Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wintergreen Mk. II

I did a little better this year in the state hill-climb championship event. It helped that all my data-bits were working correctly, though the heart-rate monitor was acting a bit dicey in the weeks leading up to the event.

Last year I made it up the first half of the climb on power data only, and I now know my power meter was mis-calibrated at that time. That mis-calibration resulted in me blowing up at the mid-way point and having to take 3 minutes trying not to puke over the side of the bike.

This year I managed to PR every single segment, stay on the bike, and complete the event 5:59 faster, taking 2nd in the Men 40 - 44 and 3rd in Masters 35+.

There are, I believe, two other significant factors that played into that improvement: super lightweight climbing wheels (I picked up a set of Giant SLR0's back in October, and they are a tubeless dream at ~1300g) and a willingness to give up gears. One of my greatest climbing weaknesses is a determination to keep at least one gear off the bottom of the cassette, just in case the climb gets REALLY nasty, or if I need to rest a bit. I convinced myself this year to abandon that strategy and just use the gears that let me turn the pedals. With my deepest gear being a 39/28, that's still not a very friendly combination, but it's a hell of a lot friendlier than forcing myself to grind out 39/25.

My cadence still fell well into the 50's for a significant portion of the ride, and my heart glued itself to the low 180's, but I settled into a rhythm (of hate and regret) and just rode it out. And honestly, though it hurt to grind that slowly, the climb wasn't that bad until the 3 back-to-back kickers at the top.

Next year I'll change the crankset for one with smaller rings. I think there might be more time up there, but I won't find it turning a standard chainring.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Mountain bikes are dumb, and the numbers prove it

There are some fascinating things you can do with meticulous records-keeping. One of them is driving yourself crazy looking at numbers, or realizing exactly where your retirement is going. But those aren't fun things.

When I started building the race car waaaay back in '06, I kept a spreadsheet of every cost, every part, every source, everything pertaining to how I put that car together. It revealed absolutely staggering costs over time, and all of my racing buddies thought I was crazy to ever look at that kind of data. Ultimately that sheet was a big part in my decision to walk away from the sport, even as it taught me how to maximize resource-utilization and focus spending on key areas.

But I do like analytics, so when I bought my race bike in 2015, I started a new spreadsheet. This one logs every component on every bike, serial numbers, costs, sources, dates installed (to roughly calculate service intervals), services performed, has 3 whole sections for gearing calculations (one for road, one for mountain, and one for maximizing junior gearing options), and enables me to keep track of spare parts.

Of course, that spreadsheet also reveals a fairly absurd amount of moneys spent over the past 3 years, but it also enabled me to discover some rather fascinating metrics. Yesterday I jumped on Strava and pulled total mileage for every bike, then updated my Veloviewer data to get total time for every bike, then enter those data against total costs invested in each bike, to reveal a cost per mile and cost per hour for each.

Some things popped immediately. For one, road bikes, no matter the cost or category, deliver lower cost across both metrics than CX or mountain bikes. Conversely, the mountain bikes cost a literal order of magnitude more across both time and distance metrics.

The biggest surprise was that Alastair's road bike has hands-down the lowest TCO of anything in our fleet, at $.41 per mile and $5.98 per hour. His mountain bike, though? $8.47 per mile and $60.26 per hour. And those numbers represent an aggregate of both his time and my time on that bike. And we bought it USED. With no major upgrades and just a 3x9 to 1x10 conversion, that's a terrible return on investment. It will come down with use, but there's the rub: he's not terribly interested in it, so those numbers aren't likely to go down any time soon.

Overall, the road bikes generally cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $.50 / mile and ~$9 / hour. The 'cross bikes, weirdly, have almost identical numbers for both, even though I've used mine on big gravel grinders: about $2.20 / mile and $26 / hour. The mountain bikes, as mentioned, incur outrageous cost. Mine runs $5.57 / mile and $47.47 / hour.

Another interesting element to the cost of mountain biking is that, for the most part, there are secondary costs involved in even starting the ride. I cannot, for instance, easily ride the mountain bike from my house or office to any decent trail system. That means taking the truck, and its 16 mpg mid-grade fuel requirements, along with any ancillary parking costs, plus time of travel, which on the road bikes is just part of the ride. To put that into perspective, a 3-hour ride at Pocahontas State Park involves 2 hours of driving (~5 gallons of gas) and $6 of parking. If I take Alastair with me, that works out to:

5 x $2.89 (gas) = $14.45
$6 (parking)
3 x $47.47 (my mtb) = $142.41
3 x $60.26 (his mtb) = $180.78
-------------------------------------
Total: $343.64

That's ONE DAY of mountain bike riding, which is insane. By comparison, rolling 3 hours on road bikes from the house:

no gas, no parking
3 x $8.96 (my commuter/beater) = $26.88
3 x $5.98 (his road bike) = $17.94
-------------------------------------
Total: $44.82

For those of you playing the home game, that's a $300 difference for a day on the bikes. Now granted, the bike costs are largely sunk, but if I were doing a costing analysis prior to getting into cycling, there's no way I would run those numbers and decide to buy a mountain bike.

