Skipalottapullitis

It is somewhat terrifying to acknowledge that there has been a bout of Skipalottapullitis going around lately (Latin: Refusus Laborus).  Skipalottapullitis is a social disease, communicable among cyclists riding in close formation.  The mode of transmission is relatively well documented.  Typically, the disease will be spread by a host infected with the pathogen who introduces it into a peloton.  The locus (place where the infection is absorbed by the victim) for the infection tends to be at the front of the peloton, and the route of transmission is through indirect contact.

In epidemiology (the study of diseases), some diseases are spread by vectors.  Vectors are host organisms that do not exhibit any of the symptoms of the disease, but which still carry and transmit the disease.  Skipalottapullitis is never spread by vectors; the host organisms always display the relevant symptomology.

Symptoms for skipalottapullitis include:

  • Nervousness or sweating when a cyclist finds him/herself at the front of a pack actually having to work.
  • Ducking out of a rotation to avoid doing work, under circumstances where not absolutely required by fatigue.
  • Refusing to pull through when a cyclist reaches the front of the pack (this symptom usually manifests itself in less severe cases as either simply refusing to pull through (i.e. adhering to the front rider) or, in more advanced cases, it can manifest itself as trying to stay on the wheel of the front rider and pushing other riders out of the way (i.e. the double rider pull through).
  • Creating a wide array of situations where a rider does not have to do any work during a cooperative group ride.
  • Lagging towards the rear of the pack in any instance where work is likely to occur.
  • In those circumstances where an infected rider finds him/herself at the front of the pack, the rider may exhibit symptoms of confusion such as stopping pedaling, or even applying the brakes.
  • The development of hoop-adhesion syndrome (also known as wheel-sucking).

Skipalottapullitis is extremely infectious and, if left untreated, can completely ravage or even kill a peloton.  Early, aggressive treatment is required to eradicate the condition.  If the treatment is not provided, the most advanced forms of the disease can manifest themselves.  In advanced forms of the disease, even strong riders can become infected.  In such cases, the hoop-adhesion syndrome often manifests itself and riders will exhibit hoop adhesion until a sprint opportunity presents itself, at which time the riders will suddenly develop the will and ability to ride quickly, sprinting away from those who did the work to get them to the sprint point.

There are circumstances where skipalottapullitis can be advantageous, or even encouraged.  Social group rides with friends are not among those circumstances, however.  It is highly recommended that such group rides inoculate themselves against skipalottapullitis, lest it reduce the peloton to a quivering pile of 15mph knees and elbows. Inoculation consists of conversation, creation of friendships and mutual respect, and the insertion of similar social barriers that make it obvious and awkward for the disease to be transmitted.

If you, or someone you know suffers from skipalottapullitis, get help before it is too late.  Start group therapy, today.

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The Ten Thousand

A few weeks ago, I rode the Ten Thousand.  We had anticipated having a group of 5, but then the weather forecast suggested it would be really severe weather…and our group dropped down to Lenny, Tobie and I.  In contemplating whether riding was a good idea or not, Lenny said that, “To suffer is to live.”  (I realize that in the original Nietzsche, it is “to live is to suffer”, but I think Lenny said it better).  I was in.

As we rode up to Freeport the night before the ride, we were talking about the most memorable rides we had ever done.  I talked about the muddy sufferfest that was Brown County last year.  Lenny talked about a myriad of other similar experiences he had.  We both agreed that the rides which are the hardest, in the worst conditions, are the ones that are often the most amazing.

We briefly partook in a pre-ride gathering at Freeport Bicycle Company, and then hit the sack for a good night’s sleep before the ride.  In the morning, the weather forecast suggested that we would hit rain first thing in the morning, and then would either perish in a tornado, or would have moderate weather all afternoon.

We signed the incredibly well-drafted waivers, and prepared for the ride at scenic Krape Park in Freeport.

There were two ride length options–about 75 miles, and about 125 miles.  You know which one we picked.

The Moots was packed with 3 bottles (I had a 4th in my jersey).

I also had a small Tangle bag (you can see below, about 45 miles in).

For food, I had a mixed bag (literally).  I had a bag of salted cashews, a few energy bars, a few gels, and a packet of roasted and heavily salted yukon gold potatoes that the Mrs. had made for me.  (Brendan had turned me onto that option a week or two prior, and it was wonderful).  Immediately before the ride left, I downed a sandwich and a few pickles.  On the ride, I had a gel at mile 20 and started eating potatoes at mile 30.  (The picture above is at the mile 45 rest stop, where I was refilling water bottles).  Note on water: there was a water stop at 45, and gas stations at 80, so I only had to bridge 45 miles max.  I took four bottles, anticipating that I’d use 2-3 (weather dependent) and have a fourth for emergencies and/or to help other riders.  As it turned out, that strategy was perfect, and I never touched the fourth bottle.

