Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I hopped on the bike yesterday, not for training, and not even necessarily for fun, but for transportation. I dropped off the S4 at Cantech Automotive for a new battery, new brake fluid and rear pads, rear diff oil check, and a NYS inspection. Cantech looks like a doctor's office, except the patients are cars. You could eat off the shop floor, and with Ferraris and Lamborghinis frequently arriving there for service, it's easy to trust that they know what they're doing. I can't wait to see the bill, which will likely look like it came from a doctor's office as well, except without insurance covering anything.

After dropping off the baby, I pulled my bike out of the back and took off for home. My saddle was creaking up a storm, and that spot of pain on my right sit bone came on after about ten miles. I need a new saddle, new shorts, or a new sit bone, or possibly a combination of those. On the way home, a section of road stretched out before me that was dead flat and straight as an arrow. I put it in the 53x15 and stood, winding it up slowly. I dropped it into the 14, then 13, then 12, still standing. I pushed on, then sat down and cruised at 32mph for about twenty seconds before my guts started to remind me of two things. One was that I haven't done many miles and even fewer with any intensity whatsoever. The second was that I had only very recently eaten a tuna sandwich for lunch. Urp.

My speed dropped and I swallowed a few times to make sure the tuna stayed down, then recovered and just cruised the rest of the way home, enjoying being outside in the 92 degree heat and thinking about having been alive for 36 years.

Yup, yesterday was my birthday and a reminder of the relentless march of time. I like it low-key on my birthday, and after my ride home, I just spent a little time in the garden pulling weeds then sat down to a simple dinner and presents (!) with Sue. Here's where things got interesting.

Sue is an expert gift-wrapper, and always ties what seem like kevlar-reinforced ribbons around boxes. Getting into a gift is always an exercise in finding tools sharp enough for the task. I made a comment about the green and white ribbon around the box she handed me.

"Your high school colors," Sue noted.

"Actually," I said, "my high school colors were green and gold. Green and white were the colors at Binghamton University."

I then launched into a story about the mascots at Binghamton. When I attended, you see, the teams were the Binghamton Colonials, and the mascot was a traditional revolutionary war era figure. Shortly after I graduated, they changed the mascot to be a bearcat. They publicized the qualities of the fierce and mythical bearcat. My friend and classmate, Bill, pointed out that the bearcat is not a mythical beast at all, but a real live creature, fairly small in size, that eats mainly fruit. Hardly the thing for a mascot viciously eating up opposing teams. We had generally thought the bearcat was ridiculous, and that the traditional colonial had more class. Related to the university's image, they had replaced the name "SUNY Binghamton" as we knew it with "Binghamton University" and the new name never sounded right to us.

So I finally wrapped up my monologue and continued opening the box, which turned out to contain four separately wrapped items. The first was a book that looks very interesting. As I picked up the next item, Sue said, "You might laugh pretty hard when you see this."

It was a t-shirt. I held it up and read the front:



The next two items were a hoodie reading "Binghamton University" and a pair of gym shorts with "Binghamton University" and a bearcat pawprint on the leg. Double d'oh!

So I am now all set for Binghamton Bearcat clothing, and now I just have to figure out how to extract my paw from my mouth.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Whitney Point Race Report

Testing the Waters

The Whitney Point Road Race is one of the classics on my annual racing schedule. I've missed the event maybe a couple times since 1992. I've ridden the 26-mile course, the 50-mile course, in rain and in sun. I've even ridden the 16-mile time trial course the year that it was a USCF stage race of sorts. That was spring 1993, before I got my racing license, back in the day when USCF races had "citizen" categories, and I managed to take first place in my age group, one of my very few wins.

Attending this year's race would be more about nostalgia and fun than serious competition. I'm averaging a bike ride about every two weeks, and I haven't done any intensity above tempo. Whitney Point would hopefully provide a stress-free "welcome back" to bike racing.

I would be doing the 26-mile version this year. I love the 50-mile course, but with that crew, I'd get dropped very early and likely ride 35 miles by myself. I packed up all the little things I've learned over the years can make a bike race really enjoyable. I had a cooler packed with a recovery shake and rice, beans, and chicken leftovers from a night out at La Cena, a local Mexican restaurant. I filled a Nalgene bottle with cool water and stuck a washcloth in to soak for a nice post-race shower. On my way out the door, I was searching for my sandals for lounging after the race when I happened upon my bike shoes. I hadn't packed them the night before and could have very easily left without them if I hadn't accidentally seen them. I haven't raced in so long, even my packing skills are rusty!

