140 Miles

On Saturday, Dave and I completed our 140 mile training ride. This is the ride that I set as a prerequisite for the "24 Hours of Intercity" ride that is coming Memorial Day weekend.

The ride was a success. It went quite well, not perfectly, but well.

We rolled out at 6:30am, heading north toward the GWB. The weather was beautiful, a little on the brisk side, and cloudy, but pleasant. We rode the standard ride to Nyack, stopping at the Runcible Spoon. From there, we rode to Bear Mountain State Park, did a lap of what will be the Bear Mountain race course, and went home. As usual, the Brooklyn Bridge was a horrible experience on the way home. We were just shy of the 140mi mark, so we did a "victory lap" of Prospect Park.

By the numbers: 141.31 miles in 9h 12m 45s, averaging 15.3 MPH. My heart rate was in the 120 bpm range most of the time.

I tried Hammer Nutrition's Perpetuem energy drink on this ride. It looks and tastes like watered down soy milk. A bottle of this per hour, along with a Clif bar per hour and the occasional muffin, provided excellent fuel on the ride. I've never felt so good after such a long ride!

In Prospect Park, Dave saw Judith Tucker, a friend of his from school and - boy will his face turn red when he reads this - a girl he once really liked. He saw her walking along, said he recognized her, slammed the brakes, and reversed direction like a pro. After chatting with her, he was quite full of energy, and sprinted up the Prospect Park hill at 23 MPH - faster than race pace, and this is after 140 miles! If only she knew.



I've been doing an exceptionally bad job of keeping this up to date. Plenty of interesting things have happened in this past week, including riding 140 miles yesterday in preparation for the coming Intercity ride, but I haven't had much time to write blog entries. Recovery takes precedence in free time. I'll work on posting more about commuting, training for Intercity, and preparing for this summer's trip.


Avoiding Bicycle Theft

A friend of mine recently got their bicycle stolen. This is not fun, and happens all too easily in urban areas. I'd like to offer these tips to make sure that your bicycle stays yours.

Use a lock that is appropriate to the cost of your bicycle, and your surroundings. I would only advise using a cable lock in a sparsely populated area. In a major city, where professional bicycle thieves roam the streets with angle grinders, plasma cutters, arc welders, and bolt cutters at their disposal, up the ante. I used two U-locks to secure my bicycle when I locked it outside in high school. I've had thieves easily defeat chains, cables, and combination locks.

If you must lock your bicycle outside in an urban area, secure anything that can easily be stolen (i.e. avoid quick release anything) and use the top of the line Kryptonite U-lock or chain lock with the linear key design.

Never let your bicycle leave your sight. I always try to go places where I can bring my bicycle inside with me, or where there is safe bicycle parking. A business being bicycle unfriendly is a deal breaker. For the record, bicycle shops are typically extraordinarily bicycle friendly, and will always let you bring your bicycle into the shop. If they don't, find another shop.

Keep your bicycle out of sight. If you live in an apartment building in a city, store the bicycle in a room away from windows, so people on the outside can't tell that there is a $5,000 carbon fiber ride sitting in your living room.

A little diligence goes a long way.


Principles of Urban Riding, Part 2: The Need for Riding

In this series of articles on my commuting through the city, I'd like to address the need to ride around the city on a bicycle.

New York City has the highest density of mass transit in the nation. We have more trains, more buses, and more highways than any other city in the US - even Los Angeles. There is certainly no lack of options from getting from Point A to Point B.

So, why ride a bicycle? Cycling provides a number of very real advantages:

* Run time is fairly constant, and agnostic to construction, changes in traffic or routing, due to the bicycle's ability to bypass traffic.
* Wait time is constant, and nearly zero. The bicycle is always ready to go, provided that you keep it in good mechanical condition.
* In comparison to public transit, a trip by bicycle does not require catching any connections or additional waits imposed by transfers.
* The bicycle has the potential to be faster than scheduled public bus service.
* A bicycle is a true door to door, point to point service. There is no walking to or from a station.
* Cycling is certainly less expensive than taking a taxi, and cheaper than public transit, even with a really nice bike.

