Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day Fasting

What a day. I came down to NYC last night with my girlfriend, my sister and my niece. What was supposed to be a chilled out holiday of exploring the Big Apple, morning jogs through Central Park and over stuffing oneself with too much turkey followed by just one more piece of pumpkin pie has become an expedition through living Hell.

I had Pedialyte popsicles for dinner tonight. Shortly after I sent off last night's blog post, I found myself hunched over in the bathroom. At regular intervals of about 20 minutes for the next 12 hours I would be running to hold off soiling my shorts. It was ugly. My intestines were trying to crawl out through my mouth, my kidney's felt like they were being pummelled by a prize-fighter, and I probably tossed about a quart of bile. I'm pretty exhausted from the day's effort, not sure yet how this fits into the training plan. I probably won't be looking for another food poisoning-induced ab workout again anytime soon. Really, it felt like the touch of death.

The source of my food poisoning: We grabbed a few slices yesterday before leaving town - everyone else in the car had a piece of artichoke pizza, I was the only one who went for the spinach. Perhaps it is another E. coli breakout, perhaps it was just bad food prep. Anyway, it's a good thing Thanksgiving is all about the leftovers, perhaps tomorrow I can get my feast in.

Pedialyte is incredible stuff. Got me on my feet today when I was sure I was facing my doom. Dean Karnazes (a.k.a. Ultramarathon Man) is known to use Pedialite on his 300 miles runs. Perhaps this is something we should consider using in our races.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Eastern Ave. - Take 1

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

With the first day of hillclimb repeats under our belt I'd say that Keith and I have officially begun our training. We set off at 7:30 (that in itself is a feat worth recording) for Eastern Ave. just up the road in Arlington. This is regular training ground for hill repeats. The ~1 mile, 300' climb in three pitches is about as much as you can find in the Boston area. Falling somewhere in the ballpark of 7 minutes to the top, the effort is something like an interval--not quite long enough to fully tax the aerobic engine it falls short of serious training for any extended climb, and is short enough to lure one into seriously over-zoned training. For FreeBase (TM) over-zoned training is acceptable, we're getting the game wired, if you will. First the energy, then the direction.

Now I've always fancied myself a decent climber, perhaps more for my fantasies of devestatingly explosive attacks leaving my competition in an existential crisis kind of way, and Keith and I usually throw down on road rides with fairly balanced results. So it came as some surprise to me this morning when try as I might, pushing the discomfort/agony threshold, I could not match Keith on the climbs. I got him once near the top, laying it all out on the flatter section in an effort more like a time trial than a climb. Losing 4 out of 5 hurts. Losing 4 out of 5 with no chance in hell hurts more than just the legs.

During the climbs, while the possibility of matching Keith drifted ever further away, I had a few moments to collect my thoughts, consider the mechanics of the situation, and compose a decent excuse for myself. Climbing on a road bike is an inherently different task than climbing on a mountain bike. Specifically, the angle between the back and legs is signficantly smaller (or larger depending on how you measure it, but different for sure) on a road bike. Perhaps it is a matter of my history, but I certainly felt that the down-stroke was emphasized much more on the mountian bike, leaving certain muscles taxed and others hardly strained. I think I have a pretty solid power cycle on the road, so I'm going with the hypothesis that some physiological adjustments are needed. We'll definitely follow up on this with a more refined study of the muslce mechanics of road vs mtb climbing. But for now, the lesson is simple: I need to transform myself.

The development of an athelte is one of metamorphosis - the sculpting of raw movement into grace and art. It's humbling and healthy to be reminded of how much work lies ahead. It is easy to imagine oneself complete, another thing altogether to feel it. It is as true in sports and it is in science, we stand on the shoulders of giants. This is not to say that it is with ease that we inherit truth and strength, but that should we so desire it, there is a way. We should be thankful for our friends and competitors who show us what is possible, and for the Flying Spaghetti Monster that makes it so.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Rest well, play hard.

Turbaconducken, Consumerism, PWR

"Raise your hand if you plan to wage a ruthless assault on your power:weight ratio in the next 36 hours" [raises hand]. Personally, I'm hoping to knock off about .1 out of about 3w/kg (I actually have no idea what my PWR is. Shoot, did I say that out loud?).

Thanksgiving is a symbolic time for cyclists. It's a symbol of bad habits, really. About the third week in November (In New England) it starts getting really cold (see last post), and all of a sudden that second bowl of oatmeal and cup of joe starts looking a lot better than your morning ride. At first you manage to transcend, maybe you'll go chase your race partner around a ribbon of frozen dirt in Western MA on a silly bike with a number pinned to your back. Maybe you'll even laugh when he decides to eat it right in front of you in the sandpit on the last lap and remind you what it feels like to fly (if anyone caught that on film, PLEAAAASE send...), but eventually you will grow tired, your fingers will get numb and you will turn to other sports, say, like camping:This photo was taken YESTERDAY (Tuesday) in Southern CA. Now I know it's a little hard to get out riding these days with the rain and the sub-crystaline temps, but a backpacking trip to the west coast to be first in line at Best Buy on Black Friday is, I assure you, not the solution. If you're going to put the bike in the garage for a while and hang out in a tent, at least go someplace pretty, and don't get me started on why the above image is a harbinger of the demise of our civilization...

Even if you do manage to find a pair of gloves warm enough to keep you venturing out, the onslaught of fitness-busting influences is just getting started. Convention states that this time of year you have to start spending time with your family, regardless of whether you like them or not. Tomorrow you'll get in your car (it's totally taboo to show up to Thanksgiving sweating through your skinsuit, though I'm thinking of trying it this year), and motor over to grandma's. After about 20 minutes you'll be done having your life choices critiqued (if you showed up in a skinsuit, then you asked for it) and transitioning from amused to annoyed by your 5yo nephew. Trapped in a house full of people who can't even begin to fathom the awesomeness of your new Stan's tubeless conversion, there's nothing left for you except the Thanksgiving bird and the asteroid belt of pies hovering around it on the lazy-susan. A kilo or so later, you're rolling home swearing "Never Again", until it's time for leftovers on Friday. Rinse-repeat for Christmas (or your consumerist holiday of choice), wash down the memory of your transgressions with a bottle of bubbly for Auld Lang Syne and by January 1 you'll be ready to apply for a job as the next Thomson seatpost poster-boy (right).

