November 11, 2015 § 12 Comments
I was riding with my Internet cycling coach and psychologist and financial adviser and child-rearing counselor yesterday and he told me all about saving watts.
“What?” I asked.
“Yeah, watts,” he answered. “It’s not simply about gaining watts, but saving watts.”
“Oh … ” and then I mumbled something and the wind howled for a second.
“What?” he asked.
“I thought you said ‘watts.'”
“But I couldn’t hear what you said,” he said. “So I said ‘what.'”
We went along like that, who’s-on-firsting it until we got back on topic. “I know you hate Strava,” he said.
“But you should use it to do a few Nega-Stravas.”
“What’s a Nega-Strava?”
“It’s where you measure how few watts you can use instead of how many. It’s an efficiency test. The best climbing happens when you get to the base having used less energy than anyone else.”
This made sense, so the next morning when I got ready to leave for NPR I downloaded the Strava app for my iPhone 2. “I’m gonna ride the NPR with maximal Vince di Meglio wheelsucking efficiency, avoiding the wind at all costs and following the most robust ass I can find.”
On the way out, when it was still neutral, I saw Hank Stengenbladdammit from Scottsdale who had shown up on the Donut last Saturday and flayed us all. I’d been hoping he would go home, but alas.
“Hi, Hank. I know this is your first NPR, but since it’s the off-season it will be really slow. You can go hard if you want but I’ll be chilling at the back.”
“Okay,” said Hank as we started up Pershing. We weren’t going very fast so I figured I would stay at the front until the Hop In Wankers at the top of the hill hopped in, and then I would slink to the back.
We passed the H.I.W.’s and I swung over and Hank came past like shit through a goose. “I’d better hop on his wheel so he doesn’t get lost as it’s his first time, plus, I’m on a wheel so it’s not that much effort.”
Hank ended up going really fast and I had to huff and puff a bit. “No problem. As soon as those H.I.W.’s pull through I will pull over and sit for the rest of the ride.”
It was a super windy morning and we hit the parkway hard. I was farther to the front than I wanted to be, and when Toronto swung off the point I was on the front. But I didn’t go too hard until Hank battered by again and I had to go a tad harder than I wanted.
Over the next three laps I masterfully sat on Hank’s wheel, but it seemed like we were always in these little three-or-four-man-plus-Katie-Wilson breakaways, then we’d get caught at a light because I never run red lights anymore and then we’d start off again and I’d head for the back but suddenly there would be a good opportunity to punch it with Hank going balls out but not punching too hard but probably harder than, say, sitting at the back.
At the start of the fourth lap everyone looked funny so I decided to sneak to the back for good this time but first I figured I should jump a little bit and test the waters. Then I was accidentally off by myself but I wasn’t going too hard except for a bit when I had to push it to keep my gap, which kept getting bigger but I don’t think it was too hard because I wasn’t going all that hard as much as it was they were letting me go. (All my pals are on the NPR and they like to help me a lot.)
At the final turnaround I had a very red light but since I’d stopped at all the other ones and the peloton was pretty close it made sense to keep going since there were 60 of them and 1 of me and they’d catch the green by the time they came around or at worst would have to stop for a few seconds so I started pedaling kind of hard. It was harder than if I’d been sitting in but hopefully not much except for the bits of oatmeal and almonds and blood from breakfast that kept coming up.
They must have all stopped and taken a nap and gotten caught by a bunch of lights and been concerned about the off-season and have wanted to let the old feller have one because I won the imaginary sprunt with lots of time to spare and when they caught up to me only Toronto and my Internet coach said “Good job.” Everyone else glowered, but they were happy glowers.
At coffee I checked my phone and said to Coach, “I averaged 352 watts.”
“What?” he said.
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November 6, 2015 § 12 Comments
I decided to write down everything I know about performance cycling.
There. That sure was quick.
Then I decided to write down the things that, although inappropriate for others or unorthodox, have helped me achieve competitive success on the bike.
So that leaves me with my observations, and the problem with those is that they’re filtered through a brain that is politely described as “eccentric” and clinically described as “in need of strong medication.” But I regress.
