Monday, April 20, 2015

Selective Memory

I remember the races I did well in far better than those I turned into a junk show.
Sure, I can remember the moment when it all became too painful to hang on and I got dropped, but the time leading up to that point is a blank. I know it sucked, but I can't come up with a mental image of just how much it sucked. It's a blank.
I suppose it's because when I'm at the point of breaking, chewing on the stem cap just to stay with the pack, my mind is more concentrated on survival functions than on making Kodak moments.
The one exception is the 2nd stage of the 2012 Tour of Fairbanks, which is (so far) the hardest day I've ever spent on a bike. Our small Sport class started with the Masters on the over-and-back Fox to Chatanika road race, and a couple of the wily and skinny Masters decided to fry some legs on the way up the mountain. One moment I was in the paceline, chugging up the hill, and the next I had to pull over because I started to black out and was seeing stars. Fortunately, I was able to latch on a group of dropped riders and they dragged me slowly back to the main pack before we began the descent. I never really recovered, so when we turned around and started climbing again, I was in trouble. I remember pleading with Alex De'Ath to ride steady so I could wheel suck to the top. I always liked racing with Alex, mostly because he's a great guy, but also because of his last name. Either I was chasing Death, or Death was chasing me. Once over the top, Alex and I started to rotate pulls to try to bring back a breakaway. If Alex pulled for 30 seconds, I was bound and determined to pull for 45 seconds to pay him back for dragging me up the hill. We flew down the switchbacks and across the flats, catching the breakaway a couple miles from the finish. I led out the sprint before my legs popped, and Alex beat me across the line. He deserved it.
Maybe that's the exception because it ended well. Usually when I blow up the race is over right there. There's no 2nd group to bring me back to the front or kind-hearted competitor to drag me up the mountain. There's just a bunch of guys riding away that have one less fatty to worry about at the finish.
I remember the good races because I have the form to be aware of what's going on around me. I can do the mental calculations of how much energy to expend, which moves to chase down and which ones to let go, where attacks might occur and how to respond, where to launch my own attacks, and when to drive the pace to discourage others. It's a pretty cool feeling, and it doesn't happen very often. When it does, I feel like a racer, instead of pack fodder. I feel like I can influence how the race plays out, instead of simply reacting to others.
Maybe my amnesia about the rough parts is why I still race. It's not like there's any glory in amateur cycling. For that to be present, people would have to care. We invest thousands of dollars and countless hours to go head-to-head against other idiots on what is essentially a kid's toy. That's part of the beauty of it for me. It's like a Peter Pan world, where I'm still racing around the block on my Schwinn with the banana seat and monkey bars. Tomorrow doesn't matter. The only thing that exists is what you're doing right at that moment. That silence and clarity is rare in today's hyper-stimulated world.
I don't always find it, but I keep looking for it. The rest of it I just conveniently forget about.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Pushing a Boulder Uphill

Yesterday I took my brand new 2008 Cannondale System Six out for a ride after work. Since I had bailed on riding the day before, the cycling gods saw fit to punish me with a 30-50mph headwind. One of the curious things about this particular route is that the wind is channeled so that this time of year heading any direction except south puts you into a headwind. So, for the vast majority of the ride, I was not moving fast. At one point, I saw that I was putting out over 300 watts on a flat section of road and only going 13 MPH. Now I know I'm not the most aerodynamic of riders, and my Cda approaches that of a barn door, but even I find that sort of ratio kinda disheartening. The only thing you can do at this point is put your head down, focus on the effort, and remind yourself what wonderful training this turned out to be.
When I finally turned and got what was more or less a tailwind, all grievances were forgiven. That's the way it works sometimes. Unfortunately, this period of self-delusion was much shorter than the grind that preceded it. Part of the fun of riding bikes, I guess.
I did find that I enjoyed riding this particular bike. After years of riding full carbon frames made with 100% carbon (I stole that from the Wankmeister), riding this aluminum/carbon mash-up was fun. It felt stiffer than my old BMC Road Racer, but didn't beat me up at all. I can put some abusive miles on this one, I think. It makes me even more interested in how the Storck will turn out. I think I have a travel bike that will perform admirably even after being manhandled by the TSA. I've spent far more on bikes that I was less satisfied with. I guess I should probably stop listening to the bike industry and just ride. Then again, somebody has to prop up Asia's carbon fiber industry.
Speaking of Asian carbon fiber, I also was test riding a set of generic 60mm Chinese carbon clinchers. I've ridden open-mold Chinese tubular before, but carbon clinchers are another layer of complexity to make, since braking has a tendency to make the cheap stuff delaminate and explode at inopportune times. To mitigate this, the ones I bought have an alloy rim embedded into the carbon- basically an aluminum wheel with a carbon fairing. Much heavier, for sure, but hopefully slightly less likely to pitch me face-first into the tarmac at speed. I still like chewing my food, so that's a concern. Your mileage may vary.
In the wind, I'm always surprised how deep section wheels can kick you around. I always figured that my impressive, kite-like body would be more of a factor than six centimeters of carbon, but lateral gust after lateral gust showed me that it does matter. This was part of the reason I bought them. I figure I can get used to that effect with a wheel that is easier/cheaper to change a tire on, then be better prepared when I get slammed on my race day tubulars. That's the theory. Plus, I'm a gear whore and "needed" another set of wheels to put on the frames that seem to be reproducing in my garage like rabbits.
Are they going to replace my expensive carbon or aluminum race wheels? No. Are they going to replace my utility, high-spoke-count, box-section wheels? No. In reality, they have a limited application. I'll probably take them out for flatter group rides, flat races in the rain where slowing may be required, or races I don't really care about. To people who don't know any better, they look fast. I'll let them believe that right up to the point where they drop me. Later on I'll blame my lack of performance on their weight or hubs or whatever excuse I can come up with.
There's an upside on both ends of that equation, unlike when I ride into a headwind.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mother #@$%&!

