Sunday, October 31, 2010

San Francisco D10 Board of Supervisor candidates

I agreed with Kristine Enea on every proposition on the poll.
There's a remarkable number of candidates for the District 10 Board of Supervisors race in San Francisco. Of the 21 on the ballot, 12 responded to the San Francisco Chronicle's questionnaire on positions on some of the key city propositions on Tuesday's election. Thankfully, each voter gets to rank their top three choices in the election, and with so many candidates splitting votes, second and third choices will prove very important to the result.

Here's how the D10 candidates responded. The first column shows the candidate name. The next five show whether the candidate supports each of the listed propositions, all considered key propositions in the election. Then I show the number of positions which match those I listed in this blog. Finally, I show the percent in agreement.


Candidate
B
D
G
J
L
score
pct
James Calloway
no
yes
no
yes
no
1
20
Malia Cohen
no
yes
no
yes
no
1
20
Teresa Duque
no
yes
yes
no
no
3
60
Kristine Enea
yes
no
yes
no
no
5
100
Marie Franklin
yes
no
yes
yes
no
4
80
Chris Jackson
no
yes
no
yes
no
1
20
Tony Kelly
no
yes
no
yes
no
1
20
DeWitt Lacy
no
yes
no
yes
no
1
20
Geoffrea Morris
no
no
no
no
no
3
60
Steve Moss
no
yes
yes
no
yes
2
40
Eric Smith
no
yes
no
yes
no
1
20
Lynette Sweet
no
no
yes
no
yes
3
60

A lot goes into making a good candidate. For example, the San Francisco Bike Coalition supports Eric Smith for his strong support of the City bike plan. However, I think it's pretty clear from this Kristine Enea is going to appear on my ballot on Tuesday.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Caltrain Eight-ride Addiction

I started a new job and any semblance of "training" has gone by the wayside, as I was first focused on learning my way around, and now on solving some of the problems I'm hired to deal with. I'll need to find more balance in coming weeks. But I digress.

A consequence of the new job is I can finally get Commuter Checks, which allow me to buy transit tickets with "pre-tax" income. Considering as well I'll be working from home a lot less (I was around 1-2 times per week) and at least initially riding SF2G in less, surely it's time for a Caltrain monthly pass rather than my usual practice of getting 8-ride tickets. It's time to become one of the big-boy train commuters, right?

The fare chart shows that a monthly pass for 3-zones is $159, while an 8-ride is $40.75. So the monthly costs as much as 31.25 rides. in other words, if you ride 16 round trips or more, the monthly is the deal.

Sure, there's other factors. For example the monthly ticket is more convenient: just carry it with you and forget about it until asked to show it to a conductor. But there's a downside as well. The 8-ride needs to be validated every day, so it's part of my routine. On the other hand, the monthly needs to be renewed on the first of the month. Since that comes infrequently, it's far more likely to forget to renew the monthly pass than it is to forget to punch an 8-ride. There's a grace period through noon of the first workday of the month, but still, the cost of error is potentially high: a citation in excess of $200. I've never forgotten to punch an 8-ride ticket.

Then there's loss. If I lose my ticket permanently, assuming loss is rate, it will on average tend to have around half its value at the time of loss. Half of a monthly is four times half of an 8-ride. The new Clipper cards change things here as well, however: Clipper cards may be replaced with a fee.

For temporary loss, if I arrive at a station without my ticket or Clipper card costs me essentially nothing. With a monthly, I've got to buy one-ways for the day, and that's a total loss. I don't lose tickets much but I have forgotten to take them with me to the station. Again this calculus may change with Clipper cards: I don't know how one-way and day passes for the single-time train rider (like a tourist, for example) will be handled. But even if I can't buy an 8-ride without my card and need to get one-ways instead, the cost is only the difference between the 8-ride and day-pass fare (two one-ways), while for a monthly, I eat the full day pass fare.

Okay, so I can deal with these. Maybe I expect to misplace my ticket one day per month. Then the break-even point becomes more like 17 days instead of 16. I'll not worry about the ticket loss factor, since I assume that becomes obsolete with Clipper.

Then there's sick days. Maybe I average one sick day every other month. So that's an extra half-day on the threshold: 17.5.

Then there's bike commuting. If I bike in one day per week, which I hope to do, that takes the threshold up to 18 rides.

November has 22 weekdays. Two, Thanksgiving and the day after, are company holidays. That leaves 20 weekdays. Twenty is more than 18, so I should get that monthly (barely).

