Sunday, June 30, 2013

Saturday recovering

I'm improving a bit day-to-day. My walking is getting better, but I'm still hobbling. I feel a bit of pain at my hip, but the worst part remains the inner upper thigh. This is consistent with what I've read about iliopsoas pulls: the one motion where my progress has been slowest is the clamshell move, laying on my left side with knees bent @ 90 degrees, then pivoting my leg at the hip and foot, and raising my knee. The knee just won't rise. Sitting with an orange Theraband between my knees I can spread them, but the mass of my leg is too much for me right now. This is likely the weak link in my recovery. It's the part most likely to cause sharp pain.

Two big sports events yesterday to distract me. One was the Tour de France. The big story on the stage, of course, was the Orica-Green Edge bus getting jammed under the finish arch. This was an error, of course: they said were sent through by finish line officials, but the officials claim they told the bus to go to the barrier and wait before proceeding. Finish lines are barely controlled chaos so it's easy to see how misunderstandings occur. The real issue was the bus was so late. But even so, stuff happens.

The inexplainable thing about it is what followed: first moving the finish line to the 3 km point, which was at the exit of a traffic circle. That was absolutely incredible that this would even be considered: it would have been total carnage. They obviously picked that point because they had timing equipment there, which is the spot where time gaps are determined in case of crashes between there and the finish.

But the announcement went out with less than 10 km to go, and not all the riders were able to hear it on their radios in the noise of racing, so you had some riders realizing that suddenly they needed to be at the front now in order to get ready for the earlier finish, others thinking they still had time. These guys ride absolutely at the edge under normal circumstances, and they've all previewed the few km leading to the nominal finish but likely not those leading to the 3 km point, so this was guaranteed to lead to a crash, and it did.

Fortunately the bus was moved, so they were able to move the finish back to the proper place. But communicating these rapid changes to the peloton, at full speed since they now thought they were just a few km from the finish, is a challenge. They're lucky there wasn't another big crash.

What I thought they should have done at the time was to stop the pack. This is difficult, but it's been done many times before when the road has become blocked, for example by protesters. The motorcycles at the front flash their lights then gradually slow. Then wait for the bus to move, and restart the group. Just a few km from the finish this also would have been a challenge. But better than the on-the-fly approach that was used. That traffic circle finish would have been insane.

The other big race yesterday was the Western States 100 trail run. I was addicted to's live coverage, which was partially reports from volunteers at checkpoints, partially internet chat session with fans. It's amazing that a 15+-hour running race could be so addictive, followed via text only, but it was. I didn't follow it continuously all day, but I could have. In the end, it was an amazing result, with last year's winner Tim Olsen surviving peak temperatures of 106F on the course to finish in a very respectable time, holding off first-time 100-miler Rob Krar.

I had picked Rob for the win: he has run a 2:25 Boston Marathon, and is from Arizona, so is accustomed to the heat. And he ran a spectacular race, hanging back with the main lead pack while two other runners went out hard at the start. Neither of those two finished. Tim Olsen, who'd been in Rob's group, took the lead for good at Devil's Thumb checkpoint at mile 47.8. Olsen opened up a 12-minute gap, but Krar started to close it, and finished only 4:38 by the finish. It was a remarkably close race for the top 2.

Gary Gellin, who often runs Low-Key Hillclimbs, paced Ian Sharman to fourth place.

Race data are here (temporary link)

During the day, I managed one excursion, to get some Praxis chainrings form my bike from Roll (the San Francisco dealer for these highly-rated rings), some decaf coffee from Peet's, and some supplements from a new Vitamin Shoppe. This resulted in more walking then I'd done since the crash, several hundred meters, and I was tired afterwards. It's frustrating, because on day 16 of recovery, I'm ready to be done. It's going to be awhile more before I'm back up to speed, however. Frustrating losing my fitness in this way. I may try a little swim today, but my energy level has been so low, I'm also tempted to stop worrying about fitness and just rest instead.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

on weight limits and the TriRig Mercury Pedal

There's a new pedal out called the TriRig Mercury, a continuation of a theme which began with the Aerolite in 1979 (and still available!), continued with the UltraLite Sports, essentially attach a cleat to a bare pedal spindle. You lose pedal float, but it's the lightest solution around: you spare the added mass of the pedal body.

Here is it:

TriRig Mercury

Originally this was advertised as 71 grams, but now it's been upgraded to 93 grams. The cleats adds only 58 grams, so the total solution is very light. But not as light as they were when they were 71 grams...

So what happened?

What happened is they eliminated the "weight limit" of the original design. Of the 22 additional grams, 18 are due to a change from a hollow to a solid spindle, 4 due to a shift in the flange from the bearing sleeve (nylon)to the spindle and retaining screw (metal). As the web page describes:

The additional material adds just 9 grams of weight to each spindle, but makes a world of difference in terms of strength and durability. And most importantly, it allows us to remove the Mercury rider weight limit! That's right, now anyone can get on board with the coolest pedals on the market.

