Monday, September 26, 2011

Photos: USGP of Cyclocross Day 2: Women's Pro

These are the only photos I took on day two. Family obligations pulled me away from the course after my race. I came back to get the tent in the break in the weather after the women's race. I found these last few competitors working their way toward the home stretch. I wish I could have been their for more of the day.

Photos: Planet Bike Cup Day 2

Planet Bike Cup. Day 2

Sunday morning I was not up and out of the house as early as I was on Saturday. I dawdled in a fatigued stupor looking at the pile of mostly dry spandex, looking at my backpack, stuffing things in, taking things out. The weather map looked ominous, ominous and wet, so what would I need to wear? By the time I got to the race the First race of the day was lining up to go off, and I did not get to pre-ride the course. It took time to set up the tent which was placed at the bottom of the far side of the hill on a parking lot instead of at the very top. I was trying to A) not have to carry the tent up the Stanley run up again, and B) trying to be somewhere that would not turn to mud.

I even got a bike rack from across the parking lot and carried it over the course to hold the tent down, and to provide additional space for storing gear (a impromptu lean-too) made with a tarp. I spent a lot of time messing around with the tent and stuff, and pretty much used all of the time I had during the men's 4 race to get ready for my first pre-ride. By the time my pre-ride started so had the rain. The course was muddy, and the main track was already slick with mud. The off-camber turns on the top of the course were already slick, and getting worse with every drop. I returned to the tent and cheered on the women from Chicago that I know, Becky, Ellie, Katie, and Katie (all of whom did awesome). Paolo and I were in the tent watching the muddy women ride by and it hit me that...we were next. There was not another race between the women's 3/4 and the men's 2/3. It was time to get ready now. I put on my skin suit and opted on arm and leg warmers. I got into a conversation with Paolo about toe cleats I said "yes" and he said "meh". But as the rain picked up he switched his vote to "Yes", and I helped him put in his cleats while he pinned on my number. I slipped on my rain jacket and pants, threw on my poncho, and it was time to head to staging.

Which of course meant another trip to the portapotty to undo all the dressing I had just so meticulously completed in a small wet enclosed space with risk of loosing something small in the most embarrassing way. When I emerged the rain had surged heavier, and I tooled around the parking lot a few more times before heading to staging. Once again they were calling names as I arrived, but as my number was even higher than it had been on Saturday I had plenty of time to shed my rain gear and get into the starting grid. We were tightly packed again waiting for the whistle. I saw my Mom and Dad standing near the starting grid, and waved at them. I think we got a whistle on day two instead of a gun. Was it too wet for black powder?

Regardless the whistle went and we surged forward once more. Once again I made my way to the outside to find room to sprint, and once again I was able to make up some positions on the field hugging the corner. It was longer, but there better traction out in the wide-line because the grass was not completely submerged in mud. I was able to move past some people on that turn, and it felt like I moved from the back half of the pack into the front half. As we headed into the Zipp barriers I was in very tight traffic. So tight I actually had to put my shoulder into a rider who was trying to cut me off from the outside. He even took his hand off his handlebar and reached for my bar for a moment. Someone, maybe an official, yelled to keep your hands on your own bike, and he relented. I remember nothing else about him except that his arm was royal blue.

It was about that time that my body felt the impact of having raced the day before. There were a couple of straight areas where guys who were still firing on all cylinders were accelerating, and I could not engage any high-end torque. I just kept in a low gear and spun until the next technical section. My mantra in wet and muddy conditions is to stay below the threshold of effort where cognitive ability is impaired. Mistakes are more costly than going slow. Beside, in the wet weather all of my "matches" were wet, and so I did not have any to burn.

The Stanley run-up had been modified to make it even more difficult. They threw in an extra up-then-down 180 degree turn before turning 180 degrees back up the run-up. In my first lap it was rideable to the top of the 180. But the way down was already a sluice of mud and water. I didn't run down. I planted a foot and slide down. The run-up was the most painful part of the course for me. My third trip up I got a really bad side-stick on the run-up, and had to soft pedal for a while until it went away. All the technical muddy corners, the water, the puddles and mud were fine, but the run-up kicked my ass more and more each lap.

The first announcement I heard over the PA system about how much of the race was left was that there were three laps left. I remember thinking to myself that I didn't know that I would be able to finish the race. I did not know where I would find the energy to run up that hill three more times. I was seriously wondering if I had it in me to finish. But it was also on this lap that I started to feel like I was moving a little bit faster than some of the others on the course. Yes I was dying, but maybe I wasn't dying as fast as some others. I pressed onward.

My brother and his wife were standing just on the other side of the hill on my third trip up watching the now treacherous off camber. When I navigated through it by unclipping and "scootering" with two steps around the apex, they heckled in the spirit of the sport saying next time I should make it worth their while and at least have the decency to wipe out.

As I hit the pavement the most glorious thing happened. I heard the announcers say that there was only one lap left. Somewhere in the middle of my fourth lap the counter jumped from 3 to go down to 1 to go, and all of the sudden it was the bell lap. Any doubt of being able to finish was washed away, and I just focused on riding within my self, finding the best line (sometimes very far away from an ideal line) through the corners and getting around guys when they made a mistake and fell down. I remember my right leg-warmer came untucked from my shorts on the last lap, and I watched as it slowly crept down around my ankle. I dared not stop and tug on it, and there was no room for taking a hand off the wheel. Instead I watched it fill up with mud, and hoped that it did not become entangled in my drive train.

My bike was filthy to the point where the mud was interfering with shifting. I lost some spots on the last lap, but I also made some spots up as I was able to take advantage of the mistakes of others. I remember having closed a gap on a rider in front of me down and around the playground, but the last time up the hill was by far the worst. It didn't feel like I was running. It didn't even feel like I was walking. It felt like I was literally crawling as I supported my weight with my bike, and used my legs to drive us up the hill. It was not pro, but it got me to the top which was all that mattered at that point. I was completely spent at the top, unable to breathe. The rider in front of me had pulled away up the hill, and I gave up any hope of catching him. Instead I turned my attention backwards, and wondered what I had to do to keep the rider behind me from catching me at the finish line again. When I hit the pavement I glanced backwards. There was no one coming. There would be no dash to the finish line for me, just a nice stroll toward personal victory.

When I cross the line I posted-up to celebrate. I had no idea where I finished, but I did finish. The announcers made note that lots of guys were posting up across the finish. Just finishing means something on a day like that. I went back and found my parents at the starting line, went back to the tent, and changed into dry warm clothes. I was starting to shiver, and just wanted to be dry. I ended up riding back to my brother's house as a cool down, and started the process from last night all over again. Wash the bike, wash the clothes, then me.

The mud came off very easy with a garden hose. When I turned the hose to my skinsuit dark brown water ran off the bottom for almost a minute as I sprayed clean water onto it. Everything from my shoes to my helmet was saturated with as much mud and water as it could hold. Everything got pre-washed and then thrown in a washing machine. I threw myself into the shower, and had to kick the dirt and grit down the drain.

