Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Statistical Review


I had a very special year in 2012 and I knew as this year began that I would be foolish to expect as much from my cycling endeavors in 2013. By almost any measure, 2013 was less successful, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad year. If you look at two of the simplest metrics—how often I rode and how far—then 2013 was above average:

Year   Rides  Miles
2013   153    4100
2012   204    5005
2011   170    5113
2010   137    4650
2009   146    4800
2008   120    3787
2007   131    4410
2006    98    3161
2005   117    3050
2004    88    1454

I didn’t race as much in 2013. At first, that was by design: I delayed the start of my mountain biking season and then raced a limited schedule because I wanted to give cyclocross my best effort. The plan seemed to be working until Sep. 8, when I broke my collarbone. I was able to start riding again one month later, but my fitness and motivation were gone.

For the second year in a row, I rode outside in all 12 months. But I didn’t beat any of my personal records for monthly mileage. And the hours I spent on indoor workouts actually increased, partly due to colder weather and partly due to injury:

Year   Trainer  Treadmill
2013   26.5     30.0
2012   14.5     12.5

In 2013 I went snowshoeing on 6 occasions, went hiking on 4 occasions, and completed 100 upper-body strength training workouts (down from last year’s 156 because of time lost to the collarbone fracture). I went to Planet Fitness on 39 occasions this year and on 3 occasions at the end of 2012, so my membership worked out to less than $2.50 per visit. That was a good value, but the experiment is over: in 2014 I will be content with my home gym and other options.

Which bike covered the most miles in 2013? As usual, this race wasn’t even close:

Year     Diamondback     Raleigh       Trek
         Steilacoom              Competition       X-Caliber
2013     2341            1270          489
2012     2889            1462          654

I use the Trek only for mountain biking or for winter rides when I might encounter snow. I use the Raleigh only for the road. I use the Diamondback for cyclocross, for rec trails, and for the road. Considering the frequency with which I do mixed-surface rides—some combination of asphalt, gravel, dirt, turf, and boardwalk—it is no wonder that the cyclocross bike gets most of the attention.

Off the bike, 2013 was enormously successful. I was able to do a bunch of things that, taken together, I could not have imagined being able to afford when the year began:

  • Refinanced the house
  • Replaced my car
  • Repaired my wife’s car
  • Replaced the water heater
  • Replaced the kitchen range
  • Replaced the washing machine
  • Repaired the furnace
  • Replaced the lawnmower

It’s all paid in full; I didn’t go into debt for any of it. And that puts me in a very good position for 2014. There are still some home maintenance concerns—there always will be—but most of the imminent threats have been addressed. As the new cycling season begins I look forward to a few important equipment changes and a full schedule of races and other special events.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Putting A Period On 2013

Crossing the Milwaukee River today at Quaas Creek Park ...
In West Bend, today was our first 40-degree day since we reached 50 degrees back on Dec. 4. We have spent almost all of December below freezing and tomorrow we will be there again as high winds from the northwest usher in a few days of below-zero lows and way below-zero wind chill. I went out on my mountain bike at the warmest part of the afternoon—43 degrees—and enjoyed a 19-mile ride around town to reach 4,100 miles for the year. Even the quietest residential streets were in good shape, but most of the trail system is covered with several inches of snow. I attempted a couple of trail sections, but the 29er just sank.

I might go snowshoeing early tomorrow before the temperatures fall into the single digits. On Thursday I went snowshoeing at Pleasant Valley Park to pack the fresh powder for the fatbike riders. (Those guys might have had a chance on the trails that defeated me this afternoon.) On Friday I went snowshoeing at Sandy Knoll County Park. Today’s ride took me past Lac Lawrann Conservancy, where volunteers were busy handing out loaner snowshoes to a big crowd of families. It’s a great way to try snowshoeing for free before investing in your own equipment … or an opportunity for someone like me to share the experience with someone who doesn’t have his/her own snowshoes. LLC will offer free snowshoeing a few times this winter when conditions are right and when volunteers are available to administer the program. And because those factors are unpredictable, these events can pop up with little warning. LLC didn’t announce today’s event until Thursday, and still more than 100 people turned out! Follow LLC on Facebook and/or Twitter to be notified.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Presenting The 2014 Cheesehead Roubaix


Four months from today you will be glad you circled April 27, 2014 on your calendar. The 5th Annual Cheesehead Roubaix is going to be a great time with a great group of people. We will follow the same challenging route, departing Fireman's Park in Newburg at 9 a.m.

The cobbled classics of the professional racing season are the inspiration for Cheesehead Roubaix. My event is a tough 63-mile ride. It’s not a race, but you will feel the spirit of Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, and Gent-Wevelgem as you test your fitness against biting headwinds, sharp little hills and more than 10 miles of dirt and gravel. Moroder Photography will be there again to capture all the action!