Bill and I drove to the race with pirate sea shanties (what else?) playing on the stereo. Some of those pirates had really dirty mouths. The trip reminded me of countless race trips we've taken before, carefully managing the pre-race music to keep it mellow enough not to stir up and waste adrenaline before we would really need it.

I went through the usual paces before the race. Bathroom. Registration. Assemble bike. Pump tires. Undress. Dress. (This reminds me: I have been thinking I should write a book about bike racing called "Between the Doors", an allusion to dropping trou and gearing up while ducking for cover between the doors on a four-door car. Alas, we came in Bill's pickup truck this time, so I could only manage a "Behind the Door".) Sunscreen. Ride. Bathroom. Go to start. How many times have I gone through this ritual before? A number approaching 250, probably.

Forty-four of us rolled off the start line in fantastic weather. The neutral climb to start allowed us all some time to chat. Many familiar faces rode around me. On the usually uneventful 11-mile stretch of riverside flat before the first major climb, the lone tandem in the group rolled off the front. Tandems usually don't get too much respect in a race like this, as everyone assumes that they'll just get caught on the climbs. They became a small dot a couple minutes up the road, and we all rolled along fairly easily with some quick spurts now and again. Soon enough, the right turn onto the climb came into view. The tandem was closer now, but still up the road, working with one other guy who had bridged up to them.

We swept right onto the climb and I pushed on the pedals, wondering how soon I'd crack wide open. I came to a virtual standstill, boxed in by three riders who were less ready for the hill than I was. I checked left then swooped around, stood up, and jumped back up to the group heading away up the hill. My legs felt fresh and light.

I managed to maintain contact with the group for most of the main climb, though a small group was getting away from the rest of us. I was surprised that I felt relatively good. Though I haven't been riding, I've been doing a few high-rep sets of lightweight squats in the mornings, and it was obvious that they have kept my legs in the game, at least for short durations. I glanced at my heart rate monitor. 195. Yikes. Sure enough, it was obvious that my legs were fresh and my aerobic system relatively untrained. Rarely when I'm training regularly do I see numbers that high. Still though, I felt fine, but my legs were near their limit. I settled in with Bill and a couple other guys, and over a roller at the top of the climb, we'd lost some ground to the main group, but we were coming up on the wheel of the tandem. We passed them briefly on the uphill, but then, predictably, they came rocketing past us on a short downslope. I stuck like glue to their wheel as they yanked us back to the group. With the main climb behind us and only short rollers to go before a long downhill, I knew the tandem would easily catch the main group before long. I settled in behind them like a pilot fish behind a shark, enjoying the slower pace up the hills, but then feeding on the remnants of riders they'd eat up on the downhills.

Sure enough, as we reached the bottom and turned right onto a flat section, the tandem had caught and passed the group. I gave up their wheel to Bill and settled back into the group. Suddenly the rubber band stretched taught. The tandem poured on the speed and in no time they were disappearing up the road. I saw Bill frantically hanging on, all over his bike recruiting every last muscle to try to keep their wheel. Gaps opened behind me. Gaps opened in front of me. Our group of nearly fifteen had shattered into several groups of two and three. My legs popped wide open as I hit 30mph while briefly trying to match pace with the tandem. That was all I had.

We hit the next turn and things started to come back together. The tandem eased off a bit, and the rest of us clawed our way back. A small handful of riders had the gas to drive our group, and the four breakaway companions who'd left us on the big climb lengthened their lead. We were battling for fifth. With most of the big group content to sit on, we just rolled along at a tough tempo, chatting occasionally.

A few short miles later, the penultimate climb loomed into view. In recent past editions of this race, but while doing the 50-mile course that included a mid-course extension, I would come to this point inevitably feeling fresher than my companions. I almost always would have lost contact with the strongest climbers by now, and would have settled in with a small group of riders I could beat on climbs. Nearing this climb, I'd attack, get a gap, frantically hold it on the downside, and then keep the gap up the finishing climb. That is not how it would work out this time. As soon as we hit the hill, the group dropped me hard, with only one other rider and the tandem dropping back further. I rocked my way up the climb, and at the top had managed to maintain contact with Bill, but the others were up the road. We traded pulls downhill and onto the flat. They were watching each other up there and their pace had slowed. I took one last pull to try and get Bill back in touch with them. I got to within spitting distance when Bill came up along side and asked, "Should I go ahead?"

