Friday, December 30, 2005

Back in the Saddle

I just got back home today from a week's vacation in Florida. Suffice it to say, the weather down there is much nicer than it is here! It was 75F and sunny most of the days I was there, it's about 35F in Detroit and the sun is nowhere to be found. It was mostly a relaxing trip, but I did manage to do some kind of a workout about half the days I was there. Nothing too hard, but enough so hopefully it won't be a total shock to my body when I really get back at it.

I started cleaning up my diet a little while I was down there so I don't have to go cold turkey next month. Probably had a bit too much beer, but I can manage.

Training "officially" resumes on January 1. I'm really fired up and ready to go!

This year I'm basically going to try to follow a Joe Friel type plan this year and see how it works. At this point, following any kind of structured plan should be beneficial for me. I will post the details shortly.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bobke II

During my trip to Pennsylvania over the weekend, I had a chance to do some reading (it was 9 hours each way!). My dad had a copy of the book Bobke II, Bob Roll's second book I think. Incidently, I learned it's pronounced "boob-ka" rather than "bob-key" (which is what I thought it was), as the nickname was given to him by Belgian fans.

The bulk of the book is written as excerpts from Bobke's training dairy. Maybe these are his real entries, maybe not, but I know my entries are not nearly as entertaining. Aside from the humor, which you'd expect, there is some pretty good insight into what the life of a professional bike racer is like.

One of the things I've been noticing lately in reading books, interviews, etc from pro cyclists is how hard cycling still is for them. The VeloNews interview with Lance Armstrong had a section where he talked about being so fatigued in a time trial that he just wanted to get off the bike. Bobke II had numerous stories of him just doing whatever he could to stay on somebody's wheel. Certainly my limits are much lower than a pro racer's, but it makes me feel good to know that it's just as hard for professionals as it is for me. Like Greg LeMond said, "It doesn't get easier, you just go faster".

The book has also gotten me pretty fired up to go ride. My original plan was to take it pretty easy in December and crank it back up in January. The break from "structured" training has been nice, but I'm really feeling ready to get back at it. My diet has also been crap this month, I'm not gaining any weight (those that know me won't be surprised), but I don't need to eat as much junk as I have been. It's just going to make it harder to get back to my normal diet.

PA Trip

It's been a while since I've posted. I went out to Pennsylvania for a long weekend to watch my brother graduate. A couple quick photos:

My brother, his wife and the Nittany Lion.

Me and my brother.

I will try to post a few more bike-related things shortly.

Monday, December 12, 2005


I had a long day at work today and came home (late) in a funk. I lounged around for a while, but that didn't seem to help (does it ever?). I decided that it had been too long since I'd ridden my bike. I haven't ridden since the cyclocross race last weekend, my plan was to spend some time in December off the bike, or at least off the trainer! It was about 8:30pm at this point, so my riding options were limited. I decided to pull out my singlespeed and hit the hill next to my house.

I was a little tentative at first...

But I got over it!

I had a good time (obviously) out there. The snow was deep enough that it was hard to go uphill at all. So I had to take the "shuttle" back up.

My wife's "artistic" shots at the end of my little session. It was nice of her to come out in the cold and take pictures, especially since I'd been so grouchy earlier.

Position Tweaking

I spent the better part of the weekend tweaking my position on my mountain bike. I had two main issues with my position at the beginning of the year. The first was that I tended to feel kind of "cramped" on the bike. The second was that I noticed I sat much more upright than most of the other people I rode with. Part of the reason, I think, is that my bike has a relatively high front end to start with, mainly because the fork is fairly long for only having 100mm of travel.

My position for most of the year was similar to this (although I did have a couple spacers under the stem that aren't in this picture):

My solution was to lower and flip the stem. This definately felt like a more aggressive position, and did get me lower, but I still felt a little cramped. Riding descents in this position (even not-so-tough Michigan descents) was a little unnerving. The bike felt much more willing to flip me over the bars (it never did though). I don't know if this reflected a problem with the position, or if it was just because I wasn't used to it.

