In Summer 2007 I was in Scotland for family reasons and preparing for Paris-Brest-Paris. Part of that was riding The Daylight 600 which is a pretty good route, btw.

On the Sunday morning, towards the end, I met this chap.


He turned out to be a young Frenchman and a very nice guy. He rode with me from Kincardine back to Queensferry. I was happy to have the company and he was a real help for a tired old cyclist.

During that time we talked about how his childhood passion was always to be a pro bike racer. He talked about how hard he had worked towards that dream. And he told me of the bitter disappointment of being told, as he was negotiating his first job on a pro team, that he would have to use PEDs.

He may look happy in this photo but he was emotional as he told the story. It is really very sad, tragic almost, that a child and then youth should follow his dream, working very hard and with great discipline to achieve it, only to discover when he arrives that he doesn’t want it any more because it involves a sacrifice he is unwilling to make.

So he moved to Scotland to be with his Scottish girlfriend and rides his bike as an amateur.

Now we know that two men, Lance Armstrong and Hein Verbruggen, were responsible for this. Armstrong could have chosen to race clean in 1999 and Verbruggen could have chosen not to cover up Armstrong’s doping. Those personal choices were decisive. From then on for the next 7 years Armstrong was the lead for doping in his team and of the code of silence throughout the peloton while Verbruggen co-ordinated the cover-ups from the regulatory side of things.

Clearly a lot of other people were complicit in the cheating, lies, deception and bullying. But, to me, these two men stand out because they were in fact in a position to change everything while almost no other individual was. When I think about all the young cyclists, like the one pictured here, who have faced the same choice as a result of what Armstrong and Verbruggen chose to do, (not to mention all the other harm done) I am very sad and angry.

We started with 30, the biggest field of the day. 20 km, 60 laps, 10 sprints. Kurt and I looked at the start list before the race and agreed that my objective should be to finish on-lap. These are the best racers in the country and it’s a big country with former national champions, olympians, world champions, etc.

The race was interrupted by rain right after the half-way sprint so, like (foreign) football, it was a game of two halves. In the first my biggest obstacle was confidence, I was fighting the thought that I shouldn’t be here, that I wasn’t up to it and didn’t belong: a try-hard wannabe play-pretending among seriously good athletes. But I kept with the bunch, riding on the back a lot.


In the second half I felt much better. I felt well within my physical limits although the pace was faster (31.0mph average versus 29.6) and didn’t let up. I could see I was stronger than several others, having to move up to make sure I didn’t get stuck behind other riders’ gaps. There were 6 DNFs, more than any other race. I really enjoyed it. I felt in control and capable. I didn’t attempt to get any points but in the end I should have ridden hard for the last two laps to get higher up the order of finish of the 8 no-point finishers, I didn’t think of it at the time and just slowed down like the others did on the last lap.

So while I was annoyed by the rain interruption, specifically I was looking forward to my beer during the first half and it was delayed, it worked out for me. I now have some objective evidence that boosts confidence: I raced the points race at the masters national level and I wasn’t out of my depth; peloton padding, maybe, but able to stay with it when others were not. And I wasn’t just hanging on because I would not have finished on lap—when the peloton is shattered by the speed it’s too dangerous to just hang on.

It gives me a baseline to work from, and one that I can have some faith in.

I never raced Kissena before but friends convinced me that opening weekend at Kissena is loads of fun and worth the trip down from Boston. It’s true. It’s really quite a production and a scene, with canopies up on the infield, rollers lined out on the apron, officials everywhere and large number of racers, many of whom are very good.

I registered for both the Cat 4 and Masters 40+ omniums. My goal was upgrade points so Cat 4 was my priority. The omnium format this weekend was not favorable for me:

  • 1 km time trial
  • Team sprint
  • Points race
  • Match sprints tournament
  • Scratch race
  • Miss and out (elimination race)

I do a mediocre kilo and I can’t sprint for peanuts. In the bunch races I stand a chance but I’m hit and miss in the miss and out.

Kissena is 400 m and a moderately banked, very bumpy tarmac track. Turns 3 and 4 re particularly bumpy and it’s perfectly normal to bounce around (airborne) a lot, especially coming out of turn 4. It made the kilo interesting. It’s a sprint event–don’t pace yourself, go all out– and I used aero bars. Plus it was The Pollinator’s first outing (besides two weekends at Forrest City Velodrome where the track’s extreme weirdness dominates the experience).

Bouncing laterally halfway across the sprint lane is interesting, especially on aero bars, but The Pollinator was great. Absolutely solid and predictable. I just accepted that’s what racing at Kissena is like and nothing’s going to go wrong if I don’t freak out. The bike’s going to land somewhere and keep going in roughly the right direction so just keep pedaling as hard as possible. In bunch racing I assumed that anyone coming around me will make allowances for these effects and I would have to do the same.

I did two team sprints, Cat 4 and 40+, taking second wheel in both. We were third in both contests which is bad for omnium points as they are allocated 7, 4, 2 for 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

Next the Cat 4 points race with a field of 11. We were up at the rail in turn 1 when the start whistle went off. I led off down to the pole line and brought the speed up to tempo. Before turn 3 I looked back and was astonished to see everyone else dawdling up track in turn 2. Odd. But good. 12 laps is 4 km and I know how to pace myself for that distance so I started a pursuit effort. The gap grew nicely so I kept it up. But the fast guys, Brean and Mark, timed the chase right and got me on the first sprint, bringing me back to the field. I had another go when things got slow, dropping down track from the rear in turn 2, and getting a gap. Same procedure, I got a big gap and was caught but still got 3rd or 4th on sprint 2. And so it went also for the final sprint. I got third overall which I’m pleased with. It was a huge effort. I was on my own for over half the race. I did a lot of training for recovery at tempo after an effort and I wanted to use it. If one other racer had worked with me we could have lapped the field but Brean and Mark were marking each other closely and I was completely unknown so that wasn’t going to happen.

By the time I rolled onto the apron after that race the masters were already at the rail for their miss and out. I was hacking up a lung and couldn’t consider joining them. It was like someone had been cleaning my windpipe with an abrasive bottle brush. There was a lot of pollen around.

Sunday started with the Cat 4 scratch race. Again I rode hard to set a high tempo because I knew there were sprinters who could easily gap me. I didn’t contest the prime but attacked shortly after it while those that did were in oxygen debt. Like in the points race, I got a gap and then got caught, but sooner. In the back straight I was 4th and managed to come around Steve for third. Again I was pleased with that.

At this stage Brean and Mark were well ahead in the Omnium and I was tied with someone for 4/5th. All I needed to do was do better than Steve in the last two races to get 3rd in the Omnium.

In the match sprints I was dismal in the 4s but I won one 2-up sprint against Joe in 40+, my first ever sprint heat in which I didn’t finish last. I rode a steadily increasing speed up to threshold and kicked entering turn 4 on the second lap. Given how he did in the 40+ points race, I think maybe he could have got past if he’d tried. I didn’t ask.

Steve made it to the sprint finals and I did not. This was not looking good. My last chance was the miss and out.

It’s a very difficult race tactically and I screwed up. I chose to race tempo on the front but the speed was high and there’s a sprint on each lap so it was a fast race. On the second sprint I was first wheel with about 20 meters to go but got eliminated because I looked back, figured I had it and backed off. I slowed while the group was still accelerating. Stupid error. That blew my chance for upgrade points. Phooey.

Steve went on to get 2nd in the sprints which got him 3rd overall, Siraaj won the sprints which vaulted him past me and because I got nothing in the miss and out I was pushed down to 6th. I really only stood a chance in three of the races and I did was well as I could in two of them and screwed the third one up with a stupid blunder.

Meanwhile, in 40+ there was a points race. Oddly only 4 were present. 9 laps, 3 sprints. Three times I tried to drop Joe with a lap and a half or more to the sprint and three times he caught back on and got me by half a wheel or less.

Throughout, the bike was great. It never entered my consciousness during racing. That means it behaves exactly the way it should, otherwise I would have noticed something, and that it fits. I’m not a powerful rider but I didn’t notice it budge in the slightest under any condition. The 404s are clearly good strong, stiff general purpose wheels.

Full results

I was trying to calculate spoke length for wheel using rims with uniformly spaced spoke holes but using hubs with paired spoke holes. Specifically Novatec A271SB and F372SB. Hub specs and photos can be found in the Novatec 2011 hub catalog.

There’s some good pictures of the lacing I’d use on DHgate.

I had been using three spoke length calculators: Spocalc.xls, DTSwiss and Edd.

The DTSwiss and Edd calculators allow you to use fractional cross numbers but offer no guidance on how. Spocalc says: “Note:If paired hub spoke holes are 15 degrees apart, then: For 24 paired spokes laced 2x, enter 2.25 cross. For 24 paired spokes laced 1x, enter 1.25 cross. For 20 paired spokes laced 2x, enter 2.29 cross. For 20 paired spokes laced 1x, enter 1.29 cross. For 16 paired spokes laced 1x, enter 1.33 cross.” But I didn’t understand where those numbers came from or what the resulting lacing pattern would look like.

So I wrote a computer program to help me visualize the designs and understand. I learned a few things.

