Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sprockids 2007

We're wrapping up another great year with the Sprockids program that my wife started with two other guys, what, five years ago now? Wow. How time flies. We take forty kids into the woods twice a week on their mountain bikes and we talk about rules of the trail, respecting nature and each other, and techniques for riding well.

We capped off the season this year with a two-night campout at a camp center nearby with some of the most technically difficult riding around. Our kids range from 10 to 15 years old, and it's great to see them, many of whom were afraid or unable to ride over a three-inch stick on the ground, now clearing two-foot high A-frames over massive logs in the middle of a slippery rock garden.

Many of the kids absolutely love the program and thrive in it much more than they do in the organized sports in school. I think about my childhood playing Little League baseball and other team sports. While an outstanding play might give a kid a temporary sense of accomplishment, I found that usually they're an opportunity for failure. A single missed ball or strike out or fumble at the wrong moment can bring the whole team down on you. In the mountain biking program, we foster a team environment in the sense that everyone encourages everyone else, and the bigger kids help spot the younger ones over obstacles. However, it remains a very personal sport. Each obstacle is a personal challenge and an opportunity to get real satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment by overcoming it. And if the obstacle remains insurmountable for the time being, there is a whole team of people saying, "That's okay, you'll get it next time" and truly meaning it because the failure didn't just cost the team a win. Watching the kids' faces light up when they tackle a scary feature on the trail and finally clean it after trying a few times is a huge reward to the adult volunteers. When the parents come to pick up their kids, we get many thanks, and I always get the feeling like they're a little bewildered about exactly what it is that we do on our bikes in the woods that lights their kids up so much. Very few kids go away not wanting to spend more time on their bikes right away.

Ride on!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Not Cycling Good for the Lungs?

Ah, the "Great New York State Fair" is on!

It has rickety rides, game hawkers hoarse from cigarette smoke, and loads and loads of the same cheap junk to buy every year. At the beginning of August every year, someone asks, "You going to the fair this year?" and I reply with "No. It's the same junk every year."

And then somehow I always end up there.

This year my dad announced he would be driving up to go to the fair during senior citizen day (a.k.a. motorized scooter day). Senior citizens get in free, and if you go on this day, you have to have eyes in the back of your head to avoid getting your heels clipped by excited grannies on scooters. I decided to pop in for the morning to keep him company and put in some "guy" time.

We made a circuit of the "Center of Progress" building as soon as it opened. Every stupid TV infomercial is represented. Mops, slicers, glass cleaner, shower heads, cheap jewelry - you name it - is on sale. People cram into this place shoulder to shoulder.

A local radio station is running a mullet count. They're sitting at the fair and keeping a running tally of how many mullets walk past. A lot, I'm sure. The number of huge women in leather halter tops and pink spandex shorts is disturbingly high as well.

Anyway, I think of the state fair as my annual free asthma exam. There's always a booth in the "Feats of Strength" building - probably not the real name - where they do spirometer lung function tests. I actually discovered I had asthma many years ago at that very booth.

I started on a new medication about a month ago, so I was interested to see how well I could do now, but since I haven't been riding much, I thought maybe my results wouldn't be that strong.

I blew great numbers!

My total volume was 6.08 liters, 116% average. My peak flow was 10.25 L/s, 104% average. Even my lower lung numbers which usually stink were up at 67% average. My previous high had been only in the 40% range.

So either the new medication is working, or else by not riding, I'm not breathing in as many allergen triggers. Or maybe some of both. In any case, my lungs are looking pretty average - and that's a good thing. The bad part is this lessens my list of excuses for being slow.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Welcome to Stage Two

Ain't software great? You just fiddle a bit with the programming on the car's computer and voila, the 250 stock horsepower and 280 ft/lbs torque is replaced by 318 horsepower with about 382 ft/lbs peak torque. Welcome to "APR Stage 2"!

Whoa ho ho ho ho!

The boost gauge needle no longer stops around 8psi, but proceeds on up to about 15. And that little speedometer needle swings to the right really quickly. The redline in first gear comes in a big hurry. You blink a couple times and you're over the state speed limit. Schweet. The APR 1.0 bar software really does feel stock smooth, except with far more urgency and authority.

