Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pass the Power, Please...

I have been working recently with my old friend and cycling guru extraordinare, George Rian. George is 74 years old and has been a cyclist since the mid 1950's when he attended college at I.U. and rode the famed "Little 500". He has been a student of the sport receiving education in ways and methods too numerous to go into here, but suffice to say, he is more than a wealth of information. He is an excellent coach and bike fitting expert and has been sizing and fitting people to bikes for over 25 years. He has been trained in many of the fitting systems past and present including some of the more well-known systems like the "Fit-Kit", Serotta size cycle system, the newer updated Serotta system, as well some of the latest trends in fit involving taking angular measurements of various body components while on the bike. What separates George from most others is that he doesn't use any single method, but rather an incorporation of all of them, combined with his experience of fittings hundreds of people over the years. He has seen all kinds and no two are the same.

Over the last year George has observed on many occasions under certain circumstances that my hips rock noticeably and I appear to be over-extending in my pedal stroke when viewed from the side while riding. Since having had the power meter, I have been able to identify a discrepancy in power delivery to the pedals in balance.

We began a few weeks ago with a review of past measurements and current bike setup as well as a discussion of his observations. We decided on a "start from scratch" measurement from the waist down. We found two interesting things. The first thing was that I measured a full centimeter shorter than what we had on record for me from 1991 when George first measured me and also from other measurements that I recorded over the years. The impact of that is that when calculating various components of the bike fit, it alters a few things, most notably, frame size and saddle height. I had been riding at 81.8cm (leg length x .885) and the new calculation puts me at 80.6cm - a full 1.2cm difference and in bike fit terms, that's quite a bit.

We started with adjusting my saddle height and after some discussion about how we would approach adjusting such a large gap along with other adjustments that we suspected would need to be made, we decided to do it in three increments - 4mm at a time. We lowered it to 81.4 and I have been there for two weeks. I immediately noticed the difference as soon as I got on the bike. At first it took some getting used to, but I noticed a couple of things. On the positive side, it is slightly more comfortable and I feel like a get a better pull through the bottom of the stroke, especially in larger gears. On the negative side, my spin (when I "overspin") seems a bit choppy and I felt like I needed to 'push back' in the saddle often - both of which may subside once I am acclimated and in recent days it doesn't seem as noticeable.

The other thing observed was that my left leg is 1.2cm shorter than the right. This somewhat explains the fact that my right-left balance on the power meter has consistently shown averages for all types of rides (recovery, endurance, intervals) to be anywhere from 44% to 48% on the left and 52% to 56% on the right - clearly an imbalance of power input at the crank and it has never been the other way around where the right leg is lower.

In addressing this, we observed a couple of other related issues. First, my cleats were not in an optimal position. I had them set in a neutral position with the line signifying the center of the cleat centered on the ball of my foot. For different riding styles and applications (road, track, TT) this can differ slightly but typically only within a couple of mm either side of center. Historically, I have always used one set of shoes for everything - road racing, track and time-trial. After discussions about how we would approach the series of adjustments required for an optimal cleat position, we decided to set "my good shoes" for a road-race position which is 1 to 3mm behind center. I will acquire a second set of shoes for the track and deal with the setup on those at a later time.

We started with moving the cleats backward 2mm from center which effectively puts the foot deeper into the pedal. The result of this should be that can put more power to the pedals. At the same time we utilized some power shims to alter the angle of the interface to the pedal which adjusts the inherent alignment issues that most all cyclists have.

The plan is to ride with this for a couple of weeks before we begin to work on shimming the short leg. There is a fitting process that details how to deal with this anomaly and interestingly enough most people have it to some extent and mine is not significant. We will shim half the distance of the measured imbalance, but not all at once. In a couple of weeks, we'll do 2mm first (the smallest amount possible with the cleat shims) and after a couple of weeks review how it feels and discuss if I want to go another step and add another 2mm. It so, we'll see how it feels and see if we need to go further to the full 6mm. After that, we will re-observe the saddle height portion to determine if we should drop it another 4mm. We currently are still at the first adjustment of 4mm lower that the original that I started at.

The key part to all this is paying attention to how things feel and my providing feedback to George. He and I both understand that you can't simply take numbers and apply them to someone and say "that's it". We are doing this slowly and methodically to address some specific things. This fitting stuff is not a concrete science. There are a number of methods and calculations to create a baseline starting point for anyone, but from there it's all about the feedback loop and making methodical adjustments because everything on the bike is interrelated and changing one thing often affects something else.

Once I get this all sorted, I can have the piece of mind knowing that my fit is spot-on for my next purchase:

Painting titanium and carbon is just plain WRONG. This is the scheme I will be getting...

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Quest for Improvements

Since the return of my passion for cycling over the last couple of years I have found that I have a different perspective on many things. Some of this I attribute to age and wisdom, but clearly some of it has come from simply being away for awhile and coming back. It isn't like I started over, but I think with many things, you reacquiant with certain topics and some you just look at differently either due to new factual information that is available or from different personal experiences.