Let's do a cost analysis. Assuming a $750 bicycle, with about $250 in annual maintenance costs, the two-year total cost of ownership of a bicycle is $1250. If one rides each and every single day, with one round trip, five days per week, the cost is:

2 trips/day * 5 days/week * 52 weeks/year * 2 years = 1040 trips, or $1.20 per trip.

In comparison, an $81 monthly MetroCard pass, assuming 4.5 weeks per month, comes out to $1.80 per ride. The Express bus comes out to about $4 to $5 per ride, and a taxi can cost upwards of $10 per ride.

New York is a special case. A five-mile trip, 20 minutes by bicycle at modest speeds, will get you to most places you need to go. That same five mile trip can take upwards of 45 minutes by public transit. A taxi can get you there in 10 minutes, if you're lucky, but can easily take upwards of 35 minutes.

The bicycle is cheaper, faster, and friendlier than any other form of transit.


Principles of Urban Riding, Part 1: Hardware Selection

This is the first posting in what is to be a series of posts on urban riding. This is something that I've been doing, by force, since I was about thirteen. I've been riding in NYC, playing in traffic if you will, since I was a teenager. In the many years that I've been riding on the streets, I've learned more than a few tricks for staying fast and live on the road. I've been meaning to put them on paper somehow for some time now, and I figured that this was as appropriate a forum as any.

My commuting bike is a 2006 Fuji Track Pro, 49/17 gearing, with a front brake. This is an interesting and well thought out choice for a number of reasons.

The fixed gear is better in traffic for all of the reasons professional bicycle messengers know and love. Fixies, as they are called, offer a substantially lower cost of maintenance, offer faster handling frame geometries, are lighter, and even look cool to boot. The lack of dérailleurs or multiple gears means that they are easier to service. Their minimalism means that it is quite easy to have a 14lb bike, which really matters when your riding forces to to accelerate and decelerate constantly.

I have chosen to run a 49/17 gear ratio in addition to a front brake. Many people will tend to run a lower gear ratio, and no brake. This is a religious debate. It is my belief that braking a fixie with your legs is really bad for your knees, and as a result, you are lining yourself up for knee troubles down the line if you do this. Additionally, it is rare that I need to do a really hard stop on the bike (more on this later). I'm strong enough to turn a 49/17 from a dead stop pretty well, and I tend to "spin out" the gear at about 25 MPH on flat road.

For a commuter level bike for use in a fairly flat area, I'd say that the key is minimalism. I feel that the Fuji achieves this quite well.


Remembering Allen Clancy

This post has nothing to do with bicycles, really. I'll talk about traffic dodging later.


I came across this article while looking for something else. Allen Clancy was a Stuyvesant High School math teacher, and a good friend. Allen used his experience and seniority to continue to help the students who needed his help the most, instead of moving into administration or teaching the most advanced classes. Allen was a good man, and I will remember him as such.



So, I've re-established the age old tradition of commuting through NYC traffic. It's awful, but somehow, taking the F train is worse.

Here are the advantages that the bicycle confers over the subway:
  • I always get a seat.
  • I never have to wait for it.
  • There are never other bicycles in the station, blocking my way.
  • It's never too crowded.
  • It's faster (really, it is!).
  • It stays outside the whole time.
  • It offers true point to point service.
I have lots of techniques and strategies that I use to make my way through traffic. I'll entertain this blog with some of those algorithms in the near future.


Assume the Position!

When I refer to the position in the title, I refer of course to the aero position, elbows on the pads, rocketing along. Shame on you if you thought otherwise.

I took the full TT getup to Prospect Park this morning for a test ride. I wore tights, of course, and the aero helmet. I wasn't pushing as hard as I could, but I did manage to average 22.0 MPH for an hour (7 laps), blazing by a group ride going about 18 MPH. My climbing performance was disappointing, but I was going 38 MPH down the hill.

I still feel like I'm in such bad shape. I've ridden 2250 miles so far this year, which sounds like a lot, but really isn't that much compared to what serious racers are putting in. I'm gaining weight, too. Strength to weight! Strength to weight! Now that the weather is warm, I'll resume my Saturday regimen of riding a century.

