Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"training bike" versus "racing bike"

"Back in the day" it was common to have a "racing bike", or at least "racing wheels", and a set-up more generally used for training. The idea was the training bike would take more wear & tear, while the racing bike was kept in more refined condition for racing where small efficiency gains were truly important. Examples of tradeoffs include:

  1. cost: given a fixed amount of wear & tear or damage risk, it's better to use a cheap part than an expensive one, since the cheap one is easier to replace. Examples of this include wheels, cassettes, and chains: these parts wear out (wheels from rim brakes, drivetrain from normal use) and if the performance gains of expensive stuff aren't important in a particular ride, it makes sense to go with the cheaper parts for these.
  2. reliability: lighter parts tend to be less reliable, with less wear life, so even at the same cost (which they're not) it makes sense to stick with more durable stuff if the truly marginal advantages of grams saved are unimportant. Thicker innertubes or tires are another example of trading reliability for performance.
  3. condition: Unworn, clean parts tend to be more efficient than worn, dirty parts. Consider chains. Chains stretch and wear, and as they do, drivetrain efficiency suffers. Losing 0.5% of your power because of worn equipment may be irrelevant on a solo training ride, but may be critical in a challenging road race or time trial. It makes sense to get more use out of parts in a training context than in a racing one.

In addition to these quantitative differences in economic optimization there's an additional issue, which is psychological. Riding a training bike for awhile, then getting on a racing bike, feels like a performance boost: the racing bike feels faster, whether it actually is or not. This little dose of confidence can be valuable in challenging performance-critical situations.

Training tends to be divided between group rides and solo, with the group rides fairly often race simulations where riders would compete with each other. The importance of these competitions was subject to debate: for example, if one bike had a 10-second penalty climbing Old La Honda, but the result was you were waiting 10 seconds less for the the slowest rider to arrive, was that undesirable? There's a strong argument that, to the contrary, it's desirable: 10 seconds of extra climbing is 10 seconds extra training which means 10 seconds more fitness, assuming you still finish the ride. But for the last rider, it might be undesirable, since it may mean the group leaves before you arrive, or you keep them waiting longer, or you're denied 10 seconds of much-needed recovery at the top.

So "back in the day" riders would time themselves up climbs, or keep track of how they finished in town line sprints. Typically these results were completely unimportant, but other times, for example getting a PR on a climb, results had a more lasting impact. But generally it didn't make much sense to use top-tier equipment on training rides.

Then came an era where among a certain segment of the riding population started using power meters. With analysis of power data, actual speed took a back seat. Focus was shifted to how many watts/kg of body mass could be sustained for a certain time, or if you were sloppy on the body mass part, just watts. Heavier bike? No problem. Inefficient drivetrain? No problem if you measured power upstream of the drivetrain (for example, at the crank as opposed to the hub). Rolling resistance because of thicker inner tubes or tires? No problem.

But now we're in the Strava era. Every segment of road is measured and documented. For some, actual events are more opportunities to score good Strava times than to generate event results few will see or care about. Unlike the power era, time matters again. And unlike the pre-power era, the time doesn't matter just on your favorite climb or sprint (for example, Old La Honda times) but on virtually every ripple in the road. There's added incentive for riders to bring out the high-performance hardware, for example carbon-rim wheels and lightweight cassettes, on relatively normal rides, even commutes.

But I cling to the tradition that a training bike should be about training and not about shaving seconds. On MDR, which I just completed, I brought my tried-and-true steel Ritchey Breakaway. The carbon Fuji SL/1 was safe & sound on the bike rack, carbon tubulars and associated brake pads in place, saving it in case I decided to do the Pescadero Road Race, this coming weekend. When I struggled to stay with the group on a climb, I was in theory working slightly harder than I would have otherwise, and in the end that has the potential to make me stronger.

Monday, May 27, 2013

2013 Memorial Day Ride day 4: San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara

Day 4 of 2013 MDR began with, for the second day in a row, a feeling I'd left something behind as I sat on my bike in the parking lot. The day before I'd lost my California International Marathon T-shirt, so surely this was just a ghost of that guilt.

The day's ride was a challenging one, each of the four segments presenting a particular challenge. The first segment: Strawberry Grade.

As part of what is likely the quietest, lowest-traffic section of Highway 1 in the whole state, the road passes strawberry fields around 7 miles south of SLO, then after a brief flat section, there's a climb of a few hundred vertical feet followed by a fast descent. Then it's a challengingly long run into Guadalupe, the first rest stop.

I was well positioned when the road turned, third behind the tandem and Kerry, and as soon as the climb began, I went hard. This established a nice gap, and I went over the top alone. But at the bottom of the descent is a traffic light, relatively new, put in sometime between 2008 and 2011. I willed, even demanded it to turn green as I approached, but it persisted in its unfortunate state of redness, and I had to brake to a stop. Freedom over. There was a full regrouping.

The rest of the way to Guadalupe was tactical. There's a second climb which follows Strawberry, but too gradual to really get a gap, so we crested that in a large group. On the descent, the tandem put in a ferocious attack and got a good gap. The gap stablilized, however, as Mike Pucci and especially John Murphy put in strong pulls. The tandem wasn't going to make it.

I was following a surprisingly savvy Lauren Wright, who was surfing wheels like an experienced racer. It turns out that's because she is an experienced racer, and rode for the US National Team back in the day, doing some major European stage races, she later said. I was surprised but hardly shocked.

The gap was slowly decreasing, and I could resist temptation no longer. I accelerated, looked back to see I had a gap, then bridged to the tandem. One other rider was there. I slotted in to catch my breath. Soon after we were joined by a fourth.

The tandem was getting impatient doing all the work, looking for help, and the main group wasn't far behind. I decided to attack instead. But that didn't amount to much, the tandem was able to follow. I pulled aside to save my strength. At least I'd managed to increase the gap to the chasers.

On the run into the finish one of the other solo bikes put in an acceleration. This gapped the tandem. I was able to follow, along with the other solo rider, and crossed the bridge marking the "finish" in third. The rest stop wasn't far past this.

The next leg featured Harris Grade. There's a right turn from Hwy 135, on whose shoulder we were riding, then a few hundred meters of flat before the climb. This is probably the best climb of the tour, with a lot of switchbacks. It goes on a lot further than one might think, new sections of climb appearing around corners, until the top.

Around the turn onto Harris Grade I was gapped with Wes. This required me to waste some energy bridging back, taking Wes with me. So I sat in a bit as Paul and Kerry set the pace.

After a few corners of the climb I pulled through and they indicated a lack of willingness to follow my pace, so I had a gap. I figured I'd run with that, trying to keep my power on the hot side of 300 watts. That's a good zone for me on short climbs, one I can't sustain, so it's good training to keep it there as long as I can.

I almost made it to the top this way but eventually I slipped back into the 280-300 watt range. This is still good for me, however, and I crested the hill with a big gap. I remembered five years ago Garrett Lau had taken photos here, but this year it was empty. The backside is a fun descent, occasionally sandy, and I had to watch for that but today the road surface was good. Then we cross a stop sign, where I was delayed by a car pulling a trailer, but I was able to hold my gap to the rest stop.

So far I'd been rather reckless in my pacing. The third section was perhaps the toughest, featuring a long, non-continuous grind up an exposed section of Hwy 1 south of Lompoq before a fast descent to the Hwy 101 rest stop at Gaviota Beach. Once the climb began, the tandem set the pace, but soon had to drop back. Wes took over, riding very strongly. We were in a rough rotating paceline. I took a pull, my usual 100 pedal strokes, and then Pucci pulled through and off with a much shorter pull. I wasn't going to get sucked into a rapidly rotating line because that's both mentally and physically more fatiguing for me, so stayed at the back a few turns before rotating back up.

The climb drags on and one: you think you might be at the top as you crest a peak only to see, after a short descent, the road rise up ahead yet again. My power in this section wasn't impressive but I could feel the tank running dry and several times I felt distressed.

At one point after I'd dropped back following a pull the tandem managed to catch back on. They do okay on gradual climbs, and can make up distance on the intermediate descents. The tandem eventually worked its way back to the front of the group.

Paul finally announced that we were on the "final grind" and I moved to the front to set an even tempo. I hoped I could discourage friskiness but then Paul put in a solid acceleration and came by on my right. I tried to follow but couldn't, then tried downshifting and spinning up and couldn't, then stared despairingly down at my rear cassette before trying a third time but once again couldn't.

I was between Paul and the others, but they overtook me soon after. Paul was going to take this one. I later learned he had the Strava KOM from last year. His time was going to be fairly close today, but I think he fell around 30 seconds short.

The descent is fast: close to 50 mph. Wes was leading but started having shimmy problems. When I saw this I clamped my top tube between my legs to discourage them in my own bike. When I did this I noticed I started gaining on Wes: interesting! I've got to keep this in mind next road race I do. With my increased speed I passed Wes and led it out to the bottom of the descent.

Here we rode an exit ramp to 101. The road initially turns north, which can be confusing for a southbound route, but then it curves around and tracks the coast southward. The rest stop is soon after this curve.

Wes was riding to the left of the rumble strips, at the edge of the vehicle lane, while I stuck to the right. He moved ahead this way. I had to avoid various roadkill and shredded rubber from tires, while he faced clearer pavement, but I didn't like the idea of being that far out. We weren't passed by any vehicles, however, before joining 101.

The stop basically marked the end of the lead group. I was eating and chatting with Jorge, who'd been dropped on the long climb, about optimal cadence when Kerry announced she was going to leave with Paul to "ride easy". I didn't think much of this until I saw Pucci silently rolling out. Whoops. The whole lead group was gone, fractured on the road.

There's an initial climb out of the rest stop which would have been a good opportunity to bridge up, but I had absolutely nothing left. I retreated into something less than an endurance pace, more of a death march, pushing myself along the 101 shoulder. This continued until I stopped at a viewpoint and took a photo of the coast with the rail line which is shared by freight with Amtrak passenger service. Then not long after setting out again I flatted, victim of a wire through my front tire.

