Tuesday, May 31, 2011

MDR 2011

group shot
The happy group at the start of MDR.

This past weekend I did the "Memorial Day Ride" ("MDR"), a supported bike tour between Los Gatos and Santa Barbara organized for the past 22 years by Janine Rood. The route alternates between the original "coastal route" and a newer "inland route". The coastal route, held on odd years, follows Highway 1 through Big Sur while the odd-yeared inland route tours the parched hills of Hillister, Pacines, Bitterwater, and King City on the way to Cabria and San Simenon. From San Simeon to Santa Barabara the two routes share the same final two days.

2011 being odd, this was a coastal route year, but the same landslides which diverted the Tour of California from its planned Big Sur passage did the same to MDR this year, so inland it was for the second consecutive year. So odd and even switch: next year will be coastal, Caltrans permitting.

The inland route is 370 miles or so in four days: a long first day of 114 miles, another long day following of 100 miles, a "recovery" day of 45 miles, then a final day of 108 miles. The coastal route has a a slightly shorter first two days but not by much.

Janine practices a brilliant logistical juggling trick which she has perfected over these past decades. The brilliance of it all is it runs on a volunteer basis: three riders each segment must volunteer to drive a van or the tour stops. There's one luggage fan, two food vans. At each rest stop the "lead" food van stays until the "follow" food van arrives. It then drives to the next stop in time to provide food for the lead riders. The following van then remains until the last rider has arrived, when it leaves to relieve the lead van at the next stop. Long days have three stops, so that this actually works is nontrivial.

After missing the last two because Cara hasn't been able to ride and thus dropping from the initial invitation list, after hearing a friend was going to cancel, with Cara's encouragement I decided to put my name on the wait list. Luckily there were more cancellations this year than people on the wait list, and I was told I was in a week before the start.

My preparation this year was marginal at best. I've done no organized cycling events, no race simulation rides, no interval sessions, and no rides longer than 70 miles since last year. My new job and commute had ripped the guys out of my weekday training, which now consisted of a few morning bike commutes and a handful of lunchtime runs. Add to this that I was now three years older than the last time I did the ride and I could only hope that experience would carry me through.

I was rudely reminded of my lack of long rides on Thursday, day 1, when at mule 70, the length of my long ride so far, I felt the tank run empty. From here on I slipped into survival mode, never dipping into a red zone which was now inaccessable to me, happy for the tailwind which helped push me up the hills approaching Bitterwater. The run from Bitterwater to King City was impeded by strong cross-winds, but it included a substantial descent, so wasn't bad.

Day 2, Friday, I felt much better. I'd rested, eaten, and hydrated well after the day prior's ride, and my legs felt good. On the second leg I even got frisky, attacking on the climbs on the rolling route. The Interlaken climb, used in this year's Tour of California, was a highlight. After the third rest stop I deviated from the official route and instead of a segment which included a highway shoulder, I took to the dirt via Kau Mine Road. The dirt climb which follows Kau Mine, Cypress Mountain Drive, took me to the top of Santa Rosa Creek for the long, rough, and steep descent to Cambria. From there all I had to do was suffer the final five miles into a block headwind to San Simeon. All in all I felt good about the day, even if my "quality over quantity" short cut had reduced the distance by at least ten miles.

Saturday Day 3 was a well-earned joy. It includes a "coasting" descent contest designed by long-time participant Greg Ferry. Greg wasn't on the ride this year due to his travels, but the contest lived on. The goal is to go as far as possible with a single stomp on the pedals. Results are strongly correlated to rider mass and although I'm significantly above my racing weight right now I'll need to beef myself up considerably further to take the honors in this one next year. It's curious, actually, how little the bike seems to matter on this test. Another highlight of day 3 was our destination: San Luis Obispo is a fun town in the way made possibly only from the massive influx of money a major college provides.

Day 4, Sunday, was the final, long run down to Santa Barbara. I was hoping the rest day would invigorate me for this one, but this didn't prove true. After a huge bowl of miso, noodles, tofu and vegetables at Big Sky Cafe in SLO the night before I'd eaten a light breakfast of the 1.5 old bagels I still had in my initial food supply. The Motel 6 we'd stayed in was on the outskirts of town and nothing much was available there, so I figuring instead I'd fuel up at the first rest stop. But when my group arrived there after blasting over Strawberry Hill the van wasn't yet there. I kept moving, realizing the second 25 miles would be a challenge. But I faded even worst than I feared, and by Harris Grade Road, where the longest climb of the tour loomed, I was close to empty. Luckily, however, the food van passed me here, stopping at the side of the road ahead of its scheduled stop on the opposite side of the hill. From this point, at around mile 40, it was a constant effort to dig myself out of my hole. Thanks to Dave Hover's steady wheel as he practiced for an upcoming triathlon on his Cervelo P3, I was able to minimize the amount of work I had to do, and even started to feel strong on the final few climbs on Foothill approaching Santa Rosa (aided in part by a half-can of Coca Cola at the final rest stop).

So the tour was a personal success. I finished tired, too tired to take my pre-planned Monday morning run, but surely these long miles will be money in the bank for what follows in this cycling season.

Due to some issues with my driver's license renewal being delayed I wasn't able to drive support this year. I was far from alone: a substantial number of the participants rode the entire distance. Some riders, due to illness or fatigue, drove during several legs. However others out of obligation to the ride picked up the slack of those of us who didn't drive. I hope to make up for my freeloading ways the next time I do the tour; there's nothing stopping those who drive a segment from riding make-up miles at the end of the day, and on the last day a group of volunteers who'd missed a segment of that ride did just that, climbing Gibralter Road out of Santa Barbara, an epic climb. Sounds like a plan for next time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Contador on Nevegal vs Horner on Sierra Road

Quick post today.....

I estimated the power taken for Contador to do the climb to Nevegal, which took him 20:58 from the checkpoint at the base of the climb to the summit:


600 meters climbed in 7.30 km for an average grade of 8.2%.

For direct comparison with Horner's Sierra Road climb I used the same numbers: 65 kg body mass, 6.8 kg bike, 1.5 kg of other stuff, 0.32 m² CdA. I reduced rolling resistance from 3% to 2.5% since Contador was on time trial tires. I still assumed 3% drivetrain loss. I used a power-speed model including inertia. I assumed he started the climb at 40 kph.

The result: 6.24 W/kg. This is lower than the 6.56 W/kg I had for Horner on Sierra Rd. Horner's VAM was 1916 m/hr while Contador was 1750 m/hr.

Of course it's not a fair comparison as Contador had finished two brutally tough stages immediately preceding the rest week the day before, and may not have fully recovered. It seems riders aren't having rest days as productive as they had a few years ago.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chris Horner on Sierra Road: power, speed, and equivalent Old La Honda time

After much speculation and indirect guessing, I finally got a time for Chris Horner climbing Sierra Road during stage 4 of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California.

Horner wins on Sierra Road
Recovox News

VeloNews posted Rory Sutherland's power data, with analysis, for the climb. Rory started the climb in Horner's group and finished 1:15 behind. According to the article, Sutherland's time was an impressive 18:02. However that puts Horner's time at an amazing 16:47. I'd put maybe 2-second error bars on that number. For example, if Sutherland hit the base of the climb one second after Horner, then Horner's time would be one second longer. But I'll stick with this estimate.

Sierra Road profile

Sierra Road climbs 536 meters according to my numbers. So plugging that into Chris Horner's 0.280 hour ride and you get a VAM of 1916. Generally in the Tour de France if you see a VAM in excess of 1700 that's extraordinary. 1916?

