Friday, November 27, 2009

Thoughts on Airline Baggage Rules

I'm not a big fan of flying for a number of reasons. Before 9/11 and the tighter security restrictions, though, I'd finally gotten to being able to pack One True Bag for trips of up to a week. My One True Bag contained a week's worth of clothes and a toiletry kit. After 9/11, I started checking my bag and going on the plane with nothing but a book and a jacket. Of course this isn't true of ski trips or other gear-requiring travel.

The airlines have screwed it up, though. They've started charging to check even the first bag. If I don't have to spend money on something, I won't, so now I try to limit myself to one checked bag, containing my toiletries. It occurred to me yesterday that that's actually kind of dumb. I typically only travel with tooth paste and shaving gel. Those are $5 items, so if I bought a new tube of toothpaste and a new can of shaving gel every time I flew, I'd come out $5 ahead on a $15 bag fee. Of course, I usually fly round trips. If I leave my toothpaste and shaving gel at home, rather than getting them confiscated or something, I only buy them once per two flights, and come out $20 ahead. My mother made a "tooth paste in every port" joke that points out that a lot of the time, we don't fly to a new place each time. So realistically, I don't even have to re-buy those products on every trip.

The point of all that being that I can save $15/flight if I stop checking my bag. The carryon policy is open to a lot of abuse - you can easily roll up to the jetway with a bag that's a little bigger than the specifications, and there's no specific size given for the "personal" item. I sometimes carry my messenger bag, which has a capacity of over 2000in3. Between my ginormous messenger bag or a large backpack and my rolling bag, I'm well over the amount of volume that each passenger can carry on the plane and fit into the overhead bins. And the airlines are essentially paying people $15/head to do this on every flight.

I know that planes are sometimes delayed because people have trouble fitting all their luggage, have to check things from the jetway at the last minute, etc. And airports have some pretty restrictive rules about when planes can be on the runways to keep them from getting to close to each other, so those delays can snowball into bigger delays if the planes miss their spots or the departure times get bunched. Schedules are pretty tight, so those delays can send ripples throughout the system and cause more delays, or force the airlines to program more slack into their schedules and get less travel out of each plane. I think that all of that has to be costing money. I want to know (actually I don't care, it's more rhetorical) if the $15 that some rules-following people are paying for their first bag is enough to cover the cost of that stupidity. I suspect it would make more sense to encourage people to check their bags rather than carrying them on and having a melee in the cabin about who gets bin space.

Anyway, now that I've thought more about the issue of re-buying toiletries on every trip, or finding some 3oz containers to keep for travel only, I'm going to be one more person making it harder for the plane to take off on time with excess carryon baggage. And the airlines are going to be paying me to do that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Further Geekery, "cos" I Can be Obssessive

In my last post, I alluded to the trigonometric functions related to a hexagon being something one could derive easily, but I didn't actually do it. I also alluded to being able to keep slicing up the triangles forever, but didn't say why.

I'm not going to prove the Pythagorean theorem here. If you don't remember it, here it is:

A2 + B2 = C2

So why did I choose a hexagon for my shape? There are a number of triangles with relationships that are relatively easy to describe mathematically. Two of them are the equilateral triangle and the right isosceles triangle.

The first triangle is a right isosceles triangle. By definition, the angle united the two equal sides is a right angle. If the length of the equal sides is 1, applying the Pythagorean theorem tells me that the length of the hypotenuse is √2. I considered using a square as my initial shape, but I suspected it would make it harder for me to cut up the angles later. I think it would actually be almost as easy, but it doesn't really matter.

The second triangle is an equilateral triangle. Equilateral triangles are cool because if I draw a line from the middle of one face to the opposite corner, I know that I've cut the opposite corner in half. I can then use the Pythagorean theorem to find the length of the new line. Now I know several important things about the triangle.





These numbers are important because the angle θ/2, created by splitting an equilateral triangle, is the smallest one I know of that has trigonometric functions that can be worked out geometrically. After that, as far as I'm concerned, the trigonometric functions are buttons on my calculator. However, the calculator had to get its table somewhere, and creating such tables was the life's work of a few ancient mathematicians, to varying degrees of accuracy. They were able to do it because many of the formulas related to adding and subtracting and slicing up angles can be proven geometrically, and then applied to whatever number and measurement system seems like a good idea at the time. The formulas I'm interested in are the half-angle formulas.

sin2 x = (1 - cos 2x)/2

cos2 x = (1 + cos 2x)/2

What these formulas mean is that if I know the cosine of an angle, I can calculate the sine and cosine of half of that angle. If I can calculate the sine and cosine, I can also calculate the tangent. And I can do it again and again. That's important because the way my last post achieves higher degrees of accuracy in calculating pi is by inscribing polygons with higher and higher numbers of faces into the circle. The addition and subtraction formulas mean that it could be done with an arbitrary number of faces, but I think that the most reasonable choice is 6*2n with n being an integer. The half-angle formula has to be applied n times to give the correct cosine.

I hoped, when I figured that out, that there'd be some totally cool way to speed up the calculation. I don't think there is. If n=3, the polygon has 6*23=48 faces, the cosine of the angle at the apex of the 96 skinny right triangles is

cos(360°/96) = √(1+√(2 + √(2 + √(2 + √3)))/2)

Multiply that be twice the number of faces and you have your perimeter. For each iteration, the half-angle formula is applied again to that increasingly ugly number. No wonder Archimedes only went to 96 faces in his calculation. To get a little better than the level of accuracy of the 10,000-sided figure I suggest at the end of my post, it would take n=11, which is a lot of finding roots for anyone but a computer. To make it additionally difficult, the roots aren't rational numbers, so the computer would have to decide just how accurate an approximation he really needed; 11 approximations later, the number will have drifted pretty far from being exact.

To return to the point of my last post, if this were being applied to calculating pi, a person could get a little more accuracy each time he sliced the angle in half, approximated the trigonometric functions for the new angle, and re-calculated. The formula could even be restated like this:

6*2nsin(30/2n) < π < 6*2ntan(30/2n)

Monday, November 23, 2009

I'm a Geek

I'm planning to go back to school in January to take prerequisite classes enabling me to apply to engineering programs. In order to save time and money, I'm trying to avoid taking first-year calculus again, so I've been re-teaching myself math. This time around, I've been finding myself fascinated with certain things - why is the Pythagorean theorem true? How did people figure out pi?

In reading about pi, I read about a formula to calculate it used in some of the earlier computer approximations. Pi is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.


A circle can be thought of as a decayed polygon. As the number of sides of the polygon approaches infinity, the polygon approaches a circle and its perimeter approaches C. So the problem of calculating pi can be solved by calculating the perimeter of a polygon with lots and lots of sides, until either pi stops changing (this never happens - it's an irrational number) or one runs out of computing resources, gets bored, or decides that it's accurate enough. This is, essentially, Archimedes' approach - he calculated the perimeter of a 96-sided polygon and decided that was close enough. It's accurate to three places, which isn't a ton by today's standards, but it was the best anyone in Europe did for a very long time.

The approach that really got me thinking, though, was to place the value of pi between a known larger and known smaller value, then compare digits yielded by the two formulae. The value of pi is accurate as long as the corresponding digits agree.

"too small" formula < π < "too big" formula

That leaves deriving the formulae. It's relatively easy to find out the perimeter of a regular hexagon...

I know the angle a is 60 degrees because there are six triangles in the circle and 360 degrees is the total measurement they have to take up if they use all available real estate. Since it's a regular hexagon, they have to match each other. I can set the radius of the circle to be anything I want, so I'm going to make it 1. That means Rs, the radius of the smaller hexagon, is also 1. The ancients actually used a trigonometric function no longer in use, "chord" abbreviated "crd" quite frequently. Chord refers to the measurement of the chord of an arc with a given angle, so

Ps = crd(a)

Now all I have to do is multiply by six and I have the perimeter of the internal hexagon. It's not very close to pi, but it doesn't need to be yet. If I infinity was a number, I could set the number of triangles to infinity, calculate

∞Ps/d = π

and call it a day. Unfortunately, infinity's not a number. The other big problem I had was that I assumed that the trigonometric functions relied on knowledge of pi in their calculation, so I was having a chicken-and-egg issue in calculating the perimeters of my polygons.

