up what were then my major requirements.

This is the bike I bought, a 1987 Bridgestone 450 (click here for the whole catalog page):

From the time I bought that bike until I graduated from high school I rode close to 20,000 miles (not all on the Bridgestone) up and around and all over the Treasure Valley (Boise, ID). When I was still 14 my friend Mark and I did our first club training race. All the next year we religiously trekked out to the desert (getting rides from our parents before we could drive) for the Tuesday Night Races...20 mile out-and-back affairs over a hilly, gale-force-windy desert road to nowhere.

In 1990 I bought a USCF road racing license. From 1990 through 1992 I raced as much as I could afford and my parents would accommodate (my parents were kind, but more or less apathetic and bewildered by my interest in cycling, and certainly provided no financial support).

My friend Mark and I experienced some success in racing, but mostly not. We didn't know what we were doing. We didn't train, really, we just rode. As much and as hard as we could. There were periods where I nearly rode myself to exhaustion every day, week after week. No one told me to do otherwise. In fact, even when I began to get legitimately fast, when I began to surprise stronger cyclists by keeping up with them, or even dropping them on the big hills, not one adult, experienced cyclist asked me my name, gave me a single word of encouragement, asked me how I was doing, or even so much as gave me a headnod of recognition at a race or club ride. I was invisible, shy, and hopelessly intimidated. But I kept riding.

I think I wanted to win races so that I would be noticed. Noticed by them. The fast guys. The guys with all the sweet gear. The guys that won big races. I figured I needed to earn their attention. So if I could just place top five in this race, or stay with the fast guys up this hill, or take a strong pull in this paceline...if I could just do something strong and fast they would finally look up and acknowledge my existence and my efforts and they would let me join their team, mentor me, give me stuff, and let me be part of their world.

In 1992, at 18, I won the Senior Men Cat 4 State Championship Road Race. No one seemed to notice. I stopped riding for a long, long time.


Yesterday USA Cycling announced its clubs of the year. This bit caught my eye:

Other recipients include...the Boise Young Rider Development Squad (BYRDS) in Idaho as the Junior/High School Club of the Year.
So what is BYRDS? BYRDS, from what I can tell, is what there was no hint of when I was growing into cycling. BYRDS is a very belated dream come true.

The existence of this organization makes me unspeakably happy. A place for kids in this very expensive, very intimidating, very adult sport.

Congratulations, people. Very well done.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

playing lab rat, again...

As a poverty-stricken grad student I spent a lot of time in the research hospital rooms at Vanderbilt. I’d let them stick me with this or that, or agree to take some mystery tablet for a month, or whatever, for a few hundred bucks here or there. Apparently I’ve gotten so used to laying my body upon the altar of science that upon moving to the commonwealth I promptly volunteered for another experiment…but forgot the most important part: getting paid.

So for the past several weeks I’ve been letting myself be punished by a dude over in exercise science. He was looking for cyclists (that’s me!), so I signed up. Fun, I thought. I get to do some spiffy little workouts in his lab, add variety to my winter workouts, meet new people, learn more about my body, enjoy myself and all that. It was most of that.

The first week was jolly—a standard step test to physiological failure. Dr. B measured VO2 max, among a host of other things. So that was cool. I mean, who doesn’t want their VO2 max measured once in a while? It was in the weeks that followed, through the normal test protocol, that the experience took a turn.

This was my protocol (presumably loads are some factor of some baseline measure, thus it is my protocol, rather than the protocol):

07:45…arrive at lab having not eaten since the day before
A few minutes warm-up at like 50 watts.
150 watts for 3 minutes.
220 watts for 3 minutes.
280 watts for 10 minutes.
Five minutes rest.
325 watts for 1 minute.
One minute rest.
325 watts for 1 minute.
One minute rest.
325 watts for 1 minute.
One minute rest.
325 watts for 1 minute.
Five minutes rests.
325 watts for 1 minute.
One minute rest.
325 watts for 1 minute.
One minute rest.
325 watts for 1 minute.
One minute rest.
325 watts for 1 minute.
10 minutes running on a treadmill at 7mph.

During all of this I can drink water, but nothing else. Keep in mind I also wasn’t allowed to eat anything since going to bed the night before.

Then I get one liter of a mystery liquid. I’m to drink it within 15 minutes of the run. Then I come back to the lab two hours later. This is the rest of the protocol (still no eating):

150 watts for 3 minutes.
220 watts for 2 minutes.
280 watts for 30 minutes!
(This, for me, is extremely painful.)
If I make it through those 30 minutes, the load is increased five percent.
Ride until exhaustion.

Anyway, today was my last go. On the previous two efforts I failed 1-3 minutes into the five percent load increase segment at the end. Today I failed 23 minutes into the 280 watt interval. And my legs hurt now. As I’m writing this. Throbbing, really. And I’m really glad I’m done, but pretty disappointed I failed so early today.

So…why did I fail early?

Well, you remember the one liter of mystery liquid? That’s the experimental component, of course. Being blind to the experimental conditions I at first figured, logically, that I must have been prescribed a less potent brew on this third trial. But it turns out that wasn’t the case. Too spent to even spin a few cool-down rounds at the end of the trial, I sat on the floor hugging my knees and gnawed greedily at a PowerBar while Dr. B filled me in. On the first trial I had only flavored water, but on the next two trials I had a six percent carbohydrate solution—about 250 calories total; about the same as drinking a liter of Gatorade.

So why did I fail so much earlier today than in my first two trials? Who knows… But I think, perhaps, that the experience gives some insight into why the sports physiology literature is such a complex entanglement of contradictions and inconsistency.

I’m only one data point in Dr. B’s study, but from the data my riding produced, we would have to conclude that drinking a carbohydrate energy drink has no benefit over water in a time-to-exhaustion exercise test. But of course that doesn’t make any sense. So we’re left only with the intensely unsatisfying conclusion that I will make here: Bodies—us human bodies—are unimaginably complicated. There’s just too much noise, too many confounding variables to get a good read on a seemingly simple matter—pretty much any simple matter.

Science. Ah yeah…

Also, my legs hurt. Throb, really.

Monday, December 11, 2006

the first post is always the hardest

So here it is. The first post.

A good blog, I think, should have both a coherent theme and a straightforward style. However, as I rarely describe myself as either coherent or straightforward, this blog will have neither. Or at least we'll leave it open, we'll let it evolve, and at such a time as a coherent theme develops, perhaps the blog can be renamed, recreated, and a purpose defined. For now, it is nothing.