We had a little family gathering at my brother's house so I did not make it back out to watch more of the races until later. There was a break in the storm near the end of the women's pro-race and I returned to fold up the tent and give away water bottles that my sister-in-law had from work. I pulled out my camera and snapped some photos of last lap of the women's race. I headed up the hill to hand out water bottles, and it started to sprinkle again. I sprinted downhill and collapsed the tent by myself and loaded it into my brother's blazer. I did not have any of my rain gear (or waterproof shoes) so I did not stay to watch the men tear it up. Although there was nothing left to tear. The course was completely destroyed from fence to fence. There was no grass left just a two mile long slough of mud three meters wide.

The timing of my race was messed up. My placing was correct, but my lap-times are only recorded for three laps. Someone missed me through the finish area on my first lap. But the totals are pretty telling.

On Saturday I ran 6 laps in just over 42 minutes. On Sunday I ran one fewer lap, but took about five minutes longer to complete the course. It felt like it was more than a little epic. Not "Gravel Metric 2011"-EPIC, but certainly a grueling cyclocross-race epic.

The Planet Bike Cup. Day 1

I started writing this post on Saturday night before exhausting set in. It was originally titled "Exhaustion"

It's day one of the Planet Bike Cup. I took more than 400 photos, was outside all day mostly on my feet, and oh yeah...cyclocross race.

Oh yeah...

Cyclocross race tomorrow.

Everything went smoothly this morning. I was up early at 6AM, and then snoozed for another half an hour. My brother helped me get to the park with the tent, bike, and gear, and then he went to play basketball. I got some help getting the Sprockets tent to the very top of the Stanley run up. I ran a warm-up lap before the first race, and another before the second race. The grass was damp with a heavy dew and maybe some overnight precipitation, but the ground was not muddy. In the corners if it was slippery with dust if anything. I took a few pictures in between and changed from my warm-up kit to my skin suit. It was a little bit of a frantic dash by the end as I was trying to get everything situated, my number pinned on, and visiting the portable rest room. It never fails that once I get all layered up to race, the first thing I have to do is go into a small plastic box and try to disrobe without dropping a glove or an arm-warmer in a smelly blue place.

By the time I made it to the staging area they were already calling guys into the starting grid, but I was fortunate that I did not miss my call up. My number was 247 so the call up order was not determined by registration order as I was one of the top 25 guys to register. That was a little bit disappointing, but randomness is like that sometimes. Fortunately there wasn't much time to be disappointed. We filed into the corral and bantered amongst ourselves waiting for the gun.


Yes, I believe there was a legitimate gunshot to start our race. That's pro, right?

I was kind of in the middle at the start and worked my way around to the outside edge. I was able to move up in some positions during this first hard burn and get closer to the front of the pack, but I was not able to sustain that pace for long. The speeds were very high on the dry grass, and there were a lot of open straightaways in the top half of the course. I kept hemorrhaging spots that I had burned hard to gain. I wonder if it would have been better to hold an inside position, not burn as hard, and then try to pick guys off at some of the later straightaways. Regardless, the race was on.

It was a combined Cat 2 and Cat 3 race which means there were lots of guys who were faster than me. Every time I was passed I thought to myself, "It's okay. He's Cat 2." When someone I recognized as a Cat 3 passed me I thought to myself, "It's okay. He should be Cat 2." Mostly I didn't think.

I do remember loathing the Stanley run-up. A long steep climb that some of the pros were bunny-hopping over the rail-road ties at the bottom and riding up. I was dismounting, leaning heavily on my bike, and then running up as fast as possible which did not feel very fast at all. The one lap that I did sprint hard up the hill I got to the top and realized that not only did I have to ride my bike again, but I had to be able to navigate some oxbow off camber turns, which was almost impossible without any oxygen.

I do remember some things about the last lap. Somewhere near the bottom of the Stanley Steamer I passed Austin who was on foot. He shifted over his rear chain ring and ground his chain along the spokes behind the cassette. Forrest passed me, and pulled away up the Stanley Run-up. There was a guy who was right behind me at the top of the run-up and we ended up in a dead sprint for 56th place. I had the lead, and I lost the sprint by about 3 inches because I stopped pedaling and tried to "lean" it in, instead of continuing to hammer past both the finish line and the point of vomiting. Part of me is kicking myself for giving up just a bit too soon, and the rest of me is kind of glad I did not vomit for 56th place. Fifty seventh place was uncomfortable enough.

I hung out and watched the pros race cheering on the Chicago natives I knew, and watching some of my teammates drink and heckle to the best of their ability. I got some help getting the tent taken down I packed up my belongings into my backpack, rode back to my brother's house to get his car, and then returned to the park to pick up the tent. The rest of the night was spent cleaning my bike, then cleaning clothes, and then finally cleaning me. I went out for a treat at Culver's and returned to my brother's house for a quiet evening of photo editing and writing about my day.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 this was pretty cool.

As previously noted, I raced on Sunday.

Instead of going with my usual Monday night routine and going on the Chicago Cycling Club Monday night group ride, I went to a small (3 people) impromptu cyclocross practice at Cricket Hill. It was a nice change of pace from a 40 or 50 mile day. I also wanted to be "fresh" for the Tuesday morning Johnny Sprockets cyclocross practice at Montrose Harbor.

I set my alarm for 6AM. It woke me up, I hit "Dismiss" instead of "Snooze" and fell back asleep. I woke up again at 6:27AM and in a fog realized what had happened. The pillows called loudly to me. "Lay back down. It won't hurt anything if you skip this week. Come on. We miss you already."

But I was already up and mentally figuring out how to cram what normally takes 45 minutes in a slow stupor into the next 20 minutes. I thought a little panic would help so I panicked.

I made it to practice fashionably late, with just enough time to drop my bag and drop my tire pressure.

We played 2 games of "foot down" as a warm-up, and then went to hotlaps around a course. During the hotlaps we noticed a photographer with a big lens who was taking pictures of us. During our break he came up to ask us what we were doing. He came to the harbor early to enjoy some wonderful morning light, and stumbled across a bunch of people in brightly colored spandex crawling in and out of the pain cave.

He explained he was a photojournalist with the Tribune, and he had no idea what we were doing. We started explaining cyclcross to him, and he asked if anyone would be willing to give a little explanation on camera of who we were and what we were doing. I volunteered so I could give a shout-out to my friends at Johnny Sprockets and the Chicago Cyclocross Cup

This was the result.

It was one take, and looking at it now I wish I had read today's update so I could have said SIX HUNDRED AND EIGHTY RACERS instead of 560 pre-regs. Also, I used the word "discipline" too many times. Other than that I think it went pretty well for being before 8AM on a Tuesday morning.

I am also very glad I broke out my good baby-sharks-clubbed-to-death-with-baby-seals-skin suit with red racing strips for practice this morning and not the faux-red regular-lycra-skin suit or heaven forbid, matching separates with arm warmers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Photos: Jackson Park

Photos from Jackson Park.

Men's 30+
Women's 4s and Juniors
Men's 1-2-3

Chicago Cyclocross Cup 2011 Jackson Park

That went well....

