Thursday, August 31, 2017

Works For Me

I have had a Gary Fisher, two Giants, a Raleigh, a Trek, a Diamondback, and a BMC since I declared myself a cyclist. Brand loyalty goes only so far with me and it doesn’t extend to bike manufacturers. All of those bikes were/are good bikes—maybe even great in a couple of cases—but they weren’t unique. They weren’t the only bikes of their kind or so superior to the alternatives that nothing else would suffice.

The same is true for clothing: Bontrager, Canari, Louis Garneau, Pearl Izumi, Performance Bike, Voler … all good. Helmets? I’ve had Bell, Giro, and now Bontrager. They all met the same ANSI/Snell standards for safety. I’ve had 3 pairs of cycling shoes—Pearl Izumi, Diadora, and Shimano—and they all still work fine.

In a sport that engenders passionate and often irrational loyalty to brands or to products whose differences are almost imperceptible, I’m not usually very picky. But I want to mention 3 products that work particularly well for me. They might not work as well for you, but at least consider them if you have similar needs.

There’s probably nothing I recommend more enthusiastically than Continental Gatorskin tires. Hyper-critical reviews will tell you that Gatorskins aren’t especially light (they were never meant to be) and that their rolling resistance compares unfavorably to similar products and that their anti-puncture technology has been superseded by new science. Whatever. They just work. I ride a lot of miles and Gatorskins last and last. They’re an excellent value and they give me a lot of peace of mind on the road. With other tires I expect to get flats, but not with these. Heavy and slow? They got me through 100 miles of Race The Lake at an average speed of 23.5 mph, so again: whatever.

Next on the list: Nuun. I used to be a Gatorade guy and there’s a lot to like about Gatorade. It’s readily available, cheap, and tasty. But it’s also high in sugar and therefore high in calories. I don’t need that; I need hydration. Nuun replaces electrolytes just like Gatorade, but without the belly bloat. It’s also clean and easy to transport: each serving comes in a tablet that dissolves in water. No more messy powder.

Finally, there’s A&D ointment. Yes, the diaper rash stuff. I have found no better chamois creme. Pennies on the dollar when compared to the boutique cremes, generic A&D is available at any drugstore/Target/Walmart. And because it’s just lanolin and petrolatum (Vaseline), you can also use it on cracked hands, chapped lips, rough feet, etc.

That’s what works for me. What works for you?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Future Perfect Indicative

Nino Schurter begins the celebration of a perfect season as he rounds the final turn at Val di Sole.
Call it a character flaw: I am rarely moved to sympathy and still less often to empathy. But today I am genuinely happy for the success of others.

Nino Schurter, for example. The Swiss mountain biker is the defending World Champion and the Olympic gold medalist from last year’s games in Rio. Today he became the first man to sweep a UCI World Cup season. He won the first 5 races in convincing style, so I was worried for him when he seemed unable to shake France’s Stephane Tempier late in today’s finale at Val di Sole, Italy. (You can watch the replay at In a post-race interview Schurter admitted that he isn’t as fresh as he was earlier this season. He couldn’t simply ride away from Tempier, but his well-timed attack on the final climb gave him the victory by a slim 4 seconds. Schurter’s next goal is to repeat as UCI World Champion on September 9 in Australia. I will be rooting for him. No one deserves it more.

I am far below World Cup level, but today’s Under-23 race at Val di Sole included someone I raced against last weekend. Pete Karinen is a 21-year-old Elite (Pro & Cat 1) racer in the Wisconsin Off-Road Series. The WORS season wrapped up in Lake Geneva today, but it probably was the last thing on Karinen's mind as he raced against riders from 22 other nations over in Italy. Karinen, the only American, placed 80th out of 104 starters. Last weekend he and his Broken Spoke teammate Cole House lapped me on the penultimate lap of the Snow Crown STXC race at the Brown County Reforestation Camp. It was a point of pride for me that I didn’t get lapped by any other Elite guys, and that I held off Cole and Pete for so long!

