Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cycling fashion <em>faux pas</em></p>

When the weather is warm no one ever accuses me of being a fashionista.  That's because I am familiar with, but don't always follow, most of cycling’s fashion rules.  But when the temperature drops, my friends and I throw all those rules out the window. 

Take, for instance, these neoprene gloves; they’re only $12 in the hunting section of your local sporting goods store.


Or when it’s too warm for leg warmers on the climb up, but you’re too lazy to take them off because you’ll need them for the ride down, just roll them down to your socks and feel like it’s 1984 all over again.


Then there’s the tan wool socks with black tights look.  Extra warmth on those chilly winter days.


But if that’s not warm enough, no wind is too bitter for the plastic bag sock liner trick.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More fun down on the farm


Saturday was another day of cyclocross fun at Wheeler Farm.  The weather was sunny but cold.  I’ve been fortunate to avoid the muddy cyclocross races this year—but how long can my luck last? 

My goal for this race was to not get left alone.  Last time I fell off the back and rode most of the race alone, and was kind of bored.  I wonder how the guy who finished last felt.  This week I was determined to stick with somebody. That way, even though I stood little chance of winning, at least I would feel like I was competing for something. 

At the start I worked to latch onto a group of two and did my best to sit on their wheels.  Slowly we worked our way up to another rider, Jared, but one of our original three dropped off.  I moved around Jared and the other guy (Kevin, I think), and led the group for about a lap.  Eventually we dropped Kevin. 
Then Jared came around me and gave me a sprinting clinic.  He would open up a four or five second gap on every straight section, then I would slowly reel him in on the twisty and technical sections, only to get gapped again on the straights. 


On the last lap I caught up to him at the final run through the barriers. There were two straight, fast sections to go, and one twisty section in between.  I figured my only chance was to stick with him through the first straight section, sit on his wheel through the twists, then make my move at the start of the final straight section to the finish line. 

My plan worked exactly as I envisioned it, except when went to make my final move.  I shifted up, but my chain hesitated a split second before moving up to the big ring.  When it did, Jared and I both sprinted for the line.  I was gaining fast but I ran out of race course.  He beat me by a wheel.  If I had five more feet of track I would have passed him. 

I was tenth, and a split second out of ninth.  That’s my best finish in the A-group ever, but best of all I felt like I was actually racing. 

Thanks Jared. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thank you sir, may I have another?


While winter inversions and the air pollution that comes
with them have been hanging around Salt Lake City for over a month, winter weather still hasn’t
arrived. While part of me is longing for
some snow so I can break out the skate skis, most of me is still happy to get
out on the local singletrack.

But I’ve noticed something about riding singletrack this
late in the year; when I descend I feel like I’m getting a hundred
lashings. I’m getting whipped across the
face, my arms have red tiger stripes after every ride and my legs are covered
with ugly welts. All from the same tree
branches that have been hanging over the trail all summer.

I have a few possible explanations for this phenomenon. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to getting whipped
when the mercury drops, or maybe it’s because the center of the trails these
days are a little muddy so I’m unconsciously riding on the trail
shoulders. Then again it might be that
the branches have been whipping me all season long but now that they’ve dropped
their leaves there’s nothing to soften the blow. A final theory is that I’m riding
lower-elevation trails now, where the dominant vegetation is scrub oak and
sage, whereas I was riding the high country among the pines and aspens all
I really don’t know what it is, but it’s getting bad enough
to make me consider hanging the mountain bike up until spring. I just wish it would snow so before I do
anything so severe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wheeler cyclocross

I raced at Wheeler Farm on Saturday.  Wheeler is my favorite cyclocross venue, because I used that live in the neighborhood, and it’s where I learned to ride cyclocross. 

Who am I kidding; I still don’t know how to ride cyclocross. 

I proved that in the first lap on Saturday.  I let me right pedal hit the ground on an off-camber section.  I was thrown from the trail and somehow twisted my chain in the process.  It wasn’t so bad that I had to switch bikes or drop out, but it did affect my shifting for the rest of the race. 

The only other remarkable thing about my race was that I almost crashed right in front of the entire crowd.  I was running across some barriers when I stumbled.  My front wheel hit the first barrier and I almost tripped over my bike.  I don’t know how, but I made it over the second barrier on my feet and staggered my back to balance.  I thought I had saved it but when I got back on my bike my chain had fallen off again.  That gave me a chance to listen to the PA announcer, who had been giving the audience a play by play of it all.  It was the only recognition I got during the whole race. 