I have trouble imagining what "stage 3" is like on these cars. That means bigger turbos and new air/fuel parts to produce horsies around 450 and torque nearing 500 ft/lbs. On the other hand, if I budget well (or if my stock turbos blow), maybe I'll get there someday. For now, the big upgrades are complete, and I'll be looking for future holiday sales on suspension and big brake kits.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Canal Classic Race Report

It's been a while since I've done any real efforts on the bike. I went to the Little Falls Canal Classic race with one big goal in mind: don't get gapped on the first hill right out of town at the beginning of the race.

I did not make that goal. But I did have a lot of fun. When you're not in the lead group, you hope to settle into another group and have a mini-race with the guys around you. Forget those strong guys up the road. Once the groups on the road have been decided, then it's time to pull out the experience card and have some fun sticking the knife into whomever is left behind with you.

I went to the race with my friend Bill. It's safe to say neither of us are in the shape of our lives right now. We lined up midpack at the starting line. The race director announced that, as usual, the leading police car would lead us through town in front of all the spectators at a neutral pace of 10 to 12 miles per hour, then pull off near the top of the hill going out of town. The race would really begin there. Of course, those of us who've done this race ten or twelve times like Bill and me, knew that there's no such thing as a neutral pace, and it's darn near impossible for police officers to drive their cars under 25mph.

The siren went off and we started. I quickly made my way to the front as we wound through town. Down mainstreet, we took the right to start the climb and Bill appeared right next to me. The police car was going just shy of 20mph and my watt meter already read 385 W. Ouchie. I pulled to the right and tried to set a tempo I could maintain for the entire hill. People were rocketing past me. Every third person said, "Come on, Tim!" "Keep it up, Tim!" "You can do it, Tim!" The encouragement was nice, but it made the suffering just a little worse knowing that so many people recognized me as they went past.

By the top of the hill, a big group of about 35 riders was coming together at the front, and leaving me behind rapidly. To have any hope of catching them, I needed them to start dogging it on the rollers and I needed reinforcements fast. I could see Bill about 100 meters back in a small group so I sat up a bit, getting ready to chase hard. I settled into a group of about six. A couple guys had obviously cracked wide open on the climb and weren't able to push hard yet, and another older guy quickly earned the nickname "Surgie" due to his paceline technique. We'd start a rotating paceline and he'd suddenly come shooting by on the left. About thirty seconds later, we'd catch him. I said, "There's no reason to surge ahead like that and break up the paceline. Let's work together." to which he responded "Yeah!" in a tone that made me think that he thought that was what he was doing already. Huh? Okay, whatever.

The main group disappeared quickly over the rollers and with another medium grinder before the main four mile climb, I knew they were long gone. Our paceline was erratic with differences in ability, experience, attitude, you name it. We surged and sputtered down the road. I looked at Bill and smiled. "Well, we're in our own special little hell here for the next 25 miles."

We hit the next climb a couple miles later. Bill was suffering with stomach cramps in the intense heat of the day, and our little group was splitting, with another group coming up on us from behind. With about 100 riders on the course behind us, we were guaranteed to end up riding with someone. I eased off just a little to try to help pace Bill. We crested the climb and hit a few rollers followed by a long descent toward the base of the big hill. The climbs hurt, but I was feeling okay on the rollers. I was already thinking about the finishing sprint. When you're sprinting for 40th place or so, you need little victories.

On the downhill, I tucked into my ancient Scott rake bars and rocketed down the hill with Bill on my wheel. As the grade leveled out, I realized that I'd put a few seconds into the group just coasting down the hill. Sigh. I sat up and pedaled easily waiting for them. We took the right hand turn and onto the lower slope of the big climb. There's a steepish section for about a mile near the beginning, but then it tips down to a more easy grade for the last three miles. Bill's stomach was still holding him back a bit on the steep section and I stayed with him, but we kept the guys up the road in sight. A group of about ten was closing in on us. As the grade eased a bit, Bill pulled past and started setting pace. My watt meter jumped and as my heart rate popped back up to redline, I said, "Well, you're feeling better!" We traded back and forth a bit as we both alternated between feeling better and suffering miserably. Another mile up the hill, we'd were on the tail of the group we'd dropped out of, and the following group was nowhere to be seen anymore.

