Monday, May 31, 2010

Looking Ahead

It felt good not to ride the bike today. After yesterday’s big effort, I was glad for the day off. With a quiet June on the horizon, I removed the Maxxis Raze cyclocross tires that performed so well at DeKalb yesterday and put them in storage for some future event, TBA. It’s back to the longer-wearing Kenda Kwests for training rides. And today I washed, degreased and lubed the flatbar bike, made sure the wheels were still true, etc. Starting tomorrow I’ll be back on the road bike, building for a couple of special events in July.

As I prepare for long-distance events later this summer, I'll be stretching out some of my weekend training rides. One of the things I have to get right is event-day nutrition. Recently this product came to my attention. Looks like a winner for events of 100 miles or more, but I haven't tried it yet. If you have any experience with the product, please leave a comment.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Awesome, Baby!

Today’s gravel grinder in DeKalb IL was easily the hardest ride I have ever done. It wasn’t the longest—“only” a metric century—but the combination of unpaved roads, 90-degree heat, headwinds and a desire to compete with the racers combined to leave me near exhaustion by the end. My ride stats:

63.67 miles @ 16.5 mph average
3451 calories burned
149 average heart rate (81%)
172 maximum heart rate (93%)

By my count, I was 23rd in the 49-rider field and the 2nd finisher among the flatbar set. Most riders who attempted the course on mountain bikes paid a big weight penalty and were off the back almost immediately, but somebody who must be pretty strong beat me back to DeKalb on his singlespeed 29er.

The weapon of choice today was the cyclocross bike. There were a few road bikes too … and plenty of flat tires. Some of the roads were absolutely primitive. The worst of the bunch was Locust Road, a deeply-rutted mess of dirt and weeds that, if you were in a motor vehicle, dead-ended at a creek. If you were a bit of a moron on a bike you forded the creek, then carried your bike over the railroad tracks, then pushed it up an embankment to reach the next section of gravel road.

I was hanging on to about 15th place between mile 5 and mile 20, but then we turned south into a stiff headwind that just never let up. It didn’t help that from mile 19 to mile 40 we also steadily gained elevation. They weren’t proper hills; 6 percent was about as bad as it got and most were only 2-3 percent. But on gravel and going into the wind, even the little climbs took a toll on me. At mile 25 I popped, no longer able to hang with the group. I took the opportunity to eat on the bike. At mile 43 I stopped at the checkpoint to refill my water bottles and attempted to reintegrate with other riders, but I was dropped quickly when we resumed.

Then everything changed. At mile 44 we turned north onto a paved road. Alone but with the wind now working for me, I went into time trial mode and at mile 57 caught and passed a couple of guys I had chased all day. On three occasions I had been able to stay with them for a while, then got dropped. Things were different now. My legs had come back to me and I put about 5 minutes into them by the end.

Back in DeKalb, people were shattered. I helped one rider to his feet after he spent several minutes trying to work out a painful cramp. A neighbor left a garden hose running for us and we used it for impromptu showers. Legs were a filthy mess of sweat and road grime.

Post-ride festivities featured free beer from Half Acre. Great event. Great people. Everyone made a big effort and appreciated the effort of others. After the ride, one of the guys I passed at mile 57 said he was surprised to see me bridge the gap and then ride away. He and his ride partner had seen me struggle earlier. “I said, ‘There goes a tough guy,’” he told me. That made my day.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lub ... Dub

It was a gorgeous day for the Washington County Bicycle Club’s “Brat in Hell” ride and thanks to a couple of guests from Oconomowoc we had our best turnout of the year. (If you went only as far as Theresa, then you didn’t get to meet our guests. They had started early and were waiting for us in Brownsville.) Like all Jimmy Scharrer routes, this one had some tough hills. I used them to get my heart rate up on what otherwise was a slow-paced 58 miles. My average heart rate for the entire ride was just 117—64% of maximum—but that’s OK. I surely didn’t want to fatigue myself before DeKalb.