But I haven't gotten any commuter checks yet. Unless I get it before the first of the month, I'll need to buy that pass on post-tax income. If I then get it during the month, I'll have lost the opportunity to buy tickets during the month pre-tax. On the other hand, if i get 8-rides, I'll be able to take advantage of the pre-tax fare within a week of receiving my commuter check.

So for November, unless I get that first commuter check within a few days (and I think I need to wait an extra biweekly pay period), I'm better off with 8-rides.

Then December. The company shuts down for two weeks in December (forcing employees to take vacation time if they have it, so I'll take time-without-pay, since I won't). So December is obviously a monthly pass loser.

January: January has a holiday, leaving 20 work days. So this is more than my 18 day threshold. Then February has 20 work days as well. So maybe I want monthlies for each of these months. March has 23 work days so that's really the first month which seems like a clear-cut win.

But suppose I'm on an 8-ride ticket for December, then January rolls along. I want to stop using 8-rides and start using monthlies. But it's unlikely that my last 8-ride will run empty just at the last commute of December. I'll likely have some rides left, and with Clipper, these rides aren't easily transferred (paper tickets with residual value I could perhaps sell, at least in theory). 8-rides expire after six weeks, so I can't save the unused rides for future use if I'm doing at least two consecutive monthlies. So at the end of December I need to decide that I'll go to monthlies in January and go to day passes or one-ways instead after my last 8-ride expires. This is additional cost.

It's all a complicated game. And the game becomes more complicated if you consider I'll need to take some business trips on this job. The monthly pass just doesn't seem like a financial win unless weekend service becomes useful (I've ridden the weekend train only a few times since they last reduced weekend service) that I can offset some of my monthly cost with weekend trips.

Really with Clipper this could all be solved with a simplified fare schedule: you first rides of the month are at full fare, then after you've done a certain number (for example four) you go to a discounted fare, then after you've completed a second threshold (for example 32) the rest of the rides in that month are free. Then there's be no need to play these probability games.

So how to set these fares? It would be fun to suggest some sort of exponential decay function for fares, but I defer to an attraction to mathematical simplicity. So I propose a 2-tier price system. First, riders pay a higher rate for tickets until they get up to the level of a typical day-pass rider. Then they get a discounted fare which results in a typical 8-rider passenger paying the same as they do now. Nobody commuting 20 days per month should pay more than the present monthly.

So let's say the average day-passer rides 4 round trips per month. Then 3-zone tickets should be $6 each for the first 8 tickets you buy: $48 total (two tickets/round-trip). Then let's say a typical 8-ride passenger rides 12 times per month, paying close to $120 for those 12 rides, or $72 for round trips 5-12, yielding $3/ticket. Then if you ride 20 times in a month, that's 40 tickets, eight at $6 each, and 32 at $3 each, totaling $144. If you ride 22 times per month that's $156. A monthly pass (3-zone) is presently $159. So it works out fairly closely.

So there it is: 3-zone tickets @ $6 each ($12/round trip) for the first eight tickets (four round-trips), then $3 each ($6 per round trip) after that. Much simpler. For other zones, adjust accordingly ($1.75/zone for first eight tickets, $0.875/zone, rounded, thereafter).

Surely they'll do something like this once liberated from the capabilities of paper tickets.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