I found this article on the chord function, though, that describes the calculation of a chord table to an arbitrary degree of accuracy based on special triangles and formulae for cutting angles into smaller and smaller pieces. Interestingly, Ptolemy uses a circle with radius 120 and measures the angle in 360 degrees, likely a throwback to the belief that the circumference of a circle is three times the diameter. It just goes to show that units of measurement are pretty arbitrary.

For my purposes, we'll say that the radius of the circle is 1, and we don't know the circumference. I'm going to stick with degrees as a unit of measurement because while I like radians better, they use pi in their definition and if I already knew pi, this whole exercise would be even more pointless. Then the perimeter of an inscribed polygon with n sides is



π ≈ n*crd(360/n)/2

It gets more equal as n approaches infinity:

π = limn→∞n*crd(360/n)/2

The problem is that infinity's not a number, which comes back to why I'm also interested in the perimeter of the outside polygon. Since I know the angle - it's whatever I want it to be - and I know the altitude of the triangle, which is the radius of the circle and which I've set to equal one, I can calculate the length of the base of the triangle, which is the length of one face of the polygon, as

Pl = 2tan(a/2)

In a polygon with n sides, the perimeter is

n*2tan(360/2n) = n*2tan(180/n)

So here's another way to calculate pi - the numbers will start too big, and approach pi as n approaches infinity.

π = limn→∞n*tan(180/n)

The twos cancel each other, so the equation's actually rather pretty.

What this all means in more practical terms, in a world in which we can't just throw infinity around and act like it's a calculable number is that

n*crd(360/n)/2 < π < n*tan(180/n)

n can be set to whatever number your calculator, computer, or patience with slicing angles in a trigonometric table can put up with, and you get a pretty good approximation of pi. For those whose calculators don't happen to have a chord function,

crd(θ) = 2sin(θ/2)

So the above formula for pi can be restated as

n*sin(180/n) < π < n*tan(180/n)

On my calculator, n must be set to 10,000 to get an accuracy of six places for either formula. If you really want to make your graphing device chug, try graphing these and watching them converge.

Here's the results using some different values of n


For reference, pi to seven places, from Wikipedia, is 3.1415927 - so the value of n of 10,000 is accurate to all the places I went to which should be adequate to prove my point.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Training Goals for This Winter

I learned a couple of things about training last season. One is that it's important. Another was that ultimately, all tracking methods are somewhat arbitrary. However, the information yielded by a cycle computer is pretty useless, especially when training on the road for off-road riding, or trying to combine on- and off-road training numbers. A mile of mountain biking is a lot harder than a mile of road riding, and road riding can be very different depending on whether I'm riding to commute or somewhere on the East Side on a long stretch of uninterrupted road. An hour on the bike at an easy pace is an hour on the bike at an easy pace no matter which one I happen to be using that day, where I am, or why. A cynic might point out that I also lost my cycle computer early last season, so in a sense I didn't have a choice about going to a watch and my own rate of perceived exertion as my only training tools. Oh well.

Anyway, I think riding my bike a lot last winter was a big part of my success in the early part of last season. So I'm going to try to do it again. I'm also going to try to follow a schedule, because I think that ramping up over time was a big part of how I did the season before last, when I went from having to severely limit my ride time to being able to do my first Century. I'm also trying to talk my friends into riding bikes with me because while these rides may not be catatonically slow, they're not going to be speed work either. Also because it's always more fun to ride with friends and when the weather sucks, that's extra-important.

So without further ado, here are my time goals for the next few months. I'm planning to do my first race on February 21st, after which I'll decide what I need to work on between then and my first 'A' race, probably in mid-April.

Week Ending Goal (Hours)

I'm going to be giving myself credit for time spent commuting - basically, any time spent on a bike I'll count as time spent on a bike (go figure.) I don't have a great sense of the times I spent last winter. My records weren't great and I was counting miles, not hours, which started to annoy me pretty quickly when it came to riding around town. I think that this schedule is going to be a little more demanding at the end, but then I'm racing in a harder category than I expected to when I was training last year.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Riding Through the Winter

Tomorrow is the last race I'm planning to enter this season. After that, I don't race again until the BuDu Racing series starts near the end of next February. I'd like to keep riding my bike between now and then, but it gets a lot harder when it's dark and nasty out. So if I can rope my friends into it, I want to do some regular rides between now and then. If you're interested in riding bikes with me (and are near enough to me for it to be convenient to meet somewhere in Seattle, like Green Lake or Gasworks Park) let me know, and also what kind of format you'd be interested in.

My thought is probably 20+ mile road rides, starting at 11am on Sundays. For those who are into structured training, this would be a long or recovery ride. However, I'm not set on anything yet. Mostly I just want to figure out a format and schedule that works for at least a couple of my friends so we can all keep active through the winter when it's tempting to hide inside. Blog comments would be an excellent way to give me some feedback since then if anyone else is interested, they can see them too.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

New Bag Stoke

Today was a very luggage-themed day - I got a new duffel bag from REI (thanks, Action Mom!) and a warranty-replacement bag from Timbuk2. My old one, much beloved despite my friends insisting that it's not a real messenger bag, tore several days ago. Timbuk2 has a lifetime warranty on their products, though. They gave me a pretty big online store credit, so I spent it all on this bag. I'm not sure what a real messenger bag is, aside from perhaps bigger, but I didn't want bigger or more real, I wanted my bag. This is the same size as my old one, but with the addition of an extra flap for protecting books and papers and things, and with Timbuk2's new pockets and hardware.

I took my inspiration for the color mainly from my LeMond - yellow and red. My mountain and 'cross bikes are both red too, and the 'cross bike also has a little bit of yellow on it. The old bag was black and yellow, but with how intelligent and perceptive the drivers in Seattle are, I thought brighter would be better.

The store credit was enough for me to get one panel in a reflective fabric, for a $15 upcharge. This is what it looks like under flash photography... Sweet.

I don't really need or want my bag to have street cred. I just want my bag. And this is, most definitely, my bag.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Re-post of a thing about shopping for an older road bike

I wrote this in a forum thread started by a guy who wants a commuter bike and has a budget of $250 - not enough to buy any but the cheapest of new bikes, but enough to get quite a lot on the used market. I'm saving the part about shopping for an older road bike. My assumption is that the person shopping wants to get something inexpensive that they can start using right away or after a tune-up and maintain in pretty much the same configuration. Additions are in italics.

There are some things to watch out for on older road and touring bikes that can make them harder to maintain. 27" wheels were common in the early '80s, and while you can still get nice tires for them, it's harder and replacing the wheel or rim is also harder. Dropout spacing and rear cog styles also changed a lot - in the '70's, a five-speed freewheel was common and by the end of the '80's or at least the early '90's, an 8-speed cassette became common on higher-end bikes. There were eight-speed freewheels for a little while and a lot of people had problems with bent axles.

I would consider a road bike with 700c rims and an 8-speed cassette to be a pretty kickass buy because almost all the parts on it are in current production and easily replaced and the dropout spacing should match the current standard. I wouldn't worry too much about 27" rims, as long as they're alloy, or a 5-7 speed freewheel.

Unless the bike is steel, you're committed to keeping the same dropout spacing. That means you can't upgrade less than an 8-speed cassette to a modern drivetrain. Steel bikes can be respaced. Also watch out for stem shifters and "suicide" brake levers. Stem shifters are very awkward to use and point at your groin, so you may run into them climbing out of the saddle, crashing, or straddling your bike at an intersection. Suicide brake levers don't have enough mechanical advantage to apply much force at the brake and reduce the throw of the brake levers, which can make the brakes harder to tune so they work. Some 27" rims were made out of steel. Braking performance on a rainy day sucks - it takes a few revolutions to dry the rim enough for the brakes to work, and you may already have rear-ended a bus by the time that happens (didn't quite happen to me, but it was terrifying.) Some steel rims didn't have a hooked bead seat, preventing the use of high-pressure tires. But you shouldn't buy a bike with steel rims in the first place.

