Friday, September 30, 2011

SB910 sits on the desk

After it passed both houses of the California state legislator, SB910 (see this web site) has been sitting on Governor Brown's desk for several weeks. A mere formality? Maybe not: word is that the AAA and the California Highway Patrol are both actively lobbying for the governor to veto the bill.

I've been a big fan so far of Governor Brown, and have supported some of his vetos so far. But vetoing this bill would be irrevocably sever my support for him. As I've described before, none of the arguments which have been made against this bill hold water. Indeed, CA is being left behind as Nevada's 3-foot passing law just this week went into effect. Passing such a law has ceased to be a statement of progressive advocacy of cycling as transportation and is more and more becoming simply following the herd.

So if the arguments proposed against the bill don't hold water, why the continued resistance? Simple: the AAA and CHP are both organizations of drivers. In the case of AAA, people who drive more than average are more likely than average to be members, and in the case of CHP, driving is what they do for a living. People who do something don't like feeling constrained in that activity, and members of both organizations would prefer to not have their right to endanger cyclists curtailed. Sure, the law already requires a "safe passing distance" but that's so fuzzy it's easily side-stepped. Without a firm number there, any pass can be claimed to have been safe, any collision due to the actions or lack of actions of a cyclist.

So Mister Governor, this is your chance. Sign the bill and do the right thing, or veto it and go on the perpetual black list of everyone who rides a bicycle on public roads in this state. And whatever you do, please get on with it. The arguments for, and those which claim to be against, this bill have been hashed and rehashed for decades now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

political vent: Federal transportation spending, "stimulus", bike infrastructure, and the Republican Party

Okay, my chance to vent on some political issues right now.

There's been a lot of talk about the federal government, the Tea Party, and spending on pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure. "There's no federal interest" the Tea Partiers will say, and the democrats and their supporters foam at the mouth in return: "what? There's no federal interest in children being able to walk or bike safely to school?"

Yes, that's correct. What's meant here by "federal interest" is that the states have the obligation to take care of their own citizens. However, when there are issues in which a state would be obligated to look out for the citizens of another state, that's a federal interest. So for example if there's an interstate highway going from state A to B to C, and state B were to decide it didn't want to fund repairs, then that would affect states A and C. So the federal government funds that highway.

So the federal government should fund interstate bike paths. But since most bike and pedestrian infrastructure is local, there's no "federal interest" in this local infrastructure. It doesn't mean it doesn't matter, it simply means the states have the responsibility to look after it.

So what about roads? Really what should happen is the federal government should fund only interstate highways, and then charge users of these roads to cover the costs. That's obviously not what happens. What instead happens is the federal government doles out transportation funding to states who find all sorts of justifications to spend it. "Job creation" is a big buzzword. It's while the federal government funded so much road building during the first stimulus program in the Obama administration. "Shovel ready" projects create jobs, right?

Well, not really. Consider the 1930's... Roosevelt... the New Deal. The federal government pumps money into a road. The road builder hires American workers to build the road. He orders equipment like tractors build in American factories. Those factories hire more American workers. Then people use the roads and with more roads there's more demand for cars. The cars are built in American factories, and those factories hire more workers. The gas burned by those cars is pumped from American wells, and refined in US refineries, and these facilities hire more American workers. There's a cascade of jobs, and that's just the first round. There's a further cascade from each of these factories, wells, and refineries, as the equipment they use is built in still more American factories. This is called the "money multiplier effect". If you insert a dollar into the economy, it bounces around many times, and the increase in debt associated with that initial investment is paid back with interest due to all the economic activity which results.

But it's not the 1930's any more. You put $1 into the economy and it's likely across the border pretty quickly. None of those factories are in the US any more. The oil isn't pumped in US. The cars likely aren't built in the US. And workers aren't spending their new income on US-built goods.

Here's a chart related to that I pulled from The Google:

So stimulus doesn't work. Sure, things look good in the short term. If you borrow money you spend more. But the cascade is very limited. There's no exponential expansion of economic activity to pay off the interest on that debt.

Well, increasing spending is good anyway, right? Well, not really. Our problem in the US isn't lack of spending. There's plenty of income. The problem is with how that income is divided. Too many people aren't getting the benefit:

Another random plot from the web:


So there's plenty of income out there. The problem is that income isn't circulating through the economy. It's not creating jobs. Put more money into the economy and it's just going to congregate where the rest does: at the top of the income pyramid.

