Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thanks for the image booster

On warm and windy Monday, I stopped in Issaquah to remove some clothing to get down to just shorts and a jersey. As I was about to leave, 10 or so Group Health Team women riders happened by and asked if I was OK. Before I moved on, I followed about 10’ behind their somewhat slow moving line on Sammamish Parkway by Costco.

These cyclists were not only riding very safely, signaling well and looking organized, and stopping at red lights; they were courteous to both cars and me. They were riding single file in the bike lane. I wasn’t even part of the group, and the last in line was pointing out hazards and signaling the group's intentions to me. Maybe they were riding slowly in order to better nail down their group riding skills?

A lot of male cyclists could learn from them, especially groups, and most especially groups of the men's racing teams. It’s hard to imagine that any damage was being done to cycling’s image by these women riders.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

HOWC Ride Report Triple Bypass x 2 x 12=

Miles: 61 Climbing: 6000’ Route: Sam Smith—Honda Hill climb—Horizon View/Summit climb—Cougar Mountain South climb—descend Montreaux—Olympus/Squak climb—Tiger Mountain North and South climbs—May Valley—112th/Licorice climb on Squak—89th—Mercer Island—Sam Smith Attrition Rate: 0%

Triple Bypass x 2 x 12= two times each up Cougar, Squak, and Tiger Mountains with 12 strong riders= one hell of a HOWC. I’d like to say today’s HOWC was one of the best of all time, but it is so hard to do that. There have been so many incredible days since I started the ride in 2003. What I can say is that today’s ride was simply superlative, as much for what it wasn’t as for what it was.

First of all, it was great to see some faces I have not seen for awhile; Reg is back in town, Bill Temple and Tim Shields were on the ride, and Chris Ragsdale was with us. It’s unusual that we don’t have at least one newcomer, but it’s nice to be surrounded by familiar faces. Rachel was back for her second ride with us, the first since an epic ride last summer. Despite the time gap, Rachel was easily recognizable mostly due to the fact that she is the last woman to have ridden with us, and last summer the first woman to ride with us in a long time. Just what do we do that scares off the ladies?

As always, at the ride start I went over the route, explaining that it might be best to use a pacing strategy that would enable one to survive an hour+ of climbing some quite hard ascents. Usually a competitive fire comes over most of the riders, they disregard the “advice,” and several (or more) crack hard during the ride. Perhaps the inclusion of Chris at the starting line was enough of a deterrent, as sanity prevailed, and no one seriously attempted to go with him. The only time I have finished a climb with Chris is when he let me because we were having a conversation.

The pace on the flats was relatively mellow today, likely due to an attempt by all to conserve some energy for the vertical. Chris took it easy on us. It’s great to note that Chris obviously read and respected the ride description, which calls for a “strenuous” pace this time of the year. It’s also great that Chris can cool his jets on the flats, and still get something of value from the ride. During the summer, when we are doing 25mph+ in pacelines, if Chris shows he is inevitably doing a lot of the work, and I never ask him to back off. After all, in the summer, the ride is what I think of as open class, and if you have a guy willing (and able) to do almost all of the work, by golly, more power to him. Let the bird out of the cage, and let him fly!

I felt good today, but not quite as sharp as I did on Thursday, when I did a similar ride totaling almost 5000’ of climbing, using some of the same climbs as today. Perhaps I had just a wee little bit of Thursday left in my legs. In any case, I figured a little boost wouldn’t hurt, and at the Tiger Mountain Store I ingested 58mg of caffeine via a 20oz. Coca Cola. While the miracle working legal substance didn’t turn me into a Chris Ragsdale, it certainly did help me finish a hard ride strongly. I’d like to know just how this stimulant is not on the banned substance list. I don’t drink coffee, and the only time I ever have a Coke is on a hard ride, so I think the effect hits me fast and hard.

