Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cleaning Your Drive Train

Adapted from a Blue Collar Mountain Biking article.

This is a summary of the above linked article. The bells and whistles of narrative have been stripped off and personal additions have been made.

The point here is to clean your bicycle's drive train to get a long and efficient life from it. On top of saving you money performance will be maximized. We consider anything that moves the bike forward a drive train component, specifically the chain, cassette, cranks, chain rings, derailleurs, and pedals.

Gunk Fighting Tools

You can do a lot of this without taking any parts off the bike though I think every now and again you should at least remove the rear wheel and really clean as much slop off as you can. Riding in New Jersey in the spring can sometimes be a muddy affair. So it's a good idea to pay more attention to this stuff now so your parts don't wear prematurely. The summer dry riding allows more leeway for you to be lazy with cleaning your bike.

You can use a bike stand or lean it against a wall or tree or just flip it upside down. Really the idea is to get it clean not how many style points you score with how you do it. I lean it up against the shed or flip it upside down depending on what I'm trying to do.

"An array of stiff bristled brushes, in a variety of shapes to get into tight places is necessary. Take into consideration the finish of your bicycle when choosing brushes. Make sure that they are stiff enough to withstand some abuse, but not so stiff as to scratch the finish on your bicycle. You will also want to collect some soft, tough rags made out of a thinner material. Old t-shirts work great, terry cloth towels, not so great. An old bucket to store everything in can double as a wash bucket. Finally, you may want to include an old sponge."

That paragraph is perfect so I'll leave it as such. Personally I have a Park tool brush and some tooth brushes I use. I'm always looking for more.

The So-Called Secret Sauce

This is the worst section of the original link since it gives you basically no hard guidance on what to use. A lot of people use a citrus based cleaner which is what I use. I don't know the name of the brand and it probably doesn't matter anyway. It seems to work and that's the bottom line. They claim this is better for the environment but I have my doubts that anything which can cut the thick black oil-shit from my drive train is ecologically friendly. The author also suggests that what you're cleaning off makes a difference but all I ever seem to have is run-of-the-mill dirt and mud or the thick black gunk that covers the drive train.

Apply the Elbow Grease

When it comes down to it most of the "secret" of keeping your drive train clean is doing it frequently and attention to detail. The article calls it Elbow Grease but it's not terribly laborious work. Personally I find it rewarding to discover such shiny metal still under there. Of course, it all reeks of futility as well since it will look nice for 1 ride.

Initially you want to chip away as much of the gunk as you can. Start with the big obvious crap and get finer as you go along. I find the derailleur plates and the front derailleur to be the biggest aggregation points of big stuff. Once past that work on the chain links and cogs. I then tend to go over stuff again because I get more meticulous as I go.

After the big stuff you can get into whatever finer brushes you have or use a rag loaded with degreaser. The chain, cassette, chain rings, and pulleys are the big tasks here. You obviously want to get the grit off the cassette and chain rings but beyond that you don't need to try and make it look like new. That usually requires taking the bike apart anyway. If that's your thing, I say go for it.

For the chain I usually use a chain cleaning contraption which is difficult at first because things tend to be slopped up when I start. After a while it gets better and I pass the chain through the rag instead, constantly using a new section to get more slop off. If you want to go crazy you can even get between the links, one at a time.

At this point I dry off as best I can then relube. I will usually relube again lightly before my next ride just to make sure it's all good. But don't put too much on because too much lube just makes the black gunk come back faster.

Doing More

If you're looking for a more complete cleaning then you need to pull some items off the bike. The 2 obvious ones are the rear wheel and the chain. Unless you're the luckiest rider in the world and never get a flat, you know how to pull the rear wheel off. Then you can pull off the chain as we'll. if you happen to have a quick link or whatever it's called then this step is easy. If not break the chain from the outside in towards you so that putting it back on is easier. You can also remove the rear derailleur if you feel so inclined which is really a benign venture so long as you're just unmounting it from the frame. Doing this allows you a much more comprehensive cleaning experience.

After you get the chain off put it in an old water bottle and fill it a third of the way with degreaser then shake it for 3-5 minutes. Fish it out with an old coat hanger then whip it a few times against some old cardboard box to really blast the gunk out. Take the rear wheel and a rag and clean in between the cassette cogs like you're flossing the gear-teeth. Probably not a necessity most of the time but it's good to do now and again. If you're really crazy about it you can pull the cassette apart and make each cog nice and sparkling clean. It won't last long so don't pull out this trick unless you have copious amounts of time on your hands. Same sort of flossing or removing deal pertains to the front rings. As for the derailleurs, I can't recommend taking them apart unless you're really OK with the Pandora's Box you might open.