"Yes! Go! Go get them!" I managed to blurt out. He launched and I sputtered along, my engine blown. He took them by surprise part way up the finish climb and stayed ahead of a few, finishing strong. I rolled up the hill and across the line, content in my effort. It was a hard race at times, my experience knowing to hang on the tandem with an iron grip kept me in touch, and I felt far better than I assumed I would have. It was great to know that I'm fit enough to go out and have fun competing with friends.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Paying for My Gluttony

A couple hours ago, I sat at my office desk munching happily on two snack-size Dove chocolate-covered ice cream treats. I'd already eaten three of those delicious little bite-size chocolate covered cream puffs earlier this morning. A co-worker brought them all to a staff meeting yesterday and those we didn't suck down then were still sitting in the break room freezer today. I could hear their little voices calling to me from down the hall.

Now I'm paying for my lack of will power.

I just glanced down to see that, while eating that last bar, I must've dropped a big hunk of the chocolate coating right into my shirt pocket. My white shirt pocket. It has nearly soaked through to the outside already. It looks like I'm lactating chocolate milk.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Brake Job

This post is titled: "Changing Audi S4 Rear Brake Pads" or "How to Induce Enough Stress to Loose Interest in a New DIY Hobby"

This is a step by step brake pad replacement tutorial based on my personal experience over the past two weeks.

1. Read online how easy it is to change rear brake pads on an Audi S4. Admire pictures some woman took of how she did it in "ten minutes per wheel" in her driveway one sunny day. Brag to friend who installed a new car stereo himself how easy it is to work on disc brakes. You are truly a DIY car stud because you have read how to do this.

2. Research brake pads. No big brake kit upgrades are planned right now, so decide on relatively inexpensive, but slightly better-than-OEM, Mintex "Red Box" pads due to their reportedly low levels of brake dust at equal or better to OEM performance. Go to purems.com. Notice that they sell these clever little rubber pads for jacks and jack stands to protect the undercoating on the car. They're much more clever than little wooden blocks, so include a set with your brake pad order. Brake pads plus jack pads come to something like 60 bucks.

3. A special tool is needed to turn the rear caliper pistons while compressing them. ECSTuning.com carries a relatively cheap kit on sale for 45 bucks. It's nice to have an inventory of good tools, so decide to pull the trigger and buy a kit.

4. Wait for packages to arrive. It's like Christmas!

5. Procrastinate so you're pushing the limit on your New York State inspection sticker. Even though the pads aren't completely shot, you'd like to avoid having the garage doing the inspection possibly require that you have them put on new pads to get the sticker. So, start the brake job with four days left on the inspection. Waiting until the last minute is fun!

6. Jack up left rear of car and put on a jack stand. The jack stand pad works great but the pad for the jack is completely retarded and would put pressure in wrong spots around the pinch weld. Place package aside with intent of returning it to get the $20 back. Go back to using a thin wooden block. Chock front wheels to be safe, just in case.

7. Remove rear wheel.

8. Make sure parking brake is off. It's hard to replace the pads when they're pressed firmly to the rotor.

9. Look around in wheel well. Notice little bits of rust starting here and there. Sigh. Realize once again that living in Central New York in the winter sucks. Add a line on the project list to get some Rust Bullet and coat everything in sight. It'll be a time-consuming job to do it right, but worth it in the long run.

10. Have a wire coat hanger handy, and grab your camera to get some pictures to make the blog look more interesting to attract a third reader or fourth if you're lucky.

11. Remove caliper bolts with 13mm wrench. A thin 15mm wrench is necessary to hold the nuts attached to the rubber boots still. A bicycle cone wrench works great. Note how your two big hobbies come together in serendipity.

12. Remove caliper. It slides right off the rotor. The pads may stay on the rotor or come off with the caliper.

13. Hang caliper on bent coat hanger from suspension linkages above to make sure the weight of the caliper doesn't put any pressure on the brake lines.

14. Remove old pads and set aside.

15. Insert special caliper compression tool with the right size end and unscrew it so the back presses firmly against the inside of the outer caliper.

16. On recommendation from audiworld.com posts, clean cap on brake reservoir and partially remove it to make it easier to compress the piston.

17. Attempt to turn handle. Fail. Note how little handle on tool seems far too small to get any leverage. Try several times, eventually stopping because hands hurt and you haven't made any progress.

