Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mr. Clean

Today I overcame an obstacle that frustrated me every time I rode the mountain bike trails at New Fane last year.  Now, I didn’t go there very often, but never once did I ride up this silly little hill near the end of Loop 3:

The red dot marks the spot.

It’s not long or particularly steep or over-populated by rocks and roots, but something about it just defeated me.  Maybe it was the approach and the lack of momentum at the base.  Whatever it was, problem solved!  Today after a test lap of Loops 1 & 2 to make sure I was happy with my tire pressure, I completed two full laps and rode cleanly each time.  Not only did I make it up the little hill that had been my nemesis, but I did so with ease.

Was it the bike?  Today I rode my mountain bike, a 29er that fits me.  All last year I rode a slightly-too-small borrowed bike with 26-inch wheels.  When I rode at Glacial Blue Hills last Tuesday—my first real mountain biking experience with the 29er—I knew I was descending faster and more confidently, but I didn’t seem to be climbing any better.  Maybe I did take a little more momentum into the base of that hill today.  Maybe familiarity with New Fane is starting to manifest itself: the hill no longer catches me off-guard and I approach it in the right gear and on a good line.

The important thing is that I’ve made progress.  Even if I’ve only purchased progress and I’m still the same hack of a rider I was last year, I had a great time on the trails this evening.  I want to go back, to do more, to get faster.  Today I didn’t pay any attention to my lap time when I did my first clean run.  But feeling good about the way it had gone, I did time myself on the second lap.  As with the time I recorded on my Eisenbahn State Trail time trial course last Wednesday, I wasn’t riding all-out and I really wanted only to have a starting point for future efforts.  I got back to the parking lot in 32 minutes.  Taking just 5 minutes off that time would put me in the company of some very good riders.  Taking 10 minutes off would make me a threat for a high finish at the WEMS race in New Fane on Sep. 22.  I don’t know how realistic the latter scenario is, but at least I have a benchmark.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nicely Chilled

A funny thing happens when you enjoy day after day of March temperatures that are 30-40 degrees above normal: when the temperature drops to only 10 degrees above normal you feel cheated.  That was my lot today, and it took most of the afternoon for me to talk myself into throwing a leg over the bike.  Waiting didn’t result in higher temperatures, but it did allow the sunshine to return and that buoyed my spirits.  I didn’t have a lot of expectations for today’s ride.  Maybe that’s why it turned out so well.  I rode 51 miles—my longest ride of the year—including much of the 2012 Cheesehead Roubaix route.

The week ahead looks pretty quiet.  Tomorrow is a scheduled rest day.  Tuesday is supposed to be very windy, so that will be a good day to hit the mountain bike trails if there’s no rain.  Wednesday should be a good day for an after-work road ride.  Thursday is another scheduled rest day.  Friday might be another mountain bike excursion.  Next weekend is too far away to predict with any accuracy, as even a little bit of rain could force a big change to my plans.

It’s almost 10 p.m., so the plan for right now is to stop writing and turn on NBC Sports for same-day coverage of the Critérium International.  I already know who won, but I’ll enjoy watching anyway.  Next Sunday we get live coverage of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, always one of the best races of the year.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

News On A Rest Day

Yesterday the DNR opened the New Fane and Greenbush trails for the 2012 mountain biking season.  Last year the trails didn’t open until April 29.  I hope to take advantage of the extra time, particularly at New Fane.  Not only is it a good training area for the WORS races I plan to do, but it also is the site of a just-announced WEMS race scheduled for Sep. 22.  Having the opportunity to ride those trails all spring and summer should give me the experience and confidence to race well in the fall.

Sep. 22 might be a very busy day.  It’s a good thing that the 3-hour WEMS races don’t start until 3 p.m., because I think I’ll be at a cyclocross race that same morning.  If I don’t race at New Fane—and perhaps even if I do—I’ll volunteer some time for the event.  Bill & Brittany Nigh are hosting, but it won’t be a Team Pedal Moraine event.  The Northern Kettles Endurance Challenge at Greenbush on May 12 will be a team event, and I’ll certainly volunteer time for it but I don’t know whether I will compete there.

