Friday, April 28, 2006

Aero Carbon Crazy?

What the heck is going on out there in aero-land, anyway? I decided that Sue really "needs" some aero wheels for her time trial bike. The old Mavic-CXP30s that I have on it just don't look fast enough, you know? I set up a couple of daily searches on Ebay and sat back to watch for a good deal on some slightly used aero wheels. I continue to be surprised by the results.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've watched some old HED tri-spokes and HED lenticular disc wheels go out on auction. I ride that particular tri-spoke/disc combo on my TT bike and, although the standard HED disc is pretty heavy, they work pretty darn well on flat to rolling courses that are common for time trials.

The old tri-spokes are going for between $500 and $600, and I just saw a HED disc go for $530 plus $25 shipping. Okay, let's think about this for a minute. The standard HED disc and tri-spoke have not changed in design for the past several years. Same weight, same everything. I'm not talking about the new full carbon tri-spokes here. I'm talking about the older style, the ones you could get in 2000, the same design they sell today for something like $595 per wheel brand new.

So, there are people out there who could get brand new versions of these wheels for $595 a piece, and they're paying 90-92% of new price on Ebay for used ones several years old. And here's the kicker. When I bought mine brand new in 2000, I paid $327 for the tri-spoke and $418 for the disc. I could sell them both on Ebay right now for a 47% profit, and I've ridden on them for six years. I wish I had sunk the money I put in certain looser stocks back then into buying a bunch of those wheels!

What's going on out there with the price of aero carbon wheels? Are we all nuts?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Asheville, NC

There's no place I've found that's as good for road riding as Asheville, North Carolina. My experience isn't all that broad, but I did spend a week in Mallorca, Spain a few years back. While it was tremendously beautiful, mountainous, and fun, it still wasn't as good as the mountains in Western North Carolina.

This year's trip was my sixth trip to Asheville, and this year we had a full house. Friends came in from central New York, West Virginia, Canada, Pennsylvania, and Texas. We never did use the hot tub in the garage of the rental place, but we definitely used the garage. So many nice bikes in such little space!

I personally put in 290 miles and a little over 35,000 feet of climbing in four days of riding. That included sitting out two days resting due to a head cold I came down with the night we arrived in town. In the crisp, clear mountain air my cold stayed light and didn't bother my breathing much, so I was able to pour on the steam on most of the rides and felt great. Unfortunately, Sue developed left knee pain on the first full day of riding, sat out the next day, got an emergency visit with a local physical therapist, but still could not ride. She bagged the vacation and flew home on Wednesday. She worked so hard all winter inside on rollers and outside in dark and foul weather, with the racing season in mind, but especially planning for this Asheville trip. All that work for so much disappointment was a real killer.

We did what has become known as the "Old Fort-Hickory Nut Gorge-Lake Lure-Shriners' Hill-Broken Road" ride, which is a staple route for a trip to Asheville. The local bike club published a ride guide that includes an "Old Fort Hickory Nut Gorge" ride and we expanded on both the length of the route and the name. It's a ride southeast of Asheville, where the climbs are shorter and generally more shallow, but with a great variety of slopes, turns, pavement, and fantastic views.

It departs at a convenience store on Cane Creek Rd, just a couple miles away from the Cane Creek factory. We've never tried to get a tour, but we usually honk "hello" on the way past. From there, we hit the first climb over Hickory Nut gap, a mile or so long and fairly shallow, made for big guys with big gears. Very fast uphill. The descent into Bat Cave follows, a five or six mile working, twisting downhill. If you work hard you go really fast, or you can coast for a more gentle ride down. I ended up putting out more wattage on the way down in spots than I did on the way up the other side. Whew!

We passed the scenic Chimney Rock tourist site. We've never been to the lookout at the top since bikes aren't allowed up the twisting climb. Only pedestrians and motorists. They assume that cyclists will kill themselves on the way down, I suppose. Too bad really, as it would be a great climb with a nice reward at the top. We wind around Lake Lure, and the road there twists and weaves and dips and bobs like a prize fighter. We poured on the gas there, and turned the road into a roller coaster ride we had control over. Fantastic.

Leaving Lake Lure, we headed towards Old Fort. A couple of steep leg-breaking climbs softened us up before the Shriners' Hill, so named because one is inclined to weave up the steep sections like the motorcycle-riding octogenarians one sees in parades. A steep gravel road followed immediately, then a nice descent, and a stop for refueling in town.

From there, we went off-roading. The star section of the route is a long, shallow climb on an abandoned road, old route 70, I believe. It's barracaded at both ends, concrete in some sections, blacktop in others, all of it cracked and broken, with occasional sticks, dirt piles, leaves, and other natural rubbish scattered about. It would be great on cross bikes, but it's pretty darn fun on road bikes too, as long as you didn't bring your best lightweight carbon wheels. We regrouped at the top, then set off for Black Mountain, just a mile down the road.