Do We Have To Do It Again?

This section basically left as is:

"The frequency of cleaning is really going to be different for different riders. Type of conditions ridden in will also determine when you might want to clean the drive train. It is safe to say that if you ride a lot, like, all the time, then you'll need to do this at least monthly. Maybe more if it's raining, snowing, or if you venture off-road. A regular inspection of your bicycle will also help you determine when to clean things up. If a cleaning regimen is followed, you will be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, ownership, and a long lived drive train."

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Speed Tips

* Try this next time you want a surge in speed: Shift to an easier gear and increase your pedal cadence. Just before you spin out (pedal as fast as you can), shift to a harder gear. Repeat this until you're at top speed. This isn't the ideal method. (You probably won’t need to shift to the easier gear once you get the feel. And if you're super-strong, you can forget this and just jam.) But it's an easy and clear way for novices to learn the relation between spinning and speeding.

* At high speed, smaller obstacles mean almost nothing. You don't want to steer too much because you'll slow down and risk losing control of the bike. Just ride over most stuff, floating on top of the bike. Remember: The bike wants to keep going. Be a good cat and let it.

* Remember: The faster you go, the smaller your movements need to be to affect the bike’s line. In other words, it’s harder to bunny-hop from a standstill than at 50 mph. It's smarter, too, but that's a whole other subject.

* When you get comfortable riding at high speed, you’ll become super-confident at 90 percent of that speed.

* A faster bike is a more stable bike.

* Inertia is as much a cycling tool as balance or fitness. It'll get you through a lot of things. If there's a section you're having trouble with, maybe you're going too slow. Grit your teeth and try going just one or two miles per hour faster. Momentum does other cool stuff too, like turning marginal bunny-hops into cloud-banging flights.

* We all have a pace we maintain most of the time an average speed. (It's possible to go faster, but this is where we mostly ride.) Any tiny gain in average speed takes tons of practice and dedication. So it could take years to go from a ~O-mph rider to a 12.5-mph rider. But at some point you hit the Magic Speed Barrier (which is slightly different for everyone). If you get past this, amazing speed increases are possible. The Barrier is where loads of finesse and finagling are replaced by sheer speed and momentum. You don't need to miss stuff because you ride right over it.

* Go out and watch birds. When they fly slow they make big, sweeping movements with their wings to change direction. But when they swoop or dive, they accomplish the same amount of directional change just by twitching a single feather. Be a bird. As your speed increases, your bike and body adjustments should become smaller. It's easy to get pumped and overreact in even a simple turn, or yank the bike way the heck up in the air when that's not at all a good thing. When speeding, be spare and graceful. Demolition-derby drivers flail. Formula One racers caress.

* You need to develop a kick whether it's to win a race at the line or zip over a short but steep hill. One way is simply to honk on the pedals and get your power up. This works, but it can blow your legs. Spinning faster is more efficient than putting more force into your pedal strokes.

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Descending Tips

* Although speed on a descent can be frightening, it can also be a wonderful ally. Speed translates into momentum and momentum can get you through obstacles that you'd otherwise need to dismount for. Consequently, don't be surprised when you find yourself tiptoeing a delicate line between enough speed to get you through and too much for safety. A classic example is on the Poison Spider Trail near Moab, Utah. Those who come closest to cleaning it are usually carrying more speed. Those who dab the most are the ones who try to finesse their way down and lack enough momentum to roll over rocks. But the consequences of failing are severe enough to deter all but the most-aggressive riders.

* Find a hill. Find the point halfway down it. Start at the top, ride to that mark, then try to come to a stop as quick as you can without locking up or skidding. This will help you learn downhill braking control and balance. Just don't kill yourself.

* Find a really, really steep hill with a lot of loose stuff. Now, try to go down it as slowly as possible. You might skid, but try not to. You might fall, but try not to. The goal is slow-speed control. The bailout is releasing the brakes and rocketing down.

* "On a downhill, just try to take every section as efficiently and smoothly as possible, and get your wheels to follow the terrain." ~ Myles Rockwell

* The chest-on-saddle method of descending has fallen from popular favour because you can't do it and look fast. But give it a try: drop your butt off the back of the saddle, extend your arms and legs (but don't lock them), and flatten yourself over the saddle. In this position you absolutely cannot endo, and your bike can absorb drops as deep as a foot without feeling slightly out of control. The position feels weird, but with a little practice you can descend scary things.

