Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Low-Key hits the dirt, part 4: Marin Headlands

Love-hate: my relationship with a mountain bike and Low-Key Hillclimbs.

Low-Key Hillclimbs is a series of 9 climbs each year, on Saturdays from the beginning of October through Thanksgiving, with the final of the 9 on Thanksgiving itself. When we started the series, part of my vision was that we'd use it as a showcase for the variety of climbs in the Bay Area. Back then, in the mid-1990's, racers typically used a low gear of 39-25 or even 39-23. This tended to make the spicier climbs the Bay Area had on offer a bit more of a painful experience than many would prefer. Thus it was usually same-old-same-old: climb Old La Honda, climb Kings, climb Highway 9, West Alpine, Tunitas. But other truly differentiating options went neglected.

So the goal was to broaden people's scope: cover the 2-dimensional space of duration and steepness with a combination of short and long, gradual and steep. In addition to making it more interesting for riders, it would make the competition more interesting, as the riders who excel on steep-long might not be the ones who are best at short climbs.

But the differentiation was less than might be expected. Scores were remarkably consistent from climb to climb. There was a bit of motion, but even with a climb like West 84, which is split into a flat portion and a climbing portion, when we ran split times there was relatively little difference in the rankings on the two.

So to spice things up, we needed to add something more truly different.

In 1998, a flat time trial was on the series. I don't take credit for this one: it was a year I was relatively uninvolved. But the route, Willow Springs, was rained out. So it never got used.

My contribution was the dirt. Dirt adds an entirely different element to the game. You'd think it would be similar: power/mass is the key metric in both climbing and against rolling resistance. But while a dirt climb won't turn the ranking on its head, it does have a much greater influence than switching between paved climbs.

Our first dirt climb was West Alpine Road in 2007. This was our second year back after the break from 1999-2005. It was a mass-start, timed event. We'd applied for a permit to Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. This permit had originally been accepted, but then was subsequently declined when it was realized we were timing riders. Timed cycling events are not allowed on Open Space lands, I was told. I pointed out that given the course, not even world champion mountain bikers could exceed the 15 mph trail speed limit. However, this did no good. To be honest I see their point. Even at a relatively slow speed, if one is in a competitive mode, a rider can behave uncourteously or even dangerously. But as a result we redirected the climb to West Alpine, which is a public road, one of the rare public unpaved roads in the Low-Key domain.

There was one tricky bit in that the road has been washed out since the late 1990's, and thus cyclists are required to use a bypass through open space land, a bypass which would normally be subject to permitting requirements. However, since that bypass is sanctioned for through-traffic on what is still technically a public roadway, and since the law does not forbid cyclists from competing on public roadways (assuming they follow vehicle code), it would have been hard for them to impose their permitting requirements on us.

That climb was a success, with a much-diminished but happy group of 30 riders. I rode Cara's cyclocross bike, too small for me, but good enough for the 18:15 effort. On the singletrack, which had some steep bits, I got off and ran in typical cyclocross fashion but without cyclocross skills. I ended up with 102.1 points, twelfth out of 28 male riders. This was well below my usual standing, as the average of my scores counting toward the overall was 118.8.

Despite the big success in 2007, our fun in the dirt took a hold until 2012. What changed in this time was the proliferation of GPS timing, in particular on smart phones, so that everyone had relatively easy access to a GPS timing device for at least a day. The other thing that changed was Strava established a precedent that simply posting times recorded by riders did not constitute an "event". Nobody demands Strava get a permit every day for reporting times riders took to climb such excellent open space trails as Kennedy Fire Road in Los Gatos. The traditional Thanksgiving ride there, on the other hand, where riders were actively organized and given a time to start together, was shut down.

So we switched to using GPS data for dirt climbs. In 2012 we hit that traditional Thanksgiving climb, used by us the Saturday before, Kennedy Fire Road. I ran this one instead of riding it, foolishly thinking the top was earlier than the actual top and not finishing the climb. I still haven't ridden Kennedy Fire Road. I definitely need to do that.

Kennedy was another success. Some people were deterred by the GPS timing aspect. It lacked the spirit of Low-Key, they said. But not really -- the spirit of Low-Key is to expose riders to different types of climbs, to establish fast times for different climbs, and while the GPS timing took away some of the group aspect, reducing rider groups to whatever riders informally organized among themselves, we certainly accomplished these. Including runners we had 45 finishers at Kennedy. That was solid. By virtue of my mess-up, however, I scored nothing, and indeed this cost me the overall ranking for top runner that year, a year I was focused on running in preparation for the California International Marathon which I ran in December.

With the good experience of Kennedy, I wanted to make a dirt climb an annual component of the series. So for 2013 we added a climb which Tim Clark had recommended: Montara Mountain. This was the most challenging dirt climb we'd done, with steep gravelly rock sections which made getting a road bike up it a real challenge. I used my mountain bike for this one, a 1990's Gary Fisher Genesis-geometry aluminum hardtail which I'd bought used in 1999 or so to ride the trails in Austin. I'd never gotten around to doing that, and only built it up later, getting a 2000 Marzocchi front fork, the first year they offered it with a lock-out dial. I figured lock-out was important to reduce losses from the suspension on smooth dirt climbs. I'm still not sure how true this is, but it seemed a good idea at the time.

It's a nice bike, but it's heavy, several pounds heavier than a modern carbon mountain bike with carbon fiber wheels. And it's a lot heavier than a 'cross bike. But I liked the fat tires for Montara, wanting as much traction as I could get. Even so, I didn't clean it, and unclipped during one of the especially steep bits. My 3x8 gearing is fairly low, but now as low as the gearing most people have with 10-speed or 11-speed cassettes.