Hooray for expensive toys!


Time Juggling

So, how do I manage to be a Bike & Build trip leader, work a full-time job and then some on Wall Street, be an active racing bicyclist who trains hard daily, and make time to see my beautiful girlfriend at MIT, while de-stressing and relaxing? I'll let you in on a little secret: I don't.

I've been slipping lately, and it's horrible. Here are the ways:

Bike & Build - we still don't have a place to stay in Pittsburgh or Columbus. It's frustrating, and I've called about 6-8 places in each town. I haven't had any time during work to make these calls.
Work - I'm fairly certain that my managers and co-workers are disappointed at the number of hours or amount of effort I've put into project work. Almost everyone there gets their work done faster than I do.
Bicycling - I'm squeezing in one hour a day, where I should be riding for at least two. I'm also putting on weight: from a low of 170 lbs, I'm now at 182 lbs. Geez. I also haven't been doing well in races, and haven't been to any in a few weeks now.
Seeing Jane - She's as busy as I am. We're lucky now if we get to see each other once every three weeks.
De-stressing - I wish.

To everyone who is disappointed with me for not meeting deadlines: I'm trying, but not hard enough. Geez.


Bicycle Number Seven: Photos

First, I'd like to thank the kind parishioners and community of St. Brendan Church in Brooklyn, NY. These wonderful folks welcomed me into their community today, let me tell them about Bike & Build, and helped me raise over $1,000 for the cause. Thank you!

Well , as you already know, I finally have a TT bike! The bicycle itself is a 2007 model year Fuji Aloha CF2. It has two major upgrades: I changed the stock chainrings to an old set of FSA 42/55 rings that I got via Craigslist, and I changed the wheels to FlashPoint FP60s. I spent much of this afternoon tweaking it: getting the wheels on, getting the gearing settled, putting the computer on, and generally starting to do the million little things that make a bicycle mine. I'm still debating if I want to keep the 12-25 that the bike came with, or put the 11-25 on there. (I would gain the 11T at the expense of the 16T, which is a shame, since I really like the 16T. I'll run a gearing chart for a definitive answer.)

When I was searching the Internets for information about the Fuji prior to buying it, I found that there were shockingly few good photos of this excellent bicycle. At work, we have a saying: storage is cheap, so take twice as many pictures as you think you need.

All of the pictures are on my photos site, with useful captions: http://picasaweb.google.com/jsoltren/Bicycle7FujiAlohaCF2. Go take a look!


Bird in Hand

#7 is now happily in my apartment. Due to much driving, I can't post pictures or anything yet. I'm looking forward to the usual 4-6 hours of tweaking it takes to bring a new bike up to spec.

The drive down from Ithaca with Dave Miller was fun as always. People always stare at the Porsche, with its two bicycles perched up top, when we drive by. We must be quite a scene.

This is my first new frame since early 2006! I'll post pictures and the full story tomorrow.


#7 Rising

So, tomorrow I'm off to Ithaca, NY to visit Glenn Swan of Swan Cycles. When I return, I'll have #7, my shiny new time trial / triathlon bike.

Why am I making the 11-hour round trip just to get a bicycle? I think that, since I'm getting a TT bike, buying one from a world champion TT cyclist is somehow a good idea. That way, if he says it fits, it fits!

Cycling is such an esoteric field. You often have to look long and hard to find quality people, and when you do, you make every effort to keep in touch with them. (Don't worry, if you're reading this blog, you're a quality person, too.)


WARM, Take Two

It was 65F and sunny today. I had one of my best riding days in a long, long time.

This morning, I did 13 laps of Prospect Park in 2h3m. That's a personal best. I did it on PowerCranks, and I wasn't particularly trying to go all out.

After the ride, I even rode to and from work. Staying zen in NYC traffic is very, very tough.

Warm weather gives me renewed faith in my training, and my power and skill on the bicycle. I can't wait for weather like this to become the norm this summer.


Riding on the Interstate

Did you know that you can ride your bicycle on Interstate highways? It's true! Of course, it depends on the state, the conditions, and the location. Riding your bicycle on I-95 is never a good idea, but then again, driving on I-95 is never a good idea, either.