Before heading out on my cyclocross bike yesterday, I finally removed that goofy top-tube nameplate that I hated so much.  Until yesterday I lived with it because I thought removal would be difficult and/or would compromise the finish.  But I was able to peel off the nameplate using just my fingers, then I removed a tiny amount of residual glue with nothing more than WD-40 and spit.  If the bike were stealthy before with its black decals on a matte-black finish, it’s damned-near invisible now.

My Bike Snob NYC-approved disembodied hand presents the gaudy nameplate.
Yesterday I rode with the Steilacoom's stock Equation wheels.  I'm not a fan, but they're fine for rec trail riding.  They're set up with last year's cyclocross tires.  For a ride like Cheesehead Roubaix, I'll switch back to my new Mavic Aksium wheelset and Continental Gatorskin tires.  I like the flexibility, and the Cateye wireless computer allows me to switch easily between the two tire sizes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A PR And Not A PR

Today I did my first Eisenbahn State Trail out-and-back of 2012, and just for good measure I timed myself on the segment that I use for time trial tests.  In the course of riding 50 miles today I reached 377 miles this month, a personal record for March.  I did not set a PR on the 14.4 miles between 2nd Street in Kewaskum and the Eden town line sign on County Highway V.  Last year’s 46:27 still stands.  Today I covered the segment in 51:30.  But I wasn’t really in TT mode.  It’s only March 21 and I just rode a little harder than usual to put down a reference time for later this year.

My training plan—which has undergone radical customization during this uncommonly warm stretch—calls for a rest day tomorrow and I’m going to take it.  Today was the ninth consecutive day on which I’ve ridden, and I’ve put in many more hours than my plan recommends.

I’ve been trying to build mileage quickly this month because I’m still flirting with the Fools Classic, a 79-mile sportive in eastern Pennsylvania on April 7.  It features several unpaved roads and about 6,500 feet of climbing.  Registration is open but the event is nowhere near its 250-rider limit.  I’m still uncommitted.  Online registration closes April 1.  By that time I should know whether I will be fit enough to do a respectable ride, and I should have a reasonably accurate weather forecast.  If it’s too close to call—on either account—I’ll take my chances with day-of registration.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Roads Not Taken

Today's unconventional route.
Following up on yesterday’s 50-mile ride—30 of which I rode with other members of the Washington County Bicycle Club, anxious to get outside more than a month before the club’s first official ride—today I headed out for a solo adventure of the sort that many of my roadie brethren wouldn’t enjoy.  I got out of town on the Eisenbahn State Trail, enjoying the crunch of gravel from Barton Park up to Lighthouse Lane.  Then I shot over to Glacial Blue Hills and took the Ice Age Trail and doubletrack down to Beaver Dam Road.  Climbing up Town Hall, I decided to check out Hi-Mount Road, a half-mile ascent to a dead end.  I had never ridden it before, knowing that it goes nowhere.  But I haven’t been climbing especially well yet this year, so I took advantage of the chance to practice.  After passing through Kewaskum I got another chance to climb as I approached St. Michaels.

But the pièce de résistance today was the ascent of Lovers Lane near Boltonville.  It’s a mile of the worst public road I have ever seen, ending in the shadow of the chapel of St. John of God on Highland Drive.  On this year’s Cheesehead Roubaix, Lovers Lane will be the first of eight unpaved sectors.  It’s so ugly that it’s beautiful.  And it’s eminently climbable on a road bike, but you do need to pick a good line along the badly rutted road.  The road kicks up noticeably for the final 100 meters and is reminiscent of the Kapelmuur in the Ronde van Vlaanderen.  Today I was inspired to take a picture:

And for comparison, here’s the Kapelmuur:

No, it’s not exactly the same, but this year’s improved Cheesehead Roubaix route will give its riders an even more authentic Spring Classics experience than previous versions.  Frankly, I think I’ve nailed it.  And it looks like attendance will more than double … if I can count on the Facebook event listing.  Word-of-mouth from last year’s riders is creating greater interest in the ride.  But there’s nothing to sell out and no limit to reach.  Check out the event flyer and if it sounds like your kind of fun, you’re welcome to join me on April 29.

