no one line

Fenders. Or, Cyclocross Season is Over
December 1, 2009, 5:26 pm
Filed under: cyclocross, training

I’ve made a great step as a cyclist. I put full fenders on a bike. “Wait, how can this be?” you ask. “You’ve never had fenders on a bike?” Nope. I’ve had those mediocre clip-on affairs attached to the seatpost of my daily riders, but even after spending winters working outdoors, on my bicycle, I’ve never had a full set. Because, until now, I’ve never had a bike that has provisions for full fenders.

This means that cyclocross season is over. My right forearm is still sore from hoisting the bike – my shoulder is bruised from the beach run at yesterday’s StatenCX (last year’s race in Staten Island was my first cross race). I’ve compiled some good results, and some terrible ones. And I’ve had a few damn good weekends.

I’ve got a handful of 4th place finishes under my belt, and some more experience, which will be helpful for next year, if I decide to go for a full season. Cheshire, last weekend, was a miserably technical course with a brutally long run-up. Spooky ‘Cross, in Easthampton, MA, had plenty of racecourse on fast, hardpacked trails. I’ve made it to the far end of a sandpit on my bike. And I even won a frame from the kind folks at Spooky, which I can’t wait to pick up, build up, and tear around on. I’ll go with their Skeletor.

This morning, my sweetheart and I went on a cold two hour ride in twenty-something temperatures as the sun was climbing over the hills that ring the river valley. I anticipate being able to ride even in the rain – hey, even Cavendish fenderizes and utilitizes his bike for the winter -since it’s time to update the old training spreadsheet, think about base periods and build periods and weekly hours, and ride with an eye for the 2010 road season.

I’ve got hills around here. I’ve got time. Come April, I’m going to be lean and mean.

More Cyclocross This Weekend
November 20, 2009, 10:30 pm
Filed under: cyclocross

With plans to race Cheshire ‘Cross and Spooky Cycles’ race in Easthampton, I dug up the small list of reminders that I wrote myself after the races a few weeks ago here in Northampton.

They are:

*you can corner harder
*you can hammer in the big ring
*you can ride that
*but you should run that
*bring ibuprofen
*that’s not enough ibuprofen
*there’s plenty of time to enjoy life after the race.

The first two are pretty helpful. The third and fourth are pretty unhelpful. The fifth and sixth, well, I plan on that. And the seventh will probably be accurate, again.

It’s The Feeling Afterward
November 9, 2009, 3:41 pm
Filed under: cyclocross, race

In the spring, my good friend and riding buddy William made a daring statement: “We don’t race for the thrill of racing. It’s the feeling afterward. We get to feel so accomplished and badass.”

At the time, I didn’t agree with him. I love the thrill of road racing, the patience and stretching of being in a pack, wondering if I have the perspicacity to identify the crucial moment, the right break, or wondering if I have the legs to be one of the top wheels over the decisive climb. I love the chessgames of a breakaway. And I love the speed of track racing, condensing a whole race into maybe a few miles, tactics compressed, a shot of adrenaline, sprinting elbow to elbow around the banking. No missed shifts, no mechanicals – just: can I go fast enough at the right time?

I’m not sure, but I think I usually get off my bike with a smile on my face. William, on the other hand, has a distinctive look of death and pain when he dismounts after a race; red-faced with matted hair, gasping, making me wonder if this race or the next one will be when I hear him swear off racing forever (he has assured me this will not happen).

However, after a weekend full of cyclocross, courtesy of the Cycle-Smart International here in Northampton, Mass, I’m starting to come around on this notion that racing is far more terrible than the before and after times. I’m not much of a cyclocross racer – I’ve done a handful, and I like it, and each time I race I feel pretty good and decent but see where the skills of superior racers push them ahead of me. You can corner that tightly on grass? You can keep your rear wheel on the ground over those roots? How the hell do you get through all that sand? However, I was psyched about this weekend – a bunch of teammates and buddies were coming up to spend the weekend at my apartment, there was a case of beer in Aaron’s trunk, a dinner party planned, and Robot of Team Geekhouse had offered the hospitality of their tent. It promised to be a fantastic weekend.

The thrill was only shattered when I started racing. Elbows in the starting chute, backing off on the hole shot sprint, needing to make up positions, sprinting by people, fighting for the line on the hardpacked grass, bombing into corners, bombing down the descent, struggling to right the bike before we go into the tape, fighting through the sandpit, falling on the ride-up, falling on the run-up, riding over a fallen racer, heartrate through the roof from the gun to the finish line.

The first half of a cross race is all, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and the second half is a painful, dire, “No! No! No!” The leaders are going too fast, too hard. I caught all the guys in front of me, and now they’re pulling away again. This is my fast spot. It’s over too soon. This is my slow part of the course. It came back too soon. My teammate is in front of me? Bastard. Crap. That’s a gap I can’t close. That guy passed me in the same corner, again, and I’m going to have to sprint over the tracks to catch him.

