Thursday, April 20, 2017

HISTORY OF GEARS

     For all those expecting something else, sorry, this is about me getting old.  I keep a spreadsheet of my rides (yes, I'm on Garmin Connect and Strava but rarely actually use them).  Several years ago, 2011 to be precise, I started a new sheet and sorta lost track of the old one.  On the new sheet I have a page (Jester) dedicated to the rides I call my "hill route."  I've posted several times about this route, in that I use this get my HR up to maximum.  The last ramp up Courtyard never (hardly ever) fails to bring out the top rate of the ride, and when I'm feeling particularly energetic, my overall max.  I use this to set my zones.  But I digress, this post is about gearing.
     I came across my pre-2011 spreadsheet and transferred the Jester data.  And thus begins me gear tale.  Apparently I first began doing this route in 2008, at age 65.  At that time my road bike (custom titanium Roark) had a 53-39 chain ring and 12-27 cogs (as best I remember).  I struggled up Courtyard and Jester (and Rain Creek and Bluegrass) but accomplished the circuit in one hour and twenty minutes on average.  For the next two years I mostly stayed under 1:25.
     The next year I experienced real difficulties on Courtyard, to the extent of having to walk the last ramp.  The ego took a big hit on that day.  I had to face the reality of not having the oomph to push the gear.  I swallowed hard and switched to a compact crank.  Interestingly enough, my times stayed the same.  But then a different reality set in.  In racing Walburg I found myself spinning out and losing ground on the downhill, and quickly finding myself alone on the road.  So I moved on to a triple.
     Now, in 2012, my times stayed in the low 1:20's and I reeled myself up Courtyard and Jester a record 25 times.  But 2013 had me struggling again.  I switched to a 28 cog which was enough to keep me in the saddle.  I hung on for another two years, but in 2016 jumped to a 32.  I've had my fun remarking about people who have dinner plates for cog sets, so I'm now getting my comeuppance.  Most of my times moved to being under 1:35.  For the first four rides in 2017 I stayed at 1:35.  But then I needed new shifters, which turned into also a new crank set and derailleurs.
     Surprise!  The new crank set had a granny gear of 30 and my 28 no longer matched up so couldn't be transferred.  My fear was that I'd lost at least one gear and wouldn't make it up Courtyard.  As it turns out, I made it up Courtyard just fine, and in the fastest time for the circuit in three years.  I then did a check on Sheldon Brown's Gear Calculator and it looks like I only lost half a gear.
     The older you get the harder you have to work to maintain fitness.  I'd love to be able to push that 39-53 everywhere, but it is a fact of life, when the road turns up, I need bigger gears.  I recently emailed Marty Jemison that if I ever took his signature tour in Spain I'd need an Ebike.  But I'll keep pedaling as long as I can.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