But in addition to overcoming gravity when you climb (producing VAM) you're also pushing aside air (wind resistance) and rubber (rolling resistance). The steeper the climb, the less distance traveled, and the less wind and rubber you need to move. That leaves more power for moving upward. And while there are climbs as steep as Sierra in the Giro d'Italia, in the Tour such grades are rare. Additionally, the riders had come off a rest day (the canceled first stage) and a downhill stage ending in a brief circuit race. He was fresh as can be, with the exception of having climbed the backside of Mt Hamilton as "warm-up", but compared to a typical "Grand Tour" Queen stage that relatively short climb is only a minor inconvenience.

We could guess at how much power it took Horner to climb at this rate, but ther'es no need: Rory Sutherland's data is an average of 6.1 W/kg. If I assume climbing rate is proportional to W/kg (a decent approximation) I get 6.55 W/kg for Horner.

Horner posted a low-resolution plot of his power data on-line. He started at around 450 watts, dropped off to around 400 watts, then ramped it up to 420 watts by the finish. If I assume a body mass of 65 kg ( 143 lb), I get 426 watts. So this is consistent.

To check this, I make a few assumptions. His bike is exactly 6.8 kg (the UCI limit) but add in another 1.5 kg of clothing, shoes, helmet, etc (the stuff adds up: weigh it sometime). Then I assume that the rolling resistance coefficient is around 0.3% (the pavement was very good) and drivetrain efficiency is 97%. I get 6.37 W/kg. That leaves 72 watts for wind resistance. He was climbing at 5.59 meters/second, and assuming an air density of 1.1 kg/m³ (a guess) I get a CdA of only 0.32, which is precisely what Tour magazine measured for a "typical" rider on a Cannondale road bike.

The canonical number which comes to mind of the benefits of supplementation in the Armstrong era is Michele Ferrari's target threshold for winning the tour de France of 6.7 W/kg (from Lance Armstrong's War by Coyle). Coggan's "functional threshold power" (which tends to be slightly higher, I believe than the blood-lactate-based number used by Ferrari) is the power a rider can sustain for an hour. A standard estimate of the power you can sustain for an hour is to ride for 20 minutes then subtract either 5% (Hunter Allen) or 7% (Joe Friel) from the result. I assume Horner has excellent aerobic endurance so I'll assume 5%. To go from 20 minutes down to 16:47 I'll use the critical power model with AWC/CP = 90 seconds (a typical number). The result is that his FTP can be estimated as 93.7% of the power he was able to ride for 16:47, under ideal conditions.

So this results in an estimate of 6.14 W/kg for Horner's FTP. He thus falls well short of a number required to win the Tour in the age of Armstrong, Hamilton, Landis, and Hincapie. And that's a good thing.

OLH profile

The next question: what would he do for Old La Honda Road? It requires a self-consistent calculation: we know what he can average for 16:47, we have a formula for predicting what he can average for shorter times (the critical power model), so if we know how long it takes to climb OLH we can estimate how much power he could deliver there. But we need to know the power to estimate the time, so it's simplest to use an iterative calculation.

Old La Honda climbs 393 meters in 5.42 km. I'll assume a CdA of 0.32 (typical of what was measured by Tour magazine with a dummy) with an air density of 1.15 kg/m². I'll assume a 0.5% coefficient of rolling resistance as Old La Honda has mixed pavement quality. I'll still assume a 0.97 drivetrain efficiency. Playing around with the numbers I get 13.70 minutes = 13:41.

That would be a record, but only by 17 seconds or so. Greg Drake told me he'd done "sub-14", and it's rumored Eric Wohlberg was even faster. So Horner had a great ride, no question, especially for a master's racer, but the result isn't as insane as it might appear just from the VAM.

Take 4 lb off the UCI-limited bike, drop the bottle cages, pump the tires up to 140-160 psi, and get a more restrained warm-up than blasting over Mines Road and I think it's safe to say Horner could knock 30 seconds off that time.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

watching Tour of California Sierra Road

This past Wednesday I took a "long lunch" to go watch the Tour of California stage of Sierra Road. As a consequence, I had to work late and didn't get home until after 9pm and had to skip my planned SF2G rides that week to still get a project done, but it was all worth it. I even went in for a bit on Saturday. But you can't take races like the Tour of California for granted in the United States. History has shown over and over that each year may well be the last.

I rode with some SF2G buddies to just before the summit of Sierra Road. There the road was blocked for some reason, even though it was still an hour and a half to an anticipated finish. So I was denied the last 100 meters. The climb was fun: I was enthusiastic at the start, dodging other riders, caught up in the crowd, until I looked back and realized I was in my 34/21, a gear well beyond my present fitness for this hill. I backed off to the 34/23 and took it easier the rest of the way, even though the best grades were already behind me at that point.

It was cold on the summit in my long sleeve jersey and base layer. I wished I'd brought a jacket. I descended to a spot 1.7 km from the finish, one with good sight lines, a view of the valley below, and sunshine. Antler Guy was here, I noted. He fitted his well-racked football helmet and periodically did a practice sprint up the hill. He didn't really talk to anyone, but then maybe it was because nobody seemed to talk with him. I later regretted the lost opportunity.

Antler guy does wind sprints. From TourOfCalifornia2011

Spectators struggle up the hill before the racers. From TourOfCalifornia2011

I was still chilly here waiting for the riders. I chatted with some Stanford Physics PhD's about the product they were preparing to deliver to market, and about what was up with various alumni of Stanford Cycling. But once the riders came I forgot about the cold.

my shaky video

Verizon reception was marginal, but I'd managed to get an update that Horner and Leipheimer were riding with Rider Hesjedahl. I was chagrined, therefore, when Horner rode into view alone. When asked who I thought would win the stage I'd said "a young guy". Horner's anything but at 39.

A gap. A surprisingly large gap. Then a bunch rode by.... 65 seconds after the solo Horner. So much for my theory on this climb shattering the top ten: this sizeable group was likely to arrive in a tight spread. I focused on pointing my Flip camera and didn't catch any identities except for Leipheimer.

After this, however, riders arrived either solo or in groups of just a few. Finally Sierra Road had its rightful place in the Tour of California.

A spectator asked if that was all. No, I answered, there will be a big group of riders and later the broom wagon. When you see the broom wagon you'll know that's all.

However, I was the one who cracked first. The early finishers were descending the hill, and I wanted to get back to work; I knew I would be staying until the 7:48 pm local train as it was. So I said goodbye to my companions and started my descent.

Around the first corner, however, there it was: the grupetto at last. A sizeable crowd. I picked Michael Creed out of the group and shouted his name. Call me a big fan.

The grupetto. From TourOfCalifornia2011

Then I continued my descent. It's inspiring how smoothly pro riders descend, even such a steep hill so crowded with unpredictable spectators. I didn't try to keep up.

At the bottom, I connected with most of the riders with whom I'd ridden out. I was a bit surprised at one point to look over and there was Andy Schleck riding by. Sometimes the coolest moments at a bike race aren't during the race at all. All those who said "I'll watch it on Versus" today miss out. There's a vast difference between "watching" a race on television and actually being a part of it by being there on the side of the road. Live spectators are the icing which completes the cake. It felt good to have been on this cake.

I felt energized the whole ride back. Work is in the post-industrial wastelands of Mountain View, but I was lucky that it was the one day of the week where the local burrito place stays open past 4 pm. So I was able to get at least two and a half hours in before I caught that 7:48 pm train.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tour of California stage 4: Sierra Road

Tomorrow is only the third summit finish in the history of the Tour of California, the first two being the San Francisco prologue from 2006-2007 which finished on the top of Nob Hill. Tomorrow's climb is a bit tougher...

2007 Low-Key Hillclimbs

I first encountered Sierra Road in Grant Peterson's fantastic Roads to Ride South, a book of route profiles of Bay area climbs from the 1990-era. It became for me an obvious candidate for the Low-Key Hillclimb series which Kevin Winterfield and I organized for the first time in 1995. And the series will revisit it this year, in week 2.

