Tuesday, November 29, 2011

another cross season down...

Last cyclocross race of the year for me, and finally some proper mud. It almost didn't seem like a real cyclocross season with all the dry fast courses this year. The muddy races are a lot of fun- except for cleaning the bike afterwards. Was closer to the front of the race this year compared to last year and was hoping for an upgrade to the elites but I couldn't quite pull it off. Which is fine because I would be nowhere near the front of that race. Now its time to rest, ride easy, and do some skiing!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

the mayor

While we're talking about the mayor.... Does anyone else think its funny that Seattle elected such a pro- bike mayor after Nickels? Nickels did a wonderful job as mayor in my and most people's opinion but he was booted out of office for something as ridiculous as the snow storm response.

To review: a while back we had a week of really wintery weather. The city elected not to salt the roads and to deploy plows with rubber tips. It was a different approach to clearing snow on the streets, a more environmentally friendly approach- but the real problem was the amount of snow and cold weather, and lack of snowplows in a city that doesn't usually see much snow. Those days were awesome! My street, already steep, was so slick that cars couldn't go up or down it. It was relegated to a sledding hill. Which the neighbors and kids took full advantage of. I rode to work on some studded mountain bike tires. It was a fun commute; fewer cars than normal. When the snow and ice finally melted, my drivetrain didnt seize up into a pile of rust because there was not as much salt on the roads. The snow was entirely pleasant for me. We socialized and played in the snow with our neighbors. But I guess the average Seattleite was enraged that their SUV wouldn't get them to work on those days.

Nickels gave himself a "B" on the snow response and the rest is history.

To me it is another disconnect between peoples perceived values and actions. We all say we want to protect the water quality of the puget sound.... but not if it means not salting the roads on that snow day we get every year. We all say we are concerned about global warming but the most we are willing to do about it is buy those crappy fluorescent bulbs.

I give Nickels an A+ on the snow response. I'm hoping for a good winter!

Friday, August 19, 2011

McSchwinn and the tunnel

Yesterday the Seattle Times wrote a nice piece about Referendum 1 passing. As usual for the Seattle Times, several people (that worked on the pro-Ref 1 campaign) were quoted about how the political future of McGinn is permanently ruined. My favorite was that "McGinn is a dead man walking". I think the only person in the McGinn camp given space in the article was McGinn himself. I'm not sure why the Seattle Times hates McGinn so much, but it is nothing new.
So I feel compelled to chime in and say: thank you Mayor, for trying to do the right thing. I think the tunnel is going to be a disaster. There will be cost overuns, Seattle residents will wind up paying for them, and I won't even use the damn tunnel because there are no downtown exits. As it is now, I occasionally use the viaduct.
The only good I can see from this tunnel is that more people will be compelled to ride their bikes due to the traffic congestion during construction and the tolls that will have to be collected to (partially) pay for it.
I'm still with you McGinn, keep up the good work!

Friday, July 1, 2011

keeping it lighthearted

Friday night racing at Marymoor velodrome tonight. There was a little incident after the finish of the Cat 3 scratch race- my teammate apparently chopped a Starbucks rider in turn 2 after the finish. I was slightly up track and behind them. I heard the Starbucks rider yelling profanities between turn 1 and 2, and then hit my teammates wheel shortly after turn 2, causing himself to crash. He had plenty of room to move inside to the apron. All the while screaming profanities. My teammate was disqualified for the night for chopping a rider in the sprinters lane. The Starbucks rider was allowed to continue racing. I may be wrong but from my position it looked distinctly like the Starbucks rider had intentionally hit my teammates wheel in a fit of rage. Not cool.

Its not the first time I've seen grown men behave this way. Ballard Criterium 2 years ago, a crashed out rider is laying unconscious on the ground and all I hear around me is complaining about the race being stopped (to be restarted after the fallen rider was moved off the course). I was mainly hoping the rider was alive and not seriously injured. In the Woodland Park cyclocross race last year, two riders tangle handlebars in the start sprint and crash. One of the riders hucks his bike off the course while bellowing profanities. Its a cat 3 cyclocross race- these are supposed to be fun! Nobody's career and no money is on the line.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother with bike racing- a lot of racers are narcissistic douchebags. In bike races it is almost never clear who is at fault in a crash. They happen too fast and there are too many split second decisions. I have been chopped plenty of times in bike races. I'm sure I have unintentionally chopped other riders on occasion. It happens. It is acceptable to say something, like "stay" or "stick" or even "hold your line, pencil dick" ( I heard that in a race once). But throwing a tantrum like a 3 year old or throwing your bike or hitting another rider intentionally is not good- if you do that, you are a douchebag, and if you're in an amateur bike race you need to stop and think about why you race.

