Spinning Little Circles

The riding has moved indoors for the majority of this month. The rollers are a welcome change from my trainer sessions of last season. Cycling has taken over the living room – I’ve set my LeMond up for Jen and we splurged on early birthday presents for her – new Sidi shoes, several saddles to try, a new stem, and some cycling specific clothing.

Riding rollers brings a certain meditation to my sessions. When not catching the rare movie or podcast, I’m listening to my body – thinking about perfect little circles spinning round and round – the pedals, the cranks, the chain rings, the chain, the derailleur jockeys, the cassette, and the wheels. The smaller is to the greater as the greater is to the whole – each part relating to the other – to propel me round and round on shiny cylinders of aluminum – never leaving the relative comfort of my living room.

My mind drifts to rides past – brevets that started near Boston and traced routes through the hills of the Berkshires and the southern Green Mountains, or one of my favorite nearby rides – the Double Gap – climbing Middlebury and returning via Appalachian. I also visualize myself steadily climbing mythic roads to nowhere – and taking in an imagined view from the top. Often I’ll drift to rides future – what it might feel like on this years brevets, what lies around the next bend, what is over the next ridge… feeling in my mind a bit like a kid again – when I would ride as fast and as far as I could – so long as I could get home before dark while never quite explaining to my folks just exactly how far I’d gone. In those days I rode an aluminum Raleigh that I bought a size too big for me (I didn’t want to outgrow the hard earned money I just spent), with 27″ wheels, wide tires, toe clips, and down tube shifters. Exploring the back roads of NE Ohio my friends and I would trace ever larger loops and routes. We carried minimal gear, wore white styrofoam helmets and street shoes, carried a basic patch kit and a real frame pump. For nutrition we foraged from mini marts and ice cream stands. On several occasions we called parents for a roadside rescue – most memorable was when a chain exploded as the bottom bracket on a friend’s Peugeot ceased to turn.

Randonneuring brings this same sense of discovery and energy to my cycling. New routes to try, riding with a group (although not always together) that often appreciates similar things, and many times getting just uncomfortable enough to bring back those feelings of the cold creeping in, the sun setting, and not making it to the control before my parents find out. The smaller is to the greater as the greater is to the whole – my pedals turn the cranks which move the chain and turn the wheels as the world rolls beneath me – and I explore the road around the next turn and over the next hill.

Winter…

…appears to have arrived! Monday late morning the snow turned to rain turned to ice back to snow.

e+Lite

I picked up a Petzl e+Lite about a month ago at my local EMS. I really like this little light – I’ve been using it on after dark runs, on my cycling helmet, and even while installing a ceiling fan. I’m using the e+Lite as a helmet mounted compliment to my Schmidt powered lights. The combination of the white and red LEDs in the same package sold me – white light for repairs and as needed for extra road illumination – and red light (which preserves night vision) for reading cues and cockpit illumination.

The light runs on 2 Lithium CR2032 batteries. They fit in the head unit behind the LEDs, are easy to change, and appear to be available in most convenience, hardware, and grocery stores (I’ve been checking locally). Published run times are 35 hours on maximum and 45 hours on economy. I’ve gone through about 20 hours of use and have not noticed a fall off in brightness on either setting. With batteries installed the published weight of the light and strap is 27 grams.

Light is generated by 3 white LEDs and 1 red LED. White has 3 settings – maximum, economy, and flash. White maximum is bright enough to read street signs at some distance on a moonless night while cycling, as well as fully illuminating my handlebars and a patch of ground directly in front of me. White economy puts out ample enough light to run along the unlit lakefront MUP on a moonless night, read my cyclocomputer, make adjustments to my bike, or fuss with the digicam. Red has two settings – maximum and flash. The red light is perfect for cockpit illumination and cue reading when helmet mounted – and would work well mounted to my stem or a cue holder. It has also worked well for off bike rummaging through my seatpack. Flash for both colors works as advertised.

