A real training problem

January 12, 2016 § 27 Comments

A couple of days ago I took a cheap shot at Zwift, the online gaming-cartoon subscription service that lets you fabricate a simulated bike race while you are grinding away precious seconds of your life on an indoor trainer.

I was immediately admonished by a couple of readers whose criticisms I would have completely ignored had they not possessed the high and holy status of paid subscribers. The gist of their criticism was, “STFU you cupcake SoCal poseur who calls three rainy days ‘winter.’ I’m stuck in Fang, Alaska, where the average daily high is minus forty and the sun doesn’t come out until June.”

Pretty solid counterpunch, actually.

The other criticism was, “Hey, I like Zwift and its imaginary fantasyland, so STFU. Next thing I know you’ll be criticizing my taste in underwear or my favorite flavor of ice cream.”

So in order to preserve that precious $5.96 per month ($5.20 after PayPal takes its processing fee cut), I’ve had to nuance my stance on Zwift and its ilk.

Rather than calling it a completely inane waste of time and money and a refuge for mentally confused, let me offer some alternatives. It’s true that there aren’t many days when I can’t ride because of weather, but my indoor trainer palmares aren’t insignificant.

Remember the original Turbo Trainer? I had one of those in 1984 and regularly rode it indoors for 2-3 hours. My all time record was four hours, and that was without a TV, radio, iPad, or Zwift. And yes, I lost many brain cells that day.

Over the course of the last seven-and-a-half weeks as I’ve recovered from my fractured nutsack, I have done at least a dozen indoor sessions on a Lemond trainer and on gym bikes. With one or two exceptions, all the sessions have been for two hours or longer. Although I lack the motivation of my youth to do mondo multi-hour sessions for the pointlessness of “fitness,” I can offer some pointers for those forced to ride inside.

  1. Don’t check a clock or a watch. No truer adage was ever spoken than “A watched pot is slow to boil,” except perhaps “Timing your indoor session is the definition of infinity.” Anything with a time display is death.
  2. Don’t do work outs. Yep, that’s right. Don’t do all those silly sprints and jumps and faux climbs and other crap. Start with an easy warm-up, and after a while move into a steady pace. Shift around when your butt gets sore, but keep your effort constant. The session goes more quickly that way.
  3. Make your head work. Don’t watch TV or videos or listen to music; put on headphones and listen to language tapes. Don’t treat your workout as a workout, treat it as study time that you happen to be doing on your trainer. If you really do have to ride indoor all winter, two hours of language study every day will have you speaking Farsi by spring. And whereas your fitness will soon fade, you’ll be able to say, “Excuse me good sir, how much for your daughter?” for the rest of your life.

There. That’s all I know. I hope it helps.

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Invest in yourself

January 11, 2016 § 2 Comments

rahsaan

Think about all the crap you’ve spent money on in order to go faster.

Right.

Now think about the rule of thirds for bike racing:

  1. 1/3 on training.
  2. 1/3 on aero.
  3. 1/3 on strategy.

Most people have it way out of whack. 2/3 on aero (and “stuff”), 1/3 on training, and 0/3 on strategy.

Why is that? First, it’s because people already think they know how to strategize a bike race. And second, for those who know they need help, it’s really difficult to find a top-notch pro who will let you pick his or her brain.

So here’s your chance to spend some time and money doing something that will improve you as a rider and as a racer–sign up for my friend Rahsaan Bahati’s race clinic here.

Rahsaan is a formidable competitor and an accomplished athlete. But what you will find out if you attend this clinic is that he is also a warm, friendly, funny, amazingly smart guy whose knowledge of crit racing is encyclopedic. His ability to break down a race, explain it, and draw teaching points out of the most mundane moments is unparalleled.

Take advantage of this. It will be a thousand times more beneficial than a new set of wheels.

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Time crawls when you’re not having fun

January 10, 2016 § 15 Comments

tuttle_creek

The customer has spoken when it comes to the kind of race they like:

  1. Close to home.
  2. Easy and safe to finish.
  3. Mathematical chance of victory.

Oddly, when these people put on their cycling fan hats, they idolize riders who do well in far-flung stage races that are incredibly hard, amazingly dangerous, and virtually impossible to win. This fits the psychological profile of “I want to be like that person without all work.”

While looking over the SCNCA race calendar for 2016, I’d like to make a recommendation for a race that you certainly have not done. I can say that with confidence because  last year the combined field including all categories and age groups had about fifteen people. All but five or six quit somewhere along the way.

