Sunday, May 31, 2009

5-31-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Miles: 74.5 Climbing: 4000’ Route: Downtown--Mercer Island--Honda Hill--Newport Way to Downtown Issaquah--Issaquah-Preston Trail to Highland on the Sammamish Plateau--Issaquah Fall City Rd.--Duthie Hill Rd. climb--202 North--Ames Lake Rd. climb--Carnation Farm Rd.--203 to Carnation--Tolt Hill Rd. to West Snoqualmie River Rd.--40th St. SE climb--Flying Wheels Route to E. Lake Sammamish--Issaquah--W. Lake Sammamish Parkway--Trail on north frontage of I-90--Eastgate Park and Ride--Mercer Island--Downtown

Butta…smooth as butta. Those are the first words that come to mind when I think of today’s ride. Today’s effort was one of the best rides we have had in years, if not since the inception of the Hills of the West Coast ride. So smooth that the group of 18 rode together like a well oiled machine. Throw in a strong spirit of camaraderie, and an elated sense of sheer exuberance of riding bikes together as a cohesive group, and it was a beautiful experience. It was as if we rode together five times a week, despite the fact that we had total newbie’s on the ride.

Today’s route didn’t hurt either. I guess I could count, but it’s easier to guesstimate how many HOWC rides we have done over the last six years. My conservative estimate is somewhere around 25 per year for a total of approximately 150 rides. Not once can I recall using the same exact route two weeks in a row until today. I think this “new” route through Issaquah, the Sammamish Plateau, and then out through the southern part of Snoqualmie Valley really is outstanding for the type of riding we do at this time of the year. Spring is usually a “build” time, and we make a lot of trips out to Squak, Tiger, and Cougar Mountains for the long and steep climbs available there. Summer is fun time, a time to enjoy the form you have built, hitting some routes where one can stretch their legs.

Speaking of form, I felt good today, but my legs were not as sharp as they could have been, especially early in the ride. Several consecutive hard riding weeks, including fifteen thousand feet of climbing last week might have put a little fatigue in my legs. Perhaps I just waited too long to go to the caffeine, because by the end of the ride, I was feeling pretty darn good, at least on a relative basis. In any case, I was super appreciative and thankful for all of the eager help on the front of the ride. As usual, we had a lot of strong riders, but Jeff in particular was in top form. I’ve ridden with Jeff for three or four years, and I think he is the strongest I have seen him. Looks to me like he will do well in his upcoming inaugural Ironman.

We rode a little bit above the advertised pace, and we had a few people comment that the pace was right on the edge of their capabilities, but they were grinning when they said it. Everyone knows that to get faster, you have to go faster, and people pushed themselves. I don’t think anyone failed to garner a little “training effect” today. No one cracked, no one dropped off the back on flat sections, and waiting time was minimal on the top-of-climb re-groups. We put in quite a few miles of some fairly serious pacelining (including 11 minutes on Snoqualmie Valley at a hair under 25mph), and I never saw a wheel out of line.

So what blend of magic elixir could be responsible for such an enjoyable, safe, and successful ride? In a nutshell, it’s called cooperation. I have felt for a while that many people on group rides wind up using half of their energy bridging gaps that form as the leading riders “roll” through stop signs, etc. This is particularly true for the riders at the rear of the group, and these are the riders who tend to be the most tired anyway. It’s not the pace per se that is damaging, it’s the very hard efforts required over and over to close those gaps. When the group is not together before the hammer is dropped after a slow down; well, that’s not even fair now, is it?

We killed two birds with one stone today. Several of the rides this spring have been “looser” than customary, and I’ll be honest, I have not been happy with the sight of our groups of 15 to 20 riders blowing stops, especially when quite a few riders are sporting the Team HPC kit with “Cascade Bicycle Club” and “Cycle U” emblazoned front and center. Yes, I know that just because the HOWC goes off with a little more courtesy is not going to repair the damage that certain parts of cycling’s image are suffering from, but hey, just like global warming you have to start somewhere. I beat this subject to death in a recent previous blog post (“Close Encounters of a Car Kind”) in case you would like to chime in with your comments.

There is no need to mention how we accomplished these goals, other than the aforementioned courtesy. Suffice to say, be prepared for a few small changes in the ride protocol the next time you join us. A few small changes that didn’t seem to take away any of the fun, increased the safety of the ride, and made the ride go a lot smoother than it has been. The HOWC is important to many of us; massaging the process as we go is important to continue the spirit and viability of the ride.

Once again, the power of the group was obvious, and not just to the people who were really digging deep to hang. Even if I felt fantastic when I woke up this morning, there is absolutely no chance that I would have gone out and ridden solo with anywhere near the intensity I did with the group today. By myself, I likely would have just cruised around, but the power of the group put a lot of “training effect” into my legs.