Fixing this gave me a bit of a break. It was a slow fix, I choosing to patch the obvious hole rather than swapping my tube. After pumping my tire with my small Lezyne road pump and starting again I was feeling a bit better, but kept the pace down until the exit for Cathedral Oaks Road, my preferred route into Santa Barbara and now the official, if not universal, way to the hotel. Others ride a bike path through UCSB, others perhaps still ride down State Street with its countless traffic lights.

Cathedral Oaks is very nice riding. My spirits, and my power, both increased considerably. First I stopped at a roadside cherry stand for some cherries which I stuffed in my jersey pocket (I like my Strava Castelli jerseys with their decently sized pockets). Then come a series of short climbs, and I was able to push my power again into the 300-400 watt range on these. I was riding closer to 100-150 watts on 101.

Approaching the finish, I made the mistake of taking San Roque Rd instead of Avalon, a long-running typo on the route sheet. But after recatching my bearings I did the final few blocks along State Street and I was at Lemon Tree Hotel.

Janine was there and gave me my room key. I was done: another successful Memorial Day ride!

The downside, though, was when I unpacked my bags and realized I'd lost my Kindle, probably left at the Travel Lodge I'd vacated that morning. My moment of paranoia that morning hadn't been paranoia after all. I realized I'd probably left the black Kindle on the floor next to my bed where I'd put it the night before. I tend to be really hard on myself when this sort of thing happens, but I recognize at this advanced age I am what I am and I'm prone to brain-fades and there's nothing I can do about it other than to be more careful next time. Keep my stuff together, don't spread it out. Putting the Kindle on the floor had been a mistake. I called the hotel without luck: no Kindle was found or reported lost. So maybe it was even somewhere else. Or maybe the cleaning staff kept it. In the scheme of things it's unimportant. After changing my password and de-registering the old Kindle I ended up ordering another, more updated model.

That night I risked being antisocial and skipped the banquet at its meat-focused restaurant and instead walked out to the pier at the end of State Street. This was nice, a 6.4 mile walk total. It felt good to be walking after all the riding. I got a simple dinner at the Natural Cafe on State Street. It was nice to hang out a bit in Santa Barbara after the previous years on the tour where all we'd typically do is stay in the hotel, then leave the next morning.

Overall I was pleased with how I rode. I would have liked to have been able to last the full day, rather than running out of gas at the end of each of the three long days. But I'd not done any real intensity before the Berkeley Hills Road Race just 1.5 weeks before the tour, so it's natural the hard efforts would take a toll. That's how to get stronger: push yourself harder than you can handle, then adapt. Had I ridden at an endurance pace for the full day I would have just been reinforcing what was already a strength. Instead I recklessly threw myself at the climbs and beyond and was stronger there than I expected, even at the expense of suffering through the end of the days.

But despite these weak points, I recovered well. I drank a protein drink after each ride, rubbed my legs with my massage stick, then ate more carbohydrates after, elevating my legs against the wall. I was tired in the mornings but once I got some tea (mixed with more protein powder) and started riding I felt strong each day.

Next year is the 25th anniversary ride. Hopefully I'll be there. It will be the coastal route, a bit of a dice toss on the weather, but with a bit of luck I didn't have my one time doing that route a spectacular ride through Big Sur.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

2013 Memorial Day Ride day 3: San Simeon to San Luis Obispo

Day 3 of the Memorial Day Tour is a traditional recovery day, and while some chose to flaunt that tradition by climbing the challenging west side of Santa Rosa Creek Road, I prefer to embrace it and instead focus on the highlight of the day, the descending contest.

We rode south on 1 back to Cambria where we stopped at various places for breakfast. Most stop at a cafe serving the usual breakfast goods, but Kerry, Paul, and I went to Medusa's Real Mexican. Anytime I see "real" in front of "Mexican" I get excited, because really there's no better food in the world. Both Kerry and I skipped over the breakfast menu and went straight to the lunch menu, I getting tacos, she a burrito, while her husband Paul went with some more typically breakfast thing. My tacos really were quite good, perhaps not King City good, but better than the ones I'd had in San Simeon. That made tacos four days in succession (after Burrito Barn in Campbell) and I wasn't close to tired of them.

Breakfast done, we went to the traditional cafe and there I chatted with some people there. I'd lost sight of Kerry and Paul, didn't see Janine and Mike's tandem, so thought perhaps they'd left. I thus decided to set off at a nice easy pace down the cost.

A tailwind pushed me along until I stopped to pick up a discarded innertube left behind by someone. If it was good, fine, but if not I'd discard it properly. After stopping I pulled out my route sheet to check distances, when the tandem group was approaching. They hadn't left after all. I got on my bike again but they were past by the time I was moving. I let them go: I was taking it easy.

The only rest stop of the ride wasn't much further, and the lead group was there waiting for the food van to arrive. I went to pee at the traditional peeing tree at the stop, then joined them. We chatted a bit and then the van came. My tacos had been a light breakfast relative to what many of the others had eaten, so I was ready for food even if others weren't. Bananas, dried fruit, and almond butter did nicely. But they were ready to go when I was still munching, so I decided to wait for the next group, which had just recently arrived.

After some more time enjoying the bluff where the rest stop was located this big group was ready to ride, and I joined them. We rode at a recover-compliant pace down the road, finally arriving at the turn-off on S Bay Blvd just past Morrow Bay which would take us to the descending contest. S Bay Blvd has a bike lane, but the extremely heavy car traffic makes it unpleasant. Cars impinge on the bike lane, making riding on the outside half of the lane disconcerting. It's surprising the volume of car traffic on a Saturday, but I suppose people were driving to a day at the beach.

Turri road, in contrast, had much lighter vehicle traffic: just 4-5 cars passed us our whole time there. It has a nice climb which would be good for intervals, but I took is at a relaxed pace with the others. Then it was time for the descening contest.

Greg Ferry arrived from the opposite direction just as we were setting up: he'd not been in our group before then. He's the founder of the descending contest. At regular intervals, riders were sent off. They get one push of the pedals, then must coast as far as possible. It's brilliant: a rider can almost make it to the end of the road, but never quite. My roommate for the tour, Alan Armstrong, won. I finished in the bottom half. It helps to have some mass behind you, and Alan's a big guy. When in form he's an extremely powerful rider who can pound out impressive speed on flat or rolling terrain.

Then it was on to SLO. We were staying in two hotels, and I was lucky to be in the downtown one, the SLO Travel Lodge. Cambria Bikes (SLO store) for a Deda chainwatcher (no more tossed chains this trip!), Jamba Juice (bad disposable-cup karma), Bliss Cafe (twice, with good drink-from-mason-jar-karma), Barnes and Noble (where I read the first two chapters of Dan Brown's Inferno), and Mission Plaza (where I witnessed a wedding procession with salsa music) made for an enjoyable visit to San Luis Obispo.

2013 Memorial Day Ride: day 2, King City to San Simeon

Day 2 of any multi-day cycling event like a tour or stage race is always a bit of a gut-check, or more typically an exercise in self-denial, because one is faced with the prospect of a long, difficult day on the bike when what the body expects is a leisurely day of rest or perhaps an easy spin. No rest for the weary, though, we had to reach San Simeon.

The route for the day included two key Strava KOMs: Quadbuster and Interlake. I wanted to make good efforts on each. Quadbuster came first, only 9 miles into the day.

Leaving the hotel a small group slipped through the tail end of a green light and was away. Unlike the previous day, Mike and Janine's tandem wasn't in that group, so I felt confident we'd catch them. Not long after we turned onto a short bike path and I found myself with a gap off the front of the main bunch. I gave this up when I unclipped at some moderately deep sand part-way through ("keep pedaling!" I heard Janine shout to those following her behind) and the gap essentially closed, but I opened it again right after the sand.

Onto Jolon Road, wide with a large shoulder, we turned south. I saw the leaders ahead in two clumps. I bridged up to the second, paused for a bit, then up to the first. The lead group consisted of Eddie, Katherine, and Greg, three riders I knew well from previous tours. I said hello and then kept going.

I watched my power meter and it was in the 210-220 watt range, and I knew I could sustain this pace without issue. If I was caught, fine, but I also didn't mind the idea of reaching Quadbuster alone.

And that I did. I slotted into the 300-320 watt range as a target. My power slipped below 300 occasionally but not by much. I felt like I'd paced it fairly well and hit the top with this pace hard to hold. I ended up tying Paul Macintyre's KOM pace from the 2011 MDR, which was a big success. Paul was on the tour this year as well, however, and won't upload his ride until later.

From here I started to cruise along, expecting to be caught, but then a support van passed me and shouted "two minutes!" This was cool: a good chance to see if I could hold the gap to the rest stop. They say in pro racing a break can lose as little as 0.1 minutes / km. I had 10 km left so should be okay if I was a pro, but I'm not.

It was getting close to the 40 km mark where the first rest stop was located and I glanced back and saw the unmistakable shimmering metal of cyclists. Damn. I went a bit harder and looked back again. Closer. But the car was by now visible up ahead and I managed to roll in before I was caught.

We regrouped and now the real challenge of the day: could I stick with the lead group on the difficult rollers of the second segment? I'm okay on steady-state climbing but the intensity was my downfall at Berkeley Hills Road Race 11 days earlier. Out we went, hitting one climb after another, and I felt fairly good. I was rotating through our slow paceline and took a decent-size pull when I saw the road rising up ahead. This was it, I recalled: interlake. I downshifted at the valley before the climb. "Settling in!" someone said on my wheel. Indeed: I like settling into a sustainable pace quickly, even if that pace seems easy initially.

After a short bit of this Paul came around. I was able to get on his wheel. This was fine with me because I know Paul is an excellent steady climber. He was spinning a low gear, so I downshifted as well to more closely match him.

