Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Duct Taping Tubulars.

I'm world renowned for my skill at making a mess with tubular glue. I pretty much get it everywhere, to the point the season's over before I stop scraping patches of dried glue off my nether regions. Don't ask how it gets there, because I have no idea. By combining mass quantities of tubular glue with WWII carpet-bombing strategies, I get sufficient adhesion to prevent my tires from rolling. So, I have that going for me. A side benefit of my technique is all of the glue on the brake track enhances stopping power, something that carbon wheels are notorious for lacking. Of course, this enhanced power is irregular and unpredictable, which keeps me mentally engaged as I try to avoid losing the ability to chew solid food.

After Saturday's squishy semi-race, I started the process of attaching tubulars. This time, instead of buckets of tubular glue, I'm using the very clean-looking Effetto Mariposa Carogna Tubular Tape. It was suggested to me by Markus Doerry, who generate more power than I ever will on a bike. Lennard Zinn recommended it as well, so I figured it was worth a shot.

Not wanting to roll a tire just for science, I started with a brand new set of carbon rims and new tubulars, because the tape requires very clean surfaces to bond well. I watched a few YouTube videos, read the instructions, and got to mounting. To be honest, it was anti-climatic and uncharacteristically clean. The tubulars went on straight and the brake tracks weren't covered in residue.

People are going to say I stole these wheels, and without my gluey fingerprints all over them, I won't have any way to disprove their accusations.

Since I removed the tubular off of my big, fat, Chinese carbon wheel, I figured I'd strip off the glue with the Effetto Mariposa Carogna Remover. That stuff looks like and goes on like red axle grease, but it seems like a better option than my usual combination of caustic chemicals, heat, and ineffective scraping. Once it's clean, I'll try taping that up too. While I'm risking my life on a wheel of questionable construction, I might as well attach the tire with an untested method. Makes sense to me.
Since the tubular tape's glue is pressure-activated, you pump up the tires as high as you can, wait a day or so, and they should be pretty much cured.

I guess we'll see on Thursday at the Kulis Crit.
Maybe I'll order the soup afterwards.

Monday, May 2, 2016

3.6 Miles X Too Many

One of the regular venues for the Arctic Bike Club is the Kincaid circuit race loop. I live less than a two mile bike ride away from it, but I usually can find ample excuses (valid or not) to avoid going over that way. It's just not among my favorites.

I could say it's the pavement, which has deteriorated over the years. Potholes and cracks are strategically located at the worst points in the course. This summer they're going to re-pave it and add a roundabout, which will go a long way to correcting this issue. Hopefully they'll widen it a tad while they're at it, because it can get somewhat sporty when lycra-clad warriors are jockeying for lane space with a F450 dually.

I could say it's the first and last turns, which I've seen more than one rider lose some skin on when it's wet and oily, the street sweeping is less than comprehensive, or an unfortunate line into broken pavement leads to bad things. The roadwork should open up one of the turns, which will be nice.

I could say it's the traffic. Side-dumpers roll out of the construction site in front of packs, making sure to deposit large gravel and mud/dirt in the process. The rolling terrain means cars and trucks don't see riders until they're right on top of them. While a large majority of them are completely courteous, there are those that need to be somewhere and a hurry and roll smoke as they pass. The broken pavement and lack of a shoulder for the majority of the loop don't leave you with a lot of bail-out options.

All of those might seem like valid reasons, but they aren't the reason. The real reason I'm not fond of Kincaid is Chinaman Hill, an unfortunately-named geographical feature with an even more unfortunate tendency to hurt fat guys like me. I've never seen that particular name on any map and am unsure of the origin, but that's what it's always been called and that's what us racially insensitive bastards keep calling it. It's not overly long or steep, but both characteristics seem to expand the more times you go up it. That's where breaks and splits happen, or at the very least that's the root cause of them. The strong break the weak on the hill, then ride away.