Now while I've outgrown the weight limit on my childhood BigWheels, I fit well under the limit of even the sketchiest after-market weight weenie bike bling.

The truth is everything is designed to some sort of strength limit. An NFL lineman is likely going to find that a lot of commercially available bike parts are going to have reliability issues when subject to his close to 150 kg of bulk. So there's a number there, but it's typically not quoted, because it is assumed most purchasers of high-end racing-focused cycling stuff are going to have a certain minimal degree of fitness and therefore their mass falls within some reasonable bounds. If not, then they're probably not at a place where a few seconds saved on a long climb is going to matter, progress from training alone will be measured in minutes or even tens of minutes, not seconds.

But the reality is there's plenty of riders on their packing more than a few 10's of kg, who despite this, feel it's important to spend $5/gram or more to cut mass from their bikes. It's hard to understand, but it's true. So maybe the limit is somewhere around 120 kg. There's not that many avid riders heavier than that, even if in a typical Texas Steak House a mass that low would earn you the nickname "Slim".

That means when you design your parts to a certain strength-reliability standard, you tend to build for heavy. I'm around 57 kg (I've not checked since my injury, and I'm not going to until I'm riding again) so I want parts built to the limits experienced by a 57 kg rider (add on weight from clothing, a backpack perhaps, etc). A part designed for a 100 kg rider is obviously way over-built for me; it's too heavy. If it's not over-built for me, then it's under built for the 120 kg guy. There's no way a load-bearing part is going to serve both of us well, assuming we value low weight.

So when I see a company brag about how they "removed the weight limit" from a part by increasing the mass, I react in two ways. One is they're lying: there's a limit but it's relatively high. Two is that the part is not designed for me, because I'm not close to that heavy.

Maybe TriRig will come out with a second version of the pedal: a hollow-spindle version designed for riders who aren't going to stress the part as much as those at the heavy tail of the distribution curve.

Friday, June 28, 2013

small victories, I suppose

You've got to walk before you can run, and you've got to be able to swing your leg over your bike before you can ride. At the crash + 2 week point, at least I can walk.

Perhaps in theory I could ride, doing what I did to get from the bike path to the car in which I got a much-appreciated and very generous ride home (enormous thanks to the trail walker who drove me): lay the bike on the ground, step over it, then lift he bike. But that wouldn't be so smart on San Francisco streets, where an emergency stop could put me in a painful orientation, and I very much doubt I could climb any significant hill without clipping in my left foot (allowing that leg to do all the work). And I don't want to do that due to the emergency stop thing. So that suggests the trainer, but I can't lift my leg over that yet. Perhaps I should install a body harness with pulleys mounted on the ceiling. That would probably work.

But walking is improving. I don't need the crutches any more, and can limp back and forth across the house. I've not yet attempted down stairs without support, but upstairs is okay.

My energy in the morning is better. I still get tired in the afternoon, but can rest, since I'm working from home. I'm more comfortable getting to sleep than I was: no more dread at awakening in pain. But I'm not sleeping continuously through the night.

Another positive is I've been off caffeine longer than I can recall in many years. I've taken one week breaks occasionally, further in the past then I'd care to admit, but it's nice to give the adrenal system a rest. Will I go back to my morning tea, even the 50-50 expresso I occasionally have when I get to work? Certainly the tea. Maybe scale it back from 3 large cups of natural black tea and substitute 2 of decaf. Caffeine has diminishing returns. A little dose goes a long way. It becomes tempting to push it further, because when you do you feel great, but then you lock it in and that becomes the new baseline.

Physically, a personal goal is to be able to do the clamshell move. I lay on my side, legs bent 90 degrees, and raise the upward knee. Left knee up and no problem. I used to do this exercise against an elastic band. Right leg up and I can't raise it at all, at least without pain I'm not willing to risk. I need to stick to my exercises of spreading my legs from a seated position, without gravitational resistance, using only a yellow Theraband as resistance. That gets those neuromuscular pathways firing, keeps the pipes flowing. I also do the complementary exercise, which is to squeeze a ball between my legs.

Maybe I'll do those right now...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Proposition 8

Different picketers, same deal

Long, long ago... October 2008 I'd just descended Eastmoor Road from Skyline in Daly City to Mission Blvd and stopped at the long traffic signal there. I was riding home from the peninsula and was taking the scenic route home: over San Bruno Mountain to squeeze an extra thousand feet of climbing out of this hilly ride. But at the intersection I was amused to see a large crowd of people, mostly hispanic and, to be blunt, mostly morbidly obese, marching around with signs that said "Yes on 8" along with various slogans indicating that the sanctity of their marriage unions was in peril.

I was amused, I say, because I couldn't comprehend what so motivated them to spend their day walking around this crowded intersection supporting removing the rights from individuals on a matter which had absolutely no effect on the marchers' lives or their well-beings. Whether 8 passed or not, whether the right for same-sex marriage was removed or not, was totally irrelevant to them. Why were they here?