Sunday morning started with an alarm ringing at 7AM. I threw my legs over the side of the bed, wiped the sleep out of my eyes with my fists, and stood up and stepped into a something resembling a Rube Goldberg machine who's sole purpose was to get me out the door headed for Jackson Park in less than a hour. My clothes were laid on the floor next to the bed in the order they needed to be put on. There were socks, warm-up bib-shorts, khaki shorts, under armor top, warm-up jersey in a row. A bowl and spoon for cereal waited on the table, water-bottles were half filled with ice in the freezer, three roast beef sandwiches on homemade bread sat in the fridge with 15 ozs of home-brew energy gel portioned out into 5 oz servings. An empty soft-sided cooler waited next to the fridge to be filled. A backpack by the door waited for a soft-sided cooler. Shoes, socks, race kit, helmet, gloves, tubes, levers, pump, chain lube, multi-tool were already preloaded in my backpack. I pulled the Camera battery off the charger, loaded it into camera, and loaded the camera into my camera bag. The Camera bag was then loaded into the backpack. I pulled the Falcon from her hanger, and was ready to roll with time to spare.

But it was cloudy. I thought that maybe I should check the weather.

According to weather dot com it was currently sunny with a small chance of showers until 4PM when it looks like rain.

According to the window it was overcast. According to the sidewalk, it was raining. That was two votes to one weather dot crap. You loose. I stuffed a poncho and some arm-warmers in my bag in case the wet wanted to lead to cold. I also returned to the hall closet one more time and grabbed some knobby tires just in case. I strapped them around my backpack, put on my Shower Pass rain cycling jacket and Race Face rain pants, and headed toward the Lake.

I could have ridden the 13 miles to Jackson Park, but I have done that once before, and was not all that thrilled with the results. Given the mileage I have put on this year, I'm even more certain that I could have done it, I just didn't feel I needed to do it. Not with 40lbs of gear on my back and the weather cool and wet. The buses all have bike racks, and it was a relatively painless journey three blocks to the 151 then another block to the 6 and then three blocks to the Park.

I arrived to Jackson Park well before my target of 9AM. I just missed the start of the 40+ race (GOOO CHERNOH!) and had plenty of time to get set up for a pre-ride. One of the key things I learned last year was to dress to ride. It was nice being in civilian clothes on the way to most race, but it takes too much time to change into race clothes. I prefer to be able to get on the course and get rolling as soon as possible. There are too few windows to pre-ride to be missing them trying to get into bib shorts without showing everyone ye' ol' twig and giggle berries.

So I got myself set up to pre-ride, and then cheered on the 40+ riders. It was raining too much for me to get my camera out. Sorry mature gents, no photos of you today. I waited for the end of their race and did my first pre-ride lap. The course was wet from the morning's rain. My Michellin Jet file-treads did not do all that bad considering the course was wet, twisty and full of turns. I liked it better than the previous year's course with many more trees and shrubs and fewer straight aways across baseball diamonds.

I returned to the start, put back on some warm layers and got ready to watch my teammates Brent and Michael C take off in the 30 plus. (YAAAAYYYY GO BRENT!!!! GOOOOOOO MICHAEL!!!!!!!!!!!! (I really need a cowbell). The rain had let up so I took some pictures with me new camera.

During the 30+ the rain started coming down more steadily. Michael and Brent ran good races, and it was time for another prelap. The full field of 30+ racers combined with the added water significantly impacted the course. It was slick and the path around the course was muddy and brown where an hour earlier it had still been mostly green. There was a lot more drifting on the second pre-lap than there was the first. I was very glad I brought a different set of tires.

After my second pre-lap I returned once more to the team tent, changed into my dry race bibs, pinned my number onto my race jersey, ate a sandwich, pulled out my levers, and went after my tires. I focused on getting ready to race and did not take any pictures of the women's 1-2-3s. I took a short ride (too short it turns out) on my new tires, but did not stray to far from home. I knew that I wanted to be one of the first in the starting grid, so I was planning on being warmed up and ready to go fairly early so I could be one of the first to queue up. With a few laps left to go in the women's race, I went back to the tent grabbed a bottle of water and a home brew energy gel to suck on while waiting. I kept my jacket on to hold in some heat, and went to the starting line to wait at about 11:10AM (40 minutes before my race). There were already some veterans in the holding area, so I took my place amongst them. I don't remember how long I was standing there making small talk when it hit me. I had a panicked memory of a mistake I made at a race last year when I pinned my number on the wrong side of my jersey and discovered it a few minutes before the start of the race. So I opened up my jacket to double check, and realized that I wasn't even wearing a jersey. Just my underarmour and my race bibs. I had never bothered to put it back on after I pinned my number to it. So I leaned my bike up against the fence and made a quick "I'm warming up" run back to the tent to prevent automatic disqualification. I was back in plenty of time even before the bulk of the pack showed up.

And so we stood in an increasingly dense cloud of men and bikes. There was the subtle and almost imperceptible surging forward toward the starting line, the gentlemanly banter, the microscopic jockeying for position. Eventually it was our turn. Jason called us out in stages and I was able to fill up onto the front line. The call-ups were random and unlike last year at Jackson Park I did not get one. The starting grid filled up, and we were then given the opportunity to surge forward one more time before the start. I held my place and started from the second row fourth from the left of behind the 10 starters. Unfortunately I did not "pick the right horse" so to speak and when the whistle finally blew the center surged forward and my lane stalled, so going into the first turn there were already a dozen or two riders on the inside of me moving into the lead.

I overheard some of the master's 30+ riders talking about the first sharp downhill turn after the U bend with the barrier being a serious bottle neck. They were not wrong and even though I was in the front quarter of the hundred man field, things were already starting to pile up when I got there. The first 5 or 6 riders sped away while the field slammed on their collective brakes and piled into one another. It was definitely a choke point whether intentional or not. The field of 100 could have used some more distance to spread out naturally (especially with the random call-ups) before the course narrowed. Or as I have discovered in mountain biking a steep climb straight up hill is very effective way to spread out starts by ability. But I digress.

The rest of my first lap is kind of a blur. I know that I made up places on some guys in the twisty turns, I know others passed me. Things calmed down more in the second lap than in the first. I got into the pack of riders with whom I would be jockeying position for the rest of the race. My second lap was also the lap where I started to feel that my rear-tired was under inflated and rolling out on me around curves. I psyched myself out and thought I had a slow leak and was debating whether to stop and try and fix it or if I should keep riding until it was flat. It was a distraction and I soft-pedaled out of many turns on the second lap fearful of blowing it out or tearing it off the rim. It wasn't until the end of the second lap that I became more confident that my tire was a little under-inflated, but it was not losing pressure. If it was leaking it should have been flat by that point and it wasn't. So I pressed on.