In a couple of years we might see Karinen running with the big dogs at the Elite level of UCI World Cup cross country. American men are not competitive in that company today. But Americans are among the best downhill racers. On Saturday, California’s Aaron Gwin secured the 2017 UCI World Cup downhill title with a win at Val di Sole.

My weekend was very quiet; no WORS finale for me. Saturday turned into a day for chores and I never found time to get on the bike. Today I did a fast 25 miles on the road, solo, cutting the effort short under threatening rain clouds. I would have liked to get on the mountain bike trails today, but I assumed last night’s rain left them too wet to ride. The WEMS race at New Fane is now less than 2 weeks away, so I plan to ride there at least once in the week to come. I’m strong right now and I expect a good performance at New Fane. Whether I finish high in the standings is another matter, as I know this year’s race will attract several strong riders who missed it last year, when I was 4th out of 26.

Monday, August 21, 2017

2017 Reforestation Ramble

Last weekend produced mixed results and mixed emotions. I went up to Suamico on Saturday afternoon with high hopes. In an otherwise unspectacular WORS campaign, surely the Reforestation Ramble would be good to me. It’s a course with few technical challenges and the site of my only two wins as a bike racer. I took 3rd place last year, my fitness is good … what could go wrong?

Well, I could crash. And I did, but it wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t the reason I finished 7th out of 13 in the Cat 2 (Sport) race for men, 50-54. At the midpoint of the 3-lap race, a younger rider who had started in a later wave caught me and misjudged the space he needed to pass safely. We banged handlebars and went down hard. I lost about 30 seconds in the exchange, but my finishing time of 1:27:54.4 was nowhere close to the 1:23:24.6 of age group winner Mike Owens (Colectivo Coffee). I was 54th of 104 overall. There was something missing today. I just wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

Does the answer lie in my Saturday night shenanigans? Maybe I was too serious in my approach to the unsanctioned short track cross country race on the lighted ski trails of the Brown County Reforestation Camp. It was great fun and my ability to stay on the gas for the duration of the race is a good sign that I’m getting fit for the cyclocross season. (The similarities between STXC and cyclocross didn’t go unnoticed: roughly 1-in-5 of Saturday’s competitors were on cyclocross bikes.) But there was a moment late in the race when I wondered whether I were damaging my chances for a good performance on Sunday. At that point I had already passed the point of no return, though, and those doubts didn’t slow me down.

I will slow down this week. Tomorrow’s cyclocross practice will be my only hard effort. I’m going to hit my mileage goal for the year sometime in the next day or two. I need 27 more miles to reach 3,378 this year and 60,000 lifetime. Next weekend I’ll be back on the mountain bike—just to practice, not to race. There’s nothing for me in the WORS finale at Lake Geneva next Sunday. I might use that day to get more familiar with Greenbush, site of this year’s WEMS Championships in October.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Move-In Day

My son Ryan will move into his dorm room today. He graduated from high school in 2016 with a bunch of Advanced Placement credits, then spent the last calendar year commuting to UW-Washington County and UW-Waukesha, and now begins his junior year at Ripon College. Living on his own will be a big step for him … and a big change for the rest of the family. But Ripon is just an hour away and there will be many chances for us to visit each other.

That’s my old Gary Fisher Wahoo in the photo above. It’s the bike on which my passion for cycling began. It was my only bike from 2003 through 2005. I outgrew it as my abilities increased. Ryan grew into it, and I was happy to hand it down. Today it goes off to college too. Ripon is a small school in a small community. There’s probably no better way for Ryan to get around than by bike. But, who knows? Maybe Ryan will come to love cycling for its own sake, not just for transportation. Despite a tiny enrollment of about 800 students, Ripon does have its own cycling team!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

2017 Race The Lake

Last year in my Race The Lake debut, a rear tire puncture cost me dozens of positions in the final 3 miles. I still had a good result, but not the result I deserved. For this year—the 10th anniversary—the race expanded from 88 miles to 100. The extra mileage was welcome news for me, as I’m a racer whose limited success comes from outlasting people rather than being faster. I went to Fond du Lac this morning with a pair of goals: finish in the Top 200 overall and in less than 5 hours.

