Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Training to Racing

Well, No One Line has been on vacation for a little bit, but as of yesterday, I'm back. Yesterday, three of us went over the river and through the woods. We rode up to Piermont, team trialing into a strong headwind. On the way back we visited Alpine for some hill repeats, and dragging back down to the bridge, took the opportunity to launch a few sprints.

Five days off the bike - while I was vacationing in Iceland - took a bit of snap out of my legs. But spending a week mixing up some hard rides with some pleasant rides ought to take care of that prior to the Fawn Grove Roubaix. This weekend's race will be a good test: of my strength and fitness, of the ability of our Cat 4 team to work together to augment our individual strengths, and of my assumption that our experience riding rough terrain can give us a leg up in one of the US's many amateur "Roubaix-class" races. It will be very nice to enter road races - a welcome change from early-season crits and park circuit races. Furthermore, the weather is getting warmer, which means that track season is getting closer and closer.

A few links for those who are going to spend their week eager and antsy about this weekend's racing: at the Track World Cup, French riders Gregory Bauge and Kevin Sireau meet in the sprint. Sireau goes down and Bauge, a very talented rider, barely recovers. And here is another amazing Bauge race against Awang. Bauge dances around the boards and maneuvers himself into excellent position to take Awang.

And since the Kissena Velodrome's opening weekend is coming up in a handful of weeks, I might as well lay down some more excellent velodrome links from the glory days of Six-Day Bicycle Racing. The old Inwood Velodrome, and the then-world-famous Newark Velodrome, located in what is now Vailsburg Park in Newark. Included in this post is a picture of Major Taylor - hero of the era, and, if this book is accurate, pretty much the quintessential gentleman's badass.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Carbon Fiber

I've been reading a blog called Busted Carbon - or, rather, I've been looking at the pretty pictures. By focusing its content on carbon, the blog perpetuates the easy inaccuracy that carbon is more fragile than other materials. The reality is a bit more nuanced - steel and aluminum both have a long history of failing for various reasons. I file carbon-fearmongering under "missing the point." Nonetheless I enjoy Busted Carbon.

Additionally, realizing that both Calfee and Road Runner Velo will repair carbon frames for a fraction of their replacement cost has made me think about carbon as being between aluminum and steel in the disposable-spectrum - with steel being on the more surviving end for its ability to be bent back into shape. I'd rather not have the longevity of my bike be determined by one unfortunate crash. I'll have to check with Gui and Ethan about their carbon-repairing experience.

When you pack on the miles, certain realities emerge: you will wear out parts. You may break parts. You increase the likelihood that you will crash and severely damage bike and body. This leads me to wonder why I see so much expensive gear in Cat 5 races, where due to inexperience level and the race situation, crashes are probably more likely to occur. Maybe other people are just more comfortable spending a lot of money than I am; maybe they think that their Zipp wheels will be around for a long, long time. Maybe they think that they need that stuff in order to be competitive. That would be the biggest shame of the bunch.

(image above from Busted Carbon)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Grant's Tomb

Kissena was out in full force for the Grant's Tomb criterium this weekend.

My teammate William organized the 4's into a strong team. He spent the race chasing down breaks (that's him rounding the corner), and then went to the front, burying himself for three or four laps prior to the end for what unfortunately wound up to be an unsuccessful leadout.

But then he climbed back on his bike for the 3/4 race, immediately started patrolling the front, and chased down an early but strong attack by Colin Prensky - one of the strong efforts by Kissena riders that set up Neil's victory. Hats off, gentlemen.

(image above from Greg Donovan)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Goodbye, Ti. Hello, Co-Mo.

On the left is my now departed titanium Litespeed Solano. It's on its way to a doctor in Wisconsin who plans to ride brevets. I picked it up for a steal in the fall to replace my Tough Little Bianchi - I wanted something a bit snazzier than generic TIGed steel for all-around riding, but something that was also raceable.

The Solano rode well - it was slightly overbuilt for somebody of my size, so was moderately stiff. It rode very predictably, too, which led for really stable descents. Sometimes too stable - I'm a bit more used to snappier handling, due to my experience with track bikes. The titanium is comfortable - a pretty plush ride. All around it was a nice bike - the fat downtube had a nice ridge on top, and the stays were each elegantly curved around the rear wheel. Such immaculate welds, too - so even and fine.

But there were a few things that were off. One was the fit. The reach was near perfect. The height was a bit high on me, and I always felt like I was riding a bike that was too big, even when I was comfortable on it. The bar drop was fine - short people with short arms don't need deep handlebars to get their upper bodies pretty flat, especially if they learn how to bend their elbows and ride somewhat long.