And then, miserable at the end, in the big chainring for some godawful hubris-filled reason, pounding at the gear, closing the final gap to the people in front of me, the only race that matters after half of the race, struggling to hold the pace, the course deposits us onto the one hundred meters of paved finishing straight, and I get to sprint and feel the wind and wind-up of a road race, accelerating in the draft, low in the drops, coming up on the riders in front of me, throwing the bike at the line, making up a few precious spots in a few seconds.

And falling down under the trees beyond the finish line, taking minutes and minutes to stop heaving, gasping for water, wanting to burst and cry and shit and never do it again.

After some recovery, after water and an orange and putting pants on and ignoring the bike, the fun resumed: beers in the sun on a beautiful autumn day, sitting by the tape at the sharp descent, heckling the riders coming down: “Don’t brake! Get air! Go go go go go!” and spending the day with my sweet squeeze, a gaggle of excellent friends and teammates all in good spirits, and by the time I got home – belly full of pizza from a spot in downtown, legs exhausted, body exhausted, brain an incompetent slurry, there I was, registering for another one a few weeks from now; this time for two races in one day.

Photos courtesy of teammate Dave August

Cyclocross Barriers
October 27, 2009, 3:06 pm
Filed under: cyclocross

Last week, Al and William and I set up a plank on some milkcrates on a lawn and practiced our dismounts, barriers, and re-mounts. What we lacked was barriers of appropriate height – our plank was much shorter than the standard 40cm cross barrier. The the plank that we had was still useful – it was still an obstacle and we had to hop off our bikes and hop on. A little bit of practice goes a long way – we got smoother as the evening wore on.

I couldn’t help but turn to Youtube for footage of some of this country’s cross studs taking barriers. Ryan Trebon is absurdly smooth.

Of course, it helps a ton that his hips are probably at the height of my shoulders. Barriers that a 6’6″ person can stride over require a deliberate leap from somebody who is 5’5″.

Fortunately, us dynamite-in-a-small-package types (like Malaysian track sprinter Azizulhashi Awang) have advantages in other areas. Bigger guys with the heads screwed on properly probably don’t want to go elbow-to-elbow with somebody smaller – it’s too easy for a short person’s elbow to come up into the taller person’s arm, lift their arm, turn their bars, and send them to the pavement.

And I probably don’t have to mention how easy it is for me to stay under that climbers’ weight guideline of 2 pounds per inch of height.

Unfortunately these advantages don’t really apply in cyclocross, and I doubt that officials are going to have forks in ‘cross courses where you ride to barriers that are proportional to your height.

I guess I’ll just have to get faster everywhere else on the course.

My Cyclocross Bike
October 26, 2009, 3:24 pm
Filed under: bikes, cyclocross

Last year, I raced my first cyclocross race – Staten CX. I placed 4th in the B race on a singlespeed with knobby tires crammed in to it, in nasty freezing rain. Obviously, I was hooked, so when I started planning to move to Northampton, Massachusetts, I went about the process of building a cyclocross bike that could replace a fixed gear as an all-purpose bike – this time, with gears, and geared toward racing cyclocross.

Michael Catano, an awfully nice fellow from Chicago, agreed to build my bike, and recently, the custom process – from measuring me and my other bikes, talking about what I liked and what I wanted to change, talking about options and steels and fillet brazing, to ordering the steel and Michael building it in his workshop on his days off from his day job, to sending it out for paint – finally finished, and I received a lovely new frame bearing the logo Humble Frameworks. Michael’s craftmanship is lovely – smooth fillet brazed joints, small reinforcements here and there decorated with carved mustaches; and the whole thing is topped off by a glossy paint job, in British Racing Green, courtesy of Chester Cycles.

That meant that yesterday I could break it in by racing Westwood Velo’s cross race in Mahwah, New Jersey. It handled the grassy, muddy, wet, technical course really well – which is more than I can say for myself. I started too far back, tried to worm my way up through the dense, seething mass of heavy-breathing people clodding their way up a ski slope and down the switchbacks, and never saw the front (though I spent the race passing people in front of me, rather than getting passed).

I’m really psyched about this bike. It’s a lovely piece of equipment that can be used in lot of ways – cyclocross racing for now; winter training when there’s snow on the ground; and, now and ongoing, a comfortable geared bike for errands, around-town use, all-day casual riding, light touring, or just about any other purpose I can think of.  And it can be with me for a long time – which is something I’ve intended since the start of this process.

Hot New Toy
October 24, 2009, 12:17 pm
Filed under: bikes, cyclocross

I’ve been waiting to share this for a while, and though it’s finally time, I don’t have the time. More information will be forthcoming, but for now, I’d like to make it known that I have an amazing new toy.

Itching to Race
June 4, 2009, 1:47 am
Filed under: cyclocross, no one line, road racing, track racing, training

Track racing was canceled last night, due to rain. I had been hoping that the rain would hold off, or be over early enough, but Alan sent the email in the afternoon and I had to make other plans.

Al and I decided to hit Prospect Park on our track bikes for a handful of laps and some hard efforts thrown in. A few hours before we were scheduled to ride I called him and said, “I’m bored! Let’s ride right now.” He laughed and said, “I’ll meet you at the park in forty five minutes.” But wouldn’t you know it, when I was ready to leave the house it was pouring rain, and after the two of us and three others rode a few laps with some hill sprints, it eased up.

