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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bike safe, my survival tactics for road cycling.

Safety first my friends.  I mean that.  It's pretty hard to ride injured.  Even harder dead.  I've had a lot of fun riding this year and happily it has been non-eventful concerning interactions with cars while training.  That's pretty darn good considering the amount of time I have spent riding my bike on the roads with cars.  This year alone I've spent  many hundreds of hours biking on our public roadways.   

If you are a grizzled professional rider or highly experienced rider you may feel that you can't learn anything from my list of survival tactics for road cycling.  This may be true, but you might be able to add to the list and save someone some damage or general stress.  Please review and add to the comments below.   I'll update this list as appropriate.

I have several survival tactics for staying alive/injury free while bicycling.  They are as follows:
1.  I try to always wear my helmet.
1.5 Never ride against traffic (this is an update, submitted by a reader)
2.  I try to maintain my bicycle, gears, chains, cables, brakes, tires and  pressure.  Cleaning a bike is a good way to inspect for damage. 
3.  I find that it is safer to know exactly where I'm going to bike ride.  This has many many advantages.
     a.  I know the road conditions such as gravel spots, pot holes, deep cracks, etc.
     b.  I know where chasing dogs are in advance.
     c.  I know the  idiosyncrasies of certain intersections such as round-a-bouts, lane merges, etc.
4. Concerning dogs:  I try to sneak past areas where I know that have  dogs that chase.  If an escape is not possible first try to vocally command the dog to "Go Home!"(this is an update, submitted by a reader)   If this is ineffective, a water bottle spray to the face may halt a charging/snapping dog temporarily.  Just long enough to make the escape.     I have found it generally best to slow down and in some cases actually get off my bike.  Most dogs are not wild vicious beasts that attack people (even though some love to bite moving cyclists if given a chance).  Generally the biggest danger is falling from tangling up with a dog.  This can be much worse than a dog bite.  If you do have to dismount your bike because a snapping dog is dangerously close and inescapable, keep your bike between you and the dog.  The bike can become your shield (and even weapon) to allow you to back out a dangerous dog encounter.
4.5  Concerning dogs and group riding: Same tips as above with a few amendments. 
     a.  Inform others of known areas with chasing dogs in advance.  This allows others to expect and anticipate difficulties, and bike more defensively.
     b.  try to pass known areas with chasing dogs with stealth (quick and quiet)
     c.  When a charging dog is spotted yell out to others "DOG!" and direction of the animal missile.
     d.  large groups can not possibly get away from a chasing dog (the group will be in a line of some sort), so anticipate braking or possible erratic bike handling.  
     e.  It is ideal if an experienced rider would pull out of the line and block/shield the group from the charging dog.  This person should vocally command the dog, use water bottle spray to temporarily halt the dog, or a frame pump for defense if necessary.    I personally would recommend using full caution, slowing down until a quick escape can be made.

 I also like the pepper spray idea, but I've never used it. It's probably a good idea to contact the dog owner about restraining a dangerous dog or call animal control. I have contacted a dog owner after a teammate was rendered unconscious from a high-speed tangle with a pursuing dog. I explained that he could be held liable for damages that his unrestrained dog causes. I never saw the dog again.

5. I ride the same roads, the same time of day.
    a.  This allows me to be able to predict/anticipate traffic conditions.
    b.  This also allows the traffic to predict me.  Often many drivers travel the same routes at the same times.  Predictability is usually a good thing. 
6. I try to obey all traffic laws.  Not only is it the law, but it is much safer.
[Caveat this is written from a US/North American perspective. The rest of the English speaking world (UK, Australia and New Zealand etc drive on the left therefore most of my advice that I  have given should be reversed on which side to go down etc]
     a. On left turns I fully enter a lane behind existing traffic.  Wait my turn and signal just as though I were an automobile.
    b. When I'm able to ride close to a posted speed limit, I take the entire lane.
    c.  I take the entire lane on very technical roads where cars should never try to pass anyone.
    d.  I never try to impede traffic.  When I see cars stacked up behind me, I will often pull over to let them pass quickly.  I also tend to pull over when I'm aware of semi-trucks and trailers that are pulling big/heavy loads.  I do this partly out of courtesy, and especially for my own well being. 

Below is a really good video illustration on when and how to "take the lane" in accordance with the law governing vehicles on roadways.