I asked Chris, of 24 hour endurance racing fame, if he ever uses caffeine. He replied, “What, are you kidding? I taper off for a few weeks before a race, and then I hit the Super Juice during the race.” When I queried as to how much he might use during a long race, he responded, “As much as I have to.” Well, there you have it, both a confirmation of just how potent a drug caffeine can be, as well as just how “insane” racing a bike is for 24 hours.

We had a few people drop into the Hurt Locker late in the ride, but waiting a little bit never really seemed to hurt the flow of the ride. No, it wasn’t one of those perfect days where we have a group of riders moving together all day in a perfectly synchronous formation, but we all had a blast anyway. I think everybody was able to derive some pretty good training effect from today’s effort.

We were back a little later than normal, partly due to the fact that we did quite a few hard climbs. There were options to eliminate some of the climbs, but few took the option and “shorted” the route. We re-grouped on every climb, and hung around a lot longer than we normally do, sharing stories and talking about the various ascents.

Honestly, I wish we could have rides like today’s in the summer. I get some enjoyment (and a hell of a workout) from those maniacal summer pacelines, but I like to climb, and you just can’t do everything. When we do 70+ miles at a full nuclear pace, I always reduce the amount of climbing on the ride. The summer rides are often a survival contest anyway; throwing in huge amounts of climbing with the hard pace on the flats would guarantee more of a death march.

As long as these pacelines roll safely, I let them go, and I know that a lot of our riders really enjoy this type of riding. Were I to list and describe a lower pace for the summer, we would have more riders show up, we’d still wind up riding super hard, and I would feel guilty of false advertising. When we get large groups, managing the ride becomes a pain, reducing the fun quotient for me and the other Ride Leaders. The nature of the ride changes, we have a lot more waiting, and sometimes we have to have The Talk with riders, which is never fun.

It’s not too late to change my mind about the summer; I have to list June rides soon. Attempting to lower the pace at this point would be difficult as everyone is pretty used to what we have been doing. Besides, the summer HOWC is the cornerstone of my fitness plan. I don’t race, and there is simply no other way I could gain fitness like I believe I do from the weekly summer grueling HOWC. Maybe I’ll send out an email poll to a core group of ride supporters to get their opinions.

On the way home downtown from the tunnel, I always ride by the big Fran’s Bakery, and on Sundays the sweet aroma of a cherry jelly donut is what I ride through. On other days, it might be the delectable scent of buttered toast. Today I was treated to both, which has never happened previously.

It was that kind of a day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Not About the Bike...It's About Wheels and Tires

Buying a lighter bike or wheels is not going to make anyone a stronger rider, and I can “prove” it.

About a year ago, I was researching clincher wheel models, as I was in the market for new wheels. Back in late 2002, I bought my first carbon frame, and building a light bike was a priority. I went with American Classic CR420 wheels, as they were about the lightest clincher wheels I could find. While the AC wheels are indeed light, and the rims surprisingly durable given the miles I have racked up on them, the lightweight hubs are pretty crappy, and the braking performance disappointing. The ride quality isn’t the greatest, they are not that stiff for cornering, and the 34mm rim catches the cross-winds. Despite all this, I purchased another set of 420’s in 2005 (with a “new” hub design.) Once again, I had many issues with the hubs, especially when I tried to use them with 11 speed Campy.

At about the same time that I was going to 11 speed, I was having another bike built, so I would be getting two new sets of wheels. I decided that I had had enough of the AC’s, and searched the internet for info on available clincher wheels, with weight once again a focus. Much to my surprise, the AC wheels were still one of the lightest weight choices, and the other light weight wheels that I read about all seemed to have durability or other issues that made them less than desirable.

From what I could tell, of the wheels with reputations for quality hubs and rims, one could find a light wheel, but not a really light one. It looked like I was going to have to add around a half a pound (227g) to get a good set of wheels. For me to add weight to one of my bikes, I must be convinced that it would make a bike safer or more comfortable. I decided to do a little more research, this time on weight. I’ve always been a little bit of a Weight Weenie, and I think it comes from my backpacking and climbing experiences. When you are going up against gravity with legs only, it seems like you feel every additional ounce on your back. I was curious as to how weight really impacts cycling performance, especially given the marketing campaigns of the cycling industry.