In all seriousness, I was vaguely worried about riding on the Interstate this summer. I know it's legal in some states and not in others. I know individual states have their own rules. I know that the only way to get a definitive answer is to contact a state's DOT. It's just that, until now, I've been too lazy to actually do that.

California is an interesting case. It is home to some of the densest parts of the country (San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego) as well as some of the emptiest (Mojave Desert). The state came up with one rule to regulate bicycles on the Interstate, and it is sensible: bicycles are only allowed on the Interstate when there is no other road to the destination, and no usable alternate road is available. As an example, we'll be OK to ride I-15 into Baker, CA.

California in particular has long-distance bicycling maps that they will send you free of charge, so long as you call them up. I spoke with Kevin McGuire at Caltrans, the head of their bicycling division, and can pass his contact info along as necessary.

I found these pages to be helpful:
http://www.parrett.net/~rralston/bistate.html (Beware! Links and phone numbers are mostly out of date!
http://cms.transportation.org/?siteid=59&pageid=852 - definitive list of who to ask
http://www.adventurecycling.org/cyp/us.cfm - a good place to look for resources you didn't know to look for, in and out of the US.

Diligence, always!



In my quest to become someone more knowledgeable about bicycling, and my own body, I started reading a new book today. This is a book that all of the well known coaches - most specifically, Friel and Daniels - recommend and cite.

The book is "Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training" by Tudor Bompa, Ph.D. Dr. Bompa basically invented the concept of periodization of training around 1963, and used the theory to lead eastern European teams to world-level athletic dominance for about two decades.

The ideas are simple enough, and applies to most sports. The way you get stronger is to slightly overdo it, and let your body recover. It is through the proper timing and spacing of workouts, with tuning for your particular sport and body, that you achieve improvement.

I've just scratched the surface of this book, and will probably have all sorts of opinions as I plow through it.


Fuel on $4.50

In my quest to be a thorough bicyclist, I've started paying attention to what a cyclist needs to eat. I'm trying to put together a good recommended diet for a cyclist on a long tour. This is an extension of my diet project (the one that helped me lose 45 lbs), and this knowledge will help me plan for the upcoming Intercity ride.

One of the many challenges of this summer's trip is that there is a budget imposed for trip-supplied food:

Breakfast: $1.10 per rider per meal
Lunch: $1.50 per rider per meal
Dinner: $1.90 per rider per meal.

For a group of 32 cyclists, this means that we are allowed to spend a grand total of $144 - and not a penny more! - on food per day. Now, if you consider how much we eat, this seems like a very small sum of money. A cyclist my size, age, and gender (a 22 y/o male, at 178cm tall, weighing 80kg) needs about 2300 kcal per day when doing almost nothing, plus 35 kcal/mi when riding. For a 70 mile day, to maintain weight, I need to eat 4750 kcal per day! Assuming I'm on the high side of calorie requirements, I'd estimate that our group consumes 140,000 kcal every day.

It is very, very difficult to feed a group of our size for that little money. We buy cheap food - pasta, peanut butter, and the like - and get generic-brand versions to save money. If we're careful, we can just barely feed everyone on this budget with no outside help.

In reality, we have no trouble feeding our group on this budget. In many places, we can get donations of day-old baked goods and deli sandwiches. Our hosts are overwhelmingly kind, and often give us more food than even we are able to eat. Leftovers are a staple of the Bike & Build diet.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is tough on a trip like ours. It's hard enough when you live in New York City, and are able to shop at places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. It's darn near impossible when you rely on donated food. Even so, it's not hard to eat well. Avoid the greasiest foods, and remember to eat fresh fruits and vegetables when possible. We as leaders will do our part to keep the supply lines full.

So, remember, if you're ever in a foul mood this summer, you're probably hungry. There is no reason to be upset about anything All you have to do is ride your bicycle.


Fundraising at St. Andrew's

I left yesterday's leader retreat early to perform fundraising at St. Andrew's, the church that I have attended on and off since roughly 1990.

