Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Unfit to Ride...

It's no secret that I've been lusting after a new bike for about a year now (which is roughly how long I've had my current bike). Honestly, the one I've got is fine. It's a bit old but it was a nice bike in its day and I certainly don't outclass it in terms of my skill and ability. But as with any hobby, I tend to gravitate toward the nice tools of the trade (see: fly rods, stereos, cars, etc etc).

But before I plunk down money on a new bike, I decided to have myself professionally fit at the local bike shop so I would know what size frame, handlebars, crank, and stem I need. When I got there for the fitting, the guy asked me what I thought about my current fit. I said something like "well, I think my frame is too big, the seat's too high, my stem's too long and too low, my seat's too far forward, and my handlebars seem a little too wide; I'm probably about average in terms of flexibility, maybe slightly better." Well, it turns out I was wrong about almost everything. The guy spent nearly three hours with me doing various on- and off-the-bike measurements. What I found was that my seat was 2.5 centimeters lower than ideal and about a centimeter too far back, my stem is 1.5 cm too short, my handlebars and frame are just right. I was right about the stem being too low, though. In fact, based on my below average flexibility, it should be about 3-4 cm higher. My cleats were also about a centimeter too far back on my shoes.

Because I've been riding with a less than ideal fit (unfit to ride?!?) for so long, it's going to take me some time to gradually progress toward these ideals. Specifically, if I were to immediately jack the seat up an inch it would be extremely uncomfortable, so it's something I'll have to phase in over the next couple of weeks.

The biggest things I came away with are: (1) I need to start dedicating time to a structured, regular stretching routine and (2) a top tube length of about 57-58 cm is just right for me. I somehow had gotten the impression that I needed a 55-56 cm frame--probably because I was having to reach for my handlebars which were much lower than "normal" for someone of my limited flexibility. So, until I'm more flexible, my stem is jacked up nearly 2 inches higher than it was before and, frankly, it looks silly and makes me feel like a geek.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

My First Sub-5:00 Solo Century

Last week after going about 70 miles solo at a 20.5 mph pace (a first for me) I asked for advice on BikeForums.net from those who have done a solo century in under 5:00 and I got some good responses. I'm currently using an online training plan to get ready for a an epic (read: famous and hilly) century ride/race in September in which I'd like do well. It's not officially a race but racers come from all over the country and it's competitive, complete with chip times and results posted.

Anyway, yesterday I had a long ride scheduled with a rest week next week so I decided to see if I could do a solo century in under 5 hours without aero bars. I have a power meter in the hub of my rear wheel so I was able to gather some data about the ride. Here are my results:

Distance: 100.546 mi (loop course)
Duration: 4:52:56 saddle time
Avg Speed: 20.7 mph
Climbing: 4049 feet

Work: 3966 kJ (essentially calories burned)
Avg Power: 226 watts
Norm Power: 242 watts
Avg Heart rate: 158 bpm (threshold is 169-170)
Avg Cadence: 95 rpm

Notes: I made it in under 5:00 but I ran out of water due to the heat and had to make a quick stop at mile 85 or so to refill my bottles from a drinking fountain. My bike can carry 4 bottles so I had hoped to not have to stop but the 95 degree heat at 10:00am (yikes) made that problematic. I ended up going through 7 bottles of liquid but didn't end up eating as much as I thought I would.

I wanted to average 230 watts for the ride but during the last hour it was extremely hard to maintain that wattage for several reasons: (a) it was hotter than he!! out there, (b) there were lots of stoplights as I made my way back into town, (c) it was hilly so I couldn't keep a rythmn, and (d) oh yeah I was tired!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I Could Ride in the Tour de France!

I've been having a blast watching this year's Tour de France. Admittedly it's not quite the same with Basso and Ullrich out but I know a lot more of the riders compared to previous years and my 6-year-old son has been watching with me which has been great.