18. Go back into house and wash hands. Hop on the computer to search Audiworld forum. Find post where some guy had the same problem and simply removed the disc to provide space for the tool and then remounted the caliper so he could get more leverage. Happen upon a web page with more details about the Mintex Red Box pads you bought. Read about how they're not recommended to be used with worn rotors because they won't seat as well as softer organic pads. You should use them only with new rotors. Swear. Decide to try them anyway.

19. Go back to garage. Attempt to remove disc. Notice that disc cannot be removed without first removing the caliper mount. Find two 8mm hex bolts holding caliper mount on.

20. Grab 8mm allen wrench from bicycle tool box (again, serendipity!) and attempt to remove bolts. Tap wrench with block of wood, then hammer. Note that only thing that happens is that tool gets rounded slightly. Swear. Put apparently inferior allen wrench away.

21. Grab 8mm socket driver and breaker bar. See how breaker bar doesn't fit into area necessary to get to bolts.

22. Put 8mm driver on ratchet wrench. Attempt to remove bolts. Hit wrench with wood and hammer. Note how it doesn't budge.

23. Go into basement in search of length of pipe to put over little tiny handle on tool to gain more torque. Wonder why handle is so small on the caliper tool and why so many people said this was really easy to do. Wonder if you're doing something wrong. Wonder if caliper is bad. Assume caliper is fine since it was working well before this.

24. Find long pipe previous house owners left and grab a hacksaw. Start cutting a shorter piece off. Rest forearm halfway through after several minutes. Wipe sweat from brow. Continue until complete. Make note to buy a new hacksaw blade to replace your dull one.

25. You have cut through metal. Go back to garage carrying the new "torque pipe" triumphantly.

26. Place pipe over ratchet wrench handle and attempt to loosen the 8mm bolts. Fail again. Put Liquid Wrench on list of items to pick up at hardware store and forget about removing the disc and remounting the caliper for leverage.

27. Wonder if piston tool is binding on threads because it's too tight against the caliper. Loosen it a little and try again. Fail.

28. Spray some WD40 on the piston and boot to try to make sure the rubber doesn't rip and ruin everything. Wait for WD40 to soak in a bit. Wipe off excess. Try again to turn the tool. Fail. Note again how thumbs hurt. Swear.

29. Grab newly minted torque pipe and put it over the little tool handle. Attempt to turn handle. Notice that the caliper turned a little. It's working!

30. Now that the piston has turned almost a complete turn, check the brake fluid reservoir to see if you need to siphon any off because it's being pushed up. Nothing yet.

31. Grab pipe and continue turning. Be surprised how suddenly it becomes easy to turn the tool handle. Note however, that the piston is not turning.

32. Remove tool from caliper and hear little clinking sound as sheared-off shear pin falls out of the tool. Sigh, then swear, more loudly this time.

33. Reassemble everything with the old brake pads so you can at least drive the car if you need to. Tighten reservoir cap. Note that the caliper bolts obviously had blue lock-tite on the threads. Make a note to pick up some lock-tite for the next brake pad change attempt.

34. Drive around carefully to test brakes. Everything is working fine. Give up for evening.

35. Do some more research on Audiworld.com. Read how most people have had luck with a special tool rented from Auto Zone. Regret not having read about the tool rental before having bought one. Read about opening the bleeder valve to relieve fluid pressure.

36. Fashion yourself a receptacle for bleeding brake fluid. Use a 1/4" length of tubing and punch a hole through the cap of a clean glass jar to receive the other end of the tubing. An obsessively cleaned Vlassic pickle jar to works well.

37. At next opportunity to work on car, jack it up onto the stand, remove wheel, remove caliper, loosen reservoir cap, etc...

38. Remove bleeder screw rubber dust cap. Put tubing over bleeder screw. Attempt to open valve with 9mm wrench. Fail. Try 10mm. Fail. Grab next wrench in set. Note that it's too big. It's a 12mm. Wonder why there is no 11mm wrench included in the set you purchased when you changed the spark plugs and needed the 10mm.

39. Find 11mm socket and remove tube. Wonder what will happen when you loosen valve without tube attached. Put 11mm socket on valve. Realize it's not deep enough to cover nut fully over the valve nipple. Swear.

40. Find little English measurement wrench that fits "pretty" well. Try to open valve. See how the wrongly sized wrench begins to mar the valve without budging it. Put wrong wrench away and give yourself a dope slap for not using the right tool.