The performance cycling pie has three equally sized slices. Well, they should be equally sized but they aren’t.
I. The training slice.
This is the one that in most pies covers 90% of the plate. I won’t tell you about training because you already know everything there is to know about it, which is why you won Paris-Roubaix last year. But I will tell you about my training slice for 2016 because it meets the only two criteria for a training plan that matter: It’s simple and I can do it.
- Don’t tire myself out. For decades I slogged and flogged, never passing up a long ride, never refusing an offer to take an interminable, stupid pull, never hesitating to follow up one hard workout with another, and then after that, another. But no mas. My new rule? If my legs feel flat I’m not riding. Why? Because I am old and wear out quickly, and if you’re over 40, so do you. You know how steel will wear out eventually? We’re not steel.
- Two hard efforts a week. Or less.
- Avoid any training regimen that involves data, or worse, social media, or worst, data and social media.
- Keep my weight at 150.
- Study Chinese more.
- Continue to finish each day with several tall, cold glasses of un-drunk beer. Recently I’ve been super enjoying not drinking Racer 6 IPA.
II. The aero slice.
This is the piece that some people focus on, but typically only as it concerns equipment. The current battle for “Most Aero” is being viciously fought between Strava Jr. and Sausage. The one ground down his carbon stem (full carbon, that is) so that the bolts no longer protrude. The other booked a room in the Specialized wind tunnel for his tenth wedding anniversary.
Fully 1/3 of your performance pie should be devoted to aerodynamics. The easy part is buying shit and loading up on 100% carbon components that are full carbon and taking your wife to the wind tunnel. The hard part is riding aero (and ever getting laid again).
Riding aero differs from buying aero, and as an inveterate cheapskate I’ve failed at both. In addition to a lifetime devoted to poor training habits, I’ve also developed bad positioning into an art form. The idiot out on the edge of the peloton, catching all the wind? Me.
The dolt riding three bike lengths behind the last rider? Me.
The clod who’s always on the wrong side of the echelon? Me again.
Unsurprisingly, stupid training and bad positioning go together. The bulk of your aero efforts should be comprised of wheelsucking, something that most cyclists gravitate towards naturally, and selective drafting, something that few riders excel at. None, it should be noted, surpass Vinny D.
Selective drafting is like having to sample fifteen wines before you pick one to drink. You don’t guzzle the whole tasting glass, just like you don’t commit to Twitch Thudpucker’s wheel for half the race. You put a little in your mouth, swish it around, then spit it out. Same with drafting. The wheel you suck should itself be well positioned. It should be ridden by someone who typically makes the split. And it should feature a big old ass, one that is wide and with overtones of blackberry, perhaps even including a tart yet buttery finish that goes well with fish. The rear panel should not be beyond its expiration date a-la-Brad House. And if Kjar isn’t around, you must learn to never follow riders who are smaller than you.
This can be a challenge, because little people are often the best racers. No matter. Spit them out and ride behind the bigger butt.
One difficulty I have always had in wheel selection is the delusion that I am small. Because I sometimes end up with the climbers, I mistakenly assume that I’m like them. I’m not. They are tiny and delicate and cute and you want to cuddle them and hook them up to a cheeseburger I.V. bag. But I am not. I am long and stretched out and a kind of elongated wind sail. So sitting behind tiny people doesn’t work for me, and henceforth I will not sit behind them. You shouldn’t either. What you will find, however, is that tiny people are constantly sitting on YOU. Use this to your advantage by throwing back your rear wheel, veering unpredictably, or stopping for no reason. Think PREZ.
The final piece of aero riding is navigating within the pack. This isn’t that hard (I’m told), but it is terrifying. The lugs who occupy the middle of the pack are using 78.3% less energy than I am as I slog over on the side in the wind, but they are scary because they have head tattoos, pierced teeth, facial scars, jangling ear dangles made of brass that play jingle bells against their top tubes, and they don’t cry when their bars bump. If you can develop the steel nerves to sit in this viper’s den of angry killers, you will arrive at the finish fresh and rested. Good luck with that.