The last time that I was at St. Andrew's was in May of 2006, when I gave a short presentation after every mass regarding my trip. I remember being much less comfortable presenting in front of a large audience, as my mother clearly noted.

This time, I went back with better preparation. I wore my Bike and Build t-shirt, had a pre-prepared speech, and put together a posterboard presentation with some pictures from my last trip.

Doing a presentation at a church is an excellent fundraising idea. Everyone at the church thought that Bike and Build and its mission were noble and worthy. I got exceedingly high praise and feedback for doing the trip, and ran out of brochures by the time the last mass was over.

I'd like to thank everyone at St. Andrew's for contributing over $1,000 to Bike and Build, and for being so welcoming of me and my cause.


The Leader Retreat: After

Well, that was fun.

Firstly, I'd like to thank the Bannermans for hosting us, again, for the third year in a row. Ken and Judy truly go out of their way to make us feel welcome in their home. Thank you.

The leader retreat is an annual pre-trip gathering of all of the coming summer's trip leaders. It is very likely to be the only time, ever, that all of us will be in the same room. After the summers are over, people tend to go their separate ways, and without any mandatory impetus, rarely reunite as such. It's a shame, since I met so many spectacular people this weekend. People flew in from all over the country to make it to Montclair, NJ for the weekend's events.

It was fun to be both a leader and a leader-alum. I still had plenty to learn from everyone else present, and could offer my own knowledge and experiences to bolster other people's presentations.

The retreat itself consists of an entire day of marathon presentations, from 9am to about 8pm. We talk about gear, safety, team dymanics, the budget, food, day to day logistics, routing, fixing flat tires, and the like. We also stuff all of the office's envelopes, which I know is a huge help.

I gave my presentation on routing for the second year in a row. Rather than talking at people with a slide show presentation, I took a different approach. I prepared a concise but detailed handout on the essentials of routing, and made the session as interactive as possible. First, we discussed the ins and outs of routing. Then, I showed people a few things in Topo. After that, I guided people, step by step, through the process of making a route. Finally, I was able to demonstrate geographic features like the Tetons in 3D relief.

We had an outdoor session to cover bicycle repair. The weather turned from 40F rain to 65F sun, which made being outside pleasant. I jumped in at some point to show some tricks regarding seating tires and tubes, including a neat way of seating the tube to avoid pinching (run your fingers between tire and tube all the way around) and an easy way to seat a difficult bead (squeeze to the middle of the rim, and use the heels of your palms!). People got a good laugh at my expense when I completely un-did Kristian's tire reseating job. I scowled on the outside, but laughed on the inside (and the outside).

I had to leave early, as I was otherwise booked the following day. I wish I could have stayed longer, and I know I may never see many of these people again.

So, for the record, I had an excellent time, and am looking forward to next year's retreat.

It looks like I also came out of the weekend with a secret admirer. I'm sorry to say that, per Bike & Build policy, I'm not allowed to have secret admirers. Other leaders are, but I'm not. Being a secret admirer means a mandatory conference call with me and the trip comedian, which is a secret position determined by a unanimous agreement of the leadership team at check-in. It's right there in some revision of the rider guide. Sorry.


The Leader Retreat: Before

This will be my third year attending the Bike & Build leader retreat at Elana Bannerman's house. First, I was a leader, then I was an alum, and this year, I'm both.

I've learned a few things from the past two retreats. I've procured a camping chair, since I'll be sitting on the floor for about 12 hours tomorrow. I've packed as little as I possibly can, and put my name on everything. I'm going to relax, realize that I won't get to know everyone well, and try to have fun (for once).

I'm glad they made the retreat mandatory, per my recommendation after the first year. Only 3 of the trip leaders for P2S'06 showed up, myself included. One of them quit before the start of the trip. It wasn't as useful as it could have been.

Not all of the other Bike & Build leaders have the same interests I do. I'm a perfectionist, overwhelmingly technical, detail oriented, and algorithmic. I'm also a cyclist, a fairly serious and experienced one, whose primary motive is going really, really fast. I'm not a touch-feely, be everybody's best friend type. I'm not a go out to the pub and drink type (that is, in fact, my idea of a horrible time). I'm also not a community leader, or someone with extensive service experience. I am what I am. People on Bike & Build trips, leaders and riders alike, come from all sorts of different backgrounds. I'm trying to stop letting people's shortcomings bother me, and make the best of the situation. (It's hard.)