The next turn put us on route 9 for the last climb of the day, over Lackey Gap. It's a moderate hill, fast, sweeping turns, and about 10 minutes long at my top pace. Even after all the miles before, I was able to stick my wattage between 290 and 325 (good for the shape I'm in right now) and felt like I was flying up the climb.

A descent and many rolling hills follow on the miles back to the cars. It's quite a ways, and with no major climbs left, one can fall into the idea that the ride should be over and then start a death march back. I had some gas left in the tank and on a couple sections of rolling sprinters' hills pushed hard with my friend and big engine, Drew, to hammer along over them.

By the end, we'd put in 78 miles with about 10K feet of climbing, and I felt great and knew that I'd laid down some great training, putting in several long intervals of high-wattage effort punctuated at the end with several short bursts of very high power over the bumps at the end.

For the final ride, the skies were clear and the temperatures near record warmth for our ascent up Mount Mitchell. We left from the house near Weaverville, and our first effort was climbing the steep Ox Creek Road up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. From there, it's miles and miles of gentle climbing with several tunnels, and marvelous views out over the valleys. I had waited to make sure everyone took the right turn off of Ox Creek, so I started the Blue Ridge climb a few minutes behind the leaders in our group. With the great motivation of having people up the road to try to catch, I just set my legs to turning out 225-250 watts, knowing that effort was below my LT and I could hold it for a long time. At last, the left turn onto the main park road appeared, marking about five more miles left, including some very steep sections. About 25 minutes and some very heavy breathing and aching legs later, I was in the parking lot at the top sitting on the grass, munching some food, relaxing and stretching. Riders drifted in to cheers from others of us who'd already reached the top. We lounged about soaking up the sunshine in the cool breeze, refilled our bottles, and eventually decided it was time to head down.

Getting off the mountain was a bit rough, with high winds on certain steep sections threatening to pull the wheels out from underneath us. Once we reached the parkway though, it was smooth sailing from there. There's actually a couple miles of climbing early on the way back, but then it's all downhill once you cross over the top of the ridge. A large group of us screamed down the parkway, putting in huge efforts at the front of the paceline, then swinging off to give the next person the thrill of pouring on the power and yanking us downhill at top speed. We skimmed over some potholes and flew through the dark tunnels, averaging 30-40 mph for most of the descent. Bleary-eyed from wind and effort at the bottom, we all regrouped and excitedly told tales of our own experiences on the way down.

Finally, we dropped like stones down Ox Creek, leaning over through hairpins and laughing along with the pull of gravity we'd been cursing just a couple hours before. After a bit of a death march back through town to the house, bodies soaked up liquids, crammed down food, and dropped into lounge chairs for some well-deserved rest.

As always, by the end of the trip, everyone was saying, "I can't wait to do this again next year!" One of these years I suppose we won't be able to make the trip for one reason or another, but when it happens, I'm betting it just won't seem like spring without beating ourselves up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, NC.

Thanks to Bill Legere and Amy Kneale for the photos!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Best Laid Plans

I have yet to find Sue's camera or remember to ask her where it is. There are a couple pictures on it from the Asheville trip I wanted to include with the proper vacation report, so I'll continue to put that off until later.

I returned from the Carolina Mountains feeling pretty good. I'd put in some long hard efforts on the climbs and was feeling like the season was really starting to roll along, and the legs were really starting to feel that spark. After the long drive back, I took a couple more days off from training to try to catch up with normal life and to properly rest the muscles.

Then, last Tuesday, I pulled out the TT machine. It's a GT Edge Aero frame, and I really like it. I picked up a set of Profile Carbon X bars on Ebay late last fall to replace the ancient cowhorns and Scott aerobars I've had on it for several years. The old Scotts were great, but anchors compared to the full carbon set-up. Plus, I had subscribed to the rotate-yourself-forward-around-the-bottom-bracket theory in an attempt to get as aero as possible. A forward position had also been necessary because the only stem I had was a long one and it stretched me way out. I had a Profile forward seatpost and it wasn't a super-bad position, but I always felt like I was lacking some power. Specifically, the forward position seemed to remove much of the role my back, glutes, hips and hammies had in power production, and relied more heavily on my quads, tiring them out faster.

Replacing the bars with the carbon Xs allowed me to bring the entire position back about three inches (!!) and now I sit on the bike much more like I do on my road bike. I even replaced the forward-bent seatpost with a normal straight one, which shaved about ten pounds off the bike. I rode on the bike only a couple times late last fall and it felt fast and far more comfortable, both on the muscles and on my tender saddle bits. I'm hoping that time trialing in a position I'm more used to from the road bike will boost my TT power and not decrease my aerodynamics too much.

