Sunday, January 31, 2021

So Much For The Streak

I didn’t ride outdoors in January, and that makes it the first month with no outdoor riding since January 2014. The weather has to be just right for me to saddle up during the winter. I’m looking for 32° or warmer, and light winds, and sunshine, and clear roads. That’s a tall order around here.

Nothing in the forecast looks attractive at the moment, but I hope to get out a couple of times in February. By mid-March, I should be getting out multiple times per week. My latest start ever was in 2004 when I didn’t ride outside until March 26. I didn’t have the right clothing for cold weather back then. I do now, but it still takes fairly nice conditions to motivate me. And convinced as I am that this will be another year with no racing until autumn—if even then—I am not making any heroic efforts right now.

I often have said that winter rides are more about mental fitness than about physical fitness. Getting outside, especially on a sunny day, is rejuvenating and makes me feel less like I am under house arrest. So far this winter, neighborhood walks and the occasional longer hike have been enough for me … without the risks to body and bike that come from riding in the presence of snow and ice.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Pulling The Plug On NBC Sports Gold

If you enjoy bicycle racing on TV, then you probably noticed the recent announcement by NBC that it is restructuring its sports networks. That includes NBC Sports Gold, a standalone streaming package to which I have subscribed since 2017. At that time it was a good deal: $39.99 for a year of top events, the centerpiece of which was Tour de France coverage far in excess of what I could get elsewhere. We’re talking wire-to-wire coverage of most stages … even the boring neutralized roll-outs. But each year the package has gotten more expensive:

That’s a 45 percent price increase. Did your income go up 45 percent during the same period? Mine didn’t. And recently the package has gotten less comprehensive. Where are the cyclocross races I used to enjoy? They’re now on FloBikes, whose cheapest option is $12.50 per month. Screw that. I’m not going to pay NBC and FloBikes and GCN and whoever comes along next. I didn’t get rid of cable years ago so that I could replace it with a hodgepodge of different subscriptions. My NBC Sports Gold subscription runs through the end of May, so if the pandemic doesn’t wipe them out, these are the last races I will pay to see:
  • Paris-Nice (March 7-14)
  • Volta a Catalunya (March 22-28)
  • Paris-Roubaix (April 11)
  • La Flèche Wallonne (April 21)
  • Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 25)
It sounds like NBC Sports Gold is going to hold on through the end of 2021, so I’m walking away from a lot of Tour de France coverage … probably. Again, who knows what the pandemic is going to do to the schedule? I’m not willing to gamble good money on it.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The 2021 Hugh Jass West Bend Weekend

The Hugh Jass Fat Bike Series was back in West Bend this weekend. Yesterday the series returned to Regner Park, where it enjoyed such a successful debut in 2020. Today it visited Riverside Park. Racers competed for Strava segments on a course topped with a couple of inches of fresh, overnight snow.

Stopping at the registration tent allowed riders to warm up next to a campfire.

If you didn’t have your own fat bike, then you could rent one.

Riverside is a big park, so you could find yourself riding alone … not a bad thing during a pandemic!

Or you might just ride with another member of your own household. That’s what Team Pedal Moraine’s Brad & Samantha Heckert did:

Yeah, things were pretty laid back today, but at least the wheels were still turning!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021


If you can't spot the sucker at the table ...

Did you get email from USA Cycling today? I did. The governing body of American bike racing invited me to renew my license for the 2021 season, with this guarantee:

“Any member of USA Cycling who purchases a racing membership (Junior Membership, Collegiate Membership, Standard Membership or Racing Add-on) between November 15, 2020 and February 28, 2021, and is unable to start a (one) sanctioned USA Cycling event by December 31, 2021, will have their Standard Membership and Racing Add-on expiration dates extended until June 30, 2022.”

Gosh, thanks.

The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out every race I wanted to do in 2020, and despite the promise of the new vaccines there is no good reason to believe there will be a 2021 season. USA Cycling understands that, but I’m not risking my money to keep it limping along. June 30, 2022 may come and go and take my $100 with it. Yes, $100: a base membership of $50 and an additional $50 for being ranked higher than novice level. Would I use $100 worth of member benefits over the next 18 months? Not a chance. The USA Cycling guarantee is worth nothing to me without a guarantee that there will be races.

So, I’m not planning to renew for 2021. I might never renew. I still want to be a competitive rider, but it’s time to think about other ways to compete. The appeal of Strava and Zwift is becoming more clear to me. Whether in the real world or in a virtual one, competing in isolation might be the only way forward. I’m sure it is replete with fraud—e.g., guys using e-bikes, lying about their weight to exaggerate their power numbers, and so on—but at least it’s something. And it’s available year-round with no weather worries and with events that would accommodate my weird work and sleep schedules. Imagine me tearing up the trainer at 3 a.m. on a Saturday in January, racing a bunch of Europeans around Watopia. Plenty of people like it and maybe I would too, but it would be a capitulation of sorts, a surrender to full-time roadie status with no more cyclocross or mountain bike races. Could I live with that? I might not have a choice.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Bittersweet Championship Weekend

Michael Boroš is now a 4-time Czech champion.

For most of Europe, this was national championship weekend for the 2020-2021 cyclocross season. No fewer than 14 countries held championships, but Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Luxembourg, and, most notably, the Netherlands canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our national championships, originally scheduled for Dec. 8-13 in suburban Chicago, were canceled way back in September.