This race is the immoral Tuttle Creek road race, slotted for February 6th in Lone Pine, at the foot of the eastern Sierras. I will tell you this: It’s harder than any other race on the calendar, and the first separation will occur within the first fifteen minutes. Worse news? You won’t be in the split. Instead, you and I will be off the back, then further off the back, and then quite simply alone.

The scenery was magnificent; incredible stone formations was set off against the gigantic Sierras themselves, and the iron gray sky lent a hardness to the atmosphere that perfectly matched the grueling nature of the day.

The climbing in this race was far harder than UCLA Punchbowl, Boulevard, or Vlees Huis. The hills were steep and punchy, long and grinding, and mostly endless. The downhill was easy and straight and safe and fast, but it ended much too quickly. Rain is always a possibility in February, and with El Nino it could easily be pouring, or, with a few degrees drop in temperature, could morph into freezing rain, sleet, or snow.

One of the loneliest moments in my life on a bike occurred during this race, with no one behind me for miles, no one visible ahead of me for miles, and the lone sign of a bike race was race promoter Steve standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere asking me if I wanted a gel, when what I desperately wanted was to quit and a blanket.

So why do it?

The first reason is that it supports the whacky promoter, a/k/a Motorcycle Steve, who you see zooming around on his motorcycle as a race official. Races are tough to put on, especially hard-ass road races far from LA that can be cold, or wet, or snowy, yet miserable even in the best conditions given the brutality of the course.

The second reason is that this kind of race promotes event diversity. If you have EVER complained about “too many crits,” you should nut up and do this bastard. If you finish you will count it among your best finishes ever.

The third reason is that the SCNCA calendar in 2016 has put the Decrepit Persons Bragging Event and State Championship early, early, early in the season. Getting the road fitness you will need to do well at the State Bragfest will depend on doing more than PCKRR with its baby climb, and maybe Boulevard. Tuttle Creek will whip you into shape and is a far better race than anything San Dimas has ever put on in terms of difficulty.

But the best reason of all is that finishing the event shortly before dark, wrung out, frozen to the core, and depleted of all precious bodily fluids, you get to tank up on a very ordinary cheeseburger at the cafe in Lone Pine that nonetheless tastes like the finest meal ever made. Trust me. It’s worth it.

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Pecan pie and milk to calm the nerves

January 9, 2016 § 17 Comments

I got the pre-ride queasies, and I never get the pre-ride queasies.

Seven weeks ago tomorrow I was hurrying to the Donut Ride, all fit and feeling great and shit, and I fell off my bicycle and fractured my hipbone, which is connected to my nutsackbone, which fuggin’ hurts when you mash it between the pavement and the steel rails on your saddle.

Now, though, I’m 100% healed up minus about forty percent, but it’s the forty percent that doesn’t matter so I’m headed off tomorrow for the Donut Ride to fulfill my date with destiny. Only thing is, chances are good that it will be a real loser of a date, where the other person is missing a lip, has a death’s head tattoo and a pierced tongue, and is dragging a duffel bag filled with shrunken heads and dynamite.

Usually I love going to the Donut but tomorrow I’m scared. Ever since I fell off my bicycle I have been scared. Scared of falling off again and re-breaking the crack that isn’t healed. Scared of falling off and whacking my head. Scared of getting smacked by a car.

But worse than all that is my fear of droppage. Usually on the Donut I get dropped but not until a bunch of other people have been carved up into bite-sized pieces and fed to the Destroyer or Surfer Traitor or Smasher Traitor or the G-Money or the Strava, Jr. or the Jules or the Frenchy or the Pony Girl.

Tomorrow though I’m going to be the chum. That’s how it is when you have more excuses than training miles. Here’s how it will go:

  1. Man, this hurts but I’m near the front.
  2. Man, this is awful but I’m not too far from the front.
  3. Man, I can’t stand this anymore I hope someone closes that gap.
  4. Man, I hope I can hang onto this fourth chase group.
  5. Man, I hate riding alone.
  6. I wonder if I beat that little kid who started with us on a mountain bike?

Yeah, it’s gonna suck and when I heard that Manzella and his West Side wrecking crew are coming I knew it was going to suck times a thousand. If you don’t know Tony, he is a very nice fellow.

