Friday, December 19, 2014

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

I've got this locker at work, in Union Pacific's fitness center. Because of demand and slow turnover, it took about four years of sitting on a waiting list to get this locker assigned to me. I've had it now for ten years. Like I said, slow turnover. Anyway, it's small, one of those half-sized jobbies, as opposed to one of the large, public daily-use lockers. I rent this one for $12 a quarter. It's a pittance to pay for a nice perk.

In fact, next to having the top notch, 24/7 fitness center that Union Pacific also provides gratis -- with (free) towel service to boot --  this tiny locker is one of the best perks around. It's well worth the hassle of writing that check every three months.

As you can see, I make use of all of the space allotted to me. It may not appear so, but I've made a number of mods to improve its efficiency. The deep drawer is for toiletries and such, and a three-tiered shelf for smaller items in the back. I have also installed three hooks: two for clothing and one specifically measured for my bicycle helmet's straps. The helmet itself becomes a hanging basket for other smaller items, like hats, glove, pumps, tubes, etc...

In the summer, things stay nice and tidy in that space. But come winter, like in the picture above, it's a chaotic mess. This is mostly due to clothing redundancies for key pieces of cycling gear required for winter rides.

Like shoes. There's road, cyclocross, running and dress shoes that are all vying for space.

Exhibit A: the shoes in my locker on this past Monday

* Two pairs of standard road shoes (+ winter shoe covers)
* One pair of standard mountain bike shoes
* One pair of winter (mtn) boots
* Two pairs of running shoes
* One pair of dress shoes
That's seven pairs of shoes. Seven! Can somebody give a shoutout to Imelda Marcos? Okay, some of that maybe overkill. Like, I probably don't need two pairs of road shoes. The same goes for running shoes.

Regardless, besides the shoes, my locker has all the normal gym stuff: toiletry kit, a towel, a pair of running shorts, a tech shirt, two or three pairs of socks.

In addition to the above, it also has a summer cycling jersey and bib-shorts for indoor spinning, or to use as a winter base layer.

And then there's all kinds of extra winter riding gear: a long sleeve base layer, a long sleeve thermal jersey, thermal shoe covers, arm and leg warmers, gloves and hats.

Finally, there are some bicycle repair stuff in there as well: a foldable road tire, an extra inner-tube, chain lube, some tools, even a brake cable. I'm not even sure what I was thinking that I may need to repair a brake cable, but it's in there in case I do.

As you can see, the locker is well-used.

I think you can readily agree with me that this is a perk that I get a lot of use out of.

Well, that's all I've got today. Happy Friday and thanks for reading.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Soft Pedaling 1.5x4x180

Ah, the cyclocross season is over. It couldn't have ended for me any time sooner either. I'm afraid that if it went any longer, you just might have lost me for good, for I was beginning to go a tad bonkers.

Sitting in the Trek Bicycle Stores sprinter van after the Iowa State championships last weekend gave me some time to reflect about this past cyclocross season.

I learned a lot, like how to train and race better, and being better prepared by having more equipment choices. I learned some strategy, like not simply drilling it until I blew up.

I also experienced some firsts, like attending a pro-led cyclocross clinic, cracking into the Top-5 at a big race (Jingle Cross), and reaching the podiums of both the Nebraska and Iowa's Open 1-2-3 races.

Iowa State Championship podium. photo: Brittany McConnell
Nice Photo-bomb, Kent McNeil. Ha! What a lurker.

Anyway I can look back at this season and say that I reached heights that I had never attained before. But as you can see, it wasn't high enough that I couldn't resist the urge to still stand on my tippy-toes when I got there.

This is the real reason why my Mom thinks I'm nice and tall
Regardless, I leave this season with a sense of satisfaction, yet hungry for more. This is good. I am eager and already excited for next year.

But first, I'll be soft-pedaling 1.5 hours by four days a week for the next six months (180 days).

Happy Friday and thanks for reading.

Lucky #ƐƖ at Oakley Night Cap, Des Moines
Gateway Cross Cup, St Louis
Spooky Cross, Des Moines

Start of Jingle Cross Day 2, Iowa City

Nebraska State CX Championships, Lincoln   photo credit: Matt Steele
The Trek Bicycle Stores Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, 

Friday, December 5, 2014

I'd Rather Be Good than Lucky

Cyclocross has a little bit of everything in it, including the element of chance/luck. These past few races I haven't been so lucky. Or as Ray Charles might have said, "if it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all."

For instance, in my Saturday Jingle Cross race, I dropped my chain in a crash. The crash itself was a bit of bad luck in itself. Dropping the chain made it worse. But where I was really unlucky was how the chain dropped to the inside, becoming wedged in between my crank and frame. That cost about 45 seconds and several places before was back on the attack. Then on the first lap of Sunday's race, somebody dumped it right in front of me, forcing me to dismount and run through an icy/muddy bog, This resulted in frozen debris solidly jammed into my right cleat.

There was no amount of smacking the pedal that would dislodge the sediment. As a result, I couldn't clip-in for the rest of the race. Fast forward to the next week at the Omaha Weekend, when I flatted after clipping a course marker with two laps to go. And at Frosty Cross this past weekend, a section of course tape snapped in heavy wind and blew right into my drive train as I rode by. If I had been a fraction of a second before or after, it's unlikely I would have had an issue. As it was, I lost precious time getting off my bike to unspool the tape from my cassette.

Granted, I did a lot of this to myself by taking higher risks than necessary, like hanging fat turns that put me closer to tape/marker stakes where calamity could happen (and did). There's a fine line between risk and reward. I'm at that phase where I'm still figuring out where that line is.

On the road back home from Frosty Cross this past weekend, Mark, Lucas and I were talking about our training plans. Lucas said, "in cyclocross, you get out of it what you put into it." Those words are simple, but so very true. Cyclocross demands focused work, in both being able to repeatedly drill it on the rivet, and in being able to handle a bike in the corners. If you neglect cornering skills, then you won't have a chance to recover. If you neglect power, then you won't be able to hang with the big dogs on the straights. You simply need both.

Cyclocross isn't meant to be easy or lucky. It's difficult. Those who prevail do so by putting in. In the end, you get out of it what you put into it.

That's why I'd rather be good than lucky.

Thanks for reading. Happy Friday

Snychronized Dismounts at Frosty Cross. Photo courtesy of Ian Richards

Friday, November 28, 2014


It's black Friday morning and I am thankful for NOT being in retail

... or that I even live within three miles of a Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc...

... or that I have a spouse who wants to go out today

... or that I have to sit in traffic,  or wait in lines, or sleep outside for door busters.

... (sigh)

I could go on and on about what I'm thankful for not having to deal with this Thanksgiving holiday, but who really cares?

If you care, I am thankful that I can sit in my underwear and mop-head hair while blogging with a cup of hot coffee at my side.

I am thankful for my spouse, my family and friends. And pets. Let's not forget them. For a good job, a nice house, and plenty of food.

And cyclocross. That's important too. Speaking of which, I have the Frosty Cross races to get ready for.

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.


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.