It was also the end of the second lap that the official told the rider in front of me that he was sitting in just around 20th position. That emboldened my spirit. The third lap started off with a bang. As I noted earlier I was jockeying for position with a couple of guys for most of the second lap, and I wanted to try to open up a gap on them and be in the lead going into the twisty back part of the course where I felt like I could out ride them. I burned a big match up the home straight away. When I looked down at my garmin I was sitting at 25mph riding on a slight incline in wet grass with 35lbs of pressure in my tire. It was awesome while it lasted, but unfortunately I burned too hot and was not able to maintain the gap on the two guys that I passed. They both caught me again before we reached the twisty stuff, and I was once again trailing them through the sharp turns. It was on this lap, that I made the worst technical mistake that I remember making. I was going around the sharp 180 double back into an off-camber by the lake when the rider in front of me went down in the mud. I was able to adjust my line and avoid him, but I ended up having to unclip to maintain my balance on the off camber uphill section. When I tried to step back up on the pedal, my muddy foot slipped off the front of my pedal two times as I stalled out on the hill. A pack of riders piled up behind me at the mess. I don't remember giving up any spots right then, but there was a pack that closed the gap and was breathing down our necks for the rest of the race. Some of those riders pass us on later laps. I had learned my lesson with 3 laps to go, and did not burn a big match on the straight away during lap -2. I pushed myself hard, but stayed within my threshold.

I tried to ride the penultimate lap calm but aggressive, and then hit the last lap as hard could. I wasn't the only one hitting the last lap hard as a couple of faster riders from team Pegasus (who got caught up in the collision at the beginning of the race) made their way through the crowd and advanced forward during that last lap. Fortunately for me the two riders I had been shadowing both had issues that allowed me to squeeze by them. One wiped out on a turn, and the second had a mechanical issue within 150yds of the finish line.

I was physically spent with a half lap left to go, and was battling to hang on. I could sense more riders behind me, maybe three or four, and I was started to feel like I would soon be bent over a garbage can donating partially used roast beef sandwiches for the greater good. I fought through that sick felling thought and pushed onward toward the finish. Coming around the last turn I was out of the saddle sprinting trying to catch the guy in front me sleeping (I didn't) and trying to to be caught sleepy by the riders behind (I wasn't).

It was my first solo Cat 3 race, and I finished 23rd out of about 100 entrants and 94 finishers. Despite the very wet and muddy conditions I ran fast (as verified by an independent observer and being spread as a rumor) and did not wipe out once (knock on wood). I hit almost all of my dismounts and remounts cleanly (no bull wrestling and only one 6 step remount). I finished in the top 25 and felt pretty good for the effort. I knew that I finished in front of a lot of guys who finished in front of me a lot of races last year. All in all, it went well. I stayed around for the Women's 4 race, the men's 1-2-3 race, and the start of the 4A race taking pictures and socializing. However, the rain was starting to get heavier, and Chernoh wanted to ride home, so we set off before the end of the 4A race. (A shout out to my friend Chernoh who A) road to the race from Foster and Clark, B) Raced in the Master's 40+, C) Raced in the Cat 3s, and D) Then rode home. He's one to watch for this year). We took the Lake Shore Path and enjoyed a favorable tailwind. We were both overloaded with gear and on fat-tire cross bikes. The rain continued to fall, but with the wind and a good day of racing us behind us our spirits remained warm and dry all the way home.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

At full speed

I left off the last post with the following question.

Q: How fast should I be going?

The smart ass response is:

A: It's a race! FULL SPEED!

However when it comes to cornering, riding at full speed is not a strategy for a fast race. It is a recipe for disaster.

At any given point in time during a race, the amount of available traction is fixed and in limited supply. There are only "two" things that influence the amount of available traction: A) the coefficient of friction between the tire and the ground and B) the normal force (i.e., the weight of the bike + rider) pressing the tires into the ground.

I put "two" in quotes because the coefficient of friction is a result of the interaction between tire and ground, both of which can change. Tires can vary in the material (e.g., soft vs hard rubber), tread patterns, width, pressure, etc, and the ground can vary in all the ways that ground varies. It can be asphalt, concrete, gravel, dirt, dirt with live grass, dirt with dead grass, sand, wood, artificial grass, asphalt or concrete covered with any or all of the above, and all of those surfaces can vary in the extent to which they are wet and or frozen.

But at any given point during a race (i.e., a picture taken of a cyclocross rider) the tire and the ground are constant and the rider's weight is fixed in a single position. At that moment, the amount of available traction for accelerating, cornering, and braking is fixed. If that single snapshot becomes a video that can be played forward and backwards a few frames, the tires will not change during those few frames, and the ground will not likely change (very much) during those few frames. Although available traction may change greatly over the course of the race we can think about it as being fixed in the moment.

In auto-racing they have something called the Friction Circle to help communicate the limited nature of traction. There are also some youtube videos (video 1, video 2) that further explain the general concept. If you have a few minutes it might be useful to watch these videos and pretend they are talking about bicycles instead of cars. I very much like the idea expressed in the second video that one of the differences between more and less skilled racers is the ability to stay on the outside edge of the friction circle and maximize the use of available traction for accelerating, braking, and cornering.

The same general concept applies to cyclocross. Friction circle theory suggests that in order to maximize the use of available traction, there has to be some segmentation of the three uses of traction. The general approach is depicted below.

From My Racing Thoughts

This implies waiting until the last possible moment, then going "deep, deep, deep into the brake pedal" to decelerate to the appropriate entry speed. Using all available traction means braking almost to the point of locking up the wheels and skidding. At the entry of the turn, the force of breaking is reduced, but the force of cornering increases. I was at practice on Tuesday morning and was trying to be very mindful of being on the edge of the friction circle. (How do I know I was successful? Well, on two different occasions while turning I lost traction and wiped out. Skidding means being at and then beyond the edge of the friction circle. The second incident was much to the entertainment of all). There were two things I noticed. First, the edge of the friction circle is jagged. I could feel my front wheels sliding and skidding a little bit, and then regaining grip, as I made microscopic adjustments to the handlebar steering into any slippage. Then on certain grassy corners I could actually hear the sound of the grass tearing and snapping one blade at a time as they strained to hold the force of my turn. So just as in driving a car there is both tactile and auditory feedback.

The turn on an ideal line starts to get gentler after the apex. This frees up available traction for accelerating. This available traction may or may not be used for accelerating. There is an element of personal choice in whether or not the greater force is applied to the pedals to take full advantage of that additional traction. It is easy, especially when tired, to coast through the second half of a turn and wait until the straight-away. Each time represents a missed opportunity to close a gap in front and open a gap behind. The more turns the more opportunities to gain time through more aggressive cornering.

Another similarity that bicycles (these folk notwithstanding) share with automobiles is an ability to select different gear ratios to optimize the transfer of power from "engine" to road. Being in a lower gear makes it easy to accelerate, and being in a higher gear makes it easier to maintain momentum. Thus being able to accelerate out of the apex of a corner means being in the appropriate gear going into the corner. For a number of reasons it is difficult to shift while cornering, and I find it to be much easier to shift before or during braking at the entry of the corner than trying to shift during the corner. I also feel like it's easier to upshift while pedaling hard than it is to downshift while pedaling hard, and therefore I try to err on the side of being in too low of a gear so I can spin fast and then upshift instead of being in to high of a gear and try to apply a lot of force to the pedal while downshifting. I am always curious to know what others think about shifting before/during/after a turn.