With plenty of rollers and fast sections after the main climb, there's little reason to try to leave a group behind unless there's another group to bridge up to, so we rode out the rest of the climb with about six guys. There was one obviously very young guy who kept leaping ahead half a kilometer, then blowing hard and coming right back. That was entertaining to watch. Another young guy kept hand signaling before pulling off the front of the paceline. I suggested that he could just make a quick glance to make sure no one was next to him before pulling off instead of making a signal. Another rider in the group played the role of the local tour guide. There's always some local guy who knows every darn crack in the pavement, upcoming turn, and nice view and likes to help out by pointing them out. We passed a rider or two who had been blown from the leading packs and couldn't or didn't want to sit in with us. I got into full glasscrank mode, and put in just enough efforts at the front to keep the pace up and people happy, but I had no interest in hurting myself.

At one point, one fellow pulled off the front and as I rotated past, he asked, "Do you think you can you maintain 22?" We'd already been going a little faster than that on the flats, so it seemed like an odd question. I paused briefly and replied, "Sure. Except on the uphills and downhills."

I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the race. I had fun watching the guys around me waste energy. There's a quick chicane with about 200m to go to the line, and I usually like to be first through those turns. I can usually take them faster than others seem to be willing to do, it sometimes gives me a good gap going into the sprint, and it's safer than being behind someone. I asked Bill, "You know what I like to do at the end, right?" He nodded.

With about ten miles to go, there were some sharp little steeps and over the top, three guys had gotten a couple hundred meters on us. I wanted to close the gap before we hit any significant downhills where they might pull away. After I checked to see if Bill was on my wheel and ready, I cranked it up and made the bridge. We'd gapped the others, but they made it up eventually.

The young kid who'd surged earlier went ahead a few hundred meters, but had blown so hard that as we coasted past on the next long downhill, we dropped him for good. It felt strange dropping someone that quickly on a straight downhill.

With about three miles to go, a slight grade uphill caused another split. Bill was on my wheel, and I was following two guys. Three or four were up the road. This was looking more serious. I felt like I could bridge to them, but I wanted the two guys in front of me to work hard first. The leading guy was wearing a pretty nice kit, and I suspected he was glass cranking. We were not closing the gap. He pulled off finally, and "Mr. 22mph" took over. We inched closer. About two miles to go. We were coming up on a little shop we always notice that has signs that read "BICYCLE REPAIR. ADULT PRODUCTS." Seriously. What more do you need? That landmark meant the finish was coming very soon.

The guys up ahead were obviously working pretty hard. We needed to get up to them now. The finish was too close. Our leader finally pulled off and I stepped on the gas. I bridged the gap with only Bill on my wheel. It hurt more than I wanted it to. We only had about a mile and a half left for me to recover. Right after we bridged, an older guy in front of me yelled to the rider leading the pace, "The finish is coming, go hard now!" They weren't wearing the same jersey, so I was surprised when the guy obeyed and upped the pace. He pulled off, cooked. A very young guy launched on the right side, but the older guy leading me was happy to chase. He closed the gap with about a third of a mile to go, and kept going. I glanced back to see Bill tucked in on my wheel. The chicane came into view and I stomped on it, passing on the left. I leaned over hard to the right, then back to the left. My legs were threatening to seize up entirely, so I sat and took a few fast pedal strokes as hard as I could. I felt like I'd gotten a gap through the corner so I looked back. Bill was about twenty feet off my wheel, and the rest were sprinting but not gaining too quickly about thirty or forty feet behind him. I was safe, and as long as Bill kept his speed up, he'd be fine too. He came up alongside me as we crossed the line. I was pretty sure he'd nipped me by a tire's width but the electronic timing reported I was .003 seconds faster.