And the nuttiest thing of all is that I basically DIDN'T buy a mountain bike. I won a shopping spree and got my 2017 Giant Anthem 2 for about $400 NEW. Aside from my dumpster bike, it had the lowest buy-in of anything I own, but the running cost is no less absurd.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Back to Bike Racing: Carl Dolan 3/4

Carl Dolan 3/4

Too. Many. People.

I have new respect for the pro peloton. Either that or I just raced in the worst roller-derby-on-bikes ever. 98 riders were pre-registered, and at least 87 started. That's a lot of people for an amateur event with mixed-caliber riders, and it's forcing me to consider changing my focus to Masters races, where everybody realizes the critical importance of getting to work on Monday after the race.

It was fast at 26.2 mph average over 13 2-mile laps. The layout is glorious, with no real turns and enough space that centerline shouldn't really matter. The only real "elements" on the course are a downhill wide open turn that can easily be handled at 30 mph, and a 3/10 mile long 5% grade that levels out 300m before the finish. Oh and a bunch of choppy pavement marked with a ton of spraypaint.

That pavement ate some wheels. Almost every lap we were treated to the sound of crunching carbon & pinging spokes, but I only saw one flat during the race.

But the real issue was the group itself. A mass of riders that large produces enough draft that anybody could sit in all race long. And sitting in meant rolling around somewhere between 60th and 80th, making it hard to move around in the clump, and really hard to move forward significantly when the group stretched out. Basically the race was setting up very similarly to RIR last year, and I had no interest in repeating my exit from that one.

Lap by lap I worked my way to the outside and forward, and by the end of the 5th lap I was in the lead. For 3 laps I stayed in the top 5, working with the District Taco and NCVC guys to hold a decent pace. I figured if an attack were going to happen, it would be one of those teams at about the halfway point. But when I backed off just a hair to see if they would go, they did too. Nobody wanted to make anything happen, and I needed to cool my heart down a bit, so I rolled back into the group.

Though it worked from an energy-management perspective (heart-rate dropped from 180 to 155 almost instantly), I'd forgotten how sketchy the group was. I spent 2 laps pinned to the inside, then slowly worked my way backward and across to the outside again.

Almost as soon as I got there, I got wrecked. Some jackass who'd been cheating the centerline rule kept making moves on my outside, trying to move up into a space that didn't exist. When we got to a physical barrier to his progress, he jumped up and slammed his ass into my bars, pushing me over onto the guy on my right. Fortunately for me and EVERYONE ELSE IN THE DAMNED PELOTON, the guy to my right was much bigger and was able to support me while I got the bike back under me. Frankly it was absolutely amazing that I didn't hit the deck and wipe out the whole group, and then it was hard on the brakes for a turn that should never require brakes.

I lost a lot of positions through that maneuver, and it took until the penultimate lap to get back near the front. As we came through start/finish and down through a really wide relaxed bend, suddenly there's a dude track-left rolling easily 10 mph slower than the group. I got around him on the left as a turn-lane opened, but about 30 seconds later I heard a big ripping crunch sound behind me. I understand about 10 riders went down. No idea if it was because of the slower rider, but I imagine it was a factor.

Coming into the final downhill turn, the group got super dense. We exited the turn and I was out of gears. 53/11 and spinning over 110rpm. HOLY CRAP FAST: 42 mph. The group was onto the hill and riders were flinging themselves at it, but I'd been told to watch carefully for guys blowing up before the ground leveled out, so I worked a steady pace up, found a line, and rolled on power. The sprint was compromised with traffic, but sure enough: dudes were moving backwards en masse.

I kept it steady @ 400W until I saw a gap, then goosed it to 560 in a seated effort to keep a clean line between 2 other riders. The guy on the right, with less than 50' to the line, jumped out of the saddle and yawed into me as I passed between them, ripping my rear derailleur apart and shredding his wheel. We both stayed up to finish right around the 25% mark of finishers, but obviously it wasn't the kind of finish either of us wanted.

Looking back at data, the 3 laps that I sat on the front were among the fastest of the race. I need to either figure out how to make a break happen (tough to do without team support) or get more aggressive about getting back to the front for the final sprint. I think I was too patient going around the back side of the course on the final lap. There seems to be a general consensus that centerline rules go out the window at the end.