Yeah, racing will give you that, but people hit the pavement too frequently, and you lose the social aspect that was so prevalent on today’s ride, at least while you are actually racing. For my money, riding like we do on Sunday gives us a lot of what you can get out of racing, but with almost none of what you don’t want to get out of racing.

I hope to see you on the Tarmac.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Giro Moments

Now that the Giro is almost over, here are some of my opinions formed while watching the internet video replays:

Lance Armstrong appears to be 5-8# heavier (notice I didn’t say “overweight”) than he was when he rode the Tour de France. It’s likely he was on a carefully calculated schedule to lose the weight while he was building fitness for the Giro/TDF, and his broken collarbone derailed his plan. Take those few extra pounds off, and it seems possible that he could have contended for the Maglia Rosa, as those climbs were hard, and the extra weight didn’t help. Will he still be a little “heavy” at Tour time, and eager to play the role of super domestique? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Given the history of the sport, how hard the Giro route was, and how hard they raced day in and day out, do you believe that the race was “clean”? There were no announced drug positives, but I wouldn’t bet on this either.

I know these guys are the best in the world, but it’s hard to believe anybody could do this race without some kind of help.

Bibshorts with a white center panel should be outlawed.

What’s up with Armstrong’s black shoes and socks? Not only does he have to be the only one dressed like this, but he looks like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. That Astana (but not Astana) kit is bad enough as it is, and then there is the bike...

These guys absolutely FLY up the climbs.

Last but not least, I know the Miss Giro podium models are tall, but these guys are TINY!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Close Encounters of the Car Kind

Yesterday I read an editorial at about the image of cycling and cyclists and how our actions influence the perceptions of automobile drivers:

There were some good suggestions as to how to improve upon our image. I assimilated the info, mostly subconsciously, but didn't give the article much more thought.

Today I had a chance to practice a few of the tips.

I was rolling out to Squak Mountain on Newport Way, just west of the intersection with Rt. 900, and just after the decent shoulder goes away. It was 8 AM, and there was some traffic, but by no means did the setting seem typical of the "Urgent Hour" when everyone is scrambling to get to work.

As I was scanning the view behind me in my little mirror, I noticed a black SUV with dark glass approaching at well above the speed limit. Despite the many miles I ride, I don't feel like I get "close passed" very often. I typically profile overtaking cars, and if I see something I don't like, or if a car is making no effort to move to the left and/or slow down, I move left myself in an attempt to “walk” the car to the left. This forces the car to do something, unless they are just going to run over me, and as they approach, I gradually move to the right and give a friendly wave of thanks for the buffer of space I was able to create.

I used this tactic this morning, but there was oncoming traffic, and not a lot of maneuvering room. I stayed out a little into the lane, and then at the last moment I moved to the very edge of the road, as I saw the car driver was not making any effort to change their course. The car missed me by what seemed like 6 inches as it went by me at about 45 mph.

I put my head down, and hammered on the pedals, knowing I would likely catch this car at the Rt. 900 light. I did, and as I rolled up to the driver's side window, I was not happy. It was a woman driving the car, and she was looking into her purse, oblivious to me having pulled up behind, and then right next to her. I tapped on the window, and started "speaking loudly", and she cracked the rear window.

It must have been then that I thought it possible that she never saw me, despite the fact that I was wearing a bright yellow jersey. Could she have been brushing her hair in the mirror? How scary is that thought? Scary, but deserving of a full verbal attack?

For whatever reason, she decided to roll down the driver’s side window, and I guess that conciliatory action on her part (and perhaps the subconscious influence of the Pez article) calmed me down and altered the tone of the encounter. Using an urgent, but not totally angry tone, I said something like "You missed me by 6 inches", and never even made any effort to slow down." She quietly replied, "I'm sorry," and I wasn't sure she was totally sincere, but it was close enough.

Past encounters of this type have not gone this well for me. Several times, as I lambasted a driver in a confrontational tone, I have mentally and physically prepared myself for the driver to step out of their car and engage me without their steel cocoon around them. Luckily this has never happened, and regardless of how keyed up I may have been at times, there are certain encounters that are not possible to "win". It doesn't really matter how "strong" a cyclist one might be when they are staring at the barrel of a handgun.

So I surprised myself at what happened next. In a more subdued, but still slightly urgent voice, I said, "The next time you pass a bicycle, would you please slow down and give the rider some room!?" Making eye contact while she spoke, the driver replied, "I'm sorry, I will."

What a concept! I used the word please, and she used the word sorry...twice.

If you have a minute, skim the Pez article. I readily admit that I am no angel, and at one time or another I have been guilty in varying degrees of most of the actions the author describes. What might be different going forward is that I am now more aware of what actions I might be "guilty" of on the road, and just how they might be interpreted.

I ride a lot by myself, but I also lead a weekly group ride called the Hills of the West Coast, and a monthly Team HPC ride. We have all seen how the group mentality can take over when a gathering of cyclists hit the road, and how difficult it is at times to motivate riders in a group to be as responsible for their actions as they likely would be if they were riding solo.

