Friday, March 23, 2012

Rain dates

To help pay the bills (and because I'm a bike geek at heart), I work as a mechanic at Wheel & Sprocket Bike Shop. Over the past couple weeks, Wisconsin has experienced some very unseasonably warm weather. Not just a day or two here and there. We have had consistant temperatures in the 60s all the way up to mid 80s for nearly two weeks. This kind of weather has caused many people to dust off their bikes and bring them into the shop for annual tune-ups and overhauls at a time of the year when mechancics are usually trying to find things to do. We're talking as many as 70-100 tune-ups in a day! There have been a few days of working after the shop closed. As a mechanic, I certainly love this kind of job security, but it also requires a creative plan to keep my training schedule up, in addition to surrendering to whatever the weather might bring.

My boss was kind enough to let me take yesterday off, in a effort to rest from all the recent chaos. I graciously accepted his offer. I was fortunate that the weatherman was wrong about yesterday's forecast. The day turned out to be sunny and in the high 60s and low 70s, perfect for a long distance session on the bike. And so, I was able to churn out 100.26 miles through the rolling hills of the Northern Kettle Moraine, just what this weary 53-year old wrench needed to "recover" from a hectic week at the bench.

How's the weather look today? It's raining and cooler. And it's perfect for an easy day of recovery with some stretching and additional planning for the record ride later this summer.

Sometimes the rain comes just when you need it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Memories of Victory Hill

I can still remember the first time I balanced on two wheels. I think I was about 4 years old. A few days earlier my dad rolled it into the living room. It was a second-hand 20-inch wheeled American Eagle, repainted a beautiful red color. I can still remember the masking tape along the top tube, with the selling price of $3.00 from the rummage sale picked it up from. It seemed I had been hounding my dad for weeks to take off the training wheels, but in reality was probably more like a couple days. When he finally gave in to my whining, the big moment arrived. He stood beside me in the road of our subdivision, as Dad gently pushed me off. About 10 feet later, I went down. It didn't matter though, because those 10 feet were the grandest experience that little 4 year-old had ever felt, and it had forever changed him. I tried it again. And this time, I think I made it about 50 feet or so. After one or two more wobbly attempts, things began to improve, and on that day I learned how to fly.

I'm not sure when it was - maybe a few days later - that my grandpa was visiting, and he and I went on a bike ride together. He grabbed my mom's old "English Racer", a beautiful black J.C. Higgins 3-speed, made in England. We headed west down the road until we came to the first intersection. And as we looked to our right, there it was - my first hill. I had passed this road before, but for some reason never had the nerve to turn there. After all, it was a hill. Actually, to me, it was a MOUNTAIN! But we were going to do it. And I would attempt my first "mountain" climb. I have a vague memory of actually pedalling up. But as with most of life's painful experiences, we often forget the actual pain and are kindly left with nothing but the memory of what was good. I can still remember reaching the top of the hill that day. Grandpa and I turned and rested as we looked towards the bottom. Then he motioned for me to look at the road sign - "Victory Hill Road".

Monday, March 5, 2012

Getting fit(ted) the Retul way

I've always been interested in proper fitting for a bicycle. There are the more common static methods of fitting, where you use such tools as plumb bob, goniometer, X/Y tool, and various measuring devices. I remember back in the '80s when a friend of mine let me borrow his Fit Kit. It was the latest and greatest method and was really getting a lot of people interested in the art of getting a rider to the best possible position for power and endurance. I think what I found most fascinating about the Fit Kit were the RAD pedals. For the first time, a bike fitter could easily and quickly examine angular cleat alignment and how small adjustments could make big changes in the rider's pedaling form.

After soaking up as much information as I could, I ended up fitting myself the best way I could, using all the info I had gathered, then making the final decision by how things felt as I rode. I think most people, if they ride long enough, can develop a pretty good sense of an efficient and safe position on their own. At least good enough for most of us. When you want to go further or faster though, that's when it's time to get someone who really has a unique passion for the bio mechanics of fast and efficient cycling. There has been a fitting system out for several years now, one that's used by many of today's best professional cyclists, that is the Retul system. In short, it's the most precise method of fitting a cyclist available today. But as with any tool or method, it's only as good as the technician using it.

Last week I had a fitting done by John Huenink, a Retul Certified bike fitter at Wheel and Sprocket bike shop's Brookfield, WI location. John is currently one of only two people in Wisconsin that have passed the Retul certification requirements. John's fitting studio is equipped with a vast selection of handlebars, stems, and saddles, which enable him to make any necessary changes on your bike to get you in the optimal position.

So today was my first road ride since the fitting, moderate intensity with a few short climbs. It went well.  I can honestly report that I feel more stable on the bike than I had before. At the fitting, John made several readjustments, including my shoes' cleat wedges, my orthotics, a stem change, and a saddle adjustment. He also alerted me to a few bio-mechnical issues I had tried to improperly address by making adjustments of my own over the years, adjustments that weren't addressing alignment issues directly. This was the kind of feedback you are only going to receive from someone who has developed a keen awareness of how the human body should perform the way it was designed. That skill comes from nothing but pure experience and the constant refinement of this awareness.

I will be returning to Wheel and Sprocket's fitting studio in about a month or so, where John will re-examine my position and how I've progressed as a result of the initial fitting. After today's ride, I'm encouraged by what positive changes the fitting has brought me so far, and I'm confident that this decision will help me be a more efficient and more powerful cyclist as my training increases towards this summer's goal to break the cross-state record.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Back to square one...

Well, I've been riding the 3T "Zefiro" handlebars for a couple weeks now. The conclusion? It looks like the Zefiros are not going to meet my needs. They should work great for what they were apparently designed for - shorter (less than 100-mile) time trials. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get the conservative aero position I had been hoping for, and still retain my traditional road (bar) position for riding on the hoods and in the drops. Part of the problem is that the reach of these bars is more than I prefer. I could use a slightly shorter stem, but then the tops of the bars, due to the deep platform area, brings them too far back, resulting in my knees scraping on them when climbing out of the saddle.

The reach and drop dimensions of these bars matches up to the dimensions of the 3T "Ergosum" model. I believe if 3T would have designed these with a shorter reach, mimicking the design of the "Ergonova" model, the bars would work much better for riding in all available positions. So for now, I've put the original Easton "EC90 SLX3" bars back on, offering me a much more comfortable traditional road position. There is one thing I will really miss about the 3T Zefiro bars though. The deep, wide tops offer the most comfortable design for riding on the hoods that I have ever experienced from any set of handlebars. I felt like I could ride in that position all day. However, that really wouldn't be a good idea for the 18+ hours that I'll be on the bike for the record attempt this summer, as the ability to change hand positions can be one of the most important ways to remain comfortable, and ride more efficiently, when attempting to stay on the bike for such an extended period. I still have a couple "slam" type clip-on bars that I've been experimenting on and off for the past year, and I might have to reconsider that approach.

But for now, it's back to square one in deciding if I'm going to be using any kind of aero-bar set up at all. Maybe I'll just end up doing what I had originally considered, riding the entire 290 miles with nothing more than traditional drop bars. And really, I am kind of an crusty old traditionalist after all.

See ya on the road!