My next encounter was when I did the Devil Mountain Double in 2000. That was quite a different experience, as it came after having already climbed Mount Diablo, Morgan Territory Road, Patterson Pass, Mines Road, and San Antonio Valley Road. Post-bonk, with tired, legs, it was an exercise in survival. But I did, and finished the 200 miles, albeit after dark.

The Tour of California had the brilliance to include the relatively obscure road in its schedule every year the stage race has been held. Initially, when the race was held in February, the Tour would climb Sierra then descent Felter Empire Road to Calaveras Road and then race down flat, suburben streets into downtown San Jose. This finish made it very challenging for riders to use the hill to gain time.

The last two years, Sierra Road has been early in the stage, coming just a few miles after riders had started in San Jose. This reduced the menacing climb to a promenade, a springboard for a suicide break with little hope of surviving the subsequent miles.

This year, finally, Sierra Road is taking the place it deserves, as a summit finish. Here's the official stage page. And while a lot of attention has been placed on the penultimate stage in the race, I feel the results on Sierra Road will have the greatest influence on the final top ten in GC.

Here's a profile of the climb:


It starts out rudely, a well-paved suburban road rising suddenly. This section maybe looks even worse than it is, because after only 30 meters or so of vertical the grade starts to relent from the initial 14%. In fact, one is tempted to think the opening grade was merely an anomaly, and from here it's going to setting into something on the sustainable side of 10%.

But no luck. After clearing suburbia, the grade kicks up again: first for another 100 vertical feet at 15%, then a but of relief, but then a leg-cracking 250 vertical feet again at 15%. If there's an attack on the climb as opposed to a battle of attrition, it will probably come here.

At the end of this section, 1000 feet have been gained in total, and with the exception of a few brief indulgences, the steepest stuff is done. Yet with tired legs there's still 250 feet averaging 10%, then 220 feet averaging around 12%. Finally, the gradual "sprint" to the finish.


Here's a breakdown of the total climbing at each grade or higher, comparing Sierra Road to what I consider the canonical climb, Old La Honda Road... this one is in meters (apoligies for the inconsistency):


The total climb is around 520 meters (grade 0 or higher). But 300 meters of those 520 are at or in excess of 10%, with 35 meters at or above 15%. There's climbs around here which dig deeper into that > 15% territory, but that time in the 10% - 15% range takes its toll.

Of course tomorrow the leaders will blow up this thing, making the grades look tame. But the presence of steep grades early on will break the drafting tether and allow splits to form, with the grade the rest of the way steep enough that cooperation among chasers will never be enough to overcome weakness in climbing. It will be a very exciting finish.

Monday, May 16, 2011

VeloNews vibration transmission tests


I'm really enjoying the recent series of VeloNews bike test articles. First it was aero mass-start road bikes (April 2011 issue) and now it's "endurance" bikes (June 2011). This one is especially interesting because while there's already plenty of windtunnel data out there, vibraton data is less readily available. Wind tunnel tests are extremely trickly because the result depends so strongly on the size of the bike chosen, what's bolted on it, and the position of the rider. With vibration testing, we're getting closer to fundamental engineering, and I would hope the results would tend to be less dependent on assumptions.

VeloNews isn't the first to do such tests, of course. I've already commented on Champoux's work in which he analyzied the spectral distribution of vibrations transmitted to a bike frame using a treadmill with a bump attached.

Hastings did a study, also with a treadmill with a bump, at M.I.T. comparing old Cervelo frames: one aluminum, one carbon fiber, and the other steel. Each bike had the same geometry, the same components, and tires pumped to 7.6 bar. Forks also were apparently the same. Hasting's result was consistent with typical subjective evaluations: the Al frame had the highest peak acceleration (2.5 g) followed by the carbon fiber and steel in a virtual tie at 2.3 g. The range of acceleration (from negative to positive) showed a similar trend, with the Al at 3.0 g with the roughest ride, followed by the carbon fiber and steel at 2.7 g. The steel tested with slightly less vibration than the carbon fiber, but the difference was too small to claim statistical significance.

So the bike matters, apparently. So with this background, I was interested in seeing what VeloNews found testing four present-day carbon fiber frames.

One difference: the VeloNews test used Kreitler rollers instread of a treadmill. They welded steel rods onto the front 3-inch and the frontmost rear 4.5 inch rollers to produce bumps. with different periods (it's tempting to say the periods were in a 3:2 ratio but the bumps likely result in an offset from this nice rational result). They then mounted accelerometers to the top of the seatpost (eliminating the effect of the seat),the top of the steerer tube (eliminating the handlebar and stem), and to the front and rear dropouts. Results were combined from these accelerometer readings.

Numbers were in the same range of the Hastings results: up to 1.82 g peak acceration for the small-bump test, up to 3.03 g peak acceleration for the large bump test. I don't want to reveal all of the results here: you should buy the magazine or access it via their web site. But an aspect I found particularly interesting and one I hadn't seen measured before was the effect of tire size. They compared a 23 mm tire with a 25 mm tire for two of the test bikes: the LaPierre Sensium and the Cannondale Synapse.

If you compare a 23 mm to a 25 mm tire, the rolling radius of the 25 mm tire is slightly greater: for every turn of the wheel the bike moves slightly further. But there is a larger relative difference in the minor radius: the radius of the tire perpendicular to the rolling direction. When riding over rough roads, if I have wider tires, my tire drops less into holes narrower than the tire width than it does into wider holes. The wider the tire, the wider the hole needed for the tire to fall completely into the hole. So you'd expect a wider tire to provide a smoother ride on real-world bumpy roads. But the VeloNews test doesn't address this effect: the bumps are essentially infinitely wide.

Another advantage of a fatter tire is you can pump it to lower pressure without fear of road-rim impact. Additionally, at the same tire pressure a fatter tire of the same suppleness may have lower rolling resistance since the contact patch is less eccentric and requires less depression of the rubber at its center. So for both of these reasons you can run the fatter tire at lower pressure, reducing the bump transmission. But the VeloNews test doesn't address this either: they ran both a 23 mm tire and a 25 mm tire at 90 psi (6.2 bar). They reported tests at 120 psi (8.3 bar) exceeded their accelerometer range.

So you might not expect they would measure much of an effect from tire size, since two "obvious" advantages of fatter tires weren't exploited. Here's the result:

effect of tire size

Despite only a few data points, I boldly extrapolated the results out to 32 mm tires using simple power-law models. I'm assuming an asymptote of 1 g: the accelerometers will measure the acceleration of gravity when at rest (consistent with the M.I.T. study). You can see that tire size has a large effect (the power law exponent is greater than two in each case), but not enough to close the gap between the Roubaix and the other two bikes.

However, with larger tires one typically uses lower pressure. So I assumed that one pumps the tires to a given contact patch length. The area of the contact patch would then be porportional to the width of the tire, and therefore, assuming contact patch size is proportional to pressure, the pressure is inversely proportional to the tire width (this is actually a fairly bad assumption, due to sidewall stiffness, but close enough to justify my pressure-width relationship). This is also consistent with a given force on the bead, since force on the beat is proportional to tire width multiplied by tire pressure. I then assume that acceleration from a bump is proportional to the square of the pressure. This seems plausible since lower pressure reduces bump transmission at least two ways. For one, it reduces the force which can be transmitted to the tire by a small bump of a given size. Second, it increases the contact patch of the tire (averaging the roughness over a larger section of road).

modeling lower pressure

The result is then as shown in the second plot. From here it appears the Roubaix with 25 mm tires would have about the same large-hit acceleration as the Cannondale with 27 mm tires or the Bianchi with 29 mm tires. Note this isn't quite right, because the Roubaix was tested with the same pressure @ 25 mm as the other two were @ 23 mm, so the difference is even larger than this.