I am finding that I am approaching many things much differently and much of this is due to my life changes over recent years. I have a "real job" since returning to cycling, and in fact, it was that "real job" that helped to push my away from the bike 7 years ago. I also am a father now and that takes precedence over anything else in my life. ANYTHING...period.

So it is with these two priorities that I have returned to cycling with an adjusted attitude, adjusted priorities, adjust goals and everything that goes with that. If nothing else, it has made me a better cyclist in many ways because it has forced me to become efficient with my time. It is a priority in my daily life and not a recreational activity that I pursue as a hobby. It is a part of me and who I am and it makes me a better person (that is a whole different story for a different blog).

The single most common concept that I think about regarding cycling is simply "how can I maximize my fitness and enjoyment with a minimal amount of time." I have evolved in this regard and my plan continues to evolve as I find efficencies and incorporate them into my daily routines.

What is interesting is that I think I am able to do as much and sometimes more than I was 10 years ago simply from better time utilization. In the warmer months, I get up before "the ass-crack of dawn" (as my friend Doug calls it) and I am on the bike just before twilight. I can get in 2 hours before going into work. This is time that is mine and does not infringe on anything else in my life. In the colder months, I become highly organized and shift the schedule such that I do workouts in the gym during my lunch hour and I commute to and from work each day. It doesn't provide the same volume as the warmer months, but it is enough to maintain the muscle memory, stay flexible and maintain some aerobic fitness that my longer 2.5 to 4 hour weekend rides provide.

Another efficiency that has helped tremendously is that I stopped coaching myself. I am being coached by Carmichael Training Systems in their "classic" program which is mostly web-based. I provide some self-administered test data in the form of time, HR, power and RPE over a fixed-distance course. I also answer a detailed questionnaire and they build a program with a schedule that I can follow on the web. Each month, there is a review process and every other month there is another "field test" that is done to update the training data as well as to track progress for adjustments to the training schedule. I can't say enough positive things about this and how much it has helped me. This, in addition to the purchase of a power meter have been the two most valuable and important purchases I have ever made with regard to maximizing training. I would wholeheartedly recommend both to anyone that wants to become a better rider.

And perhaps the single most important factor in all this is that I am the luckiest man on earth to have the unending support of my wife. She encourages me, she picks me up when I am feeling down and she supports all that I do. She sees the effects that cycling has on me and my personality. She has seen me at my worst when I was physically unfit, under high stress and just generally an unhappy person. She likes this "version" of me much better and in many ways this version is better than the former version than when I "used to be a cyclist".

I think the difference is that I can look back and see from where I have come, the obstacles I have encountered, the loss of my passion for the sport and my renewed passion and return. The difference is that I can truly appreciate what I have and where I am BECAUSE I can see the path of how I got here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

eBay Madness, Surprises and Keeping Secrets

My wife and soulmate of 15 years has desired (or I dare say "coveted") a vintage steel Colnago bike ever since she saw one and learned of the history and heritage of the marque. She has had many bikes in her 20+ years of cycling, starting on a Huffy, and then on to her "first" bike, a new Cannondale 3.0, which she purchased from George Rian at BGI in 1989.

When we met, she had the Cannondale and while it fit her well, she was uncomfortable because it rode so harshly. Being aluminum and her being of slight stature, the combination wasn't the best. So, shortly after we moved in together in 1992, we acquired a beautiful Ciocc, made from Columbus SL in a bright white and chrome scheme. It had Shimano Sante (that gloriously hideous white grouppo positioned between 600 and Dura-Ace). She loved it and couldn't believe the difference between it and her Cannondale.

A couple of years later, the cycling team that we were a part of acquired a Serotta sponsorship. Taking advantage of this, we ordered her steel Serotta Atlanta (which the no longer manufacture due to the labor of a lugged steel frame), which was a lugged steel bike crafted from the "Colorado Concept" custom drawn tubing from Reynolds. It is a proprietary steel, but I suspect it was similar, if not the same to the 853 tubing of the time (1997). We got a good deal on some not-too used Dura-Ace 8sp components and I built it up. I also laced up a nice set of traditional wheels with Mavic Open Pro rims, Ultegra hubs and DT Champion spokes. All in all it made a nice package. The only problem was that it was just a bit too small. It was tolerable and some compromises had to be made, but ultimately it was not as comfortable as the Ciocc and did not have the same feel. The Serotta was skittish, wasn't stable and was very "twitchy" as my wife likes to say. I vowed to get her a new bike, but she insisted that it was okay and she wasn't racing anymore so we should focus on ME getting a new bike.

The problem is, I really like my wife to have what she wants. She doesn't ask for much. She doesn't complain. She is not high-maintenance. She works hard and takes things in stride and is good at making the best out of everything. I like to make her happy whenever I can. So, this year I decided when I got my bonus that I wanted to buy her something nice. She has hinted at wanting diamond earrings for a long time and I was strongly leaning that way, until one evening in mid-March while sitting in front of eBay, I found it.