November election: San Francisco ballot propositions

Vote or DieOkay, last time I dispatched the state propositions. San Francisco loves propositions, as the voters have an alarming habit of passing things they don't understand, typically saddling the city with yet more debt. Here's my take on the latest bundle, on which I'll vote when I ride my bike to my local polling station (note how cleverly I slipped in the mandatory cycling content):
  • Proposition AA (vehicle registration fee increase): The money could be for the Floyd Fairness Fund, for all I care. I support all vehicle registration fees. Yes on AA.
  • Proposition A (Earthquake safety retrofit loan bond): Every single election there's another bond with either "schools", "water quality", "fire department", or "earthquake" in the title. These almost always pass. Who can be against Earthquake safety, after all? But we are sufficating under our debt, and bonds are no small part of that. I absolutely refuse to rubber-stamp arbitrary dollar amounts because earthquake is in the title. The way to address earthquake safety is to do what Japan does: have strict safety code. Then you let property owners comply or sell to someone who will. It's simply too easy to claim improvements are "earthquake related". No on A.
  • Proposition B (increase employee contributions to the pension system): the pension system for state and local employees is a massive boondoggle which is contributing in substantial part to the bankruptcy of our fine government. The reality is public employees have better benefits and much more favorable pensions than most of us in the private sector. This helps close the gap, just a little, for city employees. Hardship? Sure. I hate to be rude, but welcome to reality.
  • Proposition C (require mayor to appear at meetings): This is silly. Sometimes, maybe rarely, maybe only once a term, there are other priorities than a BOS meeting. No on C.
  • Jan Heine
    How would Jan vote?
  • Proposition D (allow non-citizens to vote for BOE if they have children in the schools): Maybe I'm violating my social liberalism here, but no. Do you think you can vote for BOE members in Mexico, whether you have children there or not? If you tried to vote there, they'd toss you out of the country as an illegal resident. Voting is a profound responsibility and it stands to reason we place at least minimal standards on those doing so. The standards of citizenship are a good start. No on D.
  • Proposition E (Election Day voter registration): if you haven't decided to vote by the registration deadline, you don't have enough time to become educated. Just look at these list of city and state propositions. And if you haven't educated yourself on the issues, I don't want you deciding them. No on E.
  • Proposition F (reduce frequency of Health Services Board elections); Seems suspicious. I vote no.
  • Proposition G (eliminate MUNI guaranteed highest average salary): The repeals Proposition A from a few year back whose proponants argued that by guaranteeing that MUNI employees were paid at least as much as the average of the two-highest comparable transit agencies in the country, this would provide more barganaining power to the city. Huh? I was against it then and I've seen nothing which convinces me that position was wrong. I'm for G.
  • cat
  • Proposition H (ban city elected officials from serving on party central committees): The point of this measure is to prevent office-holders subject to campaign contribution limits from running for party central committee positions without them. The idea is that candidates can raise as much as they want from the PCC race, using that campaign to raise awareness for an upcoming BOS election. Donations to BOS members who are running for their PCC may come with the expectation of pay-back as part of the candidate's power within the BOS. the downside of this proposition is I may well want my friendly supervisor on the PCC to help drive the priorities of the party. I maintain a bias against propositions which fail to demonstrate a compelling need, but I think I'll vote for this one: the "follow the money" principle is too strong.
  • Proposition I (polling places open on Saturday for November election): I'm for Saturday voting. Some people, especially those with substantial commutes such as yours truly, have difficulty voting on Tuesday. But San Francisco has quite liberal absentee voting, for example allowing early balloting at city hall. My concern about this measure is the Saturday voting will be funded by private donations. Who's going to donate money to Saturday elections? Let's see, do Low-Key Hillclimb funds go this year to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the Open Space Trust, World Wildlife, or Saturday Elections? I don't like it. Elections should be publicly funded. When government is stripped down to the last thread, it could be argued that last thread should fund elections, as elections are the foundation of a well-functioning republic. So I vote no on this one.
  • Proposition J (hotel tax increase): Increasing the hotel tax from 14% to 16% is incredibly stupid. Voters like hotel taxes because the voters get the services provided by the funds while somone else pays the bill. But what you learn in high school economics is that when you raise the price, demand drops. We want people to come into the city, for a variety of reasons, and unless they're pitching tent in the Golden Gate Park campgrounds, they're probably staying in a hotel. If I'm deciding where to put a convention (say, the International Electron Device Meeting, or the San Francisco Bike Expo), 2% extra (okay, 1.78% extra) tacked on to everyone's bill may well be the straw that broke Jan Heine's porteur.
  • Proposition K (hotel tax "clarification"): This is a competing measure to Prop. J, to dilute the vote. I'm voting against this one as well. The idea is it would require brokers like Hotels.com to collect the tax. Let the BOS deal with this; it doesn't warrant a proposition.
  • sitting on sidewalk
  • Proposition L (no sitting or lying on sidewalks): If I'm out running and strain my hamstring and need to sit down to massage my leg, I don't want a ticket. If there's a parade and I stand but the 70-year-old next to me wants to sit on a chair, she shouldn't get a ticket. I vote no, and refuse to support any candidate for office who publicly supports this. It's a brazen attempt to target a specific population, but there's already laws on the books to deal with these other issues. Some argue police discretion will prevent abuse. I refuse to throw the our "free" society at the mercy of police discretion where it can be avoided. The police, in my experience, demonstrate little tendency to select discretion over expediency.
  • Proposition M (mandatory police foot patrol plans): I'm against this one simply because M is too high a letter or a proposition, especially considering AA. Okay, so while proposition fatigue set has started to set in, I did in fact read this one. Interesting little nugget at the end of the fine print says this measure would invalidate L. It's tucked away in Section 2a.89.6.2. Cute. I'm tempted to support it for that alone, but I will oppose it anyway: too many details, too many mandatory reports. It's hard to see how this sort of police micromanagement is productive. The way this sort of thing is to happen is to hire a police chief who supports foot patrols, then let him do his job.
  • Proposition N (increased transfer tax on high-valued properties): Arguably the most famous, or perhaps infamous, voter proposition in California history is Proposition 13 which passed in 1978. It was one of those "it seemed a good idea at the time" votes which are all too common, and an example of why throwing detailed legislation at voters who are bluntly unqualified and unwilling to carefully consider what's at stake is a bad idea. With so many properties paying tax at only a 2% inflation rate beyond 1975 rates, cities scramble to find new ways to extract revenue. A key result of Prop 13 is it discourages the transfer of property, because transferred property can be reassessed, and given that most property has appreciated far in excess of the 2%/year schedule allowed by Prop 13, property transfers can result in a huge increase in property tax rates, while the carrying cost of land can be relatively low. Therefore property may tend to be underutilized. Property tax is like a "membership fee" in a city, a "rental" for the position taken within the common society. None of us lives on an island, we live in a society where we depend on each other for survival. Property tax makes sense; it keeps properties active, provides incentive for them to be used efficiently. On the other hand, taxing transfers has the opposite effect: it discourages someone who has less use of the land from selling it to someone who has a better use. So I oppose this one.