* "It's important to stay relaxed. If I find myself tensing up, it's time to back off and return to my level of safety. Listen to yourself because when you push too hard and crash, next time you have a fear barrier to get through. Sometimes, though, it's safer to go a little faster. When you go too slow, the bumps seem bigger, you can't bunny-hop things and you're just riding the brakes, which can cause a skid that could take you out."-Ruthie Mattles

* "Keep your arms, legs and hands flexed and relaxed during high-speed descents. Your body can bust trail shocks as well as any suspension. -Dave Cullinan

* "Use a way-back position to improve control on high-speed descents. Pressure on the pedals and the strength of your lower back muscles will keep you properly aligned. Keeping your butt low and back slightly arched will improve your control. Eyes up. -Ned Overend

* Most riders don't get far enough behind the saddle when they're descending severe drops although they think they're way off the back, their butts are still hovering over the seat. You can safely get completely behind the saddle, so your butt hangs over the wheel and your chest is directly over the saddle. This feels extreme ~ your arms and legs will be stretched ~ but it gives you much more control than a mere rearward but-still-over-the-saddle stance.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Cornering Tips

* I like to put my weight to the inside and pedal through comers. It's like applying the gas in a car as you go around a curve it helps maintain traction." - Silvia Furst

* You may not have the skill or experience to risk putting a foot down at 45 mph, but at slower speeds an outrigged limb can help you through a sharp turn. Almost as much as the foot, it's the low and wide stance that will keep you upright and on course."-Missy Giove

* "I put the emphasis on getting my weight on the outside pedal A lot of people put their outside pedal down, but they really don't push on it. I put a lot of weight on it and carve the turn."-Jason McRoy

* The expert - or showboat - way to ride a down-hill switchback is to nose wheelie through it. Here are five steps for flashy switchbacking:

1. Enter the turn wide, on the high side of the frail. Coast at a walking pace. Test your brakes. Make sure they're working predictably before you drop into the steep part.

2. You're going to pivot on the front tire, so make room for the rear to swing around by steering into the apex of the corner. Your weight should be slightly (just slightly) rearward. Keep the inside pedal (the downhill one) bark for leverage.

3. As your front tire reaches the apex of the corner, dig the inside grip down and back and move your torso forward, Pinch the front brake lever firmly and give a little hop with your feet. At this point, your rear wheel should leave the ground (EGAD!). You'll soon know if you've hopped or squeezed too hard. If so, get up and fry again.

4. In midflip, push the inside grip ahead. This twists the rear wheel around the corner. It also tilts the bike away from the abyss, which keeps you from overbalancing and falling to the outside when you land.

5. Because of your considerable lateral momentum, you need to land the back wheel far enough around the corner that you don't get "high sided" over the edge. This is one of the trickiest parts of the turn. Once you "stick" the landing, the rest is cake. Just pedal away with a big stupid grin on your face.

* Stop pedaling as you enter a turn and keep your cranks horizontal, Unless you think you'd enjoy catching a pedal on a bank, rock or log. On smooth surfaces, however, you can keep the outside pedal down to improve traction. Brake before the turn. Locking the levers in a turn makes you more likely to skid. Even if we don't cuddle the dirt blanket, your rhythm and swoop are disrupted. It's more efficient and, for some reason, quicker to brake before entering a curve. For instance, a rider who surfs an entire turn at a smooth 15 almost always gets through quicker than one who enters at 17 and brakes. (Advanced riders brake later in turns. How the hell do they do that?)

* If possible, try to plan your path to approach wide, cut inside across the turn, and exit wide. This reduces the sharpness of the curve and minimises the amount of lean you'll need. It also lets you ride a more direct line (you go almost straight through the curve instead of turning), which helps traction on loose surfaces. Of course, you won't always have this luxury - sometimes your line is determined by the width or conditions of the trail.

* Lean into turns. Press down on the grip that's on the inside, and angle the bike over. At slow speeds, or for tighter corners, you'll need to steer slightly inward, too. Don't worry about being tentative and not getting much lean. As you gain confidence in your traction, you'll slant more. The key is to slowly build speed and lean. Too much of a jump in either, and you'll skid.

* If you're arcing wide in a turn, cut tight with elbow and knee swings. Your instinct might be to crank the handlebar inward. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it turns the front tire in a direction your momentum doesn’t want to go. Things get messy. Instead, pop your limbs toward the inside corner. It's swoop time.