First, the angular offset of a pair of spoke holes on the left flange relative to the nearest pair on the right flange is determined only by spoke count N. It is independent of the angle between a pair of holes on the hub. A pair of holes on one side at 2π/N relative to the nearest pair on the other side.

Second, it turns out that Spocalc assumes, when it recommends fractional values of cross number X, that the two spokes in a pair of adjacent holes (on one side of the hub) do not cross each other. In other words, the two spokes are pulling on the flange material between the pair of spoke holes. This is why spocalc’s X for a paired-spoke-hole hub is larger than for a regular hub.

Let’s try to visualize this.

Start with X=1 for a regular one-cross lacing with uniform hole spacing.

Here we have a 20-spoke wheel with a small ERD and large hub PCD to help make the images clearer. Hub spoke holes on the front side, as we look at it, are black—on the rear they are green. Front leading spokes are orange, front trailing are red, rear leading are cyan and rear trailing are green.

Now get rid of the rear spokes and spoke holes for clarity.

Next, increase X to 1 < X < 1.5. The diagram shows X = 1.3.

It’s still a one-cross lacing but now the hub has paired holes, meaning that each J end of one spoke is closer to the J end of one neighbor than its other. But these “paired” spokes don’t cross.

Increase X again to 1.5 < X < 2 and now you have a two-spoke lacing—the two paired spokes cross each other. The diagram has X = 1.7.

These last two pictures are of the same hub. Spocalc is offering only the first lacing but I don’t see anything wrong with the second.

If you increase again to X = 2 then the pair move apart so that each hole is equally distant to both of its neighbors and you’re back to a regular hub.

The third lesson is how X relates to the angle θ between a pair of spoke holes. θ = 4π/N when X is an integer. θ = 0 when X = 1/2 + an integer, e.g. X = 1.5, which is an impossible hub in practice. In general θ = 8π/N⋅abs(1/2 – frac(X)), which allows me to calculate X given measurements from the hub.

Now put the rear side spokes and spoke holes back in the picture.

And here’s the actual front wheel I’m considering with two-cross lacing, 38 mm hub PCD and 521 mm ERD.

Presented by Arc en Ceil Racing Team, NBX/Narragansett Beer p/b Apex Technology
Ninigret Park, Charlestown, RI Saturday, April 02, 2011 12:45pm

This was my first race at Ninigret and my first masters crit. They have a race track on a disused airfield on the south coast of Rhode Island. Folk down there crash a lot. The fire brigade were hosing a dramatically igneous car on Rt 4, the paramedics were stretching someone from another car on 95 near Cranston, the cops were sorting out a crumpled pair of cars a little north of Providence. And that was just the ride home. The Ninigret race track, otoh, is safe. No cars, curbs, railings, drains or potholes. In a pinch you can safely ride off the track and on the grass.

Clearly most contestants race that track a lot and the racing style is interesting. Frequent very short-lived attacks. Just as frequent, the speed drops to a crawl. Nobody cooperates with anyone, it seemed. As though there’s a repeating 15-way match sprint going on at the front. Intriguing and good fun. Keep your eyes on the front to save energy. Skills were generally very good so I felt safe despite a lot of hard, close racing. And it was very windy which made it particularly interesting.

I’m no sprinter and never will be so opportunism is my only hope in a race like this. On (maybe) the 3rd bell lap I got near the front. The attack went in the usual place, after the 2nd last turn, and I found a good wheel. Three guys got well clear and then I found myself in 4th with the gap ahead of me. I started slowing thinking the sprinters would finish the job and then we regroup. The guy behind me said something to me, either encouraging or exasperated at my slowing, I’m not sure which, and I responded with my best shot. Meanwhile, three sprinters ahead were side-by-side looking at each other deciding who would lead it out, and I sailed past. That felt nice.

Later, pretty much the same thing happened again, I got past a small group of stalling sprinters. But I couldn’t believe the situation and decided something was wrong. It must be a straight prime and there’s a break down the road and I’m sprinting for nothing and everyone will think I’m foolish. So I sat up. I was passed close to the line by one of the Fuji chaps, whom I asked, to confirm, is there anyone ahead of us? He said yes, those two (pointing). I said, so that was for nothing? He said, no, we were racing for the field sprint. Fooey!

At that point I was miffed and directed my anger at the two ahead so I led for nearly a lap to bring them in. They weren’t going to confuse me again. Actually, it was so windy that I couldn’t hear the prime announcements, only the bell.

That tired me out a bit. But there were still a few laps to the finish. It looked like the race would stay together. What to do? The way it was working meant I didn’t want to attack, because I knew I’d get no help and with that wind would need it. So I wanted to go with a late attack. But nothing stuck and in the drag race to the finish I sat up when I saw I couldn’t make top 10.

Won some Fuji handlebar tape on that prime.

Presented by CCB International
Marblehead, MA Sunday, March 27, 2011 8:35am

I had a small mechanical just before the start so I was at the back at the start. But I got to the front quickly and after the hill, drove it fairly hard for a lap or so, hoping for an attack to hop on or see team colors in. Thereafter I kept close to the front, trying to keep the pressure on when I could. The mantra being: split the field, shed riders, maybe a break goes one of us can join. Above all, thinking of Cav’s great remark, no racing like juniors.

One guy soloed off. I can’t recall if I was too gassed to go with or didn’t believe he was worth it or what. The pack let him go and so did I. Later a couple of others went, I have the same lack of memory as to why I didn’t go with. I regard these as lost opportunities and mistakes to be learned from, see below. All other attempts were shut down real fast.

A bit later, on lap 5, I attempted to bridge. I jumped on the downhill after the yacht club and had a good gap after I was around the turn from Harbor onto Ocean. I backed off to threshold to climb the hill. But I was hurting bad. I had gone too hard — unnecessarily hard! — to get the gap. The PT file shows I was over 700W for about 15sec before attempting the hill at hi-Threshold. Then, seeing the big gap to the break, I lost courage, faltered, looked back, found a but more pluck and hit it anew, but again anaerobically, for about another 25sec, enough to get me half way to the top. Riding that hard hurt so much all my beliefs evaporated and I sat up.

After that I made some efforts to pull in the break with the pack. I don’t recall the catches clearly or when Gerald Harris of Team Harris (I’m guessing unrelated to the Cyclery in Newton) got away. I remember him coming up and being at the front a while and then he wound up the winner on a solo break. Awesome riding!

Last chance. I tried to rest on the 2nd last lap and get position on the last. I was 2nd wheel behind Brier going into the last turn and it stayed that way to the bottom of the hill. But going up it I got passed by 15 to 20 riders and won a couple of places back after the top. Slaughtered.

While I’m sure the wheel suckers who made top 10 are more pleased with themselves than me, I’ll take it. I did most of what I set out to do.

But my skills of the break are lacking. I screwed up in two ways and learned good lessons. 1: Don’t drain myself with an unnecessarily hard jump, especially if what I really need a solid VO2max effort to get properly away. 2: Sometimes soloists win. Why not go with? I didn’t have anything better to do.

I feel some satisfaction from being active rather than passive but being smart sure would be a bonus. Driving the speed of the race up is a pretty stupid strategy and is unlikely to serve you or your team.

Anyway, I had fun. I love racing. What’s up next? Ninigret on Sat or Myles on Sun or both?

Chest shoulder x-ray

Check it out! Click for a full res view of this wonderful x-ray.

That’s an Acumed Locking Clavicle Plate in there. Cool technology. Take a look here. They lots of good info, images and videos.

The good news is that it’s all looking good, no complications, and I can get rid of the sling in another couple of weeks.

The bad new is: no significant loads for three whole months after surgery. That means no cycling until mid January.

Sugery – pain

October 13, 2010

The surgery yesterday went smoothly, all according to plan.

The regional block anesthetic worked well and lasted, according to plan, to the late evening. It is now 1.30am and the pain is really bad, much worse than the days of/after the crash.

I’ve maxed out on the narcs—it seemed a generous Rx to me—but I’d take something much stronger now were it on offer.

It’s unfortunate. I’m sure I could benefit from some sleep.

Shoulder with road rash scab

Considering the effect of the crash on my helmet and collarbone, and the road rash on my shoulder, why wasn’t my jersey damaged in the slightest?

The photo of my shoulder is from 8 days after the crash. By the time of this photo, more than half the scab had fallen off. You’ll just have to use this as a basis to imagine what it was like on the day of the crash. The central stripe was a pretty good gouge into the skin.

Now look at the jersey. You can look closely at the picture at full resolution. There’s not a mark!

Cycling jersey back sideCycling jersey front side

It was nice of the ER staff, and the operators of the CAT and X-ray machines to not cut off the jersey. It’s not expensive but it’s unusual and cool and I dig it. It comes the era in which I first started following pro bike racing in my youth.

Actually, I don’t think the ER medics had much/any idea about the shoulder abrasion because the tight fitting jersey hid it—they would have given it some treatment otherwise.

My Oakley M-Frames were presumably left at scene of the crash. They had seen five years of solid use but there was nothing wrong with them apart from some lens scratches.

This stuff isn’t cheap to replace!

So far there’s a new helmet, the dental repair, co-pays for the ambulance ride and for the ER, opioid pain medicine, a second sling (they need to be laundered), more medicine for opioid side effects, another co-pay yesterday for the ortho-MD consultation.

Then there’s lost productivity (I am self-employed) and the upcoming costs of surgery.