Yes, it's difficult, but not impossible, and I am going to do my best to see if I can help our group rides go as smoothly as possible. I want to try and become even more aware than I am of how our actions are perceived. I'll try to lead by example, and if I don't, call me on it. Not that we have had many problems over the six years of the HOWC, but there is always room for improvement.

Not rolling through stops may cost us a few additional seconds on top of our 4+ hour rides, but we are not really in a hurry, are we? After all, we are out riding our bikes. A little more time together might be a good thing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

5-24-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Miles: 74.5 Climbing: 4000’ Route: Downtown--Mercer Island--Honda Hill--Newport Way to Downtown Issaquah--Issaquah-Preston Trail to Highland on the Sammamish Plateau--Issaquah Fall City Rd.--Duthie Hill Rd. climb--202 North--Ames Lake Rd. climb--Carnation Farm Rd.--203 to Carnation--Tolt Hill Rd. to West Snoqualmie River Rd.--40th St. SE climb--Flying Wheels Route to E. Lake Sammamish--Issaquah--W. Lake Sammamish Parkway--Trail on north frontage of I-90--Eastgate Park and Ride--Mercer Island--Downtown

We have a new “standard” HOWC route to add to the many routes we have deployed over the years! For six years now, I have been looking to have a longer ride option to the north that doesn’t involve riding to Edmonds one way or another. Generally, we like to return with the wind at our backs, and that means mostly riding to the north during summer’s fair weather breezes.

I have never really considered the option of taking the HOWC out to Snoqualmie Valley, due to the lack of a safe and fun way to climb up to the Sammamish Plateau. With the addition of the Issaquah-Preston trail that parallels I-90 before connecting with Highland, we now have that option. Today’s route makes for a longish day on the HOWC, but the opinion of the route quality amongst our 11 Memorial Day weekend riders seemed universally positive. There is an option to shorten the mileage by cutting out Carnation Farm Rd., but those of you who have ridden Flying Wheels know that this is a great road.

Despite having only five “significant” climbs, we managed 4000’ of climbing, and we had only a few short sections of any traffic at all, and during those sections we always seemed to have a decent or better shoulder. We could always "toughen up" today's route with a climb up Squak on the way out, or a trip over Cougar on the return.

We had an out of town guest from West Texas. As we rode into a 10-15 mph headwind at one point, Bill commented that it’s not even a breeze in West Texas until it gets to 25mph. He also mentioned that the climbs we referred to as “hills” were all mountains to him.

Our second woman rider of the year (well, actually of the last 3-4 years) made the ride, and Rachel was a solid, smooth, and safe cyclist. Rachel is an MD, and it’s always nice to have a Doc (and maybe a lawyer?) along on the ride.

We had a few riders dip into the Hurt Locker late in the ride, but everyone did great, and waiting time was minimal. Thanks to all who helped share the work on the front of the ride.

I felt really good today, and I hope my “timing” is good. Starting with the June 7th ride, we go to “Super Strenuous”, and likely all hell will break loose. We shift it up a gear or two, and in general we go pretty darn hard.

I hope to see you on the road.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

David vs. Goliath

In March I added a new bicycle to my stable. R&E Cycles of Seattle built me a Rodriguez custom steel bike. I picked it up, and three days later headed to Northern California with Justin Angle for a five-day, 475 mile shakedown ride.

R&E Cycles is a local builder of fine custom bicycles. Known for working with steel, they have recently begun to fabricate frames in titanium.

Given that carbon fiber dominates the high end mass produced bicycle market, one might be tempted to say that it’s about time that R&E is working with titanium, the new wonder material (of the 1990’s!), but there is so much more to the story than raw materials. R&E is small when compared to some of the industry giants , but they aren’t that small, as they build around 400-500 frames per year.

Many long time cyclists still wax nostalgically for the “old days” when steel ruled, and for an era when there was less emphasis overall on the technical aspects of bicycles, and more on the strength of the legs that rode them. Even today, magazine reviews occasionally will proclaim that the ride of a new bicycle feels “almost like steel”, and no one ever said Eddie Mercxk was dominant because he had the most advanced equipment of the day.

Let me assure you, I am not the nostalgic type, but I like the simplicity and elegant look of a classic painted steel bike, and steel frames do produce a different “feel”.

I have used R&E for service work, but I really didn’t know much about the custom bike side of their business. My perception of R&E was that they built mostly tandems, touring, and commuter bikes. I discovered that they will make you any kind of bike you desire. You can check out to see some of the high end light weight road racing bikes they have made, as well as some pretty fancy fixed gear track bikes. You see a lot of women on Rodriguez bicycles, and I think it’s because R&E was ahead of the curve with women’s bicycle design.

Having R&E build you a custom bike is not inexpensive, but you can spend a lot more money dealing via email with a giant “out of town” company with a big reputation. Besides brand name recognition, I’m not really sure what you pick up. Buying a Rodriguez is a chance to save a few bucks, and support the local “little” guy as well.

