Sunday, March 31, 2013

Average Is Average For A Reason

OK, so this March was a big disappointment for a lot of cyclists.  But in truth March is still very much a winter month in Wisconsin, not the spring month we’d all like it to be.  March 2012 was an anomaly; March 2013 was much closer to average.  The comparison between the two contributed mightily to our dissatisfaction this year.

So, should I be disappointed that I have ridden my bike only 18 times for a total of 403 miles, year-to-date?  After all, by the end of March last year I had completed 31 rides for a total of 770 miles. Am I not way behind?

As it turns out, I’m doing just fine.  Here’s a breakdown of my year-to-date rides and miles on March 31 during my brief history as a cyclist:

Year Rides Miles
2013 18 403
2012 31 770
2011 16 341
2010 12 350
2009 10 275
2008 6 152
2007 7 151
2006 3      77
2005 4      74
2004 1       8

Yes, average is average for a reason.  But average is also subject to change over time.  Throw out the freakishly good March 2012 and I’m still trending higher.  That’s a product of better clothing and a greater willingness to ride in cold weather.

Today was a rest day for me as I spent time with the family on Easter Sunday … after watching a brilliant Ronde van Vlaanderen this morning.  I have a little bit of a sore throat right now.  Hopefully that won’t turn into a full-blown cold.  In the coming week I’d like to get April off to a good start.

Friday, March 29, 2013

My GPS Debut

Automatic mapping is just one of many features now available to me.

I received an Amazon gift card as a Christmas gift and then spent a few months debating how to use it.  From the start, there was no question that I would get something new for my cycling addiction.  I’m still in the market for wheels—probably pretty soon for the road bike and probably not until next spring for the mountain bike—but I have better options for those.  From Amazon I wanted something … accessory-ish, a known quantity that would be easy to return if it arrived damaged.  A GPS-enabled Garmin bike computer eventually emerged as the best choice.

I can see why people don’t like the rubber band mounting system but aside from that soon-to-be-addressed concern I was very pleased with the performance of the device on its maiden voyage today.  And the Garmin Connect website is going to make it very easy for me to catalog my rides in several statistical dimensions, some of which have been difficult or even impossible for me to use before.  I can’t tell you how many times I have screwed around with websites like MapMyRide or Bike Route Toaster to produce a map or to determine elevation.  Now I can just connect the USB cable at the end of the ride and upload all of my data.  So cool!

Sunday, March 24, 2013


March 28 through April 7 are mine to do with as I please, and until today I withheld my decision about traveling during my time off.  I thought about going to Philadelphia to see my mother.  Then that idea became less attractive when I found out my wife and kids weren’t on board, and it became really unappealing as the weather forecast evolved.  Philadelphia is reliably warmer than West Bend, but right now the difference isn’t enough to be a game-changer.  I’ve been burned by weather forecasts before, but I’m also much more willing to ride in cold weather than I used to be. High 30s to mid-40s will be good enough, under the circumstances.

A Philadelphia vacation would have included four days of driving.  It’s almost certain that staying home will provide more opportunities to ride.  And because I won’t be spending money on travel, I can more seriously consider a couple of equipment changes that might not have been possible otherwise.

On Saturday I waited for the warmest part of the afternoon to go out for a 29-mile ride, the 2013 debut for my Raleigh Competition road bike.  Today would have been warm enough for an encore if not for the wet roads and stiff breeze from the northeast.  I’ll be on the clock Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, hoping for a chance to ride outside at the end of the workday.  After that, I’ll be on my own time for a while, looking for a lot of miles.  I’m 14 rides and 405 miles behind last year’s pace!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

’Cross: Stitched

What had been broken is made whole again.

It’s vain to quote myself, but every one of my blog posts is something of an exercise in vanity insofar as I expect you to be at least somewhat interested in the things I have to say.  So, from my Nov. 30, 2012 post:
I’m not sure I can live with being forced to upgrade from Cat 4 to Cat 3 in cyclocross next year, but that’s what I will have to do if USA Cycling doesn’t amend the new guidelines it announced earlier today.  I’ve done 15 cyclocross races as a Cat 4 and I’ve never come close to winning even one of them.  In fact, I’ve never been on the podium.  But the new guidelines demand that I upgrade to Cat 3 based on my experience, not my results.  The one good thing about being a Cat 3 would be racing later in the day when the weather is warmer.  The reality, however, is that I’m not very likely to race at all if I have to compete against riders whose abilities so far exceed mine that I have no realistic prospect for success.
Today USA Cycling reversed course, doing away with the experience-based mandatory upgrade and refining the results-based criteria on which upgrades are rightly predicated.  The decision allows me to stay in Cat 4 where I belong and—not to put too fine a point on it—probably saves my cyclocross season.