Cheesehead Roubaix now has its own website from which you can download the cuesheet and map. There’s also a data file for Garmin GPS devices. As always, Cheesehead Roubaix is free of charge and registration is not required. But if you plan to attend please let me know on the Facebook event page, via email, or by leaving a comment below. The awesome staff from Belgianwerkx again will provide goodies at the mid-ride rest stop, and by letting us know that you’re coming you will help us to ensure there’s enough food and drink for everyone.

Aside from the rest stop, there will be no support along the route. Cheesehead Roubaix runs on open public roads that are, by design, at little bit out of the way. You should be a self-sufficient cyclist with enough food, water, fitness and mechanical skill to get yourself from start to finish. I look forward to seeing you in Newburg on April 27 … twice!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Erik's


This afternoon I visited Erik’s on its first day of business in downtown Grafton. The new shop occupies the space that until earlier this year housed Grafton Ski & Cyclery. The Minnesota-based chain now has six Wisconsin locations. Grafton's store is really nice looking, though not all of the remodeling is finished. And it’s a little snowboard heavy at the moment; I’m sure I will like it better once warm weather returns and the cycling stuff gets displayed even more prominently. It’s mostly Specialized with a little bit of Raleigh.

From Erik’s it takes just a few minutes to reach the new mountain bike trails at Pleasant Valley Park. That was my next stop today, just to see if anyone was around. The parking lot was empty and I assume no one was on the trails. With several inches of snow in the forecast for tomorrow, and with a week of vacation ahead, I might return to Pleasant Valley Park in the next few days for my first snowshoe outing since March 2. The fatbike crowd is grateful whenever snowshoers pack down fresh snow, and I will be happy to help if I can. I am definitely not going to ride outside anytime soon. At Erik’s I spent a couple of minutes looking at a Surly Pugsley, but only out of curiosity and without even the smallest twinge of desire.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Moving Around


Visiting all 50 states is a “bucket list” project for a lot of people. I have visited the 41 states you see in blue on the map above. I may or may not visit the remaining 9; completing the list isn’t a priority for me. And to whatever extent reaching 41 was an achievement, it was mostly my parents’ achievement. I have not been to any state as an adult that I did not first visit as a kid.

A generation ago, having children encouraged my parents to travel more than they might have otherwise. For my wife and me, having children has had the opposite effect. Our only trip west of the Mississippi River was in 1999 when our son was just 1 year old. Our daughter was born in 2000 and, well, here’s what things have looked like since:


Business trips to Florida, Georgia and Tennessee have added a little southern flavor to the map. Without them, my out-of-state adventures would have been confined to the I-70 and I-80 corridors that connect me to my native Pennsylvania like umbilicals. The occasional dash down I-95 to visit Washington DC is an add-on to a trip whose main purpose is to reunite with family in Philadelphia.

Beginning in 2014, I would like to use some of my vacation time to explore relocation possibilities. I don’t expect to move away from Wisconsin earlier than 2019, but I do expect to move someday. My “must haves” for a new community include significantly warmer weather, a stable local economy, access to quality healthcare, and abundant cycling opportunities. I assume that I will be a cyclist for many more years. That assumption drives my desire for better weather, but it also adds a dimension to my search that isn’t important to the rest of the family. With that in mind, I might be traveling solo to some of the locations in which I am interested. If I find them bike-worthy, then they may merit further consideration!

Mid-sized cities with major universities are emerging as some of the most attractive options. I’m talking about places like Fayetteville AR, Columbia MO, Knoxville TN, and my current infatuation, Lexington KY. I have been touring houses on Realtor.com and taking virtual bike rides with the Street View function of Google Maps, but I have no real-world experience with any of these places.

The things that make a city fun to visit are not necessarily important to daily life for the year-round residents. I want to experience my relocation possibilities like a local. I’m sure I can find a nice house in a nice neighborhood almost anywhere, but can I find a place surrounded by 750 square miles of good cycling country? That’s roughly the size of my current range, which includes most of Washington County, most of Ozaukee, and parts of Fond du Lac and Sheboygan.

With just 5 years to go before my earliest feasible relocation date, I need to get busy. There are more possibilities on my list than those I mentioned above, and a good goal for 2014 would be to narrow the list rather than to expand it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Estranged

The idea of cyclocross appeals to me, but the reality is far from a perfect fit.
As   the Cat 4 Masters race began this morning at the state cyclocross championships in Milwaukee, the wind chill was -12. Far from being able to rally myself to compete, I did not even go to Dretzka Park to spectate.