I was extremely confident at the time 8 would fail. It was a hopelessly cynical play to get the ignorant-conservative electorate out to boost the vote for other issues and candidates. Perhaps in that regard it would be effective, perhaps not, but when you threaten a group with the removal of rights they presently possess, that group is intrinsically more invested in the outcome of the vote then the group calling for the removal of those rights... at least unless you're dealing with some sort of zero-sum resource where one group is trying to take something another possesses, like land. But there's no zero-sum constraint on marriage. Obviously 8 would go down in flames.

But of course, it did not. It passed. The trend was clear: year after year support for same-sex marriage was increasing, and the vote was close: had it been in 2009 instead of 2008, more of the old generation would have died, and more of the new generation would have reached voting age, and 8 would have failed as it so clearly should have. But it wasn't 2009, it was 2008, and so it passed.

I was furious: not at the ignoramuses who voted for it, but for the apathetics who didn't vote at all. Despite the importance of the Presidential election, despite the obvious importance of this and other propositions on the California ballot, the young-voter block made a tepid turn-out to the polls, as usual. You get what you deserve, voters. If you can't even be bothered to pop into a voting booth on election day, you forfeit the right to complain about the decisions reached by those who do.

But in the years that followed, the case went to the courts, where it bounced around for a half-decade until finally, today, the Supreme Court said it didn't want to deal with the matter, and so the decision of the state court holds: Prop 8 was unconstitutional because it stripped a subset of individuals of a right they'd already been granted. I initially had mixed feelings about the court case, because I don't view the role of the court to correct the errors of the voters, but rather their role is to decide on the legality of the laws which result. And in this case, nobody was denied the right to marry someone of the opposite sex. Proposition 8 was stupid and pointless and grossly unfair, but on the question of whether it was illegal, I was uncertain.

But eventually I came around, so I was glad when the lower court issued its ruling, and I was even gladder when the Supreme Court said due process had long since run its course. But it's a bit like when you finally recover from a long-term injury. Here we are, 5 years after Proposition 8, and we're just back where we started, having flushed enormous quantities of money, time, and attention down the proverbial toilet. And given the problems we face in our society, problems which should be receiving far more money, time, and attention, that's a terrible waste.

So I think back to those people marching in the street that day. I hate apathy more than anything else, but to be honest, I wish they'd been a bit more apathetic, at least on this matter.

Monday, June 24, 2013

the worst part of being injured

The worst part of being injured is arguably sleeping.

The drive for sleep is an interesting one. It's incredibly compelling: nothing is better than drifting off to sleep. But with my leg injury, a muscle pull of some sort although I've not specifically identified which muscles yet, as soon as I lay down my legs start to hurt. The past few nights I've been taking an ibuprofen to help me get past this pain. I avoid ibuprofen and other NSAIDs because of a personal and family history of stomach ulcers. But not being able to get to sleep is a greater fear. I take my only ibuprofen of the day.

Eventually I settle down and sleep arrives. But I do so aware my waking sensation will be pain.

One motion which is particularly painful is an abduction motion with bent knees, similar to the clamshell exercise. I simply cannot do the clamshell with my right leg: too painful, especially at my outer thigh. Today I tried some very mild resistance exercises sitting with the same motion. I tied a single wrap of a yellow Theraband between my knees and rotated my knees outwsrd. This I could do: it was a bit uncomfortable but not painful. However, to do it on my side supporting the full weight of my leg is simply not happening.

The opposite motion is also impaired: squeezing the knees together (adduction). But I'm better at this one. I can generate a decent amount of squeezing force. This I feel more in the inner thigh.

The problem with sleeping is it's hard to avoid both of these motions. I am uncomfortable sleeping on my back so I try to move. But moving to either side hurts. Eventually I end up in a position which causes enough pain so I awaken. If that doesn't happen, then it's only because I remain in a position which is uncomfortable. In either case, I awaken feeling terrible, and since I'm trying to drink a lot of fluids, I invariably need to pee. So I struggle to get out of bed, grab my crutches, and haul myself to the toilet. Then I need to assess if I can get straight back to sleep or not. Sometimes I feel like eating a small snack first. But if I eat too much, I'll awaken next time with stomach pain. Eating too close to sleep messes with my digestion. And sometimes I just want to sit up for awhile before going back to bed. That's what I'm doing now.

After enough repetitions, however, I manage to get enough sleep. Then once I'm up and about I'm fairly okay. I'm off caffeinated drinks for this period as they impede rest, and impeded rest means impeded recovery, and recovery is my priority now. So I'm a bit slower than normal getting going in the morning, but it's not too bad. It's good to give my body a rest from daily exogenous chemical stimulation.

