Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crossed Paths

This evening I went down to Kletzsch Park in Glendale to join a group of about 25 cyclocross racers for a practice session that I badly needed.  The group included riders of widely-varying ages and abilities.  Because I’m still so new to the discipline, I spent most of my time with a group of about 7-8 others practicing on a dedicated barrier section: dismount, hurdle barriers, remount, repeat.

The rest of the riders took to the course—Kletzsch Park will be the site of a WCA Crank Brothers Cyclocross Series race on Oct. 22.  Unfortunately, two of those riders collided violently, resulting in facial injuries that needed First Aid from paramedics and then stitches at the emergency room.  The guys will be OK but the accident really sucked the enthusiasm out of the group.

In addition to the barrier section, I practiced my start (don’t expect me to win any holeshots) and my run-up technique: dismount, shoulder the bike, reach around the downtube and grab the handlebar, run, remount.  For me it was a good practice with several valuable tips and demonstrations from experienced racers.  I’ll try to attend more practices at Kletzsch in the future.

Today I didn’t literally “run into” anyone at practice, but figuratively I “ran into” Kyle Jacobson, one of the finest bike racers West Bend has ever produced.  It was cool to meet him, finally.  He’s a far more talented rider than I, but we do know many of the same people and it’s remarkable that we had never met before.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

'Cross Purposes

From the home office in West Bend, Wisconsin ...
My cyclocross racing season starts next weekend and my goals for it are pretty modest.  I’ve never done a cyclocross race before and I have had very little practice, so I don’t have anything like mastery of the techniques that the good riders show off with such apparent ease.  What I hope to get out of the season is fun, fitness and racing experience on which I can build next year and beyond.  I don’t expect Results.  I don’t expect to challenge for the series championship in Masters 45+ Cat 4.  I don’t even know how many of the races I will enter.

Yesterday I joined USA Cycling, so I’m now a licensed bicycle racer.  That distinction doesn’t make me a better bicycle racer, but it does make me more likely to enter at least six races in the WCA Crank Daddy’s Cyclocross Series.  With six races I would recoup the cost of the license; anything less and I would have been better off buying the one-day license for each event.  Next year I should get my license early and use it for mountain bike and cyclocross races.

Today turned out to be the complete washout I feared.  Fortunately I was able to watch the UCI world championship road race from Denmark early in the morning and the USGP of Cyclocross from Sun Prairie in the afternoon.  That kept me entertained for a few hours but it was a poor substitute for my own ride.  Monday and Tuesday look bad too—we’re just in an awful weather pattern right now—and I might have to dust off the indoor trainer.  I haven’t used it since April 15 and would prefer to avoid it for a little longer, but I don’t want my fitness to slip from too much time off.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sweet 16

Today I rode only 16 miles but they were 16 very important miles.  What made them important was the commitment it took to do them on such a dark, rainy, miserable day.  All day long I looked for an opportunity to ride and it didn’t come until almost 6 p.m., by which time I had only about an hour of daylight with which to work.  But I rode.  And these weren't garbage miles; after working myself up to the task mentally, I made a good effort physically.

In pursuit of my first 5,000-mile year, a 0-mile Saturday would have hurt.  The miles are getting harder to find and the expression 16 > 0 is both obvious and an understatement.  Shorter days are taking a toll.  So is cyclocross practice, but I need to work on those skills.  Tomorrow looks like another day of bad weather, and again I will need patience and the willingness to accept a shorter ride than my heart desires.  Just 19 miles tomorrow would get me to 600 for September, which was my target for the month.  Of course, that target assumed a 4,000-mile year.  Since 2007 I have averaged just 337 miles in October, and as of today I’m still 682 miles from 5,000, so there’s still work to be done.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Looking Ahead ... Way Ahead

Bite my shiny metal bike!
This week the UCI awarded the 2015 road racing world championships to Richmond VA.  The only other time the US hosted the world championships was back in 1986 at Colorado Springs, so this is a big deal for American cycling.  It’s still four years away but I’m already thinking about making the trip to watch the races—especially the time trials.

In February 2013 the cyclocross world championships will be in Louisville KY and I’m hoping to be there too.

I can contemplate such trips because (1) I travel on the cheap and (2) I have tons of vacation.  During each of these events my kids will be in school and my wife, employed by the school district, will have to work.  They won’t miss me for a few days … or a week.  And when I’m not watching the races I can be riding.  Richmond’s late-September weather should be sublime.  Louisville in early February should be, well, better than West Bend at any rate.  Daytime highs in the 40s would be normal, and that would be good enough for me.  A lot could happen in the months and years before these events, but my desire to see them is sincere.