The e+Lite comes with an elastic band for head wearing, as well as an integral clip that will work on hats and helmets with some creatively placed strapping. The body of the light swivels on an integral ball / socket connection to the clamp. Positioning the light exactly where you need it is easy – no tightening mechanisms or special cams to deal with – although the light is small enough that this is a bit clumsy to do wearing lobster gloves for winter cycling.

I’ve had the e+Lite out for several night runs and both short and long night rides. Currently I’m not in need of cue navigating on my local routes so I’ve been using it primarily for cyclocomputer reading and off bike lighting. It works perfectly for this – and I plan on adding this to my long distance cycling kit.

Mt. Mansfield Century

I spent Sunday getting a start on two of my 2007 cycling goals. I undertook a 102 mile ride to log my first century in my century a month challenge, as well as my first miles in the UMCA Year Rounder. I’m still building my winter base and was planning on waiting until March to undertake my first century – but with a strong 43.5 mile night ride last week, warm temperatures, and a blue sky day in the forecast I set out for the longest January ride I’ve ever accomplished. I chose a route that allowed a bail out option that would have been a nice 60 mile ride – but as I neared the turn off I pressed on and enjoyed the day.

I left the house mid morning with the temperature near 39 degrees. Per the year rounder challenge I would be collecting receipts along the way – so I dropped in to the local donut chain for some early ride calories and a time stamp of my passing. I headed north into Colchester and Milton, then east to Cambridge where I stopped in at the general store to add a Luna bar to my jersey pocket and collect my second receipt. The morning ride through valleys and over rolling climbs had me constantly zipping and unzipping my jacket – my core was slightly cold or slightly warm – but my feet were always cold. Before heading out on the next leg of the route I added some toe warmers to my shoes – I felt the effects instantly and my feet were fine the balance of the day.

Leaving Cambridge I travelled east through Jeffersonville, the town at the turn off to VT Rt. 108 and Smugglers Notch on the north side of Mt. Mansfield. Smuggs was a sad site – most of the runs didn’t appear to have enough snow to ski. Cycling through the notch on 108 is on my to-do list – the scenery over the notch and along the Mountain Rd. to Stowe is inspiring.

Passing through Jeffersonville I travelled to Johnson, Hyde Park, and made a southward turn towards Stowe on VT Rt. 100 in Morrsiville. As I pedaled along the relatively flat valley I daydreamed about my first trip to Vermont. At the time I had just finished teaching my first year of design at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and I was spending part of the summer expanding my woodworking knowledge at the Heartwood School for the Homebuilding Crafts. During a weekend break in a timber frame class I drove nearly the length of Vermont along Rt. 100, terminating in two overnights at the original location of Smugglers Notch State Park. I rode the Gondola up Mt. Mansfield for a rainy hike, dined in Burlington and Waitsfield, and explored the heart of Green Mountains on forest service roads. I fell in love with the state on that trip and I convinced dear friends who were looking for a place to dig in and make a home to visit the following summer. They did, loved it, and moved here. It took me another 5 years before I was able to arrange work and life that allowed me to make the VT leap. They lived just off Rt. 100 south of Morrisville in a tiny over garage apartment. As I passed their old street I remembered hiking to beaver ponds near the current development of Spruce Peak, bagels and coffee in Stowe, and cooking for four on their tiny stove.

I reached a glum Stowe. The picturesque ski / resort town with bed and breakfasts, art galleries, coffee shops, and out of state traffic was a bit less busy than usual with the current weather. I continued south on Rt. 100 to Moscow, VT and collected a few more calories for the ride home and my third receipt of the day. Sitting outside the Moscow general store I snapped a photo of their gas pump which apparently hasn’t been used since premium unleaded was $1.39 a gallon!


I continued south past the Ben & Jerry’s factory and during a quick stop to check my phone in Waterbury I was accosted by a local shouting “Hey Lance Armstrong” from across the road. He asked me if I knew it was winter and wondered why I was out riding. Thanks Lance, for becoming a household name and dragging us quiet types out of anonymity and into the spotlight. Over the traffic he made some reference to playing frisbee at the beach and the weather, and I nodded and packed up, pretending to be in a hurry before he walked across the road and started a conversation. Heading west on US 2 towards Burlington I found the bright blue sky as the sun and temperature started to drop. I caught great views of Camel’s Hump somewhere between Waterbury and Richmond, and enjoyed riding alongside my shadow on the shoulder and in the fields.