* When you're leaning in a turn, you can stick your bike to the ground with body weight for additional traction. Used correctly, your weight can drive the treads into the surface and counteract the sideways forces that want to push your bike out from under you. One method is to push down against the outside pedal. Some riders stay seated and transfer their weight straight down through the seatpost. Others move the bike underneath them until it's on the inside track and their body rests outside. Even the opposite bike outside, body inside - and be effective. What's the best method? Depends on your speed, your tires, your juju, the turn, the terrain....

* 180 around a 6-inch cone is the hardest turn in the world. Practice that and you can do anything. Put the cone down in the middle of a field, then ride toward it at 20 mph. Brake 10 feet from it and see if you make the turn. If you do, brake at 8 feet, and keep reducing the distance until you overshoot it." - John Henderson

* Because off-camber turns slope down on the outside of the curve, inertia and other things conspire to throw you off the trail and down the hill. Going slow isn't a sure cure. Your bike will still dive out and down. Try riding an inside line, and also leaning the bike out while your body stays in. Good riders can turn their front wheel 90 degrees, then hop the rear of the bike around - jumping the turn instead of steering through it.

* Switchbacks are like hairpins Trailbuilders blaze them when the slope is too steep to go straight up or down. Here are three hints to get you through the next one:

1. Steer wide, so the pitch is less severe.

2. At the apex (where the turn is most pronounced), cut inside.

3. On way-tight switchbacks, some riders counter-steer. As you approach the turn, lean and steer in the opposite direction you want to. When you enter the turn, quickly lean and steer inside. Do it right and your rear wheel will turn tighter than your front wheel.

* Round your turns in a smooth arc to maintain momentum. Don’t zigzag. Lean your body more than your bike to speed your way through abrupt changes in direction."-Juli Furtado

* In corners, pick a line that can handle your speed. If you're going fast, the outer side usually holds you better."-Toby Henderson

* If I don't come out of a turn on the very outside I didn't go through it fast enough."-Tony Henderson

* Accelerate out of corners. Jam on your pedals sometime after passing the apex but while you're still in the arc. Do it right, and you'll feel as if the turn is flinging you out onto the trail. You can learn to recognise the right moment by practising on a smooth (and preferably soft) turn. Try to begin pedaling closer and closer to the turn's midpoint. Don't feel flung? You're waiting too long. If you stick a pedal in the ground, or find speed but lose it before exiting, you're not waiting long enough.

* In banked turns, don’t hug the inside edge. It's usually off-camber. Instead, ride up on the outside edge of the trail don’t be afraid of that bank. The outside edges help you turn, so the handlebar stays straighter while you lean.

* If your turns suck, you're probably making one of these three common mistakes:

1. Too little lean or weighting to maintain traction. Trust physics and your bike. Lean and press. Lean and press.

2. Too little confidence. The bike makes adjustments on its own. To the uninitiated, these feel like wipeouts - in waiting. So they hail. Ride it out. You'll be surprised.

3. Too much speed. If you feel like you're doing everything right but you still can't stick the turns like the rest of the group, then don't. You're a novice. Enjoy it while you can. Someday you'll be expected to ice every move.

* The apex of a turn is the point where the turn is most pronounced its peak. How you ride through the apex affects the whole freaking turn. Here's a look:

1. Early-apex turns are the most popular kind. This is a mistake, but it's easy to understand why. Most riders start to turn as soon as they see the turn. This leads to "over-turning," where you've turned so much so early that you’re forced to move inside, brake, and end up slowing down too much.

2. A mid-apex turn is the fastest kind of turn-where the apex of your travel coincides with the physical apex of a turn. You ride to the widest point and change your direction of travel there. It is a kind, gentle turn that sweeps you through a curve.

3. Late-apex turns are excellent when you want to pass somebody in a corner or scare the bejesus out of one of your riding buddies. You brake late in this turn-this slows you down-but you usually come out ahead of the next guy. These turns are great on banked surfaces, which help you exit at speed.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Climbing Tips

* To learn how to balance on the edge between power and loss of traction on a climb, find a relatively steep hill with a moderately loose surface. This should be a climb you could handle quite easily if not for the lack of traction. Shift into your lowest gear and aggressively attack it. Get out of the saddle and force the rear wheel to begin breaking free. Do this a few times, then try it while sitting. Learn how much pedaling force you can apply before losing traction.

Now change tactics. Ride into the hill as slowly as you can in your lowest gear. Creep up so you're constantly on the verge of stalling. Pretend you're in an airplane, the stall warning buzzer keeps going off and you have to make the minimum adjustment to shut it up. Try this standing, then sitting.