Except he’s an absolute bastard the way he grinds you up into pulp and is then nice to you afterwards. It would feel better if he’d spit and curse a little bit but I’ve never even heard him say “fuck.” I don’t think he knows any dirty words and dog knows I’ve tried to teach him.

I also hope he doesn’t bring that other nice bastard Michael Smith. He is a wheelsucking bastard until he stops wheelsucking and rides away from you and then congratulates you at the top even though he weighs 250-lbs. and you’ve been dieting your way down to 135, that bastard.

The best policy tomorrow would be to stay home and ride the trainer and do Zwift. Do you know Zwift? A buddy in Japan sent me a link to it. It is the apotheosis of stupid. You get on your trainer and pretend you are racing people on a video screen.

I can pretend a lot of shit. I can pretend I’m president of the galaxy or that I’m fucking a movie star, for example. But I can’t pretend I’m racing an animated character on a screen. Oh, and I forgot to mention that on Zwift you pay money to race the fake cartoon characters.Why not just pay your wife to get on a trainer next to you and race her? Afterwards if you let her win you might at least get laid.

Like, I know bicycle people are maroons, but are they so stupid that they can pretend they’re racing Tom and Jerry? I guess the answer is “yes.” And please don’t send me some whiny-ass email about how it’s snowing in Bismarck or some shit. Put on another layer and go ride, you big pansy.

But back to the Donut, where I’m gonna get smeared. It’s going to be humiliating. How humiliating? There’s a 1-in-10 chance that I will get beat by Prez. All these wankers are going to blow by me and some of them will probably pat me on the back and say “Good job!” which in cycling means “Fuck you, loser.” Usually they just snarl at me, which in cycling means “You are awesome, dude.”

Prez has never beaten me on a climb because he is so fucking slow. One time I did the Donut after a lung transplant and I still beat his ass up the Switchbacks. That dude climbs slower than a vine in winter. But tomorrow he might whip my ass. You know how that’s going to hurt? I can see it now. “Wanky passed by Prez, who pats him on the back and says ‘Good job!'”

That fucker.

They say you have to get back on the horse but why, especially if the horse is nasty and has kicked your head in already? Can’t you just poison the sonofabitch, or shoot him?

Anyway I better go to bed but not before I have some milk and pie to calm my nerves.

END

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If it’s broke, fix it

January 6, 2016 § 26 Comments

Two things you can do to help fix the broke-down, dysfunctional mess that is the SCNCA:

  1. Vote to approve the amended bylaws.
  2. Nominate yourself or some other poor sap for one of the nine board of directors slots.
  3. Post this info on Facebag or your club website.

Of course nothing is that simple. YOU can’t actually vote to approve the bylaws. That can only be done by the designated representative of your club, and your club has to be a USAC and an SCNCA member. Sound complicated? That’s because it is.

So here’s what you do:

  1. Send this link to the boss man or boss woman of your club.
  2. Although your club should have already received a ballot, if they have not, contact Tom Fitzgibbon at tfitz1@me.com.

Voting on the amended bylaws is super important and has to be done by January 9. That’s Saturday. What is the amendment? It will allow SCNCA to communicate with its members (who are clubs, not individual racers) electronically, and will allow them to vote electronically. This means that going forward the SCNCA can reorganize without having to spend huge chunks of its budget on mail notifications as required by current bylaws.

If the bylaws are amended, SCNCA will have an electronic election for its new board of directors. The timeline for this, however, is super short. Fortunately, the self-nomination process is working. Many people have self-nominated, and there are now more candidates than have ever before run, but the deadline is January 10. So here’s what you do:

  1. Send your name to perfectday4j@gmail.com and announce your candidacy. You can even put “I’m a dope” in the subject line.
  2. Include a brief description of why you want the job and what your qualifications are. (Example: “I like to get screamed at by people; 28 years of marriage.”)
  3. Your club will receive an electronic voting link after the nominating period closes.
  4. Wait for election results on January 23.

In case I haven’t made it clear, please make sure this is brought to the attention of your club president. The deadlines are upon us and voting for change is desperately needed at SCNCA.

How badly is it needed?

This reform movement began when local cyclist and attorney David Huntsman sent this letter to the SCNCA. The issues raised in the letter, which basically centered around whether SCNCA’s trustees have been acting in a legal manner, and whether or not they have been fulfilling their fiduciary duties to the organization, led SCNCA to hire a lawyer.

