Saturday, September 26, 2009


Stark Velo hosted race #2 of the BACX series on the Stark County campus of KSU, which was a great setting for a cyclocross course.

The course was pretty long (I heard 1.8 miles) and included a set of barriers, a technical section winding through pine trees and up and down steep gullies, and had a pretty long hill climb. At the base of the climb someone wrote "PAIN" in red spray paint. There was probably around 100 feet of elevation difference between the lowest point on the course and the top of the hill and there were numerous 10-20 foot wall climbs and descents. The highlight/white-knuckle section of the course was a steep descent to a 180 turn then a run-up (or ride up) the same hill followed by off-camber turns down the descent again.

With all the climbing on the course, the per kilogram part of the Watts/kg equation was going to drag me down, but I wanted to see if I picked up any time on the rough ground of the course.

The "B" field was really big. After Chris and I lined up in what I thought was the back of the field, about 3 ranks from the front, about four more ranks of riders lined up behind us. Wow--the 'cross fields really grew this season!

At the start, I was slow to clip in my right pedal and slipped back. By the time I was in, I was just out of contact, and chased back into the group. The course started with a couple hundred meters of gradual uphill. That stretched the field out right away so there wasn't a big traffic jam. On the downhill leg, I made up more ground. I hung on all the way around the course and actually did a pretty good intense effort on the hill.

At some point, a light drizzle started. It had been raining on and off before the race started. By the second lap, my glasses were getting hard to see through, so I slowed down and put them in my jersey pocket. That was actually a pretty sketchy maneuver on the rough ground and I slipped about 30 seconds off the pace of the group I was in.

The light drizzle eventually turned into torrential rain and there were a couple booms of thunder. I felt water drain into my bib shorts and pool up around my back.

The race sort of turned into an impressionist blur at that point. I'm nearsighted, but my eyesight isn't that bad without glasses. I could see the group I was chasing relatively well, but I wasn't making up any ground, but I wasn't losing a whole lot of ground.

On the third and final (due to weather) lap, I closed the gap on the way into the technical turns. I practically heard Paul Sherwen's voice in my head "he's got to take some risks on the descent to close the gap" so I kept my fingers off the brakes as much as possible. I was all over the place on the downhills and practically bent the frame around the tight turns from standing on the outside pedal so hard. My speed outstripped my skill. One of the turns had a big mud puddle that was the consistency of pudding. My front wheel washed out and I went down instantly and slid a couple of feet.

I was a little stunned, but got up and checked the wheels and the bars. Wheels ok. Bars ok, brake handle moved a little. I was back on the bike and up to speed in no time. The stem had rotated a few degrees, which made the technical riding a little more challenging.

I got passed on the uphill just before the finish, but thought I'd be able to beat him to the line on the downhill, but ran out of meters. I placed low, but I did a pretty good effort for me. I had the throttle open all the way most of the time. Now, a few hours later, I feel like I fell down a flight of steps while carrying an armload of snow shovels, which means I had a good day of cyclocross! My practice session earlier this week actually paid off. I was a bit smoother over the rough ground (which was most of the course) and could ride hard without getting beaten senseless. Next time out, I'll try to ride with some anaerobic punch.

Many thanks to all the people who made the race today possible. It was a great course and a lot of fun to race.

I'll preview the Leroy CX race this week as we're working on it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Pavement

I got out on the road this afternoon to hit some of the short steep climbs that criss-cross Auburn Road in Munson. Since this upcoming weekend is the second race in the BACX series, I didn't want to shred my legs, so I kept it pretty brief. I hit two of the rollers on Sherman Road, then took Rockhaven over to Cedar Road.

I'm not sure if the Cedar Road in Geauga County ever connected with Cedar Road on the west side of the Valley. The road sort of fades in and out of existence. At Rockhaven, Cedar ends at the Rookery Park where the trail follows the old Interurban Railway. Back in the early 1900's there used to be a passenger railroad that ran to downtown Cleveland and as far east as Garrettsville.

