Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Oh, that explains it

I went on a long mountain bike ride this last weekend.  My first of the year, which is unfortunate and a bit sad, but true nonetheless.  I also went on a long hike this weekend.  With my bike on my shoulder, but that is part of the story to come later.

In the meantime, I ran across this great online Bicycle Power Calculator (http://www.mne.psu.edu/lamancusa/ProdDiss/Bicycle/bikecalc1.htm).  It is a bit intimidating at first, because there are so many variables, but spend a few minutes to put in some basic information and it is a really cool tool to learn some practical reality of what it takes to move your bike.

For instance, I read someplace years ago that dropping your bike weight one pound was the same as dropping your own weight six pounds.  It turns out that this is not completely true, but not too far off, except that what you really see is that dropping either or both of these doesn't make much difference until 1) you start going uphill and 2) when you are going uphill you try to go fast.  On flat ground, the weight of the bike makes very little difference.  Similarly, on flat ground, even good size weight differences make very little difference in the number of watts it takes to move a bike at any given speed.

That explains my ability to keep up on flat courses or if people are moving slowly uphill.  When it gets steep, however, my weight is so much of a detriment that I can't ever overcome it with more strength.  So, the age old lesson of focusing on the engine instead of the equipment is sound advice.

Look for me at Jenny Craig for lunch, Weight Watchers for dinner and hoisting a beer to congratulate myself on dropping some lb's.  In the meantime, check out the calculator.

Also in the meantime, a couple of pictures from the Three Summit Adventure.




Friday, September 23, 2011

The Explainer

A couple of weeks back I wrote a blog about Charles Pelkey, a former VeloNews staff member who was fired from his job the same day he got a cancer diagnosis (http://stevesoncannonstreet.blogspot.com/2011/08/i-was-just-riding-along-and.html). Charles, as you may recall, is a multi-talented guy, who has a new website with live, minute-by-minute coverage of cycling events (liveupdateguy.com), but he is dearer in my heart for being a lawyer who rides a column called "The Explainer."

For those of you who noticed, the Explainer space on the VeloNews website had remained well after Charles' dismissal and I was beginning to think it extremely cheeky that VN had continued to trade on his good name and erudite explanations.  Well, it turns out that the space was being reserved as negotiations were apparently going on behind the scenes to get Mr. Pelkey back penning this column as a freelancer.  Not the same as employment, which tends to come with insurance, which one finds handy when one is battling cancer, but nonetheless.

But without further ado, here is a link to the latest Explainer entry about clenbuterol issues - http://velonews.competitor.com/2011/09/news/the-explainer-reaching-the-threshold-and-a-doping-explainer_193156.  Charles does an excellent job of answering difficult legal and technical questions in the cycling world with accuracy, insight and in a very reader-friendly fashion.  Please take a second to click on the link so that Charles and VeloNews notices that it is a needed and appreciated service.

If you want to catch up on prior Explainer columns, here is the link for that - http://velonews.competitor.com/category/explainer.

Charles touches on his cancer fight in his latest Explainer column and I heard from him recently that chemo is tough but he is doing okay.  Please take a second to check out his column.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Monday Morning Fight Club

This week I was invited to join a cycling group who was going to tackle the Steptoe Butte climb first thing on Monday morning.  The plan was to meet in Oakesdale, ride up Steptoe, ride back to Oakesdale.  Meet at 6 am, be back at the cars around 7.30 am, drive home to Spokane and get to work.  Total mileage about 24 miles with the impressive climb up Steptoe Butte.  I hadn't ridden Steptoe this year, unlike the last four or five years and our cycling season is holding out a bit longer than usual, so I was intrigued.  I only knew a couple of the people going, but I assumed the rest of the group would be similar to those I knew and I guessed that I might be slow up Steptoe, but that I could generally hang with the group and not be a drag.  With all of this in mind, I agreed to go.

It turns out that my assumptions were wrong.