On the rollout, it did start to rain moderately.  No wind, no lightning…just a moderate, warm rain.  Nothing to frown about.

I should note…pics are by Chad Gregory.

When we got to gravel, it was wet, but not unduly soft.  The going was good.  Here, you can see Team Axletree–me on the left, Lenny second from right, and Tobie on the right.

I brought a camera but no memory card (d’oh) so I didn’t get any pictures.  As it turned out, that was a good thing…it let me focus on the ride.

By the rest stop, we had established a good pace and knew what to expect from each other.  I had (as noted above) eaten a gel and a few potatoes.  Shortly thereafter, I finished my potatoes and had a energy bar.  I had a gel around mile 65.

We spent a good chunk of miles 20-60 with Andrea from World of Bikes.  WoBAnd was an incredibly strong rider, and held her own when we were with her.  She was also pleasant company to ride with.  She endured our karaoke and questionable humor, and held a great pace.  Her goal was to finish in 12 hours, and by the end of the day, she had done so.

The roads were amazing.  I had done a preview ride a few weeks earlier, but the 125 mile course had even more to offer.  The route was truly majestic, and had inspired choices.

Around mile 70, I started to feel like death.  I wanted nothing more than to get off of the bike.  At mile 78, I could see the town that had a gas station in it, but it really seemed like a good idea to get off of the bike and look at that town from 2 miles out for a while.  I didn’t stop or get off the bike, but only because Lenny and Tobie were pushing on.  We got into town, and I saw a gas station to our left, about 1/4 mile up the road.  I wasn’t sure if that was our stop or not, so we turned and went there.  I was desperate to get off the bike.  (On a related note, had I mentioned that most of my training rides were no longer than 70miles?)

At the gas station, I must’ve looked pretty bad.  Lenny looked at me and asked how I was.  I told him the truth–I said that I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff, and I wasn’t sure what was on the other side of the cliff.  He gave me a concerned look, and suggested that I not go over the cliff.  I downed a gatorade, a bar and a bag of salted nuts, we paused for about 5 minutes, and then got back on the bikes.

As soon as we were back on the bikes, I felt immensely better.  Much, much, much better.  In retrospect, I believe that is what they call “bonking”.  Having never done it previously, I can say that it sucks.  A little sugar and a few more calories in me, I was recharged and ready to roll.  We got back on route, and rolled past the Casey’s that was the intended stop for riders.  Since we had just stopped, we rolled past (and watched the jaws drop on other riders as they assumed we were just going to finish without stopping).

The temps were in the 80s, light wind, and relatively overcast skies–the weather was pretty ideal for riding.  (The only downside is that we were soaking wet all day from the morning’s rain, which left some weird skin abrasions on my legs, under my bibs).

We reached Hanoi Road, and rolled through under pretty good conditions.  By this point, some 95 miles in or so, we were all pretty quiet.  We would ride our own pace up the hills, and regroup at the tops.  If Tobie or I dropped off, Lenny would go back and mother hen us back together.  I can genuinely say that it was pretty amazing seeing how unfazed he was by the day’s riding.

With 15 miles to go, we saw a few other riders in the distance.  Recognizing them, it mustered up all of the remaining gusto I had left.  If we could see them, we could pass them.  I got down in the drops and poured out the rest of my energy into the pedals.  We passed them, they grabbed on for a few miles, and then they dropped off.  The last 10 miles was essentially Lenny pulling us back into town (with Tobie offering him a few respites).  I did not contribute anything to the group effort for the last 10 miles.  I was cooked.  But we did finish the last 15 miles at over 20mph average speed.

We finished in just under 10 hours elapsed time, with two five minute stops (rest stop at 45, gas station at 80).  The route was fantastic, and the ride was incredibly challenging.  I learned a great deal about myself and about what it feels like to bonk.  I also learned more about how incredible my friends are.  The Moots, in ever typical Moots fashion, was flawless and perfect all day–I couldn’t think of a single thing to change.

I don’t know how to conclude this ride report.  It was incredibly challenging–far more challenging that Almanzo, and many times harder than the Gravel Metric.  It was also incredibly rewarding.  I am unbelievably grateful that I decided to ride, and that my friends persevered and rode as well–and thankful for Chad Ament’s fantastic efforts in finding and devising such an incredible route and event.

How to finish this?  I’m already thinking about how to do it better–and faster–next year.

The Best Rides

I’ve been focusing a great deal on ‘real life’ issues of late, and haven’t been spending as much time blogging.  When I get free time to devote to bikes, I’ve been devoting it to riding, instead of writing.  I haven’t taken the time to chronicle the Ten Thousand yet, but will soon.

For now, I wanted to write about the two best rides I’ve had all year.

