Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Bryan Park Training Series -- I quit a race

Only happened once before, 2.5 years ago in a gravel race for which I was woefully unprepared and on the wrong equipment. Maybe there are some parallels to last night.

On that day in early 2016, I didn't have a proper gravel bike at all. Just a road bike with disc wheels and clearance for CX tires. I made it 1 lap (granted, that lap was 25 miles long), flatted, crashed, and decided that discretion was the better part of valor. Within 15 minutes of leaving the park, the sky opened up and the temperature dropped almost 30 degrees. I felt vindicated in my decision to abandon. But I've never forgotten it.

Last night I had a flurry of racer's excuses at my side: my openers routine was awful, I'd partied too hard over the weekend, I rode too hard (or even at all) yesterday morning, I was hungry, I was on the B bike (chance of rain, and the A bike does not like water). Ultimately my goal shifted from "do well" to "survive", mixed with a dash of hope for a slightly lower pace than the opening week's 26.4 mph.

And honestly, as the race started, I felt pretty good. There was a decent ebb & flow: I could move up to the top 10 or back to the rear with relative ease, which was a first for me in an A race. At the halfway point, I didn't feel like I was at death's door. But when the cracks start to form, the collapse swift and thorough.

At 6 to go (of 16 laps), I was hurting and moving backward quickly. When the final prime bell rang, I noticed that nobody was really moving forward, so I decided to just go for it and call it a day. I jumped up the outside line after the hairpin and had great pace to get to the front. One guy had run off but only had about 8 lengths on the leaders, who were looking over their shoulders for the counter-attack. But because of their searching, I pulled up and camped 4th wheel, figuring they'd remount the chase for the one guy. Entering the final turn, they did, but it was too late, and we rolled on power fruitlessly, the 4 of us running 3 or 4 lengths apart in front of a rested peloton. When they caught us, I sank like a stone and just barely managed to hook on to the rear.

After a lap of gasping for breath, I noticed one of the local favorites was sitting there with me, and he's not one to let a race go unchallenged, so when he moved up, I used up everything I had to follow him. Made it all the way to the top 10 again, but I couldn't stay there, and when the board said 2 laps left, I was right back at the back again. I finished the next lap and, realizing I wouldn't be contesting the sprint at all, I ran out of give-a-damn and decided to abandon with 1 to go.

At the time the decision seemed highly logical: I was off the pace and would very likely be dropped in the final lap--there's no merit racing hard for 25th in a training race; I needed to stay focused on this coming weekend's 2 back-to-back BAR races; and I'd managed to meet my primary goal for the day, to survive the 26.6 mph pace (yup, faster than the first week!). But in the cold light of day, the only fact that stands out is: I quit a race.

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.