No offense to the old guys I know and ride with, but it turns out that much of the rest of the group was younger and fitter.  Of course, you can't always judge a book by the cover, but when I got there I thought the same thing I always do when going out to ride with some new folks, "Jump in, hang on, don't be too much of an idiot."  I quickly violated this rule as we rolled away from the cars by realizing I had stuff in my jersey pockets I didn't want to haul up the climb.  I doubled back, threw the unwanted stuff in the car and dashed off to catch up.

As I rolled up to the back of the group (nothing like a sprint workout 30 seconds after starting a ride), I realized that I didn't have my rear light turned on, which seemed important since the sun wasn't up yet and I was in the back of the group.  Unfortunately, where it is situated and partially blocked by the seat bag, I can't start it while riding.  So again, I stopped, fiddled with the light much longer than you would think would be needed and then was forced to sprint back up to the group, although by now they were moving faster and it took longer and was much harder.

As a result of this, I hadn't been there for any ride-start niceties. I didn't have a sense of the group dynamic or plan.  What I did know was that the wind was strong as we rolled out of Oakesdale, so I jumped in line about third wheel and tried to stay out of the wind.  My own rule on "pulling" is that the guy in front is the best judge of when he is tired, so I usually sit on until they pull over.  After the first guy pulled off and the second guy appeared to be putting himself in the gutter, however, I thought I would take a stint at the front.  When I looked back, though, our three person train had left behind the other five riders.  In the next mile or so, it then went from me hanging on one wheel to getting dropped, then riding another person's wheel back up to re-make our three man group.  The wind was howling and losing a wheel by ten meters meant that your personal workload skyrocketed, so hanging on was a critical skill.  Thankfully, even when I am not fit, I have been riding long enough to be wily about wind protection and dogged about hanging on to it.

When we turned the corner off of the highway heading towards the park at the bottom of the hill, we slowed to re-group.  I knew I would be slow up the hill, so I didn't want to wait behind everyone and when a couple of guys started pedaling again, I did too.  It turns out that our group had not re-grouped and in fact we left one rider behind enough to miss the turn off, which we didn't know until we got a call from him.  Oops.

The climb was the climb, except that the wind wasn't just blowing as it usually does around there.  Instead the wind was howling, so that as we corkscrewed up the hill, we went from killer headwind to joyous tailwind and back again repeatedly.  We did all make it to the top, including the tandem couple.

On the topic of tandems, I originally thought that purposely taking a tandem to climb Steptoe Butte involves a dedication to suffering that I didn't personally understand, but I was impressed.  Although in retrospect, maybe taking a tandem was very smart because my own personal achievement was measured in part by how far behind I was.  In other words, my finish could be described as "you were way behind me and these other guys" or "I was there second to last among the bikes" (only the guy who missed the turn was behind me), whereas the tandem achievement, even if they came up 20 minutes later (which they didn't) would be "wow, they made that climb on a tandem!" or as I said at the time, "hey, you were first in the tandem division!"

Anyway, with the climb behind us, I figured we would roll down the hill, re-group at the base, and roll into town enjoying the tailwind and slight downhill back to Oakesdale.

Wrong again.

As we hit the highway, D. D., attorney and Leadville extremist, took the lead and ramped up to 24-25 mph.  My legs were stiff and cold from the time and cold wind on top of Steptoe Butte followed by the descent, so it didn't feel good even with the tailwind.  I called past one rider to DD and said, "Are you mad at somebody?  Why are your hurting us?"  DD pulled over and said he was just riding and enjoying the tailwind.  As I was listening to DD, the rider who had been between us and was now the lead did just the opposite of my expectation.  He ramped up to 27-28 mph.  I mistakenly thought that my comment to DD would be taken for a plea to slow down a tad.  Instead, the ride back to Oakesdale was turning into an all-out race.

The long and short of it is that I got dropped quickly, watched a few riders go past, stayed ahead of a couple of others and was completely spent by the time we rolled back to Oakesdale.  Back at the cars, everyone seemed perfectly pleased by their experience and I had gathered along the way that this group had done rides together on prior Monday mornings that twice involved climbing Mt. Spokane.  I had been game for the invitation and might even show up again, but at least next time I know what to expect from this group - Monday Morning Fight Club.

