2012 Cycling Report

granfondo-post

Deep In the Pain Cave:  Topping out on Coleman Valley Road at Levi’s GranFondo

A reporter once asked cycling legend Fausto Coppi what it takes to become a champion.  Coppi’s response:  “Ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike.”  There are no shortcuts to success in cycling (or any other pursuit for that matter).  I started riding as a way to improve my cardio fitness for rock climbing.  I’m by no means a great cyclist, but over the years I’ve logged enough miles to hold my own on group rides.   On a good day and under the right circumstances I can even mix it up with racers.  Having a strong day on the bike is a great feeling, but to maintain at this level I need to spend at least 3-4 hours a week in the saddle.  And that’s the rub.  Ultimately cycling is a “second hobby” for me, and with a demanding job and two youngsters at home, I have maybe 8-10 hours a week to pursue my athletic interests.  If I want to achieve my objectives in rock climbing, I need to cut back on cycling, re-dedicate myself to climbing, and swallow my pride when I get dropped on group rides (easier said than done).  With that as context, here are my numbers for 2012:

Total miles:  3,896 (75 miles and 2.25 rides per week)

Up 17% over 2011 / Down 22% from 2010

212 extra miles on foot

To a non-cyclist these numbers may seem big, but a serious cyclist wouldn’t consider this to be a lot of training (many of the guys I ride with do 5-6 rides a week).  My mileage will probably drop pretty significantly in 2013 as I re-focus on climbing.  I’ve got some big climbing objectives in 2013 – but more on that later…

No Compromises

My Domane 6.9 – The best-riding bike I’ve owned.

I never envisioned myself buying a Trek bike.  It’s the brand that Lance Armstrong rode throughout his career, making Trek the most widely recognized bike brand in America.   I used to scoff at Trek as a “corporate brand”, favoring small, boutique brands like Parlee.  But sometimes bigger is better.  Trek has a larger R&D budget than any boutique brand.  Theoretically this should translate into better technology and ultimately a more advanced bike.

This year Trek released a new bike called the Domane (latin for “the King’s Crown) that caught my attention.  The Domane is a full-on race bike but is designed for “classics” — long, grueling races in Europe that typically involve very rough road surfaces.  It’s got a unique new feature called IsoSpeed that isolates the seat tube from the rest of the frame.  The seat tube and top tube are seperated by elastomer inserts that give the seat tube the ability to flex. The idea is maintain the stiffness and performance characteristics of a high end race bike but with more comfort.  (Here’s a video with more details.)  Trek claims that the bike has twice the vertical compliance of other race bikes with no sacrifice in performance.  The bike also has less aggressive geometry than a pure race bike, which adds to the comfort level on long rides.
The Domane’s unique feature is IsoSpeed, which decouples the seat tube
from the top tube, 
resulting in a smooth ride with no compromise in performance.
My previous bike, a Scott Addict R1, is one of the stiffest and lightest bikes you can buy.  It’s a top-notch race bike but after long rides I often felt like I had been beaten with a bag of oranges.  I can’t say that it’s directly related to riding, but this year — for the first time ever — I’ve had lower back problems.  It also doesn’t help that the Texas Department of Transportation loves to lay down chipseal on the rural roads we ride. So as soon as I heard about the Domane, I scheduled a test ride at a local bike shop.  The difference in ride quality was so stunning that I ordered a Domane immediately.
I’ve only ridden the bike a couple of times so far, but it’s clearly the best-riding bike I’ve owned.  It is responsive and stable like the Trek Madone, but much smoother on rough road surfaces.  I’m looking forward to putting it to the test at Levi’s GranFondo later this month…

2011 Cycling Report

My favorite ride of the 2011 – Levi’s GranFondo

Cycling is a great sport for numbers geeks.  We ride with computers that track speed, distance, cadence, power, heart rate and more.  Then we upload all of that information to Strava, which is sort of like facebook for athletes.  Sometimes reviewing the numbers after a ride and talking trash with other riders is more fun than the riding itself.  It’s also fun to look at your totals at the end of each year.

Compared to 2010, I spent a third less time on the bike.  There are a few reasons for this.  The biggest one is the weather.   We had the hottest summer on record this year and since I don’t do well in extreme heat I hardly rode at all.  Also, I did far fewer organized events (a.k.a. “t-shirt rides”) which are great for piling up miles.  Finally, I was generally less motivated this year to get on the bike.

So here are my final stats for 2011:

Total Rides:  98 (down 38% – less than 2 rides/week!)