GRAVEL GRINDING

     First the back-story.  In 2004 my friends Ray and Byran talked me into coming to Washington State to ride the John Wayne Trail.  This is a rail-trail with the famous two-mile long Snoqualmie Tunnel.  As an inducement Ray would provide the bike, a very nice fully-suspended mountain bike.  We had a great time (included in Bicycle Journeys with Jerry).  Ray wanted to sell me the bike but I wasn't inclined.  However, I agreed that if he could build me a bike for $1500, I'd buy it.  He did, and I did.  Since that time I've done multiple rail trails on my KHS bike.  But these rides are few and far between.  Most of the time the bike just hung in the garage.
     I've mentioned several times that when I realized I'd not ridden in any of the states bordering Texas, that became my next goal.  I did New Mexico last year and have signed up with Velo View Bike Tours for their Arkansas adventure.  Arkansas will be a gravel grinder.  I determined to get a few rides in before we go in June.  I missed one in early March, so was looking forward to March 18th and the Gravel Grinder to Bastrop, an eighty-three mile out and back.
     Let me quote from page 15 of Gotta Go! Cycling Vacations in Fantastic Locations: "When riding on non-asphalt trails, limit yourself to no more than forty miles per day."  Of course, this means when taking a cycling vacation on rail-trails.  But I had not mounted my mountain bike in over four years and my stamina is not up to eighty miles of gravel.   So, I whined a bit and found someone else who also only wanted to do forty miles.  As luck would have it, she is part-owner (not sure of Dani's formal relationship) of Velo View and she would drive the van to Bastrop and I would drive it back.
     When I drove into the departure point I quickly determined everyone else had their cyclocross bikes.  It was a good size group, in the neighborhood of 12-14 riders (I counted at the time but now can't remember).  I had a sinking feeling, soon verified, that most of the mileage would be on asphalt.  Something like six miles of gravel, and only a few patches where I fish-tailed.
     We left Pflugerville at 8:30am under cloudy skies and a slight wind in our face (as long as we were headed in a southerly direction), and a mild sixty-five degrees.  Perfect riding weather.  I had carefully measured the saddle height and position, so was a bit perturbed to find a bit more than the proper "slight bend" in my leg at full extension.  I could have used another millimeter.  Nothing I can't fix later.
     Truthfully, I cruised along on the streets, bikeways, sidewalks, whatever quite comfortably.  Only one trouble-spot: a surprise turn up a short, steep ramp.  I didn't have time to get a proper gear so had to gut it up and around.  Other than raising my heart-rate a bit, successfully achieved.  Dan led the group and I slotted in somewhere mid-pack.  Between twenty-five and thirty miles my legs started complaining.  Welcome to the club, my shoulders and triceps were unhappy from the get-go.  Then we hit the gravel.  I waved good-bye to the group as I dropped off the pace.  Of course, I wasn't left behind, either Dan or someone else dropped back to keep me in sight and we regrouped a couple of times.  The fat tires of the mountain bike had no problem in the gravel, which thankfully was mostly packed with very little wash-boarding.  The few spots of deeper gravel were more of a diversion than a hindrance.
     It wasn't until we stopped in Bastrop that I actually got off the bike and saw that the saddle bolt had loosened and the saddle had slipped back about an inch and a half.  I was grateful the bolt hadn't come out completely, as I envisioned riding without a saddle at all.  I was also grateful for having arranged to be in the van for the way back.
     We lunched at Neighbor's Kitchen.  This is a great place, good food, live music, overlooking the Colorado River.  Dan wasn't feeling too well, and decided he would drive back, so I rode shotgun.  Dani had the lesser end of our ride-sharing, in that while she now had a slight tailwind she also had about fifteen degrees of heat more than I had.  It was also a gain in elevation.
     The plan for the van was to hop-scotch the riders, but Dan saw a road leading off to the left and wanted to see where it went.  Always on the lookout for some good gravel to ride.  As it turned out, several miles down it ended at a plant.  Now we know.  Upon our return to the route, the gravel part, we saw one of the ladies riding by herself.  Dan decided he would join her so she wouldn't be riding solo.  Thus the driving duties fell to me.  As it turned out, one of the guys had also stopped for her, so she found herself with several companions.
     A little later, at a turn, one of the guys had lost contact by riding ahead of everyone.  Dan asked me to drive straight to make sure he hadn't gone that way.  Several miles down the road, it ended at a T intersection and no rider was to be seen.  Back I went, got on course, and eventually caught up with the group and passed them and finally set up a hop-scotch scenario.  A few miles further and one of the other guys had had enough, and decided to SAG in.
     Like any good sag van, water and Nuun was available and copiously used.  Only a few miles from the finish, one last stop for water refills, and then I headed to the shop.  The cyclists would come off the road and back on the bikeway and through the neighborhood.
     I rate this a successful outing on the mountain bike, even if the gravel miles were minimal.  And, of course, riding with friends is always fun.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