Lowered and flipped 90mm stem:

So, this weekend, I "borrowed" a 110mm stem from my singlespeed, and put it on my Kona. Again, I installed it with no spacers and flipped it to keep the negative rise. Sitting on the trainer, this feels much better. The bars are farther away from me, but they are actually slightly higher than with my 90mm stem (the rise angle on the 110mm stem isn't as large).

After studying some other pictures, I also lowered my saddle slightly and moved it back just a little.

So, the position I came up with at the end of the weekend looks like this:

So, now the real test begins. I need to get out and ride the bike like this and see what I think. Unless it's a total disaster, I'm going to keep this position for a while and really try to get used to it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bad Santa

Life is hard when you're a cute 7lb dog. People, like my wife, want to dress you up in all sorts of silly outfits.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Lopes Book

I picked up Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack a week or so ago. I had heard about the book quite a while ago, but wasn't going to get it. Over the summer, I saw a bikercross race on TV that Brian Lopes was in; after that I decided I needed to read what he had to say! I finished my first read through it yesterday. If nothing else, it's a pretty entertaining. You know a book is going to be good when it has a section titled "How Good is your Kung-Fu?".

Despite the laid back style of the book, I think there's a lot of good stuff in there. It's obvious that these guys have spent some time thinking about what they're doing and why it works. It's a little overwhelming to think about all at once, so I'll probably go back through it again a bit more slowly, focusing on the basics first. Reading the book has got me pretty juiced up to ride though, I'll have to try to hit the trail sometime this week.

There's a quote near the end that I like, "...most recreational cross-country racers can't turn worth a damn...". Obviously, Brian snuck out to Michigan and saw me ride. I'd love to be able to rail corners the way those downhillers do. Got to begin at the beginning though.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Stony Creek Cyclocross

I raced the final cyclocross race of our local series this morning. It was made more interesting by the 21F temperature and the 3-4 inches of snow we got last night. Despite the conditions, we still got a good turnout for the C-Men field, over 20 racers I think.

I followed my strategy of going out hard on the first lap. I managed to stay somewhere in the middle of the pack, which is good for me, throughout most of the first lap. I think some of the riders rode a bit more conservatively than I did, since traction was an issue for the whole race. I felt I did a good job not letting gaps open up in front of me, and I was able to pass a few people on the climbing sections.

(The field crosses the only barrier section)

Unfortunately, about halfway through the lap, I fell going over what had seemed like a pretty easy section. There was a snow-covered log (or something) in the middle of a corner that had gotten a little slick by the time I got to it. My back tire slipped and I went down. This dropped me back a few places.

(Evidence of one of my falls on my left hip and foot)

Near the end of the lap, we had to cross a long sandy beach. There was enough snow down so that the beach was rideable, but it was still a little treacherous. There was about a 6 inch dropoff that had to be negotiated to enter the beach, and then a 16 inch step up to get back out of the beach. The first time through, I passed about 5 riders that had fallen at various spots.

The second lap was pretty uneventful for me until I hit the beach again. Prior to that, I had done a nice job of maintaining my pace, although most of the racers I had passed on the beach got by me again. I still had other racers close ahead and behind me though. Just before I got to the end of the beach though, my front wheel found some deep sand and the bike went down (I somehow clipped out and stayed up). Still, this was a time-consuming fall and a number of riders went by me.

Going into the third lap, I still had racers to chase down and racers right behind me. I was trying to reel in the guy in front of me on that last lap, but I had one more fall. This one was on a corner that was getting muddy and slick, and I just leaned the bike over too far and went down. This let another two racers by I think. I tried to close the gap back down again, but I just couldn't get it done at that point. The rest of my third lap was pretty lonely, the last racer in the C-men group was way behind me, and I wasn't making any progress on the guy in front of me.