It adds up.

But I am enormously thankful for the Commonwealth’s affordable socialized healthcare plan, without which things would be real bad.

Chest shoulder x-ray

Today the orthopeds took a new snapshot of the shoulder.

Now that the swelling is gone, you can see the broken end of the inboard part of the bone poking the skin way up, just like the X-ray suggests.

Faced with this image the ortho-MD said it’s not likely to put itself back together and metalwork is needed.

They rescheduled some jobs in the body shop for me so he can screw in some sheet metal on Tuesday next week.

Now it’s looking like mid to late november before my next ride.

Tuesday: teeth

October 6, 2010

It cost $159 to patch up my chipped front tooth.

Bell offers $30 off the MSRP of a helmet if you crashed your old Bell. Free shipping and no sales tax.

It’s not really a better deal than at many online discounters but I took it anyway.

It will be a color match with my new racing bike that’s currently at the paint shop.

Saturday: Crash analysis

October 2, 2010

Subjective crash description

Around 10.45 am on Thursday Sep 30 2010 in good driving conditions I was riding beside the golf coarse. It’s a wide road with two travel lanes. I rode in the margin, which is a good size. This section of the road is straight.

I was riding probably between 23 and 25 mph (targeting 90% FTP).

The incident happened extremely fast, so fast that I have been able to recall very little about it at any time after. What follows is all I have.

I am sure that I heard a squirrel scream. It’s an uncommon sound and very distinctive. I learned it well in the spring when squirrels were fighting in the tree in my back yard.

I believe I saw a squirrel at the same time as hearing the scream. The memory is not clear. I recall knowing, in the moments immediately after the crash, that I had seen a squirrel but I quickly lost the visual memory.

My memory of the crash itself is that everything happened at once, in an instant, without sequence or temporal separation: squirrel, scream, crashing, pain.

Spoke nipple with squirrel fuzz

I am sure that I did not use the brakes.

I moved as quickly as I could away from the travel lanes and sat on the verge. I saw that the bike was about 20 meters farther down the road.

I did not see the squirrel after the crash.

Physical evidence

The helmet has indents and scrape marks on the left side running in the direction from the crown of my head to my ear. There are four cracks in the foam between the front and the middle of the left side.

Downtube with squirrel fuzz

I sustained a bruise and slight abrasion on my left temple, a clavicle fracture, moderate abrasion (road rash) on my back over my left scapula and small wounds on my left hand and elbow.

There is a tuft of squirrel fur stuck in a spoke nipple of the front wheel. It is a 16-spoke low-profile wheel so there is plenty space for a squirrel to get into or through the wheel. There are squirrel hairs on the under-side of the down tube of the frame about eight inches from the head tube, hairs also on the inside left of the fork and on the inside left of the front brake caliper.

Brake caliper with squirrel fuzz

There are two new and distinct scratches trough the paint down to the primer on the under-side of the down tube of the frame about four inches from the head tube.

There are significant scrape marks on the right side of the heel of both of my shoes.

Piecing it together

A squirrel jumped out of the grass/shrubs/trees to the right of the road and got entangled in my front wheel. It jammed the front wheel during the wheel’s next half rotation. (At 23 mph the wheel turns 5 times a second.) With the front wheel locked and skidding, I was launched over the bars.

I probably hit the ground on the left side of my head and my left shoulder. Then, while sliding down the road, I rolled onto my back, getting the abrasion on my left scapula during the slide/roll. I was still sliding when my feet met the road, giving both shoes the scrapes on their heels.

As I was launched over the bars, the rear of the bicycle would have been lifted up and over the front wheel. At some point I separated safely from the (Keo) pedals and the bicycle passed over me, met the road and slid a lot farther than I did.

Smacked down by a squirrel

October 1, 2010

The squirrel screamed but I did not. Have you ever heard a squirrel scream? They don’t do it often but it’s quite something when they do.

It jumped out of the golf course in front of, or, perhaps more likely, into the front wheel and I went over. How does such a small animal crash a cyclist? It happed so fast the question remains unanswered; though I have learned that it is possible whereas I would have been skeptical beforehand.

The bicycle skidded west a lot further than I did down Newton St but we were both on the verge with a good margin to the traffic. EMS arrived after I had called and asked S.O. to come rescue me. I told the paramedics I wanted to ride to the ER with her but they vetoed that after looking at my helmet. A policeman kindly offered to take my bicycle to the fire house around the corner. It didn’t seem to be in bad shape but I didn’t really look at it.

Chest and shoulder x-ray

I was discharged after about 5 hours with my arm in sling and this picture of my fracture. I saw the problem only after it was explained to me that the two bones at the top center-left were supposed to be one.

After all that racing I did, all those racing horror stories I heard, and all those crashes in the pro pelotons I watched — I get smacked down by a squirrel. Absurd.

I saw no sign of it after the crash. I wonder if it is doing any better than me.

Selle SMP saddle

September 10, 2010

A new comment to an old post about Bontrager saddles reminds me I should describe the outcome of my saddle search: Selle SMP Lite209.

I’ve had it a year or so and it works for me doing exactly what I needed. Issues with squashed family assets are gone and I am comfortable.

But it’s not for everyone. It is ugly, heavy and scandalously expensive. So why?

People ride the Selle SMP saddle because they have to.

There are no trends to discern in saddle usage. With pedals people generally choose Keo, Shimano or Speedplay so its a good bet that those are the best products. Similarly with shoes: Sidi, Shimano and Specialized. But with saddles it seems everyone has distinct needs and preferences. You can’t take your cue from what others ride.

Among those distinct needs and preferences, SMP addresses one specifically. If gives complete relief of the pressure of the soft tissue on the middle of the saddle where a typical slotted saddle does not.

If that’s the question then SMP might be the answer.

Next problem: it comes in 7 different sizes. The brochure has the specs. Each has its own width, length, shape in profile and section and padding design. Choosing among them on that basis is like trying to guess your own eye prescription. I doubt your LBS has even a few of them for you to try. I don’t have any clever ideas.

Then as the shape and size is rather odd so positioning is different from other saddles and will take some experimentation. Read the instructions for useful tips. It has nice long rails which help.

I feel very stable on it. The shape seems to provide a solid basis for reaction against pedaling forces of any kind.

Quality appears to be very nice. I think it will last. I hope so. I like this saddle a lot.

Flats and tires

December 27, 2009

First, the four main kinds of flat:

1 – Pinch

Ride over a pot-hole, stone or something with sufficient force to compress the tire all the way to the rim and the tube gets pinched hard between tire and rim. This often leads to two holes in the tube. It’s not uncommon to get a pinch flat in both front and rear if one rides fast over a serious hazard.

Only clinchers with inner tubes are susceptible. Tubulars and tubeless tires don’t get pinch flats.

Pinch flats are the most serious threat when racing on rough roads, such as unpaved roads, cobbles, or bad pavement. You can’t avoid all the hazards when racing and you can’t hop over them all either. Hence on spring classics like Paris-Roubaix, standard equipment is tubulars on traditional strong alloy rims. In 2009, the Zipp 303 was revised to be stronger and much wider making it an aero carbon wheel suitable for these races.

Tough, armored, low-thread count tires (e.g. Specialized Armadillo, Continental Gatorskin or Bontrager Hardcase) are no better against pinch flats than other tires. The only protection against a pinch flat is the air in the tire. A 28 mm tire at 100 psi has the same resistance to pinch flats as a 23 mm tire at 120 psi but the 28 mm tire will be more comfy on those bumpy races.

2 – Cut

When a sharp edged piece of metal, stone or glass makes a cut across the tire it can also cut the tube or it can make a large enough hole in the tire for the tube to protrude and rupture. A cut is not the same as a puncture.

Tires that better resist cuts have low per-inch thread count in the carcass, which allows the threads to be made tougher, and they include armor layers. However, low thread count makes a tire less flexible and thus less resistant to punctures while increasing rolling resistance. These tires are also relatively heavy.

So in relation to high thread-count racing tires, the trade-off is good cut resistance in return for a speed reduction (due to both weight and rolling resistance) and reduced puncture resistance.

When repairing a big cut in the field, a tire boot is a temporary repair that will let you finish your ride. For boots, I carry with my patch kit pieces of old tire cut to about 20 mm square. The boot goes between the tube and the hole in the tire to prevent the tube from protruding when inflated. Folded-up currency works too. If the tire needs a boot then it should be replaced when convenient.

3 – Puncture

A puncture is when a sharp-pointed spike pierces the tire and tube. Culprits can be thorns, sharp-pointed nails or screws, etc. Think of the difference between a cut and a puncture as the difference between slicing a baguette with a knife versus sticking it with a needle.

Flexible, high thread-count tires are more resistant to punctures because they can deform around the object better than a stiff tire. The stiff tire presents a relatively rigid surface to the spike ,which is more likely to push through than it is with the soft tire. That’s why the substantial armor layers (e.g. Kevlar belt) are important in low thread-count tires, although they add to weight and rolling resistance.

4 – Tube failure

This is sadly a very common cause of a flat. The tube simply fails. Professional bike mechanics know how frequently new inner tubes fail. But a tube can fail at any time during its working life and its failure rate increases with age. A flat that seems to have no cause may be for this reason — just a bad tube. Tubular and tubeless riders are free of this problem.

