Monday, September 29, 2008

Weekend round-up, highlights and lowlights

Friday: After work, I popped over to the Ambridge Bike Shop, in order to try out a Surly Cross Check and Long Haul Trucker. They had a 54 cm CC (upper limit for my inseam on that model) and several LHTs, ranging from "just barely fit" at 57 cm to "you're joking, and I'm singing soprano" at 60cm and above.

Gary got the bikes set up and roughly fitted, and I took them each for a short spin along the highways and byways of scenic Ambridge. Interesting, very interesting. I had this preconceived notion that I was going to really dig the Cross Check; I did, but found that the Trucker, with the longer wheel base and (relatively) fat 26" tires, had me riding much more confidently.

I also now far better understand why many people like STIs, rather than down-tube or bar-end shifters. Speaking as a highly inexperienced drop-bar rider, the death grip on the drops made moving the hand all the way to the bar-ends to shift a more intimidating prospect. Doable, but I finally grok why STIs are so nice. I do wonder about interference with handlebar bags and whatnot, but I'm sure such can be overcome.

Saturday: Loaded Owen in the trailer, and went for a spin down to Dancing Goats Crazy Mocha in the South Side Works. It's a nice routine; we do about 10 miles while he reads or watches for trains, then stop for a cup of coffee (me!) and to share a Cookie As Big As Your Head. Chill for a couple of minutes, then back down the river, parallel to the tracks for more trainspotting opportunities, and a nice sweaty grind up the hill to home. I'm just pleased that his tolerance for rides is now well over the 2-hour mark, and can easily approach 3-4 if we have at least one extended break in the middle. He'll be a good little stoke-monkey in a few more years. :-)

Sunday: As further proof that the boy enjoys our rides, he asked to go for another, even with grey skies and spitting rain. Same drill, except that we swung by REI for Heed and Gu packs for next weekend's scouting ride.

Later that day, I accompanied Annie on her Django, in order to scout out her potential commute route. As she lives near the Ohio River Trail, getting from there to downtown and back should be no big deal, except for the #$%^ing casino construction. So, I took her on a tour of the construction, the posted detour, and my preferred variations on said detour. With any luck, she'll be commuting to the office before crap weather sets in.

Commuter thoughts: Hrmph. I'm growing up. Poop.

I've been planning to sell off the Rocket, so as to partially finance the purchase of a decent upright all-rounder for use in crappy winter weather. Thusly, the Surly investigations. However, upon reflection, it looks like it'd make better fiscal sense to at least try to make the Rocket more winter-worthy, and go upright this winter only if the Rocket just doesn't work at all.

So, I'll look into tweaking what I've got, instead of buying new toys and learning new skills. *sigh*

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lefever Hill

I played hooky today.

Well, to be precise, I took my last accrued paid leave day, so I wouldn't have to deal with any weirdness in the final paycheck. My original intent was to work on my basement; heck, still is, but I just couldn't waste a gorgeous day like today.

Out Freeport, then up Little Deer Creek to Lefever Hill. Not the worst hill I've ever climbed, but it certainly left a mark. Picked up Rich Hill to Starr Rd, then back to Little Deer Creek and up to the Red Belt. Rich Hill and Starr are NICE...lots of fun rollers, and a good way to unwind the legs after the Lefever climb.

I had intended to head out to Ambridge for a test ride or two, as I'm eying a Cross Check or LHT as my winter commuting/errand bike; however, it turns out that their Web site is a wee bit outdated with respect to their hours of operation; i.e. they're closed on Wednesdays. Oops.

Ah well; can't call it a wasted day by any stretch of the imagination.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Dirty Dozen Training: Center/Ravine/Berry Hill/High

First Dirty Dozen training ride of the season for me. Jim Logan led the ride out of the K-Mart parking lot in Shaler; he, myself, Scott, Don, and Brian were in attendance.

I botched my shift to the granny on the very first hill (Center), so ended up climbing more than half of it in my middle ring. Coincidentally (or not), this was also the only hill on which I wasn't dead last...perhaps a lesson could be learned by this, but I'm not gonna try right now.

Ravine hurt. A lot. The long grinders always take a toll on me; I need to work on smoothing my pace a bit, and possibly working on the psychological end of things as well as physical conditioning.

Berry Hill was pretty much business as usual; dead stop, into lowest gear to hit the asphalt wall, then exhaustedly pedaling up to Middle Road. The plummet down Middle is always a good way to revive my spirits, though.

High St has lost a lot of its mystique for me. It's a hill, and not to be sneered at, but is really not that big a deal.

Fun, I think. I take comfort in the fact that I felt significantly better afterwards than last year; I was hoping for a bit more snap on the hills than I actually displayed today, but that's something I can only address by actually riding my damn bike in such terrain rather than doing 100+ miles of long steady distance every weekend.

Monday, September 8, 2008

OT: Life happens

Heh...well, it looks like next year's riding season will be particularly interesting, as fitting in training around a new baby is gonna be an organizational challenge.

Yep...we're infanticipating, with the flag set to drop around April 3rd or thereabouts.

Guess this means I need to think about an upright in the near future, so I can do a child seat and a trailer. Or maybe I should investigate the bakfietsen...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

WPW Fally Rally

Smashing success, apparently. I couldn't tell, 'cause I was too busy pushing for my first seven-hour century. Sadly, I ended up at 7:10, but a lot of that was due to encouraging/BSing with other riders and spending w-a-a-y too much time at the rest stops.