7.  I look over my left shoulder for traffic frequently.  I have found that if I look back at an approaching vehicle, they NEVER buzz me (as in: come dangerously close).  Let me repeat that with a slight variation.  If a driver sees you look back they will not drive dangerously close to you, they will pass you safely.   Strange but true.
8.  I tend to ride relatively close to the edge of the road whenever possible.  When riding with a cycling partner I tend to ride to the left of my cycling partner (for conversation), looking for cars and moving single file if a car is noticed.
9.  When I see an oncoming car, I always check for cars coming behind me.  I can't always do it, but I try to speed up or slow down to avoid being passed on my left, just as an oncoming car is passing as well.  It may be appropriate to briefly take up a full lane in a situation where roads are so narrow that should a car choose to dangerously and unlawfully pass you, all parties lives are in jeopardy.  Riding on the edge of the road in this case may encourage a reckless driver to make a dangerous and unlawful pass.  
10.  I try to wear bright colors, and avoid night riding. Yes night lights are a must for night riding(especially very powerful front and flashing rear lights), but I think it's safer NOT to ride on the roads at night.  (The trail is great for night riding).
11. I try NOT to assume that cars see me at intersections.
     a. At intersections with heavy traffic I will often advance along side (but in a bike lane) and at the speed of an advancing automobile.  This way the car is shielding me from all other cars except my right side (where both I and the car shielding me are both visible).  Care must be taken that the advancing car is not turning right.  I do this  by not positioning myself in the blind spot of the driver at the stop.  I pull full up to the stop line, just off to the right side of the front bumper and make eye contact with the driver.   The driver will see me, and signal appropriately (otherwise I let the car lead). 
    b. When I see a car waiting to pull out, I am on my guard.  If I can not see the driver's face look my way,  I stop pedaling and begin to prepare myself for that driver to pop out into my path. 
    c.  I am also on my guard when I see a car preparing to turn left in front of me. (this is my least favorite, because it is hard to know if I have actually been seen or if the driver thinks he can beat me).
12.  Before passing a parked car, I quickly look back for approaching cars and then move over just outside of a potential door swing (should it open suddenly).
13.  I never "flip off" a  driver of a car in retaliation.  It's my opinion that there's clearly something wrong with this person, and not a good idea to indulge this person.  (I haven't been flipped off even once this year..... pretty weird)
14.  I almost always try to ride roads with the least amount of car traffic and consider that traffic is increased going away from the city around 4:00 to 6:00pm and less going toward the city at the same time.
15. I think mirrors are very valuable.  I bought one and couldn't adapt it to my helmet.  Recently my friend Bob C. let me use his that attaches to sunglasses and it was fantastic.
16. When crossing railroad tracks try to do so squarely (as in perpendicular) to the track (or as much as possible).  If the railroad track is wet and you do not cross it squarely, expect to kiss the pavement.
17. Learn to "bunny hop" (jumping both the front and rear wheel off the ground at the same time).  This skill can save you from crashing when crossing seams or deep cracks in the road, as well as potholes, and many other unavoidable objects that suddenly appear.  At the very minimum always pop your front wheel over unavoidable objects.  This will tend to keep you upright.  
18. NEVER EVER EVER place a wheel on a bike without skewering it on properly.    (This happens sometimes when transporting a bike short distances with the intention of removing the wheels immediately, but forgetting or getting distracted.    It's a very dangerous action.  I know of riders who had severe injuries because of this innocent mistake.)
19. Here's a link to Bicycle Safety:  How to Not Get Hit by Cars.  It restates what I have said in this post (minus a few items on their part), but they have some helpful illustrations.
20.  There is evidence that riding in groups may have a safety advantage. Here's a link discussing this topic. I must say that group riding can produce some safety issues, and I have seen riders sometimes less alert to automobiles with a group (perhaps they think others are doing it for them).
    a.   it is best to ride known planned routes with riders that you know well.
    b.   If you are riding with beginners take the lead and/or do not draft closely behind them
    c.   At slower speeds allow room plenty of room for sudden decelerations or erratic  bike handling.
    d.  The lead rider is responsible for alerting following riders of safety hazards (i.e. potholes, roadkill, pedestrian, deep crack, glass, objects in road, etc).  This is done by physically pointing at hazard and "yelling out" the hazard to riders behind.  They should do the same for following riders.
     e. The last rider should alert the riders ahead when cars are approaching to allow riders to adjust as appropriate.  Such as get single file or pull over to allow a back up of vehicles to pass or in some cases take the full lane to prevent dangerous passes by overtaking vehicles. 
     f.  Signal and verbally communicate all turns in advance to your group.
     g.  anticipate a rider to decelerate when standing to climb a hill and ride off center of their rear wheel so that contact of wheels will not occur.
     h.  All other safety tips listed here apply when riding in groups. 
21.  Never "bomb" (full speed/edge of control) a blind curving descent on an open road.  There could be obstacles in the road or a your bike could have a mechanical and send you into or under an oncoming vehicle (depending on the road curve).