Cedar Road from Rockhaven up to Auburn is a good climb for a training time trial. It climbs about 230 feet in 1 mile and gets up to a 13% grade at the steepest section. You're pretty likely to have the road to yourself. The road was just resurfaced this summer, and it's smooth as butter and still has that new road smell.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Even though I've been riding CX for several seasons and ride my MTB in the snow and ice, I am a total novice at most off road skills.

I was pretty annoyed at the Whiskey Island race when people passed me on the bumpy grass sections even though I wasn't riding near my limit. I set out today to figure out what the problem is. I took the 'cross bike to a local park (that shall go unnamed) with grass paths, some single track and two bridges.

The bumpy grass at the park was similar to Whiskey Island. The ground has been dry for several days, so it's almost concrete hard, and the surface is rippled and undulating and there is about 50 feet elevation difference from one end of the park to the other.

On the bumps if you were to ride along with locked arms and sat rigidly on the seat, your body would slam up and down. If you didn't react by relaxing your arms, it would be impossible to maintain control. Also, your body will act as a damper and absorb energy that's imparted to it by the bumps. The energy would be absorbed by heating and making minute deformations to tissue. Effectively, that acts as a brake.

The solution is pretty simple and obvious, although I didn't figure it out during the race, actually I did the exact wrong thing. The bike needs to move independently of the body with arms and legs acting as suspension. The way to do that is either get out of the saddle and push a bigger gear, or stay 90% seated while pushing a bigger gear, and pulling forward on the bars--moving the saddle forward helps with this.

During the race, I shifted down and spun while sitting, so my weight was almost completely planted on the saddle.

The difference between these techniques on my training loop today was stark. When seated and spinning, one lap took 7 minutes 14 seconds. My best time with a combination of out of the saddle pushing a big gear, and in the saddle with my legs carrying some weight was 6:05!

It will be interesting to see if there's any difference in my placing in upcoming races. As long as the ground stays dry, I should be able to move with a little more efficiency than I did in the season opener.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Final Leroy TT for 2009

During my warmup ride for the Leroy TT, my legs were still feeling pretty thrashed from the Whiskey Island CX race and from an intense training ride on Tuesday, so I thought my chance of breaking the 20 minute mark was slim. But it was a perfect night, and the season finale, so I wanted to give it my best shot.

My plan for this week was to ignore my power meter and try to spin at 100+ rpm as much as possible instead of my usual 90-95 rpm.

I started second, and took it pretty easy for the first couple of minutes, and gradually ramped up the effort toward the corner, and had to concentrate to keep my cadence high. There was a slight headwind, like last week, and it felt pretty slow all the way to the corner. I did a pretty good effort up the climb.

The return leg was tough. I got out of the saddle a couple of times to keep my momentum going, but didn't have any punch over the last mile. In the second half of the season, I haven't been able to hammer over the last couple of miles like I did in June and early July. So I finished with a slower time than last week in keeping with the overall down trend since my season best time. I averaged 300W again even though I barely glanced at the power meter.

I've done a pretty good job of keeping records this season, so I'll be able to review the whole training log and figure out what worked and what didn't this year. The TT has been a good way to measure my fitness throughout the season. Thanks, Jim for a great season of racing!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Whiskey Island "A" Race Motion Capture

This is another motion capture experiment from the "A" race at Whiskey Island. It's the first two laps (more or less) shot from the parking lot looking toward the Lake. Unfortunately, I forgot to start the camera for the "B" race.

The images are pulled from a video of the race. The video was scanned for any moving regions near the center of the frame. The time stamp in the upper left is minutes:seconds.hundredths.

The race numbers are kind of washed out and the riders are a little out of focus, but it's a big improvement from the Leroy TT pictures, and actually condenses the events of the race down to just a few pictures. Hopefully I'll be able to refine it over the next few weeks.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Whiskey Island CX 2009

Cleveland was buzzing this morning. It was a perfect fall day, and the stadium parking lots were overflowing with Browns fans, soap box derby racers were staging their cars, and giant kites were flying at Edgewater park. But the main event was at Whiskey Island--the opener for the 2009 Team Lake Effect CX Series.