Perhaps the "out of towners" use superior raw materials? Steel is not like carbon fiber, in that it doesn’t require a lot of strength to weight engineering to optimize the structure for light weight and ride characteristics. In addition, carbon fiber layups must be designed for specific frame sizes and applications, and the high cost of the carbon molds must be spread across a large volume of frame units to make economic sense. Carbon tubes can also be shaped and laid up to provide the exact characteristics required at each spot along an individual tube.

It’s not quite as simple as “steel is steel”, but R&E will build you a bike out of any type of steel you desire, just like the other fabricators will.

Could the more exotic names in the business be using higher quality paint? I have no idea, but the paint on my bike looks spectacular. R&E took the paint scheme that I brought to them and painted my frame using my design with no extra charge. Yes, there was a $100 upcharge for a two color paint scheme, but try taking your own cosmetic design to Seven, Serotta, or Independent Fabrication and see what they say. They will build you a “custom” bike, as long as you use one of their “custom” styles, meaning that your bike will largely look like every other Seven or Serotta on the road. Considering the enormous premiums these companies charge simply for two colors, I can only speculate that a true custom paint design would be extremely expensive.

Do the companies with the fancy reputations use better welding or construction techniques, or is there something else that mythically separates their build process from R&E that justifies the big premium in price? Once again, I have no idea and I’m not an engineer, so I don't know the answer.

What I do know is that R&E has garnered a reputation for building durable high quality bicycles for over 35 years. I was personally given a tour of the shop by Dennis, the fabrication and machine shop manager. Dennis built my bike, and the welds are beautiful, smooth, and true.

Teresa, who has been with R&E since 1995, is “the paint department”; therefore she did the paint work on my bike. Teresa had to work with a rather complex scheme, but she is a perfectionist, and she viewed the masking and intricate two color paint application as a challenge. As any of you who have seen my bike know, Teresa deserves to be proud of the stunning quality of her work.

Scott spent two hours with me in the store taking my measurements, and those of my S-Works Tarmac SL2. He also inquired as to how I liked my current bike fit, and how I might be using the Rodriguez . Scott then used the proprietary R&E fit system to do the custom design work. We discussed frame geometry options, and how changing the angles, rake, trail, etc. would affect the handling and ride of the bike. This is in addition to the many emails to iron out the details.

For example, I was concerned that the horizontal top tube I wanted for aesthetic reasons would not allow enough seatpost above the top tube. I needed a certain minimum seatpost length to fit my Moots Tailgator rack/pack system that I use for fast and light touring. Rather than using a standard seat tube clamp, R&E custom fabricates an integral seat tube collar to secure the seat post. Scott simply modified the design drawing, reducing the height of this collar as much as possible, and giving me that extra increment of exposed seatpost that I needed.

When I picked up my Rodriguez, it was obvious that John had carefully attended to every detail while installing components on the frame. Each bolt had been carefully greased, my saddle was in the correct position, and despite the well used components, the bike shifted flawlessly from the first moment I rolled it out the door for a quick test ride.

Everybody at R&E is a pleasure to deal with, and I would highly recommend you stop by and check them out. John, Beau, and the other mechanics at R&E will treat your bicycle as if it were their own, and while service work at R&E is not cheap, rarely does one of my bikes leave the shop requiring a return trip for a correction.

My Rodriguez is…well, it’s My Rodriguez, built for me, with the colors and paint scheme I wanted, by people I know. And yes, my Rod bike does have that ride quality that only steel can give you.

If the clock were turned back 20 or 30 years, back to long before carbon fiber or titanium were being used to construct bicycle frames, I would be very content to ride a basic steel framed bicycle full time. I truly love riding my SL2, as well as my trusty singlespeed, but there are certain types of rides where I will automatically grab the Rodriguez. It’s a nice problem to have to decide which bike to ride on any given day.

If all I had to choose from were beautifully elegant steel bicycles, I would be totally fine with that.

Monday, May 18, 2009

5-17-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride report

Miles: 56 Climbing: 5000’ Route: Downtown—Mercer Island—Honda Hill—Newport Way to Issaquah—Olympus climb on the north side of Squak Mountain—Issaquah-Hobart Rd. south—132nd climb on Tiger Mountain—May Valley—112th-171st climb on south side of Squak Mountain—89th—Mercer Slough--Downtown

Luke led his inaugural HOWC today, and he did a great job. The ride went smoothly, and it helped that most of the 11 strong riders were somewhat ride regulars (see the end of the post for Luke's comments).

After six years of leading the HOWC, I have come to realize that it is a rare Sunday when I don’t learn something. What I learned today (not for the first time) is that if you ask your body to do something; no, tell your body to do something, it’s amazing how often it will respond. Yesterday I rode 70 miles, and almost every one of them was at a very hard pace. After I rode in the first group on the Team HPC ride, David Longdon and I added another 30 miles with Justin Angle, and miles with Justin are never easy miles. Luke had offered to lead today’s ride because I wasn’t sure I would show up.

