Friday, November 21, 2014

Mud Tires Work Best When Mounted

This past weekend's Jinglecross Sunday race featured a muddy course from the 2-4 inches of fresh snow that fell Saturday evening.

When I drew the curtain back on Sunday morning, I smiled over the winter landscape and smugly thought, 'Fear not, I am prepared, for I have a brand-new Clement PDX mud tire waiting just for this occasion.' And then a moment later, I remembered that the tire was sitting on my work bench back home, some 200 miles away. Crap!

Apparently, mud tires work best when they're mounted on the wheels of the bike you intend to ride in the mud.

Executing the plan is one of the intricacies of cyclocross. Often, the difference between a good result and a mediocre one is in the fine details of preparation. Like, remembering to bring mud tires for a wet sloppy mess.

For those who've raced cyclocross for a few seasons (like me), dialling in the equipment to the condition is a trial by error method. It typically takes me a handful of times before I get it right, if ever.

Behold, Barry's proven five-step method to dialling-in cyclocross equipment:
1) FAILURE from first time experience without upgraded equipment
2) FAILURE from stubbornly refusing to purchasing upgrade
3) FAILURE from purchasing the upgrade, but forgetting to bring it
4) FAILURE from racing the upgrade improperly (lack of experience)

Success may eventually come, but don't count on it. Suck it up and deal with it. It's called cyclocross.

I'm serious. I've been going through these five steps with mud-spikes for my shoes. The same can be said about having the proper gloves for the occasion. Or how about eye-protection: like having a set of clear lens for dusty night racing? Or heck, how many times have I missed a call-up due to failing to pre-register, or missing the pre-registration deadline by two minutes, or missing the call-ups because the starting chute was not where I thought it was? Oh, and let's not forget this dandy: dropping a swim cap in the transition zone of a triath -- vrrrrrrrp -- wait, what? My apologies, we will not have any triathlon discussions here.

Anyway, experience is everything, and failure is the best teacher.

This weekend's thaw and potential rain/snow mix could make for muddy courses at the Nebraska State cyclocross championships. Hopefully, I can be a step 4 failure this time around.

One day, I just might get it right. Then again, I probably won't. Man, I love this sport.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Muddy Conditions at day three Jinglecross 2014, photo credits:McColgan Photography

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Little Savery

Oh golly. I'm nuts. Absolutely nuts. I cannot recall the last time that I have been so singularly focused on one race, that being this weekend's set of three races at Jinglecross in Iowa City.

When I say nuts, I'm afraid I mean it. It's on my mind a lot. Like incessantly. Good grief. I can't stop thinking of it.

The thing is, I love racing my bicycle. Especially off road, in the dirt and grime; in the elements of cold and wet and sloppy. And I'll have more than my fare share of that this weekend, especially the cold.

A few months ago, I posted something about being cyclocross 1.5x4x120. This was somewhat of a tongue in cheek deference to our local world champion Mark Savery, who claims that he is cyclocross twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Pshaw. Nobody -- well uh, maybe Mark -- can be that into this sport. That's why I made a more realistic claim that I would be spending 1.5 hours on my cx bike for four days a week for the next 120 days. Seemed reasonable at the time.

Now that I'm in the thick of the season -- with my "A" race upon me -- my mind is whirling with cx this, cx that. For this week, 1.5x4x120 is an understatement. It's more like 12x7x7: 12 hours a day, 7 days this week I've been at least thinking -- if not actively preparing -- for jingle cross.

As you can see, I've gone bonkers. I'm all in. Oh geez, I just realized that I am becoming a little Savery. Ha! What's equally alarming as it is funny is that I don't care.

But you may (care). I'll tell you what. Let's make a pact. If I don't snap out of this soon, then be my accountability partner and drag me out of these (still?) shallow waters before I get too deep. Otherwise, I may have to resort to stealing my dog's prozac supply.

Deal? Deal.

Now, as for the cold weather this weekend? I say bring it. Unh. Yeah baby. DO YOUR WORST MOTHER NATURE. Oh yeah, uhn, I'm ready!

Seriously, please wish me well. And by well, I mean my mental state :)

And as always, thanks for reading.