Oh crap.  I just violated the first rule.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Letter to the Editor

Dear Local Newspaper Editor:

The other day I was driving around downtown.  Normally I like to go to the mall, where the parking is free, but I had to go downtown for a couple of stops.  I was, of course, driving my car on the streets, which is what God intended when he made the streets. (I don't like taxes or governments or taxes, but if they have to exist, then the money should be spent on stuff that we need, like roads).

The problem with driving around downtown is all of the damn walkers!  I saw them all over the place and they act like THEY own the streets!  They jaywalk across the street, they don't pay attention to stoplights and they walk right out into a crosswalk even when I have already started to turn the corner!  Can't they just wait a second and THEN walk across the street?  My car is much larger and I could just mow them down, so why don't they respect my vehicle?  Or better yet, why don't they just go to the suburbs and neighborhoods and use the sidewalks where people are used to them?  I remember when I was a kid and people used to just walk around the block near their house.  They didn't have to go and clog up the streets where the cars need to be.

The biggest thing I hate about walkers is that they don't pay any taxes to maintain the roads even though they use them!  Walkers should have to pay for a license or pay a tax if they just want to go up and down the streets that I paid for with my taxes and fees.  I have paid for the right to put on my studded snow tires and tear up the streets any time I want, but not these damn walkers who are just out showing off and taking up space that cars can use.  Until they help pay for the roads, they shouldn't have the same rights as I do!

Oh I know that someone is going to read this and just say, "oh, oh, oh, I pay taxes too, whine, whine . . ."  Yeah, well until I see you in a car I don't know that, do I?  You should have to carry a sign or be marked in some way, otherwise I won't know that you have a car and just aren't in it.  And that just isn't right.

Someone should do something about all those damn walkers.  The Founding Fathers didn't create roads just to have walkers on them.  They built them for American Cars!

Sincerely,
An Angry Patriot!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Car & Driver Thoughts

I usually have an excellent relationship with cars.  In fact, I really enjoy cars.  In fact, I have owned more cars than bicycles over the years and for people that know my fascination with bikes, this will be a hard fact to believe.  Also, as my piece de resistance fact, Top Gear is my favorite television program.  Sure, I wouldn't trade Paris-Roubaix coverage for it, but still, the point is, I like cars.

Except today.  When many of them were trying to kill me.

I am quite comfortable on roads with cars.  I am used to being passed on narrow roads or roads with no shoulders.  It doesn't bother me to mix it up with vehicles on busy streets or in downtowns.  I start almost every ride I take by hitting Highway 195 for a stretch, so really, I'm good with cars and bikes.

Except today.  When many cars were trying to kill me.

When I am on my bike (or motorcycle) I try to assume responsibility for my safety.  I don't assume that people will see me or respect my space and, as a result, I am very wary.  I try to act in predictable manner and keep an eye on what is going on around me.  I didn't, however, anticipate what happened first on my ride today.  As I was approaching one of the intersections on Highway 195, I was intended to proceed past the intersection.  I started to look over my shoulder to see if anyone was approaching when a vehicle came around me very fast, started pulling over, hesitated just a fraction of a second, then finished pulling right in front of me and slammed on the brakes.  This driver was getting off of the road and had a decision to make.  How do I use the tools at my disposal to navigate this bike/car situation?  Do I 1) use my accelerator to go around the cyclist, pull over into/onto/in front of him and make my turn; or 2) do I slow down a fraction, pull over on the wide median and make my turn behind the cyclist approximately 2-4 seconds later?  Clearly this driver decided that the accelerator was the only tool at his disposal.  Call me crazy, but I happen to think that my life and safety are worth the 4 seconds of delay for the motorist.