The immediate future has its own ambiguity, as there is a significant chance of rain for each of the next five days.  That could wipe out the Washington County Bicycle Club ride in Hartford on Saturday.  Things look much better next week and that’s important: I intend to hit Kletzsch Park in Glendale for cyclocross practice next Wednesday.  The WCA cyclocross season begins next Saturday and Sunday with races in Milwaukee and Kewaskum.  I’m still unsure about my participation at the Mitchell Park race in Milwaukee, but Kewaskum is a must.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


This weekend was neither the best of times nor the worst of times.  I rode for two hours on Saturday but for only one hour today.  I intended today’s ride to be 2-3 hours but I was demoralized by the weather and simply unwilling to continue in the drizzle.  So, I’m calling today a rest day—I don’t need to recover from such a small effort—and tomorrow I will be back in the saddle.

It’s going to be a difficult week at work.  I will be busy tomorrow with an audit of some of my company’s business processes, then Tuesday through Friday I will attend online training for a complicated new software package.  The good news is that these duties begin early each morning and when they finish I will be free to ride.  So, I’m hoping for relatively high mileage on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.  On Wednesday evening I will attend another group cyclocross practice.  Friday may turn into a rest day … we’ll see.  There’s a Washington County Bicycle Club ride in Hartford on Saturday but I haven’t decided whether I will go.  Sunday’s plans are also unconfirmed but I expect next weekend to be my last high-mileage weekend this year.

The UCI World Championships start in Denmark tomorrow and I’m hoping to find streaming video on the Internet.  On Saturday and Sunday the USGP of Cyclocross Planet Bike Cup will be in Sun Prairie and I’m tempted to attend as a spectator but probably will stay closer to home to do some riding of my own.  Last year the Planet Bike Cup streamed at CyclingDirt and hopefully it will again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Round And Round

In yesterday’s post I said I wouldn’t upgrade the cyclocross bike’s wheelset this year.  Today I thought more about how the rest of 2011 is going to play out and I came up with this solution:
  • Take the “For Sale” sign off the Easton EA70 wheels and put them back on the Raleigh Competition.  I don’t expect to do a lot of road riding between now and the end of the year, so hopefully I can get through it without any more broken spokes.
  • Take the Mavic Aksium Race wheels that had been mounted on the Raleigh, mount them on the Steilacoom and leave them there.  Upgrade: done.
  • Take the Equation wheels that came with the Steilacoom and mount them on the Giant OCR1, now a dedicated indoor trainer bike.  I was going to need a new rear wheel anyway.
In the short term these moves make the road bike lighter, the ’cross bike stronger, and the trainer bike functional.  Best of all, they don’t cost me any more money.  Over the winter I can upgrade the road bike wheels and put the Easton EA70s back on the market.

Friday, September 16, 2011

My ’Cross To Bear

On Wednesday evening I got my first real taste of cyclocross from a rider’s perspective.  Sure, I’ve ridden bikes on grass before, and I’ve even practiced dismounting and then carrying my bike over barriers.  And I’ve been a spectator in person and online when I can find a webcast (there wasn’t one for Cross Vegas on Wednesday night and I was pissed).  But Wednesday’s practice was the genuine article, right down to a multi-lap race simulation against experienced riders who dropped me with ease.  Cyclocross has a skill set that is completely different from the other cycling disciplines I have enjoyed.  But that’s why there’s a Masters Cat 4.  I will need to practice a lot to be ready for the beginning of the WCA Crank Daddy’s season, now just two weeks away.

Having the right equipment will help, and to that end I picked up a 2011 Diamondback Steilacoom RCX, which I consider to be nicely-equipped for someone of my abilities and ambitions.  It has an aluminum frame with an Easton EC70X carbon fork (alloy steerer), FSA headset and crank (36/46T), Shimano 105 shifters, derailleurs, chain and cassette (12-27T, 10-speed), SRAM Avid Shorty 4 cantilever brakes, a BB30-standard bottom bracket (crazy stiff!), a WTB Valcon Pro saddle (so nice I might get one for my road bike), and Equation CX20 (house-brand) wheels with Michelin Cyclocross Mud 2 700x30 tires.  The bike came without pedals so I installed a pair of double-sided Shimano M520 SPDs that I already had.