Like any rubber product, tubes decay with time so it’s best to have fresh tubes around rather than old stock. Read Lennard Zinn on aging rubber. I once got two pinch flats on the Tandem and found that two of the three spare tubes I had with me had gone crusty with age.

One way that tubes often fail is where the value stem attaches to the rubber. A smooth rather than threaded valve stem reduces the stress on this joint when using a Silca pump head (or similar).

What kind of tire to use?

Naturally, that depends on the application. Here are my personal opinions. I use clinchers with tubes.

Training: I use a wide, low thread-count, well armored tire because cuts seem to be more common that punctures around where I live in New England. They are slow but that doesn’t matter in training. When training in a group, I’m working harder than those using their racing equipment and get a better workout. Come race day when I use the racing gear, I have a nice boost that they won’t get.

I’ve had good luck with Bontrager “Race Lite Hardcase”. They are neither race nor light tires but they sure have a hard case. Gatorskin and Armadillo are similar. I use these on traditional wheels with plenty of spokes throughout the long New England winter.

Normal Road Racing or group rides when I need competitive speed: I use the softest, most flexible tires. They are fastest and, for a given width, the most comfortable. Vittoria Evo Open Corsa CX and Veloflex Pavé, which both use of cotton in the carcass threads, are my favorites. (Specialized’s “Open Tubular” tires are similar, being made by Vittoria.) Conti, Michelin and Hutchinson tires are stiff in comparison.

Rough and unsurfaced road racing: Using armored, low thread-count tires like the Armadillo or Gatorskin affords no extra protection against pinch flats, which are the biggest threat on these races. So the trade-off between these and flexy high thread-count tires is cut resistance (armored) versus speed and puncture resistance (flexy). I choose the latter.

On rough and bumpy surfaces, tire flexibility is important for speed. Every time a tire bounces off the road surface the bicycle loses forwards momentum when it lands. So a flexible tire will be faster than a stiff tire that’s more inclined to bounce. And a wider tire at lower pressure can be faster than a skinny at higher pressure since the wider tire won’t bounce around so much. 27 mm race tubulars exist for a reason.

I’d like to use Vittoria Pavé Evo CG 27 mm tubulars on Zipp 303 rims but I have neither the money nor the team support car to help me if I flat. So I use instead flexible high thread-count clinchers. It’s unfortunate there aren’t many with substantial width. Vittoria has the Evo Open Corsa CX in 25 mm and the Vittoria Pavé in 24 mm. There’s also the 25 mm Diamante Pro Light which is significantly lighter than the Corsa CX or Pavé though it’s less flexible.

Some people talk about reducing tire pressure on these races. This improves comfort while seriously increasing the pinch-flat risk. I wouldn’t do it unless also switching to a wider tire. I use the same inflation I do on normal roads.


I got a disappointing result of 5th place and 344 miles (my goal was 400) while noting several excuses including weather delays, a slow wheel change after flatting a tubular, a slow cassette replacement, a slow spoke repair and replacement of a faulty tail light that together kept me off the course for a lot of time. And for the first 10 hours or so I didn’t seem to be properly fit.

Race description

The 12- and 24-hour races both started at 8am on Saturday July 11th and finished respectively 12 and 24 hours later. The course is a 32.5 mile loop with one significant climb up Beacon Hill and otherwise flat to rolling. Drafting is not allowed. You keep riding around and around the loop and the rider to cover the most miles wins.

Beacon Hill seems no big deal at the start. It’s one mile of about 4-5% average, including about a quarter mile of 8-10%, followed by another mile of gentle climbing. After about 10 runs up it is a much bigger deal than it was.

The 12-hour race

And in the 12-hour race the hill was decisive. The climb starts 2 miles after the start/finish checkpoint, where many people set up the supplies and have a helper. At close to 8pm, 2-time solo RAAM finisher Rob Morlock led ultra-marathon neophyte Sven Stoltz through the start/finish. From there, Sven chased over the first 2 miles and positioned himself about 50 yards behind Rob on the climb. Then Sven attacked on the gentle second mile of the climb, passed Rob who couldn’t match speed and was soon recorded at 1 mile ahead by the end at 8pm. You don’t always get a close finish in these kinds of races.

Not to detract from Rob’s result (in a race like this it was equivalent to a photo finish in a sprint), it was a brilliant debut from my friend Sven, whom you might meet sometimes on the Quad rides. 236.50 miles in 12 hours is 19.71 mph! Remember that’s not drafting and not stopping the clock when the bike is stopped like a cycle computer usually does. I wonder if, with less adverse weather and more experience in these events, Sven could better Sandy Whittlesey’s course record of 250.3 miles.

Also of note is that another well know Boston-area rider David Lafferty came in third with 227.5 miles, course record for a fixed-gear bicycle. (Boston’s messenger-wannabe fyxomatosis sufferers can suck on that!)

My 24-hour race

But I was in the 24-hour race which started at the same time as the 12-hour but finished 12 hours after at 8am. I started close to last because I was absolutely determined to ride relatively slowly for the first lap and not get caught up in the excitement and exuberant speed that characterizes the start. I had been warned over and over by Melinda Lyon, 24-hour women’s course record holder, to pace it gently early on. Nevertheless I expected to pass more of riders during the first 3 laps. The first clue that I was not fit was that I didn’t.

After 3 laps I was in terrible shape and needed to rest. I don’t know what was wrong though I have hypothesis — it’s a long story but, in short, my guess is chronic dehydration since the weather warmed up around the end of June and possibly related to some remaining diabetes insipidus (i.e. my kidneys aren’t working as well as they should) from my problems in 2007-8.

I did a 60-80 mile fastish ride most weekends in the winter and that picked up to 100-130 mile rides since April. Being clapped out after 3 laps at a moderate speed showed something was really wrong.

Diet and recovery

I switched food at that point from high-tech overpriced sports drinks and gels to real food and drink. Potato chips and coca-cola helped greatly. It was silly of me to not follow my own advice from the start. (Sven eventually relied on the same formula in his ride too.)

After a rest, change of clothes and a turkey sandwich I began lap 4 feeling pretty good and started to enjoy the ride a bit. But in the last few miles of that lap the same abject grottiness came over me again. So I took another slightly shorter food rest.

A few miles into the 4th lap I crossed 100 miles at exactly 2pm which gave me an average speed that would get me to my goal of 400 miles if I maintained it. That was disappointing since lap times don’t generally get any faster over the course of a 24-hour race. Towards the end of the 3rd lap I had noted a very satisfactory average speed so I must have stopped for a long time at that first rest.

I lost count of laps after the 5th so I don’t know which of the following events happened when. But with the change of diet, more cola, water, chips and sandwiches I was feeling stronger and ride more comfortably. Then the technical problems began.

Technical problems

I flatted about 2 miles from the start/finish. A big fat rusty sheet metal screw with washer all the way in my nearly new Vittoria CX tubular front tire (those things aren’t cheap!). I had to unscrew it to get it out. There was sealant in the tire so I tried inflating it but it held pressure for only a few seconds. (Now that I think of it, if I had left the screw in perhaps the sealant would have worked.) Being so close to base, it wasn’t worth putting on the spare tire so I called Eva, my beloved wife and support crew, to get my spare wheels ready and rode very slowly back to the car.

Next problem was that, as the rain started, the SRAM Open Glide cassette started to malfunction. I had noted intermittent problems with it in the past and I had though about swapping this cassette with a Shimano while preparing for the race but didn’t (rats!). I rode two laps using only the biggest 4 cogs, the others performing so bad that I was afraid the chain wouldn’t take it. After that I swapped the cassette with the Shimano from the tubular wheels I started the race on. A big delay.

Another problem was a broken spoke on the rear non-drive side. Thankfully I didn’t notice it out on the road or I might have tried to fix it out in the dark and rain. It took ages to get the tire, tube and tape off, replace the nipple and spoke and reassemble/adjust everything. The hubs and rims on these Neuvation wheels seem solid but this event confirmed my doubts about their no-name spokes and dubious-looking aluminum (i.e. not brass) nipples.

Next failure was the Planet Bike Superflash I had on the back. It’s a great performer when it works but it started to turn itself on and off at will, apparently cycling through its modes. (I had another rear light on, a Cateye, so I wasn’t in grave danger.) While I tried to fix it at the start/finish check, John, the race official, mentioned he had some of the same model available for sale. I bought one.

And my Polar CS200 computer/HRM failed owing to the rain. (It has since recovered.)

Considering the result

Here’s the most annoying thing in all this: as the rain started in the evening I was starting to ride well and really enjoy myself out on the bike. I continued to get better through night and, while I was on the bike, I was having a really good time, feeling good and soaking up all the unfamiliar sights and sounds of overnight riding in the countryside. I picked up speed relative to the first hundred miles and could probably have made my goal of 400 miles if I hadn’t had so many technical problems. But they just kept on coming.

The last lap and a half were hard going. On the previous evening I had steeled myself to do the best I could despite the problems and I paced myself to ride to my limit at 8am. I paced it about right and gave it my all on the last half lap so I was really ragged at the very end. It was a relief when John picked me up in his van and drove the last 7 or 8 miles.