Here is the thing that drives me most crazy about the situation.  If I make a mistake on my bike in a bike/car situation, it can cost me lost skin, broken bones, a concussion or even death.  If the car makes a mistake in a bike/car situation, it can cost the driver some time.  Maybe a few seconds or maybe longer while they have to wait for an ambulance to come and get me off of the road, but no matter how inconvenient, the driver gets to walk away.  They still get to go to work, have dinner with their family, whatever.  Shouldn't that count for something?

I am mystified about the thought process and still wonder why that driver decided that the right sequence was accelerator, turn (the hesitation clearly indicating that he knew exactly what he was doing) and then  brake hard with me only avoiding the accident by braking hard myself.

And, as if that wasn't enough, I was later threatened by a guy doing a U-turn in an intersection that was using his mirrors only - not moving his head - and therefore didn't see me.  Thankfully the guy in the truck with him noticed me and yelled, causing the driver to stop and avoided hitting me (or at least, oddly for the second time, me running into a car due to the car's actions).  Next up, I had two drivers in Brownes Addition ignore "Yield" signs and cut in front of me.  And last, and way up on my list of things I didn't think I would see, I had what I assume is a Spokane City Fire Department employee cut across a double yellow line on First Avenue to make the turn into his parking lot.  Remember when I said I try to be "predictable" in my driving?  That way motorists can count on my actions.  Cutting across the double yellow for a fireman was not on my list of predictable actions.  But thankfully his EMT buddies would have been right there to get me to the hospital, right?  At least I had that going for me.

I think I'll walk to work next time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Random Thoughts

I have joked in the past that bloggers are required by law to occasionally create posts of nothing but random thoughts.  There isn't a law to this effect, but it is handy at times.  Here goes.

  • On Monday, I needed the heater in my car and headlights on the way to work; the air conditioner in the middle of the day; and the heater and headlights to get home.  Tuesday, I needed knickers and a vest on the bike on the way to work; was wiping sweat off my brow walking on errands; and needed full lights to get home.  It's a funny time of year.
  • I was talking to someone today about bike lights.  They have come a long, long way in the last few years.  Much brighter, better batteries, less weight and cost much less.   
  • Talking about lights reminds me of a mountain bike trip on Tiger Mountain (west side of the state), where we pushed on to the top in declining light and found ourselves picking/crawling back down trails in heavy forest when we had no lights, no hope of a moon and nothing but early 20's bravado and the promise of beer to get us off the mountain.  Good times, my friend, good times.
  • Came up Inland Empire Way today and into the sun again (as described below).  It felt just as good today.  The earlier sunset and later sunrise is making me appreciate this all the more right now. 
  • Cyclocross season is coming up.  Saw two guys last night at the lower Fish Lake trailhead who said they had been riding on their secret cross training area.  I didn't find out where, but I am still wondering.  Even though it has to be some dirt trails, it makes it seem like a lot more fun since it's "secret".
  • Saw a cycling team group on the trail last night.  Some of them not only had aero bars, they were riding on them.  In a group.  On a trail.  I'm all for helmet laws, but I think people in a group should be outlawed from using aero bars.  It just isn't smart or safe.
  • Speaking of aero bars, I saw an older female rider yesterday on a bike with a huge headtube, riser bars and then aero bars.  Her position is so upright that she was a full frontal wind block.  To get into her aero bars, she would lean forward about 5 degrees.  In other words, completely useless.  Why I ask you, why?
  • Also speaking of aero bars, why do so many overweight older people have aero bars?  Science, currently rejected by all Republican presidential candidates, but still relevant to our lives, indicates that overcoming air resistance becomes more difficult as you go faster.  When these folks go from 12 mph to 14 mph in their "tuck", do they really feel it?  And if you are riding for fitness and training, why do it on aero bars?
  • Yes, I do hate aero bars except on time trial bikes, which should be ridden only by people serious about TT's and Tri racing, but no one else and not in a group.  Here's a rule, "If you won't look good in the skinsuit, don't ride the aero bars."  Simple as that.
  • Yesterday I agreed to go on a long, difficult, three summit mountain bike ride on Mt. Spokane in a couple of weeks.  I regret that decision now.  Oh, I will do it, but I know already I will hate every minute of it (except the one where I get back to my car), having not done a single similar ride yet this year.  And one of the guys going was at Leadville and has a slew of high altitude, massive climbing rides under his belt this year.  Yeah, it's gonna hurt.