Total Miles:  3330 (down 33% – only 64 miles/week)

Time on Bike:  277 hours (down 34%)

This is not a recipe for becoming a stronger cyclist.  Most of the guys I ride with log two or three (or even four) times as many miles.  But cycling is their primary sport whereas my first love is climbing.  However, somehow I did become a little stronger in 2011.  My times on routes I do regularly are faster, although I have far less endurance for longer rides (60+ miles).

Hopefully I’ll be able to do more riding in 2012.  As they say, I’m not getting any younger…

My New Addict-ion

My 2011 Scott Addict R1 (the seat post and stem shown in the photo are temporary)

For the past year or so I’ve had the itch to get a new bike.  There was no good reason for for me to upgrade — the Kuota Khan I bought in 2008 still rode great.  But cycling is a gearhead sport — we’re always looking for something better and faster (and sexier).  Initially I had my eye on the new Cervelo S5, an aerodynamic road bike with some compelling science behind it.  But after an unimpressive test ride, my attention turned to the Parlee Z5 SL, which rides like a dream and has a minimalist aesthetic that appeals to me.  The only thing that kept me from pulling the trigger was the price tag, which approaches the cost of some new cars.

Then I stumbled across an eBay auction for a 2011 Scott Addict R1 in my size and at a price that was about half of retail.  I’ve heard good things about this bike and liked the way it looked so I took a gamble and this is the result.  Since I got such a good deal on the bike, I decided to bling it out with aftermarket components, most notably custom carbon cranks  and super-light brakes.

Custom Lightning Carbon Cranks with KCNC Cobweb Chainrings

EE Brakes – 80 grams lighter than Dura-Ace 7900

There are only four ways to make a bike faster:  Less weight, better aerodynamics, more stiffness, and better geometry (allowing the rider to be more aerodynamic, more comfortable, or generate more power).  This Addict represents a significant improvement for me in at least 2 of these categories.  At just under 14 lbs. (with pedals, bottle cages, and relatively heavy wheels), the Addict is 3.5 lbs. lighter than my Khan and it’s a lot stiffer (just ask Mark Cavendish).  And with longer cranks, I’m hoping the geometry may allow me to generate more power.

I decided to try 190mm cranks based on a lot of research I had done about optimizing crank length for taller riders.  There’s a lot of debate on this topic, but it makes basic common sense that taller riders with longer legs would need longer cranks.  Adding 1.5 cm to the crank length may not sound like much, but it feels very different.  You’re turning a much bigger circle and your feet travel 8% further with each revolution.  I’ve only done one ride on the new bike so the jury is still out on whether these cranks are going to make me faster or slower.  I saved the 175mm Dura-Ace 7900 cranks just in case…

For fellow gearheads, here are the complete specs on the bike:

  • Frame: Scott Addict R1
  • Fork: Scott Addict / HMX NET
  • Wheels:
  • Crankset: Custom Lightning Carbon (190mm)
  • Pedals:  Look Keo Blade (Carbon / Ti)
  • Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 (11-28)
  • Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
  • Brakes: EE Cycleworks
  • Handlebar: Ritchey WCS Logic Curve
  • Quick Releases: KCNS Titanium
  • Seat Post: TBD
  • Seat: Fizik Arione CX
  • Shifters: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
  • Stem: TBD
  • Front Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace 7900
  • Rear Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace  7900
  • Bottle Cages: Arundel Mandible (side note:  I live about a quarter mile from Arundel Avenue, and ride with the founders — they make great products)

2010 Cycling Report

It’s the last day of the year, so after today’s ride I took a look at my cycling stats from the past year.  Here’s my year by the numbers…

I did 159 rides totaling 5,001 miles*.  That’s about the distance from New York to LA and back as a crow flies.

I spent 277 hours in the saddle.  That’s a lot of time to think, and I’ve come up with some of my best ideas on the bike.  So, it counts as work, right?

I turned the cranks about 1.3 million times.  Sometimes those turns felt effortless and sometimes they felt torturous.

I climbed 172,980 vertical feet.  That’s the equivalent of climbing from Mount Everest base camp to the summit 14 times.

I burned 208,669 calories – enough to burn off about 1,000 scoops of ice cream.

*My actual mileage was a little higher because I did a few rides without my cycling computer.

Those may sound like big numbers to some of you, but they’re really not.  I’ve been riding for around four years now and am somewhere between a recreational rider and a competitive racer.  A more serious cyclist, like Ben, will ride more like 10,000 miles in a year and will be on a highly structured training program.  I, on the other hand, ride when I can and there is no rhyme or reason to the intensity or duration of any given ride.  I mostly view cycling as a diversion from rock climbing and a way to stay in good cardio condition.  That won’t change in 2011, but I do want to be smarter about my training.  I’ve definitely plateaued and with a little better planning I can get more gain from the same (or even less) miles.  It’s easier said that done — I have a tendency to go hard all the time and need to learn to throttle back.