These results certainly suggest, even for the same frame material (carbon fiber), the design of the frame and fork can have a considerable influence on the comfort of a bike over rough roads, even comparable to relatively large differences in tire size.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

lost weekend

I rested on Friday. I'd had a solid three days: an excellent lunch-time run on Tue, my pre-BTWD stickering ride on Wed, and my 167 km round-trip commute on Thu. So on Fri I was pretty much cooked. Time to refuel for the weekend.

But when I'd flown out to New Jersey the previous Thu night for a cousin's wedding, the red-eye had left me with a sore throat, congested, and tired. Allergens were in abundance in the area, or maybe I just caught something on the over-crowded plane. I managed a 7.5 mile run on Friday, and a quick 25-story stair run with sluggish legs on Sunday morning, but it was a very light weekend overall. So while my head was feeling crappy, I felt otherwise well rested by Tuesday when I did my run. Then I was fine on Wednesday and Thursday, even if my congestion persisted.

Saturday I was feeling sluggish and devoted myself to some much-needed chores. But then today (Sunday) I was just completely dead. Allergies? A cold caught from air travel? Who knows....

It's been a strange year for me. I've not had any goals, virtually no competition of any sort other than a single trail race (the Montara Mountain Half-Marathon). Sure, I have some fitness, I'm running and riding, but I don't feel like I'm striving for anything. We're entering the peak period for cycling and running. Blink and it will be November and dark, cold, and wet, not to mention I'll be overwhelmed with the Low-Key Hillclimbs. Sure, the last few years have been a steady downhill in terms of bike racing, starting with my crash at Berkeley Hills. But last year wasn't bad: Some solid 30 km trail races, Skyline to the Sea trail marathon, two difficult double centuries. But I'm well behind even last year's place. I've got to kick myself out of my limbo.

Sure, I'm at a different job this year, one with new things to learn and different challenges. But there's more to life than work. The challenges presented by athletic events are visceral, tapping into our deepest instincts for survival, instincts which are completely neglected otherwise. Sure, getting a Tcl script to run is satisfying, but it's hardly the hormonal overload of testing your physical limits and reaching the finish.

But reaching goals, any goal, is tough when allergies or sickness take you out for a weekend. They're too precious. With two-plus hours commuting each day and long work hours the weekdays fly by way too quickly with so little to show for themselves, even if I like what I do and the people I do it with.

We're all cogs in a machine we don't understand. If we divided up "what needed to be done" for society to thrive among those available to do it, surely things would flip and we'd be "at work" two days instead of five. But instead we're locked into the perversely competitive system which is designed to make a very small number of people obscenely "rich" (but not really happier) and a much larger number un-employed. More work is done promoting others' failure than anyone's success. The goal isn't for society to thrive; that's supposed to be a side-effect of the big game. But it's not working, clearly. Mental illness is rampant, obesity is beyond epidemic, and satisfaction with our lives is low by any rational standard. We each have the responsibility to ourselves and to those around us to take our own measure of what's important and where we're going and not fall victim to the consumerism machine. Easier said than done.

Ah, well. If I get a few SF2G's under my tires this week I'll feel better.

Friday, May 13, 2011

SF2G Bike to Work Day

Bike to Work Day to me is No Excuses day.... I don't have to decide if I'm riding to work, I am riding to work, the only decision is how. Sure, I could do the Bayway yet again, but BTW day is a day to place a slightly higher emphasis on the commuting and a slightly lower emphasis on the destination of that commute. So I signed on for the SF2G Skyline ride.

Skyline is hillier, longer, and takes longer than Bayway. However, once you get to Skyline Boulevard, the highest point in Daly City, there's minimal stopping. From a pure riding perspective, it's clearly superior. However, I hadn't done it since my new job moved me further south, and with a big-company as opposed to little-company atmosphere, more reluctant to get into work any later than 10 am (usually I'm in by 8am).

Despite going first to the wrong BART station, I arrived at 24th Street BART in plenty of time: around 6:15 am. There were already a good number of riders there for the 6:30 am departure, and more came every minute. The group quickly overflowed onto neighborhood streets.

photo by Journeylight

First off was the "Millbway" group: they went down the steps to BART to take a train to shorten the bike ride for those intimidated by the distance. Not long after the official 6:30 am start time, then, the "Bayway" group left, by far the largest group:

Skyliners left last, at 6:38 am. This early, there isn't much traffic on Mission, the which we took out to Daly City, but there are MUNI buses, and we sort of danced with a few of these for awhile. Not so fun.

Approaching Daly City, I noticed my bottle cage was coming loose, and I stopped to tighten it. With my tool buried in my saddlebag, this took longer than optimal, but I wasn't worried about catching the group on the climb of John Daly Blvd. Eventually I was ready and set off.

Due to bad luck with lights, I didn't catch the main bunch until we reached Skyline. There we stopped to wait for slower riders to recatch. It can be pretty nasty up on Skyline. Despite only modest altitude, maxing out approximately 500 feet above where we started, the winds off the ocean can blow a chilling fog from the coast. Today was overcast but no fog, chilly but not windy, about the best you can hope for up there any month of the year.

The group then basically rode together to the San Andreas multi-use path, which parallels first Skyline and then I-280, connecting with Trousdale further south. The others slowed for the first entrance point to the path, but I stayed on Skyline longer, entering the second entry point. I then zipped ahead to use the bathroom. This is a regular stop for me when I go this way, and I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible to make room for others.

When I left, I saw some riders pass by, so I chased, thinking they were with my ride. It turns out they were an independent group riding to Intuit. But since I was already on my way I decided to keep going. I wanted to get to work by 10 am and I didn't think that would happen if I kept waiting for regroups.

So I rode solo the rest of the way. When I reached Woodside I decided to go the slightly longer counter-clockwise path around the Portola Valley Loop, but to cut off its tip by taking Cervantes. Cervantes is a fun, steep brute of a climb, and to my surprise when I later looked at the route profile I learned the top of Cervantes appeared to be the high point of the ride, higher than Skyline Boulevard which feels much higher.

The Tesla Energizer Station

Only a few miles from my workplace in Mountain View I passed the only Bike to Work Day aid station I encountered during the day. It was sponsored by Tesla. A quick glance revealed a few granola bars and maps. I made sure to thank the volunteers before rushing off: I was already good on food and water.

The last few miles I faded a bit... I'd not eaten much at all before leaving for the ride, and had only consumed a Lydia's raw food bar and some honeyed tea. But I was still fine.

Riding to work, especially on Bike to Work Day is a real rush. After I'd eaten the double-large hot cereal I'd bought from the cafeteria (with around 8 minutes to spare before the 10 am closing time), liberally supplemented with nuts and dried fruit and a bit of soy sauce for salt, I was ready to go. The hours passed quickly, and before I knew it it I'd finished a project I was doing and it was a good time to head back home. However, just then I got an email from my manager reminding me I hadn't submitted my weekly report, due on Thursday, so I did that first. Now it was 5:12 pm, earlier than I almost ever get out of there, but since I wanted to ride home I knew it was important to get out early.

I thought I was good with the three hours remaining before dusk, but didn't want to risk the longer Enilyks route, so opted for Yawyab instead. I'd never ridden Yawyab, but had done Bayway many times, so this experience in combination with the stickers on the path for Bike to Work day gave me confidence I could overcome my usual navigational issues. And it did go fairly well, with only a few missteps, and a bit more time spent in hesitation.

But the real time-killer was the wind. When I rode near the Bay, the white caps on the water were a visible indicator of the strength of the cross-headwind. Also, I didn't have any food left, thinking instead to stop along the way. But remarkably, the first available food, not counting a Burger King near San Carlos Airport, was a gas station in Burlingame near SFO, around 2/3 of the way home. Still, that was better than nothing and I stopped there for an Odwalla Bar.