So there you have it. In summary on the state issues;
  • YES: AA, B, G, H
  • NO: A, C, D, E, F, I, J, K, L, M, N
I like to hold propositions up to a high standard, so my yes rate on this one, 27%, is consistent with this.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

bike destination: ballot box (the state propositions)

It's getting time again for me to ride my bicycle to the ballot box. As usual, California voters, especially those in San Francisco, are confronted with a broad menu of propositions. Often these propositions present challenging choices. Not this time, however. Virtually all of the measures are, to me, fairly clear-cut.

First the state measures.

  • Proposition 19 (legalize marijuana): This is a tricky matter, since it is a violation of federal law to possess this stuff. But I'm a firm believer in the autonomy of the states, and in this instance, we flush a tragic amount of resources down the judicial toilet incarcerating poor slobs for this weed. I'm against marijuana use, but then I'm against alcohol and tobacco use as well, as we don't toss away the key for people caught with these other substances. So until we develop more creative, less expensive, more effective means to deal with marijuana abuse, the good old free market solution of taxation works fine by me.
    switch: I changed my mind on this one. Some of the details, like restrictions against testing, go a bit too far. See for example 11304(c). I defer to Feinstein's arguments against, and vote no.
  • cyclingnews.com
    Lance discussing redistricting with Floyd
  • Proposition 20 (redistricting commission): the abuse by the legislature of congressional districting has been a clear travesty of the democratic principles on which the nation is based. Using the natural selection principle of "if it's broke, replace it", I'm for this one.
  • Proposition 21 (vehicle license surcharge): This is a surcharge on the license fee for private vehicles, undoing the repeal of a similar charge by the Governator soon after he took office. Anything which makes driving a car more expensive I support, period. Free market principles work, and if we want folks to drive less, by far the most effective way to do so is to make it more expensive to drive. Now a license fee doesn't directly make it more expensive to drive (you have to consider the marginal impact of driving on capital investment to unravel it): a gas tax is much more effective at that. But it does help. So I'm for this one. Oh, yeah: the money goes to wildlife or some such thing. I don't care wwhere the money goes, really. The main thing is the impact on car ownership and reliance on cars as primary transportation.
  • Proposition 22 (prohibits state from "borrowing" local transportation funds): The state has abused its power by borrowing from cities to balance its budget. Neverthreless, there's already checks in place to prevent this sort of abuse: the ballot box, for example. The state treasurer is outta here, as far as I'm concerned. This also prohibits the state from using fuel taxes targeted for transportation from paying for transportation bonds. If the voters hadn't passed every freakin' transportation bond in sight this wouldn't be an issue now. I vote no.
  • Proposition 23 (suspends implementation of air pollution control law): Great, so it's okay to destroy the Earth if someone calculates unemployment is more than a few percent, which could, by the way, be an essentially permanent condition given the way things have been going. No, no, no. Can I state this strongly enough? No.
  • velonews.com
    Lance discussing Prop 24 with Alberto
  • Proposition 24 (repeals recent legislation which allows businesses to lower tax liability): Farms have traditionally been allowed to average income over multiple seasons to avoid paying higher taxes than a business with a revenue stream less enslaved to weather fluctuations. But there's plenty of businesses whose income is subject to year-to-year variation. For example, if I have an umbrella store... Okay, this is a silly example, but the point is it makes sense for businesses to be able to average income over multiple years. This would repeal a law going into effect in 2011 which would liberalize how a company could distribute losses among profitable years and how it could allocate income between multiple states in which it operates. There's serious problems in how businesses are taxed. For example, if a company takes money as income, it's fairly easy for it to shelter that and not pay tax. On the other hand, if it hires someone it pays a substantial amount of tax (social security + income tax: both are charged on the transaction whether or not it's technically paid by one or the other). So the incentive is to maximize profits, not hire people. Surprise, surprise, the nation has a jobs crisis. But this proposition doesn't solve that core issue.
  • Sports Illustrated
    Lance discussing legislative super-majority with Tyler
  • Proposition 25 (changes vote on budget from 2/3 to 1/2): Nothing other than constitutional ammendments should require a 2/3 vote. Opponents can only argue it won't make a difference. The reality is the opponents love 2/3 requirements because they mean you need to bribe only 1/3, rather than 1/2, of legislatures to grid-lock a budget and hold out for give-aways. I'm strongly for proposition 25
  • Proposition 26 (certain state and local fees require 2/3 vote): No. See Proposition 25. I don't care about further details.
  • Proposition 27 (eliminates state commission on redistricting): Well, obviously since I'm for 20 I'm against this one. Elected officials have a core conflict of interest in redistricting. The CA League of Women Voters is strongly against this.