There's another big problem with auto infrastructure. An analogy I read is it's like getting a puppy for a gift. Only part of the cost is up-front; the real costs are down-stream. You've now got to maintain that roadway or bridge or overpass in perpetuum. That's a future obligation in addition to the obligation associated with the initial loan to build the thing. Building roads and associated infrastructure, because it is maintenance-heavy, is digging the budget into a deeper and deeper hole.

So really the solution is we need to stop focusing on spending, especially on transportation infrastructure consistent with our present infrastructure model. The solution is to change the rules of the game to make it more favorable to create jobs. That means redirecting the tax burden from hiring and business to consumption and spending. You've got to provide a favorable environment for business to create. And you've got to have the human infrastructure in place for business to operate. That means a healthy, well-educated populace which has adequate incentives to go in the sort of professions we need to be internationally competitive: primarily science and engineering. Presently these professions are underpaid relative to finance, law, medicine, and business. Even suburban cops make more, with better benefits, early retirement, than PhD level engineers and scientists in high-tech industries.

So more and more federal funding isn't the answer to anything. To improve the transportation landscape, the solution is simple: encourage people to drive less. And to do that we need to make driving, cost-wise and convenience-wise, less attractive. If we do that, there will naturally be more demand for local investment in bike, pedestrian, and public transportation infrastructure. The federal government need not be involved.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cobo power estimation on Angliru in 2011 Vuelta

A few posts ago I posted a plot of VAM numbers for Cobo in the Vuelta stage up the horrific Angliru climb. Of course, Cobo went on to win the race.


VAMs are difficult to assess. More relevant is power: in particular, watts/kg. Making liberal assumptions, I tried to come up with a W/kg estimate of Cobo on the climb (or in the early bit, the leader of the group containing Cobo). Here's the result (power at the crank, not hub, assuming 2.5% drivetrain losses):


Impressive for sure, but still generally below the Armstrong-era "6.7 W/kg" attributed by Coyle to Ferrari.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fremont Peak VAM comparison, 2010 versus 2011

Fremont Peak last year versus this year were two very different races. Last year, it was a steady tempo on the lower slopes. I stayed with Carl Nielson as long as I could, until I felt myself going too far into the red, and had to back off.

This year, a moderate pace leading up to the steeper climbing was shattered when Kieran Sherlock launched an attack at the front which strung out the group. Most riders responded to this acceleration, but I chose instead to settle back into what I felt was more sustainable. Kieran had done the same thing on Wednesday's Noon Ride up Old La Honda: a hard acceleration right from the beginning. He's faster than me, that's all there is too it. My PR up OLH is 16:49, and that's a mediocre time for him these days.

What I'd hoped is I'd be able to pull back some of the other riders. And I did, a few, but not as many as I'd thought I would. I crested the top of the climb just behind a Dolce Vita rider, having passed another guy not long before. The guy behind me powered past on the descent, and I followed the other two across the finish on the narrow, flat finishing road.

So that was the tactical view. But with climbs, the numbers always tell an interesting story.

Here's my local VAM for the climb. I used a truncated cosine-squared smoothing function with time constant 60 seconds to generate a rolling VAM number describing, at each point of the course, my rate of gaining altitude. Here's a comparison last year versus this year for me:

VAM plot

The 9.5% portion of the climb begins around 9 km into the race (the race starts somewhat before the profile I posted yesterday). So for the undulating, generally shallow grades before this VAM numbers are naturally lower. But then you see a similarity between the two years. Last year I started the climb harder: I was following Carl. But then I couldn't hold that pace and faded until the crest at around 15.2 km.

This year I also faded. The fade was less than last year due to my more conservative start, but the fade is still clear in the data. Arguably for a bit I was actually faster this year. I caught two other riders and it got slightly tactical, perhaps slightly reducing my pace toward the top of the climb. My descents last year and this year were very similar (negative VAM). You can see I stopped at the finish line last year (the sharp dip in the red curve) while this year I kept rolling up the following climb in the park.

Honestly I'm a bit disappointed. I understand why I faded last year but I should have been able to sustain a higher VAM this year. Explanations: older and slower, sure, but also my preparation has been different. Last year I was at the tail end of training with a coach I really liked, Dan Smith. I was doing his Wednesday morning ride fairly regularly, and if not was doing the Noon Ride at lunch on Wednesdays. This year I've been mixing running and cycling, and have done only two Wednesday Noon Rides all year. I've also done Diablo three times. That's basically it for my extended climbing all year. And I've always had issues mixing running and cycling: this year it's gone better than in the past, but last year I could feel my cycling tangibly improved when I stopped running. Running not only leads to lost opportunities for specific training, but racing especially digs me in a hole from which it takes at least a week to crawl out of.