In life and in bike racing- do your best- but keep it lighthearted!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

bottom brackets

We may have a new bottom bracket system that doesn't suck! Here is a short history of the development of bottom brackets and interface types as I see it:

Cottered and 3 piece cranksets. The cranks were steel and had a narrow tread, but the square taper spindle and aluminum cranks were an improvement and took over for a long time.

The square taper spindle is still the best in my opinion and still widely available, thankfully.

Shimano introduces an Octolink spindle. The spindle is a larger diameter and therefore supposedly stiffer. The outside of the bottom bracket is still the same size though, so that means the bearings are smaller and therefore less durable. The Octolink bottom brackets I have used still seem pretty durable.

The move to Octolink forces the competition to come up with something different or use the Shimano standard. The initial answer is an ISIS spindle, with 8 splines like Octolink but differently shaped. The ISIS bottom brackets are uniformly crappy with the exception of the SKF http://www.compasscycle.com/SKFbb.html units. I could never get more than a season of cyclocross racing out of an FSA ISIS bottom bracket. A cyclocross season (around 10 races and some commuting on the cross bike) works out to less than 500 miles. Not very durable! I can get 20,000 miles out of a cheap Shimano square taper bottom bracket. The ISIS cranks also have a tendency to come loose on the spindle.

Because ISIS sucked, the next and current step were mechanisms with outboard bearings and bearing cups. These allow larger bearings so in theory should be more durable but in reality the bearings are side-loaded, do not last long, and the cranks really have a tendency to come loose.

Now there is a new standard available, http://www.bb30standard.com/ , bb30. I'm not counting the proprietary systems like Trek has going on, because those never last for long. They are designed to be, and will be, obsolete in a few years. But that is another discussion! bb30 is a big step in the right direction. Bottom brackets with bearings press fit into the bottom bracket shell have been done before and are probably the best design- Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 6 number 2 has a good article on the subject.

I'm not a fan of change for the sake of change, and with the possible exception of bb30 there have been no improvements over the square tape bottom bracket and absolutely no improvement over the square taper interface. The issue that people bring up is stiffness. As long as the spindle is steel, it is not an issue. If it were an issue, why is the square taper still the track standard? If anyone would have a problem with power loss from flex in the crank or bottom bracket, it would be a track sprinter. The other issue is weight. It is true that outboard bearing systems due save a small amount of weight compared to cartridge bottom brackets. A small amount. A properly designed press fit bearing system like bb30 is the lightest system.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Time is money

If you see me at a race, I'm the guy on the old equipment. Its not that I'm in love with old equipment- its because racing is about being fast. When faced with the question of upgrading equipment, I do some math in my head.
Example: Everyone is infatuated with deep carbon rims for cyclocross. A deep carbon Zipp wheelset probably costs in excess of two thousand dollars. I would have to work about 44 hours to make that much money. Would I be faster with 44 hours worth of training time in the legs or the fancy wheels? Considering my race results are always better after I have some long or hard rides in, there is no question: I would be way faster with the training time. So I build up some alloy tubular wheels that probably work just as well as the Zipps.
I bring this up because its getting harder and harder to find the inexpensive but good parts I prefer- 8 speed drivetrains for example.
I've seen a Campy Record 11 speed cassette for 500 bucks. Bianchi just introduced an 8000 dollar racing bike that is made in Taiwan. We need to stop this madness. Remember, if you're thinking about springing for that Record 11 upgrade- time is money. You shouldn't be buying that crap unless you're a pro (and then its free).

Monday, May 23, 2011

from low to high in pro cycling

In pro cycling as of late, it went from being really depressing to really inspiring. To begin:

The Garmin sprint train derailing daily in the opening stages of the Giro. Then Wouter Weylandt tragically dies in a crash- the only time I can recall a rider dying from trauma in a bike race. Close friend Tyler Farrar (Garmin sprinter extraordinaire and local boy) pulls out of the Giro in grief. Meanwhile Thor Hushovd pulls out of the Tour of California, ostensibly from sucking. To be fair, a sprinter of Hushovd's caliber is basically just expected to win, and that is hard to live up to. But Garmin's sprinters are both out of the picture and Christophe Le Mevel is steadily losing time to Clenbutador in the Giro.

But then redemption!

The reason I can't stand Contador (aside from being a cheater) is from the Tour de France a couple years back when he forced Chris Horner off the squad in favor of lesser riders that would ostensibly be loyal to Contador and not Armstrong if push came to shove. Its a shame because Horner is talented, a local guy, a cool person, a cyclocrosser, and not getting any younger! For once I would like to see Horner be the captain and see what happens. The following year in the Tour of France, Horner finished 12th (I think), solidly ahead of supposed team leaders Armstrong and Leipheimer- despite riding as a domestique.

So I was thrilled to see Horner win the Tour of California yesterday- at age 39 the oldest guy in the race. I'm also thrilled to hear that Horner is focusing on the Tour of France. With Lance out of the way, maybe it will be Horner's year.