Make no mistake, from now until year-end you are at war! True, you're only up against a couple of hams a few fruitcakes, but they'll make sure you get tipsy and then take you out when your guard is down. It is no time to go it alone (down the road for hours at a medium pace). It is time to enlist an army of your friends to peer pressure you onto your bike for childish amusement and good old fashioned rivalry. Race each other around your local MTB loop (for beers). Do hillclimbs (for beers). Do whatever you need to do to stay motivated to ride (for beers). Keep the intensity up to stay warm (the beer will be cold). Keep it close to home (you've been drinking), and most of all, stay out of the wind.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Image credits: Ridemonkey, LHThomson

Saturday, November 22, 2008

High Energy Metaphysics

You know it's been a bad week when you're so distracted by your lack of exercise that you can't form complete thoughts.

I'm sitting on the couch with my housemate on Thursday night, telling her about some article I was reading on the internet and she says, "Man, you're really getting slower." In my head I'm thinking, "How did you KNOW? Do I look fat???" I mean, I should--the work to bike ratio for the last two weeks has been approximately 7:1--but it's unlikely, and I'm pretty sure my plummeting LT isn't visible to the naked eye.

I guess I'm not visibly fatter...

"You can't talk straight. It took you about eight tries to spit out what you were trying to say." she says.

As an engineer, communicating with things that speak languages with names not written in all caps (COMPASS, SQL, MIPS, TASM) has always been challenging, but after being introduced to books a couple of years ago, I thought I was getting pretty good at it; not to mention that my housemate is an engineer too, so if I accidentally slip and say LD r1, 135; LD r2, 15; ADC r1, r2; she'll reply, "150" without missing a beat. If, despite our mutual multilinguality, my housemate thinks my verbal communications skills are regressing to those of a street-performer in an imaginary glass box, there's clearly a problem. So much for all that hard work...

Clearly I'm stressing myself out about graduate school, and what better solution to your brain being tied in knots than a 25deg F mountain bike adventure with not one, but two high energy physicists? (Eric, and our friend Greg) It's like Christmas for wannabe athledorks (TM). Heck, after two weeks of sitting in front of a CRT, it was like Christmas, my birthday, and losing my virginity all at once, complete with

the excess packaging,

dismay with regard to my waning fitness

and awkward fumbling around with parts that weren't quite working the way I expected, respectively.

Long story short, my headspace is all sorted-- Remember balance, right?-- and unlike our pavement riding buddies, we didn't get any frostbite, though we did add to our list of busted parts for the season with my shattered chain keeper. Plastic seems somewhat more brittle in arctic conditions...

Cross racing on Sunday!!

[EDIT: 10 pedal points to anyone who can guess where I got the title of this post from. What do pedal points buy you? Nothing, except for pride, or majority ownership in any one of a number of once mighty American corporations and financial institutions. Ugh...]

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Freebase Instructional Video

No riding today, but thanks to The Miller Brewing Company I have a very poignant instructional video on Freebase training to keep me motivated. They've captured the theme of "balance" on so many levels...

Anyone else thirsty?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

TDD Part 3: KFC vs. Cooked Carrots (Freebase)

"A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct." - Frank Herbet, Dune

Cruising through the air on my way to Dallas, the chaos of the last few weeks seems almost like a dream now. Balance is probably the least fitting descriptor of my current lifestyle. Working until 3am, sleeping in until 9 or 10, a diet consisting of 90% burritos and 10% coffee, a Verizon bill somewhere in the fog of the interweb that hasn't been seen or paid in over 3 months. One could guess that training has been anything but consistent as of late. I think Keith's world too has been a little less than efficient as well. As he is preparing to enter graduate school, I am preparing to leave.

But all of this will change shortly. Keith will soon have his grad school apps completed (stay tuned for the updates on what he wants to be when he grows up), and following the conference I am attending this week (APS DPP) I will be starting in on my thesis writing, a much more routine business than the frantic preparations for an invited talk. For the sake of not only our training, but of the sanity and the overall health of our psyches, I propose the following lifestyle exercises:
  1. morning sun salutations
  2. complete a soduku per day
  3. limit ourselves to 3 KFC value meals per week
  4. keep road tires inflated to at least 80 psi
  5. memorize world capitals
  6. wash dishes at least once per week
  7. find the (dark) comedy in our lives
Though I suggest these exercises in jest (I doubt if I could ever get Keith to do a sun-salutation, or wash his dishes once per week), the reality of the situation is that these exercises would comprise a significant improvement in our standard of living. I think he and I will be diligent about finding the comedy in our lives, that at least will get us through.

But we're not talking here of just getting through, we're talking of a training program to bring us to the end respectably, aiming even for a stage win, or should we find the strength, a top placing in the GC. Though our FreeBase (TM) training period is an eclectic program composed of introductory strength training, a ramp up of base riding, cyclocross races, and a general attitude of playfulness, it is perhaps most importantly a priming of our mental base for long winter ahead. As one who never adhered to a concrete training regimen, but who took the preparations for nationals competitions with all seriousness, I think it is most important to have the right mindset - the dedication, the passion. Our first task in establishing a training program for the next six months is to find a balance and a space in which we can remain productive.

In terms of standard training regimens, our FreeBase (TM) period might be most akin to a "reverse periodization". That is, we start with honing our high end, acclimating to the intense efforts of intervals and, to some degree, sprints. The idea here is that one's base training period benefits from the ability to sustain a higher intensity. We will brave the cold winds and wet weather. We will remind ourselves of the exhilaration of exhaustion, and relax in the warmth of hard cider. In short, we will shed our mental weaknesses.