The compatibility and similarity in performance of 80's and early-90's bikes with today's gear is surprising. Without the rack and wire baskets, my cheap mid-80's aluminum commuter weighs less than my nice '99 steel road bike. But the resale value sucks, so you can pick them up for cheap and they're relatively unlikely to get stolen.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Credit for this shot goes to Greg Moring. Check out his slideshow of the race on Moring Designs.

I like this picture a lot. For me, the run-up was a defining feature of the race, and I hadn't been able to find any pictures of it that I really liked. It even has a name, "Knapp Time," after a dominant 'cross racing family from around here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Over the last few weeks, I've tried to change the focus of this blog slightly to address a competition one of the big bike companies was doing. They planned to hand out some of their new line of urban bikes to bloggers who could commit to two entries a week for at least three months. I like free stuff, or at least stuff I get in exchange for doing something I do anyway, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

The contest is over and I didn't win. I wouldn't have chosen me either. The whole point of the new brand is that they're trying to depart from their image as a company making bikes for skinny, spandex-wearing racer wannabes. As a skinny, spandex-wearing racer wannabe, I'd say that I pretty well exactly match where they didn't want to go with the new line. I figured maybe I had a shot because while I've always been skinny, I don't always wear spandex and I have one bike that I ride in cities and have never raced. Not unpredictably, the bikes went to people whose stories are likely to be cute or inspirational. If I were running the contest, I'd probably have made at least half of the same choices.

Now that it's over, I'll be returning to the usual entries about whatever I happen to be interested in at the time. This summer it's been races; this winter it's likely to be skiing and going back to school. Expect some longish entries about Bhutan and Bangladesh in November.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Uphill Battle

Sunday's race was a really difficult one for me. Not the race itself, at least any more than usual, but everything surrounding it. I'd worked twelve days in a row leading up to it, including some long days and short turnarounds in the last few days before the race, and I was really tired. I also overslept a little, and didn't get out of Seattle until about half an hour after I wanted to. I still got to the race on time, since I budget some time to register and pre-ride, but I didn't have time to pre-ride the course and could only rely on information from a teammate who rode in the earlier race. (Thanks, Rachel.)

I got a first-row call-up this time, which has never happened to me before. The information leading up to the race was that call-ups were going to be based on MFG points, so I didn't expect it at all. What they didn't mention was that that only applied to people who pre-registered online, and since not very many people did that, the competition for those spots wasn't exactly fierce. I was nowhere near warmed up and I'm not a great sprinter at the best of times, so the start of the race felt kind of like being washed over by a wave I couldn't quite surf. After that, I at least made people earn their passes and I was starting to trade places a little during the second and third lap.

Don't I look like I'll make that guy earn it? Actually, I have no idea which of us finished faster. This is just the only picture of me I've found from the race. Thanks to Joe Martin.

The course had a brutal run-up. There's a saying that while races aren't won on run-ups, they can be lost on them. After the first lap, when I had no idea how long or steep it would be and raced all the way up to it, I took it a little easy on the paved section leading to it, on the principal that if I saved a bit I could pass the guys in front of me. That actually worked. Kind of.

I was feeling pretty good and thought I'd found my rhythm and figured the course out during the third lap, and I rode hard and made some passes. Then, coming into the final stretch, the guys around me really put the hammer down and sprinted for the finish. I remember thinking, "Why are they doing this? I'm going to see them again on the run-up anyway, and then I'll try to open a gap for the rest of the race and it'll be over." Unfortunately, it was already over - I had no idea the third was my last lap. There was no visual indicator for the last lap, and I can't be sure if I heard a bell or not during the previous pass through the start/finish area. It was a frustrating way to end a race, especially one that had had a frustrating start. I can't even be sure if I have a reason to be mad at the organizers - they're supposed to let people know when it's the last lap, even if they don't show a count or a time for the earlier ones - or if someone was ringing a bell and I just didn't hear it or tuned it out.

Honestly, I'm not even sure if that was my third or fourth lap. I think it was my third lap, but the scores indicate that most people did four and if I got lapped, I'd have known. The times are very, very low for a four-lap race. I finished 25th of 39 finishers, with another 9 DNF in my field. I thought I was 24th, but sometimes the scores posted on race day are off and get re-ordered later. I wish I'd known I was on my last lap in the final esses and the last concrete stretch. I might not have been able to hold off the guys I was with coming into the finish, but at least I'd have tried.

I'm now tied in the MFG series for 30th with two other guys, and I've come up with a goal for this year - I want to crack the top 20 in a race. If I don't do it at the MFG race on October 4th, it may not happen this year. But I think it's a doable goal, if I show up early enough to pre-ride, race my heart out, and do it intelligently.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Proselytizing, Maybe

My brother is in town this month and decided he wanted to borrow a bike while he's staying here. He's doing a Sub-I, a training rotation, at a few local hospitals and typically has to be at the hospital at 6am. Here in Seattle, the buses don't run that early often enough to be useful, or at least that was his conclusion from looking over the schedules. I lent him one of mine for a day until I could borrow a loaner from my friend Amanda, which he's been riding all week. Zach hasn't been on a bike in a few years, but he's been running, including a few marathons. I think it's interesting to hear about other people's experiences riding bikes, so I talked him into writing a paragraph for me.

Riding a bike to work has been a bit of a surprise. It's nice to have an extra jolt of energy to start up the day. It's also good to spend a little bit of time interacting with the outside world on the way there and the way back, even if I don't spend any other time doing so. I like that I'm getting some exercise, but maybe it's too bad that it's replacing that time with no worries. Instead, I'm worried about getting to work on time instead of letting my thoughts drift as in a long run. It's not meditative. Too many cars, lights, stuff going on. Sometimes it feels like driving slowly, sometimes like running quickly. Downhill and uphill, respectively.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Once More, With Feeling

When I went racing last week, I was a little disappointed in my performance. Mainly because I felt I could have raced harder. There are a lot of things in racing I can't control - the weather, other riders' performance, etc. But I can make a choice to race really, really hard, and last week it wasn't there. Since then, I've been riding bikes fast, near where I blow up, and I raced yesterday at that level. I don't think I placed much better, but the results posted on race day were pretty illegible, so I'm not sure yet. Adella thinks I finished in the leader's lap, near the tail, somewhere near the guy from the Starbucks team who just beat me at the end of last week's race. That would be a pretty similar result to last week's race, but I feel a lot better about it since I was better prepared and gave everything I had to the effort this time.

Don't I look intense? I'm totally being intense. That's my war face. Or my metal face. Or at least my racing really hard face. Also, I raised my handlebars about half a centimeter and got rid of the crosstop levers from my brake lines. The bike is definitely better in its current configuration. I'm going to be adding barrel adjusters to the brake lines and changing the saddle for my favorite one, but then I'm going to stop messing with it for the season and just go racing.

This picture is another of my favorites from the set that Adella and her friend Dan took. In general, ordinary color photos are hers and the infrared ones are his.

The course was pretty fast, although it felt like there were a lot of false-flat climbs. I raced really hard, but ended up on my own a lot of the time. I'd pass someone and drop him, or get passed by someone I couldn't quite hang onto. There was no real run-up, although both of the singletrack sections had parts that I found to be unridable, so I did do some running. I think that the race was won and lost in the esses on the grass, which is fairly common to 'cross racing, and maybe a little bit on the stretch of course between the longer singletrack section and the paved descent. I think Adella's right about me finishing in the leader's lap, because usually if I get passed by the leader, he passes with authority and a couple of other racers right on his wheel. That didn't happen yesterday.

I rode as hard as I could. That's why I keep going back.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Broke Another Wheel

A few months ago, I tacoed the front wheel of my commuter. Last Sunday, I broke two spokes in the rear wheel. I was on my way to work and since I had several pounds of hand tools in a bag in one of my baskets, I decided to take a flatter route to work, via a multi-use path along Westlake Avenue. There's a point along that route where the paved trail shifts to the right. It was pretty early, since I had to be at work at 8am, and it was pretty cloudy and a little rainy. I saw that the pavement went off to the side, but I was going at a pretty good clip and it looked like going straight ahead just put me onto a gravel surface for several yards, which then rejoined the trail.