If I’m reading the mood of the online forums correctly, the decision also restores a larger feeling of goodwill and faith in USA Cycling.  The organization has been much maligned over the winter. It was widely criticized as a UCI bootlicker during the USADA v. Lance Armstrong affair, and more recently it has come under fire for seemingly arbitrary rules like the one that keeps top pros out of unsanctioned mountain bike events.

I’m glad I renewed my USA Cycling license last month without upgrading!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Venue Change For Practice Crits

Team Extreme announced today that it will move the location of its criterium practice series to Washington County Fair Park.  The series originally was scheduled for the Wingate Creek Business Park in West Bend, but had to be moved for permit reasons.  The dates and times are unchanged.  By moving to the fairgrounds, the series will avoid open public roads.  The new course is almost identical in length and elevation profile to the old course, but will be run clockwise instead of counter-clockwise.  Currently, 22 men and 9 women are registered for what should be a great series!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Not Feeling So Lucky

Last year on St. Patrick’s Day the temperature in West Bend was 77 degrees and I did a 50-mile bike ride.  That was an uncommonly good day.  A typical March 17 tops out at 43 degrees.  Today we reached 28, but the wind chill made it feel much colder.  I stayed inside, watched a snow-shortened Milan-San Remo, and got a day older.

This is going to be another bad week, beginning with 1-3 inches of additional snow tomorrow.  In 2012 the DNR opened the New Fane and Greenbush mountain bike trails on March 21.  I’m convinced we won’t see a March opening this year.  Even after we get our last accumulation of snow it will take a lot of warmth and sunshine to dry things out.  And after tomorrow we’re heading for two days of below-zero wind chill, so I'm not contemplating an outdoor ride of any kind until at least Friday afternoon.

I haven’t ridden outside since March 8.  I’m now 11 rides and 304 miles behind last year’s pace. My 12-week training plan is a wreck, so it’s back to the drawing board.  This week I’m starting over: Week One, again.  Weather is largely a matter of luck, but dedication is not.  I have given the former too much influence on the latter.  If I can’t get outside, then I have to dust off the trainer.  It’s that simple.

Last week I mentioned that I might go to Philadelphia for Easter.  But my wife has a new round of cake decorating classes to teach, so she won’t be able to travel.  And my kids say they would rather visit their grandmother during the summer when there’s more to do.  I just want to ride my bike outside.  A good weather forecast for Philadelphia would virtually ensure my visit there because no other option is more cost-effective.  Bad weather in Philly would force me to find a new destination for my training camp, or to scrap the idea altogether.  I can travel very inexpensively by myself; I need only a hotel room and some groceries.  Philly is still a possibility, but it’s not the only one.

Let the obsessive, multi-city weather watching begin.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Wallonie, Slovakia, And Liège

Last night I had the privilege to join about 100 other guests at an open house and party to celebrate the opening of Belgianwerkx in Mequon.  Never mind that the shop actually opened back in January; it was great to talk the Belgianwerkx staff and to get expert advice from numerous factory reps.  One of the Shimano guys introduced me to electronic shifting as I sat atop a trainer-mounted road bike equipped with Ultegra Di2.  Unbelievable.  You just can’t imagine the precision until you try it for yourself.

Leaving the shop, we regrouped at a nearby restaurant and the party got started in earnest. Belgianwerkx handed out prizes valued at more than $2,500 and I garnered my share by answering three trivia questions:

  • What is the name of the French-speaking region of Belgium?  Wallonie
  • What is the home country of pro cyclist Peter Sagan?  Slovakia
  • LGG is the airport code for what city?  Liège

I scored a really nice Focus full-zip jersey, a pair of Swiftwick socks and a Cannondale hat:

Maybe this is the free buffet talking, but last night made me wish I could attend a trade show! Interbike is just six months away.  That plus CrossVegas plus the USA Crits series championships will make Las Vegas the center of the cycling world for a few days.  And I have a lot of unscheduled vacation …

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Winter At The Shop

Indoor trainer sessions are popular at ZuZu Pedals in Port Washington.
How do the bike shops in our area survive long, cold winters?  Many, I think, simply operate at a big loss until spring returns.  Others, like Mountain Outfitters, turn into winter sports shops, filling their sales floors with skis, snowboards and snowshoes.

Between the extremes of doing nothing and completely overhauling the business with each change of the seasons, some shops offer indoor cycling opportunities and maintenance clinics.  I think the list below is an accurate picture of what the shops offer in winter.  Please post a comment to correct me if I’m wrong.