Cleaner than it ever will be again!

The Steilacoom will serve as my cyclocross / gravel grinder / rec trail bike … hopefully for years to come.  The Giant FCR3 was good to me but it really is a flatbar road bike and not ideally suited for what I asked it to do.  Its future includes a thorough cleaning, re-lubrication, and then new ownership.  I intend to sell my Easton EA70 wheelset, too, and the proceeds from these sales will offset much of the cost of the new bike.  Eventually the Steilacoom’s stock wheels will have to be upgraded, but it won’t be this year.  I still have to pay for a USA Cycling license and some race entries!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Last Day Of Summer?

We hit 86 degrees today in West Bend and you had better believe I hopped on the bike after work.  Today should have been a rest day but I couldn’t say no to the warmth and sunshine.  I could lament the high winds, but without them bringing heat from the southwest this would have been a very different day.  Tomorrow will be a very different day: the wind will shift to the northwest and we probably won’t hit 70.  On Wednesday and Thursday we will be lucky to hit 60!

Autumn is cyclocross season and if I am going to race then I had better learn how to dismount and remount quickly for barriers and run-ups.  Today when the high winds started to frustrate me, I ducked into Sandy Knoll County Park and practiced my dismount/remount technique.  I worried that I wouldn’t be able to unclip on the left side after swinging my right leg around the back of the bike, but the dismount really wasn’t too hard.  My remount, however, needs some work!  I didn’t expect to look graceful, so today I found a grassy field at the northern end of the park where I would not be observed.  I never fell over, and that’s about the extent of the good news.  I think I need to slow it down—to walk before I try to run, literally.

Autumn is also football season but with each passing year I care less about that.  I can’t tell you the last time I watched a football game—college or pro—in its entirety.  Later in the season when I get back on the bike trainer I will watch a little football while I spin, but it will be no different than hockey, boxing or college basketball: just a distraction.  I have given my soul to cycling and that was never more obvious than on Sunday, when I frittered away the early part of the day until the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal webcast began.  Then I watched with rapt attention one of the least important and least interesting races of the pro calendar.  That’s how sick I am.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ahead Of Schedule

On Monday I predicted that I would reach 4,000 miles, year-to-date, on tomorrow’s Washington County Bicycle Club ride.  I reached the milestone today, making 2011 my third consecutive season of 4,000 miles or more.  I also reached the mark in 2007 and would have reached it in 2008 if not for time lost to a broken collarbone.

This is the earliest date on which I have reached 4,000.

The final push for my first 5,000-mile season begins tomorrow.  With a few solo miles on each side of the WCBC ride, I’ll have a metric century.  The weekend weather forecast looks fantastic, so I plan to go long on Sunday too.  I want to be somewhere around 4,500 by the end of the month so that I’m not putting too much pressure on myself in October.  By then the weather will be less certain, the days will be considerably shorter, and I will be devoting some time—perhaps quite a lot of time—to cyclocross and mountain biking.

Getting to 5,000 miles is a goal that I simply must reach.  Once I do, I won’t be interested in going for 6,000 … at least, not as long as I’m living in such a cold climate.

Someday …

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Those Crazy Coloradans

Tell me something like this wouldn't be a great addition to the Independence Day festivities at Regner Park.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Was Old Is New Again

What began this afternoon as, frankly, an aimless road ride turned into a very solid 37-mile effort that included 6 miles of the Cheesehead Roubaix route.  I don’t often visit the gravel sections of St. Augustine and Blue Goose—1.5 miles total—and today I was happy to find them in much better condition than they were in April.  Before today’s ride I switched back to my 700x25 Continental Gatorskins, very tough tires that give me a lot of confidence on gravel.  The Gatorskins were my tires for Cheesehead Roubaix and for most of my road bike miles this year.  I switched to lighter, narrower Bontrager R3 tires prior to the Kirke Vei Time Trial and I liked them a lot … so much so that I now will preserve them for racing in 2012.  The Gatorskins will take me through the remainder of 2011 and the early miles of 2012 when there’s still a lot of winter debris on the roads.