As I write this, I'm approaching 10 days since the injury. For serious muscle strains, from what I've read, this is about the time associated with the acute phase (see, for example, this reference on iliopsoas strains says 4-8 weeks for recovery from a grade 2 strain, worse for a rarer grade 3 which I hopefully do not have). So I'm not particularly worried: I'm making progress, although I'm at the point where it's worth seeing a doctor following my initial ER visit and a few visits to an acupuncturist. But I really look forward to being able to get through the night without pain. Nights are the worst.

That cycling is a dangerous activity nobody can seriously deny. I think about all the times I've been squeezed to the edge of the road by cars or trucks and I realize that in any of these situations I was a meter or less from permanent disability or death. What I experienced in my crash was so much less than this: it's ridiculous for me to even think about feeling sorry for myself. Life is finite, and I can't get back the month or so of health I'll have lost from this injury, but I can look forward to feeling healthy and strong again within the next two months. That's not so terribly bad, really.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Peloton Magazine review of Cervelo RCa

I've been hobbling around, discouraged that friends are doing all sorts of cycling adventures while I'm essentially confined to home. Progress has been steady but slow. Motions I previously couldn't do I can do now on a very limited basis. Some stuff which was painful is no longer so. Yet the pragmatic reality is I am still essentially immobile. Travel plans for 10 days from now are imperiled. But I'm only 8 days out from the crash, so I still have a lot of opportunity for progress before then.

I was surprised yesterday when I got a copy of Peloton Magazine in the mail. I'd thought my subscription had expired. I subscribed initially because I was impressed by Heidi Swift's articles, specifically of the Reve Tour, in which she and other women rode all of the stages of the Tour de France last year. Her writing is really good. They also have Jared Gruber's photography. Jared brings a fresh look to cycling photography, even if he has a bit of a weakness for Instagram-like digital filters. But his photographs really go beyond the normal paradigm of bike racing.

I viewed this issue as a last chance for the magazine to win me over for a new year. And initially I was impressed: 120 pages. Always good to get some bulk in a magazine. So I opened it up and scanned through a few pages. I came to a halt: a review of the Cervelo RCa!

Geometry aside, I love what Cervelo has done with the new R-Ca. Cervelo is among the most engineering oriented bike companies around. There's a lot of pressure in the bike biz to design bikes with gimmicks, as these harvest MAMIL revenue. But Cervelo seems to resist. They base their designs on engineering goals and on testing.

Cervelo hasn't always been on target. For years they persisted in having the shortest chainstays in the business: sub-40 cm across the board. But short chainstays yield more extreme chain lines, and their bikes were prone to cross-chained rub on the front derailleur. They also got criticism for toe-to-wheel overlap on their smallest frames. They solved this by decreasing head tube angle and increasing fork rake to increase front-center distance while retaining trail. Some people hate toe-to-wheel overlap, others view it as a minor concern, since wheel-to-toe contact occurs only at slow speeds, and in any case is easily avoided.

Although I have a high opinion of Cervelos, I learned long ago that Peloton magazine is strictly positive on their reviews. This can be understandable: as DC Rainmaker, the triathlete-reviewer-blogger has learned, negative reviews can generate a firestorm of criticism and demands for re-test. I super-appreciate what Rainmaker does, because positive or negative, his comments are always backed up with hard work: quantitative data or extensive testing. But most reviewers see it as a hassle which is more easily avoided, especially if they're relying on the companies whose products they review for ad revenue.

But when you're heaping praise on $5000 complete bikes, what do you do with a bike where the frame and fork alone, non-custom, is $10k? You've got to up your game. And that's what Peloton does:

There is a fury to the way the bike reacts to power -- it leaps from under you, but the feeling continues beyond the initial acceleration. Each pedal stroke delivers a new surge forward.
Oh my. This rivals the best bike review of all time, Bike Snob's 2007 Dream Bike Shootout:
The (Colnago's) carbon fiber construction and layup yielded a frame that was laterally stiff yet vertically compliant. I can also say that this bike climbs like a monkey in a set of crampons, descends like a monkey in a set of crampons being dropped from a helicopter, handles corners like a prostitute, and accelerates like a particle in a particle accelerator that itself is just a tiny particle in a giant particle accelerator. Overall, the effect is like sitting in a caffe in a trendy Milan street while sipping a cappuccino and wearing fabulous clothes yet inexplicably traveling at or close to the speed of light.

Bike Snob's still in the hot seat, but the competition's getting closer every year.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

San Andreas Trail crash: reflections

It's six days since my crash, and I'm still a long way from recovered, X-rays showed no fracture, but bruising and muscle damage resulted in substantial disability. Only yesterday was I able to start walking again, and only barely and painfully. Today the pain is less, but I still prefer using crutches to get around. I can't lay on my preferred right side, the side on which I crashed, and laying on my left side becomes uncomfortable due to my right leg not being sufficiently stable in that position. I tried acupuncture on Tuesday, and will return on Friday, but while that was a nice sensation when it was being done, I'm not sure it had lasting benefit. Yet I continue to improve day-by-day, so it's likely a matter of patience. I continue to apply heat and ice to afflicted areas, and use tumeric for its anti-inflammatory effects (at the suggestion of the acupuncturist, although there's questions about the absorptivity of tumeric).