If Horner can win the Tour of California at age 39- I'm not worrying about turning 34.

And in the Giro- although Clenbutador is putting time into everybody- John Gadret won a stage and is riding really well, currently in fourth place. For more on Gadret see bobkestrut.com. The reason I'm a Gadret fan is that he is also a cyclocrosser. When a road racer hits cyclocross races in the fall, it demonstrates a true love of riding and racing. Its no coincidence that my favorite pro riders- Horner, Farrar, Gadret- have been known to race cyclocross.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Vance Creek road race

This Sunday was the Vance Creek road race, my favorite local road race so far. The hills and scenic narrow sections make it the favorite; to get more elevation on a course you have to move on to some of the stage races like Walla Walla or the Wawawei grade hill climb in Pullman. Last year I snagged a podium place in the Cat 5 race so I wanted to try my luck again this year in the Cat 4 race.
To that end I dropped my chain immediately after the neutral roll out. Frustrating, but no big deal I thought- its only gonna take 15 or 20 seconds to get rolling again. The neutral support guy gave me a push and I was off- to chase hard for at least half a lap or 6 miles or so until I caught on. It felt like sprinting underwater. I would see the peloton 15 seconds ahead of me, put my head down and pedal really hard, look up and see them in the same place. Finally did get back on and had a chance to relax and let the taste of blood in my mouth dissipate a little. After that little drill I decided to just rest until the hills at the end of the last lap. I was able to move towards the front on the hills at the end of the second lap and decided to help keep the pace high downhill and string things out for the final lap. The final hills came soon enough; I was able to gradually move up and pass people on the hill and was not obstructed at the 200 meter mark. There were guys with 30 meters on me at that point so 12th was the best I could do. Still no upgrade points so far this year.

Overall it was a great race. Cat 4 races seem to be an object of derision for racer geeks but there was very little amateur shenanigans or spastic riding going on. A Farestart rider even made a bold solo attack with probably 4 km to go. My biggest complaint with the Cat 4 races so far - I'm thinking of Mason Lake here- is that no one attacks until the 200m sign. I wish the Farestart guy would have made it. In Sequim the Cat 4 peloton very nearly neutralized the Cat 3 race and my computer showed an average speed of 24.9 mph for the race- not bad!

To cap it all off I was able have a little mini staycation that night- rode downtown with the wife, enjoyed a bottle of Spaten Optimator, saw a movie.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Just got back from Tucson AZ. Its always nice to get away from the rain and cold for a while. Borrowed my friend John's bike and rode up the Catalina highway to Mt. Lemmon. This is one of my all time favorite rides. Start in the saguaros and keep going up for 30 miles through scrub and then pine forest at the top, at a little over 8000 feet. There was still a little bit of snow at the ski area. There are stunning views across every switchback of the road. I always thought it was strange how the city of Tucson is touted as bicycle friendly, given the amount of fast traffic, bike lanes to nowhere, and aggressive bike hating drivers. But this time around it does seem better- there were a lot more bike lanes and I didn't feel uncomfortable riding on some of the busier streets. Other all time favorite road rides ( I like going up and down hills) Haleakala, Maui: sea level to 10,000 feet, amazing views. Really tight but banked switchbacks- this one challenges your descending skills. Going to the sun highway in Glacier National Park. Stunning scenery, old narrow Euro-style road blasted into the side of a cliff. Amazing swimming holes along the route. The RAMROD route, especially climbing up to Paradise and the long descent down Box Canyon to Ohanepecosh. I try to ride this one every year even if I don't get a RAMROD ticket. The Cascade High Pass Challenge route on Mt St. Helens- essentially riding up FS road 25 to Windy Ridge and back down. Its amazing to be riding through the forest, turn a corner and be in a totally different environment when you enter the blast zone.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Having logged enough miles to be intimately familiar with them, I thought I would post some thoughts on eggbeaters and other pedals.
I have been riding a lot lately on eggbeaters because I use them in cyclocross races and they are a bit tricky to click into. So I ride them as much as possible to get better at clicking into them quickly. My right eggbeater candy abruptly fell apart on me the other day. Same thing happened to a friend of mine about a week before. I don't have a lot of miles on those pedals. They have one bearing and one bushing to roll on the spindle so maybe lack the durability of a pedal with two bearings. I have some speedplay frogs with at least ten times the mileage that are still holding up fine.
The eggbeaters do have their advantages. They are cheap. You can find the entry level cromoly versions (that I am using) for 30 or 40 bucks. They are rebuildable. I did just that with the candy pedals. And here is the biggest advantage: mud clearance. They do not jam with mud, ever. In cyclocross that is a huge deal, and the reason I switched from frogs to eggbeaters for cyclocross racing. That's probably why they are the ubiquitous pedal for cyclocross around here. I know a lot of the pros use Shimano XTR but they have pit bikes....