So that's that. I was slower this year, and excuses, excuses, excuses. I'll try to think more about the 1:30:56 half-marathon I ran two weeks ago. I felt good about that and still do. Hard to do well at everything all the time, even if I'd prefer to.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Camino Alto

Since Tam was canceled for today, I decided to make a run at my Strava PR for Camino Alto. Virtually all of my existing Strava times for the climb are on my Ritchey Breakaway, a relatively light bike in the low-17 lb range with clincher wheels, but with the Fuji I place weight at a priority. For Mt Tam I had my Reynolds 35-T carbon "road race" wheels (with Veloflex Record tires), not my lightest configuration but with the Garmin 500 checking in at 12.5 lb -- still pretty good. So I decided to risk taking these tires across San Francisco and into Marin for the climb.

Ironically the worst road I ride glass-wise, not even close, is Central Expressway in Mountain View which is typically part of my commute. The streets in San Francisco, despite a serious problem with cars getting broken into, are fairly glass free. It's because the streets here get swept once or twice per week, while once glass is on the Central Expressway shoulder, it's there for months. So I've had very few flats riding in the city, and my tires were fine today.

The Golden Gate Bridge just reopened the dedicated bike path after around 4 months of seismic reinforcement (or something; it's not obvious that anything was actually done). This was a huge relief after months of battling for space with distracted tourists on the pedestrian side. But it was hardly a comfortable crossing: winds were as strong today as I ever remember them, and crossing the bridge on the Fuji was a challenge. The Reynolds rims aren't the best in a cross-wind, and the Fuji's exceptionally large trail results in a proportionately larger steering moment when the front wheel experiences a lateral force. So it was dicey going.

When I reached the base of Camino Alto I stopped to place my vest and mostly empty water bottle near the side of the road. Why bring these up the hill when I was going to just return immediately after climbing? I forgot to also drop off my cleat covers and multi-tool. Every gram counts, and maybe the weight from these objects would have made a difference of a second in my Strava time.

I started hard. Here those strong winds provided a tailwind which was an obvious favor. I felt fast riding up the hill. The grade is modest, so I was able to stay in my 46 tooth big ring rather than go down to my 36. In the rear I had a 12-27 making it easier to avoid the downshift. It felt good riding the carbon bike with the carbon wheels instead of my usual steel bike. There's a hollowness to carbon frames that provides the feel that you're riding a high-tech race machine.

I love Camino Alto. The grade is never steep, but there's enough variation that you need to shift often enough, and you need to keep concentration up to avoid letting power slacken on the lesser-grade sections, and need restraint to avoid going into the red on the steepest portion around a third of the way up. It's short enough that if you start too slowly you don't get to make up for that mistake later, but it's long enough if you start to hard you'll fade at the end. There's some car traffic, but not too bad, and there's usually room for cars to pass without too much delay. And the cars expect cyclists on the road, because there's always cyclists on the road: it's an extremely popular route for individuals and groups riding between the city and either Fairfax or the Paradise Loop.

Indeed I was having such a good time that when I looked down at my lap time I noticed I was already at 4 minutes. My goal was sub-4:30 so this meant I was almost at the end, and sure enough I realized I was going into the final curve. I'd not been paying enough attention and should have been riding harder at this point. So I tried to ramp it up as much as I could, going for an imaginary finish line whose exact location was determined by the whims of GPS error.

My time: 4:25. This was 10 seconds off my previous Strava best, although I'm not sure it's my best ever including untimed efforts (I should check my Powertap data). This tied me for 13th on the climb; to get 10th I would have had to have been two seconds faster. Ah, well: the stuff in my pockets wasn't worth two seconds for sure.

VAM wasn't so impressive. Part of that is the low average grade: only 4.7%. But part is also that I've never been able to generate my best average power for the duration on this hill (when I was using a power meter). All of the changes in grade make it hard to stay on top of a good gear, and to really nail average power for a time interval, I personally need to be able to keep my power fairly constant. For example, I've gotten higher average powers down on the Peninsula on Kings Mountain Road to Huddart Park or Page Mill Road to Altamont. But for sheer fun, Camino Alto is my favorite.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mt Tam curse

Two years ago, Mt Tam Hillclimb canceled due to the fabricated state budget crisis. Last year: I was traveling in Italy. Tomorrow: Ready to go! But then Mt Tam canceled again (this time due to forest fire risk from forecast dry lightning).

I'm stunned.

I'd updated my racing license ($60), paid my $35 entry fee, refrained from running this week, done a shake-down OLH on the Fuji on Wed, and even eaten pasta tonight.... all for naught. Except perhaps for Fremont Peak on Sunday.