The first was a week ago yesterday.  An unsuspecting Saturday morning ride, rolling out of North Central Cyclery at 8am.  Rather surprisingly, there were only four riders (including me) who showed up.  The winds were very light, and we rolled out-of-town planning the route as we went.

We decided to ride as a pace ride.  Everyone took one minute pulls, and rotated through.  We held the speed up pretty high, and worked together.  The weather was perfect, there was no traffic, the roads were ideal, and the route was one we hadn’t ridden in a while.  We were all working hard, but working hard with close friends who we knew and trusted.  You could ride right on the wheel of the guy in front of you, and be confident that he wasn’t going to lead you into a hole.  It was a constant, hard effort, and the recovery between pulls was essential.

In the end we did close to 50 miles in just over two hours…inclusive of stop signs, turns, and roll-in/roll-out.  It was a perfect ride–could not have been better.  Everyone was on the same pace; there was no waiting, no bunching, no surges.  Everyone pulled their weight.  Everyone had a blast.  It was the perfect group ride.

The following Wednesday was the next best ride.  We had a good, fast group for the Wednesday Night Worlds (again from North Central Cyclery), and we rolled out with some pretty substantial winds blowing.  I was feeling good, and hung with the front group more than I am usually able to.  Coming back towards town and approaching the Alp D’Kalb, I was in a perfect position, at the back of a 6 person breakaway, with Brendan and BPaul immediately in front of me (BPaul, Brendan, me).

As we closed on the Alp, BPaul put up his right hand, holding five fingers.  He did a silent countdown to one finger, and then launched.  Brendan launched behind him, and I launched behind Brendan.  We went out so hard and fast that the rest of the group never had a chance to latch on.  BPaul did an insanely fast pull and then moved over, and then Brendan pulled to the base of the Alp.  I then pulled through and claimed the climb.  It was perfect tactics, perfect positioning, and perfect riding.

We turned onto Fairview and the pace picked up yet again.  As we were heading into the last mile before the ride goes neutral, it was Lenny, Brendan and I at the front.  I was in great position and did a pull at the front, then rotated through and got in line as Brendan and Lenny prepared to rotate through.  As I came through the rotation a second time, Brendan attacked hard, and I held his wheel.  Just as we were approaching the end, I moved left and pushed as hard as I could, past Brendan.  We were just a little short of the yellow ‘stop ahead’ sign, but someone called “Car UP!”, and I looked forward through my hypoxic tunnel to see an oncoming car in the other lane.  Discretion being the better part of valor, and as I was positioned at the left side of the lane (closest to the car), I called the sprint and dropped my pace so I could move over behind the other guys without guttering them, and without being too close to the oncoming car.  Again, it was a perfect setup, executed perfectly, with perfect results.

Not every ride is perfect, nor are my tactics always ideal.  Yesterday, I had a perfect opportunity to lead out a friend on another uphill sprint, and I launched early, leaving him hanging far too soon.  But when a ride is perfect, it is such an awesome feeling.  There are parts of rides where you get dropped…or where you’re pulling and pulling and pulling at the front and no one will pull through, where you question why it is that you’re suffering so much “for fun.”  And then you have one perfect sprint–or you see a friend find a higher gear for the first time in a long time–and it’s all worth it.  It’s not always about personal glory…in fact, there are times when setting someone else up and leading them out is more rewarding than taking a sprint yourself.

Our ‘fast’ group rides are not like some fast rides.  We’re not cutting wheels and using constant race tactics–and we have “open” and “neutral” sections that are designated (typically for safety).  When they’re neutral, we work together.  When they’re open, we work for the sprint.  When they’re done right, they’re perfect.

Environmental Wind Modeling

What if I told you that on a given race, I could predict an area where you would have a 25% reduction in drag that only you would know about in advance–where you could throw down a surprise attack and make a break?  Or conversely, if I told you that I could predict an area where there would be a 25% increase in drag that only you would know about in advance–where you could duck into a group and make someone else take the pull?

Right now, bike companies are spending untold piles of cash trying to squeeze 1% better aerodynamics out of their bikes–or even a fraction of a percent.  What if they’re leaving easy advantages on the table?

Next time you’re on a ride, pay attention to the wind as you go around obstacles.  On Wednesday, on the group ride, we had a cornering tailwind coming into town; the wind was from the Northwest, and we were headed due East.  We came into an area with a farm on the left side of the road with a grove of trees.  As we approached that impediment, I knew what the wind would do…it would wrap around the trees and farmstead, and we would have a brief ~1,000 foot headwind.  Similarly, in other conditions you may be riding into a headwind when the terrain gives a partial shield that disrupts the wind and gives you either a temporary break or a temporary tailwind.

What I’m starting to notice is that the wind does this in a predictable fashion.  If you pay attention to the route and the wind, you start to see areas where the impact of the terrain on the wind can be predicted–and modeled.  Heading towards that farmstead on Wednesday, I knew what the wind would do, and it played into how I rode that section.