So I have to address the question: why was I riding on racing equipment rather than something more conservative? That’s a very good question that I’ll maybe answer in full in another blog post. In short, it was just a fancy, a whim, though one I’ve harbored for two years, and I’ve learned my lesson: a broken bike is not a fast bike and support vehicles are a necessary part of cycle racing because racing equipment is delicate. Unsupported long distance riders, even many of the fastest in the world, e.g. Sandy Whittlesey and Melinda Lyon, both course record holders as I already mentioned, use more conservative, heavier gear.


It was very hot and humid for most of the day with a stiff southerly wind which offered little advantage going north on the way out but slowed me down to 10-15 mph coming south along the Hudson on the return. The wind let up somewhat as the rain came in the evening. There were two big downpours and I was lucky to be fixing some problem under the canopy at the start/finish for one of them. The other downpour was much more fun.

I left the sort/finish some time after midnight with light, on-and-off rain, distant lightning lighting the sky and landscape but no thunder. The storm came gradually closer. Eventually I became a bit anxious. Around mile 15, shortly before the half-way checkpoint and exactly as I got to the traffic light at 32 and Bluebird, the clouds opened and I headed for cover at the gas station there. The roof of the Stewarts Shop there provided cover under which there was a bench for me to sit and watch the storm. Perfect timing! And thanks for the accommodations, Stewart. The sky put on quite a show, one of the best I’ve every seen, with several ground lightning strikes within a quarter mile, shattering thunder and rain so heavy I’d be scared to drive a car in it, let alone cycle. As the storm moved off to the east I set off and met up with the unlucky official at the half-way checkpoint who had stood under a modest canopy through the storm. (He shared some coffee with me. Thanks! I’m sorry I can’t remember your name.)

Specific memories

The freight train passing through Gansevoort blowing it’s whistle, narrowly avoiding some critter on the road that turned out to be a skunk, intrepid frogs (it was a very wet night), slugs in sufficient number to clog my rear brake caliper, several high-performance cats sprinting across the landscape, swirling fog around dawn, the sun appearing suddenly through the fog perfectly framed straight ahead just above the horizon, watching my first shadow of the morning riding beside me along the Hudson River.

Concluding thoughts

Would I do it again? Hard to say. Part of me wants to go back and get my 400 miles, which I’m now sure I can do. Another part says there are many ways to have more fun on a bicycle. Repeating the loop is less fun than doing one long loop or out-and-back. That part of New York is very nice but not so nice I want to do it 11, 12 or 13 times.

No drafting is really antisocial. The rules say you’re not even allowed to ride side-by-side during daylight. And the 10 meter separation rule makes riding near people with about the same average speed really annoying — you keep passing one-another since people’s instantaneous speeds vary in individual ways and that makes it hard to keep a steady effort.

So while this particular cycling discipline is not my favorite, I did enjoy the evening, night and morning riding and I hanker to do better after this disappointing result.

i was in the 4/5 35+ race. the pace was pretty strong and i’m glad there were downhill stretches between the ups. it’s 63 miles with very little flat. nice course with good quality surfaces and safe wide downhills.

by 25 miles in there were only about a dozen riders left in the group i was in. having kept close the the front, i was under impression it was the lead group. at 35 miles i got a flat and pulled over to wait for the support vehicle. it never came.

eventually the support for the 4/5 open race drove by without acknowledging me. later the women came by and a vehicle stopped. an official said she had no support with her but took my number and said the wheel truck is only a minute behind. it too blew past me.

it seems that the error i made was to misconstrue the organizers’ promise of support, as stated in the flyer and then explained to us before the start of the race. i spoke to an official after the race and he explained that the support vehicle only supports the race leaders and vehicles aren’t supposed to help riders in other races.

so there must have been a break ahead of us that i was unaware of. though i rode near the front (i thought) until i flatted i didn’t see them go and i didn’t see the support vehicle pass. i guess it must have been a small number of riders in the lead group.

thus in a relentlessly hilly race like quabbin, in which the field necessarily gets strung out, it seems that when they say that support is provided, this has to be construed as meaning that no support is provided to 95% of the riders. unless confident of being in the money, you must assume that you’re on your own.

i wish i had known that in advance.

anyway, i chased the women’s support truck for 8 miles on a flat without catching it. i stopped to talk to the policeman at the turn in hardwick and asked if there was a way to contact the support crews. he said he had no idea and bemoaned that he had been completely unprepared, that nothing had been explained to him.

a back-marker from the 4/5 open race came past then and offered me co2. i remembered that i had sealant in my tires so i accepted and it worked. the tire stayed inflated to the finish. i’m very grateful for that. i rode on my own except for about the last 8 miles with one of women from the group i passed.

my other error was: forgetting to get the 3-hour bottle of perpetuem out of the cooler box before going to the start line. with spending half an hour waiting for imagined support i was out of water with more than an hour of hot riding to go and very thirsty. 3 bottles was not enough. i was getting bonkers towards the end. i have only myself to blame for that dumb error.

astonishingly, the results put me 60th out of 70 starters and 67 finishers, 45 minutes behind the winner. i though my ride was bad enough; i’d love to hear the stories of the 6 behind me.

Bontrager inForm RXL saddle review

Summary: I tried out a Bontrager inForm RXL saddle for two weeks and took it on two 70+ mile rides. It was ok on short rides but after about 40 miles it started to hurt. By the end of the two long rides I was hurt so bad I needed a couple of days to recover. The saddle also has a fairly slippery cover that I also found undesirable. I prefer a saddle that presents more resistance to lateral forces so I don’t slide around unexpectedly.

Background and requirements: I am 44 years old, male, with 40+ years cycling experience. I ride long distance events and recently started road racing. On my long distance comfort bike I usually ride a Brooks B17. It is generally comfy but puts too much pressure on the perineum when riding low on the drop or on aero bars. I can start to feel my family assets go numb after only about 100 miles on a B17. That’s ok if I’m in no hurry because I can sit up more but I’m planning on riding the Saratoga 24-hour time trial this July and would like to do 400 miles if I can. A B17 isn’t going to work for that. I need a saddle that will be comfortable for 24 hours with a lot of that spent low on the drops or aero bars.

My racing bike has a Specialized Toupé saddle that is pretty good but also not comfortable enough for long rides. After about 80 miles the tissue under my public arch (the bone cyclists sit on) gets sore. So I’m looking to solve that problem too.

I was interested in the Bontrager inForm because of their claim to have put some formal scientific study into the physiology and biomechanics relating to saddle design. I was also attracted by their 90-day trial period. I was measured and chose the RXL medium width. It was good as far as reducing pressure on the perineum was concerned. The problem, like the Toupé, was with the tissue under the public arch. I became so sore after about 40 miles on both the longer rides that I found myself standing far too often just to relieve the pressure. The pain was present for a couple of days after both rides. It is a wonder that anyone could achieve such an uncomfortable saddle design. I returned it.

So I’m still looking for the right saddle. Fizik Airone has many followers, perhaps the Tri version. And I was recommended Sella Italia Flite Gel Flow and SLC Gel Flow. Any other ideas? Trial and error can get expensive in this game.

Recovering from lithium

March 25, 2009

In late August 2008 I consulted my GP about the Lithium, frequent urination, dehydration and associated symptoms. He knew a lot about lithium-related diabetes insipidus (which means watery pee) and has several patients on lithium with the side effect.

He considered my theory that lithium was responsible for loss of athletic performance plausible given that the symptoms began when I started taking the drug and that dehydration can produce these symptoms. His view was that putting up with these urinary problems as an active 44 year old man was not a good choice. For an old person who mostly sits at home, perhaps the decision would be different but for a person with decades of active life ahead it’s not a good way to live.

I took a few other factors into consideration. The effects of lithium on the kidneys may get worse with duration of treatment. The effects may be only partially reversible or not at all with the chances of recovery worsening with treatment duration. Moreover, cycling is beneficial to my mental health: the flow, the accomplishments, the fun. And it’s the closest thing to meditation that I’ve experienced – it changes my mental state.

My GP advised that I try another mood stabilizer but warned me not to stop the lithium without consulting with my shrink.

So I stopped taking lithium immediately without consulting my shrink. I’m like that sometimes. It was a mistake. I don’t recommend it. I became really depressed very quickly and ended up back at my shrink in a couple of weeks with my tail between my legs.

She offered either valproate or trilptal. Valproate appears to be more effective but has worse side effects. Trileptal doesn’t look all that impressive from the trials data but it doesn’t have the threat of serious weight gain. I chose Trileptal.

At low dose made me irritable, anxious, jumpy, easily angered and sometimes confused. So we decided to try a higher dose which made these side effects even worse and made thinking quite hard at times. Then we switched to valproate.

The trileptal side effects went away and I started to feel myself again. Depressed. Mild to moderate depression was my baseline condition by now. It had been like that for about three years. But I wanted to give it time to see if the valproate was working as a mood stabilizer before adding an antidepressant. What’s happened mood-wise since then is a story for another blog entry.

But the main point for this story is that about 6 weeks after quitting lithium, I noticed that my cycling performance was improving. Then it improved quickly over the next two or three weeks, after which I had a couple of rides that confirmed that I was back on form. I was pretty much back to my former condition. Since I’d never quit training, my legs and cardio system were still strong and it seems that all I needed was for my kidneys to recover so I could get my hydration back to normal.