RIDING WITH CALLIE

     Actually, today's ride was with Brian and Callie.  But we were there because of Callie.  She is going to do the Rookie Tri in Austin, more specifically at Lake Long (previously Decker Lake).  She is a self-professed terrible swimmer, but a better-than-a-lot cyclist and a good (but could be better) runner.  I felt she could make up a lot of time on the bike, but would need something better than what she is currently riding.  I have a super fast Felt B2 with Zipp 404 and 808 wheels and thought this would give her the edge she needs.  The ride today was a recon of the course.
     Reality set in.  Callie has never ridden with aero bars and we are only four weeks away from the race.  While that is enough time to be familiar with the bars, it really isn't enough to be comfortable in a race.  Plus, in thinking about the course, I decided now wasn't the time to break her in on a TT bike when the course itself is hilly and pretty rough for long patches.  We went with Plan B: putting the Zipps on her bike.
     Apparently the Expo Center is having a vintage bike show.  A very large one.  Old cars streamed by our parking place for several hours, getting into the Expo Center.  Traffic backed up.
     I am really, really familiar with this course.  They run the Decker Challenge and the Double Decker (foot races, 13.1 and 26.2 miles respectfully) there and back when I was running marathons, this is the course where I strained my achilles so badly that eventually I stopped running and turned to cycling.  It is also the course for an Austin Senior Games cycling event (2005).  It was my second year of racing and I earned two bronze medals in the time trials and got a flat in the road race.  The flat came as I turned a corner too fast and rolled the tire (or something to that effect).  It is extremely challenging with quite a bit of climbing.  Much more so than in most time trials.  I hate this course.
     But to be sure Callie got a proper recon, I sucked it up and we rode it.  The temperature was great, the wind likewise.  I won't describe it as gale-force, but quite strong.
     Because of traffic concerns we skipped part of the route by taking the bikeway up to the gun range and started on Lindell Road.  This is best ridden in the middle of the road, and can be taken in the big ring.  At the end of Lindell is a right turn and an immediate uphill.  In my opinion, you should reduce to the small chain ring while coasting up to the turn and go for the high rpm's.  I lost Brian and Callie on this hill and followed as best I could.
     They waited for me at the top of the next hill and we headed east toward the toll road and a right turn and another hill.  I'm pleading oxygen debt in not recognizing the next turn.  We stopped at it, Brian suggested it was the right road, but I didn't think so.  He acquiesced and so we added two more hills and about four miles to the circuit.  Just as well, in that we had a nice stop at a convenience store.
     Back on course, we now came upon backed-up traffic threading its way into the Expo Center.  We had a wide right-of-way so cautiously made our path through the cars and back to the starting point.
Round two.  Back on the bikeway, back on Lindell Road.  They are warmed up, I am tired.  At least I kept them in sight.  So much so that I saw Callie miss the turn (the one Brian rightly had the last time and who was waiting a bit past it this time); I saw Brian come back and chase her down.  Well it took him at least a half mile, maybe three quarters to catch her.  I, meanwhile, stopped at the turn and waited for their return.  They never returned.  I figured they had taken the same path as the first loop, therefore headed down the correct road to the intersection I knew they would come to.  Sure enough, less than five minutes later they were in sight.
     We made it back to Decker Lane, but rather than stay on course and take a right turn, we intentionally went straight.  Without the backed up traffic, cars were now at full speed.  We didn't need that hassle.  So we rode an extra couple of miles and picked up the bikeway and cruised back to our starting point and the cars.  I got my wheels back.
     What with the wind and trying to keep up with Brian and Callie, I was pretty much tuckered out.  It was fun and nobody got hurt (always a good thing).  I've written before how I can be going full bore and look in my mirrors and she seems to be filing her nails (certainly not being winded).  She feels the same when she rides with Todd and Brian and whoever else.  But that is the good part of riding with friends.  You give it your best, and if they are faster they'll wait at an appropriate place.  It's about riding, not about placing.