The wind near the airport continued to be a challenge, and progress was slower than I wanted. Finally, as I passed north of South San Francisco, I moved inland and the breeze turned to a tail wind. I made good progress on third street as the light faded, replaced by street lamps. With my little flashy lights for visibility, I was fine.

I limped into Whole Foods Market on Potrero Hill, exhausted. After a break there to pick up some food for me and, more important, some frozen meat for the cats, I rode the final steep blocks home. Total for the day: 167 km, 104 miles. My longest BTWD yet.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

stickering the SF2G Bayway route for B2WD

Today I rode the SF2G Bayway route on a stickering Mission. A few of us met Debbie Leight at Ritual Roasters in the Mission.... she had rolls of RouteArrow stickers in yellow, green, and blue: yellow for before the turn, green for the turn itself, and blue for post-turn. I was assigned yellow.

The others weren't quite ready and since I wanted to make sure I got to work by 10 am I left. I was impressed by how well the roads were marked. I contemplated that perhaps I'd not have anything to do, since others had marked the preceding days. But Debbie had said there were unmarked sections "past Oracle", more than half-way.

I put down a few arrows, though... one to cover an arrow which had been pointing the wrong way, and another along the shoulder where I thought arrows further to the left might be missed. I still had plenty.

The Bay Trail near San Mateo and Foster City is always fun. Gorgeous views.... it's called the "Feral Cat Freeway" by SF2G and, sure enough, I saw a well-fed grey cat watch me from the brush as I rode along. I hadn't ridden it for quite awhile: it's become fashionable in SF2G to take the roads through Foster City instead. That route is shorter but not much quicker due to traffic lights. FCF is worth the few added minutes.

Soon after rejoining the roads is Oracle, so I knew here I would likely be approaching some unstickered territory. But while I added a yellow sticker to a left turn to encourage riders to get into the turn lane early, things were still well marked at this point.

I was caught by the others who had been at Ritual at the entrance of the freshly paved Bridge To Nowhere approach. This is not a welcome infrastructure upgrade. Cleaning Bridge to Nowhere has always been an important challenge on the Bayway, and now it's just another paved bike path. Ah, well... I suppose I'm being elitist, and the paving does help people ride who might otherwise not do so. And after heavy rains B2N would become a true quagmire of muck and mud. The price of progress...

I left them there as I'd already put down a yellow arrow to clarify the relatively obscure entry to that path, and never saw them again the rest of the ride. They must have been slower stickering than I was.

Here's where my stickering really began. Lesson 1: when stickering in the middle of a busy road face traffic to watch for cars. Fortunately the car drivers were watching for me so no harm done.

I flubbed a bit my entry to the Bay Trail at San Franciscito Creek.... two dead ends then I ended up taking my normal route to the trail which is off by a block from the canonical route. So if riders follow my arrow, they'll get a bit of extra dirt for their troubles. Dirt's always a good thing: partially making up for the destruction of the B2N path.

Sooner than expected, I was out of stickers. What to do? Surely this would end in tears, riders wandering the Bay Trail for hours looking for the proper exit. But to my surprise the exit had been already marked.

I got to work later than I'd wanted.... 9:59, so right under my 10 am deadline, but I'd wanted to be there earlier. Ah, well, all in the name of good karma.

The route is very well marked, as well marked on a corner-normalized basis than a typical century or double century. Surely a group of three, for example, wouldn't miss any turns. But a solo rider might... so I recommend not setting off on the ride without some sort of route sheet if you plan on riding alone. On the other hand, I expect at least 400 riders to be at Mission and 16th tomorrow for the 6:15 am start (146 signed up as I write this, and surely many others aren't aware of the form), so there shouldn't be any reason to ride alone for long.

Clipper Card monthly passes on Caltrain

The results of my ongoing learning experience with Caltrain and Clipper... Checking online, asking conductors, and calling on-line help never provides the whole truth. I'm given fragmented information, partially true, partially wrong. Yet I continue to chip away at that vague thing we call reality. That hyperdimensional fractal volume whose surface can never be perfectly realized, only approximated to ever-increasing resolution...

Here's my understanding for how Clipper Direct works with monthly passes on Caltrain:

1. Each month you deposit via Clipper Direct at least sufficient pre-tax dollars into your "account".
2. Using the website, you can then purchase "transit products". These can be one-time or recurring orders. In my case, I have a recurring order for a monthly pass between zones 1 and 3.
3. This monthly pass will get you on the train for the first nine days of the month (at least this worked for me this month).
4. If at some point during those nine days you "tag" on or off within your passe's zones, the monthly pass is activated. If the trip took you outside those zones, "zone upgrades" will be purchased to cover any zones outside the monthly pass zones. If you forget to tag off during this trip, it will be assumed you were traveling to the most expensive destination, typically Gilroy (zone 5) but perhaps San Francisco (zone 1). If you tag on outside the zones of your monthly pass and forget to tag off, I would guess it registers this most expensive trip, and activates the monthly pass only if this trip enters the monthly pass region, but this is speculation.
5. Starting on the 10th of the month, if there has been no tagging, the monthly pass is "returned". You now have no pass on your card. You've been riding Caltrain for free for the first nine days of the month.
6. At this point you have have "credit" with Clipper Direct, and can purchase "one-time" products to ride the rest of the month. For example, yesterday I purchased an 8-ride ticket on-line. Upon purchase, this 8-ride is claimed to be available by the "first of the benefit month". I don't know what this means: I want it to be available immediately. Presently (the next morning) it is indicated as "ordered".
7. As with any monthly pass, if the pass is active, and you get on the train without tagging on, you are fine unless you leave your zones or if your cash balance is less than $1.25, in which case you are cited. I have no idea why you need a $1.25 balance if you didn't tag on, since in this case there is no way to spend the $1.25 anyway.
8. If you tag on with a monthly pass you are fine as long as you have at least $1.25 balance, even if you leave your pass's zones. In this case if you tag off you will be charged for any additional zones entered during the trip. If you forget to tag off, I believe you will be charged for the most expensive trip. However, I do not know if expense in this case is simply most zones, or the most zones outside of your pass's zones.

Still learning my way around Clipper. Presently I have an 8-ride ticket "ordered". I really don't know what that means. Hopefully it's active before my next monthly pass kicks in on 01 June, or else I just flushed that money down the digital toilet.

I told the woman on customer support that this was the "most pathologically complex transit system ticketing procedure I'd ever experienced", and that is easily the case. The problem is it's trying to do too much with the simple tagging process. It's like trying to program a computer with only a push-button, without the contribution of Samuel Morse. At some point they need touch-screens in the stations so these things can be managed more directly.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

tragedy at the Giro

Yesterday as I rode the train into work I turned on my phone to watch the official video feed of the Giro d'Italia television coverage. 12 km to go, and the pack was split on the final, steep but short climb. A group got off the front, including two Garmin-Cervelo riders. They did a nice leadout, but the protected Garmin rider, who turned out to be David Millar, was able to take only second place to an Italian I didn't recognize. The screen froze on the top five stage finishers as I was approaching my stop, so I turned off the phone.

stage profile (from PezCyclingNews)

At work, I later checked CyclingNews for the results. Only then did I learn that, on the descent prior to where I started watching, Wouter Weylandt had fallen to his death, thrown off the edge of a steep descent to fall "twenty meters" to the roadway below. I was stunned. I'd been blissfully ignorant of the tragedy as I'd watched the stage finish on the train. Most of the riders had also been unaware of what had happened, as the lead pack was ahead of the crash, and the directors had kept radio silent about it until the race was over.

According to a report on VeloNews, Wouter had been dropped on a climb and, trying to recatch the lead group on the descent, was taking the corners considerably faster than the leaders. He turned to look back to see if a group was close enough for him to join up with, but in so doing misjudged his trajectory and clipped a left wall. He then lost control, veered to the right side of the road, and went over the barrier.