Having introduced the general case, maybe it's time to talk about some specifics. One of the things that makes cyclocross challenging is that as previously noted the amount of available traction changes from moment to moment. Take as an over-simplified example, the nasty turn I diagrammed from my last race.

From My Racing Thoughts

I've taken away the "ideal line" because for this turn it has little bearing on where I ended up trying to ride. The purple circles of different sizes are meant to reflect that the loose and dusty dirty has less available traction than did the surrounding grass. The "best-line" that I tried is shown in blue. Others may have had different approaches, but I was trying to turn early before hitting the dirt, carry on straight through the loose dirt until I hit the grass on the far side (bigger traction circle) where I could make a sharper turn, and avoid the loose dirt on the outside. One time I brought in too much speed and shot it wide. A different lap I slowed down enough that I was able to make a turn in the dirt. A few times I may have actually followed something resembling where I thought I wanted to be. Being able to figure out where to go, and being able to go there consistently lap after oxygen depleting lap? Two separate things.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011


Sometimes things in the universe collide. Distant and unexpected things that live in separate worlds come together to influence the course of things. This weekend was of one of those kinds of weekends.

A few weeks ago, Enterprise had a deal. Weekend rates of $9.99 per day for an entire weekend rental. I thought I was going to Madison this weekend for a cyclocross race, but I was mistaken. I got my dates mixed up. I had the car reserved already so Monday night, an hour before registration closed, I threw my hat in the ring for a MTB race in Lake Geneva WI called Treadfest.

I picked the car up on Friday night, and found parking right across the street from my apartment just as meters were turning off (i.e., I won the Chicago parking lottery). My preparations on Friday night and Saturday morning were quick, but not hurried. I have done this enough now that I know what I need, I know where it is, and I know how to make it fit in a backpack. Saturday morning I was up early but puttered around the house cleaning a bit, as I was in no real hurry to go anywhere. I fed the meter once in the morning which gave me an 11AM departure time. I was in the car and on the road by 11:15AM.

I made it to Lake Geneva at about 2PM. Despite growing up in Southern Wisconsin, and having been to Lake Geneva dozens of times, I had never been to the Grand Geneva Resort. I did not even know where within the huge playground for the rich and famous the race was being held. My usual trick of "following the bikes" was not working, as I did not see anyone hauling bikes when I arrived. So I looked at the signs and made an educated guess as to where I should head. I followed the signs pointing to "Mountain Top".

I made it to the ski lodge, found a spot in the shade in a parking lot full of mountain bikers. I pulled the QuBe out of the rental, and changed into riding gear. I climbed the short hill over the ski lodge and saw something rather intimidating. The start of the course went straight up the side of the ski hill. Not only did it go straight up the ski-hill, but it came virtually straight down as well. There was basically no where else to go but up, so I started my first pre-ride lap on a big easy climb. I was intimidated a bit by the descent and rode the brakes most of the way down. I followed the course around to the west side of the hill, and found another steep climb. That came down with an event steeper descent. After making it through the first two climbs, I continued on with my pre-ride. I remember trying to keep my tempo and pace slow. I wanted to remember features of the course, not just practice riding fast. I also remember wrestling with my own thoughts. They were heavy, and not facilitating a good ride. There were some steep downhills on the course with rock drops that I found to be intimidating. They reminded me of my injuries, my accidents, my hospitalizations and my surgeries. I struggled to push those thoughts to the corners of my mind so they did not become self-fulfilling prophesies. But the presence of the doubt also made me question whether or not I belonged there. I felt out of place and I felt slow on the twists, turns, climbs, and lose dirt. To make matters worse the QuBe was making a horrendous racket on each and every climb. There was a creaking sound coming from crankset that made me question whether or not my bike was broken, or about to break.

I finished my first lap unscathed despite the doubts and worries. The trail was dry and dusty so I wanted to try out my "dry" tires. I went back to the car and swapped out tires. When I was physically recovered I went back out. My intention was not to ride another lap, but to take a few sections of single track, and come out on the double-track access road. The climbs and descents went fine, but I noticed that my tires felt too soft. I had inflated them both to just over 30psi but it was not enough. I was bouncing through to the rim on the rear, and the front was too soft to really dig in. The shorter treads also did not help. During the first 200 yds of single track, I was coming down a sharp turn to the right on loose powder and my "dry" specific tread washed out in the thick layer of powder that covered the track. It was weird because I was turning, weight heavy on the front wheel, but I hit a bump or skipped over a small depression and shifted laterally washing out in the loose dirt. I was on my side in an instant, with dirt clinging to my sweaty skin and clothing. There were riders behind me (but not too close) so I yelled out "man down" and struggled to my feet. I was not hurt, and had the wherewithal to check out myself, my equipment, and the ground around me before taking off. There in the middle of the trail was the rental car key. Bullet 1 dodged. I checked out my bike testing the alignment on the front and back wheels and the derailleur hanger. No issues to report. Bullet 2 dodged. I got back on my bike and continued my second lap feeling even less confident about my equipment and my ability.

I got back to my car, put my bike away, washed the dust and dirt off my body, and was seriously thinking about throwing in the towel and heading back to Chicago. A couple of things happened in the parking lot to help me shake of the emotional dust after I finished washing off the physical dust. First, there was another guy who came out of his pre-ride lap even dirtier than I was. I hit the ground and slide, he hit the ground and tumbled. He told a friend that he failed put enough air into his tire and missed the "magic number" of optimal pressure. I was not the only one! Second, I was really bothered by the creaking noise, so I inquired as to whether or not there was a local bike shop nearby. There was one in Lake Geneva, but it likely closed at 5pm. It was 4:50pm. There was no time to make it off the reservation and in to town so I just started to look at my bike and see if there was anything I could do. I started by making sure the derailleur and chain-catcher were not causing the problem. Loosened them both, tooled around the parking lot, tightened them again, no change. I pushed on the crank arms to see if something was loose in the bottom bracket. I knew I didn't have the right tools for that kind of adjustment, but I opened up the Allen wrench set to the biggest wrench and stuck it in the hole anyway. It was too large. But as I was looking at the base of the crank arm I saw a screw hole that matched the largest Allen wrench I had. I stuck the wrench into the one of the four screws holding the two largest chain rings to the crank. I turned it to the right, and it turned with a loud squeaking sound. I tightened them all, pulled the bike out and put the front wheel back on for the fourth time, and took a spin around the parking lot and up the short hill by the ski-lodge. There was no squeak. Woot! I felt like I won the "you can fix your own bike" lottery. Third, I ran into Paul-Brian and Jen, a pair of Half-Acre riders that I knew from Chicago in the parking lot. We had a nice chit-chat about the course, and equipment, and he advised me to be careful of the first two climbs because they could turn into bottlenecks in the middle of the pack. It was comforting to see someone familiar faces, and get a few useful pointers.