That was back in October and was very encouraging. I’ve kept the training up over the winter and I’m planning to start racing in a couple of weeks and have plans to ride the Saratoga 24-hour time trial in July.

D2R2 really delivers

August 26, 2008

  • Photo gallery below, after my comments

I first heard about D2R2 while riding a brevet in 2006. I think it was the BBS 400 km. I was with two riders who spoke of it. I think they were Ted Lapinski and Russ Loomis. They talked about the ardors and cruelty of the ride, the relentlessly steep rough roads, the pain and suffering, the exorbitant length and breadth of the thing, the sadism and masochism, and the DNF rate. I listened while they went on. And on. And I listened on. Eventually I had some sort of a brain malfunction, perhaps an overload of the brag detection centers, and I blurted out, “So why would anyone do this other than to prove how much pain and hardship he can endure? Is that the whole point of it?” I think it was something like that.

Ted, I think it was, corrected me. I had it all wrong. It’s a beautiful ride, one of the nicest in the region, one of the nicest he’s done. The views – splendid; the roads – quiet; the terrain – varied; the sights – all overwhelmingly picturesque. I immediately regretted my outburst and made apologetic sounds (uh huh, mm mmm, right, yeah) as though I understood. Since then I heard a lot more riders talk about D2R2, usually about its vicious brutality.

I didn’t get to ride D2R2 in 2006 or 7 but this year, 8, I did. Clearly I was going to ride the 100 km variant. I wasn’t going to spoil what sounds like a very enjoyable ride by choosing the 170 km death march. I know how my mind works: concern about finishing would cause me to focus on the difficulties and finishing and would distract me from enjoying the ride. I don’t need to drive a gasoline-fueled motor car four and a half hours round trip  from Boston for that. Besides, the nine o’clock start for the 100 km is quite civilized.

So what can I tell you about the ride besides the already well known? I used a road bike with 35 mm cyclocross tires, standard Shimano triple (30t granny) and 12-27 cassette. It was fine. I used the 30/27 ratio a lot. I put SPD pedals on for this ride but I’d probably have been alright with KEO too. I unclipped on the climbs only twice. Once, when a stick got caught in my chain-set and the chain dropped off inwards. The other time, close to the first climb, was more educational.

There was a tight group at the front on the flat roads before the first climb. They made me nervous. It was like I feel on CRW centauries – too many of the riders (a few is enough) in the front group looked more eager stay attached than skilled. There were a lot of skinny tires in that group. I let a gap develop without going so slow that I got swamped by those behind me. In short, I wanted some space. But the gap wasn’t enough. On the first climb, which, in the D2R2 genre, is steep and rough, the lead group got off and walked. It only takes a few riders to put a foot down (and discover, teetering, that they can’t get stated again) to block the road. I slowed down as much as I could and looked for a gap to get through. One opened and I went for it, only for another cyclist to ride into it ahead of me stop, right there, to get off and walk. Sigh.

After that I spent way too much of my attention on other riders rather than on enjoying where I was and what I was doing. Things only settled down in terms of overcrowding after the first water stop.

Lesson learned: give the leaders a few minutes head start. Or ride the route some other day.

D2R2 is a swell ride. Really lovely. It’s picturesque to the point of absurdity in places: vistas seemingly composed for the photo shoots of exaggeratedly pastoral picture postcards and glossy Vermont tourist calendars; the sort of views that flat-landers might sprinkle croissant crumbs over in the Sunday Boston Globe while reading the tips on where and when to find the best leaf-peeping.

Also remarkable is how the route avoids roads with much traffic. This was impressive. We touched Route 2 briefly and that was about it. But beware: these dirt roads are not entirely devoid of traffic and some of the locals are fast. Don’t assume and don’t, as I witnessed a couple of times, take a blind bend riding fast downhill on the left.

Anyway, I loved it. Immensely. D2R2 really delivers. I want to do it again soon when leaves are turning.

I recommend it to anyone who’s ok with steep climbs and rough dirt roads and who likes overlooks with old-timey country goodness. Don’t let the D2R2 war stories put you off – it’s not that hard. Nor do I think that’s what this ride is about. Certainly the 100 km route isn’t. It’s relatively hilly by Massachusetts standards in that there is proportionately less flat and gentle riding than is typical. But it’s far from mountainous and none of the climbs are long.



On July 5th 2008, 5 cyclists including myself joined Melinda Lyon on a very lovely bike ride of her design. It was 83 miles with about 20 of them on unpaved surfaces ranging from decent dirt roads to rivers deeper than my knees and stuff I probably wouldn’t be able to do even on my mountain bike.

It was one of the most enjoyable bike rides I’ve done. The route took in the best and the variety of beauty available in that corner of Massachusetts. The roads ranged from nice for cycling to top-notch. The off-road stuff was entirely away from traffic and, it seemed, hardly used (why not?). Among us, only Ted had a mountain bike, the rest on road bikes with wide knobby tires. Young John made it through the tricky bits on his Surly LHT, a touring bike with absurdly long wheelbase, much better than the rest of us. We took the whole thing at a gentle pace that caused no stress. I had a really swell time. I hope Melinda runs it again in the fall.

The ride passed by the famous Clam Box in Ipswitch. Here’s a high-res of the parking-lot scene: click the thumbnail.


Since I published my fairly optimistic May 27 2008 post on this topic, I’ve a few observations and thoughts to add.

1. It takes considerable discipline to keep up with my drinking, especially now the hot weather is here. (I don’t like to use the central AC if i don’t need to. I just strip to my shorts when it’s hot.) For a couple of days I attached a 45 min timer to a pint bottle, and that worked, but…

2. It seems to be quite easy in hot weather to wake up dehydrated. I have a pint every time I pee at night but I guess you can evaporate quite a lot during 8 hours in bed. Don’t really want to

3. I’ve had several long rides and it seems quite feasible to maintain hydration. If I drink at least 1.5 oz/mi or 2+ in hot weather then I don’t seem to be dehydrated at the end. I have the impression that the kidneys take a break on their polyuria craze while exercising.

4. I’ve had some very good rides and no really bad ones since I upped the drinking. But there have been several on which it seemed as though I was staring at the end…

If a well rested and prepared cyclist goes out for a ride, she or he can ride very hard for a couple of hours. After that, things slow down and effort level (as monitored by heart rate) diminishes as though approaching a steady state of roughly 65-70% of max heart rate as the limit of what can be sustained. After many hours riding, huffing and puffing up a hill and enduring considerable muscle pain, you can get it a little bit higher than that. But that compares with taking a similar hill at the start of the ride much faster and with ease at 90-95% max HR.

The difference, as I understand it, very roughly, is that at the beginning you have the glycogen reserves available which can be metabolized quickly and anaerobically. At the end you have to rely on metabolizing fat aerobically. Some of your muscle cells are the type that burns glycogen, other fibers burn fat, and some others can do a bit of both. So at the beginning of the ride you can use all your leg muscle as both fuels are available, at the end only the fat burners are working.

Sustainable HR depending on ride durationI figure effort level using heart rate. There’s a lot you can read about on the web about why that’s reasonable. The graph shows my best guess, based on experience, how my sustainable heart rate depends on ride duration, which is on a log time scale from 10 seconds to 100 hours (assuming I’m well warmed up for the short rides).

I’ve had several rides recently when I felt like I was starting at the end of a ride. The heart rate I could sustain at the beginning of the ride was around 145 to 155. There were no other issues. I recently rode, for the fifth time overall, the Boston Brevet Series 300 km in 12:24, 16 minutes faster than my previous best. So I’m riding fairly well but it’s definitely different.

It feels and seems as though I’m starting my rides with depleted glycogen reserve. And I think this may be the case. My suspicion is that lithium produces chronic dehydration which, among other things, cripples the glycogen recovery between rides.

A great deal of discussion, both enlightening and occluding, envelops the topic of nutrition for long distance cyclists but you can take it from me that it is a very good idea. There is a bit of a tendency for the discourse to become rather technical. Even the word “nutrition” borders on the esoteric. I think we can more usefully call it “eating and drinking” instead. And again my view is that both are highly advisable.

That advice, I suppose, is already in the domain of controversy. Some cyclists choose only to drink and shun eating. There are a good few magic potions on the market (if their sales blurbs are to be believed, enchantment has to be involved) purporting to be a good replacement for food. If you happen to dislike eating food then this approach – soluble pulverized energy bars, as far as I can tell – might be for you. But it seems a bit too much like watered-down baby food for me. We all make sacrifices for our sport but why should good food should be one of them?

So what then to eat? Breakfast! Pancakes with blueberries, waffles with strawberry compote, corn muffins, bagels with marmalade, English muffins with jelly, scrambled egg with home fries, corn flakes and toast, oatmeal and, with any or some combination of these, a big mug of coffee. The best long distance routes are designed to take you past a suitable diner, café or other eatery at least once every 25 miles. With luck and some planning you can have breakfast for breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner, bedtime snack, midnight snack and middle-of-the-night snack. If the brevets you’ve been riding have been designed according to some criteria other than the locations of breakfast, have a word with your RBA to see if that can’t be fixed. Suggest a few of your favorite breakfast joints.