As outlined earlier, we will have specific exercises for each period culminating a milestone adventure. In all seriousness I am going to suggest the following training program, though the specifics of the day to day scheduling of these events I think we'll have to defer to a second PBR moderated discussion.
  1. morning sun salutations/touch your toes (daily)
  2. enjoy a well rounded diet (Cooked carrots are make you smart!)
  3. mtb hillclimbs 1 day per week
  4. strength training (gym) 2 days per week
  5. miscellaneous hours during the week
  6. ride long (+intensity) or race on the weekend
The concept of the milestone as a part of the training plan is something I picked up from lab. Each year a committee outlines a few major milestones around which the experimental program is focused. At the end of each year, the lab is evaluated by a number of metrics, one of them being the completion of the milestones. As a psychological tool, the milestone is an effective motivator (especially when accompanied by negative reinforcement, i.e public humiliation when we divulge all via the blog) - it is a definite intermediate goal, a step as compared to a monumental leap. As promised, each of our training periods will incorporate milestones. I have come up with three milestones fitting for the FreeBase (TM) period.
  1. Defend Catan (read all about Catan here)
  2. Dodge the ball at Midnight Dodgeball
  3. Complete a 50 mile mtb ride before the solstice (December 21)

Once I return from this conference training is on. Here's looking forward to my toes, cooked carrots and the trails.

image credit [bus stop yoga]:
image credit [carrots]:

One Foot in Front of the Other.

I promised myself no blogging today--have much to do--but my favorite off-road Rockstar sent me a link to the most incredible blog this morning and it is haunting me well into the afternoon. I'm not sure whether to thank her for the inspiration or scold her for being such a bad influence on my productivity, (Bad Rockstar, bad! Go to your room and grow bacteria until it's too dark to ride! [Rockstar does earth-science]) but I spent probably an hour devouring the woman's site and can't get enough, so share I will: Start Here.

As we move into the winter months I hope to find this woman's Endurance--that quality of pure emotional fortitude that challenges us to continue on in one direction or another for no reason other than because going on is progress and anything else is standing still. It applies to more than just racing, but to every moment of our daily lives. Endurance is about something deeper than climbing mountains in waist deep snow. It is about the drive to transcend the distractions that constantly bog us down on the path to our goals, careers and adventures, whether they be the warmth of a bivvy in the arctic winter or the glow of the television on a Wednesday afternoon. Endurance is about plotting a route through the wilderness of the future and following it to the end without fear of what might lay behind the next tree. It is about motion, about strength, and the determination to be greater than yourself. It will carry you through the seventh day of a race but, more importantly, it's what gets you there in the first place.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

TDD Part 2: What's Important in Off-road Endurance?

Over the following months and weeks you will start to see the details of our training plan, but it's worth taking a minute to talk about what an off-road endurance race entails and how that instructs a training regimen:

Off-road endurance is mostly about climbing. Your typical stage race is 250-400 miles, with upwards of 50,000ft of vertical gain. Taking the TransRockies as an example (~350mi, ~60,000ft of vertical gain), if you averaged out the climbing for each day into one uphill and one downhill, every single day would be a giant category 1 climb (in roadie terms) and corresponding descent. Since you're not actually climbing or descending all the time, climbs are even more intense when they happen, with uphills of as much as 15% grade for 2-3 miles being a common occurrence.

Looking at this merely in terms of physics, it is clearly important to take as little with you as possible. Take, for example, a bike and rider that weigh 85kg (187lb) together and can generate 250w of power on average, while climbing, over the course of a race. Put him on a steep 1000m climb. By the equation

TimeToTop = (MassOfRider * AccelerationOfGravity * HeightOfClimb) / (Power - 10%)

(The 10% subtracted from power is merely a catch-all for the stuff we've left out like friction and wind resistance)

this rider would take just under 61:45 to complete the climb. Now give the rider a few beers and cheese sandwiches (+5kg), do the same math and you get 65:20. Multiply that difference over a week with 18,000m of climbing and you have 65:30. Don't take that number as the word of god, but it adequately makes the point that minimizing your excess body mass (fat, mostly) can mean HOURS in the course of a stage race.

As mentioned above, much of the climbing in an off-road endurance race will be at grades above 10%. Experimentally, most well-trained cyclists prefer a slower cadence while climbing steep grades than on the flat for the same power output. Though it us unclear exactly why this is the case, it does not affect the natural conclusion that courses with more climbing will put more strain on your muscles for the same amount of work performed than flatter courses will. By addressing this fact aggressively in your training through exercises that test muscle endurance, you can help to delay muscle fatigue on long stages and during long weeks.

Finally, it goes without saying that a cyclist's aerobic performance is of huge importance in endurance racing. A cyclist training for endurance events should specifically target exercises that challenge the aerobic threshold for long periods of time. For experienced cyclists, this will be the majority of the focus in the base period. For newer cyclists this training could be as much as 75% of your workload.

Though the above all address physiological characteristics, a successful training program must also address technique. Powerful seated climbing and efficient pedaling will help to fight muscle fatigue and enhance aerobic endurance, while good bike handling and line finding will help a rider carry momentum, minimizing energy loss. All of these skills should be visited throughout the training year by designing workouts that stress technique in addition to the physiological characteristics mentioned above.