III. The strategy slice.
For a very few riders, this is 90% of the pie, and they always win a few races a year. Do you know Gibby Hatton? He shows up to races with no teammates, not very fit, and always wins a few. Why? Because he has perfected aero pack riding and because he knows exactly when to pedal hard–once, in the last 200 meters, sitting fourth or fifth wheel in the last turn.
The rest of us had strategiotomies at an early age and are more or less profoundly stupid and incapable of thinking during a race. That’s too bad (for us, not Gibby) because it means that at no time in the race do we actually try to answer this question: “How am I going to win today?” [Note: “Go from the gun and solo the whole race” is not a strategy, just like “Be president of the United States” is not a career plan.]
Why are we so stupid? Because strategy involves constantly evaluating your “plan to win” against what’s happening on the ground. It’s a great idea to attack on the final climb unless there’s already a break three minutes up the road. It’s a great idea to come around Charon at the finish but 30 other people have the exact same plan and most of them believe in open carry. It’s a great idea to splat on your face in the last ten meters but Prez already has that sewn up. Plus, it’s not really a good idea.
Although dynamically strategic thinking is impossible for me, it is possible to pick one concept and stick to it. For example, “Don’t be the strongest one in the break.” Or “Don’t lead out the sprunt.” Or “Pay off the best rider.” That last one generally works very well.
So that’s it. Go forth and win. And remember who taught you how.
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October 19, 2015 § 16 Comments
It pays to have friends in high places, and barring that, to have friends who are really, really, smart.
I got an email from Heidi Christensen the other day offering to analyze our bike racer survey. The survey had been put together by Joe Camacho at Velo Club La Grange, and although we had the canned Survey Monkey results it was gibberish, which is mostly what you’d expect from a bunch of monkeys.
Heidi, however, is a pro, and she took the raw data (I’m still not even sure what raw data is … uncooked? Does it go with a Paleo Diet?) and put together this eye-popping analysis.
Thank you, Heidi, and CHECK IT OUT HERE!!
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October 12, 2015 § 17 Comments
The sad, dysfunctional fact about USA Cycling in general, and SCNCA in particular, is that they have failed at their mission to build racing participation for so many years that today no one expects anything less than complete failure. Excuses, finger pointing, and the status quo have become hallmarks of our local racing association, and we have fewer races, declining numbers, and the terrible race turnout to prove it.
On the one hand that’s a great thing. Dedicating your youth to bike racing is like dedicating it to meth without the thrill of a prison sentence and the reward of several coat hanger tattoos on your butt. On the other hand it’s terrible, because in some remote galactic parallax of red-shifted wormholes, bike racing is a good thing. Don’t ask me to locate it on a map or in any known episode of Star Trek.
The latest full blown collapse of representation, transparency, honesty, and democracy came (fortunately) in the one arena of bike racing that is the most meaningless of all: Masters racing. To make a long and boring story into a short and boring one, I would explain it thusly:
Old people got angry about trinket distribution. They are still angry.
The more interesting question for me is not how/when/and at what age the wrinklebags can compete for trinkets, but rather this: How can we lure more unsuspecting kids into bike racing? Everyone can identify the problems and no one knows the answer, except by the process of exclusion, to wit:
WHATEVER THE SOLUTION IS, IT WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH USA CYCLING OR THE SCNCA.
So, to help get the junior gears rolling–and it’s a small start–I’m going to donate a monthly Best SoCal Junior Girl Racer award in the amount of $200.00 cash, and a matching award for the best SoCal Junior Boy Racer, courtesy of the $2.99/month subscriptions that come in via this blog. It feels better using the money that way than on the beer I’ve quit drinking.
You can nominate your racer (so far there are a whopping total of two, proving that it’s harder to give away money than you think) by going to my law firm’s Facebook page and adding your nomination as a comment to the post announcing the awards, which is pinned to the top of the page. Include as much detail as you want; the more you include the easier it will make the decision. And yes, self nominations are fine!
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October 7, 2015 § 19 Comments
A few months ago we did a SurveyMonkey questionnaire and got a whopping 634 responses.
The point behind the survey was to get some information that we could use to focus efforts in 2016, or at least to argue about. The methodology we used accorded with the Half-Assed Sampling Method developed by Reader’s Digest the year they predicted an overwhelming victory for Dewey over Truman.