I picked the easy set first. Next time (gulp) I tackle the San Francisco propositions.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Giro versus Tour distance

Last time I wrote a bit about the Giro 2011 route, more about the qualititative than the quantitative. The Giro route just recently announced for next year is brutal, that nobody denies. The striking feature is the incredible series of mountainous stages. But how does the distance stack up?

CyclingNews data 2009-2011


First I show data i took from CyclingNews for the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France for the last two years as well as for the announced 2011 routes. The Tour was a bit longer in 2010 than the Giro, but other than this one race, the Giro and Tour cover essentially the same amount of total ground: close to 3500 km over a three-week race.

I look a bit closer at these data in the next plot. On the lateral axis is the day of the race from 1 (the first day) to 23 (the final stage). On the vertical axis is the number of km covered by the race to the end of that day. The Giro is plotted in green while the Tour is in blue.

CyclingNews data 2009-2011


First comment: neglecting the longer Tour in 2010, the Giro has been a bit longer than the Tour going into the final stage. Each of these three years, the Giro has ended in a relatively short time trial, while the Tour has ended in what basically amounts to a promenade to the streets of Paris followed by a few "hot laps" of the Champs. Essentially the Giro goes into the final stage with more km, then instead of an "easy" day, the riders are on the rivet for the few km assigned to that last stage. So I feel giving the Tour credit for the longer race in 2010, they come out fairly even here.

The 2010 Giro is particularly interesting; after an opening three stages in Holland, there was an early rest day followed by a short individual time trial. This set the race "behind schedule". But after the time trial it set out on an ambitious schedule to catch back up, including a six-day stretch of stages over 200 km, one at 262 km and the final two finishing with brutally steep climbs: Monte Grappa and the mighty Zoncolan.

So in summary over the past three years the Giro route has been at least the equal of the Tour route. But what about historical trends?

I don't have data for the Giro. But Memoire du Cyclisme provides data for the Tour de France (Giro is subscription only and I've not subscribed yet, although 15€ for the full history data for the Giro seems like a great deal, so I'll do that now). I did my best to data-mine the HTML on the web site, adding up the distances extracted from loosly-formatted HTML, but it's possible I made some mistakes. With that caveat, I plot the Tour stage distance versus year here:

Memoires du Cyclisme data: Tour de France


Obviously the Tour was strongly affected by the world wars. So I used only post-WWII data for my analytic fit. The trend is for a decrease in total distance of approximately 5% per year. Curiously this trend also captures the distances during the post-WWI period as well, even though those data are ignored.

Looking more closely at the data, the distance hasn't been in steady decline. It tends to hold a certain distance, then a policy decision drops it suddenly, then it holds for awhile, etc. It dropped precipitously in the late 1980's, then recovered in the 1990's, but then dropped again around 2000. It's held at around 3500 km/year since. There's been talk of the Grand Tours dropping to two weeks due to the crowded UCI schedule. That would obviously see a profound drop in distance. But it's not hard to imagine the Tour dropping substantially in distance, even with the present 23 day schedule.