Now if only I could get off the couch and actually try some of this stuff...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Training for the Detail Deficient Pt. 1: Outline

Planning and executing a successful season of training and racing is an extremely complicated system dynamics problem (see diagram). Fortunately for you, the readers, we don't really care, except to make the diagram and laugh at ourselves. Training should be about enjoying yourself, unless you're a triathlete. Then it's about chasing your wife's hazard-light blinking minivan around town like a greyhound after a rabbit at the track (oh, I wish I had pictures), but I digress... Particularly as an endurance athlete, when you can't avoid volume, having a plan that keeps you amused is really important. Fortunately, I have Eric for that. Here's an excerpt from our discussion on training:

EE: [cracks open a beer] "Whatever man, I'm not gonna ride with a heart rate monitor"
KB: "Dude, it's not exactly like it's extra effort, and it's good data. You like data."
EE: "We need some alternative metrics, like comparing libido to fitness"
KB: "So you're telling me you'll use a heart rate monitor if I make a daily log of my sex drive for you?"
EE: "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. It'll make for some awesome graphs..."
KB: "sigh..." [cracks open a beer, drinks it.]

Training should not be about meticulously organizing schedules months in advance, having your walls covered with graph paper, or spending more time downloading your heart rate data than hanging out with your buddies. There are a couple of useful quantitative things that ARE really important, but if you want a step-by-step for training with power, you're going to have to buy us a pair of SRMs first (our email address is on the right).

What you will get out of following this thread is a sound philosophy about sane and effective training for regular people, with the following guiding principles.
  1. Have Goals: It's hard to achieve something if you don't now what it is.
  2. Have Fun: Stop frantically leafing through your training manual of choice, it says nothing about fun in there, but the moment you're not having fun any more your results will suffer. Like it or not, a whole lot of this success thing is in your head.
  3. Have Milestones: Goals that provide motivation in the short term--they're good procrastination fighters, since they're not 8 months away. We'll have fun milestones for each period (see below) when we get there.
  4. Have Measurable results: This is all about fighting the demons of self-deception. Like spending too much time in a cage in North Korea Vietnam, if you spend enough time on your bike you can convince yourself of just about anything. Though it's unlikely you'll try to run for president, a good solid testing schedule will ensure that you don't overtrain, or let your ego get too far out of hand.
  5. Have Flexibility: There are days when it rains, and that shouldn't shatter your training plan into tiny fragments.
  6. Have Rest: Because your local pub needs your business, and your training partner is tired of your stink.
We're not cave-dwelling neanderthals, so we will follow a form of periodization, the periods of which will have "themes" and corresponding, thematically appropriate, milestones but overall we'll be following the lead of my hero, and keeping it simple.

Our year is divided up into the following themes, which we will be explaining at length, one by one, over the coming months. They have been given descriptive names so you'd remember what we think of them (they largely correspond to the traditional Base, Build, etc. that you've always heard about, but we're are changing things up a bit, for good reason, and don't want to start debating semantics with anyone).

The Themes (in order of appearance):
  • Freebase
  • BS
  • Bricks and Mortar
  • Bragging Rights
  • Rebase
  • The Epic
Each theme will have a corresponding list of workouts, will be motivated by one or more milestones, and throughout the whole program there will be a couple of recurring tests to gauge progress. We will also have an online training diary you can follow, if you're into that sort of thing, which will have some conventional and some "alternative" measures of workload/performance. All to be revealed in good time... (Don't worry, the details and the numbers are coming)

Stay tuned for "FreeBase"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Paint Drying (2), Theodore Parker (1)

You mean like this?

I had a nasty headache all day. Not the raging, skull pounding, put me in a dark hole and knock me out with vicodin kind of headache. It’s like a the dull incessant agony of road rash across my brain. It’s not incapacitating, just miserable, which in turn makes for miserable blog posts.

I was planning on starting the day of with a mental health ride out to the town of Harvard to document the roads there for the races MIT will be hosting for the ECCC – the MIT X-Pot. Keith was reportedly sick with a hangnail or something, and no one else showed up, so I got all steamed and was going to pull out the I’ll-go-it-alone approach. But we’ve been through 8 years of going-it-alone and I’m ready for a change, I decided instead to join the MIT women for TTT practice at the Mystic Lakes. I have to say, the women are looking strong already, far better than the sorry lot of so-called men we have on the team. Team Edlund had a good workout with some intervals and then returned home on the position that he would try again tomorrow.

It is hard to mention “change” or “hope” and not be instantly drawn to comment on that most inescapable bit of news, the election of Barack Obama. Hail the dawn of a new age. What wonders are in that most transformative and profound act of marking the ballot and casting the vote. Superstition. Every reporter it seems has jumped on the bandwagon of reformative proclamation. “Barack Obama is elected first African American President”. Hogwash. Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. He was not ever stumping to become “the first black President” or to bring a “new political age” to us. He was running because he believed in himself and his words, and we elected him because we believed the same. Anyone who supported him because he is black, or voted against him for the same, is a racist. You make your decisions based on race rather than substance or belief or policy. Perhaps in the end, it is our ability to say that Barack Obama is a respectable, intelligent and eloquent man that makes this so meaningful, and I think our best tribute is to stop yapping about it and move on like it was any other election.

I returned home and showered, packed a lunch and then rode into lab. On my way in I thought of the various monuments I’d see on my Saturday hammer ride to Concord. On my way out I noticed a curious sight. An old woman sat in a wheelchair, waiting in a foyer behind a glass door. Across the street I noticed a curious monuemnt in a side yard. Who Theodore Parker is I had no idea, a local hero of sorts I figured. Apparently someone notable enough to warrant a concrete cube with his name and year of birth. The absence of a record of his death I think must be intended to motivate the thought that Theodore Parker lives on with us, that his influence and message have been so intimately woven with the fabric of our culture that he is a beginning without an end. A quick Google search shows that Theodore Parker was ”a New England Transcendentalist heavyweight. A Transcendentalist, theologian, scholar, Unitarian minister, abolitionist, and social reformer.” New Englanders get a lot of crap from the rest of the country for being uptight and burdened with the weight of the pilgrim forefathers whose crotchety spirit somehow manifests itself in the fervent blare of automobile horns like a divine call to arms and to the miserable reality of the moment. I like to take the point that while the rest of the country was off looting and murdering, cattle hustling and Indian hunting, whipping negroes, turning the mountains upside down - generally devolving into brutes by the gun, the New Englanders at least were attempting to become civilized folk with a stance on moral issues. I've grown rather fond of the New England character. Tough climates make for tough people.