On Friday I had done 40 miles, including a jaunt over Cougar Mountain, and today I capped off a tough four straight riding days on a trip to Vashon Island with Reg. I fell into the hurt locker just a little toward the end of today’s ride and Reg did most of the work on the front, but hopefully my “block” of hard rides will pay fitness dividends as it has for me in the past.

Even if a cyclist is a little worn out from the previous day’s effort, it’s possible to have a very good day if you fully warm up, judiciously measure out your energy until you see what you have available, and pick your spots. I found that by the end of the ride I felt surprisingly strong, and no one remembers who birdies the first hole anyway.

There were an incredible number of bicycles out on the road this weekend, and that is certainly a wonderful thing to see. The only downside is that using a bicycle trail was even more dangerous than it normally is. At times it looked like the cycling version of New Year’s Eve, so obvious was it that many riders were out for either the first time of the year…or the first time, period. One of our riders mentioned that on Saturday while riding on the Burke Gilman, he came upon three cyclists who had crashed independently of each other, all between Fremont and the Ballard Fred Meyer.

It’s always a pleasure when Chris Ragsdale makes the ride. Not only is he an incredibly strong rider, he’s a great guy and a lot of fun to ride with. Coming back westbound across the I-90 Bridge, a rider wearing Cucina Fresca (spelling?) kit passed our group as we casually rolled down the ramp to the bridge. Chris and I were chatting on the front of the ride, and neither one of us paid any attention to this guy. The bridge was busy, and I settled in on Chris’s wheel as we went single file. Mr. Cucina took several glances backwards, I guess to monitor the situation as Chris steadily reeled him in, not by design, but simply because Chris pretty much reels everybody in.

When the Cucina rider realized he had been caught, without hesitation and unprovoked, he put his head down and dug in for what appeared to be his biggest monster effort. After waiting for some oncoming bike traffic to clear, we were now on the uphill ramp leading to the tunnel, and Chris moved around and steadily applied the power. By this time, only Hugh remained on my wheel, and now it was our turn to dig deep, as we were going with Chris, and there was no turning back.

Chris then dropped the hammer, and by glancing in my tiny little mirror, I could imagine the steam rising from Mr. Cucina as he responded with a furious, futile thrashing of the pedals. Chris dropped this guy like a bomb, and I saw 550 watts as Hugh and I fought to hold Chris’s wheel…to no avail. Chris looked like he was shot from a cannon as he blasted away from us, but at least we were smartly moving away from Cucina.

Like several of us on the ride, Chris was using a mirror, and after he told us that he uses it in his endurance races, I have finally come to the conclusion that the obvious geek factor of a little mirror is far outweighed by the many advantages, not the least of which was watching Mr. Cucina’s reaction and facial expression.

I wonder what this cyclist would think if he was aware that the person he was trying to ride off of his wheel is capable of riding a bicycle 510 miles in a 24 hour period? I couldn’t feel sorry for this guy; he dug his own grave. Maybe it’s better to pick battles with a little beta in hand, rather than routinely attacking anyone who dares to catch you? At least I am fully cognizant of just how strong Chris is.

It’s ironic that twenty four hours earlier I was digging deep at this exact same spot, and scrambling to hold the wheel of my friend Justin Angle. I put in a pretty solid effort that came towards the end of a hard ride, but I lost that wheel as well. The reality is that if I can remain in the same zip code when either one of these guys really drops the hammer; well, I must be doing OK.

Life is pretty darn sweet.

I hope to see you on the Tarmac.

From Luke:
"The folks that showed up Sunday were strong and skilled. It made leading my first ride real easy. The ride basically featured three stout climbs on Squawk and Cougar – all were optional up-and-backs. Squawk via 12th to Mountainside Dr. was the first target. All those who chose to do it powered up that monster in impressive fashion. We had a good ride on our hands!

The table was set for the 132nd climb up Tiger. The group started hard, but most of us were digging deep just to finish. This little 850 ft gem features a 20% + ramp late on the climb. Even on my best day – and on my triple – it would be a stand up finish. I happened to be within eyesight of Chris and noticed he never left the saddle! The relatively shorter and less intense Licorice assent of Squawk was still pretty tough if you just survived the previous two climbs. Jim tells me the view is really nice if you climb that final loop to the left/west. I was sufficiently tired from climbing the other way – I will have to take his word for it and see myself at a later date!

Leading the ride was cool and a great learning experience. In some ways, HOWC is a heck of a first ride to lead. But when you factor in how solid the riders were Sunday, a trained monkey (a strong one) probably could have done it. Thanks to the group for being so kind with a few wrong turns.