The thing about the crash was my low perception of risk at the time. While the ride I was on was planning on doing both the San Andreas and Sawyer Camp sections of the Crystal Springs Regional Trail, I was going to skip the Sawyer Camp section due to its blind corners and heavy pedestrian traffic, most notably women pushing baby strollers.

The San Andreas Trail, on the other hand, has less foot traffic and superior sight lines. Then when I overtook the 3-abreast walkers, while I found it notable they were taking up the 75% rightmost portion of a bidirectional mixed-use trail, something I viewed as irresponsible and dangerous, given that I could see by them and that there was a clear line for me to pass I viewed it as very low risk.

This situation was unlike, for example, where a single walker is in the middle of the trail, with passing options to the left and right: such a user may move either left or right when you attempt to pass. But in this case it was unambiguous, the only rational response was for them to converge to the right of the trail (where they should have been in the first place), expanding the gap to the left where I was passing. Moving left would make absolutely no sense unless they perceived I was aiming to hit them or else unless they wanted to hit me. I felt only my usual level of alertness when passing them, which is considerable, but no sense of exceptional risk.

Yet move left is exactly what the women on the left did, and without warning. My amazement at this irrational behavior was tempered only by my desire to not slam into her with my front tire. And while I avoided doing so, bumping her with my hip but missing her with my bike, I ended up hitting the pavement hard. I didn't even skid. Just whack -- into the pavement. Fortunately she was fine: she didn't even lose her balance.

So I'm left to look back upon this incident to ask what did I do wrong? And the only response from a self-preservation view is that pedestrians simply cannot be trusted to act in a rational, self-preserving manner. I simply must assume they are going to do the stupidest, least predictable thing possible. At least until I have their full attention. Which is why I'm going to install a bell on my Ritchey Breakaway, my commuting rig of choice.

This isn't a matter of "blame". I may as well blame a squirrel for darting under my front tire at the last moment. It's not about who's at fault: legally I'm certainly not at fault: the California Vehicle code says a pedestrian has "the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard", yet this is almost exactly what she did. Instead it's about pragmatically avoiding this situation occurring again. It would have taken me 10 extra seconds to slow down behind them, request they move to the right, wait for them to do so, then proceed. If I had to do that once per commute, and I commute 50 times per year, then that's 500 seconds lost. Sure, I'd prefer not to lose 500 seconds, but it's now been a week since the crash, and there's 0.6 million seconds in a week, so 500 seconds per year for insurance against slamming into the pavement is pretty damn cheap, no matter what the vehicle code says.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Last Friday I was riding Ramesh's first SF2G after a spectacular 40 day run where he placed a remarkable 6th in the Strava May Massive, simultaneously winning the individual ranking of the Team Commute Challenge, then with just a single day off, rode AIDS LifeCycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles. After this amazing demonstration of unfettered excess he wisely took 4 days off before calling a Friendly Skyline ride for Friday.

The Skyline route has two options between CA35 and Hillcrest Blvd southbound: either the shoulder of the 280 freeway (which is exceptionally open there to cyclists) or the San Andreas Bike Trail. For obvious reasons the trail is the most popular choice, although when I'm alone, unless I need to use the toilet available halfway down the trail, I choose the freeway. It's wide and, in my view, quite safe, with the exception of the exit ramp where I like to check behind me to make sure there's no cars overtaking me. But I don't have much issue with the San Andreas Trail: lines of sight are generally good and foot traffic is light.

I was at the front as we approached the northernmost trail entrance, near San Bruno Road, which SF2G traditionally uses. But I wasn't paying attention and overshot it. No big deal, I decided: rather then turn back I'd take the following entrance a bit further south. I prefer this one since there often seems to be more congestion near the initial entrance.

I got there ahead of the other riders, so figured I'd take advantage of this situation by riding to the toilet and using that. This probably wasn't the best plan, since by the time I'd finished the others would have passed me, but I rode onward anyway.

Up ahead three women were walking side-by-side, taking up 75% of the trail width on the right. This somewhat annoyed me: would people walk that way in a road? Would they drive that way in a road? So why is it okay to do it in a bike path? In any case, I'd pass them on the left.

But then things went horribly wrong. Just as I was approaching, she moved left into my path. There's no rational basis for such a move: hear a rider overtaking and move to fill the only gap available for him to pass? But I already knew there wasn't much rational thought at play here, given how they'd been walking as I approached.

I thought a collision was unavoidable, but somehow I managed to get my bike past her on the left side. I bumped her with my hip, however. This wasn't good.

The next thing I knew I was on the pavement. The walkers came over to see if I was okay, then the other SF2G riders came by and offered help as well. The woman who I'd bumped with my hip was upright and said she was okay: I might have bruised her. After expressing some restrained frustration over how they were taking up essentially the full width of what's a mixed-use bike-pedestrian path and a major cyclist transportation link, I apologized for having hit her.