If anyone can think of additional safety ideas please add them in the comments section.  I'll, in turn, add them to this list.  Hopefully an idea will save someone some skin.

My survival techniques for racing are a bit different and they are as follows:
1. I try to never "half-wheel".  This is where my front wheel overlaps the rear wheel of a cyclist in front of me.  If they move over suddenly while I am half-wheeling, I could very likely crash (they generally won't crash)
2. Inside line (when cornering 2 abreast) is generally best when cornering.  Riders that crash will slide outward.  If you are on the inside of a turn, you can ride uninterrupted if someone crashes on your outside.
3. Faster races tend to be safer because the riders become single file.  When the pack bunches up, I am on my guard for a potential crash caused by half-wheeling.
4. Run good tires with ideal tire pressures.  For tubulars: 110/120 on non-technical courses, 90psi front and 105 rear on technical dry courses, and 85 psi front and 95 psi rear for wet courses. (I've heard of running as low as 80 and 80 for wet courses)  Clinchers are all different and riders must consult the manufacturers instructions.
5. I personally skip technical courses in the rain.  Professional riders can't do this. If you watch my videos you will note that I do sometimes ride in the rain and that I also sometimes crash in the rain.
6. I try to not ride behind someone who has just crashed or has a history of crashing.
7. For road races I tend to ride near the yellow line.  If a sudden crash occurs I can potentially go left (assuming there is no on coming car).  Riding the edge of the road can lead to punctures and possibly riding off the road.
8.  Never cross the yellow line except for safety concerns. (on coming cars are, of course, safety concerns)
9.  Look ahead for obstacles, barriers, cones etc.  Do not fully rely on the person you are drafting off of.
10.  When a crash is unavoidable try to react quickly and aim for the best landing and try to avoid fixed objects.  Prepare to tumble, arms out for initial contact and tuck and tumble.

Again, if anyone can think of additional survival techniques for racing, please add them in the comments section. 

That's it for this post.   Safe riding everyone.  And fun riding.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dude your crank length's fine, you just need to gear up

"Myth and Science in Cycling:  Crank Length and Pedaling Technique" by James C. Martin PhD, NeuroMuscular Function Lab, The University of Utah

I am sooo excited about this particular topic.   I've been riding for years and I've never been overly confident that I was riding the ideal crank length.  After finding this article I am very comfortable with my 172.5mm cranks.  Of course there's basically nothing wrong with the other standard crank length sizes either.  Dr. Martin's data shows that "170 mm cranks would compromise the power of the shortest and tallest riders by AT MOST 0.5%.  For example 6 watts out of 1200."

Another important point 120 rpm is close to optimal RPM (or cadence) when sprinting with standard production size cranks.  I'm not suggesting that racers observe their cadence when riding, I just want to point out that higher cadences are generally NOT MORE EFFECTIVE.  This will become even more apparent with a later point concerning larger gears being better than smaller ones for sprinting.  

The summary of the above three charts is that 1. effect of crank length is small and significant only at extreme lengths, 2. 170mm cranks will compromise power of the tallest and shortest riders by at most 0.5%, 3. Pedal speed and pedaling rate interactively limit power, and 4th and most importantly:  Cyclists can ride the crank length they prefer without concern of decreasing maximal power.

The next chart is a biggie.
The above chart shows that cyclists are more efficient pedaling at 60rpm cadence vs 100rpm cadence.  This is big news from my point of view, and frankly I think it's a big big deal.  So let me repeat the point....... lower cadences are more efficient than higher cadences, specifically 60rpm over 100rpm

UPDATE: February 5, 2012:  The data from the above chart is correct, and has been supported by numerous studies.  However, there is more to it and can be found in my article:  "The Ideal Cadence for Competitive Cycling"
This is amazing stuff.  I've been told countless times to get my cadence up.  Generally 90 is often touted as the ideal cadence.  It may still be for speed changes in criterium racing, but I think not for time-trialing.  I tend to find myself falling into the upper 70s when time trialing despite trying to remind myself that 90 is better (turns out that it's not necessarily so).  I plan on doing more riding with lower rpms and examine my watt data.