I tuned in for the men’s elite race from the Czech Republic on Saturday morning, and much earlier today I watched the Spanish championships: under-23 men, elite women, and elite men. That’s four races in 24 hours, my biggest cycling fan experience since the final week of the Vuelta. And it was a pleasure to watch live coverage for free, but these weren’t the races I wanted to see. With all due respect to the Czech and Spanish federations, their best racers are not on the same level as the Belgians and the Dutch. I took what I could get, and it was better than nothing.

From America there is now almost no way to watch cyclocross for free, even with a VPN tunnel to masquerade as a European viewer. The broadcasters have gotten better at locking down their content. This change hasn’t made me any more willing to subscribe to the broadcasters who hold the rights. Absence has not made my heart grow fonder; it has made me care less about the sport. I have not abandoned it entirely, but I am much less concerned with viewing every race.

It’s not just a question of televised coverage. It’s also true that I don’t like some of the people in the top tier of the sport. For all his obvious greatness, Mathieu van der Poel just sucks the life out of every cyclocross race he enters. I mentioned this before. When I see van der Poel’s name on the start list I lose all interest. I’m not going to invest an hour watching a race that no one else has a reasonable chance to win. And on the women’s side, unrepentant doping cheat Denise Betsema is having a lot of success this season. These are performances I cannot celebrate.

The new National Hockey League season will begin on Wednesday and I have access to all of those broadcasts. They can easily fill all the hours I have for televised sports each week, so I am not sure I will miss cyclocross even if I don’t watch another race this season. The return on my investment simply is not there anymore, and it would be even worse if I were paying for the privilege with money and not just time and hassle.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Get Ready For Winter Warm Up 2021

To follow up the massive success of its inaugural visit to West Bend last January, the Hugh Jass Fat Bike Series will return this year with two events on the same weekend: Saturday, Jan. 23, at Regner Park, and Sunday, Jan. 24, at Riverside Park. The format will be different this year as a concession to the COVID-19 pandemic. Racers will compete for Strava segments to limit the number of people on course at any moment. Fat bike rentals—$25 for 3 hours—will be available between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day.

The Hugh Jass races will be part of a larger celebration: Winter Warm Up 2021. The weekend will feature ice sculptures throughout downtown West Bend, including an ice sculpture demonstration on Saturday, 1–2:30 p.m., at Old Settlers Park, and the Winter Luminary Walk, 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, at Lac Lawrann Conservancy.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Sit And Be Fit

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have come and gone. Didn’t mean much to me. I’m not a holiday guy in the first place, and in the second place I’m really not enthusiastic about any event whose defining feature is drunkenness. No, there wasn’t any latenight debauch for me. I spent the waning hours of 2020 on the turbo trainer and when the clock struck midnight I was taking a shower. I spent the rest of the night watching old movies, not vomiting and making promises to God that in exchange for some relief I would never overindulge again. When morning came I congratulated myself for maintaining my regular schedule on one of my nights off from work, then I went to bed, 8 a.m. or thereabouts, like a good boy.

I’m trying a new trainer setup this winter, moving out of the home gym and into the home office. When I’m in the saddle I have a full view of the big TV in the den. Kind of hard to explain, but the home office and the den are combined and yet distinct areas. The home gym is now for strength training only, and I will continue to spend plenty of time there. But the home gym TV is old and its power supply is unreliable, resulting in occasional freezing of the picture. That’s fine when I’m lifting weights, as I can reset the TV quickly between exercises, but I don’t want that kind of interruption when I’m doing a trainer ride.

I will use my Garmin Forerunner to quantify my trainer workouts this winter … despite concerns about the accuracy of the device. On my New Year’s Eve ride it reported a maximum heart rate of 189 beats per minute. No way. That’s a gasping for breath effort, and at no point was I working so hard. At 55 years old, I’m not sure I’m even capable of hitting 189 bpm. And 27% of the workout in Zone 5? Again, no way. This was an easy spin. I did intervals, but the “work” periods were only marginally harder than the “rest” periods.

It’s also more than a little suspicious that my heart rate rose and fell so abruptly.

Again, the harder intervals were only marginally harder. Even if they had been all-out sprints, there would have been some lag time before the device accounted for the higher heart rate. The spikes may have occurred because I was in a much more upright position during the harder intervals. I added a blue line to the graph to show what appears to be a reasonable, gradual increase in my heart rate over the duration of the ride. That I feel I can trust, so maybe the “fix” for the wild fluctuations is simply to keep my hands on the brake hoods.

If the Forerunner can’t be trusted to give me accurate heart rate numbers, then at least it can be trusted to make some record of my workouts on Garmin Connect, and that alone will provide a level of motivation that had been lacking. My decision to purchase the Forerunner was motivated largely by a desire to have all of my fitness tracking in one integrated package: Garmin Connect. But the inaccuracy of the device is disappointing. Its heart rate and calorie calculations aren’t even close. Outside it’s a timer and a route mapper and a distance tracker, but inside it’s really just a stopwatch. Good enough, I guess, for this winter. Historically, I haven’t been able to maintain a commitment to turbo trainer rides. If, however, I have a good indoor training season, then perhaps next year I’ll invest in a smart trainer and put all of these worries behind me.