But I hope that doesn't happen. I love the epic nature of these races. The Giro route for next year is just a reaffirmation of the tradition of these grand events.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Giro 2011 route announcement

The 2011 Giro d'Italia route was recently announced.

I never get very excited about Grand Tour route announcements. There's pro cycling year-round to attract my attention, and fall is when I'm, at the pro level, checking out cyclocross results, while at a personal level doing my best to make the Low-Key Hillclimbs a success. In any case, it's really the riders who make the race, not the course. Whatever the route, there will be climbs, sprint stages, and time trials. The relative weight changes, but the race is really dictated by the teams and individuals who come to play.

The last few years has been particularly interesting, however. For example, in 2010 the Giro visited the Strada Blanca near Siena, while the Tour de France featured a stage on some of the cobbles from Paris-Roubaix. So I admit my interest in these announcements has been perking up a bit lately.

Nevertheless, I didn't think much when I heard the Giro was announcing it's route, as it always does following the Tour de France announcement. But then I started seeing articles like this one... it was clear there was something special about the 2011 Giro.

So I checked it out on CyclingNews.

Oh, my....

This is simply the most brutal stage race route, neglecting distance, I've seen. Back in the '80's stages in excess of 250 km were common, and tours regularly had two-stage days which haven't been seen in over a decade now. Similarly, more of the mountain stages exceeded 200 km in those days, whereas now it's far more common mountain stages are close to the 150 km range.

But in the sheer day-after-day relentlessness of mountain-top finishes, this one is hard to match. The Tour can't do this: the terrain of France simply doesn't support it. Italy has mountainous roads over a larger fraction of it's land, allowing for this sort of continuous pummeling of riders with climbs large and small, day after day after day.

I think there were definitely signs this year the anti-doping efforts were working, especially in the Giro and Tour. Riders weren't as strong throughout the three weeks as they had been the previous 15 years or so. They showed signs of fatigue: VAM numbers were less impressive than they had been in all three Grand tours.

Fans love this sort of thing. They love seeing riders tire, struggle with the hills, not crank out climb after climb like a machine on cruise control at 1750 VAM. Rewind back to 1987: Stephen Roche collapsing on the summit of La Plagne (video here), saving his chance at the yellow jersey which he went on to win. Epic stuff.

The Giro wanted a death march: that much is clear. And they'll likely get it. The Giro is unwilling, and never has been willing, to accept a role as a warm-up race for the more popular Tour de France. Instead it embraces Italian's unsurpassed cycling tradition and terrain and serves up a race which is a worthy goal on its own. If it's a race primarily targeted by Italian riders, then so be it. There's plenty of talented Italian riders to make for three weeks of excellent racing. There's more to pro racing than the Tour de France.

If riders want a gentle build to the Tour, well I can recommend a nice little stage race near and dear. But there's nothing gentle about this Giro...

Rudely swiped from CyclingNews, here's profiles of the stages. Each is linked to that stage's page on CyclingNews's excellent coverage of the route.





















Saturday, October 23, 2010

grade histogram: climbs from 2010 Low-Key series

The coordinator for today's Low-Key Hillclimb made the call last night to pull the plug on today, worried about the Weather.com forecast that rain was likely. I'm a fan of the national weather service text forecasts, which are available, for example, on Weather Underground. Those had been more optimistic, that the rain would move in after our climb would have been finished, and that turned out to be the case. The roads were dry for when we would have been there.

So Sierra got the axe. Ah, well, move on.

Last time I introduced a new form of climb histogram plot. Here are such plots for the climbs on the Low-Key schedule for this year.. you can really tell a lot of a climb's character from these plots, I feel; they complement the profiles very nicely, and do much better than a simple plot of road grade, which tends to be too "noisy". Each plot is linked to the climb's profile page.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

grade histogram comparison of climbs

It occurred to me one way to compare climbs would be to compare the distribution of grades. But a simple histogram wouldn't do, for example how much of a climb is between 10% and 10.1%. What I really care about is how much of a climb is at least 10%.

Then there's the question of what is meant by "how much". You could count up the distance, but for steep roads, distance isn't the real story. 100 meters of 20% road isn't half "as much" as 200 meters of 10%: they climb about the same vertical. The more relevant question is how much altitude is gained at a given grade or steeper.