“Fast” “food” has some convenience advantages: there’s a lot of places selling that kind of substance and sometimes the service is indeed quite rapid. But there are serious risks. A lot of cycling can alter one’s tastes to a remarkable degree. I once had a yearning for a Coca-Cola soda-pop half way through a hot hard 600 and it tasted good to me under those conditions. More than once I’ve heard rumor of healthy civilized people having eaten a Hamburg sandwich from MacDonald’s on a long ride and reporting that tasted good and was very satisfying! So clearly we have to be extremely vigilant to avoid this kind of catastrophe. I find Shaw’s comment helpful: “You can get used to anything, so you must be careful what you get used to,” (and not just in regard to cycling). I recommend careful planning of the fast food strategy in advance, preferable during a period when you aren’t cycling for a few days, writing it down and swearing in front of all your acquaintances that you have the will power to stick to it.

My strategy for the fast food is of course, breakfast! Cycling mostly in North East USA, I can take advantage of Duncan’s Donuts. I read recently that the specific stem cell mutation responsible for the metastatic growth of this orange/pink phenomenon with the Hello Kitty logotype has been identified. Perhaps that knowledge will lead to their cultivation elsewhere.

But anyway, these establishments have bagels, cookies, pastries, muffins, etc. and can even quickly make you a “breakfast sandwich” from a bagel or croissant (très chic) with egg and, if you like, sausage, designed to be eaten with one hand. Let’s go over that one more time: they have sandwiches that contain breakfast, indeed are breakfast, that can be eaten while riding a bicycle. Splendid! Moreover, they also serve, and this is of considerable importance, a perfectly respectable cup of coffee (unlike that coffee retail pestilence with the green circular logo).

Here’s a suggested routine for a stop at Duncan’s:

1. Dismount (not required if you choose the drive-through).
2. Use the bathroom (wash your hands before eating).
3. Order food you can eat while riding.
4. Now this is the tricky part: order a medium cup of coffee in a large cup. The clerk may stumble over this request so I have taken to saying the order, as Shakespeare might have endorsed, three different ways one after the other. For example: “I’d like a medium-size coffee in a large cup, please.” [Pause to assess the degree of blank stare you engender.] “So that’s your largest cup but with just a medium coffee in it.” [Pause again, if necessary.] “So there’ll be lots of space above the coffee in the cup.” Once, the clerk and I needed the mediation of the duty supervisor but that was before I perfected the three-ways order.
5. Discard any food packaging and accessories you don’t want.
6. Move the water bottle in your seat-tube cage to a jersey pocket or your saddle-bag (fits neatly in the side pocket of a Carradice, I found).
7. Put the coffee in the freed-up cage. Check the lid is secure.
8. Put the food either between your teeth or in a pocket or handlebar bag.
9. Ride off.
10. Eat the food.
11. In three to eight minutes the coffee will be at the right temperature. By this point, only a very small amount will have splashed out of the cup, if any. You may want to alternate this step of the process with the previous one.

Warning: as far as Duncan is concerned, a cup of coffee has cream and sugar in it unless otherwise specified. This sometimes catches me out. On the last leg of a recent 300, I inadvertently got a cup of their so-called “regular” coffee. I chastised myself for carelessness, drank it, and a couple of miles later I regained my strength, stride and rode like a daemon to the finish. Moral: don’t be a snob – the most exalted of gelati also has cream and sugar in it.

Helpful tip for right-handed cup-holders: use a crank with triple chain-wheels. You can comfortably ride for miles on rolling terrain shifting the front derailleur with your left hand with a cup of coffee in your right. Lefties should be all set already.

Aside from breakfast, fruit is worth mentioning. It is the other pocketable convenience food and its a whole food without the value-add manufacturing, packaging, brand name and scientific-sounding marketing copy of the so-called energy bar. The banana is popular among cyclists, for good reason, but it is fragile when properly ripe for eating. Dented, it soon becomes unappetizing and there is the problem of the peel. In a jersey pocket it stands a fair chance, if you’re not careful, of festering there until the garment goes into the wash, or possibly even beyond that point. But tossing it into the hedgerow, regardless of its rapid biodegradability (which is exactly the problem of carrying it with you), is, ipso facto, littering. Don’t be a litter lout cyclist!

So I’d like to make a few of other suggestions you might not have thought of. First, for a refreshing astringency that foils the gallons of water you’re guzzling, a pomegranate is hard to beat. These stimulating and convenient rations are very durable in pocket or bag and the peel won’t turn to mush before the end of even a 1200. You might want to practice one-handed peeling using your teeth at home beforehand. Another excellent choice: succulent and delicious, bursting with energy and tropical goodness, is the pineapple. This handsome fruit tucked in a jersey pocket will garner envy and admiration from your fellow riders. Lastly, but I warn, this is not for the beginner cyclist, is the coconut. It can be opened with a firm bonk on the cap of a steering tube or top of a quill stem. Be careful where you place your cycle computer and cue sheet in case of dribbles. This maneuver, deftly executed, will bring you respect, awe even, especially from those drafting you at the time.

I mentioned coffee already. It is in the top three of the endurance sports drinks. It is good hot or cold, satisfying and stimulating – simply one of the best drinks ever invented. I’ve already mentioned the trick of putting one of Duncan’s large cups, filled with a medium coffee, in the bottle cage on your seat tube. But there is another technique not every one knows: filling a Camelbak with iced coffee. The Camelbak was designed for effective insulation to keep your beverage cool on a hot day. If you fill it with ice (which is cheap and widely available and is free on-tap at some stores and gas stations) and then top it up with chilled coffee then you’ll have a refreshing supply of iced coffee for your ride. The larger Camelbak models can keep you in iced coffee for several hours, long enough for a hot stretch between even remote breakfast stops or contrôles without putting a foot down.

Number one on the sports drinks list is of course water. It is does the job like nothing else, it is widely available and remarkably inexpensive if you can find my favorite variety which is named “Tap Water”. (The evil absurdity of brand-name water needs no repetition here.) Many people mix their food into their water with the afore-mentioned pulverized soluble substances. When I was a beginner brevet rider I experimented with these products. I admit their marketing can be really quite persuasive. But I found that they all had one crucial property in common: they are the only food I know that becomes less palatable with the miles, rapidly and dramatically so. On Boston-Montreal-Boston 2006 I was sick of whatever enchanted Perpetuum Mobile I was imbibing by the middle of the first day. By the second, the stuff was nauseating to me, all other foods conversely having become more attractive, some perilously so (I swear I could have eaten at Taco Bell without expecting a large sum of money in compensation).

The third in the triumvirate of perfect sports drinks is beer. That this beverage becomes profoundly attractive on a long ride has a solid biological basis. It is watery and cold (at least outside of the UK), which is a great start. It has lots of carbon dioxide in solution which stimulates the heart and blood flow. And the alcohol, if taken with some food (breakfast, preferably), enters into the glycolysis pathway towards its end thus efficiently producing adenosine triphosphate or ATP which is the chemical energy source your legs use to push the pedals. Alcohol actually yields cycling oomph with less digestive effort than does breakfast. In moderation and dissolved in sufficient volumes of water (as in beer) the negative effects of alcohol are, in my experience, not perceptible.

I’ve noted that some American riders are a bit surprised at the idea that beer is a sports drink, perhaps even a little taken aback. But it’s on tap at every stop on Paris-Breast-Paris for a reason. (I had one at every stop and made very satisfactory progress as a result!) In Germany they have a drink called radler which is available everywhere. It is half beer and half lemonade (the European kind of lemonade, which is a soda-pop much like 7-Up), giving it about the same alcohol content by weight as American lite beer. The word radler means cyclist! I don’t overdo it with the beer but a little bit helps me go a long way.

So there’s my contribution the complicated, ever evolving debate on nutrition for long distance cyclists: breakfast (preferably six times a day), fruit (pomegranate, pineapple and, for the advanced rider, coconut), coffee (medium in a large cup or iced by the half gallon in a Camelbak), water (of the variety paid for in your taxes), and beer. Zum Wohl!

Riding in the burbs, boonies and exurbs in orbit around Boston, as I often do, there is ample opportunity to contemplate the nature of human behavior. In those situations I am often interested in the behavior of people driving cars. I observe, record, tally, analyze, and classify. Recognizable patterns arise. Sometimes with sufficient definition to have some predictive power. And sometimes I like to wager a hypothesis as to the cause of the patterns.

Within the broad class of drivers who’s aim appears to be to maintain strict limits on the distance between their car and the one ahead of them on the road, some are more urgent in their efforts than others. Of course, the only thing that can be achieved (on the roads I cycle on) by accelerating a car is reduction of the distance to the car ahead. But most drivers avoid colliding with that car and few will ever pass it so they just end up maintaining a certain distance. This then appears to be the goal, maintaining strict upper and lower bounds on that distance.

Thus these drivers appear to be motivated to either a) get close to a car, if they aren’t already, or b) to stay close it if they are.  I’d say that the majority of motorists in Eastern Mass. display this behavior.

Nothing new there, of course, but what’s interesting is the priority of this goal relative to other dimensions of the driving experience. Some will risk the safety of a cyclist in pursuit of this goal. This is actually quite common. By no means the majority of drivers do it but for cyclists it’s a routine experience.