The climb crested out at a relative flat, then got steeper again, then flattened again. Approaching this second flat I looked at my power meter and saw 285. I'd done more than this at Quadbuster so concluded I could up the pace a bit, even if my current pace wasn't very comfortable. We then hit that second flattish portion and Paul kept the pace fairly similar, dropping my power to 130. I thought if he'd been feeling super-strong he'd have upshifted here. So once the grade picked up again I came around and accelerated to 350 watts.

I heard him get on my wheel and thought if he can stay there I'd be in trouble. But he couldn't: I stopped hearing him and knew I'd gotten a gap.

I couldn't hold 350, but I kept it mostly over 300 and was able to cross the top alone. Paul wouldn't be chasing solo: he'd wait for his wife Kerry. She's a former mountain biker and extremely strong, though, so it would be a challenge to hold them off.

This section of road, by Nacamiento Lake and beyond. is gorgeous. Good road, rolling hills, fast twisting descents, and stunning views of the lake make it a joy. However, the joy is shattered by the vehicle traffic. At one point I was passed by a large truck, it's exhaust clogging my throat. Nice. But that was immediately followed by a second, larger truck, this one pulling a wide boat trailer. The truck spewed a cloud of black smoke from its tailpipe, causing me to slow to control my respiration to minimize getting this crap in my lungs. But what followed was worse: a cement truck rumbled by, with at most a 2-foot clearance, not touching the yellow line. Thank you Jerry Brown I thought for the second time of the tour. After a close brush on Uvas Road the day before, I was wondering if I was losing my tolerance for this sort of thing. Maybe I should go back to using a mirror, I thought. (I gave up using it because peripheral vision is more important in the city).

I finally reached the second stop ahead of the group. My gap this time was larger: the constant up and down eliminated most of the advantage to a group.

After a long break we set off for segment 3. It was announced this was traditionally a recovery segment and that was what I could certainly use. I felt okay, at least initially, but could tell I'd done a lot of work so far.

There was some discussion about which way we should go, and the consensus, except for Wes, was for the standard route. I'd already done Kau Mine + Cypress Mountain twice before so decided on the standard Vineyard Road - CA46 - Santa Rosa Creek this time. The standard route was longer with more climbing (161 km, 2072 meters of climbing per Strava, versus 142 km, 1849 meters). Sure, the detour was mostly dirt, which adds difficulty, but it would be good to sample the alternative. Wes added an extra loop of Adelaide and up Kau Mine to the route, adding distance and climbing. I opted out of this since it was quite enough for me already.

Spinning up a short rise I went to shift into my little ring when my SRAM derailleur threw my chain off to the inside. Kerry had been following and she almost hit me as I came to a rapid stop. The others went on as I got off my bike and tried to put the chain back on with my gloved hand. I ended up getting my hand jammed between the chain and the large chainring, which was moderately painful, but the glove protected my skin at least. After a few attempts to dislodge it I was able to laterally move the chain to create a gap. Then I removed my hand and replaced the chain on the chainring. SRAM is frustrating in its tendency to throw chains.

I set off, wondering if I could reach the leaders again, and found them waiting for me around the next corner. That was nice. Paul, who owns a bike shop, recommended a chain keeper, and I think that's an excellent idea. Indeed as I write this in San Simeon I realize I should have stopped at Cambria Bike Outfitter yesterday and purchased one.

Anyway, this break seemed to have energized the others, because the pace immediately picked up. The next short climb the leaders hit Z5+ and I was dropped. All I had left was endurance mode. I wondered if I'd not eaten enough but really my lack of intensity to this point in my general riding made what I'd done so far all I could expect. It had been a good day.

Riding solo, the support van passed by. This was good: I was almost out of water.

As I rode I passed multiple groups of riders in the opposite direction. They were part of the Great Western Bicycle Rally, based out of nearby Passo Robles. The rally attracts touring-style cyclists, for example ACTC and Western Wheelers. It's a cool idea which I now realize from reading Jan Heine's blog probably has it's routes in French randonneuring and Velocio.

I reached the location of the stop at the end of pretty Vineyard Road (the name reportedly pre-dating the popularity of vineyards there, which became blossomed after the movie Sideways), the intersection with Highway 46. But, after looking around, I saw nothing. This is remarkable because they were there somewhere. I don't know how I missed them.

I thought perhaps the stop had been moved either to a shoulder up the road or perhaps to the intersection with Santa Rosa Creek Road, so I kept going, plugging along. I needed water but still had two bars in my pocket. I finally reached Santa Rosa Creek Road but of course they weren't there.

The road is quite rough: reminiscent of Tunitas Creek Road before it was repaved for the ATOC, but rougher. I stopped at a farmhouse on the bottom, wondering if I should cross the gate to what appeared to be a water pump, but decided this was a bad idea. So after a short break I set off up the road.

I came to two locals standing by a fence by another farm, and asked if they knew where I could find water. One pointed to a nearby spigot at his front gate. Excellent! But the spigot turned out to be dry. He then recalled he'd shut if off at the house at the end of a long driveway, so directed me to a farm 2 miles up the road, where there was another.

I found that without difficulty and stopped to fill my bottles, adding a Hammer electrolyte tablet to one. As I did so, three riders passed from the lead group.

I continued on up the climb. I had expected more, but the main climb portion was just a short, steep wall. Much of the net altitude gain had been on CA46 before.

As I descended, I was passed to my surprise by Paul and Kerry, Kerry doing most of the leading. Paul, I was later told, had bonked. I wasn't the only one. Kerry pulled us along for most of the rough descent into Cambria, navigating between the considerable density of potholes. She was extremely strong, showing no hint of fatigue.

In Cambria, we met with the others. I continued on, stopped at a wonderful farmer's market where I had a delicious avacado and dried persimmons along with various samples.

The rest of the way was battling a raging cross-wind for three miles up Hwy 1. That was better than the block headwind I had in 2011.

Tomorrow: the recovery day, a "short" spin to San Luis Obispo.

Friday, May 24, 2013

2013 Memorial Day Tour: part 1

Prelude

After missing the coastal route last year, I returned to the inland route the Memorial Day Ride did my last time riding this event, in 2011.

The Memorial Day Ride is a 4 day supported bike tour organized by the brilliant Janine Rood, who somehow manages to not only organize the considerable logistical operation, but ride at the front on a tandem with her husband Mike. She's been at this for 23 years now, and delivers amazing amount of energy to the fun.

On Wednesday, I went from work in Mountain View to the Winchester VTA Light Rail stop in Campbell. Then, carrying a heavy duffle bag on my shoulder, I navigated the combination of bike path and bike-unfriendly suburban expressways to the hotel I was sharing with my friend Jeff: the Bristol. It was a nice start, leaving only a short morning ride to the start.

Day 1: Los Gatos to King City

MDR is half bike tour, half stage race. Each day consists of 4 segments, with 3 rest stops along the way, supported by 2 food vans (one leading, one trailing). A third van carries luggage to the finish. It is a a lean and mean operation which works extremely and surprisingly well.

I was trying to resist the stage race aspect, but in the back of my mind, I still thought it would be nice to stay with the lead group. In 2011 I'd been doing a lot of running, less riding, and I had more confidence in my fitness this year. But I'd not been feeling good since Berkeley Hills, something I attributed to allergies. I'd renewed a prescription for nose spray (is this WADA-legal?) and hoped it would help.

I felt okay at the 8 am start, but it wasn't long before on a short roller the friskiness started. "This is stupid", I said, as it was a short climb and I figured I could lag climb it, sticking with the group. And I did.

But the short climb was followed by a descent, where I did my best to minimize my effective cross-section, but at the bottom the first part of the group squeaked through a green-yellow traffic light. "Shit!" I heard from one of the riders immediately ahead, who braked for the now red signal. No biggie, I felt, I'll rejoin the leaders at the first rest stop.

I was the first of the rest to reach the rest stop. The leaders were there. But when I was out of view, filling my bottles behind the food van, they apparently left. I ended up joining Jeff and some others for the second leg.

We eventually reached the second stop, in Hollister. One block from the stop (we could see the van up ahead with the lead riders) we got stopped by a red light. We waited, and waited, and waited, until finally it changed green. When I finally reached the van, I grabbed some food, filled my bottles, and the leaders were rolling out. I set out to join them, but the light at the next intersection changed just as the tandem passed through. After the delay I wasn't going to catch them, so I returned to the van to wait for another group. It was probably for the best, since I had wanted to adjust my saddle anyway (I was riding my Ritchey Breakaway, and had put the SLR which had previously been on my Fuji on that bike).

So that was the last I saw of the leaders until I finally arrived at the finish in King City. Along the way, we rode Highway 25 from Hollister to the access road to Pinnacles National Park, then from there to Bitterwater where we turned for the initial climb, then descent into King City.

This segment was the hardest of the day. I tried a good effort on the climb, and managed to beat my time from 2011, despite the block head wind (there was a head wind in 2011, as well). The descent and flat road to King City was a real challenge: gusting cross-winds made keeping control of the bike a challenge. I was fatigued when I finally reached the hotel with Jeff and another rider.

Later, we went to dinner @ Guadalajara Restaurant in King City. I had some modest vegetarian tacos, but they were delicious by virtue of there being a fresh tortilla and taco bakery next store. On the opposite side of the store is a taco stand which is also excellent. King City seems somewhat modest itself but it's almost worth the visit just for the food.

Tomorrow: San Simeon.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Watching the 2013 Tour of California: Stage 8, Santa Rosa

For the final stage of this year's Tour of California Cara had scored VIP passes for the finish in Santa Rosa. This was very exciting, and I must say this VIP thing could get addictive. After a leasurely tour of the expo, we headed to the tents for some appetizers, coffee (decaf), and alcoholic drinks for those who prefer them.