And don’t come pissing and moaning to me about “wasting your money on a lawyer.” If SCNCA had been advised properly in the beginning we wouldn’t be where we are today. And if you don’t like lawyers and law, then there is a spot for you on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Racing Team. And … there’s money at stake. SCNCA has spent (frittered away?) hundreds of thousands of dollars since its inception in 1998.

The attorney retained by SCNCA for peanuts, Tom Fitzgibbon of Velo Club LaGrange, has been racing for decades, served on VCLG’s board for years, and is a person for whom I have a lot of respect. Since he’s been hired by SCNCA, he represents the organization, not the individual interests of the trustees. This means that issues about how the organization is run and how its finances are managed will be examined by someone whose job it is to help make SCNCA better. And if things aren’t being done legally or properly, it’s Tom’s job to deliver the bad news so that SCNCA can start doing what it gets paid to do.

Nimble decision making and a new board of directors are crucial first steps if SCNCA is ever going to fulfill its mission of advancing racing in SoCal. David Huntsman is one of the nominees for the board of trustees, and he’s got my vote; I hope he gets yours.

See-through is best

The current SCNCA way of conducting business is opaque. There are no publicly available financials aside from a drop-down link on the web site’s “About” tab that says “Financials.” I dare you to click on it.

In addition to a steamed-glass approach to finances, which in my mind equates to shoddiness at best, chicanery at worst, SCNCA doesn’t make the records of its meetings public. Although it’s been around since 1998, there are only two meeting minutes posted under the “About” section; both of them from late last year, just around the time that Huntsman began asking pointed questions about the board’s operations.

My estimate is that with about 7,000 licensees in the district, SCNCA should be getting somewhere between $35,000 and $70,000 from USAC every year. Now although that may not seem like a lot of money, oh, wait, YES IT SURE FUCKING DOES.

How that money is spent should be transparent. With Fitzgibbon as counsel and a new board coming in, we can expect transparency. In fact, we should demand it.

Thanks where thanks are due

Although it’s easy to poke holes in the mismanagement and glaring failures of SCNCA, it’s important to also give thanks. There are many board members over the years who have given heart and soul to making bike racing here a fun and exciting sport. People like Greg Aden have done their level best and deserve our thanks.

Don’t ever call me an optimist, but as far as the upcoming changes at SCNCA go, I can say that it’s absolutely headed in the right direction. Now, please go vote. Even though, technically, you can’t.

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Turning back the clock

January 5, 2016 § 27 Comments

One of the recurring themes here at CitSB is the crushing inevitability of age, decay, and death, with an especial emphasis on the fact that cycling doesn’t make you young and that if you feel better at 50 than you did at 25 you must have felt like a warmed over dunghill when you were 25.

Despite this grimly realistic view of the impersonal impact that physics have on our random existence, for some strange reason I am unable to accept the truth no matter how hard I preach it. Hence my decision to submit an upgrade application to USAC last year.

Now, then. The last time I was a Cat 2 was in 1986. For most of the rest of that century I lived in Japan and Germany, and the bike racing I did didn’t require a US license. When I finally returned to the US and tried to get my old Cat 2 license back, they said, “Sure. What was your old license number?”

“I dunno.”

“When did you last have it?”

“1986.”

“Oh … ”

“Oh, what?”

“When we changed to USAC from USCF we also changed computer systems and lost all our old records. But give us your name and we’ll look.”

Turns out I never existed, but after begging and pleading  with the SCNCA district rep they agreed to let me start off as a Cat 4 and skip the certain-death Cat 5 events for the almost-certain-death Cat 4 ones.

What amazed me was how hard the racing was, and how weak I had become. Once I upgraded to Cat 3 and could do masters racing, I was amazed even more. The “ex-everything” masters category here in SoCal, which includes ex-pros, ex-elite national champions, ex-world champions and Olympian medalists, is also rife with current age-graded national champs, world champs, and pharmaceutical champs.

After several years of careful point-hoarding I finally submitted my upgrade request last year, which was promptly denied. “Your results are a fuggin’ joke. ZERO points for your 2nd place finish at Tuttle Creek RR because it only had TWO FUGGIN’ ENTRANTS you sandbaggin’ sack of Geritol.”

“Fuck it,” I said, “who cares? It’s not like I’ll ever do a Cat 2 race. Even I have too much self-respect to get smeared by grandchildren.” In fact, word on the street here has always been that Cat 2 racing has all of the disadvantages of racing with Cat 1’s (living with your girlfriend or your parents or in a shopping cart) and none of the benefits of racing with Cat 3’s (beating up on weak and defenseless people who have real jobs except for Surfer Dan).