I rode on to Concord where I took a moment to refill some water at the central fountain by the big rock with a tribute to the local boys who gave their lives in the First World War. At the bottom is a quote by that New England literary legend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “When duty whispers low thou must…”. I rode on with those words ringing in my ears. Strangely, passing by the Theodore Parker monument, that old lady was still sitting in the doorway, well over half an hour later. I wondered how long she had been there, days perhaps? And waiting for who, or what? “So nigh is grandeur to our dust….” Autmun does funny things to my head. With winter so perceptibly close, Autmun confronts one squarely with the choice to acknowledge the force of time, asking acknowldegement of every day, every mild breeze. Perhaps this woman in the doorway was simply apprecaiting, the Autumn days, the sights and sounds of passersby and the wandering ways of leaves. If I had half a day to do anything right now, I might very well spend it with her. Throw in a few cups of hard cider and I'd be right at home.

It was about that time that I returned from my thoughts to my desk. The rest of the day was spent in half-baked effort and waiting. Waiting for what? The best cure for a headache, the evening beer. I met my girlfriend for dinner at a nearby pub, “The Miracle of Science”. It’s a total ploy for the sophisticatedly intellectualized. Miracle of Science? Why because you have a menu that mocks the periodic table, one of the most under-appreciated developments of classical physics. Because you have polished steel tables? Okay, I get it, it’s the 3x5 portrait of Einstein unpretensiously displayed in the corner behind the stack of month old Weekly Dig’s. Maybe it’s the electric lights?

It’s going on 10pm, my headache is gone, perhaps I have dispelled it with these wretched words. Tomorrow we ride to Harvard.

Barack Obama image credit:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Paint Drying (1), Bike Racer Blogs (0)

I'm sick today--sick enough that I had to bail on a 'cross race in 55 deg weather (no, you don't have to call an ambulance). It sucks, and since my body is preventing me from doing anything useful, save maybe talking about training with Eric tonight, I thought I would do a little research on other bike racer blogs on the internet, for inspiration of course. Conclusion: Bike racer blogs are less interesting than watching a river bottom turn into sedimentary rock. The authors should really take a few pointers from Colin. (EDIT: To clarify, there are some bike racing blogs that are good, and that I read. They just happen to be a pathetically small minority)

In the spirit of Bike Snob (this man is a genius). I've come up with a few rules, some of which are specific to race blogs, though most of them apply to any sort of internet-based masturbatory activity, provided it is of a literary, as opposed to cleanup-necessitating, variety.

1. You may not start every paragraph with "I", which, by extension means that you DEFINITELY shouldn't be starting every sentence with it. Sure, the blog is written by you, about you, and you probably think a lot of yourself for believing that there are people in the world that will spend their valuable time to read what color kit your wore at the 24-hours of Someplace Flat and Midwestern, but I don't care about you. ("So, I", "Well, I", and "Then, I", though clever attempts at veiling your own narcisissm, still count, BTW) I DO care about your opinions, ideas, and possibly knowledge or wisdom if you happen to have some, so write those down and I'll be happy. It also helps if you're funny.

[Edit: Don't take the fact that I don't care about you too hard. It's nothing personal, I just don't know you. I care about you as a human being, as in I'd be sad if you were deprived of your human rights or hit by a bus, but I'm not particularly enthralled by your day-to-day life.]

2. Following directly from (1), I don't really care very much about your family, friends or Saturday nights out unless they're inherently interesting. Not only do they have nothing to do with bike racing, but most cyclists generally don't have very noteworthy lives outside of cycling--you're always asleep or riding your bike when normal people are having fun, and there are a lot more normal people than cyclists. The odds just aren't in your favor.

3. Posts are better when they have an editorial point, which ideally, should be elucidated in the first paragraph. This, again, follows from (1). For example, the point of this post is: "if bike racers could write, they'd probably be getting paid to put their prose in print as opposed to smearing it all over the internet like it was the wall in a Starbucks Employee's worst restroom cleanup nightmare." Having a point gives you focus. Having focus helps you win races, build a bridge people! (or have you not been winning races lately?)

4. Race reports are only interesting when something exciting or unusual happens, or they make a point (see 3). The "I woke up at 6. I felt OK. I had some coffee. I got to the start. It hurt a lot during the race because I was going really hard. I finished 3rd." report totally ignores the fact that I don't care about you, and tells me nothing that I can come away with to make me a better cyclist, a better person, or more fun at parties for having a good story to tell. Introspection about racing isn't a bad thing either. It's sort of like looking at your training diary from last year except you don't have to dig your head out of your couch cushions first, and everyone knows how important training diaries are... (note: As Colin correctly identifies, this one is null if I know you, you can make me laugh or I was at the same race you were)

5. Content. Not everyone is funny, exciting, or fast, but there's a good chance that you know something I don't. PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IT IS, especially if it has to do with gear, or tactics, or training or the cycling community at large, provided you don't belabor the details so much that I get bored or just repeat the marketing jargon that's posted on the manufacturer's website. That being said, remember, I don't care about you, which means I don't care what bike you ride, what you eat or what intervals you do on Tuesdays. I care about WHY you ride that bike, do that interval or have two cheeseburgers after 'cross races but only bratwursts and IPA after a MTB race. Your individual training plan is not leisure reading either, even if it's the only thing you read, but why you did X in your training plan as opposed to Y, by contrast, could be worthwhile.

6. Broadly stated and thinly supported generalizations that reinforce or utilize generally accepted stereotypes about cyclists or cycling for the purpose of making me laugh so hard I snarf my morning coffee all over my laptop are highly encouraged.