Monday, April 3, 2017

HOW DO YOU SPELL SUCCESS

     Regular Readers know I make repeated claims that I'm into racing mainly because it keeps me in good cycling form.  I got into Senior Games in 2004 as an adjunct to my club rides and touring vacations, and found it to be fun.  The competition is healthy and friendly.  My toughest opponent is also my team mate when we do teams.  We like to win, but mainly we like to do well.
     Which brings me to today's post.  For the last year and a half I haven't been doing all that well, climaxing with a dismal last place in the USAC time trials.  My leg strength was abysmal.  Had I not been racing against guys my own age (within the five-year age category), I might have chalked it up to finally getting old.  But they were ageing at the same rate, so it had to be me.  I made some changes last November.
     In February my first races in College Station went well.  I felt some life in the legs, winning the time trials and also a surprise gold in the road race.  In March, under very windy conditions in Dallas, I managed a gold and silver (also a bronze in the road race, but there were only three guys in my category, it was a very distant third).  More importantly, the legs felt good.
     Yesterday, the races in San Antonio were delayed an hour while a line of thunder storms rolled through.  Apparently the threat of rain and with this not being a qualifying year for Nationals combined to reduce the field.  The first race of the morning was the 10k time trial.  The road was wet and we had a strong wind in our face going up the back-side hill.  While not particularly steep, it seems to go on forever and with the wind I had to move all the way up the cogs.  I took the corners gingerly, scrubbing speed and not leaning as much.  But the conditions were the same for everybody.  I came in over a minute faster than second place.
     With the wind and now sunny skies, the course dried out for the second race, the 20k road race.  I found myself alone in my category, so more or less noodled five laps.  Mind you, I still worked hard but absent race tactics it was more or less a time trial without aero equipment.  I didn't get lapped, and actually passed a few of the younger riders.
     An hour later it was time for the 5k time trial.  Usually San Antonio has a two-day schedule, with the 10k tt and 20k road race on Saturday and the 5k tt and 40k road race on Sunday.  Apparently Saturday wasn't available this year, so they deleted the 40k road race and did the other three on Sunday.  Anyhow, my legs were tired.  This was an out-and-back, but still took in about three-quarters of the back-side hill plus another short one.  My previous slowest time has now been exceeded by forty-five seconds.  But again, I managed to come in first.
     I  measure success by how well my body moves the bike, not the placement in a race.  Of course, winning usually means I'm in good shape.  I'm looking forward to our vacation in the North Georgia mountains.  This is where I'll know for sure if I have my legs back.
   

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

PERILS OF THE HARD OF HEARING

     When I ride in a group I'm pretty much silent.  Conversing with me is always an adventure.  Given that I'm deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other, and that I remove my hearing aid when riding, it is easier to remain mute rather than ask someone to repeat themselves, in what is usually a banal remark anyhow.
     Given that background, I had a really fun evening last night.  This year's inaugural Monday Night ride out of Pflugerville had us going on a generally north-south loop and included some roads I was unfamiliar with.  I vaguely remember going the other way on one section, but that isn't germane to the narrative.  Because we have several miles of in-town riding I brought along my GoPro in case something interesting occurred.
     Nothing did.  We did pass an exotic animal farm and saw some zebras.
 Rather than erase the recording immediately, I started going through it to see if I had the zebra.  As I sat watching and listening (with my hearing aid) on the big-screen computer, I heard a strange thump-thump-thump.  Yes, that was me thumping along.  I'm surprised my companions hadn't mentioned how annoying I was.  Of course, I didn't hear a thing.  I was familiar with the sound.  If I don't position the mini-pump in its holder just right, the pedal clips it on each rotation.  With the wind at our backs, I was doing about 80 rpm.  Apparently on some of the rougher roads, the pump shifted position.
     Well, I went out to correct the situation this afternoon only to find I no longer had a mini-pump in its holder.  Gone.  Pook, ding-fu!  Now, the mini-pump is a redundancy, in that my primary air is compressed.  When I'm expecting difficulties I even carry two cartridges.  In the last fifteen years, I've only needed the mini once.  But when you have a bad day, and ruin all your tubes and cartridges and still need air, this is there.  I guess I'll be off to Bicycle Sport Shop for a replacement.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