The Huffington post had a link to a video of the television coverage which was shown at the time. The camera zoomed in on Wouter's body, his face horribly damaged. Emergency personnel tried in vain to resuscitate him with CPR. They clipped the strap on his helmet, having already removed his jersey, but one look at his face told the story that there wasn't any hope.

Random associations...

From Italy 2007 week 2

Cingale Bicycle tour 2007 to Elba. After I'd been dropped by the lead three riders on the narrow, winding, and on this day damp Via Monte Perone I asked our guide, Andy Hampsten, if the Giro went on such roads. Haven ridden roads from the Tour de France, my feeling was the Grand Tours tended to stick to wider roads more compatible with the race caravan and team vehicles. I was surprised when he said yes, they had ridden such roads many times. So then the obvious question was how they'd descend: carefully, out of mutual consent and respect, I thought he'd respond.

"We'd absolutely bomb it".

Berkeley Hills Road Race 2009. It was my first race of the year and I'd not been feeling ready. The year before I'd solo'ed off the front for a lap and a half but then was caught and faded. This year I was more conservative, and it was working. After a lap I was feeling good on the climbs and was able to hang relatively easily. After two laps I was still there... until at the top of Papa Bear, the most challenging climb on the circuit, a rider ahead of be turned to look for a teammate behind, overlapped wheels with a rider in front of him, and went down. I had no time to react other than to recognize my fate: I hit him and went over my bars. I ended up bruising a rib but was otherwise okay.

September 2010... I'm descending Madonna di Ghisallo, which I've climbed for the second time in the day: once from the front and, after a long circuit, once from the back. I wrote about the ride here. It's getting late and I want to catch a ferry back across Lake Como before it gets to dark, so I decide to turn up the heat on the descent. I approach the first corner: no warning sign I can see, so I can let it hang a bit here. But suddenly as I enter the turn I realize it's sharper than I'd thought. I hit my brakes, but no way I can stop, and slide into the oncoming traffic lane, stopping just before the guardrail. Had there been a car in the wrong place at the wrong time.... well, maybe things would have worked out. Maybe.

A few days later: I descend the Poggio towards San Remo. I can't believe how tight the switchbacks are. It isn't as if I've not ridden similar roads before, it's just I've seen again and again how incredibly fast the pro racers descend this one in Milan San Remo, the most famous of Italian classics. I'm virtually crawling around the same corners they take at the traction limit of their tires. True, I need to worry about oncoming car traffic, while they face closed roads, but I know that explains only a fraction of the speed difference.

May 4... Pez Cycling publishes its Giro route preview for stages 1-9. Here's what they wrote about stage 3:

This will be a fun stage to watch, as the closing kms snake along the coast, and we may even see a crash or two on the tight bends, just like we did in 2007’s stage 10 to Santuario Nostra Signora Della Guardia.

Crashes. Fun.

I think back to the image in the video of Wouter Weylandt laying shirtless on the road, his motionless face horribly distorted from the trauma while emergency personnel tried to heart beating again. We all make mistakes, lose focus, assume where we shouldn't assume. We all roll the dice. The key is to keep the needless rolls to a minimum. Wauter made a mistake in the Giro, and didn't get another chance. Let's all think about him next time we're tempted to put our attention behind us when what's up the road deserves our attention more.

In auto racing, death is part of the attraction. Fans act horrified when a racer is killed, but the death is just an affirmation of the danger which is a primary attraction to the sport, and therefore the horror may be secretly without disappointment. The temptation offered by this attraction is part of the reason I've rejected auto racing, a sport I liked as a young child. But cycling is different. Cycling is about overcoming suffering, not death. It's about the risk of losing skin, not your life. There's no joy taken in Wouter's tragic death, secret or otherwise, just repulsion in the terrible waste of it all, a doubt about whether the epic spectacle is worth the horrible price. I wonder yet again why I find it so persistently addictive.

Then finally there's the H-word: "helmet". Pez Cycling News published a photo which suggested he kept his strap loose during the race. But this aside, cycling helmets simply are not designed to handle facial impacts. You need to wonder when an effort will be made to change that, to provide some sort of face shield which could potentially substantially increase the protection. There's something of a religion about bike helmets, one which says if you don't wear one you're a wacko and if you wear something with more protection (like a downhill helmet) you're a wacko. The reality is far greyer. Memories of Nicole Reinhart who died after crashing into a tree, also wearing a helmet, in 2000.

Monday, May 9, 2011

out of juice

As I was flying back home from Newark Airport yesterday I was bored.... the movies were of no interest, I'd forgotten to bring a book, and the battery on my ThinkPad T60 lasts only 25 minutes. Not even enough to get past the Wikipedia page on Henri Desgrange, which was cached there, let alone amuse myself by working on my code for 4-dimensional mazes, which I'd planned to do.

Okay -- backup. I pulled out my HTC smart phone. At least I could review the photos I'd taken of my cousin's wedding.

Sorry -- battery dead.

So I was stuck reading the copy of Technology Review in my backpack. Nothing wrong with Technology Review, it's an excellent magazine. But it's nice to get away from thinking about technology too often. I think this is one reason engineers are so attracted to cycling. Bikes are so amazingly elegant in their simplicity.

Technology's review theme was the top 10 emerging technologies of the year. There among those listed was solid state batteries. Obviously there's a lot of room for improvement there.

So I switched between Technology Review, making notes on my maze program on a pad of engineering paper I had in my backpack, and just thinking. Thinking is good, too. In an earlier age we used to do it more than we have time for now as each year an ever greater fraction of our awake hours are filled with external stimulation. Another advantage to cycling, or even better running, is it provides time to think... that is if it is done without an iPod, a gadget I've so far avoided.

Anyway, here's another boat puzzle.... this one my previous algorithm can't solve, but is solveable with two seats on the boat. It resulted from another conversation I had on the train. Those "animals" connected with line segments cannot be left unsupervised on the same shore. I've indicated animals with numbers, with or without prime marks, where I used the prime marks to reflect the clear symmetry of this puzzle. The circled animals are the maximal independent set, and must be left behind on the first trip across to avoid immediate failure.

boat puzzle

Sunday, May 8, 2011

AAA position on SB910

Here's the AAA's explanation of why they oppose SB910, the bill which would require a 3-foot passing gap when motor vehicles pass cyclists.

Thank you for your inquiry relative to AAA's position on SB 910. Our official position is not a straight oppose, it is an 'oppose unless amended'. We don't take issue with the 3 foot distance rule when it can be safely accomplished. The problem is how to address situations when a 3 foot distance cannot be maintained or met.

Current language in the bill would require the vehicle to slow to 15 mph of the speed of the bicycle to pass. But this is problematic for several reasons, as pointed out in the bill analysis, the link for which you provided. Law enforcement has issues with this approach as well because it can cause a drastic decrease in speed differentials between the vehicle passing the bicycle and other vehicles on the road depending on the posted speed limit. Not only can this cause rear-end collisions, and create a more dangerous situation for the cyclists. It is the differences in speed that is the number one cause of car crashes. Another suggested approach is to require the car to enter into the opposite lane of traffic (cross a double line) in order to give the cyclists the 3 foot distance. This is something being explored as well as a number of other ideas.

While we can all agree on the concept and goal SB 910, crafting workable legislation usually requires addressing a number of details and issues that arise throughout the process as the concept is flushed out and enforceability is addressed. The author of the bill, Senator Lowenthal, is committed to working with all interested parties, including law enforcement, AAA and the bicycle coalition sponsors of the bill to find the most appropriate and safest way to address situations when the general rule to allow a 3 foot distance cannot be met due to road design. We have to determine what the law should be in those circumstances and there is some disagreement on that level. Thank you again for allowing us to explain our position on the bill.