It turned out to be an old section of railroad track, with ties still present. I managed not to wipe out when I hit the first one, pretty hard, then I slowed down slowly, which felt like riding a jackhammer, and walked to the end of the section. I noticed that my handlebars were tipped way down, which I corrected, and then I resumed my ride. When I got to work, I noticed that one of the spokes was going to the hub out of line with the spoke head. I was running later than I'd have liked, so I left the bike in the stands (I was working at Safeco Field) and joined my crew.

At the end of the day, I took some time to figure out how many spokes were broken - two, on the non-drive side - and wrap them around neighboring spokes. According to cycle tourists, that's the best temporary solution because while I probably had the tool to unscrew the spoke from the nipple, that allows the nipple to fall into the wheel and rattle around; keeping the spoke keeps things closer to their proper order. I stopped at REI on the way home since it was too late to go to a bike shop. I don't understand why bike shops don't keep retail hours. Bought a couple of new spokes, went home, couldn't install them. The freewheel and pie plate were in the way and I'd have had to bend the spokes significantly to get them around them.

Can you spot what's missing? One of them's right above the reflector and the other is almost exactly opposite it. Since spokes work under tension, when a wheel is hit with a significant force, the rim wants to go from circular to elliptical. The spokes under the most tension are the ones the hub hangs from, and those running closest to the major axis of the ellipse formed by the rim under deformation. So it's something of a no-brainer that the two that I lost were along that axis and on the non-drive side, which is frequently more problematic on a dished wheel.

Lots of negative space when the rear wheel is missing. Also, a bike that can't take me to work. I took the rear wheel to the shop sponsoring my team and borrowed a freewheel remover to get it off. Then I laced the two new spokes into the wheel and trued it on their stand. The wheel had some pretty incredible wobbles in it, and the spoke tensions are all over the map now.

I'm not sure how much longer this wheel's going to last, and it's going to be a pain to replace it. It's a 27" wheel with a six-speed freewheel, so probably 126mm dropout spacing. I'm somewhat committed to using a 27" rim and a 126mm OLD threaded road hub. If I changed the rim size, I'd also have to change the rear brake and get a new tire, and while neither of these is particularly difficult, it adds to the expense. I can't use a differently sized hub in this bike since the frame uses a bonded aluminum construction and might respond poorly to respacing. I also don't want to change number of speeds since I'd have to replace my shifter, which is a fairly expensive upgrade even on a bike this old. I also want to stick with Shimano shifter, derailleur and freewheel, or at least Shimano-compatible, because I like it that the indexing works. The hub's also toast, but a new rim and spokes would cost more than a cheap rear wheel.

Luckily, enough people are trying to keep beater bikes like this rolling as working bikes, not just project and restoration bikes, that there are some cheap rear wheels out there if I need one.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Seasons Change, Bikes Change, Dirt Remains

My "Gateway Drug" for cycle racing was cyclocross. And now that it's Fall, the season's on. I think that racing mountain and road bikes is sort of like wearing white - it's inappropriate to do it after Labor Day. And cyclocross racing is like wearing boots - the moment Fall begins, you get to pull them, and dark-colored clothes, out of the closet and start running up hills and epic stairways.

I've heard people say that, no matter what you do to get ready, you're never prepared to have children. I think that being prepared for the first race of the season is similar. I lent my 'cross bike to a friend shortly after the end of last season and got it back in May. I rode it once then and two more times leading up to Monday's race, and didn't really get it dialed in. At all. When I was pre-riding, I decided that the saddle was definitely too high and everyone was already lined up for the start when I got to the line after asking everyone in sight if they had a Metric Allen set on them. During the race, I decided that my handlebars were too low - in a somewhat silly reaction to how un-racy my friend's version of this bike's setup was, I removed a spacer, flipped the stem, and tilted the bars down when I got the bike back. I think I probably lowered the height of the clamp by about an inch doing all that, and lowered my hand position even more tilting the bars down to a racier spot. I'd also spent about ten or fifteen minutes practicing mounts and dismounts on dirt since November before today's race.

One of the things I love about racing is that no matter where in the pack I am, there's someone ready to race me. The gentleman in the Starbucks jersey passed me coming out of the singletrack, before the last turn. I decided that I wasn't going to let him beat me, shifted up, stood up in the pedals, and found out that actually I was totally going to let him by. I saw him after the race and shook his hand - he earned 27th place. I still made it by the guy running, making 27th-29th places a hotly contested finish. The preliminary results put me in 28th place out of 32 riders finishing in the leader's lap and 43 riders completing three or more laps (the leader rode four laps.) I haven't done speed work since early in May, so I'm not too surprised not to have any top end right now.

Thanks, Adella, for taking pictures and for coming to the race with me.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Riding Streets Again

I've been doing a lot of driving for the last week, which is kind of irritating. Work was pretty far away, too far for me in normal clothes and if cycling's not the main activity for the day.

Today, though, I had some errands to run and some work to do in town.

I got up latish, since work ran until midnight last night, and then rode from my place to my favorite Seattleite's place in Capitol Hill. 4.7 miles. There's a pretty stiff climb up into the Capitol Hill neighborhood, pretty much no matter how it's done. On the way, I got my own private rain storm - it only lasted about a quarter of an hour, ending just before I arrived. Seattle weather does this, and I have fenders permanently installed on my silver bike and quick-release sets for my road and mountain bikes.

The reason for the trip, aside from brunch with my favoritest person, was that I needed to see a doctor about a trip overseas I have coming up. I padded the brunch time by a couple hours, which we used to go shopping for gear for a trip I have coming up. That trip was done in her car - she doesn't ride bikes. Then I rode to the doctor's and back, about a third of a mile, then "cheated" and threw my bike in the back of her car so we could drive to her next commitment and have coffee for a while beforehand. That's five miles so far.

Adella knows I'm writing this entry so she was making fun of me about not being very good at being car-minimalist. To me, being able to throw my form of transportation into someone else's form of transportation is actually a pretty useful attribute. I used to drive trucks for a company that had a couple of different storage locations, so sometimes I'd pick up a truck one place, drive it to a gig, and then leave it in a third location. I just chained my bike to the front rack and then it was with me whenever, and wherever, I was when I finished. That applied here too - I had my bike with me, so after coffee, I just rode home. 5.9 miles.

I had a little time at home, then I had to head back downtown to go to a job I have here in town. That's a 5.4 mile ride, although I stopped and bought groceries on my way home, so the ride home was more like 5.7 miles. Miles for the day come out at 17. It was dark when I was riding home, so I clipped on my bright headlight, a gift from my Dad. Most of my nice things are gifts.

Tomorrow, I'm back in Issaquah, and back in my truck. It's not going to leave me with time to go mountain biking, which I sometimes do on days I spend out there, but I might go for a run or something during lunch. But on Sunday, I'm going to be back to using my bike to commute to work locally, about six miles, in work boots with a bag of hand tools in one of my baskets.

Clearly I'm not car-free. I don't even try to be. However, I enjoy riding my bike and driving in Seattle frequently makes me angry. Convenience is often how I make my choice - I'm a pretty strong cyclist, so my trip times don't go up horribly when I ride my bike; sometimes they even go down. I also don't have to park or buy gas. I've gone weeks without moving my truck, and probably make it a month without buying gas from time to time. I don't really have a vision of a world in which nobody uses a car or truck for personal transportation, but I do think that there are a lot of people who could be using cars much less.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A quick look back at my commuter bikes

I'm a little bit obsessive about bicycles. I like to think that it's because of the experiences they afford me, but I'm also a gearhead. In the stone age, I'd be the guy who was stoked about the discovery of flint, and could tell you about all the different kinds. I've been commuting on bikes, on and off, for thirteen years. I've been riding mountain bikes for nine or ten and riding road bikes almost as long. I entered my first race, a cyclocross race in 2000 or 2001. Lately, I tend to ride bikes for from five to fifteen hours a week, depending on how much time I have for fun riding and where I'm working.