So, despite the fact that I finished second to last, I was very pleased with this race, especially after the bad taste the last 'cross race had left in my mouth. I found out later that most of the guys were running a lot less pressure in their tires than I did, which I think might have contributed to two of my falls (and generally sketchy bike handling). Still, my mountain bike tires were twice as wide as their 'cross tires. This was also the first time I've really done any riding in the snow.

Looking back at my goals for the race, I think I did well. I did a good job of pedaling through the entire course, I basically only coasted when I was cornering. This is something I'll have to stay after though, as I caught myself starting to coast on descents a few times. I generally took good racing lines, although today the line was largely dictated by available traction. My mounts and dismounts were also pretty clean.

One of the other things I was very pleased about was my aggressiveness on the opening lap. It put me in a lot of discomfort, but it also put me well up into the field. If I had not fallen three times, I think I would have certainly finished higher, and my performance on the first lap would have had a lot to do with that.

I also stuck with my 170mm crankarms. I felt much more efficient with them today than I did with my 175's last time. In fact, my wife commented that I actually looked more efficient today. I'm not sure how she could see that, but I'll take it anyway.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Mental Aspect of Racing

With my final cyclocross race of the season approaching, I've been mentally reviewing my two previous races, looking for anything I can seize on that will help me. As I mentioned in a previous post, my last was especially brutal, due to significant climbing and strong winds.
My overall cyclocross race strategy (assuming a four lap race) is to go out hard for the first two laps, then settle in a little on the third lap and take stock of my position. Then on the fourth lap, if it seems possible to improve my position, I go hard again.

At Munson, my last race, I tried to implement this strategy (it did work fairly well for me at my first race). On the first lap, after a long section of climbing, I was still ahead of several people and not too far behind the rider in front of me. As we turned into the headwind (about a third of the way through the lap), I told myself that I needed to get on this guy's wheel and try to stay there. I figured, if nothing else, I could at least draft off him, which would be an advantage considering the wind. So, I pushed a bit harder, but couldn't really make up any ground. About the time we hit the sand volleyball pit (about halfway through the lap), I gave up on trying to catch him. That was as far forward as I made it in that race.

(Yeah, I ran it.)

In hindsight, that decision was effectively the end of my race. After that point, I was just trying to minimize my losses. As I see it, if you're minimizing losses during the first lap of the race, things aren't going to go well.

The racer that I was chasing ended up finishing less than a minute ahead of me. Looking at the lap times after the race, his first lap was significantly quicker than mine (about 35 seconds), my second lap was actually a few seconds faster than his, and his third lap was about 15 seconds faster than mine. We both got lapped during the third lap, so there was no fourth lap for us.

This all leads me to wonder what would have happened if I had sucked it up and got on his wheel on that first lap. Looking at the lap times, I suspect that I would have been able to stay there and might have been in a position to take that spot at the end of the race. At worst, I would have caught him and blown up trying to stay with him, finishing behind him like I did anyway. At least I would have really been racing.

If I had to do it again, I would have changed two things. First, when I decided to close the gap to the rider in front of me, I should have charged really hard and just gotten it done. I would have definately bridged the gap that way, and it might have done some psychological damage to the guys behind me. Second, I shouldn't have given up on chasing the rider in front of me, that's just an issue of mental toughness. Of course, this is all very easy to say sitting at my nice warm desk, it's another thing to go out and do it.

The race this weekend should be interesting. They're predicting a high temperature of 31F and I wouldn't be surprised if there's still snow on the ground. The race course is right by a decent-sized lake, so I'm expecting a little wind. It should be some proper cyclocross weather!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Kurt Kinetic Trainer

I've been riding my trainer a lot lately, a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine, and I will say first that I think it's a great piece of equipment. However, I've had an issue with it the past few days: the knob has been very difficult to tighten and loosen, to the point that I can't tighten it the full two turns the manual recommends. After I ride it, I always unscrew the adjustment knob so that there's no contact between the tire and the roller. When I tighten it back up the next time, I only go the two turns that the manual recommends.

Last night, I unscrewed the adjustment knob all the way out and pulled the L-bolt out. The internal threads inside the knob looked OK, but there was a fair bit of damage to the threads on the L-bolt (the dark area in the picture).

