Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The biggest race of the year

The biggest race of the year* is coming up this weekend. Have you made plans to attend? Even if you're not racing, you should still get out and watch.

*Biggest race of the year applies to the communities of Midvale, Lehi, Bountiful, and Holladay.

Of course I'm not talking about that race in France where some 60 kilogram Spanish guy will have his way with all comers, and the only drama will be the race for second place or the number of times Paul Sherwin wrongly picks Juan Antonio Flecha to win a stage. I'm talking about good old American crit racing. Laps around a city block. Fast, spectator friendly, cheer for people you actually know kind of racing.

The organizers have done a great job selecting courses, so racers and spectators alike should be in for a treat. If you've never raced or watched a crit, it may just look like a bunch of guys riding in circles., which is essentially what it is, but it's a little more nuanced than that.

Chances are that someone who doesn't like his chances in a big bunch sprint will try to establish a break. Teams that do like their chances in a bunch sprint may put someone in the break, either because their guy is a better sprinter or just so they don't have to chase. If one or more teams don't like the composition of the break (they don't have a guy in it or they do have a guy in it but don't like their chances against someone else in the break), they may chase it down and force the cycle to start over again. It's difficult for a small break to stay away if the main bunch is working together to chase it down, but it's rare for the main bunch to work together. Many riders will either let it go because they have a teammate up or because they know if they work to chase it, they'll burn what matches they have and get an even worse result than if they just sit in and save something for the end.

If it is all together at the end, the last few laps will be the fastest of the race. It's rare for a break to get away at the end, but that doesn't mean people won't try. The field will be strung out single file, and the sprinters will be looking to get to the front, ideally with some help from teammates to provide a leadout. Well-organized leadout trains like you see in the pros are almost nonexistent in amateur racing. The more likely scenario will be sprinters following the guys they know will try to make an early move and trying to get on their wheels for a leadout.

Whether spectating or racing, you should have plenty of chances this weekend, with racing from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Midvale and Lehi on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively, and racing from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. in Bountiful and Holladay on Sunday and Monday, respectively. Will you be there?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Please excuse any typos

I've noticed a trend amongst mobile device users to add automatic footers to their email messages along the lines of "please excuse any typos, sent from my mobile device.*"

*The only one of such messages that I will exempt from the forthcoming diatribe belongs to the Zeph, because his, "if this message looks like I typed with my elbows..." is at least humorous.

Now I get that typing on a tiny little touch screen is more difficult and perhaps makes one more prone to typing errors (though with the autocomplete feature, such an assertion is debatable--more likely than spelling errors are autocompleting an unintended word errors). That's fine.

But does reading from a little screen prevent you from reading what you wrote? I mean you just read the message you're responding to and seemed to not have any problems. So why can't you read what you wrote to make sure you spelled everything right. Don't you do that anyway? And especially don't you read what you wrote if you're sending a "reply all" to something like 2,000 employees* of a major corporation?

*Another topic from which I'll spare you my rare but fun rants is the tendency at my current employer to send "reply all" messages to release announcements redundantly reiterating the congratulatory message of the original. It seems that there is a direct correlation between one's perceived relative importance and one's propensity to send such a response. But I'm guessing that nobody is keeping track of whether all the VPs and the most self-important of the directors have sent such a response. OK, I guess I didn't spare you the rant and you got a tangential rant instead. Moving on.

I think I'm going to make a new footer that says "Please excuse any typos. Though I may or may not have sent this from my mobile device, I was too lazy to proofread my massage."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An open letter to the Fat Cyclist

Dear Fat Cyclist:

Since you're my friend, and I care about you, I thought that the best way I could talk to you about something very important was to put it in a public place where tens of people, but quite possibly not you, will likely read it.

Like me, you tend to obsess about certain things. In particular, you tend to obsess about upcoming bike races. In general, when one puts pressure on one's self to have a good result (however one chooses to define that) at a bike race, a bit of obsession is a good thing. But too much obsession is not, as you may lose track of the real objective while pursuing the intermediate details. Not to mention that too much pressure and obsession and chatter will inevitably lead to disappointment.

Since I know you are just under two months from your main objective of the year decade better part of your adulthood, I thought the timing was right to offer up a bit of advice, however unqualified I may be to offer it. [For those not in the know, the objective is the big belt buckle at Leadville.]

My advice is quite simple: stop obsessing about weight. You are light enough, and if you do the right things in training and put the right kind of fuel in your system as you get ready for the race, you will come into the event at the "right" weight, whatever that is. You are not Chris Horner, and this is not the Tour de France.

In the Tour, Chris has a team that will ride in front of him for five hours, leaving him on his own only at the very end of the stage for a blistering climb of all of about 20 minutes or so. At Leadville, you will be on your own for [hopefully under] the entire nine hours. Whereas Chris needs to be as light as possible for that crucial effort, your objective is a matter of survival over pure speed.