As soon as I got home I showered and got into some compression shorts, downed a big glass of Ovaltine and had a high-protein lunch. I’ve become a big believer in actively managing my recovery. After lunch it was time to wash the flatbar bike, clean and lubricate its drivetrain, etc. Whenever I’m about to travel to an event I work from a checklist to ensure I don’t forget essential gear or bike preparations.

Now I’ve had a big spaghetti dinner to repack the glycogen stores, I’ve rehydrated (I lost five pounds on the ride today, despite drinking three bottles of water and one bottle of Gatorade), and bedtime is coming soon. I’ll want time for breakfast tomorrow, then it’s a 150-mile drive to DeKalb. I’ll be working toward the event for about four hours before it even begins.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sitting In

Early tomorrow morning I will get my road bike back from Mountain Outfitters. I’m hoping for smooth, noise-free pedaling, as I will have a new bottom bracket. See you in Hartford at 9 a.m. for Brat in Hell. Let’s have a good turnout on what should be a gorgeous day. I’ll be sitting in, really just along for the ride this time, as I have bigger ambitions on Sunday.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Confidence Growing

This evening I did a 31-mile ride on my flatbar road bike—a.k.a., my “trail bike”—in preparation for Sunday’s gravel grinder in DeKalb. You could be forgiven for thinking my Giant FCR3 is a rigid 29er, but in truth it’s a “fitness” road bike with cyclocross tires. Its main function is to tear up rail trails. I don’t need anything as heavily built as a mountain bike; a suspension fork and wide knobby tires would just be extra weight for the kind of trail riding I do. Today’s route was a 50/50 mix of roads and gravel/dirt trails. I really pushed the pace, riding between 20 and 24 mph on asphalt and 17-20 mph off-road. There were only two hills on the route and I charged up them. Tomorrow is a planned rest day, then I’ll do Brat in Hell on Saturday. I’ll be sure to eat and hydrate well on Saturday evening, and I’m promising myself an early bedtime. To get to DeKalb in time for the 9 a.m. start on Sunday, I’ll leave home by 6 a.m.

Earlier today I used Google Street View to do some online reconnaissance of the route. A few of the roads were not on Street View but I got a good feel for the setting. For someone used to the northern Kettle Moraine, the countryside around DeKalb is flat. I think I climb pretty well for a person my size, but there’s no denying that I am a person my size … if you know what I mean. Kitted up and shod with a pair of size 12 (US) mountain bike shoes, I’m every last bit of 200 pounds. Power-to-weight is a humbling thing, and the little guys almost invariably out-climb me. But on flat terrain I can settle into a rhythm and eat up a bunch of miles in pretty short order. I’ve taken the organizer’s cuesheet and customized it with my own notes, including the location of a minimart near the halfway point. The minimart is a few blocks off-route, but I’ll know where it is if my need to refuel and/or rehydrate extends beyond what I have with me when I start.

Physically prepared and now armed with information about the route, I can’t wait for Sunday.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Check Out My Poll

For some professional cyclists a doping suspension is career death. For others, it's an interruption and (hopefully) a hard lesson learned. Look at the list on the right and vote for the rider you most admire. If you'd like to explain your selection—and frankly, one or two of those choices would be hard to defend—then add a comment to this post. (Heh, heh ... "post.")

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rocks In My Head

Today my body was back on the bike, pushing the pace on the flats, easily conquering a few little climbs, sprinting for road signs. But my mind was elsewhere. Next Sunday’s metric century ride-that-for-sure-is-not-a-race (wink, wink) has captured my imagination. Thanks to Facebook, I’m now one of 35 confirmed riders. Another 29 have said maybe. Some people won’t bother to confirm but will show up anyway. So, it’s looking like a good turnout and the weather forecast is favorable. I’m going to DeKalb to have fun, to test myself in conditions for which I feel particularly well-suited, and hopefully to learn more about how to organize and promote an event like this. It looks so much like what I want to do with OzWash Roubaix, only flatter.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rest Day

I guess you could call it that. Of course, I did still have to go to my job, then do two hours of yardwork, then do some upper body weightlifting. But I didn’t ride the bike, so it was a rest day.