Teams spend a lot of time scouting routes in major tours.  If you listed to Stage 6 of the Tour de France, you heard the commentators talking about how much time the major teams spent scouting the cobbles included in that stage.  What if they started looking at conditions other than just elevation, road condition, turns and terrain?  What if they started driving the routes in varying wind conditions with anemometers, wind vanes and sophisticated barometers–and started doing environmental wind modeling of how the terrain and structures impact conditions on the road.  What if you knew that as you rounded a particular bend with a Southeast wind, that you would get a disproportionately strong tailwind for a period of a thousand feet?  It could be a significant tactical advantage if only some had the information.

Food for thought.

Just Di2 It.

I consider myself to be pretty well-experienced with Di2 at this point.  I’m running 11 speed Ultegra Di2 on the Madone, and 11 speed hydro-braked Ultegra Di2 (with Dura-Ace bits) on the Moots.

Where am I at on it?

When first I rode Di2, I wasn’t overwhelmed.  It shifted fantastic, looked great, and felt great to the hand, but I didn’t see a real advantage over mechanical.  I was pretty happy with SRAM Red, and having previously ridden Shimano mechanical drivetrains, I wasn’t in a big rush to go back to Shimano.  (My biggest dislike of Shimano mechanical is the way the brake lever moves to shift–so if you go to grab the brake in a hurry, with wet hands, it sometimes wants to move away from your hand).  Truth be told, it was only the massive recall of SRAM hydro brakes that caused me to really question things.  While SRAM handled the recall appropriately, I lost some faith in their products (and started to understand all of the anti-SRAM folks out there who alleged that SRAM was using first-yen product purchasers as quality-control employees).

So I started to contemplate how to redo the Moots (my first priority, as it was lacking brakes after the SRAM recall).  I ended up looking at Shimano hydros, which were tasty feeling, and then came to the logical conclusion that if I was going Shimano hydro, I should look at Di2.  After a brief time with Di2 on the Moots, I realized that I wanted it on the road bike as well.

What are the benefits of Di2?

  • It shifts.  Always.  Predictably.  One gear per tap.  Under any conditions.
  • It shifts flawlessly–never over or under.  Never needs adjustment.  Never has cable stretch.
  • If you hold the button, it will keep shifting (even better than Campy).
  • It looks great, and the ergonomics of the brifters are fantastic for both mechanical and hydro brakes.
  • It shifts just as fast, if not faster than, mechanical.
  • Front derailleur shifts are undeniably better than with any mechanical I’ve ever ridden.
  • It always works the same.

Di2, day in and day out, works as well as or better than a perfectly-tuned mechanical system.  I don’t have to adjust it.  I don’t have to chase cable tension.  I don’t have to think about it.

I had concerns about downsides, and to date, there are none.  Here were a few of my concerns (now erased):

  • It functions perfectly in wet conditions–inclusive of riding through running water, unbelievable downpours, hail, etc.
  • There have been no wiring issues, loose connections, or electrical component failures.
  • Battery life is a non-issue.

That last one is critical.  Who wants to have to “charge their bike” before they ride it?  I certainly don’t.  In the time that I’ve had the Moots, I charged it once.  It has thousands of miles on it–enough that I’ve had to replace the (brand new when purchased) rear tire because it was a slick.  I did run the battery on the Madone down to ‘safe mode’, where it stops shifting the front derailleur, one time.  When that happened, I thought to myself, “when did I last charge this bike?”, and realized that I had never charged it.  Between the two bikes, I’ve got several thousand miles of trouble-free operation.  Sure, I’ll probably charge the Moots before the Ten Thousand, but I probably wouldn’t have to.

Admittedly–you never get a dead battery with mechanical shifting.  But frankly, I don’t see the battery as being an issue…battery life is so good, that the only issue might be forgetting to charge it ever, as I did.

In retrospect, would I Di2 it again?  Absolutely.  I have no reservations, compunctions, qualms or disclaimers on that opinion.  Di2 is the best shifting, best performing drivetrain on the market right now between anything offered by SRAM or Shimano (and I exclude Campy as I haven’t ridden the newest generation of their products, nor have I experienced EPS).  I would also say that Di2 is a worthy upgrade for an existing bike–it makes a big enough difference to warrant a retrofit.

I know that around the corner, there will be wireless drivetrains, with a battery for the rear derailleur (and no wiring harness).  Frankly, I have spent enough time in my life working with bluetooth, wireless routers, and even wireless cadence sensors such that I have no interest in a wireless drivetrain.  The Di2 wiring is small and slick, and completely unobtrusive.  Even if wireless comes out, I’m sticking with wired, and one battery.

Di2 is great.  Perhaps even perfect.  I can’t say enough good things about it.