Sunday, July 24, 2016

Oyster Point Criterium - Can't Outrun Heat

Yesterday was 100 degrees F. It was also sunny, humid, and had almost no breeze at all. And it was race day!

Oyster Point is on the way to the beach, and getting there means vying with beach-bound traffic for two hours...minimum. I did not leave the house in time, and my carefully-laid plans to get set up infield with chairs, spare wheels, and cold drinks fell apart when I got to the venue with only a few minutes to spare, and nowhere convenient to park. I grabbed what I could and followed another racer to registration without even enough time to get in a warmup lap.

I've been riding in the hot hot heat most of the summer. I've commuted several times (22.8 miles each way) on days over 90, and even a couple approaching 100. The past few Bryan Park crits have been around 90 degrees. And over the past month, I've averaged 150+ miles per week out in the heat. I figured I was ready. I was not ready. Because when this race started, it started with a vengeance.

I had gridded near the back, so I had my usual need to push forward, but even so, I was not prepared for the opening lap to be a 300W+ effort, nor for the second to be over 26mph. These guys were hustling.

But I found a rhythm, of sorts, and it was pretty easy to move around in the pack. Front straight was a drag race to the S/F line, then a drinking neutral zone toward the first turn. Gentle pedaling would keep you in line setting up for the 2nd turn, then a breeze was in your face on the 4-lane-wide entry to the fountain area. A run on the inside of the first left would let you pass the entire pack on the outside around the fountain, a run on the outside first left would pin you but let you make up spots coming out of the fountain area, then a hard push through right turn 3, set up and try not to wreck on the 2 manhole covers in right-turn 4, and grunt to the line. Rinse, repeat.

After a few laps, the pace settled and I took up my usual position in the bottom half of the top 10. A few breakaways tried and failed, and I actually remembered to drink water, which was getting hot inside the bottle.

The breeze in the fountain complex wasn't a problem if you weren't on the peg, but the air was somehow exponentially more stagnant and heat-soaked on the front straight. I got cycled forward and fought to stay out of the wind for a couple of laps before finally taking my turn at the front. It was poorly timed, as a turn out front just past the fountain would have had no wind penalty, but I took my lead halfway down the front straight and ended up pulling into the wind after two turns.

I paced the group down to just under 22mph, but they would not pass until I sat up, and then I was way back in the group. Mistake. Lesson: figure out the wind and take the pull with the least wind penalty, even if that means getting to the front a turn early, then give up the lead just BEFORE the turn pointing windward.

Fans had brought bells, making it impossible to differentiate a prime lap, so I just tried to work back up to about 10th and hang on. No crazy breaks for me in the heat. I was grateful for the effort when I heard that awful familiar sound of crunching carbon behind me in turn 1. No idea how many riders went down, but Nathan lost the peloton and retired after another lap.

Matt had cycled ahead of me, and as the laps wound down he took a turn on the point. Waaaaay too long a turn, too. I think he was out there for a good 2+ laps. I shouted for him to drop back, but he was in the zone and rode it until he had nothing left.

And that's about when Fischer Maris jumped and rode off into the sunset, leaving the rest of us with two laps to fight over 2nd place.

I knew when I saw "2" on the lapboard that I was in trouble. The effort to hold the group was becoming overwhelming, and my water was undrinkably hot. I managed to hold position until the bell, but let myself slide a bit through the running order into the fountain complex in the hope of pulling an outside run. No such luck: the legs weren't interested in picking up positions, and everybody had really picked up the pace. Matt was dropping through the running order, too, and coming out of the last turn, he and I watched the leaders walk away.

I ended up picking off one unlucky rider with a last surge, and had I jumped just a couple of seconds sooner could have had two more, but I think Matt and I finished somewhere in the high teens. The race held an average speed of 25mph, stupid crazy fast for that kind of weather. But while I had nothing left at the end to put up a fight, I made it, which is better than I'd done at the past two BP crits. Whether it was because I stayed a little better hydrated or because I had backed down my training appropriately last week, I definitely felt more capable.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

BPTS#6 - Crunch Pop DFL

Last night was a mess.

It was supposed to be the second night of a double-header, but rain canceled the Tuesday race. I don't know if that set up nerves, confused the cycling gods, or if it just wasn't our night, but just 3 laps into our race, a guy I'd not seen before decided to battle hard for a pointless scrap of pavement on the left side of the road.