Russ, on the ride, was going only as far as San Mateo so he generously stayed back when I told the others to go on. The walkers also left when I said I'd be okay, although another walker, John, super-generously offered me a ride home. With Russ's help I was able to eventually get back on my bike and slowly, very slowly, ride back to the trail entrance where John had parked his car. John joined us there and loaded my bike into his vehicle and drove me back to San Francisco.

I spent the rest of the day mostly sleeping. The next day I went to the ER to get checked out: my helmet had been cracked and the clinic I like to attend recommended an ER. But the ER wasn't worried about my mental state, so they took a few hip X-rays and declared me fracture-free. So no repeat of the pelvic fracture I suffered in Athens in 2001 descending Parnitha. I'm not only off the bike for now, but so far, using crutches to get around. But at least my recovery should be a lot quicker without a bone injury.

I'm super-grateful to Russ and John for helping me at the accident sight, John for getting me home, and special thanks for Cara for helping me out after I got home. Hopefully I can get back on my bike soon. Alta Alpine 8-pass is certainly looking unlikely at the moment.

Looking back on the incident, the take-away message is I simply cannot assume pedestrians on bike paths are going to be predictable. So first: get a bell, which allows a friendly, nonintimidating notification of my presence. People like bells: they bring back memories of childhood bikes with streamers flowing from the handlebars, or maybe even ice cream trucks delivering tasty treats on a hot summer day. Then to make sure I see the reaction before attempting a pass. Then, and only then, to pass. It's a bit frustrating because when I'm riding to work my goal is to get to work, sooner better than later, and while I'm a big believer in safety and courtesy first, when others show no courtesy (for example by taking up an entire trail) that's a problem. But people aren't going to change their behavior based on my judgements and views: they act like they act, and I need to work around that. If time matters, take the 280 shoulder, otherwise just accept the fact it's going to be slow.

Next on my shopping list is a bell:


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Old La Honda: chasing Chris

This past Wednesday was my first Wednesday Noon Ride up Old La Honda. The previous week was going to be my first, but I had some mechanical issues which prevented me from doing the climb after arriving to the base with the group. This time, however, I had everything under control and I reached Old La Honda with the surprisingly small noon-ride group.

On the approach I chatted with Chris Evans who declared he was going to begin the climb hard. He'd done a sub-17 the week before, he said, and since he was more tired today, was shooting for 17:30. That was the goal I had set for myself on Strava, so it seemed like he was a good pacing match for me. But It was just my first time doing Old La Honda this year, and I'd been riding a relatively lot due to trying to prepare for the upcoming Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge so was a bit tired. These factors meant a really fast start didn't seem wise. Instead I decided to let Chris have his fun early and just try to pace myself.

I was without power data for the ride, since I was using my Reynolds carbon tubular wheels rather than my Powertap clincher wheel: I'd had the tubulars on the Fuji for the Berkeley Hills Road Race, and had kept them on for the Pescadero Road Race, which I'd ended up skipping due to allergies/sickness the week before. It's not that big a deal to switch wheels, but it also requires changing brake pads, which is a slight hassle. In any case, I wanted to test my road race configuration on the 84 descent which follows the Old La Honda climb. I've never descended well on the carbon rims, with my Zero G brakes and Swissstop yellow brake pads. Sure, and there was the fact the carbon wheels were light and likely fast. It's always nice to shave a few seconds off an Old La Honda time if possible. The downside is I wasn't carrying a spare so if I flatted I was going to have an interesting time getting back to work. I didn't flat, however.

Chris shot off the front of the group heading to the base of the climb, and I followed, although he opened a small gap. The gap exploded when we hit the bridge marking the start of the timed climb. True to his word, he was starting quickly. I just tried to tap into what I thought was a good pace: a decent effort but sustainable. If I'd had the PowerTap I'd have tried to keep it in the 300-watt range here, but instead I had to rely on perceived exertion. Chris' gap stabilized before he was out of sight, though, and I spent the rest of the climb monitoring my progress relative to the distance between us.

Along the way I noted the trees bending in the wind. There's usually not much wind on Old La Honda Road, as it's protected from the ocean breezes by the mountain ridge. The wind was a headwind during at least one corner. I'm not sure if it netted out to head or tail.

As we reached the end game, a large truck descended the road. I could see Chris squeeze by: he later told me he'd ridden on the dirt off the side of the road. As the truck approached me, I could see it was making no accommodation for my presence. After all, if I failed to get out of his way, he'd be the only witness, so what risk was it to him? So picking survival over OLH time, I pulled off the road, and stopped.

The truck passed without slowing, and when it had I clipped back in and set off. The recovery + adrenaline gave me a short-term boost which made up some of the 7 seconds lost on the road edge before reality kicked back in and I resumed a regular climbing pace. This incident probably cost me a net 3-4 seconds, factoring in the recovery gained with the delay.