While I’ve ridden with the HOWC pack near a dozen times, I still suffer some route finding amnesia when I don’t have someone calling out the turns. I think this comes from 1.) Never having to worry about where we are going ‘cause Tom has it covered and 2.) So much mental focus on these rides is spent on safety and intensity. I appreciate what you do, Tom and Jeff, to guide the pack so smooth."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

5-16-09 Team HPC Powered by Cycle U Team Ride

Twenty two team members showed up for a fantastic ride on a perfectly beautiful day. As per what is now the norm, we divided into an Expert Group and a Development Group, and followed our now standard route (Medina-Kirkland-Bellevue-Mercer Island loop). We take what I think are some of the best roads in each area, culminating with a clock-wise loop around Mercer. We had a short clinic on equipment for high performance cycling before the ride. It was cool to see so many people wearing the full HPC ensemble. We looked pretty sharp.

Regarding pace and the two groups, David and I have tried to communicate what we think we are hearing from most of you. Rather than have the Expert Group become an “open class” ride where the goal is every man for himself, and to damage and drop as many as you can, what you are telling us is that the Expert Group ideally should become a group riding at a level that the Development Group riders can set as an attainable goal. In order to do this, we need to have the Expert Group function as a stationary “target”, not one that floats month to month, depending on how hard the people on the front want to go that day.

If what you are looking for is an open class type of ride, there are plenty of those available through the Daily Rides Program at Cascade, and there is always the option of adding miles after the team ride with new friends you meet on the ride. Maybe the best solution is to designate the Mercer Island loop as an optional, take no prisoners total hammerfest. Riders could choose that option, do the loop at their pace, or simply cross the I-90 Bridge and return to the start of the ride.

The whole concept of a team implies a group of people working together, and staying together (at least on the flat). Assuming all of the people in the Expert Group are capable of pulling the ride at a 20-22mph “effort level”, everyone should be given the opportunity to be on the front. We use the same route every month, and everyone knows where the hills are, and the hills are a great time to show everyone how strong of a rider you are. Optimally, everyone arrives at the start of a climb at the same time, and a re-group spot is announced. If the group is spread out on the flat before the climb, there is no one around to hear about a re-group!

Not to beat a dead horse; well, ok, maybe I am beating a dead horse, but it would be great if everyone pitched in to make the ride goes as smoothly as possible, take turns on the front (and maintain the pace), and take the time to socialize a little bit as a group. One specific problem area is the tendency to roll through a stop, put your head down, and gun it hard; creating gaps that become harder to close the further you are from the front. On a team ride, people leading at the front should try and ease off from stops, waiting to hear the call “all on” from the back of the ride. At that point, the leaders would smoothly accelerate up to that 20-22mph pace. This would go a long way toward building camaraderie within the group, as well as letting the Development Group riders focus on that consistent target.

Speaking as a member of today’s Expert Group, it was obvious that everyone was a skilled rider. We rode hard, but safely, and it’s a nice feeling to ride with a group of familiar riders. As we all get to know each other better, I can see the whole Team HPC operating as a well oiled machine.

We had a good sized group today, but we now have over 60 team members, and it would be great to see more of the new members out on the rides. The next two monthly rides (pacelines and climbing) were great rides last year. The paceline ride in particular is an opportunity to become more comfortable with a skill that truly is critical if a cyclist wants to become an accomplished rider in a group. Depending on how many riders show, we will be splitting both the Development and Expert groups into several sub-groups. Within each group, riders will self select a group based on their skill and fitness levels.

In this case, the lead group in the Expert Group can, and should be exactly what the riders want it to be. If the consensus is to ride absolutely as hard as the group can, riders who can’t hang can simply drop back to the next subgroup.

It seems like I have focused on the negative here, but that is not my intent at all. Every great project takes time to develop, and as always, please let us know if we are misunderstanding what you would like from the team. Through surveys and talking with members, David and I think we know what the overall mission is. Please make us aware of your thoughts and suggestions, either through the team board, commenting on this blog, or in a direct email.

If 2008 was the launch year for Team HPC, 2009 could be the year we really define what it is that the team can be.

I hope to see you on the road!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

5-10-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Miles: 46 (51 for Steve and Mike) Climbing: 3700’ (5000’ for Steve and Mike) Route: Downtown--Mercer Island--Factoria--Honda Hill--Eastgate Elementary--Newport Way to Issaquah--Mountain Parkway climb at Squak Mountain--Newport Way--Montreaux (Village Parkway) climb at Cougar Mountain--Lakemont--down 164th--Mercer Slough--Mercer Island--Downtown (Steve and Mike added the Newcastle Golf Club climb--“The Hill” (142nd Ave SE off Forest drive, average grade is somewhere around 20%)--Highland Dr. to the top of Somerset)

It seems that somewhat of an odd karma pattern still is casting its spell over the HOWC. We had a postcard picture perfect day, but, as you might expect on a Mother’s Day, only six riders made the start, and fewer made the unofficial finish.