Friday, March 16, 2012

In With The New

Here's my new bike: a Trek X-Caliber 29er from Pedal Moraine.  It's race ready, which is more than I can say for myself.  The WORS season opener at Iola is just seven weeks away.  But most of the singletrack in our area is still too soft to ride, so I will continue to build fitness on the road.  My trip to Pennsylvania is just three weeks away and I'm counting on dry, open trails near Philadelphia to provide an opportunity for mountain biking.  Technical riding skills are not going to come easily to me.

Rec trails are firm enough to ride now, so maybe I'll get acquainted with the X-Cal this weekend on a long Eisenbahn outing.  The weather forecast is fantastic.  If this trend continues, then we should see an early opening at New Fane and Greenbush.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Out With The Old ...

I sold my 2005 Giant OCR1 today, just three days after relisting it on Craigslist.  It served me well through 2009, then I bought a carbon fiber Raleigh Competition in mid-2010 and the OCR1 fell into disuse.  I’m glad someone else will be able to enjoy it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

2012 WCBC Ride Schedule

This morning the Washington County Bicycle Club released its 2012 ride schedule.  You can download a printable version here.  These are the basics:

04/21  9 a.m. @ Hartford
05/05  9 a.m. @ Hartford
05/19  9 a.m. @ West Bend
06/02 10 a.m. @ West Bend
06/16  8 a.m. @ Hartford
06/30  8 a.m. @ West Bend
07/14  8 a.m. @ Hartford
07/28  8 a.m. @ West Bend
08/11  8 a.m. @ Hartford
08/25  8 a.m. @ West Bend
09/08  9 a.m. @ Hartford
09/22  9 a.m. @ Hartford
10/06  9 a.m. @ West Bend
10/20  9 a.m. @ West Bend

There’s a big emphasis on touring this year.  At least four of those dates will include mid-ride lunch stops.  Three of the rides are designed to coincide with area festivals.  The West Bend rides will continue to start and finish behind Mountain Outfitters, 109 S. Main Street.  The start/finish for the Hartford rides will move to Expedition Supply, 20 W. Sumner Street.  There will be post-ride picnics on June 16 and July 28.

Keep watching the club’s Facebook page for unofficial rides, the first of which is scheduled for Saturday.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Whirlwind Of Activity

Not in Kansas anymore.
What an uncommonly busy day of cycling for early March!  I ate breakfast while watching streaming coverage of Tirreno—Adriatico.  Just before lunch, I sold my 2008 Giant FCR3.  It had been my gravel grinder / recreation trail bike, but it became obsolete last year when I bought my cyclocross bike.  Thanks to Craigslist it now has a new owner.

I’m still looking for a buyer for my 2005 Giant OCR1.  I relisted it on Craigslist today.  It’s a good-looking bike with a nice wheelset and I’ve had a couple of inquiries so it’s only a matter of time until I make the sale.  There’s no room in the stable for bikes I’m not using.

Early this afternoon I watched today’s stage of Paris—Nice and, gosh, I feel bad for Levi Leipheimer.  If I were him, I think I’d skip tomorrow’s uphill TT and just soak in a hot bath all day.  NBC Sports will have tape-delayed coverage of the finale at 10 p.m. Central.

Later this afternoon I went out for my own ride, a successful maiden voyage on my new Mavic Aksium wheels.  Then came dinner and streaming coverage of the USA Crits races from Delray Beach FL.  Ben Zawacki won the men’s race.  The very lovely Erica Allar won the women’s race from a bunch sprint.

Erica Allar: Pretty like Liz Hatch, but actually wins races.
I experimented very briefly today with an unpaved section of the Eisenbahn State Trail, but it’s still a little too soft.  One of my Team Pedal Moraine teammates checked out the mountain bike trails in Glacial Blue Hills and found them too soft as well.  If our weather stays warm, dry and breezy, then those trails should be in good shape by next weekend.  Tomorrow will be warmer than today and there will be less wind—only 15 mph.  We may even break the record high of 63 degrees.  I’ll be out on the road for sure … hopefully for about 3 hours.