Chris had gained time on me here, though, and was further up the road. It was just a few more corners to the finish. I hit my lap time at the stop sign in 17:12. I think that's my 4th or 5th best time ever (after 16:38, 16:49, 17:03, at least) Chris had beaten 17 for the second week in a row, so it was a nice result for him, confirming his climbing was good right now.

Since I didn't have a power meter, I had to analyze pace by looking at my altitude, distance, and time. I assumed CdA = 0.4 m2, air density = 1.2 kg/m3, rolling resistance coefficient = 0.4%, body mass = 57 kg, bike mass = 6 kg, extra mass = 2 kg, and drivetrain efficiency = 97% (note this corresponds to SRM or Quarq or Vector power, not Powertap power). Here's the result:

estimated power

I started a bit fast, despite my goal to start conservatively. But on Old La Honda this probably isn't a bad thing: it's a short climb, so the penalty for a fast start is less than it would be for a climb twice as long, for example. I faded during the climb, but I never cracked. I lost a bit when I stopped for the truck. I was able to get back above average power after this, but this surge probably cost me my finishing kick. So the truck definitely cost me time.

I had to be happy with this effort. Under better circumstances: less wind, no stopping, and going into the climb fresher, I clearly would have been able to break 17. Whether my 16:36 from two years ago is still accessible is another question.

As an aside, here's some data from previous efforts. My power from this one stacks up nicely, although these were measured with a PowerTap, which doesn't include drive-train losses. Neglecting the 3% drivetrain loss my estimated power on this one was 277 watts @ 57 kg = 4.86 W/kg, so this was a competitive but not exceptional effort if you don't consider the wind and the stop for the truck. Note I have a tendency to go out a bit hard. But as long as I don't fade badly, that's probably not a mistake, as I noted: Old La Honda is a relatively short effort.

previous efforts

Also note in every one of these previous efforts I managed a decent upturn in power at the end. This time I didn't. The reason is likely that I spent my surge capacity in the adrenaline-rushed acceleration after being stopped, so I had nothing left for a strong finish. Just looking at the seconds including and following the stop, I might convince myself I was able to make up most of the lost 7 seconds, but I paid a price for that later.

Of course, comparing PowerTap data to estimated power data is not very precise. There's errors on both sides of the comparison. The wind alone, even if relatively light on the hillside versus exposed ridges, is a large source of potential error. This sort of analysis is no substitute for a well-functioning power meter.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Chat with recent Amsterdam resident

Amsterdam is considered a cyclist paradise. It's well known that cycling is there the dominant form of local transportation. Yesterday I had a chat with a guy who'd spent the last five years there, just recently moving to San Francisco.

The Dutch view on driving and parking is interesting. From 1992 to 2005 Amsterdam cut its ground-level car parking 3% per year to discourage driving. Taxes, according to Trey, are 150% the retail value of a car on purchase, or if you receive the car for work, 25% of the value of the car per year. Of course, taxes on fuel are well in excess of those in the United States, which are among the lowest in the world. These substantial taxes are invested in public transit, which is so good that there's little need for a car for city residents, in striking contrast to San Francisco where our bus system, inefficient and forced to compete for space on crowded streets with private automobiles, is virtually unusable for timely travel across the city.

An interesting aspect, though, of the ride with Trey was that at every intersection I'd lose him. I'd at least come to a brief stop at stop signs and red lights while he was blowing through without even a touch of the brakes. "Sorry," he said, "I need to get used to the local conventions."

I asked if people rode that way in Amsterdam. "Yes," he said, "but most of the signals there are cyclist-only".

In any case, the point is claim San Francisco cyclists are suicidal-homicidal-mutant-ninja-messenger-wannabes is really unfounded, based on a strong bias towards the risks of driving, rather than the realities of cycling. That isn't to say that people can't be selfish and stupid on a bike, but people are selfish and stupid however they choose to get around. It's just that strict adherence to rules designed specifically to auto travel isn't followed anywhere, including in the cyclist paradise of Amsterdam.

The difference is that here, cycling is still considered a fringe behavior, an "option only for a very restricted demographic" according to one contributor on a neighborhood forum. While there it's something everyone does. In driving, which here is something only social deviants like myself choose to not do on a daily basis, breaking of the rules is just part of daily life, and therefore the rules cease to apply. Nobody in their right mind thinks about following the speed limits on the highways or fails to take an important call on their cell phone when in a car. Yet we expect cyclists to follow road rules designed after the risks associated with driving rather than cycling. In science, we talk about "necessary versus sufficient" criteria. The road rules are neither. What's really important is to be courteous and predictable. Focus on that, independent of transportation mode, and we'd be all better off. It's the reality world-wide, including Amsterdam.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Petition for later Caltrain Baby Bullet train

Sign the Baby Bullet petition here.

Caltrain always seemed to need to be dragged kicking and screaming to do what's in its own best interest, assuming its best interest is more ridership at lower cost and better service for the majority of people.