I've tried a couple of different setups for commuting on bikes. In high school, it was a road bike converted with flat bars for a while, and a hybrid for a while. In college, it was a mountain bike with a rack and panniers, then a touring bike with panniers, then a touring bike but wearing a messenger bag. Discovering messenger bags was a revelation - suddenly I could stabilize a load on my back, lower than a backpack, and still ride in an athletic position. In New York, I rode a stripped-down ten speed converted with a BMX driver.

Here in Seattle, I have a mid-'80s road bike with a rack and wire baskets, and wear a messenger bag but put heavy items, like hand tools, in the baskets. I think that I've got the cycle commuting thing fairly dialed for my circumstances now, so when someone tells me they've got a better way, I tend to doubt them. My bike can't carry as much as a longtail, but I can get it upstairs. It may weigh more than a bike without permanently installed baskets, but I can't forget to bring my pannier and I don't worry about them being stolen. It's not as fashionable as a fixie, but I value my knees. It's not as comfortable to sit on as a cruiser or a hybrid, but when I had to commute twenty miles to a far-ish gig while my truck's brakes were out, it was up to the task. Some days, I decide I want to go for a bit of a cruise on my way home and it's a fun enough bike that I can do that and enjoy it, and that's a big part of why I commute on a bike - because I enjoy riding bikes.

Specialized, who made my mountain bike, have a new brand of bikes and I have to admit that most of why I'm writing this post is that I want one. The Big 'S' is going to give some of their new line to bloggers, and one of their bikes is very very close to my idea of the ideal commute/utility bike for someone like me - something I can ride to work, with a bag of hand tools and a drill on the racks and off my back, use to pick up groceries, and still enjoy riding. They seem to think they've come up with a product like that and I think it would be cool to try one. If it's actually better than my current setup... So far I've got two of my friends onto different bikes because they believed me when I told them they'd be better than their previous rides. They both seem pretty happy with them too.

I don't think that having a different bike would necessarily change my life. I think I'm already pretty minimal about how I use my truck. But if it really is better than what I have right now, I won't hesitate to say so.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

MTB Season Finale Blog, Conclusion

So what's next?

Well, cyclocross season. But since I'm going to Bhutan for most of October and may or may not be able to race competitively on my return, I'm not going to be very serious about 'cross this year. I'll still race with my whole heart, when I race, but I'm not going to be turning down work to do it, and I'll probably only try to go racing every two weeks. So cyclocross is kind of an afterthought. That happens before the next thing.

After 'cross, I'm putting away the fast bikes for a month. I'm not going to look at them. Often. And I'm not going to do speed work or rides over two hours. On purpose. Unless one of my friends wants to go.

Then in January, the bikes come back out. It'll be me and the people riding New Year's Resolutions, doing laps around Lake Washington and passing all the shut down drinking fountains. I'm going to try to do two training blocks, in the beginning of January and the beginning of February, ramping up to three four-hour rides the last week of the second block. Maybe I'll finish it with a Century ride. My current record is 11.5 hours start-to-finish, with 7.5 hours rolling.

The first mountain bike race of the season will be in February if the schedule follows the same pattern as it has in the past. Those races are typically shorter and easier than the Indie Series races - perfect for reintroducing fast riding to my (hopefully) endurance-trained legs. That gives me a little less than two months of "go fast" riding before the Indie Series starts in mid-April.

This time, I'm going to make base rides a priority in my training and do fewer speed days. I don't need to go much faster to do well in my races, but I do need to be able to maintain a slightly faster speed for the whole race, and I need to be more efficient when I'm off-road. Which brings me to my other priority for next year's training. More mountain biking. It's not really practical to do intervals off-road, and I like doing my recovery rides on a road bike, but tempo rides and long rides can be on a mountain bike. Part of why I'm racing cross-country instead of on the road is that mountain biking is really my first love as a person who rides bikes, and I want to do more of it. So the last training week before my first Indie race should have two speed days, one or two long days, and two easy days.

For all the above, I'm going to try to be even more relaxed about my training schedule. I think that part of why I started feeling overtrained this season was that I misread the Indie Series calendar when I was planning and thought that races tended to fall every three weeks. It's more realistic to say that they alternate between two and three weeks between races, and when I noticed this I started skipping recovery weeks before some races. Unsurprisingly, I didn't race as well as I could have when I went to those races. I also think that part of why I haven't been as healthy this summer as I'd like to have been was that I was pushing myself too hard. So the only part of my schedule that I'm going to try to structure in blocks is the base period. Once the racing starts, I'm going to make every pre-race week an easier week and every other week a training week. Unless I'm still feeling beat up from racing the weekend before.

Next year's pre-race weeks will have a Wednesday night race (probably) and a bunch of easy rides. Post-race weeks will have recovery or long ride, depending on how I feel. Followed by a recovery or long ride, until I've done a long ride. Then a day off. Then I'll figure out if speed work even fits in before my next rest week. Intervals are really only going to figure into my training schedule in March, since racing is already speed work and once the Wednesday Night Worlds start up, I'll be doing those instead.

Some people say that the best way to train for racing is to race. Other people say that racing breaks athletes down, and they should only go to 'A' races and only target a few. I think racing's fun, so I'd rather go to a lot and do what I need to to be in the best possible condition for all eight of my 'A' races and five(ish) 'B' races. Anyway, the idea for next year is to work out a little more before the racing starts, then race a lot more and work out a little less through the end of the Indie Series.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

MTB Season Finale Blog, Part II

In the spirit of "Wherever you go, there you are," my race on the 8th gave a pretty good snap shot of my current condition. It's been a long season to put myself there, though.

When I did my first complete cyclocross season last Fall, I didn't really have enough time to train for it. I had a period of enforced inactivity in August, so when I arrived here in Seattle in mid-September, I was out of shape, for me, and started the season pretty unprepared. I didn't even have the right bike at first. While the racing season lasted three months, I didn't really do anything before it started and the ending was pretty anti-climactic - I skipped the last race I'd planned because I had a cold and it wasn't part of the series.

This time, I knew pretty far in advance that I was going to be racing. I thought I'd be racing in the beginner class this year, since it's my first year racing mountain bikes, and I started doing base miles in late January. It's now August - this project has run over seven months.

Despite beginning my preparation earlier, a lot of things this season took me by surprise. One of the biggest was probably finding I belonged in the "sport" class instead of "beginner." In the Indie Series, the sport class races run about two hours. The beginner class races run about one hour. My base training was a bit haphazard and really a little much for beginner, but I don't think I was really consistent enough to prepare for two hour races either, so when the races really did run close to two hours, completing them was difficult. The other thing I wasn't necessarily prepared for was the amount of climbing in the latter half of the series - the first three courses are relatively flat, as are most cyclocross courses. The last three races each had over 2400' of climbing. The initial climb on Saturday's course was probably the most vertical feet I've ever ascended in one shot, somewhere around 1300'.

At this point, I think I've become a better mountain biker than I was in college. I definitely did more off-road riding at the time, but learning to loft my front wheel with my drivetrain has made me a much better climber and I'm learning to control my rear wheel a little better too. I'm certainly a lot faster. I didn't really push my speed when I was in college, so aside from descents I never rode at the speeds I do now. I also didn't start climbing on singletrack until pretty late, and that's something I do fairly often now - I'm a much stronger climber than I used to be. And I used to take breaks - that's something that doesn't make any sense in the context of a race. The thing that holds me back the most is that I'm not an especially strong technical rider and I have a hard time keeping my power output and speed up in flat, technical areas.

After somewhat inadequate preparation, another problem I had this season was that I got sick after my third race. Followers of my blog will remember that I think I actually got sick before that race, but, almost by definition, a race effort is pretty punishing and it really sealed the deal. After I got better, I never quite found the form I feel like I had in the earlier part of the season. Something that's pretty important to me as a cyclist is my cadence - the speed at which I spin the crank. At the best of times, I have a pretty narrow range of "good" cadences. I don't know if it's narrower than the next guy's, but there's usually one "good" gear for me at any given time, and sometimes I find that one gear is too tall but the next lower gear is too easy to maintain speed. When I'm having a fast day, though, I can use the next gear or two up from my "good" gear and maintain cadence, which means I go faster. On a really fast day, my "good" gear is probably a little higher too.