More later.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Morning Commute

Just a couple of thoughts that I had while riding to work today.  First, I was cold.  It is the first time in a long time that I have been cold riding my bike.  I was under-dressed for the temperature, so it was really my fault, but it was odd to be riding along feeling cold when the last several months have involved being comfortable, warm or downright sweaty hot.

Which leads to my second issue.  I tend to equate this item with vacations.  For some reason my vacations tend to involve mountains and lakes, rather than beaches, so I tend to find myself vacationing in a valley somewhere.  That gives one the opportunity to notice the sun setting behind a mountain or, alternatively, waiting for the sun to get high enough to start shining in the valley and warming things.  I have had the experience of waiting longingly for the sun to come up or instead trying to get things done before the sun started heating up the air, but either way you pay attention to relationship between the sun and the valley.  Today I was reminded that I also live in a valley.  Certainly less dramatic that the mountains around Vail where I stayed for the Leadville 100 last year, but a valley nonetheless. 

I live along H195 in Latah Valley and was riding on the highway into town (well, really, next to the highway) noticing the sun on the hills to my left as it slowly crept down towards me as the sun rose behind me.  Since I was cold, I was hoping it would rise quickly enough to get some sun on my back and was mindful of where it was in relationship to my position.  As the angle of sun and time of day dictated, just as I climbed up Inland Empire Way out of Vinegar Flats and the junction at Sunset Way, I finished my climb out of the valley and the sun hit me.  Even in the brisk air, I could immediately feel the gentle impact.  It is the same feeling that I spend February waiting for in Spokane.  Those warming rays that penetrate the cold around you and sinks into your bones.  It felt great.

I had a third thing I think I was pondering, but just remembering how the sun felt has caused everything else to slip from my mind.  I better get out and enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Leadville 100

Last year I was basking in the glow of having finished the Leadville 100.  For those of you not familiar with this race, it is a mountain bike race.  Well, that doesn't really tell the tale.  It's more like this, it is a really effin hard mountain bike race.  It starts in Leadville, Colorado, the highest incorporated city in the United States.  And, by the way, a few miles outside of the city limits is the lowest spot on the course.  From there it is a 50-mile out and back course that involves 14,000 feet of climbing, five major climbs including the 10-mile climb to the high point of the course at 12,500' elevation.  So, like I said, it is an effin hard mountain bike race.

This year I know two guys who did the race.  One who has a drawer full of race finisher belt buckles already and one who conquered the mo-fo this year on a single speed in 10 hours 16 minutes.  Which is damn quick for this course and too much on a single speed.

This year these two guys have also decided to taunt me about not being there in Colorado to do the race with them.  Of course, I haven't complained about all those times I was on bar stools and they weren't there with me, but for some reason they think they have a right to harass me about it.

In any case, I am sitting down to hear their stories tomorrow night and am looking forward to it.  Even if they are going to pitch me a bunch of sh_t for not showing up at the start line this year.  Now, about next year . . .


Monday, September 5, 2011

Big News!

For most of the world, this is nary a blip of news when we are surrounded by natural disasters and economies collapsing all over the world, but in the narrow slice of the world that is professional cycling, this is huge news.

The 9-month old Leopard-Trek team is merging with the RadioShack-Trek-Nissan team.  Johan Bruyneel is going to the the Director Sportif and will bring over a bit of his old guard (Horner, Kloden) and join the Schleck brothers and Fabian Cancellara.  This is shocking enough, but then this tidbit has dropped out of the story.  JENS VOIGT HAD A 1-YEAR CONTRACT WITH LEOPARD-TREK AND THERE IS NO WORD ON HIS JOINING THE NEW TEAM!