Now pick the smallest cog you can ride up the slope in. Repeat the previous exercises. Pay attention to your stalling point. Work on sensing the loss of traction before it happens. Do it in and out of the saddle. Play with it. Have fun balancing on the point of power.

* Ride in the climber's position. Just as there is a standard stance for descending (pedals level, weight slightly off the saddle, and elbows and knees loose to absorb shock), a certain climbing position is most effective for most situations. Flex your elbows and bend forward at the hips, keeping your back straight. You should be leaning toward the handlebar and your butt should be pushed back on the saddle a bit. This posture lowers your centre of gravity, distributes your weight to the front and rear, and allows you to easily make the weight shifts and movements you'll need to maintain traction and power.

* Most inexperienced climbers don't bend toward the bar enough, believing that if they sit upright over the rear wheel they'll prevent spinout. Just the opposite. The wayback position unweights the front wheel which either causes the riders to stop, or makes them lose rear traction anyway when they suddenly scoot forward to keep the front down. If you want to go up, you have to get down Lean

* Maintain traction when climbing by modifying your stock position. As the pitch steepens, lean more toward the bar (drop your nose closer). This puts more of your weight over the front and, at the same time, pushes your butt back to keep weight over the rear tire.

Tune yourself until you find the lean angle that keeps both wheels rooted. (Front wheel loose: too little lean. Back wheel loose: too much.) You'll eventually learn what lean matches what pitch.

* On a steep incline simply leaning toward the handlebar won't maintain traction. You need to keep the front wheel down by leaning waaay over - sometimes your nose will be past the handlebar and as little as four inches above it - and by sliding forward onto the tip of the saddle. (This is one reason pros like narrow saddles with long noses.)

But with all your weight forward, what about the back wheel? You can keep it grooved by pulling back on the handlebar. This single move often provides a climbing breakthrough for new riders. It makes the rear wheel dig in.

* When you rise out of the saddle you use about 12 percent more oxygen and raise your heart rate about 11 percent. Or so the lab rats say Regardless, standing is harder on your body. It requires more effort because your legs provide locomotion and support you.

* If you don't stand at least occasionally you're climbing without one of your most valuable skills. Among other things standing lets you deliver more power to the pedals. It can delay fatigue because it uses your muscles differently. And it lets you during extended climbs.

* Here are three tips for making the transition from seated climbing to standing without losing speed, control or traction.

1. As your foot comes around to begin a downstroke, shift to a harder gear (if you don't, you waste energy with choppy pedal strokes), then rise out of the saddle It you have bar-ends, move your hands out to them. You should be as upright as the pitch will allow, with your chest out over the handlebar. Your lower back should be straight.

2. Sway the bike from side to side (but no more than a toot each way). This establishes a rhythm and wakes your downstrokes more direct and powerful. Some riders like to pull up on the bar to do this Pushing is nice because you can do it without clenching your hands.

3. You've nailed the technique when you realise why it's sometimes described as 'running on the pedals.' If you feel jerky and out of control, you're either not pushing a big enough gear or you're completely straightening your leg on the downstroke. Go for a 95 percent bend and concentrate on pushing and pulling through a complete circle. This will eliminate the dead spot.

* As with most things mountain bike, there are no rules dictating how often and how long you should stand during a climb. Just plenty of generalisations. Here arc the helpful ones. Try not to sit back down when the grade is steep. You'll stall. If possible, wait till you have a break in the climbing. And remember to shift back to an easy gear as you return to the saddle. Most heavy riders do better when they climb seated more than they stand. The opposite applies to light riders. Most novices don't stand often enough, and when they do they stand too long.

* Don't try to motor up hills in one speedy gulp. Find your own pace. You can pedal at amazingly slow cadences and stay upright. To make it to the top of a big climb with some oomph left, go a little slower than you might be tempted. Staying just below your pain threshold will give you better endurance.

* Get bonus traction on technical climbs by standing and lifting your front wheel over large rocks and ledges, then jerking the back wheel onto them and using these harder surfaces for more traction.

* On really long climbs stopping to rest is acceptable. During those stops, you might be tempted to turn around or walk. Don't. Recharge your batteries for five minutes, psyche yourself up and pedal to the next rest point.

* Rather than anticipating the top, anticipate the next bend - the one you can't see. Make that a goal. When you reach that one, immediately focus on the following bend

* Because climbing is a repetitive act, it helps to think repetitive things. Really. Try repeating a phase over and over again. Something simple like "I'll make it." Or, "Make mine a double." It gives you rhythm and helps occupy your pain.