I ended up with 98.6 points. I wasn't very fit in 2013 to start with, having only just recovered from a crash in June for which the subsequent physical therapy and associated exercises took a much larger priority on my time than riding, and for much of the time running wasn't an option. But even so, my score was low that climb: on climbs contributing to my final score I averaged 109.8 points. So this was 11 points, close to 10% lower.

The turnout: 51 total runners (6) and cyclists (45), despite a relatively remote start at the coast north of Half Moon Bay. The weather was gorgeous, though, and it was so-much-fun. While there was no organized start time, a bunch of riders started near the usual Low-Key time of 10:00. I started at 10:00 when registration normally closes, others started around 10:10 when we traditionally roll. So there was a decent crowd at the top at one point. It felt a bit like a party, even more than the usual road climbs.

Now it's 2014, and I wanted to add in one of my favorites, the Marin Headlands. I was a bit worried about using the Headlands, because it's national parkland, and higher-profile than either Kennedy or Montara. But the combination of Miwok and Marincello in good conditions is about as well balanced a climb between mountain bike, cross bike, and road bike I know. The trails have some steep bits, a few ruts, but I've ridden them both on my mountain bike and on each of my Ritchey Breakaway. I've ridden nearby Coastal Trail to the Conzelman Road / McCullough Road junction on both of these as well as on my Fuji SL1. So the trails are quite versatile.

For a change, I was planning on using the Winter Allaban for the Low-Key. It made sense: gain the advantage of the fattish tires of the rando bike with its low gears. Sure, the bike is much heavier than my Fuji SL/1, but I didn't want to do a lot of work to get the Fuji ready, and the fatter tires should provide better traction. But it was worst than I thought. On my pre-ride the Sunday before the Low-Key my rear tire, a Challenge Strada Bianca 30 mm (measured @ 32 mm on my 26 mm rims) was slipping occasionally. This wasn't enough to cause any major issues, except on one particularly steep bit on Bobcat returning from Marincello, but skidding is almost certainly a big energy waster, and I figured even if I wasn't skidding overtly small skids I might not recognize as such would cause energy loss I didn't want.

Pre-ride of Headlands route

Kirby Cove side trip, during Headlands route pre-ride

I could have put Cara's cyclocross wheels on the Winter, but I decided instead to go with traction maximus: the mountain bike.

The pre-ride gained less significance, however, as in the days before the climb we got around 2 inches of rain ending just hours before I rode the trail. The trail ended up absorbing most of this, but the surface was left tacky and damp. This likely improved the traction relative to what I'd experienced on the drier surface.

I got to the trail head having ridden there from home. I'd discovered, to my horror, that my front brake was lightly rubbing. The Gary Fisher has J-brakes, and the adjustment on those is very sensitive, since they don't have as much throw as other brake designs. If I change on thing on the Fisher, it will be the brakes. I don't like worrying about them.

I didn't have my multitool, but fortunately Glen Kinion was there, and he led me to his parked car where he had a giant bag of tools. Paul McKenzie was parked nearby, as was Jennie Phillips. It was the Sisters and Misters out for their ride, which wasn't due to start for close to an hour. I adjusted my brakes with Glen's screwdriver, chatted just a bit, but then headed out for my lap.

I left my water bottles, vest, and remaining 2 dates in a bag at the junction between Miwok and Bobcat, then set off for my lap. I was carrying the bare minimum -- only a single gel to consume after Miwok, before descending Old Springs.

Miwok went fairly well, I thought. My goal had been my 10 minute Strava PR, and I beat that cleanly on my lap timer, although the Strava segment I later realized includes a portion of the trail prior to the Low-Key start which had been marked by chalk by Reid the day before based on the GPS coordinates I'd posted. We don't use the Strava segment for Low-Key, but rather I define my own "start line" and "finish line" and time how long it takes riders to go between them. I still beat my Strava time, however, by only one second, but that had been by a good margin my best time, so I'd take it.

Old Springs descent was next, untimed. It felt good to be on a mountain bike here, although having swapped the heavier mountain bike saddle for a road saddle, I couldn't get my butt behind the seat as I normally would. Old Springs has a series of steps and I like being well back for these. But still it was better on the mountain bike than on a road bike. Along the way I encountered Gary and Holly riding the other way, from home near Mt Tam to the start to meet their Sisters and Misters teammates.

Marincello was next. This is easier than Miwok -- a fairly steady grade to a false summit, a gradual sweeping left turn, a final steep bit, then a short gradual slope to the top.

Soon after I started I realized I'd forgotten to take the gel. Whoops. That was clearly nonoptimal but I'd need to live with it.

I started running on fumes when I hit the sweeping left false summit. This was fine because it would mean I'd be sure to come close to emptying the tank on this climb. I kept the intensity up on the sweeping left, then gave it everything for the final steep bit, surviving the final few meters between the end of that and the top.

I PRed Marincello as well, by a healthier 8-second margin. PRs on both climbs? How could I be unhappy with that?

After recovering a bit, finally eating that gel, I descended Bobcat back to the junction with Miwok and found Holly and Gary there. It was 2:05 pm, after the scheduled Sisters and Misters start time, but they didn't see any sign of the others. Had the group started early? That was impossible, I said, since Gary and Holly had backtracked the course in arriving there, and I'd forward-tracked the course before meeting them, so there was simply no way. Some hikers arrived from the direction of the lot where Paul and the others had parked. I asked if they'd seen mountain bikers and they said no. So the three of us decided to start together, Holly for time, Gary just to get the ride in, me for the company and for a second loop.

So after I ate my remaining two dates, put my water bottles back on my bike, and returned my vest to my pocket I was ready to go and we were off.

