It’s only a thousand meters

October 29, 2017 § 30 Comments

The fruits of thievery are success.

Velo Club La Grange has for years put on an intra-club race series. It consists of a 500-meter race on the track; you can use a road bike. Later in the year there is a 20-km TT on PCH; you can use your full TT geek rig. This is the only time you will use it all year, btw. The series finishes with the legendary Piuma Hillclimb. It’s about three miles long, it’s steep, and hard.

A small handful of people (think Trump hands) worry that bike racing is dying or perhaps dead. In the “old way,” it certainly is, by which I mean that there is no new crop of young people getting USAC licenses. Why would they? When you race bikes you will get hurt. Better to raise your kids in a safety cocoon than have them learn about risk, injury, danger, and reward.

At the same time, a number of race organizers keep chugging along, here to survive another day on the fumes of past participation, and on the super-charged fuel of the modern fondue ride, which is actually a great concept. You can charge people $160 to ride the roads they can ride for free, everyone wins, and if riders are ambitious and do the long course you can make sure there’s no water left at the last four rest stops.

But I digress.

Velo Club La Grange’s intra-club race series is a template for encouraging people to race, for developing and discovering nascent racers in the club, and for ensuring that the DNA of their organization as a racing club does not degenerate into a social media contest about whose bike is newest or whose selfies are awesomest. Being a free template, I stole it under cover of darkness and transported it, kicking and screaming while tied up in a burlap bag, over to Team Lizard Collectors HQ.

Of course some of the lizard collectors weren’t impressed. “Who needs a club race?” and “This will steal attention from my #socmed posts!” and “How in the eff will this promote my sock brand?” and of course “But I don’t raaaaaace!” were all valid and legitimate objections to the scurrilous suggestion that a bike racing club should have a bike race.

However, the Team Lizard Collectors board is composed, unfortunately, of bike racers, and with the exception of online porn nothing gets them salivating like the prospect of a bike race with trinkets. So they signed off on the cheap imitation of Velo Club La Grange’s Excellent Adventure, and a misbirth was born. Here was the plan for the Big Orange Galactic Championship series:

  1. 1,000-meter TT at Telo. No TT bikes allowed.
  2. Latigo hillclimb. Bring your secret motor, you’ll need it.
  3. 10-lap TT at Telo. No TT bikes allowed.

Several lizard collectors wondered about the 1k event. “It’s too short!” and “It’s too long!” and “It’s too easy!” and “How come I can’t bring my wind tunnel-tested TT rig?” and “But I don’t raaaaaaace!” were all valid and legitimate objections to the scurrilous suggestion that a bike race didn’t have to be so complicated that its inherent complications would create its demise and allow club members to go back to their normal business of lizard collecting and selfies.

However, here were the answers:

  1. Give people a short race and it will encourage them to try it out.
  2. If you think the kilometer is easy, please come show us on race day.
  3. TT rigs have ruined time trialing. They allow you to literally buy speed, they require redundant equipment, and they take one of cycling’s best and safest events out of the purview of the casual rider. TT bikes also make the safest, easiest, and least stressful discipline horribly dangerous for newbies by putting them on twitchy, deadly, unsteerable dorkbikes. Plus, TT rigs look stupid AF and are crazy expensive clothes hangers.
  4. Don’t raaaaaace? No problem. Come ride one thousand lousy meters with a number pinned on, and with your time being compared to everyone else on the same course on the same day under the same conditions, and forevermore you will be called a bike racer. It’s that simple.

Saturday came and went, and 36 members from Team Lizard Collectors’ 300-member roster showed up to compete, several of whom were doing their first race and first time trial ever. Most impressively, four out of the club’s five board members raced; talk about putting your board where your organization’s goals are. Instead of organizing it so that everyone got a trinket by dividing the event into categories of age/weight/gender/astrological sign/religion, there was a women’s category and a men’s. That was it.

The event was a huge success. Riders came out who otherwise would not have. New riders raced their first race. Non-favorites whipped ass on the favorites. Certain people discovered an affinity for short, fast efforts, and with it they garnered real respect, not virtual kudos on Strava.

Best of all, the event shored up our club’s DNA. We’re a bike racing club, open to everyone, racer or not, but with a mission to increase bike racing and to give everyone the opportunity to learn about and participate in this awesome sport. If you run a club and haven’t yet put together one of these series, now might be the time. It’s a blast. And I’ll even loan you the burlap bag.

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The heart of rock and roll is still beating

July 29, 2017 § 6 Comments

It was either Huey Lewis and the News pounding out a gnarly backbeat or it was my heart; if the former, the heart of rock and roll was still in fact beating as I labored up the awful Piuma climb, hanging by a meat thread onto the wheel of someone much faster, better looking, and more nicely clad than I. If the latter, my ticker wasn’t going to keep beating much longer. A heart has a finite number of beats and a finite number of beats per minute. Both appeared close to being reached.