Squak Mountain is simply my favorite local climbing area, and I rank Mountain Parkway as the second hardest (of four) ways to ascend the 1000’ vertical feet on the north side. You get only one tiny break from the 8.8% average grade, and you exceed 15% at four different points of the climb. Looking for a pretty good hill TT?

Montreaux is only easier because it is shorter. You touch 15% three times, but those sections are longer, and the average grade is a Giro d’ Italia like 9.96%. The climb is on a wide, beautifully surfaced road, characteristics that make it one of my favorite descents in King County.

Back to that odd Karma. As we climbed up Lakemont toward Lewis Creek Park (on top of the Lakemont “Col”), I noticed that my rear shifting was deteriorating. By the time I arrived at the re-group, my rear derailleur cable was broken, and it was obvious that I wouldn’t be doing any more sustained 15% climbing for the day.

I had to abandon the ship. This was a real bummer because I was having an absolute blast, but like the true riding troopers they are, Bob and Ed accompanied me home.

Reg had left the ride after Squak (he rode over 100 miles the day before), and that left Mike and Steve to go off and play some more in the superb hills of Cougar Mountain. Steve had done the Team HPC fitness test at Cycle U on Saturday, but I guess he just viewed that as a warmup for Sunday’s ride.

So with one frayed cable, I went from 22 gears to two. I thought it would be a pain to only have use of the 34/12 or 50/12, but it actually was fun, as it reminded me of all of my wintertime riding on the Bullet Bike, my trusty singlespeed steed. Sometimes shifting and gears are way over rated.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

5-3-09 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Miles: 50-60, depending on options Climbing: 3000’-3700’ Route: Downtown-Mercer Island-Enatai-Chism-Kirkland-Juanita-Holmes Point (optional)-Perkins-185th through Shoreline-Dayton-8th-Ballard Bridge-Magnolia Loop (optional)-Downtown

Maybe it started with a restless night of sleep and a Saturday evening weather forecast of dubious quality, but for some reason it was just one of those days. When I awoke to sunny skies, I was almost disappointed that we would be riding, and that doesn’t happen very often. For some reason, I just had it in my head that we weren’t going to ride, and I was OK with that. I hate Saturday evening uncertainty. Give me a sunny forecast or give me all day rain so I know what’s up when I go to bed!

When we reached the Mt. Baker tunnel, I made the decision to take the group out to Squak Mountain, and then up and down Cougar a few times. As we rode across the I-90 Bridge, doubts were creeping in as I saw the clouds amassed over the Issaquah Alps area.

Going across the still damp roads of Mercer Island, I somehow managed to knock my bike computer off of its mount and sent it clattering on the ground. No damage…yet.

As we rode through Mercer Slough, I heard the call “chain off” from the back, and we decided to have a wait at the end of the path. While we waited for what seemed an inordinate amount of time, I proposed aborting the ride out to Squak. The skies looked dark, and riding in the rain in May is not fun, but the real concern was safety. The previous night’s windstorm had created a lot of downfall, and the combination of damp roads along with fallen branches and cherry blossoms didn’t sound ideal for steep descending. Little did I know what lurked behind…

So we turned around and rode back toward Enatai. As we started up the short hill west of the slough, I saw Tim walking with a wheel in one hand, and his bike in the other, and I wondered what kind of mechanical caused this. Certainly this was not a dropped chain?

We all stopped to see what was up, and it was then that I noticed that Tim’s bike was in pieces, literally, with both downtube and toptube cracked clean through. Looking at the bike you would have thought Tim would be headed for the hospital, but he didn’t have a mark on him.

From Tim, “I think I'm going to get rid of the race tires with no tread... I was careless on the wet stuff, although obviously at the time I didn't think I was that "hot." I pulled out of the first slide, but knew I was going so I put it into the orange plastic web. Almost made it... I think I hit the handle bars very near the stem on one of the metal posts. The head tube will likely need a critical eye.” Tim has a Serotta Ottrott, and it was odd to see a titanium headtube with just a few inches of top and downtube attached to it. Reg, can you add an eyewitness account of the crash?

We had a good ride, but the karma is always different after a crash. First off, we lost Brad, as his dropped chain morphed into a bent chain, and shortly thereafter, something else happened that confirmed my suspicions of an odd day.

As we started down the steep NE Points Rd in Medina., I was about mid-pack and chatting with Tom. Normally I don’t talk when headed downhill (or up, for that matter), but I didn’t have total focus, and I took my eye off of the ball for just a second. The next thing I knew, the whole group had come to an abrupt halt, and I was making a panic stop on a damp road, my tires at the limit of adhesion. I barely got it stopped, as did Reg and a few others behind me. It turned out that most of the road was blocked by a huge limb that had been blown down.

That was all I needed, and I decided that I was going to be as highly focused as possible on my surroundings for the rest of the ride.

Tim is a skilled and highly experienced cyclist, and if it can happen to him, it can happen to any one of us, at any time. Perhaps a desire to close a momentary gap in front of him contributed to the hazards of a damp surface covered with slick leaves? If so, it was likely a subconscious need to get back on that wheel, and/or a split second lapse in concentration that ultimately sent him down.

