Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A Statistical Review

By almost any standard, 2011 was my best-ever cycling year.  I racked up 5,113 miles, a personal record that beat the old mark of 4,800 (set in 2009).  I needed 170 rides to reach that mark, a 30.08 miles per ride average.  My old record for rides in one year was 146, also set in 2009.  Here’s the month-by-month breakdown:

0000 January
0055 February (PR)
0286 March
0465 April
0450 May
0705 June
1020 July     (PR)
0756 August   (PR)
0678 September
0532 October  (PR, tie)
0121 November
0045 December (PR)

July’s total of 1,020 miles is not just a PR for July, but also for any month, crushing the old mark of 800 miles (September 2009).  Also this year, I surpassed 30,000 lifetime miles and 1,000 lifetime rides.  “Lifetime” is everything since the beginning of 2004, my first year as a serious cyclist.

I think it’s odd that in the course of riding so many miles I did just one standard century (100 miles) and six metric centuries (100 kilometers).  The consistency with which I banged out those 30-milers is what allowed me to surpass 5,000.

Only outdoor miles count toward my totals.  Inside I spent 34 hours on the trainer.  For cross-training I spent 17 hours on the treadmill, went hiking on eight occasions, went snowshoeing twice, and did 177 upper-body strength sessions in my home gym.

Perhaps most significantly, I raced far more in 2011 than ever before.  I did my first seven cyclocross races, my first two mountain bike races, and my first sanctioned time trial (plus three unsanctioned TTs) in 2011.  That’s more racing than I did in all previous seasons combined.

Expect even more racing in 2012, but fewer miles.  I won’t rule out a PR in a cold-weather month; that’s low-hanging fruit.  I won’t rule out a PR for a single day; anything more than 113 miles would do.  But I have no interest in pursuing 5,114.  At least, not now.  Maybe when I’m too old to go fast and I’m living in a warmer climate with nothing but time on my hands …

Monday, December 26, 2011

Better Than Any Treadmill

I really was tempted to ride outside today.  We don’t usually see green grass, brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the low 40s in Wisconsin on the day after Christmas.  But a strong, cold wind convinced me to leave the bike behind and go hiking instead.  I hadn’t gone hiking in Ridge Run County Park since February, so that was my destination this afternoon.  I gave myself a 1-hour limit and a challenge to see how many times I could complete the Blue Loop.  The answer: 5 times.  The loop is 0.8 miles so that’s a brisk 4 mph on rolling and sometimes rocky terrain.  Today’s weather brought out several other hikers and a few trail runners.  I’m jealous of the runners, but I don’t think my knees and ankles would hold up for long if I were to try running on any surface.  That limitation was a big reason I got into cycling in the first place.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Tis Expensive

Santa rocks a single-speed with an elliptical chaining.
Buying a good Christmas gift for a cyclist can be a challenge.  Even something as seemingly ordinary as a spare tube comes with perils.  Which type of valve, Presta or Schrader?  What size?  How long a valve stem?  Butyl rubber or latex?  The more I ride, the more specific my Wish List becomes.  In Monday’s mail I received a gift card for Performance Bike.  That’s eminently useful to me, easily converted into just the right bike part or article of clothing.

Several websites have published gift ideas for cyclists.  I like this one because its recommendations are so practical.  A bicycle can be your budget’s best friend, saving you thousands of dollars a year if you use it for transportation.  But if you ride for sport and/or competition, cycling can be massively expensive.  It’s not always the big ticket items that get you; little expenses really add up.  For example, this year I paid $410 just for permission to ride:

$285   race registration fees
$ 60   USA Cycling license
$ 25   state parks vehicle sticker
$ 20   state trail pass
$ 20   Washington County Bicycle Club dues

And I didn’t race as much as many of my teammates and friends.  Some of them spent more than $1,000 on registration fees.

I spent $465 this year on cycling-specific clothing, $220 on tires and tubes, $445 on other parts and bike shop services.  While riding more than 5,100 miles this year I wore out a few tires, punctured a few tubes, popped a couple of spokes and burned off a set of brake pads.  Cycling has consumables and I go through stuff.  But my budget-buster was the Diamondback Steilacoom RCX cyclocross bike—a great deal at $1,000 but still a financial stretch for me.  Add it all up and I spent more than $2,500 on cycling in 2011.