Happy Friday.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I Use My Shins for Brakes

At the end of a recent cyclocross race, somebody asked me, "what happened to your shin?"  

Standing there in my race kit, with my cross bike straddled between my legs, I looked down at the crimson and dirt-encrusted road rash that overtook a large part of my left shin. I was as surprised to see it as she was. But then I recalled choosing a bad line through a tricky, off-camber turn, and eating shit in a cloud of dust about a half an hour earlier. 

"I used it as a brake," I finally said.

Of course, my bike's cantilever brakes were a better option, it just that they weren't available at the moment. As I was crashing, that was.

Traditional cantilever brakes have been around for ages. They have wonderful stopping action and excellent mud-clearance, which are both especially important in cyclocross. The biggest criticism they draw is in setting them up. They're finicky. Get it off a hair and the brake chatter can sound like Godzilla when he's pissed. However, having upgraded to Avid Ultimate Shorty brakes this season, most of that maintenance headache is a thing of the past due to their elegant design.

Even better than cantilever brakes (or shins for that matter) are disk brakes. They have improved stopping action, and with the disk mount near the hub, aren't affected by mud. The problem is cash. Like lots of it. It's not that the initial setup costs any more than a traditional bike, it's that you have to replace all of your existing rim-brake wheelsets because they're not compatible with disks. The thought of purchasing a new bike(s) and multiple wheelsets makes me want to take a nap.

But they say that disks is where the industry is heading. It just may take a while.

At anyrate, it doesn't matter much to me. My cantilever brakes work just fine. And when they're momentarily unavailable, my shins do quite a job at stopping me, too.

Disk brakes aren't going to change that anytime soon.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, October 31, 2014

What Makes for Good Cyclocross Races

In my somewhat limited cyclocross experience, what makes for a good venue includes the following:
1) The level of competition
2) Challenging race course, following UCI/USAC standards
3) The intangibles

The level of competition is important if you race seriously, because individual results are weighted according to how strong the field is. This ultimately determines one's handicap, which is important for races that follow call-up procedures based on points. Therefore, although standing on the podium is exhilarating, a lower result in stronger field can end up being better in the long run. This is true even in local races. For example at last year's Omaha CX weekend, I was second on day one and fifth on day two. However, due to a stronger field that showed up on day two, fifth place on the second day was weighted heavier, resulting in similar handicap points.

In other words, if you can choose between two races (Category/Masters), pick your races wisely. If your goals are short term, then going for cash isn't a bad option. Otherwise, a better starting position in a future race would dictate picking the harder race, even if it means a much lower place.

Part of what draws good competition are a challenging course and the intangibles.

As for the course, it must follow USAC or UCI standards. The standards are not only published in the rule book for consistency among race venues, but they are there for safety purposes. For example, courses should be 3 meters wide throughout the entire course. Another one: courses may also include a single section of temporary, artificial wooden barriers up to 40cm tall, between four and six meters apart. I have pointed out and asked officials to remove a third barrier before. It may sound appear elitist to do so, but I'm sorry, that's bush league, and it seriously undermines the validity of the race venue.

The intangibles of a race venue will also attract/repel competition. Location (big city/rural) is unfortunately part of the deal; small venues have it harder this way. But smaller venues can do a lot to ensure they're race gets put on the calendar year upon year. Cash prizes are always nice, as are deep field (10+) payouts.

What else? Swag, food, refreshments, live music. Clean, plentiful toilets. These are all standard fare at good races.

What else can a promoter do? Offer a pro clinic to all participants. This is what I experienced at the Gateway Cross Cup in St Louis last weekend, where Ben Berden and Nicole Duke put on a top notch race clinic for anyone interested. I picked up several tips at this clinic, including better turning techniques. In fact, applying what I learned the day before allowed me to pass six in a single turn on the first lap. The clinic was worth the trip in itself. And it was the best value (free!) of all.

Good competition follows great venues and intangibles. Last weekend's Gateway Cross Cup has all of that. It's why it's been on my calendar for the past two years, and will continue to be so.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gateway Cross Cup

I'm heading to St. Louis for the Gateway Cup Cross this weekend. This is the second year that I'm doing this race. Nearly eight hours of travelling makes for a long weekend. But it's worth it. Since the Gateway Cross Cup is also a UCI race, it draws good competition. St Louis is also where I grew up. While we're out there, we'll be catching up with my sister, who still lives there, and my best friend from kindergarten, Steve Missey.