* Cross-country pro Sarah Ellis is a hot-shot ascender. Here are four of her secrets for stupendous climbing. Don't tell anyone else.

- "On a long climb I like to get into a rhythm, a pace and pedaling cadence that I relate to. Some riders have inconsistent rhythms-their speeds go straight or straight down. On long, sustained climbs I like to find one rhythm-but I start out easy and ride harder into the rhythm."

- "Anyone can attack a hill fast, but it takes self-discipline to control your pace and climb calmly. It's one of the hardest things to do."

- "A lot of people say how great it is to have someone in front of you on a climb so you can chase instead of being hunted. I like seeing people ahead of me, too, but only it I'm near the front. I think the worst thing is to be so far back you have to work around a lot of people. That can get tiring. I'll get on a wheel on a climb and realise that she's going too strong for me, I don't give up. I hold the pace as long as I can, and then even after she pulls away I concentrate on keeping her in sight as long as I can. You go taster than if you give up right away."

* Ride shallow, On an uphill curve, don't ride too close to the inside. It's shorter but the incline can be much steeper. Take the more gradual outside line.

* "Climbing can be very, very painful. I always think that once I'm over the climb there's usually a fun downhill, so I can really suffer up a climb because I'm anticipating a really awesome downhill. Even though going downhill is strenuous it's really fun, so I concentrate on getting to the top of climb where I know I'll have fun. You can't say that races are won on the uphill, but if you can't suffer on the climb, you won't do well."-Jammy Jacques

* Common steep-climbing mistake: Moving your hips too far forward when you bend forward or scootch up to maintain traction. Keep your hips back, more or less centred over the bike, or else your rear wheel gets skittish.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Braking Tips

* Use your front brake more. Using too much rear causes it to lock and skid, which rips up the lovely trail and reduces your control. (On the right surface, experienced riders can skid in control. Then it's called a technique. For you, it's a mistake.)

* Once your rubber skids you can't brake any harder. It's more efficient if you can keep applying braking force to a spinning wheel - this is why so many new car owners want anti-lock braking systems. You don't have that fancy system on your mountain bike but you can emulate it by using a series of quick, tiny micro-braking actions. It's called feathering or stuttering.

* "When I hear that a solid, hard feel on the brake lever equals stopping power, I want to scream. Walk into Joe's Bike Shop and squeeze the brake levers on a showroom bike. Hard as a rock, right? If it hurts your hand, it must be powerful, right? Not!. Looking for maximum resistance at the lever is like climbing hills in your highest gear. More resistance is not better. Leverage is what it's all about. To get more leverage you must set up your brakes to have more travel at the lever, which turns into greater leverage at the rim. That's where it really needs to happen. And if you want to know why it seems easier to lock your wheel with a firmer-feeling lever, that's because the power comes on more abruptly. But sudden power application with no modulation or control of traction isn't good braking! "-Wayne Lumpkin, creator of Avid brakes and Fevers

* A major cause of poor brake performance is pad residue on your rims. Clean with steel wool.

* About 70 percent of your braking power comes from the front brake. That leaves 30 percent on the back. But these figures change radically as conditions do. Muddy stuff decreases your rear stopping power more than it wipes out your front. And you can change how much braking power you get at either wheel by shifting your weight forward or backward.

* Find a favourite hand position. Most riders put their index and middle finger on the brake levers, and wrap the others around the handlebar. Some riders brake with only their index fingers. There are other configurations, but find the one that feels secure and doesn’t fatigue your fingers.

* The number of fingers on the brake lever should change depending on the terrain. It has to do with how much handlebar control you need balanced with how much force your braking might require. A handy rule to remember is 'Brake hard where the ground is hard, and soft where the ground is soft."

* Brake with your entire bike. Your levers and cantilevers are only the most obvious parts of your stopping system. Do this: To increase control and power, it can help to grip the seat with your quads or move your weight back as you brake. Try scrubbing off speed by running up banks or curving turns. Just as good mountain bikers use all of their bikes and bodies to steer, they go beyond fingers when it comes to stopping, too. Watch them and experiment.

* Don't use your brakes only when you want to slow. Good braking is about control, and sometimes it can even help you build speed. Just try alternating squeezes and releases on your next long descent. Lay off the brakes sooner than usual coming out of a corner. Notice the control it gives you? The surges of speed? This is the hidden power of brakes. They do more than stop you. They help you master your movement.