Shop                  CompuTrainers   Indoor Group   Maintenance
Name                                  Training  Clinics

Belgianwerkx1 No              No No
Ben’s No No Yes
Crank Daddy’s Yes No No
Emery’s Yes Yes Yes
Expedition Supply No No No
Extreme               No              Yes No
Grafton               No No No
Local Motion Yes No No
Mountain Outfitters No No No
Pedal Moraine No No No
Rainbow Jersey No No Yes
Wheel & Sprocket2 Yes No Yes
ZuZu Pedals No Yes No

1—“No,” but since opening in January, Belgianwerkx has hosted meetings of the Ozaukee Bicycle Club and the Ozaukee County Mountain Bikers, has formed its own road and cyclocross teams, and has announced its sponsorship of the Giro d’Grafton criterium (June 22) and PumpkinCross (October 12).  That’s an impressive commitment from a new shop with a small amount of floor space and a small staff.
2—CompuTrainers are available at some, but not all, of Wheel & Sprocket’s locations.

If I owned a bike shop, I don’t know if I would offer CompuTrainers.  I have used them and I think they’re great, but it would take a lot of paying customers to offset my costs.  However, I am sure I could set aside a corner of my sales floor a couple of nights each week for people who want to train together on their own equipment.  (This is the Extreme Ski & Bike model.)  If nobody shows up, I haven’t lost anything.  If the idea finds an audience, I have increased traffic in my store to create more sales opportunities.

Similarly, I would offer bicycle maintenance clinics like Park Tool School.  With a much lower volume of builds and repairs to handle during the winter, my mechanic can stay busy by teaching others.  Even if we’re just showing Cub Scouts how to fix their own flat tires, we’re bringing people into the store at a time when they wouldn’t be thinking about us otherwise.

Winter at the shop could be an enthusiast’s dream, a time to repair and prepare, a time to keep your spirits high and your head in the game.  The shop should be the place where the local cycling community congregates no matter what the calendar says.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Stay Or Go?

Beginning on March 28 and continuing through April 7, I will be on vacation.  I wasn’t planning to go anywhere; those 11 days were intended simply to be free of any obligation to my employer. But this weather!  If the extended forecast is correct, then we will be lucky just to stay above freezing between now and March 21.  And I have no reason to believe that the period of my vacation will be appreciably better.  I’m really tempted to travel.

I don’t have much of a budget for a spring vacation, but I can always afford a trip to suburban Philadelphia to see Mom.  Staying at her house gives me all the benefits of a vacation for just the cost of gasoline and a couple of freeway tolls.  And southeastern Pennsylvania almost always has warmer weather than southeastern Wisconsin.  A typical April 1 in Mom’s neighborhood is 58 degrees, while here in West Bend it’s 49.  I would just about kill for 49 right now, so imagine the draw of 58!

I am already considering my cycling opportunities.  What I really need is a 12- to 15-hour training week, and that need is at least as much psychological as physical.  I am having a hard time committing to indoor sessions this winter and a solid block of outdoor rides would reaffirm my willingness to work.  If I go I will take my cyclocross bike only.  Last year I took my road bike, only to realize that I had the wrong gears for the Fools Classic, and my 29er, only to realize that the local mountain bike trails sucked.  Armed with two sets of wheels and tires, the ’cross bike will be all I need to enjoy the roads and the rec trails … if I go.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My 2013 Racing Calendar … Maybe

Still-not-final plans for a business trip to Nashville got a lot closer to becoming a reality this week, so I have a better feel for my racing calendar.  The business trip would almost force me to do what I want to do already: start the mountain bike season later in hopes of retaining enough energy to get through the cyclocross season that follows.  This is the plan for now, but of course it’s subject to change:

06/02 Su - WORS Red Eye Rendezvous @ Wausau
06/08 Sa – WEMS Stump Farm 100 @ Suamico
07/13 Sa – WORS Subaru Cup: Legacy Cross Country @ Mt. Morris
07/14 Su – WORS Subaru Cup: Impreza Short Track @ Mt. Morris
08/04 Su – WORS Sunburst Showdown @ Kewaskum
08/18 Su – WORS Alterra Coffee Bean Classic @ Franklin
08/25 Su - WORS Reforestation Ramble @ Suamico
09/07 Sa – WCA  Sheboygan Bicycle Co. Classic CX @ Sheboygan
09/08 Su – WORS Treadfest @ Lake Geneva
09/14 Sa – WEMS Northern Kettles Fall Epic @ New Fane
10/12 Sa – WCA  PumpkinCross @ Grafton

