Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Down The Road and Up That Hill

I rode home from work today. Getting a ride in has been a little like hitting the tight end up the middle inside the red zone; lots of obstacles to overcome to ’connect’. Or are those just excuses? More on that later.

I felt guilty about having the big horse at the ready, leaning in the garage, impatiently waiting to take to the open roads for a test ride of the new rig up. Not so much out of concern for the bike, I realize this is just an orderly assembly of atoms oriented in such a way that it can produce forward motion under the right set of circumstances. More for my pals down at the LBS. I pestered them incessantly to get busy on MY project, the one that is all about ME in prep for a couple rides that loomed on the calendar. I had hoped to have the change over in place for that 600K event I biffed on a week or so ago. It didn’t happen and in hind sight I can safely say it would not have made any difference in the outcome; the equipment did not hold me back.

So the next gate would be the Klamath Falls 1000K which starts later this week. Well, that’s not going to happen either, more on that later too. So I paced around like a Nintendo boy with a broken controller bothering people about delays over which they had essentially no control. (There was a mix up on the parts order … or delivery). And then, once they jumped through all MY hoops, there sits the bike with only a few post office rides in the intervening days.

So the two wheel midlife crisis went for a 30 mile ride in the fog this morning, … up on the car top rack, ha! (BTW if you leave your GPS device on while transporting the bike you get an amazing boost to your mileage and average speed, very impressive on your mileage log!) The weather people said good things about the afternoon. I’ve momentarily got all the monkeys back in the cage at work so the plan was to take off a little early and ride home, the long way.

My regular commute does not have a lot of climbing in it, but like every good cyclist I know where the hills are. There is a short steep stretch not far out of my way (Bordeaux hill we call it) that gives an opportunity to see what ‘up’ is like. Locals often use this as a fitness check. They’ll ‘ride out to Bordeaux” in the spring to see if things are as bad as they seem. Then back and repeat periodically through the season to see it fitness is coming along for the ride. (visualize Rocky Balboa running up the steps to Constitution hall, only on a Colnago Master X light) It does not hurt that the road surface is decent most of the way (for a forest road anyway) and the scenery is hard to beat, if you happen to like riding low traffic forest roads with a stream running alongside. Much nicer than pounding up a steep incline on a dusty frontage road just three strands of barbed wire from a 70 mile per hour, high traffic freeway. (gotta look at the bright side)

I've been looking forward to this. Poodling around town (Oakville proper is Kansas flat) gave no indication of how the new setup will be on hills. If anything it, caused me concern: I still have not looked at a gear calculator but I now know that the low gear set up is a lot lower that what I had before. On the flats I felt like a Cuisinart trying to get the bike up into double digits. This may be a little more ‘easy’ on me than I was hoping for.

When is climbing ‘too easy?” Whether it is age, bike geometry, or some combination of other factors, there is a certain speed threshold below which I have trouble. I know friends who can climb with mtn bike components and ride straight as an arrow spinning away at 4 miles per hour or less. To see me ride at those speeds you would not say I am slow, you’d say I am wobbly. I feel unsafe at those speeds, a little additional incentive to push a little harder on the steeps, or shift a gear. Even when I am in poor condition I can still usually find a ‘zone’ at which I can sustain effort and ride relatively smoothly. So who knows, maybe the lowest combination of gears won’t get so much use. Perhaps somewhere slightly down the cassette I will be able to find something that produces that symphony of whirring gears, thrumbing heartbeat, and the steady drip, drip, drip, of sweat splashing off the top tube.

“So, … how was it?”

Well truth be told, the jury is still out. Accounting for the fact that it always takes me time to get over the ‘gee whiz’ factor of any changes on the bike, I am sure it will take a few trips out to Tono Creek, or down to Cook hill road to sort out the real effects. Perhaps I‘ll schedule a local perm that takes me over hill and dale in the near future.

I didn’t ride Bordeaux. I figured out, long before I got there that my lungs are more full of crap than I thought.  But I did go over Waddell, not much of a climb but something I am very familiar with. Given my current fitness it felt a lot easier than I expected and I found myself in the small ring but I was in fact able to go down the cassette a bit and find the right mix of resistance and forgiveness to get me over the hill and down the other side without tipping over.
In the second hour of the ride things smoothed out and a smile began to creep into the corners of my mouth. I’d pretty much hacked up all the goo that was going to come up, I had sucked my inhaler nearly empty and was able to find a good gear to take me along the back roads of south Thurston County in the late afternoon sun. It really was a very pretty day for a ride. I even caught a bit of tailwind along the way.