But, I wanted a race-specific bike. Something stiffer and lighter, not an all-arounder.

So, when a buddy of mine decided that he needed to liquidate his Co-Motion Ristretto in order to fund the aquisition of a Fuji Track Pro, I jumped on it. I had wanted this bike before, I had ridden it before, and I had seen first hand its purple sheen and its rainbow sparkles.

The day after the decision, I rode to his house, rode home with it over my shoulder, and set about taking the Litespeed apart.

It's lovely. It's a looker. It even looks good at speed (oh, I really wish this photo wasn't blurred!).

Finally, my racing bike is done. A year and a half ago I picked up that temperamental Bianchi. It worked to get me into road riding and racing (I was fixed-gear only for quite a while), but the components were worn. Nine year old Campagnolo bits that refused to shift accurately. Piece by piece, I upgraded: the Litespeed frame, the Campagnolo Eurus wheels and a new rear derailleur at a T-Town swap, and functional shifters for a great price on eBay. The drivetrain was finally working like a drivetrain should, no more light-touching the mouse ear to center the rear derailleur on a cog after shifting (no more wondering if I should attempt the Ergo rebuild on my own).

And now, the Co-Motion frame. It's stiffer than the Litespeed. Big fat straight seatstays transmit that road feel - braile to the arse - but the fork smooths things out. It responds well to hard efforts. I'm liking it.

A lot.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Frame Design: Fork Rake, Head Tube Angle, Trail

In the part of the cycling world that's perpetuated on the internet - message boards and such - there's a lot of hipster-bashing, centered around ubiquitous photos of very stylish bikes featuring some very nonsensical tradeoffs in build/component choices. A surprising amount of Bike Snob's blog is about these bikes, so I assume you can forgive me for not going into detail. However, for all the talk of hipsters who don't understand how their bicycles work I see road bikers making plenty of silly decisions that seem to stem from an ignorance about the way that bikes work.

One of my pet peeves is misunderstandings about front end geometry: head tube angle and fork rake. Maybe it's because in the fixed gear scene there's a lot of neophyte fretting about "true track geometry" and an infectuous perpetuation of the terms "tight" and "twitchy" without real meaning or understanding behind them. Meanwhile I've heard plenty of road folks who greatly misunderstand the differences between front end design of time trial bikes and road bikes. While I don't claim to be an expert I do think it's important to share good information when it's widely available. And so, some of my favorite resources:

Best introduction I've found is the An Introduction to Bicycle Geometry and Handling, by CHVNK. Dave Moulton's piece is also very well-explained. In particular he narrates the changes made to frame design (with regards to front end design: head tube angle, rake, and trail) in the 50s, from the long-wheelbase bikes of the 1940s and before to the more contemporary-looking bikes with tighter geometry that became the status quo in the 60s. From Urban Velo is a piece by Don Walker: The Truth About Track Geometry, which features a good bit on trail and a bike's handling. And, if you want to run the calculations for your own bike, you can do so with this Excel spreadsheet from Anvil Bikeworks.

The boildown is that head tube angle and fork rake work against each other in order to reach an equilibrium, a sweet spot of trail measurement (60mm, according to Don Walker). Overcompensating one because of a lack of the other is counterproductive: putting a road fork on a track bike with a steep headtube angle will make the handling less stable - the higher-rake fork reduces the trail measurement. A "road" fork doesn't make a bike's handling more stable - it will make it less self-correcting. Putting a low-rake fork in order to tighten up the front end of a bike with a slack head tube, rather than bringing a bike's handling closer to neutral, will push it toward very-high-rake, sluggish handling. Which is fine, if you want a road bike that handles like a cruiser. I learned this first hand, picking up a carbon fork for my every-day bike with a 72deg headtube. The fork turned out to have 28mm of rake: too low to neutralize the handling - it was sluggish.

Don't make the mistake of making uninformed decisions about this stuff. You don't have to know everything about how your bike works in order to ride it, but if you're going to change things and make product decisions, be discerning about what information you file away as reliable in your head. Not everybody posting on Bikeforums, nor every shop employee, gets everything right all the time.

For me, soaking up information about this stuff is part of what makes cycling beautiful. When I lean my bike into a corner, I know that there's a very elegant design that's practically making the bike handle itself. Furthermore, knowing how and why your bike works the way it does just might make you a better rider when the going gets rough...

(closing image courtesy of Cycling Art Blog)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Connecticut Criteriums

I spent a weekend in Connecticut and used the opportunity to race criteriums in Plainville and Bethel. I needed just a few more races before I upgrade, and I chose Plainville based largely on having heard about it from Sprinter Della Casa's blog and Bethel from its reputation in NYC as a good training crit. After racing both, I highly recommend each for some good weekend racing.

