Sunday, April 30, 2006

Trail Speed

I've been thinking lately about the best way to develop speed on the trail. I'm talking here about situation where speed is limited by technical skill rather than fitness. I've been comparing this situation to autocrossing, where I was in much the same situation.

As I see it, there are two options:

First, you can try to go as fast as you can and worry about the line, using terrain, smoothness, etc later. This has the advantage of probably being a little faster right off the bat, but the disadvantage that you will probably end up crashing more.

The second option is to focus on using good lines, being smooth, etc first, and hope that speed will develop. The advantage here is that you will learn good fundamentals (and probably not crash so much), but will likely be slower for longer.

In autocross, I definitely took the second option. I learned to drive clean lines and how to use vehicle dynamics to my advantage. Once I was reasonably solid in that department, I began to focus more on the sections where it just took nerve and faith in the tires to go fast. Eventually, I got to be a reasonably good driver.

Lots of other people took the opposite approach. They went out, drove as hard as they could and spun and hit lots of cones. Most of these people, if they persisted, also got to be reasonably good drivers.

So, I think riding a bike is the same. Last year, I mainly tried to go fast and was unconcerned about riding "correctly". The result was that I crashed somewhat frequently and felt bad about my technical skills most of the time. An experienced rider following me on a ride last year told me that I looked twitchy. This year, so far, I've been taking it a bit easier and focusing on riding good lines and being smooth. My suspicion is that I'm a little bit slower riding this way than I was last year, but I feel much more comfortable on the bike and with the way I'm riding. I think that ultimately, this is the right way to go for me. I am reasonably confident that my speed will develop if I stick with it.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Form Sprints

I finally found a speed skill workout that I like! Thursday night, I did form sprints for my speed skills ride. Form sprints are essentially very short sprints (15 seconds) on a slight downhill or with a tailwind. As the name suggests, the intent is to work on sprinting form.

After all of the easy rides I've been doing in the Base phases, I enjoyed being "allowed" to drop the hammer for 15 seconds (and then get plenty of recovery), but it was also interesting for me to realize that I have virtually no practical sprinting experience. I made a number of mistakes during these sprints. I started in too hard of a gear, too tentatively, etc. So, it proved to be an educational ride. It also got me thinking about situations where I might want to sprint in a race and how I would handle them.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Knee Funk

I did a trail ride on Monday out at Bald Mountain. Unfortunately, the trail still hadn't really dried out; several parts were still very wet and muddy from the winter and/or the rain we got late last week. I ended up bailing out about halfway through the loop and finishing my ride on the roads. Anyway, this trail has a hilly spur right off the bat that I usually take. I should really know better, since my knee gets sore later almost every time I do that. If I take the hilly spur on a second loop, it's no problem, if I do it on the first, I pay for it later. I think I'm just usually not warmed up enough when I get to the hills.

So, here I am, paying for it. My knee started getting sore yesterday at work, and felt bad enough by the time I left that I decided to cancel my ride and workout for the night. Doing that always puts me in a bad mood. Still, I know it's the right thing to do; the only thing that working out or riding yesterday would have accomplished would have been to prolong my soreness.

Today, my knee is much improved; it's still not 100%, but good enough to go on. I finished my strength workout from yesterday a few minutes ago. Everything felt OK, so I'll start my ride in a little while.

Also, I got Ross's new book tonight, Never Gymless. I skimmed through it, and I'll probably post a more detailed review in a few days.

Monday, April 17, 2006

First Trail Ride of the Year

Yesterday, I did my first trail ride of any significance for the year. I rode about 13 miles out at Stony Creek with my wife. I kept my pace relatively slow, both so that I didn't drop my wife (generally not a good idea) and to recover a bit from my LT field test on Saturday.

I was pretty pleased that my skills hadn't gotten too rusty over the winter, but I didn't push the pace too hard either. My focuses were on picking good lines and looking farther down the trail. I noticed that I'm still hitting the brakes too much, something to work on next time. My legs didn't feel particularly good on the climbs. I'm not too used to climbing right now with all of the riding I've done on the trainer. I did seem to recover pretty quickly after a climb though, so that's a good sign.

The position changes I made over the winter seemed to be steps in the right direction. The changes I made were to go to a longer stem and narrower flat bars. When I experimented with lowering my handlebars last year, I kept feeling like I was going to pitch over the bars on descents. I didn't have this same feeling yesterday, which I think is attributable to the longer stem. I was also a little concerned about my bike becoming twitchy with the narrower bars and longer stem, but I didn't really notice a problem with that.

The last new thing I tried out was my RockShox Reba (Race) fork. Generally speaking, I was pretty happy with it. The only thing I noticed was that it did seem to "pack up" in a few sections. I'm going to speed up the rebound damping just a little and see if that problem goes away.