I don’t have any photos from the race, except these that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune.  You can seem me in the back left at 1:04 if you pause it and look close.  Click here to see the photos.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bad air

Last week I got an email seeking my insight from Chris, a [the only?] loyal Hooptedoodle reader.  He had just done his first ride on a single speed 29er and he wanted to know why he had to get off and walk up a few sections that he normally has no problem with.  In fact, he had set a personal record on the same trail only the week before. 

Actually, he had two questions:  First, are all those riders singing the praises of 29ers and single speeds certifiable crack pots?  And second, is he just a wuss?   I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. 

You can read his whole email here:  Download dear_chad.doc.   

The obvious answers to Chris’s questions are that no, he is not a wuss and no, single speeders and 29er riders are not wing nuts.  First of all, he changed too many variables in his experiment.  If he wanted to know how riding a 29er compares to riding a bike with small wheels [For the record, I now refer to 29 inch wheels as ‘standard size wheels’ and 26 inch wheels as ‘small wheels’], then he should have ridden a standard size bike with gears. 

And if he wanted to know how he would do on a single speed he should have ridden one with small wheels like his other mountain bike.   Note to Chris:  Ask your scientist wife to give you a lesson on experiment design. 

The next obvious answer is that there is a technique to riding single speeds, regardless of wheel size, that only comes with practice.  Resting on the go is more difficult than on a geared bike.  Line selection is more crucial because you’ve got to maintain your momentum.  And if you’ve got a rigid fork it adds to your fatigue.  With all that going against them, it’s no wonder why single speeders only do two laps at the local mountain bike races. 

Like I said, those are the obvious answers, but there is a more insidious answer that may explain why Chris had such an embarrassing ride. 

Chris set his personal record on October 22nd.  His single speed 29er experiment occurred the morning of October 31st.  Those of you in Salt Lake Valley might recall that there was a strong inversion over the valley during that week—we’ve got another strong one this week.  An inversion is a meteorological term used to describe a mass of cold air trapped beneath a mass of hot air.  It’s 'inverted' because normally the temperature drops as the altitude increases. 

In much the same way that oil and water don’t mix, the cold air trapped below doesn’t mix with the hot air above it during an inversion.   And since there is no mixing, anything people on the ground put into the air during an inversion doesn’t get diluted.  The result is elevated levels of pollution, hacking coughs, scratchy eyes, asthma attacks, and, just maybe, diminished athletic performance. 

I checked the pollution levels in Salt Lake’s air for the days Chris did his rides, and sure enough, the concentration of PM2.5 on the morning of the 31st was about twice as high on the morning of the 22nd. PM2.5 means particulate matter, basically dust, below 2.5 microns in diameter.    Particles smaller than about 1 micron are small enough to work their way deep into our lungs, where they tend to stick.  It can take a few days for our lungs to clean them out (think phlegm, or what cyclists call lung oysters).  In the meantime, any chemicals on the surface of those dust particles have had plenty of time to be adsorbed into the bloodstream.   

So the good news is that Chris is not a wuss, single speeders are not crazy, and standard size 29 inch wheels are a good thing.  The bad news is that Chris may have damaged his lungs. 

So what’s a cyclist to do?  Driving up the canyon above the inversion exacerbates the pollution problem, so that’s not a good solution.  What I suggest is a quick check of the current ambient air quality conditions on the Utah Division of Air Quality website [click on Trend Charts], where they have up-to-the-hour data for Salt Lake, Davis, Cache, Weber and Utah Counties.  In the wintertime pay attention to the graph on top, PM2.5.  In the summer, the second graph, Ozone, is the one to watch.  In both cases, the 1-hr lines are more representative of current conditions.   

When concentrations are high, you might consider turning the intensity of your workout down a notch or two.  You might also consider bicycle commuting so we won't have these problems in the future. 

Monday, November 5, 2007

Should've stayed in bed

With the season already half over, I went to my first cyclocross race of the year on Saturday.  I got my lunch handed to me. 

I lined up with a group of 17 guys in peak, mid-season form.  I hadn’t raced in two months.  They were riding the latest carbon bikes that cost thousands of dollars.  I was on the same old aluminum bike I had ridden to work just two days earlier—it had fenders on it until Friday afternoon.  I’d bet they’d had a full night’s sleep the night before.  I was out past 1AM watching Hells Belles

I was ready for the race to be over by the second lap.  Clearly I had forgotten how much ‘cross racing can hurt.  I traded positions with two guys for a little while, but I was out of gas before the race was half over.  The top three riders lapped me before I crossed the finish line in what I assumed was last place. 

Well, at least it felt like last place.  I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I looked up the results to see that I had finished in front three riders.  Please don’t spoil it by telling me they had mechanical problems.