Plainville is an excellent course - fast and flat, D-shaped with two ninety degree turns separated by the home stretch and by a long, fast, winding part. The final turn was just before the 200m mark. The combined 4/5 category meant that the race was long enough to be satisfying (45 minutes plus 5 laps), and I found the racers and organizers, volunteers, and marshalls to be really congenial. I got there with enough time for a few warm-up laps before being called to the line, and when the race started I found that the quality of racing was pretty high. A few riders whom I wanted to be away from but nothing terrible, and some people who had that quiet confidence around them.

I separated the race into sections and executed my plan very well. I sat in and got a feel for it. Then I tested things out as an opportunist, putting myself in a good two-person break for several laps until we were decisively reeled in. Then, I sat in and recovered, and figured out what positioning I would need for the sprint (recovery was aided by an unfortunate 6+ rider stack-up on the backstretch; the officials stopped the race a few laps after as an ambulance needed to attend to one rider still down. Here's hoping that everyone is not too bad off and riding again soon). And then I played my position very well, putting myself where I thought I needed to be. I saw an acceleration moving up the inside on the backstretch, jumped, got myself to be the third wheel, took the corner at 31mph and sprinted. I got into a rider's draft and threw my bike at the line to take 2nd! I even won cash, which went right into lunch for me, my traveling buddy, our helpful friend, and our two hosts for the night. Burritos - my favorite post race food.

My traveling partner and I rolled up to Bethel in barely enough time to sign in and get to the line. I was able to take one (1) warmup lap: ninety degree turn, sweeping gentle downhill, wicked headwinds on the back stretch, and a hill that's long and steep enough to change things. Sand on the course but nowhere particularly dangerous. The cat 5 race was only 12 laps and I figured I'd just patrol the front. The front turned out to be the eventual winner, a big young guy who liked to sit at the front and hammer. Had he attacked he could have done some damage. He also telegraphed everything he was about to do, so coming up to the finish line I jumped right before he did, opened up a huge gap, and rolled over the line first. Except I had made a mistake: there was the official, ringing the bell. One to go - how did I mess that one up? I sat up, got a wheel, and tried to chill out. I did but was tired enough that I couldn't sprint the way I would have liked, and came in 3rd.

Good results feel good, but I'm happier about a few other things: I made plans for the races and I stuck to them; I read the races well, and I read the other racers well. But on the top of the list is that I just submitted for an upgrade to Cat 4. I'm also just happy that a weekend of traveling and racing worked out very well - I had a great time in Connecticut, hanging out with friends, enjoying the first weekend of Spring weather immensely. And we hit up some races that I do not hesitate to recommend broadly and widely (in fact, I just emailed my team doing so!). So, if you're within whatever you consider to be worthwhile driving distance of either Plainville or Bethel I recommend that you get out to them. The people are friendly and the courses are good.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lemond, Hinault, and Hampsten

There is an excellent piece over on Belgium Knee Warmers about the Greg Lemond/Bernard Hinault rivalry The backstory is that they were teammates in 1986, and during the Tour de France, their team - La Vie Claire - fractured in two as both Lemond and Hinault went for the yellow jersey. Hinault had pubicly vowed to work for Lemond in thanks for Lemond's work for Hinault's victory the prior year, but I guess the Badger was going for his sixth yellow jersey. Alliances were formed, teammates were chasing down each other.

The piece is a straight-up interview with a man who was in the ring with Lemond and Hinault - Andy Hampsten, who, at one point during the race, was told by their director sportif, "there is no reason this team doesn't want you to win the Tour! Greg and Bernard are fighting over who gets to win, and having you take the jersey will stop them arguing." Hinault's efforts still left him 3 minutes behind Lemond's yellow jersey when the Tour finished - which more than anything is probably a testament to the strength of La Vie Claire, that they were able to fracture and still hold off the rest of the peloton.

The blog entry links over to Hampsten's story of suffering over the Gavia (another Hampsten write-up, in pdf), which I just read about in Bob Roll's memoirs/stories/anecdotes, Bobke II. All are excellent narrative of thhe brutal, brutal race that gave us one of the more iconic images from 80s racing as Hampsten took 2nd in the stage on his way to a Giro victory that made a handful of Europeans respect a handful of Americans. In bike racing! Imagine that!

Hampsten's disarming nice-guy charm makes me like him a lot - as does this video, where we get to see Hampsten and his 7-11 team at the height of fashion, rocking some extremely-1980s shades, and some sweet 80s time trial bikes - bullhorns, disc wheels, and curiously sharkfinned aero helmets. Hampsten looks like a cool customer and it's a nice glimpse into where the aero technology was at the time. Side note: I saw this on craigslist. What a beauty.