Before postulating the underlying reasons for such behavior, let’s estblish some simple facts:

  1. The opportunity to pass a cyclist safely when it isn’t now is usually only a matter of seconds away.
  2. The consequences for the driver, his or her passengers or anyone else in the world of waiting those seconds are almost certainly nil. Even if the wait is 30 seconds (extraordinarily long), it’s only going to be a minute or two before the car in front has been regained, so arrival time for the journey will not be affected. Even if it were, what do 30 seconds matter?
  3. The consequences of passing a cyclist unsafely can be very serious. While the life of the cyclist may be of some concern to the driver, almost all would prefer to avoid a collision with an oncoming vehicle. Even on slow country roads the relative speed of the vehicles can easily reach 60 mph — enough cause injury (even with today’s safety technology) and cause considerable inconvenience.

So there is no incremental cost to anyone if the car passes safely as opposed to unsafely. But there is potentially high cost to driver, passengers, cyclist, other road users, emergency services, families, etc. to passing unsafely. The choice to pass unsafely is therefore irrational.

And that’s what makes it interesting. Why do people make that choice?

  • They don’t know that their driving is unsafe?
  • They feel that they are safe and don’t care about the cyclist or other drivers?
  • They feel entitled to drive without having to slow down to the speed of the vehicle in front if that vehicle is a bicycle?

I’m sure you can think of more possibilities. But in any of these three cases, the position taken is clearly unsupportable by obvious and available facts. So there’s a fair chance that a cognitive dissonance is involved.

My guess is that the core underlying cognition is a belief that one is important and that one’s journey is urgent. It’s obvious that neither is true, hence dissonance. So cognitions consonant with the core cognition of self importance are piled on: “I shouldn’t have to wait for cyclists.” “Cyclists should be on the shoulder or sidewalk.” “This is a 40 mph road.” and other such nonsense. (I’ve heard all of those from drivers, btw.)

One that I heard earlier this year really stuck with me. I was riding on a Sunday morning in the pastoral burbs arourd Acton or Westord or somewhere like that with a group of three other cyclists. The stretch of road was straight, narrow enough so a car had to cross the center line to pass, but undulating enough that you couldn’t always see what was coming the other way. We were riding in line carefully at the right, knowing that traffic wanted to pass. One car began a passing maneuver without being able to see beyond an oncoming rise in the road. It got half past us when an oncoming car emerged over the now very near crest of the rise. The passing car slowed and moved right forcing two of us to brake to make space. The oncoming car had to stop.

One of our group had a word with the driver. She declared in her defense: “But we live here!”

For a cognition to reinforce the core self-importance cognition, that’s reaching pretty far into the absurd. “But we live here!” She was perfectly serious. She was driving a Subaru.

I mention the brand of car because I’ve noticed that among the minority of drivers who choose to pass unsafely rather than safely, Subaru (Scooby-Doo as call it) and mini-vans are over represented. And I’m curious as to why.

And so finally to my outlandish conjecture. If I were living in a vinyl-sidewall house on a standard plot in a banal subdivision of a town without one decent restaurant, without a bar women can comfortably frequent, without a cinema, a theater, art gallery, with virtually no cultural or intellectual life but with plenty of churches, and I had to face that fact that I had sacrificed my foreseeable future to little more than the transportation of groceries and thankless children, I’d be pretty pissed off too. It would be hard to resolve that dissonance by adding consonant cognition. What alternative would I have? So I’d be living in constant tension and insecurity regarding my self-importance. 

Pity these Scooby-Doo and mini-van drivers. But if your out on a bicycle, take care too.

Bicycle storage

May 27, 2008

After much to-do, we finally installed the bicycle storage I had envisaged but been unable to describe to the most beloved. I think it works rather well. For an apartment of 1250 sq ft, nine bicycles, two of which are tandems, is quite a lot. This solution puts four of them into a volume of space that is otherwise little used. I have to nod my head when I stand under a front wheel but I don’t want to stand there very often so it’s no big deal.

The hooks were at the Home Despot at South Bay, Boston. I can’t find the hook on their web site. They have a big screw that requires a 5/16″ pilot hole. The hook part has a rubbery coating. We used a stud finder to locate a joist in the ceiling to screw the hooks into.

I hope the photos could be useful.

Fatigue and muscle weakness are commonly listed as possible side effects of lithium. But as far as I can tell, that’s as far as anyone takes the subject. The causal mechanisms aren’t discussed. Nor are possible management strategies. I had those side effects bad enough to be almost ready to quit lithium when I figured out what was going on. I was then able to eliminate the side effects with a very simple remedy. I am not making suggestions for anyone but this is my story and it may be interesting to those on lithium, their family and friends, and those with patients on lithium.

I began medial treatment for BPDII Dec 2006 with Lamictal, presumably because I was presenting with depression. The Lamictal modified the depression by making me irritable and agitated all the time. Whether this change of mood was due to the drug or the disease wasn’t clear initially. But by summer I’d had enough of agitation and irritability (despite a attempt to mitigate it with Seroquel) and wanted a change.

So I started lithium. We monitored side effects, plasma Li level and kidney function during the ramp up. I had the thirst at first but that went away. Otherwise, all OK.

But when I got to 900mg sustained release daily dose I started to feel fatigued, weak, lethargic, and sluggish. I was sleeping more: 9-10 hours at night plus naps in the day. I had no energy and continuously faced a strong urge to lie down on the couch. My mood was affected: I was unhappy, irritable, and mean. And my athletic performance was dismal. This was very disturbing.

I am a male, early 40’s, and a cyclist. I do long distance cycling and a little bit of racing. I am relatively good; I finished Boston-Montreal-Boston 2006 in 70hr 34min, around the top 25% in an event that attracts cyclists from all over. I finished the 2006 400km Boston Brevet in 15hr 37min first out of 54 riders, 5 min faster than the next finisher. So before I started BPD treatment, I was a decent athlete. And please trust me that I have a good idea of what kind of baseline performance I can expect.

My performance on the bike in Nov and Dec was bad. I felt tired, my legs ached, I was having no fun and I was slow. My performance was off by 30-40% in terms of power*. I was embarrassed when I went out with the buddies. I didn’t enjoy cycling. My ambitions for 2008 seemed questionable.

It seemed like I was facing a choice between lithium and cycling. If so, it was fairly clear that lithium would lose since cycling has done more for my heath and mental wellbeing than any psychodrug.

Then in early Jan 2008 it started to get better. I was thrilled. I was not back to my previous performance but I was not far off. I had some good fast rides with the troop and things looked well. My shrink, who had no idea what had been causing the fatigue, agreed with me when I said: perhaps it was an initial thing and my body had adapted. But then in Feb the fatigue returned.

In Mar, while I was still feeling bad, I stopped taking lithium for one week to see what would happen. By the end of that week I was significantly improved, not fully recovered but noticeably better. When I started the lithium again I was back where I was.

I make a note of my weight regularly and the sheet is on the bathroom wall. So it was obvious when my body weight jumped up by 2.5% when I stopped lithium, stayed there for the week and then jumped back down where it was when I resumed taking lithium.

But it was a couple of weeks before a likely explanation dawned on me. My hypothesis was that lithium was causing dehydration and that dehydration was causing my symptoms of fatigue and weakness.

So I started drinking more. I was already drinking a lot relative to typical civilians but I stepped it up. I now drink 4-5liter H2O a day (roughly a pint every 90min) when not exercising. When cycling this goes up to about 0.75 – 1liter/hr depending on temperature and effort. When I get up at night to pee, I drink some more. I felt better already the day after I started drinking like this. The symptoms were gone.

Well, almost. Occasionally I have a day when I feel the side effects again. I attribute it to falling behind on my drinking.

I’ve discussed this with my shrink, who accepts the dehydration theory, and at length with my GP. He has several patients on lithium and explained to me how it affects the kidneys.

Lithium encourages the kidneys to drain clean water out of the blood. Technically, they say that it inhibits the kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine. That’s true but that doesn’t explain the dehydration. Better started: lithium inhibits the kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine AND boosts urination. So, for example, if you are dehydrated and on lithium, you can still pee plenty of pale or clear urine. For an athlete, this is tremendously important to understand.

Like many endurance sportspeople, I was in the habit of estimating hydration by monitoring urine color, volume and frequency. But on lithium this is misleading. As my GP explained, the only thing to go on is the sense of thirst. I make an effort to pay close attention to this. It’s a new habit and not so easy to learn but I think it works.

So that’s the end of my story. However, I’m still rather disappointed that I had to figure this out on my own. My shrink didn’t suspect dehydration as the cause of my symptoms. I found no clue despite hours of searching and reading online. I found mention of fatigue and muscle weakness and I found mention of the kidney effects and the need to drink enough but nothing that connected these – nothing to warn that lithium can cause dehydration that in turn can cause fatigue, muscle weakness, irritability and lethargy.

After I resolved the issue, I searched again armed with better queries and again found no sign that this is an understood problem. My shrink accepted the theory but it seemed new to her. Considering that one of the documented effects of dehydration (2% is enough) is mood disturbance (irritability is often recorded), this seems unreasonable. Aside from the physical symptoms, lithium is causing mood problems in some patients — needlessly.

* This was estimated from heart rate. Properly prepared (rest, feeding, etc.), I can expect to be able to ride at average 165bpm for an hour. This was down to 130bpm. Taking my sitting heart rate as 55bpm, this indicates about 40% power loss.