Wednesday, May 27, 2009

ELVS rims

I've recently gone from underemployment to overemployment, and my schedule fits together like tetris pieces. That's part of the reason why a wide-open morning for a lovely ride - fast and hard in parts, but sans-computer and without a hard end time - is such a welcome rarity.

One of my jobs is working in the laboratories of Laek House, run by Ethan Benton, a local cyclist and all-around great guy. Laek House specializes in semi-technical cycling clothing, and Ethan's niche is printing patterns with retroreflective ink: the Enhanced Light Visibility System. Shine a light, see the bright.

The particularly cool innovation he's made is applying a retroreflective treatment to Velocity Rims - see photos here and video here.

The rims are a great choice for bikes with hub- or disc-braking systems (rim brakes will ruin the treatment). They are incredibly bright, and given the dangers inherent in riding in and around the city, extra visibility is always safer.

I've been working with Ethan, treating Velocity rims with the retroreflective application, so to be clear, this post is obviously a plug for the Laek House/Velocity ELVS rims. They are a smart product and deserve exposure. Check them out! You can order them through your local bike shop, which can place an order from Velocity or from Quality Bicycle Products.

Giovani Pettenella frame and story

A curious frame is for sale on Craigslist and eBay.

A local bike buddy has apparently met the builder, and shared the following story:

Pettenella is an amazing guy. I spent some time at his shop in Milano and he was kind enough to send me home with an old cycling cap bearing his name. Famously, he once help a track stand for 65 minutes in a match spring under oppressive Milano summer sun. His opponent, exhausted and dehydrated, fainted and collapsed on his bike, sliding down the banks of the famed Velodromo Vigorelli. Vanni waited for the officials/medical staff to check out the unconscious rider (while still holding his track stand)...then took a lap to validate his victory and take the 1968 Italian National Championship.

A great story. The fact that Pettenella's competitor was willing to trackstand to the point of fainting rather than cede control of the early part of the sprint speaks volumes - about what, however, I am not sure.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Go Graeme!

It is incredibly cool that Graeme Obree is going after the Hour Record again. The Beatles performing on a rooftop. That's the kind of level we're talking about

I've written about the Hour Record a few times, but have never gone into depth about Graemme Obree. In the 1990s, he was perhaps the quintessential outsider athlete: an undersponsored, penny-pinching where-are-you-from who launched a feverish assault on one of the most demanding records in the sport by challenging conventions and breaking paradigms - first with an unusual tuck on the bike, and then with the "superman" position.

His story is worth taking a look into. Click for Part 1 of an 8-part documentary on his effort, and don't miss the corresponding piece on Chris Boardman, Obree's insider friend/rival. Highly sponsored, Boardman used state-of-the-art technological analysis of his athletic performance. Compare this to Obree, pushing huge gears up hills, brazing his own bicycle frames.

And, coming back after quietly publishing his autobiography (adapted into a film starring a hobbit!), he's jumping back into the fray, challenging the Hour Record's classic category - the Athlete's Hour, which requires the use of traditionally spoked wheels, a diamond-framed bicycle, and drop bars.

And, like last time, he's built his own bike. His position looks good, too - very long, mimicing a conventional TT position. I wouldn't like to feel my wrists after spending an hour like that, but then again, I wouldn't like to time trial for an hour, either.

Good luck, Graeme!


Every cyclist should know that when riding starts to feel like a chore, before you start to hate your bik, you should put new tires on and clean and re-lube the drivetrain. I just did that to my workbike/everyday bike, which had been sitting with doubleflats since the last time I worked on it, back in late March. It feels nice to have a comfortable bike that I don't mind locking up again.

Yesterday was the right day for the overhaul. We came back from a few very long, relaxing days spend at the beach in Rhode Island. Damp air, thorny beach roses, the smell of low tide.