Sagan head
Peter Sagan heads were a notable trend at this year's ATOC

Members of the Champion Systems amateur team were there, since they were sponsored by the law firm which had rented the space. I talked with them about upcoming races and about the developments in the Tour of California, visible on a television in the tent. Participating in that race was the Champion Systems pro team, not sponsored by the law firm, but obviously affiliated. I also asked them about their bikes, which were anonymous Taiwanese frames painted with "Champion Systems".

When I needed to use the porta-potty, I didn't need to use the porta-potty. Instead they had luxury toilet trailers, roomier than the one at home.

finish line

Finally the pro race arrived and announcer Dave Towles worked the crowd into a frenzie. We were treated to three passings by the field. We were around 100 meters from the finish line, near an oblique row of Bott's Dots. In a cat 3 race, these might have caused a problem, but the pro riders glided over them as if they weren't there.

After the first two pass-throughs it was the last lap, and the frenzie grew to an amazing threshold of chaos. The noise was impressive: fans pounded on the barriers, rang cowbells, and screamed at full-lung. It was increadible. First the lead motorcycles came, and then the swarm, moving incredibly fast. On the right, along the barrier at which I was standing, was the green rider, Sagan, clearly ahead of the others. I turned my head as he passed and saw him raise his arm to mark the win. Incredible.

I'd been filming the sprint with my digital camera and posted the result to YouTube. Note to self: film in landscape mode next time. My video is sideways. Maybe that adds something to the effect.

Afterwards, Cara and I were both tired, but we drove out to where the now-returned-to-traffic race course had departed Occidental Road and rode a loop, starting west on Occidental. We were both a bit disappointed that while Santa Rosa is considered a recreational cyclists's paradise, these rural roads carried heavy car traffic on the Sunday afternoon. Cara turned back a bit before Harrison Grade, feeling short on calories, but I finished my little loop down Harrison Grade and east on Guernville and met her back at the car, from where we returned home.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Watching the 2013 Tour of California: stage 7

The Tour of California went from south-to-north this year for the first time this year, ending with a series of three critical-stages in the San Francisco Bay area. This made for the most significant racing in the region since the unfortunately defunct San Francisco Grand Prix.

Friday was the time trial in San Jose, a combination of a course used there previously, climbing Willow Springs Road, and ending with the "Metcalf Mauler": Metcalf Road. Low-Key did Metcalf in 2010 after years of it just missing the final cut due to its relative lack of total climbing. But what it lacks in endurance, it makes up for in intensity. I watched the time trial in short spurts from my cubical, as I had a pressing deadline I had to meet, and it was impressive watching Tejay spin up the climb in his time trial bike to win the stage and consolidate his GC lead. I haven't seen the split times for Metcalf, but there were Strava times. The best of the times posted to Strava was Mancebo posting as an alias. But a remarkable second was Low-Key's junior and overall champion from 2012, Adrien Costa. Adrien's still a junior and missed Mancebo's time by only 4 seconds as he did the climb to finish off a scenic 100 km from home to the stage finish to watch. Sure, he had to ride hard for less than 10 minutes while the pros rode for 50. But Adrien also had to dodge spectators on the course, and in any case he crushed Nate English's standing KOM. Forget the comparison to the pros: that alone was super-impressive.

Saturday was Mount Diablo. I took BART out to Pleasant Hill then rode up North Gate Road to the junction. North Gate is clearly the more challenging of the two sides, with more sustained climbing and overall elevation gain, but the pros were climbing South Gate to the same point. South Gate climbs at a descent grade from the private residential road at the bottom (previously known for its wheel-eating potholes, but repaired in anticipation of the 2012 ATOC). But then after passing through the south gate of the park it levels out, still net climbing but gradually, until it reaches the junction.

I encountered a lot of riders going up the north side, including a guy who claimed to have been Tejay's coach not so long ago when Tejay was a young junior. He'd flown in from Montana to watch. Eventually I reached the junction and it was a mass of cyclists. Car access was cut-off along each of the two Gate roads below this point. The Mount Diablo Interpreterive Assocation was selling Diablo park jerseys, a brilliant move, as they had constant business. I went over and told them that Low-Key used to do a climb of the mountain and give proceeds to them, but we abandoned Diablo after the rangers gave us a hard time about it, despite our use permit, one time too many. That experience still leaves a sour taste in my mouth, though, and there's plenty of climbs on public roads where cycling consistent with Vehicle Code is explicitly allowed.

Anyway, I moved onward, descending South Gate. Slightly below the summit I passed multiple stands providing free samples: Osmo (excellent), Gu electrolyte tablets (good), and Bonk Breaker bars (excellent: I buy these anyway). The Bonk Breakers table was still empty, but I got them on the return.

spectators climbing Summit Road

As I decended I passed well over a thousand riders climbing. It was a steady, consistent stream. There were groups wearing the same jersey, obviously members of the same club or tour group, and a lot more just riding solo. It was incredible.

I finally reached the bottom of the descent in the residential area (still maybe 1 km from the Athenian School, which marks the start of fall's Diablo Challenge). I then took a drink, paused for a bit, and began the climb back.

I slotted in to a group wearing Carmichel Training Systems clothing. They were on a tour riding every stage of the Tour. I later wondered how they handled the final stage, which begain the next day at a bright-and-early 8:20 am. Perhaps they trailed, rather than led, the pro race.

I eventually passed them and caught up to Bill Bushnell, riding his electric-assist recumbent. I chatted with him awhile until I was stopped to talk with Jason Thorpe of SF2G and the Apple lunch ride. He was there with his family watching the fun from near the Live Oak campground.

I continued onward, getting my Bonk Breaker sample, then continuing to the junction and onward. It was the most relaxed climb of Diablo I've ever done. I didn't feel the slightest bit of fatigue.

I reached Juniper campground at 2 miles to the summit. It had been reserved for team vehicles, those with camping reservations ejected. I thought this was unfair to those who'd planned to hike in or bike to the campground. I'd seen riders climbing here when I did the climb the week before DMD with full panniers. They were riding the pacific coast. I thought this was probably exemplary of the State Park's pro-car bias: assume every camper takes a parking spot, and in this case the parking was needed for the race. But the lot was basically empty. The team cars were still on the road.

Beyond this point, fans were grouped at the side of the road in large numbers at good viewing spots. I was told by several that access to the summit was restricted. This wasn't a surprised, but I had to keep riding until I was turned back.

At 1.5 km from the top, a volunteer was directing cyclists to park their bikes along the Summit Trail, which emerged from the road to the right, and continue by foot. I thought about this, but then decided I wanted to stay closer to my bike so I could descend with the returning pro riders sufficiently soon after the broom wagon had passed marking the end of the race. So I descended back to approximately 2.3 km from the finish, immediately past a huge group of spectators at 2 km. I found Bill at the side of the road and stopped there. We were at a spot with a bit less line-of-sight, but also fewer spectators with which to compete for the view we had. Bill was interested in getting photos, so preferred this, even with the questionable lighting conditions.

waiting for the pros

We were later joined by James Porter and Ron Brunner, two other friends of mine, which made a nice group. I tried to follow the race on my Android phone, but Verizon wasn't cooperating. So instead we tracked the progress with the overhead helicopter, and via views of various segments of road we could see blow us on the clear day. Bill is one of the most detail-aware people I know, and he was able to identify the location of each of these road segments. I was impressed as always.


Mancebo dangling off the front
winning break
lead group

Finally the riders came. Mancebo was dangling off the front, getting pulled back, clearly doomed. A small group wasn't far behind, dangling off the front of a surprisingly large group containing Tejay, the riders moving quickly but steadily. I didn't realize at the time this was the winning move, and indeed I'd forgotten about it until I reviewed my photos, as it seemed at the time like an insignificant gap. Then there was a large stream of team cars occluding the riders following. It was clear these cars helped some of the more marginal members of the group to keep in contact: on the gradual portion of South Gate, riders could latch onto the draft of the caravan if they got momentarily gapped.

And quickly the main group was by, their presence echoed by the loud cheers of the huge spectator group around the next corner. Following riders were lost admist the long caravan. We were standing on the outside of the corner for a better onobstructed view, but were more prone to obstruction.

Once the caravan passed we did better. Riders passed in small groups, rarely solo, then there was a pause. The gruppetto was next. And there it was, to the cheers of the group immediately downslope, a large group of the sprinters and other just putting in the pedal strokes to reach the summit with minimal damage. Peter Sagan was clearly visible on the outside of this pack. His eyes were penetrating. He seemed alone in some sort of zone.

After this some spectators made the mistake of assuming that was it: the race was past. But any multi-time race spectator knows it ain't over 'til the broom wagon passes. But eventually it did, trailing a solo rider struggling with the hill to make the time cut. He did, it turned out. Results and the CyclingNews story are here.

It also turned out the critical attack occurred not far above our position. Maybe it was even within view of that group just up the road. Ah, well.

By the time the broom wagon passed the lead racers, at least those not detained by the awards ceremony, were descending towards the team van area. I slotted into the road and heard German conversation immediately behind and to the left. And then I was passed... by Jens Voigt.

You'd think the pro riders would be conservative descending immediately after a race. After all, they have nothing to prove taking risks, and the road was clogged with riders of questionable skill and experience. But they are so confident on their bikes, so balanced and aware, what I might think a relatively fast descent is nothing to them. I didn't try to keep up.

My first stop was Juniper Campground. It was full of team cars, but only Bontrager riders were visible here. They had chairs set up, and a few of their riders were congregated. A Leopard-Radioshack rider coasted in, but was sent onward by a guy with a Belgian accent further down the hill. The teams were obviously meeting in the lower lot, at the bottom of North Gate Road.

I stopped at the Skratch Labs tent for more of their excellent energy drink, which was still available. They were still cooking sausages on the grill. I was getting ready to leave when two Orica-Green Edge riders passed, turning their heads in obvious interest. Soon after I set off, and they were stopped in the road, looking for a gap in the descending streem to go back to the Skratch tent.

