no one line


Zirbel’s Positive
February 26, 2010, 10:33 pm
Filed under: how-to, pro crap

You should read what Tom Zirbel has to say about his positive test.

He is one of the few riders I’ve ever seen to really offer a good perspective on how important our sport is in the grand scheme of things. His announcement is informal, rambling, and honest – far more personal than any statement regurgitated through one of the cycling news websites and repeated, ad nauseum, on other sites, blogs, and Twitter.

Despite keeping the door open for a ‘comeback’ when his suspension is served, he asks, What’s more extraordinary – if Greg Mortenson would have made it to the summit of K2 or if Greg Mortenson failed to summit K2 and instead dedicated his life to building hundreds of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan? What’s more extraordinary – Eric Heiden the amazing skater and cyclist or Eric Heiden the amazing surgeon? … I would rather help the boy I’m mentoring graduate from college and break the cycle of poverty in his family than win a Pro Tour TT. To me, the life I’m choosing from this day on is more challenging and potentially rewarding than the life of training to ride in a straight line really fast for 40 minutes. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to do both so it’s time to step back and re-prioritize.

Kudos, Zirbel, and good luck.



Springtime
February 22, 2010, 10:46 pm
Filed under: General

It’s springtime, it’s not springtime.

A few days of 35+ degree temperatures got me outside for long hours in the past three days. After two and a half hours solo on Saturday, a chance encounter with a local buddy (detailed here) offered another hour or so of riding, and he showed me some new-to-me roads through the mountains that, in accordance with his description, made me practically whoop for joy. Swooping, arcing, rolling, descending. There’s nothing like it in New York City. I was happy for the company. We parted ways and I limped home another fifteen miles into a headwind, thinking fondly of food.

On Sunday, I went for a recovery ride, and instead, found myself tackling 1400 feet of elevation gain in about 8 miles. For the descent, of course. And today, truly on a recovery ride, I kept it in the 23 spinning up hills while my riding partner put me in the gutter on crosswinds and dropped me on highway overpasses.

Spring is coming. Sure, we’ll have more frost, and maybe another dump of snow in early April, or a March filled with cold rain. But spring is coming. I’m gluing up my race tubulars and ordering some more embrocation for those happy days when I can shed my legwarmers.



Leadouts
February 16, 2010, 5:27 pm
Filed under: pro crap, sprints

With registration open for the Grant’s Tomb Criterium, and with a ‘training camp’ or sorts planned for the weekend before that, now is as good a time as ever to get excited about leadouts. Some recent action in the pro’s early season races has provided some good fodder for commentary.

It’s hard to talk about leadouts without thinking about Cavendish’s win on the Champs-Elysees last year. Columbia’s strong siezure of the leadout as the point of the arrow passed underneath the red kite was notable, but there was a lot that happened prior to the fiamme rouge. Garmin held the pace, but it wasn’t high enough and they put their men on the front too soon. A super-controlled leadout needs two fresh men and a sprinter with one kilometer to go. With 1k to go, Garmin was fading. Hincapie jumped, stole the peloton, and handed a victory to Cavendish.

New squad Team Sky could stand to learn a thing or two from Garmin. On the final stage of the Tour of Qatar this weekend, Bradley Wiggins took a huge pull that stretched the pack out into a long, thin line, but shortly after he pulled off, Sky’s big train reshuffled and faded, and Quick Step and Liquigas’s leadout trains started fighting for control. Sky’s train was derailed and their sprinter, Boasson Hagen, was out of contention.

Sky seemed to learn their lesson at the Tour of Oman. Rather than try to control the front from so far out, they appeared later in full force. Savvy, they took the front after a roundabout, with enough juice to power their train all the way to the line. Other teams are trying to draw abreast but struggle; gaps open behind. That’s a leadout. Team Sky delivers Boasson Hagen to the sprint without allowing other teams to control the front. Boasson Hagen finishes second. It wasn’t commanding, but it was an improvement over their performance in Qatar.

With new teams like Team Sky hitting the scene with big plans, and Garmin on its underdog quest to set Tyler Farrar up to win as much as some people think he ought to, it should be a fun season for sprinters – especially since now, still in the preseason, there seems to be some good competition afoot as teams show they’ve got teeth well in advance of Classics season.

As for me, I’ll keep going to bed with dreams of hammering away at the front, drawing out some low-cat field into a long thin line, setting up my sprinter.



The Flip Side of Scientific Training
February 14, 2010, 6:49 pm
Filed under: antiPRO, training

I’ll admit it. I have a training spreadsheet. I enter hours and the type of workout I do ever day. Some Excel wizardry adds it up for me. I can plan out a week or two, aim to have certain types of workouts on certain days.