POST RACE INTROSPECTION USING STATS

     The previous post was bare-bones reporting.  But in re-reading, I stopped to ruminate about the lack of speed going downhill with the wind.  I also postulated that I didn't utilize the much-needed 11 cog.  I have a spread sheet going back ten years.  Occasionally I actually go back to see what I've done, but mostly I ignore the stats.  The bulk of my riding is recreational, so there isn't much to be gleaned by poring over them.  I did pick up a nugget this afternoon.
     But first a pearl of wisdom: If you know what you have to do to achieve a goal, but don't do it and don't achieve your goal, then you have no one  but yourself to blame.  I've known for years that to get faster I need to up my cadence from 80 to 90.  Yes, Todd and Dan, you've told me time and again.  I've also procrastinated, starting in fits and spurts to spin, but always coming up with an excuse to fall off that wagon.  With the addition of a cadence counter (Garmin GS-10 donated by Jason Wright, thank you again) to my trainer bike, I'm getting serious about the cadence.  I've had to come up a gear as I get used to it, but can achieve 90 rpm for three five-minute stretches.  I've yet to train outside using cadence to control the effort.
     Which brings me back to Saturday's races.  Besides recording on my spreadsheet, I also upload the data to the Garmin Training Center.  This creates a nice graph with multiple lines, in this case I graphed speed and cadence.  I also utilize Sheldon Brown's gear chart, having made charts for both 80 and 90 rpm.  It clearly shows in the 5k time trial I followed my game-plan of 90 rpm for about three-quarters of a mile.  Then, rather than shift to an easier gear I dropped rpm.  Sheldon Brown shows you can maintain or go faster at 90 rpm even in one smaller cog.  Ok, maybe the wind in my face was a factor.
     Then I got the wind at my back.  I was going up the incline in a big gear.  The relief I felt at getting the wind helped push me off my game-plan.  I took satisfaction in going faster: 26 mph at 79 rpm.  In looking at the chart, I apparently was in the 13 cog.  Had I been in the 14 at 90 rpm, I would have been doing 27.4.
     The downhill was worse.  I remember feeling the exhilaration of speed.  But my top speed was 29 mph at 83 rpm.  I had plenty of oomph left to ramp it up to 90, which would have put me at 31.9 mph.  I don't know if I could have, but the 11 cog at 90 rpm would have come in at 34.8 mph.  It concerns me that I was satisfied at 83 rpm.  My heart-rate graph looks like I flat-lined at 143 beats per minute (which is only 84% of max).  Perhaps the long waits to start had something to do with it.
     In any case, I have a good game plan, I just need to stick with it, keeping my mind on the race at all times.  Surely I can do that for eight minutes, or sixteen.