The day started with vast quantities of waffles, plus a cream-filled donut and bottle of Gatorade from the Sheetz up on 19 in Perrysville. After a leisurely pedal to North Park, I made the brilliant decision to stand around and freeze for half-an-hour, nicely negating all benefit of pre-warming the muscles before the century ride kicked off at 7.

Not the most formal of starts, nor what you'd call "Massed"; more of a dribble of departing riders. Those of us who gave a rat's patoot about time rapidly sorted ourselves into "five of us" and "everyone else", via the nice relaxing climb up Babcock, which functioned admirably as a Potter-esque Sorting Hat in that regard. We headed out to Valencia, then Mars/Evans City Rd as far as Callery, until bearing off into the hinterlands via Walters Station Rd. Eventually, the group of 5 became a group of two, a group of me, and a group of two, in that order, and in rapidly expanding anti-proximity.

The first 35-mile loop brought us back to North Park, where the plan called for a quick refuel and off onto the metric loop. The metric was the classic fall rally route, with a couple of slight detours due to construction: Franklin Rd out to Evans City, then Harmony, Zelienople, and out to Riverside High School for the first rest stop. Elwood City, River Rd, and a delightful detour on Gillen near the Fox Run golf course, then the usual climb up Bologne Valley/Foster/Glendale and down to Brush Creek Park for the second rest stop. Finally, the always-delightful hammer back to Cranberry along Brush Creek/Glen Eden/Unionville/Graham School, then meandering through Thorn Hill to the Red Belt and back to the park.

Things of note: we had about 100(!) attendees, of which 50(!) were new members. COOL. Also, there were four-count-'em-four recumbents on the ride; myself, John Strait, and Sean Monaghan, as well as a gentleman whose name perpetually eludes me, but who just picked up a nice Giro 20 at Rob's shop.

Good fun. If I hadn't spent so much time messing about at rest stops, I could easily have brought it in around 6:45; this leads me to think interesting thoughts about sub-6 hour centuries.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pacing trains and training pace

Working from home occasionally is a nice perk, as it allows me to, for example, take a break in the afternoon and go ride.

Yesterday, I hopped on the P-38 for a quick (mostly) flat run; down McClure to Beaver, Blvd of Allies to Jail Trail, out to end of South Side trail and back, with an easy climb up California to replace the shorter, steeper climb up McClure. As I was passing the UPMC sports complex, a train came up behind me, so I decided to pace it if I could. As it turns out, I could, but it was harder than I thought it should be. (Don't get me wrong; it was only a couple of miles at a 25 mph pace, so I'm not trying to beat my chest over my awesome power or anything here.) No HRM or other monitoring device; I'd put the perceived effort at about 95% of maximum. It was a bit disappointing to realize how hard I was working to maintain that pace; I have this unfounded belief that I should be able to do better than that, or at least not have to work so hard to be at that level.

I've spent the last year focusing on randonneuring; the vast majority of my training (if you can call it anything so formal) has been long steady distance, well inside my anaerobic threshold. What little interval training I've done has been unstructured, in the sense of "Ooo, there's a hill short enough that I can probably power over it if I try hard." This has resulted in some good things: I can maintain a steady average pace in the mid-to-upper teens, with a decent load of gear, more-or-less indefinitely, and I can recover rapidly from sustained exertion (multi-mile hills at 5-10% jump to mind). However, I can't sprint worth a damn, hill-climbing is bloody slow, and maintaining a pace over low 20s for any length of time puts me closer to redlining than I think it should.

In hindsight, I think a lot of the problem came about when I replaced my Tuesday and Thursday evening group rides with regular cycle-commuting . I was still getting my miles, but the commuting was more of the same loaded, steady distance riding that I was already doing on weekends. With the group rides, I was actually pushing my limits, as well as getting more practice in areas in which I suck like descents and pacelines.

So, near term, I think I'll try to get more short, fast-paced rides in. I'll still plan on regular (i.e. every couple of weeks) long rides, but the focus will be short and hard. I'm sure the upcoming Dirty Dozen training series will assist in that, although using DD hills for ad-hoc interval training sounds a bit silly. Long-term, I think I'll need to rejoin the regular group rides; I got a lot better, a lot faster, when I was riding with the guys who were significantly better than me.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Arbitrary Meanderings, 09/01/2008

The route

I had intended to meet up with Scott and scout the 65-mile loop of the WPW Fall Rally route; however, due to the usual lack of planning and communication to which I seem to be prone, we never actually met up. So, I decided to take a spur-of-the-moment trip out to Tarentum, since I was already in North Park, so a mere hop+skip+jump up Pierce Mill to the Red Belt.

I'd forgotten what a nice ride the Red Belt from Saxonburg to Tarentum is; not flat, but no real hills, and very rural/low traffic. From there, I popped over to New Ken, then did the Coxcomb Hill climb for the first time this year; I'd also forgotten how nice a climb that is. After cresting the summit, I took unfamilar-to-me Hulton Rd, deciding that it was a nice day to get lost in the Penn Hills. Sadly, I managed to find my way to 380 in good order. ;-)

A quick run down 380 to Larimer, then up Washington/5th to Oakland, and the joyous pleasure of descending Neville/Boundary on fresh pavement. Over to REI to drop off some RBR business cards I'd promised Kim at the shop, then a cup of Goats coffee and a gut bomb of a quesadilla at Qdoba. After ingesting this grease-feast, I was chagrined to watch my average speed drop from 16.8 to 15.4 over the next ten miles on the way home. Chagrined, but, in hindsight, not very surprised.