Then how do you assess grade? If I measure the route profile to the resolution of a pebble, then the grade may tend to be extremely high. So you need to apply numerical smoothing. So I did exactly what I did in rating climbs:
  1. Interpolate the profile to a 10 meter mesh
  2. Smooth the profile with a characteristic length of 50 meters
  3. Estimate how much time it takes "a typical rider" to ride each section of the course
  4. Apply a smoothing function with time constant 15 seconds, since steep sections which can be ridden in 15 seconds or less are easier than something of the same grade which is part of a more extended steep segment due to momentum and stored muscular energy.
After this, I added the altitude gained by each small 10-meter piece of the climb in a "bin" determined by its gradient, then accumulated the altitude climbed in these gradient "bins", going from steep gradients to flat. I didn't consider descending segments.

Here I plot some results for climbs from the last two years of the Low-Key Hillclimbs. These are the most highly-rated (using the Low-Key rating formula) climbs the series has done so far: Alba Road, Bohlman-Norton-Quickert-On Orbit-Bohlman, and Welch Creek Road. Each of these climbs is nasty, that nobody would deny. I also add in this Saturday's Sierra Road, and week 2's Old La Honda Road, which is the 100-point reference for the rating system, being the world's canonical cycling climb.

click for larger image


First, Old La Honda is small potatoes compared to these other guys. On the logarithmic scale, the content starts dropping off a serious cliff at around 9%: of the 393 vertical meters gained, only 50 meters exceeds 10%

Sierra Road is a lot tougher than Old La Honda. It gains around 170 meters at 10% or more. still, it's not quite in the league of the remaining three.

Alba Road appears next, a lot tougher than Sierra, but not quite delivering the super-steepness in the same quantity as Welch or Bohlman-Norton. But hey -- how's that? It ranks higher using the Low-Key Hillclimb rating scheme. To tell why this is requires a closer look.

Consider Welch Creek first. Alba gains more vertical (grade at least 0%) and holds that advantage out to grades of at least 8%. Only beyond this point does Welch Creek win. Since total climbing matters, even if there is a bonus given to steeper portions, Alba's increased net climbing wins the day even if Welch Creek has the edge in steep. And Alba certainly is no slouch on steep.

But what about Bohlman-Norton? That an interesting one: Bohlman-Norton gains more altitude starting with almost every grade. How can it therefore rank lower?

The answer is On Orbit Lane, which has the nastiest grades of that climb, contains a descent before returning back to Bohlman, which continues the climb. The rating system deducts points for descents along the way, partally offsetting some of the climbing. The histogram doesn't show the descending portion, nor for that matter does it show perfectly flat sections. it just shoes portions which contribute positively to total climbing. Were that descent not there the Bohlman-On Orbit climbs would win over Alba, hands down.

So Alba wins on the points because it is relatively relentless. And that's how it should be. That little descent at the end of On Orbit Lane helps a lot. But despite it, Bohlman-Norton is still a formidable foe. Many would say it is considerably harder than Alba, and this plot shows why: around 130 vertical meters at at least 15% grade. My legs hurt just looking at the plot. It all comes down to individual preference.

Now I'll compare with two plots from my recent trip to Italy.

click for larger image


In black, I have Alba, the highest rated of the Low-Key climbs. From Italy, first the legendary Ghisallo in orange. You can see we in the San Francisco Bay area can be proud of our climbs here: the Alba, while not a world-class climb of the standards of the Dolomites or the Alps, perhaps, still shows its clear superiority to the climb to the Madonna, at least in terms of raw numbers (sorry: the Italian climb wins by an order of magnitude or more on style, and Alba has its share of style).

Then I plot in red the climb I rode, until I walked, from Dongo to the Rifuge Giovo. Wow! That's some serious grade action there. Add in the rough-hewn gravel surface on the steep portion, and you have a climb which would have been challenging on a mountain bike, let alone a skinny-tired road bike.

Plots like these go a lot deeper than simple ratings at lending insight into what a climb has to offer. But they really require detailed profile data. The profiles typically published in Europe, for example with segments 500 meters or 1 km long, aren't enough. The devil's in the details.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Adventures in Italy: Dongo to Rif. Giovo via SP5

The day after my Ghisallo ride I did a flatter ride through Switzerland and on to Lake Maggiano (returning by car with family who'd driven out). Not much epic about that one, just plenty of gorgeous roads. But the next day got more interesting. I headed north along Como from Menaggio to Doggio for a relaxed panini lunch, then turned inland.

On Google Maps it looked promising: squiggly lines, altitude contours, and a road which was defined all the way to Switzerland. But on the simpler commercial map I was using, it terminated. I was intrigued. It's too easy to stick with climbs which have been used in major European road races. Sometimes it's fun to just head out and see where the road takes you.