Yes Leadville has a lot of climbing, but these are not Clark's TT sorts of efforts. They are survival climbs. Many of them require walking your bike. And no matter how well you climb, climbing is not your cycling superpower. Your greatest advantage as a cyclist is the same as my greatest advantage as a cyclist: you are able to keep pedaling at a relatively high intensity for pretty much as long as you can keep fuel in your system. Play to that strength.

By now you probably know the course well enough to know what your splits need to be to make nine hours. But just in case, print the splits on a piece of paper and tape it to your top tube (but do not tape gel packs to your top tube, as such is an abomination). If you are ahead of pace, relax a little on the climbs to conserve some energy. Use that energy to go fast on the flats and descending. Going hard on the flats won't take the same toll as going hard on the climbs will.

The best way to train for racing is racing. Do the midweek races as well as the PC50 or the Crusher or the Tour of Park City (or all three).

You've got all the right tools--your new Superfly 100 (with XTR!) is the perfect bike: light, efficient, built to take the edge off the rough stuff to avoid fatigue and help you make up time on the descents. Of course your other Superfly would have been fine too, and it's proven to be up to the task, but I would ride the Superfly 100 if I were you, too. Physically, you're lean and training to peak at just the right time. Mentally, you have wanted this far too long not to get it. This is your year to put it all together. Now go and get it. You can't get fast and get skinny simultaneously.

Good luck!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Holladay Holiday Criterium

July fourth is a great time to be on the bike. Last year, the city of Holladay put on a great race to honor the late Terry McGinnis. From my post last year:
Independence day may be about barbecues and fireworks, but you gotta earn your cheeseburger. Which means as much time on the bike as possible over the holiday weekend. Saturday, I signed up for the Terry McGinnis Memorial Criterium in Holladay. Terry was a fixture of Utah bicycle racing for many years who passed away of cancer last year. I never knew him, but his friends and family should be proud of the event the race organizers and city of Holladay put together in his honor. The course was excellent, as was the community and sponsor support.

This year should be better still. In addition to the July 4th event in Holladay, three other cities, Lehi, Midvale, and Bountiful, will be hosting races. Holladay has pulled out all the stops to make this a signature event to showcase their city. Racers will appreciate that the city is inspecting the race route to make any necessary road repairs. And while they're not going as far as the Italians do for the Giro and laying down fresh tarmac, repairing potholes will be an improvement from the orange spray paint treatment we are used to.

In addition to being racer-friendly, it's also a spectator-friendly course, making laps around the park. Perhaps the best part is that if you stick around until dark, you can watch the city's fireworks display from the same venue.

For more information, you can check out the event's Facebook page. You can register here.

Full disclosure: obviously I'm trying to get the word out about this race. So what's in it for me? Free entry. Which for a lot of events wouldn't be enough, but this really is a well-organized race on a great course.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Running versus Cycling

My wife is training for a half marathon and has spent the last few weekends doing long runs to prepare. I decided to keep her company on yesterday's run, which led to the inevitable comparison of running versus cycling. Here it is by the numbers:

Running: shorts, socks, underwear, shirt. Total cost=$200. $250 if you're a woman and need a quality bra.

Cycling: shoes, bibs, socks, jersey, helmet, gloves, glasses. Total cost=$775. A little foam padding in the bibs makes them cost five times as much as a pair of running shorts and underwear even though they're made out of essentially the same materials.

+1 running

Running: shoes. Total cost=$125. $250 if you also want a pair of trail running shoes.

Cycling: bicycle. Total cost=$4000. That much again if you also want a mountain bike. That much again if you also want a TT bike. Half that much again for a cross bike.

+1 running

Running: watch. Total cost=$35-$400 depending on whether you want a Timex or a top-of-the-line Garmin.

Cycling: computer. Total cost=$50-$3000 depending on whether you want a wired Cateye or a top-of-the-line SRM. Multiply by number of bikes you own.

+1 running

Running: you can run pretty much anywhere you can wear shoes. Want to run on a business trip? Pack some shoes and a pair of shorts in your carry-on.

Cycling: you need to find a suitable road/trail and a way to get there. Want to ride on a business trip? Either arrange for an expensive rental that will require an extensive dick dance to get it to almost fit or else purchase a very expensive travel box for your bike and be prepared to pay the equivalent of a second fare when you inevitably fail to convince the airline agent that it's a "trade show display."

+1 running

Likelihood of desperately having to poop at some inopportune moment during any event of 90 minutes duration or greater:

Running: >80%
Cycling: <0.1%

+5,000 cycling

Final tally
Running: 4
Cycling: 5,000

Credit where credit is due to The Oatmeal for his similar comparison of the pros and cons of a man sitting down to pee.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A life of its own

Andrew McLean talks about the importance of saying "yes" when invited on trips, because when you accept an invitation, you're more likely to be invited a second time. Kris and Alex are both great about saying "yes," so when I got the idea to go to Price* for some trail riding, I figured they'd be up to it.