When I got gapped out, I mean when I was in the wrong gear, I mean when it was only a club race, I mean when I’d already achieved my Strava result on a segment back there, I mean when my power meter said to ease off, I slid out the back and plodded for a while. Tony Manzella, Chad Moston, Matt Wikstrom, and Drew Kogon vanished in the twinkling of my bloodshot eye.

Then Jaycee Carey came by and dropped me, followed by Roberto Hegeler. I finished faster than some people, slower than others. Atop the climb there were tents from Helen’s Cycles and Velo Club LaGrange, sponsors of the Piuma Hillclimb and the LaGrange Cup. Finishers staggered onto a stage and were strobe-blinded by a camera rig set up by Joe Pugliese.

Yes, that Joe Pugliese.

It’s not often that a bad beating on a long hill adds up to wonderfulness, but this third informal bike race was part of the LaGrange Cup, a three-race series that club members are eligible to race. You can do one, two, or all three events. You don’t need a USAC license or any race experience at all.

Marco Fantone, the eminence gris who takes care of the gris with copious doses of Grecian Forumula, is the mastermind behind this annual club event. It’s a phenomenal amount of work, not only because all 400 members send him multiple emails like “What was the start time again?” and “Do I have to pay?” and “What gearing do you suggest?” and most of all “Do I need a track bike to ride on the track?”

That last one seems obvious, but isn’t. The answer is “no.” The LG Cup’s first event is a 500-meter sprunt on the Encino Velodrome and you can do it on your road bike. The second event is a 20k time trail on PCH. The third is the epic, 3-mile Piuma hill climb, and making reality stranger than the ultimate bike racing stereotype, in 2017 the prize for each event is actually a pair of socks.

But this isn’t a paeon to the LaGrange Cup or to Marco’s email answering prowess.

It’s a model for amazing bike racing in an era when USAC-sanctioned events are dropping faster than a Baby Boomer at a rave. In 2002, LaGrange club member Bryan McMahon put on the event as a way to give everyone in the club a chance to race, whether or not they held a USAC license. The result has been a massive success. The LG Cup is the signal event of the year and is followed by an amazing picnic blowout after the Piuma hill climb.

Every club, whether purely recreational or genuinely fake profamateur, should put on an event like this. It gets everyone excited. It promotes racing. It allows cross pollination between wannabe-but-too-scared racers with completely fake profamateur dreamers. It brings out extraordinary competition. Who thought anyone would try to kill him/herself for a pair of socks? It sharpens the club’s mission and makes for a damned good time.

And whether it’s rock and roll or not, it keeps the heart beating.

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Buying speed

May 22, 2017 § 33 Comments

Since I am cheap and especially cheap when it comes to bicycling crap, I was in a conundrum a couple of weeks ago. It had to do with the upcoming time trail for which I had sworn not to spend any money but for which I nevertheless desperately wanted to spend some money.

The first crack in my resolve was buying a new swimsuit. If I could spend money on a new swimsuit, I could spend money on anything.

Still, everything related to time trailing was too expensive, i.e., it cost more than a pair of nice socks. Naturally I looked at wheels and ruled out a $5,000.00 set of pure carbon wheels even though in their 100% carbon state they appeared to be more carbony than my existing 100% carbon, pure carbon wheels.

Rejecting the carbony option I decided to do the TTT on my tubulars, which was fine except that they are shallow climby wheels and not time traily wheels. To test them out I time trailed on the Parkway and they rolled great; I turned my fastest time over the course, completing the entire hour in exactly 60 minutes.

Next I took them to Telo and they flew through the corners. With these two conclusive checks it made sense to price out a pair of tubular TT wheels, but alas the Internet showed the same pricetag as the last time I’d checked an hour or so ago.

Finally I decided to look at racing clincher tires. These would fit on my FFWD F-4 100% carbon wheels made of full carbon, and at $64.95 each would cost less than a new wheelset. In fact, at $64.95 each, I would have to go through 38.4 sets of tires before equaling the cost of a new wheelset. And even if the tires only lasted for 300 miles, that would tote up to 11,520 miles worth of time-trailing, and since I only time trail about 25 miles a week, that would last about 460.8 weeks, or 8.86 years. If my time trailing dropped to 25 miles a month, or, more likely, 25 miles per year, then it would take about 460.8 years to equal the cost of the new wheel set.

So the 8.86-or-460.8 year payment plan was much more budgety, and I read up on racing clinchers to make sure I was getting the best ones, which were in fact the Vittoria Open Corsa SR clinchers. First, reasons this may not be the tire for you:

  • You ride a lot.
  • You ride far from home.
  • You are not good at changing flats.
  • You wear your tires until the tube is poking out through the threads.
  • You are crazy cheap.

Here are the reasons this may be the tire for you:

  • You don’t ride a lot.
  • You ride close to home.
  • You have tire-changing-hands-of-iron.
  • You don’t ride badly worn tires.
  • You want to go faster.