We were overtaken along the way by the late-arriving Sisters and Misters group. I was clearly sub-optimal for this second lap, having given everything on the first lap. But it was fun giving a hard effort here without any pressure to get a particular time.

I was passed by Greg and Paul on Miwok. After the others rejoined, we descended Old Springs together, me following Paul for a PR on the descent despite going very relaxed at the bottom. The rain really cut down on the hiker population, and we had virtually no reason to slow more than normal the whole way. We regrouped again at the bottom, some of the others not as comfortable with the Old Springs steps, and then went on to Marincello.

On this, my second time up Marincello, I really started to feel the effort of the previous climbs. Greg, Paul, Sarah, and Amy all dusted me early. I felt as if I would regain ground toward the top but it didn't happen. Still, I had my earlier time, so didn't worry.

After regroup and photos, and spotting Bill Bushnell taking photos from above the junction, we descended Bobcat together. It was great riding with the group, enjoying the remarkable weather and fantastic views.

Afterwards, I rode back home, while the others packed their cars. I got home not long before dusk, a wonderful day of riding.

So mission accomplished, right? Indeed, the day was a big success. We had 23 riders, 1 "runner" (Bill Bushnell, who hiked the course), 24 total. That was the lowest turn-out of all of our dirt experiments, but Peninsula riders, who are the majority of Low-Key regulars, are averse to driving to Marin or riding anywhere close to rainy weather. It's unfortunate: a lot of great riding opportunities are squandered by the fear of the wet, fear which was notably absent among riders I encountered when I was in Basel Switzerland.

But I don't worry so much about total numbers: it's quality, not quantity which counts. And everyone who did the ride seemed to have a great time. David Collet remarkably beat Andrew Touchstone's "untouchable" KOM on Miwok, Sarah Schroer and Amy Cameron each beat the previous QOM on Miwok, and I'm sure I wasn't the only returning rider who beat my PRs. But the vast majority were not returning riders. I'd shown them trails they'd not ridden before, and so I felt like the goal had been met.

But personally I was disappointed with my 109.9 points. I had really wanted more than this. Still, it was easily the best of my three dirt rides in Low-Key history, two on the mountain bike, one on Cara's cross bike. I should embrace Low-Key philosophy, and focus on the experience. But why was I slow?

The most obvious explanation is simply mass. THe mountain bike is a full 5 kg heavier than my road bike, around 8% more total weight. But everyone's mountain bike is heavier than their road bike. Glen was on a modified randonneuring bike with cross tires which was a steel brick, yet he climbed exceptionally well. There's more. One is that my mountain bike has 175 mm cranks, which was the style of the time (large cranks for mountain bikes), in comparison to the 170 mm or even 167.5 mm I use for the road. But crank length is relatively unimportant in tests: it's more a comfort thing. I've not used a power meter on the mountain bike (I didn't have time to install the Garmin Vectors without adequate time to let them settle in, which experience shows is needed to get accurate power). But I suspect my power is off a bit. I think my attention is too diverted to picking good lines through the dirt, while on a road bike it's 100% toward the effort. But this is just conjecture. Another factor is simply that dirt climbs tend to favor riders with more anaerobic power, since the climbs involve variable grades, and the climbs in the Headlands are relatively short. I think this is indeed an issue, as I tend to do less well, relatively, on climbs like the climbs we did in the Berkeley Hills this year than in longer, more sustained climbs.

So it is what it is. The dirt has been a success and we'll be back. For next year? I'm thinking Purissima Creek, a personal favorite. Getting there is easier from the Peninsula, a bit tougher from San Francisco, then Montara was last year. It's a longer climb than those in the Headlands, again with a wide trail allowing plenty of room to give hikers their space, and it's also quite manageable on a road bike (although with some steep bits). Maybe I'll try the Fuji SL/1 on that one.

So, in summary, my score on mountain trails:

  1. 2007, dirt Alpine: 102.1 points
  2. 2012, Kennedy Fire Road; DNF
  3. 2013, Montara: 98.6 points
  4. 2014, Marin Headlands: 109.9 points

I know what my goal would be next year.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Low-Key Hillclimbs week 7: the gate

Low-Key Hillclimbs week 7, San Bruno Mountain East, was a great success.

This was the second climb this year for which we applied for, paid for, and received a permit for riding on roads which passed through parks. In this case Radio Road goes from Guadalupe Canyon Parkway (a 4-lane eyesore scarring San Bruno Mountain from the days when the goal was to completely cover the mountain with housing developments, a goal which has at least partially succeeded, but the road is still way overbuilt) up to the radio towers at the top of the mountain. The road is very lightly used, because not only is the park remarkably lightly used (diminished by too much of the mountains taken up by sprawled housing) but the parking is at the bottom of Radio Road. We were bypassing this parking area by going from westbound Guadalupe, through a fire access gate, directly to Radio on the northern side rather than take the route cars would follow, which is to cross Guadalupe, enter Radio on the southern side, then loop around and back under Guadalupe to return to the north side. The New Years race hosted by Pen Velo goes this way, accessing the main entrance from the northern side of Guadalupe, which it climbs from the east.

For our $400 permit ($5/rider for 80 riders) we asked for only one favor: that the fire gate be unlocked, so riders could pass through without dismounting, which is the normally fastest way up to the summit from the western side. I was promised this could be done, and while I was worried when the gate was still locked when I inspected it at 8:50 am (soon before sign-in started at 9:00), it was indeed unlocked for us just before our scheduled 10:00 start.