I don't have the best history with the race. I've had a couple 3rds there, which were pack finishes and mainly attributable to fortunate positioning. I've been dropped many times there, finishing well off the pace after one too many laps past redline. I've dropped out once or twice, when the risk of (further) injury outweighed the glory a 9th place finish would provide. I can read the race as well as the next guy, because it's not a big mystery. I know where I need to be and when I need to be there. Having the strength to put myself into position is another thing, and I rarely have it. I'm happy if I can finish with the pack. It's not a venue that I generally anticipate much from. In a stage race, I try to limit my losses. As a single-day race, I use it for intensity and try not to dwell on the results.

It's with this extremely positive mindset that I set out Saturday Morning. I pulled the bike off the hook in the garage, noting it was still covered in orange dust from the Dome. I pumped up the tires, threw it on the car, and drove the two miles to the start. I am that lazy, and I had my milk crate of random race stuff in the back of the car. The crate contains everything you'd possibly need for a race, except for perhaps the things you might actually need for a race.

After signing in I discovered I didn't have any arm warmers with me. As it was a bit on the chilly side at 42F, with cloudy skies and a nice wind kicking up. I got in the car and drove home to get a pair, because I had plenty of time before the start. A quick turnaround and I was back, kitted up, and on the bike for a abbreviated warmup  I joked to one of the guys in my class that I was trying to think of a good mechanical I could have before the first time up the hill.

As I turned around, another racer shouted out that my rear tire looked low. A quick look back confirmed it was definitely on the half-empty side of inflation. Since I had pumped it up no more than an hour before, this was perplexing. These were tubular tires, I didn't bring a spare wheelset, and they had just called for a racer's meeting. Then I remembered this was the same tire that had a slow leak at the Kulis Crit-trial last Fall. It had held air at the Dome every Sunday all winter long, but I guess it had finally given up the ghost. With not a lot of options, I pumped it up to 140 psi and hoped whatever sealant was left in there would seal the leak long enough for me to finish the race.

The first few laps went without much drama, as the pack settled into a solid pace. Riders would go off the front, get a little gap, and then eventually be absorbed back into the pack. I was climbing well enough (for me). My breathing was deep and regular, my legs didn't hurt excessively, and I could respond to close gaps or move up in the pack. I didn't spend and excessive amount of time near the red line, and was actually feeling pretty decent. I still managed to hit every bomb crater in the road as I moved around the pack and watched unfamiliar riders react to how the race developed.

On the back side of the fourth lap, I felt my tire squish in a turn. Glancing down, I knew I was done. On the fifth lap, I drifted back at the top of the climb so I wouldn't block anyone when I sat up. Right about that time the front decided to up the pace, and a small gap grew in front of me. Because I'm stupid, I got out of the saddle and stomped on the pedals. The gap narrowed, but eventually I noticed the rear tire mushing from side to side and sat down. The gap opened a little more. I jumped up. I sat down. I sat up. They rode away.

I finished the lap, informed the race director I was done, loaded up the bike, and went home.
I showered, stripped off the leaking tubular, and started prepping the pile of carbon wheels in the garage for new tires (as I should have done a month ago). I had to run to the store for supplies, so I swung by the race and arrived just after the Masters had finished. A last-lap solo breakaway took the win, with the pack more or less together at the finish. Another rider flatted on the 8th lap and dropped out. One or two were dropped. Pretty typical stuff.

I got to watch new Speedway teammate David Arteaga school the Open field and take the win with a finish line smile. To me, that said a lot, because my finish line expression usually resembles something out of an Edvard Munch painting. Class. You can bet the other Open guys will be ganging up on him from now on. I'd tell him to not attract so much attention and hide off the back like I do. Nobody sees you coming if you're that far behind them. He'd be wise to ignore my advice. I was able to provide him with a new pair of Speedway knee warmers, which in retrospect were the difference between success and failure on the chilly day. Glad I was able to play an integral role in the victory.

In the end, I got less of a workout than I expected. I got what I paid for. It's still early, and I have a lot of failure ahead of me. The Spring Stage Race and the Tour of Fairbanks loom in the not-too-distant future. The Kulis Crit Series kicks off on Thursday. The race schedule is packed with numerous opportunities for me to screw up.

I'll find a bright spot somewhere in there.