Many of this year’s purchases will continue to serve me in 2012, but I am planning for a few upgrades.  The road bike will get a new wheelset, cassette and saddle.  The cyclocross bike will get new tires before the racing season begins.  Licenses and race registrations will be a bigger expense next year as I compete more, and I will continue to upgrade my cycling wardrobe with additional Team Pedal Moraine kit from Voler.  Then there's the new mountain bike I want, a purchase decision I deferred this year.  There's always something.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

And You're From ... ?

Today I was surprised to learn that my home state, Pennsylvania, has produced more Major League Baseball players than any other state except California.  Roy Campanella, Nellie Fox, Ken Griffey Sr., Ken Griffey Jr., Dick Groat, Reggie Jackson, Tommy Lasorda, Christy Mathewson, Stan Musial, Mike Piazza and Honus Wagner all were born in the Keystone State.  So was the 1982 AL Cy Young Award winner: Pete Vuckovich of the Milwaukee Brewers.  There are hundreds more that you wouldn't recognize.

My little hometown, West Newton, has produced just one Major Leaguer.  His career wasn’t nearly as illustrious as those of the men listed above.  Jimmy Uchrinscko played just 3 games for the 1926 Washington Senators, allowing 13 hits, 8 walks and 9 earned runs in 8 innings out of the bullpen.  He struck out no one, had an ERA of 10.13, and was 0-for-2 as a hitter.  On the upside, I suppose, was his fielding prowess: he cleanly handled all 3 balls that were hit back to him.

Jimmy was born in 1900 and died in 1995.  A lot of the Pennsylvania-born players came out of the 1800s: men who lived, played, and died before there were any teams west of St. Louis.  These days the Major Leagues are dominated by players born in California, Texas and Florida.  That dominance is the product of two factors: population trends and weather.  Baseball is a game that rewards skills as much as raw athleticism, and skills develop more fully when you can play outside all year.

So, what about cycling?  It doesn’t depend on fair weather to the extent baseball does, but is there a correlation between birthplace and professional success?  This season, 10 Americans appeared in the UCI WorldTour rankings.  Here are their names and places of birth:
  • Levi Leipheimer             Montana
  • Chris Horner                Oregon
  • Tyler Farrar                Washington
  • Taylor Phinney              Colorado
  • Tom Danielson               Connecticut
  • George Hincapie             New York
  • Andrew Talansky             Florida
  • Christian Vande Velde       Illinois
  • Dave Zabriskie              Utah
  • Tejay Van Garderen          Washington
You could say there’s a bias toward the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest.  But, of course, birthplace and residence aren’t the same thing.  Back in Jimmy Uchrinscko’s day, people didn’t move around much.  Jimmy died just 14 miles from his birthplace and was buried at West Newton Cemetery.  Leipheimer may have been born in Montana, but he has lived in California for years.  Danielson now calls Colorado home.  Hincapie is the big man on campus in Greenville SC.  And so on.

And none of that begins to account for the American riders’ overseas homes.  Their racing schedules—dominated by events in Europe—demand that the riders base themselves in Europe for much of the year.  The Australians do the same thing.  Is Cadel Evans now an Italian and Robbie McEwen a Belgian?  You could make that argument.

I’m inclined to think that success at the top level isn’t related to birthplace or to current residence.  At least, not yet.  But the domestic road racing scene in America now is dominated by riders from Colorado, Utah and California.  Will those states become to cycling what California, Texas and Florida have become to baseball?

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Importance Of Being Idle

Today is the end of a 14-day period without any saddle time.  I needed the break.  Physically I was OK—I wasn’t really bothered by some soreness in my left Achilles tendon—but mentally I checked out of the 2011 cycling season somewhere around Nov. 16.  At that point I had surpassed my 5,000-mile goal and I had caught a little cold that ended any realistic prospect of squeezing in another cyclocross race.

During the break I received emails and Facebook updates from friends and teammates who either were still racing or were coming back from their own breaks to begin winter training programs.  I’m planning on an indoor trainer session tomorrow but that doesn’t signal the start of my own program.  I simply want to knock off a little rust and see how I feel.  On Sunday I may venture outside at mid-afternoon, but I will require sunshine, light winds and temperatures close to 40.  I’ll go for a hike if the weather proves less appealing.  I’m still in the “want to” and not the “have to” part of the off-season.