41. Go weed and mulch the garden because that's apparently all you're capable of doing.

42. Go shopping for a deep 11mm socket. It's crazy to buy an individual one for $4 when a set of ten costs only $20, so plunk down a 20 dollar bill.

43. At next opportunity to work on the car for a couple hours, go back into barn and hit the unlock button on the key remote. Notice that nothing happens. Note that the little red alarm light is not blinking. WTF? The battery is completely dead. Strain to think of what you've done that could possibly result in a dead battery. There is nothing. Wonder why the h*ll a battery that's only two years old from the dealer would be dead. Realize that since the car is no longer covered under warranty and road-side assistance like it was when the original battery went dead two years ago, the only option to start the car where it sits is to charge the battery, get an emergency rechargable jumper kit, or replace the battery yourself. Swear.

44. Ignore battery problems for now and loosen bleeder screw with the new 11mm socket. It works, but barely moves, and is very hard to turn. Fluid starts to seep out, so quickly remove the tool and stick the tube back on the valve. Do not get brake fluid on any painted surfaces. It will reportedly de-paint things quickly.

45. Stick a series of shear pin replacements including small nails, bolts, pieces of wire clothes hanger, etc. into the special tool and repeatedly attempt to compress the caliper piston. Fail each time, shearing off whatever you've stuck in there.

46. Tighten the bleeder valve and put the removed brake fluid back in the reservoir. Brake fluid absorbs moisture from the air, so you don't want it sitting around in the open. Hope that you're not doing something that will screw up your brake system internals.

47. Wonder if you just haven't opened the bleeder valve enough to really relieve the pressure. Drive to the hardware store, in the other car. Grab a $4 11mm wrench so you can open the bleeder valve farther while the tube is on it after starting it with the deep socket you bought earlier. Grab a $50 emergency jump-it 12V kit to start the car. It comes with a light and a DC output jack, so it'll be useful for emergencies anyway.

48. Re-open bleeder valve with socket and put tube on it. Attempt to open it further with wrench. It's hard to get the angle right and the wrench is too short to get good leverage, so... Fail. Loosen valve with socket, ignoring brake fluid. Just clean up well.

49. Pump brakes a couple times "to relieve pressure" as described on Audiworld.com. Notice more brake fluid coming out.

50. Shear off another series of bits in the special tool while still failing to compress the piston.

51. Drive in the other car to Auto Zone to rent a new special piston tool. While there, pick up a $5 bottle of DOT 4 brake fluid just in case and a $4 can of Liquid Wrench. Smile when you find out that the tool "rental" is essentially free. You "buy" the $98 tool set, but get all your money back when you return it. Wipe the smile off your face by remembering you have already paid $45 for a now-busted tool rather than using this free one in the first place.

52. Before leaving Auto Zone, open the rental tool kit. Notice first how the special tool looks exactly like the one you bought, right down to the broken pin. Take some level of satisfaction in knowing there's at least one other person out there who was unable to compress their caliper piston. Go back into Auto Zone and exchange kit for a working one.

53. Go back home and try to compress the piston with the new tool, and with the bleeder screw opened up farther than before. Fail. Put the torque pipe on the little handle on the tool and give it another try. Try to remember how much force it took to shear off the pin in your other tool and apply force just short of that. Fail to budge the piston.

54. Swear a blue streak, then hang your head in a dejected fashion. Sarcastically congratulate yourself that you've now managed to spend $138 on tools and parts plus $98 that you can get back when you return the Auto Zone tool in order to save money having a professional do the job. Note you haven't included the $50 for the battery jumper since that's an unrelated problem.

55. Tighten bleeder valve. Look in shop manual and online for torque specifications for bleeder value. Fail to find them. Decide "good and tight" is okay. Reassemble brakes using old pads. Press on brake pedal and note that it's good and hard, and no fluid is coming from the bleeder valve.

56. Put wheel back on car, lower it, then get wife to turn the key while you attach the emergency jumper kit.

57. Drive around for a while to charge the battery while keeping an eye peeled for police due to the now-expired NYS inspection sticker.

58. Go back to weeding and mulching your stupid garden.

59. Find that two days later, the battery is again too dead to start the car.

60. Call and make an appointment for a brake pad change, a new battery, and a NYS inspection.

61. Stare at the pile of aftermarket parts in your attic waiting to be installed. They once represented a budding new hobby and hours of fun, but now they look just like a huge patch of thorny brambles that need to be dealt with.

62. Write down each step you've taken, trying to add a humorous tone, so you can post it on your stupid blog in an attempt for catharsis.