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.