Those friends and teammates who already are into a formal training plan have racing objectives as early as April.  Not me.  I have a few competition goals in mind but my “A” races come later in the season.  At least, I think they do.  Wisport has released only a fraction of its 2012 schedule.  The Tour of America’s Dairyland has released its dates but no specifics.  WEMS, ABR and the WCA have released nothing at all.  In the absence of these details it’s tempting to think of everything prior to September as merely a prelude to cyclocross, into which I want to immerse myself.  Realistically, new goals will come into focus as the various racing bodies publish their calendars.  And the WCA’s Wisconsin Cup series—usually interesting to me only from the perspective of a fan—could tempt me in 2012 with the inclusion of more road races.

Pursuing 5,000 miles sometimes turned cycling into a job, and just as I enjoy vacation days free from any responsibility to my employer, so too am I enjoying this time off the bike.  For the rest of the month I will continue with weightlifting, cross-training activities like hiking, and only occasional rides on the trainer or outdoors, weather-permitting.

In January I will recommit to the rigors of a formal plan.  I will be in Atlanta for three weeks on a special work assignment, and I will have my bike and my trainer with me.  I’m really counting on that time.  At the end of each workday I will be free from all other commitments and distractions.  My weeknights will be filled with trainer rides and trips to the company’s impressive fitness center; my weekends will be spent outdoors, building base miles in 50-degree weather.  Equally important, I will have complete control of my diet, which at home is too frequently compromised by a surfeit of irresistible junk food.  There’s no reason I shouldn’t come home in great shape.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Toy Story

When I was a kid, the weeks leading up to Christmas truly were the most wonderful time of the year.  I loved toys.  Hot Wheels were a big favorite during my elementary school days.  At less than $1 apiece they were the go-to toy for every boy in town, a more-than-suitable stocking stuffer or birthday present.  And like baseball cards, Hot Wheels were eminently portable and formed something of an unofficial currency.  I was more interested in racing my cars than in trading them, though, and that was a bit of a problem.  Drag racing was easy to simulate thanks to gravity, but approximating Formula 1 or NASCAR was nearly impossible.  There were a couple of race sets that attempted to solve the problem with hand-operated levers or battery-powered pinch wheels that would propel the cars around the circuit, but they didn’t work as well as their commercials would have had us believe.

For me, hope arrived in the incredible array of toys available from the Sears & Roebuck catalog: slot cars.  Once I knew they existed, there was no going back to Hot Wheels.  Sure, I dabbled briefly with the rechargeable Sizzlers line—I owed the Hot Wheels brand that much for the years of joy it had given me—but soon AFX slot cars dominated my Wish List.  I quickly moved on to the more expensive but faster G-Plus series and built a massive racetrack.  From the ages of 11-15, slot car racing was a big part of my life.  Then my family moved to a new house.  The racetrack had to be broken down and packed away.  A few years ago I fired up the cars once again—not just out of nostalgia, but also to see whether my son would like them.  His reaction was lukewarm.  Everything went back into storage.

It’s fun to reminisce, but I’m not tempted to set up the slot car track yet again.  Cycling is my sporting passion now.  So it was with surprise and then disappointment that I came across this unholy marriage of the two:

If the box hasn’t already convinced you of the complete absence of fun to be derived from the toy within, then check out the accompanying video.

Nice sidehacks.

I admit I don’t understand the many different flavors of velodrome racing.  Perhaps the Scalextric version provides for a reasonable pursuit, I don’t know.  Certainly, no one is going to model a miniature Graeme Obree and play with this thing for an entire hour.  And at £50—almost $80—this is an expensive toy!  With its 2012 London Olympics tie-in, maybe the idea was to create a toy for the British executive set: something whimsical and collectible but not really intended to be used.  If it had been up to me this toy never would have seen the light of day.  My idea?  Victoria Pendleton inflatable doll.  At just £16 the stores would be, uh, blowing them out.  But do mind our return policy, gov’nor, as there isn’t much of a used market.