Anyway, this whole La Vie Claire story really makes me wonder about Lemond. Recent news about him - trashing Trek (of which Lemond Cycles was a subsidiary), trashing Lance, insisting on his cleanliness while bashing suspected dopers - makes him seem really bitter, and now he's kind of remembered as a great racer who turned into a scowling old man yelling "Get off my lawn!" at just about everybody who's ever made him mad. He seems full of anger, full of grudges. I guess I can see why - were it not for several tough breaks, his career could have truly outstanding, memorable for generations rather than just dominanat in that era. There's a difference, of course. There are people who are on top for a few years, and then there are people who forever are remembered as only ever being on top. Merckx is the pinacle of the latter category; but due to a series of misfortunes, Lemond was relegated to only occupying the former. Being reigned in to support Hinault when he could have won in '85, having to fight Hinault to win in '86, missing two Tours de France while recovering from getting shot in the back in a hunting accident (and still winning it two more times afterward), and then retiring after a few years of deteriorating performance, citing mitochondrial myopathy, and later, overtraining.

I wonder if Lemond looks back on his career and thinks, what if. What if I hadn't gotten shot, what if I had a whole team working its ass only for me for seven years. Or how about eight? What if all those hucksters hadn't started doping. I wonder if all the what-ifs lead him to see himself where Lance is. I wonder if he is victim to that mentality of the other winners, for whom second place is just the first loser.

Well, it's all in the past, and amateur-hour psychoanalysis isn't going to make much of a difference.

Ride hard.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Relaxing, Bike Handling, and 09's First Race

For a few more road races, I'll be racing in the Cat 5's. I talk a big game, like I know what I'm talking about, but that's mostly because I'm a nerd rather than somebody who's done a lot of racing. Writing this blog is a way to articulate my own learning process.

One of the things I've been learning over and over again this winter is that a relaxed upper body goes a long way toward improving one's cycling. I realized, several weeks ago when I was out on the first long ride in nice weather of the late winter, that my torso and arms were a lot more relaxed while riding. I attribute it to spending time riding on rollers this winter. They force you to relax and let the bike do it's thing. If you try to manhandle it, you'll overcompensate in a snap and ride yourself right off the front roller, into the doorframe, chair, or whatever you are using for support.

Bikes are really great at handling themselves. The way the steering works is really remarkable, taking the fork rake, head tube angle, and lean of the bike into account in a fine equilibrium that really does most of the work for you. I learned, by riding on some terrible urban terrain (loose cobblestones, ruts, and poor asphalt) that the bike can control itself if you take a backseat role. Literally: push your weight back on the saddle, over the rear wheel, and focus on transmitting power to the pedals. Lighten your grip on the bars and let your upper body get loose. The front end will perform its remarkable feat of self-correction.

I put this skill to good use in November's Staten CX race in a section full of off-camber turns, exposed roots, ruts, and rocks. I sat back and powered through, surprising one rider who seemed to gingerly work a line through the mess - as I plowed through he looked up and asked, "How'd you do that?" Poor bike handling in part stems from tension or overcontrol of the bike, and something that I realized in yesterday's Cadence Cup Prospect Park Series (Cat 5 field, remember) is that staying relaxed in a tight pack when there is some oddball behavior around you (riders jamming themselves left to right in their eagerness, and moving unpredictably to capriciously go after a new wheel) - particularly at high speeds - may very well make the difference between staying upright and taking a tumble.

And, though I'm going to largely avoid full-blown race reports, the first race of the season went well. A teammate and I attacked on the second lap, hard, at the top of the "hill." We were away for only about a mile before the pack, still fresh, reeled us in. A lap later, the pace was very high, and then dropped quite suddenly when a lone rider went up the road and nobody was able to respond anymore. I was staying sheltered, twenty wheels back, at that point, still recovering. The rider gained significant time. The pace picked up well on the last half of the last lap, on a fast section of road. There were a few edgy moments at 34mph in a pack tighter than it needed to be, as a lot of people tried to get to the front. But when the terrain stopped providing the speed, the front didn't want to take over and the pace slowed down to maybe 24mph instead of ramping up the speed for a field sprint. So I attacked, hard, with about 800 meters to go. I opened a big gap and went cross-eyed trying to hold my speed and hold off the inevitable field sprint. And I did, mostly. The lead sprinter got me at the line; I threw my bike to prevent the second from doing so, too, and got 3rd place.

Next up: two crits in Connecticut next weekend. I'm taking it easy today, for fun rather than out of a need to recover, and will go for a long hard ride tomorrow.