So the good parts were very good, I found myself on the flats and roller mostly riding in middle third or half of the cassette regardless which ring I was in. I realized too that I did give up a lot of top end; I was into the small cogs more than I am used to.

The bad parts need to be fixed: I’m not sure if an adjustment is needed, or if things need to wear in a bit, or if I need to relearn shifting gears on a bike, but I was able to both shift off the little ring up front and to hang the chain up between the two rings. With a little finesse I learned how to avoid this but I don’t want to be expected to think while riding, much less shift with finesse!  So I’ll ride some more and probably stop by the LBS in the future for some ‘consultation’.

I’ve said in the past that for me the greatest value of a granny or ‘bailout gear’ reveals itself not so much on steep pitches but more on the second and third days of long events. I figured this out on an overnight 400K brevet in British Columbia in 2003. It was one of the last rides I undertook in preparation for PBP 2003. On the run in to the finish, within probably the last 10K or so the organizer routed us up a short but incredibly steep pitch of road. No slaloming allowed as this was newish road in a fairly busy retail expansion area (think shopping in Beaverton or South Center on a Sunday). My friend Brian just went up that hill like he was on rails, seated. I went up looking like an angle worm getting an enema! Once we got to where we could pull over and breathe enough that seeing stars ceased to be a distraction I asked between gasps how he had done that. Now Brian is a stronger rider than me but he’s also much more mechanically savvy. Our bikes were fairly similarly rigged. “Oh sure,” he replied “it’s the 28 tooth granny”. At the time I was on a 30/42/52 stock Campy Triple I think. We stopped at Sam Val Bike on the way home and I left the bike (my old Sampson) for a minor makeover.

A few weeks later in France as I rode out to Brittany I thought it was perhaps overkill, I was handling the hills fine. A day and a half later, on the inbound leg I found myself frequently dropping down to the 28. It occurred to me then how brilliant I am at times. It was not that I couldn’t have climbed with the bigger gear, but at that point in a long ride progress is about attrition, limiting losses, rationing the pain. My Quads were fried; I had attacked the first day’s challenges with all the enthusiasm (and commensurate lack of experience) that can be expected of a 21 year old on his birthday in a karaoke bar. The cycling equivalent of a tequila hangover was that I felt fine on the flats but ANY incline was telegraphed instantly from my legs to my brain. Like I said I am sure I could have done it on pure adrenaline, but sitting and spinning was much less traumatic. Add in the fact that I was also having ‘saddle issues” and I was very happy to have put myself in the position of going up without a lot of jostling of the body.

So, here is I am, seven years later, not nearly as fit a I was then and bemoaning the fact that my bike-mod may be making it too easy for me to ride uphill. Don’t you just love those baby boomers? “Hurry up! Fix my bike the way I (think) I want it because I might take it for a ride!”  We want a dessert that is hot and cold and sweet and sour, and we’d like it right away, on a frosted plate with hot caramel sauce on the side. “Does that have sulfites in it?” “Is that imported or domestic chocolate?” Oh, and a double tall skinny, half caf-half decaf no foam Medici with a dash of nutmeg, …”is that fair trade?”

Oh yes, those excuses:

1. I’ve been busy around the place (sigh).
2. At work, lately they have actually been expecting to see me for 8 hours most days, cheeky that!
3. I was out with jungle fever most of last week (see #2) and though I am feeling much better, there is still a battle raging in the ‘moist tissues’ between the white cells and the invading nano-organisms. We’re getting the upper hand though.
4. And then too, the weather has been offering numerous opportunities to try to find where all the wet weather gear got stashed in May.

It never ceases to amaze how easy it is to drum up the litany of excuses not to go out and do something that I purport to actually enjoy doing.  I need to get my hard drive reformatted: life is too short (the remainder anyway) to spend so much of it postponing what I won’t be able to do for much of the rest of it.

It was a glorious day to be out on a bicycle.

No comments:

Post a Comment