Anyway, I took the TT bike out Tuesday, and was feeling strong and couldn't wait to hammer a bit and dial in the position. I hit a road nearby that has some small rollers but is generally pretty flat, put the hammer down, and watched the wattage. After the first couple minutes, I began to feel positively awful and was reminded that I really hadn't warmed up properly. After doing so, though, I felt better, but still couldn't seem to hold the wattage I'd been putting out in Asheville. The wind was fierce and chilly, and I pushed hard over the rollers, tending towards mashing bigger gears to try and get the watts up through force since my legs didn't seem to want to spin. I finished the day feeling like I'd had an adequate workout, but certainly nothing stellar.

On Wednesday, my right knee felt a little funny.

Thursday brought the first of the new, local Thursday night races. They're on a great little 2.7 mile circuit with relatively safe turns, little traffic, and a couple of small rollers to attack on but nothing too hilly to cause huge selections in the group. My right knee felt a little stiff, but after warming up, it felt fine. Only six of us showed for the inaugural race, but we took turns laying down the speed and attacking the group. We did a couple races of a few laps each, and it was fast and fun. By the end, my wattage graph had big peaks all over it, I'd spent quite a bit of time near VO2max land, and it was exactly the workout I was wanting in preparation for the Sunday race in Perinton which would bring with it several laps up a short but steep sprinter's hill.

Thursday I awoke to find my right knee sore and stiff. Shoot. I did it again. Last year, in the early spring, I'd started to feel really good on a ride and big-geared it a bit early on a favorite rolling road, only to strain my knee and force me off the bike. I had completely forgotten that lesson, and had strained my knee again in the same way. My TT ride started it, and the high-power attacks had finished it off.

I can't complain too much, because the soreness in my knee was a great excuse for avoiding the Perinton race in the chilly rain. The last thing my knee needed was to get freezing cold and wet and then hammered repeatedly by a steep hill. I have treated the knee delicately, taken some "vitamin I", and today is the first morning since last Tuesday when it hasn't reminded me there's something wrong with it.

So now, I'll be getting back on the bike and spinning, spinning, and spinning, followed by stretching, stretching, and stretching. The weather here in CNY has turned miserable though, and I have a serious case of the late-December blues. I want to race hard and well, but I absolutely do not want to get on the bike to train. Sue is currently on the disabled list, and thinking about exploring other interests besides bike racing. Seeing her depressed over not riding is feeding into my extreme lack of motivation as well. Top it off with a touchy knee and sunless, wet weather with high temperatures just touching 50F during the day, and all I want to do is sit around eating chocolate-covered coffee beans while watching Dirty Jobs on Discovery.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bridging the Gap

I'm finally bridging the gap in my to-do list created by last week's vacation in Asheville, NC. Unfortunately, posting to this blog is pretty far down on the list. The trip was good fun with friends, had some great training moments, but also brought some big disappointments. I'll post more later, but for now, I'll have to leave you with the picture above of the view from the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way up to Mount Mitchell taken by rider-and-shutterbug Bill Legere. Bill put in more miles than the rest of us, and still had time to take a bunch of photos - thanks!

See you on the road.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lazy Days

On the drive to work this morning, the sixth day of April, the 18th day of spring, the car themometer read a blistering 35 degrees and the sky was spitting snow onto the windshield. How is it that I ended up settling in a place where I hate the weather so much? I wonder what it's like to live in a place where one doesn't have to consult the weather forecast hourly in order to make outdoor activity plans properly.

Sue has been battling a sinus virus/infection for the past few days, and fearing what it means for our vacation next week riding in the mountains of North Carolina. Meanwhile, I've spent the past few days on the razor's edge of catching whatever she has, and fearing what that means for our vacation. With my asthma, a simple head cold can put me out of action for about a week. So while I've tried to be supportive of my loving wife, I've also tried to keep her at arms length. Yesterday, midday, I had a headache coming on, and my head and throat were starting to feel full. I never get headaches unless I'm dehydrated or getting sick, so warning bells and big red flashers were going off. I wrapped up a couple things at work early, and after lunch, sprinted home, stopping by the grocery long enough to grab handfuls of zinc lozenges, megadoses of antioxidant vitamins, and several other snake-oil products that promised quick cold cures and/or immune system boosters. I got home, turned the furnace thermostat up to "broil", stuffed appropriate orifices with tablets and sprays, and headed off to bed for a two hour midday nap.

When I woke up, all systems checked in normal, so at least for one day, I'd beat back those little nasties. Sue's feeling slightly better, so hopefully we'll both be ship-shape by Saturday afternoon when we swing our legs over our bikes for the first leg-loosening spin before we hit the big climbs on Sunday.

So this week has unexpectedly turned into a recovery week for us both. We put in a lot of miles during warm weather last week, but with the return of cold weather, battling illness, and packing and equipment checks in preparation for next week, we haven't been in the saddle once. Hopefully it'll work out okay, and we'll be super fresh for the long miles in the sun and warmth next week.

See you on the road.