Riding around the city yesterday, even the New York City couldn't get me worked up, and I felt like somebody had cleaned and lubed my drivetrain, too. The weather is amazing and I'm looking forward to some good work, good free time, hard training, and fun races.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Racing Like a Rookie

My past two races have been unfamiliar territory - a feature race with the 1/2/3 men at the velodrome (a 20 lap scratch race), and the 3/4 race out at Floyd Bennet Field. Last night was my first time racing at Floyd Bennet Field, and it was unlike any other race territory I've seen. It was like a gigantic, four-corner crit, almost 2.5 miles around - which obviously eliminates the tighter way that even featureless crit courses shake up a field. In its place it adds other obstacles: rough turns that are difficult to navigate (tree branches on the inside, rutted pavement throughout), sandy inside corners, long strips of grass poking up through concrete slabs, and its most defining feature, the straight, hard, unidirectional, relentless wind that drags down the long straights and leaves everybody fighting for one position on one side and then flying along the other, flipping the pace from crawling along at 18mph to flying along at 33. An Amerikermis, I called it; the field echeloned, some people put others in the gutter for no discernable reason, and gaps were hard to close.

When I'm racing an unfamiliar race, one for which I have no experience that helps me decipher what is unfolding, one in which I don't know the racers or the course or how the caliber of racing informs the race, I race like a rookie. I stay at the front (which is good) and I try to cover moves (which is good), but I'm pretty unselective (which is bad), and even though I probably put myself into a few groupings that could have been the right ones (which is good, but I didn't know, which is bad), I probably don't have the motor to hold off the pack (which is bad). And furthermore, not knowing the relative strength of the field and the individuals on the front or off the front means that I sit up there, burning matches. And in Floyd Bennet Field, you burn matches fast, gaps easily open, and people can be quickly shed off the back if you're not smart.

Simply put, I race like a rookie because I don't know what works and what doesn't, who works and who doesn't, but more importantly, I don't know how I'll fare and want to be available for a race condition that I feel would suit me. The irony of this is that, by making myself available and being an opportunist at any available opportunity, I probably limit my options, both by wearing myself out, and by only taking options presented by other people, rather than making my own (of course... figuring out my strengths is a challenge unto itself, and I have yet to win a race).

I'd like to be able to read races easily, analyzing the webs at work, the connections, the causes and effects of moves, the alliances at play. But that's the kind of analytical ability that doesn't come with a packing a season full of races - more like, it comes with packing a decade full of racing seasons.

I guess I've got a lot to look forward to.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Giro D'Italia: Stage 9 Neutralization

The internet world is abuzz with talk over the peloton's neutralization of Stage 9 of the Giro D'Italia. Pedro Horrilo's crash into a 150 foot ravine during Stage 8 prompted them to organize their concerns about the safety of the course. Apparently, Stage 9's kermis-like circuit race had parked cars still on the course, among other hazards. I can't blame them. Yeah, they're the best in the world riding one of the most competitive stage races in the world. They don't need to harden the fuck up. They've already done that. Probably while you were arguing on the internet. Okay, okay. Probably while we were arguing on the internet.

What they're doing now is refusing to let their having hardened the fuck up be turned into an unnecessarily dangerous game of puppetry, a sport of profit that places the alleged kings in danger for heightened entertainment value that strips them of honor should they opt out. Basically they're refusing to be rodeo clowns, NASCAR drivers, or prizefighters, and can you blame them?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Figuring it out

Riding without a computer at the Bear Mountain Classic may have given me the confidence to bomb that descent a bit more aggressively than I would otherwise. Unlike at Battenkill, I know that I wasn't eyeing the speedometer every few seconds, watching it climb higher and higher. We were over 50mph - of this I'm confident - but I had few of the wide-eyed high-speed what-if jitters that I sometimes get when I know how fast I'm going. Ignorance is bliss.

It's important to ride, to just ride. Not for work, or to get to work, or to race and feel good about winning or bad about losing, so I'm starting to get very excited about tomorrow morning. I need some fast/casual fun/hard no-demands hours in the saddle. Housatonic Hills is coming up, and I can't let track racing, with its fast scratch races and endless sprints, make me forget how to ride for longer than a few minutes or slower than 27mph (when necessary).

I have no interest in hitting a mid-season physical or emotional wall, which means that here on out it's going to be important to monitor how I'm riding and racing so that I can keep feeling good and avoid burn-out. And that means opening up time for fun rides over the river and through the woods, for the dual purpose of fulfilling the sacred duty of going somewhere aimlessly, and getting strong(er, still), so that I don't get caught out in the sprint (that's my face peering out from behind the rider in red).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bear Mountain Classic

When I got off the bike at the end of the Bear Mountain Classic, one thought ricocheted into my head and rattled around in the emptiness up there hollowed by post-race fatigue.