So, I start building up the Storck, and it has a press-fit bottom bracket and internal cable routing, two "innovations" I'm not exactly a fan of when it comes to wrenching on bikes. The routing of the cables on this frame is infinitely more complex than on a carbon frame, because the cables go through small holes drilled in the bottom bracket shell. You have to fish the rear derailleur cable through a small hole, down the down tube, through a hole in the bottom bracket shell, through another hole in the shell, down the chain stay, and out to the back to the rear derailleur. Full-length cable housing, that hangs up on every junction and weld. It's not a quick job.
Then I pressed in the bottom bracket, making sure I had the cable housing routed above it as the instructions specified. That caused an excessive bend in the cable housing, which meant the cable wouldn't move. Kinda defeats the purpose.
I borrowed the proper removal tool from the awesome guys at Speedway Cycles, and still managed to destroy the bottom bracket. I ordered two more from Competitive Cyclist, and my project was on hold.
In the meantime, I experimented with cable routing options, and none of them worked. I finally grabbed the Dremel tool and started notching the bottom bracket shell holes so that the cable wouldn't be bent so excessively. It isn't any easier to route the cables (although with practice I'm getting adept at it), but at least the cable moves. I finished up what I could of the project, hung it from the ceiling, and then waited for the bottom brackets to arrive.
While I was waiting, I tore down and rebuilt my 'cross bike to take to the annual Arctic Bike Club swap. This winter I took a long look at my history with cyclocross, and came to the conclusion I'm not built for it. The first two years I broke ribs, the third I was saved from injury by bronchitis, and this year I bulged a disc in my back. While 'cross is a ton of fun, the timing of those injuries couldn't have been worse- right before my annual fitness test. So, I decided to hang up my dreams of 'cross glory and instead spend the time on my road bike.
As it turns out, the 'cross bike sold within 30 minutes, and I was left with a decent chunk of cash in my hands. Of course, I did what any self-respecting cyclist would do and proceeded to spend it. What did I buy? A road bike frameset. I really, really needed another one.
So, in addition to the Storck, now I had a 2008 Cannondale System Six to build up. Off to the bike stand I went, and started bolting on parts. On a whim, I checked the derailleur hanger, and it was bent. I proceeded to gently straighten it.
A little interweb research revealed Cannondale does not recommend straightening this derailleur hanger. I ordered a replacement online, and fruitlessly ran around trying to source one locally the next day. I finished up what I could, then hung up yet another project waiting for parts.
The bottom brackets for the Storck came in a week later. So, I started routing cables and managed to destroy the plastic and rubber frame grommets in the process. A call to Competitive Cyclist told me they would have to order replacements from Germany. So, the frame was hung up again with cables hanging out of the frame like entrails from a disemboweled gladiator. 
The derailleur hanger came in. I installed it, verified it was true, and then completed the Cannondale build. I plan on riding it today. I have my fingers crossed.
These have been among the most problematic builds I've ever done. Ironic, because they are intended as my low-fuss, utility bikes. I wanted something I could throw into the travel case for trips, ride in the rain and other less-than-ideal conditions, do limited maintenance on, and otherwise not worry excessively about. Hopefully the problems end here.
While all of this is going on, I'm also fighting a nasty sinus infection. I'd sleep for 3 hours before I would wake up with a hacking cough. Two weeks of insufficient sleep and various drugs probably didn't help my wrenching skills. They certainly didn't do anything for my performance. I've been riding outside as much as possible, only retreating to the trainer when it rained. 30-40F and rain is not a lot of fun for the sick guy. So, the volume took a bump while the intensity took a little dive. Still, I love blowing off stress as I blow out countless snot rockets along the roads. I've done routes I have never attempted this early in the year, and that's definitely one for the plus column.
I'm skipping the first two races of the year- a time trial and a hill climb. Being on antibiotics and other drugs, I wouldn't be able to put in a decent effort, and would likely do more harm than good. I'd rather save it for another day. I'll just do a lot of longer, slower rides to build up the diesel, and re-attack once I have a brief window of health.
Even with all of this going on, I can honestly say that riding my bike is better than not riding my bike.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ah-loo-min-ee-um and Mostly Clear Pavement

Today a box appeared on my front porch. I ripped into it like a kid on Christmas, and was soon tacking a few parts together until this spring's project started to take shape.
It looks like it's going to be a blast to ride. There's something about a nice aluminum frame that I like, and Markus Storck makes nice bikes.