There was no break to chase, but the peloton was stretched a little longer than usual for so early in the race, and several of us were trying to close it up on the back straight.

I was charging hard up the left when he glanced over and shut me down. I had just enough room to duck around his back wheel and take the middle line, but lost all of my momentum and was setting up to protect my wheels going through the slight bend. As soon as I felt stable, I looked left to see two teammates trying the same run, and once again he pulled left, but way too late, and from only about 18" off the grass.

I heard the exclamations from the 2nd rider, then the unmistakable crunch of carbon and spokes. Matt was down. Over nothing at all, we had a rider down on the 3rd lap. I later found out that wreck took out at least 5 riders, including the series points leader.

Absolutely uninterested in locking wheels with that guy, I got off my ass and moved to the front, where Ted (RVS) recognized an opportunity to burn me up in the wind. Realizing the mistake, I fell off a bit and took up my usual post of 6th~10th wheel: close enough to see and respond to a break, but far enough back to let someone else do the work.

That plan held for only about 5 laps, when RVS tried to make a solid break on a prime lap. Fortunately, I was not the only FSR rider to jump, and one of their guys was unable to bridge, so the break failed, but it took a heavy toll on me.

Then another break, which I was content to let go until I heard "Adrian, go!" shouted from behind me. That one fell apart as quickly as it started, but constituted another wasted hard effort.

Then a couple of laps later another small break tried to form on the back straight, and I chased that down, bringing the rest of the leaders along. By this point, I was dangerously close to bonking and needed to fall back into line and focus my efforts on the final lap.

Only I didn't know what lap it was. The primes were rung late, and I'd lost count early on with the wreck. I glanced down at the Garmin, but someone had chosen that time to call me, so instead of a lap count, I got a phone number neatly displayed on the screen (fuck you, Garmin, for not making that an expiring notification--who has time to clear that in a race??).

The board said two to go, but for 4 of the last 5 races, the leaders have seen "2" when it should have said "1", and another dude I'd never seen was trying to take a flyer off the front. Failing to use all my tools (no bell!), I thought it was game on.

Phil was on the point running down into the hairpin. He started to back off halfway down the straight, but I begged him to go, which he obliged (sorry Phil!). Pulling around on to the back straight, he led me out for the first 3rd, and I jumped. I put everything I had into the jump with about 100' to the final turn. Coming through, I tried to stand to sprint, but the legs rebelled, so I sat back down and plowed out the hardest seated sprint my body would allow, and to my astonishment the howl of carbon grew more distant behind me. Surely they weren't going to let me win that easily?

When I crossed the line, I was so confident I'd won the race that it took a good second to realize the bell was ringing, and not for my amazing awesomeness.

But I'd spent everything. It was all I could do to even push the pedals. The field caught me before I even got to the hairpin, and by the time I made it back to the start/finish line, I was in absolute last place.

So now I've blown up two weeks in a row at Bryan Park. The first time was defending for my teammates, which was fun and felt contributory. This time was not fun, and likely cost Phil a shot at a good finish, too. My take-away is that I need to focus on running my own race. Two of my jumps last night were defensive, but my overall strategy was not, and it cost me.

I spent years teaching drivers the importance of ignoring what the other drivers were trying to do--that they had different goals, different horsepower, different whatever. Now it's time to instruct myself and hold myself to those lessons. I just have to figure out how to do that within the construct of a team effort.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New Uses for Old Tools

July 4th was not a good day for my poor put-upon racing bike.

With just shy of 2000 miles on it since buying the thing, I'd already replaced just about every single moving part except the crank, chain-rings, and brake calipers, but the team had decided to have a fun ride in the rain. Since I had some weird internal personal rule about both road bikes having similar mileage, and with the cheap-o Fuji well in the lead, I figured I'd put some miles on the Blue.

Oh what a mistake.

We rode just shy of 50 brisk-but-casual miles with a couple of bursty efforts near the end, all in varying levels of precipitation from "moist" to "holy crap I can't see". It was fun, and afterward I hung the bike on the wall as usual and got back to my normal life.

A few days later I pulled the bike down for a quick cleaning. The first indication that things weren't going to be great was the sloshing sound. Inside the frame. Uh oh.

I put the bike up on the stand, turned the crank, and winced: the bottom bracket had a nasty grind. Pulling the NDS crank-arm revealed a ton of grit, which I cleaned as best I could, but for the life of me I could not remove the drive-side arm. Too much crud was packed into the bearing interface. So I cleaned and cleaned and whacked with the deadblow hammer until it came free, revealing STANDING WATER inside the bottom bracket.