Friday, April 29, 2016


After talking a large dump over last year's event in a series of mean-spirited and completely unfair posts, I entered this year's edition of the Tour of Fairbanks. You should too, and here's why:
  1.  The Globe Creek/Wickersham Dome queen stage is back. Boom. List complete. Sign up now. Road race stages in Alaska have a tendency to be multiple laps of the same course. Round and round, with little terrain variance. You know where they're going to hit you, and if you have the strength to follow you can usually respond. Wickersham Dome is different, because it's a 3 hour out-and-back course with constantly changing terrain. The first time I did this stage I remember seeing the Open Class on their return trip, the pack shattered by the strongest Alaskan roadies. Riders were finishing in small groups- 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes or more after the race was won. Even the smaller Masters/Sport pack had finish time gaps over 15 minutes on the shorter Wickersham Dome course. That's a queen stage. Probably not the most fun when you're on the receiving end of the pounding, but it leaves no doubt where you stack up. In the past it was the last stage of the race, the day after the long time trial and shorter road race double. This year they're running it on the penultimate day, with the hope that riders will be fresher to better handle the stresses.
  2. What? That's not enough? OK, the UAF Criterium is a fun course, and hopefully they've worked out the time penalty/bonus part of the discipline.
  3. I haven't seen the course descriptions of the Prologue (I think it will be the same as last year), Time Trial (I have a rough idea of what's in store), and the Sky Ridge Road Race (I'm flying completely blind). Given what I know of the area, it should be challenging and different from anything you'd see in Anchorage. This is the point of racing in Fairbanks- different terrain, different courses, and different competition.
  4. The people that put this on are pretty darn awesome. Without their efforts there would be no road racing in that part of the state, and with the venues they have it would be a shame.
  5. Lodging at UAF is pretty darn cheap (from $38/night), and that puts you within spitting distance of most of the stages.
  6. Chip timing makes you feel all professional 'n' stuff, and getting the chip deposit back helps with gas money for the ride home after you blew all of your disposable income on beer.
  7. Fairbanks ranks among the Top 42 Most Beautiful Cities in Interior Alaska. I'm not sure if that's worth mentioning...
  8. There's a very, very strong chance you'll finish ahead of me.
There you have it. Go sign up now. If you don't have the money, sell plasma or unneeded organs (helps with weight loss). Signing up early allows you more time to fully develop your dreams of standing on top of the podium (or steps on the deck) at the Ken Kunkle Community Center. Signing up early encourages others to sign up as well ("Hell, if that fat-ass can drag his carcass over the mountains, so can I"), filling out fields and increasing the chances that you won't be alone when the man with the hammer starts swinging.

I expect each and every one of you, my loyal Micronesian readers (3 guys in a hut) and those that stumbled on this site while searching for fringe porn, to sign up now and apply whatever peer pressure and cyber-bullying you deem necessary to get everyone you know (and most people you don't) to sign up for this epic stage race.

In the words of Donald Trump, "It will be a major, super-classy race".

Can't argue with that.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

An Unfinished Life.

Going into my garage these days is like personal tour of failure.
Tucked into the stacks of kids bikes and skis sits my bike work stand. If you dance around the debris and semi-filled boxes that litter the floor, ducking your head to avoid the many road bikes and the awkward trail-a-bike that hang from the ceiling, you'll see the stand holds the titanium bike project. Tacked together, but nowhere near complete. A couple hours of uninterrupted wrenching time and it would be ready for Craigslist. It was originally supposed to go to the Arctic Bike Club swap, but I simply ran out of time.
Among the hanging bikes that threaten you with traumatic brain injury sits my Ridley. Completely built, as clean as it's been in years, and ready to sell. That was supposed to go to the swap, but an Odyssean group ride kept me from selling anything this year. It's just as well, because it also meant I didn't buy anything either.
A couple hooks over is a very pretty Madone 6.9 frame, which is supposed to be my road race bike this year. I have yet to bolt a part onto it, even though race season has started.
One notch over is my other Madone 6.9, which still has the broken derailleur adjuster from a couple years back. Another project that would be easy to complete if I could find a little time.
Tucked in the trainer dungeon are a couple sets of carbon tubular wheels, with the tubulars all ready to be mounted. Again, just need a few hours to check that one off the list.
If you've made it this far, chances are you've tripped over that set of disc cyclocross wheels that were destined for the bike swap as well. You've stubbed your toes on the square taper 'cross crankset. The compact road crankset. Any number of other random parts that have some higher intended purpose that I haven't helped them realize.
The whole garage is piled with projects just waiting for me to do something. Anything.