Among the reason that riding in the rain is good: it reminded me that, since it’s not freezing February rain, riding in the wet won’t ruin my day.

Now, I’m at work, waiting for the day to finish so we can go race in Rockleigh. Gui and I did this once last year, and I enjoyed the course.

I am just itching to race as often as I can. My moderate success and feeling of strength on the track is giving me confidence that I can turn around some of my marginally disappointing results in road races this year. My season has been consistently developing and I’m eager for that to continue. In that vein, along with weekly track racing on Wednesdays, I have the option of circuit races on Tuesday, crits on Thursday, and weekend races. There is a crit this weekend, a circuit race next weekend, a very hilly road race the following weekend… it goes on and on, and somewhere in there, I’m going to squeeze a Saturday trip to the velodrome in Trexlertown.

Amid this all, I have to stay aware of my level of exhaustion. With a busy month of racing, I don’t want to hit a wall and have either my performance or my attitude go downhill. If I’m starting to feel like I need a break, I’ll take a break. Last year, a combination fo racing and a very demanding work schedule conspired to make me very sick – sick enough to burn out my fitness and effectively end my season. Was it partly because it was my first season subjecting my body to the demands of racing? Perhaps. Fortunately, this year, my work schedule is much less demanding. I should be able to manage a busier racing schedule and, knowing the effects of overstressing my body, be able to more carefully back off of the intensity level when it’s necessary. If I have to take a week or two off in early July so that I’m still racing in August, I will do so.

I’ve got a lot to look forward to – I want to keep learning and improving all the way through the season. I’m halfway to my upgrade to Cat 3 on the track, and I’m starting to feel strong enough to earn more points toward my upgrade to 3 on the road. I’d like to make the most of the season by avoiding burnout, overtraining, overexhaustion, over-stress, or any of a myriad names for it…

…so that I can kick off cyclocross season with a bang.

Relaxing, Bike Handling, and 09’s First Race
March 1, 2009, 4:01 pm
Filed under: bikes, cyclocross, road bikes, road race, tactics, teamwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staten CX
December 1, 2008, 4:16 pm
Filed under: cyclocross, race

On Sunday, I got to learn firsthand why so many cyclocross riders are amiably insane. The conditions on the morning of Staten CX were miserable – grey, cold, and wet. The sky was spitting and it was only a matter of time before it turned into a steady drizzle that turned Wolfe’s Pond Park to muck, making a mess of the tight 180-degree turns, the mud pits, and the already treacherously slick and tight “Circle of Death.”

I jury-rigged a cyclocross bike that I hoped would withstand the course: put front and rear brakes on my everyday bike, put a freewheel on it, geared at 42×18, and squeezed some ‘cross tires into the frame. The clearances were tight – I hoped that caked mud wouldn’t slow me down too much.

When the whistle blew, forty riders surged forward, each hoping to get toward the front and avoid being subjected to other riders’ mistakes. The rough, sandy sound of wet, muddy brakes hitting rim came too often as riders slowed into turns – I realized I’d have to get clear if I wanted to ride my own race. So I powered along the flats and took kamikazi lines through tight turns, picking off the riders in front of me one by one. The course was great – hairpins, a set of two barricades, nice twisty bits mixes with some fast flats, a beach run, and a long section through the woods that tested bike handling skills. Used to riding this very bike over curbs and through the awful cobblestones of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District I was able to plow through the technical sections, passing riders before the steep, root-ridden runup.

For fortyfive minutes I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike, and rolled into the finish line in 4th place, coughing, wet, muddy, and fatigued. Not only that, but though I was cold and wet watching the 2/3/4 race and the Women’s Open, there was hot chocolate, veggie burgers, and Belgian waffles to fill my stomach and warm my core while I stayed shivering in the rain.

This could become fairly addictive. I’m an idiot for waiting till the end of the season.

Staten Island Cross!
November 23, 2008, 10:08 pm
Filed under: bikes, cyclocross

If you keep up with Bike Snob NYC – which you shouldn’t, as he’s ran out of witticisms and his blog posts serve only as a medium for a surprising volume of spectator idiocy – then you’d know that next Sunday, November 30th, New York City will see its first cyclocross race in over ten years.

Those of us who’ve never raced ‘cross know it as a sport where in order to qualify for the post-race beer-drinking, you’ve got to spend about an hour getting cold, wet, dirty, and exhausted running, pushing, fouling, and occasionally riding a bike that’s only marginally suited for the terrain at hand.

And we’ve also learned that everyone who rides cyclocross absolutely loves it.

The organizers of Nov 30th’s Staten Island Cyclocross, however, seem to have missed last spring’s Sludgement Day, a ‘cross-inspired mudfest on the curiously out-of-the-way playground/construction site Randall’s Island.

But, that aside, Staten Island Cross looks like it will be a blast. I’m going to race it on what may prove to be a wholely inappropriate bicycle.

Photos as I put together a semifunctional cyclocross bike and sack up and register to race will be forthcoming.