This puts me firmly in the realm of “highly obsessive” compared to non-cyclists, and “slacker/ignoramus” to real training nerds who talk about wattage, zones, times, and whatnot.

It’s hard not to acknowledge the importance of taking into account some basic training science. Joel Friel’s The Cyclist’s Training Bible has, in accordance with its audacious title, become the book of note. Its best feature is that one can get absorbed at different levels. You can train with power, heart rate, and zones. You can plan certain exercises for certain days – six months in advance. Or you can distill for yourself a few basic lessons, and work from there. I decided I needed to improve my force and muscular endurance while ensuring adequate level of aerobic endurance. From there I just planned to ramp up my volume conscientiously, in accordance with the Massachusetts weather improving from December’s constant 20-degree days. Different levels.

It’s a long way from the old standard of racing one’s self into shape, even if I’m on the tip of the iceberg. From Joe Parkin‘s blog is an excerpt about his training plan. He was of the old-school method: race a bunch and watch your fitness improve. His conclusion, however, is one that amateur racers might find very important:

In my final years as a pro (on the mountain bike side of the sport) I definitely employed some of the new training techniques and found them to be an enormous leap forward from what I knew. If I had it to do over again, I have no doubt that I would have been a better bike racer because of them. What would have gotten to me, however, was the constant solitude that so many of the current crop of racers have to endure.

As I look to the season I need to remind myself to find important balances in my life. It’s easy to burn out, especially for one only a few seasons deep into the physical demands of bike racing. It’s easy to blow off friends and family under the assumption that they’ll always be around, but the bike season is ephemeral.

But one needs only look at the many extremely successful amateur elder statesmen and -women of our sport, the masters who’ve been racing at high levels for decades, to remember that the bike season isn’t ephemeral: it comes around again and again, and there’s always time for more bike racing. Your love affair with the whistle, the pack, and the finish line can be a very long one indeed. No need to make too many sacrifices too early, lest you get too accustomed to them.



Easy Friday
February 12, 2010, 8:13 pm
Filed under: fun, General, road bikes
I went out for an “easy ride” today, planning on one and a half or two hours of steady riding. It’s still February, and though the weather is a sunny, gorgeous 34deg, there’s still a bunch of winter left until a long spring. It’s too early for intensity.
I left the house and, after a few miles of cruising through town’s traffic, found myself on farm roads in the river valley, heading north. The wind was slamming in to me, so I had to retreat to my drops and, if I wanted to make any progress at all, put my head down and grind my way up the road. So I did.
Friel says that the most common training problem is going too hard on easy days and going too easy on hard days. Oops.
Well, the wind didn’t abate. I counted pedal strokes and imagined myself in a very Euro field-shredding echelon. When I reached the Out of my Out and Back, I decided to turn in to the hills, do a bit of climbing, and then ride the Frost Heave Rodeo back down into town rather than deal with those vicious crosswinds any more.
It’s a nice way to spend a Friday.


Bareknuckle Sprints
February 9, 2010, 2:03 pm
Filed under: accidents, crash, sprints, t-town, track bikes, track racing, velodromes

For your viewing pleasure, a compilation of out-and-out bareknuckle match sprints:

2000 World Championship Match Sprints, Gane versus Chiappa. No love lost between these two, apparently.

In the 1994 World Championship Match Sprint tournament the sprinter’s lane seems to be a mere suggestion. Semifinals: in Darryn Hill v Jens Fiedler, Fiedler forces Hill to the blue band so Hill forces Fiedler well out of the sprint lane. Coming up over that line that far is a special type of sharp elbows. Following that, in the same video, Nothstein employs the same tactic against Michael “The Big German” Hubner.

Maybe there was something particularly slippery about that track’s Turn Four. The finals of this tournament are here, part 1 and part 2; and to round out the tournament, Hubner and Fiedler duke it out for the bronze.

There’s also the famous match between Gordon Singleton and Koichi Nakano from the 1982 World Championships: round 1, round 2, round 3. Much nailbiting sprints can be found at this youtube channel: “See all 167 videos” … good luck getting anything done at work today.

In the realm of full body contact is the 2009 collision between countrymen Kevin Sirreau and Gregory Bauge: a recovery slick enough for trickster fixed gear videos.

Of course, any mention of bareknuckle sprinting would be incomplete without the famous ‘keirin carnage’ incident at the Trexlertown Velodrome, and among classic Keirin dumpfests is this football match. As a parting note – since I got on the subject of keirin – I can’t do it justice unless I link to this stunning performance by Theo Bos, who’s currently hacking it out as a road sprinter with a sullied reputation.