Using some of the online power calculating sites like and, what I found was rather surprising. Over the length of a one hour climb of 7.5% average grade (quite a steep grade for a climb this length), a 160# rider cycling at a constant 250 watts of power would finish 9 seconds slower for every extra half pound added to either his bike or body. Certainly I understand that an extra 9 seconds is hugely important in certain venues. Considering that a European pro cyclist is potentially set for life financially if they are able to win a hard mountain stage of the Tour de France, it’s no wonder that many of the climber’s bicycles must have weight added to be right at the UCI limit of 6.8kg (14.99#). It’s also no surprise that we see riders pitching water bottles, sunglasses, etc. before that final climb of the stage.

I can be competitive at times, but for me, 9sec/hour/.5# isn’t very important during my “races.” We are only talking about 3 seconds on a 20 minute climb, and there isn’t a climb that long in King County! I guess if it were important, I could just empty one of my water bottles, and lose more than a half a pound.

Of course, if our 160# rider were to weigh 220#, he would finish 18 minutes slower on that one hour climb, and now we are talking differences that really do matter!

All of a sudden, adding a few grams to get a quality wheel with smooth and durable hubs didn’t seem like a sacrifice, nor did the 4 extra pounds that my new Rodriguez steel bike weighs compared to my S-Works Tarmac SL2. I wound up buying a set of Campagnolo Eurus Two Way Fit wheels for the Tarmac, and having a set of custom wheels built at a very reasonable cost with DT 240 hubs using DT rims and spokes for the Rod Bike.

Using my digital scale, my AC wheels weigh 1370g with the ugly AC decals removed, and my DT wheels are at 1455g. The Campy wheels came in lighter than Campy claimed at 1515g. For the extra 85g and 145g respectively, I now have wheels with some of the smoothest and most durable hubs in the business. The Campy hubs even use real ball bearings! Both wheels have remained strong and true, both have superb braking surfaces, and the traditionally spoked DT’s look great with my classic steel frame.

One of the reasons I bought the Campy wheels was for their compatibility with tubeless road tires. I finally got a set of tubeless tires, and now that I have ridden 300 miles over all types of roads on these tires, I can state unequivocally that these are the best tires I have ever used. The tubeless tires have a very supple ride and grip superbly. Initial turn-in to a corner feels a little different, as the tires just seem to flow into a turn. I’ve never ridden tires that inspire more handling confidence. Using the recommended 10-20psi less inflation pressure than I used with my Continental GP4000s tires, the ride is very significantly improved, and if anything they seem to roll faster. According to what I have read, an inner tube causes friction, and the lack of a tube decreases rolling resistance.

People riding with me tell me that the sidewalls “squish” less than with a regular clincher, even running the tubeless at 20psi less pressure. Insuring that the tires are airtight required a different type of rubber and sidewall design, so maybe the sidewall is stiffer? I’ve tried tubeless on both the carbon and steel bike. The difference is most pronounced on my already smooth riding steel bike; it’s almost like I am riding a different bicycle. According to people in the know, tubeless tires have a ride quality similar to fine tubular tires, and both produce a sweet and subtle hum.

To sum up:

Tubeless Advantages:

1) The huge safety factor of having a tire that is very unlikely to deflate rapidly, and have the beads stay attached to the rim if it does (just like a tubular)
2) The superb ride, handling, and feel (like a tubular)
3) Lower tire pressure increases grip and ride quality
4) No pinch flats (like tubular)
5) High resistance to punctures and the ability to make the tires essentially flat proof by using a light aerosol sealant that adds only 18g/tire. I haven’t done that, but what a great tire for winter and commuting!
6) Punctures will most likely be slow leaks, as the bead remains airtight on the rim, and air only escapes through the puncture hole (like tubular)
7) Ability to fix small punctures (if not using a sealant to instantly do so as the puncture occurs) without having to remove the wheel and with the tire still on the rim
8) A tubeless tire can be patched (on the inside), you can always use a tube if need be, and you can even ride the tire flat in an emergency
9) Less rolling resistance? They feel faster
10) Tubeless tires lose less air overnight than clinchers with tubes
11) All of the advantages of a tubular (except the lighter wheel weight) of a tubular with none of the glue hassles, inconveniences, or expense
12) A small weight reduction (or gain) depending on the tires and tubes you currently use