Last year, I did the Masters 40+ race both days. This year, I'll be racing the Open races. I pre-registered for the Open races because I thought it'd be the most competitive. However, when I checked this morning, you could argue that the Masters race was the better choice due to the racers entered. Old guys can be fast. But while the Masters top end talent is better, the Open field has a deeper pool of second tier talent. In either case, there will be good racing, and I'll have work to do if I want good results.

While there, I'll also be attending the Pro clinic, hosted by Ben Bergden (USAC Rank: 5) and Nicole Duke (USAC:16). To do this clinic means taking a day off from work and departing Omaha at 5:00 AM this morning. Still, I couldn't pass up free instructions from the Pros. I mean, I get a lot of that already training with our own pro/Masters World Champion, but it's nice to hear it from others too. Especially when the race promoter and pros go through the effort to put this together. And it's free! You can never get enough knowledge in this sport.

Ah, my time is short. Let's recap: Great racing, and a Pro Clinic. A family visit. Road trip. It's on.

Now, to hit the publish button, grab my coffee, and point the car due east.

Happy Friday everyone.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spin Monkey Spin

My workouts over the past couple weeks have called for cadence drills. Basically, it amounts to a set or two of  five 5-minute intervals at higher than normal cadence. The goal each time is to spin at a high (115+ rpm cadence) as smoothly as possible. This means riding without any bouncing in the saddle. The theory is that a smooth cycle stroke results in a more efficient power transfer.

Until last week, I had done very little cadence work. Ever. This is mostly because I didn't fully grasp the value of it. And I suppose I was lazy.

It's amazing what a small investment in time can do to begin smoothing out a pedal stroke. On my first five minute interval, my form began breaking down at 105 rpm. The second interval jumped up to 115 rpm average. The third: 120 rpm. Fourth at 125 and fifth at 127. That was last week. This week, my first five minute effort started at 125 rpm. That's a 19% improvement from last week's starting point. Also, my best five minute average was 135 rpm, but there was a solid minute in there at 145+ and a max cadence of 151 rpm.

My breakthrough came in discovering the role core strength plays. Actively keeping the trunk firm helped provide a more stable platform for my legs to spin freely.

What was also interesting was how the bike felt immediately upon completing the cadence portion of the workouts. There was a new "understanding" that my legs had for the drive train. It was akin to a special connectedness that felt more familiar, like how a well-fitting glove is supposed to feel on the hand.

These first two session have been a successful experiment. It has been solely to see how fast I could spin with very little resistance on the crank. Next week, I intend to start adding more resistance to see what I can hold at a certain power. The goal then will be to identify my sweet spot where I'll produce the best power at the greatest efficiency.

Certainly one can do cadence drills without a cadence meter. But it sure helps to see the raw data. If you're considering a power meter, add this to the justification list. Otherwise, a cadence meter can still be had for cheap.

And that's all for today. Go out and have a spin. Happy Friday

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Fistful of Quarters, Part II

"You wash dishes?" said a harsh voice that sounded like it was gargling gravel.

I looked up from my magazine and saw an African American male sitting opposite from me on the #4 bus heading downtown. He was around 60 years old, wearing neatly pressed Khakis, a maroon pullover and canvas court shoes. His white-stubble beard betrayed two, maybe three days of growth. Meanwhile, his gentle brown eyes peered at me from behind a pair of protective work glasses.

"Excuse me?" I said.

"You wash dishes?" he repeated. "I notices [sic] your white pants there and wondered if you a dishwasher."

"No sir, I work in an office setting."

"My name is Jerry," he says while leaning towards me, hand extended.

I reach for his hand. He slips me a fish, but I don't mind so much.

"Hi Jerry. My name is Brady. Do you wash dishes?"

"Nah, I work at Lozier in hardware. But I used to wash dishes at Methodist. I wore white pants like those you wearing now."

"Ah, I see."