*I was interested not only in trail riding, but also stopping at Fuzzy's Bicycleworks to get a sticker for my crappy hippie Subaru that says "Crappy bikes make Baby Jesus cry." Unfortunately, when we got to the shop, they were sold out.

Alex and Kris are currently unencumbered with the drudgery of a 9 to 5, so when talked of going to Price, the conversation soon evolved into "if we're going that far, we may as well do an overnighter and..." Which led to the trip taking on a life of its own that included taking the day off Thursday to ride trails, hike a slot canyon, then ride mountain bikes back to the trailhead, with a little more slickrock riding thrown in for desert. It was the best possible outcome.

It was a jam-packed 36 hours. I got home thoroughly exhausted, saddle sore, and with a grin I can't seem to wipe off my face. Here are some photos of the canyon.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Review of the Giant Trance X2

A few weeks ago, I began toying with the idea of a new mountain bike. This was initially prompted by a trip to Gooseberry Mesa where I got the crap beat out of me riding a hardtail. I decided it was time to go back to a full suspension bike. The desire for a new bike was confirmed a week or so later trying to keep up with the Cottles on some twisty descents in Corner Canyon. My experience with the Cottles, combined with the challenge of getting saddle-bar drop correct on a size small 29er frame led me to suspect that I not only wanted a full suspension bike, but that I also probably wanted one with 26" wheels.

Since my team shop, Revolution, sells Giant and Cannondale, those were the brands on my short list. I've been riding a Giant TCR road bike for three seasons, and it's never given me cause to consider buying a new bike, so I figured I'd start there. I called the shop and reserved a Trance X for demo.

The good parts version of my review is this: it is the most fun I have had on a bike in years. If you're looking for a do-everything mountain bike, look no further.

If you want nitty-gritty detail, here goes: Giant manufactures many of the bikes labeled with other brand names. They know what they are doing when it comes to making bikes. The Maestro suspension is remarkably efficient when climbing, even with five inches of travel. I used to have a five inch travel Specialized Enduro that I got rid of after getting my first hardtail 29er, primarily because the hardtail climbed so much better that I never wanted to ride the Enduro. I didn't feel like I was making that kind of a tradeoff with the Giant.

Downhill and technical terrain were where the bike really came into its own, though. My first ride was Thursday afternoon in the Orem foothills. I was riding with Kris, who lives in the area and knows the trails well. I had him lead on the descents because I figured he'd have home field advantage. I had no trouble keeping up and could have gone faster.

Rides two and three were on some technical terrain near Zion National Park. Aaron was riding with me and commented that I was seated and pedaling through sections where he was out of the saddle and coasting (on his hardtail 29er), a feeling I knew all too well from my Gooseberry trip a month earlier. I was riding up rocky features I may not have even attempted on my hardtail, and as my confidence grew, I stopped seeking the cleanest line off of a move in favor of a little jump, drop, or other form of excitement.

Just to make sure this wouldn't be a bike I would enjoy everywhere but my own backyard, I rode Corner Canyon Tuesday morning before returning it to the shop. Let's just say I would like to ride this bike down Ghost and Rush with the Cottles--I think I'd do a much better job keeping up.

When I returned it to the shop, Ryan asked me how I liked it, and all I could do was gush. There was a guy standing at the counter while I was talking to Ryan who let me go on and on for a few minutes before finally interjecting some comments about the Maestro suspension and the component spec. Turns out I had walked in when the Giant rep happened to be in the shop. Needless to say, he was pleased to hear that they'd be selling another one.

Giant was thinking real world when they spec'd the Trance X2 that I rode. If you're a non-racer, one-mountain-bike, trail rider who wants a nice bike without breaking the bank, I think this is the sweet spot. It's got a tapered head tube like all the Trance models as well as the quick release 15mm through axle fork. These two features made for incredible front end stiffness and control. Beyond that, it's a mix of Shimano XT and SLX that makes for a sensible, reliable, and still reasonably lightweight group. The complete bike, with pedals, tipped the scales at 12.75 kilos (28.1 pounds). Not XC racer light, but light enough, especially for the price. One other feature that highlights the attention to detail is the Kenda Nevegal tires--the front was the Stick-E rubber compound for better grip, while the rear was the dual tread compound for longer tread life, a minor but noticeable touch.

In order to sound objective, I should probably find something about the bike to niggle with, but really all I can think of is that the Fizik Gobi XM saddle wasn't the most comfortable perch. I could live with it, but when I buy my own, I will probably get a different saddle.

The only problem I have now is that I was thinking I'd buy a new bike next spring. I'm not sure I can wait that long for the Trance.