Have any more? Feel free to link for me and our readers in the comments.



Spooky Skeletor
February 8, 2010, 3:43 pm
Filed under: bikes, products, road bikes


The folks over at Spooky Bikes were nice enough to sponsor a really good cyclocross race in Easthampton back in November. They were nice enough to raffle off a frameset. So nice, in fact, that I was the winner. That’s how nice they were.

I’ve mentioned the Spooky Skeletor that I picked up from their awesome workshop over in the Eastworks a few times here on this blog, and since, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten some hits from people searching the internet for reviews of the Skeletor. There aren’t a whole lot out there (one, two, among some talk on bikeforums calling it the CAAD9 killer), but since Spooky’s star is rising, there are bound to be more people searching for one. So, with a conscious attempt to avoid the absurd slang that’s all-too-pervasive in reviews (laterally stiff, vertically compliant?), here’s my take on things:

If you hold one in your hand, you notice three things about an aluminum frame first off: first, you notice the fancy crap – the paint job, the decals. Then you notice the welds. And third, you notice the shaping of the tubing. Here’s what the Skeletor looks like: simple, rugged. It’s anodized black with simple decals. I like that, despite also owning an ostentatious bike (why yes, those are rainbow sparkles in the clearcoat, thanks for noticing!). The Spooky’s welds are very evenly beaded – more so than my CoMotion, more so than my Felt track bike. The tubing shapes are interesting: there’s a nice, subtle ridge along the top tube near the headtube, the downtube is fat as hell. I expected it to ride stiffly.

I built it up with the stuff I’ve been riding on various bikes for a couple of years: Campagnolo 9 speed drivetrain with Eurus wheels. I bought a cheap carbon fork from ebay. I had an Alpha Q sitting around with a loose dropout, and I was too impatient to leave the Skeletor unbuilt while waiting to hear back from True Temper. The build went smoothly – the bottom bracket threaded in fine, and the Cane Creek headset I bought from Spooky went in with no problems. I bolted on the BB cable guide and put the wheels on it and started dangling parts on it, like you’re supposed to, and the build encountered nary a problem.

Then I got to throw my leg over it and ride it.

Now, first off, I knew I’d like it because it fit me better than my old bike. I’m short. Even small bikes need fairly ordinary-sized headtubes to avoid difficult mitering and welding of the top tube and the downtube, which means that with my fairly low saddle, there’s only so much bar-drop I can set up with. There’s only so much I need, too – I’m comfortable riding long, and with short arms, I don’t need them too far down to get a flat back. That said, while my old bike was comfortable, there was room for improvement, and my fit on the Spooky was an improvement. If Spooky had a 48cm bike, I may have gone for that to get a bit more option in getting my bars 5 or 10mm lower, but they didn’t, and a compact 52cm bike is enough to give me reasonable standover, the reach I need, and a proper bar drop.

I took it out for some sprints and found it stiffer than my track bike. Stiffness has its pros and cons: I found my way on to some rough streets and noted that it bounced over rough pavement. It required some deft handling; using legs as suspension became a bit more important. Some of the stiffness is from the front end, attributed to the cheap fork; I look forward to noting the difference between that and the Alpha Q. That said, for all the talk on the internet about the pain of stiff aluminum frames, I’ve never experienced discomfort from a stiff aluminum frame. I’ve ridden my TK2 all day, and the only pain I got was from riding steel handlebars with no cushion on the tops. I’ve ridden my CoMotion all day with no problems. I don’t expect pain or discomfort from long rides (though anything involving cobbles or “unpavé” may impart its own pain).  The rigid ride of the Skeletor might makes for some wide-eyed moments over rough stuff; I wouldn’t recommend it to somebody who’s looking for an all-around bike – this is a race bike. With that in mind, I wouldn’t expect its stiffness to be much of a mark against it in the long run. Again: I look forward to putting on the superior carbon fork.

I like the bike’s handling a lot. My old bike was fairly longlegged, with a very stable, predictable front end. The Skeletor is quick and nimble – with a little bit less trail than I’m used to, it wants to dance around. But taking it down some descents, it sort of evens out and feels more stable than I’d expect. It wants to dive into corners and lean steeply – it asks me to lay it over much more quickly and readily than my old bike did. Oh yes: this is how a race bike should handle. Remind me to let out 5psi, to accommodate the rigid ride and to make sure I’ve got enough grip leaning as sharply as it wants me to… especially with so much sand still on the roads.

So there you have it. A product review that hopefully doesn’t read like industry lubricant. I think that Spooky is a company with decent stuff between its ears. I like my Spooky Skeletor.