Paula LaBrie
Legislative Counsel
AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah
Office (916) 443-2577

I generally agree with the letter of Paula's points. However, the mention of "enforceability" is troublesome. As I've already pointed out here, no law is going to be perfectly enforceable, so to hold this bill to a standard of unambiguous enforceability is overly restrictive.

Additionally, the comment that the sponsors of the bill need to "find the most appropriate and safest way to address situations when the general rule to allow a 3 foot distance cannot be met due to road design" is just plain scary. I have the solution to this problem: if the roadway does not allow a pass with a three foot margin then the roadway does not allow a safe pass and the driver must wait until it is safe to pass. The bill is premised on the assertion passing with less than a 3-foot margin is inherently unsafe, at least when the vehicle is going at least a certain speed (for example 15 mph). Therefore making exceptions to a 3-foot passing margin based on the context of road design is equivalent to making exception to a safe passing requirement, and there is no exception made to the safe passing requirement. This bill changes nothing unless you think passing with less than a 3-foot margin can be done safely.

So I wish the question would be put to anyone taking positions against the bill: "do you think passing with less than a 3 foot buffer can be safe?" Unless the answer is yes, spoken with a straight face, there is no longer any margin for debate.

Friday, May 6, 2011

MASH Twin Peaks Time Trial video and photo links

Shamelessly stolen from The MASH SF web page... this video is from Steve, who finished second in the fixie category:

MASH TWIN PEAKS MAIN RACE from Storts on Vimeo.

It looks surprisingly benign. However, some people didn't like it so much:

photo from John Prolly

photo from John Prolly

photo from Bici Girl

Here's Kyle, who won the oh-so-close fixie race:

photo from John Prolly

and Chris, the geared bike winner, following a fixie rider who show's how its done when your riding "a la Desgrange":

Bici Girl photo

And Kate, the women's winner:

John Prolly photo

Compilation of photo sources:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Sunday I rode my Ritchey Breakaway out to a new bike shop in San Francisco. No, not a replacement for the Weight Weenie void left by the closure of Bike Nüt (insert a moment of somber silence.... okay, we can continue now); it was MASH Transportation, a new shop which seems to be marketed towards cycling culture and urban riding (more the fast messenger than the hippster crowd), and apparently, alleycat racing. Indeed I wasn't there for the shop itself, but rather to the race they were organizing: a timed event to the summit of Twin Peaks and back.

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

This is racing in its purest form: get from point A to point B (and in this case, back) and we don't particularly care how you do it. There were two groups, one for fixed-gear bikes (no freewheeling, a penalty if it had mechanical brakes) and one for "geared" bicycles (bikes with a freewheel, allowing for coasting; no penalty for brakes).

First the "qualification": riders did as many out-and-backs to Yerba Buena Gardens as possible in 30 minutes. At each end-point, riders got their green "manifests" authorized. Top eight in each category advance.

Now, I'd heard about alleycat races before, and seen videos. But the amazing thing about this one was the atmosphere was so positive. Some of the behavior, in particular intersection managaement policies, one might estimate to be completely suicidal. I'd have thought at least half the participants would have been taken out by cars, maybe one or two fatally. Yet there was not, from what I saw, a single collision. One rider crashed, I heard, but that was a solo incident. No surpise with people descending these roads at the limit without brakes. It causes one to question ones assessment of risk. Dangerous? No question. But more dangerous than the Wente criterium occurring the same day? Insufficient data.

There were only a dozen geared bikes entered, more fixies (the traditional alleycat bike). You might have expected a tactical contest, like a miss-and-out at the track, with riders gauging their efforts based on their position within the group. But the strategy of the day appeared to be to go as hard up the hill, then as fast down the hill as possible. More than a couple of the fixie riders grabbed on to passing cars for a tow up the hill. Rumour was in one case cash changed hands to facilitate this. None of this was against the rules because honestly there were very few actual rules. One rule was not to lose your manifest. One geared rider made that mistake and was eliminated. I saw no evidence of any other.

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Keith Hillier of Strava was the top qualifier, the only rider to complete six complete laps. Chris Phipps, also on a geared bike, finished five and a half to finish second. Chris claims to have throttled back after it became obvious he would qualify -- you can read his report here. I would argue it was obvious Chris would qualify from the moment he clipped in at the start.

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

After qualifying, I was amazed to see a large red Taco truck pull in front of the shop. Fixie riders flocked to get their free tacos, this before a gut-twisting maximal effort back to the summit of San Bruno. The geared riders, virtually all experienced racers, were more restrained.

Things seemed to be moving towards the finals starting, so I rode off with my bike towards the summit to find a good photo spot. As I climbed, I didn't regret my decision to not race today. The preferred route, the one with the least interference from car traffic, crossed a traffic light and several stop signs before merging with busy 17th Street. From there it was a signaled left turn onto Clayton, then a right onto Twin Peaks, and a left to stay on Twin Peaks at Clairmont, then an unimpeded steep climb to the summit.

I found a good spot a bit below the top where I'd have line of sight of riders both climbing and descending. I parked my bike, crouched in the grass, propped my small camera against a guardrail post, and waited. And waited. And waited. I had expected the first rider of what had been advertised to be a time trial to come through soon after I arrived. With the wait I shut the display off on my camera to conserve battery charge. I knew I wouldn't get it back on in time to get the first available shot of first rider but for the rest, including the top qualifiers, I'd be ready. Finally, around twenty minutes after I arrived, Chris Phipps rounded the corner with his usual impressive climbing form. Whoops.

So much for the traditional "start in reverse ranking" time trial. Later I learned it had instead been a mass-start, and Chris was leading here. I managed to get my camera ready and fire off a decent side shot of Chris as he passed. He was flying up the hill.

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Soon after, Keith in his Strava kit turned the corner:

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Third to appear was Joe Mulvaney. Joe's an impressive rider, making his presence felt in the Strava KOM lists last year with Mission Cycling:

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Then a mixed group of fixies and geared riders came into sight. It was impressive seeing the fixie riders here: they were at on obvious disadvantage on the steep hill.

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

I was amused to see first one, then more of the fixie riders veered by me, dismount, and began scrambling up a dirt short-cut to the summit above. I had run this path last weekend: since it was so steep with dicey footing, I didn't think running would be faster. But I was told by one of the riders that he got to the top faster than riders he'd been with who had chosen to ride.

Greg McQuaid followed this group, along with a fixie rider who'd solved the problem with fixed gear bikes lacking an adequate climbing ratio:

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Soon after, down came Chris. I managed to get a decent shot of him cornering, and of all the riders that day, he seemed to take the corner the most aggressively. He'd just won the Wente Road Race the day before, so has plenty of recent experience going downhill fast.

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Keith followed somewhat later. He wasn't going to catch Chris unless car traffic got in the way, a very real possibility.

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

More riders followed, some descending the hill, fixie riders scrambling back down the dirt and getting on their discarded bikes at the foot of the path.

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Here's where the fixie riders faced a real challenge. Any gear low enough to get up the climb is going to be too low to descend at maximum speed. Some riders let the pedals carry their feet around, trying to minimize the resistance offered by their limbs. Others, according to Chris, removed their feet fully from the pedals and let them freely rotate. Since there was a penalty applied to fixed gear bikes with brakes (not to mention the fixie-fashion faux-pas), most if not all of the fixie riders didn't have them, so without feet in the pedals the only way to control speed was to rub their feet against the spinning tires. If the cars didn't finish them off, surely, I'd have throught, lack of speed control would send them hurtling off the side of the road and over the guard rail. But there were no casualties.

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Last up the hill was Kate, the sole woman partaking in the fun. I had to ask her if she was racing as I hadn't seen her in qualification, and she replied she was. Maybe she was exempt, since she was the only woman there. She had the trophy for top woman locked up, so obviously didn't need to take the risks of the others.