In terms of overall health, cycling thousands of miles each year probably isn’t the best thing to do.  It tends to take you well beyond the “minimum effective dose” for fitness and the damage it does may outweigh the health benefits.  I want to be more mindful of that in the future – especially since cycling isn’t the only physical activity I do.

On to 2011…

My new (old) ride

peugeot

Once you start cycling, it’s inevitable that you’ll accumulate bikes.  So far I’ve kept it to just my Kuota racing bike for training and an Electra cruiser for rides with the family.  But recently I started feeling the need for a change of pace on training rides.  Most cyclists scratch this itch with a single speed, but I wanted something that I could also use to pull the girls in a trailer.

After looking at a bunch of options (mostly cross bikes), I stumbled upon this Peugeot road bike on Craig’s List.  As you can tell from the pictures, it’s in amazing condition for a 24 year old bike, with all original parts and hardly a scratch on it.  With a little research, I determined that it’s a 1985 Peugeot PSN 10.  I even found an online version of the Peugeot catalog from 1985:

1985_Peugeot_PX10_PSN10_PGN10(click the image to enlarge)

I’ve always liked the styling of 80’s vintage Peugeots so  I decided to keep the bike all original except for the pedals, which I upgraded to Forte Campus pedals that have a clip on one side for cleats and a platform on the other for street shoes.  I’ve put about 50 miles on it now and it rides like a dream.  As I’ve remarked before, it’s amazing how little bikes have evolved over the years.  At 22 pounds, this bike is a lot heavier than today’s carbon bikes but it sure rides a lot smoother and is just as fast on the flats.  I have to admit, it’s a lot of fun to pass riders on modern high-end bikes while shifting gears on the down tube…

Pain Train 2008


MikeD, Ben, Kevin, Ken, Lawman, Kyle, and Smith
looking strong in their sweet new TC kit (mile 0)

Last weekend, 7 members of Team ThinkCash traveled to Lake Texoma for a weekend of riding and relaxing.  We dubbed the weekend “Pain Train 2008” and the big question was who would be the caboose.


Ben sets a punishing pace, forcing the
team to reach into their suitcase of courage

The weather was perfect all weekend, with lows in the 60’s and highs in the 80’s.  On Saturday, we rode a 45 mile loop (3 riders did 20 bonus miles) followed by some wakeboarding, steaks on the grill, and general shenanigans.


Ken dances on the pedals as
he breaks Smith’s will on L’Alpe d’Pottsboro

On Sunday, we did a quick 40 miles and then packed up to go home.  All in all, a great weekend.  But Pain Train 2008 would not be complete without some awards.  So, without further adieu:

Darwin AwardSmith spotted our neighbor’s 25 foot tall boat dock and said “Hey y’all, watch this” (famous last words of the redneck).

Suspected Doping AwardMikeD has been training less than anyone — and he smokes — yet he was crushing it on Saturday.  I think I may have seen a syringe in his bag.

Questionable Taste in Music AwardBen has an large, eclectic and somewhat disturbing collection of tunes on his iPod.  At fist we thought shuffle was just randomly picking bad songs, but after about 10 in a row, the truth became apparent.

R.I.P. AwardLawman boldly opted for the bonus 20 miles on Saturday.  About 10 miles in, his legs locked up — right next to a cemetery.   [Side Note:  With this ride, Lawman has earned enough points to qualify for a coveted Lifetime SAG Award.]

“Just a Normal Weekend” Award:  While most of us were savoring the opportunity to relax without having to change diapers and wipe noses, Ken reminded us that taking naps and reading books are part of a normal weekend for him.  It’s good to be King.

Ginormous Cyclist Award: Why is it that I look so huge on a bike?  Granted, I’m a big guy by cycling standards but my bike looks like one of those things clowns ride in the circus.

Caboose Award:  Alas, somebody has to earn this dubious distinction.  Kyle (a.k.a. “KC Masterpiece”, a.k.a. “The Assasin) was definitely feeling some pain this weekend.  Interestingly, Kyle also wins the Most Aggressive Rider jersey for his almost constant attacks on the peloton.

Until next year…

My First Sponsor

One of the most interesting things about blogging is the people who stumble across your blog and you end up meeting.  I met Zack, a local climber, when he commented on one of my posts.  I was contacted by the owner of 231 Ellsworth, who thanked me for my positive review of his restaurant.  And today, I got an email from the owner of nubütte, one of the chamois cremes I reviewed last month:

Kevin,

I wanted to say Thank you so much for reviewing our product – nubütte chamois creme.  I would love to send you a can of product and a visor as a thank you.