At the beginning of the season, I could spend a lot of time up a gear or two from "good" on any given ride, and it made sense for me to try to hang on to the back of a fast group during a race. I even dropped people from time to time. Unfortunately, that only lasted for a few races - the race I did at Port Gamble and a couple of Wednesdays. I didn't really bring that to any of my 'A' races - the first one was a slog through mud that felt like a cyclocross race from hell, on steroids, and I barely finished, and the second one saw me riding too aggressively at the beginning of the race to maintain my effort level through the middle, although I rallied at the end and dropped a group of riders who were with me at the time. Based on the times from that race, I opened a pretty big gap.

After those two races, though, my season plateaus. I had some pretty high hopes for the Whidbey Island race, but my legs never "woke up" and while I raced well, it came pretty hard from the start to the finishing corral. After that I missed two because I was sick (and one was really far away) and I never quite got my form back for the last three.

That's not to say that I'm not satisfied with my season. I'm strong and consistant enough that my bad days still put me in mid-pack. I went to a few Wednesday night races at North Seatac on days that I wasn't feeling fast and discovered that even then, I should start on the second or maybe third row, not at the back of the pack. I think I've also improved as a technical rider - I'm wheelieing up and over obstacles that I might not have been able to clear in the beginning of the season, and I'm descending more confidently as well. I think I'm also remounting a little better following runs on the things I can't climb. I finished the series in 7th for my class, and while not many people attended enough races to get the maximum number of races credited for their series points, I think it's fair to assume that most of the people who did were pretty stiff competition. Especially since this is my first season racing mountain bikes, or doing any races as long as the two-hour races I was doing in the Indie Series, mid-pack in the "sport" category is a good place to be.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

MTB Blog Season Finale, Part I

I completed the last race of my mountain bike season on Saturday. It wasn't quite as hard as Roslyn, and I felt better at the beginning than I did at Padden Mountain, but it certainly wasn't easy either. I typically try to pre-ride the course at all my races, but I didn't with this one - my class, "Sport," was going to be riding one long loop and one short loop. I figured it would be a little silly to ride the short loop, since anything I really needed to see would be on the long loop, and a little silly to ride the long loop since it would be more than half my race, and I wouldn't really have enough left in the tank if I did. I rode around some to try to get warmed up, but I'd been feeling overtrained and couldn't get my legs to "wake up."

I had it on good authority that the first big climb in the race was going to be on a fire road, so when the pack started going faster than I felt I could hang onto during the start loop, I let it go. The start loop went down a dirt road, into the lower singletrack portion at the end of the course, and then through the start/finish line and into the lower singletrack portion at the beginning of the main loops. Rough, flat singletrack has to be my biggest Achilles' heel as a racer - I'm not a brilliant technical rider, but on the climbs, fitness level is more important and on the descents, I don't think it's as important because the descent itself will help me get back up to speed if I negotiate an obstacle more slowly than the competition. During the climb, I worked my way up past a lot of the people who had opened gaps on me in the singletrack earlier in the race.

I did the big descent somewhat poorly, for a couple reasons. It was pretty exposed, which scared me, although it made for some amazing views, and I was too much in my head and not enough in the moment, so I stayed a little slower to avoid making mistakes. I still wiped once during the first lap because I tried to negotiate a drop in a more advanced way than it really called for and landed with my front wheel a little cockeyed, turning it into a fulcrum so that my bike could catapult me over the bars. That was my only unintentional separation from my bike, although it was enough - I was definitely feeling that fall on Sunday. There was a creek crossing after the hard descent. That scared me too, but it looked totally cool.

The descent fed back into the singletrack on the valley floor, then there was a shorter version of the climb leading into what felt like most of the descent, more of the valley floor singletrack, and the race was over. Aside from being pretty bad in the singletrack especially between the first and second laps, I felt pretty good about my second lap. I think I even managed to be a bit more aggressive in the singletrack the last time, and I found it in me somewhere to charge the finish.

I ended up coming in tenth in the race. There were 18 finishers in my class, and another four men who started. My time was 2:21. The guy who won my class did it in 1:53. Finishing this race tenth landed me in 7th place for the series. I was only 9 points (on top of 370) away from being tied for 5th, so I'm already thinking about how to do better next season. Anyway, it was a good race for reminding me how far I've come, and also a good race to motivate me when I start doing base miles in January and the weather's really hostile.

I'm not saying where or how I got the first photo. The second one is from joelb_98045's flickr.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Dog in a Hat

My friend lent me this book, by Joe Parkin, a couple of days ago. Joe Parkin is an American who traveled Belgium to race bikes, racing for Belgian teams from 1986-1991. He then raced on the road for a few more years for American teams and raced mountain bikes for a couple years at the end of his career.

The book's pretty well put-together. Rather than trying to shove five years of minutiae into the book, he chooses some specific incidents from different parts of his career and gives them some real time and attention. The book is stitched together with short bits of summary, so it flows quickly but smoothly.

My friend lent it to me because he was interested to know how it compared with my experience of bike racing. The world inhabited by Joe Parkin in his book is one populated by pro cyclists. With the exception of the guys at the top, the racers seem to have either unrealistic dreams of being able to win some races or they've accepted that they're never going to, or at least have a pretty long road ahead. My experience of cycle racing is racing with amateurs, and I don't think that most of us have ambitions any higher than maybe dominating the sport class for a season and moving up to expert. Depending on the race, a lot of riders aren't even planning to move up - a look at the results for my series shows a ton of people who come out for one or two races a season. Parkin's teams sound like once the season starts, they're racing a couple of times a week.

The attitude about riding and training in the book is very different too. The amateur racers I compete with vary in attitude from guys who have very specific, heavy schedules that they follow religiously to guys who just ride their bikes a lot. I think a common pattern is for people to be very serious about their training for a year or two, and then back off due to loss of interest, other commitments, or finding that it's not necessarily effective. The majority of their riding, though, is in training. Parkin and his contemporaries sound like they're spending more saddle time in actual races and their bikes and bodies reflect that. Their attitude about races reflects that too - there are a lot of races described in the book in which Parkin doesn't even finish. By the end of the book, he's working as a very good domestique. He doesn't win races, but does a lot to protect his team's interests. In amateur races, and Parkin mentions this a few times, everybody is out to win the whole race. Parkin doesn't typically expect to, but he ended up wearing the stars and stripes in championship and cup races a few times, so he was clearly an excellent athlete.

The emphasis on the athlete's ability and desire to win and on racing over training is very refreshing and human in a sport that can frequently be somewhat dehumanizing, especially with the emphasis on technology. Parkin suggests that the bikes he and his teammates ride show the dirt and wear of tools used on a daily basis, as opposed to the clean and fetishized bikes one sees in a lot of amateur races and in contemporary professional cycling.

The aspect of the book that really struck a chord with me was the arbitrariness of the events. When I was living in New York and studying as a dancer, a lot of things happened seemingly at random. At auditions, who stayed and who got cut could be very mysterious. Tours, contracts and local gigs all seemed equally senseless, although a lot of that did go to dancers who clearly had more talent. Another way that I identified with Parkin, in fact, was that his career seemed marked by being very good, but not quite good enough to get to the next level. Distribution of talent seems to me to be another way that the worlds of both a professional dancer and a professional cyclist are similar - both groups tend to have a lot of workaholics, because we wish we could be better by virtue of working more or harder, but ultimately there are many things an individual just can't control.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Nicest Hardrock in Seattle

When I bought my bike, I thought that if I ever started racing, I'd buy something fancier. Fate had other plans and I don't think that the difference between one 26"-wheeled aluminum hardtail frame and another is very significant. So I'm focusing on getting my current bike to work for me as well as possible. I think that the most important attributes of a bike when trying for maximum performance are fit and that everything works.