In the end, we had a hard workout, and had fun winning our mini-race against others around us. We took the glorious positions of 41st and 42nd overall. I enjoyed listening to and telling the usual post-race stories, catching up with people, sucking down free soda, and applauding as the trophies were handed out. Indeed, it's been a while.

Friday, August 10, 2007

One Removed, Two More On

I removed the first official "mod" I had made on the S4, but added two others. Last fall, my first departure from stock was to replace the OEM dry air filter with a high-flow oiled K&N lifetime filter. The K&N, you see, doesn't have to be replaced. You just periodically remove it, wash it off, add a little oil, and then put it back in. All of the Audi tuners sell these things.

So there I am last week, surfing through Audiworld.com posts and don't I run across someone with a MAF problem. The mass airflow sensor is a delicate little electronic fiddlybit that sits in the airstream just downwind of the air box with the filter in it. The MAF costs something like $300 to replace.

Anyway, this guy posts saying that his MAF is acting up, and the first couple immediate responses are, "Did you put in a K&N filter? The oil from those fouls the MAF sensor."

Oh, goody. As I read it, I could feel the hot rush of adrenaline and paranoia creeping up my neck. I searched the Audi forum for K&N and found many cases of people ruining their MAF sensors by using K&N. Granted, most were probably from them over-oiling the filter, but why take a chance? I immediately ordered an OEM dry filter (which has plenty of flow by the way) and installed it when it arrived two days later. I gently wiped off the screen over the entry to the MAF sensor, and it did indeed have a fine coating of black junk on it. Fortunately, my S4 is the "2001.5" model year which has a Hitachi MAF sensor which seem to be much more robust than the earlier Bosch sensors.

I also swapped in a new cabin filter which I've never done before. Very easy.

Though I removed that first modification, I've added two more. She's now outfitted with a Twin2 cat-back exhaust and a drivetrain stabilizer, both from AWE. The exhaust is high flow with a nice low rumble at low RPMs, and without any harsh notes when you step on the gas. Plus, it's simply gorgeous polished stainless steel. The drivetrain stabilizer was crazy easy to install. You support the transmission with a jack, remove a couple mounting plates, then bolt the bar on. It uses stock bolts on the ends and in the middle bolts right into unused bosses on the stock transmission. The tranny in Audis and VWs is apparently known for being sloppy and this bar makes a big difference. Shifting and response is much more crisp, and the common "clunk" sound between low gear shifts is gone.

All in all, the exhaust plus DTS installation took me six hours, with a good hour and quarter of that spent just getting the car high enough on the jack stands and getting it back down. You can't raise one corner of the car all the way at once, so it's a matter of going up or down a notch or two on the stand, then repeating for each corner over and over until there's enough room to work. Very time consuming and quite a workout hauling the hydraulic jack around and around. It isn't light. The time spent also included lunch and two runs to the hardware store for a couple sockets and a thread tap.

I was pleased with how the underside of the car looked. The rear section of the transmission is rusty, but that's just about it. There were a few tiny spots on some of the suspension members and a couple other support bars, but I'm going to be hitting everything with some Rust Bullet and 3M Rubber Undercoating Spray before winter, so I'm not worried about them.

My next project I believe will be replacing the spider hose which is surely pretty well jammed up with oil by now. See the picture for an easy explanation of why they call it a spider hose. I'll polish and paint the Y-pipe and I'll splice a catch-can into the crankcase breather system to keep oil out of the intake (and turbos and intercoolers). I've been reading my Audi 2.7T engine study guide, browsing projects on Audiworld, and making plans. I used to enjoy upgrading my bike, but I ran out of parts to upgrade. There's way more stuff on a car to learn about and fiddle with. Woo hoo!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Six Degrees of Borat

I had another brush with fame this weekend. I found out that a fellow cyclist from the area was in the same tour group as the guy who wore the Borat costume and yellow-green "over the shoulder thong" (?) at the Tour de France this year. In addition to being a fast runner as is obvious in the video, he's reportedly also very strong on the bike.