With about 3 weeks to go before my first race, The Fort Custer Stampede, I need to start spending more time on the trails. From a physical standpoint, it's unlikely I'll be sharp for the race, the race is just too early in the season. I think that's fine as long as I recognize it going in. There's no reason my technical skills can't be sharp by then though.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Another Test

I performed another lactate threshold field test today. I had mixed feelings going into it. On the one hand, it had been 6 weeks since my last test rather than 4 (because of my weeklong business trip last month), so I was hoping to put out some big numbers. On the other hand, I spent most of the last two days helping to get my wife's grandmother moved to Michigan. So, I was definitely not as "primed" as usual for my test this afternoon. I didn't want to put the test off until tomorrow though, as I need to get going on my trail riding.

The test itself went OK, I put in a hard effort and had almost nothing left at the end for a sprint. The good news was that my average power did go up, the bad news (sort of) was that it only went up 3 Watts, which was less than I had hoped. (Incidently, I noticed that my power computer seems to calculate average power in 3 Watt increments.)

My average heart rate was way down for this test though, about 7 bpm lower than it was for the last two tests. I'm intrepreting this as more evidence that I was not well-rested going into the test. So, considering that, the 3 Watts is maybe better than it seems. I'll try to do a bit better about making sure I'm well-rested before my next test.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Weekend Rides

I got a chance to do a little riding over the weekend on my trip to Silver Lake. The funeral was Friday morning, and it rained and snowed and was generally pretty cold and miserable. Still, I was fired up to ride. So, when it finally quit raining that afternoon, I bundled up and hit the road.

My plan was to ride from Pentwater to the lighthouse near Silver Lake and back. I didn't think it would be a long ride, but I figured that would be fine for a cold day. The ride down to Silver Lake was great. The legs felt great, the bike felt like a rocket, and the weather wasn't too bad. I shifted to the big ring and hammered all the way there. So much for my easy ride. Sure, there were some nagging thoughts about the ease with which I was riding and that just maybe I was riding slightly downhill with the wind at my back. But, when you feel good, it's hard to listen to those thoughts. I would have liked to know how fast I was going, but my bike computer crapped out after about 10 minutes in the cold. The only tough part about the ride down was going through some bad crosswinds right when I got down to the lake.

I decided not to take Termite Bridge.

I got off the bike for a few minutes once I got to the lighthouse. I stretched a little and ate a granola bar. I decided not to linger, since I was really feeling the wind and starting to get chilly from standing still.

On the way back, I snapped a quick picture of the lake and the dunes. The water definitely looked cold.

I just turned the corner past my grandparents' old house when the wind hit me, and then it started snowing. I rode most of the way back fighting a wicked headwind and stinging snow (at least I was wrong about it being uphill on the way back). I was absolutely beat by the time I got back. I'm guessing I did the ride from Pentwater to Silver Lake in about 40 minutes, and it probably took me over an hour to get back.

Still, all that complaining aside, I'm very pleased with how I performed in the wind. Even when I felt I was struggling, I'd look back and be surprised at the gear I was still pushing. I also seemed to recover well in the brief moments when I got a break from the wind.

On Saturday afternoon, my Dad and Sarah and I all went for an easy ride near my parents' house. That one was much more pleasant, but also much less of an adventure. We had a sunny day and no wind or snow, and that was fine by me.


I took a somewhat unexpected trip to Silver Lake, MI this past weekend for my grandfather's funeral. The whole family was there, including the cousins who live far from Michigan now. It was nice to see everybody, despite the circumstances.

We hadn't really planned it, but Thursday night, my brother and I and our wives ducked out for a while and hit the famous Silver Lake Sand Dunes. We walked and it was just getting dark by the time we got to the dunes. The lake and dunes looked awesome at night.

Kevin and Jessica.

Kevin and me (Sarah tried a picture with no flash). Incidently, check out Kevin's hockey team at

Sarah and me.

As usual, I turned climbing the dunes into a race.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Rollin' on a Donut

I had an interesting night last night. I was heading out to a small party, it was dark and raining heavily. In fact, I had only gone a few miles from home when the rain started coming down hard enough that I really couldn't see anything. I slowed way down, but I hit a pothole (or curb?). I felt one corner of the car drop, it started pulling to the right and was making some bad noises.

I made out a driveway a short distance ahead and pulled off. I sat in the car for a bit, waiting for the rain to slow down. When it did let up a little, I went outside and checked the suspect corner of the car. From the way it sounded, I was expecting to see the wheel pointing in an ugly direction. As it turned out, it just looked like a flat. I changed the tire pretty quickly, but still ended up getting very wet. I drove the couple miles back home, and then took my wife's car to the party, with a little story to tell.

As for my car, there isn't anything visibly wrong with the suspension on that corner, so hopefully it's still OK. I'll put a standard wheel and tire on today or tomorrow, then I'll be able to get a better feel for any other damage.