Since Guadalupe in places doesn't have much shoulder, I didn't want 80 riders heading up the hill together, so we sorted riders by speed (based on Low-Key points, USA Cycling results if I had no previous Low-Keys, Strava data if I could find that. For riders with points, I used an algorithm which split groups at places where the gap between the maximum points I had for riders was relatively large. This was to avoid the problem that riders extremely close in maximum points would be put into separate groups. The first rider in a slower group would still be significantly lower points than the slowest rider in the faster group. The exception to this was the tandems, who started in their own group between groups 3 and 4. I used a separate tandem group because tandems can be a big advantage to drafting solo riders on a route that has any flat sections due to the tandem's generally higher power-to-cross-section ratio.

So the first group set off, close to schedule, at 11:11 AM exactly, secure in the knowledge this would be a rare opportunity to ride to the top without any cyclocross moves, or without the added distance of looping around through the park entrance, the latter providing the additional delays of a sharp right turn and the chance of cars entering the park blocking the way.

But things went a bit wrong. We were for some reason shy on volunteers this week, an unusual state for Low-Key, and due to confusion over the number of groups, our sole volunteer at the turn-off thought the tandem group, which had started between groups "3" and "4", was the last group. It was not. We still had the sizable group 4 yet to come. Yet he shut the gate and rode up the hill.

A big part of the confusion may have been that there was a 4 minute gap between the tandems and group 4, but only a 3 minute gap between the other groups. The volunteer would have expected to see group 4 coming up the road but they were not. They were still a minute out of sight. This additional gap was likely because one of our two starters was riding with group 4, so had to, in addition to checking in riders, get on his own bike and get ready to start himself. This might have added just a fraction of a minute but he was starting groups on integral minutes so it bumped the gap from 3 to 4 minutes.

Stuff happens. With Low-Key every hill is a relatively new experience, so we don't necessarily get practice on every issue which can occur in any given week. The gate issue was new to us. We'd not worked out a protocol for how it was going to be handled. I'd generally assumed we'd deal with it after everyone had finished. But we should have worked this out in detail beforehand.

The lead few riders in group 4 saw the gate was closed and did the loop to the left. But most or even all of the riders following these riders took the faster route past the gate. However, crossing the gate, unless you're a skilled cyclocrosser, is a relatively slow process. You've got to stop, get off your bike, pick it up, hoist it over the small barriers to the side of the main gate, then remount your bike and re-accelerate. At least one rider I spoke to took an alternate approach of pushing her bike, diagonally and elevated, through the gaps main gate itself, then stepping through herself. I've done all of these things before (long way around, the side of the gate, through the gate) and the side of the gate option is the fastest. But most of these riders hadn't been here before and didn't necessarily know this.

Bike racing has many traditions, but fairness isn't one of them. There's many many examples every week in pro cycling. Weather changes during a time trial, causing later or earlier starters to face slower conditions, riders get held up by crashes in which they had no fault (generally this rewards riders at the front of the pack, but not always), groups are mis-directed by course marshals, perhaps following the route designated for support vehicles, or gates close at level-crossings for passing trains. All of these things happen: avoiding them is part of the luck with is part of the game. In this case, all I could do was to try to level the playing field as best I could, but I wasn't going to level it for everyone.

For example, consider the riders who looped around. They wouldn't have been tempted to do so had the gate been open, so the challenge of following the fastest route was one they faced that earlier groups had not. I had, however, carefully documented and mapped the route, describing that the gate might not be open and that riders should cross it. So while the riders taking the long-way faced an unfair navigation challenge relative to those who started in earlier groups, it was still a navigational challenge they could have been expected to meet.

Riders going through the gate, however, faced two challenges. One was simply getting through the gate. But the second was congestion. If you approached the gate in a group of four, you needed not only get past the gate yourself, but you needed to additionally wait for the three riders ahead of you to get through. The earlier groups with an open gate didn't face this problem.

But the gate came after a substantial amount of climbing and so any groups, especially in group 4 where riders tend to not have the pack-riding experience the mostly licensed racer population of group 1 have, tend to ride more their own pace on climbs than stick together in a tactical mass. Still, some did have the congestion issue. But congestion is a common issue when things go wrong in bike racing, and if I was going to apply the same compensation to all group 4 riders, as I felt I should since it was a mass-start event for them, I couldn't base it on those facing the most congestion. I had to base it on the conditions faced by those with relatively unimpeded access. To do otherwise would be unfair to group 3, for example.

So I had to establish how much time was lost by group 4 riders. One answer was provided by one of the riders: "I was helped by the stop". She felt she'd been in the read climbing Guadalupe, and the rest gained by crossing the gate gave her the strength needed to produce a stronger effort on Radio Road. Of course I didn't believe this actually benefitted her total time. But the point is important: it's what I have called the "elasticity of rest". When you're delayed by a time t, you get back some fraction of that time t from the effect of recovery on the rest of the effort. This was clearly evident, for example, at the trail race I ran at the same San Bruno park a month ago. Going into the water stop, the runner ahead of me blew through without drinking, while I slowed to a walk and drank a cup of carbohydrate solution. Despite the delay, I very quickly closed the gap that formed, refreshed by the few steps of walking.

This is an extreme example: a few steps of walking versus running is a very short rest, and the shorter the rest, the higher the elasticity or fraction of the lost work which is regained (elasticity is the fraction of work retained in a collision, for example of a ball bouncing off a floor, so I use it here to describe the fraction of lost work which is regained).

So I didn't want to overestimate the time lost in crossing the gate. At first, my reaction was 5 seconds is too short, that 10 seconds would be a good amount. A lot can happen in 10 seconds. If you take 10 seconds to run 100 meters, you lose a world-class track and field race. 3 seconds off the bike, 3 seconds across the gate, 3 seconds on the bike = 9 seconds.

But this neglects the loss of momentum. My next level of estimation was to play out the process of crossing the gate. You need to slow, get off the bike, cross the gate, get back on the bike, then accelerate. If I assign 3 seconds to each of these 5 steps, I get 15 seconds. That seemed more reasonable.