Last year I posted a profile for the Fremont Peak Hillclimb, which this year is the day after Mt Tam's scheduled date... a new back-to-back schedule for two rare hillclimbs on the NCNCA schedule. I don't know if I'll make it, but a comment on that profile:

Fremont Peak from San Juan Baptista (Motionbased:mooseman)

And again here's the grade extracted from that profile, which I've convolved with a Gaussian of standard deviation 100 meters, to keep the numbers significant:

Fremont Peak from San Juan Baptista (Motionbased:mooseman)

Sometimes too much knowledge is a bad thing, and last year I was waiting for that little sting in the tail at the end of the profile only to discover since the Park Service had denied access to the race (Park Service is generally uncooperative to cycling events: ask the promoters of the recent professional stage race in Colorado, who were denied access to park land, as was the Tour of California) it wasn't part of the course. So I was ready to jam it there when I hit the finish line just behind the rider ahead of me. Whoops...

I defined a Strava segment for that race, avoiding the start line which contaminated the segments of me and some other riders:

It's a fun race and hopefully I can make it down there on Sunday.

But I'd really been looking forward to Mt Tam tomorrow. No insult to the Fremont Peak crew, but Tam is a classic.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vuelta 2011: Cobo on the Angliru

Arguably the most epic stage of this year's Vuelta was Sunday's race to the mighty Alta d'Angliru, arguably the toughest steep climbs in professional bike racing.

Here's a profile of the climb, from Climb by Bike:

In the stage, Geox's Juan José Cobo climbed away from the group of favorites, including Team Sky's 1-2 in overall GC, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Some argued that it was a sign Cobo was dipping into the special sauce, a result too good to be true.

While I realize VAM is subject to many sources of variability and is hardly a valid test of doping, I can't resist running the numbers here. Fortunately I managed to take time splits for each of the final 10 km for Cabo or the group containing Cabo, although I had to guess a bit at 6 km to go, where Cabo was trailing Anton. I guessed that Cabo was around 5 seconds behind here, although I didn't see this explicitly on the Eurosport coverage which I was watching on the web. These times are on the crude side and each of them probably has error bars of up to 3 seconds either way, not even counting the possibility of variable delay in the video on the web channel.

Then to calculate VAMs I needed altitude data. Unfortunately the altitude data provided by or Altimetrias are provided only each km measured from a start to the climb, and since I was recording at points which were even kilometers from the race finish, I needed to interpolate. My first approach was then to tap into some data from Garmin Connect. However, the Angliru is a twisting climb, with plenty of temptation and opportunity to take wide lines through corners and even traverse (as Bradley Wiggins was seen to do). These moves result in a lengthening of the rider trajectory which causes a reduction in the apparent grade. The Vuelta distance markers are likely set under the assumption of the path a car would take. So I was back to ClimbByBike. Fortunately the Climb by bike profile seems to match up well with the Garmin data until the steep bit where, predictably, the rider chose a path to mitigate the brutal grade:


The 17.5% grade shown in the plot is only for the steepest kilometer. The climb pops over 20% on numerous occasions but only briefly. Digression: interesting comparing this to Mix Canyon Road, often considered the toughest climb within driving distance of San Francisco:

Mix Canyon

Needless to say Angliru is tougher... Anyway, back to the topic.

The Vuelta web site claimed the KOM marking the top of the climb was 600 meters from the finish. This makes sense from the timing, corresponding to Cabo riding 44 kph along this portion. It was a twisting gradual descent so 44 kph seems no more than 10% low. So I used this to align the ClimbByBike data with the course. I assumed the KOM was at what ClimbByBike considers the end of the climb. This was 550 meters after the previous km point there, so since this was 400 meters past the 1 km to go banner, I assumed an offset in even km points of 150 meters between the two data sets.


In 2008 Alberto Contador won the stage on this hill. Cozy Beehive assembled the videos of that stage, which show Contador climbed from 4 km to the finish in, to to second, the same 15:25 I calculated for Cobo this year.

Despite his amazing climbing this year, Cobo still used a 34×32 low gear, the smallest of the top riders on the climb. It's another nail in the coffin of the "tough it out" old school thinking on gearing for optimal speed on climbs.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Diablo North Gate: two Strava segments

Today, encouraged by the temperatures in the 70F's being reported for the Diablo summit, in striking contrast to the bone-chilling fog of San Francisco, I put on a jacket and rode to BART. I heard the announcement for the Pittsburgh-Bay Point train I wanted as I reached the top of the stairs, so I ran down the stairs in my cycling shoes and, after a few contact fouls with people leisurely walking the opposite way, got onto the train only 5 seconds before the door shut.