Monday, March 5, 2012

To Persevere And To Plan

Watching the pros is fun, but the clock is ticking on my preseason preparations.
My new road bike saddle arrived on Saturday and I installed it immediately.  It probably saved my weekend training plans, as I’m not sure I would have found the motivation to use the indoor trainer otherwise.  I was really bummed out by the heavy snow and frigid temperatures.  Being able to ride outside so frequently this winter has spoiled me, and I really haven’t enjoyed indoor training sessions since beginning my formal plan three weeks ago.

I haven’t ridden outside since Feb. 22 but this week looks promising.  We’re supposed to reach 50 degrees tomorrow and Wednesday, and I will try to get outside in spite of the high winds and threat of rain.  Thursday and Friday look a little cooler but still OK.  If Saturday really is sunny and 50, then I might stretch myself out a little with a longer ride.  My longest ride of 2012 is only 33 miles.  At some point this week I’ll have my new wheelset and getting outside for a test ride will be a must.

Today’s mail included the 2012 WORS Racer Handbook.  Some of my teammates already have signed up for the entire series.  For me it will make more sense to register for races individually, as I don’t expect to compete in all of them.  The last two or three races of the 12-race WORS calendar will conflict with my cyclocross plans, and a couple of others are just too far from home.  Here’s my current guess for my own racing calendar:

     5/06 Iola Bump & Jump             (WORS)
     6/03 Big Ring Classic             (WORS)
     6/17 Battle of CamRock            (WORS)
     7/07 Stump Farm 12                (WEMS)
     7/21 South Kettle Classic         (WEMS)
     7/22 Sunburst Showdown            (WORS)
     8/04 Bryce Master 19K Time Trial  (ABR)
     8/18 Kirke Vei Time Trial         (Wisport)
     8/19 Subaru Cup                   (WORS)
     8/26 Reforestation Ramble         (WORS)

I don’t know when to expect the release of the WCA cyclocross schedule, but I think the season could begin as early as Sep. 8.  I’ll be ready for it if I follow the schedule above.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi

Yes, another St. David’s Day is upon us and it seems like only a year has passed since the last one but in fact it has been 366 days.  I observed the “leap day” by wondering why anyone would have chosen to extend February when he could have added a day to April or June.  Today I am observing St. David’s Day only insofar as I know that it is St. David’s Day.  I’m not Catholic or vegetarian or opposed to the consumption of intoxicating beverages.

St. David and I are separated further by our respective attitudes toward material possessions.  During the 6th Century in Wales, owning a goat was an extravagance.  St. David would be appalled at my materialism, but as a cyclist I am comparatively frugal and practical.  For me, cycling is sport—I would make very different equipment choices if it were transportation—so from a certain point of view every cycling-related purchase is frivolous.  Still, I think I’m more concerned with reliability and value than with following every fashion and chasing every gram of weight savings.  When I upgrade to lighter equipment, it’s more of a happy accident than an obsession.

Today I ordered a new wheelset for the cyclocross bike and a new saddle for the road bike.  In each case I chose products with which I have had positive experiences.  On Sunday I mentioned the 2012 Mavic Aksiums but I opted instead for last year’s model.  At 1795g they’re a tiny bit heavier than the current model but they’re still 155g lighter than the wheels they will replace … and I got them for less than $200.  The new saddle is a WTB Valcon Pro like the one that came with my cyclocross bike.  The worn-out saddle currently installed on the road bike was original to my Giant OCR1 back in 2005.  The new one will be more comfortable, is 100g lighter, and was a steal at $58 (MSRP is $90).

When I was getting ready to buy my cyclocross bike, one of the things I considered was the compatibility of its parts with my road bike.  Today’s purchases give me three interchangeable wheelsets and two saddles that are nearly identical.  Both bikes use the same 10-speed drivetrain and have the same pedals.  For me, there’s security in such redundancy.  I don’t have to worry about missing a Saturday morning race just because I popped a spoke on Friday evening or because I brought the wrong pair of shoes.

It’s easy to break the last of the Ten Commandments when you’re surrounded by ultra-light, carbon fiber everything, and I do my best not to covet anything that is my neighbor’s.  But I’m no saint.  And if I can’t be canonized, then perhaps someday I can be Cannondaled.  Back to shopping ...