My first check of this was to see how the new adjusted times for the overall climb varied with group number. Here's a plot:

Note the times increase with each group, as expected, with group 1 the fastest, then group 2, then a big increase to group 3, then finally a smaller increase to group 4. From this plot there's no indication of any issue. If anything group 4 is doing better than expected based on the trend established by groups 1-3.

But I met some very sharp resistance, in particular from one rider, when I proposed 15 seconds. "A joke" is how he described it. So I knew I needed to do more: I needed to use a more quantitative approach.

So I defined a Strava segment for the gate crossing. This included the approach to the gate, the crossing of the gate, and the short stretch following the gate. I couldn't isolate the gate because Strava's segment matching is too loose. When I tried to place the end-points too close to the gate I got matches from rider data which didn't even cross it.

My first approach was to take two riders who had been assigned a finish time of within 2 seconds of 18 minutes, one in group 3 (Brian Ward), the other in group 4(Scott Byer). If my adjustment was correct, then these riders should have been of very similar speed. Indeed, Scott Byer, the group 4 rider, took 16 seconds longer on the segment than Brian Ward. To within my target precision of +/- 2.5 seconds, this was in agreement with my 15 second adjustment.

But this was just one isolated example. I then considered my own times on the segment. I'd ridden through the gate when it was open on my way to the summit immediately ahead of group 1 so I could record finishers. Previously I'd ridden the segment ten times, in each case crossing the gate. Some of these times were more rushed than others, on only a few efforts was a really making a maximal effort to get through as quickly as possible. My top three times were 13 seconds, 17 seconds, and 19 seconds slower than my time had been with the gate open. So this also was consistent with a 15-second adjustment.

But I wanted to go further, and look at aggregate statistics. So first I plotted time through the segment versus group number. Group 1 is the fastest, group 2 next, then group 3 and finally group 4 (ignore tandems here). I'd expect that for this segment, the same ordering would apply. So I wouldn't want to adjust group 4 times to match group 1 times, and I wouldn't even want to adjust group 4 times to match group 3 times. I want there to be a steady progression of times from groups 1 to 4: no disproportionate jump from group 3 to 4, but an increase in time nevertheless.

When I did this, I saw there was generally a 5 second increase in times of the fastest riders in each group, except for groups 3 to 4, where the jump (without any correction) was greater. No surprise there: the gate was shut for group 4. br>

This provided a quantitative approach to setting the adjustment. With 5-second precision, I was able to get a close to 5 second jump from groups 3 to group 4 with a 20 second, rather than a 15 second compensation. Here's the plot:


One thing you see here is that the spread in group 4 is larger than the spread in group 3. This is to some degree expected due to the nature of statistical distributions of riders and the fact group 4: group 4 is a "catch-all" group which includes riders of a broad range of fitness and goals. But the fact remains that congestion was a factor here.

I plotted versus group because initially I didn't have a way to plot versus rider time, but when I wrote the Perl code to do that, I got the following plot. Here I show time through the gate segment versus total time. If the compensation was perfect than I'd see no substantial difference in how riders from group 4 line up versus how riders in groups 1-3 line up. Of course, faster riders overall tend to be faster riders through the gate, as well.


As you can see from the plot, there's again more spread in group 4 times. But if anything, with the adjustment, the best group 4 riders now did better through the gate than the best riders from group 3, adjusting for total time. There's several riders who did a relatively long total time but had times through the gate, after the adjustment, competitive in group 3. The red dots in this plot were no group (tandem riders).

This doesn't address the question of recovery. If riders delayed at the gate were able to as a result climb a faster Radio Road, canceling some of the time lost at the gate, this analysis would miss that. One way to check for this would be to compare times on Radio Road to times on Guadalupe Canyon, omitting the gate crossing, for groups 3 and 4. If riders in group 4 benefitted from recovery at the gate then they would do better on Radio Road relative go Guadalupe than the riders in group 3. However, there's confounding factors, like the tendency of riders to try to follow a quick pace set by leaders, and the presence of faster leaders in group 3. So I'll leave it as is. If anything the addition of this sort of analysis would reduce the adjustment of group 4 times, and I'd prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt because the error was ours.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

San Francisco: E and L both lose

Well, the voting is done, and the results came out largely the same as I had hoped.

In California, 47 passed, as I'd hoped, but so did both 1 and 2. 1 was a water bond, which focused on building dams which don't do anything to either create more water or conserve what we have, the obvious approach the latter in a state which does little to reduce water consumption by either agriculture or individuals. 2 was for a "budget stabilization" account for California. Maybe it will help. 47 helped reduce sentencing on minor theft (<$950) and drug possession. That's a good thing, and I supported it.

Locally, things also were generally good, except I was disappointed that Proposition E, the "sugary drink tax", got "only" 55% of the vote and for new taxes 2/3 is required. This is a bit silly. Consider the case where I have two measures, one which raises revenue via taxes, the other which spends the same amount. The People, being fiscally responsible, vote for either both or neither. 60% vote yes, 40% no. The result? Deficit, since the spending measure passes and the revenue fails. This is a result nobody wanted. So as a result we end up funding everything from bonds, which require only a simple majority, and on those we need to pay interest. It's really a bit of a joke.