I reached the junction where there was a large crowd. I went back to the MDIA stand and asked how many jerseys they'd sold. "A lot" the volunteer told me with wide eyes. Good. The park can obviously use the money.

Peter Sagan had reached the junction. He looked confused about which way to go: North Gate or South? He decided on South.

Since many spectators had arrived from South Gate, there was much less spectator traffic on North Gate Road. I descended in a group with 3 pros including a Bissell rider. They descended smoothly but safely, and it was a joy to follow along.

Finally I arrived at the team van section past the gate. I'd been here before: after one of the CCCC Mount Diablo time trials. Hopefully that happens again this year: I'd like to go if it doesn't conflict with something else.

Most of the riders had returned, and teams were packing up to leave. It's cool looking at the team bikes, though. They're always in top shape. I always seem to struggle to keep my bikes functioning properly: there's always something wrong. Pro bikes are just at a different level. They're always running as-new. I noticed most of the bikes seemed to have 25 mm tires. Wide is definitely in for 2013. I approve.

Eventually I'd toured all of the buses, and I set off. I ended up getting slightly lost on the way back to Pleasant Hill BART, on a whim taking a designated bike route which rudely dumped me onto Ygnacio Valley Road. I ended up braving the heavy traffic of the road and going to Walnut Creek BART, downstream of Pleasant Hill. I thought this might make it hard to get my bike on the train, but I was able to do so, and eventually arrived home.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Solving the Maze: Mountain View "Bike Boulevard"

Yesterday I finally cleaned the Mountain View Bike Boulevard in both directions: not a single navigational fault. That's a non-trivial accomplishment: it's a maze.

Most of the "Bike Boulevard" is described in this preliminary report from 2004. Mountain View has a problem: its streets are generally newer than those of the communities further north, and that's not a good thing. They were designed in the age of the supremacy of the car: wide roads designed for high-speed, high-capacity car traffic. Both the speed and capacity are illusionary: the wide roads intersect at controlled intersections with extremely long light cycles, the long cycles mandated by a combination dedicated left-turn phases and providing pedestrians sufficient time to cross the long distance from curb-to-curb during green. They're a disaster of urban planning.

Two major routes, not counting freeways, from Palo Alto to Sunnyvale through Mountain View are Middlefield to the north and Central Expressway to the south. Middlefield is more of a commercial street with strip malls and an enormous density of traffic lights. Central Expressway is faster, with more favorable right of way and, eastbound, a relatively small number of cross-street conflicts for cyclists due to the adjacent Caltrain tracks limiting cross-street density. Neither of these streets is good for timely cycling, however. Middlefield's strip malls create a lot of mid-block conflicts, and the traffic lights create frustrating delays, so despite its bike lanes and status as a recommended cycling route Middlefield is very unattractive. Central, on the other hand, features high-speed entry and exit points from the freeway network, and it's glass-strewn shoulders are a persistance puncture hazard.

In between is a maze of meandering residential streets. These are what the "Bike Boulevard" navigate, providing access from close to the terminus Palo Alto Bike Boulevard to at least most of the way to Sunnyvale.

But I put "Bike Boulevard" in quotes, because while it's nice to have a signed route to navigate the maze of streets and occasional paths which form it, there's nothing "boulevard" about it. Palo Alto led the way with its bike boulevard back in the 1970's: led by Ellen Fletcher, Palo Alto's bike advocate mayor, Palo Alto created a fast and safe route for cyclists to get across town. Bryant Street was converted to bike boulevard status by eliminating stop signs to reduce delays and putting in place hard vehicle barriers to eliminate it as an attraction to car traffic. It was truly visionary, to be the first in a network of bike boulevards. But for whatever reason the political momentum was lost, and it remains an only-of-its kinds certainly in Palo Alto, perhaps in the entire Bay area. Indeed, in the 1990's when the Palo Alto Bike Boulevard was extended between Embarcadero and the Menlo Park border (previously cyclists were directed to Ramona to cross Embarcadero) there was some controversy because cyclists were given no priority on this new segment. It was basically just an addition of loop detector for cyclists to trigger the traffic light at Embarcadero and signs signifying the new status of the roads the rest of the way. So there was some question about what the new designation of this portion actually signified.

Mountain View continued with this approach: signage only for its "bike boulevard". Basically nothing changed from before except that the pathological navigational skill which would have been required to complete the route unsigned was now mitigated to a reduced but nontrivial challenge. The issue is the signs, while extremely useful, are inconsistently placed and in some intersections some searching is required to find them. In some places logic by omission needs to be exercised: given no sign is visible on option A, it must be option B.

So I appreciate it: it's way nicer, psychologically, than Central and way faster than Middlefield. I've been riding it between work and the Palo Alto Caltrain station, in conjunction with a portion of the Palo Alto boulevard, sometimes using Park in Palo Alto as an alternate. But it's much more like the designated bike routes in Marin, in particular route 20, which twists and turns through local streets to help cyclists avoid the roads with high speed vehicle traffic.

I created segments for the Mountain View "Bike Boulevard" on Strava, using data from my rides today. I embed them below. These segments are completely unsuited for speed tests: they're most useful for statistics. Indeed, I find that among activities posted to Strava, successful navigation of the full thing is a very rare thing: only 6 eastbound and 4 westbound despite Strava's fairly forgiving segment matching criteria.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Berkeley Hills Road Race

I feel a singular attraction to the Berkeley Hills Road Race. With increased attention the past few years to trail running, a road marathon, and double centuries, adding in a few minor injuries which have derailed my progress a few years, and my bike racing experience has been restricted to hillclimbs. But with Roaring Mouse, my team, co-promoting Berkeley Hills with the venerable Berkeley Bike Club, I was planning at being at the race anyway. It was just a matter of selecting a volunteer option compatible with racing. And so I signed up for clean-up, and registered for the 45+ 1-2-3 race.

I was nervous going in. As I reported here, the previous Wednesday I did 100 miles, a bit much, but it was a commute ride I'd committed to months before and I didn't want to miss it. That left me three days for recovery. And when I went out for a light shake-down cruise on Saturday, the day before Berkeley Hills, my legs felt okay, and my bike seemed in good condition.

On Saturday morning, before my shake-down ride, I'd swapped the chain for a KNC I had laying around, the old chain having reached 0.75% elongation. I swapped the SRAM Red 11-26 cassette for an 11-23, even that overkill for the gradual climbs of Berkeley Hills with my 34-tooth little ring. I contemplated putting my 36-ring on instead, but it was on my Ritchey Breakaway and that seemed like too much hassle. I finally put my Speedplay X-1's with aftermarket Al bow-ties on, preferring my Bont shoes (on which I've finally dialed in the heat molding, after daring to increase the oven temperature higher than on previous molding attempts) to my new Specialized shoes. The Bonts are drilled for Speedplay cleats while the Specialized are 3-hole with Shimano SPD-SL cleats. The Specialized shoes have been putting pressure on a nerve in my ankle, and I didn't want to deal with the kludged shim I'd used for DMD in a road race. I also found to my horror I had a steel water bottle cage bolt on the Fuji. I found an Al one and put that on instead, saving close to 3 grams.

A big question was how many water bottles to use. We were climbing the hills three times, the feedzone being at the bottom of Papa Bear, the second sustained climb and the climb to the finish. So if I took only two bottles, with the forecast high for the day over 80F, I'd definitely need to get a bottle feed during at least one of the first two times up Papa. That seemed too risky, since the feed zone can be chaotic, and delay there can be fatal if you then need to close a gap on the climb.

So I decided to take the extra 400+ grams and carry a third bottle in my pocket. There's around 8 minutes of climbing between Mama Bear and Papa Bear, including the minor climbs at their tops. So 400 grams would cost me around 3 seconds total, since I am presently 57 kg and my bike is 5.8 kg, then add in clothing and something for wind resistance. 3 seconds is a lot, but then I decided to play it safe.

One thing I noticed in warming up was when I shifted from the big to little ring with my chain in my 23 cog, the derailleur threw the chain. This was something I was supposed to have caught the day before. I tried adjusting the ramp screw on my rear derailleur to see if that would help, which seemed unlikely, and it turns out it didn't. Worn chainrings? Possible, but not super-likely since I don't ride my Fuji much. Maybe the derailleur angle needs to be adjusted. But I didn't want to do that on the start line. So I resolved to not attempt this shift during the race.

The race started with a neutral climb out of the boat house area where registration is held. These neutral starts are often nervous, and this one was, as the motorbike kept a steady pace, while the riders tended to accelerate as the grade changed. So there was some braking involved, but we got to the top intact.

And when I did I was almost immediately sprinting to close a gap. The group had gone from the narrow road from the boathouse to wide-open San Pablo Dam Road with its two full right-hand lanes + shoulder available to us (centerline rule was in effect). Riders were blasting away at the front, shouting at each other. I tucked into the pack, and then there was more shouting. What? These guys had applied too many testosterone patches this morning or something. I wondered what I'd gotten into.

Around we went, passing the elite 3's along the way. They'd started several minutes before us, but were obviously dawdling: they had to race an extra lap, after all. But more than that, the 3's don't have the strong teams the 1-2-3 master's groups have. They lose incentive, the pace dropping. It never really dropped in my race.

Other than this, I arrived without incident at the base of Mama Bear. As is my tendency, I was too far back here, but the road is wide and I set off at a decent climbing tempo and started moving up. I made good progress, moving toward the front half of the pack by the top of the climb.

This used to be the finish of the race back in the 1990's, and I have some nostalgia for it, but now the top of Mama Bear has no significance. Afterwards, there's a slight descent, a short climb, another false summit, then a slightly longer climb before the fast descent to Happy Valley Road and the start of Papa Bear.