A visual history of my failures to finish a task once started.
It's ironic that I've spent the whole winter working on sprinting, which is a skill used for finishing a race. Yet I can't seem to complete much of anything. My skills as a closer seem to be lacking.
This weekend I hope to find a couple hours to start whittling away at the pile. Even knocking out a couple of the easy ones will free up valuable floor space, so passing through the garage won't require a Risk Assessment Statement of Acknowledgement. Just a couple glorious hours of tinkering away, of re-organizing the stacks of boxes in a way that facilitates future progress...
Every little bit helps.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Putting It In the Proper Context.

This morning I put my bike on my car-top bike rack before work. I caught myself admiring the glint of the sun reflecting in the goop that always collects on my rear derailleur's jockey wheels. I should probably take care of that. At any rate, the fact that I was looking at my bike as a thing of grungy beauty is actually a good sign. It means maybe I've turned a corner and all is not lost this season. Riding a bike is something I really, really want to do instead of something I do because... well, that's just what I do.
Maybe it was the sun. With warm spring weather and green popping up all around me, it's kinda hard to have negative thoughts. This winter was difficult for me on several fronts, but the seasonal change has a positive effect on most of us. Long days. The streets are being swept, meaning you don't have to dodge piles of sand and last winter's broken beer bottles. The number of layers I wear for a bike ride is slowly coming down. To relax on the bike and stretch your muscles out in the warm air is a wonderful thing.
Maybe it was the unexpected result at Moose Run. A lot of things that I had nothing to do with aligned to make it happen, but I needed that mental bump to refocus on the season ahead. My effort wasn't perfect. I fumbled to get my cleat in the pedal for an eternity after the start. I ran empty for a little while in the middle. The hills were more of a struggle than they should have been. To put it bluntly, I was a hot mess on the bike. The field is stronger this year, with riders already putting down numbers I will never, ever match.
Yet, my average power wasn't too far off where I was last year or any of my other previous bests. I was more comfortable on the TT bike than before, probably thanks to riding at the Dome this winter. My pacing, while far from perfect, was light years ahead of what I usually employ. I can take away more positive than negative from the experience.
I'm still going to get crushed this year. I don't see another possible outcome. One mid-pack finish in a 10-mile TT isn't an indicator of world-dominating form. However, maybe, just maybe I'll be able to hang with the pack. Considering my dim view of my prospects for the season, that's a goal to shoot for. Hang in there for as long as you can. Pick your spots and mix it up when you can. Be stupid and blow it all to hell whenever possible. In other words, go out there and play bikes.
I'm the fat kid, and when I was young the fat kid always got picked on. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Changes In Attitude.