And yes, that is a picture of my lawnmower. It’s quiet, doesn’t pollute and doesn’t cost a dime to operate. Sure, it takes more time and effort, but I have the time and I like the effort. Mine is a lawnmower fit for a cyclist. When the factory-installed grip goes, maybe I’ll redo the handle with Cinelli cork handlebar tape …

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Personal Record … Kinda

Last year I created a self-timed Eisenbahn State Trail time trial. Prospective riders were asked to buy something at minimarts on either end of the course and use the receipts to prove their times. The course could be run as many times as desired over the summer with each rider’s best time counting in the final standings. My best time over the 14.8-mile course was 52:11 (17.02 mph). Just one other rider took my challenge but finished outside 1 hour.

Despite the lack of interest from others, I still think this is a cool idea. And it passes my don’t cost nuthin’ test. So, this year I’m going to make it a little easier … for you and for me. Forget about getting receipts; this year we’re strictly on the honor system. There’s no prize for winning, so cheating would just be silly. I want you to give this a try and to have fun. By taking out the receipts I’m removing the minimarts as the start/finish locations. Start at 2nd Street in Kewaskum. When you reach the end of the trail, take Reagan Drive to Shady Lane, then sprint for the Eden town line sign on County Highway V. That’s 14.3 miles, 0.5 miles shorter than last year, but long enough! If you do it right, it isn’t easy. As an old railroad line, there are no big hills on the Eisenbahn, but it isn’t dead flat, this part of it isn’t paved, and there are several road crossings to negotiate safely. Working in your favor is the remoteness of the route: between Kewaskum and Eden you may not see another soul. So, let ’er rip, but note that a road bike probably isn’t the best choice. You’ll be happier with a cyclocross bike or a 29er.

Today I covered the route in 49:44. That’s 17.25 mph. Technically I didn’t beat last year’s best time because it wasn’t exactly the same route. On the other hand, 17.25 is faster than 17.02. So that’s the new benchmark, something for me to beat. Care to try it yourself?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Something Like “Form”

In the past I relied on little more than the accumulation of miles to raise my fitness level as the season progressed. To a certain extent, that approach worked: I indisputably became more fit from spring through the end of summer. But it took forever and it never got me near my potential.

Over the winter I started to take interval training more seriously and in April I emerged from the home gym a lot fitter than in previous years. And now—to borrow a basketball term—I’m in the double bonus: interval training plus a rapid accumulation of miles. In short, I’m feeling good about my fitness level. I’m discovering something like “form,” that elusive sweet spot where you’re strong but not overtrained and starting to wear out. I’ve got to manage this. I want to give a strong performance next Sunday in DeKalb, then I need to be cool in June and not run myself into the ground. I’m still looking at the Wisport event in Omro as my first road race of the year, and that’s not until July 3. I’m finally starting to put together advanced training techniques with better nutrition and hydration, and perhaps most importantly, adequate rest. Feels good.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ready for Tomorrow

I have high hopes for tomorrow’s Washington County Bicycle Club ride. The group will leave from Kiwanis Park in Kewaskum at 9 a.m. for a 49-mile, out-and-back route with a snack stop at the WEMS mountain bike races in Greenbush. We’ll have nice weather and a pretty route through the northern Kettle Moraine State Forest.

My day will start early: I’m riding to Kewaskum, then doing the club ride, then riding home. That should be about 75 miles, my longest day in the saddle so far this year. There are considerably longer days than that in my plans, so it’s time to start stretching myself out.

Club rides are open to members and non-members alike. It would be great to see you there.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I’m surprised by Floyd Landis’ admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs, but only by the admission. For me there was never any doubt that Landis had cheated—try to think of a plausible explanation for the presence of synthetic testosterone—but I wouldn’t have bet anything on getting an admission from him. Now let’s see whether there’s anything to be learned from what at first glance look like nothing but crazy, bitter, perhaps even jealous accusations against other prominent American cyclists and against the UCI. Remember how crazy, bitter, perhaps even jealous Greg LeMond sounded a few months ago? Maybe not so crazy now …

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Smokin’ Deal

Today I received my latest eBay purchase: two brand new, never mounted Maxxis Raze tires. They retail for $44 apiece and I got both for a grand total of $40 including shipping. That’s just nuts.