I tried my best to descend as aerodynamically as possible, but at 57 kg I just don't drop as quickly as bigger guys. So I lost some places here. My 46-11 may have been the smallest top gear in the race, but I don't think that was limiting. It was fast enough for coasting. I just wasn't coasting as fast as the others.

We hit the base of Papa Bear, and I stayed to the left to avoid the feed zone. I again moved up, and approached a lead group as we neared the top. One rider on my wheel shouted at me to close the final gap, but I felt that would be too much, so I left the little gap for the rise which follows soon after Papa. In every race I've done here, in the 4's, in the 3's, in the 35+ 3-4, there's always been a let-up in the pace here. Surely I could latch onto the tail of the group and save myself time in Z7 for which I'd pay dear interest later. This was only the first lap of 3!

But I never closed the gap. They drilled it up this short rise, then were gone on the descent, setting I pace I simply couldn't match. Pedaling on this descent is tricky, since there's frequent pavement heaves, and if you catch one off-balance it could be an issue. I didn't see people pedaling here. It was pretty much tuck and go.

I wondered if having taken that third bottle made the difference here. It could have, but then had I kept better pack position that was a much greater factor.

On the descent I was recaught by the 3's. This was pretty much a disaster, as untangling from them would be difficult. I tried to hang in with them, but after the descent, they essentially crawled up Baby Bear, the short climb to San Pablo Dam Road. There was a ferocious crack in the pavement here, marked in white paint, and I had to steer around it, but I don't think it caused any crashes all day. On San Pablo Dam Road, the 3 pack continues riding a relaxed pace. The lead group of my race was long gone, any hope of chasing back with a second group was lost.

Finally a motor ref instructed the 3's to neutralize so my race could move forward. There were only a few of us who did so. What happened to all those riders I'd passed? We had no chance to stay ahead of the 3's, let alone catch the leaders, but what the heck, may as well ride.

So we traded pulls, catching a few more riders along the way, dropping another, so we ended up with a group of 4 or 5. I was taking 50-60 pedal-stroke pulls, so around 40 seconds. Others were doing similar. One guy was obviously punchy, and was pulling faster than the others. The rest were closer matched to me.

We hit Mama Bear again and I pulled away from my little group. Riders were visible up the road and I hoped some of them were from my pack, so if I could bridge to them, then that would be good. But they were stragglers from the women's race. I caught and passed them on Mama, then began the descent to the feedzone. I'd already drunk two bottles by this point, with one left with a single lap remaining, and contemplated taking a bottle, since I'd have no conflict in doing so.

But then I was caught by the 3-pack. They swarmed around me. I filtered to the back as the climb started, moving to the right, and took a bottle. I drank a bit of this, then tossed it back into the feedzone at the tail end. I didn't want to carry the extra weight up the hill.

I noticed now some of the guys I'd dropped had gotten a free ride with the 3's, and were back here with me. We crested the climb together, but then again I got gapped on the descent. I wasn't that far back, only a few seconds, but when we hit Baby Bear at the bottom they turned on the after-burners and were gone.

This was the second time in the race I'd been burned by a lack of top-end power. And was it a surprise? Hardly. I've not trained it. I've not been doing fast group rides and even if I had, one week of taper + two weeks of recovery from the Devil Mountain Double had deprived me of the chance to continue. This is why volume alone, SF2G and double centuries, for example, are not adequate preparation for road racing. The intensities involved there are just a different level.

climbing
Tim Westmore photo

The rest of the race was solo. Halfway through the lap I tossed my chain in the predictable way. I stopped and put it back on: SRAM isn't as good as Shimano for pedaling a dropped chain back on. This probably cost me 15 seconds, but honestly the rest wasn't a terrible thing. My last climb of Mama and Papa were substantially slower than my first two, and I suffered the minor humiliation of being overtaken by the leaders of the cat 4 race the last time up Papa.

I didn't dally at the finish, instead riding straight back to the start area where I was to meet the clean-up coordinator. I began my duty early, picking up discarded gel wrappers and bottles along the way, turning my jersey pockets into a gooey mess.

One thing I noticed at the finish is the vast majority of the riders there seemed to view the day's event as something of a failure. This is in contrast to trail runs, for example, where almost everyone is happy at their success in finishing the race. As much as I love bike racing, this is obviously a cultural problem with the sport. It's something I try to fight against in organizing the Low-Key Hillclimbs.

The clean-up coordinator was Dan Dole, cyclocrosser and mountain biker Krishna Dole's uncle (himself a former winner of the 45+ race). I rode co-shotgun in his pick-up truck and picked up cones, warning signs, and the official's tent at the finish line. This was fun. We had a nice discussion, he advising me that I needed to structure my training better if I want to race well. But I've not been training, really, I've been riding, and I don't apologize for that.

And then I did just that: ride. With my heavy backpack, I rode over Wildcat Canyon Road, down Spruce, and into Berkeley where I got a banana to eat at a small market I like right next to Cheese Board, then took BART back to San Francisco.

Friday, May 10, 2013

SF2G Hamway

I've done 28 SF2G rides this year, commuting from home in San Francisco to work in eastern Mountain View at the Sunnyvale border. This ride typically covers around 43 miles up to 50 if I take a more scenic route. But Wednesday I went super-scenic. I finally did Hamway.

Technically Hamway isn't San Francisco to Mountain View, as the real riding starts in Dublin, at the end of the BART line there. Then we rode down to Livermore, stopping first at a small mall where some riders got coffee and/or bagels. Not long after, though, three of us suffered puncture vine flats. One of the riders had a particularly slow fix. We weren't off to a good start towards my goal of getting to work by 1:30 pm, since I'd taken the morning off but not the afternoon.

But we finally made it to Livermore and turned onto Mines Road, always a sobering sight. Mileage markers on Mines Road count up from 0 at this junction until they reach the Santa Clara County border at mile 20. Here the numbers start counting down from approximately 27. At mile 19 you reach the junction with San Antonio Valley Road and Del Puerto Canyon Road. San Antonio is the main way, and the numbers continue counting down here, reaching 0 at the turn-off for the small access road to the Livermore Observatory at the Mount Hamilton summit.

Starting Mines Road, another problem: Beckett's cable housing shredded to his rear derailleur. Fortunately Carl knew a trick of using a bottle cage bolt to tension the rear derailleur cable to gears inaccessible from the limit screw alone. This is one I'll need to remember. Beckett eventually got back on the road, but was stuck in his big ring for some reason. I am not sure what caused this, but he eventually figured out he could kick his chain to the little ring with his foot. So while he did the initial "5 mile climb" (referring to mile marker 5) of Mines Road in way too big a gear, by the steep climb of San Antonio Valley Road he was able to use his little ring. And with the bolt holding his rear cable, he could adjust his gear by stopping and changing the position. It was extremely old school, like 1890 Velocio old school, but it worked fine, and he rode a fairly strong commute.

But here's where things went a bit crazy for me. I was expecting a fairly steady ride with regroups. Certainly I didn't want to be digging myself into a hole today with the Berkeley Hills Road Race coming up on Sunday, and still in a two-week recovery phase from Devil Mountain Double. So when the bulk of the group surged, not too surprisingly, on the Mines Road 5-mile climb, I stuck to my power meter and let them go. Carl, a strong climber, was riding easily next to me and asked whether it was better to stick with me or go with the leaders. I couldn't answer that, it depended on the goals. My goal was to do a single hard effort on the final climb and not overextend myself. After all, we'd just regroup at the junction, if not sooner. Then we'd regroup again at Isabel Creek.

But off he went, quickly bridging up to the decently-sized lead group. Looking at my power, it was obvious ride leader Jason had abandoned his pre-ride promise to stick to a constant power, since I could scale his weight to mine and add a fixed offset for our bikes. There was the additional factor I was the only one wearing a backpack, and a fairly sizable one at that. I somewhat questioned this decision, perhaps my largest Camelbak with bladder removed would have been better, but pre-ride I'd not thought it was a big deal. The added weight of the pack would be offset by its comfort. And I thought I might want to stop at the store on my way home, so wanted a bit of carrying capacity in addition to the change of clothes and light running shoes I'd brought for work (I prefer using running shoes when I take Caltrain or BART to avoid wear on my Bont cycling shoes, which I was wearing this day, since I was on my Ritchey Breakaway with Speedplays, and my old Sidi shoes were just too worn out to provide good foot support, according to 3D Bike Fit).

(an aside: this began as a "quickie" ride report but as invariably occurs, it's already grown well beyond that stage)

I grinded along up the seemingly interminable climb of Mines for the third time in just a few months, the first during Murphy Mack's Spring Classic, the second during DMD 10 days earlier. I eventually reached the more gentle, net climbing but more rolling than climbing portion leading to the eventual two-part descent to the junction. Here I passed Ryan, who was fixing a flat. I made sure he was okay and he sent me ahead, so I continued to roll.

Along the way, I traded places with Marion and Andrew, both of whom passed me but then I subsequently re-passed. Ryan repassed me, his flat fixed. We weren't competing, just riding our own paces. I stopped a few times to pee or to rearrange the items in my pockets, which were hard to access because of the back-pack. And I had two sets of pockets: an outer set associated with my vest, and an inner one associated with my jersey. I try to keep the vest pockets clear for when I remove it, something I surprisingly hadn't done yet. Normally Mines Road is an exercise in heat tolerance, but today it was cool and damp.

Despite this I wasn't feeling so well. I had a recurring headache, which I'd chase away with some of the Endurolytes I'd brought along. This would solve it, perhaps more placebo than anything else, I'm not sure. I had my Garmin on a 20-minute time alert to remind me to drink. I think I was doing so on a regular schedule. Perhaps having awakened at 3:15 am, ahead of my 4 am alarm, meant I was a bit sleep-deprived.