Normally, when I'm "training" (in the context of a middle-aged hack cyclist), I have one day a week that is designated as a "rest day". I don't get on the bike at all.
This year, thanks to sickness and other obligations, I've had a lot of unscheduled "rest days". Everyone tells me that as I get older I should ride less, that I will ultimately ride stronger when it matters. Problem is, all I feel is weak and fat. The aches and pains I feel have shifted from being the inevitable result of activity to being the consequence of inactivity.
Now that I've taken some time off from training, I don't do "rest days" anymore.
I do "screw that, I don't feel like it days".
When I don't want to ride, I don't ride. When my schedule or any number of convenient excuses (I have a long list for this very purpose) interfere, I don't ride. Instead of waiting for a pre-ordained day to not kit up and get on the bike, it can be any day of the week. Sometimes more than one.
It's not burnout (at least I don't think so). Rather, it's my desperate attempt to avoid long-term burnout. When hobbies that I passionately pursue become crushing obligations, I have to back away and do something else. I'm not to that point, but I saw the signs this time around. I don't want to get to the point where I'm frustrated by not consistently meeting expectations to the point that I lose sight of why I started in the first place.
That's easy to do at my point in development. I'm starting to see a lot of plateaus in my performance that are natural as I reach whatever meager potential I have. Big gains aren't happening anymore. I'm filling out certain parameters that I neglected before, but a lot of the numbers have been stable for a while. When you're not getting these reassuring pats on the back from jumps in capability as rewards for effort, you can begin to lose enthusiasm.
Where I can make considerable gains is in power-to-weight ratio. I'm carrying 50 more pounds than some guys around me. I'm putting out more wattage, but gravity just doesn't find them as attractive as it seems to find me. I blow up putting out the wattage required to climb with them.
I just have to stop stuffing my face.
I've started paying a little more attention to what I consume. I've made a conscious effort to avoid the snack bar and its plastic-wrapped, chocolate-covered goodness. It's not enough, but it's a start. Next I'll have to start counting calories religiously to reset my perception of what is a decent serving. I'll have to get used to feeling hungry all of the time, until that's the new normal. Call me crazy, but I don't like being fat.
Thing is, it's sitting differently this time. My waist hasn't ballooned like it used to. The fat has found new places to rest, which means it's easier to delude myself. Progress is likely going to only show up on the scale, and I hate watching the damn scale. It's just another new normal I'm going to have to get used to.
A few performance parameters are looking up, though. My core is stronger than it usually is this time of year. I think an unexpected decent result or trend will do a lot to fill the space between my ears with some enthusiasm.
Then I'll start to train again and take some well-earned rest days.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Moose Run.

The Moose Run time trial is a benchmark for Arctic Bike Club Road Racing Division cyclists. Ten miles on a rolling course, complete with soul-crushing false flats and frequent headwinds, it provides a periodic test of where your fitness is compared to the competition.  Of course, that changes as the season progresses, with some riders charging into the spring on-form, only to fade towards the end of the year (this is my usual pattern). Other riders start slow and ride themselves into shape, peaking as the Tour of Anchorage rolls around. During years we run multiple time trials on the course, you can see the progression and evaluate the competition accordingly. It's not foolproof, but it's certainly a good indication of potential. I'm usually counted out of contention by the time the last Moose Run before the Tour is tallied.

This year I counted myself out before the first pedal was turned in anger. I wasn't completely sure I wanted to even sign up. I did, and halfheartedly dragged all of the TT gear out of storage. The disc wheel has a bad freehub, so I put on some 50mm carbon wheels and called it aero. I wasn't expecting much, and I dressed the part.

It was slightly chilly and overcast when I arrived. At least there wasn't much wind, which is unusual for this course- especially the parts that are open to the Glenn Highway wind tunnel. I got on the trainer to try to warm up a bit, but was finding myself sweating after fairly easy efforts. I wasn't tired, but I was sweaty. I shed some layers, and hoped I didn't freeze myself when I got out on the course. Again, no real expectations except for a period of unpleasantness followed by some hacking and light vomiting. All in the name of fun.
My usual strategy for pacing is to go as hard as possible right off the gun, blow up a couple miles down the road, and then limp the rest of the way on whatever is left. This time, not sure about what I had in the tank and therefore somewhat cautious, I held back a bit once I was up to speed. My 30 second guy was Dark Lord of the Sith Bill Fleming, who usually crushes me in time trials. I knew I couldn't catch him, but I knew we would pass the racers directly ahead of him. Bill had completed the Iditarod Trail Invitational fat bike race, so I knew his diesel was in good shape. If I could keep him in sight up in the distance, I would have a semi-decent day.

Bike race play-by-plays are usually boring, and time trial stories are probably the worst offenders. To spare you the details and cut to the chase, I kept Bill in sight. Stripped down as I was, I got cold, until the suck gave me something else to think about. I had more than my share of bad moments, but I kept my head down and the pedals turning until I crossed the line. I didn't want to believe what my Garmin had told me, so I waited for the results to be posted.

My personal best, by about 30 seconds. I beat Bill by 1.1 seconds. I was nowhere near the fastest guy in the class, or on the day, but I'd broken a barrier that had stymied me for years. I'd call that as much of a win as I'm going to see.

Maybe I need to get fat and sick more often.