7. It's time for a sandwich.

One can only hope that identifying these rules in writing will remind us to follow them ourselves...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Disc Brakes Demystified, Germans and Ranting

Thanks to Thomas for responding to my leading question in the last post. It's Friday, and I'm totally not diggin' on what I should be doing, so writing about bike tech all day is a welcome distraction.

Thomas writes:
Your newest blog entry is a godsend! I also have the Magura Marta SL (the same as in the pictures) and while braking power et al. is generally fantastic I constantly experience problems with the pads not properly self-adjusting the way they should, interestingly this only happens with my rear brake and I have never had problems with my front brake. According to the Magura website the solution is to "mobilise" the brake pads, which I did to the best of my knowledge but to no avail...
He hits it right on the head. These brakes feel AWESOME when they're working right (heck, I have them on two bikes), but they're finickier than a vegan in cheese shop. There's something about German engineers that makes it impossible for them to make anything simple (or work right unless it's made out of machined aluminum and steel or carbon fiber). I have a Volkswagen, for example. I LOVE driving it. It handles extremely well and the engine is totally reliable, but the radio keeps breaking, the ashtrays have fallen out and the handle on the glovebox broke off. It has had 5 recalls, four of which were for little plastic bits, and if you don't use the best synthetic oil and best filters, changing the oil meticulously every 3,000mi, it will grind to a halt. BMW is also notorious for electrical problems and being overly complicated. Tune, maker of all bicycle things beautiful in metal and carbon, has mind blowingly awesome stuff, (provided you sell enough organs to afford it) but it's all wonderfully fiddly too, as only an engineer can appreciate...

Back to the brakes (note: this is relevant to most open system disc brakes, not just Magura). Under normal conditions, the seal around the piston in the caliper is designed to flex a precise amount when you squeeze the brakes (see pic). When you release the brakes, the seal flexes back, leaving the pads a precise distance from the rotor. As your pads wear, the piston slides through the seals because it has to travel farther than they can flex, readjusting the pads every time you brake.

As the pads wear down and the piston moves outward, more and more fluid is pulled out of the reservoir to fill the extra space. This would be all well and good except that to keep air out of the system, the reservoir is sealed with a flexible membrane (see photo). When fluid is pulled out of the reservoir, the membrane is pulled inward. As it tries to spring back to its original shape, it pulls back on the fluid, trying to bring it back into the reservoir. Most of the time there's no problem because the piston is seated firmly enough to keep the membrane from pulling fluid, but when the pads get very worn and the reservoir is nearly sucked dry, I have found there is enough suction to pull the piston back.

My assessment of the problem, using ESP since I haven't seen your bike, is that you drag the back brake a fair bit (most of us do), and the pads are quite worn, resulting in the phenomenon above. The solution is to top off the reservoir as described in the third trick in the last post including step 5.

Edit: also make sure you're not leaking fluid (check to see if it's wet inside your lever). The Marta SL had a serious leaking problem for a while. If you have a leak, call magura (it's the one in Olney, Il) and they'll make it right.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Less air, more braking

Shimano, Magura and Tektro, three popular XC brake manufacturers, have been using mineral oil as a hydraulic fluid for a number of years now. Though mineral oil is durable, non-toxic, and won't strip the paint off your frame it lacks one very convenient feature of DOT brake fluid (used by Avid, Hayes, Formula, and Hope). DOT brake fluid has the unique property that air dissolves in it under pressure. This limits the possibility for total failure due to air leaks in the system, and generally keeps your brakes feeling firm. Because mineral oil does not absorb air, any air that leaks into the brake line takes up space, and because it is easily compressed, it gives your brakes a mushy feel, maybe even to the point where you have almost no braking at all. This happened to me last week. It was lame.

Fortunately, there are some simple things that can be done to prevent and/or repair such failures in mineral-oil brakes. (note: this only applies to open system brakes. If your brake doesn't have an oil reservoir, it's not an open system)

First trick...

You can avoid getting air in your brake lines most of the time by making sure that your brake levers are compressed any time the bike gets turned such that the calipers or lines are above the reservoir. Compressing the levers isolates the reservoir from the rest of the brake system, so if there's any air in there, it can't get into the lines. I didn't to this last week when I turned my bike over to fix a flat, hence my problem.

Second trick...

If you DO get some air in the lines, You don't usually have to rebleed your brakes, you need only a pair of rubber bands and some of patience:
  1. Prop up your bike such that all of the brake lines have a continuously ascending path from the caliper to the lever. Depending on your hose routing, you may or may not have to lift the front of the bike higher than the back to make this work out.
  2. Pump up the brakes by repeatedly compressing the lever as far as it will go, releasing fully in between, until the brake pads are firmly against the rotor when the lever is compressed, then hold it in the compressed position with a rubber band.
  3. Use the handle of a screwdriver or similarly benign object to tap along the length of a brake line, starting at the caliper. This helps to free air bubbles so that they'll start floating to the top.
  4. Wait. I usually just let the bike sit overnight.
  5. Remove the rubber band, release the lever, and push the brake pads all the way out by pressing the rotor from side to side. If you have a workstand, you can take the wheels off and use a screwdriver to push the pads out.
  6. Now you have all the air in the reservoir. If you're lazy, or don't have more oil, you can just leave it there (SERIOUSLY NOT RECOMMENDED), but then you have to be especially careful about not letting it back into the lines (see first trick). What you really should do is move on to the next trick.
Third trick...

