Sunday, April 6, 2008

A matter of degrees

My ride on Friday didn't turn out quite the way I wanted it to. The lunch ride was nice, but a bit shorter than I expected. Got back to work and ended up spending a bigger chunk of my afternoon tying up loose ends, even though I worked late the night before and came in early in hopes of having most of the afternoon free. I didn't have time to do my T-max intervals, and when I finally was ready to head out for the MTB ride, I was greeted with two flat tires. This did not surprise me, as the last time I rode my mountain bike, we ended up on an unfamiliar trail that was littered with goatheads. What did surprise me was how long it took me to change tubes and get the tires rideable again. I only had one spare 29er tube, so I had to patch the other one. Twice. And it was still leaking during the ride. And yes, I know that you can run a 26" tube in a 29er wheel, which is what I had in my front wheel before, but the 26" spare tube that I had also had a hole in it.

All this work changing tires got me thinking that it's time to go tubeless on the 29er. I have ridden tubeless tires on my mountain bike three of the last four seasons, with last season being the exception. It was always my intention to run my 29er tubeless, but when I built it up, I didn't want to hassle with the extra effort of tubeless conversion, so I rode it with tubes thinking I'd switch once I got a flat. I rode the entire season without a single flat. But my karma caught up to me on Wednesday, as those goatheads took out both tubes in a big way.

As I am inclined to do, I spent some of the time on my bike thinking--nay--philosophizing about tubeless. I got thinking of the other advantages of tubeless tires besides flat resistance. On a 29er, the extra rubber for the larger tube is actually a material amount of rotational weight. I'm not at all a weight weenie, but at the same time, if I can make things lighter where I'll notice the difference, I will. Taking the tubes out of my 29er will certainly reduce weight, and the tube I am eliminating is 10% heavier to begin with. 10% when it comes to rotational weight reduction is a big deal.

This may not seem at all related, but over the weekend, I spent some time watching the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Twice a year, the church broadcasts its global meetings for all the members, and anyone else who's interested for that matter, to watch or listen to. In some areas, including all of Utah and much of the rest of the Intermountain West, these broadcasts are available on local television and radio. One of the talks that I found particularly memorable was given by Dieter Uchtdorf, a member of the church's presiding council and a former commercial airline pilot in Germany. He told the story of a flight departed from New Zealand in 1979 and expected to be a sightseeing flight of Antarctica. Before the flight departed, someone mistakenly changed the flight path coordinates by just two degrees. As a result, when the flight reached Antarctica, the plane was some 28 miles off course from where the pilots thought they were. To enable the passengers to have the sightseeing experience intended, the pilots dropped to a lower altitude. Unbeknownst to those on board, they were directly in the path of Mt. Erebus. Due to overcast skies and the snow-covered slopes, the pilots were unable to see the volcano until it was too late. All 257 on board were killed.

The tragedy of flight 910 was used to illustrate the danger of being just a few degrees off from our intended course. Whether in life, religion, business, or sport it seems as if it's these small differences that truly matter. We've all seen sports matches won and lost by the narrowest margins and in the closing seconds. For a publicly traded company both missing and exceeding earnings expectations by two cents per share is a big deal.

And so it is with our personal dealings. How much of a difference does it make to hit the snooze bar twice? If you're like me, it could mean getting up 20 minutes later and not having enough time for a workout in the morning. Missing the morning workout could mean missing the only chance to workout all day. A few days like that each week, and the training goal is off track. Being off track for a training goal could lead to giving up altogether, and you see where it could go from there.

I'm pretty certain that any weight savings I get from tubeless tires will never make any meaningful difference. I don't have any plans to race my mountain bike this year, and even if I did, I don't have any delusions of winning. But I am planning on two trips to Moab this spring, including an all-day sufferfest riding the entire White Rim Trail in one day. Who knows, maybe the energy saved by not accelerating those 29er tubes up the climbs will be the difference between keeping up with the group and dying in the desert. I kinda doubt it, but you never know.


  1. are you coming to rawrod? see you there.

    what uchdorf doesn't account for is constant course correction. he mentioned it, but then doggedly used examples that undercut it. sure, if we're off by 2 degrees, and don't notice, EVER, we end up in the wrong place. it's no big deal to be off by 2 degrees. it's a big deal to be off by 2 degrees and never do anything about it.

  2. Yes, I am doing rawrod. Looking forward to it though a bit apprehensive about that many miles this early in the season.

    Yeah, I hear you about course correction, but Uchtdorf's point was consistent with mine, so I chose not to bring it up. Certainly my rhetoric would have been stronger had I raised it and then discredited it, but this is a blog that gets very little traffic, not a debate contest. Now if I were Elden...