I descended to the junction and not far before is the fire house. A few riders were there, waving me down. This was a surprise, as I'd expected a general regroup here, but the lead group hadn't waited. There was a hose there which could be used for filling bottles, but the Junction Cafe was a preferred option. The Cafe had an external tank with a tap, at least according to reports from last year, intended for drinking. I wasn't so sure about the fire station hose.

But the Cafe was closed and the tank was gone. Later I learned the lead group had been accused of trespassing for passing the closed gates blocking the parking area there. Whoever did so was gone when we arrived, though.

So it was back to the firehouse where we generally regouped. It was me, Andrew, Ryan, Marian, Serena, Beckett, and Ramesh (who'd been keeping Serena company, a good thing for him to do in any case since he's been piling on the miles this month for the May Bike To Work Challenge). We didn't wait long, though, just enough time to fill our bottles from the long hose with the questionably-tasting water and patch our spare tubes. After Serena and Ramesh arrived we were soon ready to roll.

Leaving the junction there's some rollers, including two decent climbs, the latter the most significant, before Isabel Creek at mile marker 5 which begins the final, challenging climb to the top. It was me, Ryan, and Ramesh trading places at the front, with Andrew not far back. Ramesh was pacing with a heart rate monitor and would surge with remarkable intensity until he'd notice his heart rate had gotten too high (for example, 190 beats per minute, a rate I've never been able to reliably reach) and slow way down. Finally, on the last climb before Isabel Creek, I recommended he try a power meter, since that provides much more rapid feedback about pacing.

Ryan was obviously also strong, with more top end than I had this day, and I was letting the competitive aspect get the better of me. I held a my highest power of the day to arrive solo to the beginning of the descent to Isabel Creek. I was still alone when I reached the bridge at the bottom.

I'd hoped for a regrouping at Isabel, and in fact one had been discussed, but the leaders hadn't waited here either. It had been my plan to ride my own pace from here to work so I could make my 1:30 pm goal, so stopping to wait here seemed sort of pointless. I kept going.

I'd never felt good on this climb and today didn't break that streak. On DMD, my power was hovering in the 170's here due to the heat, but today was cooler. Still, I was able to do only 220's for the climb. It's a long slog, the mileage markers counting down slower than expected. Finally at marker 1 the grade relents, the climb becoming more gradual and then eventually topping out. Mile marker 0 finally marked the "top", the turn-off to the short gradual climb to the observatory.

In DMD we kept going here, but I was out of water again, and didn't want to do the 19 mile descent empty. So I turned to ride up the observatory.

A few riders were waiting here including Peter, Carlin, and Jonathan. I wasn't so happy they had all left the weaker riders on their own by skipping all regroup options. I had no issue with it, I said, but Serena had expressed pre-ride concern about the difficulty, and Beckett was on a crippled bike.

summit
Happy group at summit, after I'd left

But anyway, I didn't push the point too hard. I filled and consumed two bottles at the filtered water tap in the observatory, then refilled both bottles. I was surprised I was so thirsty. Food wasn't a problem: I'd started the ride with 5 bars and a full flask of Hammer gel, which corresponds to around 4 gel packs. I still had some food left but in combination with a large serving of oatmeal before leaving in the morning I wasn't calorie-deprived.

My total stop was only 11 minutes and then I began the descent. It started to rain, or rather I entered the rain: light, cool, misty rain which wasn't enough to get me wet but was just enough to make me worry a bit about traction. The two gradual but nontrivial climbs along the way to the bottom were atypically welcome, as they allowed me to dispel the chill of the cool descent.

From the bottom, it was an exercise in navigating the suburban hell which is Silicon Valley. The route I'd charted traversed a long section of Trimble Road. Trimble Road is a typical Silicon Valley disaster: too many lanes and too many traffic lights with interminably long red phases. I complain about these roads repeatedly, but will do so again. This area is a track-wreck of urban planning. It's what happens when you focus on only one thing: car-carrying capacity. The result is high-speed highway like roads where nevertheless the point-to-point progress is amazingly slow due to the long-phase traffic lights which become become necessary at every, frequent intersection due to the requirement that pedestrians with walkers be able to survive the crossing. I'd be fired if I designed electronic circuits the way these roads are designed. Next time, instead of Trimble, I'll take Guadalupe Trail to a trail which parallels a creek along Highway 237. This is longer but far more scenic and likely not much slower, if at all.

After many frustrating traffic light delays and a few stops to check the map on my phone, I arrived at work @ 1:34 pm, only slightly after target. I stopped for a PR-sized salad at the cafeteria and was able to work fairly productively until 6:20 pm, when I left to catch the last Caltrain Baby Bullet north. So I lived up to my goal of commuting for a half-day at work.

Now I had 3 days to recover for Berkeley Hills, which I could do without concern I was hurting my long-term fitness.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Berkeley Hills Road Race: going back for more

I signed up for the Berkeley Hills Road Race.

This is probably my favorite road race course. It's a classic: climbs long enough that they aren't completely dominated by anaerobic effort, fast wide-open descents, nice views, proximity to home with easy return via public transit, and most importantly my team, Roaring Mouse, sponsors it.

So I signed up for clean-up crew and registed for the race. I hadn't done a road race (just hillclimbs) for a few years. The last road race I did was in fact Berkeley Hills. I races the cat 3 race that year, again unsure of my fitness. The year before I'd been more sure of my fitness and gone off the front from the start. It hadn't been intentional: I'd just followed the lead car up the opening climb and there I was off the front. So I decided to go with it and see what happened. What happened was 1.5 laps later I was caught, chewed up, and spit out the back.

So the next year I decided to play it cool. And to my shock it worked: I survived the first lap, and on the second lap I survived Mama Bear and the feed-zone chaos of Papa Bear. At the top of Papa, though, a rider in front of me looked back to see if he could see his teammate. This caused him to overlap wheels with a rider in front of him, he went down, and I went into him. I bruised my rib, twisted my handlebars out of alignment, and my race was over. Indeed my season was basically over as I never recovered the fitness I had there until the Low-Key Hillclimbs in the fall.

I don't even remember what year that was: 2010? 2009? (answer: 2009) Anyway, it was a long time ago. Older isn't better in this instance, but I won't be riding the elite 3's this time, I'll be riding with the old guys. But the old guys are still fast guys and I am not confident.

Recovery has gone as well as expected from Devil Mountain Double. Each day my strength and energy increases. On Sunday, a week after DMD, I tested my legs on the Bears and I liked what I saw on my power meter. I'm not going to win the race but that's not my goal. My goal is top 20. But that's just a number: the real goal is to hang in the pack, ride a smart race, and not do anything stupid.

But how will I react to 3 laps of the Bears (only two of Baby Bear, though)? In theory, Sunday showed me I have the power to hang with the pack the first, likely fastest, time up the hills. In theory, I showed at Devil Mountain Double my endurance is excellent. But theory is one thing, execution is another. So many things can go wrong in a road race. My tendency to focus on the bad and not the good has been a personal deterrent in racing more. I'm addicted to the rush of pushing myself to my limits, and so have never completely lost my urge to do them, but I too readily get discouraged when things don't work out as I would hope.

The goal for Sunday: be prepared. Bring 3 water bottles to take the pressure off the chaos which is the feed zone. Bring a 4th bottle to drink before the start. Bring gels and down them regularly: two per lap. Add electrolyte to my bottles so I stay on top of those. And for this race go back to Bont shoes and Speedplays since I don't want to deal with the pressure point problem from my Specialized shoes, or the clip-in problem for the Shimano pedals.

Racing is about attention to detail, about anticipating potential problems and neutralizing them before they have time to occur. My bike will be ready and, in theory, so will I. But the only thing of which I'm sure is events on the road won't be predictable. But that's a big reason people do these things. Postscript: It's interesting going back and reading my pre-race report from this race in 2009. I was completely unconfident in myself. Yet I was able to hang in there fine... until I crashed. Tomorrow (Wednesday) I'm going to test my recovery from DMD with an extra-scenic bike commute... 94 miles over Mount Hamilton. Then I have 3 days to recover from that. It'll be interesting.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Watching Miwok 100 (actually 60 km) trail run

Yesterday Cara and I revised our previous plans to watch the Cat's Hill Criterium, passing up on dealing with Caltrain, and instead rode out to watch the Miwok 100.

We rode out across the city. I've been feeling tired, a combination of allergies and residual fatigue from the Devil Mountain Double. I had lightweight running shoes stuffed under my jersey in case I wanted to move out onto the trail a bit, but we never really did. We stayed near the Tennessee Valley trail head.
riding to the start

The race was scheduled for 100 km but it was shortened to 60 km since the Mt Tamalpais State Park pulled the plug on their access due to a perceived fire threat. Honestly I question this decision. I think the State Park runs with way too low a risk threshold. The Mt Tamalpais Hillclimb has been canceled two times in recent years, the first time because the park refused to issue permits in anticipation of a possible park closure due to state budget cut-backs (the park budget regularly used as a negotiation chip: shutting down parks doesn't actually save much, if any, money). The next time the Mt Tam Hillclimb was canceled it was because of thunder threat the night before. A closure extended essentially to essentially coincide with the start of the climb, but the promoter decided to cancel, since this wouldn't allow the officials to get to the top early. The fire threat in this case was essentially illusionary, it being the point where the extended threat window was ending. And this time they shut it down because of recent heat, possible heat in the forecast, and strong winds. But the race was going through early, well before any serious chance of heat.

Was there a non-zero fire chance? Perhaps. But no aspect of life can be taken with a zero risk tolerance. Just driving to the start, let alone the rigors of putting your body through the effort of running 100 km, esposes runners to substantial risk. To me it showed a real disrespect to the runners' commitment to the event, and important one in the ultra-running calendar, to protect them from an extremely small numerical hazard. What's the acceptable risk? 1/100 thousand? 1/10 thousand? But this is all just my view. Perhaps if I worked in the Park my view would differ. But I doubt it.

watching the Miwok 100

Anyway, we had a good time watching the runners come through. I barely got my camera out when the leader came through, catching his back. I unfortunately missed my friend Gary Gellin in second. I was watching out for cars driving by, part of the amazingly large traffic volume to the nearby stables. Additionally, despite the fact cars are parked well back onto the roadway leading up to the trailhead lot, everyone seems to want to try their luck taking a lap of the lot. It's important when doing an 8-mile hike to the beach to not park more than 50 meters from the trail head.