My teammate gave me a kickass deal on those shifters several weeks ago, and since my chain and cassette were both pretty dead anyway I figured I'd take the opportunity to upgrade. The stem is something I won at a race in February and it gives me a little more aggressive position. I'm planning to try an even longer stem when I get my current vehicular drama sorted out.

This crankset is the gift crank for my birthday. It's got a little larger big ring, a little narrower stance, and the middle ring is made out of steel and carbon fiber. Totally cool.

And this is the bike in its curent configuration. A new stem could be a near-future item, since they're available in a bin for $10 each at one of my local shops. I'd also like to put on new brakes, with larger brake pads and a choice of compound, because the current brakes don't always survive the whole length of a muddy race. Also, the brakes I'd like are self-adjusting. After that, a new wheelset would drop a ton of weight and help the rear tire sit a little better. Beyond that, I don't see the utility of putting on a nicer rear derailleur unless I wear out the current one so the bike would be maintenance-only.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Riding Bikes, Looking Hot.

Here's one from Sunday in which I'm actually on my bike.

Credit for the picture goes to Josh, who got lots of good pictures of the race. Check out his Picasa.

Monday, July 27, 2009

MTB Pics from Yesterday and Earlier

This is the only one from yesterday so far... I actually managed to ride up that hill once, and it's steeper than it looks, I swear.

This is from the Whidbey Island Mudder back in May.

And this is from a 'B' race in March, when I was thinking about not fixing my suspension fork.

All pictures were taken by Joe Martin. I found the older ones on his Picasa after he posted that he'd taken some of my class at Roslyn.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hot. Dry. Dusty. Steep. Really, really hard.

I thought Padden Mountain was a difficult race. The weather was actually really nice for racing, though - close to what I'd ask for if I could put in a request. Today was hot. Really hot.

According to the NWS, temperatures were around 82 when I started and 88 or so when I finished. Humidity was pretty low, so getting enough water into me was really hard. I was a bit dehydrated by the end.

The course started with a brutally steep climb. It kept going. For a really long time. I heard it was a mile and a half from guys who pre-rode with odometers. On the first lap, I did a fair amount of walking because it was really difficult to maintain balance if I got slowed down by someone in front of me, and hard to regain enough momentum to remount once I was off. Between the difficulty of the climb, especially since there was a lot of traffic around me, and the heat, I wanted to quit. But it flattened out eventually and the course followed the shoulder of a hill for a while, in some swoopy singletrack that was lots of fun. I didn't do it as fast as maybe I could have because I was a little dumb from the climb and the heat, and I didn't want to make a mistake and wipe out. Also, the trail was really, really dusty. There was some real depth to the dust, like sand at a beach. Then there was some more climbing.

At the top of the last climbing section, a couple guys had a water cooler set up and were handing out little Dixie cups with water. The first time I passed them, I slowed down a little and took a cup. I drank some and poured some over my head.

The descent was really difficult for me. I'm not a great technical rider and there were ruts across the trail that scared me a lot. I also didn't feel like I was getting very consistent traction. My whole bike was jackhammering a lot. I tried to be loose and soak up as much as I could with my arms and legs, but it was difficult. I also tried drifting some of the turns, but where Padden tended to have well-benched switchbacks with the occasional really technical section thrown in, this course tended to be constantly sketchy and off-camber, although without anything particularly technical in a rocks, roots or drops sense. Just dust, ruts, and erosion.

There was a brief flat section on fire roads and what looked like old mine tailings, and then the fun started again. I had a fleeting moment of thinking I could just stop right then, and not have to do it two more times. Then I continued past the finish area, climbed the first brutal climb, and took the hairpin onto more of the course instead of going past the gate onto the road and slinking home. I started feeling more positive after making that choice and generally did a bit better than on the first lap, although there were still a few sections I ran up and I still didn't descend very well. I also started riding past more guys who were walking and caught the back of the women's category.

The third lap was about like the first two in terms of difficulty for me. I had to run the first really steep climb, but it was short and at the borderline of where running, or climbing in a harness and hauling the bike up with a handline, is more efficient anyway. I allowed a pass in some singletrack by a guy who said I'd see him again on the next climb. He was right - I saw him walking up a climb, and didn't see him again until after the finish.

Out of 14 finishers in Sport Men 19-34, I was seventh. Unless there were some stragglers who finished after I looked, which is possible but somewhat unlikely. I'm a competitive person and would like to be getting better places, but I'm pretty proud of what I'm achieving with this series. Of course, it's not over yet. There's one more race in two weeks, with a less insane elevation profile - just as many feet of climb, but over several more miles. It's not enough time to increase my fitness level, but it is enough time to go mountain biking a couple of times and hopefully improve my skills and comfort on descents a little.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

About the Shot on my Masthead

I got a compliment on my new masthead recently. The picture is a cropped-down version of this one, which was taken at the Donida Farms race in the Seattle Cyclocross series. I don't have the information about who took this, so if it's yours, let me know and I'll give credit and a link or whatever.

Based on the angle and the file names, I think the below shot shot was taken immediately before the one above. It's funny how different the angle of the light can make the appearance of a picture.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Picture from Padden Mountain

All I'm saying about how I got this shot is that a web site can't give my computer permission to download a picture without giving my computer permission to download that picture.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Bar Has Been Raised

I went to a race near Bellingham yesterday. It was really hard. Bellingham is about 90 miles north of Seattle. I spent the night there the night before, so on race day all I had to do was drive a few miles to the race, which I ended up having some difficulty finding, check in, pre-ride and race.

Checking in was a little bit of a pain because there wasn’t a separate line for pre-registered riders. I love that line. Then I had some trouble figuring out where the course was, so I started my pre-ride several minutes after I’d planned to, and barely finished it in time to get to the staging area for my start. I’m still glad I did the pre-ride, though. I learned that the course was really, really difficult. A lap was 3.2 miles, according to the race promoter, with 650' feet of climbing and some really tricky descending. That makes it comparable to my "hills" route in terms of feet of climbing per miles, except off-road. There were a couple of spots that I didn’t think I could climb mounted, and ran instead, and there was one section I didn’t think I could descend, and ran instead.

“Running” is a very positive way to describe what it’s like to go down something on foot that’s too difficult to descend on a bike – usually it’s easier to get down something weird on the bike. This particular section had three lines, of which I spotted two. The straight one required getting over an off-camber thing that I thought would make me skid and hit a tree. The next line going to the left required turning on the off-camber thing immediately after dropping off a root, and I wasn’t confident that I could do that either.

During my pre-ride, I felt like my rear tire was a little too soft. When I got to the start area, it was 11:29 and my start was at 11:34 I saw that the women starting in the 11:30 start hadn’t gone yet, so I figured I had enough time to top it up before my wave. I was right, barely. I borrowed a floor pump and put a few extra pounds in my rear tire just in time to run back to the staging area, drop my bike in the pile of bikes belonging to 19-34 Sport Men, and join the other riders.

We did a LeMans start, which means all the bikes went in a staging area and we started about fifty yards away from them and had to run to them when the race started. Just getting through one lap on yesterday’s course was difficult for me, so I decided to do the race pretty conservatively, to make sure I could complete it. I didn’t run very hard during the start, and I allowed a ton of passes during the rolling section before the first steep climb. I passed a few people too, but anyone I pass during those initial miles really shouldn’t be in front of me in the first place, in my opinion.

Things started to stretch out a lot when we started climbing. I passed a fair number of people, and got passed by a few. Some of them gained their spots back when the course flattened out a little bit, briefly, and I allowed some more passes on the descent, where I’m really not that strong. One of the things that I enjoyed about this course was that I saw a lot of the people who passed me on the descents again as soon as the course turned upward. I didn’t necessarily pass them right away – that section of the course didn’t have long climbs, but they were super-steep, including two of the portions I ran instead of riding. I think it cost me less to get up that stuff than a lot of guys, and I did run past a few people, as well as maintaining my place running among riders who stayed mounted. I used to think I wanted the next cassette on my mountain bike to be geared the same, or even higher, but now I’m inclined to get something geared a little lower – the climbs were long, loose and steep, and I couldn't always maintain a fast cadence in the gear I had.