I think all of us on the ride took something away from Tim’s fall, and that is why I am sharing it with you.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Upside

Other than the shorts on Wall Street trading desks, I think cyclists quite possibly may be the only group as a whole to benefit from the prolonged recession. Every time I go out, I marvel at how little traffic there is.

Yesterday, I thought I was going to make it all the way up Lake Washington Blvd. from Seward Park to the turn off for the I-90 Bridge without being passed by a single car.

Only at the very end of the three mile stretch did I have a group of three cars pass me, and this was at 12:20 PM!

Perhaps if I had been riding with a light tailwind instead of into a light headwind…

Saturday, May 2, 2009

2009 Training Plan--Out the Window?

For the previous two years, I have been highly motivated to develop fitness early in the year. I went to Europe in June in 2007 and again in June of 2008. Visions of multiple huge climbs over multiple high mileage days will give you that incentive to get fit.

Before 2006, I used to just ride pretty much however I felt like riding that day. I rode a lot of miles, and I was always fairly fit and fairly tired, but I was good at going long at moderate speeds. I had the Sunday HOWC as my one hard ride of the week, and I was completely shattered on many Mondays…but I’d ride that day if I felt like it anyway.

Of course I knew I should be doing interval type training, but who wants to do intervals when you can just go out and have fun?

Over the winter of 2006, I made a decision to see if I could get stronger and faster. After consulting with my coaching friend Justin, I came up with a strategy that involved doing several things simultaneously. First off, I started eating more nutritious foods, and I ate more frequent, but smaller meals. The plan was to get about as lean as I could get. Second, Justin came up with an “interval strategy” based on what I wanted to achieve. I use the quotes because he tried to make it less about formal intervals, and more about time at certain intensities. Last, but not least, I turned up the pace on the HOWC for the summer months. We had been riding “super strenuous” anyway, so why not make it official? Once it was official, the pace kind of became SS+.

The reason I have a hard time with high intensity intervals is that they hurt…duh! Performing all out 5-10 minute intervals that peg you at your max heart rate at the end, well, that just sounds like a ball of fun.

Since I don’t race, the best way for me to put a lot of intensity into my program, albeit not the heart rate pegging kind of intensity (tough to do for 70 miles), is on a hard group ride. The HOWC is the perfect format for that. Since I determine the mileage, and where we go, I can structure the ride around what I am trying to do at a particular time of the year. Fortunately, it seems to fit in with the timing of a lot of other rider’s plans.

Having just returned from my Northern California trip with Justin a few weeks ago, I am searching for the motivation to stick to my spring plan that has worked well for me over the last few years. With no specific cycling project in mind for the rest of 2009, I am trying to figure out exactly what I would like to accomplish on the bike this year.

I started to get serious in 2006, and then in June of 2007 I went to the Pyrenees. That was all the motivation I needed over that winter and spring, and I pretty much just repeated that when I got ready to go to the Alps and Dolomites in June of 2008. I had a pretty well roughed out plan for those trips, but I couldn’t really follow a plan for California, given the inconsistent weather we had over the winter.

At the pace we go on the HOWC, and with the typical summertime 70 miles, I’m not sure that you need much more intensity than that in a week. In fact, more intensity could be detrimental if combined with high mileage weeks. If I feel good on Sunday, I spend some time on the front of the ride, and if I am tired, I try to hide in the draft as much as I can. Either way, you still have to go up the climbs, and I usually put a lot of hard ones into the mix.

No, it’s not a race (although it resembles one at times), but going hard while being surrounded by a group of your climbing buddies is far more motivating than just trying to talk yourself into doing it in a vacuum.

So I guess it doesn’t sound like a lot of structure, but I am a little tired of that anyway. I don’t know how the professional racers do it, let alone the weekend rec racers. Lots of people tell me to use racing as a motivator, both for getting fit, and for getting out on the bike when I don’t really want to.

Hmmm, going out when I don’t really want to; that means doing a 5 hour ride in the January rain because that is what I “have” to do that day. That sounds like even less fun than just making yourself attack high intensity intervals. Besides, I don’t really like falling off much, and crashing definitely comes with the racing territory.

When I originally talked with Justin, he mentioned that what I really want to achieve is a broad fitness plateau, not a sharp peak that can be held for only several weeks. To me the real measure of fitness, and I guess how your body is ageing as well, is how fast you can go. I time myself up certain climbs for comparison purposes.

After returning from Europe in late June of 2008, I literally shattered my times on these climbs, so either I did something right last year, or I was doing something wrong before.

I know one thing for certain. I’m another year older, and those benchmarks I set for myself last July seem very high right now. Will a plan with less structure (and no big alpine mountain trip) get me back there?

I guess I’ll find out what riding hard on the HOWC, and just riding around the rest of the time, can do for me. Come on out and join me, and let’s get fit together.