Now, I am all for supporting the local bike shops. In the last seven years I have bought two bikes and two wheelsets from Mountain Outfitters, one bike and a CycleOps trainer from Pedal Moraine, plus accessories, plus mechanical services, plus clothing, etc. But sometimes you get a chance at an Internet deal that’s just too good to ignore.

I’ve had Maxxis Raze tires before and I love ’em: they’re light and grippy on gravel or dirt, but they still roll fast on pavement. The tires are intended for cyclocross but they’re great rail-trail tires too and will handle almost anything short of technical singletrack. On the downside, the treadlife is pretty short. These are going to be special event tires. I’m thinking about a trial run on the Eisenbahn State Trail this Sunday, just to make sure that the tires perform as desired at the DeKalb gravel grinder on May 30. (After the gravel grinder, I’ll go back to my cheap and heavy but durable Kendas for training on my flat-bar bike.) Anyone want to join me on Sunday, roughly 50 miles roundtrip from West Bend to Eden and back?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Where did I get those legs? It has been a while since I could say I left a butyl rubber aftertaste on the roads of Washington County, but tonight I tore it up! Outside of town I was cruising at 20 mph or more at just 72 percent of my maximum heart rate. That's good for me on a solo ride. Yesterday was a planned rest day, so I was fresh and hit the road with a lot of enthusiasm. I've got to remember to take days off from time to time, as I always come back stronger.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Sorry to hear about your injury, Jeramey.
Now, get your butt on the trainer.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

The Washington County Bicycle Club’s new time trial series is canceled. I created it and now I’m pulling the plug. I was the only one to show up on April 18 and I was the only one to show up today. No one else has expressed any interest in the series. I’m disappointed but not surprised. At its core the WCBC is a club that doesn’t want to change and doesn’t want to be challenged. Never mind that the consequence is a disinterested membership that views club rides as events of last resort, something to do only if all other options have been exhausted. My hope—perhaps my last hope—is that the newer members will demand something more than short, plodding club rides. Look around the Internet at what other bicycle clubs are doing. Look at the variety of their events, at their commitment to advocacy, at their many efforts to energize their members. Why doesn’t that happen here? It could, if enough people were willing to work toward it. I’m done with being the only person who consistently throws out ideas for the WCBC. I will continue to support the club—particularly the Adventure Ride series, which I think has real promise—but other people need to step up and make an effort.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Foreign Objects

April 2010 - May 2010

Today I got my first road bike flat of 2010. I was nearly done with my ride, and to get home I hopped on the Eisenbahn State Trail for what should have been an easy final mile on asphalt as smooth as glass. From where does that expression come? There was nothing smooth about the piece of glass that cut right through a brand new Continental Ultra Gatorskin and ripped a 1 cm hole in the tube. My rear tire instantly and completely depressurized.

Being so close to home, for a second I thought about simply taking the “walk of shame” rather than doing a trailside repair. But then I made the right choice and got down to business … and was rewarded almost immediately with a small crowd of well-wishers. First came a man on a mountain bike whom I assured I had everything I needed. Then came a family from Slinger, visiting the Eisenbahn for the first time. I had just removed the rear wheel when the four of them walked up and greeted me. When I explained that I had run over a piece of glass, the mother seemed delighted to have encountered a foreigner. Something in my manner of speaking suggested European to her. I declared my origins in and ongoing fealty to Pittsburgh PA, where paradoxically I also am greeted as an outsider instead of a native son. (There’s a distinct dialect in Pittsburgh that I can mimic well enough, but it isn’t natural to me.) Anyway, these very nice people from Slinger seemed genuinely interested in the operation of fixing a flat tire. And as common as it may be to us as cyclists, seen through the eyes of the uninitiated maybe it is pretty cool.