DALLAS SENIOR GAMES, 2017

     Lack of sponsorship had put the Dallas races on hold for several years.  However my racing partner Dean has been persistent and finally was able to put it together.  We thank the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department.  I had to cancel my 40k time trial in Beaumont (which I really like) due to conflicting dates, but the Senior Games need to be supported.  When I first started with them in 2004 there were games in Killeen, Austin, Kerrville, and San Antonio in addition to Dallas.
     I wasn't real thrilled with the weather forecast: 58-62 degrees, SSE wind at 12 mph with higher gusts, cloudy with rain/drizzle scheduled for 3pm.  Our race course was the outer road around the Dallas Motor Speedway, five miles per loop.  The agenda was the same as last week: 5k time trial, 10k time trial starting a half hour after the 5k, and a 20k road race starting a half hour after the 10k finished.  And like last week, I had on shorts and tights, base layer under the skin suit, arm warmers.  I did my warm-up lap with my fleece pullover.
     There were seven competitors signed up for my age group.  Only three of us showed up to race.  Well, I'm there to ride hard and let the medals fall where they may.  Racing commenced at 9am with the younger guys going first, at thirty second intervals.  My time was 9:20.  I wandered by the start line about 9:10 only to find there had been a mix-up resulting in no one being at the finish line.  They quickly got that sorted out, but that pushed everything back about a half hour.  I went back to sit in the car.  Who would have thought 60 degrees could be so cold.
     For the most part, time trials are pretty boring, in that you pedal has hard as you can until the finish line.  Last week I had difficulties when I started in the small chain ring and couldn't get the derailleur to shift to the big ring in a timely fashion.  This week I started in the big ring, just a few cogs higher.  The wind was significant, especially for me who has real difficulties in it.  For this course, we started into the wind, sometimes on my shoulder and a short space from the left side.  But about half-way the road turned, putting the wind at our backs.  Even up hill (more precisely, an incline) I was moving around 24 mph.  Then the downhill I hit 29 mph and should have pushed harder.  I think I stopped at the 12 cog and didn't drop to the 11 (after correcting all the troubles with that).  Dang!  My time of an estimated 8:05 (official times not yet posted) garnered me a silver medal, but more importantly was in the neighborhood of my times from several years ago.  Of course, the wind played a big factor.
     The wait for the start of the 10k had my body cooling down, as I sat in the car protecting myself from the weather and refueling with Clif bar, Nuun, and pickle juice.  About fifteen minutes before my start time, I cycled down to the start line about a quarter-mile away.  The wind had picked up and temperature dropped a few degrees.  Everyone was shivering.  I contemplated what I could do and had a eureka moment: put my rain jacket under the skin suit.  Back to the car to implement.  That also included taking off the arm warmers and putting them back on over the rain jacket sleeves.  Who knew, three layers on my chest in only 58 degrees.  But I stayed comfortably warm and not over-heated.
     The 10k course consisted of a full loop plus the requisite mile and a third.  But the fly in this ointment was the second half of the course.  I breezed through the first 5k, although top speed of only 28 mph, and continued on until a slight curve now put me into a severe cross-wind.  My deep dish Zipps had me concentrating on keeping a straight line.  Another curve to the right and the road turned up (2%).  About a half mile into a headwind.  It lessened somewhat, to where I would call it flat, but the Garmin vacillated between 1 and 2% to the finish.    Again, we have to wait for the official time, but I suspect my gold performance was within a second or two of the silver.  In fact, I was berating myself for not pushing harder after turning around at the finish line and seeing how close my competitor was.
     I noodled back to the car, now about two miles away.  Once there I switched front wheels on the road bike, going with the Zipp 404, and put the TT bike in the car, then myself.  Another wait.
     The weather looked ominous, but the forecast continued to show 3 pm.  Our start time of 1pm should get us done, with medal ceremonies before 3.  With seniors, you generally have a natural selection between age groups, so rather than each 5-year category starting separately, this time it was guys under 65 and those over.  I think the ladies were all one group.  This puts a premium on staying in the peloton as long as possible.  I did this successfully last week.
     Since we started into the wind, the young guys (65-69) held back some, so I picked a nice broad shoulder to hide behind, and whizzed through the first few miles.  The pace picked up with the wind at our backs and I was over 30 mph before hitting the crosswind.  Ah, wasn't thinking.  The prime position I had on the right side of the road left me without shelter with the crosswind from the right.  I immediately realized the problem but wasn't quick enough to correct it.  In the blink of an eye, a gap opened and I couldn't get it back.  Alone, alone, all, all, alone.  Ten yards, twenty yards, fifty yards.  Regular readers know I only do road races for the training, even though I occasionally have a decent result.  This was good training, as my quads this morning can attest.  So I finished last in my age group (but not last overall), but that still got me a bronze medal.  I take my medal count tongue-in-cheek, but still, I was faster than all those who don't show up to race.  Racing for me is just another form of exercise, another way to stay healthy.
     Dean had the podiums ready for the ceremonies.  With the weather deteriorating and the wind picking up, they moved all the remaining racers and the medal table into a canopy with sides.  No podiums, very few pictures, just announcing the winners and handing them the medals.
  Truly, I thought I won the 5k and came in second in the 10k, but it was announced the other way around.  In any case, after receiving the bronze I headed for the car at 3 pm.  Just as the sprinkles started.  A quick potty stop and a three hour drive home in the rain.  Three weeks before the next race: Senior Games State Finals in San Antonio.  Hopefully I'll find some more form by then.