Thursday, December 30, 2010


I had a pretty good season last year (or rather, for another day at least, this year). The one thing that put a damper on it all was my performance with cyclocross. I was terrible. Cornering was my a-specialty.

Anyway, so I suck. But one day driving home from work, something hit me; I am looking at curves wrong. I am looking to the inside of the curves instead of the outside. I am imagining that my bike (or car, as it may be) is on a string, and that string is attached to the radius of the corner and pulling me around. Thinking about it, there are many reasons why this is bad practice.

For one, the "center" of the corner is always changing. It is never constant except in the easiest of round corners. The second reason is because the "center" of the corner doesn't actually tell you about the corner itself. You have to take the actual radius, translate that to find the center, then translate that back into the radius. Doesn't sound terribly efficient, now does it?

So, instead of eyeing the corner, translating that into a center, and translate it back to a radius to follow on the bike, why not just actually follow the corner? Specifically, why not just put the outside edge of your vehicle on the line you need to follow and let the vehicle go 'round?

I tried this in the car, and lo and behold, it worked like a charm. The outside tire is the tire that follows the most outside line, so just putting the outside tire on the outside line, the car just went right around the corner. No muss, no fuss. Now to translate this to a bike...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Bit of a New Direction

Powermeters, computers, heartrate monitors, oh my!
I think it's time to simplify...

Selling the powertap. What a thought.

I have alternatively thought that it was an invaluable tool and an overrated money sink.

Every racer, when they start racing, starts as a blank slate. Maybe they were a sort of competitive recreational cyclist. Maybe they were a crossover athlete. In any case, it is pretty rare that they know what kind of racer they will be. Racing is a three legged table; you have your time trialists, your sprinters, and your climbers. If you've never raced, then you don't know where you fall on this plane. Just because you weigh 130lbs doesn't mean you are a climber. Just because you enjoy riding hard doesn't mean that you are a time trialist.

A powermeter is a great tool for determining just who you are. It reveals your threshold power, and it reveals your sprint power.

Also, a new racer doesn't know how to pace themselves. If you've never done a 20 minute time trial, you don't know how much it hurts. Is the two hour group ride going to help your training or hurt it?

A powermeter is a great tool for pacing hard efforts. Turn the dial to "11" and use the powermeter to keep it there.

Over the last couple years, the powermeter has been my coach. I use Golden Cheetah to log my power data and I have a beautiful critical power curve telling me the size and dimensions of the sandbox I play in. I used it to determine that, yes, I can hold my own in a sprint. And, no, I really cannot climb on pace with a real climber, and will never be able to. It tells me I can time trial well enough to be a breakaway threat if I so choose. And it got me on racing out on the track, telling me that I can sustain over 500W for a minute and a kilowatt for 25 seconds.

Lately though, it has been a less used tool. I haven't been riding much with it. It's still useful for all those things, but my personality doesn't jive with knowing, to the last decimal place, my exact abilities. I look at data from a ride and instead of feeling what my body is telling me, I see I haven't broken any power records; or that I didn't work hard enough. I look at the numbers in a breakaway, and if the numbers are too high, I stop the effort and give up. I am not one of those people who is motivated by a number.

Reading an autobiography is always more interesting than reading biographies. The author in an autobiography is living the words he writes. The latest book I am reading is Flying Scotsman. Everyone knows the story, but what strikes me is his first, crouching, time trial position on the bike, a big part of the story as it normally is told, is a footnote in the book. He devotes maybe a page to this, and the rest of the book is about how he feels when he is racing and training.

In the section where he is describing his first world championship in the pursuit, he talks about the "groove". He mentally recreates the ride, from start to just before the finish (because the finish only happens in real life). He mentally constructs the feelings going through his legs and body, the pain and suffering, the purposeful ignorance of his body's warning signals.

What he doesn't talk about is numbers. Now then, he wasn't in the era of powermeters; on the other hand, he wouldn't be using one anyway. He didn't even use a HRM. He used a watch and trained on feel. And then he broke the hour record turning a 54/12 gear on a homemade bike.

Last year, I raced exactly one race with the powermeter. In the other races, I didn't even have so much as a cyclocomputer. I didn't even train much with the powertap. I did a few interval sets in the winter, but those were just using gearing I knew on a trainer I knew; I didn't use a powermeter on those either. One of the last races I did, the OBRA crit champs, I was in a breakaway with a dozen or so laps to go. I had no instrumentation on my bike; I stayed away. But how fragile was my mental state during that ride! Had I seen that I was over threshold for that effort, that I was putting out, probably, 350W or so for those 10-15 minutes, I would havepsychedmyself out and gone back to the pack and probably lost the sprint. All it would have taken is the slightest hesitation and lapse in will power, that's how close the pack was on my heals.

I know my sandbox, I know how to pace myself. Time unchain myself from the powermeter.