“Do you have a spare tube?”

Yes, two of them.

“Do you have a spare tire?”

No, but I don’t need one. However, I will have to boot the tire with a folded dollar bill. Money has threads woven through it, you know; it’s not just paper … makes a strong patch.

“What about air?”

My frame pump will get me going. Some guys use CO2 but I like the frame pump … never runs out.

And so on. In the end, I was glad to have an audience. I’m not the fastest flat changer in the world, but this was one of my better efforts. Narrating as I worked had a strangely calming effect on me. With two young boys looking on, it was no time to start swearing at my misfortune.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Morning vs. Afternoon

I know a lot of cyclists who do their weekend rides early in the morning. But if given a choice, I’ll always wait until the afternoon. Here in Wisconsin, early mornings can be cold even in the middle of summer. Tomorrow should be a great example. It will be 46 degrees at 6 a.m., 56 degrees at 9:30 a.m., and 66 degrees at 2 p.m. For me, the choice is easy: lawn and garden work in the morning, cycling in the warmth of the afternoon. Sometimes the downside to my approach is higher winds; they’re usually worse in the afternoon. But it looks like wind won’t be a big factor this weekend, and won’t that be nice after the week we just had?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

If You've Got The Stones ...

On April 17 I did a ride of my own design called OzWash Roubaix, a metric century that featured more than 6 miles of gravel and dirt roads in Washington and Ozaukee counties. It didn't attract a big crowd, but for those who took the challenge it was a feast of rough roads, rolling hills and high winds. Someday I hope to look back on this year’s ride as the humble start to a popular annual event, a ride that honors the traditions of the cobbled Spring Classics of northern Europe and is unique in this part of the state. I’m already working on an improved route for 2011 that will include even more unpaved sections.

Down in DeKalb IL, there’s a group of guys with the same concept. They don’t have much for hills, but they do appear to have more riders lined up and they have created a very cool promotional video. (Maybe that's what was missing from my OzWash Roubaix sales pitch.)

I’m doing this on May 30! Who’s with me? Get your cyclocross bike or your 29er and let’s tear up the flatlands!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

B.C .

Before the modern era, in a time we might call "B.C." (Before Cycling), I was a softball player. Today, I still am, and it's largely because of cycling that I can still play at a high level.

In 1999 I returned to softball after a 10-year absence. I never meant to get away from the sport, but it was a time in my life when I moved around a lot, changed careers and didn't have much of a social life. When I returned to softball I knew I had gotten soft myself. For a few seasons I suffered through overuse injuries, frequently pulling hamstrings, calves, etc. After the 2002 season I knew I needed to do something different with my conditioning, and in early 2003 I bought a mountain bike. The idea was simple: a couple of 1-hour rides per week would make my legs stronger and help me to prevent softball injuries.

The 2003 season came and went. I avoided the nagging injuries that had been bothering me. But the end of softball didn't mean an end to cycling. I had come to love cycling for its own sake, not merely as conditioning for softball ... and it occurred to me that I was riding a lot more than I had planned. In 2004 I started to keep track of my miles: 1,454. In 2005 I set a goal of 3,000 miles and ended the year with 3,050. I got a road bike and reached 3,161 in 2006, then hit 4,410 in 2007. In 2008 I crashed and broke my collarbone, limiting me to 3,787. Last year I set a new personal record: 4,800.

Tonight I played my 129th softball game since buying that mountain bike. In all those games I've had just one little muscle strain, and who knows what brought that on? You can be sure it wasn't a lack of conditioning. I'm now one of the oldest guys on my team, but I'm not the slowest by a long shot, and I'm still getting it done on offense and defense. Cycling is my fountain of youth. What I give to it, it pays back with interest in just about every other aspect of my life.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Looking For Some Miles?

Can I interest you in a metric century this Saturday afternoon? Here's a route that would take us through Random Lake and Belgium, leaving from and returning to Moraine Park Technical College in West Bend. I'm looking for ride partners, so let me know.