I didn't have much time to play with my new toy, because I promised myself that I'd go for a ride. After a winter on the trainer, i was ready to ride outside on pavement. Sure, there was the occasional ice and runoff, and the sand was thick in spots, but just pedaling a bike and have it move was a pretty awesome thing. As usual, my horrible bike handling skills were as rusty as they always are this time of year, but it really didn't matter. I had fun.
Maybe I'll find the time to build up the Storck and the rest of the projects I have hanging in the garage. That would be a nice change.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


The last week or so I've been riding a wave of feeling good about my fitness. The legs turned the pedals over so well that I often overshot my goals and ended up working too hard. I couldn't help it. These short bouts of fitness usually are separated by whatever illness the baby passes on to me as I wipe up whatever bodily fluid is leaking out of him at a given moment. That's part of being a dad, so I can't complain.
Last night I got on the bike much later than I should have, given that I had to wake up early for a workout that was planned to be a bit intense. I hadn't eaten much all day, and the stuff I didn't eat wasn't exactly nutrient-packed. Still, I hammered away and then shut it down early to try to conserve something for this morning.
I failed.
As soon as I started pedaling with any sort of intensity, the heart rate shot up and the lights went out. There was nothing in the legs. I could barely turn over the pedals and had to admit defeat before I ever got started. Coincidentally, I was watching Stage 16 of the 2006 Tour de France, where Floyd Landis blew up and lost 10 minutes and the yellow jersey.
An hour later, I was fine. Not that I got on the bike again to make sure, but the worst of it passed.
I'll try to re-fill the tanks today and get back on this afternoon to see what is there. Maybe I'll have a ride like Floyd did on Stage 17, only without the blood bags and failed drug tests. I seem to have no problem bouncing between highs and lows without them.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Marginal Gains

When professional cyclists refer to "marginal gains", it's usually seen by most jaded observers as another code word for doping.
When amateur cyclists refer to "marginal gains", it usually comes with a huge price tag whose overall contribution to performance doesn't begin to justify the added expense. However, it's shiny and/or carbon and it makes us feel faster, and that's all that really matters.
My own experience with marginal gains relates to my futile attempt to keep my weight under control from season to season. I shoot for only gaining a couple pounds, and I end up packing on far too much. Then I start trying to hack away at the congealed lard pile that is my mid-section, little by little, until the self-loathing is replaced mere self-dislike.
This year my usual strategy for weight loss isn't working as well as it has in the past, and I'm beginning to get desperate. It's getting so bad that I've caught myself lingering over Lipozene infomercials. Like every other red-blooded American, I want a pill that will allow me to shove whatever I want into my face and still lose weight. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.
I think I may need a professional opinion here. They're going to tell me not to eat everything I love, as least not in vast quantities. I'll ultimately ignore them. I like fat. I like sugar. I like processed. I like scientifically-enhanced mega-flavor. I like it in vast quantities. If you don't, then you hate 'murica, and the terrorists win.
...but I need to do something to kick-start this diet. I need to find a plan that I can maintain, that will get me in the ballpark once race season rolls around. I want to move past the point where people say I look good/lean/healthy. I want people to ask me if I'm sick or otherwise dying.
Why? Because I want to be competitive in my own little bike racing pond. Isn't that more than a little sad? Probably, but it makes me happy, and the older I get the more I see that the stupid things are usually the most meaningful in life. I'm good with that, because most things I do are pointless or inane when viewed through the proper lens. As long as those pointless or inane activities have some marginally beneficial side-effects, I consider it a win.
These days, I'll take what I can get, even if they're marginal.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Disgust with a silver lining.

This Sunday they cancelled Mighty Mites. The mountain got hammered by rain, and there just wasn't enough good terrain to train on safely. Other training groups did the same thing. It's just been a tough year in South Central Alaska for those that like snow. My enthusiasm, which usually starts waning in March, is ebbing as I write this.
On the bright side, as I drove down the Seward highway to Girdwood yesterday (not for skiing, but for a wedding), I couldn't help but notice that I could have easily ridden a 'cross bike since there was nothing but sand on the side of the roads. Maybe I'll be riding on the pavement in mid-March (or earlier), grinding out those endurance workouts on the road instead of adding a fresh coat of sweat to the garage floor. That's something to look forward to...
I ski when it there's snow, and I ride when the roads are clear. I would just rather the weather make up its mind so I can get in some sort of rhythm.