Tubeless Disadvantages:

1) Higher tire cost than a high end clincher
2) One must learn a new installation process. I’m the world’s worst mechanic, and I was able to mount both tires without using levers, but they are a little harder to remove.
3) It’s possible to run tubeless tires with conventional wheels using a sealant system from Stan’s, but for the full benefit (especially the stay on rim while flat safety) you need tubeless compatible wheels.
4) Durability is an unknown until I get some more miles in. So far, not a single cut.

If tubeless tires are so great, why aren’t they rapidly gaining market share like tubeless mountain bike tires have? For me, the major reason is that I have been waiting for more tire choices. Campy makes three tubeless wheel models, Shimano has at least two, DT makes a set, as does Corima. With those names in the game, one has to think that not only will the other big wheel manufacturers get involved, but that there will be more tire options as well. Only Hutchison (they make the Specialized tubeless tires I am using as well) currently makes tubeless road tires. Nothing against Hutchison, as I have never used their tires, but I would love to see Conti get involved. I just read that Bontrager (Trek) will be selling a tubeless tire, but once again, it looks to be manufactured by Hutchison. Perhaps the other tire companies cannot find a way to design an air tight tire bead without infringing on a Hutchison patent? In any case, I have confidence in Specialized, and the Specialized rep told me that the tire compound was their design, so I figured it’s time to give tubeless a whirl, literally.

Very few people I know are using tubeless tires, but the ones who are all rave about them. A mechanic friend who rides tubular was able to test ride tubeless, and he says that he thinks it’s the way to go on the road, at least for non-mechanics who don’t know how to glue tires! To use an overworked phrase, he thinks tubeless is a “game changer.”

Another reason I think tubeless has been slow to develop is the way that the concept has been marketed. Tubeless tires have had a big impact on mountain biking, and one of the main advantages on the trail is that there is no tube to pinch flat, enabling the rider to use a lot less air pressure to obtain better traction. Somehow, this pinch flatting issue has become a road tire sales pitch. I very rarely flat (knock on wood) in general, but I bet I only get a pinch flat about once every three years, and that’s about once every 30,000 miles for me. The message I have been getting is that the pinch flat protection is the major benefit of tubeless, and that just hasn’t been enough to light my fire. For heavier riders who do pinch flat more frequently, this of course could be a big advantage. I also think the tire and wheel companies have done a poor job in getting the word out about how to install and remove these tires, as well as handle flats.

I suppose Lightweight or some other exotic wheel company makes an absurdly light and absurdly expensive carbon clincher wheel, and if I were competing in long time trials, I’m sure I would have a set of aero carbon tubulars. Out on the road, the real roads, it just doesn’t make sense to me to use a fancy and expensive carbon rim that has lousy brake performance, and can be destroyed in an instant by a rogue bad pothole.

And what about those old AC wheels? I still have them, the hub issues with 11 speed have been sorted out, and I have installed a cassette for steep climbs with a lower gear than I normally use. Switching wheels is easier than swapping cassettes, and I’ll only use this cassette on special days. Special days like tomorrow, when I am headed out to Cougar, Squak, and Tiger Mountains.