Today, I ran a die over the L-bolt and it seemed to clean up most of the damaged threads. I also ran a tap through the knob, although I'm not sure this was necessary. I cleaned both parts thoroughly and now they go together very smoothly. I also put a little grease on the threads before I put everything back together on the trainer. It won't help with the thread damage, but it should keep things turning smoothly.

So, why did this happen? Well, one way or another, that threaded joint got overstressed. Maybe I overtightened it, but I don't think that would do it alone. I think that maybe my rear wheel is out of true enough so that it overloads the joint every time the high spot comes around. Until I have time to true the wheel, I'm just going to make sure that I tighten the adjustment knob when the wheel's high spot is against the roller. It may result in some tire slippage, but that's better than continuing to trash my trainer.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Crankarm Length

As I mentioned a few posts back, I've been experimenting with changing crankarm length on my bikes. I have been riding my road bike, with 170mm cranks, the majority of the time lately, and it feels a little awkward to switch to my mountain bike, with 175mm cranks. I feel like I'm losing some of the pedaling efficiency I've developed on the road bike.

Incidently, I don't buy this business about needing 5mm longer cranks than normal for "extra leverage" while mountain biking. While it's true that this difference does result in more leverage (about a 3% easier gain ratio), I don't really think that this is a factor on multi-geared bikes.

I happened to have an extra set of 170mm cranks, so I put them on my mountain bike a few weeks ago. I think that this switch did solve my pedaling efficiency issue; I notice very little difference in pedaling motion now. There is a problem though. I had to raise my saddle another 5mm to keep the same relative saddle height, and now it feels really high. This really hasn't been an issue with the mostly non-technical riding I've been doing lately ('cross racing included), but I think it will be once I get back to some more serious trails.

In fact, now that I think about it, this could be the cause of another problem I've been having this year! I've been feeling less and less secure about my descending this year, and definitely much worse than I felt last year. It occurs to me that I've also been gradually raising my saddle height this year, in the search for "optimal" pedaling efficiency. Based on the marks on the seatpost, it looks like I've raised it about 3/4 of an inch from the end of last year to this year.

Probably at this point in my racing "career" (ie- very early), I need to worry more about being comfortable on the bike rather than squeezing the last drop of power out of my legs. I could also try to go the other way and put 175mm cranks on my road bike (looks like it's time to go scrounging on ebay). That gets me 5mm back, and then I might consider dropping the saddle a bit more, we'll see. I'll just have to watch for pedal strike on the road bike.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Goal Setting

Last night I was starting to question my current training plan. Essentially, since I'm still very much a beginner racer, my plan is to build a strong aerobic foundation and gain race experience. If you read the Friel or Morris books, they seem to hint at this, saying that their programs are really designed for people who have been racing a few years. This makes sense to me, as I can understand that there is a lot of physical adaptation that probably needs to happen in order for the more structured and intense training plans to work effectively. These would include improving cardiac output, increasing muscle efficiency at extracting oxygen from blood, etc.

So, basically, I've been putting in lots of Zone 2 miles, with 1 harder effort per week. I also do a fairly general strength program (derived in part from Ross Enamait's books). I had planned to do 3 cyclocross races this Fall (spaced about 1 month apart) as tests to see how my plan is working. My concern, which has been building for awhile, is that my anaerobic capacity is declining from where it was in the summer (when I was doing more MTB rides and some anaerobic conditioning routines, again from Ross) and that this is having more of a negative effect on my racing than my increased aerobic capacity is having a positive effect.

I got thinking this way after my last cyclocross race where I got absolutely crushed. In contrast, in my first 'cross race, a beat a handful of guys and was fairly competitive with a few others. When making comparisons like this, I tend to conveniently neglect the fact that none of the guys I beat in my first race were at this last one, and a significant portion of the field had done a number of races in between, whereas I had not. Nevertheless, the gaps between me and my closest competitors (who were at both races) were significantly larger at the second race than at the first.