If you know you have air in your reservoir, or if your pads are really worn and aren't quite self-adjusting the way they should, (want to know why this happens? Email us and we'll explain. [Edit: someone did email me, and I explained here.] ) you can simply top off your reservoir with fluid as follows:
  1. Prop up your bike against a wall or in your workstand and adjust the lever so the reservoir cap is level with the floor.
  2. Push the pads all the way out
  3. Remove the cap and the membrane,
  4. If you're just trying to remove air from the reservoir, skip to 6.
  5. Making sure there is sufficient fluid in the reservoir, squeeze and release the brake lever to adjust the pads against the rotor.
  6. Fill the reservoir with fluid to the top
  7. Making sure there are no air bubbles present, replace the membrane and the cap. Use a rag to catch the fluid that spills out. Once you place the cap on the reservoir, keep pressure on it until you screw it down so air cannot enter.
Now you're air free, though it's worth mentioning, if you do step 5 above there will be too much fluid in the system when you replace your pads and they'll rub. If this occurs, find the bleed screw on the caliper and while pushing out the pads with a screwdriver, loosen the bleed screw until fluid can seep out. Push the pads as far out as they will go, and while maintaining positive pressure on the pads with the screwdriver (you don't want air getting sucked back in), tighten the bleed screw again.

...and that's one less trip to the bike shop.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Duffle is Life.

I stopped by the residence of Sara Bresnick-Zocci this morning, courtesy of her newest protege' who had some business to take care of there, and Sara was telling us in a totally intense but playful, hand-wavy sort of way about the drama of her race duffle at BC Bike Race (which she won, BTW). For those of you who aren't familiar with the processes and procedures of the point-to-point, multi-day stage race, you get a duffle bag when you arrive. Everything you need for seven days of racing goes in the duffle, anything that doesn't fit stays at the start. No Exceptions. Anyway, so Sara is going on to tell us how she shows up on registration day, gets the duffle and has the instant reaction of, "Are you KIDDING?", combined with a visceral reaction of panic, as there was no conceivable way for her to fit everything she thought was "essential" in the bag. (read it in her words on her blog) It was a huge drama, she had to give some stuff to this person, repack that thing, and all in all had a terrible time for a number of hours as a result of this little black bag.

From my own experience in stage-racing, this is the typical first-timer phenomenon, (On my first TransRockies, my teammate totally made friends with a guy driving an RV who humped a bagful of our crap halfway across BC.) but the bag isn't the problem, it's a symptom. First timers want to make sure they do everything exactly right. They have a different drink mix for before, during, after and thinking about each day's race, and they have a fresh pair of camp socks for every day. The same is true for training. You've got your P4 workout, and your E2, and M1, and UGH! By your 5th stage-race you've got a couple water bottles, maybe enough kits to get you through the week, and you didn't bother with camp socks because every minute you're not riding you're planning to be asleep.

The duffle bag is a great metaphor for an endurance racer's life. There's only so much that fits inside of it, no matter what you do. The more tightly packed with different things it is the more time you have to spend micro-managing the stuff, and the less time you get to spend doing something else, like say, sleeping. If you pack the bag with the minimum set of items, maximize interchangeability and enforce a little bit of order, then you can almost always reach into the bag and pull out exactly what you want on the first try without wasting any time on management. Experience helps you slowly whittle down your bag of stuff to what's important, leaving you unburdened by extra baggage or complication.

Applied to the real world this boils down to simplify, simplify, simplify. Chris Eatough, the undisputed god of endurance racing, has one element to his training plan: ride mountain bike. (To be fair he also does "cross-training" that consists of pushups and core exercises.) He doesn't even ride his road bike any more, just takes the mountain bike out on the street. Don't over-complicate your training. Don't over-complicate your life. Build yourself a routine and find a steady rhythm. If your girlfriend, all your friends and your boss are cyclists all of this simplicity and routine stuff should be a cinch--as long as you don't spend too much time with Friel--but if you're not the luckiest person on earth remember balance. When your cycling creates problems in your life it also creates problems in your cycling, and problems are the antithesis of simplicity.

This weekend Eric and I should be working out our training plans for the winter. We'll be sure to let you in on what we discuss and what we come up with.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Republicans/Democrats Won't Kill You (in traffic)

I came across a set of articles today on The Slate talking about how our society is segregating politically, socially and ideologically. On article in particular entitled "The Stuff in Your Bedroom Signals How You Vote" posits the following:
"ideological differences between left and right are partially rooted in basic personality dispositions." In particular, Gosling and his co-authors hypothesized that liberals and conservatives differed in two major "personality dimensions." Liberals are more likely to be open to experiences. Conservatives would score higher on measures of conscientiousness. Liberals would be more motivated by curiosity, creativity, and diversity of experiences. Conservatives would value following the rules, self-control, and order.
Naturally I got to wondering whether it's liberals or conservatives who are buying all the mountain bikes and going on these crazy stage-racing adventures. To my chagrin, the data I needed to actually figure this out costs $300, and since I spend all my money on bikes, that data isn't going to get onto my desktop any time soon.

I did, however, get my hands on some traffic safety data, cycling participation data, federal spending data and some polling data. After spending way too much time compiling all of this information I can conclude with confidence that the probability you will be fatally injured in a cycling accident does not depend on the political leanings, population density or the amount of money the federal government has historically spent per capita on cycling improvements and programs in your state. From this data, it seems like it doesn't depend on anything but random chance (which I find hard to believe), though I don't have any data for people being idiots in traffic, riding at night with no lights or being triathletes, which I would guess all correlate with decreased lifespan. Wearing a helmet still significantly improves your likelihood of survival, though, as far as I can tell.

Don't forget to vote tomorrow. (more racing-related content coming soon)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fill it and Forget it

Everybody knows that a tire inflated with CO2 loses pressure over time a lot faster than one inflated with regular air, (If you don't know this, try inflating two tires to identical pressures, one with air and one with CO2, then check the pressure in about 3 days. The results will be unambiguous) but as I was re-inflating the tire I zapped with CO2 on the trail yesterday I got to wondering about why.

With the depth of my chemistry experience limited to the three classes I took in college (which, granted, is probably a whole lot more than the average person), my natural intuition is that CO2 would leak more slowly than air (78% nitrogen). I mean it's bigger, right? And bigger things have a harder time fitting through little holes [insert fat-kid or other similarly off-color joke here]. CO2, the ostensibly bigger one, has a molecular mass of 44 while Nitrogen (N2) has a molecular mass of only about 28. Pretty clear cut, right?