Maybe thinking about that 145g less weight will at least make those hard climbs seem easier, even if I now know better!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hills of the West Coast Ride Report Smooth as...Butter, Silk, and Tubeless

Miles: 64 Climbing: 4000’ Route: Sam Smith Park—Mercer Island—Honda Hill—Issaquah via Newport Way—Highland trail to Sammamish Plateau—down SE 40th to Snoqualmie Valley—W. Snoqualmie River Rd.—Carnation Farm Rd.—Ames Lake climb—202 North for a mile—244th Ave. climb—Inglewood Hill Rd.—212th—E. Lake Sammamish—W. Lake Sammamish Parkway—Enatai—Mercer Island—Sam Smith Attrition Rate: 11% (but he should get a pass on this one)

We had a great ride today with a solid group of nine riders. Most of the crew were regulars, but nevertheless, it was impressive at how well we worked together. We ran a paceline all the way through the Snoqualmie Valley, and it felt like I was a part of a well oiled machine. We’ve all been in herky-jerky, unsafe feeling pacelines, and it was great to be riding with a group of skilled riders who were focused on the group as a whole. During the entire ride, riders on the front rolled off slowly from stops until hearing the call “all on” from the rear, and yes, we actually stopped at the stops. What a concept, eh?

I felt great all day today, but for some reason, I just didn’t feel like an intensive climbing focused ride. We had several people with us who were on yesterday’s Bainbridge Island Torture Fest, and nobody put up an argument when I said I’d like to do a longish ride out through Snoqualmie Valley. I say longish, but only because we list 40-60 miles at this time of the year, and we went a little beyond that.

As I rode out to the ride start from Downtown Seattle, I was still considering my other route idea: climbing Cougar, Squak, and Tiger Mountains each two times via two different demanding lines. We do a lot of that type of thing this time of the year, but the hills will still be there for us another day. It was nice out, despite the once again present northwest wind; heading out to the Valley was a good way to take advantage of the fine weather.

I was deploying different “equipment” than I normally use on the HOWC. About a year ago, R&E Cycles built me a beautiful Rodriguez custom steel classic. I personally designed the Lapis Blue and Pearl White paint scheme, and we used a horizontal top tube with a -17 stem to give the bike the flat, raked out elegant retro-type look that I enjoy so much with thin tube steel frames. I think of the bike as a combination of old school style with new style colors and components. I really love this bike and I am proud of it, and I just can’t bring myself to call it my “Winter Bike,” even though I just removed the full fenders that I used all winter. I think of the Rod bike as my “Second Bike,” and since my modern “Superbike” was in the shop, it was either Rod or the singlespeed Bullet Bike. Since I have had Rod, I’ve hardly ridden the singlespeed, which is sad, because that bike is very cool and fun to ride.

Of course, I have used the Rodriguez with fenders on winter HOWC’s, but never with the new tubeless tires that I just mounted a few days ago. Shortly before I got the Rod bike, I bought a set of Campy Eurus Two-Way Fit wheels for my S-Works Tarmac SL2, with the intention of ultimately using tubeless tires. I’ve been waiting for more tire manufacturers to jump in with tubeless product to go with the increasing number of tubeless wheelsets available. After riding tubeless for two days, I don’t know what the tire companies are waiting for. Like all tubeless compatible road wheels, the Campy wheels work with either standard clinchers or tubeless tires, and I have been very happy using GP4000s tires, which are by far the best clincher I have ever ridden. Check the Want Ads, as there will be some new, sealed in the box GP4000s tires up for sale. I’ve never ridden tubular, but the tubeless ride is supposed to be very similar. The comfort of the ride, the grip, and cornering were substantially better; it was almost like I was on a different bicycle. I can’t wait to try them on the SL2, which already handles like a slot car on rails.

I may have been riding a mix of old and new technology, but it didn’t seem to slow me down, as I was very pleased with how I rode today. I was going pretty well on the “heavy” steel steed.

I thought the ride went just about right effort-wise for this time of the year. We had a few people delve into the Hurt Locker late in the ride, but as I mentioned with the “Attrition Rate,” they get a pass. Even though it was not a climbing focused ride, there were still plenty of hills, and we went longer than the high end of the stated mileage for April. We had a few riders digging deep to survive, and one didn’t finish with us, but he told us to go on and that he knew the way home.