I know that a lot of cyclists will reject the notion that lower cadences are more efficient than higher cadences.  I myself had some initial trouble with it.     Generally I have found that my heart rate and wattage will stay fairly constant with different gear/rpm combination from the range of 70 to 90s I have noticed an heartrate upward drift as I go upward into the 90s.

The findings of this research are impressive (in my opinion).  I contacted Dr. Nate Means (biology professor), Dr. Pam Hinton (exercise physiology), Dr. John Bowders (engineering) all to discuss this research document (powerpoint doc. actually) and try to understand/discuss the findings and implications.  Nate has referred me to another scientist, Pam basically agrees with the Dr. Martin and John and I are going to chat more about it tonight while biking.  

I was concerned to the point that I  contacted Dr. Martin via email for clarification.  He confirmed the facts as such:  "The effect of pedaling rate on metabolic cost is pretty well established. Heart rate generally tracks well with met cost but its not the same thing. Also, there is individual variability in responses so you may be a bit different than the mean."  (Cool Dr. Martin!)

And that's not all!  Check out the next three blocks.


The summary findings are that the "rate of fatigue was greater when cycling with shorter cranks than longer cranks", and "fatigue per revolution was identical for the two crank lengths".  And here's the biggie:  "Data suggest that a relatively fixed increment of fatigue occurs with each maximal contraction".

In short, this means a bigger gear is better when doing longer sprints.  If anyone has doubts just set up some sprint repeats with different gears and look at the data from your SRM or Powertap, etc.  The bigger gear will win on the longer sprints.  This is cool stuff my friends.

Summary:  Common crank sizes are nearly all equal in efficiencies. Cranks size can be chosen for reasons such as ground clearance for cornering/obstacles (shorter), aerodynamics (shorter), or rehabilitation/flexibility (longer).   Sprinting 120 rpm is best. 60 rpm is better than 100 rpm aerobically (generally lower cadences are more efficient than higher).   Natural pedal stroke is best (do not pull up), crank length has no effect on fatigue, no effect on metabolic efficiencies and very small effect on maximum power.  A big gear sprint is better than a small gear sprint (for 30seconds) .

 To learn about the best video camera in the world for videoing cycling (which is the cameras that I use for my videos) click here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

State Criterium and State Time Trial Championships

[Note:  I have a "Music Player" gadget, 4th down to the right. You may run audio from it or the video as you see fit by pausing the music player or muting the embedded video. Enjoy!]

The above video is from the State Criterium Championships that was held in Jefferson City on August 1, 2010.  The race started at 4:00pm and was pretty darn hot, around 95 degrees.  Joe Schmalz won the race, but I won the Missouri State Championship Title because I was the first eligible Missourian to cross the finish line.

Mostly I just sat at the back of the pack, lap after lap.  It was extremely easy sitting on.  My average wattage sitting on was only 241 watts even at the pace of 25.88mph.  

Mid-way through the race I made a serious effort to break free.  I didn't get very far at all before the entire pack was in my draft.  I simply sat back in the draft until I saw another good opportunity to try again. 

I was finally successful breaking free with only 5 or so laps left and I rode nearly full out, with the exception of letting off a little on the bell lap to try and have a good finish.  It is notable that I timed my jump to spring up to 2 riders just ahead of me.  I noticed my team-mate Ethan Froese was at the front of the group and figured he would slow the corner for the certain chasers.   I drafted off the two ahead of me for a bit and  just before the pack caught us I launched again, at a full effort.  Joe Schmalz bridged up to me very quickly and I knew there would be no way to beat him once he had latched on.  He's a much better sprinter than I am.

I was mainly concerned with winning the State Criterium Championship.  Joe told be that he wasn't from Missouri.  As a result my main concern was not to be caught by the pack.