My photos are here. They're nothing special: I just pointed and shot whenever a runner came through, although I botched a few, and as I noted, I missed Gary. Cara teased me about that. "You're so funny" she said. I felt bad about missing Gary so I didn't think it was so funny, myself.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

My trip to 3D Bike Fit

A month ago I went to 3D Bike Fit. I've known Kevin Bailey for a long time, as well as Alex his partner, back to their days with Bike Nüt in San Francisco. I procrastinated, though, since I'd experimented with fit a long time and I'd been to several professional fitters and didn't think the time investment would be worth it. My schedule most days is super-busy and if I do one thing something else doesn't get done.

The problem I have had with most bike fits is they seem strongly biased. I go in, my present fit is assessed, a few tweaks are made, and out I go. This seems strongly biased. Ideally the final fit shouldn't depend on the initial fit. If there's an optimal fit, why should it matter what I've been riding? It's like if I ask you to solve the equation 3x + 6 = 21. There's only one answer with conventional numbers and it's 5 (corrected!). Whether I start with an initial guess of 2 or an initial guess of 42 is irrelevant: I've got to end up at 3.

Unfortunately bike fitting isn't that simple. There's a range of solutions for a given physiology. So from that perspective, it makes sense to deviate as little as possible from an initial rider fit. Additionally, there's different philosophies on how to trade off different elements of fit. If I'm riding Amsterdam bike paths to and from the market, I'm certainly not going to want the same fit as a track sprinter. Additionally a track sprinter wouldn't want the same fit as a road racer, a road racer the same fit as someone doing double centuries, a double century rider the same fit as someone riding 1200 km brevets. There's trade-offs between aerodynamics, comfort, power, and acceleration.

But the biggest challenge in bike fit is that bikes are not designed for fit optimization. For example, if I pivot my body forward about the bottom braket, rotating everything forward, modeling has shown this has little effect on pedaling efficiency. Yet to do this on a bike requires making enormous changes: saddle up, saddle forward, handlebars lower, handlebars rotated forward, stem longer. If I were to optimize any of these components individually, I might well assume that changing it would result in an inferior fit, but only when changing them in coordination would I be able to investigate the effect of rotating the body about the bottom bracket. It's possible, for example, that doing so would result in a superior distribution of weight between the front and rear wheel, or perhaps a more balanced transition going from seated to standing. This would be easy to investigate with a specially designed fit bike, but it would be time prohibitive to investigate on a conventional bike,

Kevin @ 3D Bike Fit begins with a physiological check. In my case this included flexibility, how I stand, how I sit. My flexibility is relatively good but I have points of weakness. And he observed something I don't recall being observed before: that my left arch was collapsing. This results in a functional leg length difference, he pointed out. When the arch collapses that lowers the leg, and that lowering of the leg requires a compensating pivot in the hip. One approach to this might be a shim in the cleat, but a better approach is to support the arch in the left shoe. My Sidis had seen enough miles, and he strongly recommended the Specialized S-Works shoes with a dual-boa adjustment. These were remarkably comfortable at first, although perhaps slightly confining in the toes. The shoes have a built-in varus adjustment, he said, which I needed on my left side but not my right. He later neutralized the right varus adjustment with a shim Specialized makes for the purpose. He also gave me heat-moldable footbeds which provided a really firm feeling in the shoes. It was a feeling of connectedness I hadn't felt since I had Rocket 7's over ten years ago.

But it's hard to evaluate shoes in the hurried environment of a bike fit. The shoes are indeed comfortable, except for two features. One is the toe area. As I noted, my toes were somewhat confined, and the shim in the right shoe made them even more so. Extended riding resulted in the feeling the knuckles in my right foot abrading against the mesh on the top of the shoe, in particular at the location of a seam near the toes. On the left side, I had a very strange experience of some padding on the low-cut ankle rubbing against a nerve. I'm not sure why this didn't happen on the right side, which was fine. This was excruciating. The first ride I did I was convinced I'd ripped my angle to a bloody pulp. But after the ride, there was no visible trauma. I tried shimming various objects there to diffuse the pressure point. A coffee cozy picked up from the trash at a cafe helped a lot. Best of all was a credit-card-like object. That worked great and seemed fairly stable if placed correctly. This "solution" got me through Devil Mountain Double. For the right shoe, I eventually removed the varus adjustment neutralization shim. This gave me back just enough room in my toes that I was comfortable. This is acceptable, but I really need to figure out how to deal with that left ankle problem. I tried padding the shoe out with moleskin near the painful contact point. This didn't work as well as I'd hoped. At some point it risks replacing one problem with another. I also contemplated cutting away the portion of the shoe causing the issue. But the heel is already quite low there and I worry it might cause other problems.

On the pedal side Kevin likes the stable platform of Shimano SPD-SL pedals and cleats. These are indeed stable: once my shoe is clipped in it feels solid, and I don't find myself fighting against the lack of float. Another asset to these shoes is the cleats can be set up with a narrow stance, which he determined I needed. The video evidence was there: each time he made a change my pedal stroke improved. But what I don't like about the pedals is the difficulty clipping in. Usually a few seconds lost stumbling with a single-sided pedal is no big deal. However occasionally it is. For example, when clipping in at the start of a hillclimb every second lost is lost: you can only climb a hill so fast and unless drafting has a large influence, for example on a relatively flat section of road, then if it takes longer to get going it's going to take longer to get finishing. Even at Devil Mountain Double the clip-in problem may have been an issue if a delay clipping in caused me to subsequently just miss a traffic light. So I don't like the slow clip-in and that alone is reason to dislike these pedals, even if I like many other aspects. They are heavy but the cleat is light and the combination isn't that bad, although I've not carefully measured it since I've been more focused on the functional aspect.

The coolest thing, however, was the position tracking. Kevin attached markers to key pivot points on both sides of my body. The Retul system, as I understand it, uses a rastering laser which converts position into time, so based on when it sees reflections from the markers it determines the position of each marker. This allows him to track my body position, not only for video recording, but also for the automated real-time extraction of key parameters like joint angle. The traditional approach for joint angles is either goniometers, which can only be done statically, or using video analysis software like Dartfish, which is subject to perspective distortion. But Kevin improved on the Retul standard by building a rotating platform to allow for the sequential measurement of the left and right sides. This assumes you pedal the same during the two orientations, ideal would be simultaneous measurements of the multiple sides, but this is probably a good assumption and the solution is brilliantly done.

The fit took hours... close to four, I recall, and Kevin constantly complained about how it was a rush job. Yet this blew away prior fits I've had.

But there a few issues. One was saddle height: he set saddle height using a 35 degree bend angle in the knee as a target. I've read a bunch of papers and book references on the subject, this put my saddle lower than, or at the low range of, all of them. This is not itself an issue, it doesn't mean the fit was bad. But since I felt I had more top-end power with the seat higher, I felt I had license to act on that, and I raised it 1 cm. This wasn't as high as I had it prior, but seat height doesn't exist in isolation, and with the other changes he made my original seat height would have been too high.

The other issue was a source of some tension as I expressed reluctance to switch to shallow drop bars. A reason for this was I didn't like the specific bars he had: I don't like the raised center section of 31.8 mm bars (I use 26.0 mm) and I didn't like the heavier weight of what he had available (I use a humble Ritchey Pro bar and a Performance Forte stem, a combination which combined with some relatively cheap after-market Ti bolts yields a remarkably light package). But in the end I didn't see the need. The motivation for compact bars is to keep the back angle the same when transitioning the arms from the hoods to the drops. But why would I want that? The whole point of being on the drops is to get lower, for example for descending or due to high-intensity riding which can't be sustained for more than, for example, 10 minutes. While for the hoods I want to be able to open up a bit, relax a little, either for climbing when wind resistance is less important, or because I'm in a pack and wind resistance is substantially reduced and I want to have the option of straightening my arms and improving my view. I am a big fan of riding with bent arms: it absorbs shock and promotes relaxation, providing room to move by straightening them without impeding the ability to get aero when necessary. But that doesn't mean I want my drops raised up to such a height that they no longer expand my position options.

Anyway, he did the best he could, he said, with my present bars, rotating them forward (I'd had a prominent upslope on the drops to provide a more comfortable position on the ramps), raising the hoods, and raising the bars as high as my stem and steerer tube would allow. This really was an improvement, and I eventually converted my Ritchey Breakaway, my second-tier road bike, to a similar position. I find I can still get as low as my physiology allows without my knees pounding against my chest, an impact which obviously wastes energy, but I am more comfortable in the drops on extended descents, where they provide better control than descending on the hoods.

Indeed, on Devil Mountain Double, not counting some minor foot issues, I was remarkably comfortable for the 13+ hours I was moving. And this is after I raised my saddle, as I noted.

One thing I didn't see was an explicit power increase. My times up Camino Alto (a 4.5 - 5 minute climb) aren't noticeably faster and when I started doing sprints with a power meter, my sprint power was 100 watts lower than it had been last August. I've since gotten my sprint power back close to where it was then (although my best sprints were on my Ritchey Breakaway, which still has Speedplay pedals, which I rode with my Bont shoes, although other aspects of the fit I transferred to that bike). But there was no magic power boost, in the short term, fromt he position change. But a lot goes into power and staying fresher through a long ride is more important than peak power over intervals when fresh.

So it was a very positive experience and I strongly recommend 3D Bike Fit to riders who are serious about optimizing their positions.