I'll be giving a little presentation on routing. This is my specialty, and I'm glad to do it. I don't think I'll bore people with my "electronic cue sheets" project, but if people ask...


Body and Mind

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I'm studying to a be a certified USA Cycling Level 3 coach. I'm amused by how easy it is to be "certified".

Unfortunately, the process is taking me longer than I'd like. The coaching manual is a good, though poorly formatted read, but I only have about 40 minutes a day on my commute for reading it, and it reads like a good textbook: slowly and carefully. It's a big, heavy monstrosity, and I can't always read it too well on the awful F train in the morning. I'm looking forward to some long bus rides in the near future, so that I may get through more of the book.

In reading the manual, I'm still amazed by the quality and thoroughness of much of the information in there. I can tell that many cyclist, coaches, and physicians with at least 25 years of experience in the field conspired for a while to put that book together. I'm learning all about quantitative sports drink preparation, best practices for road rash (hint: treat it like a burn), and good tips for routing cyclists on public roads (avoid bike paths). Sure, you can figure most of this out by reading Pruitt, Friel, Daniels, and Forrester, and I've perused all of those books and more, but a review and an additional point of view is always nice.

It's amazing how technical a sport cycling is! I love it. I'm a huge geek, I'm an IT professional for crying out loud. Details are my specialty. I'm horrible at sports that require any interaction with a projectile, and not great at sports that require depending on other people. I'm pretty good at sports that require a world of pain and are technical. (I should try sculling or skiing, but they're just not as practical.)

So, here I am, a cyclist of 10 years, still learning plenty about bicycling, and about myself. It's a fun process.

I wonder if USA Cycling would let me LaTeX their coaching manual. It would look awesome.



I took today off, since I needed some time in the morning for a fairly important errand. You see, as part of my fundraising campaign, I've put together a small (20"x30") poster about Bike and Build. I'm planning on bringing it with me whenever I do major public fundraising, i.e. giving a talk at churches, and setting up my repair stand in Prospect Park and changing tires for donations.

It was interesting to look through all of the photos of my previous, 2006 Bike & Build trip. Immediately after the trip, I could have recognized everyone in every photo, since I knew what everyone's butts, backpacks, bikes, and legs looked like. Now, I have trouble telling who is who in some of the pictures. How things change.

Yesterday's intervals workout was awesome:
20min hard warmup
20min of 1min at full power, 1min hard recovery power
20min spin

It's really hard to motivate myself to get though those hard workouts. By the third interval, I wanted to stop, but I knew what I had to do. I managed to get the ol' heart rate up to 187 BPM, not the 195 that I'd like to see, but not too bad for early April.

Back when I was younger and more adamant about riding my bicycle, well, everywhere, I got quite good at sprinting. I made a point of always blasting out of stop signs and traffic lights at full power. I would often pedal hard enough to make the bike do a little wheelie when I started moving - in a 48-16. Now that I don't ride my bike in traffic as much, this wonderful skill is gone. I'll have to work to get it back.



It was 65F today! Sure, it was grey and humid, but still - 65F! A welcome reminder of what non-awful weather is like. It makes me look forward to the big rides this year: the Bear Mountain race, Intercity, and Bike & Build.

Every day, I get one step closer to completing the logistics for our little cross-country jaunt. I'm talking with hosts, riders, and leaders every day. I'm arguing for our cause, spreading word, and asking people nicely to make us part of their community for an evening. So far, everything is going well, just slowly. Patience.

Today was April Fool's day. I'll tell you what the joke was today: NYC subway service. The joke was on me. There were delays, missed trains, and packed cars everywhere. It's usually pretty bad, but today was even worse.

To B&B riders: have you read your rider manual lately? If not, make sure you flip through it soon! I've done this before, and I still refer to it every now and then and find new things. You're responsible for everything in there, so go take a look!