If you look back over the several hundred blog posts I have done here and elsewhere, you will note that I have never, ever typed an entire sentence in all caps.  Not even once.  [Blog disclaimer - I have no idea if this is really true.]

My wife and kids are elsewhere on this sunny Labor Day, but I knew they would want to hear the news so I sent a text to them.  The best response I got to the Jens Voigt news, "What?!?!  This will not stand!  The streets will run with blood!"

Yes, I live in that kind of cycling mad household.  So I've got that going for me.

As for Jens, it would be too awful to think of a career and man as storied as Jens going out like this.  I hope they crown him the winner of the Tour of Britain, where is leading the team, and then someone in the cycling world has the good sense to give that man a contract.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Racing through the Dark - David Millar

OMG, another book review?  Yes.  Deal with it.

In the prior posting, I said that I was mildly interested in Robert Penn's "It's All About the Bike", but that I was glad I got it as a gift because I thoroughly enjoyed it.  David Millar's book, on the other hand, I was painfully waiting to get my hands on as soon as I could.  I was fortunate to receive it on the same gift-receiving occasion as Penn's book because my wife, recognizing the signs of addiction, ordered Millar's book direct from the UK in order to get for me.  My guess is that the postage ended up costing more than the book, but it turns out that it was worth every penny if you measure it against the interest, joy and fascination I had with this book.

The short version is that this is David Millar's autobiography.  It starts with Davy as a wee lad, moves through his time in Hong Kong, his early cycling, his early success, his big success, his inexorable path to performance enhancing drugs, the hell he lived through after he was caught, and, not to give away the ending, his redemption.

I suppose this belongs in the pantheon of chamois sniffing books.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "chamois sniffing" can be one of two things - an obsession with everything bike racing or a slavering attention to pro bike riders.  As a result, it can either be a colorful, albeit disgusting, way to describe one's minute interest in cycling, or a confession of an unhealthy interest in the pros.  In either case, this book is a chamois sniffer of the highest order.

The book is written very much in David Millar's own voice.  I have heard that he wrote it without a ghost writer, and I think that is probably true, as it does dwells on his preciousness at times in a way that probably only D.M. himself can completely appreciate, and it is occasionally uneven, but credit where credit is due - this is a first book by a guy who likes reading and otherwise sweats for a living.  As readers, we get to follow him along on many glorious races, his bouts of doubt and difficulty and his journey to become more of a human that it looked like he could be when he burst into the cycling consciousness.  Obviously the path and process of taking performance enhancing drugs is the overlay to the entire book.  I think that D.M. wants us to understand him so that we can better understand the way that he slid into the drugs bit by bit by bit.  I do think that it is very understandable process and those who act as if it is, and particularly was at this time, a black and white question fail to grasp the full scope of the issue.

After making that decision, D.M. recognizes that he is ultimately doomed and he pays the full and complete price for his decision.  No one can read this book and not see that he may have done the crime, but he has definitely paid his time.  And unlike some riders who are "tranquilo" and then seem to slide seamlessly back into sport, often with the significant assist of their national federations (Spain, Italy, Kazakhstan - I'm looking at you . . . and why is that Belgium, home of the infamous pot belge, never has positive test, ever?), but the Brits, with their stiff upper lips and some long-held disdain for those who chose to leave behind the ideals of amateur athletics, thought that the only responsible thing to do was throw the book at him and hope that he would go away to atone for his sins.  And, even though the evidence is that he was ready to atone before the final penalties were set, he did in fact atone in part by helping to create the argyle armada with Jonathon Vaughters and by writing this book.

Simply stated, I loved this book.  D.M. is an interesting chap and I confess that I have a bit of a man-crush on him.  Of all of the professional cyclists, he is the one I would most like to have a drink or four with and hear a bit more of his story.  That is unlikely to happen, but the hours with this book were the best substitute available.  I understand that the book is not yet for sale outside of the UK, but when it is, get a copy for any cyclist who follows pro cycling.