So no soda tax, but no change in transportation policy either, something which measure L would have endorsed. It looks like L got less than 38% of the vote. That's a resounding reinforcement for Transit First, and should be the nail in the coffin of pro-car policies like free Sunday Parking or low car registration fees, both policies endorsed by our fine Mayor Ed Lee, who was perversely endorsed in the 2011 election by the San Francisco Bike Coalition. The victory for sanity was even greater if you consider what was written on the ballot was a highly misleading representation of the content of the measure: whether the city should "change" its policy on parking and streets. Had this been all I'd seen I'd have voted yes -- I want to see a change, a change back to metered parking on Sundays, a change to bus rapid transit, a change toward pedestrian malls, a change toward a more aggressive expansion of the bike network. Despite this obviously intentional deception, The People have spoken: it's time to stop pandering to the whiners and move forward with a complete streets agenda.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Nov 2014 election: San Francisco ballot measures


San Francisco virtually always has a complicated ballot on election day. This year holds its own in that regard, with 12 ballot measures as well as local offices. Here's some of my picks for the Tue election.

Here's a guide to San Francisco ballot measures.

District 8 Supervisor

Scott Weiner's my choice. He's had an excellent record so far, including solid positions on transportation.

Proposition A

This is a bond to fund transportation costs in San Francisco, including road repair. Well, for one thing we just recently passed a bond to fund road repair. against my support. Funding ongoing repairs with debt is a bad idea because it incurs interest on top of principle costs, and since paving the roads is a steady expense, there's no reason it shouldn't be allocated out of the annual budget. The main reason, though, I'm against this is that Mayor Lee recently ended sunday street parking metering (every other day is metered). This was going to funding MUNI, so in effect the MUNI component of this bond is going for free parking, not MUNI. I vote no until Sunday parking fees are re-instituted. Ed Lee further killed a restoration of the vehicle license fee in San Francisco. There's no reason to make it cheap to own a car in San Francisco, and giving away parking is bad in every way.


Proposition B

This is Scott Weiner's proposal that MUNI funding be proportional to population.

I have mixed feelings about MUNI because I think it is largely a money pit. On the other hand, I support robust public transit. Early in San Francisco's history, pre-1906, public transit was largely a free-enterprise deal, with private companies providing street car service, which was generally excellent. Now transit is provided publicly, and by any reasonable estimate, it's both terrible in quality and high in cost. I personally get very little out of MUNI service, as I avoid it if there's any other reasonable alternative. And in the free market, alternatives have emerged where they've been able to given the highly regulated market of transportation services. For example, Uber and Lyft and ZipCar are all services which have been enabled by the internet. These are small vehicle services: for large vehicles there's the tech shuttles and IT buses which serve commuters. MUNI, in contrast, is amazingly inefficient, with convoluted routes and stop schedules overburdened by NIMBY "every stop is sacred" politics because if you eliminate even one stop, despite the availability of stops one short block both up and down the street, then some grandma with her walker is going to have a hard time getting to the bus. So the service becomes virtually useless.

So it's chicken and egg. Do you throw more money at the problem, since without money it won't improve? Or do you embrace the far more efficient free-enterprise solutions?

With this amendment MUNI's budget will go to $256 million by 2015, up from $245. This is close to $300/person, or $1/day/person in the city.

So I'm on the fence here. Honestly I can't see more money making any difference to MUNI. I'd much rather see money go instead, for example, to the bike share program which is currently crippled by lack of scale. I really need to see a sign MUNI is going to lift itself from the present morass. The contrast to what I saw in Basel recently couldn't be more striking, and it wasn't just a budget issue.

I'll vote no.


Proposition C

This is to continue funding children's services for the next 25 years, since the similar proposition funding the past 25 years is expiring. The definition of "children" for this purpose is being extended from 18 to 24 years old.

With a 25 year record to stand on, you'd think there'd be more facts available in the campaign material about how effective the last proposition was. Of course educating children is important, but I don't see where these funds are going. Despite this, however, I can't find anyone except Starchild making an argument against, and Starchild's main argument is you can't trust government generally and that the extension to age 24 is unjustified. These are valid points, of course, but I'll vote yes. This is the first ballot measured I've considered so far, state or local, where I'll vote yes.


Proposition D

I have no idea why this is on the ballot and wasn't resolved directly by the Board of Supervisors. Do Board of Redevelopment members deserve retirement benefits? I don't know. I'll vote no.


Proposition E

Tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

This bill isn't perfect but few bills ever are. A similar tax has been highly effective in Mexico City, and the campaigning against this one has been misleading and cynical. Proposition E is a resounding yes.


Proposition F

This is a proposed increase in the height limit for development in the Pier 70 region of Bayview-Hunters Point. Obviously with an increasing Bay are population and a drive towards more centralized, less sprawl-oriented housing model, this proposal makes a lot of sense, as well as providing needed economic stimulus to a traditionally undesirable, crime-intensive area of the city. The list of supporters is impressive. Opposition is dominated by the anti-density, pro-parking crowd. I vote yes.


Proposition G

This would provide a surcharge on the transfer taxes paid on certain multi-unit buildings sold within 5 years of prior purchase. It's designed to discourage "flipping", which is perceived to be a negative influence on the housing market. But often "flipping" means buildings in poor condition are improved, then sold for a profit, which improves the general quality of the housing stock in San Francisco, as well as the general quality and attractiveness of the neighborhoods in which the buildings belong. And the amount of these surcharges is extraordinarily high -- over 20% in some cases. What's the economic effect of this? Suppose I have a near-vacant building for 3 years and I want out for whatever reason. Should I sell it to someone willing to make a long-term investment in the building, increasing the benefit to the housing market? No -- I'll sit on it for 2 years until I'm clear of the surcharge period, so it sits underutilized during that period assuming I lack the resources to properly renovate it. Any abrupt tax like this is distortionary, and while I support an incentive towards longer-term ownership, as this provides more stability, I fear that this one goes too far into the zone of stifling renovation. I vote no.