I felt a little bit better after that short conversation, so I packed up and went to meet my Mom in Janesville. We did some shopping, ate some Noodles and/or Inc and then went back to the ancestral manse. Once at my parents house I spent another 2 hrs preparing for the race. It involved making sandwiches, changing to a third tire-combination for the day (a deep-tread Specialized Hard Rocker on the front and a shallower "dry conditions" Michelin on the rear). I inflated them to 10 psi more than they had been, organized everything for the morning, made a list so I wouldn't forget anything, and went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning before my alarm to the pitter-patter of little feet. My sister and brother-in-law had brought over my two little nieces. My plans of getting to Lake Geneva 2 hrs before my race started were knocked a little bit off track. The first unexpected collision of the day was with cute little girls who wanted to play with their Uncle Nathan.

Eventually I escaped with all the things on my list that I had managed to scatter around my parent's house the night before. That in and of itself is no small feat as I am notorious for leaving things at my parent's house.

Southern Wisconsin is the place where I grew up. The land is pockmarked with memories from my childhood some of which hid under the surface like landmines. I was doing okay with the nostalgia until a song by Adele came on the radio. I had heard the song once before on the VMAs, but in the car I was able to really listen to it. Her words tore through me like shrapnel, reopening old wounds, and letting the tears leak out like rain. I was drying to a mountain bike race peering through a hazy blur of water that could not be windshield wiped away.

The song and the somber mood passed as I found a different radio station playing more appropriate music. Some alternative rock to energize my motor. I arrived at the Grand Geneva an hour after I had hoped, and paid the penalty I was hoping to avoid by being early. The main lot was full of cars, and I was redirected toward the auxiliary parking lot .5 miles away from the starting line. That put me in a quandary. I was hoping to get up to the course and take some photos of the citizen riders before my race, but I didn't want to leave my stuff laying around on the ground somewhere while I raced. I made the decision to err on the side of caution and focus solely on getting ready for the race. I put on my race kit, pinned my number on my camelpak, and headed to the starting area to warm-up.

I had just over an hour before my race from that point forward. It was plenty of time so I planned out a long slow warm-up in my head. The ride to the course was the beginning then a slow granny-gear climb up the hill. I returned to the road for a few laps between parking lots. The final lap I burned hard to flush out the legs, and get my heart pumping. At about 11AM I went over toward the starting line to queue up, but there was some congestion near the starting line as a pair of ambulances arrived to provide care for a citizen rider who had some sort of accident. It was a reminder of the dangers of what I was about to do. Regardless, I queued up with the rest of my age group and made small talk with riders whom I had seen in previous races.

The first wave was a little late to start (presumably because of the ambulance), but eventually the hordes started to stagger forward toward the starting line. When my group was on deck I noticed that I had not been as aggressive as I normally am to maintain a position near the front of my wave. As we surged forward to the start line I was in the third row. I didn't panic, but I thought back to Paul-Brian's words about not being in the middle of the pack on the descents. I had to make a move up this hill.


As expected the front line surged, then the second line, then me. I was just right of center, and stayed there for the first hundred feet before seeing an opening to the right as gravity started to string out the mass of riders. I took advantage of the gap, stood up, and started to power past the dozen or so riders ahead of me. When we got to the top and leveled off there were only three riders in my wave ahead of me. Just where I wanted to be. We zipped down the hill, and was happy I avoided any Charlie Foxtrots.

The second climb was almost as steep as the first climb, and I lost track of where I was in my heat. Guys were coming up from behind, and then withering in front. The second descent was a dozy and I remember that at one point just as we dropped into the first real single track three or four riders in front of me missed a turn, and I was leading my wave. I made a mental note as I passed the place where I had wiped out on Saturday, and felt another small sense of relief. The three now pissed off riders who had to turn around and come up hill caught up before too long, and passed me in the narrow gaps as sign posts with names like "Son-of-a-Butch Climb", "Butch's Playground" and "The Rock Garden" whizzed by. I had ridden the course before so I had mentally connected some of the labels with features, but for the most part I just rode.

I kept my heart rate above 160 (90% of max or higher) for the entire first 20 minutes of the race. After 20 minutes I laid off the gas and took a 2 minute rest at 80% of max HR, and then pressed onward. Towards the end of the first lap, I could feel my body starting to reach it's limit and backed off the gas just a little bit. I started to really focus in on maintaining a sustainable pace and minimize the mistakes that can happen with low O2. There were a few times when I got hung up on stragglers from earlier waves. The longest such time was during "the Pines" which was a long single track with few good passing opportunities. There were about three guys piled up behind me (I could tell from the impatient encouragement to go faster) and two in front of me. We squeezed past the first guy after going through the first part of "The Roller Coaster", and I passed the guy who was immediately in front of me when he chose the wrong line between two tight trees and caught his left handlebar on the left tree and twisted and piled into the tree on the right. I stood on my brakes and did not run into him, and he awkwardly scrambled through the tree and off to the right. I made it through and passed him without even putting a foot down. I remember that on the last passing section of the lap before the start, two of the guys who had been caught up behind me burned a match to get around me. One was in orange and one of in blue. I smiled and nodded. When we got around to the second hill climb I smiled and nodded again as I passed them on my way up the hill.

I made it through the first half of my second lap with only a few specific memories. When I was coming down around the rock-garden someone from below yelled "Rider down" which caused me to slam on my brakes and skid down a sweet descent instead of "bombing" down it. When I got to the bottom there was no rider, and I was a little miffed with the spectators for not following it up with an "all clear" call. But better safe than sorry. I also remember a section of trail where the leaves of the lowest foliage had been completely covered in a thin layer of gray dust that was being kicked up by wheels.

I was actually feeling pretty comfortable by the mid-point of my second lap, and was mentally getting ready to surge through the last quarter of the race when it hit me. Or maybe I hit him. It probably depends on who you ask.

Somewhere that morning a wasp left it's nest and started the journey that would be his day. Flower to flower, tree to tree, plant to plant he cruised along his route searching for food, shelter, and/or recreation. I don't know what motivates a wasp to turn this way or that, but I can only assume that he was twisting and turning his way through the woods with some invisible purpose much as I had been. He must have seen us, the humans on bicycles moving through at break-neck speeds, but he probably didn't give us a second thought. We live at a different scales of existence that wasp and me. I exist in the large part of the world that he sees as dark shapes that move through the distant universe, and he belongs to the smaller world that I could not see at race pace. At any given instant in time had he turned this way instead of that, or at any given point in time I had speed up or slowed down we would not have converged. I think it was simply the force of impact that drove his venom filled stinger into my left index finger. I had no warning of impending pain, I reacted as one who grabs a hot pot handle on the stove and opened my hand jerking it away from the perceived threat. My mind went into overdrive, but I think my body remembered the kind and quality of the pain before I could even focus my eyes on the source of pain. It took only a blurry visual confirmation of something black and yellow clinging to my glove to realize what was happening.


I reached behind me and flicked my hand hoping to get it off without getting additional stings. I looked back at my finger and it was gone. By the time I lifted my eyes to look for the trail it was gone too.