I returned to Burlington at dusk, making quick work of the traffic along US 2 in Williston and stopping for my final receipt at a local store just a mile from home. I ordered up a hot chocolate and chatted with the clerk, who was amazed at the distance I just rode. He followed me out and promptly lit a cigarette while I sipped my cocoa and prepared for the final mile. The smoke and I didn’t agree – so I handed him my cup and finished the ride.

I covered 102 miles. Ride time was 7:20. Time off the bike was about an hour for a total time of 8:20. Climbing was approximately 6800′ with several grades at 6-9% and one topping out at 13%. My average speed was slow – but this is historically a time of year when I am not riding, so while I grimaced at my cyclocomputer, I know that this is the time to be building an aerobic base in preparation for the spring and summer.

2007 Cycling Goals

A work in progress, my 2007 cycling goals.

Tangible:

  • Get to my typical end of summer riding weight by March 1
  • 5,000 miles in the UMCA Year Rounder Competition
  • Super Randonneur Series
  • Century a month (in addition to my brevet schedule) – beginning March 1
  • Establish 3-4 RUSA Permanent routes in Vermont / Champlain Valley Region
  • 1000k or 1200k (Paris-Brest-Paris looks like it is out of the budget and schedule for this year)
  • Ride the Highlander in W. NY as a pacer for a friend – focus on sharing cycling experience and having fun
  • Long distance training ride from my home in Burlington, VT to my in-laws in Utica, NY
  • Ride the Mad River Valley Century Ride as a pacer for a friend – focus on sharing cycling experience and having fun
  • Organize and ride a version of the Six Gaps with a group of online and local cycling friends
  • Run a half marathon (still looking at the calendar to see how it fits / conflicts with the SR series)
  • 2 bike camping trips (weekenders) summer / fall

Intangible:

  • Increase training intensity focusing on hard, fast rides so I can start to hang with the semi-fast boys and girls. (I think the fastest boys and girls will be out of my reach for some time!)
  • Work on my climbing – this will feed off of the previous intangible
  • Keep a pleasant attitude on the bike – I’m slower than most and faster than some – focus on enjoying the ride and celebrating where I’m at at this moment in time
  • Stay healthy: keep my body happy and the anemia I suffered with last season in check
  • Ride lots – including going car lite when work doesn’t demand the auto travel

Full Moon, Mountains

I had a wonderful full moon ride out around Mt. Philo and back. It was noticeably colder on the Spear St. side of the ride – as I turned at the halfway point the wind seemed to shift and I shed a layer as I began the return. I caught glimpses of Bolton Valley lit for night skiing, and when the moon peaked from behind the clouds I saw Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield in the distance. I’ve been inside on the rollers and spent some time running the past few weeks – so getting out on the road and watching the moon and the stars was a wonderful start to the new year. I covered 43 1/2 miles in mild January temperatures. My pace is well below that of last fall as I’m continuing to build my winter base. As I cleared the traffic in town and made it to some less travelled roads I longed for the speed and fitness I had last fall, and the long summer rides that got me there.

I’ve been using some new gear with mixed results:

Lights:
The Petzl e+Lite continues to work well on my helmet as a cockpit reading light (using the red LED). Set to high with the 3 white LEDs it worked great for handling the camera and digging though my saddle bag as I changed layers, as well as for throwing enough light at low speeds for street sign navigation.

Visibility:
I had my first ride with the Cactus Creek Reflective Vest I purchased from Mountain Equipment Co-op. I’ve worn it out running and have been pleased with the fit – seeing as it was designed for cycling I’m even happier with it on the bike. Reflective materials on the front and back which spillover to the sides, and 3 pockets on the rear that I can use when I can’t access my jersey pockets. Its nice to see that someone has finally designed a cycling accessory that includes pockets on the back! Most of my jackets have a single zippered pocket – which for distance riding has limited uses – I like to tuck extra food, the digicam, and my gel flask in the rear pockets. The pockets on the vest are a bit tricky to get in and out of – but for now I’ll assume it has to do with the winter gloves I’m wearing – and if need be as warm weather approaches I’ll modify the stitching a bit with some elastic. So far the vest is a welcome addition to my long distance riding gear – and a cycling specific replacement to the disappointing Amphipod sash I have been using.