Whiskey Island is a perfect venue for a 'cross race. It's got great views of the city and the river and lakefront, and different types of terrain. Lake Effect and the volunteers put together a fun and challenging course. The course included a gravel drive with coarse limestone chunks, grassy hills with lots of winding off camber sections, and steep climbs and descents, plus the long paved drag strip out to the coast guard station. The weather was dry leading up to the race, and perfectly cool and dry on the day of the race, which left the field as hard as concrete, and made the gravel sections dusty.

The fields for the races were huge! I won't be surprised if the total number of racers tops 200. Lots more roadies joined the 'cross fun this year, including Chris. I also saw lots of new faces. Hopefully there will be some 'cross riders who find their way into the road racing scene next season.

When we staged for the "B" race, riders packed the gravel road shoulder to shoulder, probably 6-8 ranks deep. I lined up at the end of an abbreviated warm-up lap, so I was stuck in the last rank of riders.

The start was fast. I picked a good line. On the left of the gravel road, there was some hard packed dirt that was mostly free of rocks, and was practically like pavement. I had the novel (for me) experience of passing most of the field. In fact, I was going way too fast and flew up on the traffic jam of riders navigating the turns. My cantilever (as in can't stop me) brakes squealed as I pressed the levers against the bars. Luckily, I was on the outside of the field, and I shot around the turn just off the marked course and passed more people.

I sprinted up the hill into the winding section that was marked by tape and stakes. There was a more serious traffic jam. The field came to a dead stop. My track stand skills came in handy as I waited for a line to clear.

A third traffic jam formed on the "hump". That one was the worst. Again, the track stand skills were handy. I stopped twice on the way up. Finally, on the way down the hill, the field strung out and it was possible to maneuver.

On the pavement I was able to haul ass, and was actually drafting off a small group on the way out to the Coast Guard Station. When we got to the top of the hill, Chris caught up with me and passed me.

I am baffled at how slow I ride on flat bumpy grass. I wasn't near my limit, but just wasn't able to get any power to the wheel. Several riders slowly moved ahead of me as I crept along.

For the remainder of the race, I chased down and passed lots of people. A handful passed me. I got stronger as the race went on and noticed I was considerably faster than many of the riders on the paved section of the course and on the climbs. The flat bumpy sections kicked my ass. I was also a little too wimpy on the corners and touched the brakes when I really didn't need to.

I have no idea where I finished. Probably in the bottom 1/4 of the field. I'm in much better shape than last season. My right leg is pretty close to 100% strength, last year it was still only about 60%. The dismounts were pretty smooth. I actually passed people through the running section.

Overall, it was a good race for me. I finished strong, and kept it shiny side up and nothing fell off the bike.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Leroy TT Video

I scanned the video for any sequnces that include motion and generated the video below. I stopped processing the video a little early, so it doesn't include everyone that participated.

Individual frames are dumped to my picasa account: Link

I'll record the Whiskey Island race this weekend and see how that turns out.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Leroy Video Snapshots Part I

My Sony camcorder snagged some interesting footage. The lens is too wimpy to capture high quality images in the low light/fast motion conditions, but there's still some use for the blurry pictures.

I'm processing some of the footage to see if I can calculate accurate speeds. I'll upload the set of images to my picasa account later.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


For the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with the bike to try to get a more aerodynamic position that I can use next season. I've tried extended stem lengths and moving the saddle around to get as low as possible without being uncomfortable.

At the extreme position, with the saddle all the way back, there is a noticable difference. That allows me to fold over as low as I can go without constricting my breathing. Surprisingly, it is reasonably comfortable. Unfortunately, it puts all my weight over the rear wheel, and the handling characteristics of the bike are poor--more like a unicycle than a bike. Descending and cornering are frightening at high speed.

After a few training rides this week before the TT, I settled on a compromise position that was more aerodynamic than my "original" setup, but not extreme. I also ordered a 11-23 cassette, which showed up while I was loading the bike in the car for the trip to Leroy.

During my warmup, I felt pretty good. The weather conditions seemed favorable for fast times, minimal wind and relatively cool, maybe a little humid.