There will be several more cyclocross events, but the WCA hasn’t released the schedule and I’m certain only of those two dates.  The WEMS races are just for fun and training on courses that are good for me; I have no series ambitions.  As for WORS, the schedule above would give me seven races and that’s the magic number to see how I stack up against Cat 2 competition.  If I have a DNF or a really poor finish I will consider adding a race like Sheboygan (Oct. 6) to solidify my standing in the series.  But I really do expect this to be a learning year in “Sport,” a stepping stone toward more serious objectives in 2014.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Roads Girdle The Globe

For more than a decade the city of West Bend has debated the construction of a new bridge over the Milwaukee River to extend Trenton Road south to Decorah Road.  In mid-February the concept took a big step forward as the city issued a call for contractor bids.  Those bids must be submitted by this Friday.  The city will choose one—probably on or before April 15—and construction could begin as early as 2014 … or as late as 2016.  This map shows the location of the proposed bridge and roadway:

In general, the project should be a good thing for area cyclists.  Existing bridges at River Road and County Highway M are four miles apart, and between them the only place for a cyclist to cross the river is at Quaas Creek Park.  Some riders are reluctant to use the park bridge because of the coarse gravel that links it to Stocky’s.

But not everyone will be happy.  The dramatic increase in motor vehicle traffic on Trenton Road south of State Highway 33 will spoil the quiet business park that has been used for the last few years as a practice course for local criterium racers.  The course is marked in green in the map above.

Crit practice is going to be a big deal this year, with prizes and USA Cycling upgrade points on the line.  The series begins on April 2.  If you’re a road racer, take advantage of the opportunity.  In 2014, it might be gone.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cycling’s Ongoing TV Challenges

Miss me?
In January I wrote about the disappointing start to the NBC Sports cycling calendar for 2013.  In mid-February the network finally revealed its full broadcast schedule.  And the schedule isn’t all bad, but some of the choices are hard to explain.

It’s important to remember that NBC is a network, not a single channel.  Most cable/satellite providers carry the NBC Sports channel and the local NBC affiliate (for the Milwaukee market, that’s WTMJ, channel 4).  Far fewer providers carry NBC Universal, a channel on which you will find the Vuelta a España, several smaller stage races, and a number of one-day races.  If you have NBC, NBC Sports and NBC Universal, then you’ll get to see a lot of racing this year.  But notably absent are Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Amstel Gold, the Tour of Romandie, the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de Suisse, and the Giro di Lombardia.  How can NBC leave those events off the schedule while it includes such also-ran events as the Tour of Turkey, the Grand Prix E3 Harelbeke, the Three Days of De Panne, the Four Days of Dunkerque, the GP Plouay and the GP Wallonie?  Even avid cycling fans are unlikely to recognize some of those.

Then there’s the issue of timeslots.  Some of NBC’s broadcasts will occur late at night, hours after the conclusion of the actual events.  That should allow NBC to present highlights free of the technical problems that plague its live coverage, but it won’t do anything to grow the audience for cycling.

Early this morning VeloNews published a thought-provoking editorial on cycling’s TV problem.  What’s your opinion?  Would you rather watch a live broadcast in its entirety despite the risk of boredom, or would you prefer a condensed broadcast that packages race highlights with personality profiles and technical reviews?  Please see the poll in the right-hand column of this page and cast your vote.

VeloNews is a road-oriented magazine and the editorial is written from that perspective.  My take on televised road races is this: I want to see everything but I realize I’m not a typical fan.  To grow the viewership the best approach is live coverage that includes other features which can be shown during lulls in the action.  But of the two options I'm presenting in my poll, I'm picking the cleaned-up highlights approach.  I'll get my wire-to-wire coverage on the Internet.

Pro cyclocross is almost made for TV already: begin the broadcast on the hour with a course preview and rider interviews, start the race 15 minutes later, follow the live action for 60 minutes, then wrap things up with the podium presentation and more interviews and you’re all done in an hour and a half.  And ’cross doesn’t require an army of cameramen because the course isn’t 120 miles long.

Time trials and track events fit neatly into a televised format too.  Sure, a TT can take several hours to unfold but we don’t need to see it all.  Usually the top contenders are grouped at the end of the start list, and with only a handful of riders on the course at any time, it’s easy for the TV announcers to build drama around individuals rather than presenting an amorphous peloton.  Track cycling is perfect for TV because it is so confined by the physical dimensions of the velodrome and by the short duration of its events.  Some endurance events surpass 60 minutes, but if you gave those the highlight treatment and concentrated on the sprints, then you could give viewers multiple races in a single 1-hour program.

On Sunday we’ll get to see whether NBC was listening to its critics during the Tour Down Under—I doubt the network reads my blog but let’s hope all of the negative comments on its Facebook page didn’t go unnoticed.  Highlights from the Tour of Oman will air on NBC Sports at 11 a.m. CST, followed by live coverage of the Paris-Nice prologue at noon.