I love cyclocross, but not unconditionally. My collarbone fracture was just one of the factors that kept me out of the action this year. I was on the bike again by Oct. 8, in time for the Grafton race and everything thereafter. So, why didn’t I come back? What made me feel like a stranger to the cyclocross world this fall? Here are the other factors:

  • The weather. I want warm and dry conditions. This season had several cold, wet races. For some people, that’s “real” cyclocross. I understand why they like it, but it’s not for me.
  • Series points. In my category, there weren’t any. This was a departure from previous seasons, a “scorched earth” policy by the WCA to weed out sandbaggers by removing what it saw as an incentive for them to remain in Category 4. The better solution would have been to compel upgrades in the few cases where it was needed. With no series points on the line, the only race that really mattered was the state championship.
  • Media changes. As I fan of professional cyclocross, I depend on streaming video from a handful of websites to watch races from across Europe and the United States. This season the European feeds have suffered from more than the usual number of technical problems, and coverage of the top American races is now available only by subscription. I chose not to pay for races that I used to watch for free … races that aren’t even part of a series anymore, now that the USGP is dead. Even “Behind the Barriers” has lost much of its charm.

So, I still have never done a race later than Nov. 5 and I should stop lying to myself that next season will be different. I expect to return to cyclocross racing next year, and to mountain bike racing, but I think my main focus will be on the road. I am not prepared to share all my plans—the ABR, WCA and Wisport dates haven’t even been published—but already there are five time trials on my 2014 calendar. Add a couple of road races and it should be an interesting year, one in which I will again be a jack of all trades but a master of none.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

There’s No Place Like Home Gym

Tin Man, I feel you.
This morning I went to Froedtert Hospital for another pair of X-rays and a consultation with my orthopedic specialist. Make that a final consultation: the doctor is happy with my recovery and I shouldn’t need any more medical attention for the collarbone fracture I suffered back on Sep. 8.

My doctor gave me the OK to resume upper body strength training, so tonight I returned to the home gym for my first weightlifting workout since Sep. 6. I began, as usual, with a set of pushups to awaken the muscles gently. Wow. I could feel the effects of my long layoff immediately. I moved on to other exercises, using much lighter dumbbells than normal. Tonight was all about knocking off a little rust and rediscovering the discipline of the movements. If you can’t handle the weight with proper form, then the weight is too heavy. Moving today through two sets of six different exercises, what once was very routine had become much more deliberate. But I have been here before and I know that I will need a few more sessions like tonight’s before I can add any real weight.

After breaking my collarbone for the first time back in August 2008, I returned to the home gym with a new emphasis on exercises for the shoulders. I got back all of my original strength and more. From that point I continued to work the shoulders hard, and I think such dedication contributed to the relative ease with which I endured my most recent injury. Consistency is the key and I have both time and motivation. It’s a long road but the first step is now behind me.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Training (Just A Little)

Regner Park on Saturday.
I rode outside yesterday and again today, making this my first two-ride weekend since Nov. 2-3. The weather has been cold and I have been less than properly motivated. Statistically, there isn’t much to say about this weekend’s rides. In both speed and distance they were completely ordinary for this time of year. Saturday’s ride was remarkable only in that it pushed me past 500 miles post-injury. In the immediate aftermath of my collarbone fracture, I had good reason to believe that I was done riding for the year. And today’s ride was remarkable only because it occurred in December, so I now can say that I have ridden outside every month for the past two years.

The last month in which I didn’t record any outdoor miles was January 2011. In recent years I have made an uneasy peace with winter riding, and working from home creates opportunities that simply didn’t exist when I was a commuter. There may even be a couple of opportunities for lunch hour rides this week. But not on Tuesday: that’s when I will have another set of X-rays on my shoulder to see how the collarbone is healing. Hopefully it will be the last such visit to the hospital. And I really hope the doctor clears me for weightlifting, something I have avoided since my crash. Usually I am several weeks into a new off-season conditioning routine by December 1.

I have almost completely abandoned the idea of competing in the state cyclocross championships on Saturday the 7th. My fitness is not where it was at the beginning of September and the weather forecast is extremely unfavorable. With 15 degrees as the afternoon high, what will the temperature be at 9 a.m. for the Cat 4 Masters race? Cold air is such a reliable trigger for my asthma that I just don’t think I can compete. My goal for next year should be to accumulate upgrade points quickly at the beginning of the season, then jump to Cat 3 so that I can take advantage of the later starting time! That still wouldn’t matter on a day like I think we will see next weekend, but there are plenty of autumn days when the temperature rises 10 degrees or more between 9 a.m. and 2:15 p.m., and for me every degree counts.