Around lap 2, some of the fast guys from the 35-44 and singlespeed classes passed me. Some time during lap 3, the faster part of the 35-44 field did, although I think I only saw one or two singlespeed riders. I also started passing women and Clydesdales during lap 3. The Clydesdales looked like they were really hurting – the total weight of me and my mountain bike is probably about 165 pounds, maybe a little less with some of the fancier bits I’ve put on mine since purchasing it. To race Clydesdale, the rider has to weigh 200 pounds before even adding the bike, water, and any gear. I don’t know if I could get that much weight up the climb, but they do have higher power outputs than me.

During the third lap, I allowed a pass before the downhill section I never figured out. Both riders hooked sharply to the left and dropped off a root onto the section I’d been running. That line never occurred to me, and I was mad at myself for not seeing it – I think it was a way to do the descent that I could have done safely and consistently. I resolved to do it that way on the fourth lap.

The race was four laps, so on an easier course I’d probably start thinking about where I wanted to start attacking some time during the third lap. I actually had that thought yesterday, but by the time I finished the climbing at the end of the lower portion of the course, I dismissed the idea. The fourth lap found me struggling in lower gears than I was using in the second and third laps. I made mistakes in some of the technical sections, and decided long before I saw the hard descending section that I wasn’t going to try to do it. Attempting something at the end of the race that I couldn’t do fresh is pretty egotistical even for me, and I didn’t want to get hurt.

Surprisingly, I found I still had some energy to burn when I got to the last climb, so I did it fairly quickly, and then shifted into my big chainring and started going as fast as I could on the last descent, which was gently rolling and had banked curves. I threw a little gravel around on the last chicane and then got into my best tuck and spun my way to the last corner, then sprinted the last forty yards to the finish. I hear there was nobody near me, but I can’t always tell when I’m racing and after almost losing a win to thinking I was alone, I try to sprint all my finishes.

I came in eleventh. I’m not sure how many people were in my field, so I’m not sure how good that is, but I think it puts me at least in the top half. I’ve been finishing most of my races this season in the top half or top third, so I’m pretty happy with that result, although it would have been cool to make the top ten.

I used to think that cyclocross races were the hardest thing I do on my bike on purpose. This race had moments as intense as racing cyclocross, but it lasted about two hours. It's now the single hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike on purpose, although I didn't feel quite as destroyed at the end as after my first cyclocross race back in college.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Running and I have an interesting relationship. I've done it on and off since I was fourteen or fifteen, but aside from when I ran track in high school, for a whole semester, I've never been particularly serious about it.

Now that I'm being kind of serious about riding my bike, I'm trying to be more serious about cross-training too. I think that if I only ride my bike, I will be a very fast cyclist but stand to get hurt more easily either through overtraining or when I fall off. One aspect of my more ambitious plan is running. I think that it will lead to improvements in my cyclocross race pretty directly, and I also think that it will help prevent overtraining injuries that I can be prone to on my bike.

Another reason to resume running is that to train on a bike, I need a bike. More than that, I need a bike that fits me. When I'm traveling, this can be a problem. In order to go for a run, I need to bring a pair of appropriate shoes and some suitable clothing. It's a lot easier to fit that in a carryon bag. ActionMom's bike is actually only a size too small for me, but I would still need to bring my own shoes, pedals and saddle. I also prefer my own helmet and she doesn't have a seat wedge or the necessary tools to fix a flat or a mechanical problem. I'm visiting San Francisco through the 11th and on this trip, I went with just running shoes.

After my last experience with running, I realize that this is something I need to be very careful with. I need to make sure that I'm really warmed up before I go, and I need to limit the amount of running I do until my body starts to adapt to it again. If I could run ten miles in high school, I see no reason I can't train to run ten miles now, but since I couldn't run three miles last August, clearly I've got some work to do. So my plan is to start by doing alphabets, then do some calf presses, and then go for a thirty minute running workout. I'm not going to say "thirty minute run" because the runs that screwed up my ankle in August were under twenty-five minutes, so I don't think I should actually run for thirty minutes. I'm going to be "that guy" who's wearing the expensive(ish) running shoes and powerwalking, glancing at his watch, running for a little bit, etc. It's going to frustrate me. I know that there are consequences to giving in to my urge to go fast, though, so I'm going to be disciplined, be "that guy" and work my way up to being able to go for a thirty minute run. My new place is less than a mile from Green Lake Park, so I can join all the other Seattleites dressed for running and doing anything else.

I had a big idea about how I was going to go running this morning. What I actually did, though, were some alphabets and some calf presses. The calf presses caused something in my ankle to start clicking and feeling a little swollen. My urge was to lace up my shoes and go anyway, but I'm trying to be disciplined. I did go for a walk later with some relatives who are on their way to the same wedding that's brought me to San Francisco, but it's a very small start compared to what I'd like to be able to do.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Back in the Saddle

I didn't realize it at the time, but I was getting sick when I did my last Indie Series race, on May 17th. I thought I was just overtrained, because I decided not to do a rest week before that race since the timing of the races was so close together. Anyway, I ended up with a wicked cough and skipped the following race, on June 6th.

I was more or less better on the 14th and started training again, but decided to skip my race on the 21st because it was in a location three and a half hours away, none of my teammates were going, I'd been working nights, etc. etc. Until last night, I hadn't been on a bike on dirt in about five weeks. I'm better now, and have another 'A' race on July 11th. I won't have a chance to do a Wednesday night race or even much casual mountain biking before then so, between that and some political stuff, it was really important to me to show up to last night's race.

I wasn't sure if I should put myself at the front or the back of the pack at the start line last night. Every time I've put myself at the back, though, I've ended up having to pass a lot of guys, which can be a lot of work. So I decided to start in the second row, which seems to be my best starting position - the guys in the first row frequently go out very, very fast and I don't want to do that, and since I catch them anyway as soon as the trail narrows, there's no point for me. I charged hard for pretty much the whole race. I was worried at points that I was going to blow up, but I've been doing a different kind of intervals lately and just riding a little faster in general, so I was able to hold my pace, more or less.

What really hurt me last night was that my riding was very sloppy. Pre-riding, it took me a few tries to clean a section that I've done plenty of times in the past, and near the end of the race I wiped out and fell into a thorn bush. Lucky for me, the thorns in the Pacific Northwest aren't very big or stiff. That fall cost me about a dozen places, though. I guess there's a reason people practice this stuff. More importantly, though, I only coughed a little bit when I finished the race, no more than I always do when I've just pushed my aerobic system that way, and my nose only clogged up once - again, pretty normal for me when I'm healthy. It felt really good to be out racing again, and I felt really fast. Part of my sloppiness, actually, is I think I was going faster last night than I have been. I think my fitness level is making promises that my handling ability can't keep.

One of my friends felt compelled recently to tell me his time on a route I use to train for cyclocross. He clocked himself door-to-door, using his odometer, so his time is rolling time only (clock stopped for traffic signals, etc.) and when I got my previous time of about 32 minutes, I was using a starting time and finishing time on my cell phone from the beginning to the end of the effort portion, so our times aren't really comparable. But it got me curious, so today I did the route using my wrist watch, which has a stopwatch, to time myself. I did the route in 30:33, so even if my cell was about to tick over to the next minute when I started last time, and had just ticked over when I finished, I beat my old time. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pleased with myself.

For my Seattle readers and anyone following along at home with Google Earth, the route begins in Ballard at 24th Ave NW and NW Market St. It travels north along 24th, then east on 80th St. to Roosevelt Way, south to 65th st., and then east until it intersects the Burke Gilman Trail. According to Google Earth, it's 7.7 miles long. It's got a ton of climbing - I originally developed it as a hill interval route, and it starts with small hills that get larger and larger, before a little bit of a break and then what another friend named the "Oh, shit" hills. I use my granny ring on those, although I don't think I used my smallest gear combination today. I meant it as a training ride for cyclocross racing, and when I first figured it out it took longer and the little hills at the beginning felt like climbs. The big ones felt huge. If I move up a class this year or get much faster, though, the effort will take less time than my race, and I'll need to start using some other route.