Would you forward your mailing address to me?

Thanks again,

V.K.
Co-owner
nubütte chamois creme

It’s really smart for businesses to stay on top of what’s being said about them online.  Blogs are becoming increasingly influential (my blog is on the first page of Google search results for “nubutte review”) and engaging bloggers is a cost-effective way to market your product, particularly for small, niche-oriented businesses.  I’m certainly more likely to keep using nubütte now that I have a personal connection to the company.

Just one question:  Since I’m getting free product does this mean I’m a sponsorted athlete? ;-)

P.S.  I’ve been meaning to update my review of nubütte now that I’ve finished the whole can.  It’s a fantastic product — especially for long, hot rides — because it doesn’t break down as easily as other cremes.  The only downside is that it’s a bit more difficult to apply because it’s more like a paste than a creme.

Bonking across Texas

This weekend I rode in the Sam’s Club MS-150, a two day, 157 mile ride from Frisco to Fort Worth.  This was the third of three big Spring events I had planned (here’s #1 and here’s #2).  Last year Team ThinkCash fielded 7 riders for this event.  This year, only 4 of us returned — me, Stephen, BenC, and Kyle — plus one new rider, Anthony. 

Here’s how things unfolded:

Day 1
Up at  4:30am for a 5:15 departure to Frisco.  Corley, our marketing intern at ThinkCash, was gracious enough to drive us to Frisco for the start (she said it was the earliest she had ever gotten up!).  Having done a few of these MS-150’s now, I’ve learned that one of the keys to success is to get a jump on the main field.  So we started a couple blocks ahead of the official start.

The weather is another key, and on Saturday we had sunny skies, but morning temps in the 40’s with 20-30mph winds.  As we got rolling at around 7am, all of us were shivering (unusual for May in Texas).  It seems that every time I do one of these events, the headwinds are unusually strong, and this time was no exception.  The winds were out of the northwest, and if you look at a map of our day 1 route, you’ll see that at least 50 of the 82 miles we covered were into the wind. 

Despite the wind, we made pretty good time and I ended up finishing at about 11:30am.  I even got interviewed a couple of times at the finish line — a small taste of what it’s like to be a pro tour rider.

Day 2
Last year in this event, my bro-in-law Stephen injured his achilles tendon and has been struggling with it ever since.  Coming into this year’s event, he thought he had it licked, but it flared up again after Day 1.  So  Stephen decided to “drive the support vehicle” today  — meaning that he’d sleep in and grab a leisurely pancake breakfast at the hotel, while the rest of us suffered through another cold morning.  To be honest I was a little envious — I had pushed myself hard on Day 1 and felt pretty rough.  But I resisted the urge to crawl back into bed and went downstairs to meet the rest of the crew.  Much to my dismay, the hotel restaurant was not open and there was no food to be found.  Keep this in mind as you keep reading.

BenC didn’t ride on Day 1 but was able to join us today.  He hadn’t registered for the full event because he recently had a baby.  We got rolling at about 6:45.  Fortunately the winds had died down overnight, so Anthony, Ben, and I were able to make really good time.  In fact, about 20 miles into the ride, we realized that we were in the lead — #1, 2, & 3 out of 3200 riders.  It was a pretty cool feeling, but one that didn’t last long because two racers came by us a couple of minutes later.

Ben was super-strong today and pretty much pulled us the whole 75 miles (meaning he was out in front breaking through the wind and we were drafting behind him).  And it’s a good thing because I completely “bonked” about 50 miles into the ride.  This hasn’t happened to me in a long time and I think it had everything to do with missing breakfast.  You just can’t ride 82 miles and then try to do it again the next day without fueling up properly.  We still finished near the front with a respectable average speed (and ahead of Lance Armstrong’s coach, Chris Carmichael), but it involved a lot of suffering for me.

Final Thoughts
I’ve now completed four MS-150’s in the year and a half I’ve been cycling.  They’re always challenging and fun, but I’m ready for a break.  After all, I only started cycling to increase my fitness for rock climbing but lately it feels the other way around.  I had been thinking about trying my hand at racing, but I’ve decided that I just don’t have enough time to commit to be competitive.  I’m happy just riding with friends and doing charity events. 

A BIG thanks to Megan for taking care of the girls while I was away for my Spring events.  She has an event of her own (of the more relaxing variety) in a couple of weeks, so I’ll get to return the favor at least partially.