John Murphy, who previously petitioned Caltrain for weekend baby bullet survice (ie trains with substantially reduced stop schedules between San Francisco and San Jose), is now petititoning for a later baby bullet. Presently the last southbound AM baby bullet is at 8:57 AM from San Francisco, and the last northbound AM baby bullet is from 8:03 AM. From 9 am until around 4:30 pm it's essentially skeleton mid-day service, substantially reduced from its already inadequate peak around 2008, despite a higher budget and ridership growth since then.

Electrified Caltrain rendering

Caltrain has continuously underestimated latent demand for later baby bullets. When the trains were first introduced, southbound baby bullets left San Francisco at 6:11 am and 7:11 am. This was perhaps based on survey data that ridership ramped up at near 6:11. The reason it ramped up is the trains were so damn slow you needed to get on such an early train. With the baby bullet, you could leave later, so the 6:11 demand fell well behind the 7:11, which was jammed. So they eventually realized the need for one leaving around 8:11, converting the 6:11 train to a limited schedule (more stops than baby bullet).

They later padded the baby bullet train with trains at 6:59, 7:59 and 8:59, these trains stopping at alternate stations, including Menlo Park but skipping the popular Palo Alto station adjacent. I never understood the choice of Menlo Park, a much less popular destination, for so many baby bullet routes, and indeed they later added Palo Alto to these trains as well, making them less bullet-like, moving their start times up two minutes to 57-after. Indeed I argued at a Joint Powers Board meeting that these trains now exceeded the original definitive travel time for baby bullets, which was one hour from San Francisco to San Jose, and so should be reclassified as limited trains or else eliminate either Menlo Park or Redwood City from their schedule to bring them back to a baby bullet standard, but the new padded out schedule, retaining the three consecutive stops of Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto was retained. The move increased the popularity of these trains, baby bullet or otherwise, since Palo Alto serves Stanford University which is a huge employer as well as serving many students who choose to live away from campus.

The latest baby bullets are very popular with cyclists who have the maximum flexibility with transportation at the end-points. Non-cyclists tend to have to catch company shuttles to get to work, and these run on an earlier schedule. But later trains serve as an important back-up for people when circumstances result in them being later than normal to work, for example early conference calls, early AM appointments, or dropping children off at day care, etc. Cyclists, with the limited capacity on the trains, thus face a relative cliff where missing the last baby bullet adds a substantial increment to arrival time in Palo Alto or further south. There's an excellent chance of getting "bumped", denied boarding, from these latest baby bullets, especially for commuters who attempt to board at stations other than the initial departure point. It's a risk many can't afford to take so Caltrain no longer becomes a viable option.

The solution is to extend baby bullet service later. This not only increases the attraction of the later train versus its present local schedule, but further increases the attraction of the baby bullets which precede it, since it moves these trains away from the schedule cliff-edge.

Of course, replacing a local with a baby bullet means some commuters no longer have a train stopping at their favorite station. But what Caltrain often underestimates is that with baby bullet service, you increase commuting speed to the served stations, but may well increase it to adjacent destinations as well. Here's an extreme example: yesterday I left work at a time which would have gotten me to Caltrain in Mountain View just in time for 375, which gets me to San Francisco at 6:25 pm. However, I chose instead to ride downstream to Palo Alto, which takes around 30 minutes longer on bike, and board the later 381, which gets me to San Francisco at 6:44, 19 minutes later. So I traded 30 minutes of riding time for 19 minutes of arrival time, a very nice trade-off on the nice evening. My closest platform to work is Sunnyvale, but instead I went not there, but four stations further north. My total travel time was around 1 hour 30 minutes from my door.

Now if I were to take a local train from Sunnyvale I'd need to allocate around 8 minutes to ride to the train, but then it would take me 1:17 to reach San Francisco, a total travel time of 1:25 from my door. So despite not taking the nearest train station, not the next further north, not the next further from that, or the next further from that, but the 4th station northward from my closest, Sunnyvale, I added only six minutes to my travel time. Baby Bullets skipping Sunnyvale but arriving to either Mountain View, San Antonio, or California would still be faster than a local from Sunnyvale, and even a Baby Bullet stopping only as close as Palo Alto would be slower, and only slightly. And this even neglects the possibility of going south to get a Baby Bullet in Lawrence, which would also be faster than a local from Sunnyvale. Of course I'd love a Baby Bullet from Sunnyvale, but I recognize that everyone can't have express service from their favorite station. Local train service is like the tragedy of the commons, everyone seeks to optimize their personal well-being by protecting their favorite local station but the end result is the majority is worse off.

I am highly confident that John's proposal, like all previous increases in baby bullet service, will be a success. Indeed Caltrain should pepper the entire schedule, weekday and weekend, with baby bullets. Because with train travel, time really does matter. Caltrain competes with 101, so instead of simply petitioning the needs of present passengers, to expand customer base you need to meet the needs of those who presently don't take the train on a daily basis.

I hope you sign John's petition.