I said, "hey honey, look at this". She glanced over and got all quiet. It was a 17-year-old, NOS (never seen the road) Colnago Superissimo frame, pink and white, with chrome lugs, fork and stays, Columbus SL tubing in a size 49. All she said was "wow, I'd really like to have that". And with that, it was sealed.

The auction didn't end for another 4 days. I didn't tell her what I was planning, and I just kept watching the auction...and so did she. She kept updating me on the current bid. I tried not to seem to interested, but it was clear that she wanted this frame.

So, it gets to be the last day of the auction (a Saturday) and I go take a look at the end time to my dismay, it's 12 midnight PDT, which is 3am our time. I could have put up a bid and walked away, but I wanted to win this. So, after dinner I do something I rarely do...I had a quad shot latte, knowing full well I'd be up into the wee hours.

It got to be bedtime, and my wife said she was "heading up" as she likes to say. She was quite tired from her workout of the day, so I knew it wouldn't be long until she was out. I told her that I'd be along in a minute, knowing full well it would be a while before I hit the bed. I sat in front of the computer for another 4 hours, doing various things - updating my blogs, working on training programs for the guys I am coaching, updating my training journal, reading, shopping the online bike stores...anything to keep me awake until 3am.

In the final hour, the bids started to go up. It had sat for almost the whole week at $340. I knew it would go up, but didn't know by how much. It was now up to $510 and there was still 20 minutes to go. In the last 10 minutes there was another bid that took it up to $575. I sat there, patiently awaiting the final minute.

I contemplated my bid. Bidding to win is a tricky thing because you never quite know who is watching and how many are going to bomb bids all at once in the last minute. I have lost a LOT of stuff on eBay by such antics. Most of the time, I am sane about it. I put up my bid - the max I want to pay for it - and walk away. Not tonight. I was here at the table ready to go "all in".

In the last couple of minutes it went up again, to $620. I took a look at the bidding activity and there was one bidder who kept re-bidding over the top of anyone who bid. This was not an automatic bid either, because the times and amounts were not consistent. I could tell this would be a final seconds shoot out.

I decided that $701.99 was a good bid and should get it based on the history of the last few minutes activity. I waited until 45 seconds left, typed in my bid, counted to 10 and clicked "confirm". It came back with 18 seconds left and said I was outbid. I was going to lose this auction.

I quickly typed in $850 and hit confirm. It came back with 8 seconds and I was now the high bidder, at $751. It was too late to bid higher and all I could do was sit back and wait. The next 8 seconds took forever.

I won. No higher bid was placed and my opponent threw in his cards. I was giddy that I won this beautiful piece of Italian art for my wife. I was so excited that now I wanted to figure out how to build it up. There were a number of options - move the DA 8sp from the Serotta to the Colnago, find a nice clean "period piece" Campagnolo Record Ergo 8sp - current high-end stuff for that time, pickup some nice clean used DA stuff, or buy new stuff entirely. I started shopping ebay now for components.

I finally got tired and crawled into bed about 4 am. The next thing I knew, my daughter was in the room and it was daylight...a mere 3.5 hours later. A nap...only a nap. My wife asked me, "what time did you come to bed?", to which I responded that I had insomnia. She said something about having that latte so late...

We went downstairs to have breakfast and I sat there with this HUGE secret eating away at me. I wanted to surprise her with it for her birthday, which wasn't until May 26th..quite a ways off. I wasn't sure I could hold on for that long because I am really lousy at keeping secrets and I was so excited about this that I couldn't contain myself. It peaked when she informed me that the frame went for $751. I was almost sure she knew at this point that I had won it because she knows my eBay username, and in fact she has used it to sell stuff before.

Several minutes went by and I finally decided that I couldn't do it. I looked at her and said, "Okay, so you know I am horrible at keeping secrets", and she turned and looked at me very puzzled and startled because she didn't know what was going to come out of my mouth next. I confessed that the reason I was up so late was that I was trying to win something on eBay.

She blanked for a moment and then this big smile spread across her face and I told her that I decided 4 days ago that I was going to win this for her. She was as giddy as a schoolgirl.

Over the next few days we explored all the options as to what to build it with. In the end, she said that she would really like to have Dura-Ace 10sp on this one. It's the best and it lasts and she like the older stuff she had on her Serotta.

I bought it all online, saved a chunk of change by taking advantage of a perfectly timed 20% off sale and dropped another $1500 on the full kit plus bars, seat, wheels, pedals, tape, tires, and cages.

Here is the beauty:

See more at:

She rode it for the first time on this past Sunday. It was 25 degrees and she came in after an hour...all smiles. She said that it fit her perfectly, like it was made just for her. In many ways, it was.

Biggest Week Yet...

So this past week was the hardest week yet on the CTS program. Not only did the volume go up after the previous week's Field Test, but the intensity went up quite a jump as well.

This marks the transition into the "Specialization Period" of the program. I was surprised that the previous period, "Preparation Period" was as short as it was. So far, each period has been 8 weeks in duration, exactly the time between Field Tests.
Here is a screenshot of last week with the prescribed workouts and the actuals...