Thankfully it was clump of small trees that gave way as it jack knifed my handlebar and swept my bike from underneath me. I am not certain if I went completely down to the ground or if I was able to step off with my right foot and stay kind of upright. I don't remember lying on the ground or getting up so I think I stayed on my feet, but I'm not certain. I do remember the riders in blue and orange whizzing by again. When I had a moment I stepped back out into the trail and remounted my bike.

All was not well. As soon as I started rolling I could feel it, and hear it.

Zubbbb, zubbbbbb, zubbbbb, zubbbbb. My wheel was now rubbing against the brake pad. I pulled over again and gave as much slack as possible to the front brake cable. It did not eliminate the rubbing entirely, but I thought at least I would be able to finish the race.

When I got to the next passing zone I looked down and noticed something else amiss. My quick release lever was pointing almost straight away from my bike. It had not lost tension yet, but another blow from anything in the right direction and my wheel would be set free. I stopped a for the third time in in less than two minutes to fix that issue.

Morale was definitely shaken. My finger was throbbing, my shoulder was sore, my brake pad was dragging, and I was starting to feel sorry for myself. When I was going through "the Pines" the second time I even started to replay that Adele song and start to settle into darkness. I grabbed myself by the shoulders and shook. I realized that if I had time to think about sad thing I needed to Rule 5, 6, 10, and 20 in a hurry. But especially rule 5. It was time to HTFU.

It was shortly after having my "moment" that a rider came up from behind and started to jockey with me for position. I made a mistake and she passed me, she made a mistake and I passed her, she burned a match and passed me again. At that point in time it wasn't about "getting beat by a girl" because I knew she had already made up 2 minutes on me and I wasn't going to beat her under any circumstances. But I did put a big target on her back and started chasing her because I knew she was moving faster than I was and I wanted to finish the race strong.

I burned a match on the final climb before the finish and edged ahead of her on the downhill. She stayed with me, but I was in the finish shoot ahead of her. I caught my breath, and went downhill to talk with my Mom for a bit. She decided to head home, and I went to the car to clean up and change. There were enough open parking spots that I was able to move my car up into the close lot, but on the way there I realized I had left my sunglasses sitting on the roof of the rental car. They were of course gone when I parked, and I had no idea where they might have been. A subsequent search back toward where I came from did not turn up anything. It is the second pair of Ryder Hex glasses that I have lost this year means I have two empty cases now with four extra sets of yellow and clear lenses for rider Hex frames. Sigh.

I grabbed my camera bag for the car, and I came back up to the finish area and found my name in the list of results.

1 4 2885 Nathan Schneeberger CHICAGO IL 34 1:13:11.4 0:00.0 Johnny Sprockets

First place in my age-category. I was pleasantly surprised.

Thus only did I collide with my past, a Bee, and a tree, but for the second time this year I converged with a gold medal. This time there was a podium, and this time I was there to stand on top of it. I had on a clean team jersey, and gave my camera to a by-stander for some pictures. So for a brief moment in time the top spot on the podium was mine. I'm not going to lie. It felt good. But now it's cross season, and we must remember the rules.

Rule Number 10: It never gets easier, you just go faster. Sur la plaque, fucktards.

Friday, September 9, 2011

On turning V2.0 (cont.)

So the purpose of this blog is to share my thoughts about racing. One of the thoughts I have had over the course of my short and relatively undistinguished racing career is there is a distinction that can be made between turning and cornering. It's not that turning and cornering are mutual exclusive. They both involve changing direction, but cornering is trying to change direction while maintaining the highest possible speed on a fixed and relatively narrow course. I learned a lot of what I know about cornering on a bicycle from an unlikely source: instructional tutorials created by car-racing experts in the video game Grand Tursimo 4. Some of that knowledge transfers very easily to cyclocross.

A great deal of the collective knowledge related to the skill of cornering addresses these two questions:

Where should I be on the course?
How fast should I be going?

There are many other important questions related to cornering (equipment set-up, body positioning, etc), but I am going to ignore those for the moment. It is not that they are unimportant; they are just beyond the scope of what I am hoping to convey in this post.

Warning: I am momentarily going to touch on a possibly painful subject.........running.

On a 400m running track (shudder, shudder) the difference in length between running in lane 1 and lane 2 is about 7m per lap. Thus, there is generally an advantage to running on the shortest possible arc on the track (i.e., the inside of lane 1). Even in the most wet and slippery conditions a running “spike” provides ample traction on the rubberized surface for making the relatively gentle curve on a 400m track at the top speed.

On the running track, the inside lane is generally preferred because running the shortest distance is a competitive advantage. Races that require runners to stay in their lanes (e.g., 200m - 800m dash) have staggered starts, so everyone runs the same distance.

Cyclocross is different than track and field because the shortest path around the course is generally not the fastest path around the course. This difference happens primarily because of the faster speeds and the tighter turns of a cyclocross course relative to a running track. When turning on wheels (bicycle, motorcycle, go-cart, automobile, race car, etc) available traction is limited, and thus there is generally a negative relationship between the sharpness of a turn, and the speed at which one can safely navigate that turn. The wider the turn the more speed can be carried through the turn. The narrower the turn the less speed can be carried through.

This implies that the widest possible turn is also going to be the fastest turn. A rider can generally carry significantly higher speed through the widest possible turn, and compensate for the slightly longer distance.

This widest possible turn within any corner is known as the ideal line (or racing line) which is theoretically the fastest line around any given corner.

The ideal line is a geometric construct. It is the largest possible smooth arc that will fit inside the boundaries of the turn. In practice it means starting on the outside edge of a corner, cutting through the apex (i.e., the center of the turn), and back out to the outside edge on the far side.

In cyclocross the geometry of the ideal line is slightly different than in other disciplines of racing. There is a virtual apex that exists inside the actual apex of the corner which defines the ideal line. This virtual apex exists because the lean of a turning bicycle

From PsychoCross

combines with the vertical markers used to define the course (i.e., generally with vertical poles or other environmental objects such as a tree) and prevent the wheels of the bicyle from riding the inside edge of the corner the way automobiles can ride the inside edge.

From My Racing Thoughts

Why highlight the virtual apex? For me it’s a safety thing. To the extent that this blog is interpreted as being prescriptive or offering guidance, I don't want anyone to say "I ran into that tree because the interweb's guy told me to take an ideal line close to the apex". You have my full permission to aim a little wider and not run into that tree. Also? in my personal experience, hitting stuff has a negative impact on speed and can cause physical discomfort making the tight inside line less than ideal.

However, cyclcross courses are rarely comprised of two straight aways and a single turn. Turns flow into one another, and the ideal entry for the second turn may be on the opposite side of the course from the ideal exit for the first turn if each turn was considered separately. The ideal line then becomes almost an arithmetic average of the ideal exit of the first turn, and the ideal entry to the second turn.

From My Racing Thoughts

Navigating turns quickly means identifying an ideal line that allows the rider to flow smoothly and quickly though the turns as a series.

Having introduce the theory, what is the practical application? In automotive racing the ideal line is almost always the best line. In cyclocross racing this relationship is much weaker because the conditions of the course are very fluid from race to race, turn to turn, and and even lap to lap.