I think that everybody rode to the ride start, and I had over 70 miles by the time I got home, while others must have had 80 or more. I think it’s likely that all of us were pretty tired by the end of the ride, but what good is a hard ride if you don’t push a little bit? I never think of this type of day as “training,” because for me it’s just one type of riding that I do. While I can’t ride hard every day, I wish I could, because it’s just such a blast.

Oh well, during those easy riding days I’ll stop and smell the roses, and dream about my next ride where I can cut loose a little bit.

I hope to see you on the Tarmac.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Route: Sam Smith Park--Mercer Island--Medina--Kirkland--Downtown Bellevue--Mercer Island Loop (or south around Lake Washington)--Sam Smith Miles: 37 or 45 or so Climbing: 2700' Attrition Rate: 20%

I have always loved the sound of the wind whistling through the trees, and luckily for us, we have a lot of trees in the PNW. Other than that beautiful sound, I can't think of anything else worthwhile that comes from the wind. Obviously, wind is great for sailing and windmills, but what else is it is good for? Certainly not for golf or cycling, two things I have done a lot of in my life.

If yesterday's wind was silly and ridiculous, today's gusts were, well, just simply a little obnoxious. It was the type of day, that had I headed out solo, I could have simulated long climbs (and descents!) simply by heading into and with the wind. That likely would not have occurred, because I have found the wind to be at least as psychologically draining as physical. Our normal light prevailing winds are yet another reason the PNW is such a nice place to live. I imagine cyclists from Wyoming or West Texas would be amused (or maybe not) that the gusts I am describing likely did not exceed 20mph, and were mostly in the 10-15mph range. Besides, we didn’t have a drop of rain fall upon us, and that always makes for a Class A Day, correct?

Yes, today was a good day to be with the bunch, even if the bunch were only five strong. It was great to see Jeff riding really well, as he is still recovering (on the bike) from a late fall surgery. Emil rode strongly as well, and the two of them did a fair amount of work on the front. We took turns battling the headwind, and then retreating to seek shelter.

No such shelter was available for me in June of 2003, when I went on a truly incredible tour through British Columbia, Alberta, Idaho, and Washington. On this solo trip, I rode 1000 miles over 10 days. When I departed from Whistler, record high temperature readings were widespread across British Columbia, and it was consistently between 85 and 92 degrees F. I enjoy riding in hot weather, so no problem there; but, just as in Seattle, fair and warm summer weather generates prevailing northerly winds in BC. From Whistler, I headed northeast to Lillooet and 100 Mile House, then east over to the Yellowhead Highway. Riding back to the north, I rode past the Heli-Ski towns to Mt. Robson, and then east to Jasper, the far northern terminus of my route.

The very day I reached Jasper, a low pressure system rolled in, bringing with it southerly winds and cooler temperatures. From Jasper, I then headed southeast to Banff, then south through Kootenay National Park to Radium Hot Springs. From there, it was south to Kimberly and Creston, BC.

Still heading south, I rode to Sand Point, Idaho, and then southwest to Priest River and ultimately Spokane, where Tracy picked me up. (Much to her chagrin…I had planned on riding all the way back into Seattle.) While the trip was absolutely one of my best experiences on a bike, I rode into the sometimes mild, sometimes wild wind almost every one of those 1000 miles. Nothing motivates you more than that to work on your "tuck!" Maybe this trip had something to do with me always paying close attention to the weather forecast, and doing everything I can to start a ride into the wind and return home with it.

Speaking of winds, there is a chance I am going to Maui this summer with Tracy and my bike. Emil, having grown up in Maui, gave me the complete lowdown on the summer trade winds. Seriously, that sounds like some wind that will kick your ass!

Today was the first HOWC that I have led for awhile. It was an inauspicious start with the unstable weather, but it was really great to be back on the ride as more than just a participant. I’ve led the ride since 2003, and as with past summers, I’m looking forward to some memorable jaunts on the bike this year.

I hope to see you on the road!