Monday, May 10, 2010


More than just the title of an obscure 1982 film, koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi word that translates as “life out of balance.” Does cycling keep me balanced, offering a vast and complex alternate reality where I am untroubled by mundane concerns, or does cycling now have a hold on me that is so firm I suffer withdrawal from it after even a short separation? Today was the first of what likely will be four consecutive days off the bike. A combination of bad weather and other obligations probably will mean no more miles until Friday evening. I can’t tell you how far away that feels.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

That Sucked

Today’s ride objective was long steady distance. In the strictest sense, I achieved that. But it was my most frustrating day on the bike in a long time. My route took me from West Bend to Eden and back, 52 miles total, most of it on the Eisenbahn State Trail. It’s a familiar route and I have a good feel for how long it should take and how fast I should be going at any given time. What I didn’t count on today was a dramatic 180-degree wind shift that left me pedaling into the wind for the entire ride. I kid you not: I couldn’t have timed today’s ride more poorly. Obviously my flat-bar bike isn’t as fast as my road bike, and riding on gravel isn’t as fast as riding on asphalt. But 3 hours and 40 minutes of riding into the wind at an average speed of just 14.2 mph was dreadful.

On the upside, I used the ride to test my Profile Design top tube food carrier. I plan to do a couple of timed events this year where eating on the bike will be important. Today I discovered that the Velcro strap on the mesh cover is almost impossible to undo while wearing full-fingered gloves. Hopefully that won’t be an issue in July and August.

And kudos to Fond du Lac County for the new signs that tell Eisenbahn users which roads they’re crossing and how many miles remain between key landmarks.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Phil & Paul

Sports Illustrated has a list of the top 20 sportscasters of all time at its website. It’s a solid, if predictable, collection … mostly old baseball men. Wisconsinites will wonder how Bob Uecker didn’t make the list. (I would suggest it’s because he spends too much time talking about things other than baseball.) As a transplanted Pennsylvanian, I wonder how the list omitted Bob Prince and Harry Kalas. Harry Caray made it, again proving that in America it’s more important to be well-known than legitimately talented. I once heard the man refer to Rafael Palmeiro as “Ralph Palermo,” and did he ever actually sing all of the words to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game?”

The SI list is meant for American audiences. Somewhere in Brazil there’s probably a great play-by-play man who makes soccer seem interesting despite overwhelming visual evidence to the contrary. You’ll never hear about him. And I can’t pretend to be surprised that Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen didn’t make the SI list, despite greatness that should be apparent to every cycling fan.

Yes, Phil has his Harry Caray moments, mistaking one rider for another, consistently applying a Catalan lisp to every Spaniard whether the rider actually be from Catalunya or not, and sometimes even lisping the names of non-Spaniards (it’s Alessandro Ballan, not Alethandro). Yes, Paul does that goofy parroting thing where he starts every sentence with the last few words of whatever Phil just said. But they know their stuff and they have an amazing wealth of cycling history at their fingertips. As broadcasting partners they’re completely comfortable together and that makes us comfortable as we watch.

Bob Roll can be fun from time to time, but too often it feels like he’s forcing the "Bobke" persona, his possibly-stoned, Jack Kerouac-cum-Jeff Spicoli alter ego. Paul, by contrast, is a little too dry and stiff on his own. It’s got to be Phil and Paul. Be honest: don’t you feel cheated when you tune into a cycling broadcast and it’s anybody else?

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Well, how did I get here?"

This is the first post of a new blog dedicated to the great sport of cycling. And as cycling is multifaceted, this blog will seek to address its many forms. Most particularly, this blog will focus on the cycling scene in and around Washington County, Wisconsin.

For nearly two years I contributed to the website of the Washington County Bicycle Club. You can still find the site here but it will be going away soon. I will continue to share information about the WCBC, but this blog will not presume to speak for the WCBC. My opinions are my own and my invitations to ride are not insured or sanctioned by anybody. I like to ride—a lot—and if you do too then maybe we can get together soon. I’ll bring the cuesheets.