This race was harder than Battenkill.

I'm not sure it stands up to scrutiny but I sure did believe it at the time. I spent the last several miles cramping hard, struggling to close gaps. It was only a 56 mile race. I drank and ate plenty. What did this to me? Before the race I had assessed the course as an overgrown Prospect Park. No steep climbs, just one long shallow one. No devastating rollers. Some very fast sections, a few roundabouts and one 180-degree hairpin at the end of a very fast and very predictable descent. After the race I realized the problem was that there were a lot of strong riders and the course wasn't dramatic enough to shed them. The major climb was endless and the pace was steady and that was enough to pack a serious punch - especially done four times. I looked back at the top of the Tiorati several times and saw people struggling to stay on and the people at the front, driving the pace, knew full well that if they launched themselves into an tail-disintegrating attack they'd be hurting, maybe too much.

Maybe the race was too conservative even past the fairly casual first two laps. On the third lap I went to the front and launched some "Anybody want to have some fun?" attacks after the Tiorati, was roped in, patrolled the front, danced off again, came back, went off... going a little faster and harder than the Steady Eddies, but felt strong. Maybe I felt too strong, and pointlessly burned a few matches. Maybe everybody was saving it. William and I exchanged numerous eye-roll looks when we saw people hanging out at the front, coasting. One guy, second wheel, stood up to stretch at high speed, sending his bike backward and almost into my front wheel. Another entered a full tuck on a short leisurely downward-roller. With this kind of front it's no wonder that there were still thirty people in the race.

When we turned on to Lake Welch Drive for the last few miles, William went to the front and rode hard and everything got disheveled. I buried myself, just following the wheel in front of me, hurting to go around when some poor bait let a gap open. I wasn't going to get gapped. I tried to recover but I was all over the place and my muscles were all rocks and knots.

...oh, and there's the 200m sign. Gentle downhill. Time to start moving. Put my face in the wind - ow, wow. I sprinted, passed some people, was coming up fast on four people sprinting ahead of me, wove a bit trying to figure out where to slot in and pass them, threw my bike at the line and nipped one. I think. The results said 8th but this morning they said 9th. A few upgrade points, a top ten placing in a major road race.

I should be proud, except I can't for the life of me figure out why this race hurt so damn much.

Friday, May 8, 2009


The team is coming together in a good way. In particular, our little subset of it. We're getting used to reading races in similar ways, and sharing similar instincts. We are also figuring out some of the nuts and bolts of cooperation. Like this one: somebody being protected or worked for can call the shots, big time - throwing commands out not necessarily to quarterback the situation, but to get people doing what he needs. "Uh, guys? Let's not forget to talk to each other."

In a scratch race in Wednesday night's Twilight Series, Al and Gui attacked over and over again, letting the pace yo-yo enough to keep things both fast and disrupted, wearing down some of the other, faster riders. With 2 laps to go William worked toward the front with me on his wheel and with 600 meters to go he ramped it. At 200 meters to go he pulled off to the outside, giving me the sprinter's lane, and there was space behind me - I rode home for the win.

Incidentally, winning a race makes me feel relief more than triumph: relief that, when it came down to it, I didn't let down my hardworking teammates. I've always though that I could work harder for others than for myself, but I realized how hard that is when I tried to throw Al off the front in a Snowball. I picked him up from midpack and brought him to the front in about 300 meters and then I was cooked. My willingness to ride myself into the ground for my teammates is limited by my ability to ride myself into the ground, and I'm best at riding myself into the ground when I've been struggling to hang on to wheels for two laps, the pace is ridiculously high, and then it's time to sprint.

In a way, track racing can be more individual - the races are so short and fast and there's so much movement that maybe there's not even time or incentive for teamwork. But we are doing a good job gauging our strength and energy and offering to lay it down for each other. Next week I'm riding for them.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cadence Cup - Prospect Park

I was on my leadout man's wheel, just to the left because the wind was coming from the right. We were flying and I was feeling good. He was spinning in a tiny gear, hands on the tops, and he had just jumped around the last remaining person. I hazarded a look behind me. Strung out. Gaps everywhere. Man, we were flying. "More!" I yelled. Was he going to upshift or just pull me along at 180 rpm? I hit the 200m line, the old finish line, and jumped around my leadout man. Plenty of pavement. Big jump, one click down in the lever, everything is quiet, just pavement.