This is no ordinary bottom bracket, mind you. Blue chose to equip the 2011 Axino with a BB30, an odd choice for a dedicated racing bike, and a curious cost-saving measure in a bike that retailed new for about what I'd like to get in selling the race car. BB30's are not compatible with Shimano cranks, but somewhere in the bike's history it was equipped with a Dura-Ace 7900 crank. That conversion was done with a cheap adapter that leaves the bearings inboard, where they can flex and apply less optimal sideways pressure. When I first felt a grind in the bike last year, I decided to run a proper conversion bottom bracket that put the bearings outboard, stiffened up the lower end, and was directly compatible with my Shimano crankset. With those parameters in mind, and with an eye toward reducing future costs, I went with the nuclear option and got the PraxisWorks ceramic bearing BB30-conversion bracket. A $200 part that, based on online reviews and product descriptions, should have been damn near bombproof.

Only there are two problems with this particular nuclear option: it's not serviceable, and any attempts to service it render the 2-year "warranty" null and void. Why the air quotes? Because that 2-year coverage only extends to materials and craftsmanship, and as it turns out, ceramic bearings require periodic service, so screw you, consumer.

I weighed my options for resolving the bracket issue:

  • Do I spend another $200 and just vow never to ride the bike in the rain again? That's ridiculous, as sometimes rides can cover 100+ miles, and you can't control the weather.
  • Do I pull the trashed bearings and press in new ceramic ones at $80? The warranty would be gone, but the performance would not diminish.
  • Do I pull the ceramic bearings and put in cheap steel ones? They're consumables, after all, and maybe one season is all they have in them. Better to blow $30 every year than $80.
  • Or do I try to rebuild the non-serviceable bearings? Well, they're trashed anyway, and if it doesn't work, I'll still have to replace them. Sounds like a winner.
I took the bike to the team mechanic for a once-over, and he confirmed the bearings were likely trashed, told me not to hold my breath asking for warranty coverage, and wished me luck.

In the meantime, I'd also discovered that the headset was grinding again, and in spite of pulling it apart, regreasing it, and putting it back together, it was also not getting any better. Worse, the yokels who replaced the first failed headset bearings didn't add any spacers, so the fork always flexed a bit under braking (attempting to resolve this resulted in a bound-up steerer). I knew I couldn't service angular-contact bearings, but that they were going to be cheaper and easier to toss than the BB bearings, so I ordered a set of Cane Creek 41/52mm series 40 bearings. There is no flex in the fork now, and sizing the correct bearings meant no need for shims to keep from locking up the steerer. Yay!

So after taking a day to calm down, I rolled up my sleeves and tore the bottom of the bike apart. Water was everywhere and had fouled every scrap of lube and grease, so the first thing I had to do was a thorough cleaning of the inner parts of the bike, along with rotating the frame around to get all the water out.

After that, I put a big socket on the inside of the bearings and popped them both out with a hammer, then pulled off the outer faces. There was standing water INSIDE both bearings, and rotating the inner race forced even more water out.

I'd never torn down bearings so small, so it took a while to figure out how to remove the retainers and balls, but everything came apart and got as cleaned as it could be. I repacked the whole thing with Redline CV2, a fully synthetic grease I'd used to pack Miata front hubs over the years. I figure if it can stand up to the rigors of jumping on the brakes at 120mph, it can handle the occasional burst of power through a bike frame. Even so, it's probably way too thick for this application, but it's what I had.

After getting the bearings fully re-packed, the grind was almost imperceptible. There's no question that crud was etched into the inner and outer races, but given the incredible hardness of ceramic, I doubt the balls were etched, so if the repair does not hold up, I'll buy and gut a pair of steel 2437 bearings and transfer the ceramic balls.

I went out and put down a couple of test rides after getting everything patched up, and almost instantly realized the Shimano Ultegra 6800 chain was binding at the connector pin. No matter how much I've lubed and cared for that chain, it just keeps jumping on the 11 & 12 cogs. Can't have that during a race, so I ordered a KMC X11.93, which came with an unexpected (and minimal) 2g weight savings.

So now this bike is on its 3rd headset, 3rd chain, and functionally 3rd bottom bracket in just over 2000 miles. Going fast costs money, but it's always nice when it costs money that was already spent on the hobbies of yesteryear.