Proposition H

This would require certain fields in Golden Gate Park be kept natural grass without artificial lighting. This sounds good in principle but the reality is that the net benefit may be higher with an artificial field, and artificial lighting vastly increases the time window during fall and winter when the parks can be used. So I'm voting against this one. In any case the argument that grass fields are environmentally friendly, with their heavy requirement for water and fertilizer not to mention gas-powered mowers, is extremely simple-minded.


Proposition I

This would facilitate the city's ability to renovate fields, including the use of artificial turf. It's a direct contrast to H. I vote yes. It is not a bond nor does it directly increase taxes or spending.


Proposition J

This would increase the minimum wage in San Francisco to $15/hour. Obviously this provides a barrier to hiring entry-level workers. At some point the decision is made that I will not hire someone rather than hire them because the cost of hiring is increased. Minimum wages and their impact on hiring and the economy has been a favorite subject for economic debate for many decades. If the price competition is primarily from local businesses, for example a coffee house, and if demand is relatively inelastic, for example people are addicted to coffee and will not switch to making their own, then businesses will not appreciably suffer by paying their employees more and passing on the cost. It can be argued that the free market has resulted in the cost of labor being higher than this minimum wage anyway, and if that's the case, this isn't needed. I'm a bit on the fence on this, so will vote no.


Proposition K

Prop K will make it city policy to increase housing supply, including "affordable housing". This is a complex subject, including the effectiveness of "affordable housing" policies, but I in general support more, denser housing, so I'll support this. Really it doesn't do anything other than state a priority.


Proposition L

How many times can I say no? This is the initiative to reinforce the emphasis on private automobiles for transportation policy, calling it "balance". Prop L would be a disaster. It's the antithesis of the "transit first" policy which at least nominally has set San Francisco apart from other West Coast cities since the 1970's. Every step of the way toward support of pedestrian-cycling-transit friendliness versus parking-and-driving focus has been fought. If you vote for no other reason, if you vote on no other measures, go to the polls a and vote against Proposition L.



I'm friendlier to the San Francisco propositions than I was to the state propositions. I was against all of those except for 47. Here, I'm for C, E, F, I, and K (5) while I'm against A, B, D, G, H, J, and especially L (7). I'm big pro-E and big anti-L. San Francisco Bike Coalition is for A and B: they're for all propositions spending more on transportation. So I disagree with them there. The one I'm closest to supporting which I am against is J. But when I'm not sure I tend to vote no, unless the opinion for is overwhelming.



Sunday, November 2, 2014

California Propositions


Election time, so time to make my choices on ballot measures.

Proposition 1

The arguments against this bill are compelling. First, a focus on surface water storage via the construction of dams doesn't create any more water: it allows more water to be drained from our otherwise overtaxed rivers. Second, the cost of the bond come from the general fund. Costs of water storage should be paid through water use fees. The real issue is water consumption needs to be reduced, and it's simple economics that be incentivized via increased costs. Subsidizing water use doesn't accomplish this at all. So I am a skeptic about this bond justifying it's in excess of $7 billion cost. California needs to reduce it's excessive rate of water use, and this doesn't address that.


Proposition 2

This is supposed to be a "rainy day fund" for the state. Unfortunately, when there's "rainy day funds" there's the incentive to conclude a lot more days are rainy than sunny. A similar "rainy day fund" was passed in 2004, and it resulted in a general defunding of public schools. I don't trust that this one will be any more successful at keeping the state education system sufficiently funded. I'll vote no.


Proposition 45

This would require the state insurance commissioner to approve changes in insurance rates. It would also forbid credit history or history of insurance coverage from being used to determine eligibility or rates. I certainly agree with that, and I think the argument that this creates "costly new bureaucracy" is likely over-stated, but I fail to see an adequate case presented to the voters that this measure is effective in reducing health care costs. It's really too complex for the amount of time most voters can deliver to it. I vote no by default: the burden of proof is on the initiative to prove its worth. In this case, health care is already highly regulated, with existing programs and reviews, and the implications of voting for this are insufficiently clear.


Proposition 46

This is labeled as a requirement on drug-testing doctors. It seems like a good idea: surgeons operate on your brain, you don't want them dosed out on painkillers or whatever. But this is just a front. Nobody really cares about drug-testing doctors. It's really about raising the pain and suffering cap from $250k to over $1M. That's where the money is. I'm all for reimbursements in the case of negligence but excessive pain and suffering awards have a distortionary and negative effect on the health care system and on health care costs. I vote no.


Proposition 47

This reduces certain crimes like drug possession on "petty theft" (theft of something which has a value of no more than $950) from felonies to misdemeanors. Obviously we put too many people in prison for too long for the wrong reasons. We need to retreat from the "throw away the key" mentality which led to the fiasco of "3 strikes". I vote for this one. Note my Trek 1500 was purchased for $800 but all of my other bikes are beyond the "petty theft" threshold, but this would include phones which are very commonly stolen unless the content of the phone is assigned a monetary value, which seems unlikely.


Proposition 48

This would allow an Indian casino near Mono Lake. I vote no.



I vote no on all state propositions except 47.

Old La Honda: Chasing Mark

After last week's Powertap snafu where I tried pacing myself off the power meter only to later realize it was substantially over-reporting power, I wasn't feeling super-warm-and-fuzzy today about following the same approach in what was essentially a mandatory new attempt at the Wednesday Noon Ride. Using the calibration cycle on the Garmin Edge 500 had appeared to restore the Powertap to the regime where it was able to stay in tune during coasting phases alone, and the numbers I typically saw in the display were more typical of the pre-Switzerland mediocre Dan than the "suddenly blessed with amazing fitness" Dan the Powertap had been assuring me had replaced it.