In the video it may look like I was NOT trying to sprint, but in fact I was.  I started early just after the final turn.  I must admit that this was a poor strategy.  A better strategy would have been to use "sprinter's tact".  That is to start the sprint slowly  and continue to slowly accelerate to the line. The idea is lure the drafter into either waiting too long to come around or to come around sooner so that they no longer have a draft and then go full out while you still have an advanced position.  At any rate, I am pretty certain that the outcome would have been the same.  Joe Schmalz is quite good. 

A couple points about the course and the watt chart:  The course is actually hilly, so it is generally best to charge hard up the hill and coast down the hill (catch a little recovery) on the opposite side of the course.  This makes the wattage very jumpy.  As a result I had to smooth the data at 1% so that it would be understandable/viewable.  With 0% smoothing the graph is so up and down that it looks like heavy and rapid seismic graph.  The smoothing only effects the graph appearance and not the numbers averages. 
I also want to include my State Time Trial results from the day before.

Andy Chocha won the State Time Trial Championship with a time of 52:48, I was second with a time of 53:04.  Great job from Andy!  I totally forgot how good he is at time trialing.  Now I remember!
I put a lot of effort into winning this race (it was the only race that I felt certain I would win), but still came up short.   I traveled to Jefferson City and did 3 efforts over a three week period just to get dialed in and really know the course.  Unfortunately I made some calculation errors and that lead me to believe that I was faster than I really was. (I thought I was doing 40k all under 52 minutes.... which is fantastic!)   In particular,  I didn't correctly calibrate my wheel circumference into my SRM device.  This lead to incorrect distance measurements which lead to incorrect times and speed averages.

Check this out:  my standard wheel measures 2105mm circumference, my Zipp 404 wheel measures 2073 mm, and my 1080 Zipp wheel measures 2040mm.  So the differences in wheel roll out is 0, 33, and 65mm.  Speed is calculated by magnet passes with each wheel rotation.  Over 40kilometers my 1080 will have something like 19,607 rotations.  Entering a 404 Zipp wheel circumference, but actually using a 1080 Zipp wheel,  will give .647Kilometers farther distance measurement and .42mph higher average speed measurement than if the correct 1080 Zipp wheel circumference is entered.  The standard wheel  will give 1.27Kilometers farther distance than the 1080 calibration and .82mph higher average speed on the same distance. 

Point is:  roll out and measure your wheel that you are going to be riding, THEN enter the correct measurement into your speedometer device. 

One last point that I would like to make concerning time trials:  If possible try to be the first to start if the time trial is in the morning and last if it is in the evening.  The reason for this is that wind always slows a rider (even on an out an back course).  No (zero) wind is best for an out and back course.  Wind speeds typically increase in the morning and decrease just before sunset (not always, but usually).  Less wind means faster.  Faster means better. 

To learn about the best video camera in the world for videoing cycling (which is the cameras that I use for my videos) click here.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Queen City Criterium

Broken frame, same crit only last year.

The above photo is from last year at the same crit that this post is about. Needless to say, I wasn't too excited about doing this crit again this year.

To be fair, last year's crash was just one of those things that sometimes happens when you're racing.

Still, it was a bitter pill. Last year the MOBAR Championship was a close race between Justin M. and me. He had attacked and slipped away solo in the race. He ended up winning in fact. I tried several times to slip away as well, but I was heavily covered and forced to sprint.

I was in the top several racers coming into the last corner. Someone clipped a pedal and set off a chain reaction of crashes. I suddenly found myself on the pavement. Not only did I not place, but my expensive bike frame was destroyed.

The top tube was cracked all the way through. A swift kick removed the cracked tube entirely. I was able to replace the frame, rear derailleur, and handlebar tape for about a thousand dollars.  I shouldn't complain too much.  Retail cost for these items is over $3,000. 

[Special Note:  I have a "Music Player" gadget, 4th down to the right. You may run audio from it or the video as you see fit by pausing the music player or muting the embedded video. Enjoy!]

 Race results

This race was won by Brad Huff.  Professional rider for Jelly Belly.  He, Nick Coil and Adam Miller successfully broke away from the pack and finished in that order.

I was very nervous about this course because of recent crashes this year plus crashing on this same course last year.  So I ended up hanging in the back.

Late in the race I did make one hard effort to break-a-way, but the pack reeled me in quickly.  This course has so many turns that it is hard to keep your speed and power up.  The turns come too quickly.  I was able to finally escape and finish 4th.  I was pretty happy with that.  I most certainly didn't want to sprint for a place. 


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