This last point is key. I tried the tires out at Telo last Tuesday and they are the softest, most supple thing I have been on since my earliest teenage encounters. I’d say they handle better than — gasp!! — my tubulars. They are super grippy at 100psi but at the same time very fast. I’m pretty famous for not being able to go through a turn without finding the worst line possible, and these tires made even my horrible line-finding a minor liability.

It is very difficult to tell the difference from one bike item to the next but compared to the Vredestein Training Clunkers I ride with year-round, these are a revolution and a heck of a lot cheaper than new wheels, or a fancy helmet, but not as cheap as a pair of fun underwear.

undies

Give them a try (the tires), but don’t complain to me if you get a flat. They seem to have the durability of reinforced Kleenex, but I will do a follow-up on that later. Maybe. Meanwhile, they have a cool red logo patch that says “PRO” on it.

tar

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Time trailing

April 16, 2017 § 22 Comments

There is a time in every cyclist’s life when they realize they suck at time trailing. This is usually right after the first one. If there’s ever a second one, the realization of the first is always greatly enhanced. Quitting typically ensues, or worse, triathlons.

I remember my first time trail, the Texas state TT in 1984. Mike Adams won it, 40k in just over 48 minutes. It was incredible. He went on to get 4th at the national TT that year, racing against some of the best riders in the golden age of U.S. cycling.

Billy Riffe had told me beforehand, “Don’t go out too hard, but it’s your first TT so you’ll for sure go out too hard.” I remember my time. It was a 1:04. I flew the first ten minutes then spattered all over the pavement and got passed by my minute man, 2-minute man, 3-minute man, 4-minute man, and a bunch of stopped-counting-men. Those were in the days when Bob Lowe and Terry Wittenberg were absolute crushers in the time trail.

Mike Adams had super trick TT equipment: a Campy freewheel and two Campy rims. The front had the miraculously low spoke count of under-20, and I think the rear was 28. His 22-pound steel bike probably weighed a pound less than everyone else’s. What an unfair advantage.

Aero bars hadn’t been invented, nor, for that matter, had aero. Everyone hunched over the bars and pedaled furiously. That was it. And it was called the race of truth not because you could spend $15,000 and purchase speed, but because the only meter of your efforts was you.

Time trailing was an art, and I, like almost everyone else, was playing with finger paints on butcher paper while the good riders were painting oil portraits on canvas. If you wanted to time trail well you had to master the urge to go out hard, and meter your output based on perceived exertion, which is a fancy way of saying “know how much you hurt and how long you could continue hurting at that level before blowing.”

What was so vicious about time trailing was that the only way you could get that knowledge was by doing a ton of time trails, which meant spending much time unhappy and alone, and snotified.

Nowadays time trailing isn’t an art. It is first and foremost a shopping experience because no matter how good you are, if you don’t buy aero you will go much slower than even much weaker people. It is secondarily a digital experience because nowhere in sport is a power meter more critical than in a time trail. When you know your FTP (and you can’t time trail well without knowing it), the power meter sets the absolute limit as to how hard to pedal.

It goes without saying that the use, care, and feeding of a power meter and its software require intensive study, an Internet coach, and lots of time spent in a chair, unlike days of yore when it required lots of time spent in a saddle, drooling blood.

Of course there are a thousand things that can get in between the power meter and your brain to gum up your performance, but no successful time trailist today can succeed without learning to use a power meter. The best assessor of perceived exertion will never approximate the accuracy of the strain gauges. Money and computers don’t guarantee success, but their absence guarantees failure.

Knowing I’m a terrible time trailist, I made up my mind to do the state time trail on May 29. And before doing it, I decided to practice. But since time trail practice is like training in the basement, only more embarrassing because people can see you, I invited some friends to join me.

And you know what? We all sucked pretty badly, but it was hella fun! The Colquhouns a/k/a The Brothers Grimm, Patrick F., Paul C., Delia P., Kristie F., and I went out to Westchester Parkway and did a 60-minute time trail.

Kristie and I went first, PP&D went a minute later, and The Brothers Grimm a minute after PP&D. The Brothers Grimm caught us well before we finished the first lap, but over the course of the hour we clawed them back, only to have them finish another couple of minutes up. PP&D had a great time, working out the kinks in team time trailing.

It was really fun having several riders out on the course, chasing and being chased. Afterwards we rode over to the new coffee shop in Manhattan Beach, Nikau Kai Waterman Shop and Cafe, and enjoyed some amazing coffee, an amazing vibe, and a fun debrief. Here’s what we learned:

  1. Time trailing sucks.
  2. Time trailing is hard as nails even when you suck at it.
  3. Time trailing with your friends is awesome.
  4. Talking about time trailing over great coffee is so much fun that we’re going to do it again. Join us?

20170415_tt_practice

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