Ironically BART to Pleasant Hill takes about the same time as it would take me to ride out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Then the suburban-timed traffic lights from there to the base of the climb are no more delay than the riding the pedestrian path across the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite this for a long time East Bay rides were all too rare for me. Instead I bundled up against San Francisco and Marin's summer chill and rode north. But I've been riding Diablo more recently, trying to work on my extended climbing, breaking out of the rut of efforts 5 minutes and less. Even Mt Tamalpais lacks continuity from the most popular access point in Fairfax: that climb is in segments separated by short descents. For a continuous effort, Diablo is the easiest weekend access, the climbs on the peninsula south of San Francisco less attractive due to Caltrain's poor weekend service.

So in part to help kick myself out of my post-half-marathon tired legs slump, today I rode Diablo.

The Low-Key Hillclimbs last climbed Diablo in 2009. We started the climb just past the gate which sits on the road at the northern boundary of the park. This is also where C4 Racing starts their race, which goes 10 km up the hill, ending 500 meters from the junction between the North Gate, South Gate, and Summit Roads. So I think it's safe to say this is a popular "start" to the climb.

For the finish of the climb there's no question: the end of Diablo is a memorable experience. Strava has it at 15.2% for 200 meters. And at the end of 1100 vertical meters you feel every % of that... But it's the final sprint, so you do what it takes to make it to the parking lot at the top. A sign tells you where you are:

Brenda Brunner photo

So remembering my climb of Old La Honda a week and a half ago, I made sure to use the lap timer on my Edge 500. I'd upgraded my firmware so the Strava representation of my lap should be within 2 seconds or so of reality.

Here's the start of the lap as reported by Strava:

start of lap

The sign is near that big tree, so the position here is fairly close to where I hit the lap start.

Then here's the finish:

start of lap

There's a bit more error here; obviously I wasn't riding off the side of the road. I hit the lap finish close to where the paint is directing traffic, somewhat past the end of the indicated segment. But the error here is also fairly small.

So I was surprised when I compared my lap time to what Strava gave me for the segment Diablo NG to summit.

Here's what fitdump says about my lap:
temperature (13-1-SINT8): 37deg.C (37)
timestamp (253-1-UINT32): 2011-09-03T12:59:34 (684014374)
start_time (2-1-UINT32): 2011-09-03T12:01:12 (684010872)
start_position_lat (3-1-SINT32): 37.9017256deg (452185200)
start_position_long (4-1-SINT32): -121.9931266deg (-1455434692)
end_position_lat (5-1-SINT32): 37.8815485deg (451944477)
end_position_long (6-1-SINT32): -121.9149209deg (-1454501662)
total_elapsed_time (7-1-UINT32): 3501.660s (3501660)
total_timer_time (8-1-UINT32): 3501.660s (3501660)
total_distance (9-1-UINT32): 17607.62m (1760762)

Time was 58:21.7. This is only 0.7 seconds longer than Strava claimed for the lap, a smaller difference than I'd seen at Old La Honda due to my firmware upgrade and selection of one-second sampling.

But when I look at the segment, it says 58:35. So where'd that 14 seconds come from?

The listed start for the segment is the same, so no difference there:

start of segment

But the finish is quite striking -- the finish was marked in the middle of the parking lot:

end of segment

Bad match, perhaps? Here's the reference data:

end of segment reference data

Also the middle of the lot.

That's sort of strange, since many riders will reach the lot then stop, or even reach it then take a tight left to descend. On the plus side, moving the end of the segment away from the steep section guarantees riders will have completed the entire steep portion. But in this case it seems almost criminal to destroy people's results because they stopped in what at least in theory could be a congested lot.

So there's another segment: "Diablo North Gate to Summit". I'll not post images like I did from the last one, but if you follow the link you can see this one starts considerably later. South of the north gate itself, there's a bit of a rolling section which includes a descent before the road begins its monotonic ascent. This segment omits this beginning portion, which I understand. But the finish of this segment is what's most unfortunate. It's at the beginning of the 15% grade leading to the lot! I'm sorry, if you reach this section then faced with the sheer horror of what awaits, you turn back, then you, my friend, have not climbed Diablo. You've got to include that last portion.

So two segments, neither really doing the job. Of course I could define my own, but there's already too many segments flying around. Just remember when you climb Diablo to keep going once you reach the lot to make sure you trigger that first, more complete segment.