* High-performance braking comes at the maximum braking point. Right before you start to skid-not too soon before, and definitely not after. Why shouldn’t you brake earlier? Because you scrub off too much speed. Why not later? Because locking up the brakes is inefficient and mean to tender trails.

* Think of braking as a process. It begins not with a lever squeeze, but with a weight shift. You rise off the saddle and extend your arms. Keep your elbows bent. This keeps weight off the front wheel. Result? A more controlled bike.

* The trail is your brake lever. Try peeling off speed by running up on berms, banking turns, bumping over rocks. You'll get a feel for what slows you without actually braking - good for creating a flowy rhythm on a ride. You'll also learn what not to do when you're trying to hit max speed.

* Let your front wheel roll freely after you go over a log or drop-off on a downhill. Applying the front brake can lead to an endo in extreme situations, but more often it merely destroys your stability. That's why so many people ride a tough downhill section then blow it right afterward.

* "If you skid, you failed. Find the maximum braking point just before the tire starts skidding. As you get better, squeeze the front brake harder and the rear brake less. Motorcycle riders can brake so well that the rear wheel begins to leave the ground."-Tom Hillard

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Balance Tips

* Some singletrack trails are really exposed, with huge, deadly drop-offs to one side. Others run through the woods and feature narrow passages through trees. Trying to ride this stuff is fun. Dying isn't. So if you feel uncomfortable, step off and walk or if you feel like people will snicker at you, step off and run while shouting: 'I used to race cyclocross!"

* Beginners ride as if they're riveted to the centre of the bike. The actual relationship is more like when the bad guy in a western walks on top of a train. While it rolls along, he can move to the front of the car, or the back, or just stay in the centre. Of course, his movements won t affect the train. He doesn't weigh enough to alter its motion. But put that same size body on a bike and see what happens.

* When you're trying to balance at a standstill the instinct is to saw the handlebar back and forth. This is bad. It results in something called oscillatory steering instability. Instead, control the bike by moving your head and shoulders sideways. This results in something called coolness.

* The best way to improve your on-bike balance is to learn to do a trackstand which means you just balance in place looking all cool. Here are six steps for mastering this important skill.

1. Relax and ride loose (light grip on the handlebar, elbows and knees bent) as you coast to a stop or lightly apply the front brake, whichever feels more comfortable. A slight incline is the best learning surface.

2. The pedals should he horizontal (in the 3 and 9 o'clock position) with your "good foot" forward. This is the foot you favour. It's usually on the same side as the hand you favour, but not always. If you’re unsure, think about which foot you automatically put forward when you're coasting with the crankarms levelled. That's your good foot. Apply slight pressure to the pedal with this foot first enough to inch the bike forward.

3. At the same time, squeeze the front brake hard enough to prevent forward motion.

4. Also at the same time, turn the front wheel in the direction of your good foot. You'll probably over-steer at first. You just need enough angle to bring the bike into a stable position. You'll feel it when you're in the right spot.

5. Maintain equilibrium between these forces. You want to keep yourself in a kind of suspended state between rolling and tailing. It's like an isometric exercise where muscle groups push against each other but don't move.

6. It you begin to fall in the direction of your good foot, turn the wheel straighter and ease of the brake and pedal. This rolls your weight (and sometimes the bike) back slightly and returns your balance. If you begin to fall in the other direction, put more pressure on the pedal and lock up the brake. This shifts your torso foward.

(When you get better you can move to the flats, and you'll learn how to point your knees to maintain balance. None of this is difficult to understand once you're on the bike, but don't expect much hang time in your first 20-30 attempts.)

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Monday, November 27, 2006

L6 Ramblings

Here are some L6 ramblings. This is gleaned from various message board postings and whatnot. YMMV.

L6 as it pertains to L5....L5 is still mostly aerobic. Even though you can't maintain L5 very long (what, 3-8 minutes?) it's still something in the realm of 90% aerobic. Yeah, it feels worse but it's not. Having said that, it's still a very high stress level. It is, or probably should be, part of your plan over the course of the year, or years, or lifetime, etc etc. Many people think that mixing in L5 year round makes sense, and I agree with that, to a point. If you're just starting out there's probably not much of a need to bother with L5 just yet. Other people take off L5 in the offseason, or build season. That's your call. Point being, as it pertains to L6 which I realize I have not mentioned yet, is that it's part of your standard workout menu.