If a Top 200 finish doesn’t seem very ambitious, then consider that Race The Lake is the biggest road race in Wisconsin, attracting a total field of 792 participants this year. And a century in less than 5 hours may be routine for some people, but I had never done one in less than 5.5 hours.

I can now say that my best century time is 4:16:28.43, and that I finished 157th overall. I’m really pleased with my performance. Unlike last year, when poor group dynamics led me to break away from my starting wave with a pair of accomplices, this year I started and finished with the lead group from Wave 4. It wasn’t the most cohesive unit on the road, but enough guys did enough work to deliver the group to the finish line. I was strong all day. My average speed of 23.5 mph was a big improvement over last year’s 21.5 mph (21.9 mph without the time lost to the flat tire).

The overall winner was Tim Savre (Project Echelon), a 27-year-old Cat 1. His time was 3:53:29.98. I couldn’t beat that. Nor could I beat former US Postal Team pro Robbie Ventura, who placed 7th with a time of 3:53:31.28. On the road I am just a 52-year-old Cat 5, after all. To be only 23 minutes behind those guys was a fair accomplishment.

My preparation for the race was really solid, and probably nothing was more important to it than the 100-mile training ride I did back on July 30. On that ride I experimented with a plastic shopping bag stuffed inside my jersey as a disposable insulator. I employed the same trick for the first 2 hours today, as the temperature was just 53° when my wave started at 6 a.m.  But that training ride left me with a broken rear derailleur. Fortunately, Mark Ramsey of Pedal Moraine contacted SRAM on my behalf and the manufacturer provided a warranted replacement. The bike worked flawlessly today.

I don’t foresee any more centuries on this year’s calendar … or any more 13-hour, 249-mile weeks! Shorter, more intense efforts will dominate my training now. I think I will make my 2017 cyclocross debut on Sunday, Sep. 10, at Humboldt Park in Milwaukee. I need more time on singletrack, too. There will be some room for long-ish road rides, though, as I still have to prepare for a trio of 3-hour Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series races. Next weekend: the Reforestation Ramble (Wisconsin Off-Road Series) at Suamico—and maybe a nighttime STXC race as a warm-up!

Sunday, August 6, 2017


I have been without my road bike for a week now and that’s not good as I try to prepare for next Sunday’s 100-mile Race The Lake. But what can I do? The rear derailleur is broken. I hope to have the bike repaired soon but in the meantime I have to keep training.

My cyclocross bike is a reasonably capable road bike—not the equal of my BMC, certainly, but good enough for training. On Tuesday I had a good performance in the first of this year’s cyclocross practices at Royal Oaks Park, then I switched back to slick tires for road rides on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Saturday’s ride was supposed to be a full-distance Wild Goose State Trail ride with Jeff Wren, but rain chased us out of Fond du Lac before we could get started. Fortunately, the rain didn’t come south to West Bend!

Today was another impossible-to-forecast day. Rain seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Late in the afternoon, Jeff and I headed to New Fane for some mountain biking. The trails were wet in a couple of spots, but certainly rideable. I learned later that it rained there at about 1 p.m., but I didn’t feel a single drop during my visit. And it rained briefly in West Bend while I was at New Fane, which shows just how widely scattered and localized the precipitation was this weekend.

I had not been on the mountain bike since the WORS race back on July 23, and I had not visited New Fane since July 16. But I felt only a little rusty and I got my groove back in a hurry. I’m satisfied with my lap times of 26:48, 26:42, and 26:35. Those are solid training laps and really not bad when you consider the condition of the trails. In a few spots I couldn’t follow my normal lines because they were wet, and much of the course was compromised by encroaching vegetation. There’s nothing like getting whipped by thorny branches. My left forearm looks like it lost a fight with a cat.

It’s back on the road tomorrow, presumably aboard the cyclocross bike again. Then I will switch to my backup wheelset/tires for cyclocross practice on Tuesday. By Wednesday I hope to have my BMC back in action, and it will get a couple of proper shake-down rides before next weekend.