Then, last night, as part of my strength workout, I did a set of 25 burpees. Granted, that's a lot of burpees for me, but I felt that it tired me out more than it should have. Between these two experiences, I started questioning my plan and getting a little worried about the next 'cross race I'm planning to do on Dec. 4 (which is the last of the season). My anaerobic fitness was declining and I was going to get whipped in the race again, so I thought.

I started explaining this all to my wife, who usually offers good advice about this sort of thing (when she doesn't zone out because she's heard it all before). Her response, "Well, what's your goal, what's your measurable?" See, like I said, good advice.

I have some long / intermediate term goals set up that I think are reasonable and measurable. They mostly involve building my aerobic base, gaining race experience, and improving technical MTB skills. What her question made me realize is that I don't have good, measurable short-term goals. I think that this is a big deficiency. I think if that I had some concrete short-term goals, my workouts and races would have more focus and ultimately be more beneficial to me.

So, without further ado, here are my goals for the Dec 4 cyclocross race:

1. Pedal through the entire course, for the entire race. No coasting down hills!
2. Take good racing lines through the corners.
3. Make clean mounts and dismounts for the running sections.

I will have to put some more thought into what my short-term strength and conditioning goals need to be. Note that most of my race goals are all either technical and/or mental.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Hard to believe that my second post on this cycling blog is going to be about running, but that's what's on my mind, so we'll just have to get it out of the way!

I'm starting to get ready for the end of cycling season in Michigan. It's still not too bad to ride outside right now, as long as you're properly dressed, but those days are numbered. I've still got one more cyclocross race that I want to do before I back off on my riding. Anyway, with that in mind, I went out for a run on Sunday morning. I've been having some knee issues over the past year, so I rode down to the local track and ran there (the softer surface is easier on my knees, and I like knowing how far I go). I did some easy run / walk intervals for about a mile and half of running, and managed to make my knee pretty sore again in the process. By the time I got home I was pretty discouraged.

Some background, I used to run long distance track events in high school, and at my present level of conditioning (from cycling), I didn't think a run that short and that slow should bother me. Obviously it did.

After some reflection at home, I think I realize that the problem is that my body is simply not used to running anymore. My muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc all need some time to adapt to running. The way to do that, I think, is to start with some very short easy runs. Build up a running base, just like we do on the bike. I guess it seems pretty obvious, but it didn't occur to me right away. It will be a little hard on the ego for a while.

As much as I like riding, I'm looking forward to a little diversion from the bike. Aside from running, I want to get out and do some downhill and cross-country skiing this winter. I also want to do some hiking. Should be fun!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Munson Park Cyclocross

Last weekend I rode my second ever cyclocross race at Munson Park, in Monroe. The course turned out to be very different than I expected. Essentially, there was one piece of elevation change, a large "sledding hill". The course designers used it reasonably well, we must have climbed that stupid thing 6 or 7 times per lap, with one of the climbs being a runup.

The rest of the course was dead flat, which would have been OK, except that there were high winds that day (I heard reports later of gusts up to 40mph!) which made it all very tough.

I ended up finishing dead last of all of the finishers in my class (DFL is better than DNF, right?). Frankly, at the time, I was happy just to have finished at all.

The race highlighted a few training and bike setup points for me though. The first was that it exposed what I perceive to be my main weakness right now, which is the lack of ability to produce sustained power. This really shows up on flat portions of the course (especially if it happens to be a windy day!) as I watch my competition pull away from me. I think I'm simply not able to turn over big enough gears right now, I don't think my cadence is an issue. From everything I've read on the topic, I think this is primarily an issue of aerobic conditioning.

The second point has to do with crank length. I've been spending a lot of time on my road bike, with 170mm cranks, over the past few weeks (unfortunately, much of it on the trainer), and I've developed what I feel to be relatively good pedaling efficiency. When I rode my mountain bike, with 175mm cranks, at the race, my pedaling motion just felt a little off. Crank length is something I want to experiment with, but more on that later.