"Say, you got an dollar you could len' me?" he says without missing a beat.

"Sorry Jerry. I don't have any cash in my wallet" It was the truth. Except for a check to be deposited and a few old receipts, the fold in my wallet was practically empty.

"Okay." he says. A random smile envelops his face as he leans back into his seat. He raises a hand to scratch his stubble thoughtfully.

"They called me into work today." he eventually says. "Tomorrow too. Never know when I'm gonna work more than a couple days out. I'm in hardware, but I used to wash dishes at the hospital."

I nodded in silence. Jerry gazed through the window, appearing to look at nothing in particular. There wasn't much to see anyway. It was Omaha, after all.

We sat quietly as the bus rumbled down Northwest Radial, giving me some time to think about the ethics of altruism. Normally, I refrain from giving money to strangers, because I profile and suspect that it goes towards an addiction. I'd much prefer to offer buying a sandwich if they're hungry. Hunger is hunger, regardless of a substance dependency.

Still, there are times where I fell pity for the addicted. This is where I get in trouble. Half of me wants to not contribute to their vice, the other half wants to give them a momentary break from suffering, regardless of the long term affects. I also find this to be interesting; that it also takes willpower to not "help" someone in this state, just like it takes willpower to overcome a substance dependency (albeit a lot more).

At any rate, Jerry did not appear to be troubled by addictions. His profile indicated to me that he was a productive member of society. He was on an early bus and going to work. He was clean and neat. His eyes were alert. What he needed the $1 for could be anything: the commute home, food. I suppose it could be for cigarettes or alcohol, or illicit drugs, too. It just didn't seem like it.

As Jerry pulled the stop cord on the bus, I recalled that I had several quarters in my messenger bag's coin pocket. I reached in the fold and grabbed a fistful of loose change. There were several quarters in there.

"Is this your stop, Jerry?"

"Yeah. Gotta catch the #18 transfer," he rasped.

"Have a good day" I said, reaching out my hand.

He grasped my hand and felt the cool coins in my open clutch. His grip firmed up while his face transformed into another warm smile.

"Thank you, Brady. God bless you, and have a good day."

"See you around, Jerry"

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cyclocross HUD Warnings

"Your lines are driving me nuts," Shim said as he went around me during the first of five laps at the Oakley Night Cap Masters 45+ race this past Sunday morning.

I wasn't on my strong program that morning.

It wasn't that I didn't know it beforehand. During warmup, the Heads-Up Display (HUD) lit up with a pair of glowing amber warning lights:

It was true. The bad leg report was a direct result from the grueling Open Cat 1-2-3 race from the night before. At that race,  I took it out a wee bit on the spastic side (think Peter Boyd on crack) in order to hang with the alpha pack. Then, after say a quarter lap, reality set in. The next hour and nine minutes was a a wonderful experience of intermingled suffering and humiliation. Man, I can't get enough of this sport.

So anyway, that explained the CHECK LEGS warning on my HUD. The same can be said about the CHECK BALANCE alert. I was cornering for crap at the start of the race. That was mostly due to lingering doubt from a couple sloppy, fatigue-induced wipeouts from the night before. With my confidence still reeling Sunday morning, I felt slightly off-kilter on the bike and took to cornering cautiously. As a result, my turns were slow and with bad lines. This opened up gaps between me and the dude ahead of me, requiring some effort to catch back on. This was so evident that my good buddy and teammate, Shim, couldn't keep his cake hole shut about my crappy turning skills. After he mentioned it for the third or fourth time, I finally just gave in and let him go by.

I followed his wheel from there. Because he rides good lines, my cornering improved rapidly. The CHECK BALANCE light turned off shortly after. And though we had lost contact with the leader of the race, we had a nice gap between us and fourth place. Rather than try to catch back on, we rode a smart tempo around threshold for the remainder of the race. My legs were still fatigued. The wet course and heat didn't make it any easier. As a result, the CHECK LEGS* alert remained lit throughout the remainder of the race. Still, Sunday's race was more enjoyable than the night before. Finishing on the podium helped.

*CHECK LEGS finally cycled itself off during Monday afternoon's taco recovery spin.

Well that's all for today.  Thanks for reading and Happy Friday.