The fascinating thing about this year's tour is that some of the riders are equipped with SRM power meter cranks meaning that we have a complete data log for their entire ride (including heart rate, speed, cadence, and power for ever second along the way). It's incredible to examine the data file and see how much work they do at times and how little work they do at other times. In a recent ride in which Christian Vandevelde (American and member of the CSC team) finished in the pack, his average power for the 5 hour ride was a mere 177 watts with an average speed of nearly 26 miles per hour. Considering that it takes a solo rider roughly (and I mean very rougly) 200 watts to go 20mph on a flat road, the effect of being in the middle of the peleton is dramatic.

Consider the following: I did a solo ride today in which I tested my 20-minute power output capacity. I was able to average 320 watts for 20 minutes at an average speed of only 22.5 miles per hour (it's definitely not a flat course but none of the hills are particularly long). On a pancake flat course and in the drops, 320 watts on a solo ride would probably equate to somewhere around 25 mph. Vandevelde's last 20 minutes of Stage 5 were completed at an average power output of "only" 266 watts at an incredible 32.2 miles per hour! Unbelievable!

Based on these numbers I could theoretically have finished this stage in the middle of the pack! Assuming I had enough endurance after 5 hours to put out 266 watts for 20 more minutes, that is. The obvious difference between me and Vandevelde is that a 5 hour ride at 180 watts is essentially a recovery/endurance ride that he could easily do every day for three weeks straight. While I could likely complete a 5 hour ride at 200 watts I'd be pretty tired the next day.

Regardless, it's cool to think that I could--for one day, at least--hang with the pro peleton on an easy, flat stage so long as there were no (1) significant hills, (2) turns at the front, or (3) breakaways my team was responsible for chasing down.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

When Good Training Rides Go Bad

I'm in my 2nd week of a 12-week training program to get ready for this year's Bridge-to-Bridge Incredible Century Cycling Challenge and I was pretty excited about this morning's scheduled 2-hour ride because it called for 35+ minutes of work near my threshold wattage. I got up early to avoid the heat and left the house by 7:00am. The skies were cloudy and it was obvious there had been early-morning rain but more rain didn't appear imminent. Uh, wrong.

Within about 20 minutes--just long enough to get warmed up and get about 5-6 miles away from the house--the rain started coming down harder and harder. Nonetheless, I decided to start a 40-minute near-threshold push which was actually pretty fun due to the hilarity of my being out in a downpour. Unfortunately, I noticed somewhere along the way that my PowerTap was unable to handle the water and stopped giving wattage readings. Drat! But, I kept on going until I finished the 40 minutes.

Eventually, the rain stopped and things dried out enough for me to use the PowerTap again--but the wattage readings were all screwy and in the process of resetting things I deleted the data I had recorded (albeit only a partial recording of my 40 minute effort). So, I decided to do another 40 minutes at near-threshold effort but wasn't really able to convince myself to do a 15 minute cooldown so I ended up with about 55 minutes worth of wattage data.

My best guess is that had I not deleted the data I would have had over 90 minutes of great wattage data that I could have used to determine if I've managed to improve my threshold wattage over the last few weeks. But it wasn't to be. Oh well, the numbers arguably don't matter all that much. I had fun and got in a great training ride despite the downpour.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

4th of July "Firecracker" 100km Ride

My 4th of July ride today was about as enjoyable as any ride I've done (the oppressive heat toward the end of the ride being the only downer). It's a popular metric century held here every year with almost 1000 participants of all skill levels. I stayed with a group more or less for the first 42 miles--although the pace wasn't very steady at times--then had to bridge a 2 minute gap when I missed a stoplight after stopping to refill my water bottles. When I finally caught the group I had been pacelining with they had slowed considerably so I ended up finishing the ride on my own in no-man's-land between two groups. Average speed: 22.5 mph.

What's interesting to me is a comparison of today's results with my ride two days earlier. I rode the same course on Sunday to make sure I wouldn't miss a turn but as opposed to today's early morning start, I didn't leave until about noon. It was a scorcher out there and my heart rate was noticeably affected. My average heart rate for both rides was about 155 but my average wattage on Sunday was only about 180 as compared to today's average of 210. That's quite a difference!