Tires:
I’m not yet sold on the Schwalbe Marathons I’ve been running. I like the relfective sidewall and appreciate Scwalbe’s tradition of developing tough tires that resist wear and tear from the road (flats!), but they just don’t feel as good on the road as the Continental GP 4 Seasons I used last year. The Schwalbe’s feel squirmy during high speed descents – and with their tread design and interior flat protection layer they seem to develop a noticeable “hum” going down the road. I’ll give them through the winter and early spring – but my gut tells me I’ll be moving back to a more traditional road slick come next Brevet season.

Mt. Mansfield

Yeaterday I XC Skied about halfway up the toll road at Mt. Mansfield with Greg. On the way down we practiced turning under the lift line on some easier slopes – a few folks glided by on boards and alpine gear – but the runs we were on were technically closed due to lack of snow. Turning my long and fairly straight Karhu Pavo skis on marginal snow with 3 pin bindings was a comical exercise – it was very different from last season when I took to learning tele skiing with dedicated gear on groomed slopes. Should we get some real snow this year Greg and I have discussed an XC treking trip – maybe with some winter camping thrown in for fun.

Winter Bike

Seems I always need something to do with my hands… designing and building furniture, crafting a timber frame, or working on a bike or two. I’m converting the Trek 520 from a straight road / touring rig to an all rounder – replacing the drop bars with Nitto Moustache’s, swapping out the brake pads for some all weather grippy types, and re-cabling the controls. I’ve got a set of 35mm cross tires waiting to meet the rims, have mounted the Brooks Swift, and I’ll get that rack remounted for the Ortlieb’s. The SPD pedals will come off – I’m anxious have a steed to ride in street shoes – so I’ll mount up some flat pedals and try the Power Grips I found in the clearance bin at West Hill. I’ve taken inspiration from Kent who is always mucking around with bikes and bike stuff, and David who is ready to ride this winter with a conversion all his own. I’m hoping the Trek will be a fun all-rounder that I won’t be shy about taking out as the sand and salt hit the roads… and I have to admit that I always feel a bit over outfitted riding the IF up to the corner (complete with LOOK cleated shoes) for a quick post office, hardware store, or grocery run.

Koyaanisqatsi

I typically catch up on my film viewing during the winter as I build my cycling base for the following season. Highlights from last year included a Kurosawa marathon, as well as a week to cover the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tonight I rented the Phillip Glass trilogy – Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi and found it fitting that I should undertake my longest roller session to date watching and listening to Koyaanisqatsi – Life out of Balance.

Since returning from Italy I’ve felt torn and disconnected – work, life, and play seem to be rolling by at breakneck speed – and stresses from each compound on the other. Thoughts of empire and the cycles of civilization populate my current reading material – Mumford’s The City in History; Jensen’s Endgame, The problem of Civilization and his The Culture of Make Believe; Sahlins Stone Age Economics; and Gowdy’s Limited Wants, Unlimited Means each have me questioning what we are doing, and where we might be headed.

Koyaanisqatsi fits well with my current reading, and the trilogy could possibly be the perfect training films – the imagery and score breathtaking and constantly moving, intertwining, overlapping, and subtly relating to the whole. My body in motion on the bike adapts to the pace – and my heart, mind, and lungs synchronized with the film – blending the hum of the rollers with the pounding in my chest and the traversing score and flickering of light on the screen. I’ve been a fan of Glass’s work since I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at Lincoln Center (in my grad school days). He performed bits of Koyaanisqatsi and other pieces from his catalog, along with much of the music from Kundun, complete with Tibetan monks on stage in fantastic traditional costume. I was mesmerized – his music seems to take simple themes and distorts and nearly destroys them through subtle and relentless layering and mutation. A melody or rhythm will build upon itself, often overlapping in time – transforming from a simple piece of music to a complex chorus of sound – sometimes returning to its roots – changed, spliced, and mutated – but genetically similar to its forebear.