For example, I was in a race recently with a vicious turn that I remember well.

From My Racing Thoughts

It was a 180 degree hairpin to the left with a patch of very loose powdery dirt around the apex (well worn with tire tracks by my second lap), a large root running parallel to the apex about a third of the way from the center to the outside edge, and waiting on the outside of the turn was a tree who’s roots were exposed across the width of the course and whose trunk rose diagonally up from inside the course to outside the course. So at 3ft off the ground the tree was outside of the course but at 1 inch off the ground the trunk was 12 inches into the course. Riding the ideal line (outside-to-apex-to-outside) was triply dangerous because of the loose dirt at the apex, the root running diagonally away across the ideal line, and the tree inside the course.

On all of my laps I ended up cutting inside the root, and making a slower, sharper turn through the loose dirt. The entry for this turn was a wider bend to the right left me in the middle of the course or farther toward the inside of the turn making it very difficult (and slower) to try and navigate around the outside of the mid-track root. I remember this turn so well because of the Zeigarnik effect, which is to say I remember this turn so well because on my second lap I totally blew it. I mentally transposed myself to a different turn forgetting about the tree on the outside of the course. I cut inside, started to accelerate wide again, but had to slam on the brakes to avoid piling into the tree. I almost came to a complete stop, had to veer to the left, mutter a quick "I'm sorry" to the two riders who almost piled into me from behind, rebuild lost momentum and compose myself because I had to set myself up for the next turn.

This leaves us with basically three kinds of lines. There is the ideal line which is the symmetrical arc around the apex, there is an early apex turn (i.e., like the above example) where the turn starts early and is more gradual before the apex and sharper at the end, and there are late apex turns which begin with a shaper turn to leave a more gradual apex.

From My Racing Thoughts

I noted above that in auto-racing with its finely maintained asphalt the best line is generally, but not always, the ideal line. One reason why the best line is not always the ideal line is that everyone is trying to be on the ideal line. Sometimes the best line is simply the one that no one else is using at the moment. Avoiding an accident on a bad line is always faster, safer, and more courteous than causing a collision on a "better" one. This is especially true during the traffic and chaos at the start of a cyclocross race.

From Elvis is CROSS >:-| (and X-)

Likewise the choice of a best line can be strategic. Cyclocross is determined by placing, not by time so there can be a competitive advantage to using different lines when someone is closing in and trying to pass. Again, the goal is first and foremost to be safe and courteous to other riders, but there are times when taking an early or late apex can make it more challenging for an approaching rider to pass. According to the rules: "In the event two riders are vying for position, the leading rider does not have to yield his position to the challenging rider. However, a rider may not bodily interfere with the intent to impede another rider's progress. Traditional rules of racing apply: the leading rider owns the track."

There are many other reasons why a rider may “see” the ideal line for a corner and chose to ride somewhere else. For example, at Montrose Harbor last year a snow-covered course was blazen with a narrow and well worn path about 14 inches wide. Outside of the well worn track was four inches of crunchy and/or powdery snow. The only time it made sense to leave the well worn track was if someone fell down right in front of you on the track. It was too hard and too slow trying to ride through the snow. Likewise topography (i.e., up and down hills, on-camber and off-camber, etc.) also have a big impact on the best line around a corner or a series of corners. I may try to share some thoughts about riding on various topographies sometime in the future, but in the meantime you should get on your whip and practice cornering through a variety of turns on a variety of topographies on a variety of terrains. Imagine not just an inside for your turns but also imagine (or preferably mark) an outside too. Experiment with different lines and stick to the ones that feel the fastest. This whole ideal line business is simply a place to begin, a framework to apply on your first pre-ride. Let the theory be the lines (pun intended) and your own experience be the paint that gives color and depth to that experience.

All of the above tries to help a beginning rider answer the "Where" question. A subsequent post will tackle the second question: How fast should I be going?

If this post is any good it's because of constructive feedback I got on an earlier draft. Thanks for that.

Friday, September 2, 2011

On turning V2.0

One of the most important lessons I learned in graduate school was about writing. My research method’s professor recommended that we take this as our personal philosophy of writing:

“I am not a good writer, but with sufficient feedback and revision I can produce good writing.”

The original version of this post generated some feedback, it was not what I would consider positive feedback. So in the face of valid criticism I hope that wordsmithing can fix some of the issues, and a sincere apology can fix the rest.

First and foremost I would like to clarify that nothing I wrote was intended to be deragatory, disrespectful, and/or critical of the fine gentlemen who volunteer their time to organize open cyclocross practices in Chicago. I have learned a great deal in the last year from practices run by Michael C, Brent, Austin, Manuel, Jason, Tony, and Michael Y, and have gotten a better as a result. My goal was to add to the work they have been doing not take anything away from them. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for these guys, and am fortunate to consider some of them friends. So I humbly and sincerely apologize to anyone who thought took offense to either the tone or content of the first draft.

In the first draft I used the words “less than satisfied” in way that came across different than how I intended. I meant it in a “I would have personally liked a scoop of ice cream with this fudge-covered chocolate brownie” sort of way, not as as a “this is a terrible brownie” sort of way. I was trying to find a way to express a thought that has been in my head for some time. The thought is this: it feels like something is missing from these practices. The thing that is missing?


When I say theory, I do not mean complex scientific proofs and models, but a set of organizing principles to help frame a context for all the specific nuances and details which Mr. Meatpuppet noted were missing from the first draft. It was never my intention to write an all-encompassing and detailed tome on cornering. My choice to label these principles as “rules” was unfortunate in that it implied a level of comprehension and prescription that was not intended. I was really thinking of the set of rules from the movie the Wedding Crasher which were hardly rules at all. (Except for Rule #76 which is words to live by). But that reference only existed in my head, What I was trying to do (if I can borrow a metaphor) is a create frame upon which other smaller components can be mounted. And maybe not even the whole frame, maybe just a few disconnected tubes laying on a table waiting to be welded together.

To further clarify when I say “missing” I denoting an absence from, not trying to imply that theory is that something should be there. Just because I would like some ice cream on the side of my brownie does not mean the restaurant should change the menu. All summer long I have been struggling in my own head trying to come up with a good way to integrate these ideas into these practices. And simply put I don’t have a good idea on how to integrate these ideas into a practice. This is why I have not gone up to any of the organizers and shared my ideas with them. I have tried to imagine pulling out handouts, white boards, and even powerpoint decks to lecturing on basic principles to a group of sweaty cyclists standing around in kits. It doesn’t work. The purpose of practice is to practice, not lecture. The best idea I had for sharing these thoughts was to blog about them. It is a forum that allowed me to share these thoughts along side some very simple sketches in a way that did not distract from the physical work of it. It was meant to be a beginning followed up with more detailed explanations on a wider variety of topics and with personal experience, not the be-all-end-all of cyclocross existence. I can see in reading v1.0 with fresh eyes and some critical feedback in my pocket how it came across as something other than intended. So I again apologize for any hard feelings the previous draft caused and will try again.

Too be continued.