I had a good start, and slowly picked up the pace. One of my goals for this week was to stay in my aero position throughout the ride. After seeing the race photos from last week, I realized I have a tendency to sit up a little when I'm pushing hard, so I concentrated on keeping my arms in and chest down as much as possible.

Even though I was in a more aero position this week, it definitely didn't feel any easier to ride fast. I struggled my way to the corner and swung onto the hill. Last week, I cooked myself on the climb, so I kept the pace manageable to the top. The 11-23 did the job and I cranked up the hill at consistent RPMs. I felt pretty fresh at the turn, and started down the hill hoping to finish strong.

I was fighting the pedals all the way to the finish. I'd crank the power up toward 400W, but couldn't sustain it for long.

I averaged exactly 300W again this week, which translated into a slower time this week than last.

I recorded the start and finish area with my video camera (I'll post the pictures later). My position looks more aerodynamic, although who knows if it really is. When my arms are forward with a longer stem, it's easier to maintain my flat back position, but more difficult to pull on the bars.

So next week, I'll fall back to my original stem length, and I'll also try spinning at about 105 rpm instead of my usual 90. I'll also tape over my power reading and "use the force" for pacing.

Friday, September 4, 2009

No Planning, No Rules

As an occasional jogger, a dog owner, and a cyclist, I've been to every local park within reasonable driving distance many, many times.

One of my current favorites is the South Russel Village Park off Bell Road just west of 306. The facilities are minimal. There is a gravel parking lot, a couple benches, and a big field (about 90 acres) that is mowed. A system of paths is mowed into the long grass in the summer. In the fall, it's all cut, so it's an open savanna.

People jog, walk, walk their dogs there, or let them run around, or just hang out on blankets way out in the middle of the field. Unlike most parks in the area, there is no leash law. In fact, there don't appear to be any hard and fast rules about using the park except using common sense. It's big enough, free form, and open enough to accommodate multiple simultaneous uses, so it actually attracts a large number of patrons.

I am curious to see how long that idyllic situation can last. Probably not long, so get out there and enjoy it while you can.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


When I was driving up to Leroy tonight, I was thinking that I should be able to come up with 5% more effort and get a time in the 19's. Why not? 5% extra is easy to find in day to day life, so it should be possible on a bike. Just try a little harder!

Even though I started with the intention of going 5% faster, I followed my normal routine. I eased into the effort over the first half mile or so.

By the time I got to the trees at the edge of the field, I was putting out a consistent 350-400W, but the wind was making it a slow roll. It was a long ride to the corner, and I swung through at only 23 mph, but made an efficient turn and kept all my speed onto the hill.

I had my best effort up the hill in a long time. I had the throttle to the floor up to the flat. I was a little winded there, as usual, but sprinted up the steep section.

I paid for my effort up the hill on the return leg. I saw the 2 miles to go marker slide by but didn't really get on top of it until about 1.5 miles to go and made a strong effort all the way to the line and finished deep in oxygen debt. It was an all out effort, but a 5% improvement is a big ask.

I finished with a 20:32, which was faster than my last outing, but only by 1%, and still off my season best of 19:58.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Girdled Road 'cross Practice

The weather was perfect today. I was itching to get out on the bike and either do a long easy road ride, or do a ride on the 'cross bike for the third time this season.

I decided to take the cyclocross bike up to Girdled Road Reservation and do a 45 minutes + 1 lap ride around the trails and the fields. The trail loop is half downhill, then back up. If you go counter clockwise, the climb is gradual and rideable.

I've done lots of skate skiing at the park over the past several years and the turns and rolling terrain is pretty much burned into my brain, so I really hauled ass on the hard packed gravel. There are a couple of spots where there was a thin veneer of mud on the gravel and the front end pushed toward the outside of turns and the rear end got a little squirrelly. Luckily I didn't crash--that would definitely be a bone breaker.

It's a fun place to ride and there's some varied terrain to sharpen the 'cross bike handling skills a little bit. It's hard to keep the intensity up, though. If I went any faster on the gradual downhills, I'd probably be in the hospital right now.