Koyaanisqatsi the film works this way as well. The film is directed by Godfrey Reggio and works as a powerful study of images – both those of man and those of nature. Over time the imagery can be seen as a journey from nature to civilization – but as a whole it reads more as the collision between progress as defined by civilization with the environment, the earth. Much like Glass’ music our recent path on the earth follows a similar progression – from simple roots we have overlayed and imprinted our voice on the world – mutating and changing to adapt, adjust, and command. People stream through subway turnstiles, rockets scream into the sky, buildings rise, buildings fall, cars course through the veins of the city, people live and die, as well do cities, technologies, profits, hot dogs, cakes, and bombs. Layer upon layer of “life” is interwoven on the landscape – to the point where it is hard to recognize nature at all – except when we see it reflected in or in contrast to our creations – the moon rising behind a skyline, clouds reflected on a glass facade, or the wind and water weaving through our cities. In all of this there are still subtle traces of a different life – the life of the earth, the life before the thousands of mutations and layers and splicing of “needs” and “progress” upon the land. Listening closely we can still hear it – slowly intertwined with the world as we know it – waiting for a pause in the score – a chance for us to breathe, listen, grow, and remember what keeps us here, what created us and gives us life.

Life out of balance – certainly riding rollers will help with that – my spin is getting smoother, I can stand and “climb”, as well as reach for my water bottle. But life seems out of balance as I sit inside watching the world fly by on my computer screen atop a titanium machine on aluminum rollers. I’m “training” to ride long distances on my bicycle, contemplating the contradiction I have become, wondering what parts of the score I should amplify and celebrate, and which parts I should leave on the cutting room floor.

Inside Ride, or maybe I could work for UPS

Temps drop, roads get icy, and for some good base miles after dark I will often ride inside. Last winter I logged most of my weekly base miles on a CycleOps Fluid 2 Trainer. This season I’ve added a set of Kreitler Poly-Lyte rollers to the mix. I chose the smaller drums of the Poly-Lytes for a base of resistance without adding a fan or flywheel. The small drums add just enough resistance to work on my cadence in a lower gear – but when turning a big gear I can work intervals or strength drills – and while rolling I automatically increase my bike handling skills and work on smoothing my pedal stroke.

The small diameter of the rollers takes a bit of getting used to – I’ve started riding in a doorway in case I need a hand hold – but after a few minutes of spinning the bike is easy enough to keep upright. Steering is certainly faster on the rollers – the contact patch of tire to roller is very small – a quick move of the handlebars will have me drifting from one side to the other – the rollers thus far are making me aware of how sloppy I ride – drifting from side to side, bouncing a bit in the saddle when spinning high RPMs, and sliding left or right when I change hand positions or grab my waterbottle. I’ve heard horror stories of folks running off the rollers and crashing into big screen TVs (not really a problem for me, as I’ve been TV free for the better part of 5 years), furniture, walls, or running over the dog or cat – but I can’t imagine the physics working out – seems as soon as I stop pedaling on the rollers it takes maybe a few revolutions before my wheels stop, and I need to balance or look for the wall. I added some Continental Home Trainer tires to a spare set of wheels to ease the transition from an inside ride to an outside ride. The yellow orange compound was specifically designed to resist the high heat build up from the aluminum drums of rollers and trainers, prevent tread seperation of conventional road tires, and offer consistent grip to the roller through all gear ranges. I shredded 2 Bontrager slicks last winter – I hope the trainer specific tire will last me a season or two.

Better than riding indoors most of the winter might be a job with UPS. Seven Days, our local news and arts weekly here in Burlington, Vt., is reporting that UPS is using mountain bikes and light weight trailers to deliver packages on some of its routes in Rutland, White River Junction, Barre and Burlington. UPS is even working with local Green Mountain Bikes to outfit its current fleet of thirteen bikes. The full story is here.