For me, it’s never too early to think about next year.  You might be surprised by the number of races and rides that have set their 2012 dates.  Yesterday evening WORS announced its race schedule to mixed reviews.  I think it’s good news for Washington County mountain bikers that the Sunburst Showdown is back on the schedule after a one-year absence.  I expect to be in Kewaskum on Aug. 12, at least as a spectator but perhaps to race the Sunburst Showdown as a tune-up for the Reforestation Ramble in Suamico on Aug. 26.  Many WORS racers have reacted negatively on Facebook, citing dissatisfaction with the Sunburst course.  The fact that it’s not an endless ribbon of technical singletrack is exactly what might make it a good fit for me.

The Tour of America’s Dairyland (June 21-July 1) and the International Cycling Classic (July 6-22) will be back for 2012 and I expect to enjoy both as a spectator; we’ll see what the ToAD road race and TT breakdown looks like.  I’m definitely not a criterium racer.  WEMS, Wisport and the WCA have not yet announced dates for 2012 and it could be months before they do.  Cheesehead Roubaix will return but the date is somewhat dependent on those schedules.

There are exciting possibilities in 2012 but let’s enjoy what remains of 2011.  I’m working on some cool stuff that I will share with you soon.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Crossing The Bar

I'm strangely inspired by Dr. Frank-N-Furter's sweet transition.
Mondays, more often than not, are rest days in my cycling plans.  Coming out of the weekend I’m usually a little burned out and the grass in my yard is usually a little too tall to neglect further.  But today wasn’t an ordinary Monday; it was Labor Day.  I didn’t have to work, so I made up for a rainout on Saturday and for an uninspired 25-mile effort on Sunday.  Today I rode 80 miles—mostly with six other riders on the roads of the northern Kettle Moraine State Forest—to push past the 3,900-mile mark for the year.  I expect to reach 4,000 this Saturday on the Washington County Bicycle Club ride.  Tomorrow will be a rest day.

I’m struck today by an overwhelming sense of transition from one part of the cycling season to another.  Putting on knee warmers and a long-sleeved jersey to ride this morning in 50-something-degree weather only reinforced that feeling, but I think I would have felt it even if today had been a warm and sunny masterpiece.  The end is in sight for the state road racing and club ride calendars, waning daylight has already started to limit after-work rides, and the last Grand Tour of the year, the Vuelta a España, is down to its last six stages.  After the Vuelta we can look forward to the world championships, then Paris-Tours, then the Giro di Lombardia, and then three months of waiting for the Tour Down Under to begin the 2012 season.

At this point in the 2010 season I was already thinking about cross-training, changes to my weightlifting routine and other things that contribute to cycling but by themselves aren’t cycling.  This year I’m thinking only of cycling, and in the spirit of looking forward to something new instead of desperately clinging to a road riding season that surely must end, cyclocross dominates my thoughts.  I’ve been a fan, but now it’s time to become a participant.  September will provide several opportunities for me to practice and in early October I intend to race for the first time.  At first glance, cyclocross doesn’t appear to be a discipline for which I am perfectly suited.  But it does look like fun and, if nothing else, will inject some intensity into my workouts.  Without it, the remainder of my 2011 season could be an unspectacular march toward 5,000 miles—a worthy accomplishment, but perhaps no longer enough by itself.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August In Review

My softball team lost in the league championship game last night and finished the season with a 12-5 record.  We were a really good team that just couldn't clear the last hurdle.  I batted .520 (26-for-50) with 14 runs scored and 12 RBI in 15 games.  The end of the season means two things: it’s time to re-do my upper body strength training program after four months in “maintenance” mode, and it’s time to put Wednesdays back on the cycling calendar.

Year-to-date I have amassed 3,737 miles, putting me 189 miles ahead of my 2010 pace.  If I stay healthy and have a “normal” September and October, then this should be my first 5,000-mile year.  Even my non-cycling family members and friends will recognize that 5,000 miles—the equivalent of a round-trip between Pittsburgh PA and Seattle WA—is a long, long way to ride a bike.

August was a weird and wonderful month.  I rode 756 miles, a personal record surpassing the 714 miles I rode in August 2007.  But achieving that PR was incidental, something that just happened while I was busy accomplishing other things.  On Aug. 6th I rode my first century of 2011.  On the 20th I raced against the clock at the Kirke Vei Time Trial.  On the 27th I did a road bike metric century, then followed it on the 28th with a strong performance in the Reforestation Ramble mountain bike race.  Of the 756 total miles, 522 were on the Raleigh Competition, 209 were on the Giant FCR3 (Eisenbahn State Trail miles, mostly) and 25 were on a borrowed Trek Fuel.  August was a month of being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, but it sure was a good time.