Even if my brain had survived the oxygen deprivation from the hundreds of zone4 hill sprints and near-blackout race finishes I've been involved in since college and I remembered that that the molecular mass of an atom often has little bearing on its size (in fact, O, N and C are all within about 15% of each other), CO2 still has THREE atoms in it while nitrogen only has TWO. Last time I graduated kindergarten THREE was bigger than TWO, but no longer!

It turns out that one of the major limiting factors for how fast (or if) a molecule goes through a permeable membrane like your tire is the molecule's "kinetic diameter". Simply defined, the kinetic diameter is the smallest limiting dimension of the molecule. For example, if you have a box with dimensions 12"x6"x"4", the kinetic diameter would be 4". If we look and N2 vs. CO2, both have atoms that are about the same size on their own, and both are linear in configuration. If we believe the kinetic diameter argument, the the fact that the two compounds have different numbers of atoms is of lesser importance, as the longest dimension of the molecule isn't what we should be focusing on. Instead one needs to look at the cross section, where the big clouds of electrons between atoms (in the bonds) are the limiting dimension. You may have seen those nifty little diagrams of pi and sigma bods in chemistry class like this one,

but in reality the electron clouds make big orbs around the nuclei that are not nearly as precisely shaped as the diagram above. Smart people have figured out how to model these orbs in "electron charge density" diagrams.

This is CO2

and this is N2

where the smaller spheres in the middle are the nuclei and the larger orbs are the electron clouds. I was unable to find numbers for the diameters of these clouds, but if one assumes these two drawings are to scale and that the nuclei are about the same size for the two molecules (because they are), then you would expect the N2 molecule to be much larger.

The polarity and overall charge of a molecule also affects permeability, but as these molecules are both symmetric and uncharged one would expect them to behave similarly with respect to those properties.

When thinking about a tire, the partial pressures of the gases matter to the extent that if you have a tire filled only with CO2 other gases from the air will actually want to leak into the tire (wild, right?) because each individual gas wants to equalize its own partial pressure across the membrane, but because the CO2 can get out much faster than other stuff can get in, you have a net loss of gas in the tire even with this factor included.

Some quantitative analysis for permeability in silicone rubber (didn't find a good comparison for butyl) can be found here. For Silicone rubber, the permeability of CO2 was about 11.5x that of N2, which agrees with the empirical evidence that your CO2 filled tire goes flat really fast.

Anyway, there's now a super-secret new product called StayFill that is supposed to have gas molecules so big that you only have to fill your tires once a year. Here's a MTBAction article about it. The stuff is 8.99 for a 25g cartridge, and my first reaction is $18/year to not have to pump up my tires?! But then, thinking about my commuter bike on which I get a flat maybe once every couple years, maybe that's almost worth it...

...and I'm spent.

Image credits:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

First Blood!

If there is a perfect day to start a 9 month saga of preparation for [insert race here], it was today. Eric and I took the weekend off from 'cross racing to focus ourselves and get pointed in the right direction (up) before winter. Today's episode of that process went as follows:

1) Make Eric's bike work
2) Ride mountain bikes until Eric is tired
3) Make Eric's bike work (again), and try to stop the bleeding...

If the image does not show, right click and select 'show image'.Eric's bike is a 2003 Yeti Kokopelli, which is nearly identical to the current ASR Alloy if you pulled off the 100mm fork and replaced it with an 80, then dropped about a pound of lead shot down the seat tube. (It's actually a lot more subtle than that, but I have a whole article brewing about the evolution of MTB geometry, and I'm not going to spoil it on the 5th post.) The bike is pretty thrashed in an, "I'm not really broken but nobody has loved me in a very long time and it shows" sort of way. In keeping with history, we only took care of the most pressing problem, a ground-to-death granny ring, before we went out to play.

If the image does not show, right click and select 'show image'.After spending far too long wrenching on this crankset, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank TruVativ for thinking an aluminum granny gear on a mountain bike was a good gram saving solution. The chain didn't only sharkify the teeth on the ring, it honed them down on all four sides, leaving a chain-shaped wavy groove all the way around (see first pic). Light weight on a budget--until you're buying replacement rings in lots of a dozen. Fortunately, we were able to go down to the LBS (shout out to Cat at ACE Wheelworks) and hooked up a shiny new steel replacement (Shimano Deore). Which one of these is not like the others? (above-right)

If the image does not show, right click and select 'show image'.At last we got everything sorted and off we went with our buddy Seth in tow. As it was a Saturday afternoon, and 61 degrees in November to boot, we decided we'd ride a little something called the "Triple Distilled"If the image does not show, right click and select 'show image'. loop, which, in a nutshell, is a 2 hr ride compacting all the technical sections from the three main loops that we ride at our local park into one spectacularly fun time. Eric was on his game, for a roadie, sessioning some small drops and big steps with ease. Seth was throwing it all out on the table as well, with somewhat more mixed results, but they both nailed this guy (left + right), which points pretty much straight down and has a nice a 60 degree turn at the bottom between two trees.

If the image does not show, right click and select 'show image'.After 2+ hours of grinding through the woods, one flat and no permanent injuries, we popped back out into civilization. On the way home we decided to practice a little balance with this pretty awesome 100' long curb (left). To look at it you'd think it would be no trouble at all, I mean it's almost three tire widths across, smooth, and perfectly straight. But it takes some pretty intense concentration to keep from checking your balance more than a tire-width in either direction for a hundred feet. Eric did a thorough job of proving the point that it was not, indeed, easy by sending his bike off one side of the curb and his person off of the other, managing to bend the bejeezus out of his brake rotor and peeling skin off of three fingers, which brings us to the subject of today's post:

If the image does not show, right click and select 'show image'.

If the image does not show, right click and select 'show image'.
...and we live to ride again.