P.S.  I’ll post pictures from the MS-150 as soon as I get them.

Surviving the MS-150


Kevin riding through Bastrop State Park
during the 2008 BP MS-150

Well, my MS-150 hat trick is complete — I’ve now done each of the three Texas events.  It started last May with the Sam’s Club MS-150 from Frisco to Fort Worth.  Then, in October, I saddled up again for the Valero MS-150 from San Antonio to Corpus Christi (a.k.a. “The Bike to the Beach”).  And last weekend I tackled the “big one” — the 2008 BP MS-150 from Houston to Austin.

I call the BP event the big one for a couple of reasons:

  • With over 12,000 riders, it’s the largest MS-150 event in the country and the largest non-profit sporting event of any kind in Texas
  • At 175 miles it’s the longest of the three Texas MS-150’s

Joining me for this event were my bros-in-law Stephen and Rex, and their friends Jeremy, Bill, and Cliff.  Here’s how things unfolded…

FRIDAY:  Anticipation
I took the day off on Friday and the whole family drove to College Station.  The plan was for the girls to stay with Megan’s sister Laurel and her kids while the guys did the event.  Stephen, Rex, Jeremy, and I left for Houston at about 4pm, grabbed a big steak dinner, and hit the sack early.  As I lay in bed, the weather was on my mind.  The forecast was for clear skies, but strong winds out of the northwest — the exact direction we would be headed over the next two days.  My body was still recovering from my Red Rocks trip (I know, I know, life is tough) so I was pretty apprehensive about the weekend.

SATURDAY: Survival
Up at 5am for a quick breakfast and a rendezvous with the rest of the gang.  The start of these events is always interesting (and by interesting I mean utter chaos).  The sheer number of riders of varying abilities and IQ’s results in dozens, if not hundreds, of accidents within the first hour of the event.  You’re dealing with everything from the middle-aged guy in an Elvis suit (Hunka Hunka burnin’ spandex) to the hard core “tri-guy” with disc wheels and a front-mounted “sippie cup” who thinks he’s in a time trial. 

Our plan was to position ourselves a few hundred yards in front of the official start to avoid the mega peloton.  It was a good idea — in theory.  In reality, we spent the first 50 miles (!) weaving through a rolling army of cyclists.  This event is so big that they have three seperate starting locations.  So each time we’d break free of the pack another brigade would join us.  Amazingly we managed to escape in one piece — although Stephen did take one guy out.

Day 1 of this event is 100 miles, which is often referred to as a “century ride”.  Centuries are always tough, but add 20mph headwinds and it’s a recipe for suffering.  The winds were angry that day, my friend.  And to make matters worse, I never managed to find a good group to work with, so I basically rode solo the whole way to La Grange (our day 1 stopping point).  Fortunately I was feeling pretty strong all day and managed to finish in about five and a half hours.

Once the whole gang finished, we headed to Cliff’s house (actually, “estate” is more accurate), where his wife Susan cooked everyone a killer dinner (manicotti, spaghetti, french bread, salad, cookies, Rice Krispy treats, ice cream cake).  Their hospitality was amazing — thanks again, Cliff and Susan!

SUNDAY: Bring it Home
Up early again and feeling surprisingly good.  “Just” 75 miles to Austin.  This time we were in Cliff and Bill’s backyard, so they chose some backroads that would keep us away from the crowds for the first 10 miles or so.  That plus rolling out before sunrise made for a much easier start to the day.  But the best news was that the wind, while still in our face, was much lighter than the previous day.

Sunday’s route was really enjoyable.  It went through insanely hilly Bastrop State Park, then followed wooded (and newly paved) highways to Austin.  Stephen and I spent 30 miles in a great group of Longhorns, which made the day go really quickly.  Before we knew it we were riding up Congress Avenue toward the finish at the Capitol.  The last half mile was lined with thousands of cheering spectators.  It’s one of the neat things about MS-150 events — you get a taste of what it’s like to be a pro!

Stephen’s wife, Laurel, was nice enough to pick us up in Austin (while my wonderful wife watched 4 kids in CS).  We stopped at Pappasito’s to crush some fajitas and were back in CS by 4pm.  A few hours later, the girls and I were back on the road to Fort Worth.  I had hoped to nap on the way home, but Allie made sure that didn’t happen ;-)

WRAP UP
I’m glad I did this event, but I think it’s “one and done” for me.  The course is really nice (and would be a lot more fun with prevailing south winds) but it’s just too crowded for my liking.  I’ll probably stick to the DFW event from now on, which is just 3 weeks away…