So I went on my merry way.

Imagine my surprise today when I got an email from my club’s race coordinator. “Dude!” he wrote. “I just downloaded all of our riders’ racing info from USAC and saw you’re a Cat 2! Congrats!”

Knowing that there must be some mistake I looked it up. Sure enough, there it was: “Road: 2.”

I tried to jump up and down to celebrate but my cracked pelvis which hasn’t healed hurt too badly to manage more than a slow-motion hop. Then I forgot what I was celebrating. Finally, Ms. WM came in to tell me to stop making such a racket.

“You onna jumpin’ itsa gonna make runny bowels again,” she said.

I sat back down and looked again at the computer screen. Would I actually enter a Cat 2 race now, with, like, you know, actual young people? Or would I do what every masters profamateur does, which is cat up strictly for bragging rights while continuing to do the leaky prostate events?

Easiest decision I’ve had to make all year.

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1986 … it was a very good year.

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Brewed to imperfection

January 4, 2016 § 35 Comments

Cyclists love coffee and so do I.

A couple of months ago I started roasting my own beans, the primary motivation being cheapness, so I ordered a towsack of green coffee. There are only three or four pounds left from that original 15-lb. green coffee bean purchase from back in November. The total cost was about $4.15/lb, as compared to the going rate of about $14/lb for roasted coffee at Peet’s.

That’s not a typo. You’re paying the good folks at Peet’s about ten bucks to do something that at home takes about fifteen minutes.

Every couple of days I roast up a few beans in the cast iron skillet. It takes about minutes and then another few to shake out the husks. It’s a very un-pro operation. The beans roast unevenly, some of them burn, and when I shake out the husks off the balcony a few of the beans always tumble into the weeds below.

But you know what? I was back in Texas a few days ago at my Mom’s drinking her luxus coffee (whole bean as well as the little capsule stuff), and my worst coffee is infinitely better than her best. Mine is smooth and requires no milk or sugar. Hers is bitter. You know, it tastes like “coffee.”

And every cup of her Nespresso creates a little plastic package of waste that goes straight to the landfill. She’s a bumper sticker environmentalist, which means that although she wants to save the planet, when she needs her caffeine jolt the earth is just flat fucking gonna suffer.

What’s better than the coffee, though, is the little ritual of spending fifteen minutes every couple of days to prepare something fresh, from scratch. No machine, no fancy vacuum pack, just these little green beans gradually browning in an old iron skillet as I lazily stir them with a wooden spoon.

And the real payback is that the best moment in the day, when I drink my first and often only cup of coffee, comes from something I brewed deliciously to imperfection.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Who the hell has time to fry up coffee every couple of days and shake out the husks and shit? What a pain in the ass.”

So this got me thinking because my Mom’s other coffee machine is a very fancy deal with a built-in grinder that you can time so that when you wake up the coffee is ready, freshly ground and freshly percolated. Like the Nespresso rig, the whole point is to push a button and get on about the important things in your life, like email and Facebook and cats.

The pleasure I’ve gotten out of my frying pan and burlap sack of beans is precisely the opposite of time saving and push button convenience.

Our lives are filled with time-saving devices, but have you ever considered what it is we’re saving the time for? For most of us, it’s not to put the finishing touches on our Nobel-prize winning chemistry experiment, it’s not to rebuild the burned-off faces of Syrian children war victims, and it’s not to feed and clothe the homeless on Skid Row. Rather, it’s saving time to do absolutely nothing worthwhile, which would include Facegag, football, everything on TV and anything at the movie theater.

But the single biggest reason we save time is so that we can work to pay for all of the time-saving devices that let us work more. Think about that for a second. It should make your head hurt.

And we work to pay for the huge homes and storage spaces in which we cram the time-saving devices. (Mom was renting three units at last count.) I’m not a minimalist, but I do live in a tiny place and I am cheap. I’m not anti-capitalist, but I don’t really want to spend any more of my time making money or spending it than is necessary. In other words, Target for me is not a destination.

Like commuting by bike, roasting a few green beans every couple of days can become an important ritual that fills your time with something that’s hands-on, cheap (did I mention it was cheap?), and that results in one hell of a good cup of coffee.

It might also be good, just a tiny little bit, for my curmudgeonly old soul.

home_beans

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