If anyone out there in Internet Land is a number cruncher, hit me up and I’ll provide you with the raw data so that you can tell us what it all really means, aside from GIGO.
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September 23, 2015 § 22 Comments
The big off-season news this year is that SPY Optic has lost its charismatic and cycling-centric CEO, Michael Marckx. It’s big news mostly because of the void that Michael’s departure will create in the local bike racing scene.
The most obvious result has been the merger between the former SPY Elite Cycling Team and Monster Media a/k/a Team Sponster. Whichever way you look at it, one less team is bad news. The obvious reason it’s bad news is that fewer teams means more strength among the teams that have stable squads and sponsorship. If you thought it was hard beating Surf City, try lining up against stacked Surf and stacked Monster.
But other things are swirling about, too. Michael’s interim replacement has indicated that SPY Optic won’t be the cycling-friendly company it has been for the last four and a half years. Sure, we’ll whine about the tourniquet being applied to all the cool stuff Michael so generously handed out, but there’s more to it than that.
SPY infused an amazing amount of enthusiasm and energy into SoCal cycling with Michael at the helm. Like any CEO he had his detractors, but I’ve never heard anyone dole out anything other than praise for his financial, time, and emotional commitments to bicycling. And those commitments were incredibly substantial, as Michael sponsored juniors, women, aspiring Cat 1’s, Cat 2’s living with their girlfriends, and legions of vain old men with too much money and too little sense.
At its zenith, SPY boasted a squad of 80 riders, a handful of whom were truly national caliber competitors, several handfuls of whom were state level competitors, and a whole bunch of posers and fakers like me who rarely raced but who flew the team colors with pride and who were visible and vocal proponents of competitive cycling. In addition to SPY’s own team/club, few people are aware of the degree to which Michael poured resources into other clubs, teams, and events, yet his encouragement gave a handful of truly talented racers the opportunity they needed to showcase their talent, get results, and turn pro.
From Udo Cross in honor of his good friend Udo Heinz, to sponsoring USAC at the national level, Michael willingly lent his logo to clubs and teams, offered great deals on world class eyewear that was innovative, stylish, and functional in the extreme, and did everything in his power to promote local events, including road, track, cyclocross, and MTB. If you were on two non-motorized wheels and were dedicated to it, Michael lent a sympathetic ear that was often backed with product, time, staff, and resources.
This grass roots approach was epitomized in his development of the Belgian Waffle Ride. “Most unique” or not, this 130-mile monumental beatdown over paved and unpaved roads became the high point for many people’s entire seasons, and the boneyard of dreams for many, many others. A celebration, a festival, a good old fashioned hard-ass bicycle ride that tipped its hat to the past while casting a hungry eye on the future of cycling marked everything that MIchael did at SPY. Thankfully, the BWR will survive his departure as a separately managed event under his new company, Creative Disruption, but it’s a loss to not have the full SPY corporate backing behind the event. Knowing Michael, the 2016 edition, which is already calendared for April 26, will be the best one yet.
As much as anything, local racing has been further hit by the departure of key staff at SPY who were hard core devotees of cycling. We may not have realized what a boon it was to have so many advocates within a company, advocates who showed up at races, who helped make events happen, and who worked social media to keep the world apprised of what was happening in SoCal cycling, but their absence is already felt. People like Phil Tinstman, Victor Sheldon, and John de Guzman, to name only three, were powerhouses on the bike and powerhouses in their corporate roles as well.
I can’t thank Michael enough for the support he gave me personally, and for the support he gave to pretty much anyone who asked for it. His impact on local cycling was huge and I, for one, am going to miss having him at the helm over at SPY. I have no doubt that his new business will boldly go where none has gone before, but in the meantime my hat’s off for the superlative work and the amazing contributions he made, contributions that have benefited every bike racer in Southern California, and thousands of others who’ve never pinned on a number.
I’m riding for a new team in 2016, but will proudly wear my SPY underwear costume until it reaches that Brad House level of threadbare when the rider behind is quite literally staring into the black hole of the abyss.
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