Chris Evans and Brian Schuster of Squadra SF were at the start, two very solid climbers, especially Chris who'd been putting in an impressive string of mid-16-minute Old La Hondas with his approach of starting each week with a leg-ripping effort which I can only imagine matching for more than a mercifully small number of seconds. So as far as I was concerned, Chris was of no relevance. More relevant was Mark Johnson, who'd been putting up some low-to-mid 18-minute times on a regular basis. I certainly hoped to be able to stick with him. A big stretch was to move into the high-17-minute range, which is my known record on the Ritchey Breakaway. I didn't want to think about that. But I certainly had hopes of an 18:30.

I'd been discussing pacing strategy with Chris, noting the exceptional nature of his starts. He said he'd experimented with more measured starts and they didn't allow him to recapture the time boost (or is it distance boost?) he got from going hard at the beginning and then tapering back to what he can sustain. My assertion, and he agreed with me, is riders with exceptional top end power (or work capacity) can do a harder start than those with more limited reserves above threshold. I agreed from my own experience that there is no recovery from a too-slow start. A large fraction of that time is gone for good.

We hit the base and boom! Chris was up the road, rapidly disappearing around a corner. At the front of the remaining crew, Mark and Bill Peucel were chatting. Bill's been riding very well lately, but I knew I didn't want to be climbing at my chatting pace, let alone his which was a bit slower. So I passed them and set off at a moderately aggressive tempo.

Last week I'd been in the 36/23 most of the climb and I wanted to stay out of that gear, shifting into the 36/21 instead. I set a PR in 2009 riding exclusively in the 36/18, with the Fuji, reaching the top in 16:49. I later broke that (in Dec 2011), but I certainly knew that I wasn't going to be spinning anything close to 2:1 today. But if 36:18 is 16:49, then at the same cadence a 36/21 is 19:37. I certainly expected to be considerably faster than that. But recently, since returning from Switzerland, I've found my desired climbing cadence has been higher. Maybe it's because my legs are tired from a relatively heavy load of riding and cycling and that forces me to seek refuge in higher cadences, which result in reduced muscular loading.

So in my 36/21, I surged past the two leaders. Mark followed. I basically ignored him, keeping the cadence on my gear. However, I started to feel this pace was becoming burdensome, especially during the steeper of the positive grade undulations. Eventually I was forced to relent, downshifting into the 36/23 I used last week. Glances at my power meter, which I was trying to ignore, weren't encouraging.

Mark took the lead here, simplifying my pacing task from this point. It was simple: stay with Mark. So I got onto his wheel and tried my best to not think about anything else. Eventually the top would arrive.

Mark does this climb almost every week, and he's a confident guy, so knows how to pace himself. The pace never dropped so far I felt as if I wasn't being inspired to go my best. Often, following others, I feel like when they move to the front they lose motivation and the effort drops too far. This wasn't the case with Mark. Sitting on his wheel had become a real challenge. I found myself letting little gaps open on the steeper bits, using the more gradual bits to reclose them. All that mattered to me here was his wheel.

Around a corner, a large truck approached, leaving us maybe a 1-meter ribbon of road, slowing but not stopping. Mark slowed a bit as he passed, but I slowed a bit more. So leaving the truck behind he'd opened a significant gap: maybe 5 meters, and he wasn't going to wait around for me to close it back up.

But the reduced pace passing the truck provided recovery, and as the top approached soon after, I accelerated in the low gear to try and pass him by the stop sign. I failed, but I had at least reclosed the gap which had opened passing that truck.

Here's the power data, comparing running average to previous climbs:


And here's smoothed power versus distance:


This was an exceptional week for pacing in that I spent much of the final half of the climb glued to Mark's wheel. Pacing strategy was thus nullified: I follow Mark. If Mark slowed too much, I'd have taken the lead, but I was at my limit just following him. So micro-analyzing my pacing from this point is meaningless. I was on Mark's pace, not mine, taking advantage of a few % power discount for drafting, depending on the wind speed and direction.

The numbers: 272.95 watts, 18:43.38. Meh. I was 274.0 watts on 11 June, albeit with a time 13.27 seconds slower. My other powers this year, last week excepted when my Powertap was high on life, were three out of four within 2.3 watts of this value. My time was best of the year by 8.31 seconds, the previous best on 18 June. I am maybe 1 kg lighter than I was then, explaining the quicker time in conjunction with the time I spent glued to Mark's wheel, but meh. I was hoping for more from my trip to Switzerland.

That said: I did a 20 mile run on Sunday, approximately double my typical "long run" distance these days, running only approximately once per week other than a few blocks of consecutive days in Switzerland. I was definitely still feeling this going into the ride, and had definitely felt on my quick-pace ride into work the day before.

One interesting aspect of the ride was cadence. Here's a plot of cadence on the climb:


I spent much of the time over 80 rpm, which is unusual for me: historically I'm more likely to be in the low-to-mid 70's.

Gear selection can be calculated as cadence / (speed × development), with units appropriately matched. I get good numbers assuming a development of 2.100 meters. Here's the result:


I started with a 36/21, which I'd normally feel comfortable in the whole way up, except half-way I retreated into the 36/23 for much of the time, except for a few times I upshifted on flatter bits. Gear selection stopped being an issue once I let Mark take the lead. I simply shifted into the gear in which I felt most comfortable riding on his wheel. It's different when doing the pace oneself, in which case you're picking a gear which maximizes speed. I think my preference for a low gear, high cadence, was due to fatigue.

So I have some headroom on Old La Honda. How much? I don't know. I need to avoid gaining back any of the mass I lost in Switzerland, for one thing. And I need to keep up the intensity and consistency in my riding, two factors which had been notably missing for much of this year, including the months preceding my trip in September and early October.