So after lunch I found the sign marking the road and I set off:

road from Dongo


The road was in excellent condition. I'd say "surprisingly" well paved except I've come to expect excellent pavement in Europe.

road from Dongo


The road passed through Stazzona first, then Germasino, then Garzeno. By this point it had diminished to something on the adventurous side. It was still excellently paved, however. In Garzeno there were two candidate paths through the town. On the way up, I chose the "local" route, in which the road turned into little more than an alleyway before re-merging with the other option. Somewhat past Garzeno was this sign, indicating the way to Passo di San Iorio at the border with Switzerland. Note the altitude; I was at less than half of this.

sign near Garzeno


I climbed on, although past Germasino the pavement was rougher. After climbing the now extremely narrow road, wondering what I'd do if there was an uncoming car, I eventually came to an end of the pavement. I hit my Edge 500 lap button, marking the end of the Strava segment. I contemplated turning back here, but the dirt was very ridable, so I knew I couldn't let myself the hook so easily. The climb to this point had gained 693 meters, already more than most San Francisco Bay area climbs (similar to Soda Springs Road).

climbing on gravel


Yet finally I arrived at Brenzeglio, a group of houses perched on the incredibly scenic hill-side. I stopped by the fountain next to a road sign, contemplating what to do next, when an old man shouted at me from a window above.

fountain in Brenzeglio


I finally realized from the few words I understood that he disapproved of my tires, which were too narrow. The road ahead was broken, he was telling me, and my bike was unsuitable. Furthermore, he pointed in the distance at some buildings much higher up on the hill, to where the road obviously went. I respectfully indicated I wanted to try anyway: the buildings looked intriguing. Sure, it looked bad here, but I expected the steep stone-strewn road in town to give way to a more gradual, smoother dirt later. After all, someone had to be able to get to those buildings, and I assumed it wasn't by mule.

You have to admit it looked ugly though:

rough road leaving Brenzeglio


in fact the surface did change after this to more dirt. But the combination of roughness, looseness, and steepness was just too much for my lack of Sven-Nys-like-skills. I walked most of the way in my Speedplay cleats.

At this point I could only marvel at how the road vertical the road was, here coming out of a switchback from the right.

steep stuff


Taking the prominent tree as a vertical reference, and neglecting the perspective, the road has a gradient of 20%, which turns out to be what I measured as average on the Garmin for this part of my ride (more accurately my "walk").

i was never able to make the decision that the step I'd just completed would be my last, however, and eventually I got to the buildings I'd been going after. Nothing abandoned about these. Somehow they get supplies to this place, and bring trash down.

destination


Just as I took the photo I passed some German hikers going the opposite direction.

The road continued, as promised, but I knew I was done: this was apparently Rifuge Giovo. The old man's warning had been on target: I needed bigger tires, much bigger. Still, what I had done had been worth it for the view alone, although no doubt the view was even more spectacular approaching the pass, most of 1000 meters higher.

destination


The route profile doesn't quite due justice to this one, at least to what over the final 2 km was 90% hike-a-bike, at least for me. You can see the climb is already considerable to the end of pavement, but it's the unpaved portion which pushes this one into the epic category:

destination


So how's it rate? To the end of the pavement, the Low-Key Hillclimbs rating algorithm (Old La Honda = 100) scores it at 174. But to the point I turned around the rating blows out to 268. In contrast, the Tourmalet in France as climbed in the 2010 Tour de France rates 361. The toughest climb from the Low-Key Hillclimbs according to the rating has been Alba Road, which is rated 235.

After admiring the view, I walk-trotted the gnarliest of the steep trail/road. About the time I overtook the German couple I'd passed going up, the trail became rideable downhill. I was quickly back on the pavement, and the rest of the ride down into Dongo was smooth. Sure, descending the narrow, twisting roads demanded plenty of attention against the occasional oncoming car, but here, on the back roads of Italy, drivers have been dealing with these conditions their whole adult lives, and they're exercising as much care as I am. My degree of paranoia is borne more of my experience in the US, where driver attitudes, experience, and training differ.

My ride continued around the north short of Lake Como, following the route of the then-upcoming Giro di Lombardia, at least until my next climb, another worthy adventure. But this blog post is already reaching if not surpassing Bike-Snobbish proportions, so enough for today.

Anyway, if you're visiting Lake Como, don't just stick to the obvious. This was just one of the many climbs which go up into the mountains from the well-traveled shores. I picked it almost at random. I went on to another one later in the ride. But there's so much I didn't have time to explore.