Ok, as for L6. You suck at it, I suck at it, most of us suck at it. The adage goes that sprinters are born, not made. And L6, being in that 30 sec to 3 min range is a sprint. This comes from Coggan, who also says that 6 weeks of focused L6 work (aka AWC or Anaerobic Work Capacity) is about all you need to (mostly) reach your genetic potential. That's good and bad. Good because you don't need to hammer at it for long. Bad because you really aren't going to raise it much since it's hard to train. You're not going to see big gains in the area year after year because it's less trainable than the energy systems up through L5.

Moving beyond that, if you do insist on more L6 work you're doing so at the risk of compromising aerobic endurance. The reality is that the L6 ceiling isn't as limited as it's made out to be. But in order for you to raise it, you need to dedicate plenty of time on it which necessitates losing time elsewhere. I'm basically suggesting you shouldn't bother with L6 when it isn't needed. It racks up loads of fatigue, isn't terribly trainable, is hard to maintain, and cuts into all your other training time.

There's more. It's not just a matter of L6 taking time away from more endurance-oriented training, either. Some of the adaptations your muscles make to L6 training are directly opposed to endurance ability! So, L6 is a powerful, but dangerous medicine for a primarily endurance-oriented athlete. There's little reason to work on it unless you've already put together as much endurance fitness as you can for your goal event, and are planning on spending it relatively soon. This is the classic periodization model where you build your base, up the intensity a little, then hammer out some intensity as you roll into your event.

The problem with that approach is the psychological difficulty of suddenly shifting into AWC-training mode 6 weeks out from your goal. Some people feel uncomfortable with new workout schemes until they've gotten the hang of them. You can "train to train" with L6 by introducing the L6 workouts before the 6 week boundary. Or you can, every once in a while, blow out a 1-minute or 2-minute maximal test just to keep it "in there" so to speak.

So I guess at the end of the day, don't sweat the L6 stuff too much unless that's what your target event is all about.

Monday, October 30, 2006

2007 Goals

Well, here goes. These goal pages are always tough, because you draw a line in the sand when you basically have no idea how the year will go. Last year I didn't have any goals. They just popped up when we had a baby and I needed to ride more efficiently. Now I have 1 hobby, and I try to make the most of it. Having a single hobby makes it easier to focus on any goal setting, since that's all you think about. Anyway, here's what 2007 (to be exact, late 2006 and most of 2007 since the biking season ends in October) looks like:

  1. Lose Weight. Always, an eternal struggle. It's not like I'm overweight anymore. I could certainly stand to lose a few pounds, but I'm not a fat hog like I used to be. My "playing weight" ranged from 202-204 in the summer to around 197 at the end of the season. This season, I'm looking to get down to the 180-185 range. That's 15 pounds less to lug up those hills!
  2. Ride in one H2H Race. I'm not a fast XC racer by trade. But it would be neat to do. I plan on using this as a training ride one week. This isn't so much a goal because it involves nothing more than my ponying up the money and entering.
  3. All 12 hours of 12 O'Muchy. That's it. No bailing, ride the whole 12. I have no aims for placing anywhere, so we'll see what happens.
  4. 10+ laps of Allamuchy 24. This will mean more efficiency, quicker pit stops, and night riding, none of which I practiced this year. With the proper training this really should not be a major obstacle, barring unforeseen mechanicals. Hopefully this does not take all of 24 hours!
  5. Sub 4:23 in All-A-Muchy 50k. By the end of next season, I really should know this park well. This is a moving target since the course changes. But it's still a goal. This is probably the most aggressive of the goals. This year's time was 5:23. This will include a shift in training from long & efficient rides under threshold to being comfortable above threshold. Lots of L5/6 training.
  6. Hillier Than Thou. This is a road century with 10,000 feet of vertical climbing. This is usually between the 24 race and the 50k. To qualify as having finished, you need to complete it in 8 hours. This should be doable. Goal is only to finish in that 8 hours.
  7. Dark Horse 40. This is just a race to do. I'm not sure it has any real meaning other than something to do. It's a good training ride and probably serves to get me more accustomed to racing.
  8. Running of the Dogs. I guess the idea is just to do it. Maybe the goal is to do 8 laps in 4 hours? That would be aggressive.
That about sums it up. I considered adding a generic 12 hour race, of which there are 4 others within a reasonable driving distance (Lodi or one of the 3 MaSuperSeries races). I also considered adding one of the Michaux races, which I really want to do. Then there's the Wilderness 101 and Shenandoah 100. But I don't know how much biking-time capitol I have to spare at this point. I need to pick & choose my events sparingly next year. Maybe in 2008 I can add a few more of this or that but for now this will have to do. Anything else is gravy.
Wish me luck.