So for cyclocross, its eggbeaters, even though the bearings go quickly.

For road racing, I use old Shimano 105 pedals that are made by Look. I'm sure they're heavy compared to what is available now but they have a nice wide platform and high quality bearings. Hence being 17 years old and still smooth. You can still find cleats for them. I won a pair of Speedplay X pedals last year but haven't used them yet because I want to use the same pedals/shoes for road and track racing ( I have 2 pairs of the 105 pedals). I can tell you frogs do not work well for track racing (or any mountain pedal for that matter). Its no fun to accidently release from the pedal during a sprint on a fixed gear bike. I learned that the hard way but luckily didnt crash or cause a crash. But only an idiot would try to use them in a track race in the first place?

For commuting, if I wasn't committed to a clipless system, I would go the Rivendell way and use platform pedals with Power Straps. I have a pair, they're nice.

If you're going to ride across the country, don't use eggbeaters because they wouldn't make it!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bicycle licenses?

I've been hearing a lot of buzz lately in the Seattle Times and other places about how bicycles should be licensed. The bike haters generally say: cyclists flout traffic laws and don't pay taxes, and yet we spend all this tax money on bike infrastructure. Here are the problems with that argument. I apologize to the cyclists that have heard all this before and to whom I'm preaching to the choir.

1. I'm a law abiding citizen and these bikers don't follow traffic laws. All right, so you always drive the speed limit, always come to a complete stop at stop signs, always give me my 3 feet when passing? I'll bet! I drive sometimes too and readily admit that I bend traffic laws while driving. Saying that only cyclists flout traffic laws is like saying that only poor people rob people. The truth is they just rob you differently. Likewise people will bend traffic laws and convenience and enforcement allows. Rolling through a stop sign or proceeding through a red light in a vehicle are poor form for sure- but on a bike not as much. Many traffic lights won't detect bicycles so if you are at a light by yourself you'll be waiting a while for that green light. Cyclists have vastly better hearing and visibility and generally approach intersections slower than cars do, so it is possible to safely proceed through a red light when it wouldn't be in a car. I'm not talking about bombing through red lights, just rolling through them after stopping or at least being 100% certain that the intersection is clear. Similarly cars often travel above the speed limit because it is reasonably safe to do so. Bikes are not usually going to be exceeding the speed limit and if they are bikes will still be slower than the average flow of vehicle traffic. So in general, we all bend traffic rules but in different ways. The main difference is that if someone screws up behind the wheel of a 4000 lb vehicle, someone besides the driver will get hurt. A cyclist is only going to hurt him or herself.

2. I pay taxes for roads and these freeloader cyclists don't. This is straight out of the republican playbook of repeating a lie often enough that eventually everyone believes it. The truth is that gas taxes pay for a part of interstate highways (that cyclists generally don't use). Other road and infrastructure improvements come from the general tax fund that we all contribute to. Yes, thats right, cyclists pay taxes too! All these years of paying taxes, I have never encountered a cyclist specific tax bracket. If there is one that will get me out of paying taxes, please let me know at once! There are other important points here. One being that cycling specific intrastructure doesn't cost that much. The biggest projects I see are multi use trails such as the Burke Gilman. Cyclists use these but so do walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, dogs, etc. Car owners benefit from these trails as much as cyclists do. Personally, I only use these trails when I need to avoid roads that are overly dangerous for cyclists. Cycling specific improvements are limited to restriping lanes, painting sharrows, and the odd sign. Which has to be really cheap compared to repaving and building new roads. This leads to a second point: wear and tear on roads. It is directly related to vehicle weight, other factors such as water/ice/snow being equal for bikes and cars. Except studded tires that people use from November to April for that one day of snow, but I digress. Bikes don't weigh anything compared to cars so they don't contribute much to wear and tear on roads. The final point on taxes: a regular bicycle commuter is not contributing as much carbon and pollution to the air and is not getting sick as much, all other factors being equal. Pollution and hospital bills have a big impact on the tax situation. I pay 400 dollars a month on health insurance. I don't have a doctor because I never get sick. I have never taken a sick day off from work in my life. I have to think that it is at least partially due to the regular exercise I get from commuting by bicycle.

3. I don't care about the previous arguments, I still want bicycles to be licensed and add one more hurdle for would- be bicycle commuters. Because bicycle hating motorists, huge potholes, rain, and roads designed almost exclusively for cars aren't enough. Fine. I have a 2004 Suburu and the yearly licensing fees are about 100 bucks. It weighs 3800 pounds. The fair way to do this is by vehicle weight. My heaviest bike, a Bianchi Volpe, weighs maybe 30 pounds. That works out to 78 cents. I'll pony up my 78 cents if I have to. I don't think it would begin to cover the administrative costs though.