I check that sliver of daylight under my armpit. I've got meters. It feels like miles. At the end of a sprint I start to shake, trying to extract the last bits of energy from my body, pulling at the bars. I did that and rolled across the line, clear by lengths.

It felt awesome even though an 8-man break had escaped three miles earlier and rolled through the line to gobble up placings; maybe fewer people seriously contested the sprint because of that. No matter. I feel good. I soon learned that my teammates got 2nd and 6th - a good day for the team. On NY Velocity, the one-stop shop for catty, anonymous comments about other bike racers, the team earned the following: "Kissena somehow controlled the race today. They didn't do any work at all to bring the break back, just sitting on the front slowing things down and letting the Giant guy do all the work." Naturally. It's poor form to do work to bring a break back when a quarter of the riders in the break are your teammates.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Some Handlebars Are More Equal Than Others

Friday morning, I woke up early to change handlebars on my road bike before I left for work - again. Last week I had put on a different set of handlebars, looking to get a deeper, lower position than my preferred handlebars, Ritchey Biomax bars, afforded me.

I first realized the importance of handlebars and bike fit a little over a year ago, when, after many rides fidgeting and trying to get comfortable on some deep, square-ish ergo drop bars, I picked up those Ritchey bars because of their shallower drop, slight flare, and what I thought would be a more comfortable angle of the ergo section. I realized that the reach was shorter and that given the incredibly wide variety of handlebars, choosing the right handlebar was as much a matter of proper fit on the bicycle as was installing the right length stem. When I discussed bicycle fit with people - especially people for whom bike fit is somewhat tricky, like short people (like myself) - I would always bring up handlebar choice.

This became additionally important when I saw how many entry-level track racers fit themselves on track bikes. I saw a lot of people riding very close and deep; their arms went almost straight down to very deep drop bars. When I bought my Felt, one of the first things I did was give away the ultra-deep Deda drop bars and get Nitto B125s, shallow-drop track bars that are comparable to criterium bars; I recently put on a 120mm stem. My drop isn't extreme and I'm reaching out to the bars a bit more than I'm reaching down to them - it's a stable, long fit that I feel gives me good weight distribution, a good diaphragm-opening reach, and an aero enough posture, without compromising the bike's handling.

Considering my discovery of the importance of handlebar ft, I was pleased to come across this site, which has animations of the different geometries of different drop bars, illustrating the significant differences in reach and drop that different types of handlebars afford. With longer-reach bars having perhaps as much as 3 centimeters more reach than others (which was the case with the bars I just removed from my bike), it's important not to neglect this aspect of bike fit - as much as it's important to not arbitrarily use an 80mm stem rather than a 110mm.

It doesn't necessarily take an experienced and expensive fitter to get yourself comfortable on the bike, although the cost/benefit of that might work out in your favor if you're looking to align optimal comfort with optimal performance, with some other difficult variables thrown in. An amateur can play around by looking at other people's fit, experimenting with saddle position, stem length, and, of course, handlebar dimension.

Derailleur Hanger Mishaps #2

It has been a time of bike repair. Last week I perfected the fine art of bending a derailleur hanger back into alignment. However, just to be on the safe side, I ordered a new derailleur hanger, and though I didn't immediately install it, knowing that my current hanger was probably vulnerable or still somewhat bent, having the spare on hand was reassuring.

A few days ago, while riding over to work for Laek House, the need to install the new hanger became apparent: the old one snapped off and left my derailleur hanging below my chainstay.

I chalk it up to my ongoing ironing out of bad luck in time for yet another big road race, the Bear Mountain Classic. Since some mishaps - a flat tire sustained on deep gravel, a bent hanger sustained in a he-crashed-into-me incident, and a tumble on a descent - have prevented me from contesting the end of Fawn Grove and Battenkill the way I would have liked, I hope that only my strength and fitness, and race acuity will be factors in my placing at Bear Mountain.

Always have a spare derailleur hanger handy. You never know.