I waited a bit to see if anyone else arrived. Nobody did, so I went up to the summit myself to see if anything was left of the checkpoint. Finding nothing, I began my cautious descent to the start/finish.

Greg was already riding home as I approach, but Greg's always quick to leave races. The others all seemed to still be at the shop, feeling good about the day, waiting for prizes to be awarded. I didn't wait long for this, and Mike Martin soon called everyone together for the prizes.

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

The prizes were impressive. Not only the cash prizes, which were substantial, but the utter bulk of the trophies exceeded anything I've seen at a sanctioned road race. The largest was reserved for the fixie category, clearly the focus of the event:

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Then Chris Phipps got to hoist the geared bike trophy:

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

And finally Kate took her well-deserved prize:

From MASH 2011 Twin Peaks Time Trial

Needless to say, I was impressed. Of course I'd never put on an event like this myself, this was almost the antithesis of the Low-Key Hillclimbs. But it was in another way very much like the Low-Key Hillclimbs: participation oriented, low overhead, with everyone involved feeling good about being there. I was glad I'd seen it. And nobody was hurt, which can't be said for the vast majority of competitive or even semi-competitive cycling events.

More photos are available on my PicasaWeb album.

Monday, May 2, 2011

San Francisco Giants 2011 vs 2010: luck or skill?

The San Francisco Examiner devotes more than 1/3 of its content to sports, and of course a popular subject is the San Francisco Giants, who won the Major League Baseball championship last year. During the season in 2010, they won 92 games and lost 70, a 56.8% winning fraction. As of last Friday they are 12 wins and 12 losses, only a 50% win fraction. Obviously, one concludes from reading the headlines, something has gone terribly wrong.

The issue is I've not read past the headlines. Maybe there's compelling arguments made for how the team is playing. But invariably in the analysis of baseball and everything else, there is a lack of appreciation for the statistics of random numbers.

Baseball games aren't fully random events, but there is clearly a random component to them. I think everyone recognizes that luck is a big factor.

So a quick test: I'm going to assume the Giants had luck on their side last year, since they won the division (and ended up going on to win the championship, but that's irrelevant here). Teams towards the top of the standings tend to have been luckier, and those toward the bottom of the standings tend to have been less lucky. Failing to recognize this is a flaw of the dice-based games I played as a kid, but that's another topic. I'll simply assume the Giants would get at least as good a record as they got last year if they replayed the season with everything essentially equivalent only one year in three.

Now to some statics: assuming they had an equal probability to win each game, and the probability of winning was 92/162, the variance in the number of wins would be 92 × 62 / 100. The standard deviation is the square root of this, or 7.55. I'm assuming they had 1/3 good luck, so assuming a normal probability distribution for wins, this implies they won 3.2 games more than expected based on skill, or that their expected record for the season was 88.75 wins and 63.25 losses, a 54.8% winning percentage.

So given this winning percentage, what is the chance their record so far would be as bad as 12-12? I won't assume a normal distribution here; there's not quite enough games for the central limit theorem to apply. Instead I can use Perl to generate a quick simulation.
my $p = 0.548;

my $sum = 0;
for my $n ( 0 .. 99999 ) {
  my $w = 0;
  for my $g ( 0 .. 23 ) {
    $w ++   
      if (rand() < $p);
  $sum ++
    if ($w <= 12);
print $sum, "\n";

The result: 38958 of 100 thousand trials had the Giants finishing the first 24 games no better than 12-12. This implies they went from around 1/3 good luck to 1/3 bad luck for the first 24 games this year.

Next I modified the program to simulate a full season. What are the Giants chances of winning only 81 (50%) or fewer of their games for the full year? Their record was this bad in 10929 of the 100 thousand trials. In other words, you would expect them to tank to .500 or worse around 1 year in 9, given the estimated winning probability for last year (which assumed 1-in-3 luck).

In baseball, winning 100 games is considered exceptional. So I checked the chance for them to win 100 games. They did so in 5359 of the 100 thousand trials: around 1 in 19. If I start the simulation with a 12-and-12 start, the number of successes falls to 2695 / 100 thousand (2.7%), and their success at matching last year falls to 28.5% from 36.4%, so the slow start does hurt them. The question is whether it indicates poor preparation or just a change in the winds of fortune.

Sure, each baseball game is not an independent random trial. Assuming this is the "worst case" assumption. But looking only at the Giants' win loss records, the result so far is indistinguishable from random. It is important to realize that luck may play an enormous role in baseball standings, even at the end of 162 games.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

SB910: bill analysis

A legislative analysis of SB910, the 3-foot passing rule for drivers passing cyclists, is here. Last time I noted that the AAA, an organization which opposes virtually all initiatives to improves cyclist rights, infrastructure, or safety, is the sole listed opponent.

Excerpts from comments from the analysis, and my response:

Enforcability.... How can either (the driver or a police officer) be sure that the driver is not 3 feet, 3 inches away rather than 2 feet, 9 inches?

This argument could strike down almost any law in the vehicle code. If the speed limit is 65, how can I be sure I'm going 64 mph and not 66 mph? If the law required headlights after dusk, how can I be sure it's one minute before dusk and not one minute after dusk? Obviously enforcement carries a burden of proof, and behavior requires a margin for uncertainty. So while 2 feet 9 inches may be questionable, 1 foot 0 inches does not. And it's the really close calls which we care about. Ironically, this very comment justifies the need for the law. If a driver can't judge his distance from a cyclist, then obviously passing margins closer than 3 feet are unsafe.

Is three feet always "safe ?" By defining safe distance as three feet, this bill resupposes that three feet is always a safe distance.

This comment exhibits profound ignorance of the principles of the vehicle code. If the speed limit on a road is 45 mph, that does not mean it's always safe to drive 45 mph everywhere on that road. This argument is so flawed, so twisted, that I immediately question the partiality of Jennifer Gress, the analyst.

The committee may wish to consider an amendment to delete the 15 mph (speed differential) provision from the bill.

Here we completely agree. Change it to an absolute speed instead of a differential speed and I am okay with it to handle the shuffle which occurs at intersections. But the 15 mph speed differential component of the bill is bizarre.

I include the full comment on the crossing the double yellow line provision:

Crossing double solid lines . Double solid lines are put in place when traffic engineers determine that characteristics of the roadway make it unsafe to pass. Does allowing a vehicle to cross these lines create an unsafe driving situation? The author argues that a bicycle is moving much slower and requires less clearance than another motor vehicle and thus would not pose the same risk. Others argue that crossing double solid lines when passing a bicyclist is already a matter of practice for some motorists.

Yesterday I rode along Highway 1 north of Stinson Beach, a 2-lane section with relatively light traffic, good sight lines, narrow shoulders, and a double yellow line. I was passed by several cars, each one crossing the double yellow without the slightest issue. Had a car attempted to pass without crossing the double yellow it would have been unsafe: the passing margin too small.

The double yellow is put in where it is unsafe to pass another car, a maneuver which requires moving fully to the opposite lane and accelerating to a speed significantly faster than car travel speeds. Crossing a double yellow while passing a cyclist requires overlapping the opposite lane by at most the passing margin, presumably 4 feet or so. The two actions are of a completely different class. Sure, we could define 3 sets of road markings: dashed for passing anyone, solid for passing nobody, or a special marking for passing cyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians but not cars. But this of course gets silly. The law relies on driver judgement for when it is safe to cross the double yellow for passing cyclists. Driver judgement is used all the time: for example in judging when it is safe to pass with a dashed yellow line. "Some motorists?" Virtually all, at least 98%, of drivers cross the double yellow in these circumstances. Codifying the typical practice, obviously safe by the standards of vehicular behavior, only makes sense and opponents pulling the safety card on this one is nothing short of hysteria.

Passing on the left only